(Written for a bilingual collection published by Mazdoor Mukti (Kolkata), to commemorate the centenary of the Russian Revolution)
“The whole road of socialism – so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned – is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory! Where would we be today without those “defeats,” from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism?” — Rosa Luxemburg
Many times in their political interventions Marx and Engels used the term socialism to signify any critique of capitalism both in theory and practice. In the Communist Manifesto they showed how this critique had provenance in various class standpoints. They developed a typology of socialisms which demonstrated that actually no class was satisfied within capitalism, not even the bourgeoisie; hence these classes developed their own critiques of capitalism, and therefore socialisms. Marx and Engels assessed the political dimensions and limits of these socialisms. How much they could really question capitalism in concrete terms was dependent on the respective class capacities, the location of these classes in the overall capital relations. These class critiques actually shaped the dynamics of capitalism too — exposing its contradictions and motivating changes. But only communism or the critique of capitalism from the standpoint of the working class has the capacity to present an all round critique — being an immanent critique it could go, not just against, but beyond capitalism. Communism or Proletarian socialism is “the expression of historical necessity”. Since “the proletariat has ‘no ideals to realise'”, the proletarian critique “can only breathe life into the things which the dialectics of history have forced to a crisis; it can never ‘in practice’ ignore the course of history, forcing on it what are no more than its own desires or knowledge. For it is itself nothing but the contradictions of history that have become conscious.”(1)
Call them deterministic, if you may, but it is true that Marx and Engels uttered at numerous junctures of their political activism and theoretical reflections that socialism/communism “cannot be ordered by decree”, that “revolutions are not made deliberately and arbitrarily but that everywhere and at all times they are the necessary consequences of circumstances which are not in any way whatever dependent either on the will or on the leadership of individual parties or of whole classes.” (2) But the proof of the pudding is in the eating — whether the circumstances were appropriate or not, whether the revolutions that happened in the twentieth century were postcapitalist/socialist or not, whether the leadership, individual parties etc did or did not rise up to the occasion provided by the circumstances could only be judged retrospectively. As Luxemburg commanded, “The question of why each defeat occurred must be answered. Did it occur because the forward-storming combative energy of the masses collided with the barrier of unripe historical conditions, or was it that indecision, vacillation, and internal frailty crippled the revolutionary impulse itself?” (3) However, even these problems of subjectivity must be explained in terms of their constitutivity — as evolving in the dynamics of the organic social processes that delimit subjectivity formation and freedom.
Fataha is an Arabic word meaning to open, to grant, to be victorious etc. It forms the root for Al Fattah, which is one of the names of Allah and means the Opener. What makes this term, fataha, interesting is the combined dialectical sense that its diverse meanings render. The way it celebrates, yet humiliates the victorious is quite fascinating – the victory or triumph is nothing more (and, of course, nothing less) than an opening. I think the heroic tragedies in history are mostly in forgetting this lesson. The so-called “conscious” radical social agencies often are oblivious of the dialectical truth of transience – they as missionaries, which definitely they are, think they have put the society to the desired pathway to the future, when it was just a mere possibility, one of the many possibilities. In fact, they have done nothing but opened Pandora’s box, bringing the society to the brink of possibilities (and uncertainties). What usually happens is that the phenomenality of the victory preoccupies everybody, it is reified.
The Paris Commune “inaugurated” the “glorious movement” — “the dawn of the great social revolution which will for ever free the human race from class rule.” It was the concrete beginning of coherent revolutionary politics of the working class that continues to train generations of world revolutionaries, despite recurrent reversals as revolutionary advancements are time and again consolidated in the form of nationalistic successes and gains. Even though locally the Paris Commune was crushed, “the presence of the threatening army of the proletariat of the whole world gathering in the rear of its heroic vanguard crushed by the combined forces of Thiers and William of Prussia” “attest the hollowness of their [the enemies’] successes.” (4)
The October Revolution in its initial years was always taken as a mere “opening” for the European Revolution at least, if not the world revolution. It inaugurated a series of working class led revolutionary upsurges throughout Europe. Revolutionaries in Russia were aware of the need for the expansion of the revolution for the deepening of the revolution. Outside Russia, the revolutionary solidarity forces were intensifying their own struggles, which were understood as building upon the successful “opening.” However, as the world revolutionary movement subsided, especially with the defeats of the German Revolution, the “opening” became conscious of its distinction, its own being and endeavoured to survive merely as a state – regimenting internal forces of transformation and manipulating the vestiges of the solidarity forces to ensure its own survival. It became a model state. As the crisis of capitalism deepened, the “Russian Path” emerged as a formidable competitor to welfarist capitalism and techno-social corporatism that evolved to re-regulate national economies. The competition between these political-economic regimes took numerous turns – the Second World War, Cold War, Arms Race, and of course, “peaceful coexistence” that Stalin (not Khrushchev) initiated – “Let us not mutually criticize our systems. Everyone has the right to follow the system he wants to maintain.”(5)
The Chinese Revolution too emerged as an opening for the revolutionary upsurges in various colonial and post-colonial peasant societies that questioned the teleology of market-oriented European capitalism. A planned nationalist transition with a controlled competitive regime, unimpeded by the imperialist politico-economic demands gripped the socialist imagination in these backward societies. We see large revolutionary movements and people’s wars rising in various parts of the world, especially on behalf of the pauperised peasantry and the precarised youth. These movements again saw the Chinese revolution just as an opening. But eventually the crisis of welfarism and statist capitalism, on the one hand, and the Cold War bipolarity, on the other, led to the reduction of various new de-decolonised states into self-hating rentier-bureaucracies, which bargained with the two poles and eventually became the ground for the neoliberal regime of economic restructuring. Ultimately, the Chinese state itself threw away the mantle of the Opener, and entered the fray to attract financialised capital huckstering upon the local institutions, resources and labouring population cheaply available.
On a much smaller scale, the Cuban Revolution too emerged as an opening for the Latin American revolutionaries and in Africa. Most of the time both Cuban and Chinese revolutions combined to inspire peasant revolts. Che Guevara epitomised this opening, lending himself to replicate the Cuban experience across continents – Congo and Bolivia, but to remarkable failures. What he lacked, unlike the Maoist conceptualisation of the protracted war, was the ability to keep politics in command. His guerrilla practices were extreme forms of voluntarism and subjectivism. On the other hand, the Maoist practice internationally suffered from both conceptual and practical overgeneralisation, which came from the legitimate practice of developing “base areas.” The territorial militarist symbolism and existentialism of localised peasant struggles overpowered the political sense of these movements. This led to the subservience of every expansion to secure base areas, which were increasingly surrounded and squeezed by the globalised networks of the capitalist circuit. Hence, the base areas remained central to revolutionary survivalism, while becoming marginal to the overall anti-capitalist movement of the working class. Guerrillas became identities in themselves, rather than “masses in arms”, as Kwame Nkrumah used to define a guerrilla. These movements could never become threats to capitalism, but always remained as actual scapegoats to impose global McCarthyism.
In fact, it was this marginalisation and deadlock that the movements like Zapatistas in Mexico apprehended in the 1980-90s, and were forced to envisage struggle and solidarity beyond instituted territorialities and state power. It was a recognition of the implausibility of the statist imaginary of post-capitalist transformation in the age of financialised transnational capital regimes. The critique of militarism and vanguardism presented by movements like the Zapatistas was the clarity that “you cannot reconstruct the world or society, or rebuild national states now in ruins, on the basis of a quarrel over who will impose their hegemony on society.” (6) The impetus to recognise and build a world of many worlds was not a simple rhetoric to revert to some united front tactics. It was a result of a deeper critique of relative “human conditions” and a self-critique of revolutionary practice, that was fixated upon the pre-determined goal of capturing state power. The critique of vanguardism that the Zapatistas presented was an affirmation of the vanguard as constantly (re)composed in the diverse levels of struggle – “We do not want to monopolize the vanguard or say that we are the light, the only alternative, or stingily claim the qualification of revolutionary for one or another current. We say, look at what happened. That is what we had to do.” (7) Of course, by relinquishing the aim of state power, they affirm themselves to be only a subset of the protracted global struggle. The Zapatistas provided an opening for the movemental critique of capitalism and capitalist state-formation, but the hypostatisation of the movement form that happened subsequently externalised this critique and reduced it to a dualism of state and civil society, that the process of state formation has always sought to pose. The powerful Zapatista experiment was eventually circumscribed within the NGOised civil society discourse – lobbyist rights, localist self-help politics and difference assertion which suited the neoliberal political economy based upon an infinite discretisation of human capacity and lean politics. The solidarity politics and economy that were envisaged in the Zapatista movement were abandoned in favour of identitarianist assertions, rights discourse and lifestyle autonomy. Instead of negating the state in practice, the state question was left unproblematised, avoided and wished away.
If the post-Keynesian neoliberal counterrevolution professes to minimise the State by proclaiming it out of bounds from economy, it is simply vocalising the given divide between the economic and the political that characterises the capitalist system itself. What this divide means is the politics of depoliticisation of exchange relations – therefore, economy is always political economy, even if it is depoliticised. Whichever state form that has existed in the history of the modern state has come into being to facilitate the reproduction of exchange relations. The function of state in all its forms is to soak away the organic emergence of class struggle in these exchange relations, and limit it to the political superstructure. If the Zapatistas exposed the crisis of valorisation on the margins of exchange relations and they could effectively practice “the idea of simply turning our back on the state,” their practice could not become more than an inspiration for those who found themselves enmeshed in exchange relations. John Holloway notes, “…there is no golden rule, no purity to be sought. Thus, for example, the Zapatistas in Chiapas make an important principle of not accepting any support from the state, whereas many urban pro-Zapatista groups in different parts of the world accept that they cannot survive without some form of state support (be it in the form of unemployment assistance or student grants or – in some cases – legal recognition of their right to occupy a social centre).” (8)
It was in the particular conditions of urban and semi-urban locations at the very heart of exchange relations, that the risky in-the-state struggle became once again important. Especially in those countries where extractive industries are at the centre of economy and/or where the stark instrumentalisation of state institutions by (g)local agencies of capital through purported neo-colonial mechanisms scuttled the local capacity to self-determine, the “opening” that Chavez’s Venezuela epitomised was significant. This revived the ground for people-oriented nationalist/statist efforts, but with a difference – there was a strong apprehension toward the statist primacy. Of course, the question of state power was posed by the barrios themselves, but with an evident sense that the state itself can never be transformed, but destroyed. The issue was to rein in state power to unleash a constant drive towards collective self-determination, rather than a pre-determined complete self-determination circumscribed within the instituted territoriality. The situation of dual power must be constantly posed, where popular autonomy is distrustful and vigilant towards the state, while class conflicts continually politicise exchange relations at every level and extend the reach of solidarity economy beyond territorial limits. Any slippage in this regard is an advantage to statism which eventually reduces dual power to the duality of the political and the economic – allowing capital to technicise the political recomposition of the working class to bring back exchange relations and capitalist accumulation on track.
