Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

The Taming of the Shrew: India’s Left in the 2019 Elections

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“…the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?”

– Bertolt Brecht

“Procrustes, or the Stretcher …had an iron bedstead, on which he used to tie all travellers who fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed, he stretched their limbs to make them fit it; if they were longer than the bed, he lopped off a portion. Theseus served him as he had served others.”
– Bulfinch’s Mythology

1. Elections are procrustean rituals in an institutionalised democracy to contain and channel the social (over)flow and productivise it to manufacture a government and its legitimacy. By recursive re-discretisation of the social flow into manageable units, the citizenry is recomposed. In these elections, it is not the public that elects the government but the state that reassembles the public to produce the government. This reconstituted public gets the government that it deserves.

2. In the elections of 2019, against the right wing politics of communal polarisation, the left liberals in India have been seeking to pose a different sort of polarisation. Either you are on this side or that side. It doesn’t matter even if some who are on this side, earlier they were on the other and next time again they may fall there, whenever the juggling of elections happens and post-electoral alliances are made. For them, the poles are poles, stuck to the ground.

3. Hence, there is more to the 2019 elections for our nationalist left liberals. As they themselves say, it is a historic moment. And it is indeed something historic that liberal manichaeism seeks to achieve. If BJP is, what they say, a fascist party, then the liberals are imagining something unique in these elections – of defeating fascists in the elections. The fascist regimes, classically, might have come through elections, but have never been eliminated in them.

4. Now, the only strategy that seems to achieve this is by ensuring that votes are not divided (for which a Manichean binary is necessary). Marx’s dictum that all such phrases of not splitting votes and that the reactionaries might win because of the split are meant to dupe the proletariat seems outdated for the doomsday New Left. They want to defeat neoliberal authoritarianism through the procrusteanism of liberal democracy, while the right seeks to synchronise them.

5. However, by posing and making these elections as a two party contest, our marginalised left liberals are binding themselves to the dangerous game of attracting the median voter. In a bipolar contest the result is a more and more identity of opposites. And when much of the opposition is already centred on non-oppositional disagreements rather than based on any principled opposition, the difference is internal. You are but an image of your opponent.

6. They identify the hindutva brigade as a fascist pole, against which they want to see everyone else together. However, this ideal has never been realised, perhaps fortunately for the benefit of the left liberals themselves. The divided regional forces whether in NDA or outside are the only respite against homogenised authoritarianism in the country. From within liberal democracy, the intensification of regionalist localism, along with institutionalised parliamentarianism are the only safeguards left against the hindutva brigade. This is what left liberals don’t realise when they indulge in their anti-fascist rhetoric. Anyway, with this rhetoric they don’t impress anyone but themselves. The major regional forces whenever they take up this rhetoric seriously, they use it merely as a bargaining chip against centrism.

7. The right wing forces have been the main agencies to recompose the relationship between state and civil society across the globe – of combining authoritarianism with liberal democracy. Only by a complete profanation of institutions that emerged in earlier regimes of accumulation that capital can reproduce the state in the neoliberal conjuncture. The barriers must be broken time and again to refinancialise the social factory – the neat divisions between different socio-economic spheres, between productive and reproductive regimes are obsolete and costly. These barriers that managed the surplus/ superfluous population through much-acclaimed welfarism are not required now – they must integrate to form a continuous reserve army. The desacralisation of liberal social-administrative spheres is part of this process. In recent years the right wing attack that directly concerned the left liberals has been in academia. The academia is increasingly made market friendly, not allowing any section of population to take perpetual “study leave”. It is not the quality that matters but quantity – production for production’s sake. Ultimately all of us produce data, and are data ourselves.

8. The left in the name of defending the “gains” is caught up in a contradictory position of defending the status quo. The right-wing forces, on the other, by attacking those gains show far more clear understanding of the contradictions that they expose. They defend the status quo by eliminating those contradictions and expose the brutal structure in its naked form. But this naked coercion would need a new regime of legitimation, because a long-term overexposure of its coercive apparatus can be a doom for the whole system. One of the gains of the right wing onslaught is to regiment the progressive forces and make them complicit in preserving the status quo, by bringing legitimation back to the structure. The cover-up of gains and incremental progress provides the structure a long life. ‘Defending the gains’ doesn’t always need to be a defence of the socio-administrative structure that provisioned those gains. They can be a ground to recognise, expand and generate more cracks in the structure, and create more crises for its reproduction. And in this negation develops a new grammar of social relations. But for left liberals there is no alternative (TINA) – Liberal democracy or Fascism!

