Zero History (JNU): Towards Student-Workers Council… (Note I)

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a concept of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism. – Walter Benjamin

What is neoliberalism? The age in which we are currently condemned to live is the age of neoliberalism. What we call neoliberalism is the state of emergency normalised. There is no outside and there is no outsider. Thanks to neoliberal re-articulation of all our activities, the entire society, and life itself, is now a factory that is perpetually in this state of normalised emergency. We are all inside this social factory. We reproduce and produce. The factory runs by plugging our bodies into the production machine. Marx had said, “When we consider bourgeois society in the long view and as a whole then the final result of the process of social production always appears as a society itself, i.e, the human being itself in its social relations.” Jadavpur University students, during the ‘Hok Kolorob’ movement, declared: “No One is an Outsider.” We entirely affirm this declaration and find it to be in sync with Marx’s insight. It is a concrete manifestation of the concrete materiality of our situation.

Our generation is experiencing the most intensified and rapid changes in history. The narrative of our times is encapsulated in everyone’s experience. This permanent state of emergency is nothing else but the permanent crisis of capital itself. This dialectical image is embedded in the experience of the working class. Every domain of work has, over the past couple of decades, been drawn into this state of emergency. Emergency is the inevitable reaction of this frightened and crisis-ridden apparatus, and it is the circuit that connects factories to university and college campuses, from Kashmir to the North-East, from Vidarbha to Chhattisgarh, from Muzaffarnagar to Trilokpuri, from local police stations to hostel diaries marking entries and so on. The parliamentary image of Narendra Modi is the image of this generalised/normalised permanent state of emergency. The enforcement of the Lyngdoh Commision recommendations with regard to student unions and their electoral procedure must, in that context, be recognised for what it is: the general state of emergency operationalised in the specificity of the university campus. The system had already demonstrated that it no longer needed its liberal institutions and their democratic forms. Not unlike in other sectors of production, more and more regimentation has been unleashed on student-workers involved in the production of knowledge. Just as Neoliberlaism emerges from the contradiction nurtured by liberalism in its depths, Lyngdoh has emerged from the contradictions within the traditional version of student politics. The very objective of the constitution of Lyngdoh under the Birla-Ambani report was self evident: to control student politics that is a major roadblock in the way of neoliberal policies. It is not by chance that in the name of curbing money-muscle power, the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations cited JNUSU election as a model of student politics! Now, what? The question is what should be the mode of struggle against Lyngdoh in JNU in particular, and the neoliberal emergency in general?

What does Benjamin’s statement “real emergency” vis-à-vis the material reality of our campus?

In the current conjuncture, there can be two modes of struggle against the generalised state of emergency. The first is a struggle for socialist reforms in a liberal-Nehruvian sense. It is often heard the rights the working class had won for itself after a long struggle through the 1960s and the 1970s is now being taken away. This is surely evident from the concerted onslaught capital has launched against labour: from curbs being placed on the right to unionise to recent changes in the labour laws. For the purveyors and upholders of the first mode of struggle reform, under these conditions, is the only possible articulation of revolutionary politics. On campuses such as ours, this mode of politics, in the face of manoeuvres akin to the enforcement of Lyngdoh Committee recommendations, envisions struggle for the restoration of the old constitution as revolutionary politics What is missed here is the fact that a backward-looking notion of history is central to this politics of restoration. While the content of history has moved far ahead, this vision of politics believes that the task of restoring old forms, of student politics in particular and working class politics in general, is revolutionary politics. In this mode of struggle, two errors are simultaneously committed. First, the working-class struggle is ‘fixed’ in the experience of the distant past. Consequently, we fail to develop the progressive essence of the past struggles in the concreteness of our times. Secondly, we fail to understand how capital subsumes these forms of politics for its own development. Capital is a ‘moving contradiction’. Capital is in motion through class struggle. The old forms of struggle sustain capital in a way. This is not a coincidence that new struggles of students and workers are distancing themselves from the old forms of trade unions and student politics. Against the politics of reforms, the new struggles of the working class are indicating a new ground of politics. And it is here that we ought to take stock of what we have called above the second mode of struggle.

In this very city of Delhi, for instance, the struggles of workers at IMT, Manesar, Okhla and Wazirpur, and the anti-rape movement of December 16, 2012, are suggesting a new ground of struggle and solidarity. The system, while producing and reproducing itself by dividing the working class into yet more segements view these struggles and movements with fear because they posit the possibility of decimating such segmentation regardless of whether the division is between permanent and contract workers in factories, and male and female workers, and students and industrial workers in the socio-economic formation at large. The kind of solidarity such movements have demonstrated is not solidarity imposed in a top-down fashion. The unrelenting process of pauperisation and proletarianisation, which characterises this neoliberal situation of generalised and normalised state of emergency, is experienced by students and workers alike as the increasing precarity of existence. In such circumstances, it is not surprising that these movements in question should demonstrate a new general form of students-workers solidarity. The regime of representation is now an open crisis. The struggle by the students of Jadavpur University today, not unlike the working class struggles of the last decades, is a wakeup call because it lays bare how the entire regime of representation is in a state of irremediable crisis. Just as the recent working class struggles have been distancing themselves from the old trade union-form of politics, the student-workers of Jadavpur University and Kolkata have, by eschewing the traditional model of students politics and organisations, presented themselves in and as a movement-form. This shows the disenchantment of the students with the representative parliamentary system as such. Keeping this second mode of struggle in sight, let us analyse the JNU model of politics against Lyngdoh.

