From Nonadanga to Workers’ Power

Pothik Ghosh

तू है मरण, तू है रिक्त, तू है व्यर्थ,
तेरा ध्वंस केवल एक तेरा अर्थ.
(You are death, you are emptiness, you are useless,
In your decimation lies your only meaning.)
– Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh

The resistance of Nonadanga is – for the working-masses of Calcutta, West Bengal and beyond – a shining example of struggle against capitalist repression and exploitation. The Nonadanga movement is a wake-up call for Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government. It is an indication that the popular upsurge, which unseated the 35-year-old CPM-led Left Front regime in West Bengal 10 months ago, was neither meant to clear the way for Mamata’s Trinamool Congress to appropriate state-power by forming a new government in West Bengal nor was it meant, at a more general level, to affirm and consolidate the hegemony of and consensus for competitive electoral politics. The different people’s movements – whether they be in Jangal Mahal or Darjeeling, Dooars or Calcutta city – were all directed against the deviation of the Left Front and its largest constituent, the CPM, from the fundamental ideological principles of Leftist politics.

The determined resistance the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority and its slum-eviction drive has come up against at Nonadanga proves the popular upsurge against the Left Front and its then government in West Bengal, not so long ago, was, without doubt, not an instrumentality for effecting a change of guard in the control room of state-power. By the same token, it was also not meant to play a partisan role in determining who would win the competition to usurp the privilege of enforcing and implementing the policies of neo-liberal capital. The Nonadanga struggle proves the working-masses care nothing about which party or electoral coalition gets to enforce the neo-liberal policy-vision by winning electoral and governmental power. Instead, it reveals that the working-masses will persist in their struggle until they have repulsed the neo-liberal assault on their lives and livelihoods, and have decimated capitalism, which is at its root. We hope this message, which rings loud and clear, gets across to Mamata Banerjee, CPM and all those political parties and non-political organisations that consider serving capital and its socio-economic and political system their good fortune and a matter of great honour.

In this context, the Nonadanga movement – which has emerged in less than a year since the change of regime in West Bengal — is an indication that no radical transformation in the material conditions of the working-people as a whole would be possible until and unless they manage to generate a new configuration of social power, based on the working-class logic of self-emancipation and self-activity, by forging a unity among their different struggles even as they keep intensifying those struggles in their separateness. As long as the working people, and the various left and progressive organisations that are part of their different struggles, are unable to accomplish that their dogged but divided struggles will continue to become cannon fodder for electoral competition and capitalist class-power that is the foundation for such bankrupt politics.

That is perhaps why the Nonadanga resistance should also compel the working people of not merely Calcutta and West Bengal, but all of India – together with the various left-democratic forces that are part of their larger struggle – to engage in self-criticism. We ought to view the experiences of our past struggles in West Bengal through the prism of repression and resistance at Nonadanga and the larger socio-political context within which it is situated. This would probably help us understand that as long as different sections of the working-people continue to wage their respective struggles against their particular oppressions in their separateness they would continue to find themselves incapable of constituting the new social configuration of working-class power. That is because capitalist socio-political organisation has the capacity to continually reform itself at its various levels by redressing the problems and demands of some sections of the working class, at times even managing to significantly reduce repression on those sections. But this system, which stands on the ethic of competition for hierarchy and domination, can never extinguish the culture of repression and oppression because without oppression (primitive accumulation) accumulation of capital through extraction of surplus-value (exploitation) is simply not possible. As a matter of fact, capitalism is compelled to continually reduce oppression on certain sections of the working class by transferring the crisis in accumulation, which is embodied by heightening oppression on those sections and the resistance it thereby provokes in them against such oppression, to other sections by simultaneously changing the organic composition of capital and recomposing the working class. It is this that segments and divides the working class and makes it appear as a sectionalised amorphous mass called the working people. In other words, capitalism, as a system of exploitation, is the condition of possibility of oppression and the repressive violence that renders such oppression most clearly evident. In such circumstances, every struggle against oppression must transform itself also into a struggle against exploitation and accumulation of capital.

