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The Ultimate Contradiction of the Revolution

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Pratyush Chandra

Published as Afterword in Ron Ridenour’s book “Sounds of Venezuela”, New Century Book House, Chennai, 2011. In this note I have tried to address some questions that many Tamil comrades have raised regarding the foreign policy of the Venezuelan State, especially in the context of state repression against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the Venezuelan and other ALBA states’ support to the Sri Lankan government in international forums.

The narrative Ron Ridenour has woven here in these pages provides a glimpse of the Venezuelan reality, which exposes not only the significance of the Bolivarian revolutionary processes, but also their contradictions. Obviously, these contradictions are the source of much anxiety among the friends of the Bolivarian revolution throughout the globe. But is it not true that a revolution is as much about hope as it is about apprehensions and dangers? A revolution is always unsettling. You cannot ever pronounce the final judgement about the event called revolution. That is why what famous Marxist historian George Rudé said about the French Revolution is true for all revolutions—”the Revolution remains an ever-open field of enquiry.”(1)

I

Nothing remains settled in the revolutionary process—otherwise how can it be called a revolution? We need to understand that this process is constituted by conflicts among various ever-new possibilities that emerge at every moment therein. Ideological struggles are nothing but representations of these conflicts; expressed in political programmatic language, these possibilities constitute the various lines within the revolutionary movement. These conflicts are what determine the course of the revolution.

To be more specific, there is always an impulse internal to the revolutionary process that seeks to control or limit the pace and extent of the revolution—to make things settled. It can have a positive implication to the extent that it compels the revolutionaries to be conscious of the course of the revolution and to be vigilant enough to differentiate between the forces of reaction and revolution that are internally germinating. The ‘faces’ of these forces do not remain the same—what seems revolutionary at one moment might dawn as reactionary at another. The conservative impulse we are talking about lies somewhere in the interstices of the moments of movement and consolidation, trying to break the simultaneity of these moments. When it is able to break this simultaneity, it morphs into a Thermidorian form with the apparent task of consolidating the revolutionary achievements and protecting them from the enemies. This Thermidorian power externalises all problems of revolution—it tries to cleanse the revolution of these problems so thoroughly that what emerges out of this deadly bath is a revolution sans revolution—sanitised of all contradictions.

The formalisation or institutionalisation of the achievements cannot be avoided. However, this is what gives birth to a new status quo, which tries to guard itself against revolutionary impermanence. It is a conflict like this that could be understood as a two-line struggle—between the emerging headquarters and the forces of continuous revolution. This struggle is in fact the revolutionary truth which cannot be avoided. No moment in the revolutionary movement is devoid of the forces of conservation, which have the potentiality of turning into a full-scale centrism or even reaction depending on the balance of class forces.

With regard to the revolutionary processes in Venezuela, it has been regularly emphasized that “the ultimate contradiction of the (Bolivarian) revolution” is the struggle internal to Chavism—”between the ‘endogenous right’ and the masses who have been mobilised.” Chávez himself frequently describes the Venezuelan reality in Gramscian terms—”The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” However, as Gramsci said, in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear—which appear in Venezuela (alongside the continued existence of the old oligarchy, latifundistas, monopoly capitalists and US imperialism) in the form of the new ‘boli-bourgeoisie,’ the military-civil bureaucracy, and ‘the party functionaries and nomenklatura’ who seek to thwart the class and mass initiatives from below.(2) These are the material forces, which with their dispassionate mannerisms try to conserve a pragmatic and ‘realistic’ Bolivarian future against the erratic spontaneism of grass roots initiatives. These are the Bolivarian headquarters.

II

As is well-known, historically there has been a systematic erosion of productive sectors in Venezuela which are not allied to operations of the oil industry. Since 1998, there has been a consistent endeavour to rebuild these other sectors of production and infrastructure around them. In order to achieve this, many steps both backwards and forward have been taken. Many bureaucratic, intermediary and petty bourgeois interests have not just been tolerated but even encouraged and promoted to compete with old oligarchies and corporate interests. Incentives to ‘native bourgeoisie’ and petty bourgeoisie have been an interim strategy of the Bolivarian regime to fragment the corporate unity of capital, while helping in diversifying the Venezuelan economy. In fact, the imperative to create an ‘alternative social bloc’ against corporate hegemony has forced a vision under which “capitalist sectors whose business activity entered into an objective contradiction with transnational capital” are not considered unapproachable.(3)

