Category Archives: Left watch

Bengal 2021, Fascism and the Left(s)

 

 

‘The specific threat of National Socialism was obscured amid general talk of the perils of “fascists”, a term egregiously applied to Bruning, Social Democrats and all and sundry. Dogmatic catastrophist theorising led the Communists to actively underplay the Nazis: Ernst Thalman warned the KPD [Communist Party of Germany] Central Committee in February 1932 “that nothing would be more disastrous than an opportunistic overestimation of Hitler-fascism.’  – Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich – A New History, p. 136

Ernst Thalman warned his party’s Central Committee against ‘opportunistically overestimating Hitler’, literally months before Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January the following year. What is more, this statement was made at a time when the intentions of the Nazis were hidden to nobody. As Burleigh puts it, they had frequently announced their contempt for the law and ‘by 1932 were vowing to intern Communists and Social Democrat opponents in concentration camps.’ (p. 149) Thalman, we know, was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp in August 1944, eleven years after being held in captivity. Indeed, Thalman was arrested barely a year after he warned his party not to overestimate ‘Hitler-fascism’.

It is common knowledge that as the clouds of danger encircled Germany and the Depression was leading to cataclysmic shifts, the KPD continued to focus on Social Democrats as the main enemy. A brief entry on Thalman in the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it pithily:

‘The party was almost completely unprepared when, in early 1933, Adolf Hitler ordered the mass arrests of communist functionaries; these arrests practically destroyed the party structure. Thälmann’s arrest came on March 3, 1933. All efforts to obtain his release failed, and he remained imprisoned for more than a decade until he was finally executed at Buchenwald concentration camp.’

‘The Most Dangerously Hidebound Force’

This quote above is not just about Germany. It is about a certain mindset widely prevalent in the Left. This mindset deploys the term ‘fascism’ quite indiscriminately, dissolving the specific threat of fascism into  just another variant of ‘authoritarianism’ and misuse of power.  Usually this happens because of incorrigibly reductionist thinking that sees in every authoritarian tendency a manifestation of ‘capitalism’, thereby reducing all of them to mere variations of the same. But it also happens becuase of what Antonio Gramsci saw as the party’s incapacity to ‘react against the force of habit, against the tendency to become mummified and anachronistic’ – a characteristic he attributed to the ‘most dangerously hidebound and conservative force’ namely, the ‘party bureaucracy’.

It is misleading to think in terms of historical analogies and one should normally avoid thinking of historical replays or re-enactments. Every historical situation is unique and has its own antecedent conditions. But there are  always lessons to be learnt from speicfic historical experiences and one can ignore them only at one’s own peril.

The intentions of the current regime in India are not a secret any more and we have seen its contempt for the rule of law, over and over again. The ongoing farce of the Bhima-Koregaon arrests, or the fantastic conspiracy theories that have been woven around the North East Delhi communal violence earlier this year, are there for everyone to see. Have we forgotten that when Justice Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court insisted that the police see in the  court, the crucial piece of evidence – that of Kapil Mishra’s video-recorded speech openly threatening violence and killing – he was transferred out of Delhi that very night? These aren’t just aberrations: the subversion of the rule of law that began with the isolated case of Judge Loya’s murder is now an everyday affair and the judges know what the costs of going against this regime can be. Of course, there have been many instances of the subversion of the criminal justice system during ‘riots’ and ‘communal violence’ in the past as well, but the overall sanctity of the law was maintained and things could still be challenged in court with some results.

One big difference between Germany in 1933 and India today, (among many other differences), is that even in early 1933, communists and social democrats mattered enough for Hitler to want to arrest them and clear the way for his untramelled exercise of power. In India today, the main opposition to key policy changes has come from ordinary people at large – the Citizenship Amendment Act being the most classic instance. No wonder then, those being arrested here are ordinary people and activists unaffiliated to any political party.

What is worse is that the dominant mainstream Left, has by and large, got caught up in the tendency that Gramsci described – to become mummified and anachronistic; the incapacity to react against the force of habit and formulaic thinking; the inability to recognize what is new in the situation. We have been witnessing a naked display of this tendency in the mainstream Left’s antics in Bengal, which created history in the 2019 parliament elections by mobilizing votes for the BJP.  Now that the state assembly elections are due next year, things are assuming surreal dimensions.

Thus, the CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury argued in a television interview, later prominently displayed on the front page of the party’s Bengali daily Ganashakti, that ‘in order to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) must be defeated‘. This statement actually makes no sense whatsoever when the danger of Hindutva takeover of the state is imminent and elections are just round the corner. Perhaps,  in a slightly longer term, this could have made some sense. The argument that there is great discontent against  the TMC government and the anti-incumbency votes against it must be mopped up by the Left so that the BJP does not benefit, can make sense only when we are thinking of BJP’s growth in the medium term at the very least. But before examining this argument, it might just be worth asking that if that is really the case, how does the Left actually justify mobilizing votes for the BJP? This is not only evident in the ground reports that were coming in from Bengal but was also claimed by the Home Minister Amit Shah just a few days ago. In terms of electoral statistics too, it is clear that the extra votes that the BJP polled in the Lok Sabha elections came almost entirely from the CPI(M).  According to CPI(ML) Liberation leader Kavita Krishnan, even now, among Left supporters in West Bengal, ‘arguments are rife on the ground suggesting “Ram in 2021 and Baam [Left] in 2026″‘. 

But let us still look at the argument that the West Bengal CPI(M) is making. The argument of the CPI(M), to repeat, is this: in order to defeat the BJP  it is necessary to defeat the TMC. Today’s (19 November 2020) Ganashakti has modified the line a bit and it says: In order to defeat the BJP, the TMC must be isolated. The distinction is important but it really does not make any difference to its substance in the immediate context. Why?
We can reduce the argument to three propositions:
1. TMC is in power and faces massive anti-incumbency
2. It is the mass of people moving away from the TMC that the BJP is capturing.
3. If the CPI-M wants to defeat the BJP, it must come out in opposition to (to ‘defeat’ or to ‘isolate’) the ruling party so that it can mop up the anti TMC votes, thus preventing them from going to BJP.
Hence to defeat the latter, you must defeat/ isolate the former.
 
