The University Worker Issue 4

Teacherliness and Jadavpur University: Pathos and Invidiousness

Prasanta Chakravarty

The hallowed idea of teacherliness is a singular form of patronising drivel. It is only possible to impart a special nobility to tutelage once an institution of education is separated from our experiences of the world at large — which is textured with greyness. Teacherliness will, therefore, lead to infantilising the group of human beings whom we pigeonhole as students — loyal, genteel and, at the most argumentative, in the best traditions of participation. In a different imaginary, teachers might consider themselves to be helping facilitate alternative community bonds that might seem to act as buffer to our everydayness. This, though sometimes a response to our alienated existence, is finally an ethical form of romanticism that hopes to keep the conflictual outside of this community’s ambit. It is another form of tuning in to higher frequencies. Unfortunately, conflicts are not going to vanish, even within institutions and imaginary communities. Visualising student-teacher relationships in and through such equations only discourages either group of the collective from growing up and facing the big bad world with its full panoply of crassness and craftiness as well as its manifold joys and relational solidarities. Holding mere private discourse or opting out of the struggles and travails of existence are not options.

The very idea that an educational institution is a secluded buffer — that it can and ought to be guarded against outside impurities and influences — is a venerable Kantian invention, one that sharply divides enlightened scholars from the hoi polloi. This move is exactly and predictably what we are witnessing from some votaries of teacherliness in responding to the predicament that Jadavpur University finds itself at this point. That JU is a gated community. Or ought to remain such — although we do, of course, outwardly acknowledge the immense outside support in its time of crisis. It is ironical that the protesters in the movement, in spite of the many hardships that they continue to face, are resisting such a distinction between the insider and the outsider (bohiragoto). The bahir (outside) is imbricated within the bhitor (inside) — whether we wish to see it or not. The outside has now spread all around the globe and Jadavpur cannot claim a naive, sacramental and sanitised inside for its inhabitants. The whole political nature of this debate is about conflating the two and taking it to its logical conclusion. Any attempt to segregate the inside from the outside will be a travesty of the things that are at stake for Bengal. The movement can potentially have a far larger fallout. Any attempt to narrow it down to a matter of JU’s internal collegiality — wonderful as it might seem — is going to unsettle and derail those possibilities.

The very notion of a safe haven is a chimera. To invoke goodness and humane qualities in any institute is risible, an unfortunate form of pathos by which the academe is often bound to justify its existence, a delusional and infantile mode of denial of the rough and tumble of our daily existence. Goodness and greatness foment a vision of normalcy that is simply non-existent. It divests us of the same greyness that I referred to — of the university space — that in actuality universities are places of educational exchange and occasional camaraderie as well as spaces of intense manoeuvre, gaming and subtle hierarchies. Just like in any other walk of life. If activists are manipulative, so also are the detached scholars, often in a much more invidious and nuanced fashion. Here is a chance to be self reflexive about a truly political moment. Let us not demean this moment.

The anti-Left Front and anti- TMCP nature of the protest demonstrates not its apolitical nature but its self-organising potentiality to resist its segmenting and straitjacketing within a politics of delegation, representation and etatisation. Such attempts render the movement the very opposite of the politics it posits in its objectivity, by projecting it as one seeking to restore normalcy and order. And reinstating a culture of moral guardianship in the process. Their best bet in this respect is to begin by segmenting the space-time of the university from the outside. In other words: to divide the intellectual from the manual. This is thoroughly insidious. More so at a time when the BJP-led dispensation at the Centre has been trying to fish in troubled waters by seeking to capitalise on the anti-Left Front, anti-TMCP character of the movement through the good offices of governor Kesri Nath Tripathi, a dyed-in-the-wool RSS fanatic.

Dubious scholarly attempts to read, represent and co-opt the larger movement by invoking teacherly sentimentality must be countered steadfastly. Sharply. For that is how universities return to detached, mature and superficial normalcies. By paying homage to collegiality. By creating a bogey of divisiveness among the protesters. By trying to differentiate students from the protesters — as two divergent species of being! This is the time to step up the offensive on multiple flanks — directed at the mercenary goons, of course, but also at the ideological warfare the system is now beginning to wage via the seemingly freelance agencies of the ‘independent’ and ‘apolitical’ scholar-teacher – which is a patronising, rearguard, fifth columnist action by the university don — a pattern all too well-known.

Meeting on working class politics (August 30-31, 2014), New Delhi

In the last two meetings we focused on the question of labour process and its relation to forms of politics: in that context electronics and change in labour process connected to it have gotten much attention. Continuing with these threads we propose the following sessions for the meeting to be held on August 30-31, 2014.

Session 1: Labour Process Today

Instead of focusing on the change in the labour process we look at specific experiences (case studies) of work in various sectors. We propose that special attention be given to how worker-worker relations are structured in various sectors. Each experience is to be articulated in a fifteen minute segment with comments and discussions following. Instead of discussing sectors in isolation we look at analogies and linkages.

