The world today desperately awaits the emergence of a new, rainbow Left that is liberated from the disastrous hold of the twentieth century. Indeed, attempts to find or forge such platforms are visible in different parts of the world. Falteringly and with setbacks to be sure, but there is no doubt that serious attempts are underway. And many of these attempts are powered by a different kind of imagination that is unencumbered, to a large extent, by the suffocatiing grip of the last century.
One hundred years ago, on 17 October 1920, the emigre Communist Party of India was formed in Tashkent with MN Roy as its chief initiator. This date of the party’s formation is, of course, contested by the current CPI, which dates its formation from 26 December 1925, when the first ‘Indian Communist Conference’ was held in Kanpur. The date became a matter of contention, especially after the split in the CPI and the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964 – and at the core of that contention were two related issues. One opinion at the time of the Kanpur Conference had argued for a home-bred and ‘nationalist’ ‘Indian Communism’, in opposition to which the other section saw itself as a contingent or a chapter of an international movement. The second question became more of an issue in the later years, after Stalin’s death and the revaluation of his role and the manner in which the Comintern came to play a subordinate role to Soviet foreign policy. In between these two lies the phase of the ‘Bolshevization’ of all socialist and communist parties across the world, which ensured that the CPI too, no longer remain an independent party in the sense in which some were arguing at the time of its formation.
Many words are walked in the world. Many worlds are made. Many worlds make us. There are words and worlds that are lies and injustices. There are words and worlds that are truthful and true. In the world of the powerful there is room only for the big and their helpers. In the world we want, everybody fits. The world we want is a world in which many worlds fit…Our words, our song and our cry is so that the dead will no longer die. We fight so that they may live. We sing so that they may love. – Fourth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle (1996), Zapatista National Liberation Army. Cited as epigraph in Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.
The New Grave-Diggers of Capital?
‘The world we want is a world in which many worlds fit’. This neatly sums up the idea of the ‘pluriverse’. Reading it, I was reminded of an interview of ‘Subcommandante Marcos’, ‘leader’ of the Zapatistas, some years ago. In that interview, Subcommandante Marcos (then anonymous) recounted that he and his colleagues at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico, who joined him in the Chiapas mountains in 1984, were Marxists and had basically gone there to organize the indigenous people. And for Marxists that bascially meant to ‘raise their awareness’ about capitalism and exploitation.
This tribute to Prof HARI VASUDEVAN by Prof SOBHANLAL DATTA GUPTA, who passed away in Kolkata recently, is being reproduced here, courtesy Mainstream Weekly.
Thereafter, as we proceeded in our work on the publication of the texts of the documents, we began to face insurmountable resistance, quite surprisingly, from a section of the Left establishment in West Bengal. We were threatened, maligned and discouraged not to proceed with this work any further and ridiculed for our research on documents which were described as “fake” and “doctored”.
It was May, 1995, exactly 25 years ago. Hari Vasudevan (Calcutta University), Purabi Roy (Jadavpur University) and I myself (Calcutta University) were in Moscow for two months, working as a team sent by The Asiatic Society, Calcutta in connection with a project of collection of documents from the newly opened Soviet archives on Indo-Russian Relations : 1917-1947. This project was the result of a Protocol signed between The Asiatic Society, Calcutta and Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies. With extremely limited funding we were expected to prepare catalogues of as many documents as possible and bring home photocopies/microfilms of those documents which we considered most important, depending, of course, upon their accessibility. It was a Herculean job, since we had no idea of the materials we had to handle. Working on hundreds and hundreds of documents, catalouging and copying them (in many cases because of paucity of funds and since we had no laptop, quite often we had to take down a document by hand) demanded a division of labour. While Purabidi worked in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), Archives of the Ministry of External Affairs (MID), Russian State Military Historical Archive (RGVIA), Hari and I worked in the former Central Party Archives, Institute of Marxism-Leninism (now known as Russian State Archive for Social and Political History or RGASPI ). Continue reading Hari Vasudevan, the Soviet Archives and the Left Establishment: Sobhanlal Datta Gupta→
