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Reinventing the Underground 8 – 11

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8. Walter Benjamin once said that the fascist political forms are the heightening of cacophonous expulsiveness to politically salvage capitalism from itself. The crisis in embedded liberalism and the rise of neoliberalism in the age of information revolution led to the algorithmization and essentialization of these forms to defer the capitalist collapse.

9. Another German, Heiner Müller records, “Mao Tse-Tung once said that as long as National Socialism was on the attack, it was unbeatable. It was an attack in a void, in empty space, a pure movement, without reserves. The moment the attack ground to a halt outside Moscow, it was over. The first stop was already the last.” Politics is about preparing for that “moment.” Our task today is to prepare ourselves for the time when the dark forces start having “intestinal spasm”.

10. In a different context, young Marx had identified the devil’s blind spots and their revolutionary significance. In his letters to Arnold Ruge written in 1843, he posed the possibility of systemic implosion:

“The comedy of despotism that is being played out with us is just as dangerous for him, as the tragedy once was for the Stuarts and Bourbons. And even if for a long time this comedy were not to be looked upon as the thing it actually is, it would still amount to a revolution. The state is too serious a thing to be turned into a kind of harlequinade. A ship full of fools could perhaps be allowed to drift for quite a time at the mercy of the wind, but it would be driven to meet its fate precisely because the fools would not believe this. This fate is the impending revolution.”

11. It is high time that we recognise that neoliberal capitalism perpetuates hyper-individualism and subjectivism, while putting them to a perpetual crisis too; and, stop open defecation that this leads to. We must return to the notion of the old mole on a look out for the “underneath reason”. What is needed today is to relive the “underground”, not to “repeat it” as it used to be, but to think, as Lenin commanded, “how to change its forms in a new situation, how to learn and think anew for this purpose.”


Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 15, 2018 at 5:43 am

Reinventing the Underground 4 – 7

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4. Spectacular political gymnastics – in which all of us are involved, left, right and centre – is a mere sign of anal expulsive personality that bourgeois liberalism and consumerist economy perpetuate – it is our instrumentalisation. The revolution in information technology has been mobilised to intensify and productivise this anal expulsiveness – you can see how the best minds of counterculture and radical thinking have been formally, if not actually, subsumed in this new enterprise through diverse corporate enclosures of the virtual space.

5. “The smaller a town the more richly it hums with gossip. There are no private affairs here. Gossip is the air we breathe.” (Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians) With technology, the whole world has become one segmented village, even serious thinkers and radicals inhale and exhale this air – gossiping about thoughts, ideas and politics.

6. Negative prefiguration in the form of communist solidarity practices is on “seeing” each other – with hugs, kisses and arms holding (“comrades-in-arms”), but now in the age of instantaneous “viewing”, solidarity is virtual and symbolic, it is reduced to emoticons and thumb signing (“you are doing good, keep it up”). But when we ultimately see each other we recognise and that’s all – virtuality has become our ideological reality in which we closet ourselves.(see Asimov’s The Naked Sun)

7. This public sphere of new media has transformed our reproductive domain to a factory – of bit production where variable capital is almost zero. Ideas and ideologies are discretized, reduced to bits, which are automatically recombined to produce newer ones.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 13, 2018 at 11:24 pm

Reinventing the Underground 3

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It is strange that even self-professing hardcore materialists confuse the contingent with psycho-subjective factors, while reducing the objective to crude necessity. However, atoms of events like any atom are composed of nuclei and binding electrons. The matter of necessity is the nucleus, which is forever bound and negated by the electron-ic, giving shape to the contingent. Hence, our materialists would always consider the pilot – the psychic element to be the subjective and contingent factor. But in this story and in Kluge’s self-explanation, it is the corporeo-human element, i.e., “intestinal colic” which is “smarter” countering the necessary tendencies of “the age of asymmetrical warfare.” The objectification of our “head’s foresight” into general intellect – the machine paralyzing the psycho-human subject, forces our body to strike back. As Epicurus would have said, with whom Marx concurred, atoms do fall, but swerve. It is how the realm of “abstract possibilities” invades that of “actual possibilities”.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 2, 2018 at 8:20 am

Reinventing the Underground 2

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In an interview quoted by Devin Fiore in his Introduction to Negt and Kluge’s History and Obstinacy, Kluge explains, “If intestinal colic prevents the bomber pilot from propagating death in Iraq then his intestines were smarter than his head. And that the intestines do this dates back to a previous time. If the intestines’ ability to anticipate is greater than the head’s foresight — which is also artificially deadened again and again through education — then the intestines were the prophet. It concerns a reason that is underneath reason. That is the core issue.”(159)

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 2, 2018 at 8:10 am

Reinventing the Underground 1

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In his tale “Unintentional Stroke of Luck”, Alexander Kluge narrates the story of a young fighter pilot of the US Air Force who was going to target a wedding celebration suspecting it to be the headquarters of a terrorist gang. But due to “a convulsive evacuation of the pilot’s bowels”, “intestinal spasm” that generated shame and confusion in his mind, the target was missed and “the missiles struck the swampy fields.” In the “age of asymmetrical warfare”, it is this unintentional luck which is “at least one possibility open, when all other luck fails.”

Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 2, 2018 at 8:07 am

On Rights Politics and Migrant Workers

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These notes were prepared for a discussion in Delhi on a report on the condition of migrant workers in Delhi, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu (October 6 2017).


1. The two significant aspects of demand and right politics are – firstly, they are grounded in the immediate social needs that are framed within a structure. Secondly, they are attempts to establish a discourse with the state machinery – hence they are discursively circumscribed within the field of social relations. Thus, they are necessarily reform oriented, but they need not be reformist. The questions of rights, reforms and demands are unavoidable guerrilla struggles, which build the capacity of workers to organise larger movements. But do these struggles mean deferring the final movement that targets the very structural and superstructural setup that give language to those social needs? No, because they also test the vulnerabilities of the system and can become endeavours to burrow through it the final escape or emancipation. Every moment is a moment for both reform and revolution, and also reaction. When a movement is able to transcend its initial demands, to go on to attack the present social relations and to reorganise them then it becomes revolutionary. When the movement attempts to take the leap, but fails, then reaction happens. When the movement is not ready to take any leap beyond or reneges at the last moment, reform and/or reaction can happen, depending on the level of crisis in the system.

2. However, because the rights politics in itself is concerned with achievements of the rights and demands, at its own level will be geared towards negotiations and bargains, and impressing upon the state machinery, rather than changing the social relations themselves. Even the trade union politics is embedded in this kind of relationship. There is nothing in these forms that makes them question the structure of that relationship between workers and capitalists, or in the former case between workers and the state. The danger of reformism comes from this. But once again, as a conscious part of the larger movement against the structure of present social relations they play a crucial role of waging guerrilla struggles. But what does this signify? Then how do we define the working class politics? Also what will be the organisational question which balances between reform and revolution?

3. When we talk about workers’ politics, it is grounded in the dialectic of competition and collectivity. Marx captured this very aptly, when he said: “Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association.” The politics that is premised upon the segmentation of the workers vs the politics of ever-expanding combination and association, that is grounded in the everyday interaction among workers. The latter is not a mechanical aggregation or unity of isolated workers with similar grievances or demands, but a combination or network that is built in their daily conflict with state and capital. Only an expansion of this network has the capacity to refuse to be subsumed by capital and its network. In this, demands are definitely raised but are incidental. In this framework, demands and rights play the role of testing the system’s vulnerabilities and the organisational strength of the expanding combination.


4. Migration is not just a fact, but also an act. It is not fully incidental that a word for migration in Hindi is पलायन (the more formal word is प्रवास). The former is very rich, often used as a stigma – one of its meaning being running away or an escapist act. In my view, it is this sense that renders the act of migration politically rich. Migration is not just a spatial fix, a response of the weak to the immediate contingencies of life. It is also a rebellious withdrawal, an escape, a long march against “the current state of affairs.” It is an act of refusal, non-acceptance of the lot. As an immediate spatial fix it demonstrates the weak agency of the migrant – a weakness in mastering the system. But it also has a utopian element that makes any human agency restless, that may come one time as an escape, another time as an emancipation, especially when individual weakness becomes a ground for collective subjectivity. Wasn’t this Ambedkar’s intention when he advised dalits to escape villages?

5. Legal Unionism is bound to consider migrant and mobile workers unreliable for their purpose – it simply cannot rely on them. On the other hand, social unionism which seeks to overcome the limits of traditional unionism is caught up in the discourse of non-conflictuality and negotiations with state (which in turn is problematically conceptualised). Hence for this school too it is always about accommodation – creating space for the migrants, not about problematising the whole space itself which is the etatised field of labour-capital relations. Therefore the vagrancy and mobility of proletarians are something to be shed off, not to be made a ground to imagine an overhauling of social relations and ideologies. Hence migrants as migrants are suspects, to be always put in the peripheries of organised politics. But different revolutions have shown how it was mostly settled workers’ organisations, afraid of losing their accumulated privileges, developed petty bourgeois tendencies and were unable to go beyond the legal fights when required, unless workers revolted and autonomously organised themselves.

