Through and Beyond: Identities and Class Struggle

Paresh Chandra

The New and the Primitive: the New is the Primitive


In India, the effectuation of the New Economic Policy in 1991 is seen as a move forward, a move out of the “mires” of public sector enterprise, a “mandate” for privatization and against public and state ownership of industries. It is a short-sightedness characteristic of our times, our inability, Fredric Jameson would say, to historicize, which speaks when we make such utterances. Unable to look beyond the immediate we are unable also to make logical generalizations and connections that are needed to contextualize what occurs. Before putting forth my arguments I feel the need to make two assertions: (a) The NEP was not adopted because ‘Plan 1, public sector,’ failed and (b) state ownership does not mean public ownership, hence the seeming failure of public sector enterprises is by no means evidential of the problems of truly collective ownership of means of production.

Historians have noted that ‘at the eve of Independence’ the Indian bourgeois class was much more developed than that of most third world nations. Post 1910 the British government had begun to include the interests of this class in its policies, partly because of its own compulsions (the British needed the support of the Indian bourgeoisie in World War I) and partly because of strength of this class (Mukherjee, 2002). Subsequently, the plan of development that was charted out centrally after Independence had to accommodate the said interests as well. In 1944-45 when prominent capitalists sat down to ponder the possibilities facing an Independent India, and divined the Bombay Plan, they knew that they were going to have a very big say in the path the country takes. As a result of underdeveloped infrastructure, it seemed convenient to Tata, Birla and Co. to lay out an arrangement which required the state to make all necessary large investments, before they take over. To overstate for rhetorical effect, the next thirty years fulfilled the wishes of the Indian capitalist class. Of course, the Bombay Plan was never actually followed, but the ‘development’ that ensued in these years was more or less in concert with it. In the 80s, even as the judiciary’s earlier attempts to strengthen labour laws and expand the purview of Constitutional provisions like the “Right to Life” took a down turn, the state continued with this construction of infrastructure, at the same time beginning to prepare for the change of hands that was finalized in 1991. From state capitalism to privatization in the age of neoliberalism – this has been the movement of the Indian socio-economic formation. So, we might as well stop arguing about this “development paradigm”, for its “theoretical underpinnings” and its genealogy are clear enough: contesting this development is without a doubt, contesting capitalism.

Neoliberalism, the stage of finance capitalism, even as it (as will be discussed later) uses direct dispossession to accumulate capital, is also the most decentralized and dispersed form of capitalism. As Jameson observes in his essay “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” the magnitude of this system and the manner in which it operates is such that one cannot find a centre to it, and it becomes impossible to locate a dominant form to understand or attack. It is capable of assimilating and preserving local forms and identities, which it brings together in relationships or ‘networks’ of competition.  Due to the absence of a dominant form of hegemony, of a monolithic state, it becomes impossible to think of a universally valid form for struggle. The problem of “identities” the way it exists in the current conjuncture, where many of them coexist, all equally subordinated to the rule of capital, and without palpable partiality on part of the state, is one that is borne off this situation. Identities are forced to compete in the networks created by the generalization of capital that has brought neoliberalism. In this situation it is hard to believe in grand-narratives; since identities coexist, interests appear relative, none seems to have a greater claim to authenticity than any other – the schizophrenia of the postmodern subject is what we get. The internationalism of neoliberalism, together with its ability to preserve and force identities into competitive relations, makes it hard to conceive of a transcendental politics; and the harder it is, the greater the need to envision it. Jameson (1991, p. 49) says:

“…the as yet untheorized original space of some new “world system” of multinational or late capitalism, a space whose negative or baleful aspects are only too obvious – the dialectic requires us to hold equally to a positive or “progressive” evaluation of its emergence, as Marx did for the world market as the horizon of national economies, or as Lenin did for the older imperialist global network. For neither Marx nor Lenin was socialism a matter of returning to smaller (and thereby less repressive and comprehensive) systems of social organization; rather, the dimensions attained by capital in their own times were grasped as the promise, the framework, and the precondition for the achievement of some new and more comprehensive socialism. Is this not the case with the yet more global and totalizing space of the new world system, which demands the intervention and elaboration of an internationalism of a radically new type?”


