Development Discourse – income vs class

A fundamental problem of development discourse in India, even among the so-called Marxists, is its income approach to development, rather than a class-struggle approach. Even when class is recognised, it is the level of income or poverty etc that is used as the criterion. So the basic attention goes to whether capitalist development will be ‘beneficial’ or not. Obviously in the name of objectively defining these benefits, the ‘Marxists’ trained in economics would like to use some ways of quantifying them. Whatever this be, it is not a class-struggle approach to development – it does not seek to grasp class contradictions in every moment of development. Thus what they tend to find out additionally is whether technological change, growth (in figures) etc have occurred or not, along with obviously as leftists they have to talk about whether these benefits are ‘equitably’ distributed or not. But the question that is obscured in this process is the class cleavage which does not depend on income/poverty etc at least at the level of its constitution – income levels etc can of course further structure the labour market increasing the level of competition among proletarians, which might dampen class unity and consciousness.

On the other hand, the class-struggle approach starts off with the process of class formation, i.e., the process of formation of the working class and the capitalist class. Under this process the trajectory of proletarianisation is important – not whether this or that individual is proletariat. This makes the poor peasant, landless struggles, factory workers’ strikes, the various issues of self-determination etc as different levels (not vertical) of manifestation of class struggle against the hegemony of the capitalist class over human capacity and activity. This is what is sometimes called the needs of capital vs. the needs of human beings. This approach allows us to see ‘class within and beyond identities and their struggles’.

The income approach is politically non-class, too, as for it it is sufficient if poverty is decreasing, people have income, nutrition etc; the issue of control over production process and other channels of human fulfillment is secondary and peripheral. For this approach solution for every problem is always statist and vanguardist, i.e., at the level of policy-making, whether we have right people at right places deciding over and overseeing the ‘trickling down’ and redistribution channels. This way the issue of “popular protagonism” is reduced to populist protagonism of the leadership.

On Aditya Nigam’s “Genealogies of Globalisation”

Pratyush Chandra

In India, the West Bengal government’s explicit neoliberal shift has led to a rethinking endeavour within the Left – not only in assessing the nature of left politics, but also on the theoretical plane. On the one hand, there has been an effort to sharpen the analytical tools for grasping the Indian reality; on the other, there is a theory-internal rethinking, specifically, about Marxism, whether its theorisations have misguided the left. The latter comprises of the resurgence of all sorts of arguments that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc. A major band of academicians in this has been the descriptivist brigade (which generally goes by the name of postmodernism) who finds in all these happenings a proof of relative realities and histories which Marxism is alleged to have ignored in its ‘universalist’, ‘teleological’ conceptualisations. This has further led to a trend of Marxian apologists – who endeavour to prove how Marxism is not what it is alleged to be, thus ultimately accepting the principles espoused by the former brigade. It is generally forgotten that in this process, what is lost is the dialectical core of Marxism. Relativism stands out instead of the logic of “universal and particular”, Anti-essentialism instead of “essence and appearance” and “chance/possibility and necessity” etc, ultimately bringing discussions to the level of proto-philosophical, where you cannot philosophise, you cannot theorise, you cannot derive any logic, since everything is what it is, so simply describe, but descriptions too are nothing but hi(fi)-stories…

Aditya Nigam’s article, “Genealogies of Globalisation: Unpacking the ‘Universal’ History of Capital”, published recently in EPW (2007, VOL 42; NUMB 12, pages 1047-1053) is written in similar tenor. In the name of re-reading Marx in a non-universalist manner he throws away the whole Marxist critique of political economy, except ‘Primitive Accumulation’ which is reduced to description. While one can sympathise with his criticism of the sarkari left in India, his attempt, though ironically, to universalise/reduce the problems of the communist and working class movement throughout the world embedded within the relative moments of the ever-dynamic class struggle to “a certain narrative of Progress and History” is very superficial. In his attempt to “Unpacking the ‘Universal’ History of Capital”, he is confusing between the logic of capital and the history of capitalism. Like the sarkari left in India, he too reads Marx’s Capital as a history textbook (remember, even the majority of the third world Marxists take Capital as a story of British capitalism), rather than as Marx’s attempt to understand the Logic of Capital – the universalising tendencies of capitalism. Marx in this attempt is not unaware of its particularising historical aspects, its articulation with non-capitalisms, which he deals with in his political, historical writings (in and out of Capital). On the other hand, postmodern descriptivism, which Nigam also adheres to, fetishises the “particulars” in the particularising moments of capitalism (which constitute “Spaces of Global Capitalism” and where relative “genealogies” definitely come into play, creating a universe with “Uneven Geographical Development”).

The problem with the sarkari left in India is not essentially theoretical or that of any narrative, but it is rather in their siding with a class in the class struggle, which is obviously not the working class (theories are definitely invoked rightly or wrongly for justifying purposes).

A Note on Party 2

Pratyush Chandra

In West Bengal (in fact, everywhere in India) the working class and the poor peasantry have outgrown the traditional left. This is not something new and to be lamented upon. It always happens that organisations develop according to the contemporary needs of the class struggle, and are bound to be institutionalised, and even coopted, becoming hurdles for further battles, not able to channel their forces for the new exigencies of the class dynamics and struggle. This happens so because in the process of a struggle, a major segment devoted to the needs of this struggle is caught-up in the networks it has established for their fulfillment. It is unable to detach itself from the fruits of the struggle, therefore losing its vitality and is overwhelmed by the existential needs.

In the name of consolidation of movemental gains, what is developed is a kind of ideologisation, a fetish – organisation for organisation’s sake. This leads to the organisation’s and its leadership’s cooption in the hegemonic setup (obviously not just in the formal apparatuses) which due to struggles had to concede some space to new needs. In fact, this is how capitalism reproduces itself politically. And this is how the societal hegemonies gain agencies within the radical organisations, and they are organisationally internalised – developing aristocracies and bureaucracies.

Two important points regarding the agitations in West Bengal can be fruitful for us in understanding the above mentioned dynamics:

1) As prominent Marxist historian Tanika Sarkar says, “an amazing measure of peasant self-confidence and self-esteem that we saw at Singur and at Nandigram” is a result of whatever limited land reforms the Left Front (LF) initiated and is in the “very long and rich tradition of the Left politics and culture”.

2) The price of state power that helped sustain this was the cooption of the LF in the hegemonic policy regime, which is neoliberal for now. So the vested interests that developed during these struggles and cooption led to the situation where “[b]eyond registration of sharecroppers and some land redistribution, no other forms of agrarian restructuring were imagined.” Also, “industries were allowed to die away, leaving about 50,000 dead factories and the virtual collapse of the jute industry,” as competition and the flight of capital were not challenged (which probably in the federal setup of India could not be challenged) by questioning the nature of production relations.

However, there is no fatalism in the above view – the radical vitality of an organisation/party is contingent upon the sharpening of struggle between the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic tendencies within an organisation, which in turn is embedded within the overall class struggle. I.e. it all depends on the class balance and struggle within an organisation.

A Note on Party – An Institution or in Movement?