However, the radical supporters of the Venezuelan transformation have cautioned that the pragmatic need to neutralise private capitalist interests in order to develop a broader bloc against immediate enemies, like transnational capital and imperialist interests, must not scuttle the anti-capitalist nature of the transformation. It has been shown how “‘incentives’ to private capitalists in order to increase productivity” fail generally because they tend to strengthen the historically nurtured rentierist character of Venezuela’s native bourgeoisie. For example, incentives in agriculture without having a fundamental structural transformation have cost the Chávez government heavily, both politically and economically, as “the big landowner (latifundist) recipients of the Government’s generous agricultural credits and grants are not investing in agricultural production, in raising cattle, purchasing new seeds, new machinery, and new dairy animals. They are transferring Government funding into real estate, Government bonds, banking and speculative investment funds or overseas.”(4) These latifundistas have successfully used to their own advantage the Bolivarian government’s urgency to ensure domestic food security and agricultural productivity amidst volatile international relations by bargaining protection from the upsurge of peasants and landless organisations demanding radical land reforms. However, there has been an increasing realisation within the Bolivarian circles about the futility of such compromises with the rentierist forces.

The emergence of the Bolivarians at the helm of the existing political economic institutions has, of course, intensified the internal class struggle leading to a tremendous crisis for the status quo. But there still exists a considerable space for the consolidation of powerful economic interests because these institutions were essentially built for this purpose. The most recent case of their successful manoeuvrings has been exposed by WikiLeaks, which narrates how a radical Chavista, “Eduardo Saman was replaced as commerce minister following pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to protect old patent legislation and their profits.”(5)

There is a massive danger of the containment of the revolutionary pace and agenda, if the revolutionary forces are not vigilant enough with regard to the activities of those social classes that are crowding the institutions of revolution for incentives and patronage. The new intermediate interests that have emerged close to the state structure, along with the old ones, have resisted every popular attack on private capital. They have attempted to thwart endeavours to institute workers’ control over economic activities. Even within the oil and other ‘monopolistic’ industries, these interests have not conceded any substantial move beyond nationalisation, as state monopoly allows them to use their own proximity to the state machinery for intermediary profiteering. There has been a consistent resistance to the attempts to institute co-management,(6) not just from the side of corporate interests, but also from economistic trade unionism (especially in the state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA), which cannot envisage a system of workers’ control that questions the institutional hierarchy and labour aristocracy.

As long as there is a popular movement which questions and subverts the norms and everydayness of the bourgeois state in Venezuela, with the resoluteness to build ‘a new state from below’ with the novel institutions of protagonistic democracy and communal councils, there is a hope for the Bolivarian Revolution. Or else, “it will lapse into a new variety of capitalism with populist characteristics.”(7) That is why there has been a growing need to envisage the alternative bloc and class alliances which are subservient to the exigencies of “an overall system of socialized production.”(8) The accommodation of capitalist interests in any form (state or private), even when they are in consonance with the immediate interests of the revolutionary transformation at a particular juncture, is fraught with risks of the reassertion of ‘the logic of capital,’ and “there will be a constant struggle to see who will defeat whom.”(9) It is this logic and its constitutive representatives, who try to consolidate their position through the so-called ‘endogenous right’ of the revolution.

III

The emergence of headquarters in a revolution is linked with the question of state, state power and hegemony. During a revolutionary period the state returns to its elements—it emerges as a naked instrument of suppression—of holding down adversaries. The proletarian dictatorship too will not allow its enemies to have a free play. Revolution is a period when class struggles begin to explode the barriers of the existing state order and point beyond them. On the one hand, there are “struggles for state power; on the other, the state itself is simultaneously forced to participate openly in them. There is not only a struggle against the state; the state itself is exposed as a weapon of class struggle, as one of the most important instruments for the maintenance of class rule.”(10)

The global division of labour and the US hegemony reduced the Venezuelan economy to mere accumulation of oil rents, thus making proximity to the state the only viable route to economic success. In such an economy, the statist tendencies are bound to be very strong and entrenched in every layer of society. To complicate the matter, revolutionaries in Venezuela found themselves at the helm of the bourgeois state by following its rules, not by any insurrection. In such a situation, reformist tendencies will definitely be stronger among the ranks of the Bolivarians, who find revolutionary measures futile and even adventurist. These tendencies did suffer a temporary setback during the attempted coup of 2002, but as time elapses the cautious self-critical forces begin to find safe-play, gradualism and tactical compromises essential to consolidate power and achievements and to pre-empt any such drastic attack by counter-revolutionaries in future.

