Chorus of Errors by Gorakh Pandey

Everybody commits errors
So do we
He who does not derive lessons from errors
Commits them again
We do derive lessons
But still we commit errors
Why! For lessons
Errors are necessary
We could not ground ourselves
In the masses
We did not want to be grounded
We could never go forward
We did not want to lose our base
Trying to escape errors
We committed errors
Everybody commits errors

We are unable to make revolution
Because here
Circumstances are special
We will make revolution
Because some general laws are there
We especially
Committed general errors
We committed errors
Because every man of flesh and blood
Commits errors

We are not gods
We are realists
So we will commit errors
In order to commit more errors
In order to be human
And to derive lessons
Errors are necessary

Translated from Hindi

I was, I am, I shall be: Rosa Luxemburg


The crisis had a dual nature. The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”

“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing:

I was, I am, I shall be!

On January 15, 1919 Rosa Luxemburg was murdered along with her comrade, Karl Liebknecht by the Friekorps. The following text is considered to be her last writing written a few hours before her arrest and murder.

ORDER PREVAILS IN BERLIN
January 14, 1919

“Order prevails in Warsaw!” declared Minister Sebastiani to the Paris Chamber of Deputies in 1831, when after having stormed the suburb of Praga, Paskevich’s marauding troops invaded the Polish capital to begin their butchery of the rebels.

“Order prevails in Berlin!” So proclaims the bourgeois press triumphantly, so proclaim Ebert and Noske, and the officers of the “victorious troops,” who are being cheered by the petty-bourgeois mob in Berlin waving handkerchiefs and shouting “Hurrah!” The glory and honor of German arms have been vindicated before world history. Those who were routed in Flanders and the Argonne have restored their reputation with a brilliant victory – over three hundred “Spartacists” in the Vorwärts building. The days when glorious German troops first crossed into Belgium, and the days of General von Emmich, the conqueror of Liege, pale before the exploits of Reinhardt and Co. in the streets of Berlin. The government’s rampaging troops massacred the mediators who had tried to negotiate the surrender of the Vorwärts building, using their rifle butts to beat them beyond recognition. Prisoners who were lined up against the wall and butchered so violently that skull and brain tissue splattered everywhere. In the sight of glorious deeds such as those, who would remember the ignominious defeat at the hands of the French, British, and Americans? Now “Spartacus” is the enemy, Berlin is the place where our officers can savor triumph, and Noske, “the worker,” is the general who can lead victories where Ludendorff failed.

Who is not reminded of that drunken celebration by the “law and order” mob in Paris, that Bacchanal of the bourgeoisie celebrated over the corpses of the Communards? That same bourgeoisie who had just shamefully capitulated to the Prussians and abandoned the capital to the invading enemy, taking to their heels like abject cowards. Oh, how the manly courage of those darling sons of the bourgeoisie, of the “golden youth,” and of the officer corps flared back to life against the poorly armed, starving Parisian proletariat and their defenseless women and children. How these courageous sons of Mars, who had buckled before the foreign enemy, raged with bestial cruelty against defenseless people, prisoners, and the fallen.

“Order prevails in Warsaw!” “Order prevails in Paris!” “Order prevails in Berlin!” Every half-century that is what the bulletins from the guardians of “order” proclaim from one center of the world-historic struggle to the next. And the jubilant “victors” fail to notice that any “order” that needs to be regularly maintained through bloody slaughter heads inexorably toward its historic destiny; its own demise.

What was this recent “Spartacus week” in Berlin? What has it brought? What does it teach us? While we are still in the midst of battle, while the counterrevolution is still howling about their victory, revolutionary proletarians must take stock of what happened and measure the events and their results against the great yardstick of history. The revolution has no time to lose, it continues to rush headlong over still-open graves, past “victories” and “defeats,” toward its great goal. The first duty of fighters for international socialism is to consciously follow the revolution’s principles and its path.

Was the ultimate victory of the revolutionary proletariat to be expected in this conflict? Could we have expected the overthrow Ebert-Scheidemann and the establishment of a socialist dictatorship? Certainly not, if we carefully consider all the variables that weigh upon the question. The weak link in the revolutionary cause is the political immaturity of the masses of soldiers, who still allow their officers to misuse them, against the people, for counterrevolutionary ends. This alone shows that no lasting revolutionary victory was possible at this juncture. On the other hand, the immaturity of the military is itself a symptom of the general immaturity of the German revolution.

The countryside, from which a large percentage of rank-and-file soldiers come, has hardly been touched by the revolution. So far, Berlin has remained virtually isolated from the rest of the country. The revolutionary centers in the provinces – the Rhineland, the northern coast, Brunswick, Saxony, Württemburg – have been heart and soul behind the Berlin workers, it is true. But for the time being they still do not march forward in lockstep with one another, there is still no unity of action, which would make the forward thrust and fighting will of the Berlin working class incomparably more effective. Furthermore, there is – and this is only the deeper cause of the political immaturity of the revolution – the economic struggle, the actual volcanic font that feeds the revolution, is only in its initial stage. And that is the underlying reason why the revolutionary class struggle, is in its infancy.

From all this that flows the fact a decisive, lasting victory could not be counted upon at this moment. Does that mean that the past week’s struggle was an “error”? The answer is yes if we were talking about a premeditated “raid” or “putsch.” But what triggered this week of combat? As in all previous cases, such as December 6 and December 24, it was a brutal provocation by the government. Like the bloodbath against defenseless demonstrators in Chausseestrasse, like the butchery of the sailors, this time the assault on the Berlin police headquarters was the cause of all the events that followed. The revolution does not develop evenly of its own volition, in a clear field of battle, according to a cunning plan devised by clever “strategists.”

The revolution’s enemies can also take the initiative, and indeed as a rule they exercise it more frequently than does the revolution. Faced with the brazen provocation by Ebert-Scheidemann, the revolutionary workers were forced to take up arms. Indeed, the honor of the revolution depended upon repelling the attack immediately, with full force in order to prevent the counter-revolution from being encouraged to press forward, and lest the revolutionary ranks of the proletariat and the moral credit of the German revolution in the International be shaken.

The immediate and spontaneous outpouring of resistance from the Berlin masses flowed with such energy and determination that in the first round the moral victory was won by the “streets.”

Now, it is one of the fundamental, inner laws of revolution that it never stands still, it never becomes passive or docile at any stage, once the first step has been taken. The best defense is a strong blow. This is the elementary rule of any fight but it is especially true at each and every stage of the revolution. It is a demonstration of the healthy instinct and fresh inner strength of the Berlin proletariat that it was not appeased by the reinstatement of Eichorn (which it had demanded), rather the proletariat spontaneously occupied the command posts of the counter-revolution: the bourgeois press, the semi-official press agency, the Vorwärts office. All these measures were a result of the masses’ instinctive realization that, for its part, the counter-revolution would not accept defeat but would carry on with a general demonstration of its strength.

Here again we stand before one of the great historical laws of the revolution against which are smashed to pieces all the sophistry and arrogance of the petty USPD variety “revolutionaries” who look for any pretext to retreat from struggle. As soon as the fundamental problem of the revolution has been clearly posed – and in this revolution it is the overthrow of the Ebert-Scheidemann government, the primary obstacle to the victory of socialism – then this basic problem will rise again and again in its entirety. With the inevitability of a natural law, every individual chapter in the struggle will unveil this problem to its full extent regardless of how unprepared the revolution is ready to solve it or how unripe the situation may be. “Down with Ebert-Scheidemann!” – this slogan springs forth inevitably in each revolutionary crisis as the only formula summing up all partial struggles. Thus automatically, by its own internal, objective logic, bringing each episode in the struggle to a boil, whether one wants it to or not.

Because of the contradiction in the early stages of the revolutionary process between the task being sharply posed and the absence of any preconditions to resolve it, individual battles of the revolution end in formal defeat. But revolution is the only form of “war” – and this is another peculiar law of history – in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of “defeats.”

What does the entire history of socialism and of all modern revolutions show us? The first spark of class struggle in Europe, the revolt of the silk weavers in Lyon in 1831, ended with a heavy defeat; the Chartist movement in Britain ended in defeat; the uprising of the Parisian proletariat in the June days of 1848 ended with a crushing defeat; and the Paris commune ended with a terrible defeat. The whole road of socialism – so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned – is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory! Where would we be today without those “defeats,” from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism? Today, as we advance into the final battle of the proletarian class war, we stand on the foundation of those very defeats; and we can do without any of them, because each one contributes to our strength and understanding.

The revolutionary struggle is the very antithesis of the parliamentary struggle. In Germany, for four decades we had nothing but parliamentary “victories.” We practically walked from victory to victory. And when faced with the great historical test of August 4, 1914, the result was the devastating political and moral defeat, an outrageous debacle and rot without parallel. To date, revolutions have given us nothing but defeats. Yet these unavoidable defeats pile up guarantee upon guarantee of the future final victory.

There is but one condition. The question of why each defeat occurred must be answered. Did it occur because the forward-storming combative energy of the masses collided with the barrier of unripe historical conditions, or was it that indecision, vacillation, and internal frailty crippled the revolutionary impulse itself?

Classic examples of both cases are the February revolution in France on the one hand and the March revolution in Germany on the other. The courage of the Parisian proletariat in the year 1848 has become a fountain of energy for the class struggle of the entire international proletariat. The deplorable events of the German March revolution of the same year have weighed down the whole development of modern Germany like a ball and chain. In the particular history of official German Social Democracy, they have reverberated right up into the most recent developments in the German revolution and on into the dramatic crisis we have just experienced.

How does the defeat of “Spartacus week” appear in the light of the above historical question? Was it a case of raging, uncontrollable revolutionary energy colliding with an insufficiently ripe situation, or was it a case of weak and indecisive action?

Both! The crisis had a dual nature. The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”

“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing:

I was, I am, I shall be!

University: Sit-in or Shutdown?

Ragini Jha and Ankit Sharma

The last few years have signalled the heightening of tensions and escalation of violence and confrontations within university spaces in India. While this phenomenon can be made sense of, as it often has been, in terms of the growing dominance of the institutional form of the state and its ‘takeover’ of the university, what must also be accounted for is that an uncritical celebration of the strength of the left to defend the university against both capital and the state has ineluctably accompanied such an understanding of the phenomenon in question.

We will, however, argue that what our leftists and the left-liberal crew often take, quite proudly, to be a sign of resistance is, instead, a cyclical phenomenon of repetitive reactions and defensive exertions, which needs to be unpacked.

The Left and the Nation

Let us begin by focusing on the oft-used phrase, ‘universities under attack’. What needs to be asked here is precisely which university or what section of the university is under attack. Our contention is that what is primarily at stake when such assertions are made – whether the context is the violence at Delhi University’s Ramjas College, governmental crackdown in JNU, or the Hok Kolorob protests at Jadavpur University – is the university in its precise liberal-humanist conception.

To take the example of the occurrences at Ramjas in 2017, the core issues were played out, yet again, through the category of nationalism. While the right under the leadership of the Sangh Parivar has declared hegemony over nationalism, and attempts to gain a greater foothold in the university through this precise claim, the left, together with its free-floating ‘radical’ and liberal sympathisers, has unreflexively sought to respond to such reactionary manoeuvres by posing its own alternative conception of ‘progressive’ nationalism against it. The so-called left in all its various strains and stripes has done no more than attempt to appropriate the nationalist identity in various ways, and in ways that underscore its intellectual and cultural dominance within the framework of Indian nationalism – lecture series on nationalism, appeals to the ‘true’ historical narrative of the Indian nation, and their identification with the historical trajectory of ‘progressive nationalists’ such as Bhagat Singh. All of this, needless to say, is devoid of any materialist analysis of either the politics of nation and nationalism in its South Asian specificity or the current ascendancy of the ultra-reactionary ideological variant of this politics in India. What one sees, instead, is that these progressive-nationalist articulations of the left are, not surprisingly, accompanied with frequent appeals for strengthening a public sphere based on communicative rationality, and thus a politics of free speech. This forms the basis of the ‘truth’ of history of the Indian nation and its teaching; and that, in effect, amounts to an uncritical reproduction of the liberal-democratic ethos, which is constitutive of the modern university, and which has historically been one of the integral ideologies of capitalism.

At another level, if we were to consider merely the form of protest marches, whether during the JNU agitation or the Ramjas incident, we would see that there is an increasing attempt to visually display one’s allegiance to the nation, or the assertion of the left’s history of the nation — through flags, tricolour face paints, showcasing the subaltern history of India as if it is something integral to it as a nation and so on. Alongside, there has been an attempt to maintain the basic common denominator of left liberal solidarity, such that there is little in terms of any agenda or programme that may potentially accentuate the contradictions within the larger ‘progressive’ student body that the left envisions and seeks to lead.

As a result, what one has by way of the left’s politics of so-called anti-fascist resistance are chants of Bharat Maata ki Jai, on the one hand as an assertion of nationalism and, on the other, the call for an ‘azaadi’ of ‘vaad-vivaad’. After the initial violent assertions of nationalism and the ‘non-violent’ protests and defence of intellectual ideals, both sides carry out marches with much fanfare, share it on social media with self-congratulatory and politically-charged notes on who has the correct stand and is, therefore, right. While the challenge to the left is clearly in terms of claims to nationhood and nationalism, it is interesting to note that the left replies in kind. In such circumstances, one is compelled to ask, what is the meaning of left – does it seek identity, form and meaning only through the category of the nation-state, a category constitutive of capital as the basic unit of organising the international division of labour? For instance, in order to forge a broader popular-democratic unity, one often sees no red flags while there is an abundance of symbols of the nation.

In sum, the category of nationalist identity through which the right attempts to make its claim on the university space, and the legitimacy of this identity as a category of political struggle is not at all under debate. In the face of the right’s authoritarian dissimulation that dissent is legitimate only as long as it does not challenge the Indian nation-state, particularly the way the right ideologically represents it, the left appears to have nothing more to uphold and defend than some kind of an abstract right of pure verbal dissent, thus construing the physical force the ABVP used to prevent the seminar at Ramjas an infringement of this Right.

Ours is a two-pronged contention. First, the left’s defence of the liberal-humanist imaginary of the university is no more than an affirmation of civil rights discourse, which in turn is premised on the twinned (bourgeois) conceptions of communicative rationality and public sphere. Secondly, we contest the quick and lazy theorisations in vogue that link university to capitalism in a rather instrumental and immediate and apparent way, wherein the doings of the current BJP government is seen as no more than a conspiracy to seize institutions and bring them within its fascist fold in order to advance the cause of capital in its corporate manifestations. While that is the appearance of how things are, and is certainly one of the aspects of how the Indian university is being transformed in this particular conjuncture, it is only the tip of the iceberg and does not go very far in laying bare the place of the university within capitalism or the digits of their mutual relationship as defined within and by the current conjuncture.

Our insistence is on the need for a much more detailed analysis of what is actually produced and exchanged within and by the university. To not do so is to indulge in the implausible: think of capital devoid of the dialectic of use-value and exchange-value. This, needless to say, sets up the problematic nature of the entire debate geared towards treating the university merely as a public sphere of reason and rationality, which can become more and more efficient through a process of progressive reform.

The Public Sphere of the University

The post-Independence era in India has witnessed the dominance of the liberal-progressive circle in the university, resulting in a politics of the university that is thoroughly informed by the principles and ideals of secular rationality and so-called scientific reason. What must be borne in mind is that these ideals and principles are actually ideologies that came into being in the process of organising capital and social labour in their mutually dynamic relationship in the specificity of post-Independence India, and which in turn have enabled that process and shaped its trajectory. It is in this light that the longstanding dominance of liberal humanism, and the public sphere it is constitutive of, ought to be grasped.

This is the context within which the current ascendancy of reactionary right-wing politics ought to be situated. The politico-ideological resurgence of the Sangh Parivar-helmed right-wing is arguably driven by the will to capture, dominate and reshape the public sphere. That, in turn, implies the ineluctable recomposition of capitalist class relations, which underpin the public sphere, in a way that the politico-ideological dominance of the right is ensured even as the hegemony of the logic of capital is reproduced and reinforced.

At this point, we would do well to remember that rationalisation a la capital – which is about the universalisation of social mediation, abstraction and exchange – is in its very constitutivity a subalternising process. That is so because without the existence of the unmeasured capital as a process that measures and thus rationalises cannot exist. And thus capital as that process of rationalisation and measure must, in order to continue being itself, also produce that which is unmeasured, unrepresented or the subaltern. It is precisely for this reason that capital is, according to Marx, “a living contradiction”. So, to the extent that the public sphere – and the communicative rationality of debate and (purely verbal) dissent that undergirds it – is an expression of capital as this logic of rationalisation, it is also the logic of hegemony that institutes itself through the repression of that which is not universalizable within its horizon of abstraction.

Now if the university is grasped as one of the key institutional forms of the liberal-humanist public sphere then the process through which it operationalises and perpetuates itself as a terrain constitutive of certain class relations and their reproduction, and thus the (re)production of various types of the commodity of labour-power, is one that effects subalternisation at multiple levels. It is precisely such subalternity that is, dialectically speaking, the constitutive crisis of the public sphere as an ‘intellectual’ and ‘cultural’ expression of the logic of capital qua representation, social mediation and mutual commensurability. However, precisely, because this crisis of capital is immanent and constitutive of it, it generally tends to register itself as that crisis in systemic terms. This is exactly why, more often than not, the crisis of capital has a neurotic register, which amounts to return of the repressed. In other words, subalternity seeks to assert its materiality of unmeasuredness in terms of the specificity of its immediacy. And these terms are precisely the terms of the system qua measure and representation. This shows that not all forms of politics that emanate from ‘positions’ of subalternity are necessarily antagonistic to the system. In fact, subalternity, insofar as it is the constitutive obverse of measure and representation, is, as a term of politics, thoroughly systemic, albeit, in an anti-sytemic, recompositional key. It is in this precise sense that subalternity as a term of politics is counter-revolutionary. The ascendancy of reaction, signified by the electoral dominance of the BJP and the increasing politico-ideological assertion of other Sangh Parivar outfits in the university, and other parts of the public sphere and civil society, symptomatise precisely such a state of affairs.

It is, therefore, necessary that the objective ground from which such reactionary politics and its coercive civic violence emerge is laid bare in its concreteness through rigorous analysis rather than dismissively attribute such violence merely to the doings of criminal-minded ABVP or Sanghi goons. Unfortunately, much of the left – and the so-called liberal-radicals – is wont to do precisely that. In fact, this attitude of the left, which informs and shapes its purported resistance to such reactionary manoeuvres, is rendered, ironically enough, into a politics that seeks to conserve the system in its earlier composition. Little do these leftists, and their left-liberal fellow-travellers, realise that the ascendancy of reactionary, counter-revolutionary politics that currently confronts us is the logical culmination of the particular form and composition of capital, public sphere qua the university in this instance, that they seek to uphold and defend.