The lessons of the so-called twenty-first century socialisms, including the Bolivarian “revolutions” in South America, are once again very elementary that until and unless successes are taken as mere openings for the revolution to be built upon, they are bound to implode. Rosa Luxemburg, a revolutionary for all seasons, reminded us a long time ago, “Either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy, resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it is quite soon thrown backward behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counter-revolution. To stand still, to mark time on one spot, to be contented with the first goal it happens to reach, is never possible in revolution.” (9) In this age of the permanent crisis of capitalism and of generalised precarity, we will face numerous such reversals and can only hope to emerge every time a bit wiser.
(1) Georg Lukacs (1968) History and Class Consciousness, Merlin, London, p. 177-78.
(2) Frederick Engels (1847) Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith.
(3) Rosa Luxemburg (Jan, 1919) Order Prevails in Berlin.
(4) Karl Marx [2011 (1872)] “Resolutions of the Meeting held to celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Commune,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, p. 287.
(5) J.V Stalin (1947) Coexistence, American-Soviet Cooperation, Atomic Energy, Europe: Interview with Harold Stassen. In For Peaceful Coexistence: Post War Interviews, International Publishers, New York, 1951.
(6) Marcos quoted in Alex Khasnabish (2010) Zapatistas: Rebellion from the Grassroots to the Global, Zed Books, London, p. 83.
(7) Marcos quoted in Alex Khasnabish (2010), p. 64.
(8) John Holloway (2005) Change the world without taking power, Pluto Press, London, p. 235.
(9) Rosa Luxemburg (1918) The Russian Revolution. Available at marxists.org
“…it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” – Karl Marx (1)
“We do not think or plan in piecemeal, but in full-scale design. It is just that we are revealing our cards gradually…” – Narendra Modi (2)
The left-liberal intelligentsia in India is clearly in a quite precarious state, if it finds ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s criticism of demonetisation as the most competent response to the Modi Government’s move. The daily peddling by left social media activists of the criticisms that mainstream economists are making of demonetisation is a symptom of the Indian left’s lost confidence (if it ever had any). Even those who have come up with more erudite responses are lost in the grammar of the move — its immediate performance and effects — and have concluded that demonetisation is poor, bad and ignorant economics. Coming from a chaiwala, what else can it be!!!
In our view, Modinomics is a legitimate successor to Manmohanomics — it is a continuity entrenched in the dynamic needs of capitalist accumulation. Post 1990, India has seen governments of all colours, but the coherence of the Indian state has rarely faltered on the economic front. The rulers with all their electoral compulsions have succeeded in maintaining, if not accelerating, the neoliberal regime. However, this does not mean the political shade is merely external and cosmetic — politics in an electoral democracy is all about reshuffling social anxieties and interests in a manner that allows the state system to self-reproduce.(3)
Financial Expropriation and the Emergence of a Debtfare State
Demonetisation is a misnomer. It is not an attack on money by demonetising economies. Rather, it is a spectacular yet momentary unravelling and strengthening of the adamantine chain around so-called economic independence and growth in capitalism. In fact, it is a heightened expansion of money as financial and political-economic control. It is an effort to assess and consolidate the expanse of economic activities and transactions and thwart any possibility of parallel economic regimes. Delegitimising particular denominations of currency becomes a means to reclaim those activities, and reassert money as a universal measure of value, not as a means to autonomise particular levels of economy, by treating it as a mere facilitator of exchange or a means of hoarding. Money creates boundaries only to expand and cross them. Money measures the immeasurable, it equalises the most unequal. It institutes hidden connections between phenomena quite remote from one another — the vertical control however is revealed only at particular junctures of economic development through the action of state. In our opinion, demonetisation is an assertion of the universality of “universal equivalence”, i.e., money. This means consolidation of the linkages between layers of social relationships in the economy — strengthening of the neoliberal concentration and centralisation of capital.
There are two chief processes that define the neoliberal regime of capitalist accumulation, and demonetisation is remarkably connected with both of them. These processes are financialisation and informalisation, which in the present heat of the demonetisation debate, have been popularly dubbed as cashlessness and black/parallel economy respectively.
Financialisation has three main features. First, non-financial corporations increasingly financialise themselves, relying on retained profits and open financial markets for investments, rather than on banks. Even their wage bill “is frequently financed through the issuing of commercial paper in open markets.” Second, there is a restructuring of the banking operations by re-orienting them towards mediating “in open markets to earn fees, commissions and profits from trading”, on the one hand, and towards individuals/households “to obtain profits from lending but also from handling savings and financial assets”, on the other. With the active help of state through legislative measures and encouragement, the banks mobilise personal savings for peddling in stock markets.(4)
Lastly, and most importantly, in recent years “the personal revenue of workers and households across social classes” has been increasingly financialised. On the one hand, this specifically signifies that there has been a substantial increase in personal and household debts for various life needs – consumption, housing, health, education, etc. On the other hand, it shows there has been an expansion in the range of financial asset holdings — for medical and life insurance, pension and old-age benefits, various short- and long-term money market investments, etc. This relates obviously to a withdrawal of state-supported public provisions in the form of subsidies and direct benefits, and hence their privatisation. So, we find a tremendous increase in the involvement of banking and other financial institutions in mediating household consumption, while they have obtained a full freedom to channel “household savings to financial markets, thus extracting financial profits”.
Profiteering through financial transactions between banks and households has a predatory character. Profit here is not raised in the sphere of production, but through “the systematic extraction of financial profits out of the revenue of workers and other social layers”. This is what has been termed as “financial expropriation”. (5)
The current demonetisation move is nothing less than a full-scale financial expropriation in operation. The move has in one go forced small and big cash hoarders run to line up in the queue to reveal and officialise their savings. The government is not allowing these savers to exchange and repossess the whole amount of their savings in cash. This is not simply due to any unpreparedness or erratic behaviour on the part of the Indian state and Reserve Bank of India, as many have alleged. In fact, it is a remarkable move to institutionalise a financialised relationship between the banks and households. Of course, it is too early to judge if demonetisation has really succeeded in altering “nation’s conduct”. But its motive is pretty clear, as finance minister Arun Jaitley has time and again pronounced: “This one decision that has ensured that a lot of money has come into the banking system, a lot of informal savings have become formal now, and therefore, the tendency to invest these more formal savings in instruments that you keep an eye on is also increasing.” Demonetisation is a kind of encouragement to “ordinary citizens to channelise their savings into the market which indirectly would then contribute to the process of national development rather than be blocked only in dead assets”.(6)
Demonetisation is clearing the ground for a systematisation of “cannibalistic capitalism” in India by proliferating secondary forms of exploitation which are not directly linked to production but are financial mechanisms to expropriate. The Indian economy is massively based upon underemployed and under-waged surplus population that constitute the unorganised and informal labour relations. This makes it a very fertile ground for cannibalism that marked the US economy, which was based on the proliferation of various financial mechanisms of expropriation — nay, a financial inclusion of the hitherto excluded. In fact, we see in this move of demonetising specific denominations of the currency an emergence of the debtfare state.
Susan Soederberg defines a debtfare state as one that “legitimates, normalizes, depoliticizes and mediates the tensions emerging from cannibalistic capitalism”. It deregulates finance and provides legal machinery to protect and strengthen banks, thus facilitating an intensification and expansion of “forms of predatory practices.” The debtfare state enhances “the social power of money by legally and morally permitting credit card issuers (banks) to generate enormous amounts of income from uncapped interest rates and by continually extending plastic money to those who fall within Marx’s category of the surplus population: the partially employed (underemployed) or wholly unemployed”. The impact on the labour regime is also significant as “surplus workers” are subjected “to the disciplinary requirements of the market, such as compelling them to find and accept any form of work to continue to be “trustworthy” creditors”.(7)
Demonetisation in 2016 might mark a drastic emergence of a full-scale debtfare state by financially including the massive community of unbanked individuals and households through mobile, e-payment and plastic money. However, this has not happened suddenly. The insistence of the subsequent governments to profile Indian citizens through a unique identification system called AADHAAR and linking it with their everyday economic activities, despite the Indian judiciary pronouncing such moves illegitimate, was already an indication towards building a panopticon, which will make everybody useful and watched under the system. The banking and tax institutions had already started utilising this data. With demonetisation, now that the banks have acquired a full command over the finance of Indian households, a grand system of financial discipline and punishment can be effectively generated. With the proliferation of plastic and mobile/e-connections, our consumption and activities will be regulated, and we will pay for our own regulation.
This connects to the second aspect of neoliberalism, i.e. the process of informalisation, or the generalisation of informality destroying its sectoral and transitional character.
Informalisation and Consolidation
“With the junking of the old high-value currency, the parallel economy has become part of the formal system” – Arun Jaitley (8)
Everybody is talking about the impact of demonetisation on the informal sector, which is heavily dependent on cash transactions. But there is scarcely any analysis that shows how it is shaping the location of informality in the whole economy. Is it an end of informality — of the exploitation of cheap labour? Certainly not. It is an increase in the real subsumption of informality — it is a revelation that sectoral dualism sustained through segmented economies, if not fully illusory, is merely at the levels of appearance and form. The indirect exploitation of surplus population as cheap labour by capitalist firms by accepting the relative autonomy or sectoralisation of informality perhaps needs regimentation today to further expand capital accumulation. Through the so-called demonetization move, capital is arguably seeking to consolidate itself by vertically integrating the horizontalised relationship between formal and informal. It exposes the vulnerabilities of particular capitals seeking to hide their localised parallel levels accounted for in the official bookkeeping only as leakages in the system.
Managing money circulation is about networking and facilitating economic activities and transactions — production and circulation. The left-liberal intelligentsia, including many “Marxists”, are only talking about the impact of demonetisation as immediately experienced. At best, they are prognosticating a dampening of activities and demands, which will have adverse effects on growth. They are only remotely touching on the policy’s essential connection with the changing contours of the regime of accumulation. Leftists are right in noting the impact of demonetisation on the informal sector, but they have been unable to account for how it is shaping the regime in which informalisation is central.
It has been frequently noted, and quite rightly, that under neoliberalism the economy moves towards informalisation. The formal sector and employment are not growing, while informality is increasingly being embedded in the supply chains of the economy. That is why the informalisation of work processes is considered among the chief characteristics of the neoliberal economy.