6. Right from Karl Marx, Marxists have understood the relationship of workers mobility and their political consciousness. Lenin provides an insight into the poltical meaning of migration and demonstrates how to think about workers beyond their victimhood and our philanthropist vanguardism:

“There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations. Emancipation from the yoke of capital is impossible without the further development of capitalism, and without the class struggle that is based on it. And it is into this struggle that capitalism is drawing the masses of the working people of the whole world, breaking down the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth.”

“Thus, Russia is punished everywhere and in everything for her backwardness. But compared with the rest of the population, it is the workers of Russia who are more than any others bursting out of this state of backwardness and barbarism, more than any others combating these “delightful” features of their native land, and more closely than any others uniting with the workers of all countries into a single international force for emancipation.

“The bourgeoisie incites the workers of one nation against those of another in the endeavour to keep them disunited. Class-conscious workers, realising that the breakdown of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive, are trying to help to enlighten and organise their fellow-workers from the backward countries.”

7. In recent years, Negri (and Hardt) repeats the same in the language of our times:

“Traditionally the various kinds of migrant workers, including permanent immigrants, seasonal laborers, and hobos, were excluded from the primary conception and political organization of the working class. Their cultural differences and mobility divided them from the stable, core figures of labor. In the contemporary economy, however, and with the labor relations of post-Fordism, mobility increasingly defines the labor market as a whole, and all categories of labor are tending toward the condition of mobility and cultural mixture common to the migrant. Not only are workers are forced to change jobs several times during a career, they are also required to move geographically for extended periods or even commute long distances on a daily basis. Migrants may often travel empty-handed in conditions of extreme poverty, but even then they are full of knowledges, languages, skills, and creative capacities: each migrant brings with him or her an entire world, Whereas the great European migrations of the past were generally directed toward some space “outside,” toward what were conceived as empty spaces, today many great migrations move instead toward fullness, toward the most wealthy and privileged areas of the globe…

“Part of the wealth of migrants is their desire for something more, their refusal to accept the way things are. Certainly most migrations are driven by the need to escape conditions of violence, starvation, or depravation, but together with that negative condition there is also the positive desire for wealth, peace and freedom. This combined act of refusal and expression of desire is enormously powerful…. Ironically, the great global centers of wealth that call on migrants to fill a lack in their economies get more than they bargained for, since the immigrants invest the entire society with their subversive desires. The experience of flights is something like a training of the desire for freedom.

“Migrations, furthermore, teach us about the geographical division and hierarchies of the global system of command. Migrants understand and illuminate the gradients of danger and security, poverty and wealth, the markets of higher and lower wages, and the situations of more and less free forms of life. And with this knowledge of the hierarchies they roll uphill as much as possible, seeking wealth and freedom, power and joy. Migrants recognize the geographical hierarchies of the system and yet treat the globe as one common space, serving as living testimony to the irreversible fact of globalization. Migrants demonstrate (and help construct) the general commonality of the multitude by crossing and thus partially undermining every geographical barrier.”

Written by Pratyush Chandra

October 24, 2017 at 2:16 am

Russian Revolution and Luxemburg’s Approach

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Even being a direct observer of the happenings in Russia and being critical of Bolshevik practice, Rosa Luxemburg could keep a far more objective and materialist understanding of the problems of the Russian Revolution, in comparison to the theo-sectarian polemics around facts and counter-facts that is being exercised today globally during the centenary celebrations. In a letter to Adolf Warski written less than a couple of months before her assassination, Luxemburg comments on the two most crucial problems of the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik practice, refusing to subjectively analyse them. It is this objectivity that generated her revolutionary “optimism of will”. She writes:

The use of terror indicates great weakness, certainly, but it is directed against internal enemies who base their hopes on the existence of capitalism outside of Russia, receiving support and encouragement from it. With the coming of the European revolution, the Russian counter-revolutionaries will lose only support [from abroad] but also – what’s more important- their courage. Thus the Bolshevik use of terror is above all an expression of the weakness of the European proletariat. Certainly, the agrarian relations that have been established are the most dangerous aspect, the worst sore spot of the Russian Revolution. But here too there is a truth that applies – even the greatest revolution can accomplish only that which has ripened as a result of [historical] development. This sore spot also can only be healed by the European revolution. And it is coming!

George Adler, Peter Hudis and Anneliese Laschitza (ed), The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, Verso (2011), pp 484-85

Written by Pratyush Chandra

September 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm

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