The Manifesto of New Path

National Council, New Path: For some time now, some of us in a small collective, mostly from backgrounds in social movements and mass organisations, have been discussing how the work of people’s struggle and revolutionary transformation can be taken forward in the Indian context. Out of those discussions we have reached the decision to found a new organisation, tentatively called “New Path”, whose goal is to further the revolutionary process in India at its current stage. Below is our draft manifesto, which we are circulating for comments, criticism, suggestions and observations from comrades and friends. As the manifesto seeks to argue, New Path is not and does not aim to be a traditional revolutionary party. Rather, it is a political formation that seeks out opportunities, through struggle, to weaken bourgeois hegemony in this country. We are seeking to implement these ideas through a number of different programs as well as in our work in the various struggle groups that we are a part of. The manifesto is one of several documents that New Path has been working on developing; it aims to provide a synopsis of some of the key ideas that are important to our approach. We hope this will be of use and look forward to your responses. We can be contacted at nayarasta.india@gmail.com.

India today is a society scarred by immense poverty, terrible injustice and inhuman brutality. Crores of people cannot buy enough food to survive; there are more people living in hunger in India than in any other country in the world. Children are malnourished, people die like flies from disease, and real education and health care are out of the reach of millions. The majority of people struggle to survive, uncertain of making it from one day to the next. Yet, at the same time, a small minority of people has access to every luxury in the world and lives as if the poor do not exist. Any attempt to confront the horrific injustices that occur daily is repressed with inhuman violence. Every form of atrocity known to humanity has been carried out within this nation’s borders; the rape, torture, and slaughter of thousands is deemed part of normal life. A life of dignity is a dream for the vast majority of the people.

India is not alone in this. Across the world a handful of people reap all benefits, while the majority struggle against violence, poverty and oppression. In 2005, the top ten percent of people in the world consumed 60% of what the world produced and owned 85% of total wealth; the bottom 10% consumed 0.5%. In a thousand different forms, the majority is everywhere crushed by the small minority who control wealth and power. Women are beaten, tortured and treated as second class citizens. Oppressed castes and communities face terrible discrimination, deprived of their lands, their livelihoods, their rights, their freedoms and their dignity. Workers give their bodies and their souls for the profits of their employers. The aged are forced to work till their deaths while children are treated as objects to be brutalised and beaten into submission. The natural environment is being despoiled and destroyed at an ever accelerating rate. An environmental crisis is developing today that threatens the fate of humanity itself.

Those who benefit from this system proclaim that this is the way the world always has been and always will be. But no thinking person can accept that such an unjust order should be the fate of humanity, that most should suffer and die for the benefit of a few. Injustice is a creation of human will and human oppression. In every place where oppression takes place, there is resistance, anger and heroic courage in the fight for justice. The oppressors may rule this world but they do not do so unchallenged. What human beings can create, human beings can overthrow. We can build a new country and a new world, in which human dignity would be the centre of existence.

The Nature of This Society

Proposition 1: India and the world today are capitalist societies, in which production is done by nominally ‘free’ producers and workers for the primary purpose of exchanging the resulting commodities. In this world the dead hand of capital exploits the lives and bodies of the majority of people.

The ability to make things together – indeed, to produce and shape the world together – is the most fundamental feature of being a human being, the key point that marks our difference from other animals. No other animal has been able to transform the world through its collective action the way humanity has. We can no longer imagine living in a world that has not been shaped by the work of billions of people. For any group larger than a few people, the capacity of the group to work together provides the food they eat, the shelter they live in and the water they drink. Hence, if a society’s system of production is controlled in a way that oppresses people, that society will be oppressive. If it is controlled in a way that liberates people, then there is at least the possibility that that society will be truly free.

In today’s world the labour of the majority of people is not controlled by them, and they do not benefit from it. Instead a small minority takes most of the gains of the labour of others. Those who enjoy the benefits of this system do not do so because they work harder or more intelligently than others, but because they enjoy power over others’ labour. This power does not spring from force alone; it fundamentally comes from the economic system itself.

Today it is no longer possible for a person or a community to survive on what they have alone. The vast majority of their needs are met through purchase, by exchanging money with others for the goods they require for their own existence. To earn this money, a person has to produce something that they can sell. In turn, to produce things and sell them, people require the means to do so, such as factories, tools, transport or knowledge. These means of production are today owned by a small minority of people and are their property. In order to survive, then, people are left with only one thing to sell: their capacity to labour. Instead of working alone or together for their own benefit, they have to sell this capacity to work to someone else, who pays them directly or indirectly for working. Those who buy their labour power invest a certain amount of money – to purchase people’s labour power and the raw materials needed for production – and then sell the resulting products. Thus they invest money in order to get more money, but the revenue they “earn” is from the labour of their workers. The labour of workers and producers is not their own; the full gain of their work goes to someone else. Moreover, they have no choice in this matter. They may choose who to work for, but they cannot choose to not work for the benefit of someone else. If they do, they will not have enough money to survive.

While exploitation and oppression take many forms, in most parts of the world these basic realities now prevail. Society is built around buying and selling commodities for money, and a small minority of people control and extract the labour of the majority for their benefit. This group, the capitalists, possess capital, or money that is used to generate more money through the production process. Through their control over production, they are the ultimate beneficiaries of the current economic system.

For most of human history, this was not the case. The means of production, such as land and water, were used by everyone in common. People hunted, gathered plants, and (during a later period) worked the land together. The benefits were shared among the community. Such systems are still visible in a limited way in some adivasi societies. Over time, however, these systems changed. They were replaced by systems of classes, where some people gained from the labour of others. In most cases, people were subjected to coercion in order to work for the gain of others. Social custom, physical violence and religious tradition were used to lock people into their exploitation. The first group to be subjected to this oppression, in most societies, were women. In south Asia this was then extended through caste; in other parts of the world, slavery, serfdom, or other such forms were used.

These systems continued to evolve and change. In recent centuries they were in turn destroyed, or are being destroyed, in most of the world. They have been replaced in most cases by the capitalist system. In this system, on the surface, people are supposed to be free. People today, we are told, can leave their employers if they like; no one locks them into working for someone or forces them to work when they do not want to. But this is actually nonsense. In reality, some people continue to be oppressed by force; in India many continue to be crushed under caste, and women continue to be treated as subhuman. More fundamentally, whether people are oppressed by force or not, no one today is free from the need to work for the ultimate benefit of the capitalists (except the capitalists themselves and those they employ as their agents). As a result, despite the appearance of being free, human beings can still not be human. They must be servants, robots or slaves, even as they are fed the illusion that they are free.

Since they do not always use force, the capitalist exploiters today are not as obvious as they once were. Among themselves they fight and compete and try to pull each other down, each trying to get more profits than the other. They therefore appear very disunited. But the reality is that today’s exploiters neither always need to beat people, nor do they need to be from the same social group. Since survival will force the majority to work for them anyway, they can hide behind the illusion that they are merely ordinary people who were lucky or skilled enough to become rich. Those who can control the means of production can exploit others without even appearing to do so.

In a world where production is connected across countries and continents, the exploiter often does not even need to see the exploited. Capital today is truly global. Capitalists hold down wages and move across borders from country to country without any hesitation. A handful of giant companies control world trade in clothes, foodgrains and other key items. Very few of their workers know who their labour is benefiting, and the capitalists sitting in New York or Paris have no idea whose labour they are benefiting from. Capitalists dominate other entities and forces and bend them to the desires of capital. Similarly, in India, though the local mafia, landlord or upper caste person may appear to be the direct exploiters, society is structured such that the ultimate benefits flow to the owners and controllers of capital.

Proposition 2: Exploitation of people’s labour occurs through many forms, not only through direct wage labour of workers.

Indeed, today, those who do not even seem to be working for someone else are also often exploited by the same process. For example, a farmer with enough land to sell his or her produce, a chai-wallah or small hawker selling something on the road, and so on seem to be free of exploitation. But this is an illusion. Instead of taking their labour directly, the exploiters often take the labour of such people indirectly. Farmers are often in debt to the moneylender or the bank, seeds and fertilisers are increasingly controlled by cartels of big companies, and hence the price the farmer gets for selling produce is controlled by these other entities – who effectively live off extracting these farmers’ labour. Such persons seem more secure than the landless worker, but this is just a difference of degree; and their security is not enough to stop their exploitation. All such persons, as well as those who work for wages, who are forced to work as bonded labourers, etc. are part of different sections of the overall class of workers and producers.

This is of course not true of every farmer or shopkeeper. Those with control over a large amount of means of production become exploiters themselves, such as the tea estate owner or big capitalist farmer who cultivates his land for profit by hiring workers. There are also those with sufficient means of production to enjoy some degree of independence for some time, balancing between being exploited by capital and becoming exploiters themselves, but this is a precarious position that often does not last very long.

Further, there are others in society who may not exploit people directly, but whose duty is to operate, manage and control the system for exploitation. Managers, government officers and many others are paid a share of the surplus to ensure that the system continues to run. Some of them are exploited themselves – such as low level government servants – but they are made to work not in order to produce directly, but to maintain the system.

Finally, alongside exploitation through markets, wages and other means, there is another form of robbery – the use of force to simply grab for profit. This has increased in intensity with the recent rise to power of finance capital. It includes the grabbing of the land of the peasants and the poor; the eviction of urban slum dwellers; the takeover of minerals by force; and other attempts to accumulate capital by simply expropriating others.

Proposition 3: The commodification and expropriation of nature is also a fundamental part of capitalism today.

Under capitalism, the oppression of human beings is accompanied by the plunder of nature. When the driving force of society is the profit of a few, nature itself becomes a commodity to be bought and sold. Water, air, land and forests have no value to this system except as a means to earn money.

Besides the direct exploitation of these resources for money, the current system of capitalism, where large companies dominate (especially at the global level), directly encourages massive wastage and destruction in order to increase sales without lowering prices. Enormous amounts of money are spent to convince people to purchase products that they do not need, and that often perform the same or less functions than earlier products. Packaging and advertising are used to make functionally useless or even dangerous things seem appealing. While actually reducing people’s choices and control over their lives, capitalists create false and meaningless “choices” in order to encourage consumerism. The cost of goods rises to pay for all of this wastage, reducing the ability of workers and producers to purchase their requirements. These few large companies at the global level are able to keep prices for these goods high, since there is no competition. By keeping these prices high, they pass on the costs of their own wastage to the same workers and producers whom they are otherwise oppressing. Simultaneously, they shift their production to wherever it is cheapest to do so.

The result is massive pollution, water shortages, climate change, natural disasters and destruction of land and forests – even as the profits of the big capitalists rise enormously. This in turn has a terrible impact on workers and producers, who lose their health, livelihoods, families or lives. The whole basis of the existence of the human race is being swallowed by the greed of the exploiters.

These are the basic outlines of the system of production in the world today, where capital rules over human beings. Until this system is overthrown, humanity can never be free. The freedom of today is a cover for the crushing of the majority. But another world is possible, in which people collectively control their production together as free human beings, and use the benefits for all. Those who declare that such a world can never exist forget that exploitation and injustice are not laws of nature; both in history and today, we can see countless examples where people work together out of love, caring and a sense of common humanity. There was a time when this was true of all production. That time can come again, but now as a conscious new world in which all innovation, creativity and work will be at the service of expanding human freedom.

India Today

Proposition 4: Capitalism in India has devastated the lives of the majority of the people, and its brutality and exploitation are increasing. Divisions between urban and rural, between agriculture and industry, are decreasing in importance; instead an increasingly united ruling class exploits many disunited, dispersed and destitute producers.

The consequences of this kind of exploitation are particularly apparent in our society. No country in the world has more poor people, yet India also has some of the world’s richest people. The richer that the country grows, the more “economic growth” accelerates, the more that this inequality increases and the more that money, wealth, power and production are controlled by a small group of people. This has never been truer than after the 1991 “reforms”, which have empowered the finance capitalists – the banks, investment funds and speculators – at the cost of all of the rest of society.

More than 60% of this country’s people depend on agriculture for survival, but agriculture is now in a terrible crisis. Within agriculture, there is tremendous inequality in land ownership. There are crores of landless workers who have no land at all, along with as many small farmers who cannot live on the produce of the land that they have. Many of these have to work for wages in agriculture, construction or other kinds of work, sometimes by migrating over long distances. As men migrate and hunt for work, women have to run their households and often also take care of all agricultural work. Despite promise after promise, very little real land reform has been carried out since independence, and the number of those without land (or without enough to survive) goes up every year. In addition to this, both these groups and the middle and rich peasants, who own more land and who may not have to work for wages, today find themselves squeezed by other forces. These include the moneylenders, who have become more powerful as banks and government funding have decreased; the companies and big traders that control the trade in grain, vegetables and other crops, who pay farmers less while charging more from buyers, keeping the differences for themselves; and the government, which does not enforce its own laws on trading, and uses police force to grab land from forest dwellers, adivasis, the rural poor and those who are in the way of “development projects.” With the power of the private companies and financial investors increasing in India and around the world, prices go up and down as they decide, affecting both those selling produce and those purchasing it. Subjected to the increasing pressure of the market, farmers are using up water and destroying the soil with fertilisers, reducing the fertility of the land across India. The common lands that most rural people depend on for firewood, grazing and water are being taken over by private companies, big landowners and the government. For capitalists today, agriculture is no longer a key area for either production or profits. Instead, it is seen as a source of cheap labour, since workers with fields can be paid even less while depending on their fields to survive. Profits can be made by capitalists through controlling farmers with contract farming, moneylending and control over markets; in the process, much of the revenue and earnings of those in agriculture, even of large farmers, is extracted from them. Meanwhile, the farmer bears all the risk of failing crops and destroyed lands. As a result of all this, agriculture has been driven into such a terrible crisis that only the small minority of big capitalist farmers can survive; the majority of India’s people are thus seeing their basic livelihood and survival destroyed.

But it is not only those engaged in agriculture who are suffering. In the cities, the majority of people have no legal housing or shelter. Factory and industrial workers are hired on contracts, paid extremely low wages and thrown out of their work without warning. Export industries and other “new industries” exploit huge numbers of women because they are easier to repress and control in the factory. After agriculture, the largest group of workers in the country are those who work in construction, where they have no legal protection, work in extreme danger and live in illegal slums. Such workers and others who migrate into cities are treated like criminals and exploited brutally by the police, employers and other government agencies. Crores of women work as domestic workers, are paid very little and forced to face physical and sexual abuse by their employers.

Meanwhile, the ruling class across India is increasingly united. The big capitalist farmers, the senior government servants, and the big businessmen all have houses in the cities; they send their children to the same schools and try to get them into similar professions; and while the rural rich enter into construction and other non-agricultural activities, urban businessmen engage in contract farming and seek to expand into rural India. At the same time, the vast majority of millions of working people struggle to survive in both places, and many migrate between them. Many people do not occupy any fixed position. They may migrate to a city one year for survival, spend some other months as agricultural workers, and – for those who have land – spend the agricultural season trying to grow enough crops to survive.

Thus one key boundary in India – between urban and rural – is slowly breaking. Another such boundary, between Indian capitalists and those of other countries, has also greatly diminished. In the era of neoliberalism (“liberalisation”), finance capital has become truly global, backed by the power of the world’s most powerful states. These capitalists are those who control the supply of money itself, and include banks, mutual funds and other large private stock market investors. The largest Indian companies are so deeply connected to international finance, and so many international companies are now here, that the clear distinctions of earlier times are fading. Today’s imperialism is much more complex, with elements of the Indian ruling class joining the global ruling class in an alliance. Overall, rather than the earlier divisions, there is now a complex mix of exploiters, growing ever richer, more powerful and more unified, confronting a mass of exploited producers of many types.

Proposition 5: Relations of production and exploitation of producers in India are highly diverse. Under the overarching rubric of capitalism, exploiters in India use myriad methods to alienate the labour of producers. There is no sign of such diversity decreasing with the intensification of capitalist oppression.

The vast confusion and desperation of India is marked by another reality, in which too it reflects the world situation. The ruling class has always said that, with “development”, all in society will be treated as equal “citizens”. What they mean is that everyone will be a capitalist, an agent of capitalists, or a worker. In this view the distinctions of caste, religion, family and language would stop being important. For the capitalists and their supporters, this is considered a good thing, since it leads to greater “freedom.” Even some revolutionaries have said that this would be the trend in future; in their view, this will make it possible to finally overthrow capitalism, since the workers and the producers will see their exploitation more clearly and realise that they can unite.

But in practice this has not happened. There is no one way that people are exploited in India; there are hundreds. The form of the labour relation varies widely, and in many cases it extends to what are sometimes described as “feudal” methods. In some places, small farmers continue to be exploited by sharecropping when they rent land from landlords. In others, they pay cash rents, while in still other areas, they may be forced to give free labour to landlords. Often small farmers are exploited at one time through the market, when they sell their surplus produce from their land; at another time by their employer if they must work for wages; and in yet another way by traders and police when they are forced to migrate for finding an income. As a result, the nature of the immediate enemy also varies across the country. For adivasis in forest areas it is often the government that harasses and evicts them; for small peasants in Bihar it may be the landlord who extorts rent from them; for the farmer in Maharashtra it may be the trader and the moneylender; and for the urban construction worker it is often the big contractor. These differences have not decreased with time in India. Some differences have decreased, but others have increased. There is no overall trend towards people all being exploited in similar ways.

But even as these variations occur, it is equally clear that the overall benefits from society and the gains from the labour of the majority go to those who control capital. The system itself is clearly capitalist, but it does not need to bring all workers to the same position. The relationship between the exploiter and the exploited can take many different forms, even if the ultimate beneficiary is the same. Facing the capitalists is a vast and diverse class of workers and producers, most of whom do not even realise that they belong to the same class and that they are, ultimately, exploited for the benefit of the same people.

Proposition 6: Capitalism in India cannot be understood without also understanding caste, patriarchy and other non-class relations of oppression. These other systems are neither relics nor “outside” capitalism; they, along with capitalism, form an integral socioeconomic formation in India today. It is not possible to defeat capitalism without also fighting these relations of oppression. Equally, revolution against capitalism is the necessary though not sufficient condition for liberation from these systems as well.

Capitalist exploitation in India cannot be separated from several other kinds of exploitation. The most widespread of these are the caste system and the oppression of women, though there are other such systems of exploitation as well.

Caste as a system of exploitation is a central feature of Indian society. The rulers tell us that caste discrimination is disappearing in India today, but this is clearly not true. In many parts of the country, Dalits still cannot access water or temples used by upper castes; Dalits, adivasis and lower caste people are deprived of their land. They are humiliated in public and denied basic dignity; their children are marginalised in school or prevented from going to one. A person’s chance to get a job or enter a college is still heavily dependent on what caste they belong to. High castes continue to control the media, big business, the police, the Army and many government positions. Moreover, caste is also central to the way business and capitalism itself works, and caste is still central to the economy as a whole. Company owners and other exploiters rely on caste connections to get loans and to manipulate the political process and the government. Caste connections also help them to ensure that they act together to keep workers’ wages down, prices high and otherwise prevent competition with each other. Thus caste oppression and class exploitation are intertwined for the exploiters. At the same time, for the producers and workers, caste functions both ways. It serves to keep them divided and prevents them from uniting against exploiters. Even those who are otherwise exploited, but are from middle and high castes, try, often using violence, to protect the little power that they have against the lower castes. On the other hand, for many oppressed castes and Dalit communities, their caste or community is a major source of solidarity and unity. To imagine that these relations can be wiped out or are being “reduced” by capitalism is to ignore the manner in which Indian society actually works. The form of caste has certainly changed, but it is still a huge force for exploitation in India, and it will remain one in the future unless it is fought against.

The same is true of the oppression of women (or patriarchy). Women in India face several different kinds of oppression at the same time. They cannot move freely or speak freely. Their life is controlled by men from the moment they are born until the moment they die, starting with their fathers, followed by their husbands, and finally their sons or sons in law. Female fetuses are killed in their mother’s wombs before they are even born. Women face sexual violence and rapes, most of which are never punished, and at home they are routinely beaten by men. In the system of production, the burden of household work is fully put on them. They must run the house, raise their children and quite often work outside at the same time. Their work in the home, which is the basis for all of society to function, is never acknowledged and is treated as free both by the rulers and by the men of their household. Taking advantage of their oppression and the discrimination against them, employers pay them less for the same work; they are often given no rights in land, and what they have they are often forced to give up. As with caste, patriarchy is also closely integrated with production. More and more tasks are dumped on women in order to save money for the exploiters. Schools are not opened, medical care not provided, water not given, and fuel restricted, forcing women to cover for all these failures with their labour. Child care outside the family is unavailable except to the wealthy, forcing working women to bear double burdens. The lower wages paid to women permits employers to get more work out of them, and prevents both men and women from fighting for higher wages, since men who do so can often be replaced by women. As the oppression of the producers increases, women are forced to work more and more, and they are exploited more than the men of their class.

In the same manner, people in India are exploited based on ethnicity, religion, language, region, nationality and many other non-class factors. Oppression of minorities has increased greatly. The Indian state uses its military power to brutally crush any aspiration for national liberation and/or separate states, whether it be among the Kashmiris, the Nagas, or elsewhere, and in particular if they are led by democratic or progressive forces. With the passage of time such use of force has only increased and intensified. This paves the way for the emergence and strengthening of chauvinist or other authoritarian forces, who in turn are encouraged by local, national and regional ruling classes. As a result progressive and democratic movements are increasingly sidelined by the rise of militarism and mass violence, which then becomes the justification for more repression. The massacres, killings and torture are never reported by the mainstream media.

All of this shows that it is a lie to believe that India is moving toward a society where everyone will be equal and judged just on the basis of their work. If anything, the opposite is happening, and the gap is widening. As seen above, exploitation for non-class reasons continues on two levels. In all of these other systems of exploitation, as in patriarchy and caste, there is exploitation that is not directly related to one’s role in production. Even a wealthy woman, Dalit or Muslim does not have the same opportunities as an upper caste Hindu man with the same wealth. At the same time, these systems of oppression are directly linked to production and capitalism. Capitalists in India use the fact that they often speak the same language, belong to similar castes, are almost all men, and so on to also increase their unity and their power as exploiters of producers and workers. They use the social oppression of others to increase their exploitation of their labour; for instance, a Dalit woman or a Muslim woman is much easier to exploit for profit than a Brahmin man. At times, as in the Hindutva movement, they channel the anger and aspirations of producers into identities (such as being “Hindu”) that pose no threat to the real exploiters; instead, these identities offer the illusion of advancement and dignity to people, on the condition that they turn on others who are more oppressed than them.

All these systems are thus part of each other. At the root of this system, however, lies control over the means of production. Where caste, patriarchy, religious discrimination or other kinds of oppression have become a problem for capitalist exploitation, they have become weaker over time. Examples include caste restrictions on people performing some work; such restrictions may reduce availability of workers and competition among them, and hence they have eroded. Where these other systems have helped to shore up the power of those with capital, they have often become stronger. Indian capitalism cannot exist without caste, patriarchy and other non-class forms of oppression; it is built through them and with them. However, where they conflict with capital’s attempts to expropriate more from producers, they are weakened. The resulting system rules Indian society today.

Hence capitalism cannot be fought without fighting these other systems of oppression, for not only will injustice from those forms of oppression continue, they will strengthen capital. At the same time, the fight against these other forms of oppression will remain unsuccessful and incomplete unless it is also integrated with the struggle against capitalism. The leaders of oppressed sections that enter the ruling capitalist class almost always defend the interests of that class, even if it means exploiting their own community, religion, gender, etc. The overthrow of capitalism is necessary for real liberation from all of these forms of oppression, even as such liberation will also require dedicated struggle to eliminate each of them. Building the road to this is the task before revolutionaries in India today.

Power and Politics

People have fought against exploitation from the dawn of history. Whether it is Dalits fighting for their right to dignity, adivasis rising for their control over their forests, workers striking to demand justice, or women protesting against violence, the oppressed have never been silent and never will be.

However, the response of the oppressors has changed in some ways. Unlike their predecessors, today’s rulers do not necessarily say that such protests are wrong or unjustified. In fact, at times they accept that injustice is happening and people are exploited. But instead of denying injustice, today’s rulers deny the need for struggle; those who rise up are told there is no need to do so. After all, the exploiters say, there are courts, government officers, and the police, all running on the basis of the law. The law gives everyone an equal right to justice. If nothing else works one can try to use elections to change the government and change the law. Today’s Indian government is said to be a democracy that runs on the will of the people. The same things are said by governments around the world.

But this is clearly not true. Whatever happens with the law, the courts and the elections, the fundamental reality does not change. Those who work and produce continue to struggle. No election in India has ever made it possible for the majority of the people to control their own labour or to live a life of dignity. Instead the same system goes on.

This is not surprising, for there can be no real “rule of the people” as long as capitalism exists. In a capitalist society the system is driven by the needs of the capitalists, as they control the production process. Hence the desires of the majority can never be the real basis of decision making in a capitalist society. Therefore, the fight against capitalism is also the fight for real democracy.

Proposition 7: In response to the resistance of the oppressed, political power in capitalism has developed as a fusion of material, ideological and repressive power. It does not rely solely on fear, or on material dependence, or on cultural-ideological means alone; it is a complex, shifting mix of the three. This mix makes it impossible for people to imagine, believe in or build an alternative.

The combination of capitalist exploitation and limited democracy is made possible by a complex fusion of three basic systems. The first is the most obvious – the government breaks its own rules on “democracy” when it is threatened. Even as the rulers declare that everyone in India is free to protest, every person is aware that a mass struggle for justice in this country will be met with force. The limit is clear: do not come together in large numbers to demand your rights, and do not threaten the control of the capitalists over their production system, or the power of the government to enforce its decisions. When people actually do so, all law and justice are forgotten and the police use arrests, torture and guns to crush protests.

But what is equally clear is that this is not the entirety of the situation. The state does not always resort to force; in fact using force against people is the exception rather than the rule. It is not only force that makes it possible for capitalism to go on. The reality is that, even as the majority of people are oppressed, they do not protest. They do not struggle against this system. Instead, they knowingly or unknowingly give their consent to this society and this state.

This consent is the result of the other two systems of power. The second one is the promotion of ruling class ideas throughout society by the media, films, books, the schools and other institutions. Through these channels, everyone is told that this system is natural; histories, theories and analyses that go against this are not taught or propagated. Where they are mentioned, they are dismissed as impractical, idealistic or impossible. The constant refrain is that one has to be selfish, individualistic and exploitative, and that one has to accept exploitation at the hands of the capitalists.