As the informal sector has always thrived on surplus population exploited as cheap labour, “hiring-and-firing” is the norm there. What the pre-neoliberal phase had done was to secure an organised labour force that through its demand stability could sustain the domestic market. In many regions, however, a vast rural and urban informal sector was allowed to develop to reproduce surplus population. But the economic planning was avowedly geared towards formalisation. This vast surplus of labour and an increase in the organic composition of capital led to a crisis of the prolonged interregnum of planned capitalism, and a decline in the profitability rate. Technological transformations found the stable workforce in the so-called formal sector over-skilled and a hindrance to further accumulation. The formal sector was increasingly considered to be exclusionary unable to accommodate the growing surplus population allowing over-exploitative hidden economies to flourish. This led to an ascendancy of neoliberal market fundamentalism, which essentially attacked the formal-informal duality by legitimising informality. The aim was to take advantage of overpopulated living labour and utilise technological innovations that made skills redundant and required equi-skilled cogs in the wheel. Through initial structural adjustment programmes these surplus population-based informal sectors were linked with the formal corporate structures in the supply chain. In this scenario, instruments like the time-tested putting-out system, which capitalised and destroyed the old guild system, started becoming handy once again. It was through these instruments that cheap labour arrangements and regimes that existed locally were subsumed to avoid costlier and inflexible labour regimes that pre-neoliberal planning had generated.
However, despite the obvious hierarchical relationship between transnational corporate structures and local industrial set-ups that mobilised surplus labour, this relationship remained externalised becoming barriers to capitalist consolidation — concentration and centralisation of capital. Local laws that were promulgated to stabilise the labour force in the earlier regime became hurdles for capital mobility and accumulation in labour surplus economies. It was to avoid these hurdles that smaller and informal units were networked, but informalisation now has to be internalised and these units must be incorporated to survive intense competition. The parcellised production and distribution is not permanently beneficial. Also needed is “the concentration of already formed capitals, the destruction of their individual independence, the expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, the transformation of many small capitals into a few large ones”.(9)
Banking and finance that institutionalise the power of money facilitate the concentration and centralisation of capital today by regimenting individual capitals — big and small — and compel them to submit to the general needs of capitalist accumulation. The multiple layers of industrial forms — formal and informal — generate clogs in the real-time mobility of financialised capital. The informal set-up provides many smaller units with legal and trans-legal comparative advantages allowing them a kind of relative autonomy from legitimate competition. Being based on cash transactions they become autonomous from the institutionalised finance and public credit, while fully utilising the currency issued by these institutions. It was only through monetary and banking reforms that these economies could be contained within the structure.
We would do well to remember that one of the major battles capital has had to wage time and again is that of labour reforms. At the present juncture, especially in countries like India, numerous legal “number filters” have been imposed that grant smaller industrial units a freedom to disregard minimal labour standards, which bigger units have to at least legally maintain. Only by coordinating with these smaller units and utilising a labour contractual system the corporate sector could evade the imposition and draw the benefits. There has been a continuous demand to remove these filters, so that the benefits that the informal sector has — to openly exploit surplus population as cheap labour — could be generalised. Only through such generalisation can the processes of concentration and centralisation become effective.
Of course, the formal sector incorporated informal entities and relationships to evade the hazards of regulation. The way cheap labour-power was bought and exploited in the informal sector was an object of envy and is the benchmark for the formal sector entities to model the labour regime and demand for deregulation from the state. The state and the formal industrial regime have been long trying to achieve this. Despite being able to utilise informality to their advantage, the formal sector has been subject to humiliating bargaining tactics of smaller entities in the informal sector. The diverse local industrial regimes in which these entities function create difficulties for formal and bigger players in the value chains. Moreover, the ancillary interests are able to effectively compete with the corporate interests on the basis of their lower technical capabilities and cheap labour, thus leading to difficulties in the consolidation and centralisation of capital.
As labour reforms become more conflictual, with increasing defensive struggles of workers in the formal sector, monetary policies like demonetisation go a long way in regimenting “informal” and “small” capitalist interests. The wages of the unbanked population whom these entities have over exploited are all paid in cash. Demonetisation attempts to mobilise the advantages of these entities, which will now be totally subservient to formal processes. It is self-evident that any monetary tactic that affects cash flows would have an immediate effect on the cash-based informal economy. Amartya Sen is correct when he says, “At one stroke the move declares all Indians — indeed all holders of Indian currency — as possibly crooks, unless they can establish they are not.” (10) However, it is not totally wrong to say that a large section of this economy is always black as transactions and contracts there are not formally accounted for, and a substantial portion of income generated remains untaxed. But does this mean demonetisation will lead towards formality?
The notion of (in)formality is loaded with all kinds of connotations. And it is pretty confusing when we dichotomise formal and informal. In the production and distribution networks that define today’s economy we find this dichotomy resolved very efficiently. If legal systems tend to dampen flexible transactional and contractual relationships, informality (beyond the regulated formal relationships) seeps in to transcend rigidity. As a system, the formal-informal relationships constitute enormous value chains. However, if we discretise these relationships, it is not difficult to find clear examples of dichotomies in them, which actually define an intense competitive regime within the value chains — intra- and inter-sectoral competition. The entities in the informal zones of the value chain compete among themselves and also with entities in the formal zone.
Through demonetisation a process of verticalisation has been effectuated and the formal nodes would now act as concentration and centralisation of informal advantages. The state acting on behalf of capital in general is disciplining the devious and particularising nature of informality. Neoliberalism is a project to look after the general needs of capital in today’s conjuncture. Demonetisation is a decisive step in that direction.
“…the magnitude of the global economic crisis at times is not felt in India because of strong (parallel) economy of black money.” – Akhilesh Yadav (11)
Post-2007-08, countries throughout the globe have been struggling to set their respective houses in order. That the so-called parallel cash-based economies in India cushioned the impact of the global crisis at the national level, acting as clogs that minimised the strains of the impact, is a strange truth. However, in order to sustain a higher growth these economies with their particularities will have to be incorporated into the formal system, and their comparative advantages annulled through their generalisation. What we see today is the neoliberal urge to mainstream and generalise informality and make it a ground for systematic capital accumulation, with concentration and centralisation as its vehicle. Hence, it is in this regard that the moves like demonetisation become effective instruments. But this would destroy the clogging effects of local and parallel economies. Hence, it would eventually minimise their ability to cushion against global vulnerabilities.
Notes and References
(1) Karl Marx, “Preface to the First German Edition,” Capital I, Collected Works, Volume 35, Progress Publishers, Moscow, p. 9.
(2) “Indira Gandhi lacked courage to demonetise, we are paying for it: Modi to his party MPs”, Indian Express (Dec 17, 2016).
(3) The political institutional ascendancy of rightwing jingoistic assertions is not any return to protectionism, rather it mobilises and productivises the general precarity to restrengthen neoliberalisation. By a reactionary generalisation of fear and terror that the mobility of capital and its crisis creates, it helps the system to reconsolidate its base against any radical statism and revolutionary anti-statism. The phenomena of Modi, Brexit, Le Pen and Trump will actually help in the final dismantling of the vestiges of older protectionist labour regimes in the name of making local economies and labour markets competitive, so that capital finds the locality docile for investment.
(4) Costas Lapavitsas (2013), “The financialization of capitalism: ‘Profiting without producing’”, City, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp 792–805.
(6) “Demonetisation is changing nation’s conduct: Jaitley“, The Hindu (Dec 24, 2016).
(7) Susan Soederberg (2013)The US Debtfare State and the Credit Card Industry: Forging Spaces of Dispossession, Antipode Vol. 45 No. 2, pp 493–512.
(8) “Digital payments will help lower fiscal deficit: Arun Jaitley”, LiveMint (Dec 25, 2016).
(9) Karl Marx, op cit, p. 621.
(10) “Interview: Demonetisation move declares all Indians as possible crooks, unless they can establish otherwise, says Amartya Sen”, Indian Express (Nov 26 2016).
(11) “Black money helped Indian economy during global recession: Akhilesh Yadav”, Indian Express (Nov 15 2016).
“Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use-value may be a thing that interests men. It’s no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange-values.”
–Marx, Capital, Volume I
Value is not transcendental. It is born only when it discovers itself in and through the historical accident of exchange. But the birth of value, which follows its discovery of itself, amounts to it being instituted as that which is a presupposition of exchange so that exchange is its realisation as value. Consequently, exchange ceases to be an accident of history to be transformed into an expression of its systemic principle, which is value. This is precisely the dialectic of history of logic and logic of history that Marx demonstrates while mapping the unfolding of value from its elementary or accidental form to its general form and money-form through the intermediate moment of its total or expanded form.
However, it is precisely the failure to closely attend to this rigorous dialectic of history of logic and logic of history that has often led scholars – mostly post-Marxists, but also a good number of Marxists of various kinds – to erroneously claim (and affirm) that for Marx value begins with exchange. Such an error renders value trans-historical and/or has disastrously reformist political consequences.
Essence, of course, becomes accessible only when it appears. But that does not mean appearance precedes essence or that the latter is an effect of the former. All those who insist that value – or the dialectic qua the principle of mediation – begins with exchange are falling precisely into such an error: it’s only in exchange that value is accessed so exchange precedes value. As a result, they mistake Marx’s demonstration of the historical precedence of exchange over value as the former’s logical priority over the latter.
Qualitative equalisation of (qualitative) difference — valorisation — is not the effect of exchange. Rather, it’s an integral dimension of the mode of organising of production (in its hidden abode) that must be logically prior to exchange in order for it to be realised in exchange. Had that not been the case, there is no way “mental”, “ideal’ or “imaginary” money-form as the measure of value would precede, and be distinct from, the tangible money-commodity as standard of price that really changes hands as definite quantities of metal money in the actuality of exchange. Marx in demonstrating this draws our attention to the logical priority of measure of value (and thus value) over standard of price (and price qua exchange-value). In other words, Marx is emphasising, implicitly or otherwise, how value precedes exchange-value with the latter realising the former.
Besides, if in Marx’s conception value did begin with exchange why would he then need to dwell at length (in Capital, Volume I) on Aristotle’s historical incapacity to come up with a conception of value when the latter is faced with the historical fact of exchange?
Therefore, the assertion that value begins with exchange is a complete and correct statement of things only if one is thinking of value merely in terms of its accidental creation. However, if one is dealing with value in terms of it being the logic of organising production — which is the mode of mobilising labour through quantification of respectively different socially necessary labour times for various qualitatively different concrete labours through a process of reducing them to human labour in the abstract — then this statement is incomplete and perhaps even wrong. In such circumstances, one will do well, instead, to state the following: exchange realises value-relationality (or the dialectic) precisely because the latter presupposes the former. So, instead of saying dialectic begins with exchange one should say the dialectic (value qua value-relationality) appears (or is realised) in exchange (exchange-value qua exchange-relation) precisely because the former is presupposed by the latter as its principle.