9. In an interview to New Left Review in 1975, Communist thinker and leader K Damodaran lamented the failure of Indian left to differentiate between state and government, and hence, their inability to understand their relationship too. There are some who confuse between state and government to pose the impossibility of immediate political actions and there are others who find this confusion very productive, when haloed as the relative autonomy of the state and the political, to justify indulgence in bourgeois polity.

10. In fact, this confusion is one of the means through which the state avoids an overexposure. It is how it camouflages itself in the everydayness of governmentality. The state’s mood fluctuations, given a constant reshuffling in the relationship between the political and the economic, emerge as multiple political fetish-forms, as political forces, and even regimes. You can worship the state in whichever form you like – if nothing suits you, you pronounce it, you will get what you need – a new form! The spirit of state is fathomless and boundless – all political forms, their enthronement, dethronement or re-enthronement combine to constitute “the rhythm of the spirit”. The magic of capitalist state works on only one principle, which Prince Tancredi Falconeri pronounced –

“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi” (“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”) – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo)


Written by Pratyush Chandra

May 2, 2019 at 11:12 am

The Game of Pursuit, Or the Chowkidar-Chor Narrative

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अत्तुं वाञ्छति शांभवो गणपतेराखुं क्षुधार्तः फणी
तं च क्रौंचरिपो: शिखी गिरिसुतासिंहोऽपि नागाशनम्।
इत्थं यत्र परिग्रहस्य घटना शंभोरपि स्याद्गृहे
तत्रान्यस्य कथं न भावि जगतो यस्मात्स्वरूपं हि तत्॥

“The snake on the body of Siva, oppressed with hunger, wishes to eat Ganapati’s mouse; him (the snake) Kartikeya’s peacock wishes to devour; while Parvati’s lion (her vehicle) desires to make a meal of the elephant (mouthed Ganapati-mistaken for an elephant): when such is the constitution of Siva’s household even, how can such a state of things be not found in the rest of the world, since such is but the nature of the world?”

Thus Panchatantra takes the game of pursuit as “the nature of the world” and teaches the strategies and tactics to survive and win in the fields of commerce, state affairs and everyday life. If that was true of the ancient centuries of Indian history, what can we say of our own conjuncture. Our daily lives are proof of this, and so is our politics. But Panchatantra’s time had a solace that the plans or evil intentions did not often succeed, and hence the world continued to exist:

सर्पाणां च खलानां च परद्रव्यापहारिणाम् ।
अभिप्राया न सिध्यन्ति तेनेदं वर्तते जगत् ॥

But today there is no escape. We are all chowkidars (security guards), and, therefore, are chors (thieves) – of course, relatively.


Games People Play

The chowkidar-chor narrative is an opportunistic discursive instrument to impress upon the public to garner votes. But why does it have an appeal? Because, it is the folklore (katha) of our times, an articulation of our prevailing common sense, as Gramsci would put. It is so organic that it can be called infantile. Why not, even a child finds a voice in this dialectical narrative. Isn’t it the same game of chor-police that children play, where every child knows that the chor and the police are floating signifiers?

This narrative resonates with the psyche of our times. And thus, instead of simply condemning it we must take it as a symptom of the sickness that afflicts our social body or more correctly, a sign of its (un)healthiness. It is only by accessing the materiality of our social body through a critical understanding of such narratives, that we can access the healthy sections of our social body whose nourishment is our only hope. In other words, this narrative is a key to unlock “the healthy nucleus that exists in ‘common sense’”(Gramsci). Its analysis and critical retelling can trigger a much wanted alienation effect in this hyper-immediate responsive world by providing space-time to objectively understand ourselves – the nature of our world. Only thus can emerge the good sense, and the critical sense. It can be a parable for meditations and to develop mediations to grasp the material element of immediate consciousness and spontaneous philosophies of our times.

The lore reveals the stark nature of the neoliberal conjuncture – a near universal feeling of being hunted, and a universal aspiration of becoming a hunter. This game of pursuit-evasion is at the heart of the political and cultural milieu of our conjuncture. Everybody tries to put herself in a position of the pursuer but must evade other pursuers-evaders. “When such is the constitution of Siva’s household even, how can such a state of things be not found in the rest of the world, since such is but the nature of the world?” She can make sense of her existential crisis through such narratives, and learn to live with it. But then, even to transcend this crisis, its understanding is needed, for which what is the better beginning than these narratives themselves – the expressions of this crisis.

More than any institution and organization, it is this narrative that captures and productivises the anxieties of the (post)modern man. An institution lacks the plasticity that an empty narrative or metaphor like this has. The latter can homogenise all experiences by providing them a minimal, but universal form – it adjusts itself to any situation, while an institution must chisel the experiences to fit them.