As a consequence, they insist that the existence of the university, as a liberal-humanist space, is threatened by attempting to show that they are the ones who are trying to ‘save’ or ‘defend’ the university by seeking to fight for and preserve its democratic culture. This would essentially serve to reproduce the university as a manifestation of the liberal-humanist ethos of communicative rationality and would thus leave the logic of hegemony intact. That would, needless to say, enable the systemically-entrenched leftists and left-liberals to conserve and reinforce their own location within the university, the bourgeois public sphere and thus also within the overall social-industrial process of capital. In this sense, the politics of the right and the left – insofar as it is a competition to control the public sphere a la the university in order to define the terms of such control, whether in terms of a reactionary nationalistic identity or in terms of a nationalist identity animated by secular rationality – is basically one and the same.

What is at stake?

The university is itself the terrain on which a moment of the larger battle is being fought. But this battle has not been an actualisation of what it potentially is – a contestation between two materially and objectively antagonistic tendencies. It is, instead, condemned to be a competition between two system-reinforcing ideological forms. Any resistance to the current ascendancy of reactionary politics on the ground, particularly in the university, would be effective only if it is informed by a politics of thoroughgoing socio-economic transformation. However, in order to come up with a strategic programme of such politics one has to begin by grasping the fact that a university must be concretely analysed as a specification of the public sphere as an expression of the capitalist dialectic of rationalisation and subalternisation. What such concrete analysis has to demonstrate is how subalternity operates along multiple axes, determining one’s position in the production relations constitutive of the university and the level of control one has over the knowledge production process.

Just to be clear, materially speaking, no university within capital can be imagined as the last bastion of the left from where revolutionary rearguard action can be envisaged. Rather, it is always already embroiled within first, reproducing segmented forms of labour-power, and second, alienating knowledge from its immediate producers. The first has always happened, and continues to happen, for example, in the form of different universities as well as departments regimented along a hierarchised chain of production. For example, an IIT reproduces a high-skilled technical workforce, whereas a regional engineering college, even while producing a similar kind of technical workforce, will end up producing a segment that is not on a par with the segment of the same technical workforce produced by the IITs.

This holds true for the humanities and social sciences as well. Imagine a place like JNU or DU or Ambedkar University and compare its students with let’s say those from Rohilkhand University. Once we do that even anecdotally we will see how the role of the humanities and social sciences university system is pretty much the same: a mode of structuring aspirations and thus segmenting the same forms of labour-power. In Delhi University, for instance, we see this in operation also at the level of colleges: North Campus colleges vs. South Campus colleges, vs the School of Open Learning (SOL), etc. To further establish this point, our process of inquiry led us to a ‘student’ worker, who was a student at SOL, while working as a security guard in the DU arts faculty.

As for the second point, alienation of knowledge from its producers can best be understood in terms of the research work that takes place in the departments of humanities and social sciences. Control over knowledge production and dissemination, in terms of topics of research, along with the syllabus and pedagogical tools employed are, in varying degrees, beyond the control of students, and often teachers too. The degree of control over knowledge production itself may be determined by one’s position in the university.

For example, as writings of Dalit students have made clear over time, they often cannot get supervisors they may want, or work on topics they choose. Temporary teachers get far less time to work on their own research, and have to be far more careful while changing pedagogical methods. Further, the ideal of the universal public sphere of the university breaks down the moment when knowledge produced elsewhere, in a different socio-economic location, gets appropriated for and preserved within the university system as canonized knowledge.

In these ways, and others, one can say that there are processes of multilinear subalternisations within the knowledge production process. In such a scenario, historically, the dominant position over what type of knowledge is to be consumed and produced has, in many ways, been the left liberal, with the concomitant ideology of the universal right to dissent, the sphere of reason and rationality, and the freedom to endless debate. That is, the dominant terms of the public sphere have been liberal humanist. It is precisely this dominance that is being challenged by the so called ‘fascist forces’, or the ABVP. To be clear, one must keep in mind that subalternity is being understood as multilinear and processual at every level and in (and beyond) every organisation.

Further, on the question of the ABVP, while they are challenging the dominance of the left over the public sphere, this in no way means that the right wing is positing a destruction of the public sphere, and the ensuing ‘repressed’ is entailed through its logic. Rather, the politics of the right is that of the takeover of the public sphere of the university on its own terms, and through the assertion of its specific identity and form. The right wing, to be clear, wishes to merely recompose the public sphere in order to change the terms and ownership of hegemony— simply put its project is not that of a revolutionary counter-public.

What becomes pertinent at this juncture is the question, what constitutes the ‘right wing forces’? That is, in what form do we understand their antagonism with the left liberal, and their wish to take over (read reconstitute, not destroy) the public sphere of the university? The persisting terms ‘lumpen’ and ‘goons’, as well as oft-shared visuals on Facebook, which indicate that members of the right have never read a book in their lives, are somewhat misleading in this new conjuncture. Gone are the days when the ABVP would resort to bringing people from akhadaas, generally identified as the lumpen goons, now they have their own student mass in universities, be it regional universities or metropolitan centres like Delhi University. In addition, the left-liberals accuse the right wing (as well as Ambedkarites) of assimilating, and erasing, economically grounded differences within the university. Instead of doing revolutionary politics on account of multiple, mostly conflict-ridden, segmented locations within the university’s system of knowledge production born through various socio-economic locations stamped on individual students and the value of his/her labour-power, the left-liberal sees endless identities along the lines of ‘class’, caste, gender and more recently race without first analysing the material ground that functions between these identities. They latch on to the first apparent form and build a representational ground of politics on it, without seeking to eliminate or attack the basis that produces these forms.

As a result, the left-liberal believes that through its propaganda of vaad-vivaad, practice of general body meetings and so on, it can ensure that each and everyone gets an equal say in the proceedings. However, is this actually the case?

The left and the left-liberals, when they have been at their radical best, have imagined the university as a space that helps in redefining the socio-economic location of students within the larger society. That is, the university space, constituted by a spectrum of different universities and departments, and through a process of multilinear subalternity, is understood as a ground that provides some opportunities for upward mobility. However, this is a reformist and progressivist political framework that presupposes the law of value and the principle of exchange. Such a framework, needless to say, does not seek to re-order or annihilate the system of social labour in the university as regimented by capital. The leftist political project in Indian universities is solely for the purpose of improving the representational standing of social and economic groups through education and providing upward mobility beyond the university, to differing degrees.

As a result, there has been no attempt to engage with the concrete social locations of student masses mobilised by right-wing political forces and the materiality of their myriad disaffections that have found organically default, and thus reactionary, politico-ideological idioms to express themselves. The left feels the perpetual need to celebrate unity since it is always blind to the material interplay of such relationalities, or merely politicize them along the lines of empty solidarities; when in fact, subconsciously it feels threatened by their existence.

*****

To further elaborate on the points made until now, it is important to realise that with the unprecedented increase in levels of automation and the generalised dispersal and functional simplification of the production and labour process new kinds of ‘skills’ and thus professions have arisen and declined rapidly. For instance, call centres witnessed an unprecedented boom in India a decade ago. This is no longer the case. At another point, management professions saw a boom and now these are declining as well. In this rapidly changing environment of social labour, it becomes necessary for universities to re-fashion themselves at a similarly accelerated rate in order to preempt the general dissatisfaction that grips the extremely precarious student/youth segments. This helps ensure the continued legitimacy of such universities. In light of this constant refashioning, precarity and a flattening of hierarchies within different professions, which renders their continued segmental operation irrational, conflict among different segmented socio-economic locations become even sharper and more intense. This is because there is a lag, which inevitable, between each of the university system’s response to the new demands of both the labour market and the market of other commodities, particularly the so-called immaterial ones.

In such circumstances, what comes across as a homogeneous right-wing student/youth front is actually, at a deeper level, a disaggregated mass of individuals rebelling against the sufferings that they confront on account of their differentially precarious situations being animated by and articulated within the horizon of value. Within this revolt is an incipient articulation of collective control over the process of production and consumption of knowledge within the university system and the socio-economic formation at large. In its systemic registration, the revolt that holds this incipient articulation in its womb is in terms of enhancing one’s access to what is on offer within the university-based education system has to offer and this, therefore, often takes the distorted form of attacking the left-liberal ideological dominance and the disciplinary dominance of humanities and social sciences in the university-centric higher education system.

A detailed inquiry of what the university is, and how it is located within the logic of neoliberal capital is a much more fruitful exercise at this point. This will enable us to grasp the university in its constitutive centrality to capital as a site where knowledge is appropriated from its actual producers, and thereby envisage it as a terrain of struggle along this axis of production and alienation of knowledge. It will also enable us to make sense of the world of social factory – and its constitutive segmentations and contradictions of the intellectual and the manual – in its entirety in the cellularity of the university system.

Along with this generalized look at the relation between universities and capital, it has also become important to analyse the contemporary shifts in the labour market and its effect on a student in any discipline. A rigorous reading of the state of the working class in general will tell us that precarity and a progressive flattening of the ground of skills has become the dominant tendency of capital now. This is precisely its neoliberal specificity. This has meant not only a diminution in the value of labour-power but has also spelt a significant decline in the price (value of labour-power as expressed in wages) of labour-power as well.

A university pass-out, even from campuses such as JNU and DU, won’t earn much. The majority will work as copy-editors, join some IT firm, work as unpaid interns in a corporate firm, an NGO, or a media outlet, or will try to get one more degree, ideally a specialised one that is based on the kind of labour that the market needs. Hence, one’s years in the university as one’s years of apprenticeship and waiting set discretely apart from the later years when one enters the labour market and the world of production (value creation), clearly, no longer holds. The university today is, as the example above shows, a way by which capital now seeks to systemically manage and regiment its ever burgeoning relative surplus population. In such a scenario, a politics attacking the existing university system is far more fruitful than one that fights a losing battle for its preservation.

Political Economy of Labour Repression in the United States: An Interview with Andrew Kolin

Andrew Kolin’s Political Economy of Labor Repression in the United States (Lexington Books, 2016) successfully demonstrates how labour repression is organic to capitalism; something that is central to the very constitution of the capitalist economy and its state. Traversing the history of the United States, the book is a survey of the evolving relationship between capital and labour and how repression has been (re)produced in and through that evolution – something that is structurally manifest in the institutional exclusion of labour. However, by presenting it as an expression of class struggle, the book refuses to deprive labour of its agency. It does not view labour as passive or even merely reactive. It suggests that insofar as the political economy of repression is composed through capital-labour interactions, it is contradictory and provides moments of escape or liberation from repression.

Pratyush Chandra and Pothik Ghosh talk to Andrew Kolin. Professor Kolin teaches Political Science at Hilbert College. His books include The Ethical Foundations of Hume’s Theory of Politics, One Family: Before and During the Holocaust, State Structure and Genocide and State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of G.W. Bush.

Radical Notes: Why is the book called “Political Economy of Labor Repression in the United States”, and not the “History of Labor Repression in the United States”? Considering it is a rather comprehensive survey of labour history in the US, how do you explain your choice of the title?

Andrew Kolin: Although the book provides an historical survey of labour repression in the United States, the underlying theme is to consider the causes of labour repression, which coincides with the rise of American capitalism and its cycles. In considering the political economy of labour repression, the dependent variable over time is labour’s institutional exclusion from the state and the economy. The independent variable is the class struggle between capital and labour during various economic cycles.

Labour Repression

Radical Notes: Reading through the book, one gets a sense that perhaps the logic of capital-labour relations, or rather conflicts, has determined the course of the American history. Is this reading correct? Can it be justifiably claimed that the American state is a product of this logic?

Andrew Kolin: Prior to the Civil War, capital was in conflict with slave labour in the south and wage labour in the north. After the Civil War as industrialisation accelerated capital sought to maximise control over wage labour at the workplace. The great strike wave of the latter part of the 19th century was labour’s response to capital’s efforts to homogenise labour at the workplace. The extent to which capital could increase control over labour was determined by the economic cycles of American capitalism. Crushing strikes did not end class conflict, but only temporarily displaced it. During the Great Depression and with the New Deal, the goal was to have the state mediate class conflict. This worked fine until the 1970s when economic decline set in and the social welfare state was diminished. Starting in the 1980s, the state was no longer concerned with mediating capital and labour, and clearly focused, instead, on supporting finance capital.

Radical Notes: Although the book is mainly about the post-revolutionary institutions, what we find interesting is the way you discover their roots in the very operation of colonialism and waging of the anti-colonial struggle. How would you summarise the role of the politics of labour — its various segments, especially, waged, indentured and slave — in the American Revolution and the building of post-revolutionary institutions, both democratic and repressive?

Andrew Kolin: Property owners understood the need to mobilise labour in order to make the democratic revolution possible. The American Revolution allowed property owners to sever economic ties with Great Britain making it possible for them to put in place policies that supported economic expansion within North America. Most significant was that the well-to-do and labour worked together toward creating a democratic revolution. This in turn created responsive state governments that responded to the needs of the many, that is, until there was a realisation that the system of government should be reframed to better represent the interests of the propertied elites. The constitutional convention established a state structure that severely restricted labour from having a direct role in policymaking. What followed was that states working with property owners made it legally possible for the rise of the corporation. This was enabled by moving away from corporate charters, which were under state control, to the idea of the corporation as an independent legal entity with due-process rights.

Radical Notes: A crucial lesson that seems to come out from your analysis of labour repression in the US is that the tapestry of labour forms and technological changes that we find is actually capital’s mode of coping with the challenges that the working class poses. Do you agree?

Andrew Kolin: Labour repression past and present has been expressed by the organisation and reorganisation of the workplace, for purposes of controlling the labour process. The goal is to increase the production of surplus-value by speeding up the pace of work through technological innovation.

Radical Notes: How do you think segmentation, engineered through the mechanism of institutional inclusion-exclusion, has shaped the officialdom of the labour movement, or what many call, “labour aristocracy”?

Andrew Kolin: Institutional exclusion has divided labour into reform and radical segments. The AFL, under the leadership of Gompers and Green, and even the more progressive ‘CIO’ Lewis accepted capital’s monopoly of control over the workplace. This, in turn, forced labour leaders to function in partnership with capital toward the goal of achieving workplace harmony. Nonetheless, labour’s rank and file has been more progressive than its leadership, engaging in strikes and various forms of labour unrest without the support of labour leaders.

Radical Notes: Do you think the involvement of immigrant, semi-skilled and unskilled segments of workers time and again played a significant role in radicalising the American labour movement whenever it found itself mired in reformism and status quoism? What has been the impact of rank-and-file activism in the US?

Andrew Kolin: Looking back through the mid and latter parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was immigrants, semi-skilled and unskilled labour segments that were the force behind many of the great strikes. They were also heavily involved in creating the socialist and communist parties. These labour segments also fought against the greater imposition of technology at the workplace. Many of the major accomplishments of organised labour came from these rank-and-file activists. They supported not only the formation of the CIO, they agitated for many of the eventual New Deal reforms, which did result in better wages and working conditions.

Radical Notes: Throughout the history of labour repression and class struggle in the US that is narrated in the book, we see an interesting cyclicity of offence and defence, conflict and compromise. Can you see significant moments of leap in the history of the labour movement in the US that had the potential to radically break out of this cyclicity?

Andrew Kolin: Although the mainstay of labour repression has been labour’s institutional exclusion, labour has been successful in achieving a number of reformist demands. And even though radical labour segments have been oppressed, one finds within the capitalist economy the existence of non-capitalist enclaves in the form of public and worker ownership. The future challenge for organised labour is to increase the scope and scale of worker-based ownership, the basis for building a more radical form of economic democracy.

Radical Notes: Neoliberalism and the dominance of finance capital seem to have finally liberated capitalism from hurdles like democratisation and the impact of institutionalised/ territorialised working-class politics. What are “the limits of labor repression and possible options for the liberation of labor” today? What forms of organisation and working-class activities do you see emerging today that overcome the “legal boundaries” defined within and by the political economy of repression?

Andrew Kolin: There are two trends to consider in assessing the possible future limits of labour repression, one is the built-in feature of US capitalism—it cannot solve its problems. The persistence of the cyclical nature of American capitalism along with class struggle between capital and labour create the social effects pointing to an overall limit to a capitalist economy. A second trend is the existence on a limited scale of worker-based economic democracy. If it is to continue to grow, one can expect the appearance of an economy without labour repression. For example, key features would be that all goods and services would be produced by worker-managers. Companies would sell products for profit in a competitive market, in the absence of a class-based economic system. Each company would be owned and controlled by labour. Investments for expansion would be created by a tax on the company’s capital. Through a national fund, money would flow into the economy to public banks. The labourers in the banks would decide which projects were viable investments. Companies would be mandated to set aside monies to deal with modernisation and capital improvements. Since labour would monopolise decision-making the workers could reshape the companies or opt to leave but they could not make the companies sell capital in order to generate income. Minimum wages would have to be determined to be living wages. A company that could not pay workers a living wage would have to file for bankruptcy. All workers would be provided with a broad range of social services. This economic model has been put into practice at the Mondragon company in Spain. In the United States, there are no formal legal obstacles against labour forming a worker-based company.

Radical Notes: The ascendancy of Donald Trump and his politics of reactionary spectacle has often been ascribed to the rightward ideological shift of large sections of the White working class. How accurate is this ascription, and how would you explain this in political-economic terms? Also, in that context, how exactly do race relations currently function to segment and regiment social labour in its totality in the US? In your opinion, how has race historically functioned, if at all, in enabling and/or constituting what you call the “political economy of labor repression” in the US?

Andrew Kolin: I argue that this interpretation of a White, reactionary working class is incorrect. An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post on June 5, 2017, ‘It’s time to bust the myth: most Trump voters were not working class’. The authors cited the research findings of the American National Election Survey, which released its 2016 survey data. The conclusion was that over two-thirds of Trump voters came from the better-off half of the economy. Mainstream labour leadership supported the candidacy of Hilary Clinton. Trump did attract more working-class voters from the industrial belt, more out of desperation and a rejection of Clinton’s neoliberalism. As to the issue of race and the labour movement, the AFL had put in place policies that prevented people of colour from becoming union members. Racial tensions were heightened when people of colour were used as strike-breakers. Radical labour segments have been far more accepting of non-White workers. Recently, there have been some hopeful signs of mainstream labour breaking with its more racist past. Since the Sweeney era, the AFL-CIO has been more active in recruiting workers of colour. The AFL-CIO has supported the strikes of minority workers working for minimum wages as well as those seeking to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. Organised labour is well-aware that its future is dependent on reaching out to and organising non-White workers.

Kojin Karatani’s Concentric Worlds of Exchange Recurrences and Isonomic Associationism

Prasanta Chakravarty

Those in the English speaking world following Kojin Karatani’s formidable scholarly oeuvre, accumulating through the past three decades, shall appreciate the central threads of his argumentative universe. The threads appear and reappear in discrete yet familiar ways so that we are aware that each new work is yet another brick added to a prior edifice, which is also an intellectual commitment. And yet, true to his assertions, each work is also a singular insistence, an undertaking in some fresh direction.

Karatani is a political philosopher who looks closely at the history of social formations from the standpoint of modes of exchange. In an earlier incarnation, he was a literary critic and theorist of modernism; but even in his grappling with literary modernism in Japan, he has been consistently interested in questions involving nationalism, structures of world history, ecriture, conditions of time and space, and relations of exchange.


Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy is perhaps the most refined condensation of his long-term concerns. It is a systematic attempt to reclaim naturphilosophie from empiricism in order to firmly re-situate it within structures of rationalism, instead. Apart from its philosophical concerns, the book is also a direct justification of Karatani’s deep engagement with the political project of LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems), a form of association in which individuals and groups can exchange goods and services outside the circuits of capital. But this latest work is more than just an augmentation of his earlier preoccupations. The radical claims of Karatani’s book lie elsewhere. One, we encounter a comprehensive way of politicising natural philosophy, especially in the context of a renewed and ongoing interest in the issues of matter, objectivity and physical movement in the social sciences. And second, Karatani’s book tries to provide us with a radical political social alternative to known social forms, including democracy.

An Advanced Primitive Communism

In The Structure of World History, Karatani had already delineated the basic framework of his argument. He starts with the assertion that Marx did not pay much heed to pre-capitalist societies because what was important to him were the stages of progressive history. But historical time can be unevenly distributed around the world at any given moment. Since Marcel Mauss, it has been generally accepted that the reciprocity of gift exchange is the dominant principle governing archaic societies. But this principle did not exist among the nomadic hunter-gatherers, the ‘band’ societies that had existed prior to the clan societies. In these societies, goods were distributed equally and it was impossible to hoard. This was a pure gift, one that did not require a reciprocal counter-gift. There was scant community pressure to regulate individuals in the groups and even marital ties were fluid. The idea of equality in such societies was derived from the free mobility of each member of the group. This is actually a primitive form of associationism. The clan society, based on reciprocity, arose only after nomadic bands moved into fixed settlements. Fixed settlements, which in turn led to an increase in population, also meant the possibility of warfare with outsiders. This shift also meant free accumulation of wealth, which inevitably led to disparities in wealth and power. Even as reciprocity had ensured a kind of equity it had in turn taken mobility away from members of the clan.

Karatani finds it necessary to make a clear distinction between itinerant, nomadic people as against those belonging to fixed settlements. This comes from his interest in recovering and projecting the idea of primitive communism as advanced by Marx. Karatani is refining that very idea in his own manner while considering the possibilities of reconstructing its premise after the eventual demise of capitalism/liberal democracy. But there is little discussion as to how such a transformation will happen. He is aware that there is no historical evidence about such a social formation actually existing— either in Marxist thought or in recent anthropological studies. Isonomia is a way to give us a sense of what an advanced form of primitive communism might look like and how it could forge a more egalitarian society than democracy. The very idea of an isonomic society is, therefore, a kind of construct, but it also has an implicit claim of historicity—that there did exist an actual form of social arrangement that was far more just and free than the Athenian forms of democracy or the Spartan form of centralised social system.

In this context, the crucial question that Karatani asks is about Marx’s overlooking of the difference between nomadic and clan societies. This, Karatani concludes, has to do with his viewing of the history of social formations in terms of modes of production. In other words, when seen from the perspective of their shared ownership of the means of production, there is no difference between nomadic and clan societies. But if one views societies from the perspective of modes of exchange, we see a deciding difference—say, the distinction between the pure gift and the gift based on reciprocity.

Karatani has actually extended this way of reading Marx alongside Kant, in his earlier and original work Transcritique. At this juncture, we would do well to make a short detour through his critical reading of Marx, because that shall prove crucial in understanding why he now proposes a full scale associationist socio-economic model based on the idea of Isonomia.

In Transcritique, Karatani had tried to systematically elaborate his political commitments to associationist forms of Marxism by distancing himself from the question of modes of production while trying to explain pre-capitalist or Asiatic societies. We are aware how the production debate has always been an issue in explaining non-industrialised or partially industrialised societies. Karatani does not wish to split the economic from the political. Nor is he inclined to view the state and the nation as ideological superstructures since these institutions function as active agents on their own. These structures have proved their resilience so far without withering away. Karatani is not satisfied with the idea of relative autonomy of the superstructure proposed by some Marxist critics, that is to say, supplementing economic determinism with insights from psychoanalysis or sociology that results in underestimating the question of economic base altogether.

Karatani had then tried to work in the Kant/Marx intersection in order to recover the idea of critique that is common to both, by seeing them as being invested in progressive unfolding of historically constituted societies. The idea is to further radicalise the critical project. To that end, Karatani reads Kant in a unique fashion: by radicalising the idea of freedom itself (Kantian ‘kingdom of ends’ rather than means) and showing how close liberty is to equality. He believes that Kant’s eventual goal was to establish an association of independent small producers in opposition to the civil society dominated by merchant capitalism. Kant’s views are, in this respect, quite close to utopian socialists and anarchists (like Proudhon).

In the second half of Kant’s first Critique, the Antinomies of Reason arrive as antithetical propositions: the world is simultaneously bounded in time and space and the world is infinite with respect to time and space. These two possibilities cannot be simultaneously true. Kant does not sublate the two by bringing them into a clash, leading to any higher formulation. Kant shuttles between these two perspectives, calling it parallax view. This is what interests Karatani. He keeps the disjunction between these two perspectives unresolved. Kant’s critique is thus a transversal movement from one realm of existence to another. This Karatani christens as transcritique. Ideas of reason for Kant are heuristic and regulative rather than constitutive. He refuses to turn the limits of his critique into negativity but it does not negate negativity either. With this backdrop in mind, Karatani now posits this idea of parallax against Marx’s critique of political economy. He suggests that Marx repeats the Kantian antinomy between idealism and empiricism; that Marx undertakes a parallax vision keeping Hegelian dialects on one side and British empiricism on the other. Even as it is well regarded that Marx inherited the Ricardian labor theory of value, he is also indebted to the political economy of Samuel Bailey, who had critiqued Ricardo on the grounds that there is no intrinsic substance of value; that the idea of “labor time” is but a figment. Bailey argues instead that value is purely relational and it exists only to flag the fact that commodities are related to other commodities for which they can be exchanged. Neoclassical theories, of course, hailed this idea of value being in the margins. And with that the labour theory of value, and therefore class itself, was dismissed.

Karatani argues that Marx’s critique of political economy functions in this parallax, between the labour theory of value, on the one hand, and positivistic dismissal of value theory altogether on the other. Marx rejects the essentialist elements in the classical labour theory of value but also insists, against neoclassical nominalism, that a transcendental reflection on value is necessary in order to comprehensively explain the processes of capitalism. Karatani, in effect, argues, as both Slavoj Zizek and Steven Shaviro have shown, that “value and surplus value, as posited in Volume I of Capital, are the transcendental conditions of the possibility of capitalism.” Value and surplus value allow conceptually the very idea of extracting profit. But we do not encounter such abstractions in the real world. Rather, we encounter prices and profits in empirical situations. “Thus,” Karatani writes, “the insistence of neoclassical economists that the concepts of value and surplus value are false is in total accord with the everyday consciousness of the agents.” The “ideology” of prices and profits is itself an objective part of social reality. There is nothing fictitious about this objective reality while conceptually we are aware of the sleight of hand. These conclusions lead Karatani to lay particular stress on circulation, and on money, within the framework of Marxist analysis of the conditions of capital.

Karatani thus expands on the notion of the value-form in Marx: “…all the enigmas of capital’s drive are inscribed in the theory of value form…. Value form is a kind of form that people are not aware of when they are placed within the monetary economy; this is the form that is discovered only transcendentally.” Value-form takes the dual nature of commodities seriously. If we read the idea of money through value-form it would seem like a Kantian transcendental illusion, but it seems to be impossible to discard financial speculation as a mere distraction from the modes of production. Its very illusiveness has the power to drive the entire process. Surplus value needs to be realised in circulation; hence we must give enough attention to this process rather than going back to production. The capitalist mode of circulation itself might fail since its success is contingent upon the power and circumstances of the speculation and the parallax view. The very idea of turnover itself is slow and subject to internal flaws. These conclusions on the part of Karatani rely on a certain powerful but severe revisionism and take away the fundamental force of the critique of political economy itself. More on this anon.

At this stage, we are in a position to return to Karatani’s idea of political association based on a society that runs on a radical notion of exchange. Clearly, he wishes to restore the conception of nomadic society as an alternative to democracy and even primitive communism. But as one has already noticed in The Structure of World History, Karatani uses a kind of universal religion as a regulative idea in his nomadic world (in contrast to shamanism, magic or reciprocity). But in his exposition of Ionia in Isonomia, there are no such trappings. This form of loose community structure he calls covenant communities. In order to describe this advanced mode of the socialist coming community (like Derrida’s New International, or Hardt and Negri’s multitude), Karatani takes us through the conception and history (trying to relate what he calls—capital-nation-state) of the Ionian world in his new book.

In order to highlight the Ionian social system, Karatani begins by contrasting it with Athens. He puts into question the vaunted notion of autonomous individual choice in Athenian society. Athens, he says, was primarily based on social strata that went from the household (oikos), to clan (genos) to brotherhood or kinship (phratry) to the tribe (phylai). So, the tribal traditions were well alive in Athens. The idea of democracy could, therefore, never transcend claims of kinship. Concomitantly, there were inequality and class antagonisms within the polis. This gets increasingly clear on the point of foreigners, who were systematically excluded from the system. Karatani compares this way of living with the original confederacy of Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon, though the Greeks never turned despotic.

By contrast, Ionia welcomed a large number of immigrants from Athens and the Greek mainland. The Ionians never placed great importance on ties with their place of origin. In Ionia there existed no democracy but only isonomia. These are two distinct entities. Isonomia is no rule (no notion of archy or cracy in isonomy, as Hannah Arendt had observed). Democracy, by contrast, is the rule of the many or majority rule. Equality was identical to isonomia. This notion of isonomia, Karatani reminds us, was not notional but an actually existing condition in the city-states of Ionia. This was a new type of covenant community.

Monetary economy was fairly well developed in Ionia, but disparities of wealth were non-existent. One of the reasons for such parity was that in Ionia a landless person could simply migrate to a new city, instead of being some kind of copyholder tenant in another person’s land. This fact made sure that there was not much room for landowners to emerge. Karatani deduces that this is how freedom gave rise to equality. In this he is true to his Kantian leanings. By contrast, in Athens equality came at the expense of freedom. Since modern democracy is an odd combination of liberalism and democracy, it fails to reconcile freedom with equality. It can only swing back and forth between the poles of libertarianism (neoliberalism) and social democracy (the welfare state). Moreover, Athenian democracy was required for the survival of the state and military matters. Athens scorned manual labour as the work of slaves. Ionian isonomia, on the other hand, burgeoned along with development in farming, trade and manufacture. This is the starkest difference between democracy and isonomia.

Karatani argues how money economy of Athens forced others into strict labour conditions. It is only with the labour of the slave, or debt servitude that concentration of wealth and large landholdings in Athens could be established. In Ionia, everyone cultivated their own land, while those without land left for new locations. Class disparities, consequently, were completely absent in Ionia. The Ionian polis essentially was a council of manufacturers and merchants. The absence of a landowning nobility meant that the market economy did not give rise to disparities in Ionia. This situation in Ionia is comparable to modern Iceland and North America where early on there had to be enough frontier land available to enable free movement. The idea of the independent farmer was crucial for such societies too. Mobility and freedom bring about equality. Such a federated system depends on successful implementation of isonomia. Kantian freedom leads to Marxist equality.

Natura Naturans

At a fundamental level, Isonomia is largely the story of the Milesian school of philosophy and the Eastern Greek tradition: the physikoi or the physiologoi, as they were designated later. The way one thinks about natural philosophy shall depend on how one defines nature. Often, Ionian philosophy gets relegated through a misleading suggestion that though it was seriously invested in questions of nature, it could not relate these concerns with problems of ethics or the self. Karatani turns this argument on its head and proffers the case that it is only with the severance with one’s community that one turns into an individual. The self is discovered and the question of ethics arises. While Athens was never independent of clan affiliations, Ionia was the first in the Greek region to raise the question of ethics and self.

Karatani’s book stands or falls on this hypothesis that the Ionian natural philosophers were advocates of a cosmopolitan and universal ethics. They were, therefore, deeply political in their thinking about nature. Thales, for instance, claimed that all things derived from water. Anaximander finds this same arche in the boundless—or apeiron. Hecataeus, another geographer-historian of Miletus, conducted a critique of the mythological explanations of the Homeric tales. All these are part of natural philosophy. For Democritus, human beings are travellers who are independent of the polis. Each person is a microcosm unto himself. True ethics thus arises out of the cosmopolis rather than the polis.

Instead of arguing in a sustained fashion about the key philosophical threads in the school of isonomic natural philosophy, Karatani marshals the main features of individual philosophers and writers of that area in the middle section of his book. In the process, he tries to build a case for isonomia. Hippocrates rejects all heavenly explanations for disease: “It is thus with regard to the disease called Divine Affliction—it appears to me to be nowise more divine nor more sacred than other diseases.” He calls out all false prophets, conjurers and mountebanks. Such falseness is more about impiety than piety. The gods only manifest themselves through the workings of physis. Not nomos. Not love of wisdom (philo-sophia) but craft (techne) is important for Hippocrates. Isonomia, therefore, depends on such a mode of natural philosophy, leading to the egalitarian relations of production. There are no systems of slavery or bonded labour since these modes run counter to nature or physis. After the fall of the Ionian city states, such an attitude spread to the diaspora. The sophists too were influenced by Ionian natural philosophy.

One of the reasons for such an unusually wide philosophical reach was simply because Ionia was a multi-ethnic cluster of colonies in Asia Minor, and, as such, could not be ethnocentric in any form. The natural philosophers lived in a fluid, nomadic and cosmopolitan world. The Histories of Herodotus displays a basic sympathy with Hippocrates and shows how the natural environment can affect human environment and social set-up. Ceaseless inquiry or elenchus must be the basis of nomos or physis, a life of constant survey and analysis.

One of the fundamental principles of natural philosophy is its severe critique of religion. That is the way one begins to counter a world of clan or mythified society, but the kernel of Ionian natural philosophy is the idea of self-moving matter. Matter is boundless and is eventually composed of a single element (stoicheion). But motion transforms matter and gradually internally opposed things — such as hot and cold, dry and moist — divide and generate all else. This is a way to naturalise Hesiod—particularly Hesiod’s notion of chaos giving rise to gaia (earth) and tartaros (the nether world). From their union is born uranus (sky), the mountains and pontos (sea). In Anaximander, water, air and earth are born of the boundless (apeiron).

Matter and motion are inseparable. Matter moves by itself. Not by Gods or by anima or by the demiurges. You do not need a mythical or an abstract principle to move matter. Matter divides and moves on its own just like society ought to — it moves and migrates on its own. Becoming (warden) arises out of causes immanent in matter. The idea of free moving matter was preserved in the Islamic world and was again rediscovered in early modern Europe, until Cartesian dualism replaced that strain once again. Karatani particularly takes us through the works and ideas of Giordano Bruno and Spinoza in order to explain these ongoing moments of revival of the Ionian principles of matter-in-motion.

Karatani claims that when Aristotle praises productive work, he means poetics and agriculture and not manufacturing and technology. Improvement and generation, and not just cultivation and domestication, seems to be at the heart of Karatani’s idea of freedom. This he thinks to be the basis of natural philosophy—which advances through the recombination and division of arche. This absolute physical basis of the social constantly makes free enterprise and exchange-relation the basis of associationist thought. This creates a tension with the fundamentals of historical materialism. So much so that Karatani is eventually compelled to hail Darwin’s ideas of natural selection and survival of the fittest as carrying forward thoughts of Empedocles—another of his favourite natural philosophers. This idea of natural mutation, exchange and advancement of technology is also common to the thoughts of Francis Bacon and Samuel Hartlib. In this context, Karatani refers to Marx’s doctoral dissertation which, as we know, was on the difference between the Democritean and the Epicurean philosophies of nature. He concludes that this is Marx’s way of critiquing Aristotelian teleological rationalism and mechanistic atomic swerve. While this goes to the heart of the matter — Karatani’s attempt to launch a critique at the recent upsurge in unhistorically championing Epicurean thought and its post-Humean variants in the anthropocene debate — , it is indeed doubtful whether Darwin and Marx could be brought together in such a mechanistic manner, which too is historically uninformed.

Isonomic thought gradually dissipated in the post-Ionian world. Karatani takes us through the writings and thought of particularly Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Zeno and Parmenides. He shows how dualism, division of labour and mystification entered the new discourse even as much of Ionian thought still imparted a great influence on such pre-Aristotelian philosophy. True to his inclinations, Karatani tries to relate such thinking with Kantian reason and his attempt to demystify sensibility-based illusion. Kantian critique is the critique of reason by reason itself. In Parmenides he sees a forerunner of Kant (and not Hume). Social philosophy cannot be reduced to atomism. Atomic theory cannot be purely naturalistic but must be made social. And the socius is cosmopolitan, not nativistic and clannish. The individual is placed in a wider space. It is through connecting modes of exchange with this kind of natural philosophy that Karatani wishes to bridge the gap between history and matter-in motion.

Karatani has, therefore, created and expanded a fourfold system of exchange relations in his last two works. This is, clearly, an ongoing project. At the first level is a world of exchange based on gift and reciprocity. Followed by a second mode that relies on domination and protection (like that of the ruler and the ruled). The third is the current system of commodity exchange. These have been the prevailing modes of exchange that human beings could think of since Athenian times. But the isonomic world would be different and egalitarian. To that end, Karatani posits a fourth state: a possible system that transcends all the above three modes and ushers us into a world of free associative relationship; a world that is fundamentally nomadic, rational and cosmopolitan. This mode of living he also calls by the name of universal religion, which is fundamentally based on a critique of all religions affiliated with the state and the community and their concomitant modes of exchange relations.

The Stakes

The tradition of Left Kantianism is not new. One can go back and look at the social democratic ways of Eduard Bernstein, Karl August Schramm, Sebastian Mercier, Hochberg and the scholarly relativism of Leszek Kolakowski. Such strands were often termed Duhringism, since many of those revisionists followed the eclectic thoughts of Eugene Duhring. Lenin and Paul Lafargue’s criticism of such purifications of Kantianism is well known. Such purifications were already evident both within German classicism (Schulze’s Aenesidemus) and subjective idealism (Fichte). Such critiques were against the revisionist tendency to validate a priori assumptions and the thing in itself. From the right, the charge was that Kant makes no clear distinction between subjectivism and idealism and from the left, that he makes none between materialism and idealism/agnosticism. Feuerbach, for instance, rebukes Kant for deviating from materialism and for inculcating sensationalism. Engels critiqued Kant for being an agnostic, but not for his deviation from consistent agnosticism. Here is Lafargue:

“The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer and is nourished by pork meat, that the employer is a robber and that the sausage is pleasant to the taste and nourishing to the body. Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.”

