Tag Archives: Marxism

Agony of COVID-19 and the Lockdown – Who is Afraid of ‘Class’? Maya John

Guest post by MAYA JOHN

This essay is the second part of a two-part series on Society in the Time of Covid 19. The first part appeared in Kafila on 5 April and can be read here.

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas…Karl Marx, The German Ideology (1845)

The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked out differently; they are more original, more peculiar, more variated than anyone could have expected. – V.I. Lenin, Letters on Tactics (1918)

रहिमन विपदा हू भली, जो थोरे दिन होय हित अनहित या जगत में, जान परत सब कोय

Crisis of a few days is better/ For it reveals who is friend and who is foe. – Khanzada Mirza Khan Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, ‘Rahim’      (1556 – 1627)

Looking at what transpires each day of this epidemic coupled with lock-down, people appear to be plucked out of heterogeneous circumstances and placed in the homogenous time of “Corona”, putting all things in abeyance. The battered housewife whose alcoholic husband grows restless with every day; mourning relatives who’ve lost a loved one and struggle to make it to the last rites; the live-in ‘maids’ whose workday begins at the crack of dawn; the municipal worker who continues to de-clog our sewer lines to prevent the chance of reverse flow in our commodes; the young, newly-wed construction worker who’s anxious about his wife in the village; the tired nurse who fears she’s contracted the wretched infection; among many other circumstances of life are part of this moment, the epidemic-cum-lock-down. The coupling of epidemic and lock-down has created confusion for some people in terms of which of the two is deadlier. For many this is an unprecedented, exceptional time. But for others this moment is not new but rather a repetition of the similar course of life, with the addition of just another fear. Many are puzzled by how, among all the life-threatening contagious diseases and illnesses in circulation, “Corona” gained prominence.

Continue reading Agony of COVID-19 and the Lockdown – Who is Afraid of ‘Class’? Maya John

‘Beheading’ Marxism, Unleashing Desire: Ghya Chang Fou and the Marxist Unconscious

Ghya Chang Fou is not a Chinese or East Asian word – it is the name of this new dark Bengali satirical film that had its world premiere this September (2018), at the Transart Communication Festival, Nove Zamky, Slovakia.  Below is the official trailer of the film, followed by my take on it – better not read as a review.

The quirky world of Ghya Chang Fou (Joyraj Bhattacharjee, 2017) is best seen and understood as a dream. For, a dream never really adheres to the conventions of linear realistic narrative, and characteristically, scrambles up time and space. Everything makes perfect sense while you are seeing it but do try interpreting your dreams through realist conventions, especially if you are a believer in any form of realism.

Continue reading ‘Beheading’ Marxism, Unleashing Desire: Ghya Chang Fou and the Marxist Unconscious

To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

(Marx Bicentennial lecture – Acharya Nagarjuna University, Guntur, March 16, 2018)

etaddhastidarshana iva jatyandhah

That is like people blind by birth viewing an elephant.

  • (Shankaracharya’s bhasya on Chandogya-Upanisad 18.1)[1]

 

It was six blind men of Indostan,

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

  • John Godfrey Saxe[2]

The ancient Indian parable of blind men and the elephant, popularized in modern times by John Godfrey Saxe’s nineteenth century poem, has often been deployed in philosophical discourses about the nature of reality and its relationship to sense perception. It has served as a useful metaphor in many an argument about empiricist epistemology, moral relativism, cultural plurality, even religious tolerance. No such usage is intended here. My purpose in starting out with the parable is mostly methodological – how does one put together a vision of the beast based on necessarily partial observations of it. Continue reading To Gain a View of the Elephant – India, History, Modernity, and Marx : Ravi Sinha

Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism

Image result for nehru ambedkar

( Photo courtesy : The hoot)

(To be published in the special issue of ‘Janata’)

 

The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.

– Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (1936), pp. 240–241.

If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.

– Ambedkar, ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’, p. 358.

Introduction

India’s slow ushering into a majoritarian democracy is a matter of concern for every such individual who still believes in pluralism, democracy, equality and a clear separation of religion and politics. The way people are being hounded for raising dissenting opinions, for eating food of their choice or entering into relationships of their own liking or celebrating festivals according to their own faith is unprecedented. The situation has reached such extremes that one can even be publicly lynched for belonging to one of the minority religions or for engaging in an activity which is considered to be ‘suspicious’ by the majority community.