To not grasp the dialectic qua the law of mediation, and exchange in those precise terms is likely to lead one into the serious error of conflating and confounding the function of price (and its standard) with that of value (and its measure). Both being distinct functions of the one and the same money-form or money-commodity. That would compel one to erroneously insist, one way or another, that the market is the be all and end all of capital.
Marx’s exposition on value in Capital reveals two things at once. One, value is not transcendental. Two, value in being instituted, however, conceives of itself as being transcendental. This thinking of value by itself, which renders it transcendental (value qua value), is precisely the systemic operation of capital. Marx’s articulation of critique of value is intimately bound up with demonstrating what commodities say about themselves – or what value thinks of itself. In fact, what is important for the Marx of Capital is, first and foremost, the demonstration of what value says about itself. (See the citation with which this post begins.) Hence, Marx demonstrates how value is, in its own thinking, transcendental. He needs to do this because his critique of value is a deconstruction of precisely the transcendentality of value – or value as transcendental.
Marx’s critique of value begins by showing how value is, in its instituting, the abstraction of use-value, which is the irreplaceable, uncountable one (the singular). In other words, value, in thinking itself as being transcendental, is negation of this singularity of use-value. When Marx tells us that exchange-value – which is expression of value – has not an atom of use-value, even as use-value is the “material depository” of value/exchange-value, he is underscoring precisely that. He is drawing our attention to how value conceives of itself, or operationalises itself, as transcendental through a process of abstraction of use-value that is, therefore, the latter’s negation or disavowal.
Therefore, in terms of value conceiving of itself as transcendental – something that Marx demonstrates in the process of developing its critique — use-value is an absence or lack in value/exchange-value. But to the extent, that this negation, which renders that which is negated a lack, is made possible precisely by that which goes lacking the lack in question is constitutive of that which renders it a lack. In other words, Marx demonstrates how use-value is, in terms of value conceiving of itself as transcendental, a constitutive lack.
Value conceives itself as being transcendental (value qua value) that is expressed as and in the empirical (of exchange). This means value as such – that is, as the final instant of determination in its loneliness – conceals itself as the character of its (empirical) expressions. This also means that value as this concealed character of its expressions in and as the empirical (of things) is also a concealment of the process of abstraction of the concrete (“historical character” of “meanings” as Marx says in Capital) by which it comes to be the (hidden) essence — the transcendental — of its (empirical) expressions, and the concrete as such (use-value as the singularity it is). In such circumstances, when value as the concealed character of its (empirical) expressions is revealed in its hiddenness, its (empirical) expressions come across as the mystifications or fetishisms/fetishes they are.
Therefore, value as this hidden character of its expressions in and as the empirical — which is value conceived by itself as being transcendental – in being revealed thus is not itself a fetish, a mystification or an ideology. It is, instead, the character of fetishism, mystification and/or ideology. Following Adorno’s explication of the dialectic in Negative Dialectics, we could characterise value as the truth of the untrue. Hence, value qua value, which is value conceived by itself as being transcendental, is not in itself an ideology but is the character, or truth, of ideology.
Besides, value in being revealed as this hidden character of its (empirical) expressions — which are themselves, concomitantly, demonstrated to be fetishes or ideologies — is also a revelation of both the process of abstraction of the concrete and its concomitant repression as that process of abstraction.
This clearly implies that revelation of value as the hidden character of its (empirical) expressions – i.e. its revelation as the character or truth of fetishism or ideology – is also a positing of the concrete qua the reversal of the process of abstraction of the concrete. Which means value in its revelation as the character of fetishism or ideology – or the truth of the untrue – must be grasped and envisaged as the division of this truth of the untrue into itself and truth as such.
It is this Alain Badiou points towards in Theory of the Subject, when he writes: “There are two dialectical matrices in Hegel. This is what turns the famous story of the shell and the kernel into such a dubious enigma. It is the kernel itself that is cracked, as is those peaches that are furthermore so irritating to eat whose hard internal object quickly cracks between one’s teeth into two pivoting halves.”
So, it is not simply about extracting the rational kernel of value (dialectic) from its mystical shell – which is ideology qua exchange-value as the (empirical) expression of the rational. Rather, this extraction of the rational kernel from the mystical shell is also the former’s division between itself as the rationality of the irrational and rationality as such. More precisely, it is the transformation of the rational kernel in its extraction. Althusser is quite clear on that score while explaining in an anti-Hegelian register “how”, in Marx, “can an extraction be an inversion?”. He writes in ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’: “…the mystical shell is nothing but the mystified form of the dialectic itself: that is, not a relatively external element of the dialectic (e.g. the ‘system’) but an internal element, consubstantial with the Hegelian dialectic. It is not enough, therefore, to disengage it from its first wrapping (the system) to free it. It must also be freed from a second, almost inseparable skin, which is itself Hegelian in principle (Grundlage). We must admit that this extraction cannot be painless; in appearance an unpeeling, it is really a demystification, an operation which transforms what it extracts.”
But what would this demystification – this extraction as transformation of that which is extracted – amount to? On this count Badiou’s Hegelianism against itself in his Theory of the Subject is brilliantly lucid. At any rate, it is more rigorous than what Althusser’s anti-Hegelianism is in ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’. Badiou writes:
“In the peach there is still a kernel of the kernel, the bitter almond-shaped nut of its reproduction as a tree. But out of Hegel’s division, we will draw no secondary unity, not even one stamped with bitterness.” He then goes on to contend: “…at the heart of the Hegelian dialectic we must disentangle two processes, two concepts of movement, and not just one proper view of becoming that would have been corrupted by a subjective system of knowing. Thus:
“a) A dialectical matrix covered by the term of alienation; the idea of a simple term which unfolds itself in its becoming-other, in order to come back to itself as an achieved concept.
“b) A dialectical matrix whose operator is scission, and whose theme is that there is no unity that is not split. There is not the least bit of return into itself, nor any connection between the final and the inaugural….”
Therefore, unless value in its revelation as the hidden character of its (empirical) appearances – that is, in its revelation as the character of ideology or the truth of the untrue – is also the manoeuvre that divides it between itself and truth as such, which is the concrete as the process of abstraction of the concrete in reverse, it would amount to what “unfree mysticism” – Marx’s characterisation of the Stoics in his doctoral thesis on Epicurus and Democritus.
But what of the Marx of Capital – the one who is supposedly an incorrigible and an incurable Hegelian? In the section on fetishism of commodities, he provides us with his own version of Hegelianism against Hegel — one that indicates in its own way how the revelation of the truth of the untrue must also be a division between itself and truth as such. He writes: “The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality, from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.”
The argument that Partha Chatterjee peddles in his latest article in Telegraph on the ongoing Kashmir uprising is quite mainstream. It is of course presented in a subalternist language and with a lot of sympathy. But in its assertion of the autonomy of the subaltern masses, the subalternist sympathy becomes generally like that of those parents who find every action of their children to be revelatory about their uniqueness. And if other children seem to show some unique characteristics, these parents always find them resembling their own children.
Being a Bengali historian, Chatterjee reserves this feeling of empathy only for Bengali subalterns. Obviously this allows him to connect with other parents, sympathise and advise them. This is what Chatterjee is doing in this article – imploring other parents (Indian and Kashmiri) to recognise the crossroads in their children’s lives and help them pass them successfully, without sliding to “worst outcomes.”
Chatterjee finds Kashmiris resembling Bengali mourners at the funeral of Kanailal Datta in 1908, who shot at a renegade in the courtroom, and was hanged by the Britishers. He quotes an official report of the time,
“An extraordinary scene was witnessed at Kalighat at the time of the cremation of Kanai… Crowds thronged the road, people pushing past one another to touch the bier… Many women, to all appearances of a highly respectable class, followed the funeral procession wailing, while men and boys thronged around shouting ‘ Jai Kanai’!””
According to Chatterjee, the Kashmiri act of mourning and rioting for an ‘Islamist terrorist’ similarly “perplexed” the officials and others. A proud father is always ready to dispel people’s perplexities towards other kids, by flaunting his own wisdom of parenthood remembering the childhood of his children.
Thus, continues the wiseman’s argument, where patronising eventually takes a more mainstream turn. Subalterns always perplex non-subalterns. Hence, they need specialised experts to interpret their actions and language. Left to themselves, the innocence of subalterns makes them vulnerable to all kinds of manipulations. Actually, they always look for “figures of love and reverence” and “pure selflessness.” Hence, the Kashmiris themselves are innocent and victims of “bad” manipulations by the two neighbouring states and “routine politicians.” What is happening is now an outrage against these manipulations constituting “the crossroads.”
So, Chatterjee asserts, “Kashmiri nationalism stands at the same crossroads where Indian nationalism stood a hundred years ago.” Pure subalterns wanting to be tended with love, care and self-sacrifice are looking for the figures that epitomise them. If “democratic nationalism” is not “given a genuine chance”, there will be a slide –
“Given the bankruptcy of the politics that has tried so far to accommodate Kashmir’s national aspirations within the Indian federal system, there is a tendency now for the young to adopt an Islamist idiom to vent their demands. If this trend gets stronger, the best result might be a new popular movement, Islamist in temper but with deep roots in local communities…The worst outcome would be the burgeoning of jihadi groups that no one will be able to control.”
Hence, as subalterns are bound to be instrumentalised or domesticated, why not channelise their energy for some good cause, which protects them and mobilises them in the interest of progress and democratic nationalism, thus saving them from an uncontrollable jihadi sectarianism?
But that leaves the story twisted – not just in Kashmir, but also that of the early twentieth century Bengal. Chatterjee does not tell us what happened to Indian/Bengali nationalism “beyond the crossroads”, at least not in this piece. In fact, he does not clear the ambience at “the crossroads” too. He talks about outcomes without talking about the processes. And outcomes are explicitly seen as sliding to worse, if they are not short circuited by “democratic nationalism”. “The bankruptcy of the politics” leads “to a tendency …to adopt an Islamist idiom”, which if not saved through “democratic nationalism” would result into “the worst outcome.”
Actually, the Bengali bhadralok has never been able to cope with the partition of his Bengali nation. The year 1971 soothed him but the scar that 1947 gave runs very deep. Historians like Chatterjee do understand it, but dil hai ki maanta nahin. How could the Islamic enticement to integrate with Pakistan ever be stronger than the Bengali brotherhood?
Hence, azadi is fine as it can be variedly interpreted, and one clever interpretation is that of the Indian left, which Chatterjee articulates so well:
“Azaadi is not the name for a blueprint of Kashmir’s future political state. Rather it is a rejection of India’s armed occupation and the declaration of the right of the Kashmiri people to decide its own future.”
It is all due to the intransigence of India and Pakistan that no breakthrough is happening. They see Kashmir as a site for their competition. Chatterjee goes ahead and talks about progressive constitutional options as tried in Canada to resolve the Quebec question. All these must be tried or things will slide to “the worst outcome.”
