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The Taming of the Shrew: India’s Left in the 2019 Elections

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“…the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?”

– Bertolt Brecht

“Procrustes, or the Stretcher …had an iron bedstead, on which he used to tie all travellers who fell into his hands. If they were shorter than the bed, he stretched their limbs to make them fit it; if they were longer than the bed, he lopped off a portion. Theseus served him as he had served others.”
– Bulfinch’s Mythology

1. Elections are procrustean rituals in an institutionalised democracy to contain and channel the social (over)flow and productivise it to manufacture a government and its legitimacy. By recursive re-discretisation of the social flow into manageable units, the citizenry is recomposed. In these elections, it is not the public that elects the government but the state that reassembles the public to produce the government. This reconstituted public gets the government that it deserves.

2. In the elections of 2019, against the right wing politics of communal polarisation, the left liberals in India have been seeking to pose a different sort of polarisation. Either you are on this side or that side. It doesn’t matter even if some who are on this side, earlier they were on the other and next time again they may fall there, whenever the juggling of elections happens and post-electoral alliances are made. For them, the poles are poles, stuck to the ground.

3. Hence, there is more to the 2019 elections for our nationalist left liberals. As they themselves say, it is a historic moment. And it is indeed something historic that liberal manichaeism seeks to achieve. If BJP is, what they say, a fascist party, then the liberals are imagining something unique in these elections – of defeating fascists in the elections. The fascist regimes, classically, might have come through elections, but have never been eliminated in them.

4. Now, the only strategy that seems to achieve this is by ensuring that votes are not divided (for which a Manichean binary is necessary). Marx’s dictum that all such phrases of not splitting votes and that the reactionaries might win because of the split are meant to dupe the proletariat seems outdated for the doomsday New Left. They want to defeat neoliberal authoritarianism through the procrusteanism of liberal democracy, while the right seeks to synchronise them.

5. However, by posing and making these elections as a two party contest, our marginalised left liberals are binding themselves to the dangerous game of attracting the median voter. In a bipolar contest the result is a more and more identity of opposites. And when much of the opposition is already centred on non-oppositional disagreements rather than based on any principled opposition, the difference is internal. You are but an image of your opponent.

6. They identify the hindutva brigade as a fascist pole, against which they want to see everyone else together. However, this ideal has never been realised, perhaps fortunately for the benefit of the left liberals themselves. The divided regional forces whether in NDA or outside are the only respite against homogenised authoritarianism in the country. From within liberal democracy, the intensification of regionalist localism, along with institutionalised parliamentarianism are the only safeguards left against the hindutva brigade. This is what left liberals don’t realise when they indulge in their anti-fascist rhetoric. Anyway, with this rhetoric they don’t impress anyone but themselves. The major regional forces whenever they take up this rhetoric seriously, they use it merely as a bargaining chip against centrism.

7. The right wing forces have been the main agencies to recompose the relationship between state and civil society across the globe – of combining authoritarianism with liberal democracy. Only by a complete profanation of institutions that emerged in earlier regimes of accumulation that capital can reproduce the state in the neoliberal conjuncture. The barriers must be broken time and again to refinancialise the social factory – the neat divisions between different socio-economic spheres, between productive and reproductive regimes are obsolete and costly. These barriers that managed the surplus/ superfluous population through much-acclaimed welfarism are not required now – they must integrate to form a continuous reserve army. The desacralisation of liberal social-administrative spheres is part of this process. In recent years the right wing attack that directly concerned the left liberals has been in academia. The academia is increasingly made market friendly, not allowing any section of population to take perpetual “study leave”. It is not the quality that matters but quantity – production for production’s sake. Ultimately all of us produce data, and are data ourselves.

8. The left in the name of defending the “gains” is caught up in a contradictory position of defending the status quo. The right-wing forces, on the other, by attacking those gains show far more clear understanding of the contradictions that they expose. They defend the status quo by eliminating those contradictions and expose the brutal structure in its naked form. But this naked coercion would need a new regime of legitimation, because a long-term overexposure of its coercive apparatus can be a doom for the whole system. One of the gains of the right wing onslaught is to regiment the progressive forces and make them complicit in preserving the status quo, by bringing legitimation back to the structure. The cover-up of gains and incremental progress provides the structure a long life. ‘Defending the gains’ doesn’t always need to be a defence of the socio-administrative structure that provisioned those gains. They can be a ground to recognise, expand and generate more cracks in the structure, and create more crises for its reproduction. And in this negation develops a new grammar of social relations. But for left liberals there is no alternative (TINA) – Liberal democracy or Fascism!

9. In an interview to New Left Review in 1975, Communist thinker and leader K Damodaran lamented the failure of Indian left to differentiate between state and government, and hence, their inability to understand their relationship too. There are some who confuse between state and government to pose the impossibility of immediate political actions and there are others who find this confusion very productive, when haloed as the relative autonomy of the state and the political, to justify indulgence in bourgeois polity.

