Why Rosa Luxemburg must be translated in Indian languages?

It is strange that the collected works of one of the most important Marxist revolutionaries, Rosa Luxemburg, have just begun to be translated and published in English – that is almost a century after her murder! More strangely, but quite understandably, the Chinese who seem to ride ahead of everyone in the economic race of capitalism, immediately got ready to publish the translation of Rosa’s works in Chinese. But in spite of rich and varied left political traditions in India, there haven’t been such endeavours.

It is not at all surprising that Rosa Luxemburg’s writings are referred mostly to explain and critique crises in the political movements of the working class. Throughout her theoretical and practical struggles she was a staunch defender of the primacy of workers’ self activism, in which the organisational question and the issue of the revolutionary transcendence of capitalism must be grounded and resolved. It was this conviction that allowed her to comprehend the dialectic of spontaneity and organisation against the dualistic discourse that dominated the working class politics, which overstressed and celebrated organisation as a given institution, which fits and filters spontaneous class impulses, rather than as being made and remade in class self-activism. Her experience in the revolutionary movements of Poland and Germany armed her with a sensitivity towards the unevenness of the material ground of workers’ politics and their consciousness. It was this sensitivity that sharpened her critique towards the reformist and the revolutionary vanguardist tendencies within the world social-democratic movement, deconstructing them in terms of the specificities and exigencies of class struggle in particular spacetimes.

The mesmerising successes of revolutionaries in acquiring state power in countries with dominant peasantry and semi-proletarians in the early decades of the last century, without similar successes in advanced capitalist countries led to a dilution of the lessons of the Paris Commune, and even of the workers’ soviets, which symbolised the class self-capacity of the proletarians. Instead the vanguardist and statist tendencies became powerful which substituted the self-emancipatory activities of the working class, or at the most instrumentalised them in building up a strong state. The prime task now was simply to develop a powerful apparatus of the party that would acquire state power, competing with other political forces. What was lost in fact was the revolutionary project itself – of the dissolution of the capitalist power entrenched in the State and the simultaneous building up of workers’ power from below through their self-activities, in which the dialectic of spontaneity and organisation operated. Those who critiqued this situation found a powerful theoretical guide in Rosa Luxemburg in their endeavours to save and shape the emancipatory task of working class politics.

In the Indian subcontinent, the revolutionary movement since its inception was entrenched with nationalist ideologies and wedded to the immediate task of developing a United Front to attain national independence. This curtailed every possibility of an independent emergence of working class politics in the region. However, recently a lot has been done in history writing to chronicle and trace the trajectory of working class self-assertion with and without the classically recognised forms of workers politics. The unavailability of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas in vernacular languages, except filtered through the self-censorship of South Asian revolutionaries and scholars, who could not question the institutionalised leadership and successes of the Second World, made it impossible for dissidents to use the resource of rich conceptualisations found in Rosa Luxemburg’s writings to organise and strengthen critical tendencies within the local revolutionary and working class movements. Hence, we find them mired in the same polemical and sectarian milieu. In fact, the general image of Rosa Luxemburg that prevails in our part of the world – a great tragic revolutionary heroine, a mighty eagle with whom chicken couldn’t compete in flying high, but who could and did sometime stoop a little lower than chicken. Definitely not less than a great martyr, but not more.

It is a pity that almost a century has past since Rosa Luxemburg’s death, but her works are still unavailable in vernacular languages of India. Definitely, with the post-soviet collapse and the rise of neoliberal globalisation, interests in her contribution in the critique of political economy have arisen tremendously, which we witness in scholarly writings coming even from the institutionalised left community. However, what is still lacking is her political understanding equipping activists and workers who are steeped into the labour movement and who can appreciate the full import of her writings. For this to take place, her writings must be made available to them in their languages, in the languages of workers themselves, for whom Rosa Luxemburg wrote.

Stalin on “aristocratic attitude towards the masses”

Our Stalin institutionalists and anti-Stalin fanatics can quibble over the meaning-fulness or -lessness of the following, but it is definitely one of the texts which would make the Manichean officials within the radical Left uncomfortable. It is also an evidence of infinite possibilities during the course of the Russian Revolution, even in 1924. In fact, when I quizzed one of my comrades about the authorship of the text, he could even imagine Victor Serge writing it!