The left Chavistas, on the other hand, stress on the task of smashing the bourgeois state from within while positing a new state from below based on co-management of social and economic life. Like the ‘endogenous right’ they understand the need to consolidate, but for them consolidation is not separate from the destruction of the existing state form. Like Russian revolutionaries, they emphasize the development and independence of the working classes and their organs of self-activity, because only in this way can the workers protect their state, while protecting themselves from it! The defeat of the 2002 coup also demonstrates the impact of the unleashing of popular energy and self-activity and what that could achieve. Moreover, unlike in Russia, the state in Venezuela remains a bourgeois parliamentary state, which is alienated from the everyday life of the revolutionary masses.

IV

Among several valuable insights that Ron Ridenour’s text provides regarding the nature of contradictions that pervade the revolutionary transition in Venezuela, there is an important point on the Venezuelan state’s approach to the struggles of the Colombian guerrillas, the FARC. Ridenour hints at the vacillation in this approach. However, such anomalies are numerous, especially when it comes to international relations. Throughout the globe, post-1998 developments in Latin America have been watched very intently, with a lot of hope and expectation. The consistent defiance of US hegemony by the Chávez regime has been a source of inspiration for various progressive movements everywhere. At least with regard to its position on the American manoeuvrings globally, nobody can fault the Venezuelan state—it never wasted any time to decry the imperialist interventions anywhere in the world.

But this has led to a genuine rise of expectations for support from progressive Latin American regimes (if not materially, at least through statements) for local movements against their particular oppressive states, even when there is no direct western backing to these states. In recent years, with many states lining up to define their own ‘war against terrorism’ in order to crush local critical voices and movements against them, the stance of the Venezuelan and Cuban states has not been supportive of the oppressed. In fact, any official voice from the West critical of the local states has many a time provoked statements from the progressive Latin American regimes that are supportive of the southern states like Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka even when these are highly oppressive. This has greatly frustrated the solidarity movements—some even going to the extent of calling the Latin American revolutionary processes ephemeral.

However, one must understand that the revolutionary process is not linear and smooth. It is not something homogeneous, and its targets are not just external. The intensification of revolution is the heightening of contradictions that constitute it. In fact, these constitutive contradictions internalise the so-called external elements—’alien’ class interests, the vestiges of old regimes, etc. Any attempt to avoid contradictions is a conservative attempt from the ‘endogenous right’ to homogenise the revolutionary voices behind the new institutions, alienating them from their organic roots in class struggle, thus giving birth to new bureaucracies—the agencies of the new order. It is the ‘endogeneity’ of this tendency that forces the revolutionary leadership to reassess the coordinates of the contradictions time and again. A fine discrimination of these coordinates in the revolutionary process gives an insight into the apparent anomalies. It was not for nothing that the 20th century revolutionaries time and again stressed the need to differentiate between the state (which even well into the first phase of communist society safeguards the bourgeois law) and the revolutionary masses. An understanding of this aspect is crucial in order to comprehend the problems and prospects of policy designs under a revolutionary regime, including its foreign policy and international relations.

It must be noted that revolutionary internationalism of the working class is an important weapon with which a revolution generalizes itself and resists its degeneration into nationalist statism by not allowing ‘revolutionary passion’ to die out. But it is not simply a subjective aspiration to generalize that gives birth to internationalism. Rather, it “is a necessity arising out of the fact that the capitalist class, which rules over the workers, does not limit its rule to one country.”(11) Thus, internationalism is a result of the class struggle going global—it is an endeavour to thwart the capitalist strategy of intensifying capitalist accumulation by segmenting the working class and its consciousness. It is in this regard that a revolution can be termed as international both at the levels of its causes and impact. It represents a crisis for the capitalist system.

Solidarity efforts in support of revolution beyond the immediate location of its occurrence, along with ‘indigenous’ revolutionaries’ support for movements beyond their location are crucial even for the survival of the revolution as a revolution. It can survive as such only by constantly asserting its international character, its inseparability from international class struggle. Otherwise, it will implode or be reduced to a mere regime change.

