Hardik Patel and Gujarat model, not exceptions to capital, but its norm: Some agreements and many disagreements with an ET article


The author of the article, Mr T.K. Arun, writes:

“…. Here is Hardik Patel, offering concrete proof that Gujarat remains at least as backward, culturally, as the rest of India, after spending 12 years in the supposedly transformative furnace of the Gujarat Model.

“This young leader of Patels, a dominant community of Gujarat, has convinced his people that being backward is the way forward. His slogan is simple: reservation or bust! It reflects a perception that getting a larger share of a relatively bland but existing pie is far more important than baking an all-new, mouthwatering pie for yourself. That view stems from the understanding that future prosperity is pie in the sky.

“If the participatory base of growth is broad and growth sustains at a high rate, the popular aspiration would be to seize a piece of an assuredly bright future, rather than to corner a larger chunk of the shrivelled present. Clearly, the future does not burn bright as a citadel of redemption from the dowdy present, even for a numerically large and economically powerful community of Gujarat such as the Patidars or Patels. Hence there has been no sustained, participatory growth in Gujarat, even if there has been sustained growth.”

Now, I couldn’t agree more with some of Mr Arun’s crucial observations here. But then the inferences I draw on the basis of those observations are starkly different from the ones that Mr Arun derives from them.

In my opinion, sustained growth and sustained participatory growth are, beyond a point, inversely related to one another. For, the rise in the rate of growth, on account of it being characterised by an increase in capital formation, implies increase in the organic composition of capital. And the rise in productivity concomitant with this increase in organic composition is tantamount to a simultaneity of increased same-skilling due to functional simplification of the labour-process and progressive diminution of living labour in the production process. That, in turn, means increasing precarity of socio-economic positions across the productive/reproductive board due to increasing supply in the labour-market and an attendant rise in competitive pressures on that market. (This increasing and accelerating precarity is often registered by, among other things, a spurt in growth of employment opportunities that are, however, extremely precarious and uncertain in nature. As a matter of fact, the marked rise in the number and type of such “bullshit” jobs that we have been witness to for a while now is nothing more than the system’s reactive attempt to manage its growing labour reserves both economically and politically.) Not only that, this increase in supply in the productive labour market is tantamount to an increase in what Marx termed the “industrial reserve army” that, precisely due to this spurt in its growth, serves to discipline and regiment the productive labour employed in an increasingly intensifying production process, which is undergoing this intensification thanks to the progressive increase in organic composition of capital.

But please do not mistake this contention of mine as the usual moribund ‘leftist’-protectionist plea for deceleration of such precarity. That is far from what I am trying to get at. My point precisely is that such precarity of socio-economic segmentation of the working class cannot not only be halted or slowed down, but needs to be clearly shown, at the level of multiple concrete situations, for what it generally is: capital existing as an open demonstration of the constitutive crisis it has always been. It’s on account of this permanent and open nature of the constitutive crisis of capital now that the ease with which the generality of this crisis is grasped by all inhabitants of the capitalist social factory in the sheer immediacy of their respective lived-experiences tends to significantly go up. And that, needless to say, enhances the probability of actualisation of militant anti-capitalist subjective interventions. It’s this that I think is the task before militants seriously committed to working-class politics today.

Therefore, there is, in a certain sense, a narrow path that runs in between the argument that increasing participatory growth will put an end to such reactionary assertions — which I insist will not be the case — and the protectionist ‘leftist’ insistence to slow down growth in order to preserve the earlier forms of segmentations and privileges and hierarchies within the working class and, as a result, within society as a whole. The latter is equally implausible. Therefore, it’s this narrow path that those aspiring to become militants of an effectively radical anti-capitalist, working-class politics should walk. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this increasing precarity due to acceleration of (capitalist) growth must be affirmed. This, not of course from the vantage-point of capitalist economic rationality that is occupied by the writer of the ET article linked above, but from the standpoint of communism. After all, this precarity of socio-technical division of labour is clearly what Marx would have characterised as capital digging its own grave. For, communism, as the actuality of the immanent critique of capital, would precisely be the new quality of abolished social division of labour. This is prefigured, within capital in its late decadent moment, by quantitative change from the relatively more stable technical composition of social labour of earlier moments of capital to a more precarised technical composition of social labour now.

Not for nothing does the Italian Marxist, Paolo Virno, call this late-capitalist, post-fordist moment of increasingly dispersed and precarious production process the “communism of capital”. To call this decadent late capitalist moment “communism of capital” is, however, not to affirm it in the sense of either celebrating it for what it is, or in a determinist, Bernsteinian fashion that views this situation, with misplaced hope, as capital lurching towards its own end. Rather, it is to affirm it in the sense of seeing in this situation the extremely heightened probability of breaking with capital itself and striving to leverage that through strategically apposite subjective interventions.