Now here is the tricky part:
1. Ever since its defeat in 2011, CPI-M has only been in relentless opposition to the TMC, treating it an enemy number one.
2. Hence, it should already be mopping up anti-incumbency vote.
But what do the figures say?
First, let us take the anti-incumbency question: TMC got 39% vote and 184 seats in 2011. In 2016, its vote increased to 44.9% and seats to 211. In the 2019 parliament election, it cornered 43.3 % vote (the marginal difference is also because 2019 was a Lok Sabha and not a state election). Actually in the by-elections since, it has recovered even this decline.
Second, the ‘mopping up’ question: CPI-M polled 29.8 vote in 2011, which declined to 19.7 % in 2016 and to 7.5 % in 2019 and zero seats. This is how the CPI-M is apparently mopping up the anti-incumbency, anti-TMC vote!
Third, Contrary to the lies peddled by the CPI-M West Bengal, not only is the party losing votes, it is losing votes almost entirely to the BJP. So 16.72 percent of BJP’s increase of 22.25 percent in the 2019 parliament election was gained by capturing the depleting CPI-M and Left Front vote.
TMC’s vote till now remains not only intact but has even grown marginally. As I had pointed out, in an article the The Telegraph in January this year, in the three by-elections that took place in November 2019, in Kharagpur, Kaliaganj and Karimpur, not only did the TMC win all three seats but significantly, the combined vote of the CPI(M) and Congress fell drastically (ranging from 40, 000 to 90, 000 votes) in comparison to the 2016 Assembly elections. So frankly, as of now there doesn’t seem to be any anti-incumbency in evidence at least from the figures available. On the other hand, evidence is that the CPI(M) is continuously losing ground – the latest to leave is the former Jadavpur area councillor and 2014 Lok Sabha candidate Rinku Naskar. From all available accounts she had a good record of work as councillor but it also seems that she had been among those helping the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
It is necessary to challenge the CPI-M’s lies because many well meaning people sympathetic to the Left in generaI, seem to be taken by this specious logic based on  totally incorrect information. It is also necessary because hundreds and thousands of people, especially Muslims, will have to pay with their lives for this criminal cynicism. It is the chronicle of a tragedy foretold.
 
As a Muslim friend from the Metia Buruz area put it, ‘we feel like our lives will be collateral damage’.
 
CPI(ML) Liberation – Signs of Fresh Thinking
 

It was a pleasure therefore to listen to Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary of the CPI(ML) Liberation speak of the need to focus on the BJP as the main threat today – to India and to West Bengal. His responses to the various interviewers, even as the results of the Bihar elections were pouring in, were remarkably free of obfuscating jargon and spoke of the threat to democracy, to the rule of law and to civlizational values from the BJP. And that was enough for making the argument that it needed to be challenged in a united manner. No bookish arguments about whether this is fascism and what Dimitrov might have said about ‘united front’ tactics!

Signs of fresh thinking were quite evident in Bhattacharya’s call to  ‘think in these new times, in a new way, in new conditions’, where he had no hesitation in including Ambedkar along with Bhagat Singh among the icons of the movement. As he put it, the slogan was ‘Naye Bharat ke vaaste, Bhagat Singh-Ambedkar ke Raaste’ (see video below). Indeed, the CPI(ML) Liberation has gone further and, as Jignesh Mevani pointed out, it did not field a single upper caste candidate in the Bihar elections, ‘changing the popular notion of the Brahminical, Savarna-dominated Left leadership.’

In the video below, Bhattacharya talks at length about a range of issues during the  Bihar election campaign, to Nakul Singh Sawhney of Chalchitra Abhiyan.

The rethinking in this interview is quite fascinating also because, in order to think the question of caste and Dalit oppression and  foregound the issue of dignity, Bhattacharya even indicates a preliminary theoretical willingness to understand ‘class’ as more than a purely economic category. This is, of course, a very difficult question and when he says class does not simply mean economic exploitation but also dignity, self-respect, culture and social justice – that move itself raises many other questions about specific forms of overdetermination. The multifarious implications of this proposition cannot be dealt with in this brief article but let us at least recognize that it opens up a conceptual space in the practice of the Left that can have far-reaching consequences.

A final point of great interest in this interview is that Bhattacharya here displays a sense of having thought through some of the issues relating to the ’employment question’ that had become the focus of the Mahagathbandhan  (MGB – grand alliance) election  campaign. Recall the way the CPI(M) and  Left Front in West Bengal went about it.  Theirs was primarily the neoliberal way of inviting Capital to invest in the state and let it dictate the terms. Large-scale land acquisition and the unfortunate developments of Singur and Nandigram were consquences of that model.

What Bhattacharya says here clearly is that the technology-intensive high-end industries are not going to be able to address Bihar’s problems and that the focus will need to be  on more labour-oriented, medium and small enterprises which can provide far more employment than high-tech industries with least dislocation. But simultaenously, should the MGB win (the interview was conducted before the results were out), Bihar would also focus in developing itself as an IT hub – the vision is clearly not that of small industry based employment generation alone but has to go hand in hand with, rather than be obliterated by, big industry.

Of course these are critical issues and while one would have liked to hear a bit also about climate change and ‘green jobs’, in my view the beginning is itself quite significant and needs to be backed by the wider Left public. It is also important because, to my mind, the reason why the mainstream Left and the CPI(M) in particular have no appeal left in Bengal has a lot to do with their intransigence and refusal to rethink the neoliberal Singur-Nandigram model.

The struggle against Hindutva, it is clear today, cannot be fought on its turf of the secular-communal issue but must be taken to another terrain. A comprehensive rethink on a number of issues is necessary. One hopes that this stance of the CPI(ML) Liberation will be the beginning of a new chapter in the Left movement in this country.