It is interesting to see how revolutionaries have time and again talked about the foreign policy of a revolution, not just that of the state. And this has been assessed by the revolution’s galvanising effect on the struggles of the working class and the oppressed in other locations. While criticizing the foreign policy of the Provisional Government (that emerged after the February Revolution of 1917) for conducting it with the capitalists, Lenin remarked:

Yet 1905 showed what the Russian revolution’s foreign policy should be like. It is an indisputable fact that October 17, 1905, was followed by mass unrest and barricade-building in the streets of Vienna and Prague. After 1905 came 1908 in Turkey, 1909 in Persia and 1910 in China. If, instead of compromising with the capitalists, you call on the truly revolutionary democrats, the working class, the oppressed, you will have as allies the oppressed classes instead of the oppressors, and the nationalities which are now being rent to pieces instead of the nationalities in which the oppressing classes now temporarily predominate.(12)

It is in this regard that many struggling peoples across the globe find the foreign policies of the progressive regimes in Latin America wanting. Especially, Cuba and Venezuela, the countries which are in the leadership of the anti-imperialist realignment in the post-Cold War era, have been criticized for not standing against the oppressive regimes of the Global South. They have been chastised for their frequent open support to these regimes, whenever they are attacked by the so-called international community.

The genuineness of these criticisms can hardly be questioned; however, they must go further and explain these stances in terms of their material foundation, rather than locating them in some sort of ideological and personality-oriented tendencies as many have done, who reduce the Chávez phenomenon to populist demagoguery and the Cuban regime to Stalinism. The existential anxiety of these regimes in the face of a strong imperialist unity against them is definitely one reason that must be considered. This makes them wary of any interventionist strategy on the part of the ‘international community’ against any regime. Further, the existentialist need to have an oppositional bloc in the international forums puts them in the company of strange allies.

However, we will have to make a fine distinction between the revolutionary process itself and the institutions, states and individuals that come up during this process. We cannot reduce the revolutions to their particular passing moments. We will have to recognize and accept that these revolutions are marked by intense internal contradictions, whose astute descriptions we find in Ridenour’s travelogue. The states in themselves have a conservative agenda, even when they are deeply embedded in the revolutionary process. They have the task to defend what has been achieved, and in mounting this defence they frequently fail to differentiate between the actual enemies of the revolution and the revolutionaries who are aware of the dilemma, of which Rosa Luxemburg talked about:

“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.”(13)

Notes

1. George Rudé: Revolutionary Europe 1783-1815. Fontana/Collins, 1964.
2. Michael Lebowitz: The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century (2008). Available online at: http://links.org.au/node/503/1594%20.
3. Marta Harnecker: Rebuilding the Left. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2007, p. 35.
4. James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: What’s Left in Latin America? Regime Change in New Times. Ashgate: 2009, pp. 192-3.
5. Tamara Pearson: “Venezuelans to Debate Patenting Laws after Revelation that Companies Conspired in Firing of Radical Minister,” http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/6490 (September 15, 2011).
6. The system of co-management envisages social control against any competitive congealment of sectionalist interests over economic activities. Under this system the economic sectors are co-managed by workers with the community at large.
7. Michael Lebowitz: Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2006, p. 116.
8. Petras and Veltmeyer, op cit, p. 234
9. Marta Harnecker, op cit, p. 36.
10. Georg Lukacs: Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought. Verso, 1970.
11. V.I. Lenin: Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party (1895-96). Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 109.
12. V.I. Lenin: Speeches at First All Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (June-July 1917). Collected Works, Vol. 25.
13. Rosa Luxemburg: The Russian Revolution (1918). Available at http://www.marxists.org.

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

March 19, 2012 at 7:15 am

India’s overseas investments – some facts and meaning

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This is a draft report that I submitted to an organisation early last year on the need to develop a labour perspective on India’s rising overseas investment in other developing economies. The report mainly analyses investments in Africa (esp Kenya and Sudan). It’s nothing great, but at least it grasps the urgency of developing such a perspective. It urges us to move beyond postcolonial anxiety and complexes in our understanding of India’s political economic location in global capitalism. At least, people in our neighbourhood and in economies far off, where Indian intervention has reached and increased, are beginning to understand the myth of third world homogeneity. See our interview with a prominent Bangladeshi Marxist, Anu Muhammad.