Terms like “development”, “displacement”, “identity” and “violence”, come together most visibly in the context of the rush for resources that are buried in parts of India inhabited predominantly by “tribals” and the attempt of the state to dispossess by force the tribal population of its lands (which it is doing under the garb of waging war on the “Maoists”). The people living on this land depend upon it for their existence, often completely, sometimes partially. Capitalism and capitalist development, not just in India, but world wide needs these resources to feed the “economy of wants” and so the land has to be taken away. Recently we went to Orissa and spoke to many activists who have been working in areas where dispossession and displacement is being challenged by the local people. In these conversations we found, what we find only too often – the state, using the cover of bringing “development”, builds highways to the most underdeveloped parts of the state, which are also the most mineral rich. Mining companies follow, mine for resources, in the process acquiring local land by hook or by crook, and taking from the people the power to reproduce their labor power. This has happened before, in India and in other countries – the “enclosure movement” in 18th century England was the most famous/notorious example of this. Marx had called this process of accumulation of capital through direct dispossession primitive accumulation. This method of accumulation, one must keep in mind, is primitive only when seen in a logical register and historically, as we witness, it can be used by capitalism at any and all points. Michael Perelman writes:

“While primitive accumulation was a necessary step in the initial creation of capitalism, it actually continues to this day. For example, at the time of this writing [Perelman’s essay], petroleum and mining companies are displacing indigenous people in Asia, Africa, Latin America and even in the United States.” (Saad-Filho, 2003, p. 125)

Pratyush Chandra and Deepankar Basu (2007) in an essay titled “Neoliberalism and Primitive Accumulation in India” argue that primitive accumulation is not simply the originary moment of capitalism but is also constitutive of it. Starting with the premise that the very existence of capitalism is predicated upon its expansion and the continuous separation of laborers from the means of production they argue that while in a perfectly functional capitalist setup the market takes care of this recurrent enactment of the capital-relation, “at the boundaries (both internal and external), where capitalism encounters other modes of production, property and social relations attuned to those modes and also to the earlier stages of capitalism, other ways of subsistence, primitive accumulation comes into play. More often than not, direct use of force is necessary to effect the separation at the boundaries” (Chandra and Basu, 2007).

Neoliberalism is a response to the crisis of the Keynesian welfare state, through a reassertion of the absoluteness of the power of the ruling class and a restructuring of the state as regulator of circulation into a more partisan mould. The state even in its welfarist avatar was an organ of the ruling class, but now it becomes more blatantly than ever a tool in its hands. “Despite the talk of separating the political from the economic, which is a staple rhetoric of the current phase, it is the state as the instrument of politico-legal repression that facilitates neoliberal expansion. Firstly, the state intervenes with all its might to secure control over resources – both natural and human (“new enclosures”) – and secondly, to ensure the non-transgression of the political into the economic, which essentially signifies discounting the politics of labor and the dispossessed from affecting the political economy” (Chandra and Basu, 2007). An interesting account of this process is offered in “Aspects of India’s Economy,” No. 44-46. The relationship between the model of development that the Indian state (now) espouses and impoverishment of the people is explored in great detail, and how development itself becomes exclusion is established.(1)

Of Identities and Co-option


Marxian attempts to understand Indian reality, with their “fixation” with ‘class’ and ‘mode of production’ have not found sympathy in Indian sociology. These analyses do not hold, it is argued, because caste is the dominant feature of ‘social stratification’ in India. This objection is predicated upon the understanding that class, in being an import, even if it has managed to ground itself in India, is only an addition to forms of stratification; caste has its own grounds and class its own. ‘Overlaps’ are acknowledged, but in the same breath comes the warning that class remains a relatively less affective part of this reality; capitalism/class/class-struggle together are said to form one aspect of Indian reality (owing, some many scholars might suggest, to the experience of colonialism), while caste, patriarchy, religion with their own respective baggage form other aspects.

