दिल्ली में बस्तियों को गिराने का आदेश और मज़दूरों के आवास का प्रश्न

देश कोरोना और आर्थिक संकट से गुज़र रहा है जिनका सबसे ज्यादा असर ग़रीबों पर हुआ है, और इसी दौरान सर्वोच्च न्यायालय की तीन सदस्यीय बेंच ने दिल्ली में रेलवे लाइनों के आस पास बसी करीब 48000 झुग्गियों को तोड़ने का आदेश दे दिया है।

कोर्ट ने संबंधित सरकारी विभाग को आदेश दिया है कि तीन महीने की समय सीमा के भीतर, सभी झुग्गी झोपड़ियां तोड़ दी जाएँ, और इसी आदेश में यह भी कहा गया है कि इस के विरोध में किसी भी तरीके की राजनीतिक दखल नहीं दी जा सकती।

इस फैसले से करीब 2 से 3 लाख लोगों के बेघर होने की संभावना व्यक्त की जा रही है। इन लोगों का क्या होगा, इस पर कोर्ट ने कोई भी बात नहीं की। मीडिया के लिये भी यह बात बहुत मायने नहीं रखती, क्योंकि आज वह सस्ते मनोरंजन और कानाफूसी का साधन बन गई है। असली मुद्दों से जनता का ध्यान बंटाना उसका मुख्य पेशा हो गया है।

वैसे भी देश के उच्च और मध्यम वर्गों की नज़र में चुँकि झुग्गी बस्तियाँ और वहां के लोग शहरों की आनबान को चोट पहुँचाते हैं, इन बस्तियों का जल्द से जल्द खत्म होना निहायत ज़रूरी है। झुग्गियों में रहने वाले लोग संभ्रांतों के लिये अमूमन अदृश्य रहते हैं, जब तक कि वहाँ से आए उनके कोठियों पर काम करने वाले मज़दूरों और मज़दूरनियों से पाला नहीं पड़ता।

इन झुग्गी झोपड़ियों को न केवल शहर पर बदनुमा दाग की तरह पेश किया जाता है, बल्कि उन्हें ज़बरदस्ती अतिक्रमणकारियों और असामाजिक तत्वों के गढ़ के रूप में भी प्रचारित किया जाता रहा है। ये “गंदी” बस्तियां जहाँ मज़दूर रहते हैं, वो महामारी के उद्गम स्थल हैं — बीमारियां उन गंदी बस्तियों से हो कर शहर के तथाकथित संभ्रांत स्वच्छ इलाकों में फैल जाती है। मौत की देवी ने अमीरों और गरीबों में अभी तक फर्क करना नहीं सीखा है। इसलिये भी भावुक और भलमनसाहत से ग्रस्त लोग उन जगहों को उजाड़ कर उनके बाशिन्दों को दूर बसा देना चाहते हैं।

उन गंदी बस्तियों में रहने वाले अधिकतर लोग न तो अपनी मर्ज़ी से रहते हैं न ही वे लोग गैर कानूनी धंधों में लिप्त रहते हैं, बल्कि उन झुग्गियों में रहने वाले अधिकतर वे हैं जो अपनी श्रमशक्ति बेच कर अपनी आजीविका का साधन जुटाते हैं। मज़दूरी और अन्य श्रमिक कार्यों में लिप्त वहां का रहने वाला मज़दूर इस व्यवस्था का शिकार है, जिसमें उसे रहने के लिए ढंग के आवास के बदले अस्थायी गंदगी के बीच बसे आश्रय को अपना घर मानने को मजबूर किया जाता है।

क्यों खड़ी हो जाती हैं झुग्गियां?

दुनिया के अन्य बड़े शहरों की तरह ही दिल्ली में अधिकतर झुग्गियां शहर के उन इलाकों में बसी, जहाँ उद्योग या रोज़गार के अन्य साधन विकसित हुए।

विकसित होते औद्योगिक शहर में ग्रामीण और आस पास के क्षेत्रों से श्रमिकों का बड़ा हुजूम खिंचा चला आता है। उनके आने से उद्योगों को सस्ते मज़दूर तो मिल जाते हैं, शहर का आधुनिकीकरण होने लगता है, पुरानी सड़कें चौड़ी होने लगती है, नयी रेल लाइन बिछायी जाती है, किंतु श्रमिकों के आवास थोक भाव से गिराये जाते हैं, और शहर में किराया तेजी से बढ़ जाता है।

श्रमिकों को मिलने वाला वेतन इतना नहीं होता कि वे पहले से बने मकानों में किरायेदार के रूप में रह सकें, नये मकान के मालिक की तो बात ही नहीं की जा सकती है। तब इन उद्योगों और उपक्रमों के आस पास ऐसी श्रमिक बस्तियों का उदय होता है, जो अधिकतर सार्वजनिक ज़मीन पर बस जाती है।

उन झुग्गियों को बसने बसाने में उद्योग का फायदा होता है। वहां रहने वाले कम मज़दूरी में काम करने को तैयार रहते हैं। गैर कानूनी तौर पर बनी ये बस्तियां मज़दूरों की ज़िंदगी को नियंत्रित करने में कई बार मददगार साबित हुई हैं। मज़दूरों को बेदखली का ख़ौफ़ दिखा कर उन्हें नियंत्रित किया जाता रहा है।

दिल्ली की अगर हम बात करें तो यहाँ कारखानों के आस पास झुग्गियों का बड़ा समूह बनता रहा है। रेलवे लाइन के आस पास की जगहों पर भी बड़ी तादाद में झुग्गियां बसीं। उन झुग्गियों में रहने वाले उन्हीं उद्योगों में या उन उद्योगों से जुड़े कार्यों में अस्थायी या अनौपचारिक रूप से काम करते हैं — कूली, रिक्शावाले, खोमचेवाले, चायवाले इत्यादि।

शहर जैसे-जैसे बड़ा होता गया फैक्टरी और उसके आस पास का वह क्षेत्र शहर के बीच हो गया। वे इलाके शहर के केंद्र में आते चले गये और उसके साथ ही उन इलाकों की ज़मीन के भाव भी बढ़ते गये।

रियल एस्टेट (मकान, दुकान बनाना , बेचना) उद्योग बन गया, जिसमें अकूत पूंजी निवेश हुआ। जिन जगहों पर झुग्गी बस्ती थी उन्हें साफ कर उन पर आलीशान अपार्टमेंट, मॉल या आफिस बनाये गये और उनकी ख़रीद बिक्री पर करोड़ों रुपये का मुनाफ़ा कमाया गया। कभी एक “विश्व स्तरीय शहर” बनाने के नाम पर, कभी सौन्दर्यीकरण के नाम पर, कभी सुरक्षा के नाम पर और कभी किसी अंतरराष्ट्रीय पर्यटन के विकास के नाम पर झुग्गियाँ तोड़ने का काम होता आया है।

दिल्ली में तो 1960 के बाद से ही मास्टर प्लान में झुग्गियों को लेकर काफी चर्चा की गयी है। उन्हें हटा कर उनमें रहने वालों को दूसरे जगहों पर बसाने की बात की गयी। अक्सर उन बस्तियों को तोड़ कर उनमें रहने वालों को शहर की सरहदों के आस पास बसा दिया गया। जैसे सन् 2000 के बाद निजामुद्दीन, रोहिणी इत्यादि जगहों पर बसी झुग्गियों को हटा उनमें रहने वाले बाशिन्दों को भलस्वा जैसी दूर और अविकसित जगहों पर 12 से 18 ग़ज़ ज़मीन आबंटित की गयी जहाँ न ही किसी प्रकार की आवाजाही की सुविधा उपलब्ध थी और न ही शहरी विकास विभाग ने वहां नागरिक सुविधाएं जैसे नाली, पीने का पानी इत्यादि की ही कोई व्यवस्था की। लेकिन लोगों को जानवरों की तरह हांक कर वहां पटक दिया।

अब पुराने मज़दूरों की ज़रूरत नहीं रह गयी

नवउदारवादी दौर में पारंपरिक उद्योगों की जगह नये उद्योग जैसे इन्फॉर्मेशन टेक्नोलॉजी, वित्त और अन्य उद्योग (जिन्हें ‘नयी अर्थव्यवस्था’ का नाम दिया गया) का केंद्र बन कर दिल्ली उभरी।

पुराने उद्योग सन् 2000 के बाद से ही दिल्ली से हटा दिये गये थे और इन नयी कॉरपोरेट कंपनियों और ऑफिसों में पुराने मज़दूरों के लिए कोई जगह नहीं है। पूँजीपतियों के लिये झुग्गी बस्तियों में रहने वालों की कोई उपयोगिता नहीं रही। जब उन मज़दूरों की ज़रूरत नहीं तो फिर इन्हें शहर में रहने की भी ज़रूरत नहीं है। हम देख सकते हैं कि किस तरह से सन् 2000 के बाद से ही राजधानी के विकास और सौंदर्यीकरण के नाम पर एक एक करके मज़दूरों को उजाड़ा जा रहा है। इसकी चपेट में न केवल अवैध रूप से बसी झुग्गी बस्तियों को खत्म किया जा रहा है, बल्कि कई वर्षों पहले बसी रिहायशी इलाके जैसे कठपुतली कॉलोनी को भी तोड़ कर उसकी जगह सुंदर अपार्टमेंट बनाने की सरकार ने इजाज़त दे दी।