This is taken from Stalin’s speech on Lenin delivered at a Memorial Meeting of the Kremlin Military School January 28, 1924. It is published in volume 6 of his Collected Works, pp 54-66. In this text he deals with “a few facts to bring out certain of Lenin’s characteristics as a man and a leader.” He identifies these characteristics as: “the mountain eagle” (“who knew no fear in the struggle, and who boldly led the Party forward along the unexplored paths of the Russian revolutionary movement”), “modesty”, “force of logic”, “no whining”, “no boasting”, “fidelity to principle”, “faith in the masses”, and of course, ultimately, “the genius of revolution.” It was indeed very refreshing and even nostalgic to read the text – almost a guide to Marxist spirituality (perhaps Roland Boer will illuminate on this in his forthcoming book on Stalin).

At the time when our comrades in their ghettoised complexes boast of their every action as historical, it is of course good to see an attempt to codify “no boasting in victory” and “faith in the masses” as revolutionary values:

Theoreticians and leaders of parties, men who are acquainted with the history of nations and who have studied the history of revolutions from beginning to end, are sometimes afflicted by a shameful disease. This disease is called fear of the masses, disbelief in the creative power of the masses. This sometimes gives rise in the leaders to a kind of aristocratic attitude towards the masses, who, although not versed in the history of revolutions, are destined to destroy the old order and build the new. This kind of aristocratic attitude is due to a fear that the elements may break loose, that the masses may “destroy too much”; it is due to a desire to play the part of a mentor who tries to teach the masses from books, but who is averse to learning from the masses.

Lenin was the very antithesis of such leaders. I do not know of any other revolutionary who had so profound a faith in the creative power of the proletariat and in the revolutionary efficacy of its class instinct as Lenin. I do not know of any other revolutionary who could scourge the smug critics of the “chaos of revolution” and the “riot of unauthorised actions of the masses” so ruthlessly as Lenin. I recall that when in the course of a conversation one comrade said that “the revolution should be followed by the normal order of things,” Lenin sarcastically remarked: “It is a pity that people who want to be revolutionaries forget that the most normal order of things in history is the revolutionary order of things.”

Hence, Lenin’s contempt for all who superciliously looked down on the masses and tried to teach them from books. And hence, Lenin’s constant precept: learn from the masses, try to comprehend their actions, carefully study the practical experience of the struggle of the masses.

Faith in the creative power of the masses—this was the feature of Lenin’s activities which enabled him to comprehend the spontaneous process and to direct its movement into the channel of the proletarian revolution.

The text is available online too at Marxists.org

Revolution as Return (I)

What is return anyway? Don’t we hit return on our keyboard to start a new paragraph?

Benjamin did not conceive revolution as an act to secure future, as redeemer of future generations, but as retribution – it avenges in the name of the downtrodden generations. The revolutionary class is “nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.”

In fact as Calvino points out future is actually a return – “forgetting the future” is “to forget the return” – forgetting “his home, his return voyage, the whole point of his journey.”

Calvino notes that folk tales are of two types. One is of the riches-rags-riches type and the other is the rags-to-riches type. In the first type “the idea of poverty” is connected to “the idea of rights that have been trampled on, of an injustice that must be avenged”. On the other hand, the second one reflects “a consolatory miracle or dream.” It is this that constitutes the “social conscience of the modern age” – the common sense that preserves the status quo. For Benjamin the social democratic historicist myth-making is of the second type – it makes “the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice.”

It is the first type that characterises revolutionary consciousness in capitalism, which is simply never to forget the primitivity of accumulation, the original fall. It is this that makes the struggle against capitalist accumulation revolutionary, or else it will be mere adherence to the historicist reformist conception of progress – the rags-to-riches type. It is not insignificant that every time capitalist accumulation takes a new turn and expands itself, the conception of primitivity of accumulation is enriched – the (hi)story of transition and primitive accumulation is retold. That is why there are many odysseys in the Odyssey.