Trajectory of India’s Democracy and Contemporary Challenges : Prof Suhas Palshikar

[Inaugural Lecture of ‘Democracy Dialogues’ Series ( Webinar)
Organised by New Socialist Initiative, 12 th July 2020]

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( Prof Suhas Palshikar, Chief Editor, Studies in Indian Politics and Co-director, Lokniti at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, delivered the inaugural lecture in the ‘Democracy Dialogues’ Series initiated by New Socialist Initiative.

In this lecture he attempted to trace the roots of the current moment of India’s democracy in the overall global journey of democracy, the extra-ordinarily ambitious and yet problematic foundational moment of Indian democracy and the many diversions India’s democracy has taken over time. He argued that unimaginative handling of the extra-ordinary ambition and Statist understanding of the ‘power-democracy’ dialectic formed the basis for easy distortions of democratic practice and that while populism and majoritarianism are the current challenges, they are by no means only special to the present and therefore, even as critique and course-correction of present political crisis is urgently required, a more long-term view of the trajectory of Indian democracy is necessary.

Here follows a detailed summary of his presentation prepared by Dr Sanjay Kumar)

Continue reading Trajectory of India’s Democracy and Contemporary Challenges : Prof Suhas Palshikar

Break the Chain, Break the (Unconventional) Family?

My earlier posts on the Kerala Left’s inability to forge an adequate and democratizing response to the ‘societal emergencies’ that have challenged Malayali society in the 21st century, and on the completely-unjustified attack on the body artist Rehana Fathima seem to have irritated, even angered, many supporters of the CPM on Facebook.

These people are not youngsters, a detail that is really important. Indeed, they largely belong to the upper-middle-class professional elite, indeed, perhaps among the best-off sections of Malayali society, which include medical professionals, male and female. Their responses reveal very interesting details about how the pandemic shapes our understanding of ‘useful expertise’:  at this moment, we are told, just listen to medical professionals, and not just their views on issues pertaining to health, but also to ‘social health’.  Many of these professionals believe that the brazen violence unleashed against Rehana Fathima’s family — her mother-in-law has been denied free dialysis simply because she is Rehana Fathima’s mother-in-law, and BSNL has ordered the eviction of the family on completely ridiculous grounds – is a minor diversion, an irritating, trivial one, compared to the task of controlling the pandemic on the ground, which of course, brings the medical professional (even when he/she works in Kerala’s private hospitals, which are surely not the epitome of altruism) to the centre of public discourse as the ‘hero’ that everyone should be eternally grateful to. And if such heroes tell you that Rehana Fathima is just a child-abusing publicity-seeker, then you have to just say yes. And, as as the artist Radha Gomathy put it, participate in the Break-the-Chain-and-Break-the-Family campaign — or punish Rehana’s supportive family for not being freakishly conservative, like good Malayali families.

Bolstering their claim to be the only ‘real experts’ to talk about Malayali society at the moment is their implicit understanding that medical professionals are somehow more ‘scientific’ than others. Yet I was amazed — indeed, alarmed — by the carelessness with which they dealt with empirical information and their easy abandonment of logic.  The tendency to equate technical training with scientific is very strong in these Facebook debates, as also the idea that social science and history are some airy-fairy romance that lacks scientific basis.

I am mentioning these features not to put these people down — and I am also aware of, and grateful to, many other medical professionals who expressed unease at these acts of hubris. I wish only to flag what seems to me an emerging axis of power in post-pandemic Kerala. A form in which the state’s apparatus of biopower is projected insistently as the sole benevolent source of human sustenance that must engage us constantly; it is not that critical discourse should be abolished, but it must focus, and gently, on this pre-given object. In it, the biological body is the object on which the state builds its new protectionism; the only kind of body it is bound to protect. The ‘new expert’ wields power on it, and their technical interventions will henceforth be recognized as ‘scientific’  — and the significance of the gap between the two will be ignored. The suspension of neoliberal logic during the pandemic has indeed allowed the Left to behave, even think, like the left — this emerging protectionism seems to be actually riding on it.

It is not surprising at all then that for some of these experts, those of us who contested the purportedly ‘scientific claim’ that Rehana’s children will be necessarily harmed psychologically by the sight of their mother’s exposed torso, or the equally-shaky idea that they necessarily lack the psychological strength the resist the taunts of society, seem dangerous to society.  Rehana’s use of the body is aimed at the long-term; it signals the possibility of seeing the body as the site of aesthetic play and creativity; its androgynous appearance and breaking of stereotypes about the maternal body make it defy gendered classification (so necessary for the state). Her husband deserves punishment because he had abandoned the role of Reformer-Husband so central to the twentieth-century reformist discourse. Our experts’ ‘scientific temperaments’ do not allow them to perceive the fact that the Reformer-Husband carried the burden of ushering his wife into (a gendered) modernity, while in twenty-first century Kerala, women no longer need such ushering — there is data that shows that more women than men complete their education and enter higher education; that they outperform men in most examinations and have entered most modern professions; that in marriages, the bride is now likely to be more educated than the groom. The family needs to be punished as a whole for allowing such explorations of the body.

I still repose faith in the democratizing possibilities that this window of time gives us, but that does not make me blind to this wilful shutting out of the long-term and the agency of citizens. It is as if future society may be imagined by citizens only with or after the state. The state sees a vague and uncertain future, and therefore all citizens should, therefore, limit themselves to the immediate and present. Nothing should be allowed to disrupt the Left’s hegemony-building through pandemic-control exercises. Even if that requires that we turn a blind eye to the fact that the refurbishing of this hegemony may not be antithetical to the further entrenchment of biopower and the reign of these new experts.