But this too is not all, and the system does not only exist on the basis of lies. In reality, the ruling class does give in at some points, and shares a part of its profits and surplus. The most obvious form this “sharing” takes is government schemes like rations, government hospitals and government schools. While the government rarely tries to actually run these systems properly, it cannot shut them down completely; even though the businessmen and the international financiers howl that they are a waste of money. These and other public services are all signs of the struggle of the people, for they show the fear of the ruling class. Of course, even as they share this part of their surplus, the capitalists seek to regain some benefits from it, and indeed use it to boost their own markets. There is a constant tussle between the majority and the exploiters over such benefits.

Such “sharing” extends far beyond these obvious forms, though. Every institution of power in our society is marked by the constant attempt of the exploiters to safeguard and expand their power and the constant struggle of the oppressed to liberate themselves from it. Whether the idea of a “rule of law”, the system of courts, or the notion of equal citizenship promoted by the media, many systems seek to simultaneously legitimise the ruling class while conceding some dignity or benefit to the producers out of fear of their revolt. The one power that the ruling class will never concede, however, is the power of the producers to collectively control production.

All three of these systems – the repressive process, or the use of force; the ideological process, or the cultural battle over ideas; and the material process, or the sharing of material resources and surplus – function together to define the current system of power. They cannot be separated except in theory; they work as an integrated whole in reality. All of them contribute to the maintenance of the idea that the current system is good, fair, and just, and that nothing else is either desirable or possible. As a result of all this, the exploited cannot imagine another world; they cannot build another system that will give them greater security; and they cannot fight for it, because they are terrorised if they try to do so, and described as the enemies of society. Thus do the real anti-socials disguise their agenda as that of “development” and “welfare”, and maintain their hegemony over society.

This system is not fully stable, and it never can be. It is not the result of some perfect plan hatched by the ruling class. At all times the capitalists have to keep adjusting to new struggles and their demands, attempting to ensure that the lie at the heart of their “democracy” is not exposed. In response to every resistance, the rulers sometimes concede another material demand; sometimes respond with brute force; sometimes try to obfuscate and confuse the issue with new cultural responses. Most often all three are deployed. Each move by them produces its own new forms of struggle. This makes the system unstable, constantly changing and altering.

Proposition 8: A key function of the state is to help organise the rulers and exploiters and disorganise the producers and workers.

The limited democracy in India today is perhaps the most complex result of this struggle over power. Individual capitalists rarely desire to have even limited democracy for producers and workers; they would always prefer to run the government directly without “interference” and “unreasonable” demands by the oppressed. One can see this in the behaviour of sections of the financial press, which sigh about how democracy is interfering with the “economy” and the desire of the “investors.” Some capitalists even openly declare that a dictatorship would be better for the country.

However, the capitalists know they cannot bring about such a dictatorship, for they fear the consequences for their rule. Hence they permit some freedom of speech, assembly and action to all, since that will prevent an explosion. But at the same time, the system by which this freedom is permitted helps to actually disorganise producers and workers. The benefits and freedoms that are permitted out of fear are never given to the workers and producers as a collective or as a class, and are not given to them in a manner that would permit them to exercise any real control. The state and the system claim to treat every person as an individual, an isolated single person who receives benefits as a citizen. These “individuals” receive gifts from this system that claims to care for everyone. The reality of struggle is masked behind the talk of rights and law. Even where the individual is identified with a group – such as in the case of caste reservations, or BPL cards – the person is still treated as an eligible individual when receiving the benefit.

Moreover, unlike in earlier times, the modern state hides real power behind a labyrinth of institutions and appears to have no clear centre. There are courts, legislatures, local bodies, elections, committees, and many other institutions. On a constant basis, struggles against oppression are directed into one or the other of these institutions, even as the powerful use other institutions to maintain their control. As sections of workers or the oppressed gain power in elections, the ruling class moves to make elected bodies less powerful. Chance victories in courts are countered by changing laws or ignoring court orders. The ruling politicians may concede something to a struggle, only to have the government bureaucracy sabotage it.

Through this process the unity, struggle and consciousness of producers and workers is weakened. By treating them as “individuals” and fracturing their unity from the start, the state stops most resistance from forming; where movements do form, they are forced into endless battles with one section of the state after another, with each victory seeming to be undercut and undermined by some new attack. Thus they are isolated, coopted, divided or simply crushed.

Yet, at the same time, the same system has the opposite effect for the exploiters. Capitalism is not a planned machine; it is a spontaneous order in which there is constant turmoil. The ruling class under capitalism is a divided, chaotic entity with many fractions each seeking their own interests. It is not the case that all of these fractions share the same interests or are, indeed, aware of what their shared interests might be. Indeed, each has an immediate interest in pulling down the other. There are contradictions between the big finance capitalists and the small industrialists; between the capitalist farmers and the commercial companies that control trade; between some sections of capital from more powerful countries and some sections of Indian capitalists. Each one of these would benefit if it could make its rival weaker. These contradictions are not strong enough to threaten their unity in the face of an active movement of the producers and workers. When they see a real and immediate threat to their control over production, they will band together. But until then there is constant turmoil, competition and fighting within the exploiters as well.

However, the democratic system offers them ways to find common ground between their inconsistent interests. Through the free debate among political leaders, the struggle between political institutions, and the competitive elections, the system makes it possible for the exploiters to argue out their problems and differences and constantly seek to identify their interests as a class. The system permits the space for different ideologies to exist that offer different “solutions” to maintain the system; the conflict between these is sorted out in the political arena. This freedom is only partially extended to any ideology or political position that actually threatens the ruling class; these are marginalised, coopted, diluted, or simply crushed. Thus, even as different political parties clash, the shared understanding between them is simultaneously presented as the “national” interest. This interest is then upheld by every arm of the state and every political actor, defining and extending the unity of the exploiters. This unity, one must remember, is unstable. It always has to be made again and again.

We can see this dual function of the state in the way the interests of the warring classes are described. The interests of producers are described as those of private individuals, sectional interests and “citizens”; the interests of exploiters are described as the voice of all society. Thus this system turns the very demands of the producers against them; it organises the exploiters and disorganises the workers and the producers. This helps to maintain the balance of power in favour of the exploiters and to head off threats from the organisation and unity of the workers and producers. The very freedom and benefits that have been won from the rulers are used to prevent further victories.

The Path of Struggle

Proposition 9: The new society must be created by the collective action of the producers themselves.

The road to a society of free associated producers is a long one. Such a society can only be created by the producers themselves, not by replacing one set of rulers or leaders with another. The key issue is power – the power of producers to control their own production in a collective, democratic manner. Hence, no one can make a true revolution by acting on behalf of the producers and workers. For this reason, just taking over the formal state and its army will not in itself lead to justice, for the state is capitalist by its very character, not merely because it is being led by capitalists. Earlier experiments in revolutionary action – such as the Soviet Union and China – have demonstrated that seizure of the formal state is neither the beginning nor the end of revolution. Instead, the struggle goes on, and as in those cases, the new state can as easily become an enemy of human liberation rather than a revolutionary force. The revolution is a process, not a single event; it is a struggle towards collective control and human dignity. It must transform the entirety of society as well as the producers themselves.

Such a process would have several key characteristics. It has to be collective. It must be based on a spreading shattering of ruling class capitalist hegemony and its replacement with the hegemony of the producing class, where the producers establish that it is their interest that is the true interest of all of society. In the interim the revolutionary process has to focus on the demolition of ruling class power, including the state, but not only the formal state. Rather than seeking to replace ruling class control with working class control, it would seek to smash ruling class power and to build the collective power of the producers. It is only through such a process that social transformation can occur.

Proposition 10: The task of a revolutionary force in India today is not to seek to lead or to control the struggle. It is to work towards the weakening of ruling class hegemony and the sharpening of all struggles towards collective production.

Any revolutionary force must contend with these three features of Indian society at present: the diversity of the relations of exploitation; the integration of capitalist and other forms of oppression; and the existence of a capitalist limited democracy. All three of these make unity between the workers and producers both objectively and subjectively impossible, until they are confronted. Such unity cannot be brought about through the leadership of one organisation. Unity must be an organic process, and for this the producers must experience and perceive their common exploitation, while also respecting their mutual differences and their mutual autonomy.

The biggest obstacle to this true unity is the hegemony of the ruling class – its ability to make its own goals and interests seem to be those of all, while making all other demands seem to be that of one “section” or the other. The capacity of the system to continually disorganise, disunite and atomise producers and workers works to continually weaken and undercut efforts at unity. The existing differences are not merely continued, they are expanded and multiplied through the process of hegemony. Thus at present the Bihari peasant sees no common interest between him and the auto worker in Delhi, though both are exploited by the same capitalist companies; the construction worker does not regard the adivasi as his or her ally, though both are crushed by the same system. Their unity will come about only in the process of shattering the hegemony of the ruling class.

The task of a revolutionary force is therefore at this time to work towards weakening this hegemony and towards building the space for the revolutionary struggle. Each step in such a process must seek to create new contradictions which would drive the process forward. It is not sufficient to merely seek those demands that mobilise people and that will lead to greater support for the revolutionaries. Rather, at each stage the aim should be to build a mass democratic struggle in which, simultaneously, the possibilities of solidarity, unity and collectivity are expanded. In such a process the three legs of the rule of the ruling class – fear, production of disunity, and false ideas – are confronted together.

The contradictory nature of the existing system offers spaces for this process, but also limits what those spaces can achieve. Thus, every time people attempt to expand these spaces – to use gram sabhas as real spaces for control over natural resources; to build true production cooperatives; to build a union or occupy a factory – this triggers a direct confrontation with the state and ruling class power. The fight against this can then be used to build a new, wider solidarity and collectivity. Thus the demands and politics of such a struggle cannot be limited to seizing one or the other immediate benefit, though they must start from that, but must always imply, include and make possible a growing struggle towards control over production. At its most effective such a process will also expose contradictions within the ruling class and expand them. The rulers will seek to maintain the consent of the ruled, even as the basis for that consent is eroded by the struggle. In the process their own differences will become more difficult to resolve, even as unity becomes stronger among the oppressed.

The current era, in which finance capital dominates, is a particularly fertile one for struggle. Unlike industrial and other forms of capital, finance capitalists feed off the production that is already happening (through giving loans, trading in stocks, speculating on currencies, grabbing resources to sell them at a high price, and the like) rather than organising any production of their own. As a result, it is much harder for them to concede any demands or share any benefits with the producers, since any sharing leads to a direct reduction in their own profits. This makes finance capital far more short-sighted, brutal and politically repressive than other sections of capital. In such a context the hegemony of the ruling class is much harder to sustain. Every time a ruling political party or government tries to concede something to the producers, the finance capitalists raise howls of protest and try to destroy it. In the process they openly expose the fact that it is only through power over production that the oppressed can in fact win justice, since anything else will only be hijacked by the financiers. Thus they help to dig the grave of the very system that they so foolishly believe represents their triumph.

Such a situation will not continue indefinitely. But even if the ruling class returns to older forms of politics, or develops new ones that are more superficially democratic, we believe that it is through the steadily growing struggle for collective control over production that the way forward lies. Through such a struggle, the victories already won and the freedoms already gained can be built upon. The focus will be on the weak points of the exploiters. At each stage the struggle would aim to bring more power into collective control and the hands of the conscious producers, even as it confronts the brutality and lies of the ruling class. Over time, as the hegemony of the ruling class fractures, unity will come to develop organically among the producers. The limited democracy must be exposed for what it is and expanded into a real democracy; the crippled welfare system and benefits must be shown to be broken and expanded into a new system of collective provision; and most of all, the lie of capitalist production, the lie that society can only function for the profit of a few, must be smashed and replaced with the collective society, where production happens together for the dignity and welfare of all. Thus only will the liberation of each become the liberation of all.

New Path

New Path seeks to be a part of this process. The organisation’s work is to seek opportunities and spaces to build unity and to push for struggles against repression and all forms of exploitation, with the aim of building collective control over production. The organisation will be involved in its own process of mass struggle, and it will also engage and join with other struggles, in which the priority is to spread the idea of collective control and to sharpen struggles in that direction. It will always respect the democratic autonomy of those struggles.

Today, resistance by adivasis and forest dwellers against state and private land grabbing are creating possibilities of collective production and community control over forests. Militant strikes by workers in industrial belts make it possible to imagine occupation and takeover of factories. Small farmers’ struggles can lead to cooperative production. New Path will seek to build, ally with and participate in all such movements for liberation, and in particular in movements by toilers and workers to stake collective claim over productive natural resources, such as land, forest and water; movements to improve working conditions and to take control over the means of production; struggles for the liberation of adivasis, dalits, oppressed and subjugated communities and nationalities; movements to demand and obtain state intervention to reduce the power of finance capital, such as in agriculture; struggles against patriarchy and the oppression of women; struggles to defend the natural environment; struggles for public control and provision of education, health care and all basic services; movements for the protection of democratic and human rights; movements for creating democratic and political consciousness; cultural struggles for a culture of equality, freedom, dignity, reason and creativity; efforts to expand international solidarity among oppressed people and sections; and defence and expansion of experiences and experiments in cooperative and collective control. In each case New Path members will join in and work for the success of these struggles.

To reiterate, New Path does not seek to lead all struggles of the workers and producers; nor does it seek to be the vanguard of the revolution. It does not claim to be the bearer of the truth or of the sole true ideology. Not only does New Path not possess any such truth; there can in fact be no such thing in a divided class society. New understandings will constantly develop and change as the collective actions of the producers expands. Rather, the primary goal of New Path is always to contribute to the weakening of ruling class hegemony.

The manner in which this can be done will vary depending on the nature of the struggle as well as the political conjuncture. At each point New Path will seek to analyse the present situation and develop an analysis of the possible demands, actions and steps that can take the revolutionary movement forward. All instruments that can contribute to this, such as mass struggle, organising movements, and use of the electoral platform by friendly and allied organisations, will be used, while not falling into the illusion that any one such instrument is sufficient for the task. Elections will be seen as primarily a platform for public action and propaganda, and not as a means to power. New Path will not take up arms, as armed struggle within a functioning bourgeois democracy does not contribute to enhancing mass consciousness and weakening ruling class hegemony, which are the key tasks of the revolutionary movement; rather, it is a route to repression and isolation.

As a collective democratic organisation, New Path has no individual posts, only elected bodies subject to the right of recall by the Congress of its members. It seeks to operate through internal consensus and discussion, with majority voting being only a last resort in limited circumstances. New Path is not a federation or a coalition in itself, though it will seek to build such. Rather, it seeks to be an ideological focus, a disciplined hub of activists who – through discussion, work and struggle – share an understanding of the revolutionary process and seek to spread that understanding and that mode of work into every sector and struggle in society. In this way New Path will work for the struggle for a new world.

In memory of the martyrs of the struggles past, and in celebration of the victories to come, New Path stands with all those who fight for justice and dignity in the face of the oppressors, exploiters and plunderers who rule our planet today.

Rape Culture and Capitalism: What is living and what is dead

Saswat Pattanayak

I understand many of us, Indians, are ashamed these days. And it is true that protests and placards do not educate the rapists. And that the students came out on the streets only because it is New Delhi. But we should not miss an important aspect of it all – most protesters clearly defying governmental bans are demonstrating an important tactic in the struggle for women’s rights anywhere in the world. This is a strategy that should not be discouraged, rather used everywhere – be it in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa or Manipur.

Or for that matter, in London, New York and Stockholm. Because last checked, India is as unsafe a country for women as are the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden. Statistically speaking, there are more rapes taking place per hour in the US than in India. Whereas in India the number of rape cases amount to over 20,000 a year, the number well exceeds 90,000 in the United States with third of the population. The unreported cases of rape and ridiculously low conviction rates are also common and comparable across the modern capitalist nations.

It is necessary to fight for women’s rights, but why should the drive stop at the borders? Those of us who refuse to adequately acknowledge the protest movement in Delhi by citing the relative silence in Gujarat and North-East also commit similar fallacies when we fail to protest against abuse of women elsewhere in the world. Why should a “safe Delhi” narrative be replaced only with an equally jingoistic, “safe India”? Protesting against social injustice anywhere should be encouraged, not spurned. No matter the intensity, no matter the limited purpose, no matter the viability. True, that the goals go astray when people demand for death penalty instead of conviction, and true, that some reactionary elements at times also end up hijacking the movements, but it is also true that inaction, silence and skepticism are not going to help the principled oppositions to the status quo, that takes place in any shape, way or form.

Violences on women are rising everywhere, in every corner of the globe. But that is only because more cases are being reported today than it used to be the case earlier. The journey from feudalism to capitalism in the case of India is a journey of advancement, of progression. More women today than ever before are aware of what comprises sexual harassment. More women understand their reproductive rights today than they could in the “good old days”, return to which some Indians are craving for by citing the modern “vulgarization of Indian culture” as the prime factor behind growing rape statistics.

Rape culture is a necessary culmination of capitalism, only because it is acknowledged as thus. In the days of slavery and feudalism, women were not even counted as human beings with needs and demands. Certainly there was no hue and cry about “rape” and in the days of the past, the ruling classes comprised kings and landlords – for whom total ownership of women was not something to be ashamed of, but something to take pride in. “Conquest” of women used to be the prevalent culture and rape was never treated as an exception or aberration. Young girls used to be “gifted” to the royals before they could be married off during their childhood days. In many a cultural settings of the past, the “virgins” were first offered to the rulers. It is no wonder that the sanctity around virginity is a result of feudal structure and its remnants today aid the common men in craving for virgin women.

The Good Old Days Fallacies

Any romanticization of the brutal days of the past must end immediately. Neither India nor any other country in the world can claim to have provided for a safe society for women during their feudal stages of developments (barring probably the tribal and other matriarchal phases, which anyway suffered from other malaises). The reality today may not be any better when other factors are taken into consideration, and I shall dwell on that shortly, but uncritical assessment of the days of yore are grossly regressive and we cannot afford to model a future society after such heinous past.

When serfdom gives in to the rise of modernity and capitalism, there are bound to be struggles, but recognition and knowledge of such struggles empower women and other oppressed sections in unprecedented manners. A growing challenge to narrow nationalism helps borrow and reproduce cultural imports, including some progressive ones – and this becomes a step in the right direction for the traditionally oppressed. Thanks to the growing cosmopolitanism, more Dalits and more women are finding for themselves avenues for education and empowerment today. These are by no means small achievements. Indeed, these are the only justifiable achievements a country like India can boast of in its long “glorious” history.

With advent of capitalism and industrialization, more women find themselves at the workplace, and such a shift is bound to challenge the male hegemony. Through empowered outlooks, more women begin to challenge patriarchy, and that too disturbs the traditional males. Through greater involvement in decision-making processes, more women begin to exercise their rights to bear a child – or to opt for abortion, to marry – or not to marry, and finally they begin to articulate as sexual beings, and not just as sexual objects. Of late, India has witnessed a LGBTQ “pride” movement that could not have surfaced without the present consciousness. Through “Slutwalk”, another movement of solidarity among feminists is shaping up globally and Indian women have joined the cause, despite some obvious flaws in conceptualization and appropriation of the word “slut”. Defying the moral police that run ruckus all over the country during “Valentine’s Day”, women in India are now openly flaunting their love interests in the public. Suffice it to say that such liberated outlooks have started to cause a crisis that is about to shatter the status quo and challenge the norms of capitalism.

Capitalism replaces feudal society, but the wealth still remains concentrated along the lines of traditional privileges. Although education and empowerment are ushered in through capitalism, they are properly utilized only by the families of the former landowners. Slaves get emancipated, but they have no way to compete as equals. Capitalism establishes the “old boys networks”, thrives on favoritism and develops a meritocracy whose rules are defined by the traditionally privileged which go a long way in sustaining the class society. Capitalism firmly enforces the class divide and this in turn plays right into the hands of the traditionally oppressive gender, the male.

Be they Indian men or North American men or European men or Australian men or Arab men or Hindu men or Muslim men or Christian men or Buddhist men – the men typically and automatically advance faster than the women under capitalism. Male advancement invariably accompanies brutal competitiveness that characterizes such individualistic societies. At the same time, they are constantly challenged by more women and children – a development for which men, owing to their historical and superconscious makeups, remain clearly unprepared for. Gender violence is akin to class war and racial struggles in the sense that the historically privileged social location retaliates against those it had oppressed whenever it faces a challenge to its dominance.

It will be a wishful thinking to suggest that we go back to the “golden era” of Indian culture. Wishful only because that is clearly not going to happen. Even the societies where feudalism still remains intact will have to advance to capitalism sooner than later. And with contradictions of capitalism – which are of a very different nature than the struggles within feudalism – are going to pave way to even more advanced forms of struggles – the class war. But we have not reached a stage where majority of people are class-conscious and we must go through this essential period of struggle to duly recognize variety of social locations such as caste, race, gender, ability among others, and allegiances such as nationality and religion – the factors that hinder critical social justice education from empowering everyone.

The cultural contradictions

It is necessary to understand that the protests against rape in Delhi have two basic components – one that cries out for death penalty or stricter punishment, and another that demands equality of status for women. While the former is an endorsement of feudalism and a reinforced belief in the status quo, the latter is an unqualified call for socialism. Delhi Police long infamous for being sexist has hired a renowned Bollywood actor-director Farhan Akhtar to entice men into becoming more “man enough” to join them in protecting Indian women. This is not just a crude display of macho tendencies that make the world an unsafe place to begin with, what is even worse is such artistic collaboration lends credence to a law and order system that is inherently oppressive – Indian police and military system systematically brutalizes countless poor through rape, murder and torture as tools to suppress any dissenting voices. No wonder then, despite the advertisements claiming that Delhi Police is interested in protecting women, once the people gather to register their protest on the streets, the state power unleashes its menace through violent suppressions.

But it would be wrong to exclusively focus on Delhi Police. Same calls for feudalistic past are being made by leading women leaders of India as well. Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal has commented on the increasing number of rape cases thus, “The way media is cooking up rape stories, it would be difficult to believe a genuine rape case.” Sushma Swaraj, the leader of opposition in India has dehumanized rape survivors as “living corpses”. Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi has advised women “not to be adventurous”. In each of such assertion lies the firm refusal on part of ruling class women, along with their men, to break away from India’s feudal past.

Just as the struggle continues in modern India to destroy the last remnants of feudalism, so also the struggle must continue to recognize the early symptoms of Indian capitalism. As the traditionally privileged males – the landowning, slaveowning and women-owning –  fail to understand the historical advancements made by women today in almost all spheres of society, their resistance against this upheaval is going to emerge all the more. Traditional men are puzzled over the emerging idea that women no longer need to be bound by traditional family roles, and that such a shift also extends to women’s prerogatives to choose sexual partners whether or not they are married. A major resentment against the sexual freedom for women represents itself through variety of censorships, sexist laws and moral dictates on clothing patterns. Even as rapes continue to be condemned by the society which is ready to shun feudalism, various factors and societal excuses leading to rapes are being deliberated upon by the same society that is struggling with capitalistic values.

A substantial section of the men who oppose rape also are quick to offer the dress codes and time limits for women as well as raising objections against “clubbing”, “smoking”, “extra-marital affairs”, and a general sense of “cultural degeneration” that apparently make women “easy prey”. At the same time, they refuse to acknowledge that men have continued to indulge in every such “vices” without hindrances for centuries. Patriarchy is just not open to letting women join the scene at equal footing, because that would end the system as we know it. And since capitalism provides for the “opportunities” for women to either reject – or, conversely, accept – the terms of objectification, disgruntled men then hold “cultural corruption” accountable as the convenient culprit.

Not only have upper caste Hindus started quoting Manusmriti to reduce women into symbols of “worships”, even the Bahujan Samaj Party which represents Dalit mainstream interests has found itself embarrassed over calls for feudalism as a method to “protect” women. Rajpal Saini, a BSP member of Parliament recently was quoted saying, “There is no need to give phones to women and children. It distracts them and is useless. My mother, wife and sister never had mobile phones. They survived without one.” BSP supremo Mayawati likewise has joined the right-wing ideologues in calling for “stricter laws” as a deterrent to rape. “It is not enough to just arrest them (the rapists), but action should be so strict that no one should dare to act in such a manner.”

What is to be done?

The reality is, conviction rates in cases of rape are abysmally low. Not just in India, but around the world as well. In the United States, there are an estimated 400,000 “rape kits” (just in case, that’s the situation for 400,000 women) currently backlogged. And by the time the kits are tested the statute of limitations expires and the rapists no longer get charged. Only 24 percent of rapists are arrested in America. The statistic is not any more encouraging in the United Kingdom either. The British government acknowledges that as many as 95% of rapes are never reported to the police, and the country has roughly 6.5% conviction rate.

Precisely because of the nature of patriarchy and the way it engulfs feudal/religious societies as well as capitalistic/liberal societies, the need of the hour is to recognize the war against women as a systemic feature of the world, and to collaborate with every progressive force looking to replace such a status quo. Harking back to the past is not the solution. Looking forward to dismantle the forces of feudalism/capitalism is the approach we must adopt. Let there be no surprise or disappointment in the increasing number of rape cases being registered. More the number of women report assaults, more certain are we to become that the political economic system within which we seek solution is an inherently evil – and fragile – one. Arundhati Roy recently spoke about the fact that the rich people used to oppress women exercising a certain amount of discretion in the past, while thanks to the cultural shifts and movie culture today, their disdain towards women is becoming more apparent. While that is true, we also need to acknowledge this as an evolution for the better. The more racist and sexist people expose their real colors, the greater will the need be felt to overthrow the existing system. Just as in the similar vein, the greatest challenge to racism are not the avowedly racists, but those that deny their race privileges.

What is happening in India is truly remarkable. The collective disdain towards the system may not last forever, since right-wing moralists are going to take it over with sheer power of wealth and media distractions, just as the Occupy movement in America got co-opted by the liberal Democrats for their political aspirations. And as such, the dissenters do not always represent the best interests of the most oppressed in such outbursts, where Dalits, blacks, and the poor often do not find themselves represented. But these outbursts, howsoever temporary, do provide for a recipe for non-cooperation and for civil disobedience. As Howard Zinn reminds us, gradual reforms take place not because of good laws suddenly finding their way in, but because of dissenting people compelling the bad laws out of the system through mass movements. The truth is dissenting voices against the ruling classes world over are increasing phenomenally with more people ably aided by critical education and alternative media. Majority of the world is still too poor, and underprivileged to exchange a wage-earning day in favor of a placard-holding session. And that is precisely why oftentimes in history, progressive sections of the society across classes form larger alliances and go against the grains. And towards that extent there is a need for all of us to collaborate with resistance movements that aim to challenge the ruling order no matter if the causes immediately impact us or not, or if the causes are too narrowly framed by taking on specific agendas. Warmongering against Iran must be opposed just as we should protest massacre of Shia Muslims in Pakistan, and demand for rescue of Palestine from the reactionary Zionists. Role of the revolutionary is to recognize that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.

