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
Hegel’s phenomenological story — i.e. phenomena as constitutive moments of the unfolding of the dialectic of essence and appearance — is theoretically central in Marx. Yet, Marxism is post-phenomenological. But what is post-phenomenology? It is nothing but praxis — practice that in its actuality is, at once, itself and its own dialectically-inflected critique. This is “practical materialism”, which Marx radically distinguishes from Feurbach’s “contemplative materialism”. The latter in being a partial materialist critique of Hegel’s dialectical spiritualism is rendered, in the final analysis, subjective-idealism and thus a necessary complement of Hegelian spiritualism. Hence, in its theoretical or cognitive moment (Marxist) post-phenomenology is phenomenology as both the symptom of praxis in its interruption, and a placeholder of the praxis to come.
In that context, one can clearly see how Walter Benjamin’s “dialectical image” (dialectic as an image of its own standstillness), or, for that matter, Brecht’s “gestus”, are nothing but discursively articulated conceptions of the post-phenomenology of praxis in its theoretical or cognitive moment. Something that radically re-defines the cogitative order itself to render thought the image and/or concrete index of its own determinate excess and suspension. This reveals how such conceptions are radically and modally distinct from such essentially phenomenological conceptions of Heideggerian discourse as historicality and the ontico-ontological nature of Being — their seeming resemblance notwithstanding.
Many new-fangled theorists and fashionable ‘radical’ philosophers in their post-Marxist zeal to either reject, or, more dangerously, appropriate Marx, tirelessly insist that totality is a phantom. But if one adheres rigorously to what one has sought to demonstrate above — i.e. the post-phenomenological character of Marxism, which amounts to extenuation of phenomenology precisely through its radicalisation — one will have to admit that even as totality is a phantom it is a real phantom (a “real abstraction” a la Marx). Alfred Sohn-Rethel in his critique of Althusser insists that Marx’s conception of commodity abstraction is, contrary to the French philosopher’s explication of the same, not merely metaphorical but literal. That is to say, the commodity-form is not merely a symptom of its own impossibility — a mark of its own inexistence as it were. Rather, the value-expressing commodity-form — one ought to say following Sohn-Rethel’s critique of Althusser — is a symptom of its own impossibility precisely because it exists as a commodity-fetish in a literal sense. Marx’s explication of commodity-abstraction, particularly in Capital, Volume I, points unambiguously in that direction.
Marx demonstrates how commodity abstraction — and therefore the value-bearing commodity-form — is a living contradiction. He reveals with great clarity how commodity abstraction — or valorisation — is about difference being qualitatively equalised precisely in its being difference. He, therefore, also shows that there is no qualitative equalisation — valorisation — without qualitative difference because the question of exchange, and thus qualitative equalisation, arises only when there is qualitative difference. That is to say, a commodity-form is qualitative difference bearing its own negation, which is qualitative equalisation. That is how commodity-form/value-form, in being itself as a unit of qualitative equalisation, is a symptom of its own negativity; and is, therefore, a living contradiction.
There is no doubt that Althusser’s rearticulation of Marx’s concept of commodity abstraction in Lacano-Freudian terms of “symptomatic reading” is, from a strategic-interventionist standpoint, a crucial theoretical breakthrough. But it is likely to pave the way — as it unfortunately often has — for a post-Marxist, poststructuralist appropriation of Marx. That, not surprisingly, has rendered Althusser’s conception of relative autonomy of contradictions into an absolute autonomy of difference — a good example of this is Deleuze’s affirmative conception of “difference-without-opposition”.
This problem cannot be obviated unless Althusser’s revolutionary anti-humanist theoretical breakthrough — which he accomplished through the Lacano-Freudian symptomatic reading of Marx’s conception of commodity abstraction — is supplemented with Sohn-Rethel’s Hegelian-Marxist critique of the same. This would serve to underscore the fact that Althusser’s entirely valid anti-humanist critique of Hegelian historicism (and Left-Hegelian humanism) is essentially radicalisation of Hegel by thinking Hegel in the extreme — an operation that amounts to brushing Hegel against his own grain.