 

Working Class Movement and ‘Sudden Death’ of the 1980s – Challenges For Rebuilding the Left II

 

Let us call it ‘sudden death’ football style – even though, strictly speaking, there was no ‘tie’. Yet, even the highly frayed but continued existence of the earlier Nehruvian legacy (our version of the welfare state) had provided a kind of buffer that had kept in place an intricate balance between labour and capital. The Nehruvian state was no ‘socialism’ but it did represent a ‘social contract’ of sorts that had kept the worst caprices of capital in check and provided a certain legitimacy to issues and demands of labour. The balance was always tilted in favour of capital but was a balance nevertheless. This is what some ideologues of the neoliberal dispensation that succeeded it continue calling socialism – for that gave them the legitimacy, in the post-Soviet 1990s, to institute the unbridled rule of corporate capital. In that sense, there was a tie – and neoliberalism was the tie-breaker.

Protest_Photo, Image New Indian Express

The defeat of working class politics in the 1980s is a story that remains to be told – at any rate, properly analyzed. There are of course, layers and layers to that story  and no single article or even a book can do justice to it but it is nevertheless worth looking at some aspects – not all of which may have been apparent to players involved at that time. But that is precisely why it is so important to look back, especially if we are interested in building a movement in the future, avoiding the mistakes of the past.

Continue reading Working Class Movement and ‘Sudden Death’ of the 1980s – Challenges For Rebuilding the Left II

An Appeal for an Artist: Buy Brushes for Rehana Fathima’s Son

I am making appeal here to all people who really care for children’s rights beyond the hypocrisies of the global child rights discourse.

A controversy is raging in Kerala over a video of body art posted by the body-activist Rehana Fathima in which her two children paint an image of a phoenix on the exposed torso of their mother. The children are not nude, they don’t look outside the frame. Rehana herself does not look out, nor is her body being displayed in any explicit sense. There is nothing pornographic; the video was not made for commercial purposes. However, the video has unleashed a storm of outrage and the bitter conservatism of both Right and Left-wing politics in Kerala now engulfs the family like a toxic fog.

Rehana has been subject to unimaginable violence online. She is no stranger to it; her insistent efforts to keep radical body politics alive in a society in which bodies are strictly subject to caste and religions communities and bound firmly within heternormative sexuality, patrilineal family-forms and marriages that insist of huge dowry payment to the groom have stirred all sort of insecurities, unconscious and otherwise, of the Malayali masculinist elite. During the conservative backlash against the Supreme Court’s verdict approving the entry of female devotees to the Sabarimala temple in 2018, Rehana Fathima (who claims that she had converted long back and is also known by the name Surya Gayatri) made an attempt to make the pilgrimage, resulting in her arrest and jailing. She was accused of obscenity for uploading a picture of herself in the pilgrim’s costume, but showing a little skin off her thigh.

In the present case, she is accused of corrupting her children by exposing them to her naked body and then making the video public. The first complaint was filed by a BJP functionary and then the Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights directed the police to file cases against her charging the provisions of the POCSO Act. Other cases against her have used the provisions of the IT Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.

The police raided her home — and seized the laptop and, appalling, her son’s cherished set of brushes and paints. This violence remains unnoticed. There has been much hand-wringing by hypocrites who claim that they are not offended by the art but because children have been involved. These people do not seem to notice the violence against this young boy.

Rehana’s 13 year old is serious about his art. He is not like the kids who parents force into art classes so that they can brag about it in their circle. He is not traumatised by the sight of his mother’s body, but by the loss of his brushes, taken away by the Kerala Police as ‘evidence’ of the ‘crime’! The investigation of alleged violation of child rights gets an auspicious start, I suppose, with the police committing precisely such violation.

I appeal to all of you who think this is injustice — irrespective of whether it is technically proper or not — to speak up. If you can, please contribute brushes. Or pay Rs 10.  The child’s father, Manoj K Sreedhar, is on Facebook.  The address is : Rujul manav (appu) c/o Rehana fathima Ernakulam 682036 Mob: manoj 9446767666.

 

J Devika.

Why does the Left in Kerala fear Rehana Fathima and not COVID- 19?

Before I start, a request:    Friends who are reading this, if you are close to Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen, or Soumya Swaminathan, or the other left-liberals who appear in the Kerala government-sponsored talk series from outside Kerala, please do forward this to them? I hope to reach them.

 

The Left government in Kerala is gathering its international intellectual-activist support base to cash on its commendable  — ongoing — success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is not new — it has always been part of the dominant Left’s hegemony-bolstering exercises, especially after the 1990s, when its unquestionable hegemony in Kerala began to face a series of challenges. It has also been forced to pay attention to the oppositional civil society which relentlessly questions the dominant Left’s fundamental understanding of social justice and forces it to take seriously such ideas as freedom, autonomy, as well as identities not reducible to class. Continue reading Why does the Left in Kerala fear Rehana Fathima and not COVID- 19?

Crisis of Working Class Politics – Challenges for Rebuilding the Left

 

In this year of COVID19, the organized ‘working class’ movement completes a hundred years of its history. It was on October 31 1920, that the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first central trade union organization, came into being. This might be a good occasion to take stock – to look back into history from what can only be described as a very troubled and difficult present – and peer forward into the future.

Workers, the long trek
Workers – the long trek, Image courtesy, The Wire

The year of COVID19 reveals, among other things, the very fragile and unstable nature of this entity called ‘the working class’ in countries like India. The monstrous situation arising out of the pandemic only provides us the window to that long and endless process by which the ‘working class’ is constantly made and remade. In a very important sense, unlike the peasantry which has a far more stable existence (till, for the requirements of Capital, it is uprooted and thrown into urban labour markets), the working class is an inherently structurally unstable social group. Given that its fate is tied to the requirements, caprices and maneouvres of Capital, the working class is not given to us readymade, once and for all. For as long-term changes in industry and technology occur or capital takes flight in the face of worker militancy, the working class too undergoes changes.