In Indian context, some of us are protesting against communalism in Gujarat, some of us are raising voices against militarism in Manipur, some engaged in defending lands in Orissa, some protesting against the rape in Delhi. Each of these movements has the potential to be hijacked, infiltrated, and demolished. And yet, each also has the potential to collaborate with fellow resisters all across the globe, and to encompass the ethos of revolutions that will annihilate feudalism, smash down patriarchy, and shatter every iota of capitalism that is inherently exploitative. Eventually, what capitalism produces are its own “grave-diggers”. And its fall and the victory of the revolutionaries are equally inevitable. And there is never a better time than now, to emerge united with the working women and men, the world over – regardless of the prevailing challenges and, because of them.

Why must social science be critical, and why must doing social science be difficult?

Raju J Das

Now-a-days, we hear the word ‘critical’ everywhere. It is there even in business schools: there is indeed such a thing as critical business or management studies. Conscious (=conscientious) capitalism, capitalism with a humane face, is presumably born out of such things as critical business studies. If business schools can be critical, can others be far behind? There is critical sociology. There is critical human geography? There is critical anthropology, and so on. Not to be critical almost means stupidity.

What does ‘critical’ really mean? It means being critical of the world, i.e. its social relations and inequalities. It means critical of ideas about the world, the ideas that sustain those inequalities and the ideas that do not conform to (conceptually-laden) empirical evidence. If one says that the place of women is in the kitchen or that people have a natural tendency to be only selfish and to buy and sell for a profit, there is clearly something here to be critical of, because these false ideas have an influence on people’s actual behavior. One must be critical because one cannot assume that what exists = what can exist. Uncritical work, as Alex Callinicos has said, equates what can exist with what does exist, and thus becomes status quo-ist. We must be critical because as Marx says, what appears to be true may not be true, so we need to dig underneath the surface appearances which represent inadequately partial truth and we must be critical of ideas which reflect the surface appearances.

Marx said that one should be ruthlessly critical of everything that exists, of the existing order, ruthless in that one will not be scared of the results of one’s research, nor of the powerful people.

Intellectually speaking, one can become critical of existing ideas about society by asking a series of questions of a piece of work. For example:

  1. Does a piece of work merely describe an event/process or does it explain it as necessarily caused by specific processes?
  2. Does a piece of work give more powers to things/processes than they can possibly bear/have?
  3. Does a piece of work naturalize a phenomenon by treating it as universal when it is in fact historically and geographically specific?
  4. Does a piece of work stress the cultural/ideational at the expense of the material/economic?
  5. Does a piece of work distinguish between necessary causes/conditions from contingent causes/conditions for something to happen?
  6. Does a piece of work treat an event/process as a mass of contingencies or does it treat it as a manifestation/expression/effect of a more general process?
  7. Does a piece of work conceptualize/treat/ analyze an event/process in terms of its necessary conditions and necessary effects (which may change over time)?
  8. Does a piece of work stress harmony and stability at the expense of tension and contradiction?
  9. Does a piece of work ignore connections between things and how their connections form a system which influence the parts or does it stress the difference and disconnection between things at the expense of the connections and similarities?
  10. Does a piece of work stress the individual thoughts and actions as being more important than structural conditions of individual actions/thoughts?

But what is the practical point of being critical? What happens if a professorial colleague makes criticisms of another colleague? One could say that by making (polite) criticisms of the existing ideas of scholars, we can change their viewpoints.  Many people hold the idea that: there are interstices of capitalism which can be used in the interest of ordinary people, and that is a way of fighting against the system and that, more particularly, things such as co-ops, labour unions, NGOs, identity politics, and social-democratic type parties can be used to significantly mitigate or eradicate humanity’s problems. Now: one can critique this idea hoping that the person in question will change her/his existing idea into a more radical idea, and that this will have an impact on radical social change in the world itself.

But this assumption is, more or less, wrong, for the idea underlying the assumption is that radical social change depends on merely change of ideas and that the change of ideas of the professoriate is crucial to radical social change (=transcendence of global capitalism and installment of global economic and political democracy = socialism).

My several years in academia now tell me that it is very difficult to radically change the ideas of colleagues (and most students), although one tries! It is very difficult to make them understand that, for example, the global capitalist class relation is at the root of major social-ecological problems in different localities and in the world at large, and it must therefore be gotten rid of.

A few of these individuals may change their ideas. However, the academic stratum as such will not. As the ideological representative of the petty bourgeois and bourgeois forces, this stratum cannot relinquish its job of defending and protecting the sanctity of private property and capitalist private property. The places the academia occupies within the bourgeois ideological system define their class-role. This or that capitalist can support the cause of socialism by changing her/his side. Engels did. But the capitalist class as a whole cannot commit mass suicide. This applies to the professoriate as well. Consciously or not, they stick to their roles. Their being critical stops at the door of capitalism. At best, they may be critical of the time- and place-specific excesses of the system, of its anti-democratic nature, but not the system as such. They are critical of e-m-c (everything minus capitalism). Besides, for a large part of the professorate (the movers and shakers of the academic world, who are also often the gatekeepers of knowledge), the ideas are material because they have gripped the minds of the professoriate masses: that is, they have invested in their ideas and have made a career out of their existing ideas (e.g. professor X says that ‘labourers – and not just businesses – have an agency in making changes happen in society’ and has a large following with which come many material-cultural benefits), so why will they so easily change their ideas?

And, even if one is able to change their views, the fate of radical social change does not critically depend on what views are held by professors, although their views are not entirely immaterial. The reason is that: they are not the revolutionary class. Only the working class is that class, given proper ideological and political preparation. This is the class which must sell its ability to work for some compensation and which has very little power to decide the conditions of work and how regularly it will be employed. This class produces the source of profit, rent and interest and this class can stop its production. Genuine Marxists critique the capitalist world and ideas about capitalism which the academia holds, from the standpoint of the material suffering and political power of this class, which is an international class. A more correct understanding of society than it has is in line with its class-instinct, its material life situation, both what it is and what it can be.

The main – rather ultimate – practical reason why Marxists should be critical of existing ideas is to contribute to the raising of consciousness of this class, and not the raising of consciousness of professors. The working class (I am including the semi-proletarians in this category) is constantly being ‘deceived’: its thinking is characterized by partial truths and sometimes complete falsehood. This is a most important reason – apart from blatant coercion – why capitalism still continues. The working class takes capitalism as a natural form in which life has to be lived. This class does suffer from false consciousness, bourgeois consciousness. This is why the working class remains politically weak and the capitalist class, strong.

False consciousness is constantly being produced. It is produced for many reasons. These have got to do with two aspects of one mechanism: ‘control’. It is produced because the objective reality of the capitalist society creates falsehood (as Marx indicates in chapter 1 of Capital vol 1). Let us call it the Capital 1 Model. Because of the absence of direct control by working-subjects, over the way in which useful things are produced, because people are having to exchange the things they need for what they have, because they are having to enter market relations to satisfy their need for food and other things, they therefore think that these things by nature have a price tag, that we must always buy the things that are produced for profit in order to satisfy their need. Every person needs food. That is a universal and natural fact. But that food has to be produced capitalistically, by agribusiness or capitalist farmers, is not natural. People think it is. This idea of naturalizing something that is not natural needs critique.

False consciousness is also produced because of the presence of control of the ruling class over the working subjects’ ideas (as Marx explains in German Ideology). Let us call it the German Ideology Model. The ruling class, directly or indirectly, through the state or through civil society agencies (which are the darling of ex-Marxists dressed up as post-Marxists), controls the ideas of ordinary people and makes them believe that, for example, austerity is good, user-fees increase the quality of service, and so on. That this mechanism of control does not always work is a different matter. It is a different matter that coercion is often used to put people in their place, if after having correctly understood the reality they take action to remedy it. Force was used against even mildly anti-capitalist Wall Street occupiers in New York.

False consciousness is also produced because all kinds of petty bourgeois forces and their academic spokespersons come up with strategies which bind the working class with the bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces (e.g. join bourgeois trade unions; vote for social-democratic and even liberal type parties). The working class thinks that following these forces will bring lasting benefits. Let us call this the Lenin model (which insists on the independent political mobilization of the working class).

Because false consciousness is constantly created, there is a need for critiquing the ways in which this is created, who furthers its creation, and who disseminates it. The professors, even when they espouse some critical thought, are, at best, speaking the language of the petty bourgeoisie and left factions of the bourgeoisie (e.g. the enlightened elite who can think about the long-term and are willing to make short-term or localized and reversible sacrifices). The petty bourgeoisie has some hatred for capitalism because large producers crush them but they do not like the property-less workers either. Ideas do not hang in the air. Ideas are ultimately, if not immediately, ideas of classes and class-fractions. Critique of ideas is ultimately a critique of class and class-fractional interests therefore. Since the academia have a class-role to play – defend capitalist property with or without some reforms—their ideas reflect that function and therefore the interests of the class which they defend.

When one critiques the ideas of the academia, one really critiques the class interests they defend. Since their role is to defend these interests, whether by choice or not (and usually a combination of choice and coercion), any amount of criticism of their ideas is not going to bear much fruit. Therefore, the aim of criticism is not to change these people. The aim should be to clarify to the working class the true nature of the society and of the forces that stop the society from being changed. The point is to remove the layers of misconception from the working class which reflect bourgeois and petty bourgeois (including union bureaucracy) interests, which are ideologically produced by the academia, and which are disseminated through media (new and old), and through family, friends, and sometimes even by professors themselves. Consider the professors selling micro-credit, co-ops, ethical trade, unions, democratic revolution, or even ‘socialism in one country’, as solutions to problems of the humanity; and some of them also win prizes and grant money for knowledge mobilization and community engagements. A genuine critique of the ideas held by the academia will therefore be – can only be – from the standpoint of the interests of the proletarians. Capitalism is critiqued by many people. A proletarian critique is a different critique. It is a ‘critique of everything that exists’ type that Marx had advocated. By critiquing the ideas of the academia, genuine Marxists create conditions for the self-realization of the working class as a class, the realization of its own power and of what needs to be changed and how.

If what is said above is true and to the extent that this is true, this has implications not only for what topic one researches but how one researches it. The implication is quite precisely this: research has to be difficult labor. This is so because research has to be critical. It has to be critical for the reasons discussed at the outset (namely: it must uncover things which are not easily seen or felt; it has to be critical of various forms of exploitation and inequality, which are causes of many events/processes we observe, and so on). And, to critique – the labour of critique – is not easy – this is indicated by the 10 questions earlier provided as a sample of questions one must ask in order to be critical.

There is another reason, which is related to what is just said, why research must be difficult. Consider the following five statements.

  1. We research existing conditions (generally speaking).
  2. Existing conditions are present because forces to fight these conditions are absent.
  3. These forces are absent because it is not easy for these forces (e.g. revolutionary leadership; revolutionary ideas, etc.) to be present.
  4. So: our research presupposes difficult conditions, the difficulty of conditions. Difficulty can be thought of as an ontological condition: x wants to be but x cannot be, because of barriers to x’s existence. The current conditions exist because the future conditions cannot exist. Researching the presence of the current conditions is indirectly researching the absence of the future conditions (= the opposite of the current conditions), the absence which is caused by difficult factors.
  5. Therefore: research must be difficult. Dialectics demands this.

The vast majority of the global population, the working men, women and children, live in conditions of barbarism, the barbarism, which is described by the massive un- and under-employment, peasant dispossession, food insecurity, ecological devastation, constant threat of war, aggression and violence, and so on.  If transcending the present conditions of barbarism is a difficult affair, if intellectual and political preparation for this transcendence is a difficult affair, then researching the current conditions need to be – must be – a difficult affair. After all ideas more or less reflect the conditions which ideas purport to describe. Research must ask: why are the current conditions present? What forces support these conditions? What forces are undermining – and can completely undermine – the current conditions? Clearly, the cause of the current conditions and of their reproduction has deep roots. Ideas have to help us grasp the matter (=barbarism) by its roots. And when these ideas catch the imagination of the masses, then these ideas act like a piece of iron. Ideas do indeed matter, if we want to replace barbarism with civilization and sanity. But the ideas, not of any group or class, but of the class which potentially has the power to transcend the present barbaric condition.

Raju J Das teaches at York University, Toronto.

The Charge of Neoliberal Brigade and Higher Education in India

Ravi Kumar

This paper looks at the state of higher education in India – in terms of policies and the trajectory that it has taken in the aftermath of neoliberalisation of the economy. Through studying the discourses that  construct the edifice of the educational complex in the country, it unravels the dynamics of how economy, politics and education interact. Lastly, it explores the possibilities of countering the neoliberal offensive of capital and create a more egalitarian higher education system. Download:

Courtesy: The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies

The Faltering Miracle Story of India

Anjan Chakrabarti

Last time Indian economy ran into a major systemic crisis was in the late 1980s; it was a result of and also the final nail in the coffin of state sponsored planned economy. Along with the collapse of Soviet style command economies, it signalled the unsustainability of economic system built on absolute or near total control of state over the economy. That crisis helped spread the philosophy of neoliberalism in India which led to this lesson from the experience of centralized planning: for the goals of rapid economic growth and poverty reduction, state control over the market economy does not work and hence should be abandoned. Since then, structural adjustment program evolved in a gradual process of two decades, giving rise to a competitive market economy that is integrated into the global economy; as against the privileged position of planners, this new paradigm also protracted the supremacy of the mass of homoeconomicus (optimizing economic man, whether as consumers or producers) whose decision making transpiring in and through this global competitive market regime are supposed to generate the economy wide outcomes that are efficient. A connection between macroeconomics and microeconomics is thus made whereby the macroeconomic outcomes were seen as result of microeconomic behaviour in a competitive market economy1; it was believed that such a connection will produce high growth rate regime, stable and reasonable inflation and rapid employment in the industrialized sector (inclusive of manufacturing and services). Among the microeconomic decision makers were, of course, the global capitalist enterprises which, like the homoeconomicus as consumers, were taken as privileged for they were seen as essential instruments of generating high value and hence growth. Evidently, this competitive market economy helped create and facilitate global capitalism in the Indian economy. It is to this structural change that we move next.

Problem over Sharing the Indian Growth Miracle

As it has evolved gradually through an assortment of reforms, this paradigm shift produced a structural remapping of Indian economy taking the shape of circuits-camp of global capital qua global capitalism and its outside world of the third2. This changing map of Indian economy was driven by, among other things, the primacy accorded to global capitalist performance, appropriation and distribution of surplus which, via high growth rate, resulted in the expansion of the circuits-camp of global capitalism; this expansion, not surprisingly, meant a war on, or primitive accumulation of, world of the third3. In other words, process of primitive accumulation ensured that growth has been exclusionary (that is, devoid of trickle down effects), where the exclusion has taken two forms: one, by excluding a vast section of the population from the benefits of rising income growth, a phenomenon symbolized by worsening Gini coefficient, and two, further exacerbating existing social inequities (based on caste, ethnicity, gender, etc.). In fact, the dual phenomena of income equality and social inequity compensated, complemented and reinforced one another to exclude a large section of Indian population (residing in the margins of the circuits-camp of global capital and world of the third) from the benefits of economic growth; while due to measurement problems there is some controversy over the exact trend of income poverty, there is a strong indication that non-income factors of poverty (captured by the statistics of malnutrition, health, education, etc.) may have stagnated or worsened. The overall picture is that of a country of increased prosperity (concentrated in the hub of the circuits-camp of global capital) but growing divide as well.

The event of exclusionary growth was acknowledged and internalized by the policy circle and many economists after the disaster of ‘Shining India’ in the 2004 elections; it was agreed that exclusionary growth must be tempered by an attempt to include the left out population through redistribution of benefits of economic growth; inclusive development aspires to become the new national trope supposedly uniting Indians, notwithstanding their other differences, into a single national project of development in which all are participants and beneficiaries4. Rather than being in conflict, this imagery sees growth and redistribution as complementarity; high growth (that is, a bigger pie) sustains greater redistribution and greater redistribution in the form of more productive investment among the poor is supposed to secure and propel further growth. Global capitalism (circuits-camp of global capital), working via the competitive market economy, is thus not only good in itself because it rapidly expands growth. It also has instrumental value by delivering direct benefits of growth (the trickle-down effect) and indirect benefit of growth (through redistribution) to reduce poverty; the former will function through market (which, in Indian case, even the policy makers agree is weak) and latter through the intervention of the state. At another level we can interpret this imagery and its underlying policy paradigm as trying to combine the capitalist performance, appropriation, distribution and surplus in a global setting that is fundamentally private-centric and the domain of redistribution which is fundamentally state-centric. Thus, Indian state now encapsulates two rationales, one liberal (minimal interference in the competitive market economy, that is, in the circuits-camp of global capital) and the other dirigiste (directly intervening and controlling the redistribution process to world of the third); it combines these to secure the modernization process via the expansion of global capitalism (or, circuits-camp of global capital). This is projected as a truly win-win situation which is a result of the gift of globalization and the benefits derived from it in the form of enhanced wealth creation that the integration of Indian economy into a globalized world has enabled. Not only has the Indian growth miracle permanently arrived, but inclusive development enables the entire country – all population – to share and be a partner in this miracle. It is of course another matter that rulers at different times spare no effort in producing and disseminating pictures (in which nothing can seemingly go wrong) that in the end turn out to be delusional; previously, the picture of ‘Garibi Hatao’ and ‘Shining India’ were two such pictures. As in all case of delusional pictures that promise everything to everybody, this imagery is now in a state of crisis in more than one ways. We discuss one axis of that crisis here.

Microfoundation of Macroeconomics: A recipe to end depression or to begin one

Critical to this imagery is the assumption of high growth; an assumption bolstered no doubt by the actual realization of high growth rate regime which in turn is traced to the creation of a competitive market economy. This in turn has led to a sacrosanct belief and robust defence of the competitive market economy as against state intervention/control, and global capitalism as against national capitalism. However, since 2007, that growth story is in serious danger which in turn forces our attention to areas taken thus far as immune from discussion. In fact, Indian economy’s trouble expands well beyond the faltering growth story. In the last five years, Indian economy has slowly moved into a terrain of a deep crisis, perhaps in the same scale as the earlier one; in the sense that it is threatening to take the semblance of a systemic crisis. This time though, with a drastically truncated role of state vis a vis market and weak trade union opposition, the blame for this crisis can only fall on the combined effects of neoliberal globalization and global capitalism or the mechanism of global capitalist centred production, distribution and consumption of goods and services functioning through the conduit of competitive market economy. Is it then the case that the source of the systemic crisis resides in the illness of competitive market economy? This though is not the accepted position; nor is it yet the point of debate in India.

The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insists that Indian economy’s fundamentals are robust, and hence its growth story, while faltering in the short run, is protected in the long run. If we accept Keynes’ dictum that ‘in the long run we are all dead’ (by the way, five years is not a very short period either) which in no small part is substantiated by the overdetermined and contradictory processes pulling and pushing the Indian economy into who knows where, then a question crops up. What is meant by saying that the fundamentals of the economy are strong?

Now, surely the Prime Minister is not referring to the macroeconomic fundamentals. A cursory glance at the basic indicators tells a sorry story in that front: growth rate is falling, inflation rate is resiliently high (transpiring, says RBI, mostly from supply side factors which keeps accumulating the problem), falling private saving and investment, growing current account deficit driven mainly by worsening trade deficit, pressure on capital account, declining rupee value and at times volatile exchange rate movement, and increasing fiscal deficit. This is indeed a case of fundamentals gone haywire and, as we are witness to, seem to be resiliently invariant to policy changes (pertaining to fiscal, monetary and exchange rate regimes), that are transpiring rapidly, being fired from all possible directions; this trouble is in fact finding further fodder through the global inter-linkages that is exporting the global problems into India in plentiful forms (the deleterious effects from Europe being the latest addition) thereby aggravating an already difficult situation. The trouble is not merely that the economy is faltering, but that the process is transpiring in a dynamic environment that is private (competitive market economy) and global, in which many processes/variables are not under the control of the policy makers if they are at all known to them in the first place. So much has been talked about the benefits India has garnered from its integration into the global economy; our mainstream friends would like us to be held captive by that picture. Yet, the last five years have shown that there is a cost of this integration too which now can hardly be left unquestioned. A lesson: there is no win-win harvesting from globalization. Like all other entities, the process of globalization is beset with overdetermination and contradiction, throwing up unpredictable outcomes and harbouring unknown possibilities, and for a competitive market economy integrated into a globalized world thus suggests the existence and the need to not only accept the possibility of business cycles, but also of breakdowns.5

If not macroeconomics, it then appeals to reason that the Prime Minister must be referring to the strong fundamentals pertaining to microeconomic environment; this can only mean the competitive market economy materializing from the liberalization policies of the last two decades. The suggestion here is that creating such an economy has succeeded in producing a level effect meaning that the minimum bar on the growth rate has been permanently raised as compared to that of the planning era. As a justification of this position, the high growth rate in the previous decade is presented as a proof. If this is accepted then it follows that the neoliberal policies by creating this competitive market economy have done a service to India. Because of the level of high growth rate, India stands a better chance not only to become richer but also reduce its poverty sharply.6 But then, if we are to accept this, how do we reconcile a sound microeconomic environment with a disturbing macroeconomic picture? How could the two set of fundamentals be moving in opposite directions? Can they in the first place do so? This leads to a deeper issue as the following argues. Let us begin by positing the position of neoliberal economics.

That sound microeconomic picture can co-exist with a systemic failure at the macro level is contrary to the neoliberal dictum which theorizes a picture of macro economy emanating from microeconomics; this is now the consensus of mainstream neo-classical economics. In addition to this frame as being methodologically robust in the sense of capturing the concrete reality, it is further held that a competitive market economy functioning with a supporting but non-intervening state7 will produce better macroeconomic outcomes than otherwise. And, to cap it all, such an economic system rules out systemic failures such as depression; any state interference here will produce an inferior outcome or worse; the role of state is only to ensure that competitive market economy is created, facilitated and secured from outside interference (such as anti-competitive practices, trade union activities, expropriation, etc.) and its own discretionary behaviour (following rules is better than discretionary policies). The confidence entrusted in this new paradigm can be gauged from the following quote in a Nobel Prize acceptable speech by Robert Lucas.

Macroeconomics was born as a distinct field in the 1940’s, as part of the intellectual response to the Great Depression. The term then referred to the body of knowledge and expertise that we hoped would prevent the recurrence of that economic disaster. My thesis in this lecture is that macroeconomics in this original sense has succeeded: Its central problem of depression prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades. There remain important gains in welfare from better fiscal policies, but I argue that these are gains from providing people with better incentives to work and save, not from better fine-tuning of spending flows. Taking U.S. performance over the past 50 years as a benchmark, the potential for welfare gains from between long-run, supply-side policies exceeds by far the potential from further improvements in short-run demand management. (Robert E. Lucas, JR. 2003)

Coming from arguably the chief architect of modern macroeconomics and the economist principally responsible for demolishing Keynesian macroeconomics, the claim that depression – the term mainstream economics uses to signify economic breakdown as opposed to business cycle or fluctuations around trend which is regular – is over was a colossal claim8; colossal but also one which fell flat with the appearance of the global economic crisis. It showed that macroeconomics has still not solved its self-proclaimed central problem of depression and by corollary that what some such as Paul Krugman calls the ‘voodoo’ economics of supply-side is, to put it mildly, deeply problematical. Paraphrasing Lucas from our vantage point it appears that Marx’s observation of capitalist economic system containing the seeds of its breakdown was true in 1940s as it is now. The trouble is that the ‘voodoo’ economics continue to be the dominant economics, whereby its influence is deeply rooted in the currently policy making circles; even as depression can no longer be denied, the theoretical consensus that had resulted from the anti-Keynesian revolution enacted by supply side macroeconomics continue to hold considerable sway. And this theoretical consensus presents a deeper trouble. It lies in the inherent claim that a global capitalist regime under the conditions of free agents functioning in a competitive market economy with minimal state interference will lead to the disappearance of systemic failure such as that epitomized by depression.

If evidence is any proof (and economists revel in it), then we can conclude that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the axiom of Cartesian methodological individualism in a competitive market economy producing a depression free system. This hypothesis evidently rules out any autonomy to the economic structure which is specified in neoclassical economics as general equilibrium economy. If autonomy of structure is granted then that could carry the possibility of effects and outcomes irreducible exclusively to the optimizing behaviour of the agents interacting through market.9 However, unless we agree that this autonomy exists, it becomes difficult to locate and explain the appearance of the current economic crisis that is now global. That being the case, one of the central hypotheses of neoliberal economics – if individuals are free decision-makers, markets are self-regulating and hence sufficient for the system – becomes moot. Markets do have unique features and effects, but to enable a depression free economy is certainly not its forte. In short, the framework of neo-liberalism or its economic discipline of neoclassical economics cannot explain systemic collapse. In contrast, Keynes and Marx, in their own different ways, insisted on the relative autonomy of the structure, a relative autonomy that can be traced to the structure and, at times, the non-optimizing behaviour of the agents. It has also been suggested by others that parts do not add up to the whole; that the whole also needs to be specified and analysed in terms of its unique features and effects.10 This is not to say that individual decisions and market do not influence the structure (we believe that they certain do), but that structure cannot be seen as mere sum total of individual decisions.

If, in contrast, we accept that indeed microeconomic foundations produce macro economy or even go with our milder proposition that microeconomics do partially, but not totally, influence macroeconomics, then one must confer some quarter of blame (and if we are to follow the framework of neoclassical economics) to the kind of basic economy that constitutes microeconomics. Merely blaming the Indian economic crisis on the global economic crisis (a common refrain among Indian policy makers now) sidesteps the issue we are raising here.11 Since the 1980s, the neo-liberalization of global economy has produced a transformation towards a competitive market economy, a move that was propelled by developed countries (Harvey 2007). But it is precisely in the latter that the globalness of the current crisis originated and spread.12 If indeed we accept that macroeconomic outcomes are a result of agents’ decision-action in a competitive market economy, then surely it is that economy which must be held accountable for the outcome. In other words, instead of the fundamentals of microeconomics being good, they must be seen as deeply problematical and could be held as containing seeds of instability and destruction at a broader level.