The original issue, as is evident, is with liberal idealism itself. “Kant defends private property, makes economic independence a qualification for citizenship, condemns revolution, and argues for a Rechtsstaat that restricts itself by and large to the protection of individual rights.” Evidently, one approach within the structures of New Left is to politically project this relationship between Kant and Marx (like in Dick Howard’s works). So, characteristically, Howard urges “the `revolutionary praxis’ of the young Marx’s humanism” against “the historical economism of the mature Marx…”. What is necessary, according to Howard, is a theory that positively reconciles morality and nature, demonstrating both the “subjective necessity” and the “objective realisability” of human “ethical goals.” Harry van der Linden’s Kantian Ethics and Socialism argues that Kant’s account of the highest good “can be extrapolated to set forth the demand for the socialist ideal.” According to van der Linden, there are compelling reasons for understanding Kantian ethics as ‘social,’ rather than ‘private,’ ethics.

Karatani has naturalised this idea of the ethical commonwealth. But he has also brought back the economic question into the political, unlike his predecessors in this tradition. In that sense, as an associationist, his dogged pursuit of exchange relations is unique. The question is about the effectiveness of the isonomic solution he offers. Since Karatani begins with the idea of freedom in free enterprise and then takes it to justify equality, he finds the Marxist condemnation of workers being forced to sell their labour-power to be congruent with the importance Kantian ethics attaches to human freedom. Furthermore, Karatani feels that the Marxist criticism of the exploitation of workers is consistent with the ‘end in itself formula’ of the Categorical Imperatives.

Actually, Kant claimed that as the individual ego appropriates modes of sensation, so the social unity of human beings is constituted by an appropriation of the natural world. The right of each of us to any object presupposes a transcendental, but nonetheless necessary moment in which everyone, as members of the general will, appropriates the earth. This contractual communion or community gives private property its only conceivable justification and foundation. But simultaneously, such a community must be conceived in terms of the many individuals, each of whom wills to appropriate things for himself. Unlike Marx, who equated true community with communal property or communism, Kant argues that the general will appropriates in common only so that each member may possess in private. Both moral communalist and economic capitalist, Kant contends that our rights to property are at once individually and socially derived.

Kant interprets the traditional distinction between immovable and movable property in terms of his distinction between substance and accident. We do not make use of the world apart from its accidental ways of existing. Movables are these accidents, the objects and products of our individual labor. Human experience is particularised as well as common. To use things we must alter them for ourselves. As in theory, we define nature with respect both to the (material) substance that unites us and to the (material) accidents that separate us. Like liberal political economists before and after him, Kant was convinced of the necessity of private property, but without their sanguine belief in its happy consequences. The justification of property for Kant lies not in its utility, but in its logical necessity, as a condition of rational thought and action. These distinctions are completely absent in Karatani’s formulations. Instead, he hastens to an abstract idea of world-civil-society as a paradigm for a universal moment of singularity.

But the greatest pragmatic point about Karatani is his assertion on the lines that “If workers can become subjects at all, it is only as consumers”. This is a remarkably bold claim, which has, in turn, gathered some votaries in the age of speculative capital. But at what price such subject-hood and agency? And do they fulfil the real conditions of existence? While this realisation allows for a higher order exchange relationship, it takes for granted that social set-up is primarily based on exchange rather than on other modes of interaction. In this context, one can ill afford to forget Marx’s Second Thesis on Feuerbach: “The question whether objective [gegenständliche] truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness [diesseitigkeit] of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.” The whole critique of political economy stands diluted if we take the parallax view in the descriptive sense rather than critique its very existence. It is also interesting that Karatani never brings his ideas of isonomic exchange relations in any conversation with any notion of real abstraction.

He does not even acknowledge the works of Alfred Sohn-Rethel, which would be an obvious expectation. One does not feel confident that the notion of parallax view can be mobilised to think the immanent negativity of capital in political terms, that is, negativity as its own thought—if that leads to a higher world of exchange relationships, by skirting the question of production. Instead of radicalising a dialectic, which still had certain possibilities in Transcritique, Isonomia mars a powerful idea of Utopia by seeking to articulate it in terms of a reformist notion of higher plane without much following up on the real conditions of capital. Here, Karatani seems to be short circuiting us into associationism without tackling the conditions of emancipatory economics in a speculative universe. This happens because he takes speculative capital for granted and hopes its inherent flaws will take us to an isonomic world as long as we can conceptually conceive that world. Capital has been much more resilient for that kind of leap.

On the other hand, Karatani has accomplished a redoubtable task by historicising nature. This he has achieved by placing the nomadic society between archaic and pre-anthropogenic times. By taking on exchange as the primary question in nature, he has kept questions of land use, ecosystems, biodiversity, geomorphology and species extinction at bay. He has also stayed away from all mourning and melancholia often prevalent in such forms of phenomenological primitivism. His idea of primitive communism is upbeat and posited at the hunter-gatherer stage itself, leading somewhat to the stage of agriculture and animal husbandry, but still not reaching the conditions of an archaic society. In this manner he historicises the debate on the anthropocene. And his descriptions of the natural philosophers are constantly analytical, in the best traditions of critical thinking. The real challenge that such an act might produce is to the nominalists and to the post-Humeans like Quentin Meillassuox. Alain Badiou has said this about the school of speculative nominalists in our times, headed by Meillassuox: “Like Kant, Meillassoux saves necessity, including logical necessity. But like Hume, he grants that there is no acceptable ground for the necessity of the laws of nature.” Karatani has tried to shift the fulcrum away from this axis to once again historically and collectively ground the Kantian notion of logical necessity and project an advanced stage of primitive communism. He gives an egalitarian direction to our ancestral inheritance rather than banking on contingency.

The question that a nominalist asks a Kantian associationist is simple: How does the unity of sensation arise from the plurality of impressions? Kant approaches the problem of experience from a logical side, Hume from the psychological. Kant’s realist conception of experience and his sense of order conflicts with the relativist/nominalist. Experience is the product of thought and all judgment must precede the impression before it becomes experience. This sense of wisdom actually is a given in Karatani’s explanation of the isonomic society. Experience follows understanding, it seems, for his associationist society. But Hume says experience follows the faculty of imagination. And from imagination Hume would move to synthesis. There is no surpassing notion of understanding in the nominalist scheme of things. “The form, in regard to the function which realises it, is the act of the union of matter; by its means the isolated states of the parts are overcome. That which is individual in the impression is connected in our consciousness…. Kant upholds the necessity of the laws of nature, whose mathematical form and conformity to empirical observation we have known since Newton, concluding that since this necessity cannot have arisen from our sensible receptivity, it must have another source: that of the constituting activity of a universal subject, which Kant calls ‘the transcendental subject’.” This latter position is Karatani’s point of departure with respect to a higher order of an exchange society by which he hopes to overcome the current order of speculative commodity exchange.

The author edits the web journal humanitiesunderground.org and teaches English literature in the University of Delhi.

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Hume, David. Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. edt. C. W. Hendel. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1748/1957.

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Kamenka, Eugene. The Ethical Foundations of Marxism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment, trans. J. H. Bernard. New York: Hafner, 1951.

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. H.J. Paton. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

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Karatani, Kojin. Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.

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Excerpts from Radical Notes 9: “In a Future April (A Novel)”

Click on the cover page to read excerpts from the book. Contact Aakar Books to order.

Fascism or Neoliberalism: What’s in a name?

CSR Shankar

Prakash Karat’s article published in The Indian Express in September, 2016 (in the printed edition of the newspaper, it was titled “Know your enemy”) seemed to disturb the left-liberal consensus in India. Karat insists that the political regime in India today is not fascist but authoritarian, which is, on the one hand, communal and, on the other, neoliberal. Those who questioned this characterisation, especially scholars like Jairus Banaji, have argued that Karat is not taking the fascist/communal mass mobilisations seriously. For them, these mobilisations point towards a fascism to come. Even those, like Vijay Prashad, who defend Karat insist that the moment is semi-fascist and not completely fascist yet.

Evidently, the word fascism has become a cliche which is never re-grounded and reworked in the contemporary context. It is used as an analogy which replaces any serious effort towards analysing and strategising the concrete present. It is one of the weapons in the depleting arsenal of the left-liberals (Marxist and non-Marxist) of the country to justify (in)activism and pragmatic compromises. One wonders whether the overuse of the word reveals a theoretical bankruptcy as well as a refusal to confront the novelty of the neoliberal situation. Neoliberalism appears to Karat as purely a set of policies enacted by the state. It is, however, a force far more dangerous and far more dispersed than Karat imagines it to be. It is not just a set of policies but a phase of capitalism so ridden with crises that only barbarism can keep it afloat.

I. Sovereignty and Neoliberalism

At the heart of Prakash Karat’s labours to know our enemy is to understand the form of sovereignty that is at play in India today. However, he asks the question “which sovereign rules us” much too much before he asks the question “what is sovereignty (the state)” itself. It is correct to differentiate between the state and a government, but only in the sense that the latter is produced in the conditions of the former. You cannot characterise a government without characterising the state. When we characterise a state as either liberal democratic, fascist, absolutist or neoliberal, we do so not only because of the policies the state enacts and enables but much more so because the characterisation of the state reflects the grammar of society and the exigencies of class relations. The state is both a crystallisation of class relations in an institution as well as an institutional maintenance and management of class relations. The question before us, therefore, is concerned not just with the nature of the state (fascist, liberal, authoritarian etc.) but also the nature of the dynamic of class relations.

The form as well as the contents of sovereignty at any particular moment in the history of capital are determined by the historical spatio-temporal dynamic of the law of value. All attempts to bracket the current political-form within the anachronistic categories of “liberal democracy” or “fascism” refuse to confront the change in the temporal rhythm and spatial organisation which characterise the neoliberal moment of capital. All the great men of Indian Marxism who took part in the debate ignited by Karat’s article shared a common error. All of them admit to the possibility of fascism in India but debated the degree to which it is already present. The two sides of the debate are in opposition only in their appearances. A closer look reveals that there is a fundamental agreement between Banaji, Karat and Vijay Prashad. If Karat and Vijay Prashad find the moment semi-fascist, for Banaji this moment is the pre-history of a fascism to come. For Karat, Modi’s government is not fascist because it is not a reaction to a crisis that threatens global capital nor a rebellion against parliamentary democracy, but rather an authoritarianism within a democratic structure. Banaji’s only disagreement is that Karat is not looking at the process of fascisation and is fixated on the end product or the form of sovereignty. He argues that if we were to shift our focus from the form of the state to the tactics of mass mobilisation employed by the RSS and the BJP we will see the beginnings of fascism.

It appears as though each theorist has a different recipe for the dish that is fascism. What is interesting however is that each is convinced that the dish isn’t entirely cooked yet, that it needs some more time, some more ingredients to be added. “It’s not fascism yet,” they say, as though they are waiting for it to become one. What this politics of “waiting for fascism” conceals is the novelty of the current situation, the conjunctural shift which has occurred with the arrival of neoliberalism. European fascism, social democratic welfarism and Stalin’s planned economy were all attempts to resolve a crisis in the capitalist order by bringing the market under state control. These were resolutions to the incompetence of classical liberalism to address this crisis that led to the First World War. What fascism and the command economies of the 20th century attempted to do at the institutional level or at the level of a national political regime (re-structuring class relations to resolve crisis) neoliberalism performs at every level of life in a diffused and decentred manner.

Karat, however, throws the word neoliberalism around as though it is just another ingredient in the dish (yet uncooked) but does not see it for what it is: another dish entirely, a new phase of capitalist accumulation and a new modality of its operations. He approaches authoritarianism, communalism and neoliberalism as several problems – one piled upon the other – and refuses to see the structural connections between them. It is because of this aggregative approach that he is able to also separate communalism and neoliberalism as two different problems which require two different solutions – “broadest mobilisation of all democratic and secular forces against communalism” and “a political alliance of Left and democratic forces based on an alternative programme” against neoliberalism”.

Further, Karat argues that since what we are faced with today is not fascism, the electoral route is still politically viable. While he acknowledges that the current political regime does not need to go against the democratic order to be authoritarian, what he does not confront is the fact that this paradoxical anti-democratic democracy is precisely the form sovereignty takes in the neoliberal moment. The liberal-democratic form of the state has been so re-configured in this conjuncture that it constantly creates moments of exception through the law. The Fascism of the 20th century was a productivisation of the limits of liberal democracy as a temporally separated and structurally reconfigured form of the state. G.M. Tamas (2001) argues that what fascism in the 20th century revealed was the crisis of universal citizenship as it linked citizenship not to general human dignity but with a culturally specific identity. In the 20th century, this change in the notion of citizenship could not occur without a rejection of liberal democracy. The current political order, however, constantly uses the liberal democratic legal nexus to create exceptions to universal citizenship. The growing proliferation of “anti-nationals” in India and “non-Americans” in America or “non-English” in Britain despite the electoral democratic structure being intact is precisely an expression of the distinctiveness of the current state-form. Attempts have been made to understand this apparent paradox by labelling Trump as a “democratic fascist”. What such characterisations miss, however, is the conjunctural shift which marks the neoliberal moment (in fact, they reduce the importance of the lessons of the fight against fascism to mere name calling). While earlier the liberal moments of the state form and its moments of exception (fascist moments) could be temporally and formally separated, now they are increasingly conjoined in one moment as well as in one form through the constant creation of exceptions. Thus, as Karat waits for fascism to arrive before rejecting the liberal democratic route, something much worse has already established itself as the dictatorship of neoliberal capital, or what Tamas calls “post-fascism”.

What limits Karat’s politics is his inability to confront the contemporary as a conjunctural shift in the modality of capital.

II. What is Neoliberalism?

To begin with let us admit that the neoliberal phase is first and foremost a phase marked by acceleration. The acceleration that defines this late capitalist neoliberal conjuncture is an acceleration in two senses. Firstly, digitisation and automation have increased the speed of the production. This translates into each unit of time producing more and more material wealth. However, this isn’t the only acceleration that is at play. This acceleration, as it reaches its limits, requires further transformations in productivity or in the labour process. As the speed and frequency with which capital reaches its limits increase, the process of its own recomposition accelerates. This recomposition happens as capital constantly attempts to commodify and proletarianise new aspects of life. To do so it must forcibly, through extra-economic means, separate workers from their means of production and reproduction. The neoliberal moment of capital is one in which the temporal separation between primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value is constantly reduced and two moments are brought closer and closer together. This implies an accelerated change in the socio-technical relations of production and is what we experience today as precarity.

As the frequency of such transformations increases, the social form of the manifestation of the value-chain goes through transformations. As capital begins to move faster within its value-chains, it begins to be less and less dependent on or confined by territory. Before the conjunctural shift of late capitalism or neoliberalism, capital’s internal structuring was dependent on the pre-given hierarchy of discrete spaces. Such a period was marked by, at the level of appearance, the segmentation between centres and peripheries of the societal form. If “society” was the spatial dynamic of modern capitalism, the “network” is the spatial form it takes in its neoliberal mode. The network as the spatial appearance of the value chain is what gives rise to the social factory in which each moment of our lives is subsumed by capital (Hardt and Negri 2000). However, the network form must not be assumed to be absent of hierarchical structuring and segmentation, for value is still the law that governs production. It only means that the hierarchical structuring that capital imposes is now ever more precarious. Centres and peripheries keep shifting and are no more stable, but there still are centres and peripheries. It, therefore, is not a horizontal separation of different moments but a precarious vertical structuring of production processes and labour segments. This develops a new spatial dynamic between primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value. While, in the traditional understanding, these two forms of accumulation were spatially, and temporally, separated, such a separation of the dynamic is becoming more and more untenable. Every moment of capitalist production involves primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value together. This spatio-temporal coming together of various forms of accumulation mark the materialisation of the social factory. What the network mode of organisation of production enables is not just “business at the speed of thought” or the increase in the extraction of relative surplus value in the temporal sense but also the increase in the extraction of absolute surplus value by commodifying and subsuming previously “un-productive” or “re-productive” realms for the generation of surplus value. This dynamic requires constant disciplining and extra-economic coercion of the labour force to work.

While the temporal dynamic of the neoliberal moment is marked by unprecedented acceleration, its spatial dynamic is marked by unprecedented fragmentation. The technology which is at the heart of this twin spatial and temporal dynamic is digital and informational. It is the digitalisation and informatisation of production that allows for its temporal acceleration as well as spatial fragmentation. What this means is that both spatially and temporally economic accumulation and primitive accumulation are coming closer together. The effects of these twin processes on the labour force is what we have come to know as precarity.

The neoliberal moment has its beginnings in the profitability crisis of the late 1950s-60s which was marked by the inability of capital to perpetually recompose labour, overcoming territorialities and the limits of the Planner State in disciplining labour‘s political recomposition evident in the strikes, street fights and armed conflicts of the 1960’s and 70’s. Hardt and Negri point out that the capitalism of the early 20th century was marked by disciplinary power and material production. The post-war period saw high levels of productivity all across the world. Tired of the disciplinary mechanisms of modernity and their exploitation for high productivity workers, students, peasants and tribal populations began to rebel. Partha Chatterjee and the subaltern schools could write about the fragments of the nation and the subaltern only because the subaltern were already rising against the nation and other forms of modern-capitalist disciplinarity and work. Every disciplinary unity that modern capitalism attempted to create was fragmented by these struggles. These struggles questioned and demonstrated the exclusions of the liberal national identity and fragmented the nation along several identitarian lines.

Capital remerged insurgent with neoliberalism. It generated the collapse of the Bretton Woods system liberating money from its fixed commodity form, from the fetters of territory and substance. It deterritorialised and decentred itself through financialisation and the informatization/ informalisation of production. Hardt and Negri point out that

“The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty. In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of Power”. (Hardt and Negri 2000, xii)

They point out that the neoliberal moment is defined by the movement of the sphere of production from the assembly line to the network. This deterritorialisation of production and its shift into the network is accompanied by the acceleration of time through digitisation of production. Unfettered by territories and physical spaces capital flows freely and rapidly. It flees areas of conflicts (worker’s struggles, environmental degradation) and occupies new areas through primitive accumulation. Hardt and Negri argue that the postmodern phase of production is characterised by a large scale but diffused real subsumption of labour processes. While, in its imperialist stage, capital constantly expanded territories by invading new areas (formal subsumption), now it is in the business of transforming and intensifying production in already conquered territories. As pointed earlier, this does not mean that Capital no longer needs primitive accumulation. On the contrary, it needs it now more than ever. But the nature of primitive accumulation is radically transformed. It is no longer just about forcibly accumulating the means of production of people who lie on the peripheries of capitalist production (tribal forest land etc), but also accumulating guarantees provided to workers in its very centre (industries and urban areas).

Every time capital commodifies a new aspect of life it also re-proletarianises segments of the working class. And in each such new venture, capital, to shake the vestiges of earlier modes of production and forms of work, must through violence, jurisdiction, law and war create a new working class which is in different ways separated from its means of (re)production. While in the Indian subcontinent there are various examples of the primitive accumulation of land, be it tribal or agricultural, what is often left unnoticed is the aspect of primitive accumulation in the generation of the precariat.