Returning is reconquering. “In the collective unconscious the prince in pauper’s clothing is the proof that every pauper is in reality a prince whose throne has been usurped and who has to reconquer his kingdom.” Calvino further asserts,

“The return must be sought out and thought of and remembered: the danger is that it can be forgotten before it even happens.”

Introducing Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital”

This text in Hindi has been written to introduce the Oriya translation of Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital”. It mainly emphasises on the political reading of the text and of Marx’s other “economic” writings.

परिचय: श्रम और पूंजी के बीच सम्बन्ध – अर्थशास्त्र और राजनीति
(Introduction: The Labour-Capital Relationship – Economics and Politics)

मार्क्स की एक बात जिसे सबसे गलत ढंग से समझा गया है वह है उनका आर्थिक मूलाधार का सिद्धांत – कि तमाम मानवीय गतिविधियों का मूलाधार आर्थिक है. विरोधियों ने इस बात को पकड़ कर यह साबित करने की कोशिश की कि मार्क्स पूरे मानवीय सामाजिकता को आर्थिक संरचना का ऊपरी ढांचा मात्र मानते हैं. अतएव उनकी नज़र में मानवीय सोच और व्यवहार पूरी तरह से अर्थ-तंत्र द्वारा निर्धारित एवं परिभाषित हैं, उनकी अपनी कोई आन्तरिकता नहीं है, उनके विकास का अपना नियम नहीं है, उनकी स्वतःस्फूर्तता और अभिव्यक्ति पूर्णतः आर्थिक सन्दर्भ का नतीजा है.

दूसरी तरफ, मार्क्सवादियों ने मार्क्स के बचाव में कई तरह की व्याख्याएं दीं जिनका निचोड़ बस इतना है कि मार्क्स की समझ में आर्थिक मूलाधार होते हुए भी वह सब कुछ नहीं है. ग्रंथों पर ग्रन्थ लिखे गए मार्क्स के समझ की समृद्धि दिखाने के लिए – यह दर्शाने के लिए कि उनकी संस्कृति, साहित्य, राजनीति आदि की समझ कितनी समृद्ध थी. अवश्य ही इन सब से मार्क्सवाद और पैना हुआ तथा उसका अथाह विकास जो हम आज देख रहे हैं संभव हो सका.

परन्तु एक ज़रूरी चिंता जो इन तमाम बौद्धिकताओं के नीचे कहीं दब सी गयी – वह थी मार्क्स के चिंतन प्रक्रिया में आखिरकार आर्थिक मूलाधार का अर्थ क्या था. अधिकांश मार्क्सवादी पंडितों ने भी आर्थिक को अर्थ-शास्त्रीय चश्मे से ही देखा, जबकि मार्क्स का पूरा “सैद्धांतिक व्यवहार” अर्थ-शास्त्र की आलोचना पर टिका था. उन्होंने यह समझने की कोशिश की कि कैसे अर्थ-शास्त्रीय नियोजन मानवीय समाज की अस्तित्वपरकता को, उन मौलिक संघर्षों को, जिनके आधार पर पूरी सामाजिक आर्थिक संरचनाएं बनती और बिगड़ती हैं, ढांपता है. मार्क्स ने अपनी आलोचनाओं द्वारा उन शास्त्रीय और व्यवस्थापरक पर्दों को हटाकर पूंजीवादी सामाजिक-आर्थिक संरचना में गतिमान मानवीय श्रम – उसकी रचनात्मकता – पर आधिपत्य के लिए होते दैनिक संघर्षों के धरातल और नियमों को समझने की कोशिश की. उन्होंने पूंजीवादी व्यवस्था के तहत, उत्पादन के साधनों के ऊपर निजी और अपवर्जनात्मक अधिकारों से पैदा हुए मानवीय श्रम और उसकी रचनात्मकता के बीच अलगाव को समझा. उन्होंने दिखाया कि पूंजी वह सामाजिक सम्बन्ध है जिसके तहत जीवित श्रम को संचित श्रम की मूल्य रक्षा और वृद्धि के साधन मात्र में तब्दील कर दिया जाता है. पूरी सामाजिक संरचना – आर्थिक और राजनैतिक व्यवस्था – इसी सम्बन्ध को कायम रखने में मदद करती है.

