Warriors of Truth and the Theatre of the Absurd
Shivam’s post actually gives me the opportunity to explicate certain things at greater length, especially in relation to Chandrabhan Prasad (CBP) but also, more generally, in relation to our relationship to the political in the contemporary. Shivam’s article from Himal Southasian, though it was written in a different context and with a very different intent – that of defending OBC reservations from the attacks by upper castes – opens out to my mind all the problems that I wish to underline. The fact that Shivam has posted this article in response to my comment and Ravikant’s earlier post, indicates that his argument there has a certain larger relevance to how we understand what CBP represents.
Let me at the outset however, clarify that my reading of Chandrabhan Prasad and his stances, especially his political mode and style, do not necessarily mean that I endorse his politics. In fact, let me confess, most of the time his politics makes me quite uncomfortable – even though I have on each occasion been persuaded enough to modify my own positions in trying to confront his. Moreover, there are still large areas of his politics that, I believe are based on a somewhat deliberately partial understanding of the situation. So for instance, his adulation of ‘American society’ or US corporations like Microsoft and IBM for taking the diversity issue seriously, is to say the least, naïve. It refuses to recognize that these were gains of hard won struggles against racism which are once again being seriously challenged. One only has to look at the recent agitation in Michigan University to be able to see that the so-called liberalism of white society is in a sense not very different from modern upper caste arrogance. Note also that the language espoused by both the white opponents of affirmative action in Michigan and the upper castes in India is that of equality: “affirmative action is anti-equality” is the common refrain.
Continue reading “One Day I Cursed That Mother-Fucker God”
Ever since Chandrabhan Prasad (CBP) embarked on his distinctive style of politics, he has really managed to annoy many self-proclaimed radicals. Ravikant’s earlier post on CBP’s recent salvo on deserting the vernacular and inhabiting the world of English language is in that sense really welcome, as it sets things in perspective.
A few years ago, when CBP called for a Dalit bourgeoisie, there was a similar sign of dismay, scandal and utter incomprehension among many friends – even those who have now started recognizing that ‘Dalits’ constitute a key component of any future radical democratic (or socialist?) transformation. What many of these friends do not recognize is that it is not enough to say that “the Dalit question is also important”: As Khairlanji or the hundreds of other earlier episodes show, there is no way in which the ‘Dalits’ can ‘also’ become part of some imagined larger unity (say the peasant unity dreamt of by communists, or the so-called ‘secular unity’ propounded by bleeding heart secular liberals). For, to take the standpoint of the Dalit is to take the standpoint of a minority in the village and to incur the anger of the majority. The effort to unite might be desirable from a longer term point of view, though I am not quite sure about that too. CBP thus also annoyed many secularists as his attack on backward caste ‘secular’ parties was seen by many as a way of justifying BSP’s alliance with the BJP.
The real point about CBPs politics that earnest radicals do not get is that irrespective of the substantive aspect/s of his argument, he is opening out a new way of enunciating a politics of the oppressed: anger and emotion are sublimated here into a performative excess, thus initiating a politics of irony and hyperbole. Ressentiment (resentment?) is not the main mode of this politics of ‘betrayal’ (which I would call the politics of fleeing) which began in a true sense with Dr Ambedkar’s flight from Hinduism. There is one critical difference from Ambedkar though. I have often told CBP that he is a deviant Ambedkarite (kujaat Ambedkarvaadi, to twist Lohia’s term): after all, “chicken, mutton, daaru aur daliton ki kuchh samasyayein” is certainly not the mode of Ambedkar’s renunciatory Buddhist politics that still remained imprisoned within the logic of ressentiment.
Land-Grab by Rich: The Politics of SEZs in India
[This is an article written a couple of months ago by NAPM activist Sanjay Sangvai and will continue to be relevant for quite sometime to come].
The farmers in the obscure Pen tehsil in Raigad district Maharashtra are preparing for the long battle against the gigantic and powerful company – the Reliance. On June 22, a few Mumbai-based Marathi newspapers carried the news of the demonstrations of hundreds of farmers against the land acquisition by the state government for the Reliance company for a 10,120 hectare Special Economic Zone (SEZ). There was police firing on the rally as some miscreants indulged in stone throwing and damaging the property, which it was later found that, was not done by the protesting farmers.