The working class, no doubt, was always precarious to some degree. However, precarity in the neoliberal age takes a far more dispersed and universal form. The creation of the precariat occurs through an intense process of primitive accumulation. What capital separates from the worker is not just land, tools and machines but also the guarantee of work and wage. In doing so, the wage as the worker’s means of reproduction are separated from him/her. The burden of the reproduction of the worker is transferred from one organisation or employer to many including the worker itself.
This fragmentation of the burden of the reproduction of the worker is true not just of urban India where such fragmentation has been a part of India’s urban history in the form of the informal economy for long now, but even its rural moments. Several sociologists have begun the study of what is termed “New Rurality”. They argue that there is a movement away from rural worker’s primary occupation being agriculture to many diverse non-farm activities. Satender Kumar’s study of this phenomenon in Western UP reveals the spread of what he calls a “subsistence non-farm economy” (Kumar 2016). The neoliberal assault on the commons (water, grazing land, forests etc.) is another way in which primitive accumulation expels people into the reserve army of labour or the informal precarious world of neoliberal work.

Precarity, therefore, is the shifting of the crisis in the sphere of production to the sphere of reproduction and the subsequent productivisation of the crisis in the informal sector. Precarity also ensures a recomposition of the reserve army of labour of which more and more are made a part but in a radically different way. Once the army of labour becomes precarious, the nature of the reserve army also transforms as the boundaries between the two begin to blur or rather keep shifting. If precarity is the shifting of the crisis from one employer or one site of production to the reproductive sphere, it is also a diffusion of the crisis into many different sites of production. The precarised workers don’t just sit idle, they find multiple kinds of work to take the burden of their reproduction thus diffusing the crisis.

Another form of primitive accumulation which dominates the neoliberal moment of immaterial production is what Hardt and Negri have called Informational Accumulation. They write,

“We should emphasize the central role that informational accumulation plays in the processes of postmodern primitive accumulation and the ever greater socialization of production. As the new informational economy emerges, a certain accumulation of information is necessary before capitalist production can take place. Information carries through its networks both the wealth and command of production, disrupting previous conceptions of inside and outside but also reducing the temporal progression that had previously defined primitive accumulation. In other words, informational accumulation (like the primitive accumulation Marx analysed) destroys or at least destructures the previously existing productive processes, but (differently than Marx’s primitive accumulation) it immediately integrates those productive processes in its own networks and generates across the different realms of production the highest levels of productivity. The temporal sequence of development is thus reduced to immediacy.” (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri 2000, 258)

What this indicates is a new target of primitive accumulation. No more does primitive accumulation merely productivise the peripheries of capital, now it also attacks its very centre. The desires and energies released by worker’s struggles which bring capitalist accumulation in a crisis are immediately productivised through the fragmentation of the working class and the proletarianisation of these desires and energies by integrating them into the network and the social factory.

Neoliberalism being marked by this new spatial and temporal dynamic of primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value is the generalisation of primitive accumulation, and its becoming more and more integral to the dynamic of capitalism is therefore the normalisation of crisis itself. This neoliberal productivisation of crisis results in bringing crisis to the heart of the capitalist dynamic. Increasing precarity, must therefore, be understood not as the result of a class will to increase profits but as a symptom of the normalisation of crisis within capitalism. Prakash Karat does not see the crisis because crisis is now the norm. It exists everywhere and is being productivised everywhere. Similarly, he doesn’t see fascism because unlike its original form, it is now everywhere or rather almost every moment of life is fascised. Modi, Trump and others are the monstrous expressions of the institutionalisation of the generalisation of crisis – the generalisation of the state of exception.

III. Politics in Precarious Times

One of the ways in which a crisis is productivised is the fascisation of the moment. To understand fascisation as a form of the productivisation of a crisis, one needs to pay heed to the words of Walter Benjamin (1936)

“The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organise the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.”

Benjamin’s argument implies that fascism is without doubt a moment of class struggle and an expression of a crisis, but it is at the same time an obfuscation of the crisis. It is the politics of giving a voice to the masses but not “their right”, to transform “the property structure”. It is this obfuscation of the crisis that allows for it to be productivised to segment the labour force further and depress wages and lower job opportunities for certain segments.

It is important to note the coincidence between informalisation, precarity and religious nationalism or fundamentalism. David Harvey (2005) writes,

“Workers are hired on contract, and in the neoliberal scheme of things short-term contracts are preferred in order to maximize flexibility. Employers have historically used differentiations within the labour pool to divide and rule. Segmented labour markets then arise and distinctions of race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are frequently used, blatantly or covertly, in ways that redound to the employers’ advantage. Conversely, workers may use the social networks in which they are embedded to gain privileged access to certain lines of employment.”

Fascism is the creation and strengthening of segmentation, but it is at the same time also the production of identities. A crisis is productivised in fascism for it obfuscates the crisis and shifts the energies of the masses towards the production of identities which are then sold to the market at different prices.

Furthermore, Harvey argues that there is a relationship between “the progress of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in the US” and “proliferating job insecurities”. In the Indian context, Jan Breman (2013) argues that precarity or informalisation leads to the difficulty of organising around a professional identity due to which workers often shift to caste or ethnic identities. This is clearly a response to the crisis of reproduction that the worker faces. If the productive sphere isn’t providing stable means of reproduction, a desperate search for various forms of support in the reproductive begins, leading to the adoption of strong community identities. Breman writes,

“No longer mobilized on the basis of occupational identity, they see no alternative but to rely on their first-order loyalties of ethnicity, caste, race and creed. There was a tragic example of this in India, when the Ahmedabad textile mills closed down and forced the exit of 150,000 workers from the formal into the informal economy. The massive downward shock eventuated in a pogrom in which the Muslim minority, with state and Hindutva complicity, was hunted and massacred in the streets. Those who managed to escape were forced to vacate their mixed neighbourhoods and seek refuge in a ghetto.”

As capital deterritorialises and informatises production, it also immaterialises production. The commodities produced are increasingly of an immaterial character and the energies employed in their production are also increasingly cognitive energies. In this context it is not surprising that the rhetoric employed both by Trump and Modi centres around the decline of Manufacture or material production. One of the main promises made by both is to bring back manufacture to their countries. If Modi intends to “Make in India”, Trump intends to bring back the golden age of American manufacturing industries. This is an attempt to promise the “good old days gone by” to a people who have suffered at the rise of immaterial production and the deterritorialisation of capital. One could see how this nationalist rhetoric of “Make in India” worked in the context of the steel factories of Wazirpur. While the workers in the area were busy striking for higher wages and the Metro officials complaining about the pollution which results from the cleaning and purifying of steel, Capital brought in readymade steel disks from China. The entry of Chinese steel disks made a large part of the production process in Wazirpur and the workers employed in flattening, purifying and cutting of steel redundant. As the unrest against the entry of Chinese steel and the resultant unemployment rose, Modi’s promise of “Make in India” became more and more popular in Wazirpur. Trump’s tirade against the media and the liberal intelligentsia may appear to the self-centred liberals as a reflection of his stupidity or authoritarianism alone. It is, however, something that helps instrumentalise the frustrations of those laid off and precarised by the deterritorialisation of capital and a decline of material production against those who benefitted by the rise of immaterial production and the gig economy.

Karat, however, insists on separating the problematic of neoliberalism and that of Hindutva or communal/identitarian mobilisation. He sees both communal mobilisation and neoliberal policies as arising from the will of the ruling classes. He writes, “What the ruling classes seek to do is to use forms of authoritarianism to serve their class interests.” For him, neoliberalism and Hindutva are two different forms of right wing authoritarianism, one purely economic and the other purely cultural. This separation of the cultural and the economic on the basis of which he articulates his dual approach to roll back “India’s right wind forces” is a general political metaphysics that afflicts the Indian left. A refusal to see the relation between informalization, precarization and identitarian mobilisation directly leads to a stale politics calling for a “unity” against right wing forces, of fighting ideological battles, but without touching the material reality that generates such forces.

Stale though it is, this political formulation reflects precisely what Karat cannot see – precarity as a generalised crisis. His dualistic approach which calls for political organising on the basis of left, secular and democratic unity is precisely the call for an identitarian unity of parties and people whose political support the material condition of precarity is slowly but consistently diminishing. The parties themselves are becoming more and more precarious and are cringing towards farcical identities – secular, anti-communal. The “now-here-and-now-there” politics of the Communist Parties, the left alliance with the Congress in West Bengal and its opposition to the same in Kerala are reflections precisely of the precarised existence of the Left. The call for left, secular and democratic unity may appear old, but it is a new situation clothed in familiar colours. It is a reflection of how precarity as the material condition of neoliberalism has made political parties schizophrenic.

The semantic articulation which Karat and others employ with regard to neoliberalism betrays the fact that they have not taken it seriously. Fixated on equating neoliberalism with a “class will” and not seeing the structural transformations that determine that “class will”, Karat deludes himself in thinking that neoliberalism is merely a regime in the political sense. In fact, it is a regime like no other before it- a dispersed, diffused but intensive regime of accumulation. What characterises this regime of accumulation is the continuity of primitive accumulation along with the accumulation of surplus value at all levels of production and living. While earlier the moments of primitive accumulation and the accumulation of surplus value (or normative capitalist accumulation) were temporally distinctive or separated, they are increasingly becoming simultaneous today. Similarly, while earlier one could distinguish between normative capitalism or liberal democracy and its moments of crisis or reactionary periods, it is impossible to do so now. Crisis has now come to the heart of the capitalist dynamic and become integral to its functioning. It has been normalised and is being constantly productivised.

But what does Benjamin mean when he says that the “logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life”? Fascism, if it is to allow for an expression of class anger without changing the property structure or abolishing the law of value, must create identities, events and images which become the medium of the expression of class antagonism without abolishing the law of value. The production of these images is the aesthetisation of politics whereby the image becomes the focus as opposed to the class relations. While the fascism of the 20th century was a spectacular moment filled with spectacles, what characterises our moment is the fascisation of every moment of our lives. Our world is what Guy Debord calls “The Society of the Spectacle”. While in the period of classical fascism the aesthetisation of politics was centralized and state controlled, it is now performed not just by the state but by agencies immersed in our everyday lives and social interactions. If neoliberalism is the generalisation of the state of exception or the state of crisis, it is also the generalisation of fascism. What goes on in the sacred name of politics whether by the Hindutva brigade or the vast world of anti-fascist unity or in the various identitarian “political” fragments is precisely the constant production of the spectacle and therefore the aesthetisation of politics. This constant production of the political spectacle in the form of marches, dances, songs, banners, poster images national and anti-national, conferences, is a generalised phenomenon of the creation of illusionary identities to obfuscate the material relations of alienating and exploitative work. It is the expression of the universalised state of crisis, for a spectacle is the obfuscated expression of crisis. It is precisely through this obfuscating modality of the spectacle that the crisis which the spectacle expresses is productivised. The spectacle, is therefore, not just the obfuscated expression of the crisis but also its productivisation.

The increasing spectaclisation of the political reveals to us the rapidity with which any self-proclaimed anti-capitalist politics is already its own subsumption by the law of value. As politics becomes about the intensification of the production of spectacles or its own aesthetisation, it productivises the crisis from which it arose and renders the crisis valorisable for capital. The so called political, instead of opening out the crisis which is ever present and generalising the negativity which it unleashes, only helps in the recomposition of capital to manage the crisis.
Guy Debord (1967) writes,

“The unreal unity the spectacle proclaims masks the class divisions on which the real unity of the capitalist mode of production is based. What obliges the producers to participate in the construction of the world is also what separates them from it. What brings together men, women and others liberated from local and national limitations is also what keeps them apart. What pushes for greater rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchical exploitation and repression.”

The pedantic calls for left and democratic unity against gundagardi or “fascism” create precisely this ideological unity of materially segmented units.

When the University Grants Commission (UGC) threatened to withdraw the non-NET fellowship, the “Education is not for Sale” movement monopolised by the institutional left in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Delhi University (DU) demanded a slight increase in the fellowship of Rs 3000-5000. While such an increase may have been sufficient for a certain segment of JNU’s students, it certainly was not close to being sufficient for several others who study in universities such as Ambedkar University where the half yearly fees is itself around Rs. 22000, and where hostels are available for less than 20-30 students. Instead of opening out the segmentations which exist both inside and in-between different universities, the movement allowed for its own subsumption as it continued to leave the segmentation unchallenged. This instrumental unity while being an ideological one was also at the same time a repressive apparatus for it attempted to repress the voices and demands of its own lower segments. Here the so called political becomes a form of primitive accumulation or extra-economic restructuring and consolidation of the socio-technical composition of labour.

What is specific to these contemporary constructions of illusory unity is that repression is becoming more and more central to their construction and maintenance. Unlike the anti-fascist or fascist unities of the early 20th century, the contemporary political unities are composed of segments far more fragmented and precarious. The fragmented and precarious base of the contemporary political unities makes it harder for the leaders to keep the fragments together through purely ideological means. Repression, therefore, becomes more and more central to this form of politics than it was ever before. As crisis becomes the norm rather than the exception, the nature of politics also changes. It increasingly tends to become its own counter-revolution, its own subsumption into the law of value.

To struggle against the present, therefore, requires us to move away, without delay, from the politics of anti-fascist or anti-authoritarian unities and their spectacles. What we require instead is the political labour of opening out the social antagonisms these political spectacles tend to erase. If politics has become more and more about the production of spectacles, which are commodities, we need to perform the critical labour of demonstrating exploitation and alienation inherent in their production. This requires a militant self-inquiry and politics that burrow through the very foundation of the structure, constantly destabilising the vertical technicisation of our sociality, reducing it to its sediments, posing a horizontal political recomposition. Only by opening out each moment of commodity production, including the political, can we begin to unravel materially and through a political practice the law of value which governs us.

Karat’s argument implies that the current situation is not as dangerous as it looks, that it is not yet fascism. He thinks so because he can’t see an economic crisis. But he can’t see the crisis because crisis is now not a moment separate from normality but is something that has pervaded each space and each moment of life today. What confronts us today is not fascism, nor is it some benign authoritarianism within the democratic structure! What confronts us today is a crisis so generalised that it is difficult to distinguish from normality. Such a situation renders the whole society anarchic so much so that only barbarism can keep it afloat. This is as the Invisible Committee notes a “world held up by the infinite management of its own collapse”. (The Invisible Committee 2009) It is, therefore, also a world far more barbaric than merely authoritarian or fascist. This is why Karat’s articulations reveal both a theoretical and political bankruptcy.

References

Banaji, Jairus. 2016. “Stalin’s Ghost Won’t Save Us from the Spectre of Fascism: A Response to Prakash Karat.” sabrangindia.in. September 12, 2016. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Benjamin, Walter. 1936 [1969]. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, 217-252. New York: Schocken Books.

Breman, Jan. 2013. “A Bogus Concept?” newleftreview.org. December. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Debord, Guy. 1967 [1994]. The Society of the Spectacle. New York: Zone Books.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. London: Harvard University Press.

Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Karat, Prakash. 2016. “Fight against BJP cannot be conducted in alliance with the other major party of the ruling classes.” indianexpress.com. September 6, 2016. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Kumar, Satendra. 2016. “Agrarian Transformation and the New Rurality in Western Uttar Pradesh.” Economic and Political Weekly.Vol. 51, Issue No. 26-27, 25 Jun, 2016

Prashad, Vijay. 2016. “Time for Left Unity: Banaji’s Petty Prose Fails the Test.” sabrangindia.in. September 15. Accessed June 26, 2017.

Tamas, G.M. 2001. “What is Post-fascism?” opendemocracy.net. September 14. Accessed June 26, 2017.

The Invisible Committee. 2009. The Coming Insurrection. Semiotext(e). Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Maruti Suzuki Manesar: The Last Rites of Exemplary Punishment

Faridabad Majdoor Samachar

On Sunday, March 12, there were discussions with some eight or ten friends and comrades from Kathmandu, Morena, Delhi and Gurgaon at Majdoor Library. The March 10 judgment in the Maruti Suzuki Manesar case was also discussed. There were some discussions on the same case on March 16 and 17 with temporary workers of the Honda Manesar and Maruti Gurgaon factories. We had more discussions with friends from Gurgaon, Delhi, Kolkata and America after the judge sentenced 13 workers to life imprisonment on March 18.

After June 2011, relations became increasingly close among apprentices, trainees, workers hired through contractor companies and permanent workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory. The company and the government also gave the workers one concession after another in order to re-establish control. Despite the concessions, on the evening of July 18, 2012, 4,000 of Shifts A and B attacked two symbols of the wage system — managers and factory buildings. This was not a sudden outburst of anger. The question was: Why should anyone be a wage worker? The luminosity produced by this rather hard knock given to wage work in order to end it reached all over the world. The possibility that such luminosity could spread through thousands of factories in the Industrial Model Town of Manesar and nearby industrial areas became distinct. But it did not come to pass.

In this scenario:

– The government, scared by the luminosity, immediately stationed 600 police commandos at IMT Manesar and arrested 147 workers. The police commandos continue to be stationed there even in 2017.

– The company was scared by the luminosity and the chairman called it class war. The management of the Manesar factory discharged 546 permanent workers and dismissed 3,000 apprentices, trainees, workers hired through contractor companies.

– Central trade unions, scared by the power of this luminosity, immediately constituted a committee of 16 union leaders to take matters out of the workers’ arena. The committee turned it into a matter of petitioning officers and ministers in Gurgaon with applications, memoranda, dharna, demonstrations, hunger strike and such like, making Gurgaon the arena for further action. The committee couldn’t entangle the temporary workers. But the 546 discharged permanent workers, their friends and comrades, and families of the 147 jailed workers became as if bonded to the committee of the 16 union leaders. They were like its captive audience. Within six months, the committee breathed its last. But those using aggressive language moved the demonstrations, hunger strikes, etc., 200 km away to the rural environs of Kaithal. By At the end of the year, on July 18, 2013, under the umbrella of 19-23 so-called revolutionary groups, with police permission, a charade was enacted in the form of a candle-light procession in daylight at the Leisure Valley park in Gurgaon, with grim faces, hoisting a picture of the dead HR manager, declared ‘pro-worker’, since he had gone (he was sent by the company) to Chandigarh for registration of the union.

– Activists and so-called revolutionary groups, scared by the luminosity, sought to deny the existence of something the workers had themselves produced. For them, workers are poor and helpless, and there is no such thing as acts by workers. According to such revolutionary groups and activists, workers need direction from others even to resolve daily problems. In their view, workers merely react. For such activists and ‘revolutionaries’, who are experts in reacting, governments, companies, capital act, and the people-workers react. And so, activists and the so-called revolutionary groups fabricated a story for July 18, 2012 too: it was a conspiracy of the Maruti Suzuki Company; 200 bouncers attacked workers; workers defended themselves in response, and the tragic accident resulted.

– Liberals are very scared of the luminosity. In order to maintain the prevalent hierarchies, liberals wish to do something for incapable workers, helpless peasants and the pitiable poor. Ever conscious of their own interests, the liberals further promote their self-interest even in the course of “doing something”. So, the stories fabricated by activists and the so-called revolutionary groups go well with the liberals. Liberal reporters and liberal lawyers readily lapped up the stories on Maruti Manesar fabricated by activists and so-called revolutionary groups in opposition to the fabrications of the company and government. And, courts and litigation became the next stop for the hypocrites after candles in the daylight and the farce of the pro-worker manager.