In that context, the rise of reactionary assertions of identity politics and rioting — like the Hardik Patel phenomenon in Gujarat — registers precisely this precarity of socio-economic power across the board due to sustained growth, which, as I have sought to argue above, is bound to be inherently anti-democratic and anti-participatory because of its capitalist constitutivity. To that extent the Hardik Patel rally that triggered rioting is a typically populist movement, which should be distinguished from movements that are popular on account of their radical transformative orientation in a strict material sense. And insofar as it’s populist, Patel’s movement ought to be characterised as reactionary anti-capitalism, if not also as anti-capitalism of capital.

It must be briefly mentioned here as an aside that populism, whether its ideological self-representation is leftist or rightist, is always the anti-systemic politics of the system (capitalist anti-capitalism) and is, to that extent, restorative. Of course, it is undeniable that the colour and tenor of such ideological self-representation is contingent on the objective location of the social forces from which a particular movement emanates. Earlier — i.e. in the conjunctural moment of early capitalism and embedded liberalism — leftist populisms were distinguishanble from the populisms of the right, because while the former produced social democratic effects the consequences of the latter were as reactionary and conservative then as they are now. Where the two populisms converged even then, however, was in their restorative orientation.

In this conjunctural moment of late capitalism and neoliberalism that convergence has become even more pronounced. The two ideological representations have, for all practical purposes, become virtually identical. Due to change in the objective social composition — which characterises the shift to late capitalism and neoliberalism from early capitalism and embedded liberalism — the two populisms now have not only the same restorative orientation but also produce, at an objective level, similar communitarian-reactionary effects. The distinction between the social-democratic reformist effect of left populisms and the reactionary-communitarian effect of right populisms now stands all but obliterated.

In such circumstances, it will be phenomena such as the Hardik Patel movement that will continue to rise steadily with every passing day. (In fact, this has been the dominant political trajectory since the years of the Mandal and the mandir.) And the increasing frequency of recurrence of this phenomenon of populist riot — in all possible kinds of shapes and forms — will keep enhancing the probability of successful anti-capitalist subjective interventions even as the failure of such interventionist initiatives will, like in a feedback loop, effect a further rise in the number, scale and frequency of such reactionary, populist-sectarian riots.

In other words, it’s through the progressive rise in the experience of suffering and pain — concomitant with the increasing frequency of such reactionary, otherising phenomena which not only register such suffering and pain but also reinforce them — that an effectively radical anti-capitalist politics is likely to come, if at all. For, if such politics continues to fail to seize its moment, which, dialectically speaking, is symptomatised, paradoxically, by the rise of such reactionary socio-political phenomena, we will continue our ever-accelerating counter-revolutionary descent into the bottomless abyss of reaction. This will be capitalism as barbarism, which as Marx insisted would be the common ruin of contending classes. We have, in fact, been in that moment for a while now. The moment of revolution is also the moment of counter-revolution and vice-versa. And if revolution does not disarm counter-revolution the latter will, as we can well see in and through the immediacy of our own lived-experience, continue to disarm the former with increasing alacrity.

Therefore, the problem lies with the Gujarat model not because it is a deviation from the so-called democratic and participatory norm of capital — something the article linked above argues — but precisely because it faithfully embodies the essence of capital, which is irrationally founded rationality.


Why a Marx-Inspired Materialist Historiography cannot Afford to be Historicist and yet it often is

A historically determinist (or hitoricist) historiography takes root when the line shifts from construing the discursive inscription of the immanent forces of history-as-movement as their limit, to making sense of such inscription as teleology. It’s this historical determinism as Marxism — which is arguably the result of reading Marx as if he was Hegel than retroactively read Hegel as Marx (i.e. read Hegel against his grain) — that has been the stageist bane of Marxist political interventions in the so-called non-European societies such as ours. The result: Marxist political discourse in the tropics has become a discourse tailor-made for the legitimation of the ideology of liberalism that can ‘survive’ and ‘succeed’ only by instituting its own materiality, which in this late capitalist conjuncture can, paradoxically, be nothing save neoliberalism.

All politico-ideological pleas of formal equality — all leftist struggles to win various violated or un-enforced juridical rights amounts precisely to that — can today succeed only by reinforcing the exchange-principle, and its basis in value-relations as the qualitative equalisation of qualitative differences through their quantitative differentiation. This would mean the reinforcement of value-relations through reinforcement of exchange-relations in their increasing precarity. And since this increasing precarity of value-relations would, in being reinforced, still be animated by the realisation or expression of value as qualitative equalisation in and through quantitative differentiation, such reinforcement of value-relations in its increasing precarity can only amount to increasing oppressiveness. The neurotic simultaneity of oppression and resistance — which is manifest in our current society and polity as the hegemony of competitive identity politics and lobby politics (both in their secular and so-called pre/non-secular forms) — is evidence of that.