Continue reading Crisis of Working Class Politics – Challenges for Rebuilding the Left

निरंकुशता के स्रोत, प्रतिरोध के संसाधन : रवि सिन्हा

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

राजनीति का आम सहजबोध यह है कि सत्ता की निरंकुशता लोकतंत्र का निषेध है। लोकतंत्र राजनीतिक सत्ता का गठन तो करता है, लेकिन उसे निरंकुश नहीं होने देता। यदि किसी लोकतांत्रिक व्यवस्था के अंतर्गत निरंकुश सत्ता का उद्भव होता है तो उसे लोकतंत्रा की दुर्बलता, उसके विकार या उसमें किसी बाहरी अलोकतांत्रिक शक्ति के हस्तक्षेप के रूप में देखा जाता है। यदि लोकतंत्र का अर्थ यह है कि सत्ता के स्रोत लोक में स्थित हैं तो यह स्वयंसिद्ध है कि लोकतांत्रिक सत्ता निरंकुश नहीं हो सकती।

इसी तरह राजनीति का सहजबोध यह भी है कि सत्ता की निरंकुशता प्रतिरोध को जन्म देती है और प्रतिरोध की जड़ें लोक में स्थित होती हैं। निरंकुशता यदि लोकतंत्र का निषेध है तो यह भी स्वयंसिद्ध है कि लोक या जन ही प्रतिरोध के मूल आधार और उसके प्रमुख संसाधन हैं। यह दूसरी मान्यता पहली के साथ जुड़ी हुई है। यदि पहली मान्यता टिकती है तो दूसरी की सत्यता भी साबित होती है। यदि पहली संदेह के घेरे में आती है तो दूसरी के स्वयंसिद्ध होने पर भी प्रश्न खड़े होते हैं।

और, प्रश्न तो खड़े होते हैं। वास्तविकता की प्रकृति ही ऐसी होती है कि वह मान्यताओं की परवाह नहीं करती – बहुप्रचलित और स्वयंसिद्ध प्रतीत होने वाली मान्यताओं की भी नहीं। दूसरी तरफ़, मान्यताओं की – ख़ास तौर पर बहुप्रचलित मान्यताओं की – बनावट और उनकी ज़मीन ऐसी होती है कि वास्तविकताओं के उलट होने के बावजूद वे चलन में बनी रहती हैं। ऐसी स्थिति में पहले तो यह देखना होता है कि वास्तविकता क्या है और संबंधित मान्यताओं से उसकी संगति बैठती है या नहीं। फिर यह अलग से देखना होता है कि मान्यताएं जब ग़लत होती हैं, तब भी उनके चलते रहने के कारण कहां पर स्थित हैं। एक तरह से यह सहजबोध की जांच-पड़ताल का समय होता है। और कभी-कभी नये सहजबोध के निर्माण का समय भी होता है।

भारत की आज की हक़ीक़त यह तो है ही कि मौजूदा सरकार के अधीन राज्य और राजनीतिक सत्ता निरंकुश हो चले हैं। संवैधानिक, संस्थागत तथा लोकतांत्रिक नियमों, नियंत्रणों और परंपराओं को रौंदा जा रहा है और व्यवस्था तथा समाज, दोनों क्षेत्रों में मनमानी की जा रही है। कश्मीर से कन्याकुमारी तक, असम से गुजरात तक, संसद से और भीमा कोरेगांव से तीस हज़ारी तक और तिहाड़ तक नंगी निरंकुशता के उदाहरण सभी के सामने हैं। लेकिन क्या सभी को यह सब दिखायी दे रहा है? Continue reading निरंकुशता के स्रोत, प्रतिरोध के संसाधन : रवि सिन्हा

Remembering Marx in Lockdown Times – Beyond the “Corona” Paradigm: Maya John

Guest post by MAYA JOHN

On the occasion of the birth anniversary of Karl Marx, the greatest intellectual of the millennium, it is best to steer clear of hero-worshipping. Instead, let us commemorate Marx’s ideas by re-enacting his way of knowing things. Much can be drawn from his writings wherein we can see Marx reinvigorating the revolutionary agenda at a time of deep despair and defeat. Reflecting and writing after the failed revolutions of 1848, Marx provided an introspective critique of unfolding conditions in his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852). Closely examining the events of the successful coup and assumption of dictatorial powers by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in republican France in 1851, Marx was the only contemporaneous political thinker to liken the ascendancy of Louis-Bonaparte to that of his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, who seized power in revolutionary France through the coup of 18 Brumaire (7 November 1799).

Continue reading Remembering Marx in Lockdown Times – Beyond the “Corona” Paradigm: Maya John

The Many Debts We Owe to Lenin

‘The workers’ and peasants’ government… calls upon all the belligerent peoples and their government to start immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.

By a just or democratic peace, for which the overwhelming majority of the working class and other working people of all the belligerent countries, exhausted, tormented and racked by the war are craving [we mean] an immediate peace without annexations – that is, without the seizure of foreign lands, without the forcible incorporation of foreign nations and without indemnities.’

The ‘just and democratic peace’ sought by the workers and peasants government never arrived.

It was on 26 th October 1917 when Lenin, the 47 year old leader of this nascent Government, read out the Bolshevik Decree on Peace. This appeal fell on deaf ears.

The many players and participants in the first World War,  the imperial powers fighting for a re-division of the world, which had already claimed millions of lives, refused to put a halt to their killing machines and the war continued for more than a year, adding menacing figures to the tally of the dead as well as the wounded. Students of history tell us that this ‘War to End Wars’ as it was termed then culminated in the deaths of more than nine million combatants and seven million civilians as a direct result of the War and the resulting genocides and related 1918 influenza pandemic causing another 20-50 million deaths worldwide.

Otis Historical Archives, modified, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emergency_hospital_during_Influenza_epidemic,_Camp_Funston,_Kansas_-_NCP_1603.jpg, CC 2.0, modified

Looking back one knows that if this decree on peace had been positively responded, few more million deaths in the ongoing war could have been avoided and deaths due to the pandemic of Spanish Flu ( 1918) could have been contained more effectively. Experts can tell you how the trenches of the western front proved ideal for spread of the virus as “[t]renches were flooded much of the time. Blood and bodily remains from people and animals that had been blown to pieces, along with faeces and rotting food, formed the pathways and shelters for troops going to and returning from, the front.”