Pratyush Chandra

A comrade working in India recently circulated a question – “Are there no possibilities of outside party movements now?”. This question is already internationally debated, prominently within a large section of radicals, who have either been part of the party based movements or have struggled fervently against what can be called the party’s tendency to “substitute” the spirit of self-emancipatory struggles through its organisational conservatism and control. However, this question has been reframed in various ways, especially as, “Is there any possibility of party movements now?” The issue has become all the more relevant in the context of recent revolutionary upsurges in Latin America, given the rising scepticism among the traditional left and jubilation among the non-party/post-party left. In India, where the communist movement despite its splintering has been a decisive force both within state politics and radical politics, the question has become significant with the mushrooming of diverse varieties of movements independent of party influences. However, I believe, this question of party and beyond-party has always been a central concern in the socialist movement the world over. The Luxemburg-Lenin debate on party too was centred around it.

In my opinion, any “yes-no” answer to the above question is bound to be refuted by counter-examples. In fact, crucial part of the answer to that question lies in understanding movement, party and party building as processes, in their fluidity, not as fixtures imposing themselves on the spontaneity of the masses. If a party is organically linked to a movement, then it perpetually recreates itself in the moments of that movement. A revolutionary party is nothing more than an organisation of the militants of a revolutionary movement. You can have a group-structure (well-organised or loose) prior to any movement, but until and unless it refounds itself within the movement, it generally polices the popular energy.

There are innumerable examples of movements throughout the world that can claim to be partyless – prominent among them are the Venezuelan, Argentine and Zapatistas in Mexico. However, there are numerous groups, even traditional party structures operating within these movements – but none of them individually can claim these movements to be ‘theirs’. What is a movement which is not more than a party? But in the very “organisation” of all these movements, we find a continuous party building process or rather processes going on in the attempts to give definite expressions to the goals and visions of the movements.

So, in my opinion, to put it rather schematically, what we witness in the formative processes of a movement is that groups or group-structures (it is immaterial whether they call themselves parties or not), with their own prior movemental experiences come into contact with mass spontaneity – where they are either reborn as groups of “militants” trying to give expression to the movemental needs and goals or they come as predefined structures shaping the movement according to their own fixed needs and goals (for example, to win elections etc).

However, when I say they “come”, it does not mean that these groups are not there. But their there-ness is defined by the consolidation and institutionalisation of their prior experiences, gains and failures. During these latter processes, these groups either congeal as having interests which are now accommodated within the system or they are ready to unlearn and relearn during the course of the new struggles of the oppressed and the exploited. In the first case, they are there as part of the hegemony or as its agencies (conscious or subconscious), and in the second case, they are “reborn” as groups or parties of militants, of organic intellectuals – intellectuals organically linked to the working class, as Gramsci would put.

On this perpetual making and remaking of the organisation and party within and with relation to movements, Marx makes a very interesting observation in his letter to Friedrich Bolte (November 23, 1871), where he recapitulates the role and problems of the First International:

“The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point… [O]ut of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation.”

It is important to remember and grasp the dialectics of Marx’s dual assertion about the need of a communist party, on the one hand, and what, as Engels asserts in his 1888 preface of the English edition of the Communist Manifesto, “‘the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself”. The latter was already there in the General Rules of the First International (“That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”). In his Critique of Gotha Programme too, while criticising the Lasalleans, Marx says, “The international activity of the working classes does not in any way depend on the existence of the International Working Men’s Association.” Marx clearly rejects here any substitutionist tendency, which has been rampant within the workers and peasants’ movements in India and elsewhere, as the ‘vanguard’ organisations attempt to “possess” movements. A striking example is the following quote from the party programme of probably the most organised constituent of the Indian left:

“The people’s democratic front cannot successfully be built and the revolution cannot attain victory except under the leadership of the working class and its political party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).”

In the above-quoted letter to Bolte, Marx makes a very illuminating remark on the function of sectism within the working class movement, which can be a lesson for all of us today:

“The International was founded in order to replace the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle. …The Internationalists could not have maintained themselves if the course of history had not already smashed up the sectarian system. The development of the system of Socialist sects and that of the real workers’ movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. So long as the sects are (historically) justified, the working class is not yet ripe for an independent historic movement. As soon as it has attained this maturity all sects are essentially reactionary. Nevertheless what history has shown everywhere was repeated within the International. The antiquated makes an attempt to re-establish and maintain itself within the newly achieved form.”

As the most recent and clear example of “the antiquated” making an “attempt to re-establish and maintain itself within the newly achieved form” are, what Michael Lebowitz calls, the “glum faces” in reaction to Chavez’s call for a unified party in Venezuela. To resist the replacement of “the Socialist or semi-Socialist sects by a real organisation of the working class for struggle” at the time when the working class has attained maturity is “essentially reactionary”.

In India, too, at the grassroots level the labouring classes have time and again come together and demonstrated their will and energy to move beyond the systemic logic, but the presence of the “antiquated” becomes a hurdle in transforming this solidarity into a decisive challenge to the system. This hurdle is perpetuated by schematically subordinating the working class consciousness (dubbed “economistic”) to the “politics” of parties. The party becomes an organisation above class rather than “the organisation of what already exists within the class” (Tronti), in other words, as the organisation of class capacity. Hence the issue of class seizure and control of production apparatuses and means of production as a challenge to the capitalist hegemony transforming the social relations is relegated to the secondary level, while the issue of ensuring formal political consolidation and stability in a competitive setup becomes the end of the party politics. The issue of posing class alternatives to capitalist regime of accumulation is sidelined in the process of “accumulation of power”.

However, this “antiquated” cannot be fought by wishing away the notion of “party”, it can only be done by viewing party building as a process with all its contradictions and as a continuous class struggle, including against internalised hegemonies – against labour aristocrats and party bureaucrats.

James Petras’ critique of “progressive regimes”

Radical Notes

James Petras has been criticised for his “ultra-leftism”. Petras doesn’t need my defence, if any at all. But since some comrades have raised concerns about ultra-leftism of the leftist critique of the sarkari left in India, I thought it pertinent to use my defence of Petras as a personal exercise in understanding this ultraleftophobia gripping these genuine comrades.

In criticising Petras, what is generally put forward is a list of few statements that he made while critiquing some of the progressive regimes in Latin America, which were ‘apparently’ proven wrong. His oft-quoted statement is about Chavez in his post-2004 referendum note, where he indicated at “the internal contradictions of the political process in Venezuela”, while simultaneously asserting that Chavez’s support “was based on class/race divisions”. Petras showed the flipside of the contradictions – while considering Chavez’s referendum win as a defeat of imperialism, he asserted,

“But a defeat of imperialism does not necessarily mean or lead to a revolutionary transformation, as post-Chavez post-election appeals to Washington and big business demonstrate…The euphoria of the left prevents them from observing the pendulum shifts in Chavez discourse and the heterodox social welfare–neo-liberal economic politics he has consistently practiced.”

He also stated that referendum results showed “that elections can be won despite mass media opposition if previous mass struggle and organization created mass social consciousness.” Differentiating Chavez from other national-populist leaders in Latin America, Petras said,

“In effect there is a bloc of neo-liberal regimes arrayed against Chavez’s anti-imperialist policies and mass social movements. To the extent that Chavez continues his independent foreign policy his principle allies are the mass social movements and Cuba.”

