Tag Archives: Gramsci

Gramsci, the “Puranic” and Shekhar Gupta

 

Re-reading Antonio Gramsci lately, in preparation for a webinar organized by the Dean, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad on “Gandhi, Ambedkar, Gramsci”, I was struck by an aspect of his thought that I had not really understood in all its dimensions earlier. This aspect is directly related to the relationship between subalternity and the political party, a  lifelong preoccupation for him, linked in turn to the problem of “philosophy” and “thought”.  Some of the reflections here on this question were also sparked off also by some questions that were raised during the discussion.

Skhekhar Gupta on Taali-Thaali and Diya

It was while searching for something related to the Indian government’s handling of the Covid-19 situation, that I hit upon this astonishing article by Mr Shekhar Gupta, which is my peg for the discussion that  follows. It is an older article (4 April 2020), for I must confess I had stopped reading him long ago given the  sheer predictability of what he had to say. But here he seems to have surpassed himself. The title itself first caught my attention: “Poke fun at taali, thaali, diya and mombatti all you want. Modi couldn’t care less“. Shekhar Gupta was one of those who had, in the run up to the 2014 elections, come out with brass band to clear the way for Narendra Modi’s accession to power. But hadn’t he lately – so I had heard – started expressing some criticisms of the regime? Tavleen Sigh certainly had. So what is Gupta saying? Well for one thing, I realized that his deep fascination with the Modi persona continues unabated but that is something I can’t blame him for. We can’t determine what our taste-buds like, can we? I am also not surprised that Gupta’s tone regarding his imagined secular-liberal adversaries is one of derision. What struck me was that all that he is basically saying in the article is that Modi knows who he should speak to and he is able to read the popular mind, but this banality is presented as one great insight of all times!

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‘Revolution against Das Kapital’ and the ‘Lonely Hour of the Economy’

This is a modified version of the article that was published earlier in The Wire

(T)he economic dialectic is never active in the pure state; in History, these instances, the superstructures etc – are never seen to step respectfully aside when their work is done or, when the Time comes, as his pure phenomena, to scatter before His Majesty the Economy as he strides along the royal road of the Dialectic. From the first moment to the last, the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes. – Louis Althusser, For Marx, London: Verso 1979, p. 113

The event known to the world as the ‘October’ revolution in Russia – or simply as the ‘Russian revolution’ – took place on 7-8 November, a hundred years ago. But then why call it the October revolution? Thereby hangs a tale – the tale of modernity, myth-making and of a new imagination of Time.

The moment of revolution, image courtesy libcom.org
The moment of revolution, image courtesy libcom.org

As a matter of fact, the Revolution occurred on 25-26 October, according to the Julian calendar (so called because it had been promulgated by Julius Caesar), which Russia, along with a large part of the Western world, followed at that time. It was only in January 1918 that the Soviet government decreed the shift to the Gregorian calendar. The reason was that Russia should join ‘all cultured nations in counting time’, as a decree cited by historian Mark Steinberg put it. Accordingly, the first anniversary of the revolution was celebrated on 7 November 1918 throughout the Soviet Union.

What is interesting here is not so much the shift but the reason assigned for it – joining other ‘cultured nations’ of the world, which in the language of the early twentieth century meant only one thing – the modern West, which had long been setting the norm for everything desirable. Ways of ‘counting time’ too had to be aligned with Europe, lest one be considered insufficiently modern. Spatially, the Czarist Russian empire straddled both Europe and Asia, which had already, in the new reckoning of Time, been cast as ‘advanced’ and ‘backward’ respectively. The desire to become modern and join the ‘cultured nations’ was to run through the history of the revolution and its consolidation into the new Stalinist state. This desire was to be manifested in its deep distrust of the peasantry and rural life on the one hand, and in the frenetic drive to ‘catch up’ with Western Europe. As Stalin would say, he wanted to accomplish in a couple of decades what Europe had in a few centuries, compressing time, as it were, into one dizzying experience for entire society. The continuing ‘past’ had to be annihilated.

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Jyoti Basu and the Passing of an Era

Jyoti Basu, Promode Dasgupta and Saroj Mukherjee
Jyoti Basu, Promode Dasgupta and Saroj Mukherjee

With the passing away of Jyoti Basu, the curtain comes down on an entire chapter of communist history in this country. Basu may have been the last of a generation that learnt its politics in the stormy days of the anticolonial struggle and who lived through the ups and downs of politics – from the underground days of the 1930s and 1940s to the initiation into the ways of parliamentary democracy. The long engagement with parliamentary democracy was to lead to Basu’s – and the communists’ – long stint in power. And Basu was one of those rare communists for whom democracy was not a mere strategic imperative but a value to be internalized.

Basu belonged to a generation of communists who worked their way from the bottom up. Trained in Law in England, Basu returned to India, determined to work in the communist movement. Muzaffar Ahmed, the then secretary of the undivided communist party sent him to work among the railway workers. It was there, working among and organizing the railway workers that Basu entered mass politics.  It was probably in this process that Basu developed his distinctive style of politics – a style that we have yet to understand fully.

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Nationalisms, Militarization and the Politics of War in Sri Lanka: Ahilan Kadirgamar

Any discussion of Sri Lanka at the moment can not avoid discussion of the war.  And at the heart of discussions on the war in Sri Lanka, is the question of what will come after the war, at least after an end to the war in its conventional mode with defeats faced by the LTTE on the battlefield.  It is indeed important to grasp that the current state of anxiety is not only about the war but also what will come after the war.  From the London based Economist to Tamil activists in and outside Sri Lanka, this has become the central question.  I write this article as a dissenting Tamil activist and as a member of that diverse set of Tamil activists both inside and outside Sri Lanka, who chose to stand independent of the LTTE, but whose politics nevertheless at the moment is dispersed from the Left to the Right, across a whole range of issues from class, nationalism, caste to gender.  In thinking about the outcomes after the war, just as we could not predict the direction of the war prior to its resumption, we can not predict the outcomes after the war, which are part of the dynamic of war; it drastically changes the political landscape.  But we nevertheless take positions on the war; on either side or against the war.  And those positions are explicitly political, they are underpinned by a politics, whether they are pro-war or, as has been less commonly acknowledged that of anti-war.  Indeed, an anti-war position itself can be arrived at from different political positions, from a pacifist stand to that of political expediency depending on the military fortunes of one actor or another.  It is such politics of war that I intend to explore here in relation to the dynamics of nationalisms and militarization in Sri Lanka.

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