Download the report

For my earlier take on the issue,
Bush’s Passage to India: Why Does India Carry His Water? (Counterpunch, Feb 2006)

Written by Pratyush Chandra

January 18, 2011 at 2:13 am

Whose puppet is the Nepal govt and what for?

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Leave aside this talk about puppet, colonial, expansionist etc. They are mere rhetorics. India is clearly an imperialist country – a country which controls around 45 percent of FDI in Nepal has much on stake. You cannot appeal to India’s good conscience and put it on the ‘right’ track by sarcasm (just asking for “a paradigm shift in relations with India by recognizing the changed political context in Nepal”) . Only a popular unity of the working masses across boundaries can defeat this South Asian imperialism. However, this would require inculcating a Zimmerwaldian spirit among Indian comrades – and that is the most difficult task, indeed!!!

http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?679967

Ahead of their planned massive show of strength against the “puppet” regime of Madhav Nepal on May 1, Nepalese Maoists have intensified their anti-India campaign by releasing posters and pamphlets against New Delhi.

The former rebels are planning a major rally on May 1 to demand the ouster of the 22-party coalition government headed by Madhav Kumar Nepal, calling it a “puppet” regime, coinciding with the International Labour Day.

Ten days before the rally, walls in capital Kathmandu adorn posters and paintings against India, which authorities feel would further fan anti-India sentiments in Nepal.

“Get rid of the puppet government”, “abrogate the Nepal India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950” and “Indian Army vacate Kalapani and Susta” are some of the slogans that have made way into the posters.

Some posters say the May one agitation is to protect “national independence and fight against colonial and expansionist forces.”

Maoists have been accusing India of interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs, but New Delhi has rejected it.

Last week, Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood had met Maoist chief Prachanda to express concern that the rally would further fan anti-India sentiments in Nepal.

CPN-Maoist leader say the May 1 rally is to “fight against those forces which have been conspiring against the peace process and the process of drafting the constitution.”

The party has also appealed to labourers to participate in the rally.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 22, 2010 at 12:55 am

Krugman’s “great illusion”

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Economist Paul Krugman in his latest column in NY Times (Aug 15, 2008) entitled “The Great Illusion” expresses his concern at the possibility that “the second great age of globalization may share the fate of the first”. And it is the recent Russia-Georgia conflict that makes him say so. To be more explicit he goes on to explain that “our grandfathers lived in a world of largely self-sufficient, inward-looking national economies — but our great-great grandfathers lived, as we do, in a world of large-scale international trade and investment, a world destroyed by nationalism.”

Krugman’s above statement clearly shows his lack of any historical sense. When was that “world of large-scale international trade and investment” free of (militarist) nationalism – a mechanism to protect that “large-scaleness”? And much of the “nationalism” which destroyed that world was in fact a revolt against that “large-scale” militarism. Yes, it destroyed the Pax Britannica – it was a war against the war monopoly.

On the one hand, Krugman seems to tell that national self-sufficiency at least with regard to “the current food crisis” is at last clearly shown to be not “an outmoded concept”. But he is in fact accusing nationalism of “many governments” for “leaving food-importing countries in dire straits”. He further finds that there is a rise of “militarism and imperialism” as “it does mark the end of the Pax Americana — the era in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly on the use of military force. And that raises some real questions about the future of globalization”. Obviously, for him, “Russian energy” and Chinese big economy are the real threats as they have the capacity to manipulate world polities and economies to submission.

Then what is the Pax Americana? Is it not militarism, imperialism and manipulation, that we witnessed throughout the 1990s and afterwards? When did war-mongering and militarist build-up end during the “Pax Americana”? Increasing manipulative capacities of other countries and their political economy at the most demonstrate a globalization of “militarism and imperialism”.

Krugman rightly questions those analysts who “tell us not to worry: global economic integration itself protects us against war, they argue, because successful trading economies won’t risk their prosperity by engaging in military adventurism”. He thinks “the foundations of the second global economy” are solid than those of the first only “in some ways”, “[f]or example, war among the nations of Western Europe really does seem inconceivable now, not so much because of economic ties as because of shared democratic values”. So euro-centric Krugman, like Stiglitz, ultimately thinks the West not to be adventurist because of its democracy, but ah! “much of the world, however, including nations that play a key role in the global economy, doesn’t share those values”. So does he think the Pax Americana to which the West has submitted is about peace and democracy, which is now being threatened by the despotic Orient?