There are two arguments to be made to combat these objections, the first takes issue with their epistemological foundations, and the second with their ahistoricity. Firstly then; the reduction of notions like capitalism and class to ontological fixities (admittedly, something which Marxist scholars have also been guilty of) implicit in these objections does not recognize that it is the logic of capitalist production which is re-enacted in each reality, not its form. India can be capitalist, and just that, even if the Indian reality has a bazillion other features which Europe never had to contend with. Of course, formally speaking, it is a different capitalism. Secondly: Even as the process started by the ‘colonial encounter’ unfolded, the seeds of capitalism were already coming to fruition in the decaying structures of the Mughal feudal order. Indian reality, of which the caste system and the experience of colonization both were parts, was giving birth to Indian capitalism. Capitalism, as a possibility, was not superimposed upon, or imported into the Indian landscape, but was borne by its own facticity.  In an essay entitled, ‘Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Mughal India,’ in addition to establishing that the Mughal economy was highly monetized and dominated by domestic industry, Irfan Habib (1995) also shows that contrary to usually held opinion, caste did not obstruct the emergence of capitalism in India.

“It has been held, and the opinion has been powerfully reinforced by Weber, that the caste system put a brake on economic development, through separating education from craft, segregating skills, preventing intercraft mobility, and killing or restricting individual ambition in the artisan…Three or four points ought to be borne in mind. First, the mass of ordinary or unskilled people formed a reserve, from which new classes of skilled professions could be created when the need arose…Secondly, in any region there was often more than one caste following the same profession, so that where the demand for products of a craft expanded, new caste artisans could normally be drawn to that place. More important still, castes were not eternally fixed in their attachment to single professions or skills. Over a long period, economic compulsions could bring about a radical transformation in the occupational basis of caste.” (Habib, 1995, pp. 216-217)

Caste was present at, and constitutive of, the foundational moment of Indian capitalism, and is, hence, also a functional characteristic of its being – the last few decades show how Indian capitalism first contained discontent, by limiting its expression to caste-assertions, and then sublimated it through elite formation. It used caste-division to not only resolve contradictions that its inherently self-contradictory nature threw, but also to perpetuate itself.


“Country feeds town,” has gone from being a catch phrase for “backward-looking” reformers to become a sort of theoretical cliché. In the current Indian conjuncture, however, as a few say often, the cliché has come back to life. That tribes of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa etc. are sitting on mineral resources which are needed for the country’s “development” is again a discursive commonplace these days. Many opposed to development at such costs say: “it’s their land, their resources; they should be allowed to decide what is to be done with it.” The tribal/non-tribal identitarian binary being posed by many anti-displacement assertions is implicit in the first statement concerning country and town. It seems as if it is impossible to talk without creating “identities.’

Each utterance, right from the moment of its enunciation contradicts some other – the bad universality of abstract labor does not demolish the particularity of concrete forms of labor, but robs them of their respective singularities. No statement can in its singularity be a universal and coexist with other interests; and the only relation between diverse forms is one of competition. The “I” always defines itself as different from and in opposition to an “other”.  In this case, ostensibly, the competition is of two, tribal India and non-tribal India. This seems to imply that there are only two groups of interests in India, at least as far as this debate is concerned. As if the people yoked together by these absurd over-generalizations are similar, as if the “tribal community” is completely homogenous, as if the non-tribal community is completely homogenous. The tribal populace wants its lands, the non-tribal wants minerals. We know that calling somebody a non-tribal is hardly calling her/him anything at all; the term is too inclusive to be of use. We also know that there are too many differences of interests as far as the non-tribal population is concerned. In the case of “tribals” this is not so obvious. What is being referred to here is not that there are many different tribes, but that even within each tribe homogeneity is absent; hierarchies and conflicts of interest exist. If in anti-displacement discourses it is held that the tribal people should have the right to decide what happens to their land and resources, one is impelled to ask: if this is allowed, does it guarantee that the resources will be distributed equally? Will those who have never had land, or access to other resources get their share? That this will not happen is easy to see even now. Whenever the question of returning acquired land arises the seemingly homogenous tribal society breaks. Only some owned land earlier. Should the returned land be redistributed? Or should it be returned to those who had owned it earlier? On this question the conflict between the few who owned or own means of production and those who did not/do not becomes clear – what can be called class-conflict becomes apparent.

However, should the struggle of the tribal people for their land be condemned because it does not seem to challenge other forms of exclusion within? Is class somehow a more significant identity than that of being a tribal fighting against dispossession? Many left groups and intellectuals affirm this contention, and draw back from such struggles – “we don’t do tribal politics, we do class politics,” they say. It is here that we falter in our analysis of politics, and it is in this that the reification of identity is seen. In saying that they do not do “tribal politics”, such groups think that they stay safe of the pitfalls of identitarianizm, only to create another reified identity – class.