Clearly, Althusser’s anti-Hegelianism, in radical contrast to the anti-Hegelianism of his post-Marxist epigones and poststructuralist compatriots, is not a premature jettisoning of Hegel but his rigorous extenuation. This is an aspect of Althusser’s thinking that is quite evidently there in such essays of his as ‘Marxism is Not A Historicism’ (in Reading Capital) and ‘Lenin as Philosopher’ (in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays). And supplementing his symptomatic reading of the commodity-form with Sohn-Rethel’s critique of the same is likely to foreground that aspect of Althusser’s discourse and thinking. In fact, the Spinozist moment in Althusser, and more significantly in Pierre Macherey, emerges arguably as an integral dimension of this manoeuvre to radicalise Hegel in order to have Hegelian historical reason exceed and surpass itself. This, for example, comes out most clearly in Macherey’s Hegel or Spinoza, wherein Spinoza is made to function deconstructively within the symmetrical Hegelian dialectic of recognition (historicism + humanism) to radicalise and transfigure it into an asymmetrical, materialist dialectic of anti-humanist action.
It seems Prof Makarand Paranjape has taken upon himself the task of eliminating the rightist intellectual vacuum of which left-liberal scholars have recently been talking about. He is actively posing himself both as a rightwing liberal and a genuine scholar, especially with his recently published work on Gandhi’s murder, The Death & Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi. Here, he succeeds as a rightwing intellectual, both in his omissions and commissions.
In this book, Paranjape undoubtedly demonstrates a credible scholarship. However, like any right-winger, he unabashedly displays his inability to comprehend the structure of an event, a conjuncture or a catastrophe – conflating facts and fiction (literary facts), reality and virtuality. The conceptual asyndesis that the right wing discourse suffers from flattens the structure of reality. The analytics of the destructed reality are reinforced at the immediate level of discourse, oblivious of the fact that they are differentially located in the composed structure of the event. In his endeavour to come to terms with Gandhi’s murder, Paranjape literally makes everybody responsible for it, even future generations. He absolutises relative responsibilities and makes the regenerated Oedipal guilt of the empowered Hindutva forces a collective absolute of the history of independent India . Ultimately, Godse emerges merely as an executor.
In the epilogue for the Indian edition of the book, Paranjape has clearly indicated his choice against “hypocritical and cynical” “Congress-style secularism” “pandering to and appeasing minorities”. He is not at all dismissive against the “majoritarian political formation. Of course, he wants some actions to see if “Hindutva-Hinduism [is] a better guarantor of religious and cultural pluralism than pseudo-secularism.” He asks, “will the new realism of pragmatic majoritarianism succeed better?” It seems he got his answers very soon.
Similarly, in his video-graphed “lecture” on nationalism in JNU before an “openminded” left-liberal audience desperately looking for their own variety of Indian nationalism at the time of neoliberal “post(modern) fascism”, Paranjape, like any right-wing street-fighter, goes on poking the left to make their choice among binaries – constitution or revolution, etc, demonstrating once again his ignorance of the complexity of the question of legitimation.
Paranjape continues to display the rashness of anti-left tirade in a recent article in Indian Express too, where he blunders on both levels – of arguments and of facts. However, here, he is engaging in manipulations typical of a conservative intellectual and poltician, to defend his recent activism. He starts with some commonsensical utterances to justify adding his name to a petition against one of the best Sanskritists of our times, Sheldon Pollock.
Paranjape jealously questions the exorbitance of the investment by a ‘Swadeshi’ investor in a project to create Murty Classical Library under the editorship of Pollock. As he admits, he doesn’t seem to know more than home economics, and thinks investment in scholarship as similar to buying underpants and vegetables.
In this era of global capitalism, when Indian rulers are busy playing beggar-beggar with other late capitalist economies to make Make-in-India campaign legible to investors, Paranjape and his herd are trying to contribute in it by selling their cheap intellectual labour. But they don’t know that the economic considerations for big industries in modern capitalism are not those of village sahukars – where buying cheap and selling dear are immediately interlinked, immaterial of the nature of products in consideration. Stooping down to the level of Prof Paranjape’s home economic sensibility, we can merely plead that he should have some sense to know that the long term credibility of the investor also matters at least in the field of academic production.