Managers in terror

Factory managers in Faridabad were scared of the luminosity produced by the workers at Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory on 18 July 2012. Every branch of the state in India was in agreement that the fear of this luminosity must be removed from the hearts and minds of the company higher-ups here, and the Chairmen/MDs/CEOs of corporations in Japan, America, Europe. Towards that end, concerted attempts were made, following a time-tested script, to spread terror among workers. This is why bail was denied to the 147 arrested workers by the district court, high court and the Supreme Court for three years. Armed commandos were, of course, around. And middlemen, well-versed in the protocol of controlling workers, continued playing their role of spreading terror among workers through their shenanigans, writings, speeches, pamphlets, posters, etc.

‘Punishment shall be exemplary’ — workers in Noida busted this notion in February 2013, and workers completely tore asunder this concept at Okhla industrial area on the following day. This series has gone on unbroken. It is spreading. At IMT Manesar, even with 600 commandos stationed there, the fearlessness of the men and women workers in the factories of Munjal Kiriyu, Auto Liv, JNS, Baxter, Napino Auto, ASTI Electronics, Jay Ushin, etc. has been fascinating. The same has more or less been true of the workers of Palwal district at the Prithla- Baghola industrial area, and the workers of Dhruv Global and Lakhani Vardhan group factories at Faridabad; managers and directors fled from factories terrorised by workers in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon in February 2015. The fearlessness of women workers in the tea estates of Munnar, Kerala, who chased away middlemen, is another example. Without any middlemen, the women workers of garment factories in Bangalore, Karnataka scared the central government into canceling the new PF rules. Honda Tapukara factory workers… workers of Bin Laden group in Saudi Arabia … garment workers of Bangladesh…. In December 2015, eight workers of Pricol factory in Tamil Nadu were sentenced to double life imprisonment and yet between January 4 and 10, 2016, 2,400 fearless workers (between 18 and 20 years old) of Lucas TVS factory put the management and the government in a spot.

Formalities-formalities-formalities

In such a time, the matter concerning the jailed Maruti Suzuki workers shifted from being in the purview of workers to a series of formalities, which has continued till date. In this period, when laws have become irrelevant, the scope of legislation-constitution-law is no more than a formality. Police investigation (farcical investigation), witnesses (farcical witnesses), evidence (farcical evidence), company lawyers, government lawyer, district judge, High Court judge, Supreme Court judge, defence lawyers, journalists sympathetic to either side, company officers, government officers, activists, so-called revolutionary groups, union leaders kept playing their formal roles. Punishment is also a formality as it has already been hollowed out. All these people involved in formal acts were essentially ‘going through the motions’.

Union leaders called for a lunch boycott in factory canteens for a couple of days when the judgment convicting workers was announced. An hour-long tool-down happened in the Maruti Suzuki group of factories after the sentence was pronounced. The government, assuaged now by Sunday struggles, allowed unions to hold a meeting at IMT Manesar on March 23. That meeting was organised by 40 unions from IMT and surrounding industrial areas at the end of the A shift in the factories, and was attended by 5,000-7,000 workers. Despite the large turnout, union leaders in speech after speech talked of moving the high court with an appeal. A comrade who attended the meeting called it a fundraising meeting. At present, 80-90% workers in factories are temporary while 90% at this meeting were permanent workers. According to the law, permanent workers alone can become members of factory unions. According to the law, temporary workers cannot become members of factory unions. Then, on April 4, country-wide protest demonstrations, events in other countries demanding the release of the workers and, at the same time, a memorandum asking the President of India to commute the sentence was handed by leaders in Gurgaon to the Deputy Collector of Gurgaon.

We can only give them our love

An eighty-year-old ‘revolutionary’ came from Kolkata to Gurgaon. In his view, solidarity of militant unions is essential to speed up the revolution. Maruti Suzuki Manesar union is, today, an example of a militant union. Two leaders of the Maruti Suzuki Manesar union came to meet the senior ‘revolutionary’. In the course of conversation, the senior ‘revolutionary’ kept devising strategies out of blind alleys, dead ends. The two young leaders, who had been present during the heady days of 2011-2012 at Maruti Manesar, repeatedly said that a lot had changed and now they could only give their love to the temporary workers.

Let’s take a look at this love. In the three-year management-union settlement signed in 2012, the wage of permanent workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory was hiked by Rs 18,800. Then, in the three-year settlement in September 2015, permanent workers wages were increased by Rs. 16,000. The wages of young permanent workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory is in the range of Rs 50,000-60,000. The Maruti management was so pleased with the settlement of September 2015 that it gave a gift of Rs 3,000 to every permanent worker. And on September 26, the day after the settlement was announced by leaders, 400 temporary workmen refused to enter the factory for the 6:30 am morning shift, in protest against the management-union settlement. (Temporary workmen, TW, are the workers hired directly by the company for seven months, a practice since July 2012, and are kept besides the workers hired through contractor companies.) Friends of the TW from B Shift also gathered at the factory gate. Immediately some men from the 14 villages adopted by the Maruti Suzuki Company, reached the factory in vehicles and clashed with the workers gathered there. Police intervention. Inside the factory, the ‘militant’ union cooperated with the management to keep production going. The company claimed normal production in the A shift but instead of 1,440 vehicles being assembled on the three assembly lines in the A shift, only 781 vehicles were assembled as the temporary workmen stayed away from work.

Translated by Anuradha from the April 2017 issue of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar. Email: majdoorsamachartalmel@gmail.com

Solidarity-givers of India and destiny of the Kashmiri tehreek

Pothik Ghosh

“…a free multitude is guided more by hope than fear; a conquered one, more by fear than hope: inasmuch as the former aims at making use of life, the latter but at escaping death.”
– Spinoza (2004, p.315)

“…you Chartists must not simply express pious wishes for the liberation of nations. Defeat your own internal enemies and you will then be able to pride yourselves on having defeated the entire old society.”
– Marx (2001, p.118)

Kashmir is free and how

Kashmir is no longer a nation of oppressed individuals. It is an impersonal war machine of unremitting resistance and collective courage. The pronounced mass-insurrectionary turn that its 70-year-old national liberation movement has taken since the emergence of the everyman stone-pelter in 2010 is proof of that. The cyclical return of militant mass upsurges every summer with unerring frequency, and their steadily rising intensity, has revealed that Kashmiri society has, over the past seven years, become almost entirely insurgent.

However, last year’s mass uprising, which followed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s assassination by the Indian forces, marked an even more decisive shift in this mass-insurrectionary character of the tehreek. It demonstrated that the Kashmiri war machine was now on an unstoppable roll. And whatever little doubt there might have been on that score ought to be set at rest by the ongoing Valley-wide students’ revolts. These revolts have been triggered by a surge in coercive operations by the Indian security forces after an abysmally low voter turnout was recorded during a recent bypoll in the occupied territory.

The current revolts, not unlike the mass uprising last year, demonstrate that the security forces are in a situation of retreat. The way things played out between the insurrectionary Kashmiri mass and the Indian paramilitary contingents during the 2016 uprising showed the Kashmiri people had, through their fierce resistance, chased the forces back into their bunkers and barracks. In such circumstances, the rise in sub-human forms of coercion by the security forces was, contrary to established common sense, a measure of weakening of the occupation, not its strength. And that is also pretty much the case insofar as the response of the forces to the current revolts in the Valley is concerned.

The hitherto unparalleled levels of barbaric coercion perpetrated on the Kashmiri people by the Indian Army and paramilitary forces do not in any way demonstrate the tightening of India’s control on occupied territory. Such savagery is, instead, an indication of the anxiety of an occupation that is fast losing its grip. It is an expression of fear and desperation of the occupation forces confronted with the death-defying valour of an advancing multitude.

Kashmir is, indisputably, an insurgent society. It is, therefore, a free society! The occupation, and its apparatus of venial local collaboration, enjoys not even a shred of consent among the Kashmiri population – now more than ever. This is revealed, among other things, by how the occupation has of late been going about its business. The threats issued by a frustrated Indian army chief to the stone-pelting masses of Kashmir for coming to the aid of armed freedom fighters, every time the latter are engaged in skirmishes with the Indian forces, is a case in point. General Bipin Rawat’s threats, which have subsequently been made good on the ground by the Indian forces, underscore how armed struggle in Kashmir is, contrary to Indian propaganda, an organic extension of the mass movement: the two have more and more come to work in complementary tandem with one another. (This has ensured the Kashmiri movement is not militarised even as armed struggle remains one of its indispensable aspects.) General Rawat has admitted, in almost as many words, that Kashmiri people are hostile towards the army and the Indian nation-state it represents. His frothing-at-the-mouth statement is clear evidence of that.

And if that is not good enough one only needs to turn one’s attention to how some videos of abuse of Kashmiri youth by the footsoldiers of repressive state apparatuses have gone viral on the internet. Considering that such videos serve no other purpose than demonstrate the capacity of the occupation to humiliate the Kashmiri people and strike the fear of god in their hearts, their production and circulation is most likely the work of some or the other agency – official or otherwise – of the Indian state.

However, that has not, in any way, served to break the morale of the resistance. The current mass upsurges in the Valley continue undeterred. Clearly, the Indian state, and the occupation it helms, can now do little else than purvey and openly champion such savagery, even as such savagery continues to be rendered less and less effective.

A case of the missing counter-power

Kashmir is, for all practical purposes, free. However, it is this freedom wrested by the Kashmiri tehreek for itself that is also its greatest predicament. One that confronts the movement as a question it can no longer afford to either ignore or defer: how can the force that is this freedom break through the obstructive power of occupation, and in the process organise itself into a counter-power? For, until and unless that happens, the advancing multitude of Kashmiri resistance is bound to keep running into a wall of overt repressiveness. This is the only thing that now constitutes the power of occupation in the face of an insurgent everydayness, which is well-nigh unmanageable.

The seemingly unending cycle of ever-intensifying multitudinous resistance and its obstruction by increasing levels of coercive state power demonstrates the stalemate the Kashmiri national liberation movement is caught in. The Manichean form imposed on the movement by the occupation will have to be decimated if the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination is to break out of this stalemate, and fully realise itself.

In other words, what is unavoidable is the unraveling of the Indian nation-state, which imposes this Manichean form on the Kashmiri national liberation struggle by virtue of being the centre and source of the occupation. No serious strategic attempt has been made so far to effect such unraveling. As a result, the resistance stands condemned to be part of an ever-intensifying vicious circle of mass action and its suppression by the repressive apparatuses of the Indian state. In fact, the Indian state ‘legitimises’ and steps up the coercive might that animates such suppression precisely by imposing this Manichean form on the Kashmiri resistance. It accomplishes this imposition because by its very existence as a nation-state that occupies Kashmir it ensures the mass-insurrectionary resistance against it is eventually mediated, and thus captured, by the Hurriyat parties.

As the institutionalised leadership of the Kashmiri tehreek, the Hurriyat is, by default, the nascent Kashmiri state. It exists only to articulate the insurgent Kashmiri people by tending to represent them. The existence of such an institutionalised leadership is not a matter of choice, though. This has little, if anything, to do with whether or not – and to what extent – the Hurriyat leaders are personally incorruptible. It is ineluctable because, as we have observed, it is something that is necessitated by the fact that the geo-political entity, which is the centre and source of the occupation of Kashmir is invariably a nation-state – the Indian nation-state.

Be that as it may, the existence of this institutionalised leadership ensures the movement is etatised in form while it is still a movement. Not surprisingly, this enables the Indian state to step up its military might vis-à-vis the tehreek, and produce justifications for repressive manoeuvres against it. Worse, it shackles and undermines the multitudinous form the movement has assumed, and thus thwarts the generalisability of the non-Manichean politics of self-organisation and self-emancipation that is clearly, albeit incipiently, posited by this multitudinous form.

In an overall sense, all of this is tantamount to the appropriation of the Kashmiri war machine by the Indian state. It is precisely such appropriation that Deleuze and Guattari caution us against when they write (2004, p. 461):

“When the State appropriates the war machine, the latter obviously changes in nature and function, since it is afterward directed against…all State destroyers, or else expresses relations between States, to the extent that a State undertakes exclusively to destroy another State or impose its aims upon it.”

Internalised occupation, multitudinality and the proletariat-to-come

At this point, we would do well to grasp the precise sense in which the character of the Kashmiri resistance in its current insurrectionary expression is multitudinous. The various politico-ideological forms through which mass action organises itself on the ground in Kashmir are in a state of constant flux and mutation. Their discursive signification is also continually shifting. That is so because those forms are almost entirely a function of self-activity of the Kashmiri masses – a self-activity that has become nearly unharnessable.

This is the reason why the leaders thrown up in the process of mobilisation, activation and/or generation of those politico-ideological forms manage to acquire very little stability or institutional fixity. They are, obviously, as transient as the discursive forms they are concomitant with.

In other words, the mass-insurrectionary specificity of the current moment of the Kashmiri resistance lies in the fact that masses accept historically given politico-ideological forms of organising action only to constantly master and overcome those forms, and generate new ones. It is the structuring of the masses into such a movement – which, in turn, is the outcome of their own unrelenting self-activity – that has rendered them multitudinous. This multitudinality is nothing but the capacity of the masses to articulate the insurgency of their everyday existence in its ontological primacy.

Multitudinality is the sociality of segmentation and its constitutively Manichean political form existing in a state of unprecedented precarity and crisis respectively. The multitude, then, is a socio-political form that is an intimation of what it seeks to be but is not yet: sociality as a politics qua process of abolition of segmentation and its constitutively Manichean political form, precisely by working through that form. In that context, the proletariat as a political subject is, for us, nothing save the concrete articulation of this process – together with the struggle constitutive of it in it being in and against the systemically imposed Manichean form.

The way Hardt and Negri distinguish the “traditional modern conception” of insurrection from the one that is of a more recent vintage – arguably the type the Kashmiri resistance now incarnates – is instructive for our purposes here (2005, p. 69):

“The traditional modern conception of insurrection, for example, which was defined primarily in the numerous episodes from the Paris Commune to the October Revolution, was characterized by a movement from the insurrectional activity of the masses to the creation of political vanguards, from civil war to the building of a revolutionary government, from the construction of organizations of counterpower to the conquest of state power, and from opening the constituent process to establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Such sequences of revolutionary activity are unimaginable today, and instead the experience of insurrection is being rediscovered, so to speak, in the flesh of the multitude. It may be that insurrectional activity is no longer divided into such stages but develops simultaneously.”

The multitudinous war machine anticipates its own transformation into a proletarian political subject in this precise sense. In the absence of such transformation, it is condemned to be constantly captured by the state to be transformed into a cog in its repressive apparatus.

Now, to the extent that Kashmiri society is multitudinous in being insurgent, it reveals itself to be segmented precisely in demonstrating the hitherto unprecedented precarity of the segments that constitute it, and the chronic instability of the hierarchical relations among them. In other words, the Kashmiri movement in demonstrating its multitudinality reveals how the occupation of Kashmir has been much more than what it is in its immediate historical appearance – the workings of an externalised power of domination, and a Manichean struggle between this power and the force of resistance against it.

Historically speaking, the occupation, of course, began as an external imposition. But it then went on to become internal to Kashmiri society. It has, for a while now, been embedded in the very fabric of the occupied society. That is evident not only in the divide between the collaborator class and the rest of the Kashmiri population, but also in the differentiated ways in which the occupation has so far been experienced and resisted by different non-collaborating sections of Kashmiri society. That, needless to say, has been a function of the economic relations and attendant vectors of social power constitutive of that society. This shows the Indian occupation of Kashmir has reproduced itself precisely because it has functioned as a power that internally regulates the hierarchical intercourse among segments constitutive of Kashmiri society by virtue of residing in each and every transaction among those segments.

The multitudinous character of the resistance is a clear indication that this is precisely what is now breaking down in Kashmir. In being an expression of the instability of segmentation and hierarchy in Kashmiri society, this multitudinality demonstrates the crisis of occupation as a regulative power internal to that society.

It shows the dismantling of the occupation is now inseparable from the transformation of Kashmiri society into a non-segmental sociality. For that, the only thing anti-occupation politics now needs to do is fully realise its own pronounced tendency of becoming a rigorously articulated dynamic of de-segmentation. The current multitudinous character of the Kashmiri tehreek has been posing the necessity of generalising this tendency by virtue of being an expression of precariousness, and thus crisis, of segmentation.

That is quite possibly why the tehreek’s institutionalised leadership – as in the Hurriyat – manifestly has very little say now on how anti-occupation militancy gets organised on the ground. The transience of politico-ideological forms – and the concomitant ephemerality of leadership – through which the Kashmiri masses have lately been organising their various actions against the occupation shows exactly why and how the larger movement is now beyond any significant control of a stable or institutionalised leadership. The only function that Hurriyat parties now evidently have is to put their seal of formal legitimacy on what is happening on the ground, or what has already been decided by the multitudinous resistance. This they do by periodically issuing official statements and/or making public announcements.

The Occupation’s Manichean trap

Yet, it is undeniable the Kashmiri resistance, its current multitudinous character notwithstanding, still needs such an institutionalised leadership, if only to confer formal legitimacy on its activities. This shows the function of the Hurriyat is purely statal, even if such statal functionality is for now nascent. Such mediation of the resistance by an institutionalised leadership ensures the former remains trapped in the Manichean political form, which makes it relatively easy, both logistically and strategically, for the occupation to target it coercively, militarily.

The statal form in which the movement comes to be articulated, thanks to it being represented by the Hurriyat, also ensures that the loosening segmentation of the sociality is once again tightly regimented. As a result, the multitude tends to lapse back into a cohesive order of social segmentation, instead of realising the non-segmented processual existence it so clearly posits. And tends towards. That, in turn, also tends to restore the occupation as the regulating power internal to the segmented society of Kashmir.

This then is exactly what Kashmir is now: a situation of constantly accelerating oscillation between the loosening and tightening of social segmentation, and thus the constantly intensifying precariousness of occupation.

But let us now be more accurate about all of this. It is not the existence of institutionalised leadership of the Hurriyat parties that makes it easy for the Indian state to unleash coercion on the Kashmiri resistance, albeit that is how it appears to be. It is, actually, the other way around.

The existence of the occupation now as a purely irrational and naked power of coercion, thanks to the multitudinous character of the Kashmiri resistance, compels this mass-insurrectionary movement to eventually seek representation through an institutionalised form such as the Hurriyat. In the process, the multitudinality of the resistance is captured and repressed.

Therefore, the Hurriyat, precisely in being the institutional leadership of Kashmir’s national liberation struggle, is, in the latter’s multitudinal moment, doomed to be mobilised by the Indian state as an instrument to better target its coercive and military manoeuvres against the resistance. Hence, it will not be incorrect to insist that this is, in fact, the reason why the state ‘allows’ for the existence of – and even reproduces – the Hurriyat as an institutionalised leadership of the Kashmiri national liberation movement.