In his apparently pessimistic assessments about Lula, post-referendum Venezuela and now about Morales, Petras’ main focus has always been to critique the euphoric assessment of these regimes and put forward a political economic perspective of the developments. Retrospectively, one might assert that his pessimism with regard to Venezuela was not well-founded, but the fact that something did not happen is not a sufficient critique of the prognostication of what could have happened.

Petras’ pessimistic judgement and his optimistic ground engagement with various revolutionary movements in Latin America and throughout the world are two sides of the same “radical” coin – “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”. His optimism allows him to see revolutionary potential within a particular situation, while his pessimism forces him to deconstruct the situation into various tendencies, class forces, class balance etc that may enhance or scuttle the realisation of that potential. For him as for other Marxists, history is not linear – at any given moment of time, there are various tendencies, countertendencies and social variables operating that synthetically determine the future – there is no single cause, and there is no single effect. Isn’t it a normal Marxist exercise – to identify this synthetic dynamics, while indicating possible “futures”? Isn’t it better to see the danger, which eventually may or may not realise into any mishap, and guard oneself against it, rather than not seeing any, and lead oneself willingly and with all enthusiasm to a dead-end? Another scholar-activist involved in Latin American transformation who never tires to talk about ‘contradictions along the path’ is Michael Lebowitz, when others are rolling drunkenly in optimist euphoria:

“The problem of the Venezuelan revolution is from within. It’s whether it will be deformed by people around Chavez.”

Lebowitz and Petras differ in their discursive tenor because of the differences in the loci of their political engagement, but they come from the great tradition of Marxists who have utilised Marxism to understand the day-to-day developments in global class struggle, without slipping into journalistic tinkering with appearances.

It would have been a different matter, if Petras had stopped short of presenting the revolutionary direction and started talking like radical fatalists and sectists. For them it is enough whether a leader or organisation has decried Stalin or not, whether s/he reads Trotsky or not, how many times s/he utters the word “imperialism” etc. For some of these people, allegiances to a particular sect, ideology is enough – a bible in one hand, and cross in another, drive away all counter-revolutionary devils around. What else are these convictions, if not “cabinets of fossils”! On the other hand, “metropolitan” leftists – Western (including many Non-Resident Third Worldists (NRTs)), Eastern, Southern…- who suffer from the guilt of unable to do anything concrete at the place of their being, celebrate every tokenism that fits into their utopia of progress, justice, democracy… In good faith (with a tinge of self-hatred and superiority complex), they think it’s their duty to “patronise” the Other, in most of their forms, of course only if these fit into their educated (non)sense.

Petras’ understanding of the Bolivian and Brazilian developments is from the point of view of the self-organisation and assertion of the working classes – urban and rural. The issue for Petras, even in his past assessment of Chavez, has been whether the political-parliamentary impact of the movements (accommodation of sections of their leadership in state formation) is enhancing and channelling the class capacity of the working class or it is simply institutionalising these movements and transforming them into representative lobbies, reducing class struggle to clashes of interest groups. The peculiarity of the new situations in Latin America, which also underlines their contradictions, to some extent derives from the statist component. The fact that the progressive governments are being constituted within the frame of bourgeois democracy poses new challenges for the popular movements and their relationship with the State. This situation makes it all the more urgent to recognise that, “We now have a state [which is not even formally workers-peasants state, like the Soviet] under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers’ organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state” (Lenin), while simultaneously heading towards a fundamental transformation of the state’s character. In this scenario, it becomes a primary task of the intellectuals organically linked to the working class to be extra vigilant and identify the various contradictions and tendencies affecting its movements, while delineating the possible directions that these movements can take in a perpetual ideological class struggle within. Petras in his critiques does exactly this.

Reading Petras in West Bengal

Petras in his recent article on Morales enumerates the implications of development strategies that “progressive” governments follow to “stabilize the economy, overcome the ‘crisis’, reconstruct the productive structure”, instead of recognising the fact that they are empowered “because of the crisis of the economic system” and their task should be “to change the economic structures in order to consolidate power while the capitalist class is still discredited, disorganized and in crisis.” Interestingly what is happening in West Bengal today is precisely this, where the Left Front government is indulging in reconstruction of the productive structure the way the Indian ruling class wants. However, definitely the internalisation of the hegemonic bourgeois needs within the Left Front (LF) is completer because of its 30 years rule in comparison to the newly elected governments in Latin America. Further, the Indian LF’s political cost for not following the neoliberal policies could have been far less, as it could have lost power in a fragment of the Indian state, where it does not have any sovereignty, while gaining political leverage throughout the country.

According to Petras, the stabilization strategy “allows the capitalist class time to regroup and recover from their political defeat, discredit and disarray”, while the working class is left on the receiving end to suffer the “costs of reconstruction and crisis management”. Also, “[b]y holding back on social spending and imposing restraints on labor demands and mobilization, the regime allows the capitalists to recover their rates of profit and to consolidate their class hegemony” Clearly, the left front’s repression of the trade union and peasant self-organisation especially since the 1990s have consolidated the capitalist class hegemony – material and ideological, while demobilising the exploited classes.

The industrialisation policies of the West Bengal government have weakened its popular social base”, strengthening “the recovery of its class opponents”, and thus are creating “major obstacles to any subsequent effort at structural change”. Its “policy revives a powerful economic power configuration within the political institutional structure which precludes any future changes. It is impossible to engage in serious structural changes once the popular classes have been demobilized, the capitalist class has overcome its crisis and the new political class is integrated into consolidated economic system. Stabilization strategy does not temporarily postpone change; it structurally precludes it for the future”.

Further, to think that if a progressive “regime ‘adapts’ to the regrouped capitalist class” it can be stabilised is just an illusion, “because the capitalist class prefers its own political leaders and instruments and rejects any party or movement whose mass base can still exercise pressure.” Aren’t these some basic lessons that we must learn – in Bolivia, West Bengal and everywhere?

Neoliberalism and Primitive Accumulation in India

The need to go beyond capital

Pratyush Chandra & Dipankar Basu
Radical Notes

Recent events in Singur – a town which is less than 40 kms away from Kolkata (Calcutta), where the West Bengal government is struggling to acquire and sell 1000 acres of agricultural land to Tata Motors – indicate the extent to which capitalist-parliamentarianism can regiment a counter-hegemonic force once it agrees to play by the rules. At the least, it clearly shows that the Communist government, which boasts of being the longest-running democratically elected Marxist government in the world, is hopelessly caught in the neoliberal project. And Singur is not an isolated event. In the state of West Bengal alone, the process of state-led land grab and the resultant opposition is already gaining momentum in at least three different locations: (a) in Kharagpur, West Medinipur district, where vast tracts of multi-crop farmland is being taken over for yet another Tata vehicle factory; (b) in Nandigram, East Medinipur district, where a chemical industries hub is proposed to be set up by the Salim group on a 10,000-acre area; and (c) in North Bengal where a Videocon Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is proposed to come up in the near future.