“To stop that slide, democratic nationalism in Kashmir must be given a genuine chance.”
It is the same Bengali hangover that seems to play its role here – pitting “democratic nationalism” of Sheikh Abdullah against Islamism/Pakistan. Chatterjee seems to judge everything according to tangible historical outcomes and options, rather than in terms of the processes that might lead to multiple outcomes and options. Azaadi is of course “not the name of a blueprint”, but a movement that houses many contesting blueprints.
Why not? It could also be about the redefinition of South Asia – a movement against thinking in terms of established states and institutions. It could be a signal to subsumed nationalities in the region to revolt against internal segmentation of politico-economic agencies, against differential surplusing and inclusion/exclusion of populations. It could be a struggle against the evolving framework of regional political economy that hierarchises peoples, while including some and reserving/surplusing many, to keep the structure under control and “human resources” competitive.
But most importantly, why are we not considering the stone throwing and infinitely resilient, yet defiant Kashmiri youth a sign of the times – the evolution of a popular subjectivity of the precariat leading a real movement that abolishes the present state of things. Why is Chatterjee bringing an example from the Bengali history that seemingly demonstrates innocence and malleability of the masses? Crossroads are about the opening of new horizons too. And definitely, the people’s history of early twentieth century Bengal is extremely rich in this regard. It is unbelievable that Partha Chatterjee is unaware of the complexity of those times. But perhaps the subalternist notion of subalternity doesn’t allow him to render any overt political agency to subalterns except as fodder for the two sides in the Manichaeism of mainstream institutional politics.
There, were far more interesting things happening than a funeral march, which was just a symptom, a temporal spectacle. Beyond spectacularity, while Bengali bhadralok radicals were mired in the voluntarist and masochistic interpretation of Bhagavad Gita, a new Islam was rising in Bengal that gave radical meaning to the everyday struggle of people providing a ground to the evolution of popular subjectivity. In this regard, let me extensively quote from a recent article on MN Roy written by a very astute historian of communism in Bengal, Suchetna Chattopadhyaya, published in the first volume of Communist Histories (Left Word, 2016, pp 45-46), edited by Vijay Prashad:
“The ‘new’ Islam of the early 1910s, in its populist political form, took shape in the backdrop of the ‘new’ plan to sharply alter the physiognomy of the city, the Balkan Wars as a ‘prelude’ to the First World War, and the emergence of a new set of preacher- leaders known for their radical rejection of loyalist positions. One of the aims of pan-Islamist campaigners was to protect Islamic shrines and monuments in the Ottoman Empire, under jeopardy in the climate of Balkan Wars. These efforts by a segment of the intelligentsia resonated, stirring empathetic response among the masses. The immediate material context of this identification was the aggressive and invasive implementation of colonial construction plans that had disturbed conurbations from Kanpur to Calcutta. Though public protests in Calcutta revolved around the issue of mosque demolitions by the authorities, the submerged feelings at a popular level reflected social anxieties and anger over looming evictions. The anti-demolition meetings, including those directed against the Port Trust authorities in Khidirpur, saw large participation of cooks, waiters and small traders. The protestors experienced and envisaged uprooted neighbourhoods, destroyed settlements and forcible expulsions from their dwellings. In the backdrop of such a large-scale offensive from the top, pan-Islam, and popular protests interacted and forged political combinations. With the coming of a major conflict, and British declaration of war against Turkey, the pan-Islamist support for the Ottoman Caliphate came to be echoed in mosques and bazaars, in prayers and conversations and in the texture of everyday life.”
Whatever the limits of historical languages and institutions inherited by the people be, the organic political process (not necessarily around formal state apparatuses) grounded in popular everydayness renews the subjectivity of the multitude, always exploring and exploding the limits that temporally bind it. Subalternisation should be seen as procrustean endeavours of the State apparatuses to depoliticise the everydayness and alienate this subjectivity. However, pure subalternity is never achieved, the multitude accepts new bondages only to master and destroy them. Hence, assuming any innocence on the part of the “subalterns” in Bengal and Kashmir in the process of the “slide” that Chatterjee talks about is not only factually wrong, but politically meaningless and even dangerous. Such assumption autonomises political practices and ideologies from the real political ground and reduces them to mere objects of the elitist and statist operation of naming and shaming.
There is something Indian mainlanders outraged by the unspeakable brutalities inflicted on Kashmir by the Indian occupation need to realise. Kashmir’s national liberation struggle needs neither the charity of their teary-eyed pity for the plight of Kashmiris; nor the slightly more honourable philanthropy of directing their self-flagellating anger and outrage, abstractly and impotently, at the Indian state and its brutal occupation. What such mainlanders need to actually give is the non-exchangeable gift of solidarity to the Kashmiri movement. And that is precisely what they have failed to offer. That such solidarity is fundamentally distinct from — nay radically opposed to — patronising sympathy for the suffering victims of Kashmir is something one can hardly overstate. Unfortunately, almost all mainlanders who claim to be in solidarity with the Kashmiri struggle against Indian occupation have the two badly mixed up. (As for the politically correct Indian liberal, who is enraged only and mainly by the human-rights abuses carried out in the Valley, the less said the better.)
Sympathy and charity are constitutive of an economy, at once symbolic and political, of exchange and power. And that does not change even if one chooses to construe them, unwittingly or otherwise, as solidarity. If anything, such conflation of solidarity with sympathy and philanthropy amounts to articulating the existing hierarchised socio-political relation between Indian mainland and the IoK (Indian occupied Kashmir) in yet another register. That serves to legitimise and reinforce — admittedly by other, apparently more consensual means — both that relation and the military occupation constitutive of it. It’s time one clearly understood the difference, and learned to disentangle one from the other. Solidarity is not a sentiment to be abstractly expressed and extended. It is a politics that has to be produced as a concrete strategy and materiality. Frantz Fanon, while criticising the ‘solidarity’ extended by “French intellectuals and democrats” to the Algerian struggle against French occupation, underscored precisely that. In an article, ‘French Intellectuals and Democrats and the Algerian Revolution’, he writes:
“…French intellectuals and democrats have periodically addressed themselves to the FLN. Most of the time they have proffered either political advice or criticisms concerning this or that aspect of the war of liberation. This attitude of the French intelligentsia must not be interpreted as the consequence of an inner solidarity with the Algerian people. This advice and these criticisms are to be explained by the ill-repressed desire to guide, to direct the very liberation movement of the oppressed.
“Thus can be understood the constant oscillation of the French democrats between a manifest or latent hostility and the wholly unreal aspiration to militate ‘actively to the end.’ Such a confusion indicates a lack of preparation for the facing of concrete problems and a failure on the part of French democrats to immerse themselves in the political life of their own country.”
The question that has been driving many mainland Indians in their self-proclaimed solidarity with the Kashmiri national liberation struggle, is the following: what can and should they do for Kashmir and its struggle against occupation? However, in order to produce solidarity as a strategy and materiality of politics they would do well to reverse the question: what is the Kashmiri movement against Indian occupation doing – or can potentially do – for the everyday struggles of the masses in the Indian mainland? The answer to that is something they need to build on. Only then will their sympathy for the suffering people of IoK cease to be the abstract charitable pity it is condemned to be, and become a concretely-grounded empathy for the sufferings of comrades with whom they share a concrete horizon of internationalism of struggles.
In other words, one cannot produce such a politics of solidarity unless one recognises that the challenge the Kashmiri movement for national self-determination poses to the geo-political hegemony of the Indian nation-state favours and advances the everyday struggles of the masses in the Indian mainland. Such a challenge, needless to say, tends to concomitantly weaken the Indian nation-state as a concrete historical index of social labour organised into a regime of differentiated or segmented necessity. The Indian nation-state — not unlike every other nation-state constitutive of the capitalist world-system as the basic unit of organising international division of labour — concretely indexes the organisation of social labour into a system or regime of differential (dis-)privilege and differentiated necessity.
In such circumstances, unraveling of the Indian nation and its constitutive state is absolutely indispensable for the emancipation of social labour in the Indian mainland from the regime of differentiated necessity it is imprisoned in. Once this is recognised, all the confusion, equivocation and bad faith, which has recently come to the fore, thanks to some stupidly insidious Indian leftists exerting and contorting themselves to distinguish “azadi in India” from “azadi from India”, will vanish like camphor.
The everyday struggles of the masses inhabiting the Indian mainland are nothing but struggles of various segments of social labour to emancipate themselves from the necessity constitutive of their different and differentiated quotidian existence. However, the systemic regime within which such struggles emerge to challenge that regime in its concrete mediations tends to register, articulate and situate those struggles as demands for rights placed on the system. That amounts to the fetishisation or mystification of those struggles, and their everydayness, into juridicality. And that is precisely the reason why disaffection with the system often adopts nationalism and other related reactionary ideological forms to represent itself in the everydayness of its experience.
For this reason, mainland Indians committed to forging an effective politics of solidarity with the Kashmiri national-liberation struggle must necessarily double up as militants of proletarian-revolutionary politics. They need to intervene in the various everyday struggles of the masses (aka social labour) — including their own — to demonstrate how those struggles are actually system-unravelling, and are rendered juridical only on account of being counted and placed by the system, which in this process of counting and placing recomposes itself. Only through such interventionist demonstrations can those everyday struggles be impelled to generalise what they ontologically are: basic units of a movement that will negate the Indian nation-state as an historically indexed regime of differentiated necessity.
Such a movement in the mainland, needless to say, would further undermine the hegemonic might of the Indian nation-state. And that would, in turn, enable the Kashmiri national liberation struggle to advance further. What we would have, in such circumstances, is the dialectical unfolding of the Kashmiri national liberation struggle enabling the everyday struggles of the masses in the Indian mainland, even as the latter enable the former’s advance by being the generalisation of their own revolutionary ontology.
This is no flight of fancy. History shows us how this might well be a real possibility. C.L.R. James, for one, tells us in Black Jacobins that struggles for political rights of Mulattoes and abolition of Black slavery in San Domingo could significantly advance only when the working masses of France forged a concrete solidarity with those struggles in the process of enhancing their influence on the course of the French Revolution. James also demonstrates how the revolt of the Black slaves of San Domingo, thanks to it accomplishing its goal of abolition, contributed significantly to the cause of defending the revolution in France from its counter-revolutionary adversaries led by Britain and Spain.
Sadly, such lessons are lost not only on the so-called working-class parties and organisations of this country, but also on much of the ‘independent’ Indian left. The moribund Leninism of the former has ensured their politics of competitive sectarianism and left social corporatism is tantamount to no more than building organisations to capture state power, through either parliamentary or supposedly extra-parliamentary means. This is a modality of politics that is the radical inverse of the revolutionary mode of organising politics for the withering away of the state. Not surprisingly, organisation-building as the principal modality of their politics has compelled these moribund Leninist parties, and their mass organisations, to construe everyday struggles of social labour in the Indian mainland as various struggles for socio-economic and/or political rights, which they can then instrumentalise to build and expand their respective organisations.