No doubt there is no direct harm to the basic structure of the Constitution, its formal structure remains intact, de jure India does remain a democracy as well as a republic, but de facto democracy has slowly metamorphosed into majoritarianism and the sine qua non of a republic—that its citizens are supreme—is being watered down fast. It does not need underlining that this process has received tremendous boost with the ascent of Hindutva supremacist forces at the centrestage of Indian politics. Continue reading Nehru, Ambedkar and Challenge of Majoritarianism

On Religion and Politics: Ravi Sinha

Guest Post by Ravi Sinha

This note is inspired by Subhash Gatade and Aditya Nigam. Subhash wrote a piece, “AK versus NaMo” that appeared on Kafila a few days ago and Aditya made a fairly detailed comment on it underlining the need to have “a proper debate on this issue”. It is foolhardy for me to rush where angels fear to tread. There have been celebrated debates on this in the scholarly circles and, just as phenomena “debate” theories about themselves in their own ways, Indian polity debates this issue all the time. How to make sense of such a tangled issue that fills libraries and unleashes periodic havocs in real life, and that too in a short note? Why even try?

My excuse comes, perhaps, from my ignorance. Many of the axioms of such a debate – e.g. church-state separation was specific to the west and even there it hasn’t worked; religion can never be separated from politics; such a separation, if it were to happen, would exclude the believers from the polity; in a multi-religious society only the maxim of “Sarva Dharma Samabhav” can be the desirable policy of the state; etc – do not appear obvious or acceptable to me. I hope to dispel the notion that my incredulity towards such maxims, and towards the Gandhian-communitarian-postcolonialist-postmodern attitudes in general, originate in my being a run-of-the-mill leftist belonging to the “now defunct Left” who refuses to see that the “communist model” to deal with such issues “has virtually no takers”. I do not share with Aditya an approach towards the Left, but that does not mean that I do not have issues with the latter. It seems to me that it manages an awkward feat of limping on both the legs – one leg is afflicted with dogma and the other with populism. But the other side – the Gandhian-communitarian-postcolonialist-postmodern side – appears even more challenged. Despite its erudition on the one hand and a practical-realist approach on the other, when it comes to actual walking in the political arena, it chooses to walk on one leg only – that of populism. Continue reading On Religion and Politics: Ravi Sinha

Partha Chatterjee on Subaltern Studies, Marxism and Vivek Chibber

At the recent Historical Materialism conference held in Delhi from April 3-5, a panel was organized with great fanfare – an official panel by the HM editors – around Vivek Chibber’s new book Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital. This panel was billed to be a decisive refutation of Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial theory, not only by the chief  theorists and organizers of Historical Materialism but by many other Indians – most of whom in any case have little more than a religious faith in ‘Marxism’ and understand little of Marxism and its history.  There was glee all around and one came across the hurried announcement of a Centre for Marxist Studies that was to host further events around this book against the demon that Chibber had apparently slain. After all, Chibber  was backed by the likes of Slavoj Zizek, Robert Brenner and Noam Chomsky, all of whom  had  endorsed his book as the death knell to  Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial theory. The glee was to be short-lived.

On April 28, at the New York conference of Historical Materialism, the organizers made the mistake of inviting Partha Chatterjee (a representative of a spent force, already buried at the Delhi HM Conference!) to debate the new star on their horizon. The meticulous demolition of Chibber that followed, embarrassed even his most ardent supporters, who had hoped to see the redoubtable Partha vanquished in person. And Chhibber, let our marxist brethren note, is reduced to finally accepting that he is more inclined towards contract  theory than towards Marxism!