Krugman rightly concludes that “the belief that economic rationality always prevents war is an equally great illusion”. But like any other ordinary bourgeois he thinks economic rationality can prevent war when coupled with “democratic” values of the West. Obviously he can’t see the fact that economic rationality is about competition, representative democracy is about competition, and a war is competition par excellence. They are all ultimately the same – diverse moments in the life of “social capital”(1). Krugman refuses to recognize that capital whether protected by democratic regimes or not is at constant war against labour – which needs to be divided and controlled if it is to be exploited – and Western xenophobic megalomaniac nationalisms have always been nurtured for this reason. Where is the country in the West free from state-sponsored Ku-klux-klanesque policies and activism against migrants and “the other”? The neo-capitalist regimes have learned their lessons properly – obviously at the cost of threatening the established monopolies. It is not an end of globalization, as Krugman prognosticates, but a new stage – and a more barbaric stage – of capitalist globalization.

Note:

(1) “Here social capital is not just the total capital of society: it is not the simple sum of individual capitals. It is the whole process of socialization of capitalist production: it is capital itself that becomes uncovered, at a certain level of its development, as social power”. (Mario Tronti (1971), Social Capital)

On the logic of imperialism – US & India

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To say that the US invasion of Iraq “was not all about oil” is nothing novel. The triviality of “all about oil” argument is perhaps most clearly shown in the works of Marxists like Cyrus Bina. When neoliberal economic journalists like Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar criticise this argument, they ultimately circularly reiterate the same argument – not all about oil, but still all about oil. So he in one of his recent gems published on 10 March 2007 starts with saying:

“Many Indians, including respected foreign policy analysts, believe that the US invaded Iraq and ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003 simply to grab his oilfields. “Its all about oil,” they said. Well, it’s now four years since the invasion. Yet, we see no sign of the US grabbing Iraq’s oilfields”.

And ends by:

“The US still has a strong interest… in seeing that oil production in the Persian Gulf is not disrupted or monopolised by any military power. This was one reason why the US forced Saddam out of Kuwait, which he had invaded and occupied in 1990. The US Navy has for decades patrolled the sea lanes to ensure security for oil tankers. So, oil matters. But it is somewhat ridiculous to think that oil alone matters. The US invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake, but it was not “all about oil.”

That’s just “one reason”, but in Aiyar’s write-up it is the only “one reason”.

Definitely, we cannot ask him to comprehend the dialectics of abstract and concrete, essence and appearance etc – the complex relationship between economy and polity, where we cannot reduce any to the other. Also, we cannot expect him to avoid the circularity of bourgeois economics.

However the interesting aspect of his article is the details which he offers to prove his “not all about oil” argument – when he draws parallel between Indian and the US oil interests:

“Those familiar with India’s oil policy will find the Iraqi controversy over production sharing [contracts to foreign companies] mystifying, even comic. India has long signed production-sharing deals with private and foreign oil companies, and nobody regards this as a sellout.

The latest bidding round this year drew 32 domestic and 36 foreign bidders. In production-sharing deals, the foreign or private sector partner bears all exploration costs, but shares with the government any oil or gas that is found. The terms of production-sharing have varied in different rounds of bidding in India.

But typically the winning bidder whether Indian or foreign first gets enough oil to recover costs of production and exploration (called cost oil); then gets two to three times as much as profit oil; and then hands over most or all of the residual production to the government.

For instance, the government’s share in gas at Reliance’s Krishna-Godavari field starts at roughly 15% at the beginning and goes to 85% in later stages.

The most successful foreign explorer in India has been Cairn Energy, which hopes to produce 7.5 million tonnes a year from its fields in Rajasthan. British Gas has also experienced some success.

ONGC itself has entered into production-sharing contracts in no less than 15 countries, including Russia, Vietnam, Sudan, Venezuela, Canada, Brazil, Nigeria and Cuba.

Reliance Industries has also signed production-sharing deals in Yemen, Oman, East Timor and Colombia. Indeed, ONGC and Reliance have jointly signed a production-sharing deal in guess where? Northern Iraq. This is not Indian imperialism. Nor have these Indian oil companies encountered US resistance.

So, Indian foreign policy analysts who think the Iraq invasion was all about oil, need to brush up their knowledge of the oil business. They are living in the past.