The above underscores that microeconomic environment constituted by the competitive market economy populated by free agents can and does produce economic and social disasters, as it has; far from being self-regulating, markets may produce, as it has, self-annihilation leaving people, regions and even nations struggling to survive. Therefore, not only do we get the insufficiency of the neoliberal qua neoclassical framework in locating and explaining depression (as we argued earlier), but we additionally also find its chief logical conduit of explaining the functioning of economic system faltering. Surely, there is something wrong with this microeconomic environment which in turn calls for a rethinking of the basic economic system itself, the way production, distribution and consumption of goods and services materialize under capitalist form. One the other hand, if one still maintains that microeconomic fundamentals are sound, then one will have to concede that there is a dissonance between micro and macro, that macro economy has relative autonomy including possibilities of structural failure. This realization entails the role of state including active policy ones pertaining to control of the economy, if prevention of economic crisis or disaster (or, what Lucas called depression) is considered as desirable objective. Perhaps, the current economic crisis in India shows that both the aspects are true: there is a problem with the basic economic system produced by global capitalism functioning through a competitive market economy and that a role of the state as an active and intervening player in the economy is necessitated. The importance of the first was argued for by Marx whereby he related the macroeconomic crisis (the crisis of capitalism as such) to the contradiction, convulsion and failure of the competitive market economy functioning through capitalist organization of surplus and suggested the abortion of capitalism as a recipe for resolving the macro crisis. He thus favoured a systemic transformation. The second issue was taken up by Keynes when he suggested the role of the state in overcoming recession and ensuring smoothening of business cycles by actively intervening in and influencing the market economic outcomes, a point we saw was fiercely opposed by Lucas and his acolytes. This also shows that while both Marx and Keynes appreciated the relation between macro and micro (albeit in very different ways), Marx argued that systemic instability and disaster cannot be averted except by replacing capitalism as a system and Keynes suggested that the same can be averted, that is, capitalism saved with the active role of state preventing business cycles from turning into possible depression. Not surprising, neoliberalism as an economic-politico philosophy is not just hostile to Marxism, but also to Keynesianism (even as Keynes’ objective was to save capitalism).  Leaving aside their differences, it is perhaps more pertinent to realize that the current economic crisis has demonstrated that the suggestions of both Marx and Keynes, in tandem, need to be taken seriously. Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s allusion to strong microeconomic fundamentals which is tantamount to taking the competitive market economy as sacrosanct that in turn demands a thin role of state, it is perhaps time to seriously question this conjecture and begin a debate on both the nature of economic system and state; to debate them not distinctly, but in tandem as in overdetermination. It is my position that in the current climate of India, this is not happening, either from the Right or Left.

Conclusion

Policy paralysis appears in a different way here. The policy paralysis is a paralysis of thinking that shuts out any solution other than what is the ‘consensus.’ Competitive market economy with capitalist appropriation and distribution of surplus in a global setting is the consensus in this historical episode that, however, also continues to burden us with a growing set of changes or ‘reforms’ that deepen the very processes and system which are responsible for this crisis. How and in what manner these so-called ‘reforms’ are going to put the Indian economy back on track are issues not touched upon? How they are going to put some sanity into our present unstable and volatile systemic regime is left untouched? Indeed, in a scenario where the malaise is systemic encompassing both the micro and macro, it is hardly surprisingly that the policies are not working. The debate from the radical side is disturbing too, being stuck on the need for the enhanced role of state which is, at times, combined with the nationalist trope of self-reliance. There is hardly any questioning of, and debate on, the issue of systemic transformation and the politics of producing it. Well, we have moved from a state sponsored development paradigm to a private market economy driven paradigm, and found both to be wanting. Changing the role of state (say moving towards a strong state) without challenging the economic system is unsustainable as history has shown us; in fact, both must be addressed together. To put it somewhat differently, both the micro and macro, in tandem, must be made the object of questioning and transformation.

Anjan Chakrabarti is Professor of Economics, Calcutta University. He can be reached at chakanjan@hotmail.com.

 

References

Chakrabarti, A and Dhar, A. 2009. Dislocation and Resettlement in Development: From Third World to World of the Third. Routledge: London.

Chakrabarti, A and A.K. Dhar. 2012. “Gravel in the Shoe: Nationalism and World of the Third,” Rethinking Marxism, 24 (1).

Chakrabarti A, A.K. Dhar and Cullenberg, S. 2012. Global Capitalism and World of the Third. World View Press: New Delhi.

Harvey, D. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, USA

Lucas, Robert, JR. 1976. “Econometric policy evaluation: A critique”. Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy 1 (1): 19-46.

Lucas, Robert, JR. 2003. “Macroeconomics Priorities”, American Economic Review, Vol. 93, No.1.

Resnick, S. and R, Wolff. 2010. “The Economic Crisis: A Marxian Interpretation”, Rethinking Marxism, 22(2).

 

NOTES


[1] Under mainstream economics, Microeconomics is the study of choices of individual decision-makers (not matter how large) to fulfil their wants (satisfaction or profit) in the face of scarcity of resources, while Macroeconomics is the study of economic aggregates intending to capture the overall health and behaviour of entire economy (no matter how small). In the former, the emphasis moves to resource allocation and income distribution which in case of the latter is on economic growth, inflation and unemployment.

[2] Our usage of the terms such as circuits or camp of global capital and world of the third follows the theoretical insights of Chakrabarti, Dhar and Cullenberg (2012) and Chakrabarti and Dhar (2009, 2012) who produce a unique frame to analyse the historical phenomenon of modernization in the Southern setting. In the context of our current issue, these terms can be roughly put in the following way. Following liberalization policies in India, spurred by its wide industrial base (paradoxically, a gift of its previous import substitution policy) and fairly advanced higher education system (also paradoxically courtesy of its erstwhile planning system), Indian industries, particularly the big business houses, gradually adjusted to the rules and demands of global competition and, along with new enterprises, mutated into global capitalist enterprises. Through outsourcing and sub-contracting, they forged relation with local enterprises procreating and circumscribed within a nation’s border (the local market) and with enterprises outside the nation’s border (the global market); it is the symbiotic relation through local-global market that allowed the formation of circuits. Specifically, via the local-global market, global capital was linked to the ancillary local enterprises (big and small scale, local capitalist and non-capitalist) and other institutions (banking enterprise, trading enterprise, transport enterprise, etc.) and together they formed the circuits of global capital. Rapid growth of Indian economy propelled by the expansion of the circuits of global capital (inclusive of manufacturing and services) is feeding an explosive process of urbanization, and producing along the way a culture of individualization and consumerism. It is being complemented by new-fangled notions of success, entrepreneurship and consumerism, of ways of judging performance and conduct, of changing gender and caste relations, customs and mores, etc. Resultantly, what appears is a social cluster of practices, activities and relationships capturing literally the production of an encampment: we name it as the camp of global capital. This camp, especially its hub, is becoming the nursery ground of a new nationalist culture bent on dismantling extant meanings of good life in India and replacing it with the tooth and claw model that emphasizes competition, possession and accumulation. We refer to circuits-camp of global capital as global capitalism. Evidently, in the formation, global capital is taken as the privileged centre.

World of the third, on the other hand, is conceptualized as an overdetermined space of capitalist and non-capitalist class processes that procreate outside the circuits of global capital. A large number of these ‘non-capitalist’ class processes are independent, feudal, communitic, slave and communist as also capitalist class enterprises of simple reproduction type. World of the third is thus a space that is conceptually never part of global negotiations; it is outside, if we may borrow a term from Gayatri Spivak Chakravarty, the Empire-Nation exchange, which refers to exchanges within the local-global market connected to the circuits of global capital. In short, world of the third embrace an overdetermined cluster of class and non-class processes procreating outside the circuits of global capital and are knotted to markets as well as to non-market exchanges. Social cluster of practices, activities and relationships connected to the language-experience-logic-ethos of this space constitutes the camp of world of the third. It may be recalled that what for us is world of the third is for modernist discourses (like colonialism, development, and so on) third world: this is the Orientalist moment through which the modern emerges as the privileged centre. Third world supposedly contains inefficient practices and activities; as nurturing excess labour, labour that is presumed to be unproductive and hence a burden on society; as harbouring a large reserve army of the unemployed/underemployed. In short, it is re-presented as a figure of lack. The foregrounding of category of third world then provides an angularity to world of the third thereby foreclosing its language-experience-ethos-logic and discursively producing a deformation of its practices, activities and relationships. One does not get to appreciate the possibility of an outside to the circuits of global capital; one thus loses sight of the world of the third. Instead, what awaits us is a devalued space, a lacking underside – third world – that needs to be transgressed–transformed–mutilated-included. Thus, world of the third is brought into the discursive register and worked upon, but without taking cognizance of its language-logic-experience-ethos. Critically, this foreclosure of world of the third through the foregrounding of third world (or, by substitute signifiers such as social capital, community, etc.) helps secure and facilitate the hegemony of (global) capital and modernity over world of the third. Taken together, a knowledge formation emerges in which global capital and modern emerges as the privileged centres. Chakrabarti et al unravels and critiques this knowledge formation and through the return of the foreclosed world of the third lays down the contour of a contesting way to theorize the Southern context.     

[3] Chakrabarti and Dhar (2009).

[4] Chakrabarti and Dhar (2012).

[5] On being quizzed as to whether India’s integration into global economy has made it more prone to shocks and instabilities, a friend of mine holding a senior position in a financial institution suggested a few years back that one reason why competitive market economy is good is because it enhances the ability of the economic system to absorb and internalize shocks; this is by no means a very uncommon refrain, at least till a few years ago. In short, breakdowns can never happen. I wonder what he has to say now.

[6] Of course, as we have seen, the question of ‘who is exactly becoming richer or becoming richer much faster than others’ has raised a few hackles and is on its own a question of some importance.

[7] Unlike a robust state (of command economies or welfare capitalism) which believes in ‘more governance is good governance’, neoliberalism believes in, at the level of political philosophy at least, ‘less governance is good governance.’ Of course, given the astonishing quantum of plunder, violence and destruction produced in the name of ‘freedom’ that is neoliberal in nature, one must take this refrain with a grain of salt. But then we are discussing its logical conduit here.

[8] It is notable that macroeconomics not only originated in the West, but its central problem is fundamentally that of the modern market economy as well. USA and Europe have been the theatre of macroeconomics and developments there influenced the macroeconomics discipline and the policy paradigm of state not only in Europe but all over the world. In this sense, macroeconomics has been imperial in nature or should we say it is an indispensable component of any imperialist policies bent on modernization. Interestingly, three episodes of systemic breakdown or depression produced three turns in macroeconomics in the West that in turn enforced a switch in macroeconomic understanding and management across the world. The first was the depression of the 1930s that saw the collapse of the classical paradigm (emphasizing the dichotomy between nominal variables such as money and real variables such as output) which disparaged state intervention; this collapse saw the concurrent rise of Keynesianism (emphasizing that the classical dichotomy is wrong, at least in the short run) which maintained that state intervention and active stabilization policy is necessary to prevent depression and this could be done since there is a tradeoff between inflation rate and unemployment and between unemployment and output. The second episode of depression was marked by stagflation in USA (high inflation and stagnating output) in the late 1960s which even in the face of active stabilization policy to exploit the mentioned trade off failed to get the economy out of depression; this failure of stabilization policies saw the collapse of Keynesian economics and the rise of supply side or new classical economics that once again reiterated the classical dichotomy and the inherent inability of the state to improve welfare in the face of active and enterprising individuals. It was shown that not only did the state led stabilization policy fail to improve the welfare, but also that such interventions created inefficiencies of all kinds. Important in this attack was the paper of Lucas (1976) that showed that there is something methodologically wrong in the way Keynesianism poses its own macroeconomic structure; it does so, he claims, by treating the individuals as docile, passive who would not react to changes in the stabilization policies, precisely what the liberals have condemned as contravening the principle of freedom. Arguing that it is fundamentally wrong to treat the individuals as bereft of agency, he showed that with the introduction of stabilization policies, rather than being passive to the changes brought about by the state, the agents will internalize that information and change their behaviour which in totally will produce an outcome very different from (and inferior to) the case in which it is presumed (as under Keynesianism) that individuals behaviour will remain invariant to change in policies. The Keynesians, contrary to what the liberals would emphasize, took the structure as primary and tried to fit in the individual to this structure (the attempt of what came to known as Keynesian-neoclassical synthesis) when the liberal economists such as Lucas and Edward Prescott were emphasizing the method to be the other way round: individual was to be the primary unit from which the structure is to be derived; not surprisingly then, for the neoliberal economists (the new classical/real business cycle school) the neoclassical micro structure became that fundamental ground and (macro)economy was the derived general equilibrium structure over which macroeconomic analysis and policies are to be examined. The invariance principle and inability to posit the microfoundation of macroeconomics constituted the basis on which Keynesian macroeconomics was attacked and the stabilization role of state found wanting; the macroeconomics that developed through this attack and reconstruction via microfoundation become the missile head of neoliberalism in the field of economics and policy making. The third episode of systemic crisis or depression is the global economic crash since 2007 which has turned the table on neoliberal macroeconomics which has claimed that it has solved the problem of depression by legitimizing the creation of a competitive market economy made of private players and in which stabilization policy of state is not encouraged; a systemic crisis that rose not because of state or any third party intervention (since, in the last three decades they were heavily discouraged) but through the very mechanics of the private competitive market economy certainly did not do the reputation of neoliberal macroeconomics any good. What will come out of this crisis in the field of macroeconomics is yet to be seen though no doubt it has exploded the myth of the fundamental proposition of neo-liberal macroeconomics. As it stands now, macroeconomics lie in tatters.

[9] In modern macroeconomics, general equilibrium is after all the point of reference and departure (even in case of New Keynesian economics where markets are shown to be failing to clear as a result of the behaviour of agents in a free market environment).

[10] Micro and Macro divisions are typical of mainstream economics and not of Marx or Marxism. Accepting the importance of not reading or writing on Marx by reducing him to this structure, in this presentation at least, we invoke Marx with reference to this division of micro and macro for the sake of organization that includes an encounter with neoclassical economics. Rather than reducing Marx to neoclassical economics, it is to highlight the uniqueness of Marx’s contribution.

[11] This comes on top of the fact that this blaming is hardly stopping the policy makers from taking ‘reform’ policies that deepen India’s integration into the global economy and hence, by their own confession, must be taken as increasing the possibilities of transporting global crisis into Indian economy. In other words, the ammunition that they are supplying with the intent to overcome the crisis may end up deepening it. At least, the policy makers need to spell out clearly as to why this would not happen.

[12] For a superb analysis of US economic crisis, see Resnick and Wolff (2010).

Corruption and Class Discontent: The Contours of Bourgeois Political Forms and State-Formation

Maya John

Early this year a relatively unknown 74-year old Gandhian, Kisan Baburao Hazare (also known as Anna Hazare), shot to fame for raising a campaign against corruption. For days on end, Anna Hazare haunted our television sets, and details of his campaign greeted us every morning in almost all newspapers. Perhaps some of the readers of this article were avid supporters of the crusade he led, and perhaps some were vocal or even silent critics. However, now that the high point of the campaign has passed and tempers and anxieties have ebbed, a calm and composed assessment of anti-corruption campaigns may be pursued. This paper is one such endeavour to sum up and assess the contours of the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. A special focus of the paper is on the process, whereby anti-corruption campaigns conflate the discontent of exploited and oppressed classes with the interests of the economically dominant class, i.e. the class of capitalists. This subsumption or conflation of differing class discontent is intrinsic to anti-corruption campaigns and it is this process which provides such campaigns their distinctive nature. It is argued here that the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign corresponds with the interests of international as well as Indian capitalists. For the capitalist class an “efficient” and “incorrupt” administration has become a necessity to sustain on-the-ground implementation of pro-capitalist policies and laws. This demand by the capitalist class for a strong state has emerged in the context of growing mass discontent among India’s poor, as well a large section of India’s middle class (1), against brutal capitalist appropriation of public resources. In a well-formulated political manoeuvre, Indian and international capitalist lobbies have hand-picked and promoted NGO leaders in a bid to use them as authoritative pressure groups whom the state is compelled to consult in the process of policy formation and implementation. These selected leaders have been superimposed on the masses, as a result of which the discontent of the masses has been conveniently misdirected towards the capitalist understanding of corruption, and hence, towards a bourgeois resolution of the problem.

Hijacking mass discontent, anti-corruption struggles like Anna Hazare’s campaign work towards restoring faith in the given bourgeois political structure, i.e. by projecting that a “pure” and “incorrupt” form of such a structure is even possible. Overshadowed by the anti-corruption rhetoric is the fact that the intrinsic nature of the bourgeois political system is to preserve capitalist exploitation and oppression of other classes. Precisely because anti-corruption crusades are devoid of an understanding of exploitation they are campaigns that exist under bourgeois hegemony. However, movements that are hegemonised by the bourgeoisie still manage to hitch mass discontent to the wagon of capital. The paper explains this disturbing trend in terms of the particular form in which the bourgeois political system has evolved. This form has allowed the bourgeois state to control many mass upheavals by coopting certain class forces and individuals within mass movements. Such cooption is often pursued by selecting and placing leaders in a privileged position vis-à-vis the masses, thereby, providing them a tangible stake in bourgeois democracy. Cooption is also made possible by misdirecting the petty bourgeois discontent, which exists in mass movements, towards an oligarchic tendency integral to bourgeois democracy.

The (Dis)content of Anti-Corruption Campaigns – A Class Analysis

Judging from the Campaign’s propaganda, corruption was portrayed as a generalised problem experienced by all (the working class, the middle class and capitalists), and hence, uniting all. In other words, a strong notion of equivalence in discontent was the driving force of the Campaign. In reality, this carefully thought-out political manoeuvre to establish such equivalence sought to conceal and sideline the major contradictions between the interests of the different participants. Let us examine how the anti-corruption rhetoric is shaped by the needs of the capitalist class, and how it simultaneously obscures class antagonisms.

A bulk of support for anti-corruption campaigns and initiatives comes from capitalists, business entrepreneurs and the likes. Without a doubt, for corporate firms and capitalists the major concern is to prevent corrupt practices like bribery from jeopardising the prospects of individual capitalist firms in the competition for contracts, natural resources, etc. Furthermore, each capitalist who resorts to bribery is also confronted by the contradiction that comes with corruption, i.e. its value-enhancing effects and its value-reducing effects. Corruption, also identified in bourgeois terminology as “rent”, is a portion of surplus value that can enhance value creation by winning for the individual capitalist greater access to market procurements, tenders, credit, licenses, and facilities like irrigation and subsidised electricity to capitalist farms and manufacturing units. In addition to these, corruption also facilitates the transfer of public assets and natural resources to an individual capitalist firm. However, a potential risk is that bureaucrats and politicians fail to deliver after receiving bribes since corrupt agreements are usually legally unenforceable. Corruption also initiates value-reducing effects for other individual capitalists in the field, especially when it is monopolistic capitalist houses that resort to such practices. The profitable gain of one capitalist house cuts significantly into the profits of competitors. In the case of big capitalist houses with monopolistic tendencies, illegally procured advantage by them is particularly troubling for smaller competitors and other big capitalist firms.

Eventually the capitalist class as a whole emerges as a united force against corruption because of the loss entailed by other capitalists in the process of corrupt dealings. Meanwhile, individual capitalists continue to face a prisoner’s dilemma: while it is agreed that all may profit from transparent procurement and good/honest code of conduct, it is still appealing to be the only one to deviate from such behaviour, and hence, to procure maximum profit. It is this dilemma and the desire to rise above it that is articulated in the collective mood of the capitalist class. This collective mood is highly critical of corruption and is expressed in the anti-corruption focus of national and international bodies like ASSOCHAM, FICCI, WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. It is also endorsed by governments across the world. For example, in October 1995, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, presented a CIA report to the US Congress, claiming that between 1994 and 1995 the US lost 36 billion dollars worth of business deals due to bribery and corruption.(2) The report urged the US Government to pressurise trading partners into a joint initiative to “level the playing field for all competitors”. Undoubtedly, the desire to level the playing field was the key intention behind the 1997 agreement signed by ministers of the 29 constituting nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).(3) According to this agreement, the 29 OECD member-nations were to enact laws by April 1998 to check bribery. In addition to corporate bodies and governments, even research institutes on management development as well as business consultancies are popularising corruption theories based on capitalist concerns. One such research project devised a Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (1996), which was based solely on the subjective evaluation of business entrepreneurs!

What is evident in such agreements, government reports, publications and initiatives of international bodies such as the IMF, World Bank, UNDP, etc., is the capitalist solution to the problem of corruption. For the capitalist class the solution to corruption lies in the introduction of anti-corruption legislation, and more importantly, in the replacement of discretionary (government) control over prices, production, distribution, etc., with the market mechanism. To elucidate, capitalists posit that further liberalisation of the economy, i.e. free play of market forces, will reduce bureaucratic power and rent-seeking behaviour of public officials. The influence of this “solution” has spread far and wide with powerful international bodies like the World Bank, IMF, etc. actively promoting the case for liberalisation in their conferences and summits (4), and making it one of the preconditions for loans they provide to “developing countries”. The pressure from capitalist lobbies in this regard is immense, which is why we find governments increasingly push for further liberalisation. Our own country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, addressed the Planning Commission during the height of Team Anna’s campaign, i.e. on August 20, 2011, in which he linked the question of combating corruption to the need for second-generation reforms, namely, tax reforms, reforms in the insurance and banking sector, enhanced FDI in retail, etc. Interestingly, Anna Hazare was completely silent when the prime minister spoke of second-generation reforms as a solution to corruption. It seems that on this point both of them think alike.

What is important to note about this perception that liberalisation is the solution to corruption is the exact context in which it has developed. In India today, a combination of native and foreign capital controls the economy. These capitalists have control over several key natural resources (land, oil and gas reserves, mines, water bodies, etc.) and are in the process of continuously acquiring more of such resources. To enable this process, the capitalist class has ensured that the state creates policies to restrict government control on the economy, thereby, allowing for greater appropriation of public resources by private companies. State policies have been influenced in this manner through several channels. To begin with international bodies such as the World Bank and IMF have pumped in loans and aid in return for certain structural change in the country’s policy-making. In addition to this, several countries representing interests of monopoly houses have consciously extended diplomatic support, military assistance and collaborated with Indian capital through various trade agreements, with the express purpose of transforming state policies in favour of liberalisation of the Indian economy. Due to the pressure from native and international capital, state policies have been geared towards privatisation, denationalisation, elimination of subsidies and budget austerity, which is characterised by the structural adjustment program (SAP), i.e. reduced state expenditure on the social sector.

Needless to say, at such a conjuncture where laws facilitating primitive accumulation are already in place, and where individuals/companies have gained access to these resources, the need then emerges for capitalists to create a level playing field among themselves. In other words, once the big bribe has been paid in the form of loans, aid, etc. to pave the way for policies supporting private appropriation of public resources, the need to further bribe so as to gain access to such resources becomes untenable in capitalist rationale. Furthermore, there now emerges for the capitalist class the necessity of a legal system that enforces laws of contract, inheritance, etc., and basically, guarantees protection of capitalist wealth whether it is gained illegally or legally. It is through this very same legal system that a definition of corruption is imposed on society, which is based directly on the capitalist perception. First, the capitalist perception identifies the use of public office for public gain as uneconomic, and a process that should be restricted. Secondly, this perception restricts the meaning of corruption to the practice of using public office for private gain. Thus, because the legal definition of corruption (5) is based on this capitalist perception it ends up legitimising privatization, denationalisation, as well as places the onus of corrupt activities entirely on public officials/bureaucrats while absolving capitalists of indulging in the same.

In sharp contrast to this legal (bourgeois) definition of corruption is the perception of the working class whose understanding of the term is based on discontent arising from problems that have immediate impact on their subsistence. The concern with inflation, for example, is heavily couched in the perception that the government is consciously allowing companies to cheat people by hiking prices of essential commodities in the interest of minting profits. Indeed, through skewed export policies, revised Mandi Acts, and laws permitting forward trading as well as the entry of big companies in retail trade, the government has gradually allowed private companies tremendous control over distribution, and hence, the legal right to hoard. Evidently, from the working class perspective, hoarding and consequently even the policy framework that allows for this practice is a form of corruption. However, their perception regarding price rise is not recognised as corruption by bourgeois law, which by its very logic legitimises the control of private companies in the retail trade. As a result, we find that the working class perception does not jell with the legal definition of corruption.

Another important part of what can be identified as corruption from the working class perspective is unemployment and the violation of “protective” labour legislation. For the working class, corruption is not a phenomenon that can be restricted to the immoral act of using public office for private profit. For them corruption also includes nepotism. This is understandable considering that the pressure to seek favours for employment does not stem from the “lack of suitable” qualifications in workers, but from the process of privatisation that generates fewer jobs. For example, private companies displace and dispossess thousands of poor peasants and adivasis in their bid to gain access to resource-rich lands. These adivasis and poor peasants are dispossessed by private companies that shamelessly claim to offer them jobs in their production units. The ground reality shows that an insignificant number of jobs are created, whereas the number of adivasis and POOR peasants displaced is markedly higher. Clearly, in the interest of private appropriation of resources, companies snatch people’s livelihoods in the garb of bringing “development and employment” to an area. Furthermore, these very same private companies consciously create unemployment by compelling fewer people to put in longer hours, and hence, to do more work. Majority of India’s employed population works for these private companies, which extract 12 to 14 hours of work, and also exploit their employees by violating several fundamental labour laws such as those pertaining to minimum wages, overtime compensation, the right to unionise, etc. None of these illegal practices were or are the concern of Team Anna, as is evident in Arvind Kejriwal’s admiration for the Delhi Metro. Interestingly, the same Delhi Metro is currently one of the chief violators of labour laws (6) in the country! Thus, it is evident that in the process of generating fewer jobs and defying labour laws, private companies brutally over-exploit the workforce they employ. The violation of labour laws by capitalists constitutes corruption from the working class perspective. In contrast, the capitalist class perceives labour laws as “favouring” workers, and hence, believes that circumvention of these “biased” laws is legitimate action and not corruption. It is in the interest of capitalists to transcend the condition in which they have to bypass labour laws, and it is with this sense of their interest that the capitalist class is pushing for the dismantling of labour laws altogether.