That, not surprisingly, has made these organisations and parties thoroughly complicit in reinforcing the process of systemic subsumption of everyday struggles. The nationalism and Islamophobia that pervades much of their mass base – and which frequently informs the pronouncements of their leadership as well – has been the result. Consequently, the loud claims of solidarity some of these organisations, and their supporters and sympathisers make with regard to the Kashmiri struggle ring ironically, if not cynically, hollow. All that they do – and there is not much more they are capable of – with regard to building such solidarity in the Indian mainland is try to manufacture and manage public perception through abstract propaganda. This, they are inclined to believe, is a perfectly honourable substitute for mass movements in the Indian mainland that could actually and substantively advance the cause of Kashmir’s national liberation. That they manage to muster no more than a few hundred people at their ‘solidarity’ fests, has done little to force them out of their self-satisfied, conscience-assuaging complacency.
As for the so-called independent radicals – leftists, Ambedkarites, whatever –, there is not much to distinguish them from the so-called working-class parties on this score. They are basically liberals, who for some inexplicable reason, want to pass off as radicals. The management of public perception – as opposed to striving to build concrete mass movements – is the dominant mainland paradigm of articulating ‘solidarity’ with the struggling people of IoK. On that there is very little to distinguish the ‘pro-aazaadi’ independent radicals from the ‘pro-azaadi’ left organisations. For both these categories of activists/politicians, what matters is who shouts about Kashmir the loudest.
Certain individuals from liberalism-addled sections of the Indian ‘radical’ left – particularly those intent on championing the bankrupt programmatic line of democratic revolution in a pig-headed way – have been quick to assert on social media that Great Britain’s exit vote from the EU confirms their thesis that globalisation has not weakened the nation-state but actually strengthened it.
Some other individuals among their fair-weather sympathisers and supporters – especially those who are given to frequent bouts of social media-aided verbal diarrhea, and who tend to swing wildly between the populism of national Bolshevism of the self-proclaimed radical left and that of political formations such as the Aam Aadmi Party — have gone so far as to suggest that we are headed for World War III. From this sort of reading they intend to draw, as is their wont, validation for the bankrupt politics of shameless class-collaboration and tailism, which they purvey under various rhetorically-charged ‘radical’ labels of ‘democratic revolution’.
Such grandiloquent assertions are demonstrations of theoretical vacuousness and strategic insolvency. And the reading of the situation that underpins such statements suggests that this predicted World War III would merely be yet another edition of the previous two world wars, both in essence and appearance. Since such a reading pays absolutely no attention to the changed political composition of the capitalist world-system – and to the differentia specifica of its current conjuctural character – it is incapable of either revealing anything useful about the nature of the globe-enveloping conflict, which would be substantively different from the earlier world wars, or registering the fact that we have actually already been smack in the midst of just such a global conflict for, at least, the past three decades.
This reading of theirs is hastily impressionistic, terribly superficial, perniciously one-sided, foolishly linear, historically illiterate and politically compromised. What they don’t get at all – and this is because they clearly have no taste for historically grounded dialectical thinking in all its complexity and complications – is that the surge in various kinds and forms of reactionary nationalism and ethno-cultural chauvinism across the world symptomatises not the strengthening of nation-states but precisely their crisis. More accurately, the global ascendancy of such chauvinist politics symptomatises the decadence of the re-orientated sovereignty of nation-states.
We need to understand that a geo-political formation such as the EU, as an embodiment of the post-Westphalian order of nation-states, was not, as the advocates and ideologues of such an order would have us believe, the outcome of some noble collective effort to ensure that nothing like the two catastrophic world wars, which wracked the Westphalian order of national states, would be repeated. Rather, the EU, as a post-Westphalian (re-)configuration of nation-states in Europe, was precisely the culmination of that which the two world wars – but particularly, World War II – sought to accomplish.
Such a claim would appear much less outrageous if one were to make sense of the crisis of the Westphalian order of nation-states in Europe, a crisis that manifest itself in the two world wars, in terms of the crisis of its underlying political-economic structure. The nation-state has so far always been the basic unit of territorially organising international division of labour, aka the capitalist world-system. However, the Westphalian nation-states were constitutive of organising the differentiated international division of labour in a situation that was characterised principally by the globalisation of only the moment of circulation, exchange and/or value-realisation in the circuit of capital. That explains, among other things, the self-enclosed and insuperable nature of their respective sovereignties.
On the other hand, nation-states in a post-Westphalian world – and particularly the nation-states that comprise a geo-political formation such as the EU – are constitutive of organising the differentiated international division of labour in circumstances characterised by the transnationalisation of the production and labour processes. This means nation-states now function as basic units of organising the international division of labour in a situation characterised by the globalisation of virtually the entire circuit of capital.
In the Westphalian order, the nation-state exercised its sovereignty to manage social labour engaged in a nationally enclosed production process in order to ensure competitive advantage for its national territoriality of production in the globally integrated sphere of exchange. The nation-state now is, however, orientated to exercise its sovereignty in order to enable the effective operation of the transnationalised production chain by way of contributing its executive-managerial mite in the efficient functioning of the division of labour constitutive of this transnationalised production process. The nationally delimited arbitrage of wage and labour it enforces within its sovereign territoriality, not without a more-than-little reliance on various so-called pre-capitalist and pre-modern forms of power and labour relations at times and in certain places, – and the so-called comparative advantage this concomitantly ensures –, is meant to accomplish precisely that: the efficient operation of the transnationally integrated production process.
We would, at this point, do well to attend to the fact that the current phase of capitalism characterised by the globalisation of the circuit of capital almost in its entirety – something that is geo-politically manifest in the post-Westphalian arrangement of nation-states such as the EU — emerged out of the previous phase of capital that was defined largely by the globalisation of merely the circuit’s moment of circulation and exchange. This mutation of the earlier phase into what we have now, it must be clarified here, was effected by a crisis the former had generated for itself. The accentuation of class struggle within self-enclosed national sovereignties, effected in the process of enabling and ensuring their respective competitive advantage in the globally integrated sphere of exchange, resulted in a progressively accelerated unleashing of productive forces and the concomitant diminishing of living labour. This made it increasingly difficult for production processes to remain enclosed and self-contained within nationally defined territorialities without driving capital accumulation into an abyss of unmitigated crisis. Inter-imperialist rivalries for colonies within and outside Europe, Fascism, and, eventually, the two world wars in quick succession, were the result.
The recomposition of the global capitalist regime of accumulation by way of transnationalisation of the production process is something the two world wars – but decisively the second – were clearly driving towards. The EU, as a post-Westphalian arrangement of nation-states, in being the institutionalisation of a new form of differentiated international division of labour that serves a transnationalised production process, demonstrates it’s a culmination of that which the two world wars had decisively pushed the globe towards.
However, the political-economic moment that came to be symptomatised by such post-Westphalian arrangement of nation-states as EU has been the moment of permanent crisis of political economy. As observed above, the transnational integration of production process was due to the accentuated unleashing of productive forces and thus a progressive increase in organic composition of capital. The technological change in the overall industrial process its further unfolding has led to — by way of an unprecedented rise and shift in the quantity and quality of automation of production — has meant two mutually related things: increasing functional simplification of the labour process and same-skilling, and a progressive diminishing of living labour employed in the production process. The first has unleashed hitherto unobserved levels of competition and precarity in the realm of social labour.
That, needless to say, affords the system a huge leverage by way of which it has various segments and sections of social labour mutually regiment one another. The national states, in such circumstances, find themselves exercising their sovereign power as enabling agencies of such regimentation at all levels of the socio-economic formation within their respectively sovereign territorialities. But since progressive decline of living labour employed in the production process is an integral aspect of such precarity-induced regimentation of social labour, a progressively deepening crisis of capital accumulation has necessarily been coterminous with such precarity-induced regimentation. It’s precisely such a situation that has compelled capital to adopt financialisation as the dominant mode of its accumulation. Something that, in turn, has served to further heighten the already unprecedented levels of precarity in the realm of social labour.
At this point, it would probably be useful to detail yet another dimension of the interplay of these two contradictory but mutually enmeshed tendencies of precarity-induced regimentation of social labour, and the deepening of the crisis of accumulation due to attendant decline of living labour employed in the process of value-creation. We can clearly see, following the Marx of ‘Fragment on Machines’ (Grundrisse), that deeper the crisis of capital accumulation the greater the expulsion of living labour from production process by capital in its bid for enhanced productivity, and thus greater the precarity and precarity-induced regimentation of social labour. This, however, also means that greater the expulsion of living labour from production process deeper the crisis of capital accumulation. This is precisely how and why capital is, in Marx’s words, a “moving contradiction”.
So, the more living labour is expelled from production process to beat the crisis of accumulation the deeper that crisis tends to become. Hence, in order to manage that crisis, capital unleashes the productive power of living labour even as it seeks to regiment living labour through a process of capturing the productive power thus unleashed. This, as Marx has demonstrated in Capital, is borne out by the direct relation between the increase in organic composition of capital and the burgeoning of the industrial reserve army, aka the relative surplus population, which serves to regiment the productively-employed living labour suffering under the imposition of increasing intensity of work, even as the latter regiments the former in the process of being subsidised by it. This, it ought to be stated here in passing, is the level of industrially inflected social process where the viciously competitive politics of various kinds of identitarian chauvinisms plays out.
The post-Westphalian functionalisation of nation-states to, at once, induce and police migration of labour, both within and across nation-states, by way of internal colonisation, occupations, and imperialist and sub-imperialist meddling within the sovereign territorialities of relationally and relatively less powerful nation-states, is nothing but a geo-politically institutionalised expression of this political-economic process of moving contradiction.
Clearly, the system in its operation cannot afford to allow labour to be as globally mobile as capital because that would push capital accumulation towards its own extinction. This is precisely the reason why nation-states continue to be indispensable politico-ideological units of organising international division of labour even in a situation where the production process is transnationalised. And yet, it’s precisely this transnationalised production process – together with functional simplification of the overall labour process, which is its condition of possibility– that has rendered those nation-states the agencies that simultaneously enable and police migration, orientated as they now are by political regimes determined more and more by a variety of majoritarian and majoritarinising chauvinisms.