The World War I which eclipsed all previous wars by its scale of destruction finally came to an end in 1918. Continue reading The Many Debts We Owe to Lenin

The Limits of Public Health Management: Time to Rethink Development in Kerala

One of the effects of the pandemic in Kerala, like in most other parts of the world, is that the government’s narrative muffles all other narratives, and this is not just about the containment of the pandemic. Here the government’s narrative about the pandemic enjoys far greater legitimacy than elsewhere, and with good reason. It is true that Kerala’s greater successes in dealing with the pandemic are unique and commendable; however, to think that therefore, the government is right on everything else is probably a huge mistake. Continue reading The Limits of Public Health Management: Time to Rethink Development in Kerala

After Covid-19, We Should All Be Cuba

The pandemic has exposed wealthy states’ neglect of healthcare. A new medical internationalism is needed.

Cuban doctors prepare to leave for Italy to provide medical aid.

Image Courtesy: Malpensa airport website

Rare are those photographs which can be declared iconic right after they are taken, without awaiting the approval of the connoisseurs, critics or people. It is an ordinary-looking photo, of a large team of people, dressed in white robes, disembarking from a plane and being welcomed by someone wearing a white coat too. Take a closer look at the frame and you will note a mood of jubilation among the people who are watching them from the airport’s lounge.

The photo is of Malpensa airport at Milan, an alpha-global city recognised so far as one of the world’s four fashion capitals and the capital of North Italy’s Lombardy region. Today, it has also come to be known as a hotspot of Covid-19 infections, a site where thousands have died of the infection. The picture we are talking about is of 52 doctors and nurses from Cuba who arrived in Italy on invitation from the regional Italian minister of health and welfare, Giulio Gallera.

Italy, ironically, has been party for a long time to the economic sanctions imposed by the United States on this tiny Caribbean nation with a population of around 1 crore (10 million). The sanctions have been declared “illegal” by the United Nations time and again. But the anti-humanitarian attitude of the Italian ruling classes could not stop Cuba from sending its medical team there to combat Covid-19. Media reports tell us that Italy happens to be the sixth country—after Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada—on the current itinerary of Cuban medical teams flying around to fight the pandemic.

( Read the full article here : https://www.newsclick.in/After-Covid-19-We-Should-All-Be-Cuba)

Corona, Capitalism and Civilisation : Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

“Who do you blame it on? For a while it was China, until the most favourite target for the Indians appeared on the scene – you know who. When it comes to the business of blaming, Indians (a large percentage of them) would have loved it if the virus had originated somewhere in the Middle East or in Pakistan.

But new viruses have always appeared in human history, some more deadly than others. This one is the newest such calamity. Sure enough, humanity will be found standing on the other side of this crisis. But, how shall we count the losses after this mayhem is over?

Continue reading Corona, Capitalism and Civilisation : Ravi Sinha

An Open Letter to the Kerala Governor Sri Arif Mohammad Khan About Our Fight Against the Virus, But Also About Our Resistance to CAA-NRC

Dear Sir

First of all, thank you for acknowledging, even praising,the efforts of the government of Kerala and the people to protect ourselves and humanity against the threat of the corona virus. It is true that Kerala’s efforts and achievements are being lauded the world over, but those voices are never going to make any impact on the supporters of the Sangh parivar in Kerala. But your views cannot be dismissed so easily as ‘Western’ or ‘leftist’ (though they may still murmur about your Muslim name). What has really riled me in the recent past is their systematic effort at downplaying Kerala’s achievements, heaping abuse on our effort to help migrant workers, and raising baseless allegations against those who are working to mitigate the crisis. So as a historian of modern Kerala, I am writing this to offer some insights into why we have been able to do this, in the hope that you may be able to see what they will never tell you — simply because they are so sadly blinded by hate. Continue reading An Open Letter to the Kerala Governor Sri Arif Mohammad Khan About Our Fight Against the Virus, But Also About Our Resistance to CAA-NRC

Thoughts on the AAP’s Hindu Gestures from Kerala’s History

I have been reading with interest the exchange between Aditya Nigam and Satish Deshpande on the AAP’s strategy of avoiding ‘politics’ – or rather, distancing itself mostly from the polarised ideological debates while making small moves to shape for itself a space, arguably fuzzy, in the hegemonic discourse of Hindu. I am also witness to the unbelievably egregious attacks by the CPM leadership in Kerala against Islamist organizations protesting the CAA — the free reign granted to an explicitly communalised police force, the appallingly soft treatment of Hindutva offenders, even when they make open threats that warn Malayalis to ‘remember Gujarat’, the wanton attack on internal dissidents in the CPM using the worst instruments of the security states such as the UAPA, and the threat to dismantle the pandal of the Shaheen Bagh solidarity satyagraha in Thiruvananthapuram, something even Amit Shah has not dared to do (thankfully withdrawn after public outrage), and its blatant caste-elite majoritarian thrust while claiming to be the (sole) guardians of secularism. Continue reading Thoughts on the AAP’s Hindu Gestures from Kerala’s History

കേരളത്തിൽ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിൻ്റെ ഭാവിയും അരാഷ്ട്രീയതയുടെ പിണറായിശൈലിയും