Partha, whose years of meticulous engagement with Marxism can hardly be taken on cavalierly by any upstart on the horizon, calmly tore Chibber’s claims to shreds. Many supporters of Chibber’s book have, in social media, glumly  described the 28 April event as a great setback to their cause…

Here is Partha in debate…

My Days with Nationalism in Assam: Ankur Tamuli Phukan

Guest post by ANKUR TAMULI PHUKAN

Many of us who have been studying the political process in Assam were surprised when we received the news in December 2009 that Chairman Arabindo Rajkhowa and some of his colleagues of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) had been arrested in Bangladesh. This moment had to come some day, but we were not prepared to face it. We were familiar with the brave and somewhat legendary image they had created for themselves and needed time to believe that they could be defeated. Continue reading My Days with Nationalism in Assam: Ankur Tamuli Phukan

A Few Lessons on Marxism and Politics

“At a certain point in their historical lives, social classes become detached from their traditional parties. In other words, the traditional parties in that particular organizational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent and lead them, are no longer recognized by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression” – Antonio Gramsci, Prison Noteboooks, International Publishers, New York, 1971, p. 210. Emphasis added)

This is how Gramsci, sitting inside Mussolini’s fascist prison, began his now celebrated discussion of the ‘crisis of hegemony’. I cite this here apropos of the discussion that has gone on some of the previous posts by Monobina Gupta, Sankar Ray and myself on the CPM/Left in West Bengal, in the course of which, I have been accused of ‘coming out’ as a supporter of the Trinamool Congress, which some have also termed as a fascist or even ‘super-fascist’ organization! Clearly, these gentlemen neither know the history of fascism nor indeed of Marxism. Fed on pamphlets of a certain marxist catechism, they have learnt only one thing: the division of the world into two camps where ostensibly, battle lines are permanently drawn between parties that apparently have a ‘mandate from heaven’ of bearing a particular class character, either bourgeois or working class. I hope none of those who have learnt their ‘dialectics’ or their ‘historical materialism’ from marxism-made-easy pamphlets of Emile Burns, Maurice Cornforth and Stalin will jump to pronounce Gramsci a postmodernist who denies this supposed ‘class essence’ of parties . (I am told though that these too are passe now; ‘cadres’ these days are not meant to read beyond party resolutions and ‘theoretical’ essays of Prabhat Patnaik, whose own world has stopped with Michal Kalecki).

Continue reading A Few Lessons on Marxism and Politics

The Two Zizeks

Slavoj Zizek spoke on Tragedy and Farce in Delhi on January 5, 2010. He spoke for about an hour and a half, then I responded for about 18 minutes, then he came back spiritedly for about forty-five minutes. This post is in two parts. The first part is the brief intervention I made at Stein Auditorium. In the second part of this post, I expand on my critique in the light of his response. I could not of course, speak after he had spoken the second time, so I’m doing it here.

I

A jinn appeared to a man and granted him three wishes. First, said the man excitedly, I want to be Slavoj Zizek. You idiot, said the jinn. You are Slavoj Zizek.

This is one of the many stories that the internet throws up on the eminent Slovenian Lacanian whom it has been our pleasure to listen to today. His own jokes and anecdotes are of course legendary, the medium through which he makes complex theoretical points. It thus becomes the burden of every unfortunate person writing about him or commenting on his work, to tell a few jokes themselves. Often Profesor Zizek’s own.

So. It struck me that the truth of the joke with which I began is that Slavoj Zizek longs to be Slavoj Zizek. He never quite makes it, though, because Zizek keeps escaping himself. In an interview to The Guardian a couple of years ago, he was asked – What do you most dislike about your appearance? And he replied – That it makes me appear the way I really am.

Having followed Professor Zizek’s work for a while now in growing bewilderment, I understand his predicament There are at least two Zizeks in there, and whichever one manifests himself, Slavoj is taken aback and rather dissatisfied. This is me? He seems to ask.

Continue reading The Two Zizeks

The Žižekian Counter-Revolution

[Slovenian Lacanian-Marxist-Hegelian philosopher and cultural theorist, Slavoj Žižek is visiting India currently and will be delivering a few lectures here. This post is prompted by his visit. Interested Delhi-ites can catch him speak on

4 Jan 2010. 5 p.m. on
“Ideology in the Post-ideological World: The Case of Hollywood”
at Sarai-CSDS. 29 Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi
and
5 Jan 2010. 7 p.m.
“Tragedy and Farce”
Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi]


imaaN mujhe roke hai jo khiNche hai mujhe kufr
ka’aba mere peeche hai kaleesa mere aage

[Faith holds me back when infidelity beckons/
Behind me, the Kaaba; before me, the Church]

It is difficult to miss the immense subversiveness of the  dilemma encapsulated in Ghalib’s couplet above.  This dilemma of the believer is produced by the constant threat of corruption – the Kaaba behind the believing Muslim holds him back from indulging in, or falling prey to, the infidelities and temptations that always lie in wait.