मार्क्स की इस समझदारी ने अवश्य ही कई परिष्कृत सिद्धांतों को जन्म दिया, पर ये सिद्धांत कोई सैद्धांतिक अटखेलियों के लिए नहीं थे, बल्कि वे मार्क्स के राजनैतिक पहल का नतीजा थे. उनके लिए यथार्थ हमेशा सम्बन्धात्मक और गतिमान होता है, जिसमे अंतर्विरोधों की नियामक भूमिका होती है. यही वजह है पूंजी और श्रम के बीच के अंतर्विरोधात्मक परन्तु गतिशील सम्बन्ध की विशेषताओं के अध्ययन को वह आवश्यक समझते थे. जहां अर्थशास्त्री पूंजी-श्रम के सम्बन्ध को महज तकनीकी और प्रबंधकीय समझते हैं, वहां मार्क्स इस सम्बन्ध में अंतर्विरोधात्मकता को दिखाकर उसके राजनैतिक स्वरूप को उजागर करते हैं.

उन्नीसवीं सदी पूंजीवादी-औद्योगिक विकास के वैश्विक फैलाव और उसके बढ़ते अंतर्विरोधों का दौर था. कई तरह के सामाजिक विद्रोह पैदा हो रहे थे – अधिकांश तबकों का सर्वहाराकरण हो रहा था और मजदूर वर्ग सुसंगत शक्ति के रूप में ऐतिहासिक पटल पर पहली बार उभर रहा था. मार्क्स का दार्शनिक और राजनैतिक विकास इसी दौर में, यूरोप के क्रान्तिकारी मजदूरों के सरोकारों के बीच हुआ. इसी ने उनके वैचारिक चिंताओं को जन्म दिया.

“मजदूरी श्रम और पूंजी” मार्क्स के इसी राजनैतिक और सैद्धांतिक परिश्रम का आरंभिक नतीजा थी. उन्होंने पुस्तिका के आरम्भ में ही यह साफ़ कर दिया है कि किसी भी आन्दोलन का, “चाहे उसका लक्ष्य वर्ग-संघर्ष से कितना ही दूर क्यों न मालूम होता हो,” प्रगतिशील निष्कर्ष इस पर निर्धारित है कि उसमे मजदूर वर्ग की हिस्सेदारी किस प्रकार की है – वह कितनी निर्णायक है. मार्क्स की आर्थिक विवेचना इसी वर्ग-संघर्ष के मौलिक धरातल को समझने का, वर्गों के आपसी संरचनात्मक एवं विरोधात्मक सम्बंधों में परिवर्तनकारी संभावनाएं देखने का प्रयास है. यह विवेचना अर्थ-तंत्र की निष्पक्ष जाँच नहीं है, बल्कि ऐसी निष्पक्षता का दावा करते सामाजिक और आर्थिक “वैज्ञानिकों” का माखौल उड़ाती है. मार्क्स दिखाते हैं किस प्रकार आर्थिक तत्वों के तकनीकी पक्ष दिखाने के नाम पर इन पंडितों ने ज्यादा से ज्यादा सतही प्रक्रियाओं को ही दिखाया है – उन्होंने उनमे छिपे मानव सम्बंधों और संघर्षों को पूरी तरह से नज़रंदाज़ ही नहीं किया, वरन तकनीकी शब्दावलियों और विश्लेषणों के परत पर परत चढ़ाकर उनकी सच्चाई को ढांप दिया.