There was indeed a time when the US used military power to back US oil companies. When Mossadegh in Iran nationalised oil companies, he was overthrown in a 1953 coup masterminded by Britain and the US. However, that was the last act in the history of oil imperialism.

This was shown when OPEC countries in 1974 nationalised all oilfields, converting oil multinationals from owners to just buyers of oil. Some US diplomats and politicians wanted military action to regain the fields. But the US Administration ruled that the days of oil imperialism were over, and it was time to deal with sovereign governents.

The US still has a strong interest as does India in seeing that oil production in the Persian Gulf is not disrupted or monopolised by any military power. This was one reason why the US forced Saddam out of Kuwait, which he had invaded and occupied in 1990. The US Navy has for decades patrolled the sea lanes to ensure security for oil tankers.

So, oil matters. But it is somewhat ridiculous to think that oil alone matters. The US invasion of Iraq was a terrible mistake, but it was not “all about oil.”

Here Aiyar has given some facts, ignored even by leftists suffering from third worldism. They are relevant for understanding the material base of India’s expansionist, even imperialist ambitions. Private (foreign and domestic) and State capitalist production sharing is nothing new. In recent years, India’s state oil companies like ONGC have been proactively involved in satisfying the energy requirements of India’s capitalist development by their overseas exploration and operation. Aiyar also tells us that now private capitalists like Reliance are increasingly being given space in this industry, where the State had been the pioneer.

However, for Aiyar, if “this is not Indian imperialism” then there is no US “oil imperialism”. But why do we presume that there is no Indian imperialism? In fact, let’s reverse the order of the argument – if all such facts have grounded US imperialist interests in the Middle East and elsewhere (even if not just for oil, but “oil matters”), then the parallel that Aiyar draws between India and the US must tempt us to probe India’s ambitions too, without precluding their possible imperialist nature. Definitely, the export of capital is not sufficient to make a state imperialist, but what makes it so is the state’s capacity and interest in defending that export through international political intervention, of which war is just a part, as Clausewitz taught us. Maybe if “Indian oil companies [in their outward expansion in the Middle East have not] encountered US resistance”, this is just another proof that India is a part of the imperialist coalition led by the US, or the US sees it as as an ally. This would give us a key to interpret the tremendous growth in the US-India-Israel relationship too.

Of course, in capitalism collaboration does not preclude competition – there will be moments when collaborating interests would clash too. But we should not presume that if collaboration between US and India is occurring, it is a patron-client relationship. Likewise, competition too is not liberation, India’s frequent amorous passes to Russia, China and others are not necessarily anti-imperialist or anti-US.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 26, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Uganda and global media propaganda

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All over the world, the media projected the recent Ugandan agitation against the multinational acquisition of the country’s forest resources as racist. Indian media tout court led the wave by raising the ghost of Idi Amin. It seemed something like the Nazis’ holocaust. This is not for the first time that South Asians have raised similar metaphors. Post-1990 Hindu rightists have time and again used them to stress on the parallels between the Jews and Hindus, the uniqueness of Israel and India. Also, Indian governments have been proactively self-imposing themselves as protectors of People of Indian-origin (PIO) all over the world. World imperialism and its watchdogs which are ever ready to club Anti-globalisation movements, terrorism, fundamentalists – all their ‘evil’ enemies, “bad guys” together have found this Indian expansionism and its rising crossborder interests and concerns handy for their mission. This allows them to corner the ‘third world’ movements and regimes who pose threat to world capitalist interests.

One PIO MP in Uganda, Sanjay Tanna has clearly rebutted such propaganda. He “said it was unfortunate that the media had focused on the death of one Asian and portrayed Uganda as a racist country. He said two Ugandans lost their lives and many others were injured or lost property. He explained that Rawal’s death came from a sequence of events, which included an attempt by some Asians to drive through the demonstrators.” (New Vision, April 17 2007)

Regarding, the global imperialist usage of Indian expansionism, I wrote the following almost a year back during Bush’s India visit in February 2006 (Counterpunch), which might be relevant here too:

