In response to a questionnaire on leftism in campuses sent out by a journalist comrade
1 In your opinion, what should student politics be about — as u said that day its certainly not about finding hostels, ending discrimination or complaining about teachers’ attendance?
The issue is not what should be, but what is student politics. Its definition must be able to explain what is happening in it and what are the possibilities in store. Of course, much of politics among the student community is accomplished by posing the incompleteness and the “privileged” character of its identity, and filling it with all kinds of shouldness that would connect it with supposedly the larger socio-political picture beyond campus boundaries. The emotional idioms of guilt and sacrifice guide almost all political ideologies prevalent within the student movement – not just the nationalist and rightist varieties, even the leftist ones. They all indulge in mobilising the political energy of students for “larger” causes. But interestingly what happens as a result is ideologisation – manipulation and displacement of anxieties and irrationalities of day-to-day experience of studenthood. But isn’t this the hegemonic function of politics in general? Student politics connects students to the larger political milieu.
The demand politics that you mention complements the ideological politics. Only through this, the state apparatuses and associated spectacular politics are able to access or rather place studenthood in a re-presentable manner. It is through the language of demands that an institutional straightjacketing of self-activism becomes possible. In students organisations, the demands per se are always considered to be instruments of mobilisation. There have been reactions to such instrumentalisation, which leads to depoliticisation of general students and a proliferation of consciously identitarianised students organisations and activism, which seek to pose an accomplished identity of a student, self-accumulating, arrogating to itself privileges without guilt. The aestheticisation of student life, campus life, hostel life etc is the prominent medium of this politics.
What these forms of spectacular politics accomplish is to re-present the specific student experience of the general politico-economic processes in a manner that regiments the specific in accordance with the exigencies of these general processes. This is accomplished through various successive moves which can be broadly categorised in two. Firstly, it attempts an ideological abstraction or disconnection of the specific from the general, thus ossifying an identity of the specific. Secondly, it reconnects this abstracted identity with the general, which is re-posed as an aggregation of specific segmented identities. This reconnection is hence always external.
In effect, the mainstream student politics with various organisational forms and activities achieves an important function within the student community of generating forms of state apparatus and internalising the political exigencies and language of the general political economic system.
What we are talking about is the remainder that the mainstream student politics leaves in its attempt to re-present. That is, the very internal relation that the specific has with the general – the semantics of studenthood in the general politico-economic processes. Our attempt is to re-envisage or rather recognise politics from that level.
2 If student leaders these days only job is to to be the interface / negotiator between management and students — in this sphere what ‘does’ or ‘can’ Left or Right or Caste student organisations do differently? I mean there cannot be a left wing way or a rightwing way of finding a hostel or cleaning toilets or common room?
Generally, when we talk about left, right or centre, we mean either specific sets of policies or specific combinations of forces/segments. So in that sense various competing demand charters can be proposed with different permutations and combinations depending on the “ideological” and segmental catering. Caste and regionalist/nationalist student organisations can also earn epithets like left, right or centre, or even progressive and reactionary according to their compositions and the ensuing ideological positioning. However, all these organisational forms are ultimately diverse representations of students’ interests that cohere with the systemic logic – in that sense, left, right and centre must co-exist in every point of time as broad characterisations of all possible organisational forms of politics. So I do not consider the irrelevance of the Left to be a fact at any point of time in the history of bourgeois polity, even if it finds itself often marginalised.