The Neoliberal State

As a parable, the chowkidar-chor narrative further reveals in a condensed form two sequential and defining characteristics of the (post) modern state that has emerged throughout the globe – especially with the recent right-wing assertions. Firstly, it reveals the nature of the neoliberal state in its bare form – the state’s reduction to chowkidari. And, secondly, its gradual disembodiment and dispersal. Besides the chowkidar (an agent of the state) everybody is a potential chor. Thus, everybody seeks to become a chowkidar. Hence, the agency of the state expands. The state universalizes itself by dissolving itself into every individual. We are the state unto ourselves and others.

So, capital attains the dissolution of the state, while communists are still fighting over statist or anti-statist paths. However, this dissolution is attained by universalization of the state. You will never be able to pinpoint the presence of the state, but it is always present in every nook and corner of our being. It is present through our anxieties and alertness, and their institutionalisation. A globally extended and internally-intended lean (re)produced state is a post-fordist state based on self-and-peer surveillance.

Following Michael Taussig (The Magic of the State, 1997), we can perhaps assert that the state’s presence expands with its disembodiment. The spirit of the state, freed from any particular form, potentially can possess every form. That’s the Magic of the State in the age of Finance and Information. The state, as a node of capitalist accumulation and regulation, seeps into every societal relationship universally equalising them. They all find their universal articulation in the minimalist relationship of the hunter and the hunted, of the chowkidar and the chor.


Internal Relations

न विना पार्थिवो भृत्यैर्न भृत्याः पार्थिवं विना ।
तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनः ॥
अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः ।
स्वामिसेवकयोरेवं वृत्तिचक्रं प्रवर्तते ॥

According to our ancient wisdom, certain relationships are like that of a nave and spokes in a wheel. अरैः सन्धार्यते नाभिर्नाभौ चाराः प्रतिष्ठिताः. “The nave is supported by the spokes and the spokes are planted into the nave.” The nave and the spokes are mutually dependent. This dependence is not external, but तेषां च व्यवहारोऽयं परस्परनिबन्धनम्॥. They are in the relationship of mutual constitutivity. Panchatantra thus explains the nature of the master-slave dialectic. Similar is the relationship between a chowkidar (security guard) and a chor (thief), they constitute one another. Both identities are meaningful only in their relationship. So a chowkidar is himself only in relation to a chor, and a chor in relation to a chowkidar. Hence, the chowkidar must have a chor to pose himself as a chowkidar.

Even if the wheel of relationship turns, which frequently does, the only change will be that the chor will slide to the spokes and become a chowkidar, and the chowkidar will try to cling to the nave and become a chor. Moreover, as the wheel runs infinitely faster in the age of information and as the time-span for completing a cycle becomes smaller, who knows better than our head chowkidar, the chowkidar and the chor become identical.


Chinese Wisdom

The positive opposition in the cycle is caught up in its grammar and its continuity. It can never transcend the binary from within the narrative. The criticism must destroy the enclosures of the narrative freeing the flow of the negative from the chains of positive productivism. The circularity of power can be ruptured only by first recognising its foundation. The great Chinese sage, Lao Tsu provides a hint:

Thirty spokes will converge
In the hub of a wheel;
But the use of the cart
Will depend on the part
Of the hub that is void.

It is in the emptiness and void of the hub that the reason for the nave, spokes and the wheel is found.

With a wall all around
A clay bowl is molded;
But the use of the bowl
Will depend on the part
Of the bowl that is void.

It is only in that void that the rationale for the existence of a clay bowl resides.

Cut out windows and doors
In the house as you build;
But the use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.

It is the space enclosed by windows, doors and concrete walls that gives meaning to enclosures.

So advantage is had
From whatever is there;
But usefulness rises
From whatever is not.

It is this “whatever is not” that must be grasped to unravel the closed circularity of power, which seeks to absorb the negative therein, to positivise and productivise it, enclose it within the dualism of closed circularity.

[Note: Texts and Translations from Panchatantra have been taken from MR Kale (1912), Pancatantra of Visnusarman, Delhi: MLBD. (Reprint 2015) There are variations both in original texts and interpretations in various published versions of Panchatantra, but the narratival tenor and ideas are more-or-less same.]

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 20, 2019 at 1:32 pm

Reinventing the Underground 8 – 11

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8. Walter Benjamin once said that the fascist political forms are the heightening of cacophonous expulsiveness to politically salvage capitalism from itself. The crisis in embedded liberalism and the rise of neoliberalism in the age of information revolution led to the algorithmization and essentialization of these forms to defer the capitalist collapse.

9. Another German, Heiner Müller records, “Mao Tse-Tung once said that as long as National Socialism was on the attack, it was unbeatable. It was an attack in a void, in empty space, a pure movement, without reserves. The moment the attack ground to a halt outside Moscow, it was over. The first stop was already the last.” Politics is about preparing for that “moment.” Our task today is to prepare ourselves for the time when the dark forces start having “intestinal spasm”.