Session 2: Self activity and Politics

In the light of a new labour process and new labour relations what forms of self-activity emerge? Once again focus should be on specific cases and experiences and positions on questions of organization are to be grounded on these specific, current experiences. What is the meaning of self-activity and what are the specific forms that it takes in different work-spaces.

Session 3: Positions

This session calls on participants to present their position on questions discussed in the previous sessions in a more conceptual and, if needed, a less experiential register. Related issues may also be included on these presentations: eg. Questions of organization, spontaneity etc.

Session 4:

For this specific session we suggest that we discuss the relation between education and work. We ask participants to talk about their school/college/ITI/training experiences in relation to how these experiences prepared them for work: disciplining, segmentation, skills. How have they participated in making us into workers? What parallels, continuities can be seen between education work they did and the work they did later?

Proposed by: The University  Worker

The University Worker Issue 3

The University Worker Issue 2

On the threshold: Class Struggle in Delhi (A Film)

Meeting on Working Class Politics (April 19-20, 2014), New Delhi

Communism is the position as the negation of the negation, and is hence the actual phase necessary for the next stage of historical development in the process of human emancipation and rehabilitation. Communism is the necessary form and the dynamic principle of the immediate future, but communism as such is not the goal of human development, the form of human society. Karl Marx, Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts (1844)

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence. Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (1845)

The doctrinaire and necessarily fantastic anticipations of the programme of action for a revolution of the future only divert us from the struggle of the present. Karl Marx, To Domela Nieuwenhuis (1881)

The question of working class strategy has generally been reduced to issues of consciousness raising and particular organisational manoeuvrings to homogenise and hegemonise the self-activities of the working class. In fact, in programmatic terms, it is nothing more than competitive sets of reactive tactics that always claim to respond to the onslaught of capital. So even the question of class as a subjective force becomes irrelevant, leave aside its revolutionary character, rather it is just an arena for competition among various ‘working class’ organisations to present themselves as the most and even sole authentic class representatives negotiating with capital. Ultimately, the most astute negotiator should win. But then successful negotiators must be those who are most comfortable in dealing with capital.

But history confirms that every time such expert leadership has proclaimed their mastery over the working class, the class itself in class struggle has moved ahead and the question of lag between the ‘spontaneous’ consciousness of the working class and repositories of “revolutionary wisdom” is time and again raised. In fact, both leaders and capital tend to compete and collaborate in competition to harness and ‘productively’ channelise the energy and creativity of the working class, to teach it to behave coherently – for capital this means a process of successful subsumption and for self-proclaimed leaders a successful organising under their leadership.

However, it is in the solidarian relationship that develops among workers during the course of togetherness in their everyday confrontations with capital and its agencies that we find a self-consolidation of class energy and creativity happening. This is what is called a political recomposition of the working class. It happens through a refusal to submit itself to the mechanics of the technical composition – how capital (re)organises and imposes work to keep on appropriating surplus value, to subsume evermore labour by technological innovations. But it is important to remember, “[i]t would be possible to write quite a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working-class.” (Marx) Hence, it is the assertion of the autonomy of labour (political composition) and capital’s evermore intensified campaign to subsume it that constitute class struggle. It is the working class that acts to which capital reacts.

When in our January meeting we discussed the introduction of electronics and micro-electronics in the production process, it was mainly to understand how today the terrain of class struggle itself has been transformed. If we do not take these changes into account, any talk of workers’ politics and its revolutionary transformative character will be a useless doctrinaire discussion on class strategy. We recognise that technological change is not a linear process, to which other social variables and components must adjust. Technology itself is contradictory – it is a class struggle. Marx noted a long time back that capital innovates evermore “automatic system”. It is exactly this automatic system that has continued being central to the struggle between capital and labour. Today this system has acquired a global dimension – not constituted by individual “self-acting mules” aided by separated individuals or groups of individual workers but via networked machines and workers toiling in diverse spacetimes.

The technical recomposition of the working class around new inventions/technologies poses a crisis for existing political forms in the working class movement. These forms either become outmoded or co-opted, or have to transform themselves to contribute in the emergence of a new political composition to reassert the autonomy of labour.

We met thrice in Sevagram to discuss the evolving character of class conflicts and workers’ self-activisms, how they reflect upon various congealed organisational forms and their claims to class radicalism and politics. Our next meeting is in Delhi, April 19-20 (2014). We propose the following broadly defined agenda to continue our discussion:

1. Changes that have occurred with the incomparable leap in productive forces associated with electronics. What is a radical transformation today?