A similar contradiction between the working class and capitalist understanding of corruption is visible in the case of slum demolition, and the clamp-down on street hawkers. In both cases the impoverished working class pays bribes to local officials so as to prevent crackdowns on their homes, sources of livelihood, etc. Of course, for the working class this compulsion to bribe officials in return for the right to inhabit the city and to earn is a source of great discontent. Ironically, even builders and big retail companies are vocal critics of bribes extracted by land development officials and municipal officers of the government. On the surface, there may appear to be equivalence in discontent and understanding of corruption. However, no such equivalence exists. This is because the working class articulates a discontent that stems from being denied the right to inhabit the city. In contrast, builders and retail giants articulate a discontent that stems from their concern with the circumvention of slum clearance and anti-hawking laws. What is important to note, therefore, is that capitalists have a direct interest in discrediting bribery since it helps dispossessed groups to gain access to local organs of the state, and thereby, to be in a position to evade laws constituted in the interests of private capital. In this context, it is all the more necessary for the working class to fight against legislations like slum clearance acts, amended rent regulation laws that favour landlords, municipal acts that crackdown on hawking, etc. In other words, for the working class, the struggle against laws that create objective conditions for their oppression logically comes before any anti-corruption struggle. Likewise, the interest of the working class lies in struggles to prevent privatisation of the social sector, rather than in anti-corruption campaigns that do not perceive this privatisation as corruption. Let us examine how.

It is a fact that because the state is dismantling many of its production units (via a gradual process of privatisation) due to pressure from corporate bodies, it has very limited capital to invest in the social sector. With the withdrawal of the state, private companies – which are in constant search for newer and newer avenues of investment and profit-generation – have stepped into the field of education, health, etc. As a result, education and health policies driven by ideas of profit-generation have become norms of the day. This privatisation of the social sector has facilitated the collapse of government-subsidised health and educational institutions. On one hand, government schools and hospitals are limited in number, are understaffed and are run without proper infrastructure and facilities; and on the other, private schools, colleges and hospitals have sprung up, offering essential “social” services for considerable amounts of money. Clearly, it is only if you have the money now that you will receive better education or treatment. Needless to say, from the working-class perspective this rampant practice of ‘pay more for better education/treatment’ amounts to a bribe. For them as well as for a significant section of the middle class, the existence of profit-minting private schools and hospitals is as much corruption as the use of public office for private profit.

The instances discussed above show that a deep contradiction exists between the working class and capitalists on the question of corruption. First, the legal definition reduces corruption to bribery, embezzlement, black money, etc., thereby, excluding many practices, which the working class considers as corruption. Precisely because the legal definition is devoid of an understanding of exploitation, the legal perspective on corruption becomes redundant for the working class and other oppressed classes. Secondly, one of the key reasons why capitalists extend support to anti-corruption campaigns is to curb petty “corruptions” that the labouring masses use to circumvent pro-capitalist laws. Understandably then, rather than focusing on corruption, all those who are exploited or oppressed by the capitalist class stand to gain much more by fighting against laws that legitimise capitalist exploitation in the first place. Instead of becoming the fighting force of anti-corruption campaigns, the working class and other oppressed classes need to consider transcending the legal understanding of this practice.

Having said this, should the working class and middle class simply deny or wish away the frustration that stems from “babudom” prevalent in government offices? Of course, there is no point denying the fact that the procedure required for a ration card takes time, or that things work slowly at railway reservation counters. However, the sense of delay should be contextualised. We must consider the fact that the reason for such delay lies in the lack of sufficient office staff to man elaborate government schemes. Similarly, at rail reservation counters the shortage of staff as well as the technicalities involved in ticketing are the main cause of delay. More importantly, the frustration with “babudom” should be connected to the fact that we desire things to be done in the limited time we have in hand. In reality, our interests lie in pushing for greater employment of staff at government offices, as well as the provision for more casual leaves to attend to our own work. Indeed, if we do not engage with the problem of “babudom” in this larger context then our frustrations will continue to be used to undermine the remaining vestiges of the public sector. It is not being argued here that with substantial increase in the number of government staff employed in government offices, the tendency of “babudom” will automatically decline. The need still remains for machinery whereby government offices are monitored by the people themselves. It is only through such control that bureaucracy can be kept in check. Interestingly, despite its tall claims, the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Team Anna offers no such mechanism. Instead, the Lokpal is conceptualised as yet another government office manned by bureaucrats (who will be selected by a few elites), and which will function like an oligarchy.(7) Ultimately, the solution to bureau (office)-cracy (rule) cannot be more bureaucracy. Instead, the solution to bureaucracy lies only in more democracy.

Clearly, the misuse of working-class and middle-class frustration is the key strategy of campaigns such as ‘India Against Corruption’. It is a fact that for a long time now workers, landless labourers, poor peasants and adivasis have been struggling against growing dispossession, displacement, privatisation of the social sector, unemployment and brutal exploitation. However, the understanding of corruption embodied in the law (be it the UPA government’s version or Team Anna’s version of the legislation) is not a summation of these struggles. Instead, the legal understanding of corruption is superimposed on other more radical perspectives on corruption. Furthermore, the anti-corruption campaign imposed a particular form of leadership on the people, i.e. a leadership chosen from among NGOs, funded by bodies such as the World Bank, and aggressively promoted by the corporate media.(8)

Of course, what still remains to be explained at this point is why, despite a contradiction in interests and in the understanding of what constitutes corruption, did the masses rally around the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. The answer to this lies in the Campaign’s concerted efforts to project equivalence in discontent and goals by consciously positing a more flexible definition of corruption on the ground, which would appeal to the masses. For example, the Campaign attracted the support of the masses by playing on popular sentiment relating to problems such as price rise, poverty, etc. Meanwhile, it continued to negotiate with the government using a narrower legalistic definition of the term. Another deliberate strategy of Team Anna, which worked well for mass mobilisation, was to position corruption as the central predicament from which other problems originate. Therefore, an in-depth causal explanation of corruption (which would have pushed the debate towards exploring other definitions of corruption and to engage with other views surrounding the question) was downplayed, and instead, the campaign focused on solution prescription, i.e. a legal mechanism of addressing the issue. This is why the campaign evolved around a legal text, i.e., the Jan Lokpal bill, and was heavily based on the question of who had tabled a more “effective” version, Team Anna, NCPRI, or the government. This approach emphasising formal solutions reflects a tendency to marginalise debate on the question of causes. The fact of the matter is, the more you talk on causes the more do things get articulated in a more precise and uncompromising language. Solution prescription, on the other hand, is characterised by pragmatism and accommodation. After all, the Jan Lokpal bill (posited as the solution for corruption) has not broken ground by defining corruption in any way that is different from the existing Prevention of Corruption Act. It uses given legal norms provided in the Act as the yardstick to distinguish corrupt from non-corrupt acts.

In addition to these efforts, Team Anna consciously tried to project the existence of common interest embedded in “common” culture by resorting to an aggressive nationalistic cultural crusade. Indeed, a discourse pregnant with nationalistic imagery and slogans enabled Team Anna to unite disparate forces on a programme that actually favoured the dominant economic class (a point elucidated below). The slogan “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, for example, forged a symbolic unity between unequal citizens by conveniently projecting them as children of one mother.(9) Furthermore, when teamed with certain developments within the class of the petty bourgeoisie, such nationalistic ideology is known to elicit massive support from the petty-bourgeoisie.

This brings us directly to the question of what shapes middle class participation in social and political movements. The middle class or petty bourgeoisie is situated between two distinctly polarised classes, i.e. the capitalist class on one hand, and the working class on the other. As a class, it oscillates between an affluent position, which brings it closer to the capitalist class, and a position of impoverishment which brings it closer to the working class. This oscillation from one class position to another has created a tendency in the petty bourgeoisie to vacillate on issues, and to be co-opted, very often, by bourgeois ideology. In this context, we find that when it comes to corruption, the petty bourgeoisie identifies an external force, i.e. the political class as the culprit. Meanwhile, it will always project itself as an unwilling participant in corruption who gains little in the process. At such a juncture, the middle class may emerge as one of the most vocal critics of corruption.(10) The upwardly-mobile segment of the petty bourgeoisie is, in particular, a vehement critic for it perceives corruption as a contractual violence. This segment of new rich that has benefitted significantly from liberal reforms is open to the idea of further reform, and hence deeply suspicious of the state. To them almost any form of payment to the government is equivalent to their money being “stolen” by a public office. Of course, in slightly different circumstances, the very same petty bourgeoisie can be extremely silent on the question of corruption.

Because of its oscillating class position, the petty bourgeoisie functions narrow-mindedly. As reality would have it, at many conjunctures the interests of the petty bourgeoisie are in consonance with the interests of the property-owning class which extracts surplus value. At such conjunctures the interests of the property-owning class and petty bourgeoisie are positioned in contradiction to the interests of the labouring classes who generate surplus value. In other words, the fact that it gains at the loss of the working class and other oppressed classes (poor peasantry, dispossessed tribals, etc.) is not a problem for the petty bourgeoisie as it is conditioned, in many cases, to calculate its interests in direct opposition to that of the working class and other oppressed classes. For example, a middle-class youth working as an HR (Human Resources) manager for Maruti Suzuki knows for a fact that his further promotion depends on his skilful strike-breaking and arm-twisting techniques. There is no doubt that he will calculate his own interest and get promoted. Similarly, government employees who enjoy a cushioned existence due to the provision of several exclusive benefits to them by the state are prone to develop an indifferent if not intolerant attitude towards working-class struggles that raise the question of exploitation. As a result, if the middle class stands to gain, it will stand by the law that identifies only certain practices as corrupt and that legalises others. If it stands to lose, it will become a vocal critic. If we draw on the example of private schools, we will find that the middle class vacillates between a position in support of and a position against private-school education. The segment of the middle class that can still afford expensive private tuitions and private schooling will see nothing wrong in the “pay more for a better education” policy of private educational institutions. For the significant section of the middle class that increasingly finds it difficult to pay for private tuitions and schooling, the demands of private educational institutions will gradually come across as corruption and a practice antithetical to education values.

Moreover, the oscillating class position of the petty bourgeoisie generates a tendency for this class to be easily drawn to Fascist-nationalistic ideology. The petty bourgeoisie’s support for fascist-nationalistic ideology is an expression of their hostility towards, both, big capital, which threatens to pauperise them and the proletariat whose class position they are increasingly compelled to inhabit. Considering that a significant portion of India’s petty bourgeoisie is beginning to feel the pressure of persistent liberalisation, the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign with its highly nationalistic overtones quickly became an outlet for venting petty bourgeois frustrations. Realising this Team Anna bombarded their Campaign with nationalistic imagery. In fact, deliberate references and analogies to India’s Freedom struggle were continuously drawn to the extent that Anna was projected as independent India’s “Mahatma” and the movement itself as India’s “second freedom” struggle. When criticised for using many conservative and reactionary nationalistic images/slogans, the Campaign deftly responded by putting up images of Bhagat Singh at its central protest venues and resorting to slogans like ‘Inqilab Zindabaad’. Of course, every time ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ was sloganeered, the slogan ‘Inqilab Zindabaad’ lost its meaning.

What we can conclude from the immediate discussion above is that, due to its contradictory class position, the middle class cannot be the fighting force in any movement that seeks to eradicate corruption in its totality. The tendency for this class to be coopted by bourgeois ideology is immense, and it is precisely for this reason that the bourgeoisie keeps the middle class as its key fighting force in movements it seeks to hegemonise.

Bourgeois Solutions to Mass Discontent

Coopting the middle class/petty bourgeoisie and positioning them in a non-antagonistic relation to the dominant economic class is just one of the ways in which the bourgeois ruling elites blunt challenges that seek to displace the dominant class’s control on the state. The economically dominant class, i.e. the capitalist class, reproduces its power even in conjunctures where opposition to it has led to growth of representatives from subordinate classes in the parliamentary structure. How have the ruling elite managed the rigorous instrumentalisation of the bourgeois state as a weapon of capitalist class interest, despite allowing the subordinate classes the right to vote and representation? Of course, the bourgeois state mediates between the capitalist class and dominated classes, as well as between conflicting competitive interests of the different sections within the capitalist class, in formally universalistic terms, clearly expressed in the motto: “Equality before the law”. However, since this mediation takes place in a social web woven by the relations of production dominated by the capitalist class, this formally universalistic intervention tends to reproduce the power of the capitalist class as a whole.

Many have identified the role of bribery, nepotism, etc. as the means through which the power of the capitalist class is reproduced by the bourgeois state. It is, indeed, a fact that bribes and inter-personal relations between capitalists and state leaders play a significant role in ensuring representation of the dominant economic class’ interests in the state apparatus. Scam after scam as well audits of bourgeois parties’ accounts reveal a lot about how political leaders are bought over by capitalist enterprises. Similarly, the tendency of businessmen to become politicians (and vice versa), as well as the tendency of businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians to share the same class position (11), provide the dominant economic class a firm footing in the representative form of politics as it exists today. An equally important role is played by bourgeois ideology that informs bureaucrats and politicians of what is right and wrong, what is possible, etc., and hence determines their conception of the legitimacy of capitalist interests.

Having said that, it is important to highlight the fact that if the aforementioned means are overemphasised then the more formidable and intricate forms of bourgeois intervention in the state are unnecessarily overshadowed. In fact, an overemphasis on bribery has wrongly led dissenting voices in society to believe that a clamp-down on corrupt practices will lead to autonomy of the state from control of the capitalist class. Unfortunately, many such dissenting voices fail to identify the intrinsically bourgeois form of the state. In reality, bribery and corrupt practices within given state apparatuses like Parliament are often expressions of the competition between individual capitalists. Even if such practices are removed, Parliament and other state apparatuses will continue to embody the common class interests of the capitalist class. This is because the particular form in which the bourgeois state exists, allows the state remarkable powers to integrate opposition voices and pacify movements.

The more sophisticated and intricate forms of bourgeois intervention that instrumentalise the state as a weapon of capitalist class interest are actually reflected in the integrative powers of the bourgeois state. The bourgeois state integrates outstanding individuals/notables, both from the dominant economic class as well as the dominated classes, in a process that can perhaps be described as the “natural selection” of leaders. In moments of political crisis (i.e. when radical movements are on the rise), the state prioritises the integration of notables from the subordinate/dominated classes. Typically, these notables are lawyers, ex-bureaucrats, heads of voluntary organisations, leaders of trade unions, intellectuals, etc., who consciously project a non-elite aura about themselves. There are two important aspects to this integration process, namely, (i) the severance of links between the masses and their leaders in the process of integration, and (ii) the transferring of the task of ensuring continued political domination of capital from Parliament to the upper levels of the state administration, and to ‘policy-planning groups’ that are heavily influenced by private lobbies of the capitalist class.

The severance of links between the masses and the leaders and sympathetic intellectuals of mass movements is a creation of the total structure and modalities of the state. This severance plays itself out in cooption of leaders and intellectuals of mass movements—a process which converts them from being representatives of the masses to “ideal/pure” representatives who go beyond “particular interests” and hence embody “universal interest”. In other words, in the process of negotiation, nomination to policy-formation committees and even elections, the leaders of mass movements learn to speak the language of reform. Indeed, the bourgeois democratic structures (Parliament, etc.) and modalities (negotiation, elections, constitution of “expert” committees/commissions, etc.) allow the masses the space to be heard only through representatives. By putting the leaders before the masses, bourgeois democracy then essentialises the masses-leader distinction, and creates the objective condition for leaders/representatives to decide on behalf of the masses. Being in the privileged position to decide on behalf of the masses, representatives then develop a tangible stake in this form of politics. They are able to actively exercise this privileged position precisely because the modalities of bourgeois democracy work towards sustaining them in this position. In addition to this, the privileged position of representatives is nurtured by a strong tendency in petty bourgeois participants of mass movements to be led from above by an “ideal”, “virtuous” representative whose “unwavering neutrality” will negotiate between conflicting interests of the petty bourgeoisie.

To elucidate how “civil society” groups, acting as an interface between the state and the masses, are ultimately reduced to instruments of state control over the masses, rather than instruments which mass movements can use to break bourgeois rule, let us examine certain intricacies of (bourgeois) state administration. It is important to note that the bourgeois state apparatus is divided into an executive and legislature that stand independently of each other. As a result, the executive enjoys vast powers to integrate dissenting voices, as well as incorporate bourgeois class interests through the constitution of unelected yet official ‘policy-planning groups’ that propose/recommend legislation etc. to various branches of the state apparatus. The selection to these high-powered ‘policy-planning groups’ inculcates both a competitive spirit among notables riding the waves of mass movements, as well as conformity with ruling ideology. By winning themselves a position in these coveted “think-tank” bodies, these notables become imposed leaders/representatives of the masses rather than leaders with an organic link to the masses. Another dominant trend within bourgeois state administration is the formation of policy-planning committees/commissions that are directly constitutive of capitalists and corporate lobbyists. Their recommendations have tremendous say in the policies implemented by various state departments.(12)

Having delineated some of the important mechanisms through which the bourgeois ruling elites blunt challenges that seek to displace their control on the state, let us turn to Team Anna’s campaign and see how it fits into this given scheme of bourgeois politics. First, Team Anna’s April campaign evolved around a struggle of notables who were competing for the coveted position on a joint committee that would be constituted through an executive order of the state. This is well reflected in the Campaign’s pamphlets, especially the first pamphlet, where the demand for the formation of such a committee was formally stated. Recollection of events will also show that Team Anna was quick to respond to the UPA government’s call for a joint committee, consisting of an equal number of representatives from the government and from Team Anna. This is why, in a matter of four days (!), Team Anna was willingly present at the negotiating table. Later in July when negotiations stagnated, it was because Team Anna increasingly felt their recommended version of the Lokpal Bill was losing ground to other competing versions, namely the government and NCPRI’s versions. Thus, concealed behind the spectacle of “challenging” the given political structure, were Team Anna’s conscious efforts to reinforce the bourgeois representative form of politics. Team Anna stood not for ‘power to the people’, but for greater “participatory governance” that is based on providing hand-picked notables, a privileged consultative status — a manoeuvre that fits well with the particular form in which bourgeois democracy exists.

Secondly, Team Anna’s campaign against corruption elicited support most significantly from the petty bourgeois class, in particular, from the segment that was based in urban areas. This support base also reveals a lot about the bourgeois nature of the campaign. The middles class, as discussed above, is characterised by a contradictory class position. As a consequence, they are often in the objective condition to deny the need of class struggle, and even the existence of classes. Hence, they tend to locate “good” and “bad” people in every class (for example, a good capitalist and a bad capitalist is a typical petty-bourgeois categorisation that is not based on a notion of class but on bourgeois morality). Since the petty bourgeoisie fail to think of themselves as a class, the identification of their interests begets no community feeling. The atomised existence of the petty bourgeoisie makes them identify their interests in individualistic, competitive and moralistic terms.(13) Highly insecure about whether someone from within them can represent their interests, the petty bourgeoisie develop a tendency to search for an organising force outside/above them. The delegation of authority to an outside force, whose interests rise above the “petty” issues of the middle class, is a tendency that ultimately upholds the bourgeois representative form of politics and also paves the way for over-centralisation of the state. This tendency is what played itself out in the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. The petty bourgeoisie saw in Anna a saviour-master — a figurehead who was characterised by innocence/purity, and who was a glorification of rustic, peasant and rural virtues. For the petty bourgeoisie, Anna became an idol on whom all virtues that were lacking in them were transplanted. Needless to say, Anna’s anti-corruption crusade jelled well with the middle-class desire for protection and arbitration by a neutral, incorrupt state, of competitive middle class interests.

Now that the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign has been understood in the context of certain complexities with which bourgeois politics and the bourgeois state function, it is important to note other related reasons for Team Anna’s rise to prominence. One of these reasons pertains to how NGOs have increasingly become an ideal platform from which notables are selected by the bourgeois state and are subsequently used to erode the radical potential of many mass movements.

NGOs & Participatory Governance

It is a well-known fact that the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign was a platform constituted by a number of NGOs. The key members of Team Anna (Kejriwal, Bedi, etc) are leaders of several NGOs, and have at some point or the other also been part of “expert” bodies/committees that are constitutive of “civil society” members, bureaucrats and state ministers. Indeed, most of these “civil society” members are desirous of being part of unelected yet official, high-powered committees and commissions that are formed to recommend policy-making models to the state. The problem with such commissions and committees lies in their promotion of an ensemble of politics in which elected representatives from different political parties are overshadowed by a league of experts/technocrats in the process of policymaking by the state. With privatisation the state has been pushed into a position of greater dependence on private funding and on the growing consultative status of NGOs (a status buttressed by powerful funding agencies and also by many politicians seeking to promote their henchmen). As a result, the tendency of the government to hand-pick “personnel” to manage difficult situations is on the rise, and this is reducing the role of traditional parties in the process of policy-formation. This tendency is in sync with some of the distrust nurtured by the middle class with respect to electoral politics. For the middle class, the sidelining of electoral politics and the search for newer ways to enter the system in order to clean it up have become more “effective” measures. Of course, this is a tendency geared towards elitocracy, i.e. a politics that forever seeks to empower a class of experts/technocrats/guardians above even the elected representatives of the masses.

Let us examine more closely the problematic nature of NGO politics. The first thing to note about NGOs is the fact that their growth parallels the withdrawal of the state from responsibilities which are intrinsic to it. It is important to understand why exactly NGOs ride the wave of privatisation. When they first emerge, most NGOs are little known voluntary organisations that are involved in localised self-help programmes and social work. However, it is from this very pool of voluntary, philanthropic organisations that big financial organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Ford Foundation begin to pick leaders for their flagship “welfare” programmes.(14) These recruits and their NGOs are pampered with generous funding, awards and fully-paid trips to leadership training workshops where they imbibe principles such participatory management and good governance. Hand-picked, felicitated and awarded, NGOs run by such recruits move quickly into the limelight, becoming bodies that coopt many dissidents through elaborate volunteer programmes and campaigns.

The problem with principles such as good governance, participatory management, etc. is that they are intrinsically connected to various measures adopted by the World Bank (15) and IMF to facilitate the free play of market forces in developing countries.(16) The World Bank is well known for the role it played in the liberalisation of India’s economy. It has and continues to structure government policies in India through the structural adjustment program (SAP) — the implementation of which is a necessary rider to the loans it provides developing countries like ours. SAP is characterised by reduced state expenditure on the social sector, which then prepares the ground for private investment (and profit-generation) in this sector. These responsibilities are also sub-let to NGOs (17) that are funded by capitalist houses and organisations. In other words, Kejriwal and Bedi’s NGOs are beneficiaries of a corporate lobby (World Bank) that has spearheaded privatisation of the social sector, as well as crucial state resources. Such are the “hidden” stakes involved in generously giving not just funds but also much-hyped awards to NGO leaders.(18)

Interestingly, these NGOs receive generous funding from the World Bank to raise the issue of corruption and lack of transparency in administration. This pattern of funding seems more than coincidental and is, in reality, indicative of how seriously the World Bank seeks to establish NGOs as stalwarts of good governance that should get consultative status when it comes to government policies. Indeed, its funding has provided staying power to many NGOs like that of Kejriwal’s, and has also provided them the legitimacy to become a party that should be consulted by governments. This is why we see NGO personnel increasingly become part of many flagship project-preparations of the government (projects relating to the drafting legislation like the RTI Act, NREGA (19), the Food Security bill, etc.) as well as part of premier consultative bodies like the National Advisory Council (NAC), which is headed by the ruling UPA-II chairperson, Sonia Gandhi. Clearly then, through their numerous beneficiaries the World Bank and IMF indirectly influence (and stay informed of), policy preparations in the country.

Finally, another problem with NGOs is the fact that they raise issues in complete isolation from the question of class exploitation. Attempts to raise an issue as a question of class exploitation are consciously undercut by NGOs, which project such attempts as “irrational”, “unfeasible” and “unnecessarily agitational”. In the place of revolutionary class politics that pitches the working class against its exploiter, i.e. the capitalist class, NGOs promote a paradigm of politics that seeks to galvanise “people” against the state (sarkar). In other words, NGOs consciously project a loosely defined, external force, better known as “sarkar”, as the enemy of the people, i.e., the aam aadmi – a paradigm of politics that conceals prevailing class differentiation.

Leaders & THEIR Masses: Upholding Bourgeois Democracy

On perusal of the debate surrounding the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, one comes across views that emphasised an anti-systemic aspect to middle-class participation in the movement. Unfortunately, these observations are way off the mark for they belittle the nature of bourgeois hegemony as exercised over the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. Middle-class participation, for one, was deeply influenced by a very typical form of bourgeois politics, i.e. Gandhism. Typically, this form of politics relegates the masses to a position of spectators. Above the spectators looms large the immense powers of an individual leader (such as Gandhi in previous era, and Anna in today’s context). It is to the leader that the masses transfer their political being — (remember, the ‘Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hai‘ slogan?). Of course, with the transfer of all powers and the authority to negotiate, to the leader himself/herself, a movement of such nature, leaves little space for the masses to be proactively part of decision-making, strategy-building and strategy-assessment processes. Whilst the masses may indulge in spontaneous actions and articulate certain demands in the process of the movement, their voice and actions are quickly suppressed. In fact, movements such as these are withdrawn precisely at the moment where possibilities of autonomous mass action from below are on the rise. During the colonial period the Non-Cooperation movement, for example, was withdrawn on Gandhi’s insistence at a conjuncture when autonomous mass action from below surfaced as a threat to bourgeois form of politics. This pattern was repeated throughout the national liberation movement.