मार्क्स अपने विश्लेषणों द्वारा इन्ही संबंधों और संघर्षों की जांच करते हैं और उनकी मौलिकता को उजागर करते हैं. वह दिखाते हैं किस प्रकार से इन संबंधों और संघर्षों के तहत एक तरफ पूंजी मानवीय श्रम का अधिकाधिक जीन्सीकरण करने को उतारू (या कहें मजबूर) है, क्योंकि इस प्रक्रिया के फैलाव और गहनता में ही उसका जीवन है. इस प्रक्रिया के तहत श्रमिक श्रम-शक्ति देने वाला महज एक मशीन बन जाता है – श्रमिक के श्रम और उसकी रचनात्मकता को ही निचोड़ कर पूंजी को सतत नया जीवन मिलता है. परन्तु मार्क्स के लिए यह प्रक्रिया निश्चित नहीं है – वह संघर्ष है क्योंकि श्रमिक अपने मशीनीकरण, अर्थात श्रम-शक्ति से श्रम खींचने की प्रक्रिया, का लगातार चेतन-अवचेतन तौर पर विरोध करता है.

यह संघर्ष केवल उत्पादन प्रक्रिया में ही नहीं होता, बल्कि पूरे सामाजिक स्तर पर होता है. आखिरकार श्रमिक को श्रम बाजार में भी तो लाना होगा – जिसके लिए उसे मजबूर करना होगा. श्रमजीवियों का मजदूरीकरण अथवा सर्वहाराकरण ज़रूरी है. उसको भूमि और अन्य साधनों के बंधनों से मुक्त करना ज़रूरी है, तभी वह अपनी श्रम-शक्ति का व्यापार करने को मुक्त होगा. श्रम की यही “दोहरी मुक्ति” पूंजीवादी समाज व्यवस्था की नीव है. यही मुक्ति मजदूर-दासता की शुरुआत है. इस व्यवस्था के कायम रहने के लिए इस दोहरी मुक्ति को बनाए रखना आवश्यक है. श्रमिक के पास इतना हो कि वह अगले दिन काम के लिए तैयार हो पाए, और बस इतना ही हो कि वो काम के लिए तैयार रहने के लिए मजबूर हो. अतः उत्पादन प्रक्रिया की तैयारी में ही संघर्ष के तत्व मौजूद हैं, जो अपने दूसरे तेवर के साथ उस प्रक्रिया के अंतर्गत दिखाई देते है.

मुक्ति ही दासता है, सहमति ही जोर-जबरदस्ती है – पूंजीवाद की विशिष्टता उसके अंतर-द्वंद्व हैं, उसका दोहरापन है – पर यह द्वंद्व अथवा दोहरापन असल में पूंजी और श्रम के बीच हो रहे संघर्ष की सामरिक भाषा है. पूंजी के लिए मुक्ति, श्रम के लिए दासता है. मार्क्स इसी संघर्ष को पूंजीवादी समाज का आर्थिक मूलाधार मानते हैं – दूसरे शब्द में कहें, यही उनका आर्थिक मूलाधार का ‘राजनैतिक’ सिद्धांत है.

“मजदूरी-श्रम और पूंजी” एक ऐसी अनूठी पुस्तिका है जो कि मार्क्स की एक अधूरी कृति होते हुए भी पूंजीवादी विकास के भिन्न अवस्थाओं में नीहित श्रम-पूंजी संघर्ष की केन्द्रीयता को पहचानने में मदद करती है. भारत में अब कोई ऐसा कोना नहीं बचा जो पूंजीवाद से अछूता हो, और हम एहसास कर सकते हैं तमाम व्यक्तिगत और सामाजिक संघर्षों में पूंजीवादी अंतर्विरोधों को. मगर उन्हें पहचानने और इन संघर्षों के बीच सम्बन्ध स्थापित करने के लिए मार्क्स द्वारा विकसित सैद्धांतिक हथियारों की आज भी ज़रुरत है. “मजदूरी श्रम और पूंजी” भी कुछ ऐसे महत्वपूर्ण हथियार प्रदान करती है.

नोट: हिंदी में इस पुस्तिका का अनुवाद “उजरती श्रम और पूंजी” के नाम से किया गया है.