Nor is this story limited to West Bengal. Throughout India, resources are being acquired for Special Economic Zones and numerous other industrial schemes meant to facilitate corporate capital expansion. Since laws permitting this acquisitions were passed an year ago, state governments have notified 267 SEZs, which will require more than a half million hectares of land. Of this, the state has already acquired 137,000 hectares for 67 SEZs while another 80 have `in principle’ been approved.(1) The Government has converted the erstwhile Export Processing Zones located at Kandla and Surat (Gujarat), Cochin (Kerala), Santa Cruz (Mumbai-Maharashtra), Falta (West Bengal), Madras (Tamil Nadu), Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Noida (Uttar Pradesh) into SEZs. In addition, 3 new Special Economic Zones that had been approved for establishment at Indore (Madhya Pradesh), Manikanchan (Salt Lake, Kolkata) and Jaipur have since commenced operations.

In this backdrop, the West Bengal government’s adamant attitude towards land acquisition, despite the popular unrest, shows that the Indian State and its agencies, irrespective of their ideological masks, are working relentlessly to provide the private sector with “an internationally competitive and hassle free environment”. In this note, we wish to conceptualise this political economic process, identifying its different facets and understanding their interlinkages. It is our contention that using the recently re-interpreted Marxist concept of “primitive accumulation” can provide crucial insights in this regard. We wish to demonstrate that current developments in India can be fruitfully understood by employing the notion of primitive accumulation, understood as a constitutive primitive of capitalism, the process which continuously creates and consolidates the capital-relation. Adopting this new perspective might also help in redefining the agenda of struggles and counter-hegemonic politics in the neoliberal context.

Primitive Accumulation: Two Interpretations

As is well known, Marx had brought up the concept of primitive accumulation to try to understand the historical origins of capitalism. It is generally accepted by economic historians that in pre-capitalist modes of production the primary producers (majority of whom were peasants) had ownership of the means of production, most crucial among them being land. If we agree that capitalism is distinguished from these other modes of production by the relationship of a class of propertyless labourers (who have nothing to sell but their labour power) and a class of propertied capitalists (the owners of the means of production) mediated through the market (2), then the following question naturally arises: how did we arrive at the class of propertyless labourers from a class of producers who had the ownership (or at least the right of usage) of the means of production? It is this historical question that Marx sought to answer with the concept of “primitive accumulation”.

In a sense, the answer is already contained in the question. Primitive accumulation is the process by which the producer is divorced from her/his means of production. Since, moreover, land is the primary means of production in pre-capitalist societies, the main focus of primitive accumulation was to separate peasants from the land. While the gradual penetration of market relations had a role to play in this, outright use of force was far more important, and in a sense the key. Only by evicting peasants from their lands and disrupting their livelihood could the development of markets in free labour and land be ensured; and only this could provide the firm basis for the emergence and consolidation of the capital-relation:

“The capital-relation presupposes a complete separation between the workers and the ownership of the conditions for the realization of their labor. As soon as capitalist production stands on its own feet, it not only maintains this separation, but reproduces it on a constantly extending scale. The process, therefore, which creates the capital-relation, can be nothing other than the process which divorces the worker from the ownership of the conditions of his own labor; it is a process which operates two transformations, whereby the social means of subsistence and production are turned into capital, and the immediate producers are turned into wage-laborers. So-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as ‘primitive’ because it forms the pre-history of capital, and of the mode of production corresponding to capital.”(3)

It is worth recalling that Marx studied the “enclosure movement” in Britain within this overall perspective. One crucial aspect of primitive accumulation should be noted immediately: it effects a redistribution and transfer of claims to already existing assets and resources, rather than creating any new assets. In this sense, it is an accumulation of intangible rights and not the accumulation of tangible assets or goods. This aspect of primitive accumulation is important for our purposes because the current frenzy of state-assisted acquisition of land and other resources in India is precisely a process whereby rights of access and usage of already existing resources are being redistributed and transferred.

The last decade has witnessed a resurgence of debate around attempts to re-interpret the concept of primitive accumulation.(4) This debate has indicated that there are two distinct but related interpretations of primitive accumulation, one which stresses the temporal aspect and the other which stresses the constitutive or originary aspect. For the first, more traditional, interpretation the primitiveness of primitive accumulation is understood in a purely temporal sense. Primitive accumulation is seen as the historical phase which created the preconditions for the development of capitalism by forcing the separation of workers and means of production. The second interpretation notes that there is both a temporal and a continuity argument in Marx’s account of primitive accumulation. For this interpretation, therefore, the primitiveness of “primitive accumulation” does not arise simply from its location in historical time, relevant only as the initial stage of capitalism; rather, it is the constitutive primitive of the capitalist system, a process that is essential for perpetuating its fundamental class structure – the separation between producers and means of production.

If primitive accumulation is constitutive, then it must arise as a continuous process within capitalism viewed as a global system. Expanded reproduction of the system requires reproduction of the capital-relation at every moment; separation of workers and means of production must be maintained continuously. In its day-to-day functioning, a mature capitalist economy enforces this separation through the market, i.e., by economic means; but at the boundaries (both internal and external), where capitalism encounters other modes of production, property and social relations attuned to those modes and also to the earlier stages of capitalism, other ways of subsistence, primitive accumulation comes into play. More often than not, direct use of force is necessary to effect the separation at the boundaries. And since capitalism, as a global system, continuously encounters other modes of production along with the simultaneity of diverse stages of capitalism in various localities, the constitutive role of primitive accumulation is always in demand. One can probably go so far as to assert that capital accumulation is the extension of primitive accumulation, enforced through the market. In fact, in Volume 3 of Capital, Marx himself calls the concentration and centralisation of capital, which occur during the course of market-induced capital accumulation, as “simply the divorce of the conditions of labour from the producers [which occurs through primitive accumulation] raised to a higher power”(5).

But this does not mean that the two are identical. In fact two differences are especially important to grasp for the development of our overall argument:

(a) “[W]hile accumulation relies primarily on “the silent compulsion of economic relations [which] sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker,” in the case of primitive accumulation the separation is imposed primarily through “[d]irect extra-economic force” (Marx 1867: 899-900), such as the state (Marx 1867: 900), particular sections of social classes (Marx 1867: 879), etc. We can say therefore that primitive accumulation for Marx is a social process instigated by some social actor (the state, particular social classes, etc.) aimed at the people who have some form of direct access to the means of production. This social process often takes the form of a strategy that aims to separate them from the means of production.”(6)

(b) “As opposed to accumulation proper, what may be called primitive accumulation… is the historical basis, instead of the historical result, of specifically capitalist production’ (Marx 1867: 775). While sharing the same principle – separation – the two concepts point at two different conditions of existence. The latter implies the ex novo production of the separation, while the former implies the reproduction – on a greater scale – of the same separation.”(7)

Keeping these differences are important because one comes to the rescue of the other when market processes falter. Since capital accumulation operates through the market, the services of primitive accumulation are required almost by definition when the market is in crisis. During crucial phases of capitalist crisis, primitive accumulation emerges to help transcend barriers to accumulation in two ways: (a) by facilitating the transition from the critically fated regime to a new regime of accumulation, and (b) by continuously negotiating the spatial expansion (both internal and external) of capitalism. During periods of transition and expansion, “new enclosures” are required for putting the normal course of capitalist reproduction back on track. Securing these enclosures through force and other “direct extra-economic means” is the function of primitive accumulation. This re-definition allows us to grasp the function of the State and its continuous politico-legal activism in every stage of capitalism.