“Caste is not merely a division of labor; it is also a division of laborers.” (B. R. Ambedkar)

“The organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between workers themselves.” (Marx and Engels, 1999, p.98)

The Chashi Mulya Adivasi Sangha was made in the Narayanpatna-Bandhugaon region of the Koraput district of Orissa, by the Adivasis, initially to stop liquor production and the problems caused by its consumption but which eventually led the struggle to get rid of “lemon grass” cultivators. This region is a scheduled tribal area, and as per the Constitution no non-tribal can procure land here. Yet 85% of the land was owned by non-tribals, who in this instance were Dalit. Huge chunks of land were owned by Dalit landowners, who employed both tribal and non-tribal/Dalit workers to cultivate lemon grass. The Chashi Mulya Adivasi Sangha’s struggle against liquor production, partly due to the inertia of its own success and partly because it was a pressing need of the community, had to extend to and change into a struggle against these Dalit landowners. Most Adivasis living in this area are very poor, and migrate to other parts of Orissa for seasonal work. Even those who have some land are only able to reproduce their labor power on what they get from it. The Sangha’s struggle transformed into a struggle for land, a struggle which as many point out was completely within the purview of law and the Indian Constitution. This struggle was not driven by an Adivasi ‘land-hunger.’ It was simply the struggle to procure the minimum means necessary to reproduce themselves (2), much like the struggle for minimum wages elsewhere.

On this occasion Adivasis, by and large, constituted the exploited and some Dalits owned the means of production. However, there were also a large number of Dalits employed by these landowners. In this struggle against the landowners these Dalits were essentially, as dictated by their location, on the same side as the struggling Adivasis. But they chose to overlook this logical unity of all exploited, to side with the exploiters, deeming their “Dalit” identity more significant. Standing by the Dalit exploiter they stand against their fellow workers. What seems to be a Dalit versus Adivasi struggle is then actually a struggle between two groups of workers, between two segments of the working class.

The first shock: Dalit landowners! This proves that the congealed identity of being a Dalit, of having suffered a “historical wrong” does not make one immune to taking up the role of exploiter. In addition one sees that even among the Dalits there are exploiters and exploited. The Dalit landowner/exploiter in a situation like this cannot be let off because of his Dalit identity. The tribal worker perhaps finds it easy to understand the conflict between her/him and the Dalit- landowner, because of the latter’s out-group status. Even though the Dalit-exploiter and the Dalit-worker are not exactly friends, the Dalit-worker continues to side with the Dalit-exploiter. There is more than one reason for this. The first is the exploiter’s in-group status. The second, and the most important of all, is the tribal-worker’s out-group status, which implies that the tribal-worker is perceived only as a competitor in the labor market. The third is the perception of the tribal-worker, that the Dalit-worker is an outsider.

An attempt to resolve this contradiction on a local level has led to the breaking of the Sangha. The Bandhugaon faction has decided to compromise; they will not take land of all Dalits, because they say some of them are “poor”.(3) Furthermore they have decided not to put an immediate end to all lemon grass cultivation since it is a source of employment. The Narayanpatna faction tried to take over all the land, end lemon grass cultivation and the ownership of landlords altogether. The thesis and antithesis of a genuine contradiction have been broken apart and the movement has spiraled downwards (4). The unity needed between the Dalit-worker and the tribal-worker cannot be created here; this conflict cannot be resolved on this level. For these segments of the working class to come together they need to transcend (not forget) their identities and allow themselves to be assimilated in the larger struggle against capitalism.

In this localized struggle, a resolution is impossible because local issues are inextricably intertwined with locally defined identities. Only when the immanent logic of transformative politics is generalized, the logic escapes the hold of the local form that pulls it down. In the context of what is happening in Orissa, such a generalization would require this movement to interact with other movements in the state, which are predominantly anti-displacement. Admittedly, unlike the Naryanpatna movement, the moments of enunciation of the other struggles have been defensive, but convergence is necessary and desirable insofar as this union can also benefit these defensive identities, by shifting the grounds on which the battle is being pitched by them, making co-option harder. A programmatic understanding of the situation, evolved gradually through such a dialogic interaction would give the Narayanpatna movement a direction that can be used as a referent to decide upon questions that cannot be answered locally.