Interestingly, some observers of the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign have tried to trace autonomous mass action in the campaign by highlighting certain demands that emanated from the middle-class agitators, such as the demand for greater democratisation of the parliamentary system, the demand for electoral reforms, etc. For some observers the radical autonomy of the middle class was also reflected in the fact that it was actively discussing law, and hence, deciding the law’s content. However, this so-called autonomy of the masses is questionable. First, not one self-formulated demand from the masses was incorporated in the Campaign. Secondly, despite many political commentators hailing Anna’s crusade as the awakening of the middle class —an awakening that created an acute political crisis for the Indian state, the prevailing political system was upheld once again by middle class youth who voted during the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) election. Considering the scepticism created by the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, middle-class youth should have boycotted the election en masse, or, voted in candidates from groups other than the mainstream parties. As we all know this did not happen.(20) Of course, the example is not comprehensive. Yet it is indicative of how compromised the participation of the middle-class masses was. The middle-class masses did not actively position themselves in opposition to the status quo, even after being in confrontation mode. Isn’t this why, despite the Campaign making no substantial gains, they melted away with Anna’s call to withdraw the struggle?(21)

If this is so, what do we make of demands for greater democratisation of the parliamentary system, for electoral reforms, etc., that emanated from the Ramlila Maidan? Yes, these demands rode the wave of discontent that stemmed from the masses. Undeniably, the mood surrounding the Campaign was characterised by a deep distrust in the credibility of the government. At that moment the masses seemed to be pointing their fingers at all politicians, at the entire scam-ridden UPA government, and most of all, at the undemocratic process of law-making. They wanted the laws to be made according to their needs and not in accordance with the calculations of the political class. On the face of it, such concerns may come across as an expression of a realm of politics, autonomous of (completely untouched by) Team Anna’s influence. However, on closer examination this evaluation is hard to sustain.

First, as pointed out by others, the anti-corruption ideology was Team Anna’s ploy to reinstate the faith of the masses in the given political system The focus of Team Anna’s approach was to clean up the current political system (embodied in Parliament) rather than replacing it — the logical conclusion of this being that a cleansed (incorrupt, more scrutinised) bourgeois political system is the answer to all concerns raised by the masses. Secondly, the anti-corruption ideology and strategies of Anna’s campaign did not seek to assert the sovereignty of the masses. In every Anna, Kejriwal or Hegde speech, if we read between the lines or simply refer, for that matter, to the Jan Lokpal bill, we find that it is not the people who will reign supreme, i.e. make laws (or, as in the case of the Lokpal, become judges). Far from envisaging a system of direct democracy where laws and policies of the state are decided by the masses, Team Anna’s strategies reflect a conscious effort to delegate such responsibilities to certain “well-informed citizens” (members of “civil society” groups), technocrats, etc. These experts, who are independent of mainstream political groupings, have been projected by Team Anna, as the necessary alternative to humbug politicians. Presumed here, of course, is an “innate incapability” of the masses to do the same. Without doubt, these experts, technocrats, etc. with their pedantic knowledge of existing laws and familiarity with the procedures of law-making, will advocate bourgeois interests by functioning within the ambit of the parliamentary system. The masses, in return, will continue to be distanced from the helm of affairs.

In other words, the demands for electoral and parliamentary reforms encapsulate a desire of the big bourgeoisie and a section of petty bourgeoisie to expand the current ambit of decision/policy-makers to include their direct representatives. Such demands hardly indicate that ‘pure ideals of democracy’ are being expressed. Indeed, such manoeuvres are nothing but repetitions of earlier struggles within the bourgeoisie for greater say in governance. An appropriate example comes to mind, and that is the struggle of the emerging Indian bourgeoisie for a greater stake in colonial governance. Between the late 19th century and early 20th century, the semi-feudal colonial state was time and time again compelled by the emerging Indian bourgeoisie to give it a greater share in the political structure. There was nothing anti-systemic in the Indian National Congress’s demand for Indianisation of administrative services or in its demand for Dominion Status. There was, in fact, an understanding that the British would rule (govern) better if they sub-let their responsibilities of governance to select (bourgeois) representatives/administrators. Hence, right up to the early 20th century there was only talk of changing the content and not the form of the colonial political structure. Eventually the colonial state, which was tied to the interests of British capital as well as that of feudal notables and elites of the colony, came to adjust its political structure due to growing powers of the Indian bourgeoisie. One cannot but help see a parallel in today’s developments. Today too, talk of parliamentary reforms, strong anti-corruption laws, power to the people, etc., has emerged in the context of a massive growth in the resources and wealth of India’s capitalist class. Let us not forget that demands for greater transparency, accountability and adjustment (not transformation) of the parliamentary system are being raised at a particular conjuncture, i.e. when India’s capitalist class is emerging as a big player in the global capitalist economy. For the capitalist class as a whole, an “efficient” and “incorrupt” administration is necessary for on-the-ground implementation of policies and laws that are based on its interests.

To sum up, plans of adjusting and reforming the parliamentary system are far from anti-systemic, and reflect efforts to reinforce the prevailing system. In this context, momentary discussions on law by a section of the middle-class masses should not be overemphasised, especially, when the mass of working class and a significant portion of the middle class continue to be distanced from the process of law-making. How can we celebrate such moments when India’s working class and a large portion of the middle class continue to be pushed into a non-political existence by long working hours, stressful work regimes, etc.? After all, which factory worker, construction worker, school teacher, vegetable vendor, IT professional, etc. has the time to participate in law-making? With the average work hours touching 12 to 14 hours a day, most of the country’s working population is in no position to participate in political decision-making. Their political existence is reduced to voting in a government once in five years. That once their vote is cast the people/voters have no say in policy decisions is a fact reflected most cruelly in their almost complete ignorance of legislation passed and issues debated in Parliament. Ironically, in order to amass support from the masses as well as misguided ‘Left’ individuals/groups that supported the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, Arvind Kejriwal opined that direct participation of the masses should be pursued through gram sabhas and “town-hall meetings”.(22) While saying so he completely elided the fact as to who would actually have the time to participate, especially when at the local level the economically dependent and caste-oppressed populace is forced to act as a captive population to the “upper”-caste rural elite and capitalist employers. Has Anna Hazare’s campaign really created one objective condition for their participation in the political process?

First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Farce

Needless to say, discontent of the working class and other oppressed classes cannot be addressed by the prevailing political structure. The current form of representative politics, embodied in Parliament (and also seen in most mass movements), has not empowered the working class or middle class to debate state policies and to ratify legislation themselves before they are implemented. In fact, it has absolved the masses of these responsibilities and delegated them to “better-informed” representatives whose “business it is to solely do politics”. The parliamentary structure is, hence, based on a class of representatives who enjoy the exclusive right to define, affect and solve social problems. A political structure that provides such exclusive rights without any form of participation of the people creates the objective condition for such representatives to indulge in a politics that is antithetical to the interests of the masses. Unsurprisingly, this particular form of politics has increasingly become a lucrative business for the specially created class of representatives.

Unfortunately, perpetuation of the aforementioned political structure has been integral to several movements in this country, including that of Anna’s. This is due to the hegemonic control exercised by the bourgeoisie in almost all these movements. After successfully hegemonising the Indian national liberation struggle, India’s bourgeoisie has continued to hijack the discontent of the masses in the interest of its own internal struggles for greater control on the state. Indeed, the period of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s witnessed heightened conflicts between different sections of the Indian bourgeoisie under the aegis of the federal form of state. By this time a rank of regional bourgeoisie had emerged in stiff opposition to the big/All India bourgeoisie. A classic example of this internal struggle within India’s capitalist class is the Jai Prakash Narayan movement, ironically projected as the country’s second freedom struggle. This movement emerged in the context where regional capitalists and the class of rich peasants clashed with the big/All India bourgeoisie in the process of diversifying their capital. The conflict between different sections of the bourgeoisie was the predominant force behind the mass movement that erupted. Rich peasants and the regional capitalists drew on caste ties, as well as hierarchical relations such as those between rich peasants and dependent labourers, to mobilise a mass movement around their particular demand, namely, protection and support of the state for greater capital accumulation and diversification pursued by them.

Intrinsic then to the bourgeois-dominated populist movements is the tendency to use the interests of the masses as a smokescreen for assertion of bourgeois class interests. Every such movement has framed the discourse on social problems keeping in mind the interests of the bourgeoisie. Consequently, the outcome of such movements has been the farcical repetition of the same tragedy, i.e. mass upsurge stemming from class discontent — its hijacking by bourgeois political forces through incorporation of leaders and sympathetic intellectuals into ever-expanding state structures — distancing masses from leaders and gradual displacement of the radical goals of the masses — reducing the movement’s agenda to the quest for an ideal representative and reform — perpetuation of representative form of politics at the cost of direct democracy — therefore, government change, not revolution — followed by cynicism and sense of betrayal among the masses. This cycle will repeat itself till the working class and petty bourgeoisie are able to break the control of bourgeois hegemony on their spontaneous movements, i.e. by realising that their own class interests lie in transcending the politics of reform and in pushing for transformation instead.(23)

Increasingly, the discontent of the masses requires a different form of politics that breaks the vicious cycle of farcical repetitions. Working class organisations preparing for a transformative form of politics need to retrieve earlier experiences of the working class movement so as to popularise formidable achievements in direct democracy. What was central to most of these achievements was the conscious endeavour of the revolutionary forces to gradually reduce the working hours of the people. This measure created the feasibility of political participation by the people, making it in fact a way of life. Furthermore, by devolving legislative powers and other responsibilities of governance to local bodies, active and direct political participation became a rational and desirable practice for the masses. Hence, a transformative form of politics (such as direct democracy) has to be bolstered by returning time to the masses. To go beyond the parliamentary system and return power to the people requires the smashing of capitalism itself. It is only by putting an end to capitalist exploitation and oppression of the working class and petty bourgeoisie that the revolutionary political potential of the masses can be actualised. For this, the working-class movement needs to tap into the discontent of the working class and proletarianised section of the petty bourgeoisie that is imbricated in the anti-corruption ideology. It is through this that claims for greater participatory democracy within capitalism can be exposed as an opportunistic play of words — empty slogans that make our neo-Gandhians (Anna and Kejriwal) appear as radical well-wishers of spontaneous mass movements.

Maya John is a research scholar and political activist based in Delhi University. She is working on the history of labour laws in India.

Notes:

(1) In this paper the term middle class and petty bourgeoisie will be used interchangeably. This section of people exists in between the two basic classes present in capitalism, i.e. the working class and capitalist class. The middle class is an extremely heterogeneous category consisting of shopkeepers, white-collared, relatively high-salaried employees, self-employed professionals, etc. The common characteristic shared by these heterogeneous elements is the fact that they all share (with the capitalist class) a portion of the surplus value created by the working class.

(2) See The Wall Street Journal, 12 October, 1995. The Strait Times, Singapore, 8 March 1996 raised this amount to 45 million dollars.

(3) See The Times, 28 May, 1997.

(4) See, The State in a Changing World: World Development Report, 1997, OUP; Corruption and Good Governance, Discussion Paper No.3, UNPD, Management, Development and Governance Division, New York; Unproductive Public Expenditure: A Pragmatic Approach to Policy Analysis, IMF Pamphlet Series 48, Washington D.C.

(5) See, The Prevention of Corruption Act (1988), section 2—Definition. Another contentious issue mentioned in section 19 of the Act prescribes initial sanction before investigation. This same contentious section is being retained in Jan Lokpal Bill where prior sanction of the Bench of Lokpal is still prescribed.

(6) See, Mehboob Jeelani, “The Insurgent”, Caravan, September 2011. Jeelani reports Kejriwal’s immense admiration for the Delhi Metro system. In reality, despite being the principal employer, the Delhi Metro does not regulate payments made and work schedules created by contractors to whom it has released tenders for construction, security, maintenance, etc. As a result, most construction workers, security staff and cleaners/housekeeping staff working for the Delhi Metro continue to be denied minimum wages, overtime compensation and an eight-hour work schedule.

(7) According to several estimations, the Lokpal will be one of the biggest government departments, with investigating/prosecuting vigilance officers; appellate grievance officers, support staff for these officers; etc. numbering some 2,19,640 persons or more. Furthermore, with the large spectrum of punitive powers Team Anna wants the Lokpal to have, the elaborate set-up would end up costing the exchequer nothing less than Rs 10,000 crore annually! Overlooking this point, certain organisations such as the CPI(ML) Red Star have come to highlight only certain procedural aspects of the Lokpal, i.e. its unelected nature, as a problem. However, this argument by focusing on procedure over content amounts to a trap. It misguides the working class movement to extend support to this Leviathan. Similarly, Udit Raj, although legitimately arguing in favour of reservation in the Lokpal Office in order to safeguard SC/ST government employees, ended up supporting the same.

(8) The corporate media has increasingly resorted to innovative ways of bringing to the limelight little-known NGOs, philanthropists, etc. through “leadership” hunts. It has also been investing in programmes that promote “charismatic” middle-class educated youth through reality shows that are in the constant search for “talent”. The Times of India, for example, funds the “Lead India” and “Social Impact” campaigns, in which successful and well-educated middle class youth as well as business entrepreneurs are felicitated for “commendable achievements” in their respective fields. This practice helps promote a particular tendency within the middle class, i.e. the tendency to idealise “enigmatic” persons, and to perceive talent as well as leadership as qualities inhabiting only a select few people. Indeed, the middle class often seeks to resolve some of the angst and insecurities that stem from its class position, through this practice of idealising individuals and transplanting all virtues that are lacking in it on to these select few individuals.

(9) This ideology of common national interest uses and reinforces “upper caste” elite notion of “merit” and “efficiency” which is evident in Team Anna’s flirting with anti-reservation and anti-Dalit tirade.

(10) The dominant middle class’s reificatory perception of corruption as bribery and embezzlement identifies only a part of the money in circulation, leaving aside the larger amount of money accumulated by over-exploitation of workers. Take the case of the scam surrounding the Commonwealth Games that only highlighted the billions of rupees circulated through bribery, etc., but not the more significant amount of wealth accumulated by capitalists through their over-exploitation of workers during the Games. Likewise, the report on the 2G spectrum scam brought to light how bribes amounting to Rs 2000 crore were passed on to the telecom ministry by different bidders. However, what is more important to note is that companies such as Reliance, Essar, etc. were in such a position to bribe the ministry because they earned much more than what they offered in bribes. So, while bribes to ministers and top bureaucrats amounted to Rs 2,000 crore, the overall profit raked in by companies was a whopping Rs 1 lakh crore! Baba Ramdev not so long ago created a riotous situation by demanding all black money be returned to India. It was his concerted effort to shift the focus to Swiss Banks when the source of the undisclosed wealth (in terms of its generation) lay in India itself. As a result, what is conveniently concealed by the reificatory notion of corruption is the brutal process whereby capitalists exploit workers and displace poor peasants and adivasis so as to attain huge super-profits.

(11) To elucidate, many politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are from wealthy (millionaire) families and undergo the same kind of high-quality education. Many are, in fact, alumni of the same elite institutions and are part of the same social circles.

(12) In India such policy-making committees emerged way back in the late 1930s. For example, the National Planning Committee, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru and consisting of businessmen and “experts” was formed in 1939 in the endeavour to devise a framework for future economic planning. Then in 1942 a six-member committee was formed under the initiative of Tata and Birla. This committee consisting of six most prominent industrialists in the country produced the Bombay Plan, which specified a blueprint for state expenditure. Policy-making committees have emerged as a bigger trend in contemporary times, as is evident from the following pool of recommending bodies: (i) the three-member Investment Commission (2004), which consisted of Ratan Tata (as Chairman), Deepak Parekh (prominent financier and director of many companies) and Ashok Ganguly; (ii) Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister in which the chairman enjoys a rank equivalent to a Cabinet Minister; (iii) National Knowledge Commission (2005) consisting of two prominent corporate leaders, Sam Pitroda and Ashok Ganguly.

(13) For example, shop-keepers/small-scale retailers do not often identify their interests in opposition to big capital whose commodities they sell. Instead, a conflict of interest and competition exists within shop-keepers themselves, since enhanced sales of one means loss of business for another. Similarly, the ‘new rich’ segment of the petty-bourgeoisie does not stand in opposition to big capital (unless unionised in work places, etc.). Instead, they stand in a competitive position vis-à-vis each other for access to limited resources like subsidised education.

(14) See The World Bank’s Partnership with Non-Governmental Organizations, World Bank, Washington DC, 1996. Also see, James Petras, “The Ford Foundation and the CIA: A Documented Case of Philanthropic Collaboration with the Secret Police”, http://www.rebelion.org/hemeroteca/petras/english/ford010102.htm.

(15) See “People’s Participation”, World Bank Discussion Papers No. 183, World Bank, Washington DC, 1992, & “Participatory Development and the World Bank”, World Bank Discussion Papers, Washington DC, 1992, pp.10.

(16) See Aurora, Shashikala, Gayathri, et al, “New Economic Policy, Voluntary Organization and Rural Poor”, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2, 1994.

(17) See Jagdish Bhagwati, “The Design of Indian Development”, & Deepak Lal, “Economic Reforms and Poverty Alleviation” in I.J. Ahluwalia & I.M.D. Little (ed.) India’s Economic Reforms and Development: Essays for Manmohan Singh, OUP: Delhi, 1998.

(18) The following are examples of awards given to prominent individuals in Team Anna: (i) the Ramon Magsaysay Award (funded by the Ford Foundation which is supported by corporate houses like Ford Co., etc.) to RTI “activist” Arvind Kejriwal, (ii) the Ramon Magsaysay Award to “social worker” Kiran Bedi, and (iii) the Jit Gill Prize (funded by the World Bank) to the then relatively obscure local activist, Anna Hazare.

(19) NREGA is based on the theoretical postulation that in underdeveloped economies, capital formation can be “effectively” pursued by drawing on the semi/unemployed rural population. This rural unemployed force is employed in construction work, etc., and is paid wages that merely sustain the bare minimum needs. Thus, the rural unemployed force becomes a cheap source of surplus value. Since schemes such as NREGA are introduced on a large scale, i.e. on a national scale, they help generate considerable capital formation. This development benefits capitalists significantly. For example, roads built under the NREGA scheme enhance the distribution networks of private companies in interior regions of the country. In actual terms, NREGA is a by-product of the Vakil-Brahmanand model of development—a model that features prominently in developmental plans of the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. This model of development stems from earlier theoretical postulations of “liberal” economists like Nurkse and Lewis. See, Ragnar Nurkse, Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries, Oxford: Blackwell, 1953, and Arthur Lewis, “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour”, Manchester School, Vol. 2, May, pp. 129-91. Here it is also worth noting that the RTI Act is restricted to public bodies, as a result of which the inner functioning of private bodies (including NGOs) continues to be concealed from the public eye.

(20) One of the reasons for consistent participation of youth in the student elections held in Delhi lies in the fact that the city houses many “centres of excellence”/central government-run educational institutes. Because of this educational status of the capital city, all mainstream parties very consciously root their politics among the university youth. This year, the middle-class university youth voted in an NSUI candidate (the student wing of the Congress) for the post of president, and candidates from ABVP (the student wing of the BJP) to the remaining posts. Ironically, the NSUI made a comeback this year by winning the post of president. If we look at the voter turnout for this year’s election, it more or less matched last year’s turnout (33% for 2011 and 35% 2010), as well as the overall voter turnout of the past three years.

(21) On August 28, 2011, Anna concluded his fast with a compromise in hand, gaining nothing substantial for the masses. Subhash Kashyap (constitutional expert) and former Lok Sabha Secretary-General in an interview to Frontline (September 23, 2011, pp. 18) magazine opined that the government has conceded nothing, and the biggest achievement of the negotiations is that Anna has broken his fast!

(22) See, Arvind Kejriwal’s interview in Frontline, September 23, 2011. In this interview he continued to emphasise that corruption was not a problem created by corporate houses. He in fact argued that corporate houses were the victims of corruption.

(23) Having said this, what should the organised Left do at conjunctures when movements under bourgeois hegemony, emerge? The answer lies in a form of alliance building in which different sections of workers scattered across different social spaces, are united. The Left would gain most by first strengthening existing movements that embrace expansive hegemony of the working class, and then, positioning these movements in confrontation with bourgeois movements. If such working class movements are lacking (as is the case presently), the Left needs to concentrate on building them. If a strong working-class movement existed at the time of Team Anna’s campaign, it would have raised slogans against capitalist exploitation of various classes. In the process it would have gradually exposed the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign for its bourgeois content and form, and would have won over workers and a large section of the middle class that were influenced by Anna. Here the fighting force of the movement would have been the working class, and it is the hegemony of the working class that would have been asserted. As a result, rather than an anti-corruption campaign that sought to reinforce the prevailing form of politics (in terms of cleaning up the parliamentary system as opposed to replacing it), a new form of politics would have been the agenda — destroy capitalism and the parliamentary system.

Occupy Wall Street: Challenges, Privileges and Futures

Saswat Pattanayak

“He who tells the people revolutionary legends,
he who amuses them with sensational stories,
is as criminal as the geographer
who would draw up false charts for navigators.”

HPO Lissagaray, “History of the Paris Commune of 1871” (1877)

The challenges to Occupy Wall Street are many. Some even more critical than the very issues the protestors are fighting against. Whereas it claims to be the 99%, yet the movement practices the age-old privileges of class and race blindness. Similar to most white liberal movements, the OWS is hardly inclusive of the people of colour. Although the spirit is radical and the intent is revolutionary, the movement itself suffers from a lack of critical understanding on how race and class intersect. In reality, 99% of people do not form a class in themselves. This is because the 99% of population comprise a significant amount of aspiring rich, a “middle class” category of people who have steadfastly refused to side with the poor working class whenever the latter has organised itself. In the US, this segment of opportunistic liberal citizens have always believed in the country’s racist foundations, its heritage of exclusionary democracy, and its segregated educational system, and amply benefited from patriotic allegiances. And as a result, they have lent unconditional supports to electoral reforms that sustain an individualistic social order, to corporate policies that help private business thrive, to political outfits such as the Democratic Party in recent times, which upholds the status quo in every level of governance defining American imperialism.


Whither Class Struggle?

In the current romanticised version of revolutionary zeal at the Wall Street protests, there is a marked denial on part of the “General Assembly” of the movement that it could be perceived as supportive of the status quo. Proudly boasting of a movement without specific goals and leaders, the movement publishes formal newspapers and handouts clearly stating its disavowal of “Tea Party” right-wing movements. Not only is the OWS appearing left-wing and liberal – a political lineage that may not find endorsement among the 99% of people – it is also claiming to be without ideologies and specific goals. OWS is in a state of denial that anarchism of various forms are themselves ideologies, and the organisers of the movements are their leaders, the money which enables publications of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal” has sources to its sponsors. If rejection of current economic situation is the inspiration for the movement, the rejection of the current economic situation is the goal.


Calling the 99 percent

The biggest challenge for the OWS is to humbly acknowledge that it is a movement driven by a specific ideology which refuses the use of violence as a revolutionary tool, demands increased taxes for the rich, envisions student debt relief, opposes the Tea Party politicians, demands “direct democracy” as a political approach, and has raised over a half a million dollars within a couple of weeks to fund its campaign. And, it has allowed MoveOn, a multimillion dollar partisan initiative to speak on behalf of OWS to the media. The Occupy project has organisers who decide when the General Assembly will take place, which celebrity will address them, which entertainers will put up shows, which specific websites will be declared “official”, which post-box addresses the charity checks will be received at, and what heads will the money be spent on. Despite massive financial assets, when the OWS refuses to replace the drums of an activist which was destroyed at the protests, it is unilaterally decided by the specific organisers.

In their postmodernist hues, when political movements decry ideologies, refuse to take sides on political issues and pretend to distance themselves from power struggles, they smack of redundancy at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. When the educated youths refuse to acknowledge their race and class prerogatives, and claim that their movements let everyone have equal voice, it speaks of the gravely misplaced understanding of how freedom of speech is interlaced with entitlements. If the Occupy movement has not attracted majority of Black and Latino people into its fold, it is a sad reflection of how the movement has failed to address the needs of the most oppressed while boasting of representing them.


Seeking Wider Audience

People of colour are disproportionately incarcerated, disenfranchised, and unemployed in the United States. There is a rigid American class society in place ever since the country was founded. And yet, “class” as a realistically oppressive concept is seldom discussed in the country. Without any necessary critiques of the class society, majority of white liberals almost never understand their hidden privileges. They unequivocally endorse similar newspapers, television channels and textbooks that are inherently biased against class and race analysis. They invariably exalt founding fathers who owned slaves, presidents who denied racial disparities, and swear by the prison-military-industrial complex of the largest imperialistic society in history of humanity. OWS is based on the primary notion that the American society was absolutely democratic and fulfilling until Reagan spoilt the show. If they tried to include black people who suffered the brutality of every presidential regime in American history, the Occupy movement would not be wishing for the American democratic model to continue while singling out Wall Street.


Work Assignment Activism

Occupy Wall Street has every possibility of becoming its own nemesis. A separation of economy from politics of the day is naive and reactionary. Merely opposing a bunch of corporate houses in the Wall Street without disrupting the political climate in Washington DC is a hopeless distraction. Calling for arms may or may not be a suitable alternative to political misrule, but to clearly disavow any use of violence while calling for “revolution” is a utopian approach. In fact, just around the time when majority of Americans were clearly fed up and were beginning to demonstrate repressed anger with the entire political establishment, when a Malcolm X demand for replacement of the existing political economy by “any means necessary” was going to be a possibility; a movement that preaches nonviolence and targets a few corporate houses as the only stumbling blocks in the path to progress while giving the Democratic Party and its fundraisers a space within its platform either defies progressive logic, or works towards crushing collective demands for concrete replacements at the corridors of power, in lieu of possible electoral gains in the coming year.


The usual occupiers

The problem with a movement such as OWS is that majority of white liberals who protest at Wall Street do not live in coloured neighbourhoods, nor do they acknowledge that they have any similarities with the poor working class of the country, the homeless and the destitute of America, the black families whose children are imprisoned without trials, the Latino construction workers whose health issues are not covered by any insurance corporations that the otherwise liberal Democratic Party leaders have been receiving donations from. Yet, year after year when neglected teenagers from minority communities are routinely murdered and assaulted and detained without justice, most white liberals refuse to show up at demonstrations led by minority leaders to challenge the police state. The OWS should be a venue for rendering apologies with an effort to seek supports of lesser privileged comrades, not as a self-proclaimed glorified uniqueness in the history of protest movements.


Not so inclusive general assembly

Serious issues have been affecting the majority of people in America; they are all for real. They have been well known crisis, nothing abstract to articulate for months on. The tall claims for forming “consensus” through direct democracy are also without merit considering that a huge majority of people that are apparently being represented by the OWS, are the very folks who are not privileged enough to join the “General Assembly”; and timely decisions must be taken on behalf of them without waiting for any consensus. This demands for organised leaderships charting out the most pressing – and therefore, known – issues affecting the most oppressed.


Krishna Consciousness occupying the Wall Street!