The present neoliberal phase can probably be understood fruitfully from this perspective. Despite the talk of separating the political from the economic, which is a staple rhetoric of the current phase, it is the state as the instrument of politico-legal repression that facilitates neoliberal expansion. Firstly, the state intervenes with all its might to secure control over resources – both natural and human (“new enclosures”) – and secondly, to ensure the non-transgression of the political into the economic, which essentially signifies discounting the politics of labour and the dispossessed from affecting the political economy. David Harvey notes that, “The main substantive achievement of neoliberalization… has been to redistribute, rather than to generate, wealth and income”; the main mechanisms for achieving this is referred to by Harvey as “accumulation by dispossession”, by which he means,

“… the continuation and proliferation of accumulation practices which Marx had treated of as ‘primitive’ or ‘original’ during the rise of capitalism. These include the commodification and privatisation of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations…; conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc.) into exclusive private property rights…; suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative (indigenous) forms of production and consumption; colonial, neo-colonial, and imperial processes of appropriation of assets (including natural resources); monetization of exchange and taxation, particularly of land; the slave trade (which continues particularly in the sex industry); and usury, the national debt and, most devastating of all, the use of the credit system as a radical means of accumulation by dispossession. The state, with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality, plays a crucial role in both backing and promoting these processes.”(8)

Harvey identifies four main features of “accumulation by dispossession”: privatisation, commodification, financialization and the management-manipulation of assets, each feeding on the other, supported by the other and gaining strength from the other. The neoliberal resurgence since the mid-1970s can be understood as capital’s counter-revolutionary response to the crisis that enwrapped “embedded liberalism” internationally in the late-1960s, with “signs of a serious crisis of capital accumulation…everywhere apparent. Unemployment and inflation were both surging everywhere, ushering in a global phase of ‘stagflation’ that lasted throughout much of the 1970s.”(9)

The Politics of Primitive Accumulation in India

What is going on in India today can be understood by employing the concept of primitive accumulation (as understood in the second interpretation) in almost all of the above senses: separating primary producers from land; privatisation of the “public”, conversion of common property resources into marketable commodities, destroying non-market ways of living, etc. To our mind, each of the instances of “displacement” or state-led “land grab” are willy-nilly feeding into the overall process of primitive accumulation in India by divorcing primary producers from the land or restricting direct access to other common property resources like forest, lakes, river, etc. A question crops up immediately. Being a labour-surplus economy, does India need to generate additional labourers, which is an obvious result of primitive accumulation, before absorbing what is already available? Certainly not, if we think from the perspective of labour. But the answer changes if we see the whole process from the perspective of capital. Fresh entrants into the already burgeoning ranks of the proletariat will increase the relative surplus population – floating, latent and stagnant – depressing real wages and thereby increasing the rates of profits on each unit of invested capital. Moreover, one of the major features of the neoliberal regime of accumulation has been the incessant `informalisation’ of the labour process, and further growth of the relative surplus population makes late-capitalist countries like India finely attuned to this. As Jan Breman notes:

“Mobilization of casual labour, hired and fired according to the needs of the moment, and transported for the duration of the job to destinations far distant from the home village, is characteristic of the capitalist regime presently dominating in South Asia.”(10)

Separation of producers from their means of production and subsistence, especially land and other natural resources, also creates markets for these resources; and thus comes into being the various agencies that thrive through hucksterage in these markets. These intermediaries play the crucial role of facilitating and normalising the process of primitive accumulation. Examples abound: Trinamool Congress goons, grassroots-level CPI(M) leadership, local middle classes like school teachers, lawyers, and other similar forces in the Singur case; state-traders, local elites-supported Salwa Judum in Chhatisgarh.

The major target of land acquisition in India today is in areas where either peasant movements have achieved some partial success in dealing with capitalist exploitation and expropriation or areas largely inhabited by the indigenous population whose expropriation could not be increasingly intensified because of the welfarist tenor of the pre-liberalisation regime. West Bengal is the prime example of the former, where Left Front rule congealed due to its constituents’ involvement in the popular movements. Now, the movements’ institutionalisation and incorporation of the leadership into the state apparatus is facilitating the present-day resurgence of primitive accumulation. Examples of the second kind of area could be parts of Chhatisgrah, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh, which the corporate sector is eyeing for mining activities and for setting up steel plants.

As an instructive example, if nothing else, let us see how displacement in Singur will affect the various class forces on the ground. While the state apparatuses are trying to secure resources for corporate capital, sections of the local elite, including the well-off farmers led by the mainstream non-left political parties – like the Congress and Trinamool (TMC) – have joined the movement against land acquisition essentially to obtain various kinds of concessions, a higher price for giving up the land to the State and perhaps also for increasing the land price for their future real estate speculation around the upcoming industrial belt. For example, “a TMC leader and ex-pradhan of one of the gram panchayats was initially with the movement, but finally gave away his land. Many of the landed gentry, some of them absentee, who own bigger portions of land, depend on ‘kishans’ (i e, hired labours, bargadars, etc) for cultivation of their lands. They principally depend on business or service and have come forward to part with their land in lieu of cash.”(11) In case the government talks to the protesters and gives larger concessions, it is these sections that will benefit the most.

The people who are really the backbone of the movement in Singur are the landless working class and poor peasantry. According to a recent report, “many agricultural workers and marginal peasants will lose their land and livelihoods. Though the State Government has decided to compensate the landowners, no policy has been taken for the landless agricultural workers, unrecorded bargadars and other rural households who are indirectly dependent for their livelihood on land and agricultural activities.”(12) The region is also inhabited by the poor who “frequent the nearby town, being employed in factories, shops and small businesses. Some of the youth have migrated to cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, working there principally as goldsmiths or construction workers. There were several cases of reverse migration when people came back to their village after the closing down of the industries where they were working or finding it more profitable to work on the land than to work in petty industries or businesses, drawing a paltry sum in lieu of hard labour.”(13) For this population as also for the landless workers and marginal peasants, the Singur struggles are existential ones.