“The Reliance company managed to create disturbance in the peaceful meeting of hundreds of farmers and our process of presenting objections to the Land Acquisition notices to the officials. The company is nervous about the growing resistance by the farmers for usurping their productive land and therefore trying to use the police to crush the movement” told Arun Shivkar, of Pen Panchkroshi Sheti Bachao Samiti (Pen area Committee for Save the farmland).
Continue reading Sanjay Sangvai on the Great Land Robbery
Compared to the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries, capitalism, today has acquired an entirely new shape and character, often broadly referred to under the rubric of ‘globalization’. Among marxists of different hues there seems to be a remarkable unity in considering ‘globalization’ as a fresh assault of imperialist capital that represents a new wave of re-colonization of the third world. It is seen as a global conspiracy emanating from a single source.
Clearly this reading emanates from an understanding of capital as an all-powerful, singular, sovereign entity, virtually like God. Everything presumably is a consequence of the logic of capital. Ironically, barring a few exceptions, the votaries of ‘working class struggles’ cannot – or do not – see any role of such struggles in the way the present has shaped up, including one of its most significant effects – the apparently terminal crisis of the labour movement. Continue reading The Art of Fleeing, Capital and Molecular Socialism
Before the ‘Battle for Truth’, Reveal Your Assets, Honourable Men and Women of the Media
Today’s Indian Express carries Medha Patkar’s response to a long continuing rant by the paper on a series of issues ranging from compensation for the displaced of Narmada valley to the whole issue of SEZs. She has thrown the gauntlet – a challenge to the newspaper to join her in a ‘Battle for Truth’. The Express has of course joined it right away in the most unbecoming way that has by now become a hallmark of its ranting style: It barely lets Medha conclude and puts in a rejoinder from its “Kolkata Bureau” – they could barely wait for her to finish and if the form did not impose the limitations, one could imagine them jumping up and down and shouting her down, booing her in the middle of her speech…
So gentlemen and women of the media, before you really join the Battle for Truth, the time has come for you, especially senior media persons – Editors and senior Commentators, the custodians of public opinion (or Truth, should we say?) – to declare your assets and their sources. You have been very vociferous about maintaining public standards and have campaigned tirelessly to see that politicians are forced to declare their incomes. Since the functions that you honourable people perform are no less public – you too must lay yourself open to public scrutiny. When the CEO of Xphatic or some secretary-general of a Corporate Association or a Chamber of Commerce writes, we know exactly where they speak from and for whom. But when “journalists”, “Editors” and political commentators – in this and other papers and news channels – write or talk, they supposedly talk from the “objective” position of truth. Everybody in the trade of course knows that there are crores of rupees of ill-begotten wealth circulating in the media that shapes the Truth. The defence campaign of the takeover of farmers’ land for a leading corporation by most of the English media is not unrelated to the circulation of this strange thing. This is not an insinuation against any specific person/s but surely a declaration of assets should become the voluntary practice of all those who desire and fight tirelessly for probity in public life. What say you gentlemen and gentlewomen?
But what of those really innocent ones who may not be otherwise part of corrupt corporate power nexuses? Their naïveté is so truly astonishing that it would make you gasp. These really innocent ones are products of the New Age who have taken in the new theology hook, line and sinker. Immediately after deaths in police firing on protests against takeover of tribal land in Kalinganagar by the government for a private company, a well known TV journalist demanded of the hapless tribals – “But why are you against industrialization?” Holy shit! You are against Industrialization! Next you will turn against your own Self – Don’t you see that it is the messiah who has come to redeem you and deliver you from your hellish existence! One can hardly respond to such innocence except by saying Dam the Media for starters – and give them – all the displaced journalists some Cash Compensation. Oops! That is one thing they are not short of – How about some land in barren New Harsud town.
Published earlier in Social Action, Vol 54, April-June 2004
Shortly after the World Social Forum (Mumbai 2004) I came across an article by Cecilie Surasky, an American Jew, posted on a discussion list by a friend from Amsterdam. The article was startlingly entitled “Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?” and naturally invited one to read it immediately. It transpired that the author was the Communications Director of an organization called “Jewish Voice for Peace” that works for a peaceful and democratic resolution of the Palestinian problem and is therefore, also anti-Zionist. She was writing from within the specific context of a well-known but disturbing trend in Jewish politics, particularly in the US. A glimpse of this troubling context is provided by the fact that important voices among Jews, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) in particular (which has been known for its important work in hunting down Nazi criminals worldwide), has been portraying the World Social Forum (WSF) “as one of the centers of the ‘new anti-Semitism'”.