കേരളത്തിലങ്ങോളമിങ്ങോളം നടക്കുന്ന സിഏഏ-എൻ ആർ സി വിരുദ്ധസമരങ്ങൾക്കിടയിൽ നമ്മുടെയെല്ലാം   ഉള്ളുപൊള്ളയായ രാഷ്ട്രീയ അവബോധങ്ങളിലും സുഖസ്ഥലങ്ങളിലും നീറുപോലെ കടിച്ചുപറിക്കുന്ന ഒരു യാഥാർത്ഥ്യം — താഹയും അലനും സഹിക്കുന്ന അനീതി. യുഏപിഏ അറസ്റ്റുകൾ മുൻപ് മുസ്ലീംയുവാക്കളെ ഉന്നംവച്ചപ്പോൾ അവർ തീവ്രവാദികളാണെന്ന് – പലപ്പോഴും കാര്യമായ തെളിവൊന്നുമില്ലാതെ — വിശ്വസിച്ചു മനഃസാക്ഷിയെ  നാം പാട്ടുപാടി ഉറക്കിയതാണ്. പക്ഷേ ഇന്നത് പറ്റുന്നില്ല, കാരണം ഈ ചെറുപ്പക്കാരെ നേരിട്ടറിയാവുന്ന പാർട്ടിവിശ്വാസികൾക്കെല്ലാം അറിയാം, അവർ നിരപരാധികളാണെന്ന്. Continue reading കേരളത്തിൽ ജനാധിപത്യത്തിൻ്റെ ഭാവിയും അരാഷ്ട്രീയതയുടെ പിണറായിശൈലിയും

Do not Forget Allen and Twaha as we fight the U-r-b-a-n N-a-z-i

As we in Kerala gear up for the long struggle that can cease only when the evil of Hindutva is finally uprooted from India and Kerala, and only after the toxins that it has spewed is wiped clean from the hearts and souls of our brethren, my only request is: please do not forget Allen and Twaha. Continue reading Do not Forget Allen and Twaha as we fight the U-r-b-a-n N-a-z-i

Against Aachaaram: Moorkothu Kumaran’s Dream of the Future

This is the fifth in a series titled Against Aachaaram: A Dossier from Malayalam on Kafila. The note below is by J Devika. The excerpt from the essay by Moorkothu Kumaran has been translated by K R GOPIKRISHNA.

Moorkothu Kumaran (1874- 1941) was one of Malayalam’s earliest short story writers, literary critics, and public intellectuals. Born in the avarna Thiyya community in north Malabar, he was educated at Thalassery and Madras and was closely associated with Sreenarayana Guru. He was active in the SNDP Yogam in its early years and highly influential through his pioneering journalism and contributions to modern Malayalam, as it was shaped in and through the new voices that were now heard in the emergent public sphere.

Below is an excerpt from an essay of his titled ‘Oru Pusrushasamajam’ (A Men’s Association), in which he indulges in a fantasy of a social event set in 2029. Written in the late nineteenth century, it imagines a world which women have taken over, and where the Manusmrithi is a long-lost and obscure text, while the writings of late-nineteenth century women authors, like Tottaikkattu Ikkavamma, are widely in circulation. In other words, a world in which the aachaaram of Manu has somewhat declined, though there are indications that it has not disappeared fully.

Reading this, one cannot help noticing the fallacy often shared, sadly enough, by reformers and conservatives, then and now: that empowered women will merely seize patriarchal-caste-heteronormative power and exercise it unchanged. And so their imagined utopias of gender equality inevitably look like the inverted version of patriarchal society. But perhaps Moorkoth Kumaran leaves us a clue about why this was so: as is evident from the extract below, caste seems alive and well despite the disappearance of Manusmrithi– the privileged sudra identity of Menon, Nair seem untouched, alongside upwardly mobile individuals born in lower castes aspiring to the new savarna status. It is not, however, clear that Moorkoth makes this gesture deliberately.

Sadly enough, this aspect of the emergent order of gender, in which the new empowered woman (irrespective of where she originates in the spectrum of castes sharing the renewed Brahmin-sudra social contract or among the avarna individuals who seek upward mobility into the savarna, partakes in the refurbished savarna power) was hardly ever discussed. In this fantasy, it is stretched to its maximum, and so the ‘oppressed’ men now complain of women inverting the order, in effect, behaving like upper caste men of the late19th century. Women have removed all portions of aachaaram that limit them and imposed those on men, but they have not delegitimised caste, one may suppose. In short,  women have managed to replace words like paativratyam with others like patnivratyam.

To avoid this  we have,  precisely, the insistence- still audible in left cultural circles as well  — that women are not interested in sameness,  only equality.  Sameness within  the new savarna order would mean that women may take caste power and that may even make them conspire to impose a cultural agenda in their favour, proscribing scriptural authority that sanctions make authority.  It is not merely the love of ‘Indian culture’, but also this fear that makes the Indian right wing  and the still-savarna reformers on the left embrace the infamous despoilation of women’s public voice – in two different ways-during last year’s  savarna mutiny against the Supreme Court’s verdict about  the entry of women of menstruating ages into Sabarimala.

Of course visions of feminist utopia  have been strikingly different in that they envisage the wholesale elimination of all forms of patriarchy, but then when both the really-existing left and the right both are interested only in demonising the feminists,  their protestations will be surely ignored.

_____________

A Men’s Association

A meeting that may be held a hundred years into the future
AD 2029 October 1, Tuesday, Kanni 15, 1205, the Kollam Era:  An important convention of Kerala Men’s Association is being held on the westside garden of Smt. VCR Amma M.A. M.L.C.’s house at Kozhikode (Calicut). Sri Narayanan Nambiar (husband of High Court judge L D Amma M.A. B.L.) was chosen to preside to over the meeting based on the suggestion of Smt. TKG Amma B.A. M.R.A.S.’s husband Sri Kannaran, which was seconded by Barrister Smt. B K Amma’s husband Sri. Gopala Menon. In his inaugural speech, the President spoke engagingly about men’s lack of freedom He essentially pondered how in the older times, men were free and were educated, and how they worked and earned when women engaged in domestic duties, serving their husbands, bearing and nurturing their children, and how peace prevailed in households and the society in those days. He spoke in detail, and with considerable poignancy, how, in contemporary times, women have attained education, entered into all government jobs, and become members of the governing bodies and legislatures t and how this has destroyed the freedom of men. Finally, he said, “Dear brothers, there are umpteen illustrations to prove that the brave men who were our ancestors enjoyed freedom in households and the country. I have found reasons to believe there existed a great scripture named Manu-Samhita. In it, it is stipulated that even education must be denied to women. Somewhere I have read that Manu-Samhita is the rule-book for the Hindus. I have been able to find documents proving that women were men’s slaves and women’s worlds were confined to the kitchen and bedroom only – cooking food and taking care of children. Women have destroyed Manu-Samhita completely, without sparing a single copy.
“Freedom is not for women
The Father will save her at adolescence
The Husband will save her at adulthood
The Son will save her at old-age.”