2. Changes in the composition of the working class in these forty years.

3. Appropriate forms of organisations and modes of activities from local to global levels.

For details, contact

Meeting on Working Class Politics (January 18-19, 2014), Sevagram

Sevagram Gandhi Ashram,
Wardha (Maharashtra)

We are meeting again in Sevagram on 18-19 January 2014. Last time when we converged there in October 2013 we discussed the need to ground the organisational question and the notion of workers’ politics in the everydayness of class struggle – a struggle between workers’ self-activities (the assertion of the autonomy of labour) and their subsumption by capital. We discussed the practice of workers’ inquiry as a double edged revolutionary weapon that allows us, on the one hand, to “recognise and record” the politics in everyday class struggle and, on the other, to rescue the militancy of past experiences from forms that have become redundant or limited or have been subsumed/ co-opted by capital, while reconnecting it to the contemporary forms of self-activities of the working class.

The discussion went on to critique the vanguardist and statist tendencies within the working class movement that tend to essentialise and overgeneralise particular forms of experiences and reify the notions of state and state power, neglecting the problem of its reproduction in the conflictual realm of daily class struggle, the ground where workers directly challenge and subvert state and class power.

Our critique of organisational forms is not just a formal critique, but an attempt to deconstruct them within class struggle against capital and capitalism – recognising the fact that the working class adopts and discards forms according to the exigencies of class struggle, “the struggle of the present.” These forms, as far as they remain forms of working class organisation, must be (re)founded in the (re)composition of the working class itself. In 1881 reacting to a comrade’s suggestion to replicate the First International, Marx rebuked the idea saying, so far as such internationals or socialist congresses “are not related to the immediate given conditions” they “are not merely useless but harmful. They will always fade away in innumerable stale generalised banalities.” Therefore our task is always to understand militant possibilities – including organisational – with which “immediate given conditions” are impregnated.

In our forthcoming January meeting we propose to discuss the changing conditions of the “real movement” of the working class and “premises now in existence,” in order to comprehend programmatic possibilities that are being posed, in which we find the ground for our collective intervention. In order to pursue our task we propose following sessions for the meeting:

1. Regional/Group Reports
2. Introduction of electronics/micro-electronics and the recomposition of class
3. The continuation of our discussion on the organisational question and the role of communists
4. Networking among ourselves and beyond.

Workshop on Working Class Politics (Oct 20-21, 2013)

Sevagram Gandhi Ashram,
Wardha (Maharashtra)
20-21 October, 2013

In January 2013, a three-day workshop on the organisational question was held, in which various groups and individuals hailing from diverse radical tendencies had participated. In continuation, we are facilitating another interaction on 20-21 October with a more concrete task of grounding class politics and the organisational question in the specificities of working class composition and self-activities. It will deliberate among many other aspects of this task, upon how industrial and larger social changes are the effects of the dynamics of labour-capital conflict, how older forms of working class organizations as modes of workers self-activities are outmoded in this conflict and new forms emerge.

The recent industrial and social conflicts in India make these deliberations imperative for any radical realignment and networking among communist tendencies within the working class. Militants of these tendencies must engage themselves in, as CLR James and his comrades defined it in the 1950s-60s, the most important revolutionary task of our times – “Recognise and Record”. The recognition of politics and organisational forms in the everyday class struggle is what constitutes the agenda of “workers’ inquiry” and proletarian journalism. Militant investigations into the dynamic creativity of labour (which is subversive and constitutes crisis from the perspective of capital) and capital’s endeavour to channelise and subsume this creativity through technological changes and socio-industrial restructuring are major exercises before us. Only these hot inquiries provide the possibility of avoiding sectarian fossilisation – over-generalisation of local and past experiences, and reorganise ourselves as credible tendencies within the working class.

We propose to continue our discussions (1) on the organisational question and politics of the working class, with an additional focus (1a) on the import and politics of workers’ inquiry. There will be a discussion (2) on the recent upsurge in the Middle East and a working class perspective on it. Also, there will be a session (3) to discuss the possibility and importance of an all India-level (or world-level) workers’ journal/newspaper as a forum to network among the participants.

Parivartan Ki Disha, Nagpur (09921336289, 09096089231)
Radical Notes, Delhi (09990327014)
Faridabad Majdoor Samachar, Faridabad (01296567014)
Gurgaon Workers News, Gurgaon
Mazdoor Mukti, Kolkata (09433882799)
Mouvement Comuniste , France
KPK, Collectively Against Capital, Czech & Slovakia
Some individuals without organisational affiliations.

Video: Saroj Giri interviews Harry E Vanden

Saroj Giri, a political scientist teaching at Delhi University, interviews Harry Vanden, an expert on Latin American Marxism and Movements, who recently edited and translated writings of Peruvian Communist leader and theoretician Jose Carlos Mariategui (originally published by Monthly Review Press and reissued by Cornerstone Publications in India). Harry was in India on a lecture tour – including to deliver the 5th Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Lecture.