इसलिये मुम्बई की धारावी मंज़ूर है लेकिन दिल्ली की शक़ूर बस्ती और मायापुरी नहीं। मुम्बई में आज भी मज़दूरों की बड़ी तादाद की ज़रूरत है, गोदी से लेकर मुम्बई के आस पास के उद्योगों के लिए धारावी सस्ते मज़दूर की सप्लाई करती है।

यह मज़दूरों की रिज़र्व सेना का कैम्प है, यह नहीं रहा तो मज़दूर या तो इलाक़ा छोड़ने पर मजबूर हो जायेंगे या फिर अपनी मज़दूरी बढ़ाने की मांग करने लगेंगे जिसे पूंजीपति कभी नहीं होने देंगे।

इसलिये इन मज़दूरों की रिज़र्व सेना को बर्दाश्त करना पूंजीपतियों की मजबूरी है। दिल्ली में भी यही हुआ, जब तक यहां पुराने उद्योग चलते रहे तब तक बस्तियों को बसे रहने दिया गया उनके पुनर्वास की बात होती रही। अब जब रेलवेज़ को स्मार्ट बनाया जा रहा है – निजीकरण, सौन्दर्यीकरण और कई तरह के श्रम प्रक्रियाओं का तकनीकीकरण हो रहा है, तो रेलवे लाइनों के पास की बस्तियों में रहने वाले लोग अतिरिक्त जनसंख्या की श्रेणी में आ गये हैं, जिनकी नियति पहले से ही लिख दी गयी है।

जब हम आज आवास की चर्चा करते हैं तो वह घरों में हो या राजनीतिक गलियारों में, इससे मज़दूर और गरीब गायब हो चुके हैं। आवास की समस्या की बात केवल मध्यम वर्ग और उच्च वर्ग की समस्या के रूप में की जाती है — गरीबों के लिये आवास की बात बस चुनावों में सुनने को मिलती है, इंदिरा आवास हो या मोदी सरकार की घोषित आवास योजना ये सब कागज़ी फूल की तरह दिखते हैं।

पुनर्वास और आवास : कानूनी नहीं राजनीतिक सवाल

दिल्ली में डी डी ए द्वारा ग़रीब तबक़ों के लिए बनायी गयी योजना भी लाखों रुपये से शुरू होती है। मतलब खुद को मध्यम वर्ग का कहने वाला भी बिना बैंक से लोन लिये इन घरों को नहीं ख़रीद सकता, बिना ढंग की नौकरी वाला क्या करेगा। आवास की समस्या को लेकर वाम आंदोलन ने भी कभी संजीदगी नहीं दिखायी और इसलिये उनका आंदोलन केवल प्रतीकात्मक हो कर रह जाता है।

आज की सरकारी योजनाओं में ग़रीब मेहनतकश पूरी तरह से गायब हो चुका है। सरकारी योजनाएँ भी निजी बिल्डरों के तर्ज पर उसी वर्ग की ओर निहारती हैं जिसके पास पैसा है या जो बैंक कर्ज़ आसानी से ले सकता है। झुग्गियों में रहने वाले इस स्कीम से पहले ही बाहर कर दिये गये हैं।

अवश्य ही सरकारें इन बस्तियों को उजाड़ने का निर्णय खुद नहीं लेना चाहतीं, और इसीलिए पिछले तीन दशकों से यही खेल चल रहा है — संभ्रांत तबकों के वकील याचिका दायर करते हैं, न्यायपालिकाएँ निर्णय सुनाती हैं और सरकारें अपने आप को मजबूर दिखा उन निर्णयों का बेधड़क और निर्मम तौर पर पालन करती हैं।

भारत में इन झुग्गियों को गिराने की प्रक्रिया को और शहरी विकास को हमें केवल विधि व्यवस्था के तौर पर न देख इसके राजनीतिक अर्थशास्त्र को समझना जरूरी है, तभी हम ऐसी तमाम समस्याओं का सही राजनीतिक अर्थ समझ सकेंगे और उनसे मुक्ति की लाइन ईजाद कर सकेंगे। दरअसल सवाल आवास का है, और यह एक सामाजिक सवाल है।

जब तक कि जिस सामाजिक परिवेश में इसका जन्म होता है उसमें मूल परिवर्तन नहीं किया जाता, यह प्रश्न भिन्न भिन्न रूप में सामने आता रहेगा। यह मुद्दा केवल किसी झुग्गी के टूटने के समय का नहीं है, जो ऐसा समझते हैं इस संजीदा मुद्दे को छोटा कर रहे हैं उसे तुच्छ बना कर पेश कर रहे हैं। मजदूरों के आवास की लड़ाई उस व्यवस्था के खिलाफ बगावत है जो मजदूरों के प्रति इस्तेमाल करो और फेंक दो की नीति अपनाती है, उन्हें शहर का हिस्सा नहीं मानती। यह शहर पर शहर बनाने वालों के अधिकार की लड़ाई है।

मज़दूर समन्वय केंद्र

ऑर्डनेन्स फैक्ट्रियों के मज़दूरों का संघर्ष उनका नहीं सबका है!

एक को चोट सभी को चोट है!

ऑर्डनेन्स फैक्ट्रियों के मज़दूरों का संघर्ष उनका नहीं सबका है!

तमाम सरकारें आज तक उदारीकरण अथवा बाज़ारीकरण की प्रक्रिया को लगातार परन्तु सहम-सहम कर चला रही थीं, दो कदम आगे, एक कदम पीछे कर रही थीं। उन सबों ने इतने वर्षों में सरकारी उद्योगों को बेहद कमजोर करने का काम किया था। परंतु इनकी अंत्येष्ठि करने के लिए किसी ठोस इरादे वाली सरकारी शक्ति की आवश्यकता थी, जिसकी पूर्ति मोदी सरकार कर रही है। यह सभी कार्य देशभक्ति और आत्मनिर्भरता के नाम पर हो रहे हैं।

रक्षा उद्योग का बाज़ारीकरण और भारत में सैन्य-औद्योगिक परिसर

मई के महीने में वित्त मंत्री निर्मला सीतारमण ने आत्मनिर्भर भारत योजना के तहत कई पैकेजों की घोषणा की थी। रक्षा उद्योग के मामले में भी सरकार ने कुछ महत्वपूर्ण फ़ैसले लिए हैं। ये फ़ैसले सरकार के अनुसार देशहित में हैं क्योंकि इनसे रक्षा उद्योग का विस्तार होगा, हथियारों के मामले में भारत की आत्मनिर्भरता बढ़ेगी और विश्वस्तर पर वह हथियारों का निर्यात करने वाला देश बन जाएगा। 

ध्यान देने योग्य है कि भारत हथियारों का अभी सबसे ज्यादा आयात करने वाले देशों में से एक है। निस्संदेह दक्षिण एशिया में वर्चस्वता के सवाल पर चीन से टक्कर एक प्रमुख वजह है। परन्तु साथ ही सैन्य तकनीकों और उपकरणों का प्रमुख इस्तेमाल देश में अंदरूनी व्यवस्था व्यावहारिक और भावनात्मक दोनों स्तरों पर बनाए रखने के लिए होता है। आर्थिक अनिश्चितताओं के कारण बढ़ती सामाजिक अस्तव्यस्तता देशी-विदेशी संपत्तिवानों की सुरक्षा और सामान्य नागरिक सर्विलेंस (निगरानी) के लिए तकनीकों और उपकरणों का उत्पादन रक्षा उद्योग की आज प्राथमिकता हो गई है। 

साथ में आज विश्व की कई सरकारें विश्व मंदी के दौर में घरेलू रक्षा उद्योग को अर्थतंत्र के प्रवर्तन के एक मजबूत आधार के रूप में देख रही हैं । इसी को सैन्य-औद्योगिक परिसर (मिलिट्री-इंडस्ट्रियल कॉम्प्लेक्स) का विकास कहते हैं — जिसकी आग़ाज़ भारत में काफ़ी साल पहले हो गई थी, परंतु मोदी सरकार ने इस दिशा में दृढ़ता से क़दम उठाए हैं। 2018 की बजट घोषणाओं में दो रक्षा औद्योगिक गलियारे की स्थापना की बात कही गई थी, जिन पर अभी काम चालू है — उत्तर प्रदेश और तमिलनाडु में। 

ऑर्ड्नन्स फ़ैक्ट्री बोर्ड का निगमीकरण 

वित्त मंत्री ने कोरोना महामारी को अवसर बनाते हुए मई के महीने में इस दिशा में तीन-सूत्री निर्णय सुनाया था। 

