Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Working Class

On leftism in campus

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In response to a questionnaire on leftism in campuses sent out by a journalist comrade

1 In your opinion, what should student politics be about — as u said that day its certainly not about finding hostels, ending discrimination or complaining about teachers’ attendance?

The issue is not what should be, but what is student politics. Its definition must be able to explain what is happening in it and what are the possibilities in store. Of course, much of politics among the student community is accomplished by posing the incompleteness and the “privileged” character of its identity, and filling it with all kinds of shouldness that would connect it with supposedly the larger socio-political picture beyond campus boundaries. The emotional idioms of guilt and sacrifice guide almost all political ideologies prevalent within the student movement – not just the nationalist and rightist varieties, even the leftist ones. They all indulge in mobilising the political energy of students for “larger” causes. But interestingly what happens as a result is ideologisation – manipulation and displacement of anxieties and irrationalities of day-to-day experience of studenthood. But isn’t this the hegemonic function of politics in general? Student politics connects students to the larger political milieu.

The demand politics that you mention complements the ideological politics. Only through this, the state apparatuses and associated spectacular politics are able to access or rather place studenthood in a re-presentable manner. It is through the language of demands that an institutional straightjacketing of self-activism becomes possible. In students organisations, the demands per se are always considered to be instruments of mobilisation. There have been reactions to such instrumentalisation, which leads to depoliticisation of general students and a proliferation of consciously identitarianised students organisations and activism, which seek to pose an accomplished identity of a student, self-accumulating, arrogating to itself privileges without guilt. The aestheticisation of student life, campus life, hostel life etc is the prominent medium of this politics.

What these forms of spectacular politics accomplish is to re-present the specific student experience of the general politico-economic processes in a manner that regiments the specific in accordance with the exigencies of these general processes. This is accomplished through various successive moves which can be broadly categorised in two. Firstly, it attempts an ideological abstraction or disconnection of the specific from the general, thus ossifying an identity of the specific. Secondly, it reconnects this abstracted identity with the general, which is re-posed as an aggregation of specific segmented identities. This reconnection is hence always external.

In effect, the mainstream student politics with various organisational forms and activities achieves an important function within the student community of generating forms of state apparatus and internalising the political exigencies and language of the general political economic system.

What we are talking about is the remainder that the mainstream student politics leaves in its attempt to re-present. That is, the very internal relation that the specific has with the general – the semantics of studenthood in the general politico-economic processes. Our attempt is to re-envisage or rather recognise politics from that level.

2 If student leaders these days only job is to to be the interface / negotiator between management and students — in this sphere what ‘does’ or ‘can’ Left or Right or Caste student organisations do differently? I mean there cannot be a left wing way or a rightwing way of finding a hostel or cleaning toilets or common room?

Generally, when we talk about left, right or centre, we mean either specific sets of policies or specific combinations of forces/segments. So in that sense various competing demand charters can be proposed with different permutations and combinations depending on the “ideological” and segmental catering. Caste and regionalist/nationalist student organisations can also earn epithets like left, right or centre, or even progressive and reactionary according to their compositions and the ensuing ideological positioning. However, all these organisational forms are ultimately diverse representations of students’ interests that cohere with the systemic logic – in that sense, left, right and centre must co-exist in every point of time as broad characterisations of all possible organisational forms of politics. So I do not consider the irrelevance of the Left to be a fact at any point of time in the history of bourgeois polity, even if it finds itself often marginalised.


Written by Pratyush Chandra

May 5, 2015 at 6:46 am

On the question of class mentality and politics

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Considering the casual drafting of my last post, a comrade from Odisha, Satyabrata has rightly demanded a clarification. With his due permission I am quoting from his letter:

The difference between what you have called “existential mentality of any normal individual worker with or without a regular employment.” and the “peasant/petty bourgeois mentality of the left leadership and intellectuals that does not allow them to see such a simple fact” is not clear, since individual thinking capacities of the left leadership and intellectuals can also be seen in the same lines as the workers. That being the case, we would have a workers movement as ‘desired.’