For instance, unemployment crisis is neither new nor shocking for the people of colour in this country. Racism is alive and thriving at an institutional level. And demonstrations and marches have been carried out by black people in this country against unjustified administrative policies concerning wars, atrocities, discrimination, and immigration procedures. People of colour vastly are drafted into the military facilitated by an economic system that has failed to work for them from the days of slavery. It is not a mere coincidence that Wall Street is not controlled by racial minorities. In fact, it is a common knowledge that capitalism was founded by plantation/slave economies.


Music to Pacify

That, the majority of working class folks of colour who survive by dodging random bullets in their abjectly neglected neighbourhoods shall suddenly identify with the rich spoilt educated group of youngsters that abruptly woke up to an accidental American nightmare while having always lived amidst downtown luxuries remaining predictably clueless on specific demands of a movement, is an insensitive expectation. That, the “illegal aliens” from the restaurant kitchens owned by overprivileged “citizens” who are upholding American flags at the Occupy Wall Street, will somehow join this movement to sing glories of “First Amendment” rights of the liberals selectively granted by a Constitution that refuses to recognise people in dire despair as full human beings, is utterly inconsiderate a demand.

A movement which fails to adequately address the needs of the most oppressed among the oppressed is a movement that somehow must end up diluting the most basic needs of the society with the peripherals. Such a movement can only enhance general cynicism, which is certainly a desirable wake-up call, but transformative revolutions that address the roots and not just symptoms call for agenda-driven optimism, armed organisations for self-defence, and principled leaderships with theorised visions that must replace political economies which have failed their subjects for hundreds of years.


Political Alternative?

Occupy Wall Street has the same potential of evolving into a revolution as countless other marches across the globe. The first American peoples’ revolution would have well begun, if occupations had inculcated limitless revolutionary imaginings, duly recognised the possible sparks, drew the most oppressed to clearly charted out radical visions in a timely manner, dissociated itself from the very political parties and electoral systems which have historically facilitated capitalism and phony democracies,

After all, there are no surprises in revolutions. They are historical necessities.

Corruption, Ethics and Politics: The Reproduction of Capitalism and a Ruse of History

Paresh Chandra

Capitalism and Legality I: Corruption, Ethics and Reification

The notion of ‘corruption’ is an essentially ethical one; the terms in which the issue is judged are ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The problem with raising an ethical issue, as one can guess, is that it stays, as does its solution, within the system that defines ethical standards. Corruption is also, simultaneously, a legal issue. In fact, the legal question is in itself ethical, just as the ethical one is legal – the legal and the legitimate intertwine. In the final analysis, the legal structure of a society is defined in terms of what the socio-political order deems legitimate and what it does not. The obvious corollary being that a legal question, by definition, never goes into a questioning of the law itself. Anti-corruption crusaders are asking for more laws, stronger laws, or different laws. There is a difference between the old and the new law/setup, but they are also, to give the matter a Hegelian twist, identical. Fundamentally the system remains the same. In fact, these changes intend to make the system more entrenched and foolproof.

Such changes, and demands for such changes are not new. In fact we find that people out to change the world in capitalist times repeatedly make demands of precisely this sort: legal and ethical ones. Why is that? What follows is an attempted explanation.

Capitalism is a most confusing entity, so much so that one begins to doubt if it is an entity at all. Right from the beginning it has sent all sorts of well-intentioned reformers chasing after wild geese. Things have not changed much and trying to find a reason for the problems of our existence we still end up latching on to the first ‘big problem’ that appears. This first problem, it will be argued, is invariably an ethical one. The social order that we live in covers our eyes with blinders that ensure that we see only that which does not make our very existence within it difficult. Horses were made to wear blinders so that they did not get alarmed while they traveled on dangerously crowded roads. They only saw what they ‘needed to see’, ditches for instance, that need to be avoided, but never the carriage ahead that they could crash into. Similarly, we see ethical problems that need to be avoided, and can be avoided without upsetting the capitalist cart we pull. The archetypical ethical issue that gets in the way of a genuine questioning of the system has been that of money.

Money is, as Marx demonstrated in Capital, Volume I, the embodiment of the contradiction between use value and exchange value. When in a situation where an individual X has something that another, Y, wants and Y has something that X wants, and the two do not make an exchange, it is because although the two are not interested in the use-values of their respective commodities, they are interested in their exchange values. But a simpleton reformer, say Sir Thomas More, does not see this contradiction, and thinks the problem is that the two are interested in money. So blaming money for the corruption of communities he wants to abolish money.

Simpleton says money is evil. In other words, he makes an ethical judgment. What he does not see is that money is not the problem, not the producer of a contradiction, but merely the embodiment of one. Money is not a ‘singular, complete’ entity at all, but actually a duality in one body. The problem is the duality, the contradiction, not the embodiment. But it is always easier to be able to locate one entity, and try to destroy it. Money stares him in the face, and he is looking for something like money to attack. In other words money is not only a ‘medium of exchange, store of value etc’, but also ideology, a red herring to misdirect attempts that set out to solve the contradictions of capitalism. “The obsession with money as cause and disease alike condemns us to remain within the market system as such, the sphere of circulation, as the closed horizon of our knowledge and our scientific questions and explanations.” (Jameson 2011: 46)

The name Marxists have given to this problem of misidentification is ‘reification’, or alternatively ‘fetishism’. Something mediating between the subject and the object becomes ‘reified’ and begins to posit itself as the object itself.

“In thought, mediation is nothing but a word subject to all the most damaging anti-dialectical objections; in reality it is a mystery that blocks thinking altogether.” (Jameson 2011: 9)

As we saw in the earlier example, this is what happens in the case of Simpleton and money. The case of an ethical question like that of corruption, or for that matter of any ethical question can be understood in the same way; one can draw a structural correspondence, or a homology. An ethical problem is always the first appearance of a more fundamental contradiction (the duality implicit in the word ‘contradiction’ is important). To be unable to move beyond it is to reify it and remain at a distance from raising a truly political question. In capitalism this question can be understood in terms of the contradiction between use value and exchange value, or concrete and abstract labour, or simply, labour and capital.

Capitalism and Legality II: Corruption and ‘Monopoly’ Capital

Sometimes, in order to give ‘political economic’ explanations to ‘superstructural’ phenomena, there is an inclination to jump to quick conclusions that leave out too many levels of mediation. If the problem we explored in the previous section was the problem of being trapped by mediations, here we see the problems that emerge when we try to get to first causes without taking mediations into account. For instance: Anti-monopoly laws seem to be becoming stronger internationally, including in India, despite the fact that the neoliberal rhetoric of free market continues to dominate. But do these laws intend to counter the processes of concentration and centralisation of capital (or monopolisation) which are fundamental to capitalist accumulation?

Just because these laws are being strengthened we cannot say that the process of monopolisation has ceased to operate; in fact, growing instances of acquisitions and mergers are daily reported in financial publications. So what do these laws exactly do? Monopolisation is an inevitable effect of competition between diverse particular capitals, and competition is the life and blood of capitalism. But the strange thing about capitalism is that its own processes are fetters to its existence. Capital creates barriers to its own expansion. The intensity of immanent processes poses hurdles to capitalist accumulation. The collective will of the capitalist class is definitely produced through the dialectic of competition and monopolisation, but it needs an externalised State and its laws to represent it when anarchic competition and its implications seem to destroy the systemic coherence of capitalism.

Bourgeois economics itself recognises that monopolisation curbs the rate of accumulation, however without acknowledging it to be an inevitable tendency. Anti-monopoly laws are designed as a result, to regulate this inevitable concentration of capital, so as to keep the rate of accumulation from slowing down. This is one among many attempts of capitalism to reform itself, and circumvent its own fundamental contradictions. But this is also one among many such attempts that have failed and continue to fail.(1)

Now we come to a direct connection between the sort of corruption that we saw in the ‘2G Scam’ and monopoly. Essentially, what is this corruption but a sort of favouritism shown by the state and state officials (on being bribed of course)? Which among the various monopolies will grow, which will gain greater access to raw materials etc. is decided like this. So, by bribing state officials, large corporations can get out of problems that laws like the anti-monopoly law may put in their path, as well as gain an advantage over their competitors. In other words, bribes are a price that a corporation pays to grow.

A question that we must ask ourselves is that why is this issue of corruption being raised at such a large scale now? Is it only because the CWG scam and 2G scams were so big? Leaving aside the pointlessness of conspiracy theories (though they are not false) about who is funding Anna’s movement etc, we must nonetheless ask why large corporations are supporting the movement in such a big way.

Capitalism, it can be demonstrated, has a sort of homeostatic range within which it can handle issues like corruption and, say for instance, inflation (issues which it also incidentally produces). Once the upper limit is crossed problems arise. One cannot empirically prove when the limit is reached. The only way of it being reached is not rise in corruption. Another way is that the upper limit may come down. When regimes of accumulation change, state structures, the politico-legal ‘superstructure’ slowly tries to harmonise itself with the changed infrastructure. This may be why the said limit may have come down. The capitalist class, that was earlier bribing officials and parliamentarians left, right and centre, now does not want to throw its profit like this. This, as we shall see, is connected to the development of capitalism, and hence to the centralisation of capital, in India.

Capitalism and Legality III: Corruption and the Expanded Reproduction of Capital

Marx’s analysis of the ‘expanded reproduction of capital’ allows us to understand this phenomenon in a systematic manner. An initial sum M is invested into machinery, variable capital (labour power), raw materials etc., which together comprise C, and after the production process (P) one ends up with a commodity C’ which is sold for an amount M’.

M – C…P…C’ – M’

M’ is supposed to be greater than M, or one ends up with an overall loss.

M’ > M

M’ can now be further divided into the amount that was invested initially, M, and will need to be put in again to sustain production at this scale, and the surplus m.

M’ = M + m

The surplus (m) can be divided further into capitalist consumption (c) and investment (m’), which goes back to expand production.

m = c + m’

This is what the equation should ideally look like. But as we should know by experience these equations never exist without irregularities. The amount paid as bribes is basically money that comes out of m’. If this amount is c’ and what is left after bribes have been paid is m”, i.e. if,

m’ = m” + c’

then

m = c + c’ + m”

We know that m’ is the sum that is supposed to be reinvested to expand production. The money that is paid as bribes to private individuals basically falls into the category of consumption or unproductive use. Which is to say, that corruption, in the long run becomes a cost that siphons out money from m’ and does not allow it to re-enter capitalist investment. Till a point capitalists accept such siphoning, but after a point the homeostatic limit mentioned earlier is reached.

The obvious question then: at what point is this limit reached? To get into this part of the argument I will make use of an essay by MH Khan called “Corruption and Governance” that was published in 2006. In this essay Khan draws a connection between underdevelopment and corruption. He argues that in underdeveloped or developing countries, where accumulation is still ‘primitive’, or by extra-economic means, and resources are still being grabbed by brute force, corruption is inevitable. This corruption is not a result of the intention of corrupt officials. In these countries while pre-capitalist processes of production are no longer viable, production is still so low (and so is, as a result, surplus accumulated), that the capitalist class cannot pay to protect a new set of rights/laws that would legitimise all capitalist processes. The amount of revenue coming from tax on surplus, that can be redistributed transparently and legally to social groups and sections in order to maintain stability, is not sufficiently large.

In this situation any attempt to fight corruption, or taking any anti-corruption measures will be futile. In fact in nations where conditions are such, there is no will to fight corruption. Anti-corruption policies work in countries with stable capitalism and high production. In underdeveloped countries the apportionment of resources to capitalists happens through clandestine patron-client relations. As a result, certain sorts of individuals get involved in politics and hold power. In underdeveloped countries, as Khan points out,

“The modern sector of the economy that can be taxed to redistribute to others is small. At the same time, the political conflicts faced are often more serious than those in an advanced country. In many cases, the taxes collected are insufficient even for paying the salaries of bureaucrats. Capital expenditures in the development budget often depend on aid and other foreign capital inflows…[T]he survival of the regime requires that powerful groups are accommodated.”

As surplus increases, slowly the economy begins to stabilise and legal methods for this apportionment can be found. It is only after this point has been reached that corruption can be decisively tackled. But here too popular pressure would be needed to bring this about.

Because in under-developed countries fiscal transfers cannot happen, they are replaced by the exercise of brute power. But in advanced capitalist countries, the allotment of transfers and subsidies happens legitimately, like through legalised lobbying etc (as in the United States).

“In advanced capitalist countries, political stabilization is typically organized using fiscal transfers through the budget. This process is legal, and the rent-seeking (or influence-buying) that it generates is, therefore, also legal typically in the form of lobbying, political contributions and other legal or semi-legal means to influence the allocation of subsidies and transfers. Once again, note that influence-buying and rent-seeking can be widespread in advanced countries. It is only that most of it is legal.” (MH Khan, 214-15)

Because of such legalisation c’, which was till now part of consumption and was leaking out of the cycle, now gets re-injected, via the state into the economy. What in a developing nation goes to politicians and public officials in their capacity as private individuals now goes to the state in its capacity as an institution of bourgeois power. Overall, this transformation implies an increment in the profit being generated. The moment it is realised that an economy is becoming advanced and stable, capitalists prefer to move away from illegal means like corruption to legal means of getting hold of the same resources and services. We should not be surprised then, if the institution of strong anti-corruption measures, should this happen in India, is followed by an increasing amount of pressure on the state for it to legalise lobbying etc.

Anti-Corruption, Public Employees and the Left

It is hard to deny the absurdity of a situation in which alleged Leftists call a protest problematic because it is extra-constitutional. In effect then, they argue that Left politics at its social-democratic worst, when it tries to ensure the smoothing out of the contradictions of capitalism, is the only possible revolutionary alternative. A strike, or a protest, or a movement becomes unconstitutional the moment it enters into a fundamental questioning of the system. This is not to say that the Anna Movement entered into such a questioning at any point – far from it. Nonetheless, such statements from the Left only go to show the degree to which it has been accommodated within the system and its discursive milieu.

However, by this I do not mean to imply that all Left interventions that affirm the anti-corruption movement are more radical. To intervene is important, of course, but are these interventions touching the realm of the ‘political’, and raising the question from a ‘working class/revolutionary perspective’? Or are they still caught in the discourse of legality and ethics, which the bourgeois vision of the Anna movement cannot even think of going beyond?

Every social question can be raised in two ways. Till a question is raised in the realm of ethics or legality, or till a struggle remains ‘economic’ it is essentially bourgeois in tendency. But this does not mean that it cannot go beyond this embourgeoised status. Every economic struggle has immanent political content, and the task of a working class organisation is to facilitate the emergence of the immanent. But do the current Leftist interventions in this movement amount to this? Did campaigning against corruption in “working class areas” contribute to the radicalisation of the working class? Or did it merely convince more people to release their frustrations with the system making use of the giant pressure release valve that the anti-corruption movement is (in addition to being a need of capitalism at this point in India)? Absolutely nobody seems to have made an attempt to separate the ‘proletariat content’ in the question of corruption from the ‘bourgeois content’. In the light of this lacuna (or in its darkness), the conspiracy theory like attempts to understand corruption, that some organisations seem to have endorsed, point toward a more fundamental ideological lacuna. Do we have any idea why we are doing what we are doing?

In the previous sections I have already analysed corruption from two perspectives. From one we saw that corruption is the reification of an ethical/legal question that gets in the way of a proper questioning of the status quo. From the other we concluded that after using corruption for a period of time, there comes a point when capitalism begins to see it as a hurdle; and so ‘anti-corruption’ in this regard becomes an issue of the bourgeois class. Now we look at the issue from a third perspective. Till now we had analysed and tried to understand ‘corruption’ itself. Now we will try and understand the problems of the ‘anti-corruption movement’. Here it would be useful to be schematic.

  1. A person who has been to anti-corruption rallies and spoken to Anna supporters, or even only read newspapers regularly would know that one major slogan/argument is ‘Babu-Raj nahi chalega’. People seem to want to cut the bureaucracy down to size. The issue they begin with is, of course, corruption. But at some point the attack is also one on a superfluous bureaucracy. When the death knell of the ‘mixed economy’ in India started ringing, some of the first cries concerned the ‘inefficiency’ of the public sector. Some of the final hammer blows that sealed the deal in 1991 were also about inefficiency and corruption in the ‘License Raj’.
  2. Ours is an age of incessant privatisation, our country one that is following advanced neoliberal policies. Insurance, banking, transportation, airways, education, all have taken a hit. A major argument for disinvestment in each sector has been inefficiency. When ‘anti-corruption crusaders’ also speak about how the large size of the administration gets in the way of dealing out justice and handling cases, they inevitably, if only implicitly, also end up supporting those who talk about ‘leaning out’ the government and administration. We must understand that this ‘leaning out’ implies loss of public sector jobs. If we look all around, in sectors that are still publicly owned, contractual and insecure jobs are already increasing in number. The point is not to defend those who work in the administration, let alone the idea of a bureaucracy. But one must not lose sight of this very significant fact that these individuals are also public employees.
  3. When the question of inefficiency or corruption arises, an oft-mentioned solution is the replacement of permanent employees by contract labourers. The logic is that once the security of a permanent job is replaced by the insecurity of being on a contract that can be terminated at any point, corruption will automatically come down. Contractualisation is at the same time, also a symptom of the same developments in the economy that, as we saw previously, makes corruption undesirable to the capitalist class.
  4. One is not trying to say that the Janlokpal Bill is calling for this contractualisation. But looking at the people who are supporting it and the manner in which they are articulating their concerns and demands, the slip into asking for some sort of a dismantling of an administration run by permanent employees is inevitable. The middle class, at this point at least, when capitalism is advancing so fast in India, supports privatisation. The logic behind creating a separate bureaucratic framework to look into corruption is not that far from the one that asks for an efficient, lean administration, made of contract workers.

At this point, when Leftist organisations should put their energies into countering such contractualisation, many, in trying to ride on Anna’s shoulders, are actually supporting a movement whose main interest coincides (if this can be called a coincidence) with the interests of capital, and which will build support for a move toward privatisation and contractualisation; they are being fooled, as it were, by a ruse of history.

At a time when proletarianisation of the masses is increasing at an unprecedented rate, in the form of unemployment, deskilling, lack of job security, eviction from land and so on, we need not, indeed we must not jump into the bourgeois bandwagon. This is what makes an uncritical intervention of Left forces in the anti-corruption movement so problematic. Not only are we not working in any of the areas that we should be working in, but in our lack of direction we are actively contributing to a reactionary project. After all the problems that I have already enumerated, and with the numerical handicap that Left forces suffer from, when compared to the strength of the right wing in such movements, it is hard to imagine any reasonable defense for such Leftist interventions.

Notes:

(1) However, from this we can make an interesting inference that allows us to connect this discussion to the previous section. Sometimes something that is a direct product of the system, may nonetheless not be deemed legal or legitimate by its law. Sometimes the law may gain a direction of its own, which may not always be in sink with that of the social relations of productions and the ways of that particular ‘regime of accumulation’. Anti-monopoly laws are becoming stronger even as the construction of trusts, cartels, and monopolies is only speeding up.

References:

Jameson, F. (2011). Representing Capital. Verso: New York.

Khan, M.H. (2006). ‘Corruption and Governance’, in Jomo KS and Ben Fine (Ed.) The New Development Economics: After the Washington Consensus. Tulika: New Delhi.

Wall Street Spring: Americans Demand Democracy

Saswat Pattanayak

The homeless and the Hippies, the socialists and the students, the communists and the commoners – the Wall Street has been occupied for good by the countless human beings demanding dignity of life denied to them under American capitalism. Every disenfranchised minority is now decrying the citadel of private capital, greed and monstrosity. And contrary to White House assertions and corporate media verdicts, the defamed Wall Street has been denied a bail-out – by the people of the United States.

Braving the NYPD interventions and assaults, seeking solidarity with the otherwise indifferent bystanders, and hoping that the collective aspirations of the oppressed masses finally prevail, thousands of radicals are demanding the revolution – not in faraway Libya or Syria, but right here in the centerpiece of global imperialism, in the New York City. This is the Wall Street Spring – a significant demonstration of solidarity among anti-capitalists and class struggle prisoners!

Wall Street Spring is radical in manners that have shaken the foundation of mainstream media in this country. Both liberal and conservative media have cautiously covered this uprising, essentially because unlike in the past, this gathering is truly diverse, and phenomenally radical. The revolutionaries are not endorsing any simplistic political ploy by a liberal party to garner support through expressions of politically correct rhetoric. In fact, quite the contrary. A placard prominently reads – mocking the Democrats – “Job Creators, my ass”.

In many ways, “Occupy Wall Street” is reminiscent of the several marches across the country over the past decades. People from various sections of society have gathered to march against police brutality and societal inequality. And yet in significant ways, it is rather different. The goal today is not to reconcile following legislative changes, but to revolt to ensure a peoples’ democracy. The march is not silent. The march is not harmoniously conducted hand in hand with musical backgrounds. The march today is disparate, heterogeneous, expressive of collective anger and resentment against the status quo. More of an extension of the Black Panthers taking over college campuses with loudspeakers and radical agendas; than a pacified demonstration of hopeful placards. It is not a congregation to reconstruct the capitalistic society, it is one that speaks through the voice of the latest victim Troy Davis: “Dismantle this unjust system”.

“You Must be Asleep to Experience American Dream”

Long ago, Malcolm X announced how he was experiencing American Nightmare, not American Dream. For several decades his call for the people to literally “wake up” were ridiculed, suppressed and relegated to dustbins of history by the private media enterprises. From Hollywood flicks to CNN headlines, frivolous entertainments were repackaged as news for popular consumption. Big businesses through advertisements and various forms of sponsorships pushed their agendas for a ferociously vital American economy – an economy where capital would be privately held, with solitary aim for unlimited profits, and where the capital would invariably triumph over the labor.

For decades, the American Dream – a fictitious and opportunistic claim that anyone can selfishly prosper through individual efforts – has been demonstrated as the encompassing ideology of global capitalism. The phrase has gained approvals because it has gone unquestioned. Much like the accompanying rhetoric: Democracy.

The dream and the democracy – both are at stake this time. In the past, the masses demanded to restore them. This time, they are demanding to dismantle them. No wonder, the New York Times failed to deconstruct what is happening at the Wall Street. “Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim” read the headline on the Times. For decades the mainstream corporate media defined for the people what their aims should be in order that the status quo is duly maintained. And usually in the western world, the protests have invariably taken a reformist shape, because the goals are precisely laid out, the conversations are articulately arranged, and the legislative conclusions draw the final lines.

However, this time, it is different, to say the least. It is not just the Wall Street. It is Occupation United States. Similar “occupation” movements are taking over various cities in the country, almost in a way, that it is difficult to fathom the direction they shall take. Many critics of the Occupation are arguing that this movement shall fail because it does not have specific goals. For instance, the otherwise liberal Colbert Report ridiculed the occupation as a mindless gibberish because the humorist found the lack of an articulated goal to be quite unacceptable.

Unacceptable, it sure is. Protests, demonstrations, and marches have traditionally been easy to contain because they tend to address specific issues and have extremely limited sphere of influence. They usually do not address the system as such because strictly from a pragmatic standpoint, it delays the process of redressal. And from a political standpoint, an attack on the system is a call for dismantling and possibly, overthrowing of an existing political economy – something which is outrightly rejected by not just the ruling class members of politics and businesses, but also by a great number of citizens who live in class denial.

War Has Been Brought Home

Occupation movement this time around offers no immediate solution – nor does it harbor much hopes either. If the collective demand is to have Obama administration dissociate itself and the United States from Wall Street money, the collective intelligence says it is probably not possible. Demanding a solution from the very system that needs to be dismantled is a worthless endeavor. And no one knows this better than the radicals themselves. And yet, what is much more important is the historical knowledge that revolutions take place not through pessimistic withdrawals, but through constant engagement with all available avenues of protests until the status quo is reversed.

In our fast-paced, solution-oriented, just-do-it society, it is quite predictable that many intellectuals and journalists, politicians and diplomats shall continue to question the viability of movements that offer no concrete alternatives. But a reflective and critical study of revolutionary theories and unique histories of various progressive movements shall demonstrate that all that the masses need are a few sparks, and there is no telling what turns the events will take!

Capitalistic America today appears to be insurmountable. It appears so, because it is depicted as thus through textbooks and newspapers, amidst televised programs and blockbusters. The deep vulnerabilities and classic contradictions of capitalism are deliberately omitted in an effort to celebrate the manufactured notions of freedom and democracy in the western world. But as humanity continues to evolve, and as consciousness of the masses across various oppressed social locations continues to be raised, the protocols are bound to shatter. The people will emerge as the leaders themselves. And their collective aspirations – to inhale the air that celebrates human dignity, free from greed of private accumulations – are bound to prevail. Its just a matter of time. And, that clock is ticking today at the Wall Street.

A Review of “The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution”

Bhumika Chauhan

Michael Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution, Haymarket Books, 2010.

Whenever the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system have developed into an overt crisis, the unevenness of capitalist development has acted as a sort of pressure-release mechanism. In our neoliberal times, the unevenness can be seen on many levels – from the formal labour-informal labour binary to the so called North-South divide. To maintain its rate of profit in the face of proletarian struggle (and/or the tendency of the rate of profit to fall), the capitalist class found, like always, new avenues to exploit. When the accumulation of absolute and relative surplus value became problematic, like it so often does, capitalism turned yet again to its so-called ‘originary moment’ – primitive accumulation. As such, primitive accumulation is still very much a part of our present. For instance, today in India, the capitalist system is turning to those pockets that it had kept in reserve (literally) for so long. In backward, agrarian and/or tribal regions, plans are in motion for the acquisition of resources.

A few centuries ago, when capitalism first took over Western Europe, the whole of India was one such pocket, which the British managed to tap. In coming ouLowy's bookt of colonialism, the bourgeois leadership of the Indian National Movement took the road to capitalism (albeit via a ‘maturing’ period, which we traditionally call the ‘mixed economy, in which the state systematically developed infrastructure that was handed over to private ownership in 1991). That very road has led us here: unevenness of capitalist development within the same country, and the colonisation of one part of the country by another.

Was there any other route that would have possibly evaded the destruction that the chosen path cannot seem to leave behind? Could India have leapfrogged over the ‘capitalist stage’? The various communist parties of India did not seem to think so at the time (most, if not all, do not even now). The ‘iron laws of history’ would not allow any form of a leap over capitalism, and into socialism. This was the view, in fact, of the entire Communist International and its participant parties since the death of Lenin, as we shall see below; and this, despite the success of the Socialist Revolution in Russia in 1917.