पहला, सरकार एक लिस्ट तैयार करेगी और उसको समय-समय पर बढ़ाती रहेगी जिसमें वे हथियार होंगे जिनका आयात नहीं किया जाएगा और जो भारतीय सरकारी और निजी उद्योगों से ही ख़रीदे जाएँगे। 

दूसरा, हालांकि 2001 में ही वाजपेयी सरकार ने रक्षा क्षेत्र में निजी पूंजी को खुली छूट दे दी थी, और 2018 के बाद विदेशी निवेश को भी खुली छूट मिल गई थी, परंतु अभी तक आटोमेटिक रूट से विदेशी पूंजी निवेश 49 प्रतिशत ही हो सकता था। इस साल सरकार इसको 74 प्रतिशत करने जा रही है।

तीसरा फैसला जो मज़दूरों की दृष्टि से और फौरी तौर पर सर्वाधिक महत्वपूर्ण है, वह है ऑर्डनन्स फैक्ट्री बोर्ड का निगमीकरण (कोर्पोरेटाइज़ेशन) यानी उसका सार्वजनिक क्षेत्रक उपक्रम (पीएसयू) में तब्दील किया जाना। निगमीकरण को निजीकरण के प्रारंभिक कदम के रूप में देखा जाता है। और यह बात सही भी है क्योंकि निगमीकरण के बाद निजीकरण करना आसान हो जाता है। 

वैसे भी पीएसयू बनने के बाद पूंजी निवेश के लिए उसके शेयर बेचे जा सकते हैं और जिस तरीके से बाक़ी पीएसयू के साथ सरकार सलूक करती रही है, उससे ओएफबी के पीएसयू बनने के बाद निजीकरण का खतरा अवश्य ही पैदा हो जाता है। तब भी जब तक वो पीएसयू है तब तक सरकार नियंत्रक शेयरहोल्डर होती है। 

निगमीकरण अथवा श्रम का खुला दोहन

हमारा मानना है कि स्वामित्व के सवाल पर इतना जोर निगमीकरण के खास गुणात्मक तत्वों को बहस से गायब कर देता है। फिर वह सरकारी क्षेत्र के बचाव का ही मुद्दा रह जाता है। और उन तत्वों के आधार पर मज़दूर आंदोलन के व्यापकीकरण की संभावना खो जाती है। आइए हम इनमें से कुछ पर चर्चा करें।

स्वायत्त प्रबंधन

किसी भी औद्योगिक निगम के प्रबंधन के तीन स्तम्भ होते हैं — स्वामित्व, बोर्ड ऑफ डाइरेक्टर्स और शेयरहोल्डर्स। पीएसयू में स्वामित्व सरकारी ही रहता है — उसके शेयर्स बाजार में बेचे जाएँगे तब भी मौलिक स्वामित्व बना रहेगा। निगमीकरण से औद्योगिक संस्थाओं की स्वायत्तता हो जाती है और वे अपना निर्णय खुद ले सकती हैं — खुद मतलब बोर्ड ऑफ डाइरेक्टर्स। इस बोर्ड के संघटन पर ही इन उद्योगों के प्रबंधन की दिशा तय होती है। इस बोर्ड में सरकारी नुमाइंदों के अलावे कई हितधारकों को शामिल किया जा सकता है — सैन्य बलों से और उद्योग से भी। 

बाजार पर निर्भरता 

निगमीकरण के पश्चात जो तथ्य महत्वपूर्ण रूप से बदलता है और जिसका सीधा असर मज़दूरों पर पड़ता है वह उत्पादन और प्रबंधनात्मक निर्णय का अब बाजार और निजी कंपनियों से प्रतिस्पर्धा पर निर्भर होना है। प्रबंधन की स्वायत्तता बाजार-आधारित निर्णयों को लेने में मदद करती है। स्वायत्तता की वजह से सरकार के ऊपर पड़ने वाले सार्वजनिक दबावों का प्रबंधन पर असर कम हो जाता है। 

ऐसी अवस्था में श्रमिकों की गतिविधियाँ, उनका संरक्षण और उनके भत्ते इन निर्णयों पर निर्भर होंगे — अंततोगत्वा उनका भविष्य बहुत हद तक बाजार के उतार चढ़ाव से जुड़ जाएगा। हो सकता है नियमित श्रमिकों की नौकरी पर फौरन कोई असर न हो — वैसे भी नियमित पोस्टों पर नई बहाली लगातार कम होती जा रही है और पुराने श्रमिकों के लिए ज़बरन वीआरएस की स्कीम बाज़ार में पहले से ही मौजूद है। लचीलेपन और दक्षता के नाम पर सस्ते कॉन्ट्रेक्ट और कैज़ुअल श्रमिकों की बहाली निरंतर बढ़ती जाएगी। और साथ में काम का बोझ, काम की अवधि, मशीनीकरण और काम से संबंधित अन्य निर्णयों पर श्रमिकों और उनके संगठनों का प्रभाव कम हो जाएगा। 

दो लाइनों के बीच संघर्ष: यूनियनों का तबकावादी बचाव बनाम वर्गीय एकता और संघर्ष 

सरकारी क्षेत्र के श्रमिकों के लिए यह अवश्य ही आर-पार की लड़ाई है। विडंबना यह है कि एक तरफ पूंजीपति वर्ग और उसकी राजसत्ता ने निगमीकरण और निजीकरण की प्रक्रियाओं को नीतिबद्ध तरीके से चलाया है, परंतु इनके खिलाफ स्थापित यूनियनों ने बचाव का गुहार लगाते हुए इन प्रक्रियाओं को केवल धीरे करने का काम किया है। उनके पास कोई वैकल्पिक योजना अथवा नीति नहीं रही है। 

इस रक्षात्मक तेवर के तहत संघर्ष की योजना के नाम पर केवल कराहते मज़दूरों की भीड़ इकट्ठा की गई है, ताकि सत्ता पक्ष उनकी बद्दुआओं से डर जाएँ। पहले की सरकारों पर थोड़ा तो इनका असर होता था, परंतु वर्तमान सरकार लोकतांत्रिक अनुष्ठानों की कायल नहीं है। पूंजीपति वर्ग की एकता, दृढ़ता और आवश्यकताओं का वह राजनीतिक स्वरूप है।

इसके खिलाफ केवल मज़दूरों की ठोस वर्गीय राजनीतिक एकता ही कारगर हो सकती है। परन्तु यह एकता आर्थिक और वैधानिक तंत्रों द्वारा किए गए मज़दूरों के विभाजन को ठुकरा कर ही कायम हो सकती है। और इसके लिए संघर्ष जितना बाहरी है यानी विभाजनकारी पूंजीवादी नीतियों के खिलाफ है, उससे अधिक अंदरूनी है जो हमारे बीच फैली प्रतिस्पर्धा और भेद के खिलाफ है। विभाजन पर आधारित सांगठनिक स्वरूपों और मांगों की राजनीति के खिलाफ आंतरिक संघर्ष की आवश्यकता है।

ऑर्डनन्स फैक्ट्रीज बोर्ड का निगमीकरण (कोर्परेटाइज़ेशन) उसके अंतर्गत आने वाली इकतालीस फैक्ट्रियों के लगभग 84,000 मज़दूरों का अपने भविष्य को लेकर चिंता करना स्वाभाविक है। पर वही क्यों? शायद 40-50,000 कॉन्ट्रैक्ट मज़दूरों को भी भविष्य की अनिश्चतता सता रही होगी, तभी तो पिछले साल इसी सवाल को लेकर जब तीन बड़े यूनियनों ने हड़ताल की घोषणा की थी तब ये मज़दूर भी उसमे शामिल थे। और फिर  एंसिलरी अथवा सहायक इकाइयों के अधिकांशतः कॉन्ट्रैक्ट/कैज़ुअल कई लाख मज़दूर भी तो हैं। हम उन्हें क्यों न गिने? शायद नेतृत्व को लगता है कि निगमीकरण से इनकी स्थिति में खास बदलाव नहीं आएगा, या फिर इन पर ध्यान देने से नियमित मज़दूरों (जिनको खोने के लिए ज्यादा कुछ है) के नेतृत्व को शायद अपने जनाधार खोने का डर लगता है। 

इस प्रवृत्ति ने (जिसका जन्म प्रबंधकीय और कानूनी नीतियों के तहत हुआ) आज मज़दूर आंदोलन को बेहद कमजोर कर दिया है और राजनीतिक सवालों पर (यानी औद्योगिक और रोज़गार संबंधी सवाल जो कि सभी मज़दूरों के लिए महत्वपूर्ण हैं) उनकी अक्षमता आज साफ दिखती है। यूनियनों के सांगठनिक रूप और नेतृत्व मज़दूरों की गतिविधियों और संबंधों के आधार पर नहीं तय होते, बल्कि राजसत्ता के कानून द्वारा तय होते हैं। इसीलिए उनकी क्षमता राजसत्ता द्वारा निर्धारित होती है, मज़दूरों द्वारा नहीं। यूनियनों की यह अक्षमता आज पूरी तरह से सामने आ गई है।