As an example of the second kind of land acquisition, we can turn our attention to Chhatisgarh. A report on recent developments in Chhatisgarh notes that, in India,

“[t]ribal lands are the most sought after resources now. Whether it is in Orissa or Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh, if there is a patch of tribal land there is an attempt to acquire it. It is no geographical coincidence that tribal lands are forested, rich with mineral resources (80 per cent of India’s minerals and 70 per cent of forests are within tribal areas) and also the site of a sizeable slice of industrial growth. The tribal districts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Maharashtra are the destination of us $85 billion of promised investments, mostly in steel and iron plants, and mining projects. Ironically, these lucrative resources are of no benefit to the local people: an estimate of 10 Naxal-affected states shows that they contribute 51.6 per cent of India’s GDP and have 58 per cent of the population. As with Chhatisgarh, all these states have a strong Naxal presence and are witness to movements against land acquisition. The state governments say these protests are Naxal-inspired. Local people say, however, that all they are trying to do is protect their land, forests and livelihood.”(14)

Here the State’s mode of facilitating primitive accumulation is by raising mercenaries, the Salwa Judum. This extra-legal use of force is supported by the traditional exploiters of the indigenous population – traders, usurers, civil servants and tribal neo-elites, who have functioned as intermediaries in the regime of commerce-based surplus extraction. On the one hand, absence of any recognised land rights of tribal communities, has allowed the State to use principles of terra nullius and eminent domain to expropriate them. On the other, these communities have continued to exist in defiance of all these legalities. However, with the recent intensification of efforts to secure resources for corporate profiteering, along with the continued presence of primitive extractive modes of exploitation, these communities have been left with no real choices but to arm themselves for securing their unrecognised rights. Hence,

“Most tribal people living in forests are officially ‘encroachers’. They live under the constant threat of being alienated from their land and livelihood. While the government completely failed to reach out to them, the Naxals succeeded in connecting to sections of the people. They spread to the state’s 11 districts (200 districts in the country). Unable to contain them, government supported the creation of a civilian militia – Salwa Judum”.(15)

Besides these widely discussed cases of recent land acquisition and displacement, there have been numerous conflicts around the rights over water resources over the years. In almost all such cases, the state has come forth as being hell bent upon the construction of big dams and other hydroelectric projects despite all evidence of the net negative marginal costs of these projects. During the past two decades, Narmada Bachao Andolan has been a prominent force constantly exposing the anti-people, anti-environment character of these projects. Even in the Himalayan region of Uttaranchal (site of the legendary Chipko Andolan), riverbeds and surrounding lands have been ‘enclosed’ for private capital to be used for power generation and lucrative tourism projects. In fact, recent politics in this region cannot be fully understood without understanding the conflicts around these enclosures. Closer to urban India has been the neoliberal systematisation of commercial and financial centres, the `clearing’ of slums, in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, which have naturally been the hotbed of the politics of and against “new enclosures”.

Understanding all these diverse processes in the framework of primitive accumulation has several strategic implications. Perhaps, most urgently, this can provide a unified framework to locate the numerous struggles going on in the country right from the `new’ social movements, like landless workers movements, Narmada Bachao Andolan and other local mobilisations of ‘development-victims’, to anti-privatisation movements of public sector workers, all the way to the revolutionary movements led by the Maoists. This unified framework can then possibly facilitate dialogue among these movements, something that is more than essential at this juncture if the movement of labour against capital is to be strengthened.

A Future Beyond Capital

Using this framework will also mean re-evaluating many of the theoretical positions that are currently in use. For example, it will be necessary to rethink the classical communist position that characterises the Indian state as semi-feudal and semi-colonial, and thereby sees the struggle of the peasantry as being directed primarily against feudal oppression. It is possible that the inherent limitations of this ideological framework disallow revolutionaries and other radicals to formulate effective strategies against the whole system, a system that preserves various vestigial forms to facilitate accumulation but is not defined by them. Thus, movements struggling against different forms of these vestiges are easily localised, regionalised, marginalized, dispersed, and even utilised in the intra-ruling class competition and conflicts. The state of the official Indian left is illustrative in this regard. It, too, stresses on the presence of “vestiges” and the insufficiency of development, but then turns around and justifies its accommodation in the neoliberal capitalist project as a fight against these vestiges!

Despite the apparent popularity of the new movements of Latin America among the official Left in India, their attachment to a schematic notion of national capitalist development retains all its strength. The devastating consequence, of course, is the deferral of the revolutionary moment till that development is attained; in reality, this amounts to postponing the revolutionary moment beyond the horizon of all concrete possibilities. Surely, this is not simply an ideological problem coming from a faulty understanding of the dynamics of capitalism or socialism. It is a consequence of the official left leadership’s accommodation in the capitalist-parliamentary framework, an accommodation moreover that forces them to participate in the competitive race for representation. In the pursuit of presenting itself as the legitimate representative of the “plurality of opinions”, which parliamentary politics poses against the notion of class struggle, the left reproduces this plurality within itself, along with its built-in hierarchy. With partial successes in this exercise, representatives of the opinions that count, i.e., the hegemonic class interests, solidify themselves within the party structures. And it is this congealment within the Left Front in West Bengal that leads the “communists” to vocalise neoliberal myths of neutral industrial development, dubbing every protest against its policies as anti-developmental, backward and manipulative. Parallels with the neoliberal demonisation of the transgression of the political into the economic can hardly be missed. Echoing well-heeled mandarins in Delhi, the Left Front government regularly uses the classic threat of capital flight to regiment all protesting voices.

Without comprehending the function of vestiges of earlier modes of production within capitalism or the role of earlier stages of the capitalist mode of production in sustaining capital accumulation, any fundamental challenge to the hegemonic forces in a late capitalist society like India cannot be formulated. It can hardly be denied that, “we suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also the incompleteness of that development. Alongside the modern evils, we are oppressed by a whole series of inherited evils, arising from the passive survival of archaic and outmoded modes of production, with their accompanying train of anachronistic social and political relations. We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif [The dead man clutches onto the living]!”(16)

We will have to recognise the fact that during the stage of imperialism, and more so in the present postcolonial situation, “a high level of capitalist development no longer require[s] the elimination of the traditional class of ‘small producers'” and other pre-capitalist ‘remnants’.(17) Even in a country like Japan, “in which capitalist society developed only at the so-called finance-capitalist stage of world capitalism, a high level of capitalist development has not been incompatible… with the survival of the traditional class of ‘small producers’.”(18)

Indian capitalism, like Japanese, came into being in the stage of imperialism, when finance capital and inter-imperialist rivalries were already subjugating the whole world. Moreover, development under direct colonialism foisted some unique features on to the general characteristics of “late capitalism”. During the colonial period, “self”-expansion of Indian capital beyond the physical horizons of India was implausible because this would have required an Indian State committed to these interests. Colonialism ruled this out almost axiomatically. However, there were other channels available. The simultaneous existence of various socio-economic formations at diverse levels of Indian society allowed some possibility of ‘internal’ colonialism and “enclosures”, thus, providing the basis for capitalist expansion. Even after Independence, Indian capital relies heavily on the ‘diversity’ (or unevenness) of Indian economy and society for primitive accumulation and expansion. Additionally, ‘semi-feudal’ conditions at various locations within the country provide a vast reserve army of labour. The important characteristic of this insecure and docile population is that they can be pulled out of their original locations and thrown into the growing labour market without disturbing the essential fabric of society. In other words, pre-capitalist forms of exploitation provide vast and near permanent pools of cheap labour, which competes with the urban proletariat, thereby bringing the latter under political and economic control. Moreover, this seems (19) to resolve the “agrarian problem” of Indian capitalism, by ‘externalising’ rural and underdeveloped India from the “core” industrial islands. Concentrating capitalist agricultural development in particular locations of India (for example in West and North-west India), Indian capitalism could afford to under-develop other locations so that they could serve as “external markets” and as reserves of “footloose labour”.