The way out of this then is really quite simple. The military and coercive might, which is all that is left of the power of occupation, will have to be decimated for the Kashmiri resistance to realise the non-segmental sociality its current multitudinous character posits. And that, in turn, shall be achieved only through the unravelling of the Indian nation-state, and the power of political economy that necessitates its existence as also that of the geo-political configuration of South Asia constitutive of it as this nation-state. Only that would accomplish the end of occupation, both in form and substance, and simultaneously amount to Kashmir attaining its goal of full self-determination.

Kashmiri self-determination and unravelling of the Indian nation-state

In fact, so crucial is the unravelling of the Indian nation-state for Kashmir that were the latter to gain national independence formally without the former unravelling, such independence would amount to nothing save the perpetuation of Indian occupation by other means. Therefore, as long as the Indian nation-state exists, formal separation of Kashmir from its forced incorporation into the so-called Indian Union will not automatically translate into decolonisation.

Decolonisation, after all, is not merely the end of formal colonisation. It must also be the end of occupation in substance – that is, it must amount to thwarting all possibility of post-colonial neo-colonisation. The Indian nation-state will, without doubt, resort to such neo-colonisation of Kashmir if it gains its national independence without extinguishing India.

This it will do by instrumentalising the ruling classes of the formally free Kashmiri nation in much the same way it now instrumentalises the institutionalised leadership of its national liberation movement. Its very existence as the kind of nation-state it is, destines India to do nothing else but this in a scenario where Kashmir is formally free.

That such a scenario is now not entirely implausible is something the Kashmiri resistance, and all those who claim to be in solidarity with it, must seriously reckon with. In the face of uncontrollable multitudinalisation of the Kashmiri national liberation struggle, which reveals the social-revolutionary orientation it has almost nearly acquired, the Indian state could well employ the strategic ruse of formally granting Kashmir national independence in order to regiment this multitudinality and, thereby, nip the impending social revolution in the bud.

After all, the sovereign state of the new Kashmiri nation would, by virtue of coming into existence, necessarily tend towards containing this multitudinousness by structuring it into a national society. And that would be crucial for the continued survival of India. The social-revolutionary upheaval that the increasing multitudinisation of the Kashmiri movement portends for the entire subcontinent, threatens the Indian nation-state with inevitable extinction.

The unravelling of the Indian nation-state is, clearly, the destiny of the Kashmiri national liberation movement. Its multitudinous character indicates that with great acuity and accuracy. That is the only way for the Kashmiri people to really end the occupation, and achieve their goal of national independence and self-determination in any substantive and meaningful sense.

Settling for formal national independence in the absence of such unravelling of India would mean, as we have already observed, that Kashmir is trapped by the Indian nation-state in a renewed bout of occupation in the form of neo-colonisation.

Is Kashmir a case of classical colonialism?

To properly understand why that is so, one needs to rigorously inquire into the substance of the Indian occupation of Kashmir. It has historically been a colonial occupation. And even now that is the discursive form in which the relationship between India and Kashmir manifests itself. Yet, if we were to look through this discursive appearance to grasp how it is articulated within the larger structure of hierarchised socio-economic relations that are concretely indexed by this entity called the Indian Union, we will realise the Indian occupation of Kashmir is far from classical colonialism.

The main purpose of this occupation, unlike classical colonialism, is not extraction of Kashmiri resources for Indian industry. Nor is it about opening up markets for absorbing commodities overproduced by industry in the Indian mainland. Of course, both do, in some measure, still happen – actually quite a bit when it comes to something like hydroelectricity. But that is not the central point of the occupation.

The whole purpose of Kashmir’s occupation is the securing of geo-political hegemony of India in South Asia. In this context, the de-development Indian occupation wreaks in Kashmir is neither for extraction of indigenous resources nor is it for opening up consumption markets for commodities overproduced by industry in the Indian mainland. It is, instead, a necessary part of an attempt to ensure the perennial subservience of the occupied population while guaranteeing the effective operation of various patronage networks run by the occupation in order to make the subservient population even more dependent on the Indian state so that it is completely at its mercy. That is the occupation’s way of ensuring its own longevity.

India’s geo-political hegemony, which its occupation of Kashmir asserts and maintains, is absolutely crucial for the nation. For, it is precisely through such regional hegemony that the Indian nation-state is able to produce and shore up nationalist consensus in its mainland. That is important because only by producing and reinforcing such consensus can the Indian nation-state – which is nothing but a concrete historical index of social labour organised into a systemic regime of differentiated or segmented necessity – maintain and reproduce itself.

The Indian nation-state is like every other nation-state, which is constitutive of the capitalist world-system as the basic unit of organising international division of labour. It, therefore, concretely indexes the organisation of social labour into a regime of differential dis-privilege and differentiated necessity. In other words, it is a concretely-indexed system of transfer and extraction of surplus labour-time.

Nationalist consensus, in such a situation, is the ideological form constitutive of this materiality of segmented organisation of social labour in its different and differentiated, but mutually combined historical contexts. It is a form that is constitutive of different segments of social labour representing their everyday struggles in terms of rights. Consequently, this form, in being bolstered, reinforces such juridical representation (and distortion) of the everyday struggles of social labour. As a result, the strengthening of this form enables the reproduction of the capitalist system and the nation-state that is its concrete index.

Now, as far as India’s socio-historical specificity is concerned, it can bolster this nationalist consensus – its register preponderantly Islamophobic and brahminical – only by asserting its hegemony in South Asia, primarily through the occupation of Kashmir. In fact, this is the specificity of India occupied Kashmir (IoK), wherein it serves to preserve capital by reinforcing the power of political economy in its concrete South Asian regionality and, thereby, in its particular global conjuncturality. It is in this precise sense that India is an imperialist entity. Here, once again, is evidence – this time perhaps even more conclusive – that there can be no real freedom for Kashmir without the unravelling of the Indian nation-state.

India’s mediatic solidarity-givers and the missing proletarian revolution

Of course, it is very important that this is registered by the Kashmiri resistance at the level of its collective intelligence. But it is even more important the solidarity-givers of Indian mainland grasp this. For, it is in the Indian mainland that the final battle for the liberation of Kashmir will have to be fought and won.

It is here the unravelling of the Indian nation-state will have to be ultimately effected by shattering the nationalist consensus. And this will only be brought about through militant interventions that foreground the counter-tendency of rupture inherent in the quotidian nature of the struggles of different segments of ‘Indian’ social labour vis-à-vis their default tendency of juridical representation and systemic subsumption.

But for that, solidarity-giving Indian mainlanders need to realise the question that has been driving their enterprise is thoroughly misplaced. In giving such solidarity to the Kashmiri tehreek, they have always asked: ‘What can we do for Kashmir and its struggle against occupation?’ But solidarity is not a sentiment to be abstractly expressed and extended. It is a politics that has to be produced as a concrete strategy and materiality.

In order to produce such a strategy mainland solidarity-givers would do well to invert their question. What they need to ask, instead, is the following: What is the Kashmiri movement against Indian occupation doing for the everyday struggles of the working people of mainland India?

The answer to that is something they need to build on. Only then will their sympathy for the suffering people of IoK cease to be the abstract charity it currently is, and become a concretely-grounded empathy for the sufferings of comrades with whom they share a concrete horizon of internationalism of struggles.

In other words, one cannot produce such a politics of solidarity unless one recognises that the challenge the Kashmiri movement poses to India’s geo-political hegemony in South Asia favours and advances the everyday struggles of working masses in the Indian mainland. Such a challenge, needless to say, tends to concomitantly weaken the Indian nation-state as a concrete historical index of organising labour into a sociality of capital.

In such circumstances, unravelling of the Indian nation and its constitutive state is absolutely indispensable for the emancipation of mainland India’s social labour from the regime of differentiated necessity it is imprisoned in. Once this is recognised, all the confusion, equivocation and bad faith, which have recently come to the fore, thanks to some Indian leftists distinguishing between “azadi in India” and “azadi from India” so that they can comfortably ride both horses, will vanish like camphor.

The everyday struggles of the masses inhabiting the Indian mainland are nothing but struggles of various segments of social labour to emancipate themselves from the necessity constitutive of their differentiated quotidian existence. However, the systemic regime within which such struggles emerge to challenge that regime in its concrete specifications tends to register, articulate and situate those struggles as demands for rights placed on the system. That amounts to the fetishisation or mystification of those struggles and their everydayness into juridicality. And this is precisely the reason why disaffection with the system often adopts nationalism and other related reactionary ideological forms to represent itself as an everyday experience. This is how different segments of social labour come to be organised into a hierarchy of biopolitical identities.

For this reason, mainland Indians committed to forging an effective politics of solidarity with the Kashmiri national liberation struggle must necessarily double up as militants of proletarian-revolutionary politics. They need to intervene in the various everyday struggles of different segments of social labour – including their own – to demonstrate through militant inquiry and self-inquiry how those struggles are actually system-unravelling, and are rendered juridical only on account of being counted and placed by the system. Only through such interventionist demonstrations can those everyday struggles be impelled to generalise what they ontologically are: basic units of a movement that will negate the Indian nation-state as a historically indexed regime of capital.

Such a movement in the mainland will significantly undermine the hegemony of the Indian nation-state. That will, in turn, enable the Kashmiri national liberation struggle to advance further. What we shall have, in such circumstances, is the dialectical unfolding of the Kashmiri resistance enabling the everyday struggles of the working masses in the Indian mainland, even as the latter enable the former’s advance by being the generalisation of their own revolutionary ontology.

The Indian solidarity-givers – most of them ‘radicals’ of some sort or the other – have made no serious attempt to envision their politics of solidarity in those concrete terms. Theirs has mostly been a ‘solidarity’ of self-aggrandising display of bravado and social-mediatic spectacles of abstract heroism. In this context, the criticism Fanon levelled against those “French intellectuals and democrats” who sought to be in solidarity with the Algerian national liberation struggle becomes quite pertinent (1988, p.80):

“…French intellectuals and democrats have periodically addressed themselves to the FLN. Most of the time they have proffered either political advice or criticisms concerning this or that aspect of the war of liberation. This attitude of the French intelligentsia must not be interpreted as the consequence of an inner solidarity with the Algerian people. This advice and these criticisms are to be explained by the ill-repressed desire to guide, to direct the very liberation movement of the oppressed.

“Thus can be understood the constant oscillation of the French democrats between a manifest or latent hostility and the wholly unreal aspiration to militate ‘actively to the end.’ Such a confusion indicates a lack of preparation for the facing of concrete problems and a failure on the part of French democrats to immerse themselves in the political life of their own country.”

‘Political equality of nations’: the burden of an abstract schema

This failure of our solidarity-giving mainland ‘radicals’ – leftists or otherwise – to envisage their solidarity with the Kashmiri national liberation movement by way of “immers(ing) themselves in the political life of their own country” stems from the strategically flawed manner in which they approach and champion the cause of Kashmir’s national independence. So far they have, to all intents and purposes, been guided in this by the abstract schema of political equality of nations. A hoary Leninist dogma now, it was meant to do no more than fulfil the specific revolutionary-tactical requirements of Lenin’s own conjuncture.

As a Naxalite/Maoist articulation in the Indian context, political equality of nations implied federal equality of nationalities. It was meant to be a tactical manoeuvre to democratise the Indian Union by way of deepening its federalisation. Now it must be clarified here that separation of a nationality/nation from the Indian Union is not necessarily a break with this process of federalisation. In fact, it can very well spell its continuity. That is because one can quite legitimately raise and articulate the question of formal separation and national independence from the Indian Union by employing this federalising approach. All one needs to do in such a situation is change one’s articulation of the territorial form of federalism from the national to the regional/subcontinental. India’s politico-economic relations with Nepal and Bhutan – or, for that matter, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar –, or even Pakistan, arguably testify to that.

Such a federalising approach to the question of national independence of Kashmir – or other occupied territories in the so-called Indian Northeast – is bound to continue placing the Indian Union at the geo-political centre of things, implicitly or otherwise. That is because such an approach to the question of separation and national independence necessarily presupposes the continued existence of the Indian nation-state.

Not surprisingly, the politics of solidarity-giving, which is either deliberately or unreflexively informed by this bourgeois republican conception of political equality of nations, contributes to both reinforcing India’s position as a regional hegemon and its continued Manichean domination of Kashmir.

In fact, it is on account of this approach that Indian radicals, who support the Kashmiri national liberation struggle, have proved to be, in effect, no different from those sections of the Indian left, which pose the question of Kashmir as nothing more than a human rights issue. Arguably, the former, just like the latter, have no real socio-political programme for unravelling the Indian nation-state through a praxis of concretely-grounded post-national revolutionary internationalism. Hence, their support for Kashmir’s azadi has meant no more than placing it as a demand on the Indian state. Such an abstract politics of demand, not unlike the left-liberal politics of human rights, confers legitimacy on the Indian state and is, in essence, both reformist and nationalist.

Of course, some among those solidarity-givers are participants in, or ideological supporters of, the armed struggle being waged by the Indian Maoists in the geographic heart of this nation. But to the extent that the Indian Maoists’ ‘revolutionary’ programme is that of democratising the Indian nation in the process of seizing its state apparatus, and not of effecting its unravelling, they are, at best, reformists with guns.

The short point here being almost all our solidarity-giving mainlanders have proved incapable of envisaging their solidarity with the Kashmiri tehreek in terms of a concrete, mainland-based praxis for unravelling the Indian nation-state. This incapability stems from their failure to accurately grasp and concretely analyse the political-economic specificity of the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Relative surplus population: the political economy and biopolitics of occupation

We have already seen how the main purpose of occupation of Kashmir is to bolster nationalist consensus in the Indian mainland by asserting India’s subcontinental hegemony. But in the process of accomplishing that the occupation has also rendered Kashmir a reserve of “relative surplus population” (Marx, 1986, pp. 589-599).

That part of the population, which does not directly participate in industrial production at any given moment of development of capital, is relative surplus population. This population, it must also be clarified, keeps burgeoning as increasing levels of automation – or organic composition of capital (c/v) – tend to expel more and more living labour from the circuit of industrial production.

That does not, however, mean this surplus population is dispensable for capital, and is its absolute outside. The productive internality of relative surplus population to capital lies in the fact that capital must necessarily produce it in order to raise the productivity of its industrial economy. It is also productively internal to capital because precisely in being outside the latter’s circuit of industrial production it is systemically functionalised to both subsidise and regiment the labour that is productively employed.

This shows capital is a system that productively includes precisely through hierarchical exclusion. It also reveals that capital as a system – political economy to be precise – is much more than industrial production and wage-labour, albeit the latter is undoubtedly its organising centre. In such circumstances, the existence of relative surplus population itself constitutes a segmented economy of its own reproduction, which is an economy of production of surplus labour-power.

But what of the population of Kashmir? How exactly does it qualify as an economy of relative surplus population? How does its military occupation by India, which marks it as an outside of the Indian mainland and the nationalist consensus constitutive of it, at once also internalise it into the capitalist economy and sociality that is concretely indexed by this Indian nation-state?

For one, the living human bodies that comprise this population exist, and are reproduced, only to be tortured and/or killed. In this they are typically “homo sacer” (Agamben, 1998, p. 82): “Life that cannot be sacrificed and yet may be killed….” This is integral to securing, as we have earlier observed, the power of political economy in its regionality by enabling India to assert its geo-political hegemony. For another, the occupied territory with its population is one of the many laboratories of capital qua the Indian state where the latter sharpens various modalities of command and coercion for them to be subsequently deployed at different controlled levels of intensity in the Indian mainland in order to enhance extraction and/or transfer of surplus labour-time. This is the biopolitical crux of the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

But the thing with relative surplus population is that it is internal to capital by virtue of being outside its productive circuit. This renders it the immanent crisis of capital. One that always threatens to run amok and unravel the system, and yet something that capital cannot do without.

For this reason, capital as a system is, in Marx’s words, a “moving contradiction” that always tends to allay and manage, and even productivise, the experience of alienation constitutive of the process of subjectivation concomitant with the production of relative surplus population. But in doing that it invariably tends to intensify the crisis embodied in the surplus population, which it once again seeks to manage, etc. And thus unfolds this centrifugalising dialectic till the crisis becomes so completely unmanageable that it unravels capital and tends towards instituting a new, post-capitalist duration.

Clearly, once we begin to see the people of occupied Kashmir as relative surplus population we become theoretically capable of knocking the bottom out of the specious argument – articulated by a section of Indian left-liberals – that the unrest in Kashmir is due to lack of employment opportunities. The relative surplus population, and its economy, is always linked to provisioning of productive employment insofar as the latter is constitutive of the industrial economy that necessarily produces and mobilises this surplus population in the course of its development or expanded reproduction.

In such circumstances, the suggestion that requisite employment opportunities could address the concerns and anger of the insurgent Kashmiri masses, which constitute a reserve of surplus labouring population, is fallacious. The process through which a certain mass of people is rendered relative surplus population is that of progressive increase in the organic composition of capital. And that, contrary to liberal apologetics, leads to “no corresponding rise in the general demand for labour” (Marx, 1986, p.599). Marx writes (1986, pp.598-599):

“…if through the introduction of new, or the extension of old, machinery, a portion of variable capital is transformed into constant, the economic apologist interprets this operation which “fixes” capital and by that very act sets labourers “free,” in exactly the opposite way, pretending that it sets free capital for the labourers. Only now can one fully understand the effrontery of these apologists. What are set free are not only the labourers immediately turned out by the machines, but also their future substitutes in the rising generation, and the additional contingent, that with the usual extension of trade on the old basis would be regularly absorbed. They are now all “set free,” and every new bit of capital looking out for employment can dispose of them. Whether it attracts them or others, the effect on the general labour demand will be nil, if this capital is just sufficient to take out of the market as many labourers as the machines threw upon it. If it employs a smaller number, that of the supernumeraries increases; if it employs a greater, the general demand for labour only increases to the extent of the excess of the employed over those “set free.” The impulse that additional capital, seeking an outlet, would otherwise have given to the general demand for labour, is therefore in every case neutralised to the extent of the labourers thrown out of employment by the machine. That is to say, the mechanism of capitalistic production so manages matters that the absolute increase of capital is accompanied by no corresponding rise in the general demand for labour. And this the apologist calls a compensation for the misery, the sufferings, the possible death of the displaced labourers during the transition period that banishes them into the industrial reserve army! The demand for labour is not identical with increase of capital, nor supply of labour with increase of the working class. It is not a case of two independent forces working on one another. Les dés sont pipés.”

In this context, the left-liberal contention that lack of proper employment is the source of mass unrest in Kashmir is, of course, theoretically erroneous. It is politically disingenuous too. This suggestion, implied or otherwise, of creating requisite employment opportunities for the Kashmiri population is meant to enable further segmentation of the economy of the surplus population in Kashmir so that its current multitudinality is dissipated and its mass-insurrectionary character rendered diffuse. This shows how such a liberal argument is steeped in nationalism and ensures liberalism remains the obverse of reactionary nationalism.