The Marxian notion of class is part of a particular act of abstraction performed to understand society and to perceive possibilities of its transformation. Capitalism is understood as a system in which the primary conflict of labor and capital is the dominant determinant of social being. In their analysis of capitalism Marx and Engels came to the conclusion that only those who labor, i.e. workers, have the potential of being agents of radical transformation.

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.” (Marx and Engels, 1999, p. 100)

“Class struggle” is, in this way, a process of transforming society, and “class” is envisaged not as an identity, like caste or gender or that of being a tribal, but as a process of continuous becoming (conscious) – the working class-in-itself becoming the working class-for-itself.

Where does one find class? It is a problem faced very often by literature students – for instance if one does an analysis of Balzac’s Pere Goriot keeping in mind the “class angle”, how does one go about it. Often critics end up identifying classes with particular characters, and reduce class struggle to an interpersonal battle. The way out of this mess is to study contexts, situations and relationships. One character through the length of a novel does not remain a “member of the working class”, although he might well be a factory worker throughout. In life too one finds a factory worker, but not the “working class”, and being a factory worker, or just a worker is also an identity. Much like representation in art, representation and self-representation in life needs identities. If one does not identify a worker, one cannot even begin to understand the working class, but to say that being identified as a worker makes a person of the revolutionary class is problematic. A fixed form of the working class to be identified at all times and in all locations does not exist. These indurated forms are identities, which at their moment of articulation express the inherent revolutionary logic of the working class, but are not themselves the complete working class.

The relationship between identities and the process called class is akin to that between particulars and the universal immanent in them, and constructed through continuous abstraction from them; the relationship is dialectical. An identity is valid at a particular spatio-temporal location, and rooted within it is the logic of truly transformative politics. But so long as an identity does not destroy itself, it continuously gets co-opted within the competitive system of capitalism. After a point an identity needs to transcend itself and move towards assimilation into the multitude of struggling identities. At the same time if one does not recognize the struggles of identities, one recognizes nothing, since struggle is necessarily posed in terms of identities. The class-for-itself is always in the process of being constructed, but is never out their, present a priori, to be recognized as somehow different from and superior to the multitude of identities.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels repeatedly asserted the significance of the union of many smaller groups of workers waging their local struggles. The struggle for transformation of society is to a large extent the struggle against the divisions within the working class, for it is understood that a united working-class-for-itself would necessarily transform society – in fact society is being transformed in fighting off segmentation within the working class. Marx and Engels wrote:

“Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of workers.” (Marx and Engels, 1999, p.98)

Only the path that goes through and beyond the thesis and antithesis of identities to a transcendental synthesis can transform the base. It is through identities that articulation and struggle take place, but the struggle of a localized identity is not enough, and is always exposed as superstructural, seen to reinforce the hegemonic structure. Identities are inevitable, and a necessity, but identitarianism divides and restrains the revolutionary multitude. Even in charting out the role of Communists, Marx and Engels had in mind the weeding out of segmentation and sectarianism within the working class, and the creation of a union.

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality…” ( Marx and Engels, 1999, p. 102) (5)

Marx and Engels here speak of national struggles, but the essence of what they say deals with insurgent identities in general. A localized identity can only fight for immediate results, after which the struggle and its result is subsumed in the hegemonic system. An identity ‘voices’ demands, which the system is asked to fulfill. In this two-step act of asking, and being given, the basis of hegemony goes unquestioned; the status of the giver as a giver and his capacity to give goes unchallenged. To put it in other terms (since the state is not itself ‘superior’ but works on behalf of those who are superior), the state, which in being a state, is a symptom of class power is not questioned. Its role as adjudicator of social relations and as the regulator of value distribution is predicated upon the fact that value is apportioned differentially; at the same time it is its task to maintain and defend the differential apportionment of value. In the act of placing a demand, an identity asks the state for a share of the value being distributed, a share which, presumably, was being denied to it. Once the state allots the identity its share the struggle subsides. This is what one means, when one says that an identity (earlier insurgent) is co-opted into the system.