Because unevenness is the essential feature of capitalist development, any mode of regulation, including neoliberal globalisation, has to negotiate with diverse stages of societal development. Hence local reactions against this new wave of capitalist consolidation and accumulation are bound to be diverse. The revolutionary vision consists in coordinating these diverse forces for building a formidable challenge to capitalism. Even the struggles against vestigial forms, if they have to be decisive, need to be recognised as contesting capitalist relations that sustain them and are articulated through them. In the Indian context, they are all struggles against a stuttering capitalism, against the inherent brutalities of primitive accumulation. We will have to realize that the movements are not about “saving” tribals/indigenous populations or their way of lives; the movement is a movement of labour against capital. Tribals, poor peasants, marginal peasants, landless labourers, informal sector workers, all these sub-classes are fighting against the tyranny of capital, against being fed – with their labour and resources – into the capitalist machinery. Obviously, in this fight against capital, we cannot cling on to any nostalgia for a pristine past, rather our vision must be directed towards the future, a future built on the transcendence of capital, a socialist future rooted in a participatory economy and polity. Only then can the vast majority suffering in the margins of capitalism and toiling under vestigial relations, can make a concerted, decisive effort to end the tyranny of capital.

Notes & References

(1) Prem Shankar Jha, Compensation not enough, Daily News & Analysis (October 2, 2006)

(2) Marx refers to this as the capital-relation.

(3) Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, Penguin Books (1976 [1867]), pp. 874-75

(4) See the contributions in The Commoner No 2. (September, 2001)

(5) Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 3, Penguin Books (1981 [1894]), pp. 354

(6) Massimo De Angelis, “Marx and primitive accumulation: The continuous character of capital’s “enclosures”, The Commoner No 2 (September, 2001)

(7) Ibid. (Note: ex novo is used in the sense of `original’ or `from the scratch’).

(8) David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford (2005), pp. 159

(9) Ibid, pp. 12

(10) Jan Breman, Footloose Labour: Working in India’s Informal Economy, Cambridge University Press (1996), pp. 23

(11) Parthasarthi Banerjee, “Land Acquisition and Peasant Resistance at Singur”, Economic & Political Weekly (November 18, 2006)

(12) Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, “Terror Cannot Suppress Them: People’s Resistance to Forced Land Acquisition In Singur”, (December 6, 2006)

(13) Parthasarthi Banerjee, op cit

(14) “Anti-Naxal operations a cover for exploiting tribal people”, Down to Earth Vol 15 No 11 (October 18, 2006)

(15) Ibid.

(16) Karl Marx, “Preface to the First Edition”, Capital Vol 1, Penguin (1976 [1867]), pp.91

(17) Kozo Uno, Principles of Political Economy, Harvester Press (1980 [1964]), p.xxvii.

(18) Ibid, pp. 125

(19) Japanese Marxist Kozo Uno stressed that capitalism is incapable of solving the agrarian question. “We can say that it became clear on a world scale that the ability to solve the agrarian question would entail the ability to construct a new society to replace capitalism, and we may regard the League of Nations as having been one such attempt. The solution to this problem, of course, means no more than the external expression of the internal contradictions of capitalism, and cannot occur unless the issue of class relations is solved. In this sense, the failure of the League of Nations was only to be expected.” (Quoted in Andrew E Barshay, The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxian and Modernist Traditions, University of California Press (2004), pp.128)

Class and the ‘common sense’ of Thinking Beyond Class

Pratyush Chandra & Ravi Kumar

[Note: This is in response to a review article entitled “Rhetoric and reality in critical educational studies in the United States”, written by a well-known U.S. critical educator, Prof Michael W. Apple and published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education (Vol. 27, No. 5, November 2006, pp. 679-687). Apple’s article is available at Prof Peter McLaren’s blog. A pdf version of the present response is also available there. I am posting it here because it provides my ideas on the relationship of class and identity in a nutshell.]

Like everywhere, in India too the celebration of diversity has always been present as political aesthetics underlying the hegemonic stability. We have always been taught about India being a marvellous realisation of ‘unity in diversity’, despite the crudity in which this diversity is often realised – with the islands of opulence (population-wise these might seem vast) surrounded by the sea of deprivation and hunger. Within this politico-epistemological paradigm conflicts are taken to be socio-cultural gaps, which can never be bridged but definitely an equilibrium point or harmony can be engineered. The success of any hegemony is dependent on its capacity of reproducing this diversity without disturbing the equilibrium “graph”. So there is nothing new in this continuous babbling which we hear in political and academic circles about multiplicity, about conflicts. The only change that we can discern is in the multiple innovative ways in which this commonsensical discourse is presented. After all it is all about différance – about deferring and differing signs.

We must admit that our interest lies more in exposing our indigenous Apple “look-alikes” than Apple himself, who nevertheless with his erudition provides an occasion to understand the basic nature of this community (which is hegemonic even within the mainstream Indian left circles informing their status quoist accommodation). A defining characteristic of this leftism is that it accepts reality as it is given by capitalism, i.e., in its appearances. The empiricist description of the reality, as this left experiences, is enough for forming its agenda. Thus the systemic logic of capitalism is fragmented and reduced to the realpolitik division of economics, politics, education etc and class is reduced to the category of an identity among a plethora of identities, like caste, race, gender etc.

It is forgotten that whenever you ‘identify’ class, as a group of people, as an identity, you don’t really identify it but rather you describe various groups of people, i.e., manual/mental worker, organised/unorganised labour etc. On the contrary, class is a relational entity that can be grasped only in the process of its formation. The point is to unfold how class formation, dynamics and struggle constitute the apparent reality – realised in identity conflicts, “social movements” etc; in short, how “essence must appear”. Only during the course of continuous open/hidden class struggle, class realizes itself, “across [identity] lines”, across groups of people. ‘Apple look-alikes’ simply refuse to recognise the logico-historical structure of the reality in their description and celebration of apparent relativities – they go on repeating that there are many determinations of reality but cannot understand that there is “no democracy of determinations” in this structuring of reality.

It is this sociology of relativities or differences that leads Apple and his ilk to admire the Right’s chameleon character. They definitely “have much to learn from the forces of the Right” – how antagonistic becomes mere “disparate”, and how left can takeover the right by emulating the latter’s capacity of brokering “alliances” across “disparate groups”, “across ideological differences”.(1) Hence, the status quo of differences is effectively maintained – peace and harmony prevail. This admiration of near-fascistic social corporatism has been the hallmark of the tired and accommodated left everywhere. They have become cynical towards every leap in societal development – drastic and violent break. They preach nothingness in their flashy rhetoric, like Apple’s “non-reformist reforms” (-1+1=0), just to insist that they are still different, which Apple time and again explicitly claims in his review article.

In India, during the post-independence stage of planned capitalism, which needed analytical tools to inform the intensification of capitalism “from above”, a sort of Marxist historiography in the academic circles (which tilted more towards nationalism) was absorbed eclectically within the overall positivist atmosphere.(2) The economistic notion of class was used to the extent that it could help in identifying the historical forces developing under the impact of capitalist development, but it was effectively embedded within the discourse of national developmental needs asking for popular sacrifices in the interest of national goods. Thus, the left sacrificed “class”. Despite being more aware of class processes and being conscious of the effectiveness of class as a category of analysis as well as mobilisation, the political left in India was subservient and attracted towards the homogenising nationalist goals because of the leadership’s hangover for united front, nationalist struggle and peasant/petty-bourgeois class interests. This led to the betrayal of the revolutionary simmering that gripped the Indian working classes and peasantry in the 1960s-70s.