On the other hand, India’s mastery of ‘unreliable’, and ‘rogue’ polities, and its ability to forge indigenous clients in those polities make it a worthy partner for other global powers whose recent hyper-interventionism has reduced their own ability in this regard. Conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have further attested this inability of the US hegemony, at least–political forces against which wars were waged in these countries were erstwhile US allies. These conflicts are symptomatic of the crisis of the US hegemony more than the unipolarity of the post-Cold War era. Unlike the ideology of the “Soviet threat”, the post-Cold War ideologies of human rights and non-proliferation could not form the legitimate basis for forging international alliances, since the duplicity of the “global powers” on those same accounts are too apparent. In fact, the orientalist bases of these ideologies have further curtailed the First World’s ability to directly manipulate political forces in the “third world”. At this juncture, ‘mediocre’ powers like India could become relevant interfaces between the two worlds, for perpetuating and sustaining global capitalism and its political structure.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 18, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Joseph Stiglitz’s “Another World”

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Joseph Stiglitz is counted as one of a few dissenting economists in mainstream academia, and for some time now his dissent has been attracting quite a number of activists. He is officially invited by the “Another World is Possible” people to their meetings. Naturally he will think himself authorised to tell people how another world is possible, and what will be that world. He precisely does this job in his March column, “The EU’s Global Mission” distributed through Project-Syndicate:

“Another world is possible. But it is up to Europe to take the lead in achieving it.”

So the revolutionary project already has a vanguard, the only job left for the foot soldiers is to convince him/her/it to lead. How insightful! Any pessimism in this regard is ill-founded as

“the European project has been an enormous success, not only for Europe, but also for the world.”

Of course, like our Indian monkey-god Hanuman, Europe lacks ready self-confidence and needs a bear bard for encouragement. Stiglitz’s article does that job. Questioning the economistic common sense, he tells Europeans not to feel unconfident before the warlords in the US, as their competitors’ supremacy is baseless and phoney –

“…while GDP per capita has been rising in the US, most Americans are worse off today than they were five years ago. An economy that, year after year, leaves most of its citizens worse off is not a success.”

Moreover, the European Union’s mission is distinct, which are not laws, regulation, or phoney prosperity, but “long-lasting peace”, “greater understanding, underpinned by the myriad interactions that inevitably flow from commerce”. And “The EU has realized that dream” – “neighbors live together more peacefully”, “people move more freely and with greater security”. Stringent immigrant laws for and policing of the people from the South (this identity is very broad since it includes Black and Arab French, Muslim Europeans…) etc are perhaps aberrations, or may be the Southerners are racially ‘uncountable’ “within a new European identity that is not bound to national citizenship”.

Furthermore, Europe has mastered the competitive art of giving, and has surpassed the US –

“Europe has led the way, providing more assistance to developing countries than anyone else (and at a markedly higher fraction of its GDP than the US).”

Do we need to tell our Nobel laureate the economics of Aid, even AIDS?

Stiglitz too feels (not unlike Bush) that the world has changed during the past six years. However, he finds “democratic multilateralism” being challenged, human rights abrogated. Obviously he ignores all the contributions in grounding Bushism that earlier US governments made, especially Clinton’s, of which Stiglitz himself was a part. What if NATO was not less active earlier, Iraq too was continuously bombarded…

Stiglitz feels the need for multipolarity, and that Europe

“must become one of the central pillars of such a world by projecting what has come to be called “soft power” – the power and influence of ideas and example. Indeed, Europe’s success is due in part to its promotion of a set of values that, while quintessentially European, are at the same time global.”

Does it really matter if this whole discourse of “a set of [quintessentially European, but universal] values” seems hardly any different from Bush’s? Moreover, what are these values? First is “Democracy” – not just elections, “but also active and meaningful participation in decision making, which requires an engaged civil society, strong freedom of information norms, and a vibrant and diversified media that are not controlled by the state or a few oligarchs.”

Which formally democratic country officially denies these, and how many countries, including the EU members, provide safeguards against corporate-state monopoly over information and media? Further, the whole logic of the European monetary integration was to insulate strategic financial and economic institutions from any “active and meaningful” democratic influence, as it was considered external and an economic nuisance.

“The second value is social justice”, which is just individualism, however realized “only if we live in harmony with each other”. Does Bush deny this? The issue is rather who will establish the rules for that “harmony”.

What else?

In Stiglitz’s dream, the White Man’s burden definitely changes shoulders, but it remains the white man’s burden all the same –

“For the sake of all of us, Europe must continue to speak out – even more forcibly than it has in the past.”

Back to the old world – while the “world” remains the same – a white man’s world.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 7, 2007 at 1:08 am

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