Substitute Marxism for Kaaba  and ‘postmodernism’ for Church, and you have the perfect Žižekian incarnation of this classic Ghalibian dilemma: Not quite at home in the Faith (Lacan, jouissance, surplus-enjoyment, the Real…) and yet, not able to leave it either, for the fear of what might befall one deserting the Order. Faith is the anchor that holds one back from committing all kinds of blasphemies. Nevertheless, the seductions of infidelity force our philosopher to turn for sustenance precisely to the philosophers and ideas he mistrusts: unlike most members of the Marxist faith, he repeatedly returns to Nietzsche, Heidegger, to Derrida, Foucault, Laclau and Deleuze. He takes over their language and makes himself at home in it. Is there a hidden jouissance in thus frequenting this forbidden territory?

Continue reading The Žižekian Counter-Revolution

Chinese memories

Suddenly the other day, on the 3 of June 2009, in a bizarre flash of memory I went back two decades ago, June 3 1989. As is well known, hundreds of students in Beijing had begun a protest a few months ago with wide-ranging critiques of the regime – more democracy, end to corruption and workers rights. They were joined by workers, office goers, Beijing residents, local party officials, just about everyone else. Soon the protests had spread all over China, there were demonstrations everywhere. A Chinese friend of mine was in Tiananmen Square, the main centre of the protests. He later told me – “we were all giddy, everyone traveled free in trains to Beijing, people helped us with food and water on the streets, we sang the Internationale and all the old revolutionary songs, suddenly they felt real not false…” All went to Beijing.

For many on the left in India, China occupies a peculiar, proximate place. The events of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia, when Soviet tanks crushed uprisings, did not cause the storms they did in the European left. But China was different – it was in Asia, a large peasant society with an old civilization, and the site of one of the great revolutionary transformations that had begun in the nineteenth century. China had to be different. When the Naxalite militants scribbled ‘China’s path is our path’ or ‘Listen to Radio Beijing’ on the walls of Calcutta in 1969, they were probably out of their mind, but only just.
Continue reading Chinese memories

Re-booting Communism Or Slavoj Zizek and the End of Philosophy – I

Zizek - the postmodern Lenin?
Zizek - the postmodern Lenin?

Today, 13 March, a whole galaxy of philosophers and theorists got together for a three-day conference “On The Idea of Communism” under the auspices of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, London University. The Conference opened to a jam-packed hall where all tickets had sold out (no jokes, this was a ticketed show where the likes of Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Jean Luc-Nancy, Toni Negri, Jacques Ranciere, Terry Eagleton and many many others are to perform on the ‘idea of communism’). The huge Logan hall with a capacity of about 800-900 was so packed that the organizers had made arrangements for video streaming in another neighbouring hall – and that too was half full! Very encouraging in these bleak days.

The conference began in the afternoon with brief opening remarks by Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. Badiou made his general point (see below) about the continuing relevance of the ‘communist hypothesis’. Staid and philosopherly. Continue reading Re-booting Communism Or Slavoj Zizek and the End of Philosophy – I

Cities, Cars and Buses: The Modern, the Ideological and the Urban

[This post is a response both to Aarti Sethi’s post on the BRT, as well as to Aman Sethi’s posts recently and this one earlier and as well as to some of the comments it generated.]

In 1970, Henri Lefebvre wrote: “the invasion of the automobile and the pressure of the automobile lobby have turned the car into a key object, parking into an obsession, traffic into a priority, harmful to urban and social life. The day is approaching when we will be forced to limit the rights and powers of the automobile. Naturally, this won’t be easy, and the fallout will be considerable” (The Urban Revolution, 19).

Talking about the BRT corridor in Delhi, its worth remembering many other urban clashes – Hausmann’s broad and open ways that opened up Paris in the mid 19th century, Robert Moses in New York, and Corbu’s (failed but still so real) plans for just about everywhere outside Europe. Hausmann’s boulevards were about a new kind of street for a new kind of urban formation: the boulevard was part of the birth of the industrial, capitalist city, the city of Baudelaire’s Paris and the “Eyes of the Poor” – the city of the current version of the modern that still shapes/haunts us today. Continue reading Cities, Cars and Buses: The Modern, the Ideological and the Urban