10. In fact, this confusion is one of the means through which the state avoids an overexposure. It is how it camouflages itself in the everydayness of governmentality. The state’s mood fluctuations, given a constant reshuffling in the relationship between the political and the economic, emerge as multiple political fetish-forms, as political forces, and even regimes. You can worship the state in whichever form you like – if nothing suits you, you pronounce it, you will get what you need – a new form! The spirit of state is fathomless and boundless – all political forms, their enthronement, dethronement or re-enthronement combine to constitute “the rhythm of the spirit”. The magic of capitalist state works on only one principle, which Prince Tancredi Falconeri pronounced –

“Se vogliamo che tutto rimanga com’è bisogna che tutto cambi” (“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”) – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (Il Gattopardo)

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

May 2, 2019 at 11:12 am

With Lenin against Foucault, with Foucault against Lenin

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Unless the state, and its attendant state power, are grasped and demonstrated as the operation of the grammar of social relations –in other words, the structure of circulation of value, and exchange — all attacks on the state, whether envisaged in terms of seizure of state power or in terms of resisting the state, and withdrawal from it, will only result in its recomposition and reinforcement.

So, deregulation that capital proposes should be grasped not as the disappearance of the state, but the recomposition of the modern state-formation that is the structure (or grammar) of circulation of value, and exchange — or recomposition of the regime of capitalist class relations — that is more favourable for capital as a social totality. Deregulation is, indeed, re-regulation. It has changed (recomposed) the modern state that represented social capital (capital in its social totality) in the early capitalist conjuncture of embedded liberalism to being an agency of capital in its late, neoliberal conjuncture. [In fact, this character of the modern state was already evident, albeit merely as localised instantiations then, in the early capitalist conjuncture itself. First, with Bonapartism and then with Fascism. Marx, vis-a-vis the political form of the reign of Louis Bonaparte, and, following in his footsteps, August Thalheimer with regard to German Nazism, had sought to explicate this phenomenon in terms of the “autonomization of the executive” (Thalheimer’s term). Mario Tronti’s conception of the “autonomy of the political” can be read as an updation and reformulation of Marx and Thalheimer’s conception of “autonomization of the executive” for the late capitalist conjuncture.]

Hence, a politics that seeks to disavow the power of the modern state, whose structure is formational, cannot afford to buy into the neoliberal plea for ‘deregulation’ as providing it the means to accomplish the historical attenuation of state, its governmental functionality, and the microcapilaries of power constitutive of it. Foucault’s politics — which derives from a more rigorously articulated theory of what is arguably anarchist politics, and which is based on the ethics of care of the self and “resistances” to power in terms of withdrawal from it — falls precisely into that error.

What such an error on Foucault’s part demonstrates, among other things, is that anarchist politics as a manifestation of its radical essence would amount to nothing less than libertarianism veering to the right. That would be a political subjectivity completely in sync with the structure of capital in its neoliberal conjunctural specificity.

The libertarian political subjectivity integral to Foucault’s affirmation of the ethics of care of the self — whether it be envisaged in a hedonist manner or a radical-communitarian one — gets objectively, and unwittingly, inscribed within the neoliberal political project. For, what else is neoliberalism but the conjunctural objectivity of capital as an accelerated horizon and dynamic of expanded reproduction and actual subsumption of living labour (or creativity, Marx’s “use-value”) by dead labour (capital as a structure of valorisation) respectively? Neoliberalism is nothing but the existence and perpetuation of capital as its own terminal crisis, and yet one that is not the unravelling of capital, which is the law of value and thus fetish character of social relations.

In that sense, neoliberalism is a unique conjuncture, wherein capital as an epochality of social relations is in crisis — symptomatised by the current instability or precarity of social locations in terms of the social power they embody — even as radical working class politics is in retreat. In such circumstances, the affirmative Foucauldian conceptions of infinite proliferation of language, the jouissance of boundless productivity through perpetual ascesis or constant differing away becomes a subjective obverse of this neoliberal objectivity.

Of course, such a genealogical subject constitutive of hermeneutic recovery of various historical moments of care of the self does effect recomposition, and thus subversion, of history/capital as a horizon of valorisation and power in order for it to expandedly reproduce itself. But what the affirmationist conceptual framework of Foucault, particularly late Foucault, tends to emphasise as subjectively radical are these recompositions-subversions, not the incipience of interruption of the horizon of history/capital itself that these subjective moments of subversion/recomposition simultaneously instantiate and thwart.