Notes on the Organisational Question

This note was prepared for a workshop of workers’ organisations in Orissa (June 26 – 28, 2013)

1. Meaning of संगठन or organisation. When we talk about workers’ organisation what does it mean? It essentially means workers coming together against capital. But this togetherness is always in making, in the everydayness of workers’ lives. This संगठन or organisation can only be recognised, and strengthened or weakened, they can’t be formed in the sense that our Lilliputian vanguards generally mean – as if they are “mighty to save” and workers are waiting for deliverance by their hands.

2. When we take labour-capital relationship as forming the basis of the present socio-economic formation, it is essential to understand that this relationship is nothing but conflictual, where the victory of capital signifies the continuation of this asymmetric relationship, while the victory of labour or proletarians would signify the collapse of this relationship – and thus the negation of the class system itself. Once we understand this, we can easily comprehend the permanence of this conflict under capitalism – absolute is its existence, relative is its rhythm. The success and failure of the two ‘parties’ depend on which party is more organised – united and able to comprehend and check the designs of the other. However, in the case of workers, unity must not be understood as any aggregation of demands and interests (एकता ), as neo-Chartists envisage, rather it should be seen as how much different sections of the class relate with one another in their self-activities and in their struggle against capital (तारतम्यता/तालमेल).

3. Hence, the inversion of the politico-organisational formula that is traditionally posed.

a) Classically, issues/agenda <=> organisation => struggle; under this framework issues are recognised and posed, organisations are developed to suit the agenda and then struggles are waged. It is the model based on the manufacturing of organisations as apparatuses to organise and wage struggles. Even when self-activity is recognised in this framework, as spontaneity etc, the task highlighted is to (counter)hegemonise it so that it links with the agenda of the organisation;

b) The perspective that we defend is – Struggle…Organisation… Issues/agenda; here struggle itself is an organisation, whose “agenda” is evident in its very nature – a continuation or end of the class system. Here, the short-term agenda (Marx’s “guerrilla fights”) is to intensify the struggle or conflict.

Under a), a delivery system has to be developed – demands are what workers/people help in constructing, and an efficient organisation is that which is able to read, aggregate and average those demands and negotiate for them.

Under a) the elements of the chain are discrete, and it finishes with the struggle. Then a new segment starts. The continuity of organisation only shows that an apparatus or a machine has been objectified and is flexible – then garbage in and garbage out. Of course, this machine has to be maintained, oiled and put to use. On the other hand, an inseparation of the organisation and struggle, and its perpetuity under b) liberates the organisational question from formalism, grounds it in the dynamic of the conflict itself. Forms are formed and dissolved in the struggle itself.

4. Under b) the role of organisers is not diminished, but becomes crucial. Their integration in class struggle and organisation allocates them the role of net-workers – connectors between the diverse locations of class struggle – the role of the messenger. Of course, they are refused the role of a herdsman. A ‘Leninist’ lesson in this regard is crucial – they must become Jambavanta (जाम्बवंत) to Hanuman (हनुमान), but if they try to drag him by the tail – their Swarna-Lankas (स्वर्ण लंका) will be reduced to ashes.

On Maruti violence, workers’ struggles etc


In one of the discussions that we had with workers in other industrial regions about the Maruti ‘violence’, a worker expressed how they work for the fear of the daily hunger and for feeding their family. Otherwise who would like to work under iron discipline and invisible eyes constantly watching over you, reprimanding you for every small mistake? Workers continuously look for every small opportunity that would enable them to dodge and abuse this system of surveillance.

The (more-or-less) open violence of primitive accumulation that joins the fate of labour to capital readies it for the inherent violence in the active imposition of work that capital as social power with its various apparatuses seeks to ensure. There is nothing reactive about workers’ actions to break out of this panoptic circuit which is now expanded throughout the society. The diverse immediate forms that these actions take are meant to surprise capital.

It is not the question of defeat or success of these forms or agitations that should concern us. In fact, our every success makes our actions predictable, increasing the reproductive resilience of the hegemonic system. Who knew this fact better than Karl Marx? He stressed on the need to watch out for opportunities to stage sudden radical leaps away from the guerrilla forms of daily resistance against the encroachments of capital, or else workers will be evermore entrenched within the system of wage slavery despite – and because of – frequent achievements in their everyday negotiations with capital. Those radicals suffer from the same Second International reformism and co-option politics, of which they accuse everybody, when they visualise class maturation as a linear succession of successes and achievements, not in the increased activity of the working class to catch capital off-guard by its volatile, yet collective thrust.