We must ensure that our respective struggles against oppression do not turn into struggles for the proper enforcement of the rule of law but, instead, get transformed into struggles for the abolition of the very conception of the rule of law that is intrinsic to and constitutive of the unequal sociality of capitalism. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” is an adage that could well have an analogy: “What is law for one section of society is the exception to law for another.” The legally-protected rights enjoyed by one section of society, more often than not, spell repression for another section. And that is because our unequal capitalist society – which is stratified and thus divided – makes possible through the rule of law, differential legal rights for its different sections or strata, which in turn enable the preservation and protection of their differential identities and thus the reproduction of the entire sociality constitutive of those differential identities. Such an unequal sociality of differential identities is crucial because otherwise competition, which is the diesel of capital accumulation, would be impossible. That is precisely the reason why a law that ensures and protects the rights of one identified section of society comes up as a wall of oppression and repression against another identified section lower than it on the social ladder, and its struggles to level the ground in between them. It would, therefore, not be incorrect to claim that the blanks that exist in between the different laws constitutive of the sociality of differentially included socio-economic identities constitute the happy hunting ground for oppression or primitive accumulation. A bench of the Patna High Court has, in a recent verdict, acquitted all the accused of the infamous Bathani Tola carnage of 1996. This judgement sharply underscores the intimate relationship between the rule of law and so-called illegal repression and oppression like never before.

Needless to say the conception of the rule of law – which reproduces the unequal socio-economic structure of capitalism even as it stands on it as its ground — doesn’t merely generate oppression but also separates and divides the working people and their movement into various identitarian ghettos. That is why this conjuncture of postmodern capitalism – when there is such an unprecedented sharpening of socio-economic inequalities that no section of the working people is unscathed by the experience of suffering and havoc it is wreaking– has yielded a world of undeclared Emergency for us to live in. The ruling class, unlike before, does not now feel the need to officially declare Emergency because the identitarianised sectionalisation and ghettoisation of the working people, and the resultant competitive orientation of their respective struggles vis-à-vis one another, enables state-power to be an expression of the covert dictatorship of capital, concealed by a sheer cloak of democracy, over sellers of labour-power. Italian political thinker Giorgio Agamben’s conception of the “generalised state of exception is meant to explicate precisely such concrete situations. And this generalised state of exception, which has transformed the entire society into a factory if not a large fascist concentration camp, is the appearance of the neo-liberal character of contemporary capitalism.

Hence, in the final analysis, Nonadanga cannot exhaust our politics. Our solidarity with and support for the Nonadanga movement would be effective – as opposed to being merely symbolic like it is now – only if we are able to take it to its right denouement. And this denouement would be the eruption of a larger, cohesive, country-wide movement of urban resistance. If we fail on that score, we will have condemned the Nonadanga movement to the electoral cauldron of the CPM (and its Left Front), which is currently waiting like a stealthy and cunning predator for the right opportunity to pounce on its prey.

The Nonadanga movement has shown the way of unity in struggle to the working-masses of this country. If, on the one hand, the political hitmen of neo-liberal capital are busy dispossessing a section of the working-people from its villages, farms and forests in the name of development, thereby forcing it to flee to cities as a mass of completely pauperised proletarians, the same hounds of capital are also expropriating the urban working-people of their homes and their basic rights by demolishing their slums to further the same project of ‘development’ and ‘beautification’. Worse, this political executive (read chattel-slaves) of capital has turned rehabilitation into an alibi to push these uprooted, homeless people into undeveloped areas outside the city-limits, where they are provided neither with respectable homes fit for human beings to live in nor with clean and safe drinking water. Besides, such bogus rehabilitations are pushing uprooted sections of the urban working people farther and farther away from sources of viable livelihood. The progressive increase in distance between places of residence and sources of employment/livelihood that is being imposed on the urban working-masses by this twin process of eviction and resettlement/rehabilitation is leading to a progressive lengthening of their average labour-day. This entire process – which is enforced and realised through repression carried out by both governmental and non-governmental agents – diminishes the value represented in the wages that the working class receive. It also reconstitutes the urban space in a manner that the vulnerability and precariousness of the proletarianised population is increased – insulating the spaces of production from the erratic reproductive domain, while the latter is increasingly made dependent on the former, i.e., it is more and more subsumed under the logic of capital. Consequently, valorisation of labour-power has rendered socio-economic existence into a biopolitical realm, where determination of social life, even at its bare biological level of the body and its vector, is progressively becoming a matter of centralised systemic control. That is yet another salient feature of our conjuncture of neo-liberal capitalism.

Clearly, repression and legally-sanctioned exploitation complement one another. The two processes in inter-weaving with each other constitute capital, its accumulation and its class-power. In such a situation, when governments and the larger capitalist state-formation are pinning adjectives such as Naxalism on to struggles against repression and expropriation of peasants, Dalits, religious minorities, tribals and sub-nationalities, we have neither any fear nor shame in saying that we are all Naxals. In fact, we insist that this Naxalism-against-repression must now be transformed into a description for a cohesive country-wide urban resistance against capitalist exploitation and its neo-liberal class-power.

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