Challenging Development, Challenging Neoliberal Capitalism

“In 1970…1 per cent of the population had 18 per cent of the wealth, in 1996 the same 1 per cent owned 40 per cent of wealth. After 50 years of independence 26 per cent of the total population lives below the poverty line and 50.56 per cent are illiterate, if we take official figure into account. Even today due to various reasons, 98 children out of every 1,000 between the ages of 1-5, die. An official report of the government’s mines and mineral department, published in 1996-97, states that India’s natural gas will be consumed within 23 years, crude oil within 15 years, coal within 213 years, copper within 64 years, gold within 47 years, iron ore within 135 years, chromites within 52 years, manganese within 36 years and bauxite within 125 years. All this is taking place in the name of national development.” (Debaranjan Sarangi, ‘Mining “Development” and MNCs’, EPW Commentary, April 24, 2004. Quoted in “Factsheet on Operation Green Hunt” published by the ‘Campaign against War on People.’)

“The notion that growth of manufacturing or services industries is per se desirable is a form of fetishism. We need to ask questions such as “Does it create net employment (i.e., does it create more jobs than it destroys)?”, “Does it meet mass consumption requirements (either directly or by developing the capacity to meet these requirements)?”, “Does it squander the economic surplus on luxuries? Does it divert resources from more pressing priorities?” “Is it environmentally sustainable? Does it exhaust natural resources?”, “Does it uproot people?”, and so on. In fact one can cite several industries which, not as an avoidable by-product of their development, but as an essential part of it, harm the masses of people, and benefit only a small class. True, the so-called ‘value added’ by these industries contributes to the GDP; but this fact merely underlines the irrationality of using GDP as a measure of development.” (Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 44-46, India’s Runaway Growth: Private corporate-led growth and exclusion, p. 9)

It should be clear that changing the manner in which notions like development are envisaged is not an administrative matter. The hegemonic understanding of development is intimately connected to the interests of the hegemonic class, and challenging this development implies challenging hegemony. By extension, to transform the development paradigm would necessarily require the transformation of the power relations structuring a socio-economic formation. Assuming that the need for a unity among those “who have nothing to lose but their chains”, is established in our minds, one could contend that the tribal opposition to the form of development that the Indian state has embarked upon, which has emerged in response to the immediate danger to their lives, would need to consciously recognize the constellational unity it bears with workers’ opposition to hegemony in other locations. In a paragraph that has already been quoted, Perelman goes on to say:

“Emphasizing the social relations of advanced capitalist production to the exclusion of the ongoing process of primitive accumulation obscures the fact that the struggles of the Ogoni people in Nigeria or the Uwa in Columbia are part of the same struggle as that of exploited workers in Detroit and Manchester.” (Saad-Filho, 2003, p. 125)

The same can be said about the “tribals” struggling in Chhattisgarh or Orissa and workers in Gurgaon.(6) As mentioned earlier, displacement and dispossession are forms of primitive accumulation, which is only one form of accumulation of surplus, the other two being relative and absolute surplus value. Capitalist development is about the maximization of the accumulated surplus, and the various forms of accumulation bear an essential unity. If in rural areas we witness this accumulation in the form of direct dispossession, in other locations we see it in the form of increasing alienation of workers from their work, in low wages, increasing work hours, higher and higher degrees of mechanization and lack of job security. If this is the case, then one should also recognize that the challenges being posed to capitalism, at various moments are part of a single struggle to transform society.

Till the conflict between the tribal population and the state continues to be posited in terms of “war”, “village community”, and so on, this unity of logic will not be recognized – binaries like tribal/non-tribal, village/town etc. will blur the lines along which the actual struggle is being waged and (as was explicated earlier) will give the sense of a false unity of interest between exploited and exploiter. In the moment at which land is acquired the ruling class within the tribal population, which holds most of the land fights back together with the landless tribal who too works on this land. However these landowners usually fight either for compensation or for a part of the new stakes and go over to the state soon enough. In the final analysis the interests of the ruling class within the tribal population and those of “external”, more dominant state forms like multinational companies are the same. When the crucial moment of conflict comes this unity between the rulers becomes apparent, the logical unity of parts of the hegemonic structure is clearly reflected in the coordination of forms. To counter this structure, the revolutionary class needs to recognize and consolidate its own multitudinal, insurgent structure. The workers who participated in the huge strikes in the automobile industries in Gurgaon, following the incidents in the Rico factory, are part of the same struggle as the one being waged against dispossession by those tribals who either work on others’ land or possess land enough only to reproduce their labor power. To be able to reconfigure the development paradigm, to move to a form of development that takes into account the interests of the majority, the multitudinal majority needs to consciously create itself through the recognition of its diverse and localized forms.