The 1970s is the historical turning point when we see multiple identity conflicts flaring up throughout India, which were until now networked either by the democratic nationalist discourse or by their articulation within the communist politics in terms of the classical notion of national self-determination, or were generally despised like Hindu-Muslim conflicts. There arose caste identities competing for a greater representation in bureaucracy and state institutions and regional identities competing for a greater share in capital allocation, developmental funds and rent. On the one hand, this was symptomatic of the intensification of capitalist development that led to the rise of rural and sub-regional bourgeoisie with their aspirations to share power in the Centre – which could be possible only by confronting the upper caste rentier landlordism and its alliance with the monopoly bourgeoisie brokered on the eve of Independence. On the other, with the lack of any attempt on the part of the political left to organise the growing mass of the unemployed (especially among the educated sections) and the vast section of the underemployed informal sector workers (whose organisation would have to transcend the pecuniary logic of legalist trade unionism), the class resentments of the exploited were effectively fragmented and thus organised on caste lines and other competitive identities. Some sections of the educated unemployed could be appeased and accommodated in the mainstream sector with the extended affirmative action measures, which effectively derailed the need for politically organising the reserved army of proletarians. In the process occurred a vertical homogenisation, which provided a stable field for the competitive ‘democratic’ realpolitik reducing class assertions to rights discourse and lobby politics, which were eventually promoted by the internationally funded Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

However, the most revealing aspect in “the retreat of class” in the left discourse both in direct politics and academia has been the easiness with which the notion of class could be replaced by other identities. In India, especially caste and minority-majority discourses became pivotal for determining the political agenda of the left, as for other status quoist forces. And this happened because traditionally class was not taken as a process unfolding itself in diverse appearances but rather was understood simply as another identity, different only to the respect that it possessed economic overtones, thus allowing the later critics of class to dub the concept of class as economistic. This notion of class was definitely sufficient for the pragmatic needs of leftism in the colonial phase, but with its entrance in the postcolonial liberal democratic set-up where it competed with other bourgeois political formations to sell its agenda as more accommodative of ‘diversity’, the notion of class, as traditionally understood, could not satisfy its new priorities for winning the elections.

In social theory the impact of ‘post-ism’ was felt heavily and the analysis in educational studies, without any exception, carries this trait. The debate on inequity is not so much in terms of class (no doubt ‘poor’ are mentioned as do all ‘development sector’ reports) but on lines of the ‘Indian reality’, that of multiple realities. It is caste, gender, race and religious communities, which are deprived and marginalised. Consequently, the reality that social identities are mere instrumentalities related with the particular stages of development and that their specific functions are defined in the political economic context constituted by capitalist accumulation and class dynamics are comfortably ignored. Identities, though touted as democratic due to their heterogeneity become homogeneous occulting the class differences within. It successfully pushes class to back burner and celebrates the democratisation which ultimately, and in fact, is for the dominant elite within the identity, which becomes or aspires to be accommodated in the ruling segment of the society and state. Empirical works have very sharply shown this phenomenon.

Within this framework, if one locates the possibilities of anti-systemic political movements what one finds is that until and unless the crisis of accumulation reaches an unsustainable level, the counter-hegemonic oppositions are generally channelled into identity assertions and even, social alliances “across ideological differences” – a crisscrossing of class interests. Only at a revolutionary stage, classes congeal themselves qua classes in their finality, and are ready to seize the moment when either revolution disarms the counter-revolution or the counter-revolution disarms the revolution. However, unless there is an unrelenting effort to deconstruct the identitarian political processes in terms of class processes as part of the conscientisation and organisation of class militants while readying them for the revolutionary seizure, the counter-revolutionary fragmentation of the uprising and even at times the rise of a totalitarian fascist power are inevitable (bundling the ‘disparate’ forces together by force). In fact, German revolutionary Klara Zetkin “described fascism as the product of a political situation, itself shaped by the ‘decay and the disintegration of the capitalist economy’, which combined with ‘the standstill in the world revolution’, to enable a capitalist offensive. It was this context which enabled fascism to grow.”(3)

The rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India can be understood in these terms. On the one hand, it represented the failure of the secular democracy to manage the popular fallouts of the capitalist development especially at the time of a neoliberal consensus. Thus, the neoliberal offensive required a militant “executive committee of the ruling class”, which eventually had to rely on the Hindu Right after the failure of Indira Gandhi’s attempt to establish an authoritarian rule in the 1970s. However, it was mainly the remarkable inability of the traditional Indian left in preparing its own mass base and establishing a unity between the working class and the poor peasantry for a revolutionary assault against the Indian state that provided a greenfield for the rightist manipulations. This left the popular resentment vulnerable either to the manipulation of the localist, regionalist and identitarian petty bourgeoisie and neo-bourgeoisie or to the militant right, which effectively used trade unions and voluntary organisations for selling its social corporatist agenda.

In fact at the turn of the 21st century, like everywhere, the agenda of the Right in India and the Centre-Left fidelity to democratic-secularist consensus to outpace the Right seem to be bound with one another in a kind of perverted “negation of negation”: “in a first negation, the populist Right disturbs the aseptic liberal consensus by giving voice to passionate dissent, clearly arguing against the “foreign [immigrants/Islamic/Pakistani/Bangladeshi] threat”; in a second negation, the “decent” democratic center, in the very gesture of pathetically rejecting this populist Right, integrates its message in a “civilized” way – in-between, the ENTIRE FIELD of background “unwritten rules” has already changed so much that no one even notices it and everyone is just relieved that the anti-democratic threat is over.”(4)

Definitely this is true even for the more “decent” left, which would agree with Apple: “we have much to learn from the forces of the Right. They have shown that it is possible to build an alliance of disparate groups and in the process to engage in a vast social and pedagogic project of changing a society’s fundamental way of looking at rights and (in)justice. Radical policies that only a few years ago would have seemed outlandish and downright foolish are now accepted as commonsense. While we should not want to emulate their often cynical and manipulative politics, we still can learn a good deal from the Right about how movements for social change can be built across ideological differences.”(5)

(1) Apple’s review article (see the note in the beginning)
(2) However, there are a significant number of Marxist historians and political economists in India who have successfully transcended the identitarian, nationalist and third-worldist enticements, like D.D. Kosambi, A.R Desai and Rajnarayan Chandavarkar. On the other hand, another critical school of historiography, the subaltern school essentially emerged as a critique of the nationalist school, but quickly graduated into the community of “Apple look-alikes”, postmodernists and post-colonialists with their stress on the relative autonomy of the subalterns.
(3) Renton, Dave (1999), Fascism: Theory and Practice, Pluto Press pp.58
(4) Zizek, Slavoj (2003), The Iraq War: Where is the true danger?
(5) Apple’s review article (see the note in the beginning)