In 2008, when the Supreme Court stayed the JNUSU elections on the pretext that it could not be held as long as it was in violation of Lyngdoh, we decided through a UGBM to restore the JNUSU constitution. As a result, right from the beginning we demonstrated how we had internalised the logic of restoration and the model of reformist politics. Something that has badly constrained our vision. It was said that the JNU student politics represents a developed model of democracy and Lyngdoh was an attack on the same. That is why we are opposed to Lygdoh in JNU. It is not surprising that such a logic has led most left student organisations, which have their active sections in JNU, to envisage struggles in universities that have not held elections for democratic representation of students in terms of demanding that elections be held in such universities in accordance with the Lyngdoh recommendations. In other universities such as the University of Delhi, where elections are held under LCR, it was decided that we will fight against Lyngdoh by participating in the elections. Consequently, the Joint Struggle Committee was constituted in order to fight against Lyngdoh on two fronts: political and legal. By political struggle it was meant the JSC will form a platform at the national level that will bring the students and organisations of different universities and campuses on a single platform to fight against Lyngdoh. A move that, we then believed, would turn into a nationwide movement. Through the legal struggle the JSC was supposed to fight the case in the Supreme Court for the restoration of the old JNUSU Constitution. After initial hiccups and demonstrations, the whole struggle became one huge legal battle! A common platform against Lyngdoh failed miserably. The trajectory of political struggle gradually turned elusive as the court case proceeded at a crawling pace, day by day. The mere speeding up of the legal process was projected as a political battle. The political struggle finally reached a dead end when the whole matter was sent to the Constitution Bench. It was basically a token commitment to political struggle. Political had become juridical! There was no way out of this save agree to elections as an exercise in self deception. With the acceptance of the soul and form of Lyngdoh, the elections began to be held under some bureaucratic concessions.

The experience of the last elections makes it clear that the onslaught of the generalised state of emergency has rendered representational bodies such as students’ unions objectively redundant. It is, therefore, not for nothing that Lyngdoh has succeeded in its objective. The state of affairs is such that the so-called political organisations have neither understood the real situation of student-workers, nor, as a result, have they been able to provide any effective direction to the political struggle against the generalised state of emergency that Lyngdoh stands for in the specificity of a campus such as the JNU. It is only when such a direction is taken by our struggle against Lyngdoh that we will have started ushering in Benjamin’s “real state of emergency”. The most interesting aspect of this whole drama has been that just before the previous election the two defeated versions of the same struggle for restoration have been exposed. The first version tells us that the legal struggle against Lyngdoh is a sham and argues for direct action to restore the old constitution. This way of direct action, needless to say, it peddles as revolutionary. The second version insists that this argument is foolish. It contends that such direct action runs the risk of inviting a no-holds barred stay on the election process. According to it, the only feasible roadmap for restoration is that of continued legal struggle. This apparent contradiction between the two versions of the politics of restoration ultimately serves to obscure the futility of such politics per se. The ‘insights’ that underpin such struggles can come only from a backward-looking vision of history and politics. These are both, therefore, different versions of the same reformist struggle against the generalised state of emergency. In such circumstances, the obvious question would be what is to be done if such restorative politics is out?

As we have mentioned above, the second mode of struggle, which is in keeping with the ushering in of the real state of emergency, is what we must seek to found in the specific context of JNU. And the only possible way to go about it is by striving towards a students-workers Council, or a general assembly. Why do we need an official/governmental union, be it the old one or its new Lyngdoghised avatar. If we look closely at the space that is the JNU campus, we will see that it is (re)producing social relations of capital by perpetuating segmentation among students, teachers, karmacharis and other workers, even as each of those segments are themselves get further internally divided. In such circumstances, the battle cannot be fought by imposing from above a unity on those segments in the form of trade unions and student unions. Workers’ struggles can forge a revolutionary-proletarian direction only in the process of breaking with and dissolving the segmentation that divides the working class into diverse identities. Therefore, steps towards envisaging a students-workers council, or a general assembly, are indispensable if politics on a university campus such as ours is to become truly revolutionary. We have to transfigure what we encounter as the crisis of capital as a system of social relations into the real state of emergency. This is how we can improve our position against administrative control, contractualisation, imposition of academic work and discipline, right-wing violence at the grassroots and the politics of identity. Any struggle in this direction will definitely be a real challenge to this normalised, generalised state of neoliberal emergency. And such a move towards envisaging transformative politics in the form of a students-workers general assembly would give a new meaning to Mao’s dictum, “Unity in Struggle, Struggle in Unity!” This would, among other things, demonstrate why the established strategic approach of unity of struggles is, from a revolutionary-proletarian perspective, thoroughly revisionist and counter-productive.

To be continued…

Zero History (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Released: 03/11/2014

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