Reasonably, Paranjape tries to win the argument by complementing his home economics with inciting a nationalist inferiority rage. Here he is in a quite good company, as this provoking of bruised nationalist consciousness has always been a hallmark of jingoists and has once again become rampant – Trump, Berlusconi, Le Pen & c, and of course not to forget our own Modi. It effectively generalises, mobilises and instrumentalises anxieties and precarities produced by dispersed Fordism leading to the emergence of post(modern) fascism.
Now, coming to what Paranjape calls “the more controversial demand to sack Pollock”, we find him deliberately misinterpreting Pollock for his academic-political ambitions.
Pollock’s essay which Paranjape and his coterie are misquoting to discredit him and to project him as any Orientalist is one of the finest works on traditional Indian intellectual practices, where he displays his knowledge of not just the hegemonic Shastric tradition but also of oppositional scientific and secular voices, who had to regiment themselves by indulging in ritual nodding to the Shastric authority.
To the extent that Pollock demonstrates the intransigent and transcendent nature of the Shastric tradition in prioritising theory, along with its attempt to homogenise and hegemonise practice, his originality is only in the extent of his scholarship, not in his idea. There have been alternative traditions right from the Upanishadic times that have been questioning such ritualisation, many times in shrill voices, and in recent centuries quite openly as by many late Medieval poets and numerous anti-caste fighters like Phule and Ambedkar.
Moreover, in the very initial paragraphs of the essay, Pollock declares his thesis, “everywhere civilisation as a whole – and this is especially true of art-making – is constrained by rules of varying strictness, and indeed, may be accurately described by an accounting of such rules.” And then he goes on to compare Manusmriti and Amy Vanderbilt’s Everyday Etiquette (definitely, an outrageous comparision from the perspective of a refounded Brahminism of Hindutva), and concludes, “such cultural grammars exist in every society; they are the code defining a given culture as such.” Of course, he credits Shastras for their unique expanse and influence.
Paranjape must remember if he wants to (though it is difficult given his allegiance to particular political projects in recent days), that orientalism happens not simply when whites exorcise brownies, it is also when whites and brownies combine to exoticise and eternalise the orient. Let me remind Paranjape of his own remorse at the “politics of misreading” in 1991 (Economic & Political Weekly), when he was troubled by what he saw the “tendency to indulge in the commonest argumentative fallacy of irrelevance: ad hominem or name-calling,” At that time, he was accused of having represented himself as a “de-brahminised brahmin” by, as he claimed, his student (it is clear that this fact hurt him the most). That “student” today is himself a well-known literary scholar and activist, K Satyanarayana.
However, in recent days Paranjape himself, along with his less-sophisticated ilk, has mastered this politics and is indulging in “the commonest argumentative fallacy” of name calling. He clearly dislikes them with whom he disagrees. Whether he had actually de-brahminised himself earlier or not is debatable, but it is clear, at least for the time being, he has re-brahminised himself, and he feels empowered.
1. “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear, with these immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Vaillant, a French anarchist martyr, do we strongly justify this action of ours.” These were the opening words of the leaflets that Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw after bombing the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi on April 8, 1929. By the massive reaction across India to the suicide committed by Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student at the Hyderabad Central University, it is not an exaggeration to say that this action of his was justified – as a loud voice or explosion that we all heard. If murder is justified as a politico-legal act (in case of executions, as legal murders), why not self-murder? It is ethically far superior or noble too as it is directed towards oneself – as a samadhi, both in brahminical and anti-brahminical traditions.
2. One might say that the revolutionary terrorism of Bhagat Singh challenged the state, by openly defying its laws. One might further admit that in revolutionary terrorism, the nobility of the cause is objective and evident. Revolutionaries are distant to their acts and their effects, which are fully under their command. It is for the emancipation of humanity, workers or nations that the revolutionary terrorists live and die – a mark of extreme selflessness. They standout among the masses, they are heroes whom we all look up to – kind of supermen. If they are democratic and responsive to people, it is their humility, which further adds to their stature.