10. In a different context, young Marx had identified the devil’s blind spots and their revolutionary significance. In his letters to Arnold Ruge written in 1843, he posed the possibility of systemic implosion:

“The comedy of despotism that is being played out with us is just as dangerous for him, as the tragedy once was for the Stuarts and Bourbons. And even if for a long time this comedy were not to be looked upon as the thing it actually is, it would still amount to a revolution. The state is too serious a thing to be turned into a kind of harlequinade. A ship full of fools could perhaps be allowed to drift for quite a time at the mercy of the wind, but it would be driven to meet its fate precisely because the fools would not believe this. This fate is the impending revolution.”

11. It is high time that we recognise that neoliberal capitalism perpetuates hyper-individualism and subjectivism, while putting them to a perpetual crisis too; and, stop open defecation that this leads to. We must return to the notion of the old mole on a look out for the “underneath reason”. What is needed today is to relive the “underground”, not to “repeat it” as it used to be, but to think, as Lenin commanded, “how to change its forms in a new situation, how to learn and think anew for this purpose.”

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 15, 2018 at 5:43 am

Reinventing the Underground 4 – 7

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4. Spectacular political gymnastics – in which all of us are involved, left, right and centre – is a mere sign of anal expulsive personality that bourgeois liberalism and consumerist economy perpetuate – it is our instrumentalisation. The revolution in information technology has been mobilised to intensify and productivise this anal expulsiveness – you can see how the best minds of counterculture and radical thinking have been formally, if not actually, subsumed in this new enterprise through diverse corporate enclosures of the virtual space.

5. “The smaller a town the more richly it hums with gossip. There are no private affairs here. Gossip is the air we breathe.” (Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians) With technology, the whole world has become one segmented village, even serious thinkers and radicals inhale and exhale this air – gossiping about thoughts, ideas and politics.

6. Negative prefiguration in the form of communist solidarity practices is on “seeing” each other – with hugs, kisses and arms holding (“comrades-in-arms”), but now in the age of instantaneous “viewing”, solidarity is virtual and symbolic, it is reduced to emoticons and thumb signing (“you are doing good, keep it up”). But when we ultimately see each other we recognise and that’s all – virtuality has become our ideological reality in which we closet ourselves.(see Asimov’s The Naked Sun)

7. This public sphere of new media has transformed our reproductive domain to a factory – of bit production where variable capital is almost zero. Ideas and ideologies are discretized, reduced to bits, which are automatically recombined to produce newer ones.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 13, 2018 at 11:24 pm

Reinventing the Underground 3

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It is strange that even self-professing hardcore materialists confuse the contingent with psycho-subjective factors, while reducing the objective to crude necessity. However, atoms of events like any atom are composed of nuclei and binding electrons. The matter of necessity is the nucleus, which is forever bound and negated by the electron-ic, giving shape to the contingent. Hence, our materialists would always consider the pilot – the psychic element to be the subjective and contingent factor. But in this story and in Kluge’s self-explanation, it is the corporeo-human element, i.e., “intestinal colic” which is “smarter” countering the necessary tendencies of “the age of asymmetrical warfare.” The objectification of our “head’s foresight” into general intellect – the machine paralyzing the psycho-human subject, forces our body to strike back. As Epicurus would have said, with whom Marx concurred, atoms do fall, but swerve. It is how the realm of “abstract possibilities” invades that of “actual possibilities”.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 2, 2018 at 8:20 am

Reinventing the Underground 2

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In an interview quoted by Devin Fiore in his Introduction to Negt and Kluge’s History and Obstinacy, Kluge explains, “If intestinal colic prevents the bomber pilot from propagating death in Iraq then his intestines were smarter than his head. And that the intestines do this dates back to a previous time. If the intestines’ ability to anticipate is greater than the head’s foresight — which is also artificially deadened again and again through education — then the intestines were the prophet. It concerns a reason that is underneath reason. That is the core issue.”(159)

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 2, 2018 at 8:10 am

Reinventing the Underground 1

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In his tale “Unintentional Stroke of Luck”, Alexander Kluge narrates the story of a young fighter pilot of the US Air Force who was going to target a wedding celebration suspecting it to be the headquarters of a terrorist gang. But due to “a convulsive evacuation of the pilot’s bowels”, “intestinal spasm” that generated shame and confusion in his mind, the target was missed and “the missiles struck the swampy fields.” In the “age of asymmetrical warfare”, it is this unintentional luck which is “at least one possibility open, when all other luck fails.”

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 2, 2018 at 8:07 am

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