This, not surprisingly, has resulted in a situation where the geo-social and the geo-political dimensions constitutive of territorially sovereign nation-states are no longer fully congruent and in sync with one another. Thanks to migration, both internal and foreign, the neat arrangement of regions constitutive of the sovereign territoriality of a Westphalian nation-state is significantly diminished. Increasing migration of labour, both internal and foreign, has resulted in the geo-social dimension of the nation-state – or, for that matter, the geo-social dimension of a politically demarcated region within the nation-state — overflowing its geo-political dimension. This is the root of the crisis of (territorial) sovereignty symptomatised by the post-Westphalian nation-state. Institutional arrangements such as the EU, we would do well to bear in mind, are the dialectically articulated expressions of such crisis-causing political-economic processes. Such institutional arrangements, even as they reinforce those processes and the crisis of sovereignty they constitute, are not the first cause of that crisis.
In fact, if one were to carefully inquire into the nature of virulent nationalisms that are currently on the rise, one is likely to figure that such nationalisms no longer correspond to territorial sovereignty of nation-states in the traditional Westphalian sense. Rather, such nationalisms – and sub-nationalistic chauvinisms of different kinds — are politico-ideological exertions of different segments of social labour in their competitive bid to position themselves better vis-à-vis one another within the deterritorialised – or transnationalised – production/labour process. This is the glocalising essence of capitalist globalisation.
The unprecedented rise in precarity, thanks to functional simplification of the overall labour process, which has created the new category of the footloose “mass-worker” moving rapidly across factories, trades, sectors, regions, nations and continents, has served to further intensify the chauvinistically-articulated competition among various segments of social labour. And yet it’s this mass-worker, thanks to it being the objective embodiment of mobile labour, that has revolutionary-internationalist potential like no other proletarian social subject ever before. However, what has been thwarting the actualisation of this potential is the fact that precarity of segmentation – or the crisis of the law of value – continues to be animated and articulated by the law of value and the logic of segmentation respectively. Something that, therefore, produces the glocalised neurosis of nationalist chauvinisms mentioned above.
As a consequence, the globe-enveloping conflict will be – actually already is – nothing like the previous two world wars. It’s no longer a war purely among nationally defined states. Rather, what we have at hand – something that is destined to further intensify — is a generalising state of deterritorialised civil war. The institutionalised repressive apparatuses of nation-states are now only one among the many actors in this far more dispersed and thus far more intractable global conflict, which clearly reveals the crisis of the Hobbesian state of yore and its monopoly over violence. In such a situation of highly dispersed globalised confict, it will not do to see the state merely in terms of its institutionally congealed forms. One would do well to go beyond what is empirically immediate and grasp the repressive functioning of the state, and resistance against it, by looking closely and carefully at each subject-position involved in this conflict of global proportions in terms of its situation in the larger dynamic of social power, and the vector of transfer and extraction of labour-time that articulates this dynamic. Clearly, the inseparability of the state-form from the movement-form is now far more evident than ever before.
In a situation like this, which is characterised by class struggle being waged in the cathected and distortionary garb of racial, and other forms of ethno-nationalist and ethno-cultural, chauvinisms, the adoption of the dialectical approach while analysing socio-political reality becomes even more important. It is equally important that one discerns the fundamental distinction between Marx’s “scientific dialectic” and the speculative dialectic in order to uphold and adopt the former. The “scientific dialectic”, which is produced arguably through Marx’s epicureanisation of the speculative dialectic, enables one to see the good in the bad and the bad in the good. This is in striking contrast to the speculative dialectic that seeks to make sense of reality in terms of good and the bad, or, more precisely, good is the bad and bad is the good. Therefore, the speculative dialectic, insofar as political strategising goes, is destined to be reduced to the nonsense of petty-bourgeois ambidexterity. Something that Marx had quite accurately criticised Proudhon for.
A strategic intervention underpinned by Marx’s “scientific dialectic” will be one that is able to concretely envision a politics of “subtraction” (Badiou) and “denegation” (Althusser). The speculative dialectic, on the other hand, will, at best, generate a reactive politics of system-reinforcing seriality of negation of the negation, and progressive ‘democratisation’. That, in fact, has been the bane of class-blind radical interventions in struggles against racial and other forms of ethno-cultural oppression. As a result, such radical interventions have, ironically enough, failed to enable those struggles to break with the paradigm of race- and ethno-culturally blind ‘class-antagonistic’ politics of subjective forces situated in the realm of majoritarianised identities. And while the doorstep of the latter is pretty much where the blame for Brexit– or the political ascendancy of Narendra Modi in India and the possible ascension of Donald Trump in the US for that matter – ought to lie, the responsibility of the radicals of anti-racism, anti-casteism, etc., is, on those counts, only a wee bit less.
Adopting Marx’s “scientific dialectic” would mean that we grasp how the bad of reactive and reactionary ideological self-representation of various kinds of chauvinist politics has in it as its good radical core its performative dimension. This means the bad of chauvinist ideological self-representation is not the good of performative radicalism, but that the good of radicalism is in the bad of chauvinist ideological self-representation as its interrupted performative core. The task of theorisation, which seeks to develop a strategy of radical intervention and revolutionary generalisation, is to constantly separate out one from the other by way of concrete analysis of the concrete situation.
This analytical approach ought to be applied with dispassionate rigour to both majoritarian and minoritarian chauvinisms if one is truly committed to developing an effective strategy of revolutionary transformation of the crisis-ridden, barbaric conjuncture of the capitalist world-system. Of course, this is not to be mistaken as a plea for equivalence of chauvinisms. Whether the immediate political effect of a chauvinism is progressive or not depends on its positioning within the larger balance of class forces. To that extent, minoritarian chauvinist expressions must, from a revolutionary perspective, be treated differently from the majoritarian chauvinist ones. And yet, this engagement with the former by subjective forces of revolutionary transformation should be such that the performative radical core of such minoritarian chauvinist politics is demonstrated to its constitutive subject-positions in order to enable them to move towards generalising that performativity by separating it out, in their practice, from its ideological self-representation, and thus breaking with the latter in that process. Any passively reactive, or reformist-liberal, champinoning of minoritarian chauvinisms by radical subjective forces, without any engaged effort on their part to demonstrate how the performative radical core of such politics is separable from its ideological self-representation, yields nothing but lobby politics. Such politics serves to further imprison the oppressed minorities in their socio-political ghettos, which, in turn, bolsters the ideological hegemony of chauvinist politics in general and the concomitant political dominance of majoritarian chauvinism in particular. In the final analysis, such bleeding-heart, reactive politics is condemned to do nothing other than ensure its own continued existence by reinforcing the current post-fascist situation of fascisation of the entire conjuncture.
All this analysis, however, does not merely pertain to the UK and Europe. Once we start making sense of the structural-functionality of nation-states constitutive of the current conjuncture in terms of transnationalisation of the production process we will see that the post-Westphalian order of nation-states is not simply a continentally – or regionally – delimited institutional arrangement such as the EU, but is actually a generalised condition of nation-states that extends beyond the EU to the rest of the world as well. This, for one, would reveal the hollowness of claims made recently by a top-dog ‘Marxist’ economist – who is also one of the main ideologues of the thoroughly bankrupt parliamentary left in India – about how nation-states in the Third World have had a different historical trajectory than those constitutive of the post-Westphalian arrangement of the EU, and are thus intrinsically different from them.
Such claims by this economist, needless to say, are an exercise in saving the appearances in order to continue validating that which can no longer be validated: the national-Bolshevist politics of both democratic and so-called socialist revolutions. In fact, in this respect there is not much by way of which one could distinguish India’s parliamentary Indian left from most of its so-called radical versions, even the ones that claim to uphold a programme of socialist revolution. For another, and this is even more important, this would help explain not only Brexit, but also the ascendancy, and possible rise, of such post-fascist neoliberal dictators as Modi in this part of the world, and Trump in the US respectively.
[O]ur army is very different from others,
because its proposal is to cease being an army.– Subcomandante Marcos
1. SYRIZA’s initial electoral victory in Greece generated much hope among the European left and elsewhere too. The Europeans did not need to look zealously and jealously at the advancements in Latin America and elsewhere now. They suddenly found themselves advancing. But much of optimism, and also scepticism, looked at this political event as a phenomenon in itself which either had to be toasted for or condemned outrightly. They were either waiting for the SYRIZA experiment to be successful or defeated. Such sentiments have much to do with the way political formations are taken as voluntary forces judged in terms of their open or hidden programmes and agendas. They transcend and replace the movemental and other societal processes of which they are mere moments or symptoms. Political formations like SYRIZA in Greece and Podemos in Spain in this way are autonomised from the specific grounds of global class struggle.
2. Reactions to SYRIZA’s ‘success’ replayed the reactions to Latin American struggles and incidents of state empowerment in the last decade. Similar was the nature of remorse later. Such reactions I think rely too much on statism and less on its critique. They judge every success in the political field not as a beginning, but as a victory. Subsequently, the whole analyses that were being peddled were about what would SYRIZA do to sustain itself in state power, the task which we all know essentially is nothing but the state’s mode of reproducing itself through such agencies. It was good that SYRIZA’s every move was watched and debated, but to what purpose – just to wait for its success or defeat, not to generalise what its initial ‘success’ represented – the crisis of the old. You can’t wait for the barriers to become limits – this transformation requires not waiting, but hoping. As Ernst Bloch once said, “Against waiting, only hoping helps, which one must not only drink, but cook somewhat too.” (1)
3. Thankfully, in SYRIZA’s case there was a spoiler from the very beginning – it was SYRIZA’s alliance with ANEL, a rightist political formation which too stood against austerity, but for its own nationalist petty bourgeois reasons. The much-tested old wisdom is justified to consider such an alliance evil in its very constitution – it has a social corporatist nature, and any commitment around it must have a reactionary character seeking not to sharpen but obliterate the contradictions that might lead to the progressive transformation of the national and European political economy. Of course, at least, a critical mass of the polemicists were always online trying to dissuade people from considering electoral victories and state activism more than what they were. But even then the question remained – could SYRIZA have done better? So the object of analysis stayed – what SYRIZA did or didn’t do. And, hence, the conclusion: it was their opportunity, and they messed with it. But in reality, SYRIZA-like formations are definitely locally limited, yet globally linked. It is generally forgotten that their survival as radical forces depends on this balance. And this indicates at the responsibilities of both insiders and outsiders – who are equally located inside the structure of the global class struggle of which the Greek experience is an intrinsic part.