सही लाइन — मज़दूर नियंत्रण, सामाजीकरण और सैन्य-औद्योगिक परिसर के राजनीतिक सवाल 

हमारा मानना है मज़दूरों के अलग-अलग तबक़ों के मांगों को मांग-सूची में शामिल कर वर्गीय एकता कायम नहीं की जा सकती। इसके आधार पर केवल तात्कालिक राहतें पाई जा सकती हैं। जबतक व्यवस्था पर सवाल नहीं उठेगा, वर्गीय एकता के स्पिरिट अथवा आत्मा की पहचान ही नहीं हो सकती तो उसका निरूपण क्या होगा? इसका अर्थ यह है कि यह आत्मा मज़दूरों के तमाम संघर्षों में मौजूद रहती है परंतु तब तक इस आत्मा को पहचाना नहीं जा सकता जब तक व्यवस्थागत प्रश्नों पर चहलकदमी नहीं होती। 

हमें मज़दूर वर्गीय दृष्टिकोण से निगमीकरण को समझना होगा और उसका विरोध करना होगा, नाकि निजीकरण के भय से और देशहित के नाम पर। पहला तो अधूरा सत्य है और दूसरा आज कोई मायने नहीं रखता क्योंकि सरकार औद्योगिक विस्तार के नाम पर निगमीकरण और निजीकरण के पक्ष में हज़ारों तरह की राष्ट्रवादी दलीलें दे सकती है। कुछ सरकारी नुमाइंदों ने तो बीएसएनएल (BSNL) को ही राष्ट्रविरोधी घोषित कर दिया। राष्ट्रवाद आज मज़दूर संघर्ष की भाषा नहीं हो सकती। नियमित और अनियमित मज़दूरों का भेद बनाए रख कर मज़दूर हित की बात नहीं की जा सकती। फैक्ट्री से लेकर सामाजिक स्तर तक पूंजी की सत्ता को हमें चुनौती देनी होगी। निगमीकरण और निजीकरण के खिलाफ केवल सामाजीकरण (यानी संसाधनों और उद्योगों पर सामूहिक सामाजिक  नियंत्रण) ही विकल्प हो सकता है। विकल्प की बाक़ी सभी फ़रमाइशें पूँजीवादी सत्ता से लेन-देन पर आधारित हैं, जो मज़दूरों के विशेष तबक़ों के लिए कुछ फौरी राहतें पाना चाहती हैं। 

हमारा मानना है कि सामाजीकरण की इस लम्बी लड़ाई में पहला पड़ाव अपने अपने औद्योगिक इकाइयों में मजदूरों के नियंत्रण का है। इसके लिए मज़दूर संगठन की मूल परिभाषा को आज फिर से स्थापित करने की ज़रूरत है जो मज़दूरों से अलग मज़दूरों और पूँजी के बीच समझौता या केवल वार्तालाप का साधन न हो, बल्कि मज़दूरों की राजनीतिक और आर्थिक सत्ता का केंद्र बने। मज़दूरों की कार्यक्षेत्र में आपसी तालमेल का वह निरूपण हो और उसका सामाजिक स्तर पर विकास हो। इतिहास में इसी को फ़ैक्ट्री काउंसिल कहा गया है और सामाजिक स्तर पर इस सांगठनिक स्वरूप के सामान्यीकरण को मज़दूर काउंसिल या सोवियत का नाम दिया गया है। आज जब एक तरफ निगमीकरण और निजीकरण के खिलाफ सरकारी क्षेत्र के नियमित मज़दूर अनिश्चितता का सामना कर रहे हैं और दूसरी तरफ सरकारी, निजी, संगठित और असंगठित क्षेत्रों के दलदल में अनियमित और अर्ध-बेरोजगारों की विशाल आबादी खट रही है तो यह ज़रूरी हो गया है कि हमारे बीच फूट, प्रतिस्पर्धा और अनिश्चितता पर टिकी पूंजी की निश्चित सत्ता को चुनौती मिले। समय आ गया है जब इसके ख़िलाफ़ मज़दूर नियंत्रण की बात शुरू हो, मजदूरों के स्व-सांगठनिक प्रयासों को जगह मिले और मजदूरों के विभाजन पर सवाल उठे। 

ऑर्ड्नन्स फैक्ट्रियों के मज़दूरों की लड़ाई एक तरफ़ अगर फ़ैक्ट्री-स्तर पर उनके अपने हक़ की लड़ाई है, तो दूसरी तरफ़ समाज की प्राथमिकताओं की परिभाषा पर भी लड़ाई है। भारत में सैन्य-औद्योगिक परिसर का विकास यह दिखाता है कि भारत की राजसत्ता पूँजीवाद की वजह से देश में फैलती सामाजिक असुरक्षा का इस्तेमाल सैन्यवाद और मुनाफ़ाख़ोरी के हित में कर रही है। मौलिक सामाजिक आवश्यकताओं को पूरा करने के सवाल को दरकिनार कर, असुरक्षा फैला कर, सुरक्षा के व्यापार और उद्योग को बढ़ावा दे रही है। देशभक्ति, आम असुरक्षा और डर का यह औद्योगिकीकरण है। इसीलिए आज इस प्रक्रिया में किसी तरह की भी रुकावट को बहुत आसानी से चरमपंथी और देशद्रोही क़रार दिया जाता है। दंडविधि और रक्षा उद्योग का बहुत क़रीबी रिश्ता होता है। इसीलिए ऑर्ड्नन्स फ़ैक्ट्री मज़दूरों की लड़ाई केवल उनकी लड़ाई नहीं है, वह पूँजी की सत्ता के ख़िलाफ़ तमाम शोषित और उत्पीड़ित जनता की लड़ाई है जिनकी सामाजिक आवश्यकताएँ केवल सामाजिक तालमेल से पूर्ण हो सकती हैं, नाकि मुनाफ़ाख़ोरी, बाज़ारीकरण और आपसी प्रतिस्पर्धा से। इनकी आर्थिक लड़ाई में मज़दूर वर्ग की व्यापक राजनीति के बीज को हम देख सकते हैं।  

मज़दूरों की भीड़ नहीं वर्गीय एकता!

प्रेषक: श्रमिक संवाद, नागपुर, महाराष्ट्र

निजीकरण के खिलाफ कामगारों के नियंत्रण में सार्वजनिक क्षेत्र का विस्तार हो!

9 अगस्त 2020

चलिए अच्छा है, देर आए दुरुस्त आए! कम से कम संगठनों ने अपना मानसिक लौकडाउन तो तोड़ा। जब प्रवासी मज़दूर सड़कों पर सरकारी अमानवीयता के खिलाफ खुली बगावत कर घर वापस जाते दिख रहे थे, भूख, बदहाली और मौत से लड़ रहे थे, तब इन संगठनों का नेतृत्व बयानबाज़ी और तख्तियों पर नारे और माँगें लिख फ़ोटो खिंचवा इंटरनेट पर एक दूसरे को भेज रहा था। और अब जब सरकार ने लौकडाउन हटाया है तो इन्होंने भी पिछले एक महीने से अपनी गतिविधियाँ बढ़ाईं हैं। इससे इतना तो साफ है कि इन संगठनों की गतिविधियाँ सरकारी गतिविधियों के साथ ही जुगलबंदी करती हैं।

ऐसे भी व्यवस्था ने अपने कानूनी प्रावधानों की पोथियों से इनके हाथ-पाँव में बेड़ियां लगा दी है, और इनके संघर्षशील तेवर को कुंद कर दिया है। जब कोर्ट-कचहरी और मांग के दायरे में ही इनकी पूरी शक्ति चली जाती है, तो ये मज़दूरों के दैनिक संघर्षों पर क्या ध्यान दे पाएंगे। ये मज़दूरों की स्वायत्त ताकत को संगठित करने के बजाय, श्रम बाजार में मोल-तोल करने वाली एजेंसियों में तब्दील हो गए हैं। और यही इनके सोचने का दायरा भी हो गया है।

पिछले कई दशकों से देश और विश्वस्तरीय आर्थिक और औद्योगिक बदलाव की वजह से इन संगठनों की नींव ही खिसक रही है। निजीकरण और सरकारी व निजी उद्योगों में ज्यादा-से-ज्यादा कॉन्ट्रैक्ट-कैज़ुअल मज़दूरों की बहाली ने इन यूनियनों के अस्तित्व को ही खतरे में डाल दिया है। आज तक ये संगठन अस्थायी मज़दूरों को औद्योगिक आबादी के बाहरी के रूप में ही देखते रहे हैं —पहले हिकारत से देखते थे, अब वे जानते हैं कि इन मज़दूरों के सहयोग के बगैर वे कोई लड़ाई जीत क्या, लड़ भी नहीं सकते। 

आज ये संगठन इन मज़दूरों को जोड़ने को मजबूर हैं मगर सरकारी और कानूनी विभाजन — संगठित/ असंगठित, स्थायी/ अस्थायी इत्यादि —के आधार पर ही। अस्थायी मज़दूरों को बेचारों के ही रूप में देखा जाता है और उनके मुद्दे दान-पुण्य की भाषा मे ही व्यक्त होते हैं। जबकि यह बात सर्वविदित है कि मज़दूरों के पिछले एक दशक के सभी प्रमुख संघर्षों में अस्थायी मज़दूरों की नेतृत्वकारी भूमिका रही है। देशव्यापी आम औद्योगिक हड़तालों के दौरान भी उन्ही इलाकों में जुझारूपन दिखता है जहां अस्थायी मज़दूरों ने अपनी स्वायत्तता प्रदर्शित की है।

किस भारत को बचाना है?

अगस्त महीने में 1942 के “भारत छोड़ो” आंदोलन के तर्ज पर “भारत बचाओ” आंदोलन का जो ऐलान किया गया है, वह इन संगठनों की कमज़ोरी का नमूना है। ये नारा इनकी समझ, रणनीति और राजनीति तीनों को उजागर करता है। आइए इस पर हम थोड़ा ध्यान दें।

एक तरफ़ यह साफ है कि ये संगठन भारत में चल रही राष्ट्रवादी होड़ में ही मज़दूरों की लड़ाई को झोंक देने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं —वे अंधराष्ट्रवाद की भाषा के खिलाफ तथाकथित “सच्चे” राष्ट्रवाद के नाम पर संसदीय पक्ष-विपक्ष के आपसी मुठभेड़ में मज़दूरों को मोहरे बना रहे हैं, और संघर्ष के वर्गीय प्रकृति को कुंद कर रहे हैं।

दूसरी तरफ, ये नारा उस पूरे इतिहास को भुलाने की कोशिश है जिसका नतीजा आज की आर्थिक दशा, नीतियाँ और राजकीय तानाशाही के रूप में हमारे सामने है। भारत में आज तक जितनी सरकारें रहीं हैं उन्होंने पूँजी की सेवा की है। निजीकरण की प्रक्रिया और “मुक्त” श्रम बाजार कोई पांच-छह साल से मोदी सरकार द्वारा चलाई जा रही मुहिम नहीं हैं। 

तीसरे, “भारत बचाओ” का नारा किस चीज़ को बचाने की बात कर रहा है? एक देश सामाजिक संबंधों और उनके टकराव में लगातार बनता रहता है। नए भारत के निर्माण की बात न कर हम पुराने संस्थाओं को बचाने की बात कर रहे हैं। हम भूल जाते हैं कि जो आज भारत की दशा है वह उन्ही संस्थाओं और सामाजिक संबंधों की देन हैं। हम भूल जाते हैं किस प्रकार पुरानी संस्थाएँ और कानून अधिकांश मेहनतकश आबादी को बहिष्कृत रखने का जरिया हैं। यह रक्षात्मक तेवर और कुछ नहीं इन संगठनों का अपने खिसकते जनाधार को बचाने की कोशिश है —अधिकांश मज़दूरों के लिए जिन्हें न क़ानून की न संगठन की सुरक्षा उपलब्ध हैं उनके लिए खोने के लिए सचमुच कुछ नहीं है, परंतु लड़ कर जीतने के लिए सब कुछ है। उन्हें बचाव की घुट्टी पिलाना उनके दैनिक संघर्षों और कठिनाइयों में उनकी जागृत होती चेतना की तौहीन है। मज़दूर वर्ग के विशिष्ट तबक़ों की अपने विशेषाधिकारों को बचाने की कोशिश शायद ग़लत नहीं है, परंतु जब तक इन अधिकारों के सामान्यीकरण और विस्तार का नारा केंद्र में नहीं होगा, तब तक यह बचाव भी संभव नहीं है।

सरकारी क्षेत्र – मज़दूर शोषण का सरकारी तंत्र

निजीकरण के सवाल को उठाने का भी वर्गीय तरीक़ा होता है। नव-उदारवादी नीतियों का अहम हिस्सा है निजीकरण। कल्याणकारी राज्य-व्यवस्था के अंतर्गत संसाधनों और बहुत सारे उद्योगों का सरकारी प्रबंधन जो विकसित हुआ था, उन्हें निजी हाथों में सौंपना ही तो निजीकरण है। सरकारी उद्योगों की समस्याओं को केवल प्रबंधकीय और स्वामित्व की समस्या बता कर निजीकरण को जादुई समाधान के रूप में दिखाया जाता है। 

मगर हमारे नेतागण भी इस तरह के समाधान को उग्र मानकर दूसरे छोर को पकड़े रहते हैं, जबकि मज़दूरों के अधिकांश तबके सरकारीकरण में अपनी समस्याओं का हल नहीं देखते। उन्होंने सरकारी तंत्र में अंतर्निहित नौकरशाही, भ्रष्टाचार और अलगाव को पिछले कई दशकों से देखा है। आम जनता के इसी अलगाव का इस्तेमाल कर राजतंत्र निजीकरण के पक्ष में माहौल तैयार कर रहा है। मज़दूर वर्गीय दृष्टिकोण के तहत सरकारी बनाम निजी का द्वंद्व निरर्थक है, वे दोनों ही पूंजीवादी प्रबंधन हैं और मज़दूरों के श्रम के दोहन पर आधारित हैं।

पिछले तीन दशकों से तमाम सरकारों ने आर्थिक संकट से निकलने के नाम पर दो ही बातों पर ज़ोर दिया है। एक तरफ वे सार्वजनिक अथवा सरकारी अनुष्ठानों और उद्योगों के निजीकरण अथवा बिक्री को अपने सारे कष्टों का निवारण मानती रही हैं। दूसरी तरफ, औद्योगिक और सर्विस सेक्टरों में श्रम प्रक्रिया के अनौपचारीकरण को अर्थात्, साधारण शब्दों में, परमानेंट नौकरियों को रद्द कर असुरक्षित अनियमित कॉन्ट्रैक्ट-कैज़ुअल श्रमिकों की बहाली को वे बढ़ती बेरोज़गारी का इलाज समझती हैं। 

अगर इतिहास में जाएँ तो पता चलता है कि हिंदुस्तान में संसाधनों और बड़े उद्योगों पर सरकारी आधिपत्य यहाँ के बड़े पूँजीपतियों के सिफ़ारिशों पर हुआ था। यहाँ का पूँजीपति वर्ग जानता था कि देश में व्यवस्थित अर्थतंत्र स्थापित करने और औद्योगिकीकरण की प्रक्रिया सुदृढ़ करने के लिए सरकार को पहल करनी होगी, और धीरे-धीरे अर्थव्यवस्था खोलना होगा। आधुनिक उद्योगों और अर्थतंत्र के लिए जिस तरह की आधारिक संरचना और उत्पादक शक्तियों यानी प्राकृतिक, मानवीय और तकनीकी संसाधनों की ज़रूरत है उनका इंतज़ाम केवल सरकारी हस्तक्षेप के द्वारा हो सकता है।

इसी कारण एक तरफ़ हम सरकारी क्षेत्र में भारी, अत्यावश्यक और एकाधिकारी उद्योगों और उद्यमों को पनपता देखते हैं जिन्होंने देश की आधारिक और उत्पादक संरचनाओं को निर्मित किया। और दूसरी तरफ़, सरकारी नेतृत्व में शिक्षण, अशिक्षण और प्रशिक्षण की प्रणालियाँ स्थापित की गईं जिन्होंने पर्याप्त मात्रा में विभिन्न श्रेणियों के कुशल/अकुशल श्रम का अपार रिज़र्व पैदा किया —जो आज हर प्रकार के श्रम को सस्ते दाम में मुहैया कराता है।

पिछले चार दशकों से पूँजीपतियों की बाज़ार खोलने की माँग यह दिखाती है कि जिस काम के लिए उनकी नज़रों में सरकारी क्षेत्र का विकास हुआ था वह पूरा हो चुका है। इसके साथ साथ यह भी बात सही है कि सार्वजनिक क्षेत्र को भ्रष्ट और नष्ट करने की आतंरिक सरकारी प्रक्रिया और भी पहले शुरू हो चुकी थी। जैसे-जैसे विभिन्न स्तरों की दक्षता रखने वाले मज़दूरों की अधिकता होती गयी, सरकारी उद्यमों ने मज़दूरों को कॉन्ट्रैक्ट और कैज़ुअल के रूप में बहाल करना  शुरू कर दिया। जब न्यायालयों ने इस प्रथा पर प्रश्न उठाया तो सरकार ने अधिनियम लाकर कॉन्ट्रैक्ट मज़दूरों की बहाली करने पर  निर्णय लेने का अधिकार अपने ऊपर ले लिया।

बाद के दशकों में यह प्रथा इतनी बढ़ती चली गयी कि इसे विकास का लाज़िमी नतीजा मान लिया गया। यहाँ तक कि मज़दूरों के राष्ट्रीय संगठनों के नेतृत्व में बनी सार्वजनिक क्षेत्र की मान्यता प्राप्त यूनियनों ने आँखें मूंद कर केवल अपने पुराने जनाधार को बचाने की लड़ाई तक अपने आप को सीमित कर लिया, जबकि सरकारी क्षेत्र में अस्थायी मज़दूरों का शोषण बेतहाशा बढ़ता चला गया। आज भारत में श्रमिकों के शोषण का सबसे व्यापक व्यवस्थित नव-उदारवादी मॉडल सरकारी क्षेत्र है। ऐसे में यह स्वभाविक ही है कि आज जब निजीकरण की प्रक्रिया को रोकने की अंतिम लड़ाई चल रही है, तो दूर-दूर तक इसके लिए कोई व्यापक जन आंदोलन की तात्कालिक संभावना नहीं दिखती है।

निजीकरण के खिलाफ मजदूर नियंत्रण में सार्वजनिक क्षेत्र को व्यापक करो!

सार्वजनिक क्षेत्र का बचाव राष्ट्रवाद के आधार पर, विदेशियों और बड़े पूँजीपतियों का ख़तरा दिखा कर और सरकारी बनाम निजी के आधार पर नहीं किया जा सकता। अंध-राष्ट्रवाद के ज़माने में किसी भी तरह का राष्ट्रवाद उसके अंधे स्वरूप को ही बढ़ाएगा। देशी-विदेशी और बड़े-छोटे के झाँसे में मज़दूर को फँसाना ठीक नहीं है क्योंकि इसके नाम पर तमाम प्रागाधुनिक और निकृष्ट कोटि के श्रम-व्यवहारों का समर्थन किया जाता है। पूँजी का मौलिक चरित्र इन सब पहचानों से ऊपर सामाजिक और श्रम संबंधों में देखने की ज़रूरत है। इसीलिए वर्गीय आधार पर सार्वजनिक क्षेत्र का बचाव और निजीकरण का विरोध करने की ज़रूरत है। तमाम उद्योगों के मज़दूर नियंत्रण में सार्वजनीकरण के लिए संघर्ष में ही इस क्षेत्र का बचाव संभव है।

परंतु इसके लिए ज़रूरी है कि व्यवस्था ने जो कानून और राजनीतिक चश्मा हमें पहनाया है, जिसके कारण हमें मज़दूर वर्ग व्यक्तिकृत या अलग अलग तबक़ों में विभाजित दिखता है, उसे हमें उतार फेंकना होगा। मज़दूर वर्ग वह निषेधात्मक शक्ति है जो व्यक्तिकृत मज़दूरों में नहीं, उनके अलग-अलग तबक़ों में नहीं बल्कि उनके सामूहिक संबंध और सामंजस्य में और पूंजी के साथ उनके द्वंद्व में पैदा होता और दिखता है। इसलिए मुद्दों की गिनती और मांगपत्र में जोड़-घटाव से वर्गीय एकता नहीं स्थापित होती, बल्कि श्रमिकों के संघर्ष में वर्ग क्रन्तिकारी प्रवृत्ति के बतौर मौजूद रहता है। संघर्ष के सांगठनिक व्यवहार को उस प्रवृत्ति के अनुरूप होना होगा ताकि वह मूर्तिमान हो सके।

अब समय आ चुका है जब मज़दूर आंदोलन के अंदर से आर्थिक, सामाजिक और राजनीतिक विकल्प की बातचीत शुरू हो। जरूरत है मज़दूर वर्ग के नेतृत्व में समाजिकृत स्वामित्व और प्रबंधन की लड़ाई को सामने लाया जाए और दिखाया जाए कि इसी में आर्थिक, सामाजिक और राजनीतिक संकटों का स्थायी समाधान निहित है। आंदोलनों के चाहे कुछ भी तात्कालिक मुद्दे हों, उन्हें समाज परिवर्तन की लड़ाई से जोड़ना होगा, इसी परिवर्तनगामी दिशा में वर्गीय नेतृत्व पैदा हो सकता है। वर्गीय राजनीति संघर्ष और परिवर्तन में निहित है, न कि बने बनाए संस्थाओं और संगठनों के आपसी और अंदरूनी प्रतिस्पर्धात्मक प्रतिनिधित्व में। मज़दूरों के विभिन्न तबक़ों को बचाव और गुहार लगाने की राजनीति से आगे निकलना होगा, नहीं तो वर्गीय प्रवृत्ति को दक्षिणपंथ और पूँजी का राजतंत्र कुंद कर व्यक्तिकृत मज़दूरों की उत्कंठाओं को अपने आप को सशक्त करने के लिए संगठित करेगा। इसी वर्गीय प्रवृत्ति की पहचान और उसके आधार पर सांगठनिक और आन्दोलनकारी विन्यास शोषण और उत्पीड़न के खिलाफ श्रमिक और मानव मुक्ति का रास्ता प्रशस्त करेंगे।

प्रकाशक: श्रमिक संवाद, कामगार कालोनी, नागपुर, महाराष्ट्र

Reassert Class Politics! An appeal to all communist activists and sympathisers

ALL INDIA COORDINATION COMMITTEE OF COMMUNIST REVOLUTIONARIES (AICCCR)
Released on 22nd April 2020

Printable versions: Hindi & English

Our society is in the middle of an unprecedented turmoil. The worst of this crisis is borne by the working class and labouring masses whose very life, livelihood and liberty are at peril. It is expected that the fall-out of the pandemic-cum-lockdown shall be felt for a much longer time to come. There are nevertheless specific immediate concerns of a grave nature. Whilst the working class and labouring masses are situated in heterogeneity of circumstances there is a similitude of experiences as well. The recent weeks have seen unprecedented suffering and hardship being borne by workers and the labouring masses. In turn, food riots, citizen–police conflicts, lightening protests, and assertions by migrant workers for their safe return to native villages are surfacing. The Central and State governments, who are current occupants of the politico-governance domain, have completely abdicated their responsibilities and are indulging merely in piecemeal relief measures. There is an institutional collapse of many organs of the state (sans the oppressive ones), and the working masses are restless.

The working class and labouring masses are reacting to the unfolding crisis of pandemic-cum-lockdown in no uncertain terms. There are several disjointed struggles erupting. Outstanding in their own right, these struggles however are falling short of becoming co-extensive with the territorial range of the supreme political power (the state), which labour must oppose for its survival and sustenance. While generations of revolutionaries have aspired for the revolution, in this time of unprecedented crisis they are finding themselves utterly unprepared to meet the challenges. From enacting the role of catalyst to coordinating the various disjointed struggles and setting the agenda for the ‘national-popular’ aspirations, there is a necessity for an organized power that can express the needs and general aspirations of the masses and represent the collective will of the multitude of oppressed and exploited. Here a missing link is clearly evident. Moreover, circumstances have proved time and again that a revolutionary situation by itself cannot spring up a revolution. Neither can a revolution be conjured up by raising far-fetched demands that overlook the immediate context of the working-class’ conditions and needs.

Concerted practices that are capable of advancing the capacity of the working class to resist and advance its position in relation to the state and upper classes require immediate attention. As the Yechuris, Rajas and Bhattacharyas of the Indian Left relinquish the battlefield, party cadres have been left to take initiatives in ways that they deem fit. In most cases this has meant coordinating donations and other forms of charity that merely reinforce the class hegemony of the rich, absolving them of critiquing the system. Such charity merely reproduces docility in workers rather than instilling a sense of entitlement in them. Moreover, philanthropy and charity continue to postpone the need for promotion of workers’ self-organization, organized collective action and mutual aid during a crisis that has treacherously gripped the working class and labouring masses.

Across parties and groups there is an inability to comprehend the current conjuncture in its entirety, and from the perspective of much-needed capacity building of the working class to resist the combined onslaught of capital and state. Leaders have become habituated to think within the ideological coordinates of dominant ideas of the day. They tend to reproduce assessments of real or manufactured crises using the hegemonic lens of the dominant classes. Our ways of knowing and understanding things are consequently curtailed by the dominant ideology. In today’s context, apart from failing to understand many other things, leaders have not been able to adequately expose the politics surrounding epidemics. Overlooking how class, region and other social dynamics influence ‘scientific’ research on disease, the organized Left has failed to expose the ways in which mainstream epidemiology continues to remain indifferent to several persistent and silent epidemics plaguing the working masses. There is an uncritical acceptance of ‘information’ disseminated by the disease surveillance system sponsored by governmental and global health agencies. Conversely, the adverse medical conditions prevalent among the labouring poor and poorer regions continue to be left unidentified by the lax disease surveillance system. Whilst some diseases are declared epidemics/pandemics by the scientific community, scores of infectious diseases and illnesses affecting largely the poor are brushed aside as ‘ordinary’. This is due to the selective, biased approach of scientific research that is driven by the profits of private pharmaceutical companies, and is the fallout of the lack of priority that governments assign to general healthcare and diseases of the poor. In this way, the specific cause (aetiology) behind numerous diseases and ailments fail to be identified and differentiated as the variations in sub-groups, strains, etc. in the pathogens are not captured by existing classificatory schemes. Many ailments are then simply clubbed together under catch-all-categories like ‘Respiratory Tract Infection’, ‘Urinary Tract Infection’, ‘Fever of Unknown Origin’, etc. These disease are often more contagious and fatal than those which gain prominence. However, given the incomplete diagnosis, it is at most symptomatic treatment which is made available to the common masses; leading to persistent spread of the disease and continuous heavy loss of life. Ironically, ignoring persistent, more fatal and infectious diseases, we have seen the organized Left merely replicate the paranoia of the elites about the contagious disease, Covid-19, which has gained singular prominence.

At the level of biology we are clearly fighting more than the real or perceived threat of the novel Coronavirus. There is an urgent need to recognize the issue of comorbidity, i.e. a cocktail of contagious, communicable diseases and the possible combination of preexisting medical complications with diseases that plague the majority of Indian people. Indeed, ours is a population that is falling prey to the sinister synergy between declared and undeclared epidemics and the vulnerabilities fostered by the overall functioning of our socio-economic system.

The loss of ideological autonomy has led to a situation where we are increasingly unable to understand the needs and galvanize the aspirations of the masses into concrete struggles. Activism in this revolutionary situation has been limited to ritualistic activities, sporadic media statements and routinized campaigns that are completely out of sync with how the labouring masses are reacting.

In the current turbulent conjuncture, it has become imperative on us to call forth all activists and sympathizers who may be separated by their varied organizational affiliations but are nonetheless united in their fidelity to revolutionary ideology. While we are not asking everyone to proclaim an identity separate from their existing parties and organizations, we must put our allegiance to the need for revolutionary transformation first. Such allegiance to revolutionary transformation compels us to form a cohort whilst continuing working in our respective organizations. This is not an attempt to provide an overall complete prognosis of the given conjuncture, which revolutionaries across the board must undertake in future. We must instead work towards addressing immediate concrete responsibilities at hand, and for this an initiative is urgently needed. Given that communist cadre of parties and organizations are spread across the country, their combined strength is still a formidable socio-political force. There is an urgent need for an initiative to galvanize them for reinvigorating and streamlining the struggles and campaigns of the masses. We must also unite with all the progressive and democratic sections of society who are genuinely concerned about the plight and predicament of the labouring masses and are committed to concerted struggles.

While we continue our protracted struggle against the system of oppression and exploitation, and formulate long-term strategies, we have very immediate and tangible tasks to accomplish. We put forward the following programmatic ‘10 points’ so that we reposition ourselves vis-à-vis unfolding events and processes of the pandemic-cum-lockdown, and can streamline our immediate struggles. How this basic common minimum 10 points program will materialize into concrete demands and struggles is contingent upon the preparedness of communist activists and sympathizers, as well as the ground realities.

1. Ensure Adequate Infrastructure and Proper Preparation for Medical Needs of the Masses: The current crisis has exposed the utter unpreparedness of the government, not only in terms of the lack of hospitals and health personnel, but lack of even the basic Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical practitioners and auxiliary staff. Further, there are many among the working masses who are battling various diseases but now have little access to major public hospitals in the wake of the lock-down. OPD services in public hospitals have been severely affected, and largely emergency cases are being entertained. The emergency ICUs, labour rooms, tuberculosis (TB) wards, etc. are not working at full capacity. In such circumstances we see an aggravation in the poor health conditions of many patients and exponential growth in fatality rates of other diseases. We must not allow the Government to ignore other diseases in the name of combatting Covid-19.

Moreover, in the wake of the spread of Covid-19, there is an urgent need to stop ignoring other diseases with which Covid-19 can easily combine to create conditions of comorbidity and thus much higher fatalities. In such circumstances, rather than curtailing the common people’s access to public healthcare, the Government must be pressurized to immediately enlarge the public healthcare infrastructure and the number of health personnel (doctors, nurses and auxiliary health workers). In order to tide over the present health emergency, the Government should be compelled to also procure the services of private hospitals and hotels as emergency wards and quarantine centres. We must remain vigilant to ensure that in hospitals and quarantine centres, patients are not treated in a high-handed manner.

2. Be Vigilant and Ensure Proper Functioning of Disease Surveillance Programs: Even before the Covid-19 being declared a pandemic, known/unknown silent epidemics were raging in our country, killing lakhs each year. Thus, there is already a persistent health crisis in our country, which in the event of the spread of Covid-19 will create devastating consequences. Government experts, pharmaceutical companies and international health institutions have been neglectful of these raging epidemics which affect mostly the vulnerable strata of society, specifically because these do not have a signalling effect for them. It is in this context that we should assess the ‘Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme’ being run by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. This programme is supposed to identify diseases prevalent among the population and streamline research on them. There has been an overall failure in running the surveillance programme. In this context, we cannot simply rely on the so-called expertise of bourgeois system.

In this regard, there is an urgent need to form a task force or any other organizational forms that mobilize our cadres in students, youth, workers, peasants, women and other mass organizations for the monitoring of how poor patients are treated in healthcare institutions. Such organizational intervention shall work towards ensuring that the illnesses of the working masses are properly accounted as clinical cases, and that the required microbiological and cytological testing takes place. Through its vigilance and timely dissemination of information about diseases and illnesses that are widespread in the community, the task force of activists shall create the grounds on which campaigns and struggles can be launched. Only these campaigns and struggles can build constant pressure on the government agencies to take active cognizance of diseases and ailments that they have been neglectful of and for which adequate resources have not been channelized.

3. Ensure People’s Control over Public Health Institutions: There has been a criminal negligence of the government as far as the identification of diseases and their control is concerned. However, even known and treatable diseases such as Tuberculosis continue to wreak havoc in the lives of the labouring masses of the country. We must mobilize the common masses and form Public Health Monitoring Committees. These committees shall oversee the proper access of people to public healthcare institutions and ensure that they get timely and adequate medical attention. Campaigns and struggles must be led to ensure that the infrastructure needs of public healthcare institutions are fully met.

Such actions are necessary, considering the inequalities in accessibility to healthcare facilities. While the rich upper classes can afford large, expensive private hospitals in the country, as well as treatment abroad, the working class and labouring masses are dependent on public-funded hospitals. In the name of subsidized healthcare, the vast majority of people are meted out the most high-handed and apathetic treatment in public hospitals. Public healthcare institutions are reeling under the acute shortage of nurses and doctors. The examination and diagnosis of common patients’ medical conditions often reflect ad-hocism and neglect. Negligence is manifested most undeniably in the filthy condition of public hospitals and the regular violation of hygiene protocols that ironically make such healthcare institutions hotbeds of transmission of new infections rather than healing per se. There is hardly any functional monitoring of the conditions in public hospitals as Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) and district health officers are embroiled in bureaucratic formalities and blinded by their class-backed apathy. Healthcare is also compromised by the nexus between pharmaceutical companies, medical representatives, and medical practitioners. This nexus facilitates ad-hoc experimentation with antibiotics and other medicines along the lines of symptomatic treatment. Often such practices do not actually cure the patients of their diseases but end up making them drug resistant. For some time the administration of certain medication helps the symptoms subside but the disease remains intact at the subterranean level. Many a times, the patient remains infectious and the disease easily bounces back, especially in conditions of low immunity, malnutrition, etc.

Hence, there is an urgent need for immediate campaigns and struggles that mobilize the masses in alliance with progressive doctors, nurses and public health workers. We need to also be in the forefront of genuine struggles of healthcare staff. These struggles shall pave the way for our raising of a range of intermediate demands – from ‘health for all’ to nationalization of private hospitals. Essentially, we should work towards wresting the control and management of all healthcare institutions from the clutches of medical bureaucracies, and asserting people’s control on them instead.

4. Ensure Safe Return of Migrant Workers and Provision of Basic Income for All Labouring Masses: Migrant workers have been stranded in various cities across the country during the lockdown. According to conservative estimates of the Ministry of Labour, Government of India, there are 10 crore inter-state and 10 crore inter-district migrant workers. It is this section of the working class that has been most severely affected by the pandemic-cum-lockdown. The uncertainty of survival and sustenance in alien, hostile cities compelled many migrant workers to try and return to their native places. However, no prior preparation was made for their transportation by the authorities. Threatened by the large-scale gathering of desperate workers in cities like Delhi, some hasty and inadequate transportation facilities were subsequently extended to a section of workers, while leaving many to fend for themselves in the bid to get home. Stories of workers dying of exhaustion and due to police brutalities are still trickling in. A large number of migrant workers have been prevented from crossing sealed state borders and have been shunted into overcrowded shelters with filthy toilets and grossly inadequate supply of food.

Likewise, for those workers who are still residing in rented tenements and shanties, there is a constant fear of getting infected. The average per capita space for an urban slum dweller in India is less than 42 sq. feet, which is way below even the 96 sq. feet recommended for a prisoner in jail! Moreover, there is a perpetual crowding for water, toilets and washrooms in places where workers reside. Thus, compelling migrant workers to resume work and remain in urban slums or congested shelters are measures far more dangerous than facilitating their return to native villages. In villages where there is a lower population density, migrant workers shall at least be living in less crowded conditions and will comparatively be more capable of maintaining physical distancing.

Considering all these points, we should wholeheartedly support workers’ struggles for their safe return to native villages. Further, we must undertake campaigns and struggles for the provision of minimum three-months Basic Income for all labouring poor so that they can tide over the immediate economic hardships. Moreover, there should be a moratorium of three months on the rent being paid by workers in cities. We must campaign and struggle to ensure that the Government provides additional fund to poor tenants to pay their rent and therefore prevent their harassment by landlords.

5. Expose Philanthrocapitalism and Piecemeal Charity and Escalate Struggles for Entitlement-based Redistribution of Wealth of the Country: In name of dealing with the unprecedented crisis created by the lockdown, the current Central and State governments have shamefully appealed to the elites and corporates of the country to contribute to relief funds. Middle ranking social entrepreneurs are also undertaking charitable works. These measures only serve to strengthen the misconceived notion that the labouring poor owe gratitude to the elites for helping them tide over the crisis. This notion should be strongly contested by urgently demanding heavy taxation on the corporate houses and business establishments. We must campaign and struggle to pressurize the Government to reintroduce wealth and inheritance tax on them.

The situation of the labouring masses is dire and their destitution and starvation have forced them to even launch food riots at various places across the country. Amidst the increase in food riots, the middle-class social entrepreneurs have continued to undertake charity work in top-down fashion. The need of the hour is not leaving the whole society to the mercy of philanthropy, but fulfilling the minimum entitlement of the labouring masses who with their labour are the real creators of wealth. The granaries and warehouses of Food Corporation of India (FCI) are overflowing, and local provision stores continue to be well-stocked even amid lockdown. However, under the condition of lockdown the labouring masses are unable to earn, making it difficult for them to purchase basic necessities of life.

In this context, we must undertake concerted mass campaigns and struggles demanding that the Government make provisions for rations and other basic necessities as a matter of people’s basic entitlement to the wealth of the country. Since the government has abdicated its responsibility of providing succour to the masses, we have seen food riot-like situations in many parts of the country. In such circumstances, the working masses must not be made to jostle with each other so as to grab a pittance in the form of charity that misguided activists and the guilt-ridden upper classes patronizingly extend. Such charity simply tends to evacuate the possibility of united action by the labouring masses. We must understand that such volatile situations and mass activities actually have tremendous capacity to force the Government to heed to the needs of the labouring masses.

6. Expose State’s Continued Protection of the Rich and Fight for the Liberty of Labouring Masses: The word ‘quarantine’, meaning 40 days of isolation, originated in Europe during Black Death epidemic in the 14th century. The word denoted the number of days that sailors, suspected to be infected with contagious diseases, were required to stay offshore. In a completely irresponsible manner, the Government despite knowing about the foreign-returned elites as the carriers of the Covid-19, allowed them to freely enter the country, thereby putting the life, livelihood and liberty of a multitude of the labouring poor in peril. However, in a dramatic relaxation of lockdown, while the upper and middle strata of society continue to ‘work’ from the comfort of their homes and continue to procure surplus created by the toils of the past and present labour, the workers are being made to work in insecure workplaces. We must strongly oppose this measure through concerted campaigns and struggles, considering the otherwise rampant non-compliance of workplaces with safety protocols, the lax monitoring by a severely trimmed and overburdened labour inspectorate, and given the essential fact that workers in the domain of workplaces are under the authoritarian dominance of employers. There is an urgent need to rally our forces against the Government’s connivance with private capital and its recent proclamation of not taking action against employers whose workers may contract the dreaded infection.

Clearly, all the worry of getting infected is reserved for the elites, while the lives of the labouring poor are treated as dispensable. Such double-standards of the Government in the name of easing lockdown should be rejected and exposed.

7. Reject Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) and other draconic measures: While the lockdown has been extended to 3rd May, 2020, on 19th April the Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) was released by the Government, allowing the movement of migrant labourers to workplaces within states whilst banning any inter-state travel. As per the SOP, migrant workers housed in shelters/relief camps in cities are to be screened for any symptoms and “skill-mapped” to enable their employment. Again, this measure exposes the Government’s unwillingness to provide workers, in a situation of lockdown, their due share for contributing to the economy. Consequently, workers are being faced with the predicament of either working and thereby exposing themselves to danger, or, having their access to otherwise truncated relief being curtailed. This simply amounts to coercive bondage work.

The Government’s draconian measure of skill mapping and arbitrary allocation of work is directly in line with the ‘necessity’ and profit calculation of private capital. Ultimately, through the SOP the Government has shamelessly ended up playing the role of a jobber, leaving aside any pretension of being concerned about safeguarding workers’ basic rights. Eroding any semblance of choice for workers, the SOP provides for workers to be moved as per the needs of employers’ lobbies, but not for returning back to the security of their native place. To alleviate the ‘burden’ of making provisions for safe transportation of workers on a daily basis, it has even been advised that workers be made to reside within the premise of factories; thereby separating them from their kith and kin in the relief camps. We also see a slew of oppressive measures being adopted by different State governments. Using the emergency powers prescribed in the Factories Act and Industrial Disputes Act, various governments have enhanced the work-day to 12 hours, with the Gujarat Government even going to the extent of denying proper overtime wages. There is also the threat of the provisions of these Acts being invoked by State governments to declare establishments as a public utility; thus, criminalizing any act of workers’ resistance, which shall further enhance the private power of employers. Moreover, with no concrete measures being enforced on the ground, the Central and State governments continue to pay mere lip-service to labour rights by asking employers not to fire their employees or cut their wages.

While arrangements have been made for pilgrims and students of rich families to be returned home, migrant workers are being held captive. And this has nothing to do with the concern for the health of workers, as for the sake of production and to generate profit they will be made to move from one district to another by the state–capital combine. This amounts to suspension of all liberties of the workers. We must campaign and struggle to facilitate the immediate withdrawal of the SOP and other draconic measures, and pave the way for immediate and safe return of migrant workers to their homes. Further, we must ensure that workers who are willing to work during the ensuing lockdown are provided all the necessary protection and basic rights.

8. Reject the so-called Economic Relief Package and Demand a New Economic Policy: Even before the coupled up phenomena of Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, there was an unprecedented economic crisis in the country. The rate of unemployment has been at an all-time high in 45 years. With the lockdown, the miserable conditions of the labouring masses have become desperate.

However, even this pandemic has been used by the corporate houses to assert the dictum of ‘Profit First, Society Last’. The Government is totally apathetic to the misery of the masses, as the economic package which it has announced constitutes, to a significant extent, the mere re-packaging of earlier running schemes. This is especially shameful, as the package announced is dwarfed by the huge tax holiday given to the corporates in the current budget. We should reject the hoax economic package of the Government. Instead, we must campaign and struggle to force the Government to proclaim a New Economic Policy wherein health, livelihood and overall well-being of the people would not be compromised just to keep a minuscule number of elites and corporate houses contented. We must push for special provisions for the overexploited workers of the informal sector. We must ensure that special measures are taken to safeguard the interests of the labouring masses in agriculture and within the tribal, nomadic and socially marginalized sections of society.

9. Refuse to React to Right-wing Vitriol and Reassert Class Politics: The ground of current debates on the pandemic is actively being shaped by the Right-wing vitriol, which seeks to divert the focus away from the ill-effects of lockdown by communalizing the issue of the spread of Covid-19 in India. The agenda of politics of Left-liberals is to a large extent laid by the Right-wing forces, and so most of the time their politics is about endless reacting/responding to the Right-wing by resorting to abstract constitutional morality. We should refuse to slide into a pseudo-secular engagement with the Right-wing narrative and instead continue to push to the forefront the rich/poor divide – an axis of politics which has greater potential to galvanize people who have otherwise become the social base of Right-wing politics. We should force the Right-wing to respond to the issue of contrast between the contented lives of the upper and middle classes, and the starvation of labouring poor during lockdown. By sticking close to the fundamental class contradictions of our society, the Revolutionary Left would be able to wean away the social base of the Right-wing politics, thereby isolating the Right-wing camp, and leading to their ultimate defeat.

10. Intensify the Struggle against the Repression of Common People: The working masses have been denied the basic rights of survival and sustenance, and thus the right to life with dignity. Consequently, the citizen–police conflict has increased manifold during the lockdown. We have witnessed heightened brutalities being unleashed by the police and larger state machinery. In fact, the lockdown has been used as a pretext to suppress even the basic constitutional rights of the common people and criminalize different acts of resistance. There has been a witch-hunt targeting a spectrum of progressive intellectuals, journalists, Left-wing and civil rights activists. The twin crises of pandemic and lockdown have also intensified oppression along the fault-lines of age, gender, caste, region, sexuality and community. Correspondingly, we must remain in the forefront of struggles to safeguard the rights of children, poor students, women, the disabled, and other socially oppressed and marginalized communities. We must stand against the curbing of democratic rights, and strengthen our united struggle against the repression of the common people.

WE WILL NOT FORGET, WE WILL NOT FORGIVE!

INTENSIFY OUR STRUGGLE FOR LIFE, LIVELIHOOD AND LIBERTY OF WORKING CLASS AND LABOURING MASSES!!

Revolutionary Solidarity.
Sd/-
Sangram
For
AICCCR

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

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