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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

India’s overseas investments – some facts and meaning

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

Download the report

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

Written by Pratyush Chandra

January 18, 2011 at 2:13 am

Source of neoliberalization in India

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“It was not the US, furthermore, that forced Margaret Thatcher to take the pioneering neoliberal path she took in 1979. Nor was it the US that forced China in 1978 to set out on a path of liberalization. The partial moves towards neoliberalization in India in the 1980s and Sweden in the early 1990s cannot easily be attributed to the imperial reach of US power. The uneven geographical development of neoliberalism on the world stage has evidently been a very complex process entailing multiple determinations and not a little chaos and confusion.”

(David Harvey – A Brief History of Neoliberalism, pp9)

Written by Pratyush Chandra

December 3, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Financial Meltdown – A Last Resort?

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Finance Capital in general holds the whole economy and public saving to ransom, then why cannot its poor agents kidnap a child for ransom?

2 MBA students held for kidnapping teen
25 Nov 2008, 0341 hrs IST

NEW DELHI: In a shocking fallout of the financial meltdown, two part-time MBA students who had apparently lost heavily on investments in stocks and real estate decided to make good their losses by joining in a plot to kidnap a 15-year-old south Delhi boy. The operation went awry when the mastermind, a cousin of the victim, panicked and dumped him at Okhla from where a passerby brought him home.

Arjun Jhamb Verma, a Class IX student of Gyan Bharati School in Saket, was kidnapped on his way to school on the morning of November 20. By Sunday night, the south Delhi police had arrested the two MBA students along with four others, including the kingpin who is an electronics and real estate dealer. The others include an inter-state extortionist and his accomplice as well as a hair-stylist.

Both MBA students were pursuing their course through correspondence. Police said Piyush Jain (24) had enrolled in IMT Ghaziabad and also dabbled in shares. His close friend Rohit Chopra (24), who is doing an MBA from Ignou, is a property dealer in Gurgaon. He had apparently lost a lot of money due to the slump in prices of flats. Rohit had also invested in the stockmarket at Piyush’s insistence.

Rohit’s father is a general manager at a leading hotel in the capital while Piyush’s father is an established graphic designer with his own setup in Karol Bagh.

Courtesy: TOI

Written by Pratyush Chandra

November 24, 2008 at 10:49 pm

The Financial Crisis – The Crisis of Not Finding Barbarians?

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There is so much anxiety everywhere. Till recently the neoliberal world prospered by spreading insecurity and inculcating the feeling of ‘what comes next’ among the working class. This fragmented the class consciousness and competition thrived. Didn’t our good old Marx and Engels taught us the following?

“In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market…[T]he “organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves… The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers.”

But Marx understood that competition among workers is essentially a representation of competition among capitalists. There is a theory of displacing crisis, anxiety etc, that gives a patient reason to survive. In economic theory it is called the theory of external markets. Capital and capitalists thrive only by externalising/selling/’exporting’ commodities, crisis etc, to labour and other nations (or capitalists)… Rosa Luxemburg stressed on this aspect in her understanding of imperialism. The crisis period is that period in the political economic life of capitalism, when this export meets with obstinate hurdles.

Economists tell us that the present crisis is due to an unrestrained financialisation that the neoliberal globalisation has triggered. But then, hasn’t this radical financialisation diminished every external space? As soon as externality is posed, we find it accommodated and submitted to the larger global structure. Then in the above perspective, this is the crisis and the reason for anxiety! For the time being, there is no place to ‘export’ crisis – this is the biggest crisis!

More than a hundred years ago, a prominent Greek poet C.P. Cavafy wrote the following which clearly presents what is happening today – a crisis of not finding barbarians!

– Why should this anxiety and confusion
suddenly begin. (How serious faces have become.)
Why have the streets and squares emptied so quickly,
and why has everyone returned home so pensive?

Because night’s fallen and the barbarians have not arrived.
And some came from the border
and they say the barbarians no longer exist.

Now what will become of us without barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

(‘Waiting for the barbarians’ in The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy, Translated by Aliki Barnstone, WW Norton & Company (2006), p 29)

Written by Pratyush Chandra

November 18, 2008 at 4:04 am

ET Debates – Globalisation impedes labour mobility?

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The Economic Times

Anti-immigration laws are enforced not to stop but control new settlements and to legitimise the use-and-throw logic that characterises neo-liberalism. This increases labour vulnerability economically and politically — by differentially including the immigrants and ghettoising the local consciousness against them.

Throughout the world — in Maharashtra, in Assam, in the US, everywhere — the same ghettoised psyche comes coupled with the trans-politicisation of economy, which has relegated people to passive receptors of global mobility of capital.

Specific identitarian conflicts today are various realisations of the competitive ethic that underlies a market-oriented political economy. With the entrenching of this ethic in every corner of the society under globalisation, such conflicts are bound to multiply.

What the market does essentially is that it perpetuates fragmentation and individuation, thus posing every division in a horizontal competition. Even those conflicting interests, which could be resolved only by structural transformation, are preserved through their metamorphoses into competing groups and lobbies.

Arguably the greatest Indian philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal understood this when he said, “Fanaticism is nothing but the principle of individuation working in the case of group”. In other words, regional/national fanaticism that defines anti-immigration today is the product of individuation that competition necessarily poses.

Under neo-liberal globalisation, I agree, the “global village” has become a virtual reality. However, in this village citizens are reduced to “much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes”.

They are thrown into a large “stagnant swamp”, where they desperately try to save themselves and stand up in whatever way they can — even if at the expense of others. So anti-immigrant upsurge and its legitimacy are nothing but a vent to this desperation. It is a commodified deformation, in the socio-political market, of structural conflicts.

Hence, the question is not whether globalisation impedes labour mobility, but how through various means it impedes labour’s ability to challenge capital.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

November 4, 2008 at 7:48 pm

A volte-face – Neoliberals and the Crisis

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Recently, Finance Minister P Chidambaram boasted about the strength of India’s banking system and its “negligible exposure” to speculative practices like sub-prime lending. He proclaimed the banking system in the country to be “well regulated” and thus a protection against the full-fledged effect of the global financial crisis.

Again, his junior minister Pawan Kumar Bansal dubbed “any anxiety or uncertainty in India” to be misplaced. Why? Because “only a very small portion of our total population, less than two per cent, has any sort of exposure to the stock market”.

Ironically, till recently all these, which are being measured as India’s strength today, were considered to be the basic obstacles in India’s economic growth. Those who criticised financial liberalisation were dubbed conservatives, who did not like India’s new global image.

Though it is still very early to assess the ultimate impact of the crisis on India’s economy, or to proclaim an end to neoliberalism but the crisis has significantly shaken the self-confidence of the neoliberals in the country. The events have not been very kind to them from the very beginning. Amiya Kumar Bagchi rightly notes:

“Fortunately, despite all the attempts of successive governments at the Centre since 1991 to force the pace of ‘economic reforms’, the worst of their designs could not be carried through. These include full capital account convertibility, complete privatisation of the banking and insurance sectors, and total abolition of the distinction between banks and non-banking finance companies. Every time either major international crises or electoral compulsions have stayed their hand. In 1997 and this time around, financial crisis in Asia and the global financial crisis have prevented the enforcement of capital account convertibility”.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

October 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm

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