It is interesting that though Marxism was born in Europe, it has found its most enduring habitat in the Global South, but this has meant very little in terms of its overall theoretical formation and structure. Thinking about this encounter of ‘Marxism’ and the ‘Global South’ – the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America – is a daunting task for the sheer range of experiences and questions it has thrown up. It has thrown up fundamentally new concerns as well as produced, in practice, some of the most grotesque outcomes. But the task is also daunting because despite the range of experiences that Marxism has gone through and has put us through, it has not so far given us any serious body of theoretical knowledge that reflects this experience. It has not given us anything like the way, say, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Sinhala Buddhism have produced their own versions of Buddhist philosophy. One could also perhaps say the same thing about Christianity in Europe, where – at least up to a point – its philosophy was elaborated and innovated or transformed by the best minds of their time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are reproducing below a statement issued by NTUI
NTUI Statement On the Fight Against Corruption
Workers’ life and work experiences are very different from those of the middle class and the ruling elite; so is their experience with corruption. For the middle class, corruption is a mechanism to accelerate government procedures in the public or private sectors. For the working class, corruption deepens their experience of subordination. Instances of corruption that are directly experienced by the working people are the result of the unequal power relations that govern workers’ daily interaction with public institutions and is therefore contributing to a sense of distrust and loss of faith in these institutions. There can be little doubt that corruption affects the working class disproportionately more than it affects economically more privileged sections of society.
In the last one year, I have often found myself going back to a conversation I had had with a Maoist ideologue. As it happened, it was he who started interrogating me about my stand on violence. ‘So, you have become a Gandhian?’ he demanded. I must confess I was a bit taken aback, not quite able to figure out the context of this poser. ‘What do you mean by Gandhian’, I kind of mumbled. Pat came his reply: ‘Well you have been making some noises lately about Maoist violence, haven’t you?’ Suddenly it all became clear. Through this ridicule, he was trying to appeal to that part of me that still remained marxist – presumably now buried in some remote past – and to resurrect it against my ostensible ‘non-marxist’, ‘liberal’ present (for which ‘Gandhian’ was some kind of a short hand code). I found myself at a loss of words. Does a criticism of the mindless and nihilistic violence of the Maoists make one a Gandhian? Is there no space left between these two polar positions? The conversation did not go very far that day but has kept coming back to me ever since.
There are times when our critical antennae do not perk up. We do not wish to decode certain signs because we are all implicated in them. Following the 14 September blasts in Delhi, suddenly the media found a new value in ragpickers, street vendors, auto drivers and others who live on the fringes of the city and are generally looked down upon by people who inhabit apartments, blogs, cars (and autos, I must add).
Suddenly, by 15 September, ragpicker Krishna was canonized as a ‘hero’ by the media, the police and the state (the Delhi government claims credit for saving some lives with its ‘eyes and ears’ policy). Yet, Times of India prefaced its report about Krishna thus: Continue reading Some images do not disturb→