Now the surplus population is structurally internal to the productive-industrial economy of capital on account of its experience of being outside the latter. It is, therefore, a contradiction at the heart of capital the latter needs to manage, and leverage as a regimenting and thus productivising force vis-à-vis productively employed labour. Surplus population is, therefore, also the force that can unravel the economy of capital.

Such a situation arises when the capitalist social system can no longer manage the surplus population it is compelled to produce in order to reproduce itself by increasing productivity. Then the subjective experience of being alienated from capital tends to institute its own duration and become its own material ground. This is the tendency of subtraction from capital that is also simultaneously the tendency of its negation. Any intervention that strives to be radical should seek to sharpen this tendency of subtraction qua negation, which is inherent in the subjective experience of alienation constitutive of the production and mobilisation of relative surplus population. ‘Bifo’ Berardi helps us theorise such politics when he writes (2009. pp. 45-46):

“Labor is an activity estranged from the existence of the workers that is imposed on everyday life by the construction of disciplinary structures created over the course of the entire history of modern civilization. Only the estrangement from labor makes liberatory dynamics possible, shifting the flow of desire from (industrial) repetition towards (cognitive) difference. The concept of estrangement implies an intentionality that is determined by an estranged behavior.

“Estranged from what? From all forms of labor dependent on capital.

“Workers do not suffer from their alienation when they can transform it into active estrangement, that is to say, into refusal.”

Kashmiri migrants, financialisation and the economy of surplus(ed) population

On this count, things are turning out to be no different with regard to Kashmir. The subjective experience of alienation produced by the military-coercive power of the occupation among the population in the Valley is what has always threatened the existence of the Indian nation-state, and the capitalist social power it has indexed. This is best exemplified by the multitudinous, mass-insurrectionary form the Kashmiri resistance has come to assume of late.

That, however, is only one part of the story. The other part is how de-development being wreaked by the occupation has been compelling sections of the occupied population – mainly cognitarians such as higher education-seeking students and young professionals of various kinds – to come to the mainland in search of better livelihood opportunities. That has provided the Indian executives of capital –the various governments that have manned the Indian state from time to time – with the opportunity to integrate this section of the occupied population, and through them produce and strengthen consensus in its favour in the occupied territory. Programmes such as Operation Sadbhavana are only the most blatant and overt attempts by the executives of Indian state to leverage this opportunity.

They have, however, failed to achieve anything of significance. In fact, the presence of Kashmiris – cognitarians but also some non-cognitarian working people – in the Indian mainland has only served to worsen the occupation’s crisis of legitimacy in the Valley. The Indian occupation of Kashmir is, without doubt, a politico-military fact insofar as the occupied territory is concerned. But for that very reason, it also functions as an ethno-nationalist, and/or ethno-religious and Islmaophobic ideology in the mainland.

This ideology – embodied by significant sections of non-Kashmiri and/or non-Muslim working people in the course of their everyday social operations – serves to regiment the migrants from the occupied territory into yet another category of relative surplus population.

In fact, it is by regimenting this section of Kashmiri migrants through the agency of other, more ‘mainstreamed’ non-Kashmiri and/or non-Muslim Indian working people that capital seeks to manage the overall increase in precarity of Indian social labour due to an unprecedented level of same-skilling having been effected by a qualitative leap in productive forces.

In this situation, migrants from IoK are no longer the only people who constitute relative surplus population. Considering that the overall increase in precarity of social labour on the Indian subcontinent, together with the world at large, has resulted in near complete disappearance of permanent productive employment, what we have now is a situation, wherein almost the entire working population has become surplus.

In such a scenario, productive employment is almost entirely temporary in nature, and is a constantly revolving door of entry and exit that serves to manage and regiment this surplus population by enabling its hierarchical, though precarious, economy of reproduction. Therefore, what we arguably have here is no longer simply an economy that produces surplus population and serves to manage and reproduce it. Rather, it is now an economy constitutive of surplus(ing) of the entire population. This is a qualitative shift in the economy of relative surplus population – a change that is characteristic of our late-capitalist, or neoliberal, conjuncture.

What such an economy of surplus(ing) does is it steps up the tendency of capital accumulation to entirely financialise itself. As a result, the process of capital accumulation becomes more and more speculative (M-M’) while the centrality of industrial production (valorisation through creation of use-values or M-C-M’) is progressively diminished. This shift has, in turn, obviously further entrenched the economy of surplus(ing) of the entire population. As far as mainland India is concerned, this has been evident in the increasing casualisation and contractualisation of so-called productive employment in almost all sectors of the economy.

In such circumstances, the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of non-Kashmiri and/or non-Muslim Indian working people seek to cope with this intensifying precarisation, which is imposed by the system, by socially regimenting the Kashmiri Muslim migrants. They become the systemic agency of such regimentation because by actively inflicting such regimentation on the Kashmiri migrants at the system’s behest they seek to somewhat assuage the subalternisation they experience on account of increasing socio-economic precarity. The ethno-nationalist/ethno-religious ideological register in which the Indian occupation of Kashmir operates as a form of socialisation in the Indian mainland ensures that.

This demonstrates, as we have insisted, that the Kashmiri migrants are now a segment of the almost entirely surplus(ed) population of working masses in the Indian mainland. The implication being that they are differentially integrated into the economy of capital – which in its objective existence is concretely indexed by the Indian nation-state – precisely on account of their subjective experience of being alienated from both that geo-political entity called the Indian Union, and the sociality of mainland India.

It also shows that the privilege enjoyed by the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of surplus(ed) population of mainland India vis-à-vis the segment of migrant Kashmiri Muslims is nothing but a socially embedded ideological form that serves to entrench them further in the system. It enables those who articulate it, to do no more than merely cope with the effects of their precarity and subalternisation by way of socially oppressing and regimenting others, and, thereby, acceding to their own continued precarisation and domination by the system.

Such ‘privilege’ then is a mechanism constitutive of the politics and economy of segmentation of the entire surplus(ed) population through which capital manages and controls this population, and thus ensures its own continued survival as a process of exploitation and deepening precarity.

Barbaric fascisation and a militant inquiry of hope

Of course, the progressive deepening of such precarity will enhance the probability of weakening the grip this ‘privilege’ has on the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian working people. But that is only a probability and there is nothing predetermined about it. What is, at this point, certain is that such deepening of socio-economic precarity will be politically reflected in an even greater intensification of the barbaric fascisation we currently confront in this part of the world.

What is needed, in such circumstances, are interventions that demonstrate through a ceaseless process of militant inquiry and self-inquiry how the Indian occupation of Kashmir, among other such apparently archaic forms of socio-economic domination, functions as a socially-embedded ideology that enables capital to perpetuate itself as the exploitative and precarity-inducing system it is.

Such investigations will have to continuously demonstrate to the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian working people how their ‘privilege’ vis-à-vis the Kashmiri migrants is something that concretely renders them complicit in their own systemic domination, exploitation and precarisation too. That is crucial if those ‘mainstreamed’ sections of the working population in mainland India are to turn away from their ‘privilege’ – qua socialised regimentation of Kashmiri migrants – and focus on negating the Indian nation-state as the concrete regional index of capital in this part of the world. This, as we have seen over and over again, is both the source of occupation of Kashmir and regimentation of the surplus(ed) population of mainland India.

Such inquiry and self-inquiry-driven militant interventions is exactly what mainland Indians claiming to be in solidarity with the Kashmiri resistance need to engage in, particularly with regard to their own more ‘mainstreamed’ locations. Only then will they come to practise solidarity as a politics of concrete heroism.

Those interventions on their part will make it easier for the Kashmiri migrants to compel the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian working people to grasp how Indian occupation of Kashmir is the system’s instrument to regiment not only Kashmiris but the ‘Indian’ working people as a whole. The migrant Kashmiri cognitarian is likely to accomplish that by way of militating against concrete forms of social regimentation imposed on him/her in mainland India through operationalisation of the occupation as a socially-embedded ideology. That is important if his/her subjective experience of alienation is to really become its own material ground. Something that can only be achieved in the process of abolishing the objectivity of the economy, which integrates him/her precisely by producing this experience of alienation.

This is how the struggle against Indian occupation of Kashmir also becomes a working-class question internal to the everydayness of social labour in its different moments in mainland India. A necessary moment, therefore, in the constellation of struggles that will negate the Indian nation-state, and in the process tend towards transforming South Asia into a post-national geo-polity.

Let us try and illustrate this empirically. One of the more serious and chronic problems the migrant Kashmiri Muslims – particularly the cognitarians among them – face in mainland India is the accessing of liveable rented accommodation. The functioning of the occupation as an ethno-nationalist/ethno-religious, Islamophobic ideology in mainland India ensures that. As an ideological register embedded in the form of everyday socialisation, it is embodied and animated by the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of working people of mainland India. It is they who hugely contribute to this difficulty of the Kashmiri Muslim migrant in the process of compounding the precarity of his/her livelihood and life.

And yet, it is this same occupation as a politico-military fact that serves to regiment those ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian population. The migration from the Valley to mainland India has obviously made it easier for rent-seeking landlords to push up house rents, particularly in those urban areas that are inhabited by not-too-insignificant chunks of Kashmiri migrants. This is due to the additional demand for housing in such areas. Such rent hikes obviously affects all, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris alike, even while there is a social differential at work in terms of ease of access to rented accommodation. Such rent hikes imply an across-the-board cut in social wages – and intensification of work both in the reproductive and the so-called productive realms.

The occupation of Kashmir stands revealed here as something that clearly enables rent-seeking sections of capital to extract more rent from all house-tenants in mainland India. It, therefore, also reveals itself as a mechanism by which capital as a socio-economic system regiments all the working people – or the entire surplus(ed) population – in the Indian mainland by compelling them as a collectivity to do more labour – both unproductive and productive.

Here then is a concrete instance of how the occupation of Kashmir is an instrument through which capital seeks to regiment Kashmiri masses in the Valley, and migrant Kashmiri cognitarians and non-Kashmiri working people in mainland India as various segments of a constantly surplus(ed) population.

Interventions in the form of militant inquiry in mainland India can go a long way in uncovering more such concrete examples. And only through such uncovering can a concretely internationalist politics of solidarity be forged between the Kashmiri resistance against Indian occupation and the everyday struggles of social labour in mainland India.

Let us then hope a concrete-utopian hope for a perpetual machine of insurgency, which will not rest until it has radically re-ordered all of South Asia into an ever-expanding, post-national and non-statal horizon of revolution. That is what the Kashmiri tehreek is fated to achieve. And so are we, if we care to take note of things.

References

Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, tr. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1998]

Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’, The Soul At Work, trs. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia [Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, California, 2009]

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus, tr. Brian Massumi [Continuum, London, New York, 2004]

Fanon, Frantz, Toward the African Revolution, tr. Haakon Chevalier [Grove Press, New York, 1988]

Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio, Multitude [Penguin Books, New York, 2006]

Marx, Karl, ‘Speech at the International Meeting held in London on November 29, 1847 to mark the 17th anniversary of the Polish Uprising of 1830’. In On the National and Colonial Questions: Selected Writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ed. Aijaz Ahmad [LeftWord, Delhi, 2001]

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume I, tr. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Frederick Engels [Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986]

Spinoza, Benedict de, A Political Treatise in A Theologico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, tr. R.H.M. Elwes [Dover Publications, New York, 2004]

A Review of “Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture”

Viplav

Gabriel Kuhn (ed. & trans.). Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture. Selected Writings of Julius Deutsch. Oakland, CA: PM Press. 2017

This collection of essays by Austromarxist organiser Julius Deutsch brings into focus a rarely emphasised aspect of the workers’ movement. The idea that this movement is cultural is, of course, not novel. Especially after Gramsci, no one has disputed that. Perhaps it has been overemphasised. Some who are wary of Gramsci have stressed the same via Maoism – through the experience or the idea of Cultural Revolution. But in general the cultural question has been reduced to disputes over traditions and their interpretations, thus focusing on the rewriting of their histories; and, more recently, to valorising the alterity of the subalterns.

The uniqueness of the Austromarxist approach, as represented in this volume, lies in its relative negligence of the talk about historical traditions and alter-traditions. This avoidance allows us to understand culture in its making or doing, not overloaded by the question of legacies and traditions. The building of culture is understood in terms of the fight against capitalism. Culture is about the ethos of this struggle. If this culture is essentially solidaristic, this solidarity is central to the struggle itself. As the editor of this volume rightly contends:

“The historical workers’ movement addressed all aspects of everyday existence, including some – such as sports and drink – that might be considered bourgeois, middle class, or lifestylist by contemporary activists.” (v)


The book contains Deutsch’s writings on the role of sports, anti-alcoholism and workers’ militia in workers’ struggles, especially during the open barbaric conjunctures of capitalism, like fascism. Here we are witness to the Austromarxist elaborations on Korporkultur, which combined anti-fascist workers’ militia with sports international and anti-alcohol movements. It emphasises on “the physicality of the proletarian movement”. (vii)

Gabriel Kuhn has written a lucid introduction providing a detailed historical background in which these texts were conceived. Kuhn appends a short note prior to this pointing out two positive lessons that can be drawn for our times from these writings. It is this that makes this volume well worth a read. The first – the cultural aspect of the workers’ movement – we have already mentioned. The second is the emphasis Austro-Marxism placed on the unity and coordination between different ideological-organisational tendencies within the working-class movement. In Kuhn’s own words, “at a time when the Left is on defensive and the combined threat of neoliberalism and neofascism seems to make leftwing unity mandatory, it is crucial to learn from past attempts at forming broad working-class alliances, and to examine both their achievements and their failures”.(vi)

This book does another very important service to the contemporary knowledge within the radical movements. It dispels the long-nurtured myth that Austromarxists were simply armchair intellectuals who theorised from ivory towers. It was a myth similar to that of Kautsky, whose most principled disciple and vociferous critic Lenin called him a “renegade” at a particular historical juncture and that epithet has, ever since, remained as if it were his first name. With regard to the Austromarxists, the myth was very unfortunate not just because it presented a wrong picture of them, but more so because it kept in oblivion perhaps the most heroic attempt of the working class to self-organise, and resist the insurgence of the fascist forces. Also, the great experience of Red Vienna was rendered marginal in the euphoria of the East European “successes”. One-and-a-half decades of Red Vienna (1919-34) have been considered by scholars as “the most innovative example of a progressive urban culture and society to be attempted by any major socialist or communist organisation outside of Russia” (Anson Rabinbach), and as “one of the most spectacular cultural triumphs of Western history” (Karl Polanyi, quoted on pp 8). But the intoxication of East European “successes”, despite their statist and nationalist character, overwhelmed the socialist imagination throughout the globe, and effectively outlawed every urban insurgence, which was in fact closer to the ideal of Paris Commune – its self-organisational and self-emancipatory nature – from mainstream working-class literature.

Since Red Vienna had to guard itself against conservative forces right from its inception, workers’ militias in Austria were formed early on, though their network was formalised in 1923 as the Republican Schutzbund to counter reactionary paramilitary organisation Heimwehr (Militant Home Defense) – “to save the working class from the violent acts of monarchism and fascism; it wants to defend democracy and the republic”. (15) But the tragedy lay in the fact that in the name of defending democracy and the republic, the leadership never allowed the militias to save the working class from the fascist attack. They deferred the civil war by their inaction, and effectively strengthened the state machinery, but when the civil war eventually came upon them in 1934, the militias were led to a heroic defeat. Otto Bauer himself admitted: “We avoided the struggle because we wanted to spare the country the catastrophe of a bloody civil war. Eleven months later, the civil war came anyway, but for us under much less favourable circumstances. We had made a mistake; the most fatal of our mistakes.”(20)

The tenor and content of Julius Deutsch’s writings provide us enough clues to the Austromarxist style of thinking politics that led to a political paralysis at critical junctures. In the first text, which deals directly with workers’ militias, Deutsch recognises the need for incorporating the defence units into “the workers’ culture as a whole” and for their integration with other workers’ organisations. “This is necessary since, in most countries, civil war is latent. It might slumber for a while, but then it breaks out again with full force.” (61) Quite clearly they were quick in identifying the latent perils of their times, but they reduced the question of political interventions to manufacturing forms and institutions. The text is more about the need for a centralised controlling of the militias and keeping them disciplined rather than about politicising them – developing their self-capacity to respond to the daily class struggles. Deutsch externalises the need for proletarian self-defence and reduces it to organisational-administrative issues of mere defence.

The subsequent text that deals with mass sports provides a solid critique of bourgeois sport:

“Workers’ sport differs at its very core from the sport of the propertied classes. While the latter is individualistic, the former is collectivist. While bourgeois sport champions individual performance and records, workers’ sport champions mass achievements and solidarity.
The terms bourgeois sport and workers’ sport do not only indicate political opposites. They also indicate deep factual differences. Their very essence is different. Workers’ sport is closely tied to the development of a new proletarian culture.”(77. Emphases original)

Evidently, Deutsch does well to substantiate the point that the Austromarxist presentation of the cultural question was not just about traditions, but about building “a new proletarian culture”. However, it is precisely this presentation that once again externalises the cultural question, reducing it to the issue of engineering new institutions and organising events. They were unable to present the proletarian cultural question as immanent in the daily contention between labour and capital. Hence, it seems that collectivism and solidarity were to be externally injected through institutions like sports clubs and Workers’ Olympics.

The last text deals with the importance of sobriety, which once again treats it more like an issue related to workers’ discipline, and an organisational problem. Deutsch is very emphatic in recognising the thusness of class struggle:

“The question is not whether we wish for a class struggle. The class struggle simply exists. It is a fact, and we have to accept it as such, just like the wind and the weather.”(95. Emphases original)

But ultimately, for him, this is a mere fact, of which workers must be made conscious. Attaining this consciousness needs a pedagogic disciplining by the enlightened leadership. The ethos of class struggle has to be engineered.

The Austromarxists were way ahead of their comrades in other parts of Europe in recognising the importance of the physicality of workers’ movement – of regular militias, sports culture and sobriety, which were generally stressed in lifestylist and conservative politics. They also understood the importance of proletarian self-defence. But despite its recognition, it was fitted in the same social-democratic vanguardist mould, reducing self-defence to a defence of the republican status quo, thus, disciplining the proletarian self in the service of the crumbling system, never allowing the full leeway to the potential of the proletarian self-defence to become a ground for the reconstruction of the Austrian society.

The Austrian experience is far more important than the Russian experience for us today, not just because what Austrians tried to do in a much more complex and advanced society, but also because the inertia of which the Austrian social democrats suffered, resonates with the experience of the organised left of our times. Walter Benjamin writes in his essay “Moscow” (1927): “What distinguishes the Bolshevik, the Russian Communist, from his Western comrade is this unconditional readiness for mobilisation.” Lukacs once noted, using Shakespeare, that in Lenin blood and judgement commingled. The Austrian comrades too had blood and judgement, but they were surely not “well mixed.” Making the issues of culture, discipline, sports and consumption subservient to the “immutable fetish” of the organisational question, led to sclerotic tendencies within their politics. The present volume provides a sharp and clear glimpse of the strength and weaknesses of Austro-Marxism, which are ingrained in the politics of the institutionalised left in general.