In such circumstances, if one reads the Marx of Capital, in terms of his Afterword to the Second German Edition of Volume I, one will clearly see how Marx reverse-shifts the line, as it were, from teleology to limit, in his reading of history. That, arguably, is what his materialist operation on the Hegelian dialectic — the extraction of the rational kernel (of the dialectic) from its mystical shell (of a prioiri orientation) in his famous, and by now much-abused, words — amounts to. This is precisely the moment of Marx’s complete liberation from historicism. It’s this that gives us the Late Marx, who speaks affirmatively, for instance, of the ‘pre-capitalist’ Russian mir as the germ of a possible Russian road of historical development that could bypass capitalism, which for historical determinists was/is a necessary and un-bypassable milestone.

What does this non-teleological historiographical approach of Late Marx — which comes out of his explication of the logic of historical development in its bare and abstract form in Capital — amount to? It means the incompleteness of capital at particular spatio-temporal locations, once capital has come into being anywhere or everywhere else, is already an integral part of capital. Thus, struggles even at those locations that have the discursive appearance of pre-capitalism must be against capital. Which is to say, those struggles have to seek to abolish all teleology, including their own that will be imposed on them as their respective limits by their respective determinate locations. In terms of a philosophy of history, it means one approach each and every moment of history as being internally divided or schizzed between two temporalities — that of contingency and necessity (or, difference-as-differing-away and difference-as-identity). More precisely, it means every moment of history is an internal division between the time of form in and as its contingent instantiation (event) and the time of form as the concrete mediation of its structuring or being-placed. Walter Benjamin adumbrates precisely this as the historical materialist approach to historiography in his ‘Theses on Philosophy of History’, particularly theses V, VI and VII.

One should, however, have no qualms in admitting that even Late Marx’s historical vision is haunted by a tension between historicism and non-teleological history. Considering that Marx envisaged his critique of historicism (the Hegelian dialectic) — as any seriously radical and profoundly engaged critic ought to – from within such historicism, his battle against historicism is always conducted under the ineluctable shadow of the latter.

Marx’s constant endeavour in Capital is to show how capital — which is nothing but historicism in concrete action — is, in its, objectivity, a moving contradiction and thus constitutively neurotic. That is because Capital shows how commodity, which is the basic unit of capital (capital in its cell-form), is an objective demonstration of itself as the mobilisation of its own immanent critique or negativity — what with commodity being qualitative difference that is use-value in its sheer bodily form embodying or phenomenalising its own negation, which is value as the substance of qualitative equalisation. We can, in other words, say that capital for Marx is qualitative differences or use-values and their respectively singular concrete labours in their limit. But precisely in not being recognised in their limit, use-values are rendered neurotic commodities, wherein use-values in their qualitatively different (or singular) bodily forms embody, in and as the equivalent pole of an exchange-relation or value-form, the substance of qualitative equalisation (value) that is their negation as singularities.

As a result, the conception of limit – which belongs to a rigorously materialist historiography – would, in Marx, often find itself encoded in the historicist language, and, at times, even conception, of destiny and inevitability. The most infamous example on that count is the little that Marx wrote on the Latin America of his times. Be that as it may, we ought to read such ‘Eurocentric’ articulations of Marx, pace Jose Arico, as the exception to the rule of materialist historiography that is definitively posed, if not also instituted, by the approach that Marx’s Capital articulates.

In such circumstances, it would not — and should not — at all be an anathema for a Marx-inspired materialist historiography to deal with questions of culture, consciousness and mentalite as a history of phenomenology of difference. But where it would differ from both the established historigraphes of culture, consciousness and mentalite on one hand; and the equally canonised historically determinist historigraphy of the so-called Marxist historians from South Asia on the other, is in its demonstration of how such differences (as subjective experiences) are both themselves and already always their own limit, and thus subsumption into regimes of necessity. It’s in this sense that a radical Marxist historiographer could – in fact, necessarily should — draw as much from the historiographies of culture, consciousness and mentalite as from the various strains of determinist ‘Marxist’ historiography. For, only in drawing from both these kinds of historiography – by thinking difference and its subsumption together, but in their separateness — will he/she be able to complete the incomplete materialism that orients both those historiographical approaches. This rigorously comprehensive materialist historiography — which is exemplified by the historiographical practices of such rarely found historians as C.L.R. James (in Black Jacobins), Timothy Mason and Arno J. Mayer — is a synthesis of both the aforementioned historiographical approaches. And in being such a synthesis the materialist historiography in question breaks with the historiographical horizon constitutive of this duality.