But suicide? How can it be revolutionary? It is an act of extreme selfishness and cowardliness. It is this belief that shows up slyly even in the massive pro-Dalit and Dalit responses to Rohith’s suicide, even in their bid to disprove it. Of course, they will not call this act selfish or cowardly. They will explain it to disprove all this, but ultimately the paradigm to demonstrate its something else-ness is same, whether you sanctify it as a kind of protest, in which you must add, suicide when nothing else works or call it an “institutional murder”, or a desperate act of a depressed individual. Rohith must be either a victim (of the system or of groups/individuals) or depressed or even, at least for the status quoist forces, a desperado.
3. Marx had published a peculiar write up in 1846 on suicide, which is not much studied. Till recently it was thought to be merely a translation of a French police administrator, Jacques Peuchet’s work on suicide cases. The fact that why on earth Marx translated a piece on suicide too was not touched upon. It was its retranslation in English, its comparison with the original one by Peuchet along with short studies by Kevin Anderson and Eric A Plaut revealed the importance of the text. Marx’s omissions, commissions and editorialisation in his translation transformed it into a very significant text where Marx directly deals with women’s issues, bourgeois family and a generalised system of alienation. He twisted the text which was already very graphic and condemning with his powerful unattributed insertions. One of them is:
“Those who are most cowardly, who are least capable of resistance themselves, become unyielding as soon as they can exert absolute parental authority. The abuse of that authority also serves as a cruel substitute for all of the submissiveness and dependency people in bourgeois society acquiesce in, willing or unwillingly.”
What Marx does in the text is to show how cowardliness and impotence of people in authority and power lie in their inability to make sense of suicide. Marx thus translates Peuchet:
“What characterises courage, when one, designated as courageous, confronts death in the light of day on the battlefield, under the sway of mass excitement, is not necessarily lost, when one kills oneself in dark solitude. One does not resolve such a difficult issue by insulting the dead.”
Marx pushes the argument further by inserting:
“One condemns suicide with foregone conclusions. But, the very existence of suicide is an open protest against these unsophisticated conclusions.”
4. At least the state, as the collectivity of ruling interests, is well aware of the lethality of the self-afflicted terror, suicide. It knows how this act is a powerful means of undermining it. That’s the reason, suicide is a crime. Foucault succinctly put, suicide was a crime “since it was a way to usurp the power of death which the sovereign alone, whether the one here below or the Lord above, had the right to exercise.” He proclaims, “This determination to die, strange and yet so persistent and constant in its manifestations, and consequently so difficult to explain as being due to particular circumstances or individual accidents, was one of the first astonishments of a society in which political power had assigned itself the task of administering life.”
5. An act is not just its grammar, it is a performance – when, where, who, before/against whom etc all characterise it. Hence, the divide between revolutionary and reactionary acts. A “revolutionary suicide” is an act enmeshed in politics of experience, like any self-murder. It is a response grounded in the personal self-full experience of the perpetrator. It is devoid of the nobility and selflessness of a declassed revolutionary or a self-flagellating noble liberal, volunteering to think about them who can’t think for themselves. Only a black revolutionary could have conceptualised this concept, and a Dalit can very well understand it. When “bereft of self-respect, immobilized by fear and despair, [an individual] sinks into self-murder”, it is, according to Huey Newton, “reactionary suicide.” On the other hand, revolutionary suicide is not a result of “a death wish”, therefore, it is a suicide which is not even suicidal. “We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible.” The desire is so strong that we seek to satisfy it “even at the risk of death” – “it is better to oppose the forces that would drive me to self-murder than to endure them.”
6. Pitting knowledge and reason against experience constitutes what can be called an arrogance of determinism and abstraction. It is immaterial if scholars are aware of this or not. Until and unless this abstraction is re-derived from experience, that is until this duality is resolved in the dialectic of practice, it will have an affinity to the brahminical Cartesian prioritisation of abstracted science. This is where many theorisations and historicisation of oppressed identities fail them. In their attempt to explain the experience of caste and race in terms of its determinations, many times they simply write off the question of the reproduction of the caste system or identitarian hierarchy in everydayness – how it is reproduced in social practice, where, let’s admit, it is nothing short of a conspiracy.