Half-a-century before a ‘free’ India took to capitalism, Leon Trotsky was contemplating questions about the possible roads out of feudalism for Russia. Marxist though he was, Trotsky’s conclusions defied what had become common sense in Marxist circles. This common sense believed in the objective necessity of capitalist development before socialism. Against this view, that history progresses through fixed, determined stages, Trotsky, and later Lenin, began to argue for the possibility that Russia might not have the same historical trajectory as the western capitalist countries for which Marx had produced the schema of feudalism-capitalism-socialism. In fact, according to Trotsky, the unevenness of capitalism was a pre-condition for a possible leap towards socialism for Russia.

It is one of the arguments of Michael Löwy’s book, that it was Trotsky’s and Lenin’s dialectical understanding of history, and the consequent direction it provided to the 1917 revolution, that the objective possibility was transformed into an actual socialist revolution. In demonstrating this, the book undertakes the very relevant and important theoretical task of evaluating Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution in the context of the situation in countries peripheral in the capitalist system. The essence of the argument is that the same unevenness that in times of crises helps capital recuperate is also potentially its grave. If escape routes become enemy camps capital would have nowhere to run.

It is this belief in the possibility of one uninterrupted, combined and permanent revolution from the pre-capitalist to the socialist stage that disappeared somewhere between Trotsky and Lenin, and Stalin. The ‘permanentist’ perspective of the Comintern under Lenin, for revolution in all backward countries, was also replaced by the ‘stagist’ ‘neo-Menshivism’ of Stalin. It was again asserted that capitalist development under bourgeois leadership was a necessity for all countries before a socialist revolution becomes possible. The Indian communist leaders too thought that they should give their complete support to the bourgeoisie in the anti-imperialist struggle. Undoubtedly, this would have had a weakening influence on the working class movement on the ground. And ever since Independence, the mainstream communist parties, as a consequence, have struggled and failed to move beyond social-democratic reformism. That has been on account of their inability, or unwillingness, to pose the question of democratisation, which in India doubtless continues to be the principal political question, as one of overcoming capitalism (see note-1).

Of course, there is no more any question of India or any other country skipping the capitalist stage and entering socialism; we are now completely immersed in it. The relevance of the theory of permanent revolution still holds because the capitalist world continues, as is its wont, to be uneven. Michael Löwy’s book may be considered a first step towards regrounding Trotsky’s theory in the present context.

* * *

Löwy’s exposition of the theory of permanent revolution begins with Marx and Engels. The first chapter discusses their writings with the purpose of determining how much Trotsky really deviated from the essence of the perspective and method of Marx and Engels. In the process, Löwy also attacks those readings and critiques of Marx and Engels that attribute to them a mechanical economism and evolutionism. Löwy convincingly argues for the essentially ‘permanentist’ tenor (which increased with time) of Marx and Engels’ writings. Although many passages can be quoted, without distorting their meaning, that lend support to a stagist understanding of history, in the very same writings as well as others, Marx and Engels do shift towards permanentism.

The concept of permanent revolution appears in their writings mostly in the form of ideas and intuitions, not as a coherent theory. The most coherent statement of their view of permanent revolution is to be found in The Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League. While condemning the alliance with the bourgeoisie, the Address champions the common action between the proletariat and the democratic parties of the petty-bourgeoisie. This alliance too must be made keeping in mind the larger aims of the proletariat: ‘to make the revolution permanent’. The Address already contained three themes that would become fundamental to Trotsky’s theory: ‘(1) the uninterrupted development of the revolution in a semi-feudal country, leading to the conquest of power by the working class; (2) the application by the proletariat in power of explicitly anti-capitalist and socialist measures; (3) the necessarily internationalist character of the revolutionary process and of the new socialist society, without classes or private property’ (15).

After demonstrating that the basic underpinnings of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution are in fact to be found in the writings of Marx and Engels, Löwy, in the next two chapters, explores how the theory was developed with the experience of ‘living revolutions’. While doing so, Löwy juxtaposes Trotsky’s perspective with that of his contemporaries (and also later commentators). This helps bring the stagist and permanentist perspectives in stark contrast as these influential thinkers embody one of the perspectives in their deliberations on the revolutions of their age; sometimes this binary emerges as different moments in the political thought of the same person. Löwy identifies Plekhanov, Kautsky and the Mensheviks, and later, Stalin and the Comintern leaders under his leadership (all in theory but not in practice) as giving voice to the stagist perspective. They believed that a semi-feudal and backward country like Russia must first witness a bourgeois revolution to be led by the bourgeois class itself, undergo capitalist development to its ‘exhaustion’, and then finally welcome socialism. It was to be an automatic, step-by-step process. The level of ‘maturity’ for socialism might vary slightly in each conception, but they all agreed that some capitalist development was essential.

Lenin and Luxemburg too had characterised the 1905 revolution as a bourgeois revolution with necessarily bourgeois tasks, again a stagist view of history. They did not, however, believe that the revolution would be led by the bourgeois class, but by the proletariat and the peasants. By 1917, both had begun to agree with Trotsky, that the revolution would be led by the proletariat, with support from the peasantry. More significantly for Löwy, since he puts great effort in countering what he calls Stalinist distortions of Leninism, Lenin had made a permanentist turn after his philosophical engagement with the dialectical method in 1914. Under his leadership (and Trotsky’s, who had joined the Bolsheviks in 1917), the Bolshevik Party led a revolution that let its logical development carry itself towards socialism, not in spite of Russia’s relative backwardness but because of it. To understand what this statement means is to understand the essence of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

Trotsky’s starting point, Löwy writes, was Labriola’s dialectical and anti-dogmatic Marxism. Labriola’s emphasis on totality and his appreciation of the essentially critical nature of Marxism are evident in Trotsky’s theories and the ease with which he could contradict Marxian orthodoxy. It is his grasp of the dialectical method that sets him apart from the somewhat static and mechanical evolutionism of Plekhanov and Kautsky.

Löwy presents five fundamental features of Trotsky’s method that form the basis of the theory of permanent revolution.

  1. Unity of opposites: Trotsky saw a dialectical unity between the ‘democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants’ and the ‘socialist dictatorship of the proletariat’. Consequently he criticised the early Bolsheviks for drawing rigid distinctions between the two, and also the Mensheviks for their even more stagist view.
  2. The viewpoint of totality: For Trotsky, the maturity of capitalism, and a country for revolution, was always to be assessed on an international level. When capitalism has bound the whole world in one mode of production, then class struggle too must become a world-process rather than be restricted by ‘national economic determinism’ (49).
  3. Anti-economism: Unlike Plekhanov’s unmediated reduction of all social contradictions to the economic infrastructure, Trotsky’s dialectics grasped the importance of the ‘subjective’, and rejected the notion that the revolution depended ‘automatically’ on a country’s technical development and resources.
  4. Historical method: Trotsky’s study of social formation was concerned with the possibilities of a revolution. His is an open historicism, not fatalistic like Plekhanov’s. That is, Trotsky saw historical development as a contradictory process where alternatives are posed at every moment. He saw ‘permanent revolution towards socialism as an objective possibility…whose outcome depended on innumerable subjective factors as well as unforeseeable events…’ (Italics original, 50). Success or failure was not inevitably assured by any one factor. Thus revolutionary praxis had a central place in Trotsky’s politico-theoretical system.
  5. Russian social formation: Most Russian Marxists tended to deny the specificities of Russia’s social formation in their fight against the Narodniks, and insisted on its similarity with Western European development. Trotsky, however, achieved ‘a dialectical synthesis of the particular and universal, of the specificity of the Russian social formation and of the general tendencies of capitalist development…[He] was able to simultaneously transcend-negate-preserve (Aufhebung) the contradiction between populism and Menshivism, and to develop a new perspective, which was both more concrete and less unilateral’ (italics original, 51).

Using the above methodological guidelines, Trotsky’s analysis of Russia and its class structure was quite different from that of the thinkers mentioned above, and so were his strategic conclusions. Parvus, a very important contributor to the development of Trotsky’s thought, had already (in 1904-5) realised the peculiarities of Russian social formation: that early Russian towns and cities were administrative-bureaucratic in function rather than economic, and hence the artisans and petty-bourgeoisie, the base of revolutionary democracy, were weaker than in Western Europe. With capitalist development in the nineteenth century, the factory concentrated the proletariat hugely within urban centers. Trotsky found the Russian bourgeois class to be small in number and mostly of foreign origin, and hence isolated from the people. Therefore, for him, the Russian bourgeoisie, small and weak, and more afraid of the armed proletariat than of the Cossacks, was not revolutionary and would betray the democratic revolution whenever it went beyond its control or against its interests. Compared to the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, the socio-political weight of the Russian proletariat was much more. Thus the proletariat was the only true revolutionary class. Hence, Trotsky proposed the following formula in 1905: ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry’.

This went against the Menshevik insistence on a bourgeois leadership and revolution, which was based in mechanical economism. It also goes against Lenin’s 1905 formula of the ‘democratic dictatorship’ of the proletariat and peasantry. Trotsky’s objection to this formula was that it might restrict the revolution to the level that the peasantry was comfortable with; it would have remained a bourgeois revolution (35). In Trotsky’s scheme the proletariat was to be decidedly hegemonic, that is, it would not stop short of supporting the workers’ interests in the town and the village. And this alliance, in his scheme, was decidedly transitory. Löwy writes that for Trotsky, the proletariat could count only on the passivity and ignorance of the peasantry to gain its support but that too only till the ‘rich peasants’ realised what the revolution was heading towards. When the proletariat state applies its uncompromisingly socialist policies, just as Trotsky believed it should, it would lose the support of the landed peasantry and a counter-revolution would be inevitable (55-56).

The solution to the problem, Trotsky believed, lay in the international working class movement: the Russian revolution must be extended to the rest of Europe if the proletarian state in Russia is to survive the loss of its allies. The fate of the socialist revolution in Russia was to be decided less by its economic backwardness than by the politics of national and international class struggle.

As has already been indicated, Trotsky did not differ from the Mensheviks and the early Bolsheviks only on the issue of the ‘class nature’ of the revolution; he also differed from most Marxist thinkers of the time over the issue of the ‘historical tasks’ of the revolution (54). Not only did he believe that the proletariat would lead the revolution, he also thought that the revolution could and should combine democratic and socialist tasks into one combined, uninterrupted, permanent revolution. Why? Because by logically extrapolating the dynamics of class struggle in a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship’ led by the proletariat, Trotsky concluded that the revolution could transcend bourgeois-democratic limits and take anti-capitalist and socialist measures. Trotsky pointed out that when the proletariat comes to power it would be compelled by the ‘very logic of its position’ to implement ‘collectivist’ measures, unless it were to betray its own class (something the pre-1917 Bolshevik policy would have done). For instance, in meeting even its ‘minimum democratic programme’, if the state supported workers’ strikes, it could lead to widespread lock-outs by the capitalists and the cessation of production. This would necessitate that the proletarian state take over the factories and organise production. Basically, ‘the political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with economic enslavement’ (Trotsky as quoted on p.54). Löwy, at several points in the text, highlights how the political is given its due weight vis-à-vis the economic in Trotsky’s dialectical model.

When 1917 came, Löwy writes, Trotsky’s 1905 predictions came true. The bourgeoisie and their Mensheviks supporters were incapable of completing the national-democratic revolution (see note-2) and satisfying the revolutionary democratic aspirations of the peasant masses. Only the proletarian victory was able to accomplish the crucial tasks of the democratic revolution and emancipate the peasantry from feudalism. Also, once in power the workers’ government of the Bolsheviks, now headed by Lenin and Trotsky, and unwilling to betray its class, could not restrict itself to democratic reform. It was forced by the dynamics of class struggle to undertake socialist measures. Without the dogmas of the Second International, the 1917 Revolution saw two distinct phases of an uninterrupted and combined revolution: ‘from its (unfinished) bourgeois democratic phase in February to its proletarian-socialist phase in October’. For Lenin, the second phase resolved the contradictions of the first phase. ‘With the support of the peasantry, the Soviets combined democratic tasks (the agrarian revolution) with socialist tasks (the expropriation of the bourgeoisie), opening a “non-capitalist road” for transition to socialism’ (63).

* * *

It is on these same lines that Lenin and the Comintern now attempted to frame a general policy for revolution in colonial, semi-colonial, dependent or backward countries: the national liberation movements of the ‘Orient’ must aim for the establishment of soviet-based workers’ and peasants’ power, towards socialism without capitalism. Thus, although specific tactics within each country, especially with respect to alliance with the bourgeoisie, remained controversial, the orientation of the Comintern leadership from 1919 to 1922 to revolutionary movements in the dependent world was in line with the theory of permanent revolution.

It can be seen in Löwy’s exposition how the change in the Comintern’s above orientation was the beginning of the generalization of the theory of permanent revolution to the dependent parts of the world. From 1925 onwards, with the Stalinist doctrine of ‘socialism in one country,’ and the adoption of the ‘four class bloc’ or ‘popular front’ policy for the colonial and semi-colonial world by the Comintern, and the experiences of their repercussions for the Second Chinese Revolution, Trotsky gained certain insights that gave the theory of permanent revolution in countries of peripheral capitalism a very strong dialectical foundation. These insights are scattered in Trotsky’s writings after 1928, The Permanent Revolution and The History of the Russian Revolution being the most important ones. Löwy takes us through a number of these writings, drawing out relevant details from each text to elaborate on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution.

The first thing to note is the similarity in the empirical situation of the dependent, colonial and semi-colonial countries with that of Russia and China: the indissoluble dependence of the national bourgeoisie on the imperialists and the landowners, the political weight of the proletariat disproportionate to its numerical strength, the impossibility of an autonomous political role of the peasantry. Also, the very existence of the USSR had its own implications for proletarian revolutionary aspirations and the bourgeois counter-revolutionary tendencies. Having realised these situational factors, Trotsky set out to extrapolate his theoretical understanding of the Russian Revolution to the countries of peripheral capitalism.

The most important historical-theoretical principle for a general theory of permanent revolution however was the law of uneven and combined development, which was fully elaborated in The History of the Russian Revolution (1930). The development of world history becomes qualitatively different once capitalism becomes a world-system. Looking at capitalism as a totality, one will realise that ‘although compelled to follow after the advanced countries, a backward country does not take things in the same order’; it tends to skip and leap over stages that the early capitalist countries went through. ‘The development of historically backward nations leads necessarily to a peculiar combination of different stages in the historic process’ (87). The very existence of unevenness, of advanced and backward countries (and the socio-economic linkages between them), creates a situation in which history progresses through sudden leaps and contradictory fusion.

From this universal law of unevenness derives another law – the law of combined development, a drawing together of the different stages of development. The appearance of modern industry alongside pre-capitalist or semi-capitalist rural conditions creates the objective possibility for the leading role of the proletariat at the head of the rebellious peasant masses. The unevenness of this development becomes the structural foundation for the combination of democratic and socialist tasks in a process of permanent revolution. The advanced capitalist countries solved certain common democratic tasks: abolition of autocracy, liquidation of feudal survivals in agrarian relations of production, establishment of parliamentary democracy based on universal suffrage, and national unification/liberation. Due to uneven development of capitalism, and the existence of imperialism, the democratic tasks of backward countries are similar but not the same. Yet they must be solved through a democratic revolution, or even a bourgeois-democratic revolution since these tasks are quite compatible with bourgeois society. This is not to say, however, that it will have to be led by the bourgeoisie, or that the revolution cannot transcend capitalism.

Uneven development means contradictory combinations of national and international, modern and traditional, ruling classes. Löwy gives the example of China, where at the bottom of the economy, the agrarian capitalists were ‘organically and unbreakably’ linked to feudalism, while at the top, capitalists were similarly linked to world finance. As such they could never have broken these links with landlords and imperialists because they were always more fearful of the proletariat. Hence, the national bourgeoisie could never fully accomplish its democratic tasks. The only condition on which Trotsky would have accepted any (short-term, for long-term alliances were out of the question) alliance with the bourgeoisie was to have no illusions that they would ‘lead a genuine struggle against imperialism and not obstruct the workers and peasants’ (Trotsky quoted on p.92).

In universalizing the theory of permanent revolution Trotsky stressed the role of the peasantry. They were important not only in the fight against feudal productive relations but, as the overwhelming majority in backward countries, they were central to the task of establishing democracy as well. Hence the proletariat had to ally with the peasants to complete the democratic phase of the revolution. Due to their heterogeneous and intermediate character the peasants could not play an independent political role, but had to choose between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The incapability of the former to solve the peasantry’s problems made it possible for the proletariat to acquire their support.

According to Löwy, Trotsky’s view of the peasantry contained ‘a very deep political truth’ but if understood in sociological terms, it was contradicted by the course of historical events in many dependent countries. There are instances when Trotsky commits the error of ‘sociologism’ in his understanding of the peasant (93-94). For example, he remained pessimistic about the revolutionary nature of the peasant movements in 1930 China. He also tried to deduce the political nature of the Red Army from its social nature. Since most of them were peasants, Trotsky did not think them to be true communists. Though at some moments he did perceive the anti-capitalist nature of peasant insurgency in China, in general Trotsky does seem to have believed that the peasantry could not acquire a communist consciousness before a proletarian revolution.

Löwy thinks this to be due to the classical Marxist attitude towards the peasantry as a ‘sack of potatoes’. He argues that Trotsky, like other western Marxists, generalised his assessment of European peasantry to the peasantry of dependent countries. Many of them possess very different structural features, such as ‘collectivist village traditions, massive uprootedness resulting from capitalist penetration, very high rates of demographic growth, proletarian or semi-proletarian status of rural laborers on the great plantations’ (96). Thus Trotsky was less perceptive of the specificity of the rural class structure of non-Western countries, and of the revolutionary capacity of their peasantry. Nevertheless, in one of his last works, he wrote:

‘The Narodniks saw in the workers and peasants simply “toilers” and the “exploited” who are equally interested in socialism. Marxists regarded the peasant as a petty bourgeois who is capable of becoming a socialist only to the extent to which he ceases materially and spiritually to be a peasant…It is, of course, possible to raise the question whether or not the classic Marxist view of the peasantry has been proven erroneous…Suffice it to state here that Marxism had never invested its estimate of the peasantry as a non-socialist class with as absolute and static character’ (Trotsky quoted on p.97).

* * *

In the beginning of the fourth chapter, ‘Conclusions’, Löwy presents us with many cases of revolutions strangled due to the stagist and ‘four class bloc’ strategy of the Comintern. The hold that the Comintern and Marxist orthodoxy had on the communist leadership of many such movements, it is contended, restricted them to the bourgeois-democratic phase, and a moderate attitude towards and alliance with the bourgeois class made them vulnerable to coups and attacks. In Spain (1931-1937), Guatamala (1952-4), Chile (1938-47 and 1973), and most starkly in Indonesia (1965) the blind faith in the intentions of their allies, the refusal to arm the proletariat, and the refusal to follow the revolutionary path to its logical conclusion, despite mass support, led to many a bloody defeat.

Furthermore, Löwy adds to his (and Trotsky’s) attack on stagism the fact that no non-European, dependent, peripheral capitalist nation has been able to find stable solutions to national-democratic tasks (see note-2; consider India for instance). Agreeing with Ernest Mandel, Löwy points out that no dependent country has actually become ‘ripe’ for a purely socialist revolution through its process of development like the advanced capitalist countries have; they still have not been able to accomplish the democratic tasks which the advanced countries had completed decades ago. Also, the process of ‘semi-industrialisation’ in the Third World seems to be making it more dependent on imperialism rather than more autonomous. However, Löwy warns against underestimating the ability of bourgeois- and petty bourgeois-led revolutions to accomplish important reforms and establish stable states. To take for granted the instability of these regimes would be to commit the error of political fatalism. Knowing the capabilities of such regimes, the revolutionary, Löwy hopes, would be more determined to prevent their stabilisation, and to struggle for an alternative future.

On the other hand, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution has been proven correct by the revolutions in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam and Cuba. While three of these were always under proletariat leadership, the Russian and Cuban revolutions started under bourgeois leadership but were soon taken over by the proletariat. All of them had a bourgeois-democratic moment but the democratic tasks in each of them were completed only in the socialist moment of the revolution. This edition of the book does not carry the details of these revolutions that would explain the process of the combined revolution. However, Löwy does discuss the Nicaraguan revolution of the 1960s.

Nicaragua saw a popular insurrection against dictatorship with mass peasant and worker participation. The leadership was largely petty bourgeois but through its struggle, it had developed an anti-imperialist and anti-autocratic programme. Due to the precedent set by the Cuban revolution, and direct support from Cuba, the Nicaraguan revolution developed along communist lines. According to Löwy, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSNL) took radical steps: it dissolved the old army and established its own army with soldiers from the guerilla army and the militia, it organised the masses into unions and other organisations, and it enforced its anti-capitalist policies. (Löwy had written this back in 1979. Since then the FSNL has weakened and it would be interesting to know how Löwy explains its trajectory now.)

Löwy, after establishing that Trotsky’s politics passes the test of history, moves on to his ‘sociology’ – his analysis of the roles of the social classes (and social categories). In discussing these – the national bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, intelligentsia, peasantry and the proletariat – Löwy clarifies some of the finer points Trotsky makes on the subject, and tries to make certain amendments in his perspective. It is here that Löwy’s (admittedly slight) departures from Trotsky, some of which we have already come across, become even more clear.

Löwy agrees with Trotsky about the usually moderate nature of the bourgeoisie. Most advanced democratic revolutions, it is asserted, were under petty bourgeois, not bourgeois, leadership. However, he does briefly note that Trotsky, at times, underestimated the indigenous bourgeoisie, especially in the case of India. With respect to the petty bourgeoisie, Löwy agrees with Trotsky that they must eventually choose between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. On the question of whether the petty bourgeoisie could play a significant role in the revolution, Löwy points out the leading role they played in many Third World countries, at times even going against capitalist interests. Though only for a limited time, petty bourgeois regimes, contrary to Trotsky’s belief, did manage to hold power and forge their own distinctive policies, which Löwy calls a sort of petty bourgeois Bonapartism.

Trotsky had, by and large, ignored the role of the petty bourgeois (and increasingly proletarianised) intelligentsia. Löwy believes the ideology of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia to be a sort of Jacobinism combining ‘plebian democracy and romantic moralism’, like in Rousseau. In peripheral countries, their radicalisation is stronger, compounded by imperialist penetrations, conciliatory position of the national bourgeoisie, and the success of socialist revolutions.

Adding to his disagreements with Trotsky on the question of the revolutionary potential of the peasantry in dependent country which have already been noted, Löwy goes on to highlight the greater uprootedness of the peasantry of the third world due to uneven development and imperialism, which leads to greater radicalisation. Most post-1917 revolutions had the peasants as their main social base. However, here he also complicates the term ‘peasantry’, which tends to conflate a broad and heterogeneous body. The rich or big peasants are usually neutral or hostile to communist revolutions. Borrowing from Hamza Alavi’s analysis of the Hunan struggle (and events in Russia, Cuba, Mexico, Vietnam and Algeria), Löwy argues that in the initial phase of the movement, the greater material security of the middle and small peasantry, allows them to attack the oppressors. Their complete dependence on their overlords holds back the poor peasant and the landless labourer until the struggle has already shaken the local authorities and the landlords. The presence of the Red Army in China, for instance, encouraged the poor and landless peasants to join the struggle. But once they joined, they proved more radical than the middle peasants. This external force that pushes the peasant to rebel and gain a socialist consciousness (even prior to a socialist revolution) still came from the urban intellectual and the proletarian communist vanguard. Without this the peasant struggle may have remained local and ineffective.

However, with increasing industrialisation in the dependent countries, Löwy expects the struggle to shift to the cities, with the working masses playing a more central role, like in the ‘classic’ October revolution. In 1917, the revolution was ‘directly’ proletariat, that is, the Bolshevik Party, was proletariat not only in ideology but also in social composition. In subsequent revolutions, the working class played a seminal part in the initial phases but was largely absent during the seizure of power. In China, Vietnam, Cuba and Yugoslavia, the peasantry was the main social support. To explain this absence, Löwy points to the heavy repression the working class encountered in the early phases of all these revolutions, and also the insistence of communist parties to ally with the bourgeois class. These revolutionary parties were indirectly proletarian, that is they were proletarian in their ideology.

* * *

The last chapter of the book is a 2010 interview of the author with Phil Gasper, which seeks to apply the logic of uneven and combined development and the theory of permanent revolution to the present context. Löwy points out that the capitalist system is still very much characterised by the centre and periphery distinction, and since this is so the theory of permanent revolution remains a topic of central importance. The essence of the theory, its dialectical approach to analysis and the uncompromising praxis that this entails, holds true even though the form of unevenness has changed. When Trotsky first formulated the theory in 1905, Russia had a modern urban industry and a backward rural area. Today we can find advanced and backward elements in both urban and rural regions, as well as among nations (what is figuratively called the North-South divide). This unevenness has given birth to many a movement for autonomy at all levels – local, regional and national. Though there are reactionary tendencies, there are also radical ones whose anti-imperialism has taken international proportions with several nations, in Latin America primarily, combining their efforts for autonomy.

Michael Löwy is quite optimistic about such developments, and also about the so-called global justice movement. Although acknowledging the definite liberal, moderate, and even Keynesian tendencies in the global justice movement, Löwy highlights the stated anti-capitalist goals of the World Social Forum. Although anti-capitalist does not necessarily mean socialist, let alone Marxist-socialist, Löwy enthusiastically claims that many of the participants do indeed hope to create socialism. For Löwy, the kind of international solidarity that is fostered by this movement is not one based on sympathy but more on convergences in the ‘common struggle against a common enemy, neoliberalism’.

The reason for his faith in the global justice movement and the WSF is that he sees it as a forum for combining anti-imperialist, agrarian, democratic and anti-capitalist struggles, none of which can succeed without the others by the logic of the law of uneven and combined development. Whether he is right in his expectations from the global justice movement or the WSF will need further study. However, even if they do not meet the potential that Löwy identifies in them, his general argument would still hold: ‘if movements for national liberation, or agrarian reform, or radical democratisation do not develop, in an “uninterrupted” process, into a socialist revolution, they will sooner or later be defeated’ (154). This is only a ‘conditional’ perspective. But with no Stalinism (read as: restrictions from within the workers’ party), the primary conditions that determine the trajectory of the international movement is the