When I say “existential mentality”, it is representative of a worker’s individual material need to reproduce labour – as himself and his family. One can reasonably ask what happens to double freedom that capitalism bestows on labour once a worker becomes propertied. But what does this freedom do? It creates an ever growing mass of surplus population from and to which workers are drawn and expelled. But this reserve must be sustained. In the West and other classical capitalist economies, this is generally accomplished by providing doles and other anti-poverty measures by the State. However, in the late capitalist economies where there is an excess of surplus “freed” population, the chattel must graze on its own. Effectively, the postmodern slaves are triply free – they are free to fend for themselves when nobody seeks their labour. Whether as genuinely unemployed, i.e., as floating surplus, or as petty commodity producer, i.e., as latent surplus, or, even as beggars, looters, shirkers and vagabonds, i.e., as lumpen proletarians, they must survive.

When we talk about the petty bourgeois/peasant mentality, it too represents survivalism – but of small and dwindling capital in the competitive race of capital accumulation. It seeks to overcome its pettiness against all other big and small capitalist interests. Therefore petty-bourgeois interests are difficult to combine, but when they do get represented, they feed the most reactionary politico-ideological position in bourgeois polity – that of anti-capitalist capitalism.

The leftist politics in India has emerged as united frontism – of combining petty bourgeois interests with the existential needs of the individuated sections of the working class. This unity results into a nationalist, anti-monopoly (now anti-corporate) politics. The working class consciousness acquired in the operation of capital-labour conflicts is effectively fragmented, class experience becomes sectional and is reduced to individuated narratives of victimisation and powerlessness, and workers are made one with the ideal of bourgeois political economy – of an average (petty) bourgeois citizen.

It is interesting to note that in Marx’ writings there is generally an anti-representationist conception of the working class, the only class capable of self-emancipation, and therefore of emancipating the humanity. On the other hand, the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry are “sacks of potatoes”, “incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name”‘ but whose “political influence…finds its final expression in the executive power which subordinates society to itself.”

Rabid statism and the bloody internecine competition to acquire the throne of the True Representative are the hallmarks of Bonapartism, be it of left or right varieties. They must reduce all the classes to a mere mass “formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitude.” Of course, they can’t accomplish this in reality, and definitely not permanently, but it is possible to attain this at least in their own imagination, i.e., ideologically. In the imagination of the Left too, even the working class as a mass “cannot represent themselves, they must be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, an unlimited governmental power which protects them from the other classes and sends them rain and sunshine from above.” The Leninist leftists have forgotten even Lenin’s time to time recognition of continuous anti-statism as the constant of proletarian politics and revolution, even when in a particular context state power is thrust over the revolutionaries as a historical necessity.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 30, 2015 at 1:42 am

Repeasantisation? Not at all!

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Earlier, when a migrant came to a metro, earned money as a labourer, went back to his village and bought land there, he was assumed to be a pauperised peasant with a nostalgic urge. Some took him to be insufficiently proletarianised, not fully attuned to the urban life, and also living in illusions – fighting his present to remain in the past. I always had my doubts. My experience of working with many such migrants, both in Delhi and Odisha, shows that this tendency of investing back is actually an existential mentality of any normal individual worker with or without a regular employment. It is a way to invest their savings smartly. For precarious labourers, it is a way of surviving or reproducing themselves and their families in the absence of social security and regular employment.

It is the peasant/petty bourgeois mentality of the left leadership and intellectuals that does not allow them to see such a simple fact. However, I will refrain from saying that they are under any illusion. It is their class outlook that really determines the conclusions that they make.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

April 27, 2015 at 2:30 am

The Meaning of Anti-Casteism

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Ambedkar clearly defined the meaning of the struggle against the caste system. For him it was not simply a petty bourgeois assertion of identity, a struggle for mere representation, as many exponents for and against the dalit movement have propounded. In his ILP days and again in “Who were the Shudras” (1946), Ambedkar essentially viewed the origin and function of caste (and therefore casteism) as conversion of “the scheme of division of work into a scheme of division of workers, into fixed and permanent occupational categories”. So the revolt against caste system (or casteism in a capitalist society) is a revolt against the material and ideological division of workers, against labour market segmentation, against the individualist-competitive ethic (a petty bourgeois tendency) among workers (which frequently takes identitarian forms). Only by questioning and destroying the whiteness of the “white” workers, a larger united working class movement could be posed in the racist societies like the US. Similarly in a casteist society like India, only by attacking the “upper/middle-caste-ness” among workers, a working class alternative could be posed. A drastic reorientation of the dalit movement (and therefore of the working class movement) is needed if it has to pose a real challenge to the caste system and casteism, as Ambedkar understood them. Dalit Movement has to re-emerge as the vanguard of the working class movement.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

January 16, 2009 at 1:52 am

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