In this final instalment of the series, I want to discuss the vexed question of employment and what can be called the ’employment mindset’. The mindset has dominated politics and the discipline of economics for the last century and a half for sure. Before that youthful capitalism simply put people uprooted from their habitats and traditional occupations (the artisans and peasants) into ‘poor houses’ and enacted the most vicious laws to force the dispossessed poor work for it. Marxists give this violent pillage the scientific- sounding name of ‘primitive accumulation’ (or primary accumulation). ‘Scientific’ because it was seen by Marx as the ‘historical process of the separation of producer from “his” means of production’ – as if it was an objective process that was in some sense inevitable. Marx’s chapter on ‘primitive accumulation’ in Capital Vol I, certainly shows that he was revolted by the plunder and robbery that this phenomenon entailed but in a manner of speaking, by giving it an aura of historical inevitability, he could displace the solution to some future. There is also no doubt that the sections of Capital where Marx deals with the enactment of Poor Laws in Britain are full of passion and anger at what capitalism was doing – but then, what can you do with a process that is historically inevitable? Remember too that it was the same logic of ‘objectivity’ of ‘historical inevitability’ that was used to justify colonialism as the ‘unconscious tool of history’. The British Marxist historian, E.P. Thompson wrote of precisely these populations that perished in ‘the storm of industrialization’. He was so moved by their predicament that he wanted to ‘rescue them from the enormous condescension of posterity’. Yet, Thompson believed, like a good Marxist, that the artisan or the handloom weaver that he was writing about were ‘obsolete’ (Thompson’s term). Thus, he wrote, Continue reading Beyond the ‘Employment’ Paradigm and Life After Capitalism – Manifesto of Hope IV→
In the previous instalment of this article in Parapolitics, I had discussed the situation arising out of the Covid 19 pandemic in terms of the possible implications of the global lockdown and ‘quarantine of consumption’, for post-capitalist futures. In this part, I will discuss (a) the conditions that make such futures not just imaginable but possible and (b) indicate certain directions that such futures are already taking – for the paths that we tread now are the ones that lead to the future.
Theory/ Concept/ Discourse
Since all talk of post-capitalist futures only sounds outlandishly utopian and out of sync with what we see around us with the ‘naked eye’ as it were, it is necessary to first clear our field of vision a little. And, let us be very clear here that this ‘clearing of the field of vision’ is not, in the first instance, about practices on the ground but about the field of knowledge – and theory in general. And before any hard-boiled hysterical-materialist tries to tell us that all this is idealism and that the ‘real’ stuff is materiality and things only happen in practice, I want to make three general points here. First, for the more theologically oriented: it was Lenin who said repeatedly that ‘without revolutionary theory, there cannot be any revolutionary movement.’ (What is to be Done?) Not only that, he also insisted (after Kautsky) that left to its own, the working class movement could only produce ‘trade union consciousness’ and that ‘socialist theory’ had to be imported from outside (basically bourgeois intellectuals) into the working class movement. This understanding was to lead to all kinds of problems including vanguardism but we will let that be for now.
The term ‘contemporary’ is often used synonymously with ‘the present’. It is often used to connote ‘newness’. But there is another sense where it refers to the idea of inhabiting the same time (as for example in the statement: ‘Gandhi was a contemporary of Tagore’) or of the industrial revolution being contemporaneous with the emergence of the steam engine. In this sense, it is not newness but ideas of simultaneity, co-presence, coevalness etc that are sought to be invoked through the use of the term ‘contemporary’.
The problem of the contemporary is therefore also a problem of multiplicity, of many different modes of being, and in a sense, can be seen as distinct from the idea of ‘the present’. For the category of ‘the present’, on the other hand, assumes a singularity and lies at the root of all attempts to understand ‘our times’ in relation to some specific characteristic or feature in relation to which others become ‘the past’. Thus ‘our time’ could be defined in terms of the ‘information technology and communications revolution’, ‘the digital revolution’ or the ‘era of post-truth’ and ‘populism’ and so on.
This is to announce a new series of postings I will be doing, relating to aachaaram in Kerala.