It would be useful here to hint at the difficulties of such a dialectical theorization of the relationship between forms and logic, identities and class. Indeed we find in the difficulty of such a theorization an allegory of the difficulty of class struggle in its entirety. Formally, there is no difference between this understanding of the struggle of an identity (as a moment of class struggle), and the one which reifies the insurgent identity. But logically, there is a difference. The latter gets co-opted at each moment because it fails to question the foreclosure that creates this exploitative structure, seeking to solve, as Laclau says “a variety of partial problems”, while the former posits the struggle of partial forms as the process of creation of a good universality. Formally, the attempt to de-legitimize the struggles of identities, or to “subsume” them, rendering them somehow less important than the struggle against capital, and the attempt to understand how these struggles are moments in the process of struggling against exploitation at large also appear the same. But logically they are different. While the former reifies a partial form of the struggle, and posits it as superior to another, the latter tries to perceive (and create) a constellational unity between these partial forms. Formally there seems no difference between a call to concede the superiority of one identity, and the one to recognize the constellational unity between identities. But logically there is a difference. Totalitarian is the very fabric of capitalist differentiation – on the surface neoliberalism seems to allow difference, but actually it hollows out the concreteness of diverse forms. The unity that we need to forge to end exploitation will have immanent within it the logic of difference, where the universal is the particular and nothing more.

Winding Up

In the era of “late capitalism”, with the “death” of the high-capitalist adventurer/entrepreneur, modernism, the individual, of meta-narratives like class and nation, difference rules. On the one hand capitalism is extending its domain, making every “outside” it’s part, constantly subsuming the hinterland, repeatedly redefining its own centre, and on the other this is also the era of “identity-assertions”. Many have analyzed these phenomena, but the effort to understand them as facets of a systemic totality have been inadequate. Neoliberalism, with its form of decentralized hegemony is able to make use of difference. As capitalism pushes its boundaries, not just geographically, but also in spheres which have been within its geo-political territory without being constitutive of it, identities are posed. Neoliberalism instead of suppressing these is able to co-opt them – it brings identities into competitive relationships, at the same time allowing each validity on its own turf. This horizontality that neoliberalism is able to maintain creates a relativity in values which seemingly makes classical notions like class-struggle, working class, capitalism, communism, transformation, revolution and so on meaningless. If each identity is able to make its assertion, then why talk of fundamental/radical transformation, and furthermore if there are so many equally valid voices how does one decide what the nature of transformation will be? And yet, when encountered by the realities of neoliberalism, the costs of its form of development, one understands the need for transformation. This is the antinomy of postmodernity – one’s condition is abominable and because it seems impossible to ascertain the nature of the system, transformation seems unattainable.

This paper, seeking to be an intervention in this situation has tried to hypothesize the possibilities of such a political dialogue between local forms and identities, to take into account the postmodern stress on difference and at the same time assert that a system of differences is a system nonetheless. What is the “internationalism of a radically new type” that Jameson speaks of, but an attempt to rethink the working class as the agent of change within the capitalist system, in the era of postmodernism? To rearticulate the relation between diverse identities and the meta-narrative of the “working class” one can make use of the notion of “class composition”, “designed to grasp, without reduction, the divisions and power relationships within and among the diverse populations on which capital seeks to maintain its dominion of work throughout the social factory – understood as including not only the traditional factory but also life outside of it which capital has sought to shape for the reproduction of labour power” (Cleaver, 2003, p. 43). What have been called identities in this paper, can, when speaking of class composition be termed as “sectors of the working class”. These “sectors of the working class, through the circulation of their struggles, “recompose the relations among them to increase their ability to rupture the dialectic of capital and to achieve their own ends” (Cleaver, 2003, p. 43). The sort of dialogue needed for this recomposition would need to take the form of a direct, political confrontation, an engagement that would leave nothing unchanged; one’s identity and the ideology constituted by ones own experience changes in this encounter, even as the other is made to take into account one’s identity. “A double agenda,” as Cleaver (2003, p. 55-56) puts it: “the working out of one’s own analysis and the critical exploration of ‘neighboring’ activities, values and ideas.”