Today, the dynamism of this workers politics poses a crisis not just for capitalist strategies but also for itself as it constantly outmodes its own forms. The significance of the Maruti struggle and the July 18th incident lies in this process – they demonstrate the increasing inability of the legal regulatory mechanisms and existing political forms to ensure “industrial peace”.

The Ultimate Contradiction of the Revolution

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)


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.

Althusser and abstraction

Sohn-Rethel: “Althusser defeats the purpose of his search for this question [implied but not formulated by Marx of which Capital is the answer] by insisting ‘que la production de la connaissance… constitue un processus qui se passe tout entier dans la pensee’. [Althusser] understands Marx on the commodity abstraction metaphorically, whereas it should be taken literally and its epistemological implications pursued so as to grasp how Marx’s method turns Hegel’s dialectic ‘right side up’.”

Zizek on Sohn-Rethel’s criticism of Althusser: “Sohn-Rethel is…quite justified in his criticism of Althusser, who conceives abstraction as a process taking place entirely in the domain of knowledge and refuses for that reason the category of ‘real abstraction’ as the expression of an ‘epistemological confusion’. The ‘real abstraction’ is unthinkable in the frame of the fundamental Althusserian epistemological distinction between the ‘real object’ and the ‘object of knowledge’ in so far as it introduces a third element which subverts the very field of this distinction: the form of the thought previous and external to the thought – in short: the symbolic order.”

“Guerrilla engagements on cultural questions”

Whatever EP Thompson says in the inaugural issue of NLR in his response to Alasdair MacIntyre’s “reproof to the New Left” is quite fair, especially:

1. Any serious engagement in cultural or political life should not dissipate, but generate, socialist energy. Because:

2. We do not have one “basic antagonism” at the place of work, and a series of remoter, more muffled antagonisms in the social or ideological “superstructure”, which are in some way less “real”. We have a class-divided society, in which conflicts of interest, and conflicts between capitalist and socialist ideas, values, and institutions take place all along the line. They take place in the health service and in the common room, and even—on rare occasions—on the television screen or in Parliament, as well as on the shop floor.

However, if we understand “basic” (as essent-ial) in a logical sense then the danger of which MacIntyre talks about lingers prominently even today (perhaps more prominently, with overproduction in the virtual free market of ideas) as in the 1950s-60s:

“The danger is that one will fight a series of guerrilla engagements on cultural questions which will dissipate socialist energy and lead nowhere. What one hopes is that opening up these questions will lead one to see the basic antagonism in our society at the point of production.”

Marx, Ambedkar and Indian villages

I used to wonder whether there can be a common explanation for one of the varieties of post-Independence Indian Socialists’ discomfort towards both Marx and Ambedkar (obviously to be politically correct, they have to keep mum on the latter, diverting all their anger towards Marx). I think there is one commonality between them that seem to disturb our champions of village democracy and rural communitarianism – Marx’s and Ambedkar’s powerful indictment of the Indian village system.

While Marx can easily be accused of orientalism for saying the following:

“we must not forget that these idyllic village-communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies… We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindostan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature, exhibiting its degradation in the fact that man, the sovereign of nature, fell down on his knees in adoration of Kanuman [Hanuman], the monkey, and Sabhala, the cow.”

What accusation can be hurled upon Ambedkar, a sufferer himself?

“It is said that the new Constitution should have been drafted on the ancient Hindu model of a State and that instead of incorporating Western theories the new Constitution should have been raised and built upon village Panchayats and District Panchayats. There are others who have taken a more extreme view. They do not want any Central or Provincial Governments. They just want India to contain so many village Governments.

“I hold that these village republics have been the ruination of India. I am therefore surprised that those who condemn Provincialism and communalism should come forward as champions of the village. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism? I am glad that the Draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit.”