[‘Parapolitics’ began on 16 January 2020 as a weekly column at the height of the anti-CAA movement. After eight weeks, it was made into a fortnightly column and now, eighteen months and 44 posts later, as I get involved with a study of Marxisms in the ‘Global South’, beginning with this post, this column will now appear once a month, on the second Saturday of every month.]
What happened at Jantar Mantar on 9 August – the anniversary of the Quit India movement – was not just violently anti-Muslim in the slogans raised; it was also symptomatic of the larger counter-revolutionary shift that has taken place in our politics. That Quit India or the ‘August revolution’ day was sought to be taken over as a final gesture of that grand victory that the Sangh Combine believes it has already won, is telling. It is telling also because it is a formation that studiously stayed away from the mainstream of the anticolonial struggle but now wants to take over that legacy and saffronize it. How the rally was organized and continued to be held despite the police claiming it had no permission to do so, does not remain so much of a mystery once you realize that the key organizers are Sangh/BJP leaders or parts of the larger network of terror associated with them. But that is another matter. It is important to recognize that incidents like these are but signs of a new stage in the ongoing counter-revolution where the Hindu Right is no longer content with claiming its own distinctiveness in opposing mainstream (Congress-led) nationalism but is out to make a determined bid to appropriate the entire legacy of that nationalism. The insistence, in recent times, on the national tricolour as a sign of its aggressive nationalism, is entirely of a piece with this attempt to occupy the mainstream.
I am interested in ‘Marxism’ as a field or a force-field in the sense in which we think of electromagnetic or gravitational fields, where objects and bodies impact on other bodies and objects, and have effects, without necessarily coming into contact.
Ever since the 2008 financial crisis and the beginning of the end of the neoliberal order, when sales of Marx’s writings, of Capital in particular, went up dramatically, there have been prognostications of the ‘return of Marx’. Indeed, there has also been an attempt, for a much longer time now, especially after the collapse of Soviet-bloc socialism, of a ‘return to Marx’. Both the millennial expectation of Marx’s Second Coming and that of a ‘return to’, display a distinct theological orientation – insisting on a return to the pristine source, uncontaminated by the ‘deviations’ wrought by Leninist or Maoist-inspired practice in the underdeveloped regions of the world.
It is time again to state one thing absolutely clearly. ‘Class struggle’ or ‘class warfare’ were not invented by Karl Marx, for he and his predecessors merely identified and named the beast. It is something that the rich and the powerful always did and continue to do as we speak. Look at the way the Indian lumpenbourgeoisie has bared its fangs, even as the country is reeling under the deadly impact of COVID 19; look at the way it is sharpening its knives, waiting for its opportunity to make a kill – and you will know what class war is all about. Look at them and it will be crystal clear that it is not the hapless migrant worker and the poor – or the peasant who silently commits suicide – who indulge in this thing called class war, but they who prey on the weak and the dispossessed. They are once again preparing to make good their losses by yoking in workers as slaves, not allowing them to travel safely back to their homes, keeping them hostage to lumpencapital and ready with their plans to make them work for 12 hours a day. There isn’t even a pretense – barring an Azim Premji here or an Asian Paints there – of recognizing workers as partners or stakeholders in business.
In a sense, ‘lumpencapitalism’ and the ‘lumpenbourgeoisie’ are the general form of Indian capital, pioneered by Dhirubhai Ambani and his Reliance Industries (interested readers can read The Polyester Prince by Hamish McDonald) and its arrival with Gautam Adani whose recent rise to front ranks is generally understood to be linked to his closeness to the present regime. And in between, we have conglomerates like Sahara India, whose ‘primitive accumulation’ is alleged to have come almost entirely through chit fund theft.
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→
The pandemic has exposed wealthy states’ neglect of healthcare. A new medical internationalism is needed.
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.
Modernity and socialism can be daunting subjects. Both have had a long history and both have impacted on humanity in ways few other ideas, systems or forms of life have. In a famous incident, perhaps not entirely apocryphal, Chou En Lai, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution on the western civilization by Richard Nixon, is supposed to have answered, “It is too soon to tell.” It seems to me that Chou’s riposte would hold well, and with a far greater force, if the same question were to be asked a few hundred years from now about the impact of modernity or of socialism on the entire human civilization.
One asks for trouble on other counts too when proposing to deal with these topics. They have both been explored and debated endlessly and both remain enormously controversial. In the domain of ideas and theories, they generate intense, sometimes fierce, intellectual passion. In the domain of real life, they give rise to monumental conflicts and struggles even as their influences continue to seep imperceptibly into ever deeper layers of societies and forms of life through pathways that are hard to track. One must have a good reason for raking up, as many might say, a subject where ashes of time find it difficult in any case to settle on an exasperatingly burning fire. Those too, who would like to continue stoking the fire of historical and emancipatory transformations promised by these words, would need a good reason for re-entering the subject. Whether I have one or not should best be left to be judged at the end of the hour, but one must hope to add something useful and meaningful to the debate. Continue reading Mutant Modernities, Socialist Futures: Ravi Sinha→