Thus states this scripture of antiquity. It appears that that this section has been redacted out from the edition of this scripture currently in publication. A drama written by a poetess who died 125 years ago is being circulated by the women of our times. Though it was an attempt to prove women were scholarly at those times, however, a sloka confirming that women didn’t have freedom at those times, was included in the print. Also, it can be understood that women wrote poetry rarely and men considered them incapable of it. This was that sloka:

“Didn’t Krishna’s beloved Bhama fight?
Didn’t Subhadra ride a chariot?
Isn’t all this world ruled by Victoria?
If the beauties can accomplish all these,
How will they be incapable to writing a poem?”

What can you decipher from this shloka? Does it not hint that women wrote poetry rarely? That they were considered inadequate to it? If these justifications were given for a woman writing a poem, doesn’t it mean that these were early attempts of women writing poetry? Now, we don’t blame women for being newspaper editors, poets or dramatists. We hinder do not them from being one. We don’t disapprove of them occupying any office, as much as they can. Our sole grievance is against reducing men to slaves capable of only doing domestic work. Is it fair that the burden of care and protection of children they bear is turned into a liability of ours?

They haven’t done enough to meet our educational needs. Despite our raising our need for exclusive schools and colleges many times, they have ignored us. Despite their decision that we are capable of only domestic work and after having forced us into it, they have not provided us with the necessary instruction in domestic work at school. We are being offered the same subjects and textbooks as them. Young women ill-treat youngsters who are forced to study in the same schools as them. Meanwhile, the infamous tale of how a young woman threw a letter at a high school-going youth and how he complained to the principal, and how she did not inquire into the matter at all against the offending woman has been in the news. Headmistresses also do not listen to the complaint that young women are spilling ink on the shirts of young men and bothering them thus! Though exclusive elementary schools have been established for us in a few places, it is a concern that it was all women who were appointed as teachers. Though a few amongst us has risen to become elementary level headmasters, they are harmed by transferring them off to faraway lands.

Apart from all this, women insult us claiming that our vows to our wives – our patnivratyam  – are insufficient and slander us in their newspapers. That few youngsters amongst us are living as ganikanmaar– prostitutes – in certain city houses that they have leased is indeed a great weakness on our side. But the responsibility to abolish it is on the women who rule and they have failed to act on it. A woman member has introduced a bill in the legislature to abolish the system of polyandry and it is deeply concerning that few other women members are opposing the bill. You all must be aware from the invitation that this today’s meeting is being heldwas convened to discuss this matter and send a joint-representation to the Lady Governor. As my time is limited, I conclude my address and request the subsequent proceedings to be held.

(Applause)
 (K R Gopikrishna is a Master’s student of Political Science at University of Hyderabad.)

Two Reports and Many Strategic Agents: Post-Disaster Thinking in Kerala

Two massive calamities, tremendous losses, continuing signs of serious ecological destruction impending — yet all we Malayalis seem to have produced in response: two reports, and even more frenzied strategic calculation. There is little doubt that the disasters happened in the first place at least partially because of the latter, but there seems to be no rethinking. Instead, we have strategic agents refurbishing their strategies to the new circumstances.

What else explains the Kerala government’s  Rebuilding Kerala Development Programme Report (RKDPR)? It popped up all of a sudden around the end of last year, after the UN-led Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Report (PDNAR), and even members of the Chief Minister’s Advisory Council were caught unawares.  The economist K P Kannan, whose life’s work has been focused on Kerala’s economy, a member of the Council, remarked in a recent interview in the Sastragathy that they did not know of it until the third meeting of the council. None knew who put it together, and there is no mention of this in the report itself. It draws heavily but selectively on the PDNAR, but also perhaps on the projects that were prepared for World Bank funding – and Kannan reaffirms this impression. The draft report was made available online for comments but there is no clear idea about these experts or the public consultations. Continue reading Two Reports and Many Strategic Agents: Post-Disaster Thinking in Kerala

Healing Kerala: Thoughts after the Second Warning

 

Everywhere the talk is still about rebuilding Kerala: I say, we need to talk about healing Kerala. The change in phrasing is not trivial. When we admit that we need to heal, rather than rebuild, we are admitting much that we did not care to own up till now. That is, we would be agreeing that the problem at hand is a human one and not just one that can be resolved through technical intervention; that, as a complex process, it will take its time and quick-fixes will not suffice.  Thankfully, there is a widespread discussion on the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee Report and the Post-disaster needs assessment report of last year; quarrying has been stopped all over the state. Maybe we will heal, indeed. What do we need to do to heal, and not just rebuild? Continue reading Healing Kerala: Thoughts after the Second Warning

After Kavalappara: Is the Future that of Ecological Patriotism?

I guess bad habits in development take a very long time to unlearn. Even in the face of the direst of warnings.

I know that last year, when taken completely by surprise, Kerala rose to the occasion. It appeared that a new civil society had come to being around the flood rescue and relief work, and that promised a new lease of life for our flagging-if-still-working project of people’s planning and political decentralization. It appeared that there was a real chance to stop the bureaucratic-technocratic coterie from shoving this ecologically-fragile area down the path of utterly destructive infrastructure-obsessed growth. It seemed that we could now seriously expose the depredations of the predatory capitalists, especially in the construction sector. Continue reading After Kavalappara: Is the Future that of Ecological Patriotism?