“The particular interests of passion cannot therefore be separated from the realization of the universal; for the universal arises out of the particular and determinate and its negation…Particular interests contend with one another, and some are destroyed in the process. But it is from this very conflict and destruction of particular things that the universal emerges…” (Hegel, 1974, p. 89)


(1) Interestingly the writers try to extract the notion of “primitive accumulation”, in its logical purity and conflate history and logic in a manner rejected in this paper’s deployment of the said notion. They write:

“This giant capture of land and natural resources by the corporate sector is superficially similar to the ‘primitive (or primary) accumulation’ of capital which served as a necessary stage of capitalist development in Europe. It resembles that stage in its brutality and venality. But whereas the capital thus accumulated in the original countries of capitalist development was deployed in manufacturing activity that absorbed the bulk of the dispossessed rural labour force, such absorption is very restricted here.” (Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 44-46, India’s Runaway Growth: Private corporate-led growth and exclusion.)

The difference between the ‘original’ European situation and the current one in India that they point out is certainly present. But the implicit assertion that the “proletarianized” workforce needs to be absorbed in the location where dispossession occurs lacks logic. The dispossessed do become part of what Marx had called the latent reserve army of labour, and this is ‘absorption’ enough.

(2) Pratyush Chandra writes:

“Now, the sense of being dispossessed is rampant among the rural poor, those who are ready to take up arms. Whatever be their identity, they come mostly under the class of allotment-holding workers, a term that Kautsky and Lenin used to characterise the majority of the so-called “peasantry” – land in whose possession is just for reproduction of their own labour-power. Hence, rural struggles today, including against land acquisition and those led by the Maoists, are not merely against threats to their livelihood but to life itself – to the very sphere of their reproduction.” (Chandra, 2009)

(3) In situations like these, using a definition of poverty alien to the context can cause problems. Compared to the urban middle class even the Dalit exploiter is “poor”. But in that particular context, they control the labour processes of many others through their control over the means of production. Saying that they should not be treated as “class enemies” only blunts the thrust of transformative politics, which in that location is that those who work should own the land and that only food crops should be grown.

(4) The other reason for this spiral downwards has been the uncalled for violence that the state has used against the Narayanpatna movement, killing two Adivasis, injuring many other, and forming a violent “shanti sena” to terrorize the people (till the time this paper was written).

(5) To complete the quote: “2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.” (Marx and Engels, 1999, p.102)



Butler. J, Laclau, E. and Slavoj, Z. (2000). Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogue on the Left. New York: Verso.

Chandra, P. and Basu, D. (2007). Neoliberalism and Primitive Accumulation in India. (accessed on January 16, 2010).

Chandra, P. (2009). Revolutionary Movement and the “Spirit of Generalization. (accessed on January 15, 2010)

Cleaver, H. (2003). Marxian categories, the crisis of capital, and the constitution of social subjectivity today, in Werner Bonefeld (Ed.), Revolutionary Writing: Common Sense Essays in Post-Political Politics. New York: Autonomedia.

Habib, I, (1995). Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perspective. Delhi: Tulika Books.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1975). Lectures in Philosophy of World History. Introduction: Reason in History, trans. H. B. Nisbett, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Marx, K. and Engels. F (1999). The Communist Manifesto, in Prakash Karat (Ed.) A World to Win: Essays on The Communist Manifesto. New Delhi: LeftWord.

Mukherjee, A. (2002). Imperialism, Nationalism and the Making of the Indian Capitalist Class, 1920-1947. New Delhi: Sage.

Negri, H. and Hardt, M. (2004). Multitude. New York: Penguin Press.

Perelman, M. (2003). The history of capitalism. In Alfredo Saad-Filho (Ed.) Anti-Capitalism: A Marxist Introduction. London: Pluto.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: