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 and teaches English literature in the University of Delhi.

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Sohn-Rethel, Alfred. Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology, London: Macmillan, 1978.

Wayne, Michael. Red Kant: Aesthetics, Marxism and the Third Critique: London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Parallax View: Karatani’s Transcritique, On Kant and Marx.  2006.

Fascism or Neoliberalism: What’s in a name?

CSR Shankar

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

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

I. Sovereignty and Neoliberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. What is Neoliberalism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. Politics in Precarious Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Review of “The Deed of Words”

Paresh Chandra

Pothik Ghosh. The Deed of Words: Two Considerations on Politics of Literature. Delhi: Aakar. 2016.


The two writers Pothik Ghosh brings together in his new book are distant enough from each other that most readers of the book will not have read them both. Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh is an important name in the history of 20th century Hindi literature, particularly for those with an interest in modernism or “aesthetics and politics”, but he is still a figure in Hindi modernism. Akhtaruzzaman Elias, a Bangladeshi writer, is more recent, perhaps slightly more obscure, and almost entirely untranslated.

Even so, it would be a disservice to Muktibodh and Elias, not to mention to Ghosh, if I set about trying to summarize what the book has to say about them. Far more useful would be to ask: What allows for these two short monographs (for that is what they are) to constitute a coherent book (for that is what it is)? Ghosh compares neither Muktibodh and Elias, nor literature and politics, yet he writes of these things together. What, then, constitutes Ghosh’s comparative optic?

Why these writers? Criteria of selection are always important. We will turn to Ghosh’s own remarks later and begin instead by invoking what I think is a revealing, if obvious, point of comparison with Alain Badiou. Jean-Jacques Lecercle notes that where Deleuze has an expansive range of references, Badiou works with a fairly small canon.(1) Deleuze’s desire for an immanent criticism is well-known; Lecercle shrewdly points out the trouble with a theorist making a claim to immanence and working with a diverse canon — does the spiel about immanence merely allow Deleuze to transform all these writers into more of the same? On the other hand, Badiou instrumentalizes the literature he chooses very visibly. But that is also why he chooses writers who are a good “fit”, writers who are, arguably, essential to his philosophy. Ghosh is akin to Badiou in this regard. At a moment where literary system building, and the hunt for a new sensitive literary criticism seem to constitute the organizing polarity in academic literary scholarship, Ghosh works with a different set of principles.


The artist who designed the book’s cover narrates an incident: he walks into the publisher’s office and is confronted by an intellectual with a grave beard. The beard berates him for the excesses of the cover, excesses in what it does, and for its failure in doing what a book cover is supposed to do. The title doesn’t stand out clearly, nor does the name of the author. Why would anybody buy this? The artist, mildly irritated and unable to think of a suitable comeback, inquires under his breath if the beard has read Pothik Ghosh’s work. He had not, but he was right. The cover is cluttered, too bright in parts, not enough in others, with a preponderance of red. But it is appropriate for this book.

Aditya Bahl’s cover works with an image familiar to those who have been students of the University of Delhi, such as himself, or me. The university has an institution it calls the “walls of democracy”, the only walls on campus where people are allowed to put posters — posters for the university students’ elections, teachers’ elections, pamphlets for demonstrations, rallies, marches, seminars and conferences, billets for sales, rentals etc. Any poster will last only a few hours before being plastered over by another. Often right-wing organizations will tear up posters put by leftists, and though leftists try to respond in kind, the right-wingers have far too much money and far too many posters to lose this battle. In any case, the most common sight of these walls is the one with which Bahl begins. Fragments of posters layered one upon another, bits of words in three languages, images in different colors that do not belong together. The fragments that Bahl captures were clearly meant to say something, but if this image says anything now, the burden of sense making lies entirely upon the one willing to wager on it. As this image images time, so Ghosh’s book, especially the chapter on Elias, tries to think it.

What Ghosh finds essential to Elias’ work is the attempt to produce such images, which capture the present in its absences, an attempt, equally, to image pasts in their presentness. He explicates what this entails using Walter Benjamin’s conception of the allegorical (the Trauerspiel book) and his “Theses on the Philosophy of History”. For example, a rallying mob, short-circuiting moments that lie across the linear axis of time, invokes and brings into the present those who had rallied in the past.

Yesterday Ayub Khan’s police killed a boy from the university, such a huge protest happens, Anwar can’t get to see any of it! … Osman’s heart skips a few beats: so many people here, are they all breathing, fish-rice-eating normal human beings like him? This human flood here, he finds the attire, demeanor of many of them unfamiliar? Who are they? Does it mean people from eras long gone by have also joined the procession? (Deed of Words, 26)

This passage is followed by a page-long catalog of “people from eras long gone by” who have joined the procession. Two maneuvers are made simultaneously: on the one hand, the passage highlights that what is visible in the present (i.e., what is present in the present moment) does not exhaust it, and in fact conceals a lot; on the other hand, what is invisible in the present gives us access to the presence of pasts hitherto unrealized precisely because in their respective presents, they were not entirely presenced.

What Elias images in this fashion, Ghosh (as militant philosopher) must think in the allegorical mode (to be named by and by). His task is not description; to describe would be to allow thinking to be determined by the presents to which the posters, or the marchers, belong and the connections that history has already formed between them. To think, here, is to produce what Benjamin may have called a figure, a constellation, a palimpsest, a mosaic; it is to produce a momentary unity that has little to do with those presents, or with the desire to recover them. The term that Ghosh adds to the list above is the “command concept”, which wills into existence a future whose conditions of possibility it simultaneously produces by constellating the absences of the past. This past is made visible only by the future the concept wills, and that future’s substantiality depends on the past(s) so made visible. The concept that commands is Ghosh’s attempt to capture the complications of this future anteriority. The production of a command concept is a deed of the word.

Which brings us to the type on the cover. The production of a figure (command concept) using the fragments one encounters is a difficult business, not least because it can only take the form of a wager. Its being lies in the claim that such a figure exists, and the claim is just a claim till the future that realizes it arrives. The wager lies in the fact that we carry on under the assumption that our action constitutes a deed of words, where it threatens to disappear in what it constellates, a deed of mere words. It threatens to become another layer, torn up or plastered over. It is this trait of the deed that Bahl tries to capture in the type, where the shadows in the font, on one hand, pretend to a solemnity that no work warrants, while on the other, it is these shadows that ensure that the title does not stand clearly against the background. At first glance, the title disappears into the cover; then you notice that what was making it disappear in this manner was also what tried to separate it from the background, declaring that it alone was the deed that constructed the image’s meaning.


For very long, Marxists, Ghosh among them, have turned to the final sentences of Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to argue for the communist politicization of art, construed in either a Lukácsian or a Brechtian vein. In the book’s second chapter, “Literature in Use: The Muktibodh Alibi”, Ghosh begins by closing off this possibility: let us not speak of politicizing art. To explain his decision, Ghosh makes use of Muktibodh’s work. I will begin with those final sentences from Benjamin; my explanation too is in the spirit of Ghosh’s work.

This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art. (Illuminations, 242)

An imbalance in this equation tends to go undetected: the first statement concerns the domain of politics, the second the domain of art; the aestheticization of politics demands the politicization of the domain of politics, what Benjamin elsewhere calls the production of a “real state of emergency”. Communism responds by politicizing art, which is insufficient; worse, as Claudia Brodsky insists, it is a mirror reflection of the aestheticization of politics. Benjamin:

The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. (Illuminations, 242)

The aestheticization of politics lay in the “masses” being offered a merely symbolic resolution (expression) to material problems: the resolution of political problems using aesthetic means. The politicization of art, in a situation in which a political response in the domain of politics is required, is the same thing: political problems, aesthetic response.

Starting somewhere here, Ghosh asserts a different principle for looking at the problem of aesthetics and politics, one which must allow for the autonomy of art vis-à-vis politics. Ghosh returns to that infamous slogan (which Benjamin too mentions in the aforementioned final paragraph of the aforementioned essay): l’art pour l’art. But Ghosh’s is “arguably, an attempt to resignify art for art’s sake as a proposal for revolutionary politics. For, insofar as revolutionary politics seeks to break with and decimate the structure of exchange and relationality, this is the only pertinent way to think the use of art and literature from its vantage-point” (Deed of Words, 70).

Ghosh works with an unusual understanding of art (other than Muktibodh, key references are Brecht, Blanchot and Badiou): art asserts its autonomy not just in relation to politics, but more significantly in relation to its inevitable identification as art. The work, having reached its end (having become art), enters the domain of exchange — any claim to its autonomy now only serves as a reminder of its imbrication in exchange relations. Ghosh argues that a work produces with the reader, as it did with the author, a zone of subtraction, and that this is the assertion of its autonomy — once again, not merely in relation to politics, but with respect to its identification as art. But if this moment of subtractive autonomy is the recto, the verso is the negation of the domain of value from which art subtracts itself. (As a parallel, Ghosh’s criticism of a politics of “the commons” is that it tries to envisage subtraction merely as an “opting out” that leaves the entire system of exchange intact, whereas a subtractive politics destroys what it opts out of.) A reading of Muktibodh’s Brahmrakshas brings Ghosh to this point; or, he reads Muktibodh’s Brahmrakshas with this understanding. I shall begin by citing an interesting image Ghosh employs:

… The opening shot of Mani Kaul’s Satah se uthata aadmi (Man Arising from the Surface), a film on the poet’s life and letters. The scene is that of a fragment of a North Indian small-town landscape — with dawn breaking over it — seen from inside a house through its rear window that suddenly slams shut on it. … The birth of art is the recommencement, at the level of the individual, of that which movemental politics incarnates at the social level of abstraction. For Muktibodh, art is, as the opening shot of Kaul’s film metaphorically reveals, all about how the individual resumes, must resume, in his “interiority” that which he sees as being interrupted in the world outside. (Deed of Words, 73)

The parallelism of politics and art, for Ghosh, is to be thought in terms of such “incarnation” of the “that which”. Ghosh’s favored way to denominate this is probably the phrase “real movement”, which Marx uses to define communism.(2) Uninterrupted unfolding is the essence of art as subtraction, as it is of politics; interruption produces art as a reified thing, as do institutions which limit politics.

The end of the work is inevitable and demands another formulation, another moment, which is the moment of the writing of Ghosh’s book.(3) The window slamming shut can also be seen to symbolize this unavoidable reification of art, when it closes in upon itself and becomes a thing in the domain of value. At the end of the work (of art) how is another commencement to be imagined? Althusser, in his essay on Brecht, memorably quoted by a character in Godard’s La Chinoise, pictures this next moment: “I look back, and I am suddenly and irresistibly assailed by the question: are not these few pages, in their maladroit and groping way, simply that unfamiliar play El Nost Milan, performed on a June evening, pursuing in me its incomplete meaning, searching in me, despite myself, now that all the actors and sets have been cleared away, for the advent of its silent discourse?” (For Marx, 151).


In his preface, Ghosh writes that Muktibodh and elias are only pretexts for him. But it is not difficult to glean that what is actually at stake here is a well-concealed methodological maneuver that he is hesitant to own up to. This maneuver concerns the idea of “mediation”, both a stumbling block and raison d’être for much Marxist literary criticism. The work is seen by such criticism as the yoking together, or an articulated totality, of different levels of abstractions (layers), such that, in tracing them, one can traverse the distance from the deepest/furthest to the most accessible. These layers can be denominated in multiple ways (the unconscious and history are two common names for the deepest/furthest).

The “ideal type” of (a certain kind of) Marxist literary criticism would navigate each mediating level and be a complete map of the work, as it were, hopefully without being the work. So, for instance, criticism could begin by “close reading” a few passages of a work, slowly account for style, proceed to historicizing the form or the “content of the form”, and finally arrive at an understanding of the work that fits without violently reducing or transforming it. But even the map of the work which is the work is infinitely different from the work (as we have learnt from Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote).

Ghosh is clear-sighted about this, which is probably why his work is unlikely to get the attention it deserves from academic Marxists, or from Marxists who happen to be academics. He uses the idea of the “wager” to posit an image of thought in which its commencement and its recommencement is constituted of leaps; transitions are undetermined in relations to all things except the labor of thought. Mediations are chromatic steps introduced to make the jumps seem smaller, but no matter how small an interval may seem, the before and the after are entirely different, i.e., unmediated. There can be no satisfying accounts of mediations, because this is the name given to that which is not accounted for.

A signature move in this book, which may put off many trained literary critics (even of the Marxian variety), is the one where Ghosh gives us an extended quote and begins his commentary with “Clearly…”. For example:

“Great, well-known idealists are these days found slaving at Ravan’s home, filling water, and busy being their master’s voice. Many well-known progressive personalities are also in the grip of this ailment. An individual who refuses to fill water for Ravan has to see his children teeter precariously on the brink. And you know, how famous progressive personalities with halos of glory around their heads too (I can’t speak for all) laugh at them or are filled with the kind of pity one feels for the lowly for them. So, in short, nobody is willing to grant recognition to a person whose existence is precarious, irrespective of how ethical that person might be.” [My translation.]

Clearly, the ethical condition of possibility of art, literature and other such critical intellectual vocations would be the universality of the truth of determinate subtraction — which those pursuits are in their emerging — in being-subtraction uninterruptedly. (Deed of Words, 94)

Schematically: The passage begins with a quote in Hindi, or Bengali, which Ghosh translates, and then his commentary.

The more acceptable mode is one in which the critic’s commentary begins with a brief summarizing gesture, even a careful paraphrase, and the contextualizing operation that follows segues into the theoretical language particular to the critic. As I see it, the reason Ghosh does not follow this protocol is part indiscipline, part decision.

Indiscipline insofar as he has not spent years in the disciplining apparatus of a literature department and does not have to deal with the anxiety of publishing in peer-reviewed journals etc. Not conditioned by this particular anxiety, he approaches his writing as a moment in his thinking process, a moment in which it is externalized so that it can allow thinking to recommence. It has no need to be a final product and it is this that makes for a hermetic style that readers, including academics, have been impatient with over the years. We must note, of course, that he has his readers, who continue to read his work because they too are part of this process of thinking, though thinking is not their business.

A decision because it is a direct consequence of Ghosh’s conception of thinking’s unfolding as uninterrupted becoming-other; this is what dialectical unfolding is for him. Another way to put this would be to say he takes Benjamin’s sketching out of the task of the translator very seriously — translation is precisely a kind of recommencement in another language, not making a work available in another language, but making another language available to the work. The attempt to lay out mediations, the fantasy of close reading, and the attempt in the writing of a critical essay to mediate the movement from the text to the theorization are, in Ghosh’s view, all illusions, things that get in the way of thinking. His enterprise is to think under the condition of a work and he feels no need to hide the leap from the quote to his own thinking, and may even want to highlight it. If one were to read the passage quoted above without a familiarity with not just Badiou’s thought but Ghosh’s version of his thought, one is likely to feel frustrated.

And yet, if Ghosh’s method is unapologetically bold, his explication of it, to return to the beginning of this section, is modest. So to modify the question with which Ghosh opens the second chapter of the book: why should ambition hide behind modesty? Why, instead of claiming this conception of thinking (in the condition of art/literature), does Ghosh stage it as partial failure? Does he not identify entirely with this image, or is he surrendering himself to the affectations of his academic readership, ducking his own call for an “academics beyond the academia”?


This essay has made passing references to Ghosh’s style. In lieu of a conclusion, I wish to reflect on it at greater length. Those who have read his essays on Radical Notes, his earlier monograph on Elias or on psychoanalysis, or his book Insurgent Metaphors, know full well that he makes no concessions to the reader. In part, in great part, this is because he conceives of writing as the inscription of a process of thought, with which he and others internal to this process struggle in order to make it unfold. As a Marxist, he rejects unabashedly the social-democratic distaste for preaching to the converted — for him, preaching is meaningful only to the converted — and as a theorist, he does not share the academic’s yearning for a readership. But there is more to the “difficulty” of his style, and this more, I hesitatingly contend, is a political problem. Look at the following passage from the chapter on Elias:

Therefore, the savage mind is activation of dialectical reason, which is analytical reason constantly overcoming itself by grasping its own logic of emerging to actualize it. The logic of emerging of analytical reason is, it must be stated at the risk of some repetition, also its unconscious when it exists as itself, which is dialectical reason in “repose.” (Deed of Words, 24)

This is by no means the most trying bit of his prose, but it demonstrates what needs to be demonstrated. This is Ghosh’s attempt to grasp dialectical reason dialectically, at the same time as he grasps analytical reason dialectically. They must be grasped together, in order to be grasped dialectically, because they together constitute the dialectic that has to be grasped. The final clause of the first sentence “to actualize it”, contains the second moment of the dialectic, the first moment being analytical reason’s overcoming of itself. It is this final clause that pushes the sentence to a point where very few readers would patiently be willing to follow it; in the process, it takes its toll on syntax too. And there is indeed risk of repetition — for by this point Ghosh has already stated this formulation in at least three other different ways.

The “dialectical sentence”, one that is not merely chiasmic, containing a “thesis and antithesis” (from the rock-ribbed triad that is often mistaken for the dialectic), but one that holds three moments of time — the beginning with two, the moment without duration that is sublation, and the appearance of another two, is a strange fantasy. It requires elaborate use of “suspended syntax”, not unlike the first sentence of Paradise Lost, and is responsible for much of the difficulty of Ghosh’s style. And what is gained even if one does succeed in producing such an unlikely sentence? The moment the dialectic is represented, it demands immediate restatement against the grain of the first representation. If in the first instance sublation has no duration, becoming a vanishing mediator, in the second and third instances the initial and the final must respectively play the same role.

In the first place then, there is the excessively knotted sentence, and then repetition. The political problem hides in this stylistic issue. Even Hegel — for whom God as Absolute Spirit was the totality of Father, Son, and Spirit, the process by which each leads to the other — willingly paused with the Trinity as a commonsense representation of this process. Fredric Jameson points out in The Hegel Variations that, at the end of the Phenomenology, Reason does not destroy commonsense and picture-thinking — they have to continue to exist; reification cannot be sidestepped, and it never disappears. The search for the sentence that captures dialectical unfolding without pause reflects a distaste, even a fear of representation, which is the same thing as the fear of reification. Ghosh’s most breathless passages are the ones which contain the essence of his argument. Since these arguments tend to be “dialectical”, their being arguments depends upon a fundamental asymmetry in the dialectic: if one side of the dialectic is not heavier we are left moving around in circles. Fearing the institutionalization of such asymmetry, an asymmetry essential to the polemical import of the arguments, Ghosh immediately tries to balance them out.

The struggle with syntax and repetition are recognized pitfalls of writing dialectically but the fear of reification threatens to push the dialectic back to a properly idealist moment. This fear, which whether unwillingly or otherwise becomes a significant organizing factor in Ghosh’s prose, undermines the centrality that the wager (and courage — as opposed to anxiety — to put into play Alain Badiou’s binary from Theory of the Subject, which Ghosh would no doubt appreciate) has for his thought. The appearance of this anxiety in his style may well be an important repressed of his theorization. Something remains to be said about that.


(1) See the second chapter, “A question of style”, in Jean-Jacques Lecerle’s Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature.

(2) Badiou’s conception of the “Event” and the four domains (politics, art, science, and love) in which it takes place could also be evoked to explicate this.

(3) Ghosh discusses this with reference to Muktibodh’s “Ek lambi kavita ka ant” (“End of a Long Poem”).


Althusser, Louis. For Marx. New York: Verso. [1965] 2005.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. New York: Schocken. [1950] 2007.

Ghosh, Pothik. The Deed of Words: Two Considerations on Politics of Literature. Delhi: Aakar. 2016.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. Badiou and Deleuze read literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2010.

On “Autonomy in India”

Pratik Ali

A response to ‘Autonomy in India: Tactical and Strategic Considerations in the New Wave of Workers’ Struggles’ by Mithilesh Kumar and Ranabir Samaddar, Viewpoint (Jan 23, 2017)

I help a few friends in publishing and distributing every month a newspaper – Faridabad Majdoor Samachar – in the Delhi-NCR area, in which we try to present to workers an image of their own activities which we think are full of transformative possibilities. We also keep these activities of workers at the center of our discussions by consistently trying to interpret their implications anew. What we see the workers doing, and what we hear of from other places today, gives the impression that some great churning is taking place which we dare not try to fit unthinkingly into existing moulds bequeathed to us by past experience.

It is in this context that I place this response to the article “Autonomy in India”. My chief criticism is that apart from the many erroneous commissions and omissions, it presents workers as a “fragmented”, hapless lot, and by trying to place them in bygone frameworks, completely misses their present radical potential. This essay will point out how, in their characterization of workers today, the authors of ‘Autonomy in India’ place the irrelevant in the spotlight, exceptionalize the normal, and thus manage to get away with presenting an image of workers which is, even by the examples they invoke, less representative of their activities.

Making the irrelevant relevant

1.“State’s machinery to protect the rights of unorganized workers

The authors inform us that “the state is now trying to find ways to normalize the figure of the unorganized worker through social measures, while allowing – and in fact facilitating – the uncertain conditions of work in the wake of globalization.” Whatever the “normalization” of 80%-90% of the workforce means, we find that this age-old distinction between “organized-unorganized” workers is coming into question in churnings in the factory mode today that make laws, legal redress, labour commissions, etc. increasingly irrelevant. This is amply evident when we consider even the cases of “organized” workers today, as at Munjal Kiriyu (Sec-4, IMT Manesar), Haryana:

“…A union was established in the Munjal Kiriyu factory at the beginning of 2013. As per law, only the permanents took membership of the same. In present conditions, actual workers’ organization is made possible by the inter-mixing between permanents, trainees, apprentices and temps. On 26.11.13, the union signed a three-year agreement with the management that sought to weaken and break this actual workers’ organization. But the bonds between permanents, trainees and temps proved resilient, and even before a month was over since the legal agreement was signed, all workers stopped production on 18.11.13 in support of three trainees (?). After production was stalled for 25 days, the union and the management made an agreement with elusive traps involving provisions for dismissal and discharge…. The real meaning of this “victory” of the union-management agreement of 15.1.14 (after 25 days of stalled production) was revealed to the permanents later in April that year. Permanents broke ties for the first time from a big union in May to join hands with another big union. At that time, the company straight away attacked the permanents, whose collective strength was already depleted by weakening of their ties with the temps due to management-union interventions. 195 permanents were removed from the factory on 24.9.14, as 400 temps, 100 diploma trainees, and 43 permanents continued production within. The debarred permanent workers then, on 25th September, returned to take shelter under the roof of the former big union. A month, two months, three months passed since the 195 workers debarred from the factory were sitting outside it. Hearings-after-hearings took place at the Labour Department. Initially, big unions were very active, but then grew lax, and finally became completely distant from the workers. Apart from those removed from work, the company added to the numbers of those suspended. Workers sitting-in at the factory gates since 25th September accepted the management’s conditions on 15.1.15 when they saw that resistance wasn’t bearing fruit. Leaving the 9 who were terminated, and 20 who were suspended, the rest of the workers returned inside the factory. Reports about Munjal Kiriyu workers will be found in the 2014 September, October, November and January 2015 newspapers of Majdoor Samachar…” (FMS, Feb 2015)

Or, let us look at the more recent case of the Honda (Tapukara) factory in Alwar district (Rajasthan),

“…On 16th February, in order to stem the upsurge of temporary and permanent workers, the workers were evicted from the factory by means of police action. Following that, a huge number of new temporary workers were recruited, and the factory was kept operational through them and a few permanent workers. Meanwhile, the workers evicted from the factory were made to run around Gurgaon, Jaipur, Alwar by mediators/brokers (middlepersons) for obtaining relief.

On 6th June, there was a settlement between the Honda management and unions in the presence of the Labour Commissioner of the Rajasthan government. Out of more than 4000 workers evicted from the factory, 256 permanent workers were to go back to work at the factory starting the 8th of June. As for the rest, it was decided to have talks on the 13th of June at the Labour Department.

The union thanked the Honda management and the Labour Department of Rajasthan Government in press releases. On the 8th of June, the permanent workers went into the factory to work in accordance with the settlement.

And then, come 13th, the Honda management never showed up for the talks scheduled at the Labour department. The company bluntly said that it would not recall even a single worker of the thousands of temporary workers evicted from the factory. 102 permanent workers of Honda Tapukara have been dismissed and 47 have been suspended.
With the Honda management “going back on its words”, the union has once more started a series of protest-demonstration-appeals since 20th June.” (FMS, July 2016)

And from recent events at the Bellsonica factory in Sec-8, IMT Manesar,

“The union keeps saying : workers will benefit from peacefully keeping up regular production at the factory, abiding by the Labour department and the Courts. Far from the workers gaining anything through these proceedings going on since one and a half years, the company has instead fired many permanents, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies.” (FMS, July 2016)

These are only a few cases among many – Bridgestone IMT Manesar (Hindi report in FMS, Nov 2015), Napino Auto IMT Manesar (Hindi report in FMS, May 2016), Omax Auto IMT Manesar (Hindi report in FMS, May 2016), and so on – in which: first, the “organized-unorganized” distinction has proved unhelpful and a hindrance to workers’ activities vis-à-vis managements and work, and second, “organized” workers bear witness to the breakdown of the “state machinery” that is supposed to “ensure their rights,” to say nothing about the vast majority of cases in which “unorganized” workers witness this breakdown as a matter of course. We observe, rather, that laws, legal redress, the rights-framework have become irrelevant for workers, and any attempt to channelize workers’ activities through these means is only harmful for workers’ expressions of agency. In contradistinction to this, consider the possibilities thrown out of workers organizing themselves beyond this statized “organized-unorganized” distinction. For example, Maruti Suzuki (which “Autonomy in India” misrepresents)

“…In 2011, in the factory in Manesar, there were 950 permanent workers, 500 trainees, 200 apprentices, 1200 workers hired through contractors for work in the direct production process; around 1500 workers were hired through contractors for various auxiliary functions. The pace of work was such that a car was being assembled in 45 seconds. Some permanent workers attempted to organise another union against the existing union. Strong arm tactics of the management to make permanent workers (most of whom were not even aware of the attempt at another union formation) accept the existing union gave rise to a charged atmosphere. All around discontent coalesced into sudden stoppage of work. On 4th June 2011 when A and B shift workers were together in the factory, they took over entry and exit points. Most workers in factories today in the subcontinent are temporary workers — the percentage of permanent workers varies from 0 to 5 to 25% of the work force. On 4th June permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, and workers hired through contractors came together, and in this way a workers’ organisation appropriate for the current conditions took shape, transcending the legal framework wherein only permanent workers can be members of the factory trade union. What started on 4th June and continued for 13 days should be termed a ‘deoccupation’ of the factory. Around 3000 workers stayed in an atmosphere of freedom inside the factory premises during those days.

The company and the government were taken aback. During the deoccupation many more bonds developed between the various categories of workers. The company was forced to take a step backwards and revoke the termination of 11 workers for production to restart. 

There was a dramatic change in the atmosphere in the factory. The bonds between workers continued to grow and management officials were increasingly on the defensive. The company was forced to plan and prepare to re-establish its control. It went to far away industrial training institutes and secretly recruited hundreds of “ladke” (young boys). On 28th August, a weekly day off, 400 police men came to the factory overnight. The company staff had arrived earlier. With metal sheets, the factory was secured in military fashion. On the morning of the 29th when workers arrived for their 7:00 am shift, there were notices announcing dismissals and suspensions, and entry for permanent workers was conditional on signing of good conduct bonds.

All the workers, both permanent and temporary, stayed out of the factory. Inside the factory were the new hires and workers brought from the company’s Gurgaon factory, with a few permanent workers from the Manesar plant. Arrangements for their stay inside the factory had been made. Managerial and supervisory staff members also had to work in the production process with the workers in 12 hour shifts. This was a well rehearsed chess game to soften workers and impose conditions.

Repeated attempts were made to instigate workers to violence. The workers refused to be instigated, even when some of them were called by the state government for negotiations and were arrested there.

More than 3000 workers organized themselves into two 12 hour shifts outside the factory. At any time, there were more than 1500 workers spread out near the workers’ entry gate. This continued for the whole of September 2011. Many kinds of discussions took place. Bonding between different categories of workers acquired new dimensions.” (See the entire report ‘An Account of Factory Workers Today’)

Workers’ activities run contrary to the discourse on dwindling rights; rather, we note that the weakness of workers lies not in “precariousness” due to ineffective labour regimes, but rather in holding their activities hostage to those labour regimes. We need only recall the mass upsurge among workers in Bengaluru, in which the role of the state-machinery became more than clear: suppression, or diffusion by giving concessions, of workers’ activities. This was also seen in the recent mass-absence of workers from factories in Bangladesh.

2. “How do the workers mobilize and organize? What methods or approaches will be adopted by the political organizers?.. This is a vital supplement to the Maruti case, which demonstrated that even in the organized sector – at the cutting edge of technological innovation in the workplace – the radical Left has an important role to play. With the rise of casualization of labor, it is true that workers have become more geographically mobile and contractually flexible; but the upshot may be that they are now more amenable to the kind of politics articulated by the radical Left… Who organizes the workers at sites that have not been previously organized or where trade union influence has been minimal?”

What the authors present as a victory of Maruti Suzuki workers in 2000 (victory in the form of a tripartite negotiation) seems reminiscent of the “organized” workers-unions-organizations’ appeals in 2016 from Jantar Mantar to the parliamentary conscience for the workers of Honda Tapukara, which was followed by a photo-op with Delhi’s Labour Minister, a continuing court case, and a dead end which was not even spoken about.

At a time when it has become amply evident that representative frameworks are dysfunctional in supporting workers’ organization, is there any case for the good vs. bad representative argument? Is there any case for the “radical Left” better than the “classical Left” idea? We can ask workers from ASTI Electronics (Sec-8, IMT Manesar),

“Temporary workers depended on the strength of their backs. We were approached by all – IMK, KNS, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta – to hijack our struggle, but we didn’t let them. We agreed that they could give us suggestions, and we did take suggestions, but made it clear from the first day onwards that acting or not acting upon suggestions was up to us. A leader from AITUC said the HMS does this kind of politics every time, you should trust us, we will fight your struggle. A temporary worker replied, “It was good of you to come, but we’ve seen what you did in Napino Auto. You may leave, thank you.” A CITU leader then said many things against Modi, that he is bringing laws that will spoil the workers’ future, that we have to stop those laws from coming into action. A temporary worker replied, “You are senile now, have gained immense knowledge, but this is not a platform for election mongering.” It is a platform of workers; the laws you speak of haven’t yet come, and already we are doomed. You haven’t been able to implement laws presently in place, but still speak of a future. When somebody from Bigul came to speak, IMK protested, demanding they not be permitted to speak. They were told that this platform isn’t IMK’s, but of the contract workers. It is our decision whom to allow or disallow from speaking.” (FMS, April 2015)

Or we could also test the validity of these claims against certain “militant” tactics of the Bellsonica Union:

“In June, workers at the factory bluntly told the union leaders that the union should right away do something for immediate relief, failing which the workers would act on their own.

The union which had been holding out hopes for months for the decisive date of 12 July at the High Court, taxed its brains and made a plan : as the saying goes, kill the snake without breaking the stick. To ensure that the production does not suffer, the company does not face losses, the company does not get annoyed – the weekly off day in the factory was chosen. A lot of thought also went into the “action” – to act without putting the government authorities under pressure, without being a bother, without angering them. A Sunday was found to be the best choice. 6000 handbills were printed for distribution. 1500 posters were printed for Dharuhera, Bawal, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Delhi University and IMT Manesar. Towards the end of June, the union kept many workers busy working in the Bellsonica factory and their colleagues outside the factory.
Sunday is a holiday at the factory. Government offices are closed on Sundays. Hence, the middlepersons/brokers calling for revolution-vevolution announce

“Program : Collective Hunger Strike
Venue : Mini Secretariat, Gurgaon
Time : 9 AM – 5 PM
Date : July 3 2016”” (FMS, July 2016)

The bankruptcy of radical Left politics was visible already in the events around the Maruti Suzuki de-occupation, of which our authors present only incomplete fragments, using the same obfuscatory lens of the “radical”. A more detailed account:

“Permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, workers hired through contractor companies, new workers who had been hired to run the second assembly plant — all these workers, around 4000 workers, in a meticulous operation on the evening of 18 July 2012 attacked two symbols of the wages system : managers and factory buildings. It was not this or that bad manager who became the target but rather any and every manager; hundreds of managers, MANAGERS AS SUCH WERE A TARGET. It is this that makes happenings in the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory one of global importance. Suppression that triggers explosion is well known, but concessions being rejected en masse is a new phenomenon. It is a radical point of departure. Maruti Suzuki Manesar is a good example, but what is more important is that amongst factory workers in the national capital region in India, similar things at different stages and levels are gaining currency.

In the following days, the two thousand factories in IMT Manesar offered a significant ground for workers to meet other workers and to bond with them. In place of that…central trade unions acted fast and shifted the venue 25 km away to Gurgaon by constituting a committee of 16 trade union leaders who would decide what steps are to be taken. Of the discharged permanent workers numbering 546, those remaining outside the jail were pushed into becoming an audience for this committee. Other workers’ representatives/supporters, critical of central trade unions, but who also see workers as victims and as lacking consciousness, erased the active role of the workers on 18th July. They made out the company to be the active force that had conspired and hired bouncers to attack workers to instigate them. Poor workers only reacted to the bouncers’ attack and so were caught in the management’s trap. 60-70 thousand leaflets with these falsehoods were distributed amongst workers in IMT Manesar, Gurgaon, Delhi and Faridabad. Knowingly or unknowingly these do-gooders encouraged the workers to set out on paths that were tiresome and exhausting. Petitions, demonstrations, protests by the family members of the jailed and sacked workers; hunger strikes, bicycle protest tours…steps which gave some support to the workers’ cause, but which, if relied upon solely, only made workers tired and exhausted. Because of the ineffectiveness of the committee of 16, those more to the left gained ground. And the venue was shifted 200 km away to a peasant dominated area.

By July 2013 the complete bankruptcy of all those who considered workers as poor, exploited victims, had reached a stage where these ‘struggles’ came to an ignominious end — on 18 July 2013 in a candlelight protest in daylight in a park provided by the government, a portrait of the manager who died in 2012 was carried…” (From ‘An Account of Factory Workers Today’ cited above)

To suggest that a tendency working against the direction of workers’ activities ought to play a decisive role in mediation, and even organization of workers, follows the same line of argument by which a dysfunctional state machinery is expected to become functional in regulating workers’ activities. In this mode of thinking, the organization of workers’ activities not just complements their regulation, but becomes its means too.

3. “The rural rich gentry, the upper caste kulaks, and the wise elders of the nearby settlements all supported the company bosses….Perhaps the postcolonial condition not only does not completely transform peasants into workers at least for now, but in this condition the workers have to traverse both spheres. In the case of Maruti the workers who were part of the struggle were only the first generation who had given up farming and taken up technical education to become part of the skilled workforce. Maybe that is the reason that forced them to look for succour in their villages rather than in their so-called autonomous self.”

Following on their inadequate characterisation of workers as “precarious,” “fragmented,” or otherwise weakened by “globalization”, the authors turn to add more “local” qualifications pertaining to remnants (or fables) of earlier social structures (e.g., the management vs. the Dalit worker; the local contractor vs. the migrant labourer; “Taking into account that many of [the Maruti Suzuki] workers belonged to villages around Gurgaon-Manesar, their impulse led them to fall back on the community organization of the khap panchayat.” and so on).

Notwithstanding the absence in history of a worker completely bereft of baggages, whether of past identities, or of present links to non-worker habitats (e.g., to a rural community), this approach fails to look at the factory (or the neighborhoods) as a space in which churning takes place between people of very varied such experiences, under very new, unprecedented conditions. Rather than look at the links and discussions that emerge between workers in a new space like this, the authors try to reduce everything to the play of old themes and remnants. Thus, they fail to even imagine the possibility of something new and different to emerge from workers’ activities.

“Maxop, Sec-6, IMT Manesar: 12 hour shifts for the manufacture of automobile parts for export. .. Work load is a lot, workers keep leaving, there are always vacancies.. High temperatures in the factory.. On the night shift of 16th January, Kaleem Ansari was working on a pressure die casting machine. At 2:10am in the night, a casting part got stuck in the machine. When Kaleem attempted to remove the part from the machine, it suddenly sprung into action due to being on auto-plan. His head got sucked into the casting machine, and he died immediately. Workers stopped work. Left the factory premises. The factory was shut on the 17th, on the 18th January too. Work commenced on the 19th.” (FMS, February 2015)

We find among factory workers a trend wherein even one person on the factory floor becomes a focal point of concern for every other worker. In this process, the force of past identities, or specific differences, to set apart collectivities is challenged by the workers’ understanding of their common situations. This trend is repeated again and again: to take another example, in Udyog Vihar in February 2015 one garment worker was beaten up, but it provided a trigger for a widespread anger against many factories and cars of management. More than 2000 policemen refused to act on seeing the sheer number of workers having a go at the factories (Hindi report in FMS, March 2015). We also heard from workers of a Micromax factory at Mayapuri, Delhi (FMS, December 2016),

“There are about 450 workers in the Mayapuri Micromax factory, with 9 hours long duty in a day, paid 9000 (after deduction of esi/pf) rupees a month. As soon as workers spend sometime in the factory, they begin to refuse overtime. Hence, the Micromax management is concerned at all times with enlisting new workers. In Novermber 2016, the management removed 4 workers from 13 in a small department. The 9 remaining workers in the department halted work. The management had to take back the four removed workers.”

Where even one worker becomes a focal point of discussion among tens of thousands and an invitation for collective action, we infer that many differences, specificities, and the so-called baggages no longer hinder action and, therefore, become irrelevant. This is an indication that we need to look at workers’ activities as something radically different and irreducible to old identities.

This emergence of new tendencies is particularly marked in how the gender question manifests itself among workers. More than half the participants in events such those witnessed in Bengaluru (Apr 2016), Udyog Vihar (Feb 2015), Okhla Industrial Area (Feb 2013), etc. were, firstly, women, and secondly, migrants. Both these identities are considered, in hegemonic discourses as well as in dominant counter-hegemonic discourses, as socially weak and vulnerable. In this context, look at this about the workers’ sit-in at ASTI electronics:

“from the 4th November, 60 male and 250 female workers began a continuous sit-in outside the factory…” (FMS, Dec 2014)

Or from JNS & Jay Ushin (Sec 3, IMT Manesar):

“Women wage-workers from all over Gurgaon, Jhajjar, Rewari, Pataudiin packed buses. Many also walk down to work daily from Manesar, Kasan, Khoh, Naharpur. Like on other days, on 10th February too – a Monday – women workers coming by buses and on foot gathered outside the factories at 8:45 am. Entry into both factories is through one gate alone and duty begins at 9 am. However, on 10th February, the gathered women workers refused to enter the factories. For about two whole hours they stood outside the factory gate and discussed promises by the Haryana Chief Minister to raise the minimum wage to Rs. 8100. The police arrived. In buses, senior staff members accompany the women workers to keep an eye, and so the women don’t talk as freely. Despite all this, the company didn’t have a clue when on 10th February more that 2000 women workers acted collectively. JNS Instruments is a strong partnership between Nippon Seiki, Japan and J P Minda from India. Autometers for Honda, Bajaj, Hero, Suzuki, Yamaha two-wheelers and Maruti Suzuki and Honda cars are manufactured here. Jay Ushin is a joint-venture between Ushin Ltd., Japan and J P Minda. It manufactures car-keys and automatic-locksets. JNS annually produces goods worth about Rs. 5 billion, while Jay Ushin produces goods worth Rs. 6 billion annually. Male wage-workers working in these factories work for two shifts of 12 hours each. Shifts change every 15 days, whereupon workers from the first shift work 16 hours straight. The factories run 24 hours a day, every day of the month. The only holiday is 26th January (National Republic Day). Overtime rates are below single-rate: Rs. 22/h for male and Rs. 23/h for female workers. Those directly employed on the company rolls are given their salaries directly in their bank accounts, they number 500-600; their role is to get work done by the contract workers, and they boss around inside the factories. Men and women contract workers are hired through eight to twelve contractors.

Workers are told about their wages around the 9th of every month, but they are only paid around the 20th . Workers who have quit are made to jump hoops for a long time to get their dues, women workers often enter arguments at gates, swear at the management, even pick up their shoes to thrash somebody when they come to collect their dues.” (FMS, March 2014)

Clearly, new kinds of relationships are taking shape between the men and women who share factory spaces, who stop work together, pelt stones together, share neighborhoods. As more households become multiple-earning, what becomes of the gender hierarchies within households that are part of the “social factory” that the authors point to? If we return to some scenes from the Maruti Suzuki de-occupation in this light (of which our authors inform us that workers, being tied to local villages, “sought succor” outside “their autonomous self,”

“It has been observed that important questions dealing with life, time, relations, representation, articulation and factory life were brought to the fore by the deoccupations of June and October 2011. In the words of a worker:

‘Inside the Maruti Suzuki factory, 7-14 October was the best of times. No tension of work. No agonizing about the hours entry and exit. No stress over catching a bus. No fretting about what to cook. No sweating over whether dinner has to be eaten at 7 or at 9 pm. No anguish over what day or date it is. We talked a lot with each other about things that were personal. During those seven days we drew closer to each other than we have ever been before.’

In the same vein, when the issue of 30 workers being bought-over by the management made the rounds at the end of October, a worker said:

‘Earlier we used to pass on the issues to the president, general secretary, department coordinator — they weres supposed to tell us what to do. But now every worker answers for himself. On every issue, every one gives his opinion. The atmosphere has changed.’”(An Account of Workers’ Activities)

Exceptionalizing the norm

1. “There have also been attempts to invent and improvise methods of organizing workers in these changed conditions, where the organized sector is supposedly being increasingly fragmented, with lean production or just-in-time production becoming the norm, and shop floors becoming increasingly redundant as a site of both production and mobilization. Even where the shop floor continues to be important, as in the automobile sector, the worker is now a mere appendage of the machine and has to tune their self to the iron rhythm of the robot. The ideal worker, it seems, is one who can transform into one of the cogs of the huge machine… transforming the shopfloor into a site of precarity”

In the above quote, the authors have merged multiple claims in a rather complicated unity: one claim is that due to production techniques now in motion, workers’ have become bootstrapped in acting at the site of production; then there is the claim that the shop-floor’s importance today remains only in the automobile sector, which, too, highlights the “hapless” existence of the worker. And in order to challenge this, there “have been attempts” to improvise methods, which are obviously not the methods “improvised” by workers, since they are “a mere appendage of the machine.”

This view would prevent us from understanding a large number of workers’ activities vis-à-vis the factory today. Let us look at some instances:

“Sebros Auto (Sec-5, IMT Manesar): Due to the breaking of a die-part of the die-casting machine, while being paid wages on 11th July, they were deducting Rs. 3000 from the salaries of the pressure die-casting workers. Workers refused to take wages, and 9 machines in the department were shut…” (FMS, Sep 2014)

“At Munjal Kiriyu… all workers stopped production on 18.11.13 in favor of three trainees who were removed. After production was stalled for 25 days, the union and the management made an agreement with elusive traps involving provisions for dismissal and discharge.” (FMS, Feb 2015)

“JNS Instruments (Sec-3, IMT Manesar): Line leader, in a school-like fashion, orders a worker to stand in place for 10-20 minutes. What shame in standing so? Gets some relief from work. Older workers disclose to new ones how to deal with supervisors and line leaders. Girls from two lines got together to beat up a line leader. The supervisor had to come to secure release.” (FMS, Apr 2015)

And so on. An interesting trend seen in garments factories is product rejection. Pants manufactured in Indo-British Garments had legs of different sizes; 13,000 pants returned to the factory, without anybody getting a whiff of how this happened (FMS, Sep 2014). Similar rejections were produced by workers at Modelama and Precision Prints. Workers of the two factories of Wearwell in Okhla Industrial Area kept machines shut for several days over non-payment of wages, and stayed in de-occupied factories in September 2014 (FMS, Oct 2014). And there are numerous instances of workers having clashes at the factory site; in many cases, such as Udyog Vihar (Feb, 2015) and Orient Craft, Manesar (Oct, 2015) for example, these happened in the middle of a shift. One then looks at garments workers’ activities in Bengaluru in April, 2016, and more recently in Bangladesh in December 2016. Further off, one recalls collective fainting by garments workers in Cambodia, and so on.

2. “this unruly, often militant, population working in extremely uncertain conditions. Every other day we hear news of workers murdering a factory official, workers raiding a company or plant office, or the sudden disappearance of a worker, or a laborer in a precarious work condition committing suicide.”

This “unruly, often militant” worker, for the authors, is a by-product of “unorganized” “precarity” that is at the same time a liability for everyone from the state to the management; s/he contributes nothing to the “struggle.” This upstart, in all manifestations of this syndrome, is capable only of sporadic acts, bordering on a pathology. Even when in a group, their acts have nothing to do with the pace of factory production, or to causing hindrance in the same. It is to “govern” this “unorganized subject without producing a subject called the organized worker” that is the task of regulation as well as organization. We shall leave this claim to find its corner to die.

3. The Struggle of Forms?

The authors of the article submit their analysis, broadly outlined and discussed above, to a rigmarole of forms from the world history of the left, and to its more localized Indian counterpart: from the party, to the union, to the autonomous organizational form (as epitomized by the Italian theorists of workers’ movements). They find that “Every instance of worker-led resistance has shown strong marks of autonomy, a swell of consciousness on the ground, and a large degree of spontaneity. At the same time, every uprising of workers has demonstrated features of strategic leadership, effective organization, wide social networks, and a strong transformational desire.” Apart from the fact that their discussion of the wage-worker today leaves no scope for workers’ autonomous activities to be understood in any meaningful sense, and that their notions about organization and autonomy provide no clarity about how the two mesh together, we find that workers’ activities elude any attempts to fit them in such grids. Sometimes this rejection is immediate, as during an ongoing gathering or a sit-in where existing organizations of various hues often arrive; this is also because the results of deciding in favor or against a form are immediate. But in a large measure, this is also because the temporary worker, knowing that s/he is outside the scope of the legal, sidesteps all such regulation.


In “normalizing” or conceiving the image of the wage-worker today from the lens of organizations of bygone times, an inversion takes place: the worker appears weak, a mere “cog in the machine.” This inversion is only achieved by emphasizing the most irrelevant aspects of the workers’ being and doing, and by circumscribing their regular frictions with the production process, and how they learn and act upon the same. Hence, the fact that theories and theoreticians frequently lag behind the practice of the working class is reconfirmed.

[The translations from the originally Hindi reports have been made available due to the participation of a number of friends.]

Marx’s critique of political economy and the problem of revolutionary subjectivity

Pothik Ghosh


Let us begin with an axiomatic assertion: the strategic insolvency of the Indian communist left in all its various strains and stripes is an outcome of the subsumed Leninist form of its political practice. Insofar as effects go, this coopted Leninist form of political practice has, ironically enough, put these so-called communist left groups on the same page as the non-Leninist and/or post-Marxist communitarian leftists, and the radical democrats of this country. It has ensured the various parties, organisations and groupuscules that comprise the Indian communist left – together with their non-Leninist and/or post-Marxist allies-in-practice – do no more than indulge in spectacular display of empty optimism and vulgar romanticism that, for all practical purposes, make for a politics of system-reinforcing reformism.

We, at Radical Notes, have been trying to develop a critique of such politics in order to articulate a conception of revolutionary generalisation that is quite distinct from what such Leninism has to offer. It is also arguably more plausible with regard to our own conjuncture. In developing this critique vis-à-vis various concrete instances of such political practices and programmatic statements in the Leninist form, we have also sought to pose a modality of militant political practice that is meant to instance our conception of revolutionary generalisation. This modality of practice is distinct from that of the so-called communist left organisations – to say nothing of the practices of non-Leninists, post-Marxists, and anti-Marxist radical democrats.

The theoretical basis of this endeavour of ours, admittedly nascent, is the approach Marx elaborates while developing his critique of political economy, particularly in Capital. In that context, we find in Moishe Postone’s “reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory” an indispensable and kindered theoretical resource. Postone’s principal contribution lies in his having demonstrated that Marx’s critique of political economy is not, contrary to what different types of “traditional Marxism” would have us believe, a critique of capital from the standpoint of labour. Rather, such a critique of capital is, as Postone rigorously contends, a critique of labour itself as it exists in capital as a historically determinate mode and form of production and socialisation respectively.

Postone, through his attentive reading of Marx’s Capital, has shown how the traditional Marxist approach of critique of capital from the standpoint of labour serves to merely alter the form of distribution of value in order to democratise such distribution. It can, he contends, do nothing to unravel and overcome the mode of production of value that founds this form of distribution, which is essentially inegalitarian and undemocratic. Political practices informed and underpinned by “traditional Marxism”, in fact, enable capital qua the mode of production of value to reproduce itself through its expansion. Therefore, only those political practices that are orientated by critique of capital as critique of labour can overcome and negate capital as the mode of production of value.

On this point Postone’s argument resonates with our own critique of Leninism of the communist left in India. In our bid to develop this critique we have discerned the theoretical approach implicit in such Leninist practice, whether their various practitioners explicitly acknowledge it or not, to be that of critique of capital from the standpoint of labour.

Critique of capital from the standpoint of labour; or critique of labour?

In this essay, one hopes to offer a glimpse of how this cardinal theoretical insight of Marx’s critique of political economy enables us to grasp such Leninism as basically restorative, if not outright reactionary. More importantly, one hopes to demonstrate how our conception of a different form of revolutionary subjectivity — and, concomitantly, a different modality of militant political practice – is derived from this insight, particularly as it obtains in the conceptually central first chapter (‘Commodity’) of Capital, Volume I.

What is the implication of our insistence, together with Postone, that a truly radical critique of capital can only be a critique of labour in the specificity of its historical existence in capitalism? Postone writes (2003, pp.4-5):

“My reading of Marx’s critical theory focuses on his conception of labor to social life, which is generally considered to lie at the core of his theory. I argue that the meaning of the category of labor in his mature works is different from what traditionally has been assumed: it is historically specific rather than transhistorical. In Marx’s mature critique, the notion that labor constitutes the social world and is the source of all wealth does not refer to society in general, but to capitalist, or modern society alone. Moreover, and this is crucial, Marx’s analysis does not refer to labor as it is generally and transhistorically conceived—a goal-directed social activity that mediates between humans and nature, creating specific products in order to satisfy determinate human needs—but to a peculiar role that labor plays in capitalist society alone. …the historically specific character of this labor is intrinsically related to the form of social interdependence characteristic of capitalist society. It constitutes a historically specific, quasi-objective form of social mediation that, within the framework of Marx’s analysis, serves as the ultimate social ground of modernity’s basic features.”

Labour as it exists in capital has a historically specific character that distinguishes it from forms of labour in societies before capital came into being. This historical specificity of labour, Marx demonstrates in Capital, is characterised by the specific mode in which it is organised, mobilised and functionalised as labour. This historically determinate mode of functionalising labour is characterised by the creation of private or individuated labouring subjects that so exist only to be concomitantly socialised through the exchange of the products of their respective labour. Such socialisation, therefore, rests on the presupposition of value or human labour in the abstract as the qualitative equalisation of different qualities. Marx writes (1986, pp. 77-78):

“As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other…. In other words, the labour of the individual asserts itself as part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear, not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things.”

Marx’s insistence here is that exchange, which necessarily presupposes valorisation in order to be its expression, is the only form of socialisation possible when private and individuated labouring subjects are in play. He, however, completes the dialectic between relations of production (relations between different labouring subjects) and relations of exchange (relations between different products produced by different labouring subjects) when he clearly indicates how exchange-mediated socialisation presuppose the existence of individuated or atomised labouring subjects. While explicating “the riddle presented by money” by way of explicating “the riddle presented by commodities”, Marx writes (1986, p.96):

“In the form of society now under consideration, the behaviour of men in the social process of production is purely atomic. Hence their relations to each other in production assume a material character independent of their control and conscious individual action. These facts manifest themselves at first by products as a general rule taking the form of commodity.”

As a matter of fact, only in this mode of functionalising labour through creation of individuated or atomic labouring subjects is qualitative equalisation of different qualities achieved. More precisely, valorisation — which is reduction of different useful and concrete labours into human labour in the abstract – is what socialises those differences by rendering them quantitatively comparable, and thus exchangeable, with one another. Hence, this mode of constituting and functionalising labour through individuation or atomisation of labouring subjects – which are socialisable only through the mediation of exchange of their products – is the actuality of valorisation. Thence the importance of Marx’s inference (1986, p. 77):

“The Fetishism of commodities has its origin…in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them.”

The impersonal power of capital: Value versus value-form, or how the juridical masks the economic

Clearly, fetishism of commodities, which is naturalisation of the abstraction of qualitatively different products in their concrete materiality into qualitatively equal things, is an inescapable outcome of the socio-historically specific character of labour that comes into being through the mode of individuation of labouring subjects. It ought to be clarified here that this historically determinate mode of existence and functioning of labour amounts to the abstraction of qualitatively different useful concrete labours into qualitatively equalisable human labour. This abstraction of concrete labour logically precedes the abstraction of qualitatively different products (use-values) into mutually commensurable commodities. In other words, human labour in the abstract is the substance of capital qua modernity as a historically determinate form of socialisation. Postone observes (2003, p.6)

“…Marx’s theory proposes that what uniquely characterizes capitalism is precisely that its basic social relations are constituted by labor and, hence, ultimately are of a fundamentally different sort than those that characterize noncapitalist societies. Though his critical analysis of capitalism does include a critique of exploitation, social inequality, and class domination, it goes beyond this: it seeks to elucidate the very fabric of social relations in modern society, and the abstract form of social domination intrinsic to them, by means of a theory that grounds their social constitution in determinate, structured forms of practice.”

What is this “abstract form of social domination”? One of the clearest demonstrations of the same is arguably found in Marx’s explication of the money-form. He writes (1986, p.93):

“The act of exchange gives to the commodity converted into money, not its value, but its specific value-form. By confounding these two distinct things some writers have been led to hold that the value of gold and silver is imaginary.”

What will at a given moment function as the money-form – or the formal embodiment of value qua universal equivalence – is a matter of historical convention decided through interpersonal consent at that particular moment. But that does not, therefore, mean value qua universal equivalence, and the necessity of its formal embodiment, are contingent on universal consent of mankind achieved through interpersonal intercourse among free human subjects. Rather, value as congelation of human labour in the abstract — which is the substance of qualitative equivalence of different qualities – is an impersonal and abstract power that necessitates the search, through mutual consent of free human/personal subjects, the historically conventional form of embodiment of itself as universal equivalence.

But ideological folly is the lifeblood of capital. Let us belabour the point a bit more to get a better grip on what that folly is. It is about different historically conventional kinds of money-form concealing the fact that the impersonal power of universal equivalence is their condition of necessity precisely by virtue of being its expressions. What really happens is this: the historically particular type of the general form of value — universal equivalence in its most adequate form – passes off for the logic of that form. In other words, the logic, which is value qua universal equivalence, is confounded with its particular form. As a result, the logic of the money-form is grasped as a function of interpersonal consent that actually does no more than historically institute the type of the money-form, or general form of value, which is an impersonal necessity. Marx writes (1986, p.95):

“What appears to happen is, not that gold becomes money, in consequence of all other commodities expressing their values in it, but, on the contrary, that all other commodities universally express their values in gold, because it is money. The intermediate steps of the process vanish in the result and leave no trace behind.”

At a more general level of juridical relations, Marx demonstrates a slightly different variation of the same dialectic: personal freedom concealing the necessity of the impersonal and the abstract precisely in expressing it. He writes (1986, p.88):

“In order that…objects may enter into relation with each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves in relation to one another, as persons whose will resides in those objects, and must behave in such a way that each does not appropriate the commodity of the other, and part with his own, except by means of an act done by mutual consent. They must, therefore, mutually recognise in each other the rights of private proprietors. The juridical relation, which thus expresses itself in a contract, whether such contract be part of a developed legal system or not, is a relation between two wills, and is but the reflex of the real economic relation between the two. It is this economic relation that determines the subject-matter comprised in each such juridical act.” (Emphasis added.)

Juridical terms – or terms of contract — are decided through conscious deliberation among persons or personified subjects. But the logic of juridicality that necessitates such interpersonal intercourse for setting up and/or modifying the terms of contract, or juridical relations, is the determinate mode of constitution of labour through its subjective individuation.

In other words, the terms of contract or juridicality can be set, and changed, through mutual consent of conscious human/humanised subjects precisely because the logic of juridicality is an inescapable necessity due to the historically determinate mode of existence of individuated labouring subjects. Clearly, the contractual – or juridical – relation between free human wills is meant to be the operationalisation of exchange of commodities. That, in turn, is necessitated by the historically determinate mode of existence of individuated labour.

In such circumstances, self-legislating subjects continuing as themselves by way of repeatedly realising their personal/personified freedoms through changing the juridical terms of their mutual relations, amounts to the reconstitution of that impersonal and abstract iron-cage. It would, therefore, not be inaccurate to insist that modernity as the intercourse of free-willed, self-legislating human/humanised subjects is the ideological form of capital. The abstract and impersonal domination of the historically determinate mode of subjectively individuated labour is accomplished by free human subjects precisely because the latter express that impersonal necessity in the form of freedom of personal/human subjects.

Marx says as much about modernity – the Enlightenment to be precise — while demonstrating how the logic of money, which is the most adequate general form of value, is confounded with a particular kind of that general form fixed through mutual consent of personal/human subjects. He writes (1990, pp.185-186):

“The fact that money can, in certain functions, be replaced by mere symbols of itself, gave rise to another mistaken notion, that it is itself a mere symbol, since, as value, it is only the material shell of the human labour expended on it. But if it is declared that the social characteristics assumed by material objects, or the material characteristics assumed by the social determinations of labour on the basis of a definite mode of production, are mere symbols, then it is also declared, at the same time, that these characteristics are the arbitrary product of human reflection. This was the kind of explanation favoured by the eighteenth century: in this way the Enlightenment endeavoured, at least temporarily, to remove the appearance of strangeness from the mysterious shapes assumed by human relations whose origins they were unable to decipher.” (Emphasis added.)

Marx’s exposition in Capital reveals this abstract character of domination even further. He demonstrates how the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour through its subjective individuation – and the forms of practice structured by such a mode – has exploitation, or extraction of surplus-value, as its inseparable dimension. The socialisation of those individuated labouring subjects through exchange of products (commodities) created by them implies the partitioning of the total labour time that has gone into the production of a particular commodity into that which is consumed by the producer himself for his own social reproduction, and that which is alienated in exchange in the form of a surplus of the commodity in question. What we see here is exploitation as an integral dimension of an impersonal structure of abstract and quasi-objective socialisation, insofar as that structure is constitutive of alienation of surplus labour time and socially necessary labour time. Marx underscores this quasi-objective nature of capital when he writes (1986, pp.78-79):

“…when we bring the products of our labour into relations with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it. Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic.”

The short point of all this elaboration is that capital as a fact of exploitation cannot be got rid of unless capital as the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour through constitution of individuated labouring subjects is abolished. In the latter’s negation, which is abolition of labour in its historical specificity, lies the former’s disappearance. Marx writes (1986, p.84):

“The life-process of society, which is based on the process of production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan….”

So, unless politics is an endeavour to abolish the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour by way of putting in place a plan that seeks to realise free association of direct producers, there can be no decisive break with capital. Only a plan that seeks to realise free association of direct producers will, in replacing and thus abolishing the historically determinate mode of atomised labouring subjects, tend to preclude socialisation through the mediation of exchange of products produced by such labour.

All other kinds of political exertions that seek to expand personal freedoms only reproduce the logic of juridical relations by expanding its ambit. Such exertions concomitantly reproduce, through expansion, the historically determinate mode of existence of atomised labouring subjects that impersonally necessitates the logic of juridical relations and the subjectivity of free personhood. In other words, such political manoeuvres, in seeking to expand the freedom of personal/personified subjects, reproduce the mode of distribution of value by seeking to democratise such distribution.

As a result, such politics, in tending to purportedly increase the freedom of personal subjects, serves to perpetuate and expand the historically determinate mode of existence and functioning of individuated labouring subjects, and thus reproduces the mode of production of value that necessitates the question of its distribution among various personal/personified subjects. Clearly, politics that seeks to expand the freedoms of personal/personified subjects is no more than a quest for increasing democracy within the horizon of impersonal and abstract domination that, therefore, renders such democracy, and its expansion, foundationally and constitutively undemocratic.

This does not, however, mean the experience of (relative) lack of freedom in a particular juridical relation is a figment of the imagination, and the struggle against that lack pointless. The point is, instead, to grasp such lack of freedom in terms of the necessity of the juridical logic of interpersonal relations that is impersonally imposed by the historically specific mode of existence of individuated labouring subjects. Only then will struggles against such lack of freedom be able to envisage themselves, not as exertions to change the juridical terms of interpersonal relations, but as tactically instantiated strategic manoeuvres to abolish the logic of juridical relations constitutive of personal/personified subjects. In other words, such struggles need to envisage themselves in a manner that seeks the abolition of the historically specific mode of existence of individuated labour that impersonally necessitates the logic of juridicalised relations.

The theory implicit in a politics that seeks to expand the freedoms of personal/personified subjects by merely changing the juridical terms of relations among those subjects is, quite evidently, critique of capital from the standpoint of labour. It is not the actuality of critique of capital as critique of labour in its historically specific existence within capitalism.

“Traditional Marxism”: subjective individuation and the folly of classical political economy

This is the salience of Marx’s critical theory. Failure to grasp this leads to the error of “traditional Marxism”: grasping and deploying Marx’s critique of political economy as a critique of capital from the standpoint of labour. Political practices that have implicit in them this theoretical approach make for, if at all, a politics of continuous democratisation of distribution of value. However, what such politics actually yields is continuous recomposition of juridical and exchange relations by way of repeatedly changing their contractual terms. This, as we have seen above, preserves the mode of production of value by reproducing it through expansion and intensification (expansion as intensification) of its subsumptive remit.

Marx quite clearly anticipates this problem of “traditional Marxism” when he writes (1986, p.80):

“The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is…a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.”

Such “discovery”, or knowledge, of value as the secret of the determination of its magnitude by labour-time – a secret that is hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative value-forms of commodities — is doubtless a theoretical critique of value. But to the extent it is not a critique of value in terms of the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation of labour – precisely that which makes possible the individuated subject that discovers this secret – it is a mystified critique of value. It is, therefore, unsuccessful as a total critique of capital.

As a result, such knowledge in its immediate and direct translation into practice will not result in a radical break with capital. That is because it will not alter the mode in which the magnitude of value is determined by labour-time. In fact, practice in such a form will actually reproduce that mode by expanding the remit of the form of distribution of value the former necessitates. The translation of this knowledge into practice in an immediate and directly correspondent manner would imply the subject of such practice is the unproblematised individuated subject of knowledge. That, in turn, would mean the subject through its practice of overcoming value as the essence, qua labour-time, of relative value-forms, instantiates its individuated mode of existence.

Not surprisingly, such subjective practices of overcoming the rule of value, by way of overcoming it in its phenomenal expressions – which hide it precisely in expressing it as the universal denomination of its different magnitudes – reproduce value and its rule. For, when such subjectively individuated practices seek to overcome the rule of value they perpetuate their specific mode of existence, which is the mode of determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time. In other words, such practices are instantiations of the actuality of the rule of value qua congelation of human labour in the abstract.

If we attend carefully to Marx’s exposition in Capital, we shall see how this folly of “traditional Marxism” – critique of capital from the standpoint of labour – is nothing but the theoretical folly of classical political economy registered as so-called anti-capitalist political practice. Marx writes (1986, pp.84-85):

“Political Economy has indeed analysed, however, incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value. These formulae, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulae appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by Nature as productive labour itself….”

What would have happened if classical political economists had asked this question? In addition to coming up with the crucial conception of value — which Ricardo, for example, articulates when he reveals that commodity qua exchangeable-value is embodied human labour, which is its essence –, they would have also grasped how this is necessitated by a specific mode of subjective individuation of labour that is historically instituted. Marx writes (1986, p.85):

“It is one of the chief failings of classical political economy that it has never succeeded, by means of analysis of commodities and in particular, of their value, in discovering that form under which value becomes exchange-value. Even Adam Smith and Ricardo, the best representatives of the school, treat the form of value as a thing of no importance, as having no connexion with the inherent nature of commodities…. The value-form of the product of labour is not only the most abstract, but is also the most universal form, taken by the product in bourgeois production, and stamps that production as a particular species of social production, and thereby gives it its special historical character. If then we treat this mode of production as one eternally fixed by Nature for every state of society, we necessarily overlook that which is the differentia specifica of the value-form, and consequently of the commodity-form, and of its further developments, money-form, capital-form, & c….” (Emphasis added.)

The “inherent nature of commodities” that necessitates the specificity of the “form under which value becomes exchange-value” is the historically determinate mode of production. It is the mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation. It is this historically determinate mode of production that ensures both labour and its products acquire a “two-fold character” – concrete labour and human labour in the abstract, and use-value and exchange-value respectively.

It is important, therefore, to attend carefully to the historical peculiarity of the value-form – the form under which value becomes exchange-value – as the embodiment of the two-fold nature of social labour and its products. This is crucial because only that will reveal the historical specificity of labour in capitalism. That is, it will reveal the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

That Ricardo, according to Marx (1986. p.84), paid “so little attention to the two-fold character of the labour which has a two-fold embodiment” is because he did not grasp the mode of determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time in spite of having grasped value qua labour-time as the secret hidden by its expression, which is the form of the commodity. That, if one is faithful to Marx’s exposition in Capital, ought to be discerned, and designated, as the vulgar economic element in Ricardo, and other classical political economists.

Science as knowledge, praxis as science

This folly of classical political economy – and by extension “traditional Marxism” – becomes even more evident when Marx criticises the “vulgar economists” for the absurdity of their “Trinity Formula”: capital—interest, land—rent and labour—wages. He finds the formula to be absurd, vulgar and unscientific because it affirms the naturalisation of immediate appearances of the abstraction of use-values that is wrought by the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through subjective individuation. Marx writes (1986, p.817):

“Vulgar economy actually does no more than interpret, systematise and defend in doctrinaire fashion the conceptions of the agents of bourgeois production who are entrapped in bourgeois production relations. It should not astonish us, then, that vulgar economy feels particularly at home in the estranged outward appearances of economic relations in which these prima facie absurd and perfect contradictions appear and that these relations seem the more self-evident the more their internal relationships are concealed from it…. But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided….” (Emphasis added.)

This indicates for Marx a radical critique of capital must necessarily be a critique of the human subjective form (and its individuated mode) of consciousness – whether such consciousness be the experience of immediate appearances (as in vulgar economy) or knowledge qua discovery of the hidden essence of such appearances (as in classical political economy).

One tends to read this criticism of the so-called Trinity Formula as Marx’s anticipation of the objection that there is an unresolved problem of transformation of value into price in his theory of critique of political economy. What is it about Marx’s theorising that prompts this mistaken objection? For the purposes of our discussion it should, for now, suffice to come up with one example from Capital, Volume III, to indicate what prompts such a charge. Marx, after a considered and rigorous explication of cost-price, value, profit and surplus-value, writes (1986, p.37):

“The fundamental law of capitalist competition, which political economy had not hitherto grasped, the law which regulates the general rate of profit and the so-called prices of production determined by it, rests…on this difference between the value and the cost-price of commodities, and on the resulting possibility of selling a commodity at a profit under its value.”

Postone’s critical engagement with Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk’s objection that there is a transformation problem in Marx is, in this context, illuminating. He writes (2003, pp.133-134):

“In Capital Marx tries to solve this problem by showing that those phenomena (such as prices, profits and rents) that contradict the validity of what he had postulated as the fundamental determinations of the social formation (value and capital) are actually expressions of these determinations—to show, in other words, that the former both express and veil the latter. In this sense, the relation between what the categories of value and price grasp is presented by Marx as a relation between an essence and its form of appearance. One peculiarity of capitalist society, which makes its analysis so difficult, is that this society has an essence, objectified as value, which is veiled by its form of appearance.”

At this point, it would perhaps be best to get the truth from, as it were, the horse’s mouth. The failure to grasp this veiling of value by price leads to a serious theoretical error. Marx’s vituperative assertion ensures his exposition has not a trace of ambiguity on that count. He writes (1986, p. 39):

“The thoughtless conception that the cost-price of a commodity constitutes its actual value, and that surplus-value springs from selling the product above its value, so that commodities would be sold at their value if their selling price were to equal their cost-price, i.e., if it were to equal the price of the consumed means of production plus wages, has been heralded to the world as a newly discovered secret of socialism by Proudhon with his customary quasi-scientific chicanery.”

In that context, the rest of Postone’s argument on this point becomes extremely pertinent (2003, pp.134-135):

“The divergence of prices from value should, then, be understood as integral to, rather than as a logical contradiction within, Marx’s analysis: his intention is not to formulate a price theory but to show how value induces a level of appearance that disguises it. In Volume 3 of Capital, Marx derives empirical categories such as cost price and profit from the categories of value and surplus value, and shows how the former appear to contradict the latter. Thus, in Volume 1, for example, he maintains that surplus value is created by labour alone; in Volume 3, however, he shows the specificity of value as a form of wealth, and the specificity of the labour that constitutes it, are veiled.”

Following Postone on this point, we need to realise that Marx does not merely critique the vulgar economists’ assertion that price in its empiricality is a denial of its essence — which is value qua labour-time. He also critiques classical political economists for contending that value, which they have discovered as the essence of price hidden by it, is approximated by the latter. Postone writes (2003, pp.135-136):

“…Marx also seeks to indicate that theories of political economy as well as everyday ‘ordinary consciousness’ remains bound to the level of appearances, that the objects of investigation of political economy are the mystified forms of appearance of value and capital.”

We can, therefore, claim that for Marx there is, in the final analysis, not really much of a difference between price being grasped as its own empirical knowledge and thus as the denial of value (a la the vulgar economists); and price being grasped as the knowledge of appearance of value, which is therefore grasped as the hidden essence of price (as in classical political economy). That is, of course, as long as the latter does not explicitly reveal how the mode of constitution of labour through its subjective individuation, which is the actuality of value and its rule, is precisely that which effectuates this dialectical relation of essence and appearance.

Such a revelation would, however, amount to displacing the ground of scientificity from knowledge or knowing, as a structure and form, to praxis. When classical political economy grasps price as that which hides its essence qua value in being its expression, it indicates the determinate mode of functionalising labour through subjective individuation as the necessary condition of this value-price dialectic. This means the knowing subject as the instantiation of its individuated mode of existence is precisely the source of the hiddenness of value qua essence that it discovers under the empirically given price as the former’s appearance.

Insofar as value is the logic that renders price the empiric that conceals value by virtue of being its expression, the knowledge of this dialectical logic by way of discovering in price the hidden ness of its essence qua value is science as critique of price qua critique of value. But in classical political economy this science rests on knowledge and its individuated subject. It is, therefore, not a critique of the mode of subjective individuation of labour as the integral condition of the value-price dialectic. Hence, such a critique of value is incomplete and mystified. As a theory of value, it reveals the limit of its own scientificity. It is this limit of the scienificity of classical political economy that Marx demonstrates by way of its immanent critique in order to have that scientificity reconstruct itself by being displaced on to the ground of praxis. Jindrich Zeleny’s contention is, in this context, extremely pertinent (1980, p. 187):

“…the beginnings of the ontopraxeological supersession of traditional philosophy, as sketched in the Theses on Feurbach and The German Ideology, presuppose a critical perspective on political economy and a grasp of the connection between bourgeois forms of individual and social life – and metaphysics.”

Marx’s critique of political economy, we have already seen, demonstrates that capital is fundamentally the historically determinate mode of constitution of labour through its subjective individuation. This ensures such labour is socialisable only through the mediation of exchange of the products produced by such labour, which presupposes value as the abstract substance of universal qualitative equivalence. In that sense, “a critical perspective on political economy” implies “a grasp of the connection between bourgeois forms of individual and social life – and metaphysics”. And to the extent praxis is conceived by Marx, while articulating his critique of Feurbach’s “contemplative materialism”, as practice qua its own immanent theory of abolition of the mode of subjective individuation that structures it as practice by compelling it to forget, as it were, its own immanence, it presupposes critique of political economy.

Hence Zeleny (1980, p. 187):

“…the critique of bourgeois political economy…made possible for Marx a deep, critical view of Hegelian philosophy as completion of traditional metaphysics and a break with the whole of traditional ‘ideological’ philosophy (in particular, Young Hegelians and Feurbachian anthropology).”

Clearly, the problem of limited scientificity of classical political economy is, in another register, also the problem of Hegel’s dialectic. Here we ought to underscore the fact that it is the same symmetrically inverted relationship between classical political economy and “traditional Marxism” – something we have sought to indicate above – that exists between Hegel’s dialectic and Feurbach’s dialectical anthropology. We will attempt to demonstrate that here in order to show how “traditional Marxism” as a politics of critique of capital from the standpoint of labour, is nothing but Feurbachian dialectical anthropology at work. Dialectical anthropology in practice amounts to social democratic progressivism. At best, and in its most radicalised form, it yields no more than the militant reformist politics of seizure of state-power, which often tends to get programmatically codified as the be-all and end-all of revolutionism.

Allies I: Classical political economy and Hegel

For now, however, let us turn to Hegel’s conception of the dialectic as the totalising movement of realisation of the self-knowing spirit. In Hegel, the dialectic is grasped as the movement of overcoming of that which is given in terms of the former’s realisation – i.e. movement constitutive of moments of overcoming of that which is historically given in order to produce new moments of givenness. Hegel grasps the dialectic in this manner because he thinks the movement of history as an individuated subject of knowledge – an individual subject caught up in that movement as an inhabitant of one of its constitutive historical moments. As a consequence, Hegel imputes his knowledge of the movement-as-realisation acquired by him as an individuated subject to the movement itself, thereby rendering the latter a self-conscious, egoistic subject of totalisation a la the spirit.

But precisely for that reason he is unable to grasp the fact that the subjectivity of practices constitutive of the movement-as-realisation is structured by the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation. That is, historical movement is a process of realisation not because it knows itself thus, but because this supposed self-knowledge or self-consciousness of the movement is the outcome of this movement being, in reality, a process of its own punctuated realisation. This reality of the form of the movement is necessitated by the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation that structures the practices constitutive of the movement in a manner that the latter is such a reality. Postone writes (2003, p.76):

“Marx, by suggesting that what Hegel sought to conceptualize with his concept of Geist should be understood in terms of the social relations expressed by the category of capital, implies that the social relations that characterize capitalism have a peculiar, dialectical, and historical character…. He also suggests that those relations constitute the social basis for Hegel’s conception itself…”

From this one ought to infer that capital is a totalising subject. But to the extent that capital, as a system of social relations constitutive of value as the abstract substance of universal equivalence, is generated, and re-generated spontaneously on account of the subjectivity of practices being structured by a historically determinate mode of individuation, it is a totalising subject that is ego-less and blind [1]. Postone writes (2003, p.77):

“As the Subject, capital is a remarkable ‘subject.’ Whereas Hegel’s Subject is transhistorical and knowing, in Marx’s analysis it is historically determinate and blind. Capital, as a structure constituted by determinate forms of practice, may in turn be constitutive of forms of social practice and subjectivity; yet, as the Subject, it has no ego. It is self-reflexive and, as a social form, may induce self-consciousness, but unlike Hegel’s Geist it does not possess self-consciousness….”

Hegel’s error lies precisely in attributing consciousness and self-knowledge to this ego-less and blindly totalising historical subject. That, to reiterate what we have earlier observed, is because he imputes the knowledge of the movemental system – or the structured movement — he has acquired as an individuated subject to that system itself. As a result, he is unable to grasp how the individuated structuring of his knowing subjectivity is, as a subjectivity of practice, precisely that which spontaneously generates this totalising movemental system rendering it, thereby, a blindly toalising subject.

However, to the extent that capital as a system of social relations is a totalising subject, it does, indeed, incarnate the principle of abstraction, which is Hegel’s spirit, in value as the abstract substance of social mediation. The only difference between the two is while Hegel’s spirit is a self-conscious substance that is subject precisely through such self-knowledge, value as the constitutive substance of capital as a totalising subject has no such self-consciousness and is spontaneously generated on account of the historically specific mode of functionalising labour. Postone writes (2003, p.75):

“Marx…explicitly characterizes capital as the self-moving substance which is Subject. In so doing, Marx suggests that a historical Subject in the Hegelian sense does indeed exist in capitalism….”

But Marx understands that self-moving substance, which is, therefore, subject, differently from Hegel. Postone emphasises that when he writes (2003, p. 75):

“…Marx analyzes it in terms of the structure of social relations constituted by forms of objectifying practice and grasped by the category of capital (and, hence, value). His analysis suggests that the social relations that characterize capitalism are of a very peculiar sort—they possess the attributes that Hegel accorded the Geist. It is in this sense then, that a historical Subject as conceived by Hegel exists in capitalism.”

Be that as it may, the historical movement is, for Hegel, an unfolding process of its own realisation, and is thus totalising, precisely because it knows itself thus as the self-conscious spirit. This is the basis of his project of philosophy as the increasingly closer approximation of the self-knowing, self-realising spirit to its historical appearances. The latter in instancing the self-realisation of the former hide it by causing it to withdraw from its own realisation in those appearances. Let us, at this point, attend to the famous last lines of ‘Absolute Knowing’, the concluding chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1998, p.493):

“The goal, Absolute Knowing, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit, has for its path the recollection of the Spirits as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their realm. Their preservation, regarded from the side of their free existence appearing from in the form of contingency, is History; but regarded from the side of their [philosophically] comprehended organization, it is the Science of Knowing in the sphere of appearance: the two together, comprehended History, form alike the inwardizing and the Calvary of absolute Spirit, the actuality, truth and certainty of his throne, without which he would be lifeless and alone….”

The Hegelian project of philosophy is, in other words, all about historical movement being moments of its own realisation so that it can, as the self-knowing spirit in its unfolding, realise itself fully as its own knowledge in a historical appearance that knows itself as its essence and thus concludes the process of unfolding by being transparently one with the essence. This transparent oneness of the historical appearance with its essence lies in the former being the embodiment of the latter as its own self-knowledge.

This is hardly any different from the project of classical political economy that discovers value qua labour-time as the hidden essence of value-form in order to grasp and demonstrate the latter as an approximation of the former.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Marx, should, on this count, also critique Hegel. Through this critique, Marx seeks to demonstrate that the abstraction of movement as a constant historical process of its own punctuated realisation, even as it must necessarily be intellectually grasped, is not itself the outcome of intellectual abstraction. He writes (1993, p.101):

“…Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being….”

This critique of Hegel by Marx lays bare the fact that Hegel conflates and confounds the intellectual abstraction, through which he, as an individuated knowing subject, grasps historical movement as a process of its punctuated realisation. It also reveals how the movement is really abstracted thus due to the historically specific mode of subjective individuation that structures practices constitutive of the movement.

In such circumstances, Marx’s critique of capital, insofar as it is a demonstration of how capital as a blindly totalising subject is necessitated, and re-necessitated, by the determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation, is a critique of totalisation. In fact, the aforementioned demonstration by Marx reveals nothing else but the actuality of value qua labour-time, which as the abstract social substance of universal equivalence is the basis of totalisation. Postone writes (2003, p.79):

“Marx’s categorial determination of capital as the historical Subject, however, indicates that the totality has become the object of his critique. …social totality, in Marx’s analysis, is an essential feature of the capitalist formation and an expression of alienation. The capitalist social formation, according to Marx, is unique inasmuch as it is constituted by a qualitatively homogeneous social ‘substance’; hence, it exists as a social totality.”

Postone then draws from this an extremely crucial inference (2003, p.79):

“Marx’s assertion that capital…is the total Subject clearly implies that the historical negation of capitalism would not involve the realization, but the abolition, of the totality. It follows that the contradiction driving the unfolding of this totality also must be conceived very differently—it presumably drives the totality not toward its full realization but toward the possibility of its historical abolition. That is, the contradiction expresses the temporal finiteness of the totality by pointing beyond it.”

Dialectical anthropology and social democracy: A close kinship

However, it is precisely this that both Feurbach’s dialectical anthropology and social democratic progressivism fail to come to terms with. Feurbach’s anthropologised theory of the dialectic inverts Hegel’s spiritualist conception of the same. Against the latter’s theory of the dialectic as a self-knowing historical movement of realisation, the former’s conception of the dialectic is about grasping and envisioning the historical movement in terms of the constantly punctuated process of overcoming of that which is constantly realised in that punctuation. The result: Hegel’s conception of the dialectic as the historical movement of the self-knowing spirit is opposed by Feurbach’s (human) subjects whose practices are constitutive moments of the historical movement as an alternative totality of overcoming of the totality of realisation.

As a matter of fact, it is precisely on account of this inverted conception of the dialectic that Feurbach inevitably thinks the various subjective moments constitutive of the historical movement in terms of the totality of humanity as an identical subject-object overcoming that which is realised.

What we have, therefore, is the totality of Hegel’s self-knowing spirit and Feurbach’s alternative totality of humanity, as an alternatively self-enclosed subject-object, trying to surpass one another. Theoretically, this implies the triumph of the principle of totality – and the abstract substance of universal equivalence that totality presupposes –, regardless of whichever theory triumphs in practice. Practically, it amounts to even less: merely accelerating the reproduction of a given social totality, only in order to preserve it and its constitutive principle of universal equivalence.

This ensures the Feurbachian critique of Hegel’s spiritualised conception of the dialectic remains a mystified critique. Feurbach, in merely inverting the object of his critique, inhabits the same subjectively individuated structure of knowledge as Hegel. The only so-called difference between the two being that while the former construes that subjectivity, and its constitutive mode of individuation, as a form of knowledgeable practice; the latter grasps and envisions it primarily as a form of knowing or knowledge only to impute it to the movement as its self-consciousness. Clearly, the human subjective form – and its constitutive mode of individuation – operates as the unproblematised locus of knowledge and/or practice as much in Feurbachian/Left-Hegelian dialectical anthropology as in Hegel’s spiritualised dialectic.

This means the dialectical-anthropological critique of Hegel is, not unlike Hegel, unable to grasp the fact that the historical movement is structured as a process of realising itself in new moments of givenness by the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation. As a result, a practice that implies the theory of dialectical anthropology ends up envisioning itself as the overcoming of the totalising historical movement, even as the effect of such practice is continued perpetuation of historical movement as a structured process of totalisation. This is because practice as the moment of overcoming of that which is given is, in dialectical anthropology, already always orientated by contemplativeness. Marx’s critique of Feurbach’s “contemplative materialism”, which as that critique seeks to found the materiality of practice, clearly indicates that [2].

Hence, practices that imply the theory of dialectical anthropology are identical to practices of social-democratic progressivism. The politics of social democratic progressivism – the Bernsteinian movement is everything, the goal is nothing – is all about the continuous movement of overcoming given juridical terms, or the terms of distribution of value, in order to keep setting up new, supposedly more democratic, terms of juridicality or distribution [3]. As a result, such a movement posits itself as an identical subject-object, quite similar to the Feurbachian human subject-object, as the totality of the process of overcoming value as realised and expressed in the different value-forms constitutive of the totalising process of valorisation. In this way, social-democratic progressivism – just like dialectical anthropology – seeks to practically articulate a critique of value through the individuated subjective form, whose constitutive mode is the actuality of production of value.

Not surprisingly, such a practical critique is constrained to envisage itself as a sequentially continuous process of overcoming value hidden by its various value-forms precisely because such a practice grasps the latter as approximations of the former. The democratisation of distribution of value, and the concomitant expanded reproduction of the mode of production of value that necessitates the form of distribution, is the effect.

In the case of avowed social democracy it would, however, be more accurate to state this critique conversely: social democracy as a political practice of continuous democratisation of the juridical terms of distribution and/or exchange posits itself as a sequentially continuous process of overcoming of value. In so doing it implies a theory that demonstrates the discovery of value qua labour-time as the hidden essence of value-forms, without, however, being able to grasp how value as the logic of this essence-appearance dialectic is actualised and necessitated by the historically specific mode of subjectively individuated labour. The theory of value implied by social-democratic progressivism is, we ought to say at the risk of being overly repetitive, that of classical political economy.

‘Revolution’ in “traditional Marxism”: A proposal for alternative totalisation

What such social-democratic progressivism also implies – much like Feurbachian dialectical anthropology – is the conception of an alternative totality overcoming capital that the latter as an already given totality thwarts. It is precisely this theoretical implication that tends to be explicitly articulated by “traditional Marxism” in its envisioning of the practice of revolutionary politics. Against the evolutionism – even accelerated evolutionism – of social-democratic politics of continuous overcoming of value as phenomenally manifest by its various value-forms, the traditional Marxist conception of revolution is all about the emancipation of this alternative totality from the totality of capital in one fell stroke.

In other words, such a conception of politics envisages revolution as a practice to replace a given state-form — a particular formal embodiment of universal equivalence constitutive of a particular composition of social mediation — with another particular formal embodiment of universal equivalence. The latter being the identical subject-object of the proletariat as a state-form. In this traditional Marxist conception, revolutionary politics is, therefore, primarily about thinking strategy in terms of seizure of state-power. The assumption being that one will then democratise its operation – which is the quantitatively hierarchising social operation of the abstract substance of qualitative equalisation and mediation in its formal embodiment – in a manner that it withers away together with the abstract substance it embodies.

It is hardly about strategising in the here and now of everyday contradictions between capital and labour – or more pertinently, between different segments of social labour – of how to leap into communism as the real movement of free association of direct producers. This would be the process of self-abolition of labour in the specificity of its historical existence within capitalism as the latter’s source. It would, therefore, also concomitantly be the practice constitutive of the withering away of the state. At this point, Postone’s critique of Lukacs’ conception of the proletariat as materialisation of the Hegelian geist into an identical subject-object becomes particularly relevant. He writes (2003, p.73):

“His materialist appropriation of Hegel is such that he analyzes society as a totality, constituted by labor traditionally understood. This totality, according to Lukacs, is veiled by the fragmented and particularistic character of bourgeois social relations, and will be realized openly in socialism. The totality, then, provides the standpoint of his critical analysis of capitalist society. Relatedly, Lukacs identifies the proletariat in ‘materialized’ Hegelian terms as the identical subject-object of the historical process, as the historical Subject, constituting the social world and itself through its labor. By overthrowing the capitalist order, this historical Subject would realize itself.”

To think revolution in terms of the emancipation of an alternative totality – which is proletariat as an identical subject-object – from the totality of capital implies that the principle of totality, or, more pertinently, the rule of the abstract substance of universal equivalence, is not abolished. Rather, all that will happen in such a ‘revolution’, if at all it takes place, is, as we have observed above, one type of formal embodiment of that substance (proletariat as the totalising, humanised, and thus identical, subject-object as the general form of the substance of qualitative equalisation and social mediation) suddenly replacing another type of that general form (money-form, a particular type of state-form and so on). Such traditional Marxist revolutionism then is a more radicalised version of social democracy; not a break from it. This, therefore, also compels us to claim that such ‘revolutionism’ is politicism, which is the obverse of social-democratic economism it deigns to criticise and reject.

All said and done, such ‘revolutionism’ is basically about throwing capital, in one of its historical compositions, out of the front door only to bring it back in a discursively different form through the rear window. Our communist left organisations, thanks to their outdated Leninist conception of politics as party-building for capturing state-power, imply precisely this traditional Marxist conception of revolutionary politics. It does not matter that some among them uphold the party, instead of the proletariat, as the subjective form that will effectuate revolution by uniting various sections and segments of the struggling masses by way of mediating among them. Structurally speaking, these partyists, not unlike those who uphold the proletarian subject-object as revolutionary subjectivity, affirm the principle of mediation and alternative totalisation.

We would, however, do well to hold on to the proletariat as a term of revolutionary subjectivity, if only to load it with an entirely different conceptual valence. But before we make that theoretical move we need to see how this (Lukacsian) conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object poses an additional set of problems for thinking revolutionary strategy in the south Asian context. South Asia, we know, is socio-economically characterised by an unusually large sector of labour practices and relations that are, in the immediacy of their historical appearances of custom-centric caste-, community- and gender-based labour, unproductive and/or suffer from various degrees of unwaged-ness or unfreedom.

The sociologisation the conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object entails means only those social groups that are directly engaged in productive labour – labour that is immediately valorised in exchangeable commodities –, and which is also properly waged in the traditional Marxist sense, can comprise the proletariat as a political subjectivity for overcoming capitalism.

That has led some of our communist left groups to pose a stagiest, ‘democratic-revolutionary’ conception and practice of politics. These groups make a stagiest demarcation between labouring sites that are apparently unproductive, and which, therefore, constitute moments of democratic politics of recognition and subsumption by the realm of labour that is directly productive; and labouring sites that are immediately productive, and which politically constitute moments of overcoming such subsumption. These Leninists tend to think that politics has to be about bringing this so-called pre-modern outside within the pale of modernity qua capital so that one can then have the right conditions for forging the much-needed working-class unity to transcend and negate capitalism.

Such a conception of politics has, in practice, meant an endless deferral of the revolutionary politics of overcoming and abolishing capital. The so-called democratic-revolutionary process of subsumption of ‘unproductive’, and/or unwaged/unfree labour into the realm of productive labour goes on endlessly. Meanwhile, the politics of overcoming capital at the so-called proletarian sites has taken on the character of an equally endless process of democratisation of distribution of value, a la social democracy.

There are, of course, those other communist left organisations that seek to mediate between the struggles of social groups engaged in unproductive and/or unwaged labour in an immediate sense, and the struggles of the productively labouring proletariat so that the former can be subsumed by the latter, thereby producing a larger movement to supposedly overcome capitalism. And then there are the post-Marxists, who grasp this so-called outside of capital as that which the latter non-subsumptively commands in order to sustain itself. This particular conception of the outside of capital enables these post-Marxists to theorise politics in terms of the resistance of sites of so-called unproductive labour to the non-subsumptive command of capital so that those sites can exist in the (communitarian) autonomy of their perpetual difference. [4]

Allies II: The outside and unproductive labour – traditional Marxism and post-Marxism

However, when it comes to concrete practice, none of the three tendencies identified above are too far away from one another. Leninism, in its two different programmatic articulations, and post-Marxism produce the same juridical effect in the realm of the political. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that they often turn out to be such staunch allies-in-practice, their ‘fundamental’ differences in theory notwithstanding. In this context, it would perhaps be useful to make a detour by analysing apparently unproductive and/or unfree labour from the vantage-point of Marx’s critique of political economy. This, in order to demonstrate the fallacy of all theories that, one way or another, seek to mark out the sites of so-called unproductive and/or unfree labour as the outside of capital.

Let us begin with Marx’s conceptions of productive and unproductive labour in his Theories of Surplus Value, Part I. While critically engaging with Adam Smith’s conceptions of the same, Marx writes (1978, p.156):

“Only labour which produces capital is productive labour. Commodities or money become capital, however, through being exchanged directly for labour-power, and exchanged only in order to be replaced by more labour than they themselves contain. For the use-value of labour-power to the capitalist as a capitalist does not consist in its actual use-value, in the usefulness of this particular concrete labour – that it is spinning labour, weaving labour, and so on. He is as little concerned with this as with the use-value of the product of this labour as such, since for the capitalist the product is a commodity (even before its first metamorphosis), not an article of consumption. What interests him in the commodity is that it has more exchange-value than he paid for it; and therefore the use-value of the labour is, for him, that he gets back a greater quantity of labour-time than he has paid out in the form of wages.”

Marx then goes on to further explicate his conceptions of productive and unproductive labour (1978, p.160):

“…this distinction between productive and unproductive labour has nothing to do either with the particular specialty of the labour or with the particular use-value in which this special labour is incorporated. In the one case, the labour is exchanged with capital, in the other with revenue. In the one case the labour is transformed into capital, and creates a profit for the capitalist; in the other case it is an expenditure, one of the articles in which revenue is consumed. For example, the workman employed by a piano maker is a productive labourer. His labour not only replaces the wages that he consumes, but is the product, the piano, the commodity which the piano maker sells, there is a surplus-value over and above the value of the wages. But assume on the contrary that I buy all the materials required for a piano (or for all it matters the labourer himself may possess them), and that instead of buying the piano in a shop I have it made for me in my house. The workman who makes the piano is now an unproductive labourer, because his labour is exchanged directly against my revenue.”

Now the so-called outside of capital is constituted by a range of practices of unproductive labour as defined by Marx in the passage above. There are, undeniably, a whole range of labouring activities (including heavily gendered care work in the domain of social reproduction), which yield products that are not directly valorised by being exchanged for profit, but consumed immediately. As a result, the domain of production constitutive of such labouring activities involves no extraction of (surplus) value – or (surplus) labour time. What is involved, as far as such unproductive labour is concerned, is extraction of surplus labour for immediate consumption. The forms through which such extraction of surplus labour – as opposed to extraction of surplus labour time – is operationalised are, more often than not, extra-economic or semi-extra-economic. That is perhaps why such forms can, at times, come across as pre- or non-capitalist at the level of their discursive appearances.

If one were to confine oneself strictly and purely to this level, one would be correct in observing that capital as a value-relational structure of social relations of production institutes socio-economic transactions with an outside of unproductive labour by way of extra-economic or semi-extra-economic command. Such unproductive labouring activities can be easily construed as the outside of capital because the products they yield are not value-embodying commodities in an immediate sense, and such labouring activities are, for that reason, not integrated into the value-equational horizon of production relations.

However, from the standpoint of Marx’s critique of political economy, such an analysis would be incomplete and patently unrigorous. To analyse such a situation more rigorously and accurately, one must attempt to grasp and reveal the concretely precise functionality that this immediate appearance of unproductive labour – labour producing use-values for immediate consumption – has with regard to the value-relational horizon of capital and its productive labour. Here we would do well to attend to what Marx says (1978, p.167):

“The whole world of “commodities” can be divided into two great parts. First, labour-power, second, commodities as distinct from labour-power itself. As to the purchase of such services as those which train labour-power, maintain or modify it, etc., in a word, give it a specialised form or even only maintain it – thus for example the schoolmaster’s service, in so far as it is ‘industrially necessary’ or useful; the doctor’s service, in so far as he maintains health and so conserves the source of all values, labour-power itself – these are services which yield in return ‘a vendible commodity…’, namely labour-power itself, into whose costs of production or reproduction these services enter.”

He further clarifies (1978, pp.167-168):

“…the labour of the doctor and the schoolmaster does not directly create the fund out of which they are paid, although their labours enter into the production costs of the fund which creates all values whatsoever—namely, the production costs of labour-power.”

Seen in this context, labour-practices that are unproductive in their immediate appearance emerge as productive in terms of their re-articulation and re-functionalisation, thanks to the causality of the structure within which they get situated precisely by virtue of producing only use-values for immediate consumption. These use-values, in being immediately consumed, yield the “vendible commodity” of labour-power, which, according to Marx, is “the source of all values”. In such circumstances, unproductive labour, which produces use-values for immediate consumption, are, according to Marx, “services” that enter into the “costs of production and reproduction” of the vendible commodity of labour-power. So, in the final analysis, such labour is productive.

Value is, first and foremost, about politically instituting an equalising measure or rationality. (The political in this case being the historical founding and re-founding of the determinate mode of constituting labour through creation of individuated or atomised labouring subjects.) Only then does value emerge as a calculable magnitude. Marx, we have seen, demonstrates this with great acuity in Capital. In that context, we would do well to follow the train of Marx’s aforementioned argument from Theories of Surplus Value, and seek to grasp labour that is apparently unproductive – often unfree – as being integral to the capitalist value-chain of social labour. It is only then we will be able to see how the mostly unwaged and/or partially waged, custom-based extra-economic domain of unproductive work demonstrates value in and as the irrational (political) founding of itself as a rationality (economy). This will, in turn, arguably help illuminate how the instituting and operation of wage-labour, even in its own so-called free domain, has slavery-like conditions as its inseparable constitutivity.

The operation of wage-labour – or so-called free labour – is meant to realise a transaction between buyers (capitalists) and sellers (workers) of the vendible commodity of labour-power. Marx writes (1986, p.165):

“…labour-power can appear upon the market as a commodity, only if, and so far as, its possessor, the individual whose labour-power it is, offers it for sale, or sells it, as a commodity. In order that he may be able to do this, he must have it at his disposal, must be the untrammelled owner of his capacity for labour, i.e., of his person. He and the owner of money meet in the market, and deal with each other as on the basis of equal rights, with this difference alone, that one is buyer, the other seller; both, therefore, equal in the eyes of the law. The continuance of this relation demands that the owner of the labour-power should sell it only for a definite period, for if he were to sell it rump and stump, once for all, he would be selling himself from a free man into a slave, from an owner of a commodity into a commodity. He must constantly look upon his labour-power as his own property, his own commodity, and this he can only do by placing it at the disposal of the buyer temporarily, for a definite period of time. By this means alone can he avoid renouncing his rights of ownership over it.”

Clearly, being a wage-labourer is all about being the owner of the commodity of labour-power that one sells only for a definite period and not once for all. For, if the wage-labourer were to do the latter he/she would cease to be the owner of commodity and become a commodity himself/herself. That is, he/she would end up “renouncing his rights of ownership over his commodity” and be turned from a free man/woman into a slave. And yet, the founding and operationalisation of wage-labour is constitutive of partitioning of total labour-time expended in production into socially necessary labour-time (expressed in wages) and surplus labour-time (expressed in profit). The latter is the unwaged portion of labour-power expended, and over whose extraction the wage-labourer as the owner of his/her commodity of labour-power has no control during the definite and temporary period for which he/she chooses to place his/her commodity or property at the disposal of the buyer.

Therefore, even as wage-labour is the system of selling the commodity of labour-power by its owner only for a definite period, it is concomitantly also about the wage-labourer having no control over himself/herself as the capacity of expending living labour during that definite or temporary period. This means a wage-labourer in being himself/herself is also a slave for precisely the definite period that he/she puts his/her commodity of labour-power at the disposal of its buyer. In other words, a wage-labourer in being himself/herself by freely choosing to sell his/her commodity of labour-power only for a definite period renounces ownership over his/her own person to become a commodity in that temporary period.

Hence, it is not merely about various degrees, and thus forms, of unwaged labour functioning within a social form of labour that is free. Rather, it is about such unfreedom and slavery being a constitutively necessary condition for the existence of wage-labour. The imposition of industrial discipline at sites of modern waged work – often as an indiscernible or barely discernible dimension of regimes and systems of waged free labour — is empirical evidence of this co-constitutivity of unfree (unwaged) and free (waged) labour. This existence of unwaged labour as a necessarily constitutive moment of wage-labour demonstrates how every moment of economic accumulation – even the most liberal — has the extra-economic moment of primitive accumulation as its indispensable constitutivity.

Wage-labour is, of course, not slavery in the sense of classical chattel slavery. Yet, it would not be inaccurate to insist that it is a peculiar and historically specific form of slavery that is attenuated precisely because its slavery-like effects are obscured. The freedom that wage-labour amounts to is nothing but the integral and necessary condition of such slavery. This freedom, which exists only to ensure the continuance of slavery, gives this slavery its specific historical form, which is, in the final analysis, indispensable for capital. Marx points that out while describing how the bourgeoisie of post-revolutionary France instituted a law “which, by means of State compulsion, confined the struggle between capital and labour within limits comfortable for capital…”. He writes (1986, pp. 692-693):

“ ‘Granting,’ says Chapelier, the reporter of the Select Committee on this law, ‘that wages ought to be higher than they are, … that they ought to be high enough for him that receives them, to be free from that state of absolute dependence due to the want of the necessaries of life, and which is almost that of slavery,’ yet the workers must not be allowed to come to any understanding about their own interests , nor to act in common and thereby lessen their ‘absolute dependence, which is almost that of slavery;’ because, forsooth, in doing this they injure ‘the freedom of their cidevant masters, the present entrepreneurs,’….”

In light of the above discussion, it would be inaccurate to talk in terms of an outside of capital. It would be no less erroneous to talk in terms of noncapitalist relations within capitalism.

What such conceptions of outside of capital also fail to account for is how labour-practices, which are apparently unproductive, fulfil yet another productive structural-functionality over and above the one demonstrated earlier. People, who apparently do unproductive labour in order to only reproduce themselves, constitute the “relative surplus population” or the “industrial reserve army” (Marx, 1986, pp. 589-600). This reserve army of labour works to regiment the productively employed labour-power and increases the latter’s productivity, thereby leading to a concomitant increase in the extraction of surplus value and capital accumulation. In the ultimate analysis, this renders the apparently unproductive, self-reproducing labour of the unemployed and underemployed systemically productive.

The labour that is unproductive in an immediate sense must be grasped in terms of how its unproductive functionality is productively articulated by the structured totality of social labour within which it is constitutively situated. That is precisely what Marx does while explicating his concept of the “industrial reserve army”. He writes (1986, pp. 595-596):

“If the means of production, as they increase in extent and effective power, become to a less extent means of employment of labourers, this state of things is again modified by the fact that in proportion as the productiveness of labour increases, capital increases its supply of labour more quickly than its demand for labourers. The over-work of the employed part of the working-class swells the ranks of the reserve, whilst conversely the greater pressure that the latter by its competition exerts on the former, forces these to submit to over-work and to subjugation under the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working-class to enforced idleness by the over-work of the other part, and the converse, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army on a scale corresponding with the advance of social accumulation.”

This Marxian conception of relative surplus population has become even more significant in this neoliberal conjuncture. The kind of precarity we are currently confronted with is on account of the acceleration in the production of relative surplus population – which, as we have seen, exists to be productively mobilised as a regimenting force vis-à-vis the sphere of labour that is directly productive. This is thanks to the hitherto unforeseen increase in the organic composition of capital (c/v). This increase has resulted in rapid diminution of the quantity of productively-employed living labour due to a significant diminution of socially necessary labour time it has effected. It has also led to unprecedented levels of same-skilling across the entire spectrum of social labour. What we have, consequently, is an accelerated movement of individuals and social groups back and forth between the realms of the surplus population and so-called productive labour. Thus is born the footloose and precarious mass-worker, its ranks ceaselessly burgeoning with an ever-increasing rapidity. This mass-worker is clearly as much a part of the apparently unproductive reserve army of labour as he/she is productively employed in the creation of value.

The post-Marxist thesis of there being a vast outside of capital that capital as a value-relational horizon non-subsumptively commands in order to reproduce itself is even more difficult to sustain in the face of the rise of mass-worker, and its characteristically precarious and indeterminate positionality. Also, the post-Marxists seem to be blissfully unaware of the fact that the politics they theorise serves to reproduce the relative surplus population – and its segmented economy of reproduction — in its productive internality to the domain of directly productive labour. In fact, all political practices that assume — whether explicitly or otherwise — an outside of capital have now become ever more complicit in reproducing capital, and its so-called outside.

For an immanent critique of totality

The specificity of this neoliberal conjunctural moment of unprecedented precarity has ensured that neither the Lukacsian conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object nor the Leninist conception of the party as a mediating form of actualising ‘revolution’ has a shred of feasibility left. That is the reason why the second type of Leninist groups is, in practice, condemned to be no different from the first type, which, in turn, is hardly distinguishable from the communitarian post-Marxists.

In such circumstances, a radical critique of capital must be an immanent critique of totality. The question, therefore, is what will be the mode and form of the subjectivity that will be the actualisation of this immanent critique? Also, how does one envision this subjectivity? The way to go is to arguably turn towards re-conceptualising the proletariat, no longer as an identical subject-object and a sociologised group, but as a subjective mode and form of revolution (or communism) as a radically new order of the universal: the universalisability of non-totality, or universal-singularity.

We now know, thanks to Marx’s demonstration, that capital is a blindly totalising historical subject, which is nevertheless self-reflexive. In other words, the historical subject that is capital has a two-fold character: it is totalising and yet it is self-reflexive about its totalising nature. In fact, its self-reflexivity is precisely what enables it to constitute and reconstitute itself as that social system, or blind historical subject, of totalisation. Let us state the same in Hegelian terms: capital is a substance of universal qualitative equivalence that becomes subject by realising itself, even as it withdraws from such realisation as its negativity. In Marx, this structured dynamic of capital and its constitutive – and thus immanent – negativity is demonstrated by the two-fold nature of labour and the two-fold character of the product of such labour.

One of the clearest statements on this two-fold nature can be found right at the beginning of Capital, Volume I. There Marx tells us that (1986, p. 44) use-values in becoming a reality “…by use or consumption” are, in capitalism, “the material depositories of exchange-values”. He then immediately makes the following claim, almost in the same breath (1986, p. 44): “As use-values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange-values they are merely different quantities and consequently do not contain an atom of use-value.” (Emphasis added.)

This means exchange-values as the appearances of a qualitatively equalisable denomination in its different magnitudes presuppose that denomination, which is value as the abstract substance of qualitative equalisation of different qualities. This is the first negation qua abstraction of the materially concrete qualitative difference into qualitative equivalence, wherein commodities as expressions of different quantities of the same denomination contain not “an atom of use-value”. Yet, without use-value, which becomes a reality by use or consumption, no exchange-value – and thus value as the essence that exchange-value expresses – is possible. The former is the indispensable material depository of the latter.

Hence, the existence of commodity qua value-form is also a negation of the first negation. We can now see the commodity qua value-form, thanks to its two-fold nature, is a living contradiction. This is most clearly captured, for instance, when Marx while explicating the two poles, relative and equivalent, of the elementary form of value writes (1986, p.55):

“It is not possible to express the value of linen in linen. 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is no expression of value. On the contrary, such an equation merely says that 20 yards of linen are nothing else than 20 yards of linen, a definite quantity of the use-value linen. The value of the linen can therefore be expressed only relatively – i.e., in some other commodity. The relative form of the value of the linen pre-supposes, therefore, the presence of some other commodity…under the form of an equivalent.”

This two-fold nature of commodity qua value-form implies a two-fold (or bipolar) nature of labour. Marx writes (1986, p.53):

“On the one hand all labour is, speaking physiologically, an expenditure of human labour-power, and in its character of identical abstract human labour, it creates and forms the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labour is the expenditure of human labour-power in a special form and with a definite aim, and in this, its character of concrete useful labour, it produces use-values.”

It means that living labour in its concreteness – and the materially concrete use-value it produces in its expenditure – in tending to overcome systemic totality or social mediation, which is the system of abstract human labour, is condemned, on account of its own spontaneity, to fall into abstraction. This, we have earlier observed, is because the two-fold character is imposed on social labour and its products by the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

Hence, concrete labour and use-value, as the immanent negativity of value qua human labour in the abstract and its value-form, will not cease being constitutive of its own abstraction as long as it does not articulate itself in terms of overcoming and replacing the historically specific mode of mobilising labour through subjective individuation.

In this context, we would do well to articulate the living contradiction that is capital thus: use-value and its useful concrete labour is the immanent or constitutive negativity of exchange-value and human labour in the abstract. For, concrete labour in being reduced to abstract human labour is negated, even as the former negates the latter because without concrete labour there will not be anything to abstract from. In political terms, this means the moment of overcoming of the historically determinate form of quasi-objective social mediation, in its concrete instancing, is immanent in that historical form of social mediation or totality and is thus its constitutive negativity.

That, in turn, implies the actuality of critique of capital, which is praxis, has to be envisioned in terms of generalising its immanent negativity in a manner that it sustains itself as that negativity by preempting its capture and punctuation by the force-field of the totality, or the quasi-objective form of social mediation. Only that would amount to the complete negation of capital as a totalising subject. The affirmative side of such generalisation of negativity would be the free association of direct producers, which would be the real movement as the process that is the replacement of the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour through subjective individuation.

When Marx demonstrates how capital as a totalising historical subject is constituted by the negativity immanent in it, his purpose is to arguably show how capital as a totalising system is internally split so that this internal split – this negativity of capital immanent in it – can be leveraged in a manner that it generalises itself on its own terms to be the unraveling of the totality that is capital. His intention is not to show, as the rigorous exposition in Capital often causes many to misunderstand, how this totality is programmed to perpetuate itself in its exitlessness. This becomes plainly evident if we move away, for a moment, from the rigours of Capital to the relatively looser exposition that Marx affords in his famous ‘Fragment on Machines’. There he writes (1993, p. 706):

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum while it posits labour time on the other side, as a sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.”

The accelerationist tenor of Marx’s discourse here is not meant to be taken literally. This passage from Marx is, by no means, a political proposal to accelerate capital so that it can through its own acceleration unravel itself. Marx’s discursive accelerationism here is, instead, a metaphor for a formalising manoeuvre that amounts to gathering or concentrating various moments of overcoming of the historically determinate form of social mediation in its respectively diverse concrete instancing of labour-capital contradiction. These empirically concrete moments of instancing of social mediation as the contradiction between labour and capital have, discursively speaking, the appearances of various kinds of oppression and subalternisation, and the equally different kinds of struggle against them. Insofar as this move of concentrating those diverse moments of overcoming is a formalising manoeuvre, what it yields is the formal ontology, or constellation, of revolution qua communism as its own generalisation – which is the universalisability of non-totality, or universal-singularity.

To think this formal ontology of universal-singularity as its subjective dimension is to think this formal ontology as the proletariat. But here one must quickly add a note of caution. Insofar as this ontology is formal, its actuality cannot, and should not, be theorised and conceived in terms of a naïve ontologisation of repetition with a difference, which is the hallmark of a certain strain of difference-thinking within the larger Marxist project of revolutionary politics.

The actuality of this formal ontology of revolution and its generalisation would amount to conducting different struggles against different kinds of oppression and subalternisation in a manner that those struggles tend to enforce free association of direct producers at their respectively specific sites by way of reorganising the specific social relations constitutive of those sites, even as such enforcement unfolds into yet another new level of struggle beyond a particular site in question. This process in its infinitely uninterrupted and seamless unfolding – struggle as articulation of freely associated direct labour and freely associated direct labour as the articulation of struggle — would be the actuality of the formal ontology constitutive of concentration of various moments of overcoming of the historically determinate form of social mediation. In other words, this would be the actuality of diverse struggles constellating with one another to be rendered the generalisation of revolution qua universalisability of non-totality. [5]

Such an actuality of the formal ontology in question, however, implies this formal ontology as its own thought is embodied in a form of subjectivity. To think the form of this subjective embodiment – and the modality of practice that gives this form its singular character – we would do well to take recourse to Althusser’s “process without a subject” as a term to articulate this conception of formal ontology of revolutionary generalisation. But before we do that we need to realise this term, in Althusser, articulates a conception that is somewhat naively ontological. For, it is only through a process of critiquing this conception of Althusser’s that we will be able to retrieve the term “process without a subject” to articulate our conception of revolutionary generalisation as a formal ontology. All this, so that we can arrive at “subjectivity without a subject” as the form of thought of this formal ontology of revolutionary generalisation.

Allies III: Althusser, Lukacs and “process without a subject”

Let us see how Althusser articulates his conception of “process without a subject” (1971, pp. 121-122):

“…for anyone who ‘knows’ how to read Hegel’s Logic as a materialist, a process without a subject is precisely what can be found in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea. Jean Hyppolite decisively proved that Hegel’s conception of history had absolutely nothing to do with any anthropology. The proof: History is the Spirit, it is the last moment of the alienation of a process which ‘begins’ with Logic, continues with Nature and ends with the Spirit, the Spirit, i.e. what can be presented in the form of ‘History’. For Hegel, quite to the contrary of the erroneous view of Kojeve and the young Lukacs, and of others since them, who are almost ashamed of the Dialectics of Nature, the dialectic is by no means peculiar to History, which means that History does not contain anywhere in itself, in any subject, its own origin. The Marxist tradition was quite correct to return to the thesis of the Dialectics of Nature, which has the polemical meaning that history is a process without a subject, that the dialectic at work in history is not the work of any Subject whatsoever, whether Absolute (God) or merely human, but that the origin of history is always already thrust back before history, and therefore that there is neither a philosophical origin nor a philosophical subject to History. Now what matters to us here is that Nature itself is not, in Hegel’s eyes, its own origin; it is itself the result of a process of alienation which does not begin with it: i.e. of a process whose origin is elsewhere – in Logic.

“This is where the question becomes really fascinating. For it is clear that Lenin swept aside in one sentence the absurd idea that Nature was a product of the alienation of Logic, and yet he says that the Chapter on the Absolute Idea is quasi-materialist.”

Althusser upholds Lenin’s characterisation of Hegel’s Absolute Idea as “quasi-materialist”. He writes (1971, pp. 122-121):

“…when we examine closely the ‘nature’ of this Subject which is supposed to be Absolute, precisely in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea, we find that it is the origin negated as an origin. This can be seen at two points in particular.

Firstly, at the beginning of the Logic, which negates what it begins with from the very beginning, by immediately negating being in nothingness, which can only mean one thing: the origin must simultaneously be affirmed and negated, hence the subject must be negated from the moment that it is posited.

Secondly, in Hegel’s famous thesis that the Absolute Idea is simply the absolute method, the method which, as it is nothing but the very movement of the process, is merely the idea of the process as the only Absolute.

“Lenin applies his materialist reading to this double thesis of Hegel’s. And that is why he is so fascinated by the Absolute Idea. He thus lays bare and refines this notion, too, retaining the Absolute, but rejecting the Idea, which amounts to saying that Lenin takes from Hegel the following proposition: there is only one thing in the world which is absolute, and that is the method or the concept of the process, itself absolute. And as Hegel himself suggested by the beginning of Logic, being = nothingness, and by the very place of Logic, origin negated as origin, Subject negated as Subject, Lenin finds in it a confirmation of the fact that it is absolutely essential (as he had learnt simply from a thorough-going reading of Capital) to suppress every origin and every subject, and to say: what is absolute is the process without a subject, both in reality and in scientific knowledge.”

The theoretical move Althusser makes here is, from a materialist point of view, eminently honourable. He strives to demonstrate, through his Lenin-inspired materialist, and thus critical, reading of Hegel, that history has no origin or philosophical subject. His contention here is the origin – and/or philosophical subject – of history is nothing but the institutionalisation of the effect produced by nature, in and as its impersonally spontaneous process of unfolding, which on account of such institutionalisation is rendered history. But in making this move he ends up upholding a transhistorical conception of the dialectic – a transhistorical conception of the labour and process of such unfolding – by grasping nature as the realm of the dialectic. In this he is avowedly faithful to the transhistorical Engelsian “dialectics of nature” that is arguably quite distinct from Marx’s conception of “natural history”. Marx writes (1986, p.21):

“My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.”

Clearly, nature is, in this conception, not something transhistorical, but arguably the immanent, and constitutive, negativity of the historical, which is the process of unfolding structured as a dialectic. [6] In this light, Postone’s criticism of Althusser, though quite harsh in its tone, is accurate. He writes (2003, p.77):

“Louis Althusser’s position in this regard can be considered the one-sided opposite to that of Lukacs. Whereas Lukacs subjectivistically identified Hegel’s Geist with the proletariat, Althusser claimed that Marx owed to Hegel the idea that history is a process without subject. In other words, Althusser transhistorically hypostaized as History, in an objectivistic way, that which Marx analyzed in Capital as a historically specific, constituted structure of social relations. Neither Lukacs’s nor Althusser’s position is able to grasp the category of capital adequately.”

Althusser, in rendering the dialectic transhistorical, fails to grasp the fact that it is a structured process and practice of its own unfolding, which is necessitated by the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation. This compels him to grasp the fetishised or ideologised commodity-form, which is the basic unit of capital, not as what it literally and really is, but as the symptomatic mark, or metaphor, of its own displacement and inexistence. In other words, he grasps the fetish or ideology that is the commodity-form as a symptomatic mark, or metaphor, of “process without a subject”. This is because “process without a subject” is, in his conception, naively ontological. Alfred Sohn-Rethel indicates that when he writes (1978, p. 20):

“Althusser believes that Capital is the answer to a question implied but not formulated by Marx. Althusser defeats the purpose of his search for this question by insisting ‘que la production de la connaissance… constitute un processus qui se passé tout entier dans le pensee. He understands Marx on the commodity abstraction metaphorically, whereas it should be taken literally and its epistemological implications pursued so as to grasp how Marx’s method turns Hegel’s dialectic ‘right side up’. The unproclaimed theme of Capital and of the commodity analysis is in fact the real abstraction uncovered there.”

Althusser’s symptomatic, or metaphorical, conception of commodity abstraction implies that, for him, it is not a problem of real abstraction but that of an intellectual one. As far as he is concerned, living labour in its concreteness does not get abstracted into and as the commodity-form because such labour is functionalised through a historical mode of subjective individuation. According to Althusser, it is, instead, the imposition of an individuated subjecthood on labouring bodies (qua labour-power) by the externality of capitalist social relations that leads to commodity abstraction. This externality of capitalist social relations, if one were to faithfully follow his symptomatic conception of ideology, is that which compels labouring bodies qua labour-power to grasp the symptomatic mark of “process without a subject” – which is the process of displacement of commodity abstraction — as a commodity-form, and thus envisage themselves as its individuated labouring subjects.

Hence, Althusser’s conception of interpellation is not about labouring bodies spontaneously producing the abstraction of human subjecthood — and the concomitant web of capitalist social relations — on account of the impersonal power of the historically specific mode of their mobilisation.

Althusser is undoubtedly a committed materialist. He is concerted and unrelenting in his critique of the abstract human subject and the ideological programme of philosophy of consciousness constitutive of such a subject. It must, however, be admitted this critique of his remains incomplete on account of his failure to focus on the condition that necessitates the abstract human subject and the various ideological philosophies of consciousness. This condition, as we have repeatedly observed, is the mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

The crux of the first chapter of Capital, Volume I, is critique of the human subject in terms of critique of the mode of individuation, which inescapably produces that subject as a real abstraction. That is the theoretical bedrock of Marx’s rigorously materialist anti-humanism in Capital. It enables Marx to grasp, as we have earlier observed, how both experience qua consciousness, and knowledge are structures of relationship with the world that instantiate the mode of subjective individuation. Althusser’s failure on that count lies at the root of his incomplete critique of abstraction of the human.

That his critique of the abstract human subject, and the attendant ideology of cogito and consciousness, is partial is borne out by the fact that the standpoint of his critique is science qua knowing/knowledge. Sohn-Rethel’s critical remarks on Althusser emphasise that. They serve to emphasise the French philosopher’s failure to grasp the fact that the structure of knowing – regardless of the scientificity of knowledge vis-à-vis the ideological form of consciousness of immediate experience — is, in the final analysis, also an instantiation of the mode of subjective individuation.

There is, of course, no doubt that Althusser’s conception of “history as process without a subject” constitutes a serious attempt to radically break with, among others, Lukacs’ Left-Hegelian and subjectivist conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object. However, the objectivism, and thus naïve ontologisation, such a conception involves ensures that Althusser’s science, which is supposed to enable the desubjectivation of humanly subjectivated labouring bodies must enter their respective subject-positions as objective knowledge from the outside in order to enable the desubjectivation of those labouring bodies. This, as we shall soon see, amounts to the restoration of the logic of social mediation, albeit in a form discursively different from the one that such desubjectivation is meant to overcome. So, when it comes to politics, Althusser’s objectivist scientificity turns out to be no more than Lukacsian subjectivism in reverse.

The subjectivist approach to politics that Althusser’s conception of “process without a subject” implies – something the philosopher seems to embrace — is, indeed, quite ironical, given that he is utterly uncompromising in his anti-Hegelianism. What compounds this irony is the fact that Althusser’s theorisation of ideology and interpellation draws upon psychoanalysis — which in its Lacanian articulation demonstrates the relation between the unconscious and consciousness in terms of a rigorous internal dialectic. Why that is so is, however, beyond the scope of this essay.

Althusser’s theorising of ideology – which is another register of theorising commodity abstraction – as primarily a problem of intellection has political consequences not very different from those of “traditional Marxism”. According to Althusser, the commodity-form is a symptomatic mark of its own displacement and inexistence, which is not grasped thus by the labouring bodies that produce them due to the imposition of abstract human subjecthood on those bodies by an extrenalised web of capitalist social relations. Since this results in the perpetuation of a socio-economic order of commodity abstraction, it follows the only way to overcome this order is to have a form that confers (scientific) knowledge to the labouring bodies about their activities and practices. This would, pace Althusser, desubjectivate those labouring bodies. And that, in turn, would enable those bodies, in the process of being desubjectivated, to overcome the externalised web of capitalist social relations.

This, not surprisingly, results in Althusser persisting with the Leninist party-form. The Leninist party, in Althusser’s reckoning, is the embodied form that is meant to confer scientific knowledge to the labouring bodies so that they are desubjectivated. This, so that those desubjectivated labouring bodies in knowing the truth of their practices seek to practically actualise that truth and, thereby, transcend capitalism.

The problem, however, is that the Leninist party-form, in carrying out this task of bringing scientific knowledge to the labouring subjects, ends up mediating among them. Except that now, thanks to the way it is envisaged in Althusser’s theorising, the Leninist party-form adopts an apparently more democratic and thus entryist modality vis-à-vis diverse subject-positions constitutive of social labour. That, once again, amounts to one particular form of social mediation and totalisation being replaced by another. In effect, this is reconstitution of capital as the actualisation of the abstract substance of universal qualitative equalisation while appearing to transcend it. Evidently, the distance between Lukacs and his strategic conception of proletariat as an identical subject-object, and Althusser with his conception of the ‘democratised’and entryist Leninist party is not as much as the latter imagined.

Revolutionary generalisation: Formal ontology and “subjectivity without a subject”

The question, however, is, can we still hold on, as suggested earlier, to Althusser’s “process without a subject” in a way that it is displaced from being the terminological articulation of a conception of naïve ontologisation to be the articulation of a formalising manoeuvre that enables us to come up with revolutionary generalisation– or universal-singularity – as a formal ontology. Alain Badiou arguably carries out precisely such an operation when he writes (2005, p. 65):

“Overdetermination puts the possible on the agenda, whereas the economic place (objectivity) is that of well-ordered stability, and the statist place (ideological subjectivity) makes individuals ‘function’. Overdetermination is in truth the political place. And it must indeed be that overdetermination belongs to the subjective realm (choice, partisanship, militancy), even though it knows no subject-effect (such effects are statist), nor does it verify, or construct, any object (such objects only exist in the field of science).”

In Badiou’s re-articulation, overdetermination clearly ceases to be the scientific and thus objective conception of “process without a subject” and is rendered the thinking of this objectivity of process without a subject in and as its own subjective and thus political moment. This is clearly implied by the assertion that “overdetermination is in truth the political place”. That Badiou should make such a theoretical move is not surprising. He writes (2005, p. 63):

“If ‘object’, taken in the general sense, is an ideological notion (correlated with the inexistence of the subject), in another sense ‘object’ (this time correlated, in the absence of any subject, with ‘objectivity’) designates the very kernel of scientific practice. Science is a process without a subject but with objects, and objectivity is its specific norm. To distinguish politics from science is first to recognise that politics…has no object and does not submit to the norm of objectivity….”

But what does this move of thinking overdetermination as the political place – that is, thinking the objectivity of process without a subject in a manner that it is displaced to become thinkable in and as its own subjective dimension – amount to? First, it means one completely moves away from the naively ontological conception of overdetermination as process without a subject – which is what it is in Althusser’s thinking of it as science and objectivity – to thinking it as a formal ontology. This formal ontology is arguably the one yielded by our formalising manoeuvre of concentrating the diverse moments of overcoming of the historically determinate form of social mediation in its equally diverse concrete instances. Those moments of overcoming grasped in their concentration – that is, overcoming grasped in and as its own moment – is, what Badiou would term, the truth of overdetermination as “the political place”. Secondly, it concomitantly amounts to thinking the formal ontology in its subjective form. What that form would be is indicated by Badiou when he contends (2005, p. 60):

“…Althusser posits that only the ‘militants of the revolutionary class struggle’ really grasp the thought of the process in relations. Therefore, a genuine thought of process is possessed by those engaged in political practice.”

Hence, to think the moments of the practices of overcoming as their own thought is to theorise the grasping of the “thought of the process in relations”. In other words, it is to think overdetermination qua the formal ontology of revolution as a subjective dimension and thus as its own subjective form. And insofar as such practices of overcoming of the determinate form of social mediation in its concrete instances are, in and as those moments of overcoming, not the abstraction of place but taking-place as the excess of the abstraction of place, grasping them as their own thought is to grasp and articulate them in the mode of “subjectivity without a subject or object”. Badiou writes (2005, pp. 65-66):

“How should ‘subjectivity’ without a subject or object be understood here? It is a process of homogeneous thought in the material form of militancy, one not determined through (scientific) objectivity, nor captive to the (ideological) subject-effect. At the place of overdetermination…, this process balances over into the possible, and does so in accordance with a partisanship, a prescription, that nothing guarantees, neither in the objective order of the economy nor in the statist order of the subject, but which nonetheless is capable of tracing a real trajectory in the situation.”

What is this partisanship, or prescription, that is guaranteed “in neither the objective order of the economy nor in the statist order of the subject”? To grasp overdetermination as the political place, we now know, is to grasp it as its own thought, and thereby formalise it in its subjective order. This is nothing else but the grasping of the negativity immanent in capital as its own thought. In other words, it is to think such negativity, immanent in the totality that is capital, as the formalising of its own generalisation as that negativity.

This is something that amounts to envisioning the immanent negativity in a manner that precludes its mobilisation and capture by capital as a system of guarantee of the objective order of economy and/or the statist order of the subject. The “real trajectory” it traces “in the situation” would, in such circumstances, be the process of unravelling of the totalisation of capital – i.e. when such formalising is actualised. This unravelling of the totalisation that is capital would be the real movement of free association of direct producers precisely because it would, in being a movement of freely associating direct labour, constitute the abolition of the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

Clearly, the guaranteeless partisanship or prescription in question is the actuality of immanent negativity as the formalising of its own generalisation as that negativity. This is militancy. To the extent such militancy is the material form of embodiment of the mode of subjectivity without a subject or object, it can instantiate itself only in the immanence of political practices constitutive of diverse struggles and their respective subject-positions. After all, the mode of subjectivity without a subject is the formalising of the moment of negativity as its own thought. And considering this moment of negativity is immanent, the form of its subjective embodiment must necessarily instantiate itself immanently. This is the actuality of “really grasp(ing) the thought of the process in relations”.

Inquiry as militancy: notes for a post-party organisation

Hence, a militant as the embodiment of the mode of subjectivity without a subject can instantiate himself/herself as his/her militancy only in the immanence of discursively diverse struggles and their respective subject-positions. This clearly implies that militancy, contrary to what contemporary purveyors of the Leninist party-form would have us believe, is not about embodied forms of ‘scientific’ knowledge seeking entry into empirically diverse struggles from their outside so that they can then mediate among their different subject-positions to inevitably bind them into a new type of statist form of totality and social mediation in order to supplant the already given type of such a historical form. Rather, the modality of militant practice that would instantiate subjectivity without a subject is all about militants inhabiting diverse junctures of struggles as members of those empirically varied practices and their respective milieux, even as they demonstrate, through an ongoing process of investigation and self-inquiry, the limit those practices will constantly run into on account of the discursive specificity of their locations. This is arguably the actuality of the “ontopraxeological” mode that Zeleny discerns in Marx.

Such an inquest-based demonstration of the limits of a struggle amounts to a non-voluntarist practice of militant interventionism. It is militant interventionism because it seeks to induce the diverse struggles to prefigure the overcoming of their respective limits by constellating with one another. It is, at once, non-voluntarist because the modality of this subjective intervention is such that its embodiment does not tend to become the mediating form that would unite diverse struggles by substituting for the self-initiative of their respective milieux.

In other words, the self-inquiry-based intervention of the militant inhabitants of those diverse struggles seek to induce the respective milieux of those struggles to synchronise their respective self-activities in a manner that they emerge as a self-organising process of social labour in and as its own abolition. It is this Badiou affirms when he insists that “a genuine thought of process is possessed by those engaged in political practice”.

The organisation generated by the mutual interactivity of militants — in the process of thrashing out, clarifying and fine-tuning the principles of inquiry and self-inquiry in the light of the specificity of their respective experiences — has a rather loose form. This loose form of organisation of militants is a post-party form precisely because the militants in question belong to no pre-given party or organisation that they would want to institute as the form of mediation among the different subject-positions comprising diverse moments of struggle.

Clearly, this proposed modality of non-voluntarist militant practice and the post-party form of organisation it generates – which are instantiations of the mode of subjectivity without a subject –, tend to entirely preclude the problem of mediation and representation. In this way, the conception of subjectivity without a subject poses a modality of revolutionary generalisation that is radically distinct from the substitutionist and instrumentalist modality of ‘revolutionary’ organisation that dogs the Leninist party-form – now more than ever.


1. Engels famously writes in The Holy Family (2010, p.116): “History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.” This indicates that even Young Marx, who collaborated with Engels on The Holy Family, has a conception of ego-less and blind subjectivity of totalisation qua history. However, it ought to be pointed out that history, as this blind and ego-less subject of totalisation, is grasped by this Marx before Capital in terms of the activity of making of history by “real, living man”, which renders the subject self-reflexive. It is only after the conception of two-fold character of labour and two-fold character of the commodity-form displaces man as the conceptual centre of his theorising in Capital that we are able to grasp the moment of making of history as internally split between itself and the moment of overcoming of history. In Young Marx, whose dialectic is anthropologistic, there are only two moments – the moment of making of history and the moment of history (made). In the dialectic of Mature Marx – particularly the Marx of Capital – there are not two but three moments – the moment of history, the moment of making of history and the moment of overcoming of history. Hence, while alienation is conceived by Young Marx as estrangement of the human essence from itself, Mature Marx conceptualises it as a social structure of abstraction. This, among other things, is a clear indication that the structure of the dialectic is radically altered in Mature Marx to be rendered fully and rigorously materialist. From the standpoint of Mature Marx’s materialist dialectic one can retrospectively read Hegel’s conception of the dialectic – which is constitutive of the moment of realisation of the essence, and the moment of the process of realisation as the simultaneity of realising of the essence and its withdrawing from itself as the negativity of such realising – as (unreflexively) materialist. Not for nothing does Badiou assert (2009, pp. 3-4):

“The dialectic, inasmuch as it is the law of being, is necessarily materialist. If Hegel touched upon it, he must have been a materialist. His other side will be that of an idealist-dialectic, in a single word, which has nothing real about it, not even in the register of an inverted symbolic indication….
“So, at the heart of the Hegelian dialectic we must disentangle two processes, two concepts of movement, and not just one proper view of becoming that would have been corrupted by a subjective system of knowing. Thus:
“a) A dialectical matrix covered by the term of alienation; the idea of a simple term which unfolds itself in its becoming-other, in order to come back to itself as an achieved concept.
“b) A dialectical matrix whose operator is scission, and whose theme is that there is no unity that is not split. There is not the least bit of return into itself, nor any connection between the final and the inaugural….”

On this point, we would do well to attend to the following assertion of Macherey’s (2011, pp. 212-213):

“…we must put aside (as absolutely devoid of philosophical interest) the idea that all dialectics are idealist in themselves or reactive; for a historical materialism of thought the expression ‘all dialectics’ is completely without meaning. The real question is, what is the limit that separates an idealist dialectic from a materialist one? Under what conditions can a dialectic become materialist?”

2. Marx writes in his 9th thesis on Feurbach (1976, p. 617): “The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.” But what is this “contemplative materialism”, and how does one understand the materiality of practice – i.e. “comprehend the sensuousness as practical activity”? The answer to that is clearly given by Marx when he writes in thesis 1 (1976, p. 615): “Feurbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from conceptual objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. In Das Wesen des Christenthums, he therefore regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and defined only in its dirty-Jewish form of appearance. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.”

3. We must take care to distinguish Marx’s conception (in The German Ideology) of communism as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” from Eduard Bernstein’s social-democratic progressivism of “the movement is everything the goal is nothing”. The two are fundamentally distinct and radically antagonistic. Communism as the real movement is, itself, a goal to be leapt to. As the free association of direct producers, communism is the accomplishment of the goal of the (real) movement in its uninterruptedness, which suspends the never-ending continuity of the punctuated movement conceptualised and affirmed by Bernsteinian social democracy.

4. Some proponents of post-Marxism will likely find this a crudely vulgar account of their theory of the outside of capital. And, at one level, they would be right. In the theorisations of the more sophisticated among the post-Marxists, this outside of capital has no historico-discursive fixity and is, therefore, not a communitarianised identity. It is, instead, the remainder of capital like the Real of Lacanian psychoanalysis. It is, to be more accurate, the remainder as the hauntological outside of presence and its metaphysics, a la Derrida. This outside is instantiated by various historico-discursive sites only in their respective moments of militation. The outside of capital is, therefore, the moment of difference-in-itself as withdrawal from its subsumption, or abstraction through qualitative equalisation. But insofar as Marx’s critique of political economy is concerned, there is no exchange-value as expression of value (qualitative equivalence) without use-value (difference), which is the former’s material depository, even as value/exchange-value in being qualitative equivalence is the negation of use-value qua difference. Hence, difference or use-value must assert itself as the negation of its negation qua value/exchange-value, only so that the latter can be sustained. This is the secret of capital as “living contradiction” – or, as the bipolar nature of labour and the two-fold character of its embodiment – that Marx reveals in Capital. That is precisely why difference, in being its own presentation, is condemned to fall into abstraction, and thus withdraw from such abstraction as its negativity, precisely in order to sustain that dynamic of abstraction as qualitative equalisation.

In such circumstances, difference qua remainder of capital is not the noncapitalist outside of capital. Rather, difference as that remainder, which is yet-to-be-subsumed living labour in its concrete usefulness, is the negativity of capital that is immanent in it and constitutive of it. In such circumstances, revolutionary strategy can be envisaged only through this conception of immanent negativity of capital by way of thinking its generalisation so that it emerges as the affirmation of its own negative terms, and thus emancipated from its condition of being the immanence of capital, by virtue of being the extenuation of the capitalist totality. However, the post-Marxist thinking of revolutionary strategy in terms of working with the hauntological outside of capital is an illusory one-sidedness that mistakenly affirms the subjective dimension constitutive of capitalist acceleration as revolutionary politics. The post-Marxist strategy of grasping praxis, and the real movement, as accentuation of the outside of capital qua the accelerating withdrawal of difference from its subsumption is nothing but the interpellated subjective reactivity constitutive of the acceleration of capital as a dynamic of subsumption, and its treadmill principle. The post-Marxist conception of the ‘real movement’ as repetition with a difference does not institute the duration and historicity of difference. All it accomplishes is the infinite seriality of lines of flight – which is the infinite seriality of evanescent moments of difference-in-itself. This is arguably nothing but the interpellated subjective side of the historicity of capital qua infinite totalisation in its acceleration. It is precisely on account of this that, in the final analysis, the post-Marxist conception of outside of capital as the ground of revolutionary subject is, in effect, no more than the dynamic of persisting in communitarian difference, and its resistance, vis-à-vis the so-called non-subsumptive command of capital. Of course, it will take much more than this short note, which will have to suffice for now, to engage with the post-Marxist position in its full complexity.

5. Lest this proposal be mistaken for some new-fangled variant of anarchism, or Proudhonist ethical socialism a la commonisation, we would do well to dwell a little more on this conception of seamlessly infinite process of struggle as articulation of freely associated direct labour and freely associated direct labour as the articulation of struggle. It simply means that specific struggles against oppression and subalternisation should, in their here and now, seek to abolish the social division of labour – and the segmentation it entails — by completely functionalising the division of labour constitutive of their respective sites by rendering the various work-roles more and more dynamic, and thus less and less atomised; even as such functionalisation of the division of labour in being effectuated simultaneously articulates its diverse constitutive struggles as the abolition of the mediation of exchange among the different individuated sites of production.

6. Marx’s conception of “natural history” enables us to envision nature as nonidentity – nonidentity-as-process. But this, we need to immediately assert, is quite distinct from Althusser’s conception of “history as process without a subject”. Nature as nonidentity is no more than a formal ontology that articulates emancipation of humanity from the abstraction of the human condition. The theoretical move that yields this formal ontology is constitutive of grasping the historically determinate mode, which necessitates the dialectic, in the process of thinking its extenuation.


Althusser, Louis, ‘Lenin Before Hegel (April 1969)’. In Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, tr. Ben Brewster (Monthly Review Press, New York, 1971)

Badiou, Alain, Metapolitics, tr. Jason Barker (Verso, London, New York, 2005)

Badiou, Alain, Theory of the Subject, tr. Bruno Bosteels (Continuum, London, 2009)

Engels, Frederick, ‘Absolute Criticism’s Second Campaign, a) Hinrichs No. 2. “Criticism” and “Feurbach”. Condemnation of Philosophy’. In The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 2010)

Hegel, G.W.F., Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A.V. Miller (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, New Delhi, 1998)

Macherey, Pierre, Hegel or Spinoza, tr. Susan M. Ruddick (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 2011)

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

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume I, tr. Ben Fowkes (Penguin Books, London, 1990)

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume III, ed. Frederick Engels (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986)

Marx, Karl, Grundrisse, tr. Martin Nicolaus (Penguin Books, London, 1993)

Marx, Karl, Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, tr. Emile Burns, ed. S. Ryazanskaya (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978)

Marx, Karl, ‘Theses on Feurbach [Original Version]’. In The German Ideology by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976)

Postone, Moishe, Time, Labor, And Social Domination: A reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003)

Sohn-Rethel, Alfred, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (The Macmillan Press, London, 1978)

Zeleny, Jindrich, Logic of Marx, translated and edited by Terrell Carver (Rowman and Littlefield, New Jersey, 1980)

Three Theses on the End of the Poem

Aditya Bahl

“The relation to the new is modelled on a child at the piano searching for a chord never previously heard. This chord, however, was always there; the possible combinations are limited and actually everything that can be played on it is implicitly given in the keyboard. The new is the longing for the new, not the new itself: That is what everything new suffers from.” —T.W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

“Languages are imperfect in that although there are many, the supreme one is lacking: thinking is to write without accessories, or whispering, but since the immortal word is still tacit, the diversity of tongues on the earth keeps everyone from uttering the word which would be otherwise in one unique rendering, truth itself in its substance . . . Only, we must realize, poetry would not exist; philosophically, verse makes up for what languages lack, completely superior as it is.” —Stéphane Mallarmé, Crisis in Poetry


In The End of the Poem Giorgio Agamben argues that the principle which founds poetry is the difference between metrical segmentation and syntactical segmentation, what he calls the non-coincidence of sound and sense. But, as he is quick to clarify, these are no two separate movements at work, rather there is one poetic line which measures and is itself measured by these two movements. It is as if language’s movement towards sense were being traversed by sound, while the simultaneous movement towards music were being traversed by sense (41). With each of these movements being in an asymptotic rapport with the other, this quasi-dialectical tension tries, on the one hand, to “split sound from sense,” while on the other, it tries to make them coincide (36). Poetry, thus, stays alive in and as what Valery articulates as “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense” (109). But just when one thought that for all this the poem is, indeed, potentially infinite, one finds that the poem, without a word of it, has already ended! Unlike that of Mallarme’s siren, the corpse of the poem invariably washes up on the inaccessible shores of lalangue.

Since the final verse cannot be enjambed anymore, the poem, in ending, renders impossible the very founding opposition between sound and sense. What, therefore, really perturbs the philosopher is that the poem should, time and again, be always-already precipitating its own perdition— without ever giving it a thought! What could be exemplified by the end of the poem if not a failure to think, or why else would the poem inhere in its eschatological stasis to such an irrational extent that it ends up contravening the very principle which founds it? It is for this reason that Agamben regards the end of the poem as “a genuine crise de vers in which the poem’s very identity is at stake” (113). Or why else must the poem manifest by way of a serialized self-surpassing, as warrantied by the difference between sound and sense, and insist, even proudly so, on asseverating this difference till the very end, when this difference is precisely what renders the poem as a katechon forever defering the messianic parousia?

The inconsistency which Agamben speaks of is not so much the inconsistency haunting the poem, the fact that it ends, but the crisis is itself a trace of his own failure to formalize the actual problematic. Finding himself trapped in a metaphysical cul de sac of his own design, the philosopher can resolve the problematic only by making a disingenuous reversal, that of abandoning the conundrum itself and attributing it as peculiarly endemic to the very form of poetry, to its inordinate penchant for ostentations, its compulsive obsession, say, with end-rhymes which only goes to keep it from actually thinking the contradiction it cannot seem to ever resolve. And thus, the philosopher abandons, and not for the first time, the sinking ship of the poem, even going so far as to claim that he had never boarded it to begin with, for he was but a mere distant spectator, who, witnessing the shipwreck unfold, could not help but wonder why had the poem even set sail to begin with!

The veritable swoon of the poem’s obstinate persistence is invariably brought to a halt. And yet the poem, except in exceptional circumstances, say, owing to the greatness of a certain poet, never seems to learn! For Agamben, the poem fails in its messianic vocation because it does not sustain the centripetal insistence of the constitutive torsion it is. It cannot because it does not think! Waxing instructive, Agamben ends his text by calling for a philosophizing of the poem, for a poem which, for a change, will think. For only then will the poem, in its newfound vocation, be finally able to know its situation, and, recuperating itself from its contradictory formal character, it will finally be able to will its release from its perennial formal unfreedom.

Abandoning all modes of theorizing which subject poetry to an extrinsic thought, whether it be that of philosophy, or of politics, I shall hereby strive to formalize the problematic of the end of the poem— that of a poem being at once an instantaneous, concrete process and its simultaneous suspension, a finished artefact which can never, it seems, fulfil its own concept— while demonstrating how the seeming antinomy is itself a symptomatic torsion haunting any and every discourse which tries to organize itself as knowledge of the poem, viz. Agamben’s, “philosophy of meter” (2). To this end of formalizing a certain method of the poem, it will be of founding importance to not resolve the conundrum by simply denying the fatal exigency which heretofore seems to found the poem. This is to say that in the course of this exercise, one shall unconditionally refrain from plotting a farcical poststructuralist escape by positing the poem as a nameless dissemination, a perennial disaggregation of itself. For, as Marx had demonstrated, any denial of the grip of necessity shall only go to strengthen the grip. I must now offer the following three theses:


To avoid the danger of ventriloquizing poetry, let us begin by putting things in a dialectical perspective. This is to say, let us begin by submitting ourselves to the event which circulates by the name of “the end of the poem.” For, contrary to Agamben whose mode of formalization remains subject to a certain phenomenality of the poem’s telos, that is, unlike Agamben who begins in order to then arrive at the end of the poem, it is only in beginning with the “end” that we will, as Lenin would have it, be truly beginning, “beginning,” that is, “from the very beginning.”

It would not be too much to say that the crisis of the poem’s identity is a trace of Agamben’s own failure to decide if the poem is one spilt into two, or whether it is a case of two coming together to make one. He begins with two external poles, that of sound and sense, and only then, in a quasi-dialectical manoeuvre, interiorizes the split, presenting each as mediated by the other, the process of mediation continually unfolding as the poetic line. Thus grasped, the poem exemplifies a case of what Hegel had called an indifferent difference. To posit the antagonism as a differential relation between these two static, positively defined categories, each external to the other, is clearly fallacious, for it assumes a certain transcendental, archimedean point. Needless to point out, but this archimedean point is possibly afforded to Agamben because of his apparently superior vocation, that of being a philosopher. This transcendence, however, must itself be grasped as an error bred by an immanence which does not know that it is split from itself. Thus, it is not that the poem needs to be posited by way of an external opposition between sound and sense which is then interiorized, but rather the poem must be understood as split from itself, or as Hegel writes, “difference in itself is self-related difference; as such it is the negativity of itself, the difference not of another, but of itself from itself” (417-18). It is the minimal, absolute difference between the poem and itself, or to draw an analogy in Lacanese, the minimal difference between a signifier and the place of its inscription, which constitutes the poem. A poem, then, is constituted by and as the split between poetry, insofar as one understands it as the praxis of a certain processual composition, and the poem, insofar as one understands it as the cult of the former’s identity. It is this cut which phenomenally manifests by way of its structural effects, as a line-break in lyric poetry, as a certain montage-quality, though certainly not limited to it alone, in visual poetry, as kire in haiku, as parataxis in prose-poetry, and so on. But to mistake the structural effects of the cut for the cut itself certainly proves fatal, in more ways than one, for the poem.

To this end, it is absolutely imperative that one does not mistake the process qua praxis of composition for the phenomenal unfolding of the poem. For, if one were to begin rationalizing the means of a poetic form in terms of its instantaneous phenomenality, as is the case with Agamben’s fixation with end-rhymes, then one would doubtlessly end up fetishizing the end of the poem (also in the sense of its objective, its goal) as an effect of its telos. For example, in his The Time that Remains, Agamben now begins by asserting that a poem must always end. Or even further, he writes that a poem strains, from the very beginning, towards its end (79). But only now he tries to make a virtue out of this fatal exigency. A poem, he argues, is a machine which transforms the empty homogeneous time into a movement of constellated rhythms, and is thus a “miniature model of messianic time” (82). The poem’s penchant for ostentations is certainly no longer regrettable. But surely nothing can be more despairing than having to affirm the instantaneous ordeal of an impending disaster, having to posit the poem enduring its own finitude, as a messianic construction! Rather than seizing the scission as the constitutive organizing principle of the poem, Agamben remains fixated on the structural effects of the scission, and ends up fetishizing the syntactical composition of the poem as its messianic truth. In other words, instead of formalizing the time of the poem as a remnant, he instead takes the remnant to be “the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (83), thereby abolishing the minimal, but fundamental, difference separating that which takes place from the place where it takes place. Posited as an organizer of content, the poetic form remains caught in the means-ends rationality.


Lest one end up falling through the poststructuralist trapdoor, it becomes imperative to distinguish our notion of poem qua process— a thought which comes to be constituted as interruption— from what manifests as an uninterrupted militancy against the transcendental signifier, as exemplified by a certain poststructuralist poetics which determinately followed from the linguistic turn of 1960s, and continues to presently proliferate.

Here, I refer to the rather disjunctive trajectories of the otherwise more or less simultaneous emergence of Flarf and Conceptual Poetry, two contemporary movements concerned with the “impoetic”— while the former seeks to demonstrate the excess of language (an excess which was once upon a time understood as poetic) by mining “the circuits of ersatz fame junkspeech, within the anonymized and reshuffled errancies of various machinic protocols (whether it is the Google search algorithm, or a purported human adapting herself to the imperatives of a chat room)” (Clover), the latter is marked by a cold, impoetic cerebrality which, despite the appellative, has nothing to do with “concept” as it came to be developed in the tradition of continental philosophy. Despite the protestations which will follow such a claim, and which should themselves be taken as a sign that our age does covet difference, but only as identity, both movements must be understood as determinately emerging from the so-called American avant-garde of the seventies, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school of poetry. The latter, in mobilizing the disingenuous reversal affirmed, among others, by Derrida— precisely, that the problematic of logos, the split between body and spirit (as also, to draw a homology here, the split between base and superstructure) is derived from the problem of script, to which, in turn, the former seems to lend its own metaphors (Of Grammatology 58)— rendered language as the privileged site of politics. The poetico-political project of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school, as Ron Silliman puts it, is to cure ourselves of “the social aphasia, the increasing transparency of language which took place in English in the last 400 years” by short-circuiting the semiotic loop, thereby drawing the reader’s attention to the intransigent tangibility of the “word” (The New Sentence 10) [1]. But while denouncing, on the one hand, a certain capitalist realism of sorts, say, the entrepreneurial spirit of capital a neo-confessional poet has come to epitomize, the schizophrenic polysemy produced by the poetic experiments of Language- and allied schools only goes so far as to liquidating the impossible-Real of the contradiction— what is, in actu, the dialectics of use and exchange— into a weak structural play of differences. Mistaking capital for its structural effects, this poetics of ecriture, insofar as it has tended to problematize a capitalist-realist mode of representation, what Silliman articulates as the “dream of an art with no medium, of a signified with no signifiers” (14), has proceeded by rendering indifferent the split between the thing and its concept, between the base and the superstructure, and, in turn, reformulating this split, what is a structural manifestation of the capitalist division of labour as the problematic of signifier. While it would certainly be productive to historicize, following Jameson, these seemingly heterogeneous movements by understanding them as constitutive of the cultural dominant of postmodernism, thereby formalizing Silliman & c.’s purported “cure” as the symptom becoming its own disease (and vice-versa), I have here tended to conceptualize, even if only gesturally, the poetics of ecriture as a philosophical category, a particular mode of suturing the poem to a philosophical thinking of difference.

Poststructuralist attempts to preclude any and all symbolic closures are, in actu, a denial (in Freudian terms) of the poem’s actual finitude. For no matter how endless, or end-less, a chain of signifiers a poem-text might generate, it shall always determinately emerge as a finite work. On the one hand, a phenomenal manifestation of this denial finds expression in a disaggregation of the unity we have traditionally come to understand as a poet’s oeuvre [2]. There are several poets who assert that the finitude of a finished artefact at hand, whether a poem or a book, shall itself be surpassed by their next poem, or better still, their next book, and so on, and if a poet were to go to the extent of saying that his entire oeuvre is and shall always be in progress, and that this incompleteness is itself the indiscernible trace of the destruction of logos that his lifelong labour has accomplished, then we shall simply have to say that this monument erected in the honour of what still lacks only goes to exemplify the worst order of the Hegelian bad infinity [3]. On the other hand, this denial comes to constitute the formal imperative internal to such literary works— a compulsive fascination with the endless wealth promised by lalangue, a mode of writing which is itself symptomatic of the failure to dialectically seize a purely formal structure of lack which sustains language as such, as we will discuss below.

Ever insistent on surpassing itself, on precluding its own emergence as a determinate symbolic-totality, the poststructuralist poem-text comes to be retroactively inscribed as the same precisely by what it seeks to differ from. Or to put it otherwise, each differing-away convokes, in the very moment, the place where the signifier comes to lack. Haunted by the lack which continues to place it in its place, the poem-text, determined to de-totalize its impending congealment, strives to militate against the congealment of letter into meaning by surpassing itself yet again. But what this poem-text never seems to learn is that the transcendental signifier is not a privileged, hypostasized category (whether it be, say, economy, or history) it is militating against, but rather, that the former is only a phantom (in-)consistency. In other words, what it does not seem to learn is that that there is no transcendental signifier but for the one that the poem-text itself comes to retroactively inscribe. The post-structuralist automaton compulsively re-enacts the same, propagating endlessly the bad-infinite disavowals of the poem’s inevitable finitude. It is forced to repeat because it fails each time, and it fails each time precisely because it fails to understand its own metaphysical complicity, to recognize its perverse libidinal investment in its own oppression. Needless to say, but this fatal tendency of proclaiming oneself to be the Master is often exemplified by certain aspects of the poetics of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement, as also by the polemics they have been engaged in. Far from being the real force which shall come to destroy metaphysics and its structural logic of places, the militancy of such transgressions must be understood as the punctilious rush of a defendant answering the summons of the Other, the locus of the signifier.

The founding antagonism is not between poetry and the universal law of value which comes to condition poetry’s determinately lapse into a poem. This is to say that poetry does not seek to fight a law which is external to it, that which it can somehow surpass. Rather, what poetry seeks to destroy is extimate to its own being-there, that is, the founding antagonism is between poetry and itself qua an always-already determined artefact. To put it otherwise, it is not that a poem will end, that it will lapse into its own determinate congealment. To assert only this much would be to remain caught up in the phenomenological experience of reading or writing a poem, and to have determined the messianic moment as a not-yet in its vulgar sense, as a present placed in the future. Rather, to put the problematic of the end of the poem in its real and thus revolutionary dialectical perspective, that of the future-anterior, what poetry must demonstrate is that it has always-already ended. And lest it demonstrate the extimacy of the law to itself, the fact that it is always-already interpellated, the poem, contradictory as it may sound, will inevitably go on to become a commodity. But in thus qualifying the dialecticity of this dialectical scission, one should not be given to understand that the poetic act can voluntarily demonstrate its blind-spot, and do that from an archimedean point as it were!

Then, in trying to formulate the truth of this internal exclusion, one could begin by stating the obvious, that the determinately congealed poem has nothing to do whatsoever with the concrete and sensuous activity of writing-as-process. And yet, adhering to the asymmetry we have qualified, the poem, self-alienated as it is, must come to be the only possible trace of the concrete and sensuous activity of writing-as-process. Herein lies the conundrum central to our proposition— how can one posit the finished poem as a trace of the very scission which the determinate emergence of the poem goes to un-represent? And the scission is certainly un-represented, insofar as the transparency of the poem’s language— say, the neo-liberal lyric so aptly captured in the style of Billy Collins, as also by the inventory of The New Yorker, or say, the desire to politicize the verse in a neo-confessional idiom epitomized by the slow and sporadic emergence of the queer, left-leaning poets and communities in our own country— continues to consistently draw attention to its own existence as a unity, as if its maker, instead of being a determinate labourer, was a magician! For, in a world hopelessly mediated by capital, the worst a poet could do was to protest his freedom by touting the illusory immediacy of a voice all his own! Closer home, this poetics of identity only goes to buttress the politics of identity already being practiced by the individuals/communities concerned. Similarly, when a certain poem [4] claims to express solidarity with the working-class, say a poem addressed to the struggles of Maruti workers, it ends up presenting itself as a downright vulgar thematization of labour. Copying out from a statistical encyclopaedia ascertaining the terms of an unjust exchange, the poem, in the name of solidarity, unabashedly inheres in the left-liberal consensus bent on representing, or as Badiou would have it, discerning the working-class, all the while remaining clueless about the phantom which ventriloquizes the poem itself, the truth (contra knowledge) of capital, what manifests, in actu, as the poem’s abject failure to demonstrate how poetry, in situ, is first and foremost itself a praxis of labour.

But lest one think that this conundrum is endemic only to a certain reified poetics of voice, which, in being ventriloquized by capital, provides us with only deceptive equivalents of what we have tried to formalize as poetry, and that this would not be the case with other good poems which are self-reflexive insofar as they tend to draw our attention, say, to the intransigence of language, and so on, it becomes imperative to point out that the problematic— how can the poem attest to its own absent cause, that which remains foreclosed to it— is fundamental to the formal thrust of the poem, and is what lends the poem the possibility of its redemption. This is to say that the dialectics of this redemption qua poem shall come to constitute a simultaneous destruction of both the reified poetics of voice as also of a poetics of ecriture.


Contrary to Agamben who had sought to posit thought as a corrective to the literary-formal preoccupation of poetry, we will begin by positing that poetry does, indeed, or rather, in deed, think. However, the question which immediately proceeds from such a postulation— what does poetry think, if at all— is only moot, for the poem does not think an other object. This is precisely the founding difference between thought and knowledge as seized upon by Badiou when he writes— “Being does not give itself in the thought of being, for all thinking of being in reality is only the thinking of a thought” (Age of Poets 8). In thinking, the poem does not reflect upon, but offers itself as the act it is. In other words, the truth of the poem does not have a preponderance of the meta. But what is even more important to understand is that this order of the intransitive also forbids what has come to be the defining characteristic of the poem of our times, the one which followed the linguistic turn. Rather than understanding the poem as caught in the gratuitous excess of its own slippage— the arrantly therapeutic line of flight which we discussed in the previous thesis— a poem is what interrupts the endless deferral of meaning by demonstrating the impossible-Real of the antagonism, that which makes all symbolic difference possible. In other words, poetry thinks the scission which engenders it. But in trying to demonstrate the asymmetry of the dialectics which engenders poetry qua poem, poetry cannot voluntarily think the dialecticity of the dialectical scission constituting it. For example, to assume that there exists a self-identical identity of poetry qua process, which only later comes to suffer a certain self-alienation is to be recklessly undialectical. Any poetic act which believes that it can demonstrate the asymmetry we qualified in the previous thesis by simply presenting a concrete and sensuous activity of writing, and this because the activity of writing must logically precede its determinate congealment, only goes to exemplify the worst order of interpellation.

As opposed to such forbidding acts of the self-estranged, the deed of poetry is not performed conscientiously, from a certain archimedian point, but rather, as we have already ascertained, poetry itself comes to be constituted by and as this very scission. In other words, the promise of the un-alienated self, what we can here call the truth of the poem, the notion of the concrete and sensuous activity of writing-as-process, can only be produced retroactively, by way of the poem’s future-anterior directedness. This is the impossibility which poetry qua poem heralds, by way of its future anterior directedness— to already be what it must become.

Before further elaborate, it might prove useful to rearticulate our progress in terms which might seem a bit forced to begin with, if not altogether vulgar. Would it be too much to say that the problematic of the end of the poem is the problematic of the failure to realize the revolution? What I have been straining to get at is that the poem is not to be seen by way of its phenomenal unfolding, as the wasteful remainder of the impossible task it inheres in, that of realizing the future tense. Or to risk putting it otherwise, we fail to realize the revolution not because we fail to envisage and/or attain a utopian what must be, a future state of social egalitarianism, which could then be, as any socialist-statist would have it, empirically determined and verified by strings of socio-economic coefficients. Far from it!

Instead let us try and unravel the problematic by locating it on the local terrain of our own political practice(s). Say, anyone who has pursued a self-inquiry into his/her involvement in the present series of resistances against neoliberal assaults on universities, what eventually culminated in the JNU student-politics’ abject failure to demonstrate a militant solidarity with Kashmir would know the in situ truth of the movement’s failure. The series of resistances failed to emerge as a determinate movement, not because the “fascist forces” (the left-liberals’ favourite distortion of the capital’s neoliberal shifts into a literal and static dogma, the affective cathexis of which, say, the frequent invocation of these magical words at the beginning of every single pamphlet, is only therapeutic) were too strong, and certainly not because the varied “progressive forces” (another equally abominable homogenization of the real contradictions) failed to aggregate and harmoniously flatten their interests to achieve a consensual coming-together against “fascism.” Rather the movement could not be because it failed to demonstrate the future-anterior directedness of its own becoming, that is, it failed to presently perform the revolution that the movement will have been. In other words, the movement could not be because, while prescribing a rupture with the extant circumstance of oppression, the politics of resistance failed to prescribe a rupture with its own identitarianized mode of politicking, that is, it failed to realize that it itself was the determinate instantiation of the very representative parliamentary mode of the nation-state it sought to revolt against.

Politics can only take place if it can demonstrate, in situ, a world equal to the concept it has forged, a concept, in this case, of communism. So, when Tronti quotes Frédéric de Castillon as having said— “As in the case of the terms ‘circle’ or ‘square’, which everyone uses, though only mathematicians have a clear and precise idea of what they really mean; so, too, the word ‘people’ is on everyone’s lips, without them ever getting a clear idea in mind of its real meaning,” what he means is not that the implications of such a word remain unclear because there still aren’t enough people (as if there could ever be such a thing as people!) out in the streets attending protest marches and rallies. Far from a aggregative politics of the count (sankhya-bal, as comrades in JNU are wont to have it), what Tronti here means is that it is a concept of the people as a political subject which is lacking, which is explains, and whose absence is, in turn, explained by the failure to conceptualize the modern university as not only constituted by its own particular regimes conditioning the socio-technical division between mental and manual labour along and across the blocs of caste, class, gender, but also as vehemently reinforcing generalized segmentations functioning at large.

The movement could not be because in positing antagonism by way of an equality that will come to be, the politics of resistance, still caught in capital’s rationality of means-ends, failed to practice equality in actu. Equality can only be practised if the crowd postulates it. In fact, to postulate equality is to already practice it and to practice it is to verify it in the real, as a dynamic collective which comes to demonstrate its own determinate impossibility. So, equality is not a desire for equality, rather it, being in an asymptotic militant rapport with its own future-anterior directedness, must come to presently organize itself so as to determinately demonstrate a fidelity towards what it will have presently been had the present finite-inquiry unfolded in its infinitude. But if politics remains aggregative— wherein a determinate form the organization of the masses takes remains conditioned by a determinate necessity, say that of social inequity— or as Badiou would have it, “bounded” (see Metapolitics 68-78), then politics fails to destroy its own determinate instantiation as work, for it then emerges as determined by the very hierarchical law of value, the very principle of social division of labour that it has come to react against. Instead of forging an unbounded collective we end up witnessing trite spectacles of the crowd as it coagulates into the same parliamentary relation of the party-masses.

There are certainly many who will come to oppose our present analogy, alleging it to be nothing but a vulgar comparison, an organization of a content (poetry) which has nothing whatsoever to do with the form of its organization (revolutionary politics), and further, that such an exercise strives, in the name of a certain logic, to use poetry as an instrumental means to the end of revolutionary politics. What, but, needs to be understood, before one levels such a charge, is that form is not an a priori determination of what comes to present itself. This metaphysical priority is only illusory, for form is always-already shot through by what it forms, the ferment of its most immanent immanence, that is, its content-object, what refutes the totalizing impulses of the thinking subject with a dialectical vengeance. Only tangential to the point we are trying to make, but what then proves to be truly confounding is that it is precisely such a Kantian understanding of aesthetics as a system of a priori forms that underpins even the most sophisticated of antagonistic thought, say Ranciere’s “redistribution of the sensible” in Aesthetics and Politics (see p. 13). Nowhere is the socio-political condition of this metaphysical origin of form more explicitly expressed than in Kant’s philosophical project, insofar as it manifested as an irreconcilable antinomy between attempts to formalize a prior, pure reason and also to testify to its conceptual adequacy to the material existence,

“All crafts, trades and arts have profited from the division of labour; for when each worker sticks to one particular kind of work that needs to be handled differently from all the others, he can do it better and more easily than when one person does everything….Now here’s a question worth asking: Doesn’t pure philosophy in each of its parts require a man who is particularly devoted to that part?… Wouldn’t things be improved for the learned profession as a whole if those ‘independent thinkers’ were warned that they shouldn’t carry on two employments once…because all you get when one person does several of them is bungling?” (Kant 2).

The analogy and language used by Kant must not be understood as a mere turn of phrase, or by way of a certain expedience of metaphor, but rather his call for a pure philosophy must itself be understood as conditioned by the very content, what he calls experience, that it seeks to cleanse itself of. The desideratum of this bourgeois formalism is a cogitative organization of knowledge which, in the name of universalism, is wholly dictated by the socio-political division of labour, to which this antinomy owes its immutability, as also the poverty of its static binaries. The idyllic benevolence of a metaphysical synthesis, insofar as thought affirms and bestows meaning, an infinite plenitude of bounty, upon a reality which is rent with the coercive principles of division, domination and accumulation of capital, remains, in situ, retroactively haunted by what it strives to palliate, namely the socio-technical division between mental and manual labour. And if the recent resurgence in a red Kant can be attributed to anything, then it is the philosopher’s own methodological failure, if not a refusal, to reconcile the antinomy between the empirical and the intelligible, between the phenomenal and the noumenal, that carries within it an incipient promise of reclaiming the problematic of socio-political division of labour from the throes a metaphysical formalism.

The relation between poetry and politics is not that of a causal instrumentality which renders one as subject to the other, which is to say, it is not a relation. What conditions the fraternal compossibility of revolutionary militancy and poetry is that the formal prerogatives of poetry constitute, in situ, the problematic of labour. One is likely given to assent to this statement on two counts— firstly, and especially, if one tends to consider poetry as a mode of production which comes to immanently demonstrate the infrastructural logistics of the social division of labour underpinning it. To recourse to such a mode of thought is not difficult, and so, not only because those on the left naturally tend to view, and rightly so, the socio-economic infrastructure as what, in the last instance, determines art’s existence, but also because one is witness to at least a few concrete historical instances when poetry, and art in general, has come to immanently and singularly destroy the infrastructure which preconditioned art’s emergence. After all, is this not the fundamental import of Mayakovsky’s revolutionary dictum— “Without revolutionary form there can be no revolutionary art”? Contra Aristotle’s Poetics, which must be, indeed, be read as a corrective rejoinder to Plato’s exclusion of the poets, Mayakovsky refused a classificatory accommodation of arts within the polis. His constructivist collaborations are a case in point. He collaborated with Rodchenko for Pro Eto, the poems inspired by Lilya Brik were juxtaposed with photomontages made by Rodchenko, with El Lissitzsky for Dlia Golosa, an astonishing piece of “visual poetry” wherein the dialectic between the typography and the visual image, between the image-as-text and the text-as-image is so thorough that the work obviates any attempt at usurping the letter with meaning, with Rodchenko for making advertisements for state-run agencies using what he called “the enemy’s tool,” and with several others, including his involvement in the Russian cinema of his times. These “constructivist” collaborations must not be understood as an exchange between private individual artists or even styles but rather as a demonstration of poetry as a mode of production, a process which, in its unfolding, destroys the social fact of a division of labour between the “skill” of a writer of poetry as written verse and techniques of the visual artist whose work is deemed fit only for ornamental and decorative purposes, between those who design theatre and movie-sets and those who illustrate mere propagandist posters, between design techniques which might behove only an advertisement but certainly not a piece of art proper, and so on.

Here then, poetry is revolutionary not because it made revolution the subject-matter of its works [5]. Rather poetry, and art in general, came to be a sui generis index to the revolution, insofar as it came to demonstrate the limit of a community’s self-presentation, the collective which we now understand by its Bolshevik name of “Soviets.” This is to say that poetry thought and performed revolutionary politics immanently, as a condition of its own exercise, without ever itself being politics.

To assent, on the second count, would be to effectively fulfil the dialectic of poetry, to complete our movement from a still somewhat external consideration of the infrastructure singularly peculiar to the form of the literary— the latter presenting a veritable constellation of its producers, distributor-publishers and consumers— to questions more internal to literary production. This latter aspect of the literary is nowhere so keenly expressed as in the following formulation of Jameson’s—

“Thus it is a mistake to think, for instance, that the books of Hemingway deal essentially with such things as courage, love, and death; in reality, their deepest subject is simply the writing of a certain type of sentence, the practice of a determinate style” (409).

Keeping in mind this dialectic internal to the literary form, what manifests by way of the asymmetrical dialectic between poetry and poem, let us rearticulate the notion of writing-as-process as work and thereby also return to the problematic of the poem’s finitude, what we had been trying to formulate, before being interposed at some length. The task at hand is not how to continue to stay alive despite the ever-impending apocalypse, that of the end of the poem, what is actually the question which has come to exemplify, more than anything, the linguistic turn in poetry, as should be amply clear from our discussion of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics qua bad infinity in the previous thesis. Rather, the task at hand is how must one understand the poem as ex-sisting as the infinite in finite, how, that is, to subject oneself to the afterlife of the poem, what would, in actu, manifest as the veritable worklessness of the work.

What a poem demonstrates by way of its future-anterior directedness is the truth, that which will come to presently be if a poet’s presently finite inquiry into the poem’s form, supplemented by other poem-demonstrations by the same poet, as also by other poets, and by other artists, philosophers, political militants, and so on, were to unfold infinitely. Before we can elaborate, it is imperative that one understand that this not-yet qua truth, what following Badiou we can call the generic (see esp. Meditation 31, Being and Event), is not a teleological to-be, a present placed in the future, but is rather of the order of the future-anterior. For what the poem strives to demonstrate is not what it will come to be, but what the poem will have presently been had the truth of its extant circumstance completely manifested. Of course, the aleatoric not-yet of poem as a mode of production cannot be predicted, much less assumed, for the poem, as all individual art works, is after all a finite work of art. But even if the poem remains wholly incommensurable to what it must realize and fulfil, the instantaneous ordeal of this infinite truth can certainly be, as Badiou would have it, axiomatically professed.

The axiomatic here bears on a decision directly concerning the ontological question of infinity. And it is only by way of the retroactive effects of this decision that the poem can manifest qua poem. This is to say that the poet-subject surpasses the present finitude of the work insofar as he, instead of assuming an ecstatic-transcendental stance of a seer, comes to decide on whether to affirm or reject infinity, or to put it otherwise, insofar as he comes to take a decision on whether to declare fidelity to the event we understand by the name of “the end of the poem,” or not. Once infinity is affirmed, the poem manifests as nothing but a rigorously formal organization of this decision. The singular ambition which comes to determine the poem in the wake of this decision is solely that of interrupting the endless deferral of meaning and thereby evincing the impossible-Real of the antagonism, the infinite Real which makes all symbolic difference possible in and as language. But how can the poem demonstrate the void when it cannot be directly ascertained, for the void is retroactively produced by the poem’s own symbolic consummation? This impossibility is, in actu, the impossibility of the poem itself, that of its structural blindness.

Let us try and rearticulate the asymmetry of the dialectics at hand by resorting to what Lacan had said of Antigone, precisely that she is between two deaths. The first death is marked by the accomplishment of the poem’s symbolic destiny, the inevitable interpellation of the poem in the symbolic order of signification, what, as Agamben is wont to have it, phenomenally manifests as the impossibility of enjambment in the final verse-sentence. But the poem, insofar as it is seized in the wake of the poet-subject’s decision to affirm infinity, also heralds a second death, that of the very symbolic order, the law of value which always-already comes to govern the poem’s own constitution. But it is not as if the poem could undertake a destruction of the symbolic order while retaining a sovereign identity for itself. This is to say that in a world wholly determined by the law of value, poetry can destroy the law only insofar as it comes to realize that the law is extimate to its own ex-sistence, and thus comes be constituted as a veritable destruction of its own sovereign identity. After all is this not the supreme lesson to be gleaned from Hegel’s returnedness, what he calls the “turning back of force into itself”—

“Force expresses itself. The external expression is a reaction in the sense that it posits the externality as its own moment and thus sublates its having been solicited through an other force” (459).

Poetry organizes itself in the wake of the decision to affirm infinity by evacuating itself of all positive predicates, all forms of thought which come to determine it, whether political, or a la Agamben philosophical. Pace Marx’s use-value [6], poetry comes to constitute a supreme destruction of necessity, what seeks to condition poetry as a relation between a determinate content and a determinate form. The poem declares its absolute singularity by destroying the very vocation it has come to be identified with, the identitarianized all-too-poetic vocation, be it a lyric mode of expressing an interior subjectivity, or be it a consecration of the mystery of Being, or be it a postmodern promulgation of language games. This declaration, however, declares nothing but the void that the poem circumscribes, the void central to its own formal situation.

Is this not, after all, the singular formal ambition of William Carlos Williams’ variable prosody, which, plumbing the impassable gap between description and inscription, renders the poem as an objectal correlate of an objective world it sought to formalize? While the present exercise does not afford us either space or time to undertake concrete readings to discuss in detail the method of Williams’ variable prosody, one could at least gesturally reflect on as to how the poems manifest, despite obvious differences in their ostensibly manifest content, for be it the epic Paterson, or one of his “simpler” poems, say, “As the cat . . . ,” or one of the more iconic poems, say, The Red Wheelbarrow, as a rigorous formal operation which, in interrogating the processual mandate of composition, strives to formalize a new conception of “work.” The operation is an axiomatic demonstration of the truth of his poetry’s formal thrust.

Variable prosody, what can be understood as the variable and discrete groupings of speech sounds accentuated by a deliberate visual emphasis on the line-break, forms the fundamental rhythmic unit of Williams’s conception of poetry. This praxis of composing processually performs an evental evanescence, improvised unit by unit, disrupting and deferring, as it were, its own congealment while simultaneously alluding to its demise because the poem has always already congealed. The poem, by way of a symbolic congealment of the letter as meaning, is certainly a dead object. But, in the present when the poem is no more, what needs to be recovered is not what appears to now be lost, say, a past ontologised qua poem. Such a recovery would merely yield an other poem. Rather, as the axiomatic dictates, what needs to be recovered is the afterlife, the future in its anterior. So, instead of positing the formal thrust of Objectivism as serially precipitating a result-poem qua bad infinite— the quantitative accumulation that the verse sterilely performs line-by-line— the method of Williams’ line-breaks must be understood as evincing a la Hegel the quality of this formal thrust. But lest one is smitten, as one is bound to be, by the sheer hazardous taking-place of the line-breaks, and thereby comes to believe that one could circumvent the determinate necessity governing all formal considerations of techne by simply choosing to break his lines as (s)he pleases— freely as a poet is wont to say— we must assert, even at the risk of reiterating, that quality a la Hegel is not what phenomenally manifests as the aleatoric taking-place of the poem. Rather the poem is the void of a suspended gesture, of which we must say, in a manner now naturally all too Mallarmean, that no throw of a dice can abolish the chance of the poem having taken place. In other words, the truth of the poem, what would be the real worklessness of the work, is the act of the poetic form and not the formal effects produced by the poem, even if it is only the latter which will have come to attest the former. Quality is what manifests when, in having come to be constituted as what thinks its constitutive scission, the poem forces the occupation of the unoccupyable place, that of which Williams had written—

“Save for the little

central hole

of the eye itself

into which

we dare not stare too hard

or we are lost” (Williams 152).

The structural effect of the two deaths is what is at stake throughout in George Oppen’s first book of poems, Discrete Series. The second poem in the series constitutes a single word “White” followed by a full-stop. Is this not the great Malevichian gesture of white on white, the minimal difference which following Mallarme could be articulated as the “cut of white,” separating the letter from its place of inscription? In occupying this minimal difference between what takes place and the place Oppen’s thought reduces the present situation to a radical minimum of a decision, what unfolds as a cut of lightning across the proverbial night of Fordism, the one in which, as the poem goes to reveal, all cars are black (hinting, of course, at the famed T Model).

It is demonstrating the new, as against a new meaning, that Williams, against the Hegelian cunning of the history, actively safeguards the future of the cause. The hole punched in the structure of modernist poetry by Williams’ variable prosody— a mode of formalization which sought to wholly disengage a determinate form from a determinate content— is axiomatically secured in the anterior by an anticipation of new poetic works which will have come to fulfil this void by presenting the original indiscernibility of Williams’ poetics to be the truth of the poetic situation it had emerged in, while simultaneously punching holes in structures local to the law of their own determinate emergence. Amongst the several contemporary poets who are at it, the works, say, of Douglas Piccinnini, Joshua Clover and Graham Foust do strike one’s mind as being veritable formal inquiries into the configuration as it was and as it will shall come to be following the linguistic-turn. But if otherwise the Objectivist “condensery” has historically devolved into a certain free verse, a neo-confessional transparency of those stylists, the ones who, in this hopelessly mediated world, aspire to an immediacy of their own distinct voice, then it is simply because the singular ambition of poetry was mistaken for its structural effects, leading to an endless reification of the latter. The same is also true of the grossly perverse Leftist appropriations of Mayakovsky, Baraka, Lodre, Baldwin, Ristos, and the list is really endless. But what is even worse is that the ones who revolted against a reified poetics of voice have themselves remain fixated on these structural effects, continuing to endlessly propagate the metaphysical edifice they proclaim to be the destroyers of.

It would only be fitting to conclude by briefly discussing the stakes involved in the act of submitting the poem to that axiomatic will which is not the proprietary of the poet-subject. And in contemporary poetics, is not the formalization of this act of the poem qua poem the singular ambition of David Brazil’s poetic vocation, and does his decision, whether to use waste-litters of found paper to type his long poem Economy on, or to present the work titled Kairos as it is, as drafts which, it seems, are yet to be produced, not demonstrate the materialist truth of the Mallarmean cut of the white, the truth being nothing other than use-value?! For, if in A-8 Louis Zukofsky thus poses a question originally posed by Duns Scotus— “Whether it (is) ‘impossible for matter to think?” then Brazil’s poetry can be understood as a reformulation, pace Marx’s use-value, of this very question, a reformulation which can be posited thus— “Whether it is impossible for matter to think itself ?” Rather than understanding the poetic form as an organizer of content, Brazil grasps it as an act. The work in Kairos is marked with several redactions, strikethroughs, some circled words, but also whole passages blacked out, and insertions, all done in hand, and xeroxed copies of the pages presented as they are. But it is imperative that one refrains from fetishizing what appears to be the sensuous concreteness of Brazil’s writing-as-process, as also from commending him for being able to present what a determinate lapse of the process into a finished work obfuscates, that which is, in actu, the arduous and visceral worklessness of the writing-as-process. For any attempt which strives to grasp Brazil’s gestural poetics by way of an unmediated phenomenology shall only go so far as to evoking the kitschy idyll of a poet-hand’s craftsmanship. Pitted in a calculated opposition against mass-production, the superfluous farce of such artisanship, the sensuousness of its roughened materials will be no different from the aesthetic semblance affected by the coarseness of the rind of an organic orange. Instead, one would do well to understand that these (un-)finished drafts, for all the novelty of their discontinuities, indeed constitute as the final work, and that they exist only insofar as they inhere in the symbolic closure of their determinate identity, whether each is seized as a stand-alone entity, or as read collectively under the title The Ordinary. To assert the truth of Brazil’s poetics, we must recourse to the dialectical dexterity demonstrated in the Chapter 1 of Capital vol. 1, and proffer that on the one hand this truth— what takes place, of which there is no proof except the Real which it alters, and which the finite poem only goes to (un-)represent— is irreconcilable with and unsuturable to its self-estranged finitude. But on the other, the inevitable lapse of the former, what manifests as the impossibility of existing as an emancipated unity, immanently carries the possibility of its own redemption. Insofar as the poem succeeds in circumscribing this void central to the production of the poem, the finite poem comes to be the trace of the infinite activity that, in actu, takes place. It is not for nothing that Economy carries, in an almost Brechtian manner, its own theory in its wake. The method of Brazil’s poetry is not a metalinguistic farce which lets the project question, rather therapeutically, its own objectives, and wonder whether it shall succeed or not, and so on. Rather the impossibility of this method, reminiscent of Ponge’s The Making of the Pre, manifests as the desire to open the work to the minimal gap which founds the signifying process. For it is in only in being intransitively opened to that minimal gap which founds the impassable proximity of the taking-place and the place, of writing-as-process and the written, that the finite poem supports the infinity that it seeks to realize. Poetry does indeed perform the Parmenidian dictum— “it is the same thing to think and to be”— but only insofar as thought is what remains when it is foreclosed from its knowledge and being is what remains when it is foreclosed from its presentation.


1. Even if her study remains arrantly partial, one could, here, refer to Chapter 8 and 9 of Marjorie Perloff’s Differentials for an engaging account of the development of Language movement in America. Outlining the poststructural, and in general, a theoretical impetus of Language- and Language-related poetics, Perloff tends to valorize the poetics of polysemy, of syntactical indirections and deformities, over and against the ethos of an epiphanic transparency as espoused by a certain confessional or neo-confessional mode of poetry, while arguing that the latter suffers from a “referential fallacy,” and that its direct communicability is the hallmark of commodity fetish.

2. Here, I refer to Ron Silliman who, since 1974, has been at work on a poem which spans his entire lifetime, titled, Ketjak. Ketjak is composed of four parts: The Age of Huts (1974-80), Tjanting (1979-81), The Alphabet (1979-2004), and Universe (2005-present). As with The Alphabet, in which each chapter appeared as a separate volume, the poet envisions Universe as a prodigious 360-chapter project.

3. Despite fundamental disagreement with the Althusserian imperative as formulated by Macherey, precisely that a literary work is incapable of truth— the latter being the prerogative of science alone— that, at best, one could think of the literary work as an “analogy of knowledge” and, at worst, as a “caricature of customary ideology” (59), a thesis we have indeed set out to subvert, one must unconditionally assent to the argument that a literary artefact is a determinate work in-sisting in the determinate necessity of its particular formal finitude. In the case of Language- and allied modes of formalizing writing-as-process, one could argue that the stubborn linearity of a “poetics of the incomplete” itself points to a systematic necessity which governs its determinate emergence, and that the aleatoric novelty of its endless discontinuities only derives from its own endless failing, the persisting lapse of its purported infinitude. This alternating determination of the finite and infinite, in which the finite is rendered finite only insofar as it convokes the potential-infinite, and the infinite can be conceived to be so only in reference to the finite is precisely what Hegel terms the “bad infinite”— “This contradiction is present in the very fact that the infinite remains over against the finite, with the result that there are two determinacies. There are two worlds, one infinite and one finite, and in their connection the infinite is only the limit of the finite and thus only a determinate, itself finite infinite.” What, then, escapes the grasp of a procedural poetics a la Ron Silliman is the real infinite which holds writing in its spell, what we can affirm as the quality of this quantitative accumulation, or otherwise as the procedurality of the procedure. As against a structural play of differing-away, we are interested in conceiving poetry as a processual demonstration of the good infinite, the impossible Real which makes all structural difference possible, and what cannot yet be attested-for by the latter. In its bare skeletal form, the antagonism could be posited thus— syntax as a Mallarmean guarantee for intelligibility as against the polysemy espoused by idealinguistery.

4. Here I refer to a poem titled “Maruti Swift” which appeared in The Four Quarters Magazine, Vol. 4 No. 1, an Indian magazine of contemporary poetry and fiction, and is available here ( Needless to say, but the poem is sustained by a wholly staged freedom of improvisation, and what with especially its own Taylorized line-breaks, the formal imperative of this (un-)free verse allegorizes, rather unwittingly, the history of capitalism.

5. One does not, in the least, mean to read Mayakovsky as a formalist— as if there could be such a thing as pure form!— or discount the political content of Mayakosky’s poetry— but,as if there could be such a thing as un-formalized content! Rather, if in this dialectic of form and content the essay has strived to lay more stress on one side, then it is only in order to address the failure of a Marxist readership in ascertaining the “formal” greatness, not only of Mayakovsky, but also other poets who have historically been associated with communism. This failure is a result of dogmatic practices of revisionism so popular in the cadres, whereby the complexity of a literary form is made palatable by eschewing all that requires a concerted labour of reading. And so, an ostensibly manifest “political” content, abstracted from the formal imperative of the work, is conflated with the politics of the writer to produce a reified dead-style a la Baraka, a la Mayakovsky, and so on, a style which is atrociously affected by a number of “people’s poets” on the Left today, the ones whose great anti-capitalist poems have become the formal hallmark of capitalist anti-capitalism. The common political refrain that there aren’t any great poets on the Left anymore does not so much allude to a crisis in poetry, but is symptomatic of a failure to ascertain the truth which is singular and immanent to poetry, and art in general, a truth which is not political.

6. Here I refer to Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 1 where Marx demonstrates the dialecticity of the dialectics at hand by arguing that “not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values” (138), but also by positing, in the same moment, that use-values are the only material bearers of exchange-value (126). The dialecticity of use, demonstrated ever so dexterously by Marx, must be understood as a veritable destruction of the metaphysical stance that all anti-metaphysics maintains, especially when it comes to the problematic of demonstrating the immeasurable, an indeterminate part which exceeds the structure. For, to even hint at the presence of the indiscernible is to effectively present it, and thus rid it of its subversive potential! And yet to not present it would mean to have to inhere in the structure’s right to legislate. In its bare skeletal form, this conundrum is precisely what forms the mainspring of anti-foundational philosophy. As Badiou writes, to seize this asymmetry undialectically ensures that every example of subversion turns, in the very moment of its being-posited, into a counterexample (see Meditation 28, Being and Event), or to put it otherwise, the force of the antagonism devolves into a weak difference of placed identities.

Works Cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. The End of the Poem. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1999. Print.

Agamben, Giorgio. The Time That Remains. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2005. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2005. Print.

Badiou, Alain. The Age of the Poets. London: Verso, 2014. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. London: Continuum, 2005. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Metapolitics. London: Verso, 2005. Print.

Clover, Joshua. Generals and Globetrotters. The Claudius App. Accesssed: 20th June 2016.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, tr. George Di Giovanni. The Science of Logic. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. Marxism and Form. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1972. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. Selected Poetry and Prose. New York: New Directions, 1982. Print.

Perloff, Marjorie. Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama, 2004. Print.

Silliman, Ron. The New Sentence. New York, NY: Roof, 2003. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Continuum, 2004. Print.

Williams, William Carlos. Pictures from Brueghel. Norfolk, CT: J. Laughlin, 1962. Print.

A collection of the author’s works can be seen here ( A chapbook of poems will be published LRL, Textile Series ( in early 2017. A chapbook titled this is visual poetry by Aditya Bahl was published in 2013 by a now extinct imprint of Dan Waber.

Dalit Modernity and Kabir’s Pursuit of the Concrete

Martand Pragalbha

Synopsis: This essay attempts to constellate the figure of Kabir as a militant of truth – truth of the event – and as a pioneer of the philosophy of praxis. It seeks to grasp the full import of Kabir as अनल, which is interpreted as the dialectical image of Kabir himself. The essay reads Kabir’s poetic and political discourses – particularly their two key integral figures of sat guru and Nirgun Ram – through a historicising manoeuvre that envisions them as iterations of that truth. This historicising move by the author, in the process of submitting Kabir’s two discursive figures of sat guru and Nirgun Ram to an exacting hermeneutic, consists in dialectically separating truth – which is the historicity of singularity or nonidentity a la the historicity of emerging in and as its own time, or the historicity of taking-place – from its hypostasis and the metaphysics of presence qua the principle of qualitative equalization and mediation the latter generates. 

The author, in order to effect the dialectical separation of the truth of the event from its hypostasis, reveals the latter through a critique of two theoretical-discursive articulations that strive to assimilate Kabir’s evental truth to its hypostasis expressed by two variations of the same historico-logical formation, only to criticise a third manoeuvre of presenting Kabir as an experientialist thinker of difference. The theoretical discourse of the first variation is that of Purushottam Agarwal’s that seeks to establish Kabir as the founder of indigenous modernity underpinned and animated by the development of mercantile capital. Here the form that embodies the principle of qualitative equalization and mediation/adjudication – which is the metaphysics of presence generated by the hypostatic arrest of Kabir’s truth qua historicity of nonidentity, and which makes this indigenous modernity historically possible – is money. 

The theoretical discourse of the second variation is Dr Dharamvir’s. This seeks to envision Kabir as the godhead of an alternative Dalit religiosity of Kabirpanth that informs and orientates a radically juridical politics of Dalit protest that culminates in the Ambedkarite project. In this case, the hypostatization of Kabir’s Nirgun Ram – which is a figuration of truth qua the historicity of nonidentity, or, alternately, Kabir’s sahaj –into a metaphysical principle is embodied in the form of sagun Ram, Kabir being its incarnation.

This third manoeuvre is the reading of Kabir by Milind Wakankar. The author takes issue with Wakankar’s insistence that Kabir’s way is the way of heresy. The author informs us that this heretical mode, which Wakankar affirms, is, according to the latter, constitutive of the moment of pre-history of religion/s. Wakankar, the author informs us, explicates the pre-historic moment of religion/s as the news of god’s coming that he distinguishes from the actual coming of god as the ontological foundation of organised religion/s and history. According to the author, the latter is, in Wakankar’s scheme, the lapse and hypostatization of the former. This, the author tells us, is what enables Wakankar to think and articulate the former as an evanescent moment of break in organized religion/s and its history, and which, therefore, leads him to designate such moments as being prior to and/or outside of history and its mode of organized religiosity, thus rendering such moments heretical. 

The author contends that in Wakankar’s conception heresy, and/or pre-history of religion, is no more than difference as experience. As a result, Wakankar’s conception of pre-history, or the outside of history, is, the author argues, no more than history as the phenomenal registration of the interiorised experience of difference. This, according to the author, is what enables Wakankar to distinguish what he calls pre-history of religion – or the moment of heresy — from history as the phenomenal specification of the metaphysical principle of equalisation and mediation. And it is precisely for this reason, the author argues, that Wakankar’s conception of pre-history of religion, or the moment of heresy, can be likened to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s conception of History-2 as history that is prior to or outside of History-1, which is the history of capital. It is precisely on this point the author disputes the validity of such phenomenological conceptions of alternative history, including Wakankar’s pre-history. His contention is that since difference-as-experience is always interiorized, difference does not institute its own historicity. As a result, Wakankar’s conception of heresy as difference-as-experience does not constitute an overcoming of, or a radical break with, the historical as the realisation of the metaphysical principle of mediation. It is this that enables the author to argue that Wakankar’s phenomenological reading of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy, which is constitutive of pre-history of religion, is theoretically inadequate and does not do complete justice to Kabir as a poet, and thinker of politics. It is through this critique of Wakankar’s heretical Kabir that the author clarifies more fully what he insists is the conception of the truth of the event in its articulation in Kabir’s poetry and his political discourse – particularly in the discursive figure of Nirgun Ram

For, the truth of the event as historicity of nonidentity – which is radically distinct from Wakankar’s heresy as the experience of difference accessible only to phenomenological reduction – is, for the author, nothing less than the real movement constitutive of abolition of the prevailing state of affairs. It is by contending and demonstrating this through a historicizing hermeneutic of the figure of Nirgun Ram in Kabir’s discourse that the author is able to show how Kabir, contrary to a certain dominant view, is not a thinker of negation. Instead, he is a thinker of a radically new order of affirmation, wherein it is the real movement of ceaseless negation of all that exists which as that movement is in itself the affirmation. It is in this sense the author sees Kabir as a figure of fidelity to the truth of the event – that truth being nothing else but the praxicality and future-directedness of proletarian-revolutionary militancy. The author argues that Wakankar’s explication of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy is derived by the latter from his critique of Hazariprasad Dwivedi’s Kabir as a figuration of the search for a second or an other tradition. Through this critique of Dwivedi’s Kabir Wakankar, the author argues, establishes Kabir’s heretical way as the way of eschewing tradition qua the experience of difference from the totalising ambit of tradition. Against this reading of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy – which is the way of difference-as-experience as supposedly the way of eschewing of tradition as such – the author, pace Benjamin, counter-poses his reading of Kabir’s way as the way of active reclamation of tradition against its conformist reception. Against Wakankar’s reading of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy – which is the way of difference-as-experience – the author mobilizes Benjamin’s A Theologico-Political Treatise and Theses on Philosophy of History to read Kabir’s way as the messianic way of now-time. And this, he demonstrates here, to be the way of fidelity to the truth of the event as historicity of nonidentity or the interruption the flow of homogeneous time of history as its own historicity.

दलित आधुनिकता और कबीर की सहज साधना पर कुछ विचार

मार्तण्ड प्रगल्भ

कबीर की साधना, उनकी कविता और कबीर के सामाजिक व्यक्तित्व को लेकर हाल फ़िलहाल में जो आलोचनाएँ आई हैं, उनमें दो तरह की प्रवृत्तियां प्रमुख हैं- एक कबीर को दलित आधुनिकता के इतिहास से जोड़ती है, दूसरा कबीर में देशज आधुनिकता की तलाश करती है। पहली प्रवृत्ति में डा. धर्मवीर और मिलिंद वाकणकर जैसे दलित निम्नवर्गीय लेखन से जुड़े आलोचक हैं दूसरी ओर पुरुषोत्तम अग्रवाल जैसे आलोचक हैं जहाँ कबीर ‘आरंभिक आधुनिकता’ की ‘देशज सार्वभौमिकता’ के अग्रदूत हैं। पहली धारा दलित आधुनिकता की परंपरा की तलाश करती है जबकि दूसरी पूँजी के विकास की ‘देशी परंपरा’ की तलाश करती है। कहना न होगा कि इन दोनों प्रवृत्तियों के लिए द्विवेदी जी के कबीर मुख्य प्रस्थान बिंदु हैं। डा. धर्मवीर ने द्विवेदी जी के ‘कबीर’ को नितांत ब्राह्मणवादी पाठ माना है और कबीर को हिन्दू परंपरा में शामिल करने की साजिश के रूप में उस किताब की व्याख्या की है। हिन्दू धर्म की विधर्मी धारा के रूप में दलित विद्रोही परंपरा के आदि पुरुष कबीर डा. धर्मवीर के अनुसार एक नए धर्म के संस्थापक थे और दलितों के भविष्य धर्म के देवता। दूसरी ओर मिलिंद वाकणकर कबीर को दलित अपधर्मी (हेरेसी) परंपरा से जोड़ते हैं लेकिन उनके यहाँ यह परंपरा धर्म या थियोलोजी की नहीं है। वह इसे ‘धर्म पूर्व’ की परंपरा कहते हैं। सामान्यतः ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के इतिहास की प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा के बनने के ठीक पहले की यह परंपरा ‘ईश्वर के जन्म’ के बदले उसके ‘आने की खबर’ की परंपरा है। कबीर एक ऐसी सामाजिकता के प्रश्न को केंद्र में लाते हैं जो ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की सामाजिकता में विरूपित और इस प्रकार शोषक परंपरा में शामिल होने के ठीक पहले की स्वाभाविक दलित-सामाजिकता की परंपरा है। वाकणकर के अनुसार कबीर की घटना ने इस परंपरा को ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ का मुहावरा प्रदान किया है। वाकणकर की आलोचना के केंद्र में भी मुख्यतः हजारी प्रसाद द्विवेदी हैं। इस प्रकार कम से कम तीन कबीर दिखाई दे रहे हैं- देशी ‘बनिया’ संवेदना का अग्रदूत कबीर, दलित ईश्वर कबीर और दलितों, आदिवासियों तथा मुस्लिम अल्पसंख्यकों के जीवन की दैनंदिन हिंसा के भीतर कबीर के आने की खबर वाले कबीर!

वाकणकर ने द्विवेदी और धर्मवीर दोनों के मतों की आलोचना की है। हम यहाँ वाकणकर की आलोचना का प्रयास करेंगे। परन्तु उससे पहले कबीर के बारे में कुछ सामान्य विशिष्टताओं का रेखांकन जरूरी है। वाकणकर की आलोचना के लिए यह रेखांकन सन्दर्भ की तरह ही है। कबीर की विलक्षण ऐतिहासिक स्थिति का निरूपण द्विवेदी जी के यहाँ किया गया था, यह हम जानते हैं। द्विवेदी जी ने यह भी देखा था कि कबीर में स्वीकार नहीं अस्वीकार महत्वपूर्ण है। एक लिहाज से द्विवेदी जी ने कबीर की छवि निषेधधर्मी वैयक्तिक विद्रोही की गढ़ी थी। पर क्या कबीर में स्वीकार है ही नहीं ? दूसरी ओर जिस सामान्य होने को द्विवेदी जी ने ‘सूर साहित्य’ में सूर, कबीर और तुलसी तीनों की अनोखी विशेषता बताई थी उस सामान्य की अवधारणा ‘कबीर’ में क्या केवल अस्वीकार के रूप में स्पष्ट हुई थी? वहां कबीर का भीषण अस्वीकार संभव हुआ था स्वाभाविक को वाणी देकर। कबीर की वाणी में द्विवेदी जी ने निम्नवर्गीय जीवन के स्वतःस्फूर्त विद्रोह में छिपे अस्वीकार की शब्द साधना देखी थी। अस्वीकार की यह ‘सबद साधना’ अपने मूल में भागवत् की ‘समाधि भाषा’ की शास्त्रीय साधना नहीं थी, बल्कि राहुल सांकृत्यायन और हजारीप्रसाद द्विवेदी दोनों के लिए यह बौद्ध सिद्धों की ‘संधा भाषा’ की परंपरा थी जो स्वयं ज्ञान और करुणा के बीच बढ़ती दूरी के कारण मठों और विहारों से विद्रोह करने वालों की भाषा थी। द्विवेदी जी अपने कल्पनात्मक रूपकों (उपन्यासों) के भीतर लोक स्वभाव की दो समानांतर धाराओं के ‘वैष्णव रूपांतरण’ को भक्ति आन्दोलन की एकात्मकता के रूप में व्याख्यायित करते हैं। परन्तु निर्गुण-सगुण कवियों की संवेदना के बीच अलंघ्य दूरी का भान उन्हें हमेशा होता रहा। मृदु और उग्र विरोध का अंतर्विरोध द्विवेदी जी ने वैयक्तिक और सामाजिक के अंतर के रूप में हल करने की कोशिश की। अपनी सामाजिक अवस्थिति के कारण सूरदास में वैसी उग्रता नहीं संभव थी जैसी कबीर में या कभी-कभी तुलसी में दिखाई देती है। सूरदास के भोगे हुए यथार्थ में अस्वीकार का वह साहस संभव नहीं था जो कबीर का स्वभाव था और तुलसी की घृणा। सूर, कबीर और तुलसी के सामाजिक आधारों को स्पष्ट करते हुए द्विवेदी जी ने लिखा कि ‘… वे (सूरदास) कबीरदास की तरह ऐसे समाज से नहीं आये थे जो पद पद पर लांछित और अपमानित होता था और जहाँ का गृहस्थ जीवन विलासिता का जीवन था, मिथ्याचार और फरेब का जीवन था और ‘यौवन-मद, जन-मद, धन-मद, विध-मद भारी का जीवन था। इसलिए इस समाज से वैराग्य ग्रहण करना उनका मत था। वे तुलसीदास की भांति दृढ़चेता सेना नायक नहीं थे जो समाज की कुरीतियों से कुशलतापूर्वक बाहर निकलकर उसपर गोलाबारी आरम्भ कर दें।”[1] सूरदास के लिए वैराग्य उनका अपना मत था- उनका अपना चुनाव था। अकारण नहीं कि सूर का ‘घिघियाना’ उनके अन्दर छिपे पापबोध या ग्लानिबोध का ही फल था। तुलसीदास के अन्दर यह ग्लानिबोध नहीं था। रामभक्ति की ओर उनकी यह प्रवृत्ति किसी गुरु के ज्ञान से नहीं स्वयं पत्नी के प्रभाव से हुई थी ऐसी किम्वदंती है। आखिर लोकमानस में तुलसी की यह छवि क्यों है ? तुलसीदास ब्राह्मणों की पतनशील प्रवृत्ति के उच्चतम विकास थे। ‘ब्राह्मण समाज में अछूत’ होकर भी जाति व्यवस्था के संरक्षक होने के लिए एक असीम आत्मविश्वास की जरूरत थी। जाति व्यवस्था के भीतर एक अव्यस्था के कारण ब्राह्मणों की स्थिति भी लगातार बिगड़ती जा रही थी। पद-पद पर लांछित कबीर को भी होना पड़ा था और तुलसी को भी। पर तुलसी के लिए यह नितांत वैयक्तिक था। संपूर्ण ब्राह्मण समाज के साथ ऐसी स्थिति नहीं थी। तुलसी समाज के विघटन को जाति व्यवथा के विघटन के रूप में ही देखते थे। उन्होंने इस विघटन को रोकने के लिए ‘सेनानायक’ की आत्म-भूमिका स्वीकार की थी। सूर की तरह ही कवित्व प्रतिभा तुलसी में अकूत थी और कहना न होगा कि वे शास्त्रज्ञ पंडित भी थे। परन्तु तुलसी जिस समाज से आये थे उस समाज की आत्मा में अव्यवस्था से भय था, ग्लानिबोध नहीं। इसलिए उनके यहाँ निम्नवर्गीय संतों के प्रति एक भयानक रोष मिलता है। उनके प्रति वह कभी करुण नहीं हैं। सूर की तरह वह विलासिता वाले गार्हस्थ जीवन से नहीं आये थे बल्कि दयनीय होते जाते ब्राह्मण गार्हस्थ जीवन से उनक संबंध था। कबीर का गार्हस्थ जीवन कामगारों का गार्हस्थ जीवन था। इस दलित निम्नवर्गीय गार्हस्थ जीवन में कठोर श्रम भी था और पद-पद पर लांछना और अपमान भी। इसलिए द्विवेदी जी को कबीर के ‘वैयक्तिक विद्रोह’ में निम्नवर्गीय स्वभाव का दर्शन हुआ। यह निम्नवर्गीय जीवन में निरंतर बने रहने वाले आभाव का वैयक्तिक रूपांतरण था। कबीर द्विवेदी जी के लिए अभाव के खिलाफ भाव जगत के विद्रोही स्वभाव के प्रतिनिधि थे। इस अर्थ में कबीर के अस्वीकार के साहस के अन्दर द्विवेदी जी संपूर्ण समाज व्यवस्था के भीतर जो कुछ भी सड़-गल गया है या फिर समाज के भीतर का वह मूल असत्य जिसपर समाज की पूरी भित्ति बनी है, उसके अस्वीकार का प्रतिनिधित्व देखते हैं। अकारण नहीं कि द्विवेदी जी कबीर की कविताओं की व्याख्या में रवीन्द्रनाथ की कविताओं को उद्धृत करते हैं। कहना न होगा कि रवीन्द्रनाथ की कविताओं में भी यह ‘अभाव’ प्रमुख था। इस आभाव का जीवन में चरम निदर्शन मृत्यु थी। और कबीर इसी मृत्यु पर विजय की ‘सहज साधना’ के कवि थे। मृत्यु पर विजय को द्विवेदी जी अभाव के अस्वीकार के रूप में देखते हैं। पर क्या कबीर सचमुच व्यष्टिवादी थे जैसा कि द्विवेदी जी कहते हैं और समष्टि-वृत्ति उनके चित्त का स्वाभाविक धर्म नहीं था? उनके यहाँ सार्वजनीनता का क्या अर्थ है?

कबीर ने लोक और वेद दोनों का विरोध किया था। लोक कहने से कबीर का आशय उन मान्यताओं, व्यवहारों से था जिसमें ब्रह्माण्ड की पूर्णता का ज्ञान नहीं था। और कई बार यह जादू टोन से लेकर रहस्यमयी साधनाओं और अंधविश्वासों का लोक था। आम तौर पर वर्णाश्रम की पूर्णता को ब्रह्माण्ड की पूर्णता से जोड़ने का काम वेद करते थे। दूसरे शब्दों में वेद ‘दार्शनिक-सृष्टि-विषयक’ शास्त्रों के सहारे जीवन जीने वाला समुदाय था। हम कह सकते हैं कि यह विवेकवान बौद्धिकों का समुदाय था। परन्तु वर्णाश्रम बाह्य योगियों के यहाँ भी, शाक्तों के यहाँ भी, ब्रह्माण्ड विषयक या सृष्टि विषयक एक समग्र कल्पना थी। इसलिए वहां भी वेद और लोक का विभाजन था। सरल शब्दों में कहें तो वेद दर्शन था और लोक व्यवहार। वर्णाश्रम और आचार-भ्रष्ट दोनों जगह लोक और वेद थे। लोक व्यवहार विधि-निषेधों के भीतर था। ये विधि-निषेध वर्णाश्रम के भी थे और रहस्यमयी साधनाओं, टोनों-टोटकों और अंधविश्वासों के भी। कबीर अपने समय की इन दोनों परंपराओं की आलोचना करते हैं और उन्हें अस्वीकार करते हैं, इतना तो स्पष्ट है। कबीर वर्णाश्रम की किसी भी रीति-नीति के खिलाफ थे। जाति को नहीं मानते थे। उनके लिए विधि-निषेधों का कोई भी प्रचलित रूप स्वीकार्य नहीं था। दर्शन की किसी भी पुरानी संकल्पना को स्वीकार करने को वह तैयार न थे। वह सृष्टि की सारी प्रचलित व्याख्याओं को नकारते थे और इस प्रकार उनके व्याख्याताओं की आलोचना के लिए हमेशा तैयार दिखते थे। इस अर्थ में कबीर नितांत दर्शन विरोधी थे। धर्म- दर्शनों चाहे वह इस्लाम का हो या हिन्दू, कबीर के लिए महत्वपूर्ण नहीं था। नाभादास ने भक्तमाल में लिखा था “कबीर कानी राखी नहीं वर्णाश्रम षट्दरसनी’। बाह्याचारों का संपूर्ण खंडन-मंडन वह करते ही थे। अवतारवाद और नियतिवाद के घोर विरोधी थे। आकस्मिक चमत्कारों वाले यौगिक देह साधना के बदले वह सत्यान्वेषण की सहज प्रक्रिया की साधना करने पर जोर देते थे। उनके यहाँ निर्गुण राम के प्रति अटूट आस्था दरअस्ल सच के प्रति अटूट आस्था थी। इस आस्था पर आधारित कबीर की साधना के तीन क्षण हैं- पहला गुरु के कारण सत्य के साक्षात्कार का क्षण या ज्ञानोदय का क्षण। कबीर के लिए ‘गुरु’ इसी क्षण का सामान्य नाम (जेनेरिक नेम) है। यह पहला क्षण ‘सहज संयोग’ का क्षण है। कबीर लिखते हैं-

पीछे लगा जाई था, लोक वेद के साथि.
आगै थैं सतगुरु मिल्या, दीपक दीया हाथी ||११||
(कबीर ग्रंथावली, गुरुदेव कौ अंग)

साधना का दूसरा क्षण है प्रेम का क्षण। यहाँ साधक खुद प्रेम का विषयी हो जाता है। तीसरा क्षण ‘बेहद्दी’ का क्षण है- आत्माराम होने का क्षण है। कबीर कहते हैं कि यह सत्य साधना बहुत सांद्र और गंभीर प्रक्रिया है जिसके दौरान लोगों को मतों (ओपिनियन) के जंजाल में नहीं पड़ना चाहिए। अपनी आस्था पर दृढ़ बने रहना चाहिए। आस्था के प्रति आस्था बनाये रखना ही प्रेम की साधना है। मुल्ला, मौलवी, पंडितों, योगियों, शाक्तों, वैष्णवों आदि मतों- आचारों- विचारों की आलोचना करते हैं जब कबीर, तो मतों में उलझते नहीं। वरन् अपनी एक स्पष्ट धारणा सामने रख सारे मतों की निरर्थकता स्पष्ट करते चलते हैं। अन्य संतों की तरह ही राज्यसत्ता से उन्हें कोई लेना-देना नहीं था। ‘संतन को कहाँ सीकरी सो काम’ की भावना के अनुरूप राज्यसत्ता से एक स्पष्ट दूरी का लक्ष्य ही कबीर की कविताओं में हम पाते हैं। कबीर की साधना से बनते चलने वाले समाज की धारणा में कोई रामराज्य नहीं है। राज्य की यूटोपिया से दूर कबीर की यूटोपिया केवल प्रेम का नियम जानती है। परन्तु वह सूर का गोलोक भी नहीं है। कबीर की यह साधना कविता या शब्द की साधना भी थी। दोनों की प्रक्रिया एक थी। वे दोनों साथ-साथ चलते थे। पर एक के बिना दूसरा असंभव था। सद्गुरु प्रेम और सबद दोनों की साधना के लिए ज्ञान का दीपक देता है। वह सबद का तीर भी मारता है और प्रेम की व्याकुलता भी पैदा करता है।

सतगुरु साँचा सूरिवाँ, सबद जु बाह्या एक|
लागत ही मैं मिली गया, पड़या कलेजै छेक ||७||
(कबीर ग्रंथावली, गुरुदेव कौ अंग) और
पासा पकड़या प्रेम का, सारी किया सरीर |
सतगुरु दावा बताईया, खेलै दास कबीर ||३२||
(कबीर ग्रंथावली, गुरुदेव कौ अंग)

यह प्रेम की बाजी है जो खेलने वाले को लूट भी सकती है और उसको उबार भी सकती है। जुए के इस खेल में आस्था को छोड़कर और कोई सहारा नहीं। कबीर के यहाँ यह गुरु सच्चा शूर है। आधुनिक अर्थों में कहें तो वह साधना पथ का सिपाही या मिलिटेंट है। गुरु नाम की मूर्ति में एक सच्चे शूर की छवि अन्तस्थ है। इस प्रकार कबीर की साधना एक सांस्कृतिक रूपांतरण की प्रक्रिया भी है। यह सतगुरु के संगठन की प्रक्रिया भी है।

कबीर की कविता में आगा पीछा खोजना बहुत मुश्किल है। कबीर की कविता सतगुरु की कविता है, सतगुरु होने की सबद साधना की कविता है। अपनी पिछली साधनाओं का उल्लेख कबीर के यहाँ नहीं मिलता। अग्रवाल जी ने केवल इतना संकेत पाया है कि आरंभिक दिनों में कबीर शाक्त साधना में उलझे थे और जिसकी तिक्तता उनके कई पदों में अभिव्यक्त हुई है, बस इतना ही। किम्वदंती है कि काशी के गंगा घाट पर रामानंद से उन्हें रामनाम मिला था। देशी भाषा स्रोतों में इस घटना की सर्वस्वीकृति से यह बात तो तय है कि इस घटना का कबीर के सन्दर्भ में कोई न कोई साधनात्मक महत्त्व रहा होगा। बहुत संभव है कि यह किम्वदंती खुद कबीर ने ही प्रचारित की हो। कबीर की कविता में हम व्यक्तित्वान्तरित कबीर से ही मिलते हैं। व्यक्तित्वान्तरित कबीर का उस ‘रामानंदी घटना’ के प्रति आस्था थी, इस किम्वदंती का सार यही प्रकट होता है। सतगुरु से संयोग की आरंभिक घटना के रूप में कबीर उसी ‘रामानंदी घटना’ का सामान्यीकरण करते प्रतीत होते हैं। सतगुरु से साक्षात्कार और रामनाम से साक्षात्कार एक दूसरे के रूपक हैं। कबीर जो बार बार ‘निर्गुण राम निर्गुण राम’ जपने की सलाह देते हैं, वह उसी आरंभिक साक्षात्कार के सुमिरन के लिए। आस्था सुमिरन कराती है और सुमिरन से आस्था को बल मिलता है। यह आस्था ‘रामनाम के मर्म’ की आस्था है। कबीर के ऐतिहासिक जीवन का पता देने वाले वस्तुगत स्रोत बहुत कम हैं। भक्तमाल की परंपरा में तथा मठों के साहित्य में कबीर का जो परिचय हमें मिलता है वह कबीर की लोक छवि है। कबीर के नाम से प्रचलित पदों में कबीर को ढूंढने का प्रयास कई विद्वानों ने किया है। प्रायः श्यामसुन्दर दास की कबीर ग्रंथावली में संकलित कबीर की रचनाओं को विद्वान उनकी संवेदना के सबसे नजदीक मानते हैं। विद्वान आलोचक प्रो. पुरुषोत्तम अग्रवाल ने भी वैज्ञानिक पाठ निर्धारण के द्वारा कबीर की कविताओं का प्रामाणिक संपादन किया है। उन्होंने सांप्रदायिक कबीर के आवरण को हटाकर कबीर की मूल संवेदना तक पहुँचने की कोशिश की है। इस प्रयास में वह कई बार कबीर के ‘नएपन’ को बनियों के नए सामाजिक वर्ग की संवेदना के रूप में व्याख्यायित करने लगते हैं। कबीर की संवेदना में निहित वह द्वंद्व क्या था जिसने सांस्कृतिक- सामाजिक जीवन में संगठित हस्तक्षेप की जरूरत को संबोधित किया था? कबीर की कविता में आने वाले सतगुरु, सूर, सती,संत, भक्त, साधौ ये सब कौन थे? और कबीर अपनी कविता में बार-बार ऐसा क्या कहते थे कि शुक्ल जी से लेकर वाकणकर तक सभी को नया पंथ, नया धर्म या किसी नई सामाजिकता की अपील उसमें दिखाई पड़ती है। इस द्वंद्व के निराकरण के लिए ही अग्रवाल जी ने ‘धर्मेत्तर अध्यात्म’ की प्रस्तावना भी की है। कबीर की समकालीन प्रसिद्धि से शायद ही किसी को इंकार हो। ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि कबीर अपने जीवन के अंतिम वर्षों तक आते आते काफी प्रसिद्ध हो गए थे। यह जीवन काल थोड़ा ज्यादा लम्बा भी हो सकता है क्योंकि कबीर की आयु के बारे में किम्वदंतियां बहुत हैं और वह वृद्ध या बूढ़े के रूप में लोकस्वीकृत रहे हैं। ‘आदिग्रंथ’ में कबीर के सबसे पुराने पद संकलित हैं और केवल इसी उदाहरण के आधार पर हम देख सकते हैं कि बूढ़े कबीर की स्वीकृति और सामाजिक – धार्मिक संगठनों के लिए उनका कितना महत्त्व था। इससे उनकी कविता में अन्तर्निहित एक संगठनात्मक शक्ति का पता चलता है।

उनकी हर कविता सामान्य जीवन और संवेदना में हस्तक्षेप की तरह है। वह कभी एकदम सपाटबयानी है तो कभी रूपक। उदेशात्मकता कविता की सपाटबयानी है जहाँ वह सीधे दखलअंदाजी करती है। यह सपाटबयानी इतना ‘रसभंग’ करती है कि शुक्ल जी जैसे आलोचकों को वे ‘कटु उक्तियाँ’ प्रतीत होती हैं। कबीर की अपार व्यंग्य क्षमता को भी लगभग सभी आलोचक स्वीकार करते हैं। कबीर की इस व्यंग्य क्षमता की ओर इशारा भी द्विवेदी जी ने ही किया था। साधना पथ के सहयात्रियों जैसे शाक्तों, वैष्णवों और योगियों को जब वे संबोधित करते हैं तब उनका व्यंग्य सबसे मुखर होता है। लोगों के बीच कबीर के पदों की स्वीकृति कितनी आत्मीय थी इसका पता कबीर की भाषा के विविधवर्णी रूपों में दिखता है जिसे शुक्ल सधुक्कड़ी भाषा मानकर संतोष पाते थे और द्विवेदी जी को कबीर ‘भाषा के डिक्टेटर’ प्रतीत होते थे। लोगों के बीच कबीर के पदों का सामूहिक गान और पाठ धीरे धीरे एक नए तरह की सामाजिकता की प्रस्तावना भी कर रहा था और इसी क्रम में शायद मठों के बनने की प्रक्रिया भी शुरू हो गयी थी। यह असंभव नहीं कि कई छोटे छोटे कबीरमार्गी सामूहिक संगठनों के निर्माण में ही किसी समय जाकर बड़े मठों का अस्तित्व संभव हुआ हो। मठ बनने की प्रक्रिया के कुछ न कुछ सामाजिक निहितार्थ अवश्य थे। कबीर के द्वारा प्रस्तावित इस नई जीवन दृष्टि को सामाजिक संबंधों की नई व्यवस्था के लिए प्रभुत्वशाली सामाजिक विरोध का सामना जरूर करना पड़ा होगा। आश्चर्यजनक रूप से द्विवेदी जी ने इसका संकेत किया था कि कबीर पंथियों को मठ बनाने पर मजबूर करने वाली प्रबल शक्ति स्वयं तुलसीदास की कविता थी। तुलसीदास की कविता का इसमें कितना योगदान था यह पता करना तो असंभव है लेकिन स्वयं सामाजिक व्यवस्था के भीतर श्रेणीगत संबंधों द्वारा बनने वाले शक्ति संबंधों के बीच या दूसरे शब्दों में वर्णाश्रम की जाति व्यवस्था के बीच कबीर की नवीन जीवन दृष्टि स्वीकार्य नहीं हो सकती थी। कबीर की कविता में प्रस्तावित सार्वजनीनता और तथाकथित’ देशज आधुनिकता’ के भीतर विकसित होती ‘व्यपारिक पूँजी’ की सार्वजनीनता की धारणा के बीच आसमान जमीन का भेद है। देशज आधुनिकता की जिस सार्वजनीनता के बारे में अग्रवाल जी बात करते हैं वह वस्तुतः पैसे के रूप में विकसित होती अमूर्त सार्वभौमिकता है। जिस प्रक्रिया में व्यापारिक पूँजी के विस्तार के भीतर से पूँजी का आरंभिक परिपथ ‘माल-पैसा-माल’ से बदलता हुआ ‘पैसा-माल-पैसा (अतिरिक्त)’ हो जाता है, उसी क्रम में पैसा भी सार्वभौमिक समानता के ठोस भ्रम में बदलता जाता है। पैसे की इसी सार्वभौमिकता को पुरुषोत्तम अग्रवाल ‘फेयरप्ले’ की सार्वभौमिकता कहते हैं और कबीर की सार्वभौमिकता को इसी में अंतर्भुक्त करने का प्रयास करते हैं। क्या धनी धर्मदास या और भी अन्यों ने जिन कबीरमठों को बनाया उसमें कबीर की विचारधारा के रूप में इसी पैसे की विचारधारा को प्रचारित किया गया? मठों के खिलाफ कबीर को खोजते खोजते इस प्रकार अग्रवाल जी ‘मठाधीश कबीर’ को ही खोज निकालते हैं! देशज आधुनिकता की यह भी एक विडंबना है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो पैसे की अमूर्त समानता को आगे रखकर कबीर की सार्वभौमिकता को समझने की कोशिश वैसी ही है जैसे व्यापारिक पूँजी के साथ उभरे नए-नए वणिक वर्ग ने अपनी सार्वभौमिकता को समझने के लिए कबीर को समझने की कोशिश की थी। कबीर का निर्गुण राम पैसा नहीं है।

पंथी साहित्य के भीतर धीरे-धीरे कबीर अवतार बनते गए। पंथी साहित्य में चमत्कारों की प्रमुखता बढ़ती गयी। इन पंथी साहित्य के चमत्कार कबीर के ‘अचंभों’ की तरह नहीं थे। ये चमत्कार वैसे चमत्कार थे जिसकी आलोचना कबीर आजीवन करते रहे। पंथी साहित्य में चमत्कार ‘अतिमानव’ के चमत्कार हैं। इन्हीं चमत्कारिक छवियों में कबीर भगवान् हैं। द्विवेदी जी के लिए भी कबीर ‘नरसिंह अवतार’ ही थे। ‘भक्त प्रह्लाद’ की कबीरपंथियों में स्वीकृति का इतिहास डेविड लॉरेंजन ने भी लिखा है। कबीर की किम्वदंतियों से जुड़ा एक सबसे लोकप्रिय चमत्कार उनके पार्थिव शरीर का फूलों में बदल जाना है। कबीर की पंथी छवियों में दुरूह प्रतीकात्मकता, भ्रामक बिम्ब और वैष्णव भगवानों की भूमिका बढ़ती गयी थी। कबीर की पहचानों का काफी घालमेल किया गया था। खुद कबीर को सगुण राम मान लिया गया था। जबकि कबीर के यहाँ राम का कोई चरित नहीं है। केवल राम के नाम के प्रति आस्था है। इसके अलावा उन्हें राम से कुछ लेना देना नहीं, कुछ भी नहीं। कबीर अवतारवाद का संपूर्ण निषेध करते हैं. जबकि पंथी साहित्यों में कबीर अपवाद होकर पूज्य हो जाते हैं, जहाँ उनकी कविताएँ साधना की प्रक्रिया को बनाने के बदले अपवाद होकर जड़ हो जाती हैं। अपवाद होकर अपनी ऊर्जा खो देती हैं। चिंतन या विचार की आतंरिक प्रक्रिया का लोप खुद कबीर से ही विश्वासघात होता है। यह आतंरिक पतन जल्द ही बाहरी पतन के रूप में प्रकट होता है। नए धर्म प्रवर्तक या पंथ निर्माता के रूप में कबीर की छवि की यही ट्रेजेडी है।

साधना के संबंध में कबीर के सामने पहले से दो तरह के विमर्श थे जिसे हम लोक विमर्श और वेद विमर्श कह सकते हैं। वेद विमर्श दार्शनिक पूर्णता का विमर्श था और लोक विमर्श विधि-निषेध और अपवादों का विमर्श था। कबीर कहते हैं कि इन दोनों में कहीं से भी शुरू करें, मुक्ति संभव नहीं है। लोक और वेद विमर्श को हम इस प्रकार समझ सकते हैं। लोक जिसमें शामिल हैं वर्णाश्रम के विधि-निषेध, इस्लाम के विधि-निषेध, इन विधि-निषेधों के एजेंट, वर्णाश्रम की आलोचना करने वाले योगियों, नाथपंथियों, शाक्तों और वैष्णवों का अपना विधि-निषेध; चमत्कार, काया साधना और प्रतीक पूजा आदि। वेद अर्थात् शास्त्र, दर्शन आदि की पूर्णता का विमर्श। लोक विमर्श का आधार वेद विमर्श ही था। ये दोनों ही एक दूसरे के पूरक थे। दोनों ही मानते थे कि मुक्ति प्रकृति में पहले से मौजूद है। या तो पूर्णता पर महारथ हासिल कर लें, ज्ञान के सहारे मुक्ति पा लें या फिर वर्णाश्रम के विधि-निषेधों का पालन करें। इसके अलावा चमत्कारों, देह साधना, कुण्डलिनी जागरण के अपवादों में मुक्ति पा लें। लोक में मुक्ति विधि-निषेधों या चमत्कारों के सहारे संभव थी, वेद में ब्रह्माण्ड के ज्ञान के सहारे। इन दोनों से अलग तीसरा विमर्श कबीर का था जो न वेद की पूर्णता को मानता था और न लोक के विधि-निषेधों को। कबीर के यहाँ ही एक चौथा विमर्श भी आकर ग्रहण करता है। यह था चमत्कार और रहस्यमयी उलटबासियों वाला विमर्श। अचम्भा कबीर को स्वीकृत तो था लेकिन उसे लोक विमर्श जैसा मानना हमारी भूल होगी। कबीर का विमर्श विधि-निषेधों वाले हदों और बेहद की पूर्णता दोनों से परे ‘अगाध मत’ का विमर्श था। कबीर के यहाँ सार्वजनीनता की घोषणा इसी हद और बेहद दोनों में व्याप्त शून्यता के स्वीकार के साथ होती है।

कबीर जब योगियों, शाक्तों या वैष्णवों की आलोचना करते हैं तो वह वस्तुतः वर्णाश्रम के आलोचकों की आलोचना कर रहे होते हैं। यह दुहरी आलोचना ज्ञान की दुहरी आलोचना थी। कबीर के यहाँ पांडे, मौलवी और ब्राह्मणों की आलोचना बड़े बेपरवा अंदाज़ से की गयी है। कबीर ने उन्हें जो भर-भर कर डांट पिलायी है, जो करारा व्यंग्य किया है, सबसे सामान्य तर्कों से ही इन्हें जो दर्पण दिखाया है, वह संभव होता है कबीर के द्वारा ज्ञान की दुहरी आलोचना पद्धति से। लोक और वेद दोनों विमर्शों की निःसारिता कबीर लगातार दिखाते चलते हैं। सारे विधि-निषेधों के मूल में छिपी अतार्किकता को उद्घाटित करते हैं। परन्तु ये वह कबीर हैं जो अपनी शबद साधना के द्वारा व्यक्तित्वान्तरित कवि और सद्गुरु हैं। इसलिए कबीर के अस्वीकार के साहस के पीछे एक ‘स्वीकार’ छिपा है जो आमतौर पर उनके व्यक्तित्व की विशिष्टता में छुपा रह जाता है। कबीर का विमर्श संभव होता है एक साधना प्रक्रिया के भीतर। कबीर की आस्था उस ‘रामानंदी घटना’ में थी जहाँ से उन्हें ‘राम का नाम’ मिला था। गुरु का सामान्य क्षण वह क्षण था जहाँ मुक्ति की तलाश में भटकते व्यक्ति को एक ऐसा अनुभव होता है जो उसकी भटकन को एक नाम दे देता है। व्यक्ति के अपने समूर्ण भावात्मक और ज्ञानात्मक जगत को प्रभावित करने वाली इस घटना का पूरा अर्थ इस साधना की प्रक्रिया में ही मिलता है। साधक के लिए इस क्षण से एक नयी सत्यान्वेषण की प्रक्रिया शुरू हो जाती है। यह घटना कोई अलौकिक या चमत्कारिक घटना इस अर्थ में नहीं थी कि वह संभावना के रूप में स्वयं परिस्थितियों के भीतर ही थी। ‘सहज संयोग’ कबीर के लिए अलौकिक का वास्तविक निषेध था। कविता की रचनाप्रक्रिया के लिहाज से इसे हम सौन्दर्यानुभूति का प्रथम क्षण कह सकते हैं। इन्हीं अर्थों में ‘गुरु’ कोई ऐसा प्रसंग या ऐसी घटना थी जहाँ से एक नई रचना प्रक्रिया या काव्य प्रक्रिया की शुरुआत होती है। कवि कबीर के लिए यह घटना ‘निर्गुण राम’ के रूप में केवल एक ‘नाम’ मात्र है जबकि उनकी हर कविता उस ‘निर्गुण राम’ को बनाती है। यहाँ अभिव्यक्ति पूर्ण न हो पाने का दुख भी है। इस अर्थ में काव्य वेदना भी है। निर्गुण और राम के इस एकीभूत द्वंद्व ‘निर्गुण राम’ की वास्तविकता खुद कबीर की कविता है। पर यह काव्य-विवेक बिना जीवन-विवेक के संभव नहीं था। इसलिए कबीर की साधना दुहरी थी। या कहना चाहिए कि कविता की साधना और जीवन की साधना दोनों प्रक्रिया भी एकीभूत द्वंद्व की ही प्रक्रिया थी। एक नया ‘घर’ बनाने की पीड़ा उनके जीवन-विवेक की पीड़ा थी। यह नया घर क्या था ? यही कबीर के लिए नई सार्वजनीन सामूहिकता का प्रश्न था। इस घर में विधि-निषेधों का कोई नियम नहीं था, पर उसका अपना नियम था। यह नियम प्रेम का था। और इस घर में प्रवेश आसान नहीं था ‘कबीरा यह घर प्रेम का खाला का घर नाहीं’। प्रेम के इस घर का सदस्य होना कोई सहज काम नहीं है। इसलिए कबीर कहते हैं ‘सहज सहज सब कहै सहज न चीन्हें कोय’। राम का नाम तो सब लेते हैं, सब जानते हैं कि राम दशरथ का बेटा है लेकिन मर्म कोई नहीं जानता। कबीर की सारी कविताओं में नाम के प्रति अदम्य आस्था सदा एकरस है। शब्द साधना की शक्ति जीवन साधना की शक्ति थी और जीवन साधना की शक्ति शब्द साधना की। नामवर जी ने ‘कबीर का सच’ नामक अपने लेख में कबीर को अनल पक्षी के रूपक में देखने की कोशिश की है जहाँ इस घर का मतलब बहुत कुछ स्पष्ट तरीके से उभरकर कर सामने आता है। बहेलिया जो विधि-निषेधों के डर से अनल पक्षी को मारने जाता है वह खुद अनल पक्षी में व्यक्तित्वान्तरित हो जाता है। यह अनल पक्षी अपनी राख से स्वयं जिंदा होने वाले फीनिक्स पक्षी के मिथक जैसा ही है।

कबीर न तो ‘रामानंदी घटना’ के भौतिक साक्षी हैं और न ही उनकी आस्था केवल स्मृति मात्र। वर्णाश्रम में छिपी हिंसा के लिए हमें किसी इतिहासकार के साक्ष्य की जरूरत नहीं है। वहां वह कबीर के यहाँ और अभी हमारे भीतर जीवित है, इसलिए किसी इतिहासवादी चेतना और अर्थ की अभिभावक किन्हीं स्मृतियों को राजनीति का स्थानापन्न घोषित नहीं किया जा सकता। वह ‘रामानंदी घटना’ (द्विवेदी रामानंद को आकाशधर्मा गुरु कहकर इसकी प्रकृति का कुछ आभास देते हैं) कबीर के लिए संभव और असंभव के बीच नए संबंध लेकर आयी थी। सामाजिक संबंधों के पूर्ण रूपांतरण की असंभव प्रतीत होती संभाव्यता को लेकर। कबीर के यहाँ यह मृत्यु पर संभावित विजय की तरह ही थी। कबीर की मरजीवा विशिष्टता को लेकर। कबीर अगर मर कर भी जिंदा रहने का दावा करते हैं तो इन्हीं अर्थों में- ‘हम न मरिहैं, मरिहैं संसारा; हमको मिला जियावनहारा’। कबीर को भागवत्, शांडिल्य भक्ति सूत्रों या नारदीय भक्ति की परंपरा का सर्वोच्च प्रतिनिधि घोषित करना संभव नहीं। ‘रामानंदी घटना’ के प्रति आस्था रखते हुए कबीर के अलावा और भी कई संत कवि हुए परन्तु कबीर की रचनाओं का एक विशिष्ट महत्त्व तो है ही।

कबीर की उक्तियों में कम चमत्कार नहीं मिलता। योगियों की साधना के रूपकों को कबीर बखूबी इस्तेमाल कर ले जाते हैं। गगनमंडल में विहार करने और जीभ उलटकर कुंडलिनी जागरण करने का अर्थ भी कई बार समझाने की कोशिश करते हैं। उलटबासियों में प्रचलित अर्थों और रूढ़ हो गयी सौन्दर्याभिरुचियों को कबीर जोर से धक्का भी देते हैं। पर कबीर को किसी चमत्कारिक अलौकिक चीज में विश्वास नहीं है और न ही वे खुद को भविष्यवक्ता ही साबित करना चाहते हैं। कबीर सहज होकर ही सबल हैं। वे बुद्ध की तरह खुद को ‘भगवान्’ घोषित नहीं करते और न ही देवत्व उन्हें स्वीकार था। वह राम की आस्था से बंधे ‘कुतिया’ भी थे और ‘पाछे पाछे हरि फिरे कहत कबीर कबीर’ भी। असाधारणत्व का उनका दावा ‘सहज’ में ही है। केवल मृत्यु के सामने उन्होंने अपने असाधारणत्व की घोषणा की – मरजीवा होने का उनका असाधारणत्व।

कबीर के चौथे विमर्श में वह ‘अकथ कहानी’ है जिसे कहना मुश्किल है। यही गूंगे का गुड़ है जिसे अभिव्यक्त करने में कभी कभी कबीर साधनात्मक रूपकों से लेकर मौन तक की बात करते हैं। यह गूंगे का गुड़ कोई चमत्कारिक अनुभव नहीं है। यह प्रेम की अकथ कहानी है। इस अकथनीय के द्वारा कबीर अपनी आस्था के लिए कभी समर्थन हासिल करना नहीं चाहते। कबीर की निर्गुण राम के प्रति आस्था उनकी ‘अकथ कहानी’ की आनुभविक अद्वितीयता के कारण सही और न्यायसंगत मानने की जरूरत नहीं है। अगर ऐसा किया जाता है तो फिर से हम ‘आकस्मिकता’ या अपवाद के दूसरे विमर्श में ही कबीर को निःशेष कर देंगे। इससे सत्य की सार्वजनीनता और सर्वसंबोधन का उसका गुण रहस्यात्मक साधना में बदल जाएगा। यह चौथा विमर्श मूक संपूरक की तरह अन्य के आनुभविक संसार में बना रहने वाला विमर्श है। कबीर ‘अविगत, अनुपम, अकाल ’ को चमत्कारिक या गुह्य बनाकर अपनी सहज साधना नहीं करते। इसलिए शुक्ल जी जिसे शुद्ध अन्तः प्रज्ञा कहते हैं वह कबीर के लिए ‘गूंगे का गुड़’ के रूप में चौथा विमर्श है और वह इलहामी नहीं है। उनकी कविता योगियों के साधनात्मक रहस्यवाद या फिर सूफियों के हिस्टिरिक प्रेमोन्माद की कविता नहीं है। यह आलोचना का रहस्यवाद है जहाँ वह खुद को अकथनीयता के प्रतीकों और चिह्नों या चमत्कारों के सहारे कबीर को परिभाषित करने की कोशिश करता है। मिलिंद वाकणकर कुछ ऐसा ही प्रयास करते हैं। यह भी विडम्बना है कि जो शुक्ल जी के लिए कबीर का सबसे बड़ा दुर्गुण था वह वाकणकर के लिए उनकी सबसे बड़ी विशेषता बन गया।

वाकणकर कहते हैं कि कबीर से आज के दलित आन्दोलन को दो चीजें उपहार में मिली हैं। एक चमत्कार और दूसरी हिंसा। वाकणकर कबीर के नाम के सहारे लगातार बनते रहने वाली कविताओं का सामाजिक इतिहास लिखने का प्रयास करते हैं। ‘कहत कबीर’ किस प्रकार कबीर से अपना रिश्ता प्रकट करने वाली एक टेकनीक बन गयी थी और मठों के भीतर या बाहर भी लगातार दलित सामूहिकता को संगठित करती रही थी, उसे समझने की कोशिश। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो मठों के भीतर कबीरपंथियों में और दलित आन्दोलन में काम करने वाली धार्मिक भावनाओं की राजनीतिक परीक्षा के उद्देश्य से यह पुस्तक लिखी गयी है। वाकणकर ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की प्रभुत्वशाली इतिहासदृष्टि या कहें कि वैष्णव कबीर के रूप में कबीर को देखने की इतिहासदृष्टि की उल्टी धारा में जाकर यह देखने का प्रयास करते हैं कि ऐतिहासिक धर्मों में कबीर का एप्रोप्रिएशन या पुनर्प्रस्तुति के ठीक पहले वह क्या था जिसने किसी दलित को इतना सशक्त बनाया कि वह ‘कहत कबीर’ के नाम से अपनी कविता करता है। वाकणकर वर्तमान सभी धर्मों को ऐतिहासिक धर्म ही मानते हैं। कबीर के सहारे वह इन ऐतिहासिक धर्मों का एक प्राक् इतिहास लिखने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं जहाँ ईश्वर के जन्म से पहले अर्थात् ऐतिहासिक धर्म बनने के ठीक पहले ‘ईश्वर के आने की ख़बर’ में छुपी चमत्कार की तात्कालिकता एक निम्नवर्गीय सामूहिकता को संगठित कर लेती है। वाकणकर दलित आन्दोलन की अम्बेडकरवादी धारा की आलोचना करते हैं। और इस धारा की दो प्रवृत्तियां हैं। एक प्रवृत्ति दलित धर्म की तलाश करती है जो कभी बौद्ध धर्म में तो कभी कबीर धर्म में प्रकट होती है। दूसरी ओर कैसे दलित आन्दोलनों के अन्दर से उभरी प्रतिनिधित्व या रिप्रेजेंटेशन की राजनीति वस्तुतः चुनावी जोड़ तोड़ की राजनीति में बदल जाती है। वाकणकर के अनुसार ऐतिहासिक धर्मों का इतिहास जिन घटनाओं के इर्द गिर्द शुरू होता है, उस घटना को संभव करने वाली निम्नवर्गीय चेतना के भीतर जो एक स्वतः स्फूर्त क्षमता होती है, वह उन्हीं को दमित करके आगे बढ़ता है। वह धर्मों का एक संपूर्ण इतिहास है जबकि विधर्मी या अपधर्मी परंपरा के इतिहास को कभी भी ऐतिहासिक धर्म की पूर्णता के मॉडल में देखना संभव नहीं है। भक्ति को धार्मिक विचारधारा कहने से हम केवल प्रभुत्वशाली वैष्णव धारा का ही इतिहास समझ सकते हैं। परन्तु जिस ‘घटना’ के आलोक में वैष्णव धर्म लोकप्रिय धार्मिक विचारधारा में रूपांतरित होता है अर्थात् निम्नवर्गीय दलित सामूहिकता की जिस विधर्मी परंपरा में नया क्षण कबीर लेकर आते हैं, उस धुंधले क्षण का इतिहास वाकणकर लिखने की कोशिश करते हैं। मूल कवि और उसके अनुयायी दलित कवि अर्थात् ‘हस्ताक्षर’ और ‘प्रतिहस्ताक्षर’ के द्वारा कबीर कैसे नया सन्दर्भ ग्रहण करते चलते हैं, उसका इतिहास। दूसरे शब्दों में, मूल कवि के प्रति सच्ची श्रद्धा और कृतज्ञतावश जब कोई दलित कवि अपनी कविता पर कबीर की मुहर लगाता है तो लगभग वही कर रहा होता है जिसे हम ‘भक्ति’ कहते हैं। पर वाकणकर इसे ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की तरह नहीं मानते जहाँ कबीर भगवान् हो जाते हैं। डा. धर्मवीर के ‘कबीर भगवान्’ और ‘दलित धर्म’ की चर्चा के सन्दर्भ में वाकणकर उसी प्रक्रिया का दुहराव देखते हैं। दलित अपधर्मी परंपरा वस्तुतः जब ‘दलित सशक्तिकरण’ के रूप में पुनर्प्रस्तुत होती है तो वह प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा ही हो जाती है। डा. धर्मवीर के भीतर जो अपधर्मी, निम्नवर्गीय स्वाभाविकता है, उसे तो वाकणकर स्वीकार करते हैं परंतु ऐतिहासिक धर्म के मॉडल से बाहर न निकल पाने की आलोचना भी करते हैं। इसलिए वाकणकर के अनुसार डा. धर्मवीर द्विवेदी जी के ‘ब्राह्मणवादी’ मॉडल की आलोचना करते हुए भी ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा में ही अंतर्भुक्त हो गए। ठीक उसी तरह, जब दलित आन्दोलन आंबेडकरवादी इतिहासदृष्टि में अंतर्भुक्त हो जाता है तो आन्दोलन में अन्तर्निहित दलित सामूहिकता या ‘दलित, मुस्लिम, आदिवासी’ सामूहिकता का प्रश्न प्रतिनिधिमूलक राजनीति में विकृत होकर स्वयं प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा बन जाती है। वाकणकर कहते है कि ‘दलित, आदिवासी, मुस्लिम’ जीवन में रोजमर्रा की हिंसा और मृत्यु की अनवरत उपस्थिति ने उनकी स्मृतियों में सामाजिकता की एक पूर्णतः भिन्न छवि संजोये रखी है। यह किसी आन्दोलन की आकस्मिकता के बीच अचानक से पुनर्संयोजित होकर आन्दोलन के सामाजिक चरित्र का निर्माण करती है। दिक्कत उसको प्रतिनिधित्व देने वाली प्रक्रिया में आती है जहाँ पहले से ही प्रभुत्वशाली धार्मिक या राष्ट्रीय या कोई अन्य विचारधारा एप्रोप्रिएशन के लिए तैयार है। इस प्रक्रिया को वाकणकर ‘राजनीतिक समाज’ (पोलिटिकल सोसाइटी) के निर्माण की प्रक्रिया कहते हैं। ‘नागरिक समाज’ की मध्यस्थता के चलते दलित समुदायों और राज्य के बीच सीधा राजनीतिक संवाद नहीं बन पाता है। उनका कहना है कि पार्था चटर्जी आदि के द्वारा प्रस्तावित इस ‘’राजनीतिक समाज’ के लिए जरूरी है कि दलित आन्दोलन को इस प्राक् इतिहास में अन्तर्निहित सम्भावना की ओर लगातार ध्यान दिलाते रहा जाये।

वाकणकर कहते हैं कि यह कहना महज ढिठाई होगी कि भक्ति के इतिहास को इस नए इतिहास से बदल दिया जा सकता है। वस्तुतः यह केवल उसका पूरक हो सकता है। पूरक अतिरेक के अर्थ में। कबीर आदि संतों की शब्दावली देशी भाषाओं में लिखे गए मार्गी या उच्च परंपरा के ही हैं। अर्थात् शास्त्रीय या अभिजन धर्मों की संकल्पनाओं वाली शब्दावली है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो, ‘ईश्वर के आने की खबर’ अवतारवादी उच्च परंपरा की शास्त्रीय शब्दावली में ही प्रस्तुत विधर्मी परंपरा है। इसलिए एक तरह से सब कुछ समावित और गहरे अर्थों में समस्यामूलक ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के भीतर ही है पर उसकी सीमा पर स्थित यह विधर्मी अतिरेक हमारे अपने सिद्धांतों की सीमा को स्पष्ट करती है और वाकणकर की कोशिश इसके विश्लेषण में ही है। वाकणकर के अनुसार कबीर के लिए ‘निर्गुण राम’ सगुण होने के पहले की अच्छाई का चिह्न है।[2] इस आधार पर विधर्मी परंपरा के भीतर कबीर का महत्वपूर्ण क्षण जिसे वाकणकर ‘ब्रेक थ्रू’ कहते हैं, भावात्मक धर्म के रूप में भक्ति की समझदारी का भी नया क्षण है। अमूर्तन की इस कोशिश के बारे में वे लिखते हैं, “यह कहा जा सकता है कि धर्मद्रोह यहाँ पूरी तरीके से तैयार था कि वह अतीत में विचारों के परंपरा-पूर्व रूपों में अन्तर्निहित मूलगामी अनुभववाद की धारणा को अपनी यह बात कहने के लिए पलट देता- लेकिन इस बिंदु के साथ यह खुद को भी बहुत अमूर्त कर लेता है, नाटकीय तरीके से, कुछ क्षण के लिए भावात्मक पूजा की उच्च परंपरा से।”[3] विधर्मी परंपरा के भीतर कबीर का यह क्षण भावात्मिका धर्म के रूप में भक्ति को या भाव भक्ति को अमूर्त समझता है। परन्तु इस अमूर्तता को बताने के क्रम में उनका मूलगामी अनुभववाद स्वयं नाटकीय तरीके से अमूर्त हो जाता है। वाकणकर इसी बिंदु पर निम्नवर्गीय चित्तवृत्ति (वाकणकर इसे माइंडसेट या माइंड इंप्रिंट कहते हैं) में अन्तर्निहित एक विशिष्ट संदेहवाद (एस्केप्टीसिज्म) का पता पाते हैं। कहने का अर्थ यह चित्तवृत्ति भावभक्ति की परंपरा में शामिल परंपरा-पूर्व जो विधर्मी मूल अनुभववाद है, उसको स्वीकार करते हुए कह सकते हैं कि भक्ति की परंपरा को स्वीकार करता है, लेकिन ऐन इसी मौके पर परंपरावाद से अपने को तोड़कर अलग भी कर लेता है। दूसरे शब्दों में, ऐतिहासिक धर्म के रूप में भावभक्ति की उत्तर-परंपरा जिस पूर्व-परंपरा का परंपरावादी रूपांतरण था उसके भीतर निहित प्रबल अनुभववाद को तो यह स्वीकार करता है, लेकिन वैष्णव धर्म की उत्तर-परंपरा को ठीक उसी समय अस्वीकार भी कर देता है। ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि परंपरा के पूर्व और उत्तर पक्षों के बीच रिश्ते को लेकर वाकणकर यहाँ द्विवेदी जी से किंचिंत भिन्न दृष्टि प्रकट कर रहे हैं। वाकणकर परंपरा के पूर्व-पक्ष की एकांतिकता के आकस्मिक नाटकीय क्षणों को जब पकड़ने की कोशिश करते हैं तब वह लगभग द्विवेदी जी की तरह ही परंपरा को देख रहे होते हैं।इसी अर्थ में “कबीरदास की वाणी वह लता है जो योग के क्षेत्र में भक्ति का बीज पड़ने से अंकुरित हुई थी। उन दिनों उत्तर के हठयोगियों और दक्षिण के भक्तों में मौलिक अंतर था। एक टूट जाता था पर झुकता न था, दूसरा झुक जाता था पर टूटता न था।”[4]

मध्यकालीन संवेदनाओं का चरित्र और आधुनिकता की हमारी संवेदना में भिन्नता और दुहराव को वाकणकर व्याख्यायित करना चाहते है। ‘मध्यकालीन बोध का स्वरूप’ समझने के क्रम में द्विवेदी जी भी उस मध्यकाल को समझना चाहते थे जिसके गर्भ से हमारी आधुनिक संवेदनाओं का निर्माण हुआ है। जिस अर्थ में मुक्तिबोध को कबीर आदि संत कवि ज्यादा आधुनिक लगते हैं, उसी अर्थ में। कबीर आदि की संवेदना और आधुनिकता की हमारी संवेदना में भिन्नता को वाकणकर इस दलित चित्तवृत्ति के सहारे समझने की कोशिश भी करते हैं। उनके अनुसार दलित आंदोलनों में छिपी यह दलित चित्तवृत्ति आधुनिकता की परंपरा से अर्थात् ज्ञानोदय की परंपरा से अपनी प्रेरणा नहीं लेती। यह प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा है। इसीलिए यह चित्तवृत्ति अतीत से चली आती पूर्व परंपरा या प्राक् इतिहास में अन्तर्निहित संवेदना से अपनी प्रेरणा पाती है। कबीर के यहाँ ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ प्राक् इतिहास में अन्तर्निहित एक कोमलता (टेंडरनेस) के सहारे बनने वाली सामूहिकता की संवेदना है और उसकी स्मृति है। यह संवेदना मृत्यु शोकगीत की संवेदना है। द्विवेदी जी के कबीर वाकणकर के लिए केवल व्यक्तिगत रूमानियत के कवि हैं। जबकि दलित चित्तवृत्ति का अपधर्मी स्वरूप न केवल अतीत को पुनर्परिभाषित करता है बल्कि ऐसा करते हुए वह अतीत को परंपरा का चिह्न न बनाकर आधुनिक या आधुनिक-पूर्व के प्राक् इतिहास के रूप में परिभाषित करता है और इस प्रकार यह ‘भाषा सत्ता और ईश्वर’ के संबंधों की व्याख्या के लिए एक नए दार्शनिक आधार की मांग भी करता है।

कहना न होगा कि इसके लिये नया दार्शनिक आधार दरअस्ल ‘इतिहास-२’ का दर्शन है। ‘इतिहास-२’ का यह दर्शन ‘निम्नवर्गीय प्रसंगों’ के विद्वान् दीपेश चक्रवर्ती के द्वारा तैयार करने की कोशिश की गयी है। ‘इतिहास-२’ उस परंपरा को पहचानने की बात करता है जो पूँजी के द्वारा निर्मित इतिहास से पहले और उससे बाहर है और उसका चरित्र एकान्तिक है। यह इतिहास पूँजी का पूर्व इतिहास नहीं है। वाकणकर पूँजी या आधुनिकता के प्राक् इतिहास के रूप में एक ऐसे ही इतिहास-२ की बात कर रहे हैं जो ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के उदय के ऐन पहले की विधर्मी परंपरा है और उसकी एकांतिकता में ही दलित चित्तवृत्ति या दलित आधुनिकता की संवेदना के सूत्र मौजूद हैं। धर्म का दूसरा इतिहास मूलतः धर्म के उदय के ठीक पहले धर्म की जरूरत की परंपरा है जो धर्म के खिलाफ या विधर्मी चेतना की सामाजिकता को अपने अन्दर लिए रहता है। यह संवेदना उनके प्रबल अनुभववाद में ठोस रूप से अभिव्यक्त होती है। मृत्यु शोकगीत की संवेदना दलित चित्तवृत्ति की एकान्तिक संवेदना है। इसलिए कबीर आदि संत कवि की संवेदना मूलतः दलित संवेदना है। इसलिए उनके अनुसार ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ कबीर के द्वारा ‘केवल और केवल दलितों’ को दिया गया उपहार है। कबीर का निर्गुण राम मूलतः इस प्रबल अनुभववाद की संवेदना का नाटकीय अमूर्तन है। इस अमूर्तन को दलित चित्तवृत्ति के भीतर प्रभुत्वशाली सामाजिक व्यवस्था द्वारा की जाने वाली हिंसा और उससे उपजे मृत्यु शोकगीत के चमत्कार से बनने वाली सामूहिकता इन दोनों के साथ देखा जाना चाहिए।

इस चित्तवृत्ति के बाहर से कबीर को देखने पर मसलन, जैसा कि द्विवेदी जी देखते हैं, हम केवल प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा पर इसकी निर्भरता ही लक्षित कर पाते हैं। जबकि दलित चित्तवृत्ति के भीतर से देखने पर इस ‘मौलिक संदेहवाद’ का मूलगामी स्वरूप स्पष्ट होता है और जो पूरी पुरानी परंपरा को ही प्रश्नविद्ध कर देता है। इस प्रकार वाकणकर कहते हैं कि अनुभववाद के मूलगामी रूपों की सहायता से ही परंपरागत धारणाओं और सैद्धांतिक लक्ष्यों को ठेलकर उनकी आतंरिक सीमायें स्पष्ट की जा सकती हैं। ‘विश्व इतिहास की सीमा’ पर जाकर कुछ समय पहले रणजीत गुहा भी ऐसी ही एक परंपरा उपनिषदों और रवीन्द्रनाथ की साहित्यिक रचनाओं में ढूंढने की कोशिश कर रहे थे।[5] इस प्रयास का महत्त्व वाकणकर संकल्पना या धारणा या सिद्धांत निर्माण के ठीक पहले की वस्तुमत्ता के आग्रह में देखते हैं। यहाँ अतीत में जाना किसी खो गए अतीत की भावना नहीं प्रकट करता। यहाँ हम अतीत में कुछ पाने के लिए जाते हैं। नई दलित चेतना कबीर के पास जाती है तो इसलिए कि विधर्मी परंपरा के भीतर से प्रचलित धारणाओं और सिद्धांतों की सीमा पहचान सके और मूलगामी अनुभववाद में छिपी नई संभावनाओं का पता पा सके। वह अतीत में केवल इसलिए नहीं जाता कि उसे विधर्मी परंपरा का कोई नया सिद्धांत गढ़ना है। निम्न जातियों के समुदाय का भगवान् जो कि कबीर के राम के रूप में सामने आता है वह “वास्तव में उत्पत्तिमूलक (पूर्णता) प्राचुर्य या बाहुल्य का ठोस ईश्वर है, पूरे का पूरा (होलनेस ऑफ़ द होल) देवता है। यह केवल भावात्मक धर्म या भक्ति के दृष्टिकोण से देखने पर ही छुपा हुआ मालूम होता है। और यही कारण है कि हमें देवत्व की परिभाषा स्वयं इस उत्पत्तिमूलक संदेहवाद की तरह करना चाहिए जो ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के उदय के पूर्व के देवत्व के विचार की तरफ लौटना चाहता है”।[6] इस प्रकार वाकणकर ‘देवत्व’ की एक ऐसी ही आदिम धारणा की ओर लौटने वाली दलित चित्तवृत्ति का इतिहास लिखना चाहते हैं। वह वस्तुतः ‘प्रतिस्मृति’ (काउन्टर मेमोरी) का इतिहास है। कोशिश वस्तुतः वही है जिसे बेंजामिन इतिहास को उलटे रंदे से छीलकर निकालना कहते थे। पर यहाँ यह ठीक बेंजामिन के प्रयासों की तरह नहीं है।

बेंजामिन के यहाँ ‘ईश्वर के आने की खबर’ वाकणकर के अर्थों में विधर्मी परंपरा नहीं थी। वहां मसीहाई देवत्व की संकल्पना और इतिहासवाद की आलोचना ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के पूर्ण और वास्तविक निषेध में है। वहां एक परम शुरुआत की केन्द्रीयता है। बेंजामिन लिखते हैं “केवल मसीहा स्वयं सभी इतिहास का निष्पादन करता है, इस अर्थ में कि वही अकेले मसीहाई (मेसियानिक) से अपने संबंधों का उद्धार, समापन और निर्माण करता है। यही कारण है कि कुछ भी ऐतिहासिक अपने बल पर किसी मसीहाई से संबंध नहीं जोड़ सकता। इसलिए ईश्वर का राज्य ऐतिहासिक गतिकी का कोई उद्देश्य (टिलोस) नहीं है; इसे लक्ष्य नहीं रखा जा सकता। इतिहास के दृष्टिकोण से यह लक्ष्य नहीं अंत है।”[7] मसीहाई देवत्व और इतिहासवाद के संबंध को आगे चलकर बेंजामिन ने अपनी थीसिस ‘ऑन द फिलोसोफी ऑफ़ हिस्ट्री’ में और भी स्पष्ट करते हुए लिखा “अतीत के ऐतिहासिक निरूपण का मतलब यह नहीं है कि इसे ‘जैसा यह वास्तव में था’ उसकी तरह पहचाना जाये। इसका मतलब है संकट के किसी क्षण में कौंधने वाली किसी स्मृति का विनियोजन। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद अतीत का वह बिंब (इमेज) पाना चाहता है जो ऐतिहासिक कर्त्ता के सामने आशातीत रूप से प्रकट हो, संकट के किसी क्षण में। संकट परंपरा की अंतर्वस्तु और उसके उत्तराधिकारियों दोनों को भयभीत करता है। दोनों के लिए वह एक ही है : शासक वर्गों का हथियार बन जाने का संकट। हर दौर को अनिवार्यतः नया संघर्ष करना होता है ताकि परंपरा को पुष्टिवाद (कांफोर्मिज्म) से दूर किया जाये जो इसे लील जाने के लिए काम करता रहता है। मसीहा केवल उद्धारक के रूप में नहीं आता; वह प्रति-ईसा (एंटीक्राइस्ट) के ऊपर विजेता की तरह आता है। केवल वही इतिहासकार अतीत में आशा की चिंगारी भड़काने के सक्षम है जो दृढ़ता से स्वीकार करता है कि अगर दुश्मन जीतता है तो यहाँ तक कि मृतक भी सुरक्षित नहीं है। और यह दुश्मन अभी तक पराजित नहीं हुआ है।”[8] (थीसिस VI)।

बेंजामिन के लिए परंपरा का मतलब है शोषितों की परंपरा। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो बेंजामिन के लिए इतिहास और परंपरा का प्रश्न अनिवार्यतः मजदूर वर्ग के रूप में ऐतिहासिक कर्ता के संगठन या ‘मसीहाई’ संगठन का प्रश्न था। इस परंपरा के लिए संकट का समय क्या है? और संकट के समय ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद क्या पाना चाहता है? संकट का समय वह समय है जहाँ शोषितों की परंपरा की अंतर्वस्तु और उसके वारिस दोनों के सामने शोषकों का हथियार बन जाने की संभावना स्पष्ट हो जाती है। कैसे मजदूर वर्ग की परंपरा और उसकी इतिहासदृष्टि मजदूर वर्ग के खिलाफ शोषकों का हथियार बन जाती है, इसकी आलोचना करते हुए बेंजामिन सामाजिक जनवाद की प्रवृत्ति की आलोचना कर रहे थे। मजदूर वर्ग की राजनीति के भीतर से ही फासिज्म की प्रवृत्ति का उभार एक ऐसी परिघटना थी जिसके सामने क्रान्तिकारी मार्क्सवाद की चेतना वर्तमान में ठिठक गयी थी। बेंजामिन इस ठिठकी हुई चेतना के भीतर इतिहास और परंपरा का एक द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब पाना चाहते हैं। क्ली की पेंटिंग ‘नोवस एंजलस’ के फरिश्ते को बेंजामिन इतिहास के फ़रिश्ते के रूप में प्रस्तुत करते हैं। यह पेंटिंग बेंजामिन के द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब का एक उदाहरण है। पेंटिंग में एक फ़रिश्ता है जिसकी आँखें किसी चीज को घूर रही हैं, उसका मुंह खुला है, उसके डैने फैले हैं। उसका मुख अतीत की तरफ है, जहाँ हम घटनाओं की एक श्रृंखला देखते हैं, वह फ़रिश्ता किसी एक विध्वंस/कैटास्ट्राफ़ को देखता है। कैटास्ट्राफ़ के साथ अतीत का मलबा लगातार उसके पैरों के सामने जमा होता जा रहा है। मलबे का यह ढेर आसमान इतना ऊँचा होता जा रहा है। वह फ़रिश्ता रूककर अतीत के मुर्दों को जगाना चाहता है और अतीत को फिर से पूरा खड़ा करना चाहता है। वह अतीत का पुनर्निर्माण करना चाहता है, पर एक आंधी स्वर्ग से चल रही है जो उसके डैनों में उलझ गयी है। उसके डैने फैले हैं और वह उन्हें बंद नहीं कर पा रहा। फ़रिश्ते की पीठ के पीछे भविष्य है जिस ओर यह आंधी उसे ठेले लिए जा रही है। बेंजामिन कहते हैं कि यह आंधी ही ‘प्रगति’ (प्रोग्रेस) है।

इतिहास का यह फ़रिश्ता सद्यःकाल (नाउ टाइम) या अभी से भरे समय में खड़ा है। अतीत में अन्य घटनाएँ भी कैटास्ट्राफ़ हैं पर वह अकेले एक कैटास्ट्राफ़ को देखता है। यह कैटास्ट्राफ़ अतीत में ही नहीं है ऐन इस वक़्त भी है। फ़रिश्ते की आँख उसे ही घूर रही है। यह ऐतिहासिक काल है और यह फ़रिश्ता स्वयं मसीहा नहीं हो सकता। बेंजामिन के लिए यह सद्यःकाल ऐतिहासिक काल और मसीहाई काल की असमरूपता (एसिमेट्री) को धारण करता है। अतीत का विध्वंस लगातार जारी है। फ़रिश्ते के सामने संकट है कि वह न तो ठहरकर अतीत को जिंदा कर पा रहा है और न ही स्वर्ग से चलने वाली आंधी से खुद को बचा पा रहा है। वह खाली समांगी समय (एम्प्टी होमोजेनस टाइम) में या प्रगति की ओर उन्मुख होकर आंधी के साथ उड़ नहीं सकता। इतिहास इसी सद्यःकाल से भरे समय में है।

बेंजामिन के इस सद्यःकाल को और करीब से समझने की कोशिश करते हैं। यह सद्यःकाल वर्ग संघर्ष की जगह है। शोषितों की परंपरा और शोषकों की परंपरा का निर्धारण इसी सद्यःकाल के संघर्ष पर निर्भर है। यह दो इतिहासदृष्टियों के संघर्ष से बनता हुआ सद्यःकाल का इतिहास है। परंपरागत इतिहासदृष्टि इतिहास को वह जैसा था वैसा प्राप्त करना चाहती है। इस प्रक्रिया में इतिहास एक बंद, समांगी, एक रेखीय, निश्चित अर्थों से युक्त, घटनओं का क्रमबद्ध और अनवरत गतिशील इतिहास होता है जिसका परिणाम आज के विजेताओं को इतिहास में उनकी विजयी जगह सुस्थिर करता है। यह विजेताओं की पूर्वनिर्धारित इतिहासदृष्टि है। यहाँ इतिहास प्रगति के अनुक्रम की एक बंद निरंतरता है जो आज पूंजी के नियंत्रण के रूप में हमारी आँखों के सामने है। यह इतिहास में पराजितों के बारे में सोचना नहीं चाहता क्योंकि ‘जो वास्तव में हुआ’ उसकी निरंतरता पाने के लिए पराजितों को पुनः पराजित करना जरूरी है। जहाँ परंपरागत इतिहास अतीत की महिमाशाली सांस्कृतिक समृद्धि और महान् उपलब्धियों का एक ‘सकारात्मक इतिहास’ लिखता है, वहीं एक ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी ‘एक सचेत तटस्थता के साथ उसे देखने की कोशिश करता है’। बेंजामिन अपनी सातवीं थीसिस में लिखते हैं कि ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी किसी भी सांस्कृतिक उपलब्धि के बारे में चिंतन करते हुए यह स्पष्ट देखता है कि उस महान् उपलब्धि के मूल में भयानक बर्बरता छिपी है। वह चिंतन में उस भयावहता को झेले बिना उन महान् उपलब्धियों के बारे में सोच भी नहीं सकता। ये महान् सांस्कृतिक उपलब्धियां केवल कुछ तेज दिमाग और महान् प्रतिभाशाली व्यक्तियों के प्रयास से ही नहीं बल्कि उनके समकालीनों के अनजाने श्रम से भी बनी है। “सभ्यता का कोई भी दस्तावेज ऐसा नहीं जो एक ही साथ बर्बरता का भी दस्तावेज न हो”। (थीसिस VII) जो पराजित हो गए, जिन्हें इतिहास के पन्नों से मिटा दिया गया उनकी परंपरा ने अभी भी मुक्ति के लिए अपना अतीत खुला छोड़ रखा है। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद उस अतीत का विनियोजन चाहता है जो अपनी पराजय और अपने नाश में भी भविष्य का कोई न कोई आयाम छुपाये रखता है। “अतीत अपने साथ ऐसा काल मापक लिए रहता है जिससे वह उद्धार का सन्दर्भ पाता है… पुरानी पीढ़ियों और नई पीढ़ी के बीच एक गुप्त समझौता होता है। हमारा संसार में आना प्रत्याशित था।” (थीसिस II) पुरानी पीढ़ियों के प्रयासों में छुपे भविष्य का आयाम या भविष्य का नक्शा हमारी पीढ़ी के क्रान्तिकारी प्रयासों का भवितव्य भी है जो दुहराव के माध्यम से अतीत का पूर्वप्रभाव से उद्धार करता है। यह क्रान्तिकारी प्रयास अभी इसी समय जब हम इतिहास लिख रहे हैं तब भी हो रहा है।

मार्क्स अपनी ‘लुई बोनापार्ट की अठारहवीं ब्रूमेर’ में इतिहास के दुहराव को नोटिस करते हुए उस दुहराव में हीगेलीय द्वंद्वात्मकता की आलोचना करते हैं। मार्क्स इस दुहराव के दो आयामों की चर्चा करते हैं। ‘पहले त्रासदी के रूप में, फिर प्रहसन के रूप में’। यह प्रहसन इतिहास के रंगमंच पर तब स्पष्ट होता है जब हम अपने आसपास की चीजों को बदलने की कोशिश में होते हैं। मार्क्स लिखते हैं, “मानवजन अपना इतिहास स्वयं बनाते हैं, पर अपने मनचाहे ढंग से नहीं। वे उसे अपनी मनचाही परिस्थितियों में नहीं, अपितु ऐसी परिस्थितियों में बनाते हैं जो उन्हें अतीत से प्राप्त और अतीत द्वारा संप्रेषित होती हैं और जिनका उन्हें सीधे सीधे सामना करना पड़ता है। सभी मृत पीढ़ियों की परंपरा जीवित मानव के मष्तिष्क पर एक दुःस्वप्न के समान सवार रहती है। और ठीक ऐसे समय, जब ऐसा लगता है कि वे अपने को तथा अपने इर्द-गिर्द की सभी चीजों को क्रान्तिकारी रूप से बदल रहे हैं और किसी ऐसी वस्तु का सृजन कर रहे हैं जिसका आज तक अस्तित्व न था, क्रान्तिकारी संकट के ठीक ऐसे अवसरों पर वे अतीत के प्रेतों को अपनी सेवा के लिए उत्कंठापूर्वक बुलावा दे बैठते हैं और उनसे अतीत के नाम, अतीत के रणनाद और अतीत के परिधान मांगते हैं ताकि विश्व इतिहास की नवीन रंगभूमि को इस चिरप्रतिष्ठापित वेश में और इस मंगनी की भाषा में सजाकर पेश करें।”[9] अतीत के दुःस्वप्नों से भरा सद्यःकाल या क्रान्तिकारी संकट का काल अतीत में छुपे अपने क्रान्तिकारी प्रयास के भविष्य को पाने की कोशिश में भविष्य के बदले अतीत के प्रेतों को अपनी सेवा के लिए बुला लेता है। क्रांतिकारी व्यवहारों में अन्तर्निहित इस अंतर्विरोध को लक्ष्य करते हुए बेंजामिन ने लिखा, “इतिहास निर्माण का विषय है जिसका निर्माणस्थल समांगी, खाली समय नहीं बल्कि सद्यःकाल से भरा समय है। इस तरह रॉबसपियरे के लिए प्राचीन रोम सद्यःकाल से भरा अतीत था, वह अतीत जिसे उसने इतिहास के नैरन्तर्य से फोड़कर निकाला था। फ़्रांस की क्रांति ने खुद को रोम का पुनरावतार मान लिया। इसने रोम को ऐसे उद्धृत किया जैसे फैशन किसी परिधान के पुराने तरीकों को उद्धृत करता है। फैशन की नाक प्रासंगिकता को तुरंत सूंघ लेती है, बिना इस बात की परवाह किये हुए कि लम्बे अतीत के झुरमुट में कहाँ उसने अपनी नाक घुसेड़ दी है। यह अतीत में शेर की छलांग की तरह है। परंतु जिस रणक्षेत्र में यह छलांग ली जाती है वहां केवल शासक वर्ग की आज्ञा चलती है। यही छलांग जब इतिहास की उन्मुक्त वायु में भरा जाता है तो यह द्वंद्वात्मक छलांग होती है जिसे मार्क्स क्रांति की तरह समझते हैं।” (थीसिस XIV) मार्क्स के लिए यह द्वंद्वात्मक छलांग सद्यःकाल में भविष्य का हस्तक्षेप है। पूंजीवादी क्रांति अपनी नवीन अंतर्वस्तु के लिए अतीत में जो छलांग भरती है वहाँ अतीत के प्रेत आकर उसका गौरवगान करते हैं। इस क्रांति के रहनुमाओं को स्वयं के लिए विगत इतिहास की स्मृतियाँ चाहिये थीं। मार्क्स लिखते हैं, “उन्नीसवीं शताब्दी की सामाजिक क्रांति अतीत से नहीं बल्कि भविष्य से ही प्रेरणा प्राप्त कर सकती है। वह उस समय तक अपना समारंभ नहीं कर सकती जबतक अतीत संबंधी अपने सभी मूढ़ विश्वासों को दूर न कर ले। पहले की क्रांतियों को खुद अपनी अंतर्वस्तु के संबंध में अपने को मदहोश करने के लिए विगत विश्व इतिहास की स्मृतियों की आवश्यकता पड़ती थी।उन्नीसवीं शताब्दी की क्रांति के लिए जरूरी है कि अपनी अंतर्वस्तु प्राप्त करने के लिए जो बीत गया है उसे भुला दें। पहली क्रांतियों के नारे उनकी अंतर्वस्तु से आगे निकल गए थे; यहाँ अंतर्वस्तु नारों से आगे निकल जाती है।”[10] ध्यान देना चाहिए कि बीत गए स्मृतियों को भुलाने का अर्थ स्मृतियों का निषेध नहीं बल्कि अतीत की स्मृतियों में मृत को भुलाना है स्मृतियों में छुपे भविष्य को भुलाना नहीं क्योंकि विजेताओं के इतिहास में मृत भी खतरे से बाहर नहीं हैं।

इतिहास की विकासवादी व्याख्या और ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद के बीच आधारभूत असमरूपता इसी ‘छलांग’ की असमरूपता है। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद के लिए वर्तमान कोई संक्रमण नहीं बल्कि ‘एक ठिठका हुआ काल’ है। यह वही काल है जब वह इतिहास लिख रहा है। बाद में इसे ही रोलां बार्थ ‘जीरो डिग्री में लेखन’ की संज्ञा देते हैं। जहाँ विचारों का प्रवाह चलते चलते अचानक रुक जाता है – एक ऐसे विन्यास में जो तनावयुक्त प्रसवधर्मी विन्यास है। यह “उस विन्यास को एक झटका देता है जिससे वह मोनाड के रूप में एकीभूत (क्रिस्टलाइज) होता है। एक ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी किसी ऐतिहासिक विषय के पास तभी जाता है जब वह उससे एक मोनाड के रूप में टकराता है। इस संरचना में वह घटनाओं के मसीहाई अंत का चिह्न पहचानता है या दूसरी तरह कहें तो दमित अतीत के लिए संघर्ष में एक क्रांतिकारी संयोग पहचान लेता है।” (थीसिस XVII) इस ठोस आकार ग्रहण में, गति के सांद्र मोनाड में वह अतीत का विनियोजन करता है। अतीत का यही बिम्ब संकट के समय ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी पाना चाहता है। क्रांति की पराजय का खतरा या दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो शासक वर्गों की विजय के लिए हथियार बन जाने का खतरा अतीत को भी खतरे में डाल देता है। क्योंकि ठीक ऐसे समय जब लगता है कि हम अपने को तथा अपने इर्द गिर्द की वस्तुओं को बदल रहे हैं, हम किसी क्रांतिकारी संकट के बीच में हैं तभी हम अतीत की असफलता के सांद्र मौकों को भी दुहराते होते हैं। संकट हमें दुहराव की ओर खींच लेता है। इसी दुहराव में पुरानी क्रांतियों कि असफलताओं का अतीत भी साथ साथ लगा होता है। अतः दुहराव क्रांति के भग्नावशेषों की परंपरा के दुहराव का खतरनाक भय भी लिए होता है। इस ठिठके समय के भीतर अपने समय की सच्चाइयों में अतीत के समय की ऊर्जा भरी होती है। वर्तमान और अतीत के रिश्ते के लिए समय की सीधी रेखा के साथ लगे काल के किसी तीर की जरूरत नहीं होती। जिज़ेक इस संबंध को एक ‘तात्कालिक निर्देशात्मक शार्ट सर्किट’ कहता है। [11] उसके अनुसार यह मोनाड क्रम भंग का क्षण है जहाँ काल की रेखीय गति रुक जाती है, द्रवीभूत हो जाती है और यहीं दमित अतीत की प्रतिध्वनियाँ सुनाई देती हैं। इस घनीभूत समय में अतीत के प्रेत अचानक आकर हमारी भाषा और विचारों में पैठ जाते हैं। इस अर्थ में यह शुद्ध दुहराव है जहाँ इतिहास के शवसाधक की आत्मा में असफल क्रांतियों की प्रतिध्वनियाँ गूंजती हैं, आंदोलित होती हैं। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी इस भयानक प्रतिध्वनियों से इस अर्थ में तटस्थ नहीं होता कि वह इससे बाहर है। इस क्षण में उसकी एक तल्लीन तटस्थता है। वह स्वयं मोनाड का हिस्सा है और क्रान्तिकारी प्रयासों में रहते हुए भी क्रांति के भग्नावशेष की भयावहता को भी देखता है। बेंजामिन यहाँ मृत्युशोक और शहादत दोनों ही भावनाओं की सीमा की तरफ इशारा कर रहे हैं।

आर्केड्स प्रोजेक्ट में बेंजामिन ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद की इस असमरूप द्वंद्वात्मकता को और भी स्पष्ट करते हुए लिखते हैं : “ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद को इतिहास के भीतर के महाकाव्यात्मक तत्त्व को अवश्य ही छोड़ देना चाहिए। वह अनवरत इतिहास के रैकरण के भीतर से किसी युग को फोड़कर निकाल लेता है लेकिन इस युग की समांगता का विध्वंस भी करता है। भग्नावशेषों के साथ या वर्तमान के साथ इसे छिन्न-भिन्न कर देता है।” (‘कोवोल्युट एन’, द आर्केड प्रोजेक्ट) यहाँ वर्तमान केवल प्रगति की विचारधारा के खंडहर के रूप में नहीं है। यह क्रांति का भी भग्नावशेष है। कई विद्वान इसमें स्टालिन की एक छाया भी देखते हैं।परंतु यह केवल प्रथम दृष्टया दिखने वाला भ्रम है। बेंजामिन के यहाँ ‘निर्णय के आखिरी दिन’ के पहले समूचा इतिहास अपने प्रत्येक क्षण के साथ कभी भी प्रकट नहीं हो सकता। “वास्तव में केवल उद्धृत (रिडीम्ड) मानवता ही अतीत की संपूर्णता की गारंटी कर सकता है- कहने का अर्थ यह कि केवल उद्धृत मानवता के लिए उसका अतीत प्रत्येक क्षण में उल्लेख्य है।”(थीसिस III) इस तरह वर्तमान में किये गए प्रयासों का पूरा अर्थ केवल निर्णय के दिन ही स्पष्ट हो सकता है। क्रांतिकारी हिंसा की इस व्याख्या के सहारे मार्ले पोंटी ने स्टालिन की राजनीति का बचाव किया था। उसके अनुसार स्टालिन की राजहिंसा के शिकार या पीड़ित यद्यपि निर्दोष थे लेकिन आगे आने वाली सामाजिक प्रगति उनको न्यायसंगत ठहराएगी! मार्ले पोंटी के लिए यह आखिरी दिन विजेता की इतिहासदृष्टि है। जबकि ज़िज़ेक ध्यान दिलाता है कि बेंजामिन के लिए निर्णय का अंतिम दिन ऐतिहासिक विकास के अंतिम चरण के रूप में एक सर्वोच्च अच्छाई या कम्युनिज्म की ओर गति नहीं है। बेंजामिन के अनुसार ऐतिहासिक विजयों की श्रृंखला को संभव बनाने के लिए जिन्होंने मूल्य चुकाए हैं, जो अपने उद्देश्यों में असफल हो गए हैं, जिन्होंने इतिहास के अध्याय पर छिन्न-भिन्न और इधर-उधर, हाशिए पर अपने चिह्न छोड़ रखे हैं, जिनके कार्यों का कोई अर्थ वहां नहीं है, ‘निर्णय का अंतिम दिन’ उनकी ही दृष्टि से देखा जा सकता है। यहाँ क्रांति अनवरत इतिहास का हिस्सा नहीं है बल्कि उसका क्रम भंग है जहाँ विजेताओं के पिछले इतिहास के ‘टेक्सचर’ का उच्छेद कर दिया जाता है। अब तक ना पाई गयी अभिव्यक्तियों का पूरा महत्त्व या उसका उद्धार क्रांति की सफलता में है। ‘निर्णय का अंतिम दिन’ इस अर्थ में एक रचनात्मक क्रिया है।

‘निर्णय का अंतिम दिन’ की इस रचनात्मक क्रिया को दृष्टि से हटाकर अगर हम उसकी आकस्मिकता को ही दुहराव का सार बना देंगे तो फिर से एक बार हम प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा के हाथों में हथियार बन जाएंगे। बेंजामिन के यहाँ दुहराव के रूप में क्रांति को किसी नैतिकता में या किसी सार में रिड्यूस नहीं किया जा सकता। वाकणकर दुहराव में ‘भविष्य’ को या क्रान्तिकारी कर्म को या ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी प्रयास को ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के तत्काल में स्थिर करना चाहते हैं। और इसके व्याख्याता के रूप में वाकणकर के अन्दर का इतिहासकार निम्नवर्गों की आन्दोलान्त्मक सहभागिता के लिए विधर्मी परंपरा में कबीर आदि संतों का योगदान दिखाने की कोशिश करता है। ‘मूलगामी अनुभववाद’ को ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के अमूर्तन के सहारे व्याख्यायित करता है। जबकि बेंजामिन के लिए ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ रचनात्मक कर्म के रूप में अंतिम दिन का प्रभाव मात्र है। मसीहाई काल की अवधारणा में ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ केवल मृत्यु के शोकगीत की तरह नहीं बल्कि एक किस्म के आनंद की तरह भी है। “दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो ख़ुशी का विचार उद्धार के विचार के साथ अवियोज्य रूप में जुड़ा रहता है। ठीक यही बात अतीत के साथ भी है जो कि इतिहास का विषय है। अतीत अपने साथ एक गुप्त अभिसूचक लिए रहता है जिसके द्वारा यह उद्धार के लिए निर्दिष्ट होता है।” (थीसिस II) इस गुप्त ख़ुशी को बेंजामिन एक ‘कमजोर मसीहाई शक्ति’ के रूप में देखते हैं। इस शक्ति पर अतीत का दावा होता है और ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी जानता है कि इस दावे का निपटारा आसान नहीं है।

वाकणकर के अनुसार निम्नवर्गीयता को पुनर्परिभाषित करने में कबीर आदि संतों की एक क्रांतिकारी भूमिका हो सकती है। मृत्यु शोकगीत में अन्तर्निहित ‘सदाशयता और प्यार’ (टेंडरनेस एंड केयर) के सहारे ज्योतिष्मान एक पूरा सामाजिक विस्तार अपने वास्तविक अर्थों में ‘निम्नवर्गीय’ होता है।[12] मृत्यु शोकगीत एक एकान्तिक मृत्यु की एकान्तिक साधना है। यह ‘एकान्तिक मृत्यु’ दलितों के मूलगामी अनुभववाद का प्रकाश है। एकांतिक शोकगीत की यह परंपरा प्रभुत्वशाली धर्मों के उदय के पहले से चली आ रही है। कबीर को यह परंपरा कापालिकों की साधना से मिली थी और स्वयं कापालिकों को तंत्र आदि की आदिम परंपरा से यह प्राप्त हुआ था। डेविड लौरेंजन के कापालिकों के अध्ययन से प्रेरित वाकणकर को जर्मन ‘बरोक’ का भारतीय संस्करण मृत्यु के इर्द गिर्द बुनी मिथकीय चेतना में मिल गया। उनके अनुसार, आधुनिक संवेदना इस आदिम संवेदना को ठीक से ग्रहण नहीं कर पाती क्योंकि यहाँ आधुनिकता जिस एकान्तिक चेतना को व्यक्त करती है, वह प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा है। वाकणकर राष्ट्रवाद को एक ऐसी ही प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा कहते हैं। उनके अनुसार द्विवेदी जी दूसरी परंपरा की खोज में जिस अन्य की ओर उन्मुख थे वह स्वयं राष्ट्रवाद की प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा थी। दलित चेतना या जिसे वाकणकर दलित चित्तवृत्ति कहना पसंद करते हैं उसमें अन्तर्निहित हिंसा और मृत्यु और भय की व्यवस्था के खिलाफ जो कि ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की या राष्ट्रवाद की या किसी अन्य वैश्विक इतिहास की विचारधारा की एकान्तिकता है या जिसे इतिहास -१ कहते हैं उसके पूरक के रूप में यह दूसरी एकांतिकता है जिसे हम इतिहास-२ कह सकते हैं। साथ ही मृत्यु की एकांतिकता और उसकी शोकगीत की परंपरा में निहित एक भिन्न किस्म की सामाजिकता का मॉडल भी है। संतों का मॉडल यही मॉडल है। कबीर आदि का यह मॉडल एक नई राजनीति की प्रस्तावना कैसे करता है, उसके बारे में वाकणकर कहते हैं: “एक एकांतिक मृत्यु, और उस मृत्यु के लिए एकान्तिक शोक का तरीका अगर यह दलित प्राचीन अतीत का सार है, तो हमारे लिए यह संभव है कि हम अतीत के इस एकांतिक अनुभव का संबंध नई राजनीति में दलित वैयक्तिकता की चुनौती से जोड़ सकते हैं। ‘फिलोसोफी ऑफ़ राईट’ में हीगेल के द्वारा पुनर्परिभाषित उदार राजनीतिक सिद्धांतों की शब्दावली में हम कह सकते हैं कि यह एकांतिक अनुभव आधुनिक व्यक्ति से पहले का है।”[13] राज्य और राजनीति, या राज्यसत्ता और व्यक्तिसत्ता के संबंधों की हीगेलीय व्याख्या और पार्था चटर्जी द्वारा ‘राजनीतिक समाज की अवधारणा’ में उसकी पुनर्व्याख्या का एक पूरक दृष्टिकोण वाकणकर सामने रखते हैं। यह व्यक्ति की अमूर्त अवधारणा और आदर्श का वह क्षेत्र है जहाँ वैयक्तिक या पारिवारिक से लेकर ‘नागरिक समाज’ तक की सारी नैतिक पूर्व धारणाएं जो अंततः राज्य के नैतिक जीवन में पर्यवसित होती है, उसकी पूरी गति रुक जाती है। हीगेल के अनुसार राज्य की इस द्वंद्वात्मकता के भीतर राजनीति का क्षेत्र है। राजनीति के इसी क्षितिज को सामने रखकर वाकणकर कहना चाहते हैं कि इसी अर्थ में सद्यःकाल के इतिहासकार के लिए द्वंद्वात्मकता ठिठक जाती है। इस प्रकार दलित चित्तवृत्ति की एकांतिकता या एकांतिक मृत्यु का यह शोकगीत दलितों के राजनीतिक जीवन में प्रवेश के पहले है। मूलगामी अनुभववाद की यह परंपरा केवल इतिहास के किसी काल खंड में ही राजनीति के पहले नहीं बल्कि अभी से भरे समय में भी है। क्योंकि उनके अनुसार, यह प्राथमिकता केवल कालिक नहीं बल्कि तार्किक भी है। इस प्रकार वाकणकर के कबीर दलित राजनीति से पहले के कबीर हैं, किसी राजनीतिक हस्तक्षेप के पहले के कबीर। शुद्ध अनुभववाद की यह एकांतिकता दलितों को आदिमकाल से चली आ रही परंपरा से मिली है- जो कापालिकों के द्वारा, कबीर के द्वारा और कबीर के नाम से ‘कहत कबीर’ कहने वालों के द्वारा आधुनिक दलित चित्तवृत्ति को हस्तान्तरित होती आई है। इस प्रकार व्यक्ति और राज्य के संबंधों के पहले की ‘वैयक्तिकता’ ही दलित आधुनिकता है जो एक चिरंतन मृत्युगीत की तरह उनके हृदय में झंकृत होती आई है। लेकिन वाकणकर ध्यान दिलाते हैं कि यह किसी ‘क्रम भंग’ की प्रतीक्षा नहीं है, इसके भीतर किसी अतीत की असफल क्रांति का इंतजार नहीं है जो अभी पूर्ण होगी। ‘क्रम भंग’ का यह विचार धर्म दर्शन का विचार है जबकि दलित चित्तवृत्ति में किसी भी हिंसात्मक क्रांति का विचार नहीं है। अनादि काल से चली आ रही दलित कोमलता तथा सदाशयता के दुहराव को ही यह बताता है।[14] यह अंतिम रूपांतरण की धारणा को अपने साथ लिए है, वाकणकर लिखते हैं “इस अर्थ में अगर देखा जाए तो कापालिकों के द्वारा उद्घाटित मृत्यु शोकगीत की यह परंपरा राजनीतिक समाज की सहस्त्राब्दी संपूरक (मिलेनियल सप्लीमेंट) है। इस मृत्यु शोकगीत की क्रिया में उस आदिम झलक की शुद्धता है जहाँ चमत्कार और हिंसा क्षणिक रूप से एक साथ आकर दीप्त होती है और इसलिए यह दलित कर्ता या दलित विषयी के लिए सदा नवीन होते रहने वाली भूमि है। यह परम आत्म समर्पण भक्त का भगवान् के प्रति आत्मसमर्पण से पहले है।”[15]

चमत्कार और हिंसा की क्षणिक दीप्ती में एक ऐसी शुद्धता का अनुसंधान वाकणकर करते हैं जो विश्व में हिंसा के आतंरिक कायांतरण के द्वारा एक आभामय, दयालु और प्यार भरे भविष्य को छुपाये है। इस बात से इनकार करना असंभव है कि दैनंदिन जीवन की हिंसा निम्नवर्गीय जीवन में स्वाभाविक रूप से विद्यमान है। यह हिंसा शासकों की हिंसा है, राज्यसत्ता की हिंसा है, विधि-निषेधों की हिंसा है, जाति व्यवस्था के शक्ति-संबंधों की हिंसा है। इस हिंसा की परंपरा के खिलाफ कबीर की परंपरा क्या कापालिकों की शोकगीत की परंपरा मात्र है या उसमें कुछ जोड़ती भी है? क्या कबीर उस एकान्तिक शोकगीत की आदिम निरंतरता में केवल रूपगत परिवर्तन करते हैं ? क्या कबीर आदि संतों का दुःख या कबीर के पदों में जो सामूहिक बोध है उसके पीछे क्या उसी ‘मृत्यु के शोकगीत’ की एकांतिक धुन है ? कबीर के दुःख की चर्चा न करते हुए फ़िलहाल हम एकांतिक मृत्यु की ‘हाय हाय’ के बारे में खुद कबीर क्या कहते थे उसे देखते चलते हैं।

रोवणहारे भी मुए, मुए जलांवणहार |
हा हा करते ते मुए कासनि करौं पुकार ||४८||
(काल कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

मृत्यु के शोकगीत के धुन की आलोचना यहाँ इसमें छिपे अनुभव सच की आलोचना नहीं है, बल्कि इस हाय हाय की निरर्थकता की घोषणा है और ‘कासनि करौं पुकार’ की वेदना भी है। रोने वाले भी मर गए, जलाने वाले भी और मरणोपरांत सहानुभूति जताने वाले भी मर गए। कबीर इसकी निरंतरता को रोकने वाले को पुकारने निकले थे लेकिन देखते हैं कि मृत्यु के बाद जो सच्चे हृदय से रोने वाले थे वे भी काल के गाल में समा गए। कबीर उस एकान्तिक मृत्यु और उसके शोकगीत को बार बार पैदा करने वाले लोक- वेद के संपूर्ण विमर्श को बदलने की साधना में थे। इसलिए कबीर का निर्गुण मृत्यु शोकगीत की परंपरा का व्यक्तित्वांतरण भी है। कबीर के लिए मृत्यु कोई घटना नहीं थी। कबीर के इस निर्गुण पक्ष को प्रेमचंद की कहानी ‘कफ़न’ से बेहतर कौन व्यक्त कर सकता है!

वाकणकर अगर इसे धर्म दर्शन के अन्दर आना मानते हैं, तो यह उनकी सीमा है। और इस सीमा के पीछे हीगेल के यहाँ व्यक्ति और राज्य के संबंधों को लेकर जो असमाधेय द्वंद्व है, उसको मानना अत्युक्ति नहीं होगी। हीगेल के इस पक्ष की आलोचना मार्क्स ने हीगेल के ‘अधिकार दर्शन की आलोचना’ और ‘पवित्र परिवार’ नामक पुस्तक में की है। ‘फेनोमेनोलोजी ऑफ़ स्पिरिट’ में मृत्यु के शोकगीत और शहादत के बीच जो असमाधेय द्वंद्व है उसे बेंजामिन ने अपनी सीमा पर ले जाकर रूपांतरित कर दिया है। वस्तुतः यह रूपांतरण वैसा ही है जैसा मार्क्स के यहाँ हीगेलीय द्वंद्वात्मकता का रूपांतरण असमरूप द्वंद्वात्मकता में हुआ था। हीगेल की किताब में ‘द एथिकल आर्डर’ नामक अध्याय में आये एंटीगोन के प्रसंग में हम इस असमाधेय द्वंद्व को देखते हैं।[16] बेंजामिन ने भी इस असमाधेय द्वंद्व को वहीं से प्राप्त किया था। एंटीगोन सोफोक्लीज की एक त्रासदी का नाम है जिसमें एंटीगोन एक केन्द्रीय चरित्र है। थेब्स के गृहयुद्ध में लड़ते हुए इटियोक्लेस और पोलिनेसियस एक दूसरे को मारकर शहीद हो गये। युद्ध के बाद क्रेयोन राजा बनता है और इटियोक्लेस को शहीद घोषित करते हुए उसका राजकीय रीति से पूर्ण सम्मान के साथ दाह संस्कार का आदेश दिया जाता है। दूसरी ओर पोलिनेसियस को राज्य का शत्रु घोषित किया जाता है और आज्ञा दी जाती है कि उसकी लाश को बिना दाह संस्कार के, बिना दफनाये गिद्धों और कीड़ों के लिए खुले में छोड़ दिया जाये। यह उस समय की सबसे कठोर सजा थी। आज्ञा थी कि पोलिनेसियस के लिए कोई भी मृत्युशोक का प्रदर्शन नहीं करेगा। इन भाइयों की दो बहनें थीं। यह परिवार औडिपस का परिवार था जहाँ पहले से ही किसी ने स्वाभाविक मृत्यु का वरन् नहीं किया था। औडिपस अपने पिता को मारकर खुद माता से शादी करता है, यथार्थ का पता पाते ही अपनी आँखें फोड़ लेता है, माता या पत्नी आत्महत्या कर लेती है और अब उसके दो बेटे युद्ध में एक दूसरे को मार देते हैं। नाटक की शुरुआत में एंटीगोन अपनी बहन इसेमेन के पास आती है और अपने भाई के दाहकर्म के लिए उससे सहायता मांगती है। उसे पता चल गया होता है कि क्रेयोन क्या राजाज्ञा सुनाने वाला है। इसेमेन इस काम में साथ देने से इनकार कर देती है। लोकहित (पब्लिक गुड) के लिए बने कानून का उल्लंघन इसेमेन नहीं करना चाहती। एंटीगोन के इस खतरनाक निर्णय से उसे भय लगता है। उसे एंटीगोन की मृत्यु भी साफ दिखाई देती है, वह कहती है कि हम स्त्रियाँ हैं, कमजोर हैं, असहाय हैं जबकि कानून कठिन है, कठोर है। पहले पिता, फिर माता और उसके बाद दोनों भाई और अब तुम! सत्ता के सामने जाना एक ख़तरनाक काम है। इसेमेन के इस व्यवहार से एंटीगोन क्षुब्ध होती है, वह उसे कहती है कि राज्य का कानून ईश्वर के कानून के सामने तुच्छ है। मृत को फिर से मारना उस शाश्वत कानून के ख़िलाफ़ है, इसलिए अगर मैं अपराध भी करती हूँ तो वह एक पवित्र अपराध होगा। मैं पोलिनेसियस का साथ मृत्यु में भी दूंगी। ये मृत ही हैं, जीवित नहीं जो सबसे लम्बी मांग रखते हैं- हम हमेशा के लिए मर जाते हैं। मैं अपने उस भाई को दफनाउंगी जिसे मैं प्यार करती हूँ, तुम्हारा अपना मत जो हो तुम उसके साथ रहो। पर मैं अपने निर्णय पर अडिग हूँ। इसेमेन कहती है कि हमें इस बात को गुप्त रखना होगा अगर किसी को पता चल गया तो हम निश्चित रूप से मृत्युदंड पाएंगे। यह सुनकर एंटीगोन लगभग बिफर पड़ती है : ‘ओह! जाओ हर किसी को बता दो यह बात और सोचो वे लोग तुमसे कितनी घृणा करेंगे जब उन्हें पता चलेगा कि तुम्हे तो सदा से यह बात मालूम थी’। इसेमेन कहती है कि तुम जो कर रही हो वह असंभव की कोशिश है। एंटीगोन कहती है कि जाओ इसेमेन यहाँ से चली जाओ इससे पहले कि मैं तुमसे घृणा करने लगूं। और मृतक भी तुमसे घृणा करने लगें। अगर मृत्यु खतरा है तो मैं इसे नहीं मानती। क्योंकि यह ऐसी मृत्यु नहीं होगी जिसे मरणोपरांत सम्मान तक न मिल पाए।

दूसरे दृश्य में क्रेयोन राज्य के शत्रुओं और मित्रों की परिभाषा स्थिर करते हुए पोलिनेसियस को राज्य का शत्रु घोषित करता है। कोरस को संबोधित करते हुए वह नागरिक समाज और राज्य के संबंधों की व्याख्या करता है। राजा ही राज्य है और राज्य कहता है कि मेरे प्रति श्रद्धा, कर्तव्य, वफ़ादारी तभी आपको होनी चाहिए जब आपके बीच से परीक्षित होकर ही वह मेरे प्रति हो जाये। मेरी नज़रों में निजी मित्रता को लोककल्याण के ऊपर तरजीह नहीं मिल सकती। मित्रता क्या है यह मुझसे बेहतर कौन जान सकता है पर राज्य की कीमत पर नहीं। ईश्वर साक्षी है कि राज्य पर और उसके नियमों पर अगर खतरा आता है तो मैं उसके लिए कुछ भी कर सकता हूँ। पोलिनेसियस निर्वासन में था और उसने लौटकर विद्रोह का नेतृत्व किया था। कोई व्यक्ति उसकी लाश को छूने की हिम्मत न करे। प्रार्थना के दो शब्द उचारने की जुर्रत न करे। और हाँ, इस आज्ञा के पीछे छुपा विवेक जो हर किसी के सामने स्पष्ट है, उसको बराबर याद रखा जाये। यही मेरा या राज्य का ‘विल’ है। बाकी नागरिक समाज अपना कर्तव्य आप जानता है। लाश के आसपास संतरी रहेंगे जो किसी को भी पास फटकने नही देंगे और आप यानि कि नागरिक समाज यह ध्यान रखे कि कोई भी कानून न तोड़ पाए। कोई मृत्यु का शोक न माना पाए, इसकी चर्चा तक न कर पाए। राज्य के सामने सिर्फ दो ही खतरे हैं, एक पैसा, जो कुछ भी करा सकता है, विवेक को ही भ्रष्ट कर सकता है और दूसरे एनार्किस्ट। इसी समय एक संतरी बहुत घबराया हुआ प्रवेश करता है। उसके मुंह से शब्द नहीं निकल पा रहे थे, वह बहुत भयभीत था। नियमानुसार कहीं दंड का भागी न हो जाये इसलिए अपनी बात कहने से पहले वह अपनी कठिन स्थिति की व्याख्या करना चाहता है। वह ऐसी खबर लेकर आया था जो निश्चित रूप से खबरी को ही दोषी बना देती। वह किसी तरह अपने रुंधे गले से कह पाता है कि पोलिनेसियस की लाश पर ताज़ी धूल दिखाई पड़ी है, किसी ने उसके शव के दाहकर्म की कोशिश की है। यह बुरी खबर संतरी के हिस्से पड़ी थी। क्योंकि यह दुर्भाग्य उसके सर ही आना था। पासा फेंका गया, दुर्भाग्य मेरे हिस्से आ गया और अब मैं यहाँ हूँ। यह काम किसने किया किसी को नहीं मालूम। आसपास कोई नहीं था बस ताजी खुदी मिट्टी शव के ऊपर दिखाई दी।

कोरस ने या नागरिक समाज ने जोर से पूछा कि क्या यह काम देवताओं ने किया। क्रेयान कहता है कि देवता राज्य के निर्णय के साथ हैं वे ऐसा नहीं कर सकते। यह आप नागरिकों का निकृष्ट विचार है कि ईश्वर बुरे व्यक्तियों को सम्मान देना पसंद करता है। यह मात्र एक भला विचार है। दरअस्ल यह काम अराजकों का है जो शुरू से ही राज्य के खिलाफ कानाफूसी करते रहे हैं। राज्य के खिलाफ अभी भी इन्हीं अराजकों ने गठबंधन किया है और अवश्य ही मेरे सिपाहियों को घूस खिलाकर यह काम करवाया है। दुनिया में पैसे से ज्यादा नैतिक रूप से पतित कुछ भी नहीं। संतरी को वह आदेश देता है कि जाओ जिसने तुम्हें नियुक्त किया है उसे पकड़कर मेरे सामने लाओ वर्ना मृत्यु के लिए तैयार रहो। संतरी क्रेयान की अंतरात्मा को जगाने की कोशिश करते हैं। कहते हैं कि महाराज अगर सही न्यायाधीश गलत न्याय करता है तो वह बहुत दुखद होता है। आप सोचकर देखिये क्या यह केवल मेरी आवाज है, आपकी अंतरात्मा की ध्वनि नहीं है? कोरस या नागरिक समाज मनुष्यरूपी अचम्भे का गीत गाता है। मृत्यु के आखिरी पहर में मनुष्य खड़ा नहीं रह सकता। नागरिक समाज कहता है कि “ओ साफ बुद्धि जो किसी भी माप से बाहर है! ओ मनुष्य के भाग्य जो अच्छाई और बुराई दोनों करता है! जब कानून की रखवाली होती है तो कैसे उसका शहर खड़ा होता है। परन्तु जब कानून तोड़े जाते हैं तब उसके शहर का क्या होगा? ऐसा हो कि कभी कोई अराजक कभी मेरे घर में आकर आश्रय न पाए, कभी ऐसा न हो कि कोई कहे कि मेरे विचार उसके विचार हैं।”

इतने में वह संतरी एंटीगोन को लेकर प्रवेश करता है। एंटीगोन को वह तब पकड़ता है जब वह दुबारा शव पर ताजी मिट्टी डाल रही थी। संतरी ने कहा कि एक जोर की आंधी आई, अँधेरा छा गया और जब बहुत देर बाद आंधी रुकी तो यह वहां खड़ी दिखी। जैसे कोई माता पक्षी अपने बच्चे को चुरा लिए जाने पर गहरी-कर्कश और टूटी हुई धुन में एक दो सुर लगाती है वैसे ही खुली लाश के ऊपर अपने हाथों से मिट्टी डालते हुए यह रो रही थी। इसने अपना गुनाह कबूल कर लिया है। क्रेयोन से एंटीगन कहती है कि उसने क़ानून तोड़ा है क्योंकि वह ईश्वर प्रदत्त नहीं है। आपकी राजाज्ञा कठोर थी लेकिन ईश्वर के अलिखित अमर कानूनों के सामने मेरी सारी शक्ति कमज़ोर पड़ गयी। वे क़ानून सदा थे और सदा रहेंगे। वह मनुष्य के निर्णय से परे सदा क्रियमान हैं। मैं तो मरणशील हूँ और आपकी सजा के बगैर भी मेरी मृत्यु निश्चित है। क्या कोई भी जो मेरी तरह अभी अपनी मृत्यु के पहले जिंदा है और उन पापों के साथ जिंदा है जो मेरे ऊपर लगाये गए हैं, मृत्यु को मित्र से कम मानेगा! मेरे लिए यह मृत्यु कतई महत्वपूर्ण नहीं है। लेकिन अगर मैं अपने प्यारे भाई को बिना दफनाये छोड़ देती तब वह मेरे लिए दुःख और पीड़ा होती। लेकिन अब वह मेरे पास नहीं है। क्रेयोन उसे अपने पिता की तरह पागल कहता है। इसका दिमाग दुश्मन के कब्जे में है और अपराध वहां पैठ गया है। अब इसके दिमाग पर अराजकता का राज है। वह क्रेयोन से कहती है कि अगर आप मुझे दंड देते हैं और मेरी हत्या करते हैं तब भी लोग मेरी बड़ाई करेंगे और वे लोग अब भी कर रहे हैं। बात सिर्फ इतनी है कि उनकी ज़ुबान आपके भय से बंद है। मृतक का अनुताप कोई अपराध नहीं है। कोई ग्लानि नहीं है। राजा कहता है कि तुमने अपने दूसरे भाई का, अपने विजेता भाई का और उसकी स्मृतियों का अपमान किया है। जबकि शत्रु मरने के बाद भी शत्रु है। एंटीगन कहती है कि अभी भी सारे मृतकों का सम्मान बाकी है। यह तो प्रकृति है कि प्रेम में लोग शामिल होते हैं घृणा में नहीं। राजा इसेमेन को भी बुलाता है और इस अपराध में सहभागी होने के चलते उसे भी मृत्युदंड सुनाता है। एंटीगन इसेमेन को निरपराध कहती है। इसेमेन इस कार्य के महत्त्व को अब जाकर समझने की बात कहती है। वह दंड का भागी बनने के लिए प्रस्तुत हो जाती है। परन्तु एंटीगन कहती है कि मृत और देवता जानते हैं कि यह काम किसका है। केवल शब्द मित्र नहीं होते। ‘तुम तो हमेशा क्रेयोन के मत के साथ थी। तुम खुद को बचा लो, मैं तुमसे कोई ईर्ष्या नहीं रखूंगी। लोग होंगे जो तुम्हारी प्रशंसा भी करेंगे, मैं उनका भी बुरा नहीं मानूंगी। बल्कि उनका भी सम्मान करुँगी’। इसेमेन कहती है कि हम दोनों तो समान दोषी हैं। ‘नहीं इसेमेन, तुम अभी जिंदा हो और मैं मृत्यु को प्राप्त हूँ’। राजा दोनों की बातों से झल्ला जाता है। इसेमेन कहती है कि ‘राजन! विषाद तो कठोर मस्तिष्क में भी हलचल पैदा करता है, क्या आपके मन में कोई विषाद नहीं है?’ राजा कहता है ‘करता होगा। जब तुम्हारे जैसे लोग अपराधियों और दोषियों से एकजुटता बना लेते हैं तब करता होगा’। राजा का बेटा हैमोन एंटीगन का मंगेतर है। वह आकर राजा को विवेक की दुहाई देता है। वह दूसरों के मतों को सुनने की सलाह देता है। कहता है कि एक व्यक्ति सारी बातों का पता नहीं पा सकता। ‘आपको शायद पता न हो पर अँधेरे में शहर की गलियों में लोग इस लड़की की बातें करते हैं। एक दूसरे के कानों में फुसफुसाते हुए इसके सद्कर्म की दुहाई देते हैं।’ राजा हैमोन को भी अराजकों का समर्थक बताता है। उसे लड़की के प्रेम में अंधा कहता है। हैमोन के सामने ही एंटीगन को पत्थर की मेहराब में चुनवा देने का आदेश देता है। इसेमेन को दंड-मुक्त कर दिया जाता है। एंटीगन अपने किये सारे कामों में अपना विश्वास फिर से प्रकट करती है। कहती है कि उसके सीने में ग्रीक देवी नियोबे की एकान्तिक रूदन महसूस हो रही है। जिस मेहराब में वह दफन होने जा रही है वहां उसे अभिशापित सुहाग सेज की झलक दिखती है। सुहाग की वह सेज जहाँ माता और पुत्र के संयोग की भयावहता खेल रही है। जो चिर अभिशापित है। ‘ओ ओडिपस! पिता और भाई! तुम्हारी शादी मेरी शादी पर कब्र से हमला करती है। यहाँ मैं अपनी ही ज़मीन पर अजनबी हो गयी हूँ। तुम्हारा अभिशाप जन्म भर मेरे साथ लगा-लगा फिरता रहा है’।

एंटीगन के जाने के बाद बूढ़ा टेयरिसियस आता है। वह नबी है। भविष्यवाणी करता है। प्रोफेसी करता है। राजा को चेतावनी देता है कि सारे ग्रह-नक्षत्र रुष्ट हो गए हैं। बड़ी भारी विपत्ति आने वाली है। जितनी ज़ल्दी संभव हो पोलिनेसियस के शव को दफना देना चाहिए। गलतियां तो हर किसी से होती है लेकिन समझदार उसे तुरंत ही सुधार लेता है। पर शुरू में राजा उसे भी भ्रष्ट और पैसों से खरीदा हुआ कहता है। पीढ़ियों से प्रोफेसी करने वालों की यही गति रही है। टेयरिसियस राजा को सावधान करता हुआ कहता है कि ‘एक मृत्यु के पहले कब्र में है और दूसरा मृत होकर भी कब्र से महरूम है यही तुम्हारा सबसे बड़ा अपराध है राजा। वह दिन दूर नहीं जब तुम्हारा घर औरतों और मर्दों के मृत्यु क्रंदन से गूंजेगा, सारा शहर अपने बिना दफनाये संतानों के लिए मातम मनायेगा जिनकी लाशें सड़ने के लिए छोड़ दी गयी हैं। ये मेरे तीर हैं क्रेयोन जो तुम्हारे लिए हैं। क्या तुम इन्हें खरीद सकते हो’। नागरिक समाज बूढ़े टेयरिसियस की बातों में सच्चाई की आवाज़ सुनता है। वह राजा को पश्चाताप के लिए तैयार करता है। पोलिनेसियस की लाश को ज़ल्दी से दफनाने राजा खुद निकल पड़ता है। इसी बीच संदेशवाहक आकर अनहोनी की सूचना देता है। कहता है वे लोग पहले ही मर चुके हैं। जो जिंदा हैं वे अपराधी हैं। एंटीगन फांसी लगा कर आत्महत्या कर लेती है। हैमोन उसके शरीर को बाहों में घेर कर निश्चल खड़ा था जब राजा पोलिनेसियस के शव को दफना कर वहां पहुंचा। क्रेयोन पर वह तलवार से वार करता है पर वह चुक जाती है और खुद हैमोन के शरीर के दो टुकड़े हो जाते हैं। संदेशवाहक से यह सुनकर रानी और हैमोन की माता महल में गायब हो जाती है और वह भी आत्महत्या कर लेती है। क्रेयोन को बूढ़े टेयरिसियस की त्रासद भविष्यवाणी साक्षात दिखती है। अंत में नागरिक समाज कहता है कि जो भी त्रासदी हुई उससे विवेक मिलता है।

राज्य और उसकी नैतिक व्यवस्था के भीतर मृत्युशोक और शहादत का यह अपोरिया एंटीगन के चरित्र में विकसित होता है। कई विद्वानों ने एंटीगन के चरित्र में बेंजामिन की छवि देखी है। राज्य की पूर्णता की त्रासदी दरअस्ल हीगेल के परम की त्रासदी है। बेंजामिन सद्यःकाल में केवल प्रगति की सारी विचारधाराओं का भग्नावशेष नहीं देखते बल्कि खुद क्रान्ति का भग्नावशेष भी देखते हैं। एंटीगन के अस्वीकार में छिपी महात्रासदी हीगेल की ‘ठोस सार्वजनीनता’(कंक्रीट यूनिवर्सल) की सीमा है। हीगेल के यहाँ ठोस के इतिहास की संरचना परम के दुहराव या पुनरुत्पादन की संरचना है। परम के दुहराव या पुनरुत्पादन की द्वंद्वात्मकता को बेंजामिन ने एतिहासिक भौतिकवाद की संरचना में उलट दिया है जहां ठोस केवल द्वंद्वात्मक नहीं है बल्कि वह असमरूप द्वंद्व में बदल जाता है। परम के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में ठोस की त्रासदी वस्तुतः विभिन्न वास्तविक घटनाओं से बनने वाली ठोस की विशिष्टताओं का द्वंद्वात्मक विवेक है और केवल विवेक नहीं वरन् उसकी एकान्तिक भौतिकता भी है। ‘मृत भी खतरे से बाहर नहीं है’ और ‘जो जिंदा हैं वे अपराधी है’। वह एकांतिकता जिसमें विछिन्नता के कारण हीगेल का परम फिर से लौट लौट आता है। उसका पुनरुत्पादन संभव होता है, जो कि ठोस-सार्वजनीनता है। इसलिए बेंजामिन का वर्तमान केवल क्रांति का सद्यःकाल नहीं है या केवल प्रगति की विचारधाराओं का भग्नावशेष नहीं बल्कि स्वयं क्रान्ति का भी भग्नावशेष है। असफल क्रान्ति वस्तुतः हीगेलीय परम के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में स्वयं का भग्नावशेष भी देखती है। क्रान्ति की असफलता वर्तमान को हीगेलीय ठोस-सार्वजनीनता में बदल देती है। हीगेलीय परम का यह उत्पादन और पुनरुत्पादन वस्तुतः क्रांति के बाहर के किसी ऐतिहासिक काल द्वारा क्रांति को स्वयं में समाहित करने से नहीं होता। बल्कि स्वयं क्रान्ति की अपूर्णता के भीतर से हीगेलीय परम उभरता है। क्रान्ति के भग्नावशेष जिसकी अभिव्यक्तियाँ हैं। यह क्रान्ति के भीतर से ही क्रान्ति की संरचनात्मकता के ठीक उलट प्रभाव का पैदा होना है। दूसरे शब्दों में कह सकते हैं कि हीगेलीय पूर्णता एक फैंटेसी है लेकिन वह वास्तविक फैंटेसी है। बेंजामिन दिखाते हैं कि ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी के लिए हीगेल की ‘ठोस-सार्वजनीनता’ की अवधारणा को बिना स्पष्ट रूप से समझे छोड़ना संभव ही नहीं। पूँजी की ऐतिहासिक वास्तविकता के रूप में हीगेलीय ठोस-सार्वजनीनता का वास्तविक निषेध इसके भीतर से ही संभव है। ‘ठोस-सार्वजनीनता’ का प्रश्न बेंजामिन के लिए इसलिए महत्वपूर्ण नहीं है कि वह राज्य या पूँजी के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में सत्य का निदर्शन करता है। बल्कि उसे बेंजामिन क्रान्ति की अधूरी या खो गयी सच्चाई का प्रभाव मानते हैं। इस प्रकार इतिहास का द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब बेंजामिन के सामने हीगेल के परम या ठोस-सार्वजनीनता के रूप में क्रान्ति के अधूरे सच का या उसके भग्नावशेष की वास्तविकता का रूपक बन जाता है। भग्नावशेष या मलबे के भीतर वर्तमान एक बार फिर इतिहासवादी प्रगति के रूप में छिन्न-भिन्न हो बिखर जाता है। इतिहास को उलटे रंदे से छील कर हासिल करना यही है। परम के वास्तविक निषेध के रूप में मार्क्स की ‘सतत क्रांति’ या मार्क्स और एंगेल्स जिसे ‘वास्तविक आन्दोलन के रूप में साम्यवाद’ कहते हैं वह उसकी यानी कि परम की नकारात्मक मौलिकता है। ठिठकी हुई द्वंद्वात्मकता दरअस्ल वास्तविक आन्दोलन है जो हीगेल के परम की द्वंद्वात्मक क्रिया को लगातार विछिन्न करती जाती है। ‘ठिठकी हुई द्वंद्वात्मकता’ मजदूर वर्ग के आन्दोलन का मूलगामी सामान्यीकरण है। इसी में क्रांतिकारी सामूहिकता या विषयता का जन्म होता है।

मार्क्स जिसे ‘तथाकथित आदिम संचय’ कहते हैं वह ऐतिहासिक तथा तार्किक दोनों रूपों में पूँजी के निर्माण का वह क्षण है जहाँ से पूँजी की पूरी व्यवस्था का उत्पादन और पुनरुत्पादन संभव होता है। दूसरे शब्दों में पूँजी का ‘तथाकथित आदिम संचय’ जिसे मार्क्स ‘मूल पाप’ की तरह कहते हैं, वह सभ्यता के भग्नावशेष या उसके मलबे की तरह वर्तमान भी ही। यह क्षण लगातार पूँजी की त्रासदी को पूँजी के पुनरुत्पादन की त्रासदी में बदलता है। पूँजी के लिए सद्यःकाल पूँजी के आदिम संचय का सद्यःकाल है जबकि बेंजामिन की ‘ठिठकी हुई द्वंद्वात्मकता’ इस क्षण की क्रांतिकारी नकारात्मकता है। बेंजामिन अपनी थीसिस में वर्तमान को क्रान्ति के भग्नावशेष के रूप में बार-बार व्याख्यायित करते हैं। क्रान्ति की एकांतिकता जहाँ भंग होकर हीगेलीय पूर्णता में लौट जाती है वहीं अनभिव्यक्तियाँ भी इतिहासवाद की परंपरा में भूला दी जाती हैं। बेंजामिन ब्लांकी या पेरिस कम्यून या स्पार्टाकस लीग का उल्लेख इसी सन्दर्भ में करते हैं। अपनी बारहवीं थीसिस में बेंजामिन लिखते हैं: “ऐतिहासिक ज्ञान का विषय खुद संघर्षशील शोषित वर्ग है। मार्क्स ने इसे अंतिम गुलाम वर्ग कहा है- प्रतिशोधक जो पीढ़ियों से दमित-शोषितों के नाम पर मुक्ति का कार्यभार पूरा करती है। यह विश्वास जो कुछ समय के लिए स्पार्टाकस लीग के भीतर पुनर्जीवित हुई थी, सामाजिक जनवादियों के लिए हमेशा दिक्कततलब रही है। तीन दशकों के भीतर ही इन लोगों ने ब्लांकी का नाम तक मिटा डाला, जबकि उसके नाम से पिछली सदी थरथराती थी। सामाजिक जनवादी मजदूर वर्ग को ऐसे प्रस्तुत करते हैं मानो वह भविष्य की पीढ़ियों का उद्धारक होगा और इस प्रकार उसकी सबसे बड़ी शक्ति से उसे मरहूम कर देते हैं। यह शिक्षा मजदूर वर्ग को इसकी घृणा और इसकी शहादत की भावना को भूल जाने पर मजबूर करती है, क्योंकि यह दोनों भावनाएं अपना पोषण गुलाम पूर्वजों के बिम्ब से करती है ना कि किन्हीं मुक्त पोते-पोतियों के आदर्श से।”(थीसिस XII)

इस तरह बेंजामिन के लिए ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद क्रान्ति की एकांतिकता और उसके अतीत के असफल प्रयासों की पूर्ण अभिव्यक्ति के लिए अतीत और वर्तमान का ऐसा असमरूप नक्षत्रपुन्ज है जहां भविष्य का हस्तक्षेप होता है। यह क्रान्ति के भग्नावशेषों में छुपे ‘सक्रिय गिरोहों’ की अब तक न पायी गयी पूर्ण अभिव्यक्ति का वर्तमान है। हीगेलीय परम के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में पूँजी का पुनरुत्पादन अभी भी उसके सामने है। हर क्रान्ति प्रतिक्रान्ति के भग्नावशेषों के साथ है। वाकणकर मृत्युशोकगीत की एकांतिकता में इस शहादत की भावना को जगह नहीं देते और ऐसा करके वह हिगेलीय परम के पुनरुत्पादन की ट्रेजडी से बच निकलना चाहते हैं। परन्तु इस प्रयास में वह शोषित और दमित वर्गों की घृणा और शहादत की भावनाओं को भुला देना चाहते हैं। स्मृति को राजनीति पर तरजीह देकर वह स्मृति की राजनीति को या मजदूर वर्ग को भुलावे में रखने की राजनीति को तरजीह देते हैं। और ऐसा करते हैं ‘शोकगीत की कोमलता’ के नाम पर। परन्तु ऐसा करते हुए वह जाने अनजाने पूँजी के गतिशील अंतर्विरोध में ही समाहित हो जाते हैं। परन्तु तब क्या शोकगीत की एकांतिकता बेंजामिन के लिए कोई महत्त्व नहीं रखती? बेंजामिन शोकगीत की एकांतिकता में नयी और पुरानी पीढ़ियों का गुप्त समझौता देखते हैं। वह ख़ुशी या कमज़ोर मसीहाई शक्ति का निरंतर भान है जो केवल अनुभवगम्य है। जिसमें ईर्ष्या नहीं है। एकान्तिक शोकगीत और एंटीगन की शहादत को लक्ष्य करते हुए ही बेंजामिन ने लिखा था: “यहाँ तक की मृत भी सुरक्षित नहीं हैं”।

कबीर के यहाँ शूर और सती का प्रतीक शहादत का प्रतीक है। वहां मृत्युशोकगीत मरजीवा अनल पक्षी की साधना में बदल गया है। ऐसा नहीं कि कबीर के निर्गुण में विषाद नहीं है। परन्तु यह विषाद मृत्यु की घटना के कारण नहीं बल्कि निरर्थक मृत्यु के सार्थक बने रह जाने का विषाद है। कबीर ने अतीत के रहस्यमयी रूप को लक्ष्य करते हुए लिखा था:-

कबीरा भेष अतीत का, करतूति करै अपराध|
बाहरि दीसै साध गति, माँहै महा असाध||१||
(असाध कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

अतीत का भेष, उसका रूप,उसका बाना अपराधी का बाना है। बाहर बाहर उसकी गति तो बड़ी साधु लगती है। उसकी गत्यात्मकता आदर्श लगती है। पर भीतर ही भीतर, अन्दर ही अंदर वह महा असाध गति लिए रहती है। बर्बरताओं को लिए चलती है। इसकी आन्तरिकता को साधना बड़ा मुश्किल है। कबीर इस असाध को साधने की कोशिश करते हैं। पर कबीर आधुनिक पूंजीवादी समाज में नहीं थे और न ही कोई ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी थे। पर कबीर के सामने भी अतीत से चली आती मृत्युशोक गीत और शहादत की परंपरा थी। कबीर उसका रूपांतरण करते हैं। उनके सामने भी पूर्णता की फैंटेसी उभरती है। यह फैंटेसी कितनी वास्तविक है यह उनके पदों में दीखता है। यह पूरमपूर मनुष्यता की फैंटेसी है। माया की फैंटेसी के खिलाफ पूर्ण अभिव्यक्ति की फैंटेसी। एकान्तिक सार्वजनीनता की फैंटेसी। और इस फैंटेसी में ही धर्म लौट आता है। कबीर का भग्नावशेष उनके धर्मगुरु में बदल जाने का भग्नावशेष है। कबीरमठ उनके पूरमपूर की धार्मिकता का वास्तविक होना है। पर इसके सहारे हम उनकी वर्तमानता का निर्धारण नहीं कर सकते। महत्वपूर्ण है वह उन्मेष जिसे हम कबीर की एकान्तिक सार्वजनीनता की साधना में देखते हैं। एकांतिकता तभी महत्वपूर्ण है जब हम उसे सार्वजनीनता के कबीरीय क्षण के साथ देखते हैं। इसके बिना वह स्वयं ही प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा में समाहित है।

वाकणकर पूँजी की पूर्णता की फैंटेसी से बाहर ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ से बनने वाली सामाजिकता की खोज करते हैं। परन्तु यह नहीं देख पाते कि मृत्युशोकगीत का एकान्तिक मूल अनुभववाद कैसे एक स्पेक्टेकल में बदल जाता है। स्पेक्टेकल बन कर फिर से पूँजी में समाहित हो जाता है। वाकणकर जिस सामूहिकता को तार्किक और कालिक रूप से पूँजी की राजनीतिक सामाजिक संरचना से पहले का मानते हैं वह अपनी आकस्मिकता के भीतर से ही स्पेक्टेकल में या कहें कि पूँजी की विचारधारा में शामिल हो जाती है। दूसरी ओर ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के रैकरण को पहचानना चाहता है। उसकी ठोस पदार्थमयता को पहचानना चाहता है। उसे भविष्य से भी मृत्युशोकगीत की धुनें सुनाई देती हैं। पूँजी और धर्म का निरंतर पुनरुत्पादन कोई बाह्य ऐतिहासिकता नहीं बल्कि वाकणकर के तथाकथित ‘दलित चित्तवृत्ति’ के भीतर से ही संभव होता है। कबीर का वर्तमान चमत्कार और हिंसा के स्पेक्टेकल की वर्तमानता में नहीं है जो कि वस्तुतः विजेताओं के हाथों हथियार बन जाना है। शोषितों के लिए कबीर की सार्वजनीन साधना उसकी वर्तमानता है। अनल पक्षी के रूप में कबीर का द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब कुछ ऐसा ही है। यह साधना राज्य से एक स्पष्ट दूरी रखती है। कबीर के मठ उनकी साधना के ध्वंसावशेष हैं। वाकणकर के यहाँ कबीर का चौथा विमर्श ही एकमात्र और सर्वप्रमुख हो जाता है। इस प्रक्रम में कबीर रहस्यात्मक अनुभववाद के पूर्व क्षण में स्थिर कर दिए जाते हैं। चौथे विमर्श की जो मौन पूरकता है या जो काव्यात्मक मौन सहभागिता है उसे सार बना कर प्रस्तुत किया गया है। रामविलास शर्मा मुक्तिबोध की कविताओं में रहस्य और चमत्कार के आनुभविक बिम्बों को उनकी कविता का सार बताते थे और इसी आधार पर उन्हें अस्तित्ववादी और रहस्यवादी घोषित करते थे। वाकणकर भी कुछ ऐसा ही कबीर के लिए करते हैं। पर दोनों की दिशाएँ एकदम विपरीत निष्कर्ष पर पहुँचती है। दूसरी ओर कबीर और मुक्तिबोध दोनों के लिए यह काव्यसाधना का आतंरिक विच्छेद है। वे न पूरी तरह मौन हैं और न ही अपने अनुभव की अद्वितीयता को कविता की आत्मा बनाते हैं। यह आतंरिक विच्छेद उनकी सबद साधना की शक्ति है। यह रचना का आतंरिक नैतिक आयाम है जो मूलतः रहस्यवाद विरोधी है, जहां ये दोनों अपनी आस्था को ‘अकथनीयत’ की अद्वितीयता के द्वारा प्रमाणित करने की कोशिश नहीं करते। यह कल्पनात्मक फैंटेसी और भाषा की ऐतिहासिक-सामाजिक प्रकृति के बीच का रचनात्मक द्वंद्व है। कविता की यह लाचारी किसी छिपी हुई शक्ति के माध्यम से प्रकट नहीं होती बल्कि इसी में उसकी ताकत है। जो लोग कबीर की ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के पक्ष को लेकर सहभागिता या सॉलिडेरिटी का प्रश्न सुलझाने की राय देते हैं वे वस्तुतः आन्दोलन को अनवरत दुहराव और नयेपन के भ्रम में रखना चाहते हैं। चमत्कार और कुछ नहीं सत्य के अतिलौकिक होने का चिह्न बन जाता है। कबीर अपने चौथे विमर्श को कभी भी चिह्नों और प्रतीकों वाले दूसरे विमर्श में थिर नहीं करते। ऐसा करने से कबीर का निर्गुण राम फिर से पारलौकिक हो जाता है। कबीर के यहाँ जो आत्मदैन्य है वह पूर्ण आत्मसमर्पण नहीं बल्कि विषयीगत सीमा का अनवरत बोध है। यह आत्मदैन्य प्रखर आत्मविश्वास से अभिन्न है। कहीं वह स्वयं ‘राम का कूता’ हैं तो कहीं स्वयं हरि कबीर कबीर पुकारते पीछे भागते हैं।

कबीर के यहाँ देह और मन या जीवात्मा के दो आतंरिक पक्ष मिलते हैं। पीछे हमने देखा था कि ‘देह और मन’ पुराने दर्शनों के ‘शरीर और आत्मा’ नहीं हैं। यहाँ जड़ शरीर और शाश्वत आत्मा की संकल्पना नहीं है। देह और मन एक ही विषयी जीवात्मा के भीतर दो विषयगत मार्गों की बुनावट है। मृत्यु देह का विचार है और जीवन मन का विचार है। देह या तन और मन या चेतना एक ही विषयी या जीवात्मा की दो भिन्न गतियाँ हैं। यह वर्णाश्रमी संकल्पना नहीं है। वर्णाश्रम में जीवन की सारी व्यवस्था मृत्यु का पर्याय है। कबीर वहां जीवन को मृत्यु की तरह देखते थे। वहां जीवन नित्य मृत्यु को प्राप्त होने का क्रम था। वर्णाश्रम में जो मृत्यु थी वह कबीर के लिए जीवन का पर्याय थी। संतों के सामने दो अतिवादी मार्ग थे- या तो देह का मार्ग था या फिर मन का। कबीर के ‘निर्गुण राम’ या ‘मरजीवा’ की साधना में यह दोनों अतियां एक दूसरे से बुनी हुई हैं। इस आतंरिक बुनावट में योगियों और वर्णाश्रम पंथियों दोनों के विषयों को अयोग्य घोषित कर दिया गया। यह एक नए यथार्थ का उन्मेष था। यह चिंतन की नई अंतर्वस्तु थी।

कबीर के यहाँ कोई पीड़ित भाव नहीं मिलता। वह कभी पीड़ित भाव के इर्द-गिर्द सॉलिडेरिटी विकसित नहीं करते। पीड़ित भावजन्य आत्मदैन्य उनके स्वभाव में नहीं था। जीवधारी का उपरी तन जो आखिरकार सब कुछ अनुभव करता है, कबीर उसे किसी ‘पवित्रता’ की धारणा से नहीं बांधते थे। देह और मन वैसे ही गुंथे हुए हैं जैसे मृत्यु और जीवन।मृत्यु या काल देह का विचार है जो लगातार मन के एक कोने में प्रश्न स्वरूप बनता रहता है। यह विचार मन के भीतर एक ‘किन्तु’ रूपी प्रश्न है। इसी किन्तु के इर्दगिर्द वह बुनावट है। यही किन्तु ‘संशय’ पैदा करती है। ‘आतमखबर’ इसी संशय को मिटाता है। आतमखबर और जगतखबर का द्वंद्व ही कबीर की नई सार्वजनीनता का आधार है। ‘निर्गुनराम’ के विचार की साधना ‘मरजीवा’ की साधना भी है। काल ईश्वर का नियम है जो मृत्यु के क्षण वास्तविक या पार्थिव होता है। काल की इसी लौकिकता के नाम पर विधि-निषेध जीवन को नियंत्रित करते हैं। इसलिए जीवन की साधना काल से एक होड़ है। मृत्यु में समानता को जीवन में समानता में बदल देना ही कबीर के लिए मरजीवा होना है। यह किसी महामानव की साधना नहीं है। मृतक जब धनुष लिए जी उठता है तो काल अहेरी भाग खड़ा होता है। ‘मृतक उठ्या धनक कर लियै, काल अहेड़ी भागा’। कबीर काल की सद्यः वर्तमान गति को हमेशा देखते हैं और दुखी होते हैं। कबीर का दुःख इस सद्यःवर्तमान का दुःख है।

काल सिरहाने यौं खड़ा, जागि पियारे मिन्त|
राम स्नेही बाहिरा, तु क्यों सोवै निच्यंत||३||
(काल कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रन्थावली)
देखहु यहु तन जरता है|
घड़ी पहर बिलंबौ रे भाई जरता है ||टेक||
काहैं कूँ एता कीया पसारा| यहु तन जरि बरि ह्वैहैं छारा||
नव तन द्वादस लागी आगि| मुगध न चेतै नख सिख जागी||
काम क्रोध घर भरे विकार| आप ही आप जरै संसारा||
कहै कबीर हम मृतक समानां| राम नाम छूटे अभिमाँनाँ||९४||
(राग गौड़ी, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

मन की विषयता बार-बार समझाती है कि ‘यह तन कागद का पुतरा’ है, विनस जाने वाली ‘कागद की गुड़िया’ है। झूठे तन को गर्व का विषय क्यों बनाते हो। ‘फिर भी, किन्तु’ तन का विचार है जो जीवात्मा की दूसरी विषयता की गति है।

तन राखनहारा कौं नाहीं|
तुम सोचि बिचारी देखौ मन माँही||टेक||
जोर कुटुंब अपनौ करि परियौ| मूंड ठोकि ले बाहरि जार्‍यौ||
दगाबाज लूटैं अरु रोवै| जारि गाड़ि षुर षोजहिं षोवै||
कहत कबीर सुनहुं रे लोई| हरि बिन राखनहार न कोई||९५||
(राग गौड़ी, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

पर जो कोई कहे कि कबीर तन और देह को छोड़ कल्पना में मुक्ति की बात कर रहे हैं तो यह भारी भूल है। उनकी साधना लोक से परे की फैंटेसी है ऐसा मानने वालों को कबीर तत्क्षण ही चेतावनी देते हैं। रहस्यात्मक बिम्बों और प्रतीकों वाले विमर्श की आलोचना तुरंत करते हैं:-

मन तू पार उतर कहँ जैहौ |
आगे पंथी पंथ न कोई, कूच-मुकाम न हारा |
नहिं तहँ नीर, नाव नहिं खेवट, ना गुन खैंचन हारा |
धरणी-गगन-कल्प कछु नाहीं, ना कछु वार न पारा |
नहिं तन, नहिं मन, नहीं अपन पौ सुन्न में सुद्ध न पैहौ |
बलीवान होय पैठो घट में, वाहीं ठौरैं होइहो|
बारहि बार बिचार देख मन, अंत कहूँ मत जैहो|
कहैं कबीर सब छाड़ि कलपन, ज्यों के त्यों ठहरौ हौ||४३७||
( कबीर ग्रंथावली, सं. राम किशोर शर्मा.)

यहाँ है शून्यवाद का नकार और वह संभव होता है जीवन के स्वीकार में। इसलिए कबीर मृत्यु की साधना नहीं करते बल्कि जीवन की सार्वजनीनता को स्वीकार करते हैं। यह मृत्यु के परिरक्षण के द्वारा मृत्यु का अस्वीकार नहीं है बल्कि इसको जीवन में भर कर उसका नाश करना है। कबीर के लिए जीवन मृत्योन्मुखता से परिभाषित नहीं है। जीवात्मा का एक हिस्सा अब भी कहता है ‘ना’, वह विचार करके नहीं देखना चाहता, जैसा है वैसा मान कर चलता है। यह निर्गुण राम की आस्था में किन्तु परन्तु का संदेह विनसता नहीं देखता। यह जीवन की एकान्तिक साधना में जाना नहीं चाहता। वह नहीं स्वीकार करता है कि मृत्यु का निषेध विधि-निषेधों का निषेध है। कर्मबंधन और विधि-निषेध जीव के रास्ते में खड़े हैं। इनका यथार्थ ही मृत्यु है। मन ‘राम नाम’ की आस्था लेकर चलता है जिसका यथार्थ जीवन है। सत्य सबका और प्रत्येक का है, इसी अर्थ में वह एक है। सच स्वयं अपवाद है इसलिए सबका और प्रत्येक का हो कर वह सार्वजनीन है और इसीलिए उसका कोई अपवाद नहीं। साईं, हरि, गोपाल, राम, कोई दार्शनिक सर्वोच्च सत्ता नहीं, बल्कि संबोधन की एक व्यवस्था है। वह अपने में भेद नहीं करता। उसका संबोधन भेदों को स्थगित करके ही संभव है। उसकी सर्व संप्रेषणीयता में ही ‘सबद साधना’ है। जब तक वह प्रत्येक का नहीं है तब तक वह एक भी नहीं है। कबीर हर भिन्नता की जगह पर खड़े हो कर सच की सार्वजनीनता कि घोषणा करते है। ‘मृत्यु और जीवन’ के दो विषयीगत रास्ते, भिन्नताओं की दो बहुलताएँ भी हैं। पहली बहुलता वर्णाश्रम के विधि-निषेधों द्वारा स्वीकृत है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो इन बहुलताओं को क़ानूनी स्वीकृति है। वहां उसकी अपनी विशिष्ट पहचान का पहले से निर्धारित सीमांकन है। दूसरे प्रकार की बहुलताएँ अपनी पहली बहुलता के निषेध में विकसित होती है। ये दूसरी बहुलताएँ ही सार्वजनीनता को धारण करने वाली बहुलताएँ हैं। यह अपनी दी गई बहुलताओं के अभाव को दूर करने के क्रम में उसका अतिरेक पैदा करने वाली बहुलताएँ हैं। यह सम्भब ही होता है अपनी दी गयी पहचान के या अपनी अस्मिता के अतिरेक में जाने की प्रक्रिया में। कबीर के शब्दों में कहें तो बेहद होने की प्रक्रिया में बनने वाली बहुलताएँ। हद मरे हुए विधि-निषेध है, ‘हद चले सो मानवा’। लेकिन ‘हद छाड़ि बेहद’ होने की प्रक्रिया में सार्वजनीनता की प्रक्रिया है। कबीर ‘हद बेहद दोनों तजै’, अनहद के क्षण को साधते हैं। अस्मिता और भिन्नता दोनों से परे अनस्मिता की साधना ही अनहद की साधना है। अनहद अनाहत नाद भी है। अनस्मिता या अनहद ही उनका ‘अगाध मत’ है। इस प्रकार हम देखते है कि अनेक होने के दो रूप है- एक विधि-निषेधों के द्वारा प्रदत्त अनेकता, दूसरी सार्वजनीनता की अनेकता। पहले का सूत्र ही है जीवों को ‘पापात्मा’ बताना, हिंसा से नियंत्रण रखना, प्रभुतत्त्व की स्वीकार्यता। इस बहुलता में एकता मृत्यु से बनती है। मनुष्य एक है क्योंकि वो मरणशील है। विधि-निषेध वाली इस सहिष्णु बहुलता के बीच एकता और सार्वजनीनता वस्तुतः मृत्यु की सार्वजनीनता है। मृत्यु की यह सार्वजनीनता ही कबीर को ‘मानवाधिकारवादी’ कबीर साबित करना चाहती है। जबकि कबीर ‘बेहद और मरजीवा’ का सार्वजनीन अधिकार घोषित कर रहे है। वह मनुष्य होने की अनंतता की बात कर रहे हैं। कबीर की साधना ‘मानवाधिकारवादी’ राजनीति को अस्वीकार करके ही शुरू होती है।

‘अनहद’ जीवन की साधना है। यह साधना मनुष्य को ‘लघु-अल्प’ बनाने की साधना के विरोध में है। मृत्यु की सर्वग्रासी अस्मिता के विरोध में। विधि-निषेध इच्छाओं का एक जंगल खड़ा करता है। इन्हीं इच्छाओं के मद में भुला जीव मृत्यु को प्राप्त हो जाता है। इच्छाओं की स्वायत्त गति ही ‘माया’ है। ‘माया’ इच्छाओं का स्वनियंत्रित जीवन है। विधि-निषेधों द्वारा जिन इच्छाओं को दबाया जाता है ‘माया’ उन्हें भी एक स्वनियंत्रित जीवन प्रदान करती है। ये स्वाभाविक इच्छाएं नहीं है बल्कि स्वाभाविक बना दी गयी इच्छाएं है। यह स्वभाव का भ्रम खड़ा करती है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो यह स्वभाव की प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा है। यह शुद्ध दुहराव का भ्रम है। यह अचेतन में विधि-निषेधों की स्वाभाविकता बनकर प्रकट होती है। यह स्वभाव विधि-निषेधों के उल्लंघन के रूप में स्वचालित रहती है। यह उल्लंघन की माया है जो स्वभाव बनकर विषयी को मृत्यु की ओर ले जाती है। यह जन्म जन्मान्तर के दुहराव को, उसके चक्र को बिलकुल स्वाभाविक और स्वचालित बना देती है। यह स्वाभाविक स्वतःस्फूर्तता भी कर्म बंधन में शामिल हो जाती है। इस अर्थ में इच्छा माया का ही अचेतन है। यहाँ विधि-निषेध स्वयं इच्छा की वस्तु बन जाते हैं। जिसका निषेध करना है वही कामना की वस्तु हो जाती है और फिर कामना भी विषयी के माध्यम से उल्लंघन के रूप में जीवित रहती है। स्वभाव भी पापबोध बन जाता है। कबीर जानते थे कि माया कैसी ठगिनी है। ‘वैधी’ और ‘रागानुगा’ दोनों ही रूपों में वैष्णवों की भक्ति उल्लंघन को विधि-निषेधों में समाहित कर लेती है। जिसे द्विवेदी जी ‘पति-भाव’ की साधना कहते हैं या जो ‘राधा-भाव’ की साधना है वह इसी माया के द्वारा नियंत्रित जीवन पाना है।

वैष्णव प्रेम काम की स्वाभाविकता का माया जनित जीवन है। कबीर की प्रेम साधना माया का विध्वंस करने वाली साधना है। इसलिए कबीर का प्रेम बहुत कठिन है। प्रेम यहाँ सत्यानुसंधान का जीवन है। यह सच का आनन्द है। सच की साधना में कबीर अपनी प्रक्रिया का नाम ही प्रेम देते हैं। नामवर जी ने ठीक ही कहा है कि कबीर आदि के यहाँ प्रेम ‘इश्क’ की तरह एक नई अवधारणा है जिसे भगवत गीता आदि में वर्णित प्रेम के सहारे समझना मुश्किल है। कहना चाहिए कि इसे शांडिल्य या नारद भक्ति सूत्रों द्वारा समझना भी मुश्किल है। कबीर की प्रेम-भक्ति नारदीय भक्ति मात्र नहीं है। द्विवेदी जी ने ‘कबीर’ के परिशष्ट में जो कुछ पद मौखिक परंपरा के डाले हैं, उसमें एक पद है:-

नारद, प्यार सो अंतर नाहीं |
प्यार जागै तौही जागूँ प्यार सोवै तब सोऊँ ||
जो कोई मेरे प्यर दुखावै जड़ा-मूल सों खोऊँ||
जहाँ मेरा प्यार जस गावै तहाँ करौं मैं बासा||
प्यार चले आगे उठ धाऊँ मोहि प्यार की आसा||
बेहद तीरथ प्यार के चरननि कोटि भक्त समाय||
कहैं कबीर प्रेम की महिमा प्यार देत बुझाय||
(२-१११, कबीर वाणी)

जो कोई मेरे प्यार को कष्ट देगा, उसके रास्ते में बाधा डालेगा, मुझसे दूर करने की कोशिश करेगा, दुनिया के जंजालों में फाँसेगा, अलग-अलग पंथों में भटकाएगा, ऊंच-नीच का बाज़ार चलाएगा, बाह्याचार में उलझायेगा, फिर चाहे वह ब्राह्मण हो या वैष्णव, शाक्त हो या वैरागी, योगी हो या अवधू, हिन्दू हो या तुरक, काजी हो या पंडित, उसे मैं जड़ मूल से वंचित कर देता हूँ। नारद! प्रेम में अंतर नहीं होता, भेद नहीं होता। प्रेम की महिमा सिर्फ प्रेम की साधना में ही समझ आती है। प्रेम आगे आगे चलता है, वही आशा है। प्रेम के बिना साधना संभव नहीं। ‘राम नाम’ में आस्था तो साधना की शुरुआत है, प्रेम उसकी भीषणता में है, उसकी कष्ट साधना में है। यहाँ भेद नहीं चल सकता अंतर नहीं चल सकता क्योंकि यह भेद की हदों को छोड़ने की प्रक्रिया ही है। प्रेम ही धैर्य,आशा और आनन्द है। प्रेम के बिना साधना संभव ही नहीं है। यह स्वयं सार्वजनीन होने की प्रक्रिया है। प्रेम साधना की लगन है, उसकी धुन है, उसकी प्रक्रिया में अन्तर्निहित आशा की तरह है। यह प्रेम सहकर्मी का प्रेम है। यह सच के दो पथिकों, दो साधकों, दो सहकर्मियों द्वारा बनने वाली सार्वजनीनता की वास्तविकता है। यह ‘बेहद’ की प्रक्रिया का वास्तविक होना है। इस अर्थ में प्रेम बेहद होने की प्रक्रिया का अपना आतंरिक नियम है। यह आस्था के जीत जाने का विश्वास है- भविष्य में नहीं बल्कि अभी इसी प्रक्रिया के दौरान। प्रेम का घर बेहद का घर है। कबीर के पास उसका नक्शा है और प्रेम की लगन है। और कबीर कहते हैं:-

कबीरा निज घर प्रेम का, मारग अगम अगाध |
सीस उतारि पग तलि धरै, तब निकटि प्रेम का स्वाद||३९||
(सूरातन कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

कबीर आदि संतों के स्वतःस्फूर्त अनुभववाद को जब नामवर सिंह ‘अनुभवसम्मत विवेकवाद’ कहते हैं तो वह एक बार फिर कबीर आदि संतों को विवेकवाद की प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा में समाहित नहीं कर रहे होते। नामवर जी द्वारा ग्राम्शी के सबाल्टर्न चेतना के साथ संतों के अनुभववाद की तुलना द्रष्टव्य है। ऐतिहासिक रूप से भी और तात्विक रूप से भी। ग्राम्शी मजदूरवर्ग की चेतना और व्यवहार के दर्शन को समझने के क्रम में लोकप्रिय धार्मिक आन्दोलनों के इतिहास को खंगाल रहे थे। ग्राम्शी सबाल्टर्न या निम्नवर्गों की खंडित विश्व-दृष्टि को ‘सामान्य-बोध’ कहते हैं। अपनी जेल नोटबुक में वह इसी सामान्य-बोध और धर्म, दर्शन और विज्ञान की अंतर्क्रियाओं के बारे में विस्तार से चर्चा करते हैं। दर्शन जहाँ एक संपूर्ण बौद्धिक व्यवस्था है वहीं सामान्य-बोध खंडित विश्वदृष्टि वाला होता है। इस खंडित विश्वदृष्टि का ही एक अवयव धर्म भी होता है। धर्म और सामान्य-बोध दोनों ग्राम्शी के लिए समूहवाचक संज्ञा हैं। ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रिया के भीतर कई तरह के सामान्य-बोध एक साथ काम करते होते हैं जो स्वयं इतिहास के उत्पाद होते हैं। धर्म और सामान्य-बोध कोई संपूर्ण बौद्धिक व्यवस्था नहीं बना पाते। किसी की व्यक्तिगत चेतना में ये दोनों मिलकर कोई एकता बनाने में अक्षम हैं। जहाँ ऐसी एकता दिखाई देती है वहां मानना चाहिए कि कोई सर्वसत्तावादी शक्ति काम कर रही है। धर्म वस्तुतः विश्वास की एकता है जहाँ विश्व के बारे में किसी दृष्टि और उस दृष्टि पर आधारित किसी व्यवस्था की एकता बनती है। इसी तरह समाज में कई प्रकार की दार्शनिक व्यवस्थाएं मौजूद होती हैं और यह किसी व्यक्ति पर निर्भर करता है कि वह किसे अपनी बौद्धिक व्यवस्था के अनुरूप पाकर उसका चुनाव करता है। ग्राम्शी पूछते हैं कि आखिर यह चुनाव संभव कैसे होता है? इसी के साथ एक दूसरा प्रश्न भी जुड़ा है। आखिर वैचारिक व्यवस्था और जीवन व्यवहार के बीच एक अंतर्विरोध क्यों पैदा हो जाता है? ग्राम्शी कहते हैं “और अगर सारी क्रियाएं राजनीतिक हैं तो फिर क्या यह नहीं कहा जा सकता कि किसी व्यक्ति का वास्तविक दर्शन अपनी संपूर्णता में उसकी राजनीतिक क्रियाओं में ही अन्तर्निहित है?”[17] दूसरे शब्दों में जब मार्क्स कहते थे कि अगर किसी व्यक्ति को जानना हो तो उसकी बातों पर न जाकर यह देखना चाहिए कि वह क्या करता है तो उसका अर्थ लगभग यही था।

विचार और क्रिया का अंतर्विरोध दरअस्ल दो भिन्न विश्वदृष्टियों की सह-उपस्थिति है। एक विश्वदृष्टि विचार की है, दूसरी क्रिया की। ग्राम्शी कहते हैं कि जीवन में इन दोनों का विरोध केवल व्यक्ति की आत्मप्रवंचना के चलते नहीं होता। यह एक बड़ी सामाजिक और ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रिया में अन्तर्निहित विरोध की अभिव्यक्ति है। जब जनता का काफी बड़ा हिस्सा इस आंतरिक अंतर्विरोध में हो तब यह मानना चाहिये कि जनता की कोई अपनी नवीन जीवन दृष्टि है जो अभी अपनी भ्रूणावस्था में ही है। ‘समाज में क्रियाशील मनुष्य’ (एक्टिव मैन-इन-द-मास) जिन व्यावहारिक क्रियाओं में रत होता है उनके बारे में कोई साफ़ सैद्धांतिक चेतना उसके पास नहीं होती। व्यावहारिक क्रियाओं में रत मनुष्य अपने आस-पास की दुनिया को बदलता हुआ खुद को भी बदलता जाता है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “ उसकी सैद्धांतिक समझदारी ऐतिहासिक रूप से उसके क्रिया-कलापों से भिन्न हो सकती है। कोई संभवतः कह ही सकता है कि उसकी दो सैद्धांतिक चेतनाएं (या एक अंतर्विरोधी चेतना) होती है: एक जो उसके क्रियाकलापों में अन्तर्निहित होती है और प्रकारांतर से उसे वास्तविक दुनिया के व्यावहारिक रूपांतरण में रत अपने सभी साथी कामगारों से एक करती है; और एक जिसे वह अतीत से बिना किसी आलोचना के ग्रहण करता है और जो सतही रूप से व्यक्त और मुखर होती है।”[18] साथी कामगारों के साथ एकता की अन्तर्निहित चेतना उनकी दैनंदिन क्रियाओं में ही शामिल है। मार्क्स के ‘थीसिस ऑन फायरबाख’ के पहले थीसिस के सन्दर्भ में ही इसे समझना चाहिए जहां मनुष्य की वास्तविक संवेदनशील क्रियाओं की वस्तुनिष्ठता की बात मार्क्स करते हैं। यह कान्टीय पूर्वनिर्धारित कोटि नहीं है। अन्तर्निहित चेतना और सतही चेतना का अंतर्विरोध दो भिन्न सामाजिक समूहों की विरोधी स्थितियों की ही अभिव्यक्ति है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो वर्ग-संघर्ष की दो विरोधी दृष्टियाँ हैं। व्यापक जन समूह वाली सबाल्टर्न जनता की अन्तर्निहित विश्वदृष्टि जो अभी भ्रूणावस्था में ही है वह कामगारों की विश्वदृष्टि है। अतीत से प्राप्त विचारधाराएँ जो बिना किसी आलोचना के सबाल्टर्न जनता की चेतना में काम करती है वह विजेताओं की विचारधारा है। ‘सामान्य समय’ में अर्थात् रोज़मर्रा के अपने सामान्य रूटीन कामों को करते वक़्त कामगार अपनी क्रियाओं को प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा के चश्मे से ही देखता है। ऐसा इसलिए होता है क्योंकि यह विशाल जनता स्वतंत्र या स्वायत्त न होकर ‘अधीनता या मातहती’ में काम करती है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “इस प्रकार इस सामाजिक समूह [व्यापक जन समूहवाला एक सबाल्टर्न समूह] की इस दुनिया के बारे में अपनी धारणा होती है, चाहे वह बीज रूप में ही हो; एक धारणा जो अपने को कर्म में अभिव्यक्त करती है, लेकिन सामयिक रूप से और कभी कभी ही, एक कौंध बन कर- जब वह समूह एक आवयविक पूर्णता से कार्य करता है। लेकिन इसी समूह की एक और धारणा होती है जो उनकी अपनी नहीं होती और अधीनस्थता या बौद्धिक अधीनता के कारण दूसरे समूह से उधार ली गयी होती है; और यह मुखर रूप से इसी धारणा को स्वीकार करता है और खुद मानता है कि वह इसी का अनुकरण करता है, क्योंकि ‘सामान्य-समय’ में वह इसी के अनुसार काम करता है- अर्थात् जब इनका आचरण स्वतंत्र या स्वायत्त न होकर अधीनता या मातहती (सब्मिसिव एंड सबोर्डिनेट) में होता है”[19]

‘सामान्य-समय’ के विपरीत ‘संकट का समय’ इतिहास में क्रांतिकारी संभावनाओं का समय है। सामान्य-समय प्रभुत्वशाली वर्गों की मातहती और अधीनस्थता का समय है, जहां यह वर्ग सुनिश्चित करता है कि कामगारों या सबाल्टर्न समूह वाली जनता की अन्तर्निहित चेतना एक आवयविक पूर्णता न हासिल कर पाए। कामगारों के काम पर नियंत्रण रखने वाला समय। काम पर नियंत्रण और प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा का आत्मसातीकरण एक साथ चलते रहने वाली प्रक्रिया है। मौखिक और सतही चेतना किसी ख़ास सामाजिक समूह की एकता भी सुनिश्चित करती है। वह नैतिक आचार-व्यवहार के नियमों को प्रभावित करती है और कई अलग-अलग तरीकों से चेतना की अंतर्विरोधी स्थिति पर काबू पाने में समर्थ होती है। जीवन व्यवहार के लगभग प्रत्येक पक्ष पर इसका प्रभाव रहता है। इसके चलते अंतर्विरोधी चेतना को किसी भी स्वायत्त गतिविधि, निर्णय या चुनाव की स्वतंत्रता नहीं रहती और धीरे-धीरे वह स्वयं अपनी मातहत स्थिति को स्वीकार कर लेती है। ऐसी स्थिति में एक ‘नैतिक और राजनीतिक निष्क्रियता’ कायम हो जाती है। और किसी विश्वदृष्टि की आलोचना और चुनाव दोनों एक राजनीतिक प्रश्न बन जाता है। (ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि ग्राम्शी के यहाँ ‘व्यवहार के दर्शन’ के रूप में मार्क्सवाद दर्शन और इतिहास को राजनीति से अलग करके देखने का विरोधी है।[20]) सामान्य-बोध के अन्दर ही उसके एक हिस्से के बतौर व्यक्ति में एक ‘साधु-बोध’ (गुड सेन्स) भी होता है। ग्राम्शी के यहाँ साधु-बोध की यह अवधारणा बहुत महत्वपूर्ण है जिस पर कई बार यथेष्ट ध्यान नहीं दिया जाता।

सामान्य-बोध के भीतर कामगारों की स्वाभाविक आवयविक चेतना जो संकट-काल में एक ‘कौंध’ बन कर अभिव्यक्त होती है वह कामगार के रूप में उनकी स्वतःस्फूर्तता है। यह स्वतःस्फूर्तता अनिवार्यतः प्रभुत्वशाली वर्गों की भौतिक और विचारधारात्मक एकता को चुनौती देती है और अन्तर्निहित विश्वदृष्टि के रूप में एक नई सामाजिकता की कल्पना भी लिए रहती है। लेनिन भी मजदूरों के स्वतःस्फूर्त आन्दोलन के भीतर सामाजवाद के वास्तविक स्वप्न को इन्हीं अर्थों में देखते थे। परन्तु यह स्वतःस्फूर्तता नयी विश्वदृष्टि की झलक दिखाने के बाद पुनः प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधाराओं की व्यवस्था में अंतर्भुक्त हो जाती है। अपने आवयविक सिद्धांत के अपूर्ण विकास के चलते ऐसा होता है। (दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो यह स्वतःस्फूर्तता पूँजी की अंतर्विरोधी गत्यात्मकता को पुनर्संगठित और इस प्रकार नवीन करती चलती है।) हम कह सकते हैं कि काम में अंतर्निहित स्वाभाविक विश्वदृष्टि का क्रांतिकारी सामान्यीकरण संभव नहीं हो पाता और वह दुबारा नए रूपों में प्रभुत्वशाली दृष्टि में पुनर्संयोजित हो जाती है। काम में अन्तर्निहित विश्वदृष्टि फिर सतही दृष्टि में बदल जाती है। संकट के समय कौंध बन कर जो संभावना या विकल्प सामने आता है वह वापस मातहती और अधीनस्थता में लौट जाता है। ग्राम्शी के लिए राजनीति के रूप में दर्शन की जगह ऐन इसी मौके पर महत्वपूर्ण हो जाती है। सामान्य-बोध से अलग लेकिन उसी के एक हिस्से के रूप में साधु-बोध सबाल्टर्न चेतना का वह तत्त्व है जो दर्शन या विवेक की ओर उन्मुख होता है। यह सचेत सक्रियता की ओर झुकी चेतना होती है जो अपने व्यवहार और क्रियाओं की यांत्रिकता से संतुष्ट नहीं होती। यह साधु-बोध “आवश्यकता की धारणा के सहारे जो किसी की अपनी क्रियाओं को एक चेतस दिशा देती है, पाशविक और आरंभिक भावावेगों पर विजय पाने”[21] की प्रवृत्ति है। यह सामान्य-बोध में रहने वाला एक ‘स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक’ (हेल्दी न्यूक्लियस) है। सामान्य-बोध के भीतर रहने वाला यह स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक स्वाभाविक रूप से दर्शन की ओर झुका होता है और जिसे निरंतर अपनी क्रियाओं के विवेक या जीवन विवेक की तलाश होती है। सामान्य बोध के अन्दर स्थित इसी स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक के सहारे ग्राम्शी दर्शन का पूर्ण इहलौकीकरण संभव देखते हैं[22]। इस साधु-बोध के भीतर विज्ञान और दूसरे लोकप्रिय दर्शनों के बीच भेद करना बहुत मुश्किल है। लोकप्रिय दर्शन का अर्थ है ‘विचारों और मतों का खंडित संग्रह’ मात्र होना। इसलिए साधु-बोध वस्तुतः सामान्य-बोध के भीतर स्थित एक आलोचकीय प्रवृत्ति है। यह साधु-बोध अपने आसपास की दुनिया में, कला में, क़ानून में, आर्थिक क्रियाओं में या फिर अपनी संपूर्ण वैयक्तिक और सामाजिक ज़िन्दगी में व्यक्त विश्वदृष्टियों की ओर उन्मुख होता है। कोई धर्म, कोई विश्वास या कोई सांस्कृतिक आन्दोलन जीवन की हर क्रियाविधि के भीतर किसी न किसी विशेष जीवन दृष्टि या दर्शन का पुनरुत्पादन करता है। ऐसी स्थिति में धर्म या कोई और विचारधारा कोशिश करती है कि एक ‘समूचे सामाजिक ब्लाक’ की विचारधारामक एकता परिरक्षित रहे। इस सामाजिक ब्लाक को वह विचारधारा अपने सीमेंट और गारे से जोड़े रखना चाहती है। धर्मों की ताकत इसी में निहित है कि वो कैसे अपने आस्थावानों के सामाजिक ब्लाक को बनाये रख पाता है। वे अपने सामाजिक ब्लाक को बनाये रखने वाली शिक्षाओं की एकता कायम रखने पर बहुत जोर देते हैं ताकि बौद्धिकों का उच्च स्तर साधारण निम्नवर्गों से अलग होकर टूट न जाए।

हजारीप्रसाद द्विवेदी हजारवीं शताब्दी के अनन्तर भारतीय सांस्कृतिक इतिहास में होने वाले परिवर्तनों की दो अंतर्विरोधी धाराओं का उल्लेख करते हैं। स्वतःस्फूर्त और जड़शास्त्रीय धारा। लोक व्यवहार के भीतर स्वतःस्फूर्तता को द्विवेदी जी भावजगत का विद्रोह कहते हैं। दूसरी ओर शास्त्रीय विधि-निषेधों वाली एक जब्दी हुई मनोवृत्ति का ज़िक्र करते हैं। इस्लाम के ‘प्र-भाव’ वाली शब्दावली के बावजूद हमने देखा था कि उनके लिए इस्लाम एक ‘अभूतपूर्व घटना’ थी। भिन्न सांस्कृतिक परिवेश के भीतर लोक की स्वतःस्फूर्तता का विलक्षण रूपांतरण द्विवेदी जी के लिए संत-मत था। संकट का पता द्विवेदी जी को पुराने शास्त्रों की पुनर्व्याख्या के प्रयासों में दिखता है जहां विधि-निषेधों की कठोरता बढ़ती जा रही थी और एक पूरा ‘टीका युग’ समन्वय के प्रयास में जुट गया था। यह शास्त्रीयता का संकट था। ‘आस्थावान’ जन समूह के भीतर से पैदा होने वाले इस संकट से निपटने के लिए धार्मिक विचारधाराएँ शास्त्रों की पुनर्व्याख्या में जुटी थी ताकि बौद्धिकों और आस्थावानों के बीच बढ़ते अंतर्विरोध को पाटा जा सके। शिष्ट साहित्य में इस अंतर्विरोध की पहचान मिलने की संभावना कम जानकर ही द्विवेदी जी प्राकृत और अपभ्रंश के लोक साहित्य की ओर मुड़ते हैं। दूसरी ओर धर्ममतों और अनगिन साधना पद्धतियों का एक जंगल खड़ा था, उसमें भी वह प्रवेश करते हैं। अनगिन सम्प्रदायों में लोग अपनी अलग अस्मिता पाने की कोशिश कर रहे थे। ग्राम्शी अलग पहचान पाने की इस कोशिश को महत्वपूर्ण मानते हैं। जिस सामाजिक ब्लाक को धार्मिक विचारधाराएँ बनाए रखना चाहती थी उसमें दरार पड़ जाती है। आलोचकीय दृष्टि वाला साधु-बोध विरुद्ध गतिवाले राजनीतिक हेजेमनी के संघर्ष की ओर प्रवृत्त हो जाती है। ग्राम्शी के अनुसार यह संघर्ष पहले नैतिक रूपों में और फिर ‘प्रोपर राजनीति’ में बदल जाती है। यथार्थ के प्रति स्वयं की दृष्टि को ज्यादा स्पष्ट करते रहने के कारण ही ‘भावजगत’ का विद्रोह राजनीतिक होता जाता है। द्विवेदी जी की कल्पनात्मक फैंटेसीयों में यह ‘राष्ट्र’ और उसके माध्यम से ‘लोककल्याण’ की मानवतावादी राजनीति में बदलता दिखाया गया है। धर्ममतों में यह वैष्णवता की लोकप्रिय विचारधारा थी। द्विवेदी जी कबीर में इस वैष्णव राजनीति की सीमा भी देखते थे।

द्विवेदी जी की विशेषता भावजगत के विद्रोह की राजनीतिक प्रक्रिया दिखाने में है। यह एक रोमैंटिक प्रवृत्ति है। भक्ति का वैष्णव आदर्श उनके लिए मूलतः एक रोमैंटिक आदर्श था। इसी रूमानियत के ‘क्रांतिकारी’ विलक्षण पक्ष को वह कबीर में मूर्तिमान देखते थे। यहाँ उनके आदर्श से ज्यादा महत्वपूर्ण हमारे लिए उस विरुद्धगामी प्रभुत्व की राजनीतिक प्रक्रिया की पहचान है जो फिर से प्रभुत्व की नयी व्यवस्था गढ़ती है। धर्म के संकट को लोकप्रिय वैष्णवता कैसे दूर करती है और आस्थावानों का सामाजिक ब्लाक फिर नए सीमेंट गारे से एक हो जाता है।

लोकप्रिय वैष्णवता की राजनीति और संतों की राजनीति में इस विरुद्ध गतिशीलता की दो परिणतियाँ है। इस विरुद्ध गतिशीलता की सामान्य प्रक्रिया के बारे में ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “ किसी विशेष प्रभुत्वशाली ताकत का हिस्सा होने की चेतना (या कहिए राजनीतिक चेतना) वह पहला चरण है जहाँ से वह धीरे धीरे ज्यादा प्रगतिशील आत्म चेतस् स्थिति की ओर बढ़ता जाता है जहाँ सिद्धांत और व्यवहार एक हो जाते हैं। इसलिए सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता कोई यांत्रिक तथ्य का सवाल नहीं है, बल्कि ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रियाओं का हिस्सा है, जिसका सबसे प्रारम्भिक और आरंभिक चरण पृथक् होने के बोध में पाया जाता है, स्वतंत्रता की एक स्वाभाविक (इंस्टिंक्टिव) भावना में जो आगे चलकर दुनिया के बारे में एक अकेली और समंजित धारणा के लिए वास्तविक स्वत्व (रियल पसेसन) के स्तर तक पहुँच जाती है।”[23] अलग या भिन्न होने के बोध में, स्वतंत्रता की एक स्वाभाविक भावना की पहचान और उसका समंजन के लिए प्रयास, द्विवेदी जी के सारे औपन्यासिक रूपकों की अंतरात्मा है।

सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की बढ़ती दूरी के प्रति स्वाभाविक विद्रोह के रूप में सिद्धों की परंपरा पर राहुल जी ने भी ध्यान दिया है। सरहपाद जैसे सिद्धों का नालंदा विश्वविद्यालय के प्रति विद्रोह और फिर से सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता का प्रयास यह बताता है कि उस समय के संस्थानिक बौद्धिकों की दूरी जन साधारण से कितनी बढ़ गयी थी। संस्थानों को भी आतंरिक विच्छेद के भय से गुजरना पड़ रहा था। कबीर आदि संतों की परंपरा में दोनों विद्वान् सिद्धों के योगदान को नोट करते हैं और इनके यहाँ सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता के नए प्रयास को इनकी साधना और इनके मत में पहचानने की कोशिश करते हैं। सिद्धों या संतों को अपने समय के सामान्य-बोध की आलोचना करनी पड़ी थी। यह आलोचना उन्होंने सामान्य-बोध की जगह पर ही खड़े होकर की थी। जनसमूह के सामान्य-बोध में जो साधु-बोध का ‘स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक’ था, ये संत उसे संबोधित करते थे। शास्त्रीय जड़ता के खिलाफ इनकी आलोचना मुख्यतः विधि-निषेधों की निर्थकता दिखा कर की गयी है। कबीर आदि संतों ने सामान्य-बोध की जगह से सामान्य-बोध की आलोचना करते हुए लोगों को विश्वास दिलाने की कोशिश की कि कोई भी ‘ज्ञानी’ हो सकता है। या ग्राम्शी के शब्दों में कहें तो “हर कोई दार्शनिक” है, इसे स्पष्ट करने के लिए ही आरम्भ में सामान्य-बोध की जगह से ही ऐसी आलोचना आवश्यक है।[24] आरम्भ में यह प्रक्रिया व्यक्ति केन्द्रित ही होती है। अलग-अलग व्यक्ति ही इसे अपने स्तर पर आरम्भ करते हैं। कह सकते हैं कि यह आरम्भ में वैयक्तिक साधना के रूप में विकसित होती है। ऐसी स्थिति में प्रभुत्वशाली संस्था या धर्म मत या शास्त्रों के सामने ‘सहज’ या ग्राम्शी जिसे ‘सिम्पल’[25] कहते हैं उसका संकट पैदा हो जाता है। ऐसी स्थिति में प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा कोशिश करती है कि बौद्धिकों पर कठोर नियंत्रण बनाये रखा जाए, ताकि वे अपनी सीमा का अतिक्रमण न करने पायें। इस अतिक्रमण से अखंडता में पड़ी दरार विस्फोटक और विनाशकारी हो सकती है। दूसरी ओर यह भी संभव नहीं कि ‘सहज’ को ही बौद्धिक घोषित कर इस दरार को पाट दें। कबीर के सामने ‘सहजिया’ सम्प्रदाय ऐसा ही प्रयास था। दूसरी ओर योगमार्ग ‘सहज’ को रहस्यमय बनाने की साधना कर रहा था। ऐसे ही समय प्रभुत्वशाली धर्म मत को बचाने के लिए लोकप्रिय धार्मिक विचारधारा के रूप में वैष्णव भक्ति रूप ग्रहण करती है। कबीर आदि के लिए सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता इस वैष्णव भक्ति के एंटीथीसिस के रूप में विकसित हो रही थी। सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता का कबीरी मार्ग हलांकि नए वैष्णव लोकप्रिय आन्दोलन के साथ-साथ ही बनता है पर हम कह सकते हैं कि इनका एंटीथीसिस थीसिस से पहले है।

कबीर आदि संत ‘सहज’ को उनके आरंभिक दार्शनिक ‘सामान्य-बोध’ के स्तर पर ही नहीं छोड़ते। वह ‘सहज’ को एक उच्च जीवन-विवेक बनाने की साधना करते हैं। ये सहज और बौद्धिक के बीच एकता इसलिए नहीं बना रहे थे कि विवेकवान क्रियाओं की साधना का एक घेरा बना कर अलग पंथ निकाल लें और जनता के बीच ‘सहज’ के नाम पर एक क्षीण एकता बनी रहे। वो चाहते थे कि एक ‘नैतिक और बौद्धिक ब्लाक’ बनाया जाये, ताकि जनता का बौद्धिक विकास संभव हो न कि केवल बौद्धिकों के छोटे से हिस्से का आतंक कायम हो। कबीर की सहज साधना को इसी अर्थ में समझना समीचीन जान पड़ता है। कबीर के शब्दों में कहें तो ‘सहज’ की पहचान इसी अर्थ में कठिन साधना की पहचान थी। ज्ञान के हाथी पर कबीर इसी सहज का दुलीचा डाल कर चढ़ने कहते थे। निम्नवर्गीय सामाजिक समूहों के ठोस ब्लाक के निर्माण के प्रयास के कारण संतों की साधना वैष्णव प्रभुत्व की विरोधी प्रक्रिया थी। इस अर्थ में यह न केवल व्यवहार का नया दर्शन बनाने की कोशिश कर रहे थे वरन् दर्शन का नया व्यवहार भी सामने रख रहे थे। दोनों ही अर्थों में यह दर्शन और व्यवहार की पुरानी सारी परंपराओं के साथ-साथ वैष्णव भक्ति के रूप में सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की नई प्रभुत्वशाली धारा की आलोचना भी कर रहे थे। सामान्य-बोध की यथार्थ दृष्टि की आलोचना के क्रम में संतों ने एक नई यथार्थ दृष्टि का उन्मेष किया था। यह यथार्थ की आलोचकीय दृष्टि थी।

ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं कि आलोचकीय आत्मचेतस् प्रयासों द्वारा राजनीतिक और ऐतिहासिक रूप से बौद्धिकों का एक अभिजात्य (elite)[26] भी निर्मित होता जाता है। यहाँ ‘अभिजात्य’ शब्द को उसके प्रतिक्रियावादी अर्थ में नहीं प्रयोग किया गया है। यह ग्राम्शी के यहाँ हिरावल के अर्थ में प्रयुक्त हुआ है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं : “कोई मानव जनसमूह व्यापक अर्थों में खुद को संगठित किये बिना खुद को ‘पृथक्’ नहीं कर सकता, अपनी जगह पर स्वतंत्र नहीं हो सकता; और कोई संगठन बिना संगठनकर्ता या नेतृत्व के यानी बिना बौद्धिकों के संभव नहीं; दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो सिद्धांत या व्यवहार के सम्बन्ध (नेक्सस) के सैद्धांतिक पक्ष का पृथक् जनसमूह जो विचारों की अवधारणात्मक या दार्शनिक व्याख्या में ‘प्रवीण’ हो उसके वास्तविक अस्तित्व के बिना।”[27]

इस प्रकार सहज साधना कवि-बौद्धिकों के रूप में संतों के लिए एक द्वंद्वात्मक रचना प्रक्रिया थी। बौद्धिकों और जनता के बीच बनते रहने वाली सहज साधना। मठों के निर्माण की आवश्यकता को इसके दीर्घकालीन ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रिया के रूप में ही समझना चाहिए। कबीर आदि संत इस प्रक्रिया को बनाने वाले और खुद उससे बनने वाले थे। इस प्रक्रिया में लगातार उन क्षणों की पुनरावृत्ति होती रहती है जहाँ जनता और बौद्धिकों के बीच की दूरी बढ़ने लगती है। इस संबंध के पतन से यह धारणा घर करने लगती है कि सिद्धांत अनावश्यक, गैर ज़रूरी और महज व्यवहार का पूरक है। वह व्यवहार के अधीन है। सिद्धांत और व्यवहार को न केवल भिन्न माना जाने लगता है वरन् उन्हें अलगाकर दो भिन्न अवयवों में तोड़ दिया जाता है। व्यवहार रूढ़ियों के पालन में बंद कर दिया जाता है। इस यांत्रिकता की बार-बार पुनरावृत्ति का मतलब है “कि कोई अपेक्षाकृत आदिम ऐतिहासिक अवस्था से गुजर रहा है।”[28] सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की इस विलगता के बीच ही कबीर आदि के प्रयासों पर प्रभुत्व की वैष्णव दृष्टि का प्रवेश होता जाता है। दूसरी ओर उनके व्यवहार के सिद्धांत में अन्तर्निहित समानता के आदर्श के साथ नए उभरते वणिक समुदाय की संवेदना और पैसे के व्यावहारिक सिद्धांत और दर्शन का घालमेल करने की कोशिशें होने लगती है। कबीर निर्गुण राम के सगुण वैष्णव अवतार बन जाते हैं और मठों को बनियों का संरक्षण मिलने लगता है। यहाँ ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि यांत्रिक, निर्धारणवादी या भाग्यवादी अवयवों का सबल होना व्यवहार के दर्शनों की आन्तरिकता रही है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं कि किसी सामाजिक श्रेणी के “सबाल्टर्न” चरित्र की यह आवश्यक और इतिहास सम्मत विशेषता रही है।[29]

कबीर आदि संतों का अनुभवसम्मत विवेकवाद ‘सिद्धांत और व्यवहार’ की एकता के प्रयास में है। इसलिए प्रश्न केवल ऐतिहासिक दृष्टि का नहीं बल्कि तात्विक दृष्टि का भी है। ग्राम्शी कहते हैं कि यांत्रिक विश्वदृष्टि ही निम्नवर्गों का धर्म हो जाता है। कबीर आदि संत इन अर्थों में ही धर्म बनने के पहले के सिद्धांतकार हैं और इसी अर्थ में ठेठ राजनीतिक भी हैं। यांत्रिक दुहराव की प्रक्रिया दरअस्ल इतिहास की आदिमता की ओर लौटना है। व्यवहार के दर्शन के आरंभिक बौद्धिकों के रूप में कबीर आदि संत राजनीतिक अर्थों में ही प्राक्-धार्मिक हैं न कि वाकणकर के अर्थों में। कबीर के यहाँ काम की एकता की कौंध वह आधारभूमि है जिसे वह ‘निर्गुण राम’ कहते हैं। काम का विभाजन उनके गुणों के आधार पर नहीं हो सकता। वह निर्गुण हो कर भी विश्व को लगातार नए-नए रूपों में सृजित करता रहता है। विश्व को बदलता रहता है। निर्गुण सर्जना की वैश्विकता प्रभुत्व की विचारधारा द्वारा थोपे गए सारे भेद परक प्रवर्गों को चुनौती देती है। कबीर की ‘आँखिन देखि’ का ‘अनभै सच’ काम की यही सार्वजनीनता है। आरंभिक आधुनिकता के भीतर विकसित होती कबीर की साधना, ‘व्यवहार के दर्शन’ की आरंभिक साधना है- सहज साधना है।


[1] हजारी प्रसाद द्विवेदी ग्रंथावली, खंड ४, पृष्ट १८२-८३
[2] मिलिंद वाकणकर, सबॉलटर्निटी एंड रिलिजन : द प्रीहिस्ट्री ऑफ़ दलित एम्पावरमेंट इन साउथ एशिया, पृष्ठ २९, रूटलेज, ओक्सो-२०१०
[3] वही
[4] हजारी प्रसाद द्विवेदी ग्रंथावली- ४, पृष्ठ ३१६
[5] देखें, रणजीत गुहा, हिस्ट्री एट दि लिमिट ऑफ़ वर्ल्ड हिस्ट्री, कोलंबिया यूनिवर्सिटी प्रेस, न्यूयॉर्क-२००२.
[6] वाकणकर, पृष्ठ ३०
[7] देखें, वाल्टर बेंजामिन, थियोलोजिको- पॉलिटिकल फ्रेग्मेंट्स,…
[8] वाल्टर बेंजामिन, सिलेक्टेड राईटिंग्स वॉल्यूम ४, पृष्ठ ३९१, (सं) हॉवर्ड इलेंड और माइकल डब्ल्यू. जेनिंग्स, हॉर्वर्ड यूनिवर्सिटी प्रेस, २००६ (आगे बेंजामिन की थीसिस की संख्या का उल्लेख उद्धरण के साथ कर दिया जाएगा)
[9] कार्ल मार्क्स फ्रेडरिक एंगेल्स, संकलित रचनाएँ, खंड १ भाग २, पृष्ठ १३०, अनु. और संपा. सुरेन्द्र कुमार, प्रगति प्रकाशन, मोस्को, १९७८
[10] वही, पृष्ठ १३३
[11] स्लावो ज़िज़ेक, द सबलाइम ऑब्जेक्ट ऑफ़ आइडियोलॉजी, पृष्ठ १४०, नवान्या, नई दिल्ली, १९८९
[12] वाकणकर, पृष्ठ २३
[13] वही, पृष्ठ २३
[14] वाकणकर, पृष्ठ २४
[15] वही.
[16] देखें, हीगेल, फेनोमेनोलोजी ऑफ़ स्पिरिट, (अनुवाद ए.वी. मिलर) पृष्ठ २६१-२८४ विशेष रूप से, मोतीलाल बनारसीदास, दिल्ली १९९८
[17] अंतोनियो ग्राम्शी, सेलेक्सन्स फ्रॉम द प्रिज़न नोटबुक्स. पृष्ट- ३२६. (सं. और अनु.) क़ुइन्तिन होअरे और ज्योफ्रे नोवेल स्मिथ. ओरिएंट ब्लैकस्वान, दिल्ली- १९९६.
[18] वही, पृष्ठ- ३२७.
[19] वही.
[20] इतिहास और दर्शन के सम्बन्धों को ग्राम्शी इन शब्दों में रखते हैं:- “From our point of view, studying the history and the logic of the various philosophers’ philosophies is not enough. At least as a methodological guide-line, attention should be drawn to the other parts of the history of philosophy; to the conceptions of the world held by the great masses, to those of the most restricted ruling (or intellectual) groups, and finally to the links between these various cultural complexes and the philosophy of the philosophers. The philosophy of an age is not the philosophy of this or that philosopher, of this or that group of intellectuals, of this or that broad section of the popular masses. It is a process of combination of all these elements, which culminates in an overall trend, in which the culmination becomes a norm of collective action and becomes concrete and complete (integral) “history”. The philosophy of an historical epoch is, therefore, nothing other than the “history” of that epoch itself, nothing other than the mass of variations that the leading group has succeeded in imposing on preceding reality. History and philosophy are in this sense indivisible: they form a bloc. But the philosophical elements proper can be “distinguished”, on all their various levels: as philosophers’ philosophy and the conceptions of the leading groups (philosophical culture) and as the religions of the great masses. And it can be seen how, at each of these levels, we are dealing with different forms of ideological “combination”. (पृष्ठ- ३४४-३४५.)
[21] वही, पृष्ठ-३२८.
[22] दर्शन, सामान्य-बोध और साधु-बोध के सम्बन्धों और स्पष्ट करते हुए ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं: “Every social stratum has its own ‘common sense’ and its own ‘good sense’, which are basically the most widespread conception of life and of man. Every philosophical current leaves behind a sedimentation of ‘common sense’: this is the document of its historical effectiveness. Common sense is not something rigid and immobile, but is continually transforming itself, enriching itself with scientific ideas and with philosophical opinions which have entered ordinary life. ‘Common sense’ is the folklore of philosophy, and is always half-way between folklore properly speaking and the philosophy, science, and economics of the specialists. Common sense creates the folklore of the future, that is as a relatively rigid phase of popular knowledge at a given place and time.” (पृष्ठ-३३६, जोर मेरा)
[23] वही, पृष्ठ-३३३.
[24] ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “First of all, therefore, it must be a criticism of “common sense”, basing itself initially, however, on common sense in order to demonstrate that “everyone” is a philosopher and that it is not a question of introducing from scratch a scientific form of thought into everyone’s individual life, but of renovating and making “critical” an already existing activity. It must then be a criticism of the philosophy of the intellectuals out of which the history of philosophy developed and which, in so far as it is a phenomenon of individuals (in fact it develops essentially in the activity of single particularly gifted individuals) can be considered as marking the “high points” of the progress made by common sense, or at least the common sense of the more educated strata of society but through them also of the people.” पृष्ठ- ३३०-३३१.
[25] “The relation between common sense and the upper level of philosophy is assured by “politics”, just as it is politics that assures the relationship between the Catholicism of the intellectuals and that of the simple. There are, however, fundamental differences between the two cases. That the Church has to face up to a problem of the “simple” means precisely that there has been a split in the community of the faithful.” पृष्ठ- ३३१.
[26] ‘elite’ शब्द पर टिप्पणी करते हुए संपादक ने नोट किया है:- “élite.” As is made clear later in the text, Gramsci uses this word (in French in the original) in a sense very different from that of the reactionary post-Pareto theorists of “political élites”. The élite in Gramsci is the revolutionary vanguard of a social class in constant contact with its political and intellectual base. (पृष्ठ- ३३४, पाद टिप्पणी-१८.)
[27] वही, पृष्ठ-३३४.
[28] वही. पृष्ठ-३३५.
[29] “It should be noted how the deterministic, fatalistic and mechanistic element has been a direct ideological “aroma” emanating from the philosophy of praxis, rather like religion or drugs (in their stupefying effect). It has been made necessary and justified historically by the “subaltern”character of certain social strata.” पृष्ठ-३३६.