Hence, radical politics in this Foucauldian key of ethicality and ascesis would amount to the acceleration of different “resistances” to different operations of power, or regimes of truth, and their accelerated subversion that would further accelerate the production of new discursive regimes of truth. Foucault, all said and done, does not have a conception of subjectivity of political radicalism as interruption and abolition of capital as the horizon of valorisation and productive power. A subjectivity that by virtue of being an embodiment of the concept of limit of the singular truth of the event (determinate presentation of the void in social relations) envisages the praxis of political radicalism not just as infinite difference but as “infinite difference and infinite deployment of infinite difference” (Badiou’s conception of revolutionary subjectivity in Metapolitics).

And if neoliberalism is, as I have tried to argue above, the conjunctural objectivity of capital as an accelerated horizon and dynamic of expanded reproduction of capital and actual subsumption of living labour (creativity, difference) by dead labour, what would such a (libertarian) conception of accelerated subversions of the horizon of power finally amount to? In that context we can see the limit of what is often called Foucault’s Kantianism. On account of his conception of ethics as the relationship that the self establishes with itself in withdrawing from the moral law, I prefer to term Foucault’s Kantianism as his anti-Kantian (because it is clearly anti-deontic) Kantianism, or radical Kantianism.

So then, does Foucault affirm the neoliberal project? My sense is he does not. But can his conceptual method, and its attendant ethics as politics, be seen as neoliberal anti-neoliberalism? I think it can be.

Be that as it may, the proposal and/or manoeuvre of deregulation cannot be effectively combated, as Leninists after Lenin imagine, in terms of seizing control of state-power. For, in a neoliberal, late capitalist situation when that is no longer objectively possible due to heightened precarity of segmentation of the working class, the Leninist political credo of seizure of state-power easily becomes no more than the basis for a politics of struggling for the preservation/restoration of the given/previous state-formation (composition of capitalist class power) that the ‘deregulatory’ (read re-regulatory) manoeuvres attempt to dismantle/have dismantled through its recomposition.

Commitment to Leninism as a politics of seizure of state-power is, in this neoliberal conjuncture, no more than a commitment to social democracy. And what can social democracy of neoliberalism be save the oppressive and chauvinist lobby politics of some segments of the working class against other segments of the same class that are relatively and relationally disempowered vis-à-vis the former? This renders social democratic politics — including the state-capitalist form of post-revolutionary Leninism (read Stalinism) — an integral politico-ideological appendage of new institutional forms of capitalist control and domination such as prisons, psychiatric institutions, the modern hospital (may we also add trade unions), and so on. On this score Foucault is indisputably right, albeit the politics of libertarian “resistances” he derives from such inferences of his is merely an obverse of the social-democratic political subject of capital. In fact, Althusser , in his seminal explication of “ideological state apparatuses”, had arguably paved the way, albeit from a strictly Marxist perspective, for Foucault’s historico-conceptual work on governmentality. That ideology is not false consciousness but is material in being the instantiation of the default tendency of lapse at the heart of the practical actuality of the science of proletarian class antagonism is what informs Althusser’s explication of ideological state apparatuses.

Fidelity to Lenin in this neoliberal conjuncture must, therefore, be a betrayal of Lenin as the proper name for Leninism. We should strive, instead, to repeat Lenin, strive, as Zizek says, in a Kierkegaardian sense. That is, repeat Lenin with a difference. And this repetition of Lenin with a difference would be constitutive of a politics that breaks with the horizon of disjunctive synthesis between anarchism on one hand and Leninist socialism on the other. And such a politics in breaking with this disjunctive synthesis would be the affirmation of a conjunctive synthesis. Communism as the real movement constitutive of the abolition of given state of affairs is the actuality of this conjunctive synthesis. The question, therefore, is not one of choice: liberty or communism? Instead, it’s one of conjunction: freedom and communism. The simultaneity of political and cultural revolutions, wherein one struggles against immediate oppression while simultaneously seeking to transform the capitalist structure of social relations that is the mediate condition of possibility of such oppression, would constitute the affirmation of this politics of conjunctive synthesis.

Rosa Luxemburg, the German and Dutch left-communists who followed her, and the GPCR’s left-Maoists, together with the Italian (Operaists) and French (Euro-Maoists such as Badiou) inheritors of those legacies (European and Chinese respectively) provide us with various loosely interrelated politico-theoretical approaches to envisage this conjunctively-synthetic politics of communism that is repetition of Lenin with a difference. And in this it bids goodbye to Mr Socialism, that Leninist hobby-horse, as the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism that stems from workers seizing state-power. Rather, it envisages communism as communisation — struggle against immediately oppressive operation of (state) power while simultaneously reorganising concrete social relations of production to determinately abolish the necessitarian character of social relations (or capital as the operation of the law of value) as an uninterruptedly continuous process. This, in the words of the Nietzsche of ‘Ecce Homo’, would be “…negating and destroying are conditions of saying Yes” in its concrete realisation.

This, not surprisingly, spells a return to the classical Marxism of Marx, who minced no words in envisaging communism as “revolution in permanence”.

Written by Pothik Ghosh

August 25, 2015 at 8:25 am

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