Aachaaram is loosely translated as ‘customary practices’ or ‘customary rituals’, but in 19th century Malayali society, it referred to a massive, inter-connected, all-pervading web of practices, rituals, and ideas which bolstered the domination of the upper-castes — in Kerala’s context, this meant the Brahmin-sudra nexus — over the lower castes. It touched the most intimate and personal aspects of a person’s life; through it, the allegiances and the labour of lower caste communities were extracted to benefit the upper castes. The lower-caste assertions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries here, through which modern democracy became a possibility at all, were directed against this web. Aachaaram, however, survived this phase through shrinking its spatial presence to savarna homes and temples; later, after the re-consolidation of brahmin-sudra power, towards the end of the 20th century, the rise of spiritual capitalism had led to aacharam’s resurrection as the vehicle of gendered savarna power — and as the provider of opening gambits for the Hindu fundamentalists — in Kerala .
In this series, I will post translations of selections/excerpts from the writings of the critics of aachaaram from early 20th century Kerala, with short reflections on each for the present. The many different readings of Hinduism that arose in that period when the Brahmin-sudra nexus was thrown into confusion, as well as the many different dreams of social liberation from different parts of the world that entered Malayali society then — from C Krishnan’s Buddhism to Marxism — produced powerful critical exposures that revealed aachaaram to be nothing but a vehicle and instrument of the power of certain groups over others. The effort made by these voices to point to the danger that it posed to a dream of a just society was largely ignored by the mainstream, especially the mainstream left.
The first of these is an excerpt from a conversation between the well-known social revolutionary, the avarna-born seer, spiritual leader, and philosopher, Srinarayana Guru and his disciples in which the annual pilgrimage to Sivagiri was planned, which I will post separately.
मार्क ट्वेन ने कभी कहा था – धूम्रपान की आदत छोड़ने में मैं ख़ासा माहिर हूँ; यह काम मैंने हज़ारों बार किया है.सन्धान की यह केवल तीसरी शुरुआत है. वह भी काग़ज़ पर छप कर नहीं. अभी केवल वेब-पेज़ के रूप में. अतः यह दावा तो नहीं किया जा सकता कि हमलोग शुरुआत करने के विशेषज्ञ हो गए. बल्कि ये मनायें कि इस मामले में ट्वेन सरीखी महारत न हासिल हो. इरादा नयी शुरुआत का और हौसले दूर तक चलने के हों तो फिर से शुरू करने में कोई बुराई नहीं है.
हज़ारों साल पहले एक्लेसियास्टीज़ की किताब में कहा गया था – जो हो चुका है, वही फिर होगा. जो किया जा चुका है, वही फिर किया जायेगा. सूरज के तले कुछ भी नया नहीं है. लेकिन दूसरी तरफ़ हेराक्लिटस का कहना था – तुम एक ही नदी में दो बार पाँव नहीं रख सकते. पानी हर पल बदल चुका होता है. अगला पाँव नयी नदी में पड़ेगा.बुद्धिमानी शायद इसमें हो कि एक जेब में एक्लेसियास्टीज़ और दूसरी में हेराक्लिटस को रख कर चला जाय. एक कुछ बिल्कुल नया कर गुज़रने के घमण्ड को क़ाबू में रक्खेगा तो दूसरा नये का सामना करने की हिम्मत देगा. जो हो चुका है वही फिर होगा तो भी कुछ नया होगा. और, उम्मीद है, जो कहा जा चुका है वही फिर से कहा जाय तो भी कुछ नया कहा जायेगा और अर्थ कुछ नये निकलेंगें. समय की उसी नदी में आप दो बार पाँव नहीं रख सकते.
और, इस नदी में त्वरण है. समय के बदलने की रफ़्तार बदल चुकी है. पिछली एक सदी में जितना कुछ हुआ है, उतना पहले के हज़ार सालों में नहीं हुआ था. इन्सानी इतिहास का प्रवाह समय के उबड़-खाबड़ भूगोल से गुज़रा है. थोड़ी देर का समतल थके विजेताओं को उस असीम-अनन्त चरागाह की तरह दिखने लगता है जिसकी खोज में वे पाँच सौ या पाँच हज़ार साल पहले निकले थे. इतिहास के अन्त की घोषणाएँ होती हैं. लेकिन घोषणाओं की समाप्ति के पहले ही समय का समतल समाप्त होने लगता है. आगे कुछ के लिये ख़तरनाक ढलान है तो दूसरों के लिये कठिन चढ़ाई है.