Surasky further reports that “these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left.” The SWC had described the atmosphere at the third WSF in Brazil the previous year as “anti-Jewish”, according to her. She therefore landed up at Mumbai to check out first hand: “I have come to the WSF to be loudly and visibly Jewish…and to see for myself this purported new tidal wave of hatred of Jews from the rest of the global left.” The actual event of course, turned out to be something entirely different and if anything, Surasky ended up making some of the most moving friendships with many Arabs. Her account of these friendships in the article is quite touching in itself. What was most amazing for her, however, was that on return she found that the SWC had published an article on the WSF in the Jerusalem Post, entitled “Networking to Destroy Israel”. It further claimed that the WSF Mumbai event had been hijacked by “anti-American, anti-Israel forces”. As Surasky puts it, it became clear that many of these propagandist accounts made practically no distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism or in fact, any criticism of Israel.
The important thing about the WSF however, was that it provided a space to some one like Cecilie Surasky, a “come out” Jew, as she puts it, to meet, exchange notes and make friends with people from the Arab world. So did it to the innumerable others who have so far only known about the ‘Other’ through representations by propaganda machines like the Simon Wiesenthal Center and their Arab counterparts – or through the US media. This is of course, one small episode in the big event called the WSF. But the WSF is actually made up of literally thousands of such episodes. It was an occasion where the displaced Tibetans – supporters of the Dalai Lama – could move about prominently, distributing their literature, making friends and allies from different parts of the world. It was an occasion where the Dalit groups of India could make their voice heard before a vast gathering of people who were all fighting for their own liberation from oppressions of different kinds.
Continue reading Beyond the Tyranny of Blueprints: WSF as Experimental Form
This is the Concept Note for a panel in the India Social Forum on “New Horizons For a Radical Democratic Politics: In search of a New Left”.
The panel is being proposed as a way of getting together activists and scholars in thinking afresh about the possibilities of a different kind of Left – a New Left, if you please – or radical democratic political practice. It is being proposed as a forum for thinking of ways of bringing together different kinds of radical urges and aspirations that have come forth in the last couple of decades. Many of these, broadly subsumed under the category of social movements, are based on sectional identities and interests. There are others that have been based on class questions but in a way quite different from conventional kinds of class politics. At the level of thinking however, most movements, despite having taken some extremely bold initiatives, have not really begun to articulate alternative theoretical positions or think through the far-reaching implications of their own practice.
Feminism, ecological movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the sexuality movements have undoubtedly made major contributions in terms of enabling us to think of democracy and ways of radicalizing it, of thinking about the good life very differently. Movements like the Dalit movement or some recent independent trade union initiatives that are inclined towards the idea of an autonomous workers’ movement have also started posing new questions for radical political practice – questions that are not always very comfortable.
Yet, the fact remains that the moment we begin to think about contemporary capitalism, we almost unthinkingly tend to lapse back into some nineteenth and early twentieth century formulations that need to be seriously re-thought today. Much of the thinking on capitalism – influenced by Marxism of one shade or the other – has remained caught within the problematics of the state and the nation-state (both seem to us to be discrete but inter-related problematics). Even when we recognize that global capitalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century is an altogether different beast, all we get by way of theorization are tired repetitions from the Communist Manifesto (“the bourgeoisie seeks to build a world in its own image” or “the need for markets chases it all over the globe” etc). In contemporary capitalism this may tell us only a small part of the truth.
Further, in most of Left-wing discourse, nation-states continue to be posed as some sort of defense against global capital and the ultimate ground of emancipation and the state in general as the object of revolutionary politics, as that point where all transformative attention must be focused.
The panel is being proposed to explore questions connected with some of these articles of faith. As indicative of some of the questions that we could address, we list below some which we group together according to some broad themes. (To be sure, this is a tentative list): Continue reading In Search of a New Left