4. Similar was the euphoria, both positive and negative, when the Maoists in Nepal triggered a republican transformation, an overthrow of the royalty in the landlocked country, heavily dependent on Indian capital and its demands. A party-power struggle ensued in which even the revolutionaries were caught – every political party in Nepal has become a medium to pose different permutations and combinations of political groups to acquire or bargain power. The only stable political element that exists in Nepal is India trying to be the regional puppeteer using every political, social and cultural mechanism to fine-tune Nepalese politics to the advantage of the regional capitalist accumulation under its protection. Obviously, the presence of China is an irritant that Nepalese politicians utilise to claim some manoeuvrability. But what is interesting to see how all the blame for the failure of Nepalese communists/Maoists to mobilise republicanism under their leadership is put on them and their corruption. This blaming business is a reflection of the same voluntarist understanding of politics and state power that we see in the discourse over SYRIZA. It is not understood how within the dichotomised political/economic frame their failure was sealed from the very beginning. They definitely intensified the vocalisation of divided interests in the Nepalese society, which the royalty had suppressed in the name of unity. But limited to a national-state understanding of the Nepalese society they were evermore mired in the stagism of bourgeois-democracy. They on their own could not transform the political economy of the region of which Nepal was a mere part. Any local statist motivation in the Indian neighbourhood will not be very different from winning a few seats within the Indian Parliament. It is the benevolent nationalism of Indian communists that never allows the envisaging of a realistic transformation in the region. In fact, it scuttles any revolutionary potential in the local challenges like in Nepal or Kashmir. It is the big brotherly Indian radicals who are blind to any opening or opportunity in regional ripples.
5. The Nepalese movement was never simply to establish what they call “a modern state.” Reducing the many decades of the Nepalese movement to the unique and static question of state formation (which again is reduced to the royalty-or-republic frame) is the hegemonic mode of subsuming and dissipating the protracted struggle of the Nepalese toiling masses against the network of political economic power which India presides. Even republicanism must be understood as a concentrated, yet temporal reflection of the everyday struggle of the Nepalese people.
6. Fataha is an Arabic word meaning to open, to grant, to be victorious etc. It forms the root for Al Fattah, which is one of the names of Allah and means the Opener. What makes this term, fataha, interesting is the combined dialectical sense that its diverse meanings render. The way it celebrates, yet humiliates the victorious is quite fascinating – the victory or triumph is nothing more (and nothing less) than an opening. I think the heroic tragedies in history are mostly in forgetting this lesson. The so-called conscious social agencies often are oblivious of the dialectical truth of transience – they as missionaries, which definitely they are, think they have put the society to the desired pathway to the future, when it was just a mere possibility, one of the many possibilities. In fact, they have done nothing but opened Pandora’s box, bringing the society to the brink of possibilities (and uncertainties). What usually happens is that the phenomenality of the victory preoccupies everybody, it is reified.
7. The Paris Commune “inaugurated” the “glorious movement”, “the dawn of the great social revolution which will for ever free the human race from class rule.” It was the concrete beginning of coherent revolutionary politics of the working class that continues to train generations of world revolutionaries, despite recurrent reversals as revolutionary advancements are time and again consolidated in the form of nationalistic successes and gains. Even though locally the Paris Commune was crushed, “the presence of the threatening army of the proletariat of the whole world gathering in the rear of its heroic vanguard crushed by the combined forces of Thiers and William of Prussia” “attest the hollowness of their [the enemies’] successes.” (2, italics mine)
8. The October Revolution in its initial years was always taken as a mere “opening” for the European Revolution at least, if not the world revolution. Revolutionaries in Russia were aware of the need for the expansion of the revolution for the deepening of the revolution. And outside Russia, the revolutionary solidarity forces were intensifying their own struggles, which were understood as building upon the successful “opening.” It was when the world revolutionary movement subsided with alternative statist capitalism and techno-social corporatism competing with it that the “opening” became conscious of its distinction, its own being and endeavoured to survive as a government and a state. The Great Depression and the subsequent New Deal economics sealed the peaceful coexistence and competition between the two political-economic systems – the Cold War.
9. The Chinese Revolution too emerged as an opening for the revolutionary upsurges in various colonial and post-colonial peasant societies that questioned the teleology of market-oriented European capitalism. A planned nationalist transition with a controlled competitive regime, unimpeded by the imperialist politico-economic demands gripped the socialist imagination in these backward societies. We see large revolutionary movements and people’s wars rising in various parts of the world, especially on behalf of the pauperised peasantry and the precarised youth. These movements again saw the Chinese revolution just as an opening. But eventually the crisis of welfarism and statist capitalism, on the one hand, and the Cold War bipolarity, on the other, led to the reduction of various new de-decolonised states into self-hating rentier-bureaucracies, which bargained with the two poles and eventually became the ground for the neoliberal regime of economic restructuring. Ultimately, the Chinese state itself threw away the mantle of the Opener, and entered the fray to attract financialised capital huckstering upon the local institutions, resources and labouring population cheaply available.
10. On a much smaller scale, the Cuban Revolution too emerged as an opening for the Latin American revolutionaries and in Africa. Most of the time both Cuban and Chinese revolutions combined to inspire peasant revolts. Che Guevara epitomised this opening, lending himself to replicate the Cuban experience across continents – Congo and Bolivia, but to remarkable failures. What he lacked, unlike the Maoist conceptualisation of the protracted war, was the ability to keep politics in command. His guerrilla practices were extreme forms of voluntarism and subjectivism. On the other hand, the Maoist practice internationally suffered from both conceptual and practical overgeneralisation, which came from the legitimate practice of developing “base areas.” The territorial militarist symbolism and existentialism of localised peasant struggles overpowered the political sense of these movements. This led to the subservience of every expansion to secure base areas, which were increasingly surrounded and squeezed by the globalised networks of the capitalist circuit. Hence, the base areas remained central to revolutionary survivalism, while becoming marginal to the overall anti-capitalist movement of the working class. Guerrillas became identities in themselves, rather than “masses in arms”, as Kwame Nkrumah used to define a guerrilla. These movements could never become threats to capitalism, but always remained as actual scapegoats to impose global McCarthyism.
11. In fact, it was this marginalisation and deadlock that the movements like Zapatistas in Mexico apprehended in the 1980-90s, and were forced to envisage struggle and solidarity beyond instituted territorialities and state power. It was a recognition of the implausibility of the statist imaginary of post-capitalist transformation in the age of financialised transnational capital regimes. The critique of militarism and vanguardism presented by movements like the Zapatistas was the clarity that “you cannot reconstruct the world or society, or rebuild national states now in ruins, on the basis of a quarrel over who will impose their hegemony on society.” (3) The impetus to recognise and build a world of many worlds was not a simple rhetoric to revert to some united front tactics. It was a result of a deeper critique of relative “human conditions” and a self-critique of revolutionary practice, that was fixated upon the pre-determined goal of capturing state power. The critique of vanguardism that the Zapatistas presented was an affirmation of the vanguard as constantly (re)composed in the diverse levels of struggle – “We do not want to monopolize the vanguard or say that we are the light, the only alternative, or stingily claim the qualification of revolutionary for one or another current. We say, look at what happened. That is what we had to do.” (4) Of course, by relinquishing the aim of state power, they affirm themselves to be only a subset of the protracted global struggle. The Zapatistas provided an opening for the movemental critique of capitalism and capitalist state-formation, but the hypostatisation of the movement form that happened subsequently externalised this critique and reduced it to a dualism of state and civil society, that the process of state formation has always sought to pose. The powerful Zapatista experiment was eventually circumscribed within the NGOised civil society discourse – lobbyist rights, localist self-help politics and difference assertion which suited the neoliberal political economy based upon an infinite discretisation of human capacity and lean politics. The solidarity politics and economy that was envisaged in the Zapatista movement was abandoned in favour of identitarianist assertions, rights discourse and lifestyle autonomy. Leave aside its negation in practice, the state question itself was avoided.
12. If the post-Keynesian neoliberal counterrevolution professes to minimise the State by proclaiming it out of bounds from economy, it is simply vocalising the given divide between the economic and the political that characterises the capitalist system itself. What this divide means is the politics of depoliticisation of exchange relations – therefore, economy is always political economy, even if it is depoliticised. Whichever state form that has existed in the history of the modern state has come into being to facilitate the reproduction of exchange relations. The function of state in all its forms is to soak away the organic emergence of class struggle in these exchange relations, and limit it to the political superstructure. If Zapatistas exposed the crisis of valorisation on the margins of exchange relations and they could effectively practice “the idea of simply turning our back on the state,” their practice could not become more than an inspiration for those who found themselves enmeshed in exchange relations. John Holloway notes, “…there is no golden rule, no purity to be sought. Thus, for example, the Zapatistas in Chiapas make an important principle of not accepting any support from the state, whereas many urban pro-Zapatista groups in different parts of the world accept that they cannot survive without some form of state support (be it in the form of unemployment assistance or student grants or – in some cases – legal recognition of their right to occupy a social centre).” (5)
13. It was in the particulars conditions of urban and semi-urban locations at the very heart of exchange relations, that the risky in-the-state struggle became once again important. Especially in those countries where extractive industries are at the centre of economy and/or where the stark instrumentalisation of state institutions by glocal agencies of capital through purported neo-colonial mechanisms scuttled the local capacity to self-determine, the “opening” that Chavez’s Venezuela epitomised was significant. This revived the ground for people-oriented nationalist/statist efforts, but with a difference – there was a strong apprehension toward the statist primacy. Of course, the question of state power was posed by the barrios themselves, but with an evident sense that the state itself can never be transformed, but destroyed. The issue was to rein in state power to unleash a constant drive towards collective self-determination, rather than a pre-determined complete self-determination circumscribed within the instituted territoriality. The situation of dual power must be constantly posed, where popular autonomy is distrustful and vigilant towards the state, while class conflicts continually politicise exchange relations at every level and extend the reach of solidarity economy beyond territorial limits. Any slippage in this regard is an advantage to statism which eventually reduces dual power to the duality of the political and the economic – allowing capital to technicise the political recomposition of the working class to bring back exchange relations and capitalist accumulation on track.
14. The lessons of the Bolivarian revolution in South America are once again very elementary that until and unless these revolutions or events are taken as mere openings to deepen and expand the revolution, they will implode. Rosa Luxemburg reminded us a long time ago, “Either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy, resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it is quite soon thrown backward behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counter-revolution. To stand still, to mark time on one spot, to be contented with the first goal it happens to reach, is never possible in revolution.” (6) In this age of the permanent crisis of capitalism and of generalised precarity, we will face numerous such reversals and can only hope to emerge every time a bit wiser.
(1) Ernst Bloch [1969 (2006)] Traces, Stanford University Press, Stanford, p. 1-2.
(2) Karl Marx [2011 (1872)] “Resolutions of the Meeting held to celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Commune,” in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, p. 287.
(3) Marcos quoted in Alex Khasnabish (2010) Zapatistas: Rebellion from the Grassroots to the Global, Zed Books, London, p. 83.
(4) Marcos quoted in Alex Khasnabish (2010), p. 64.
(5) John Holloway (2005) Change the world without taking power: New Edition, Pluto Press, London, p. 235.
(6) Rosa Luxemburg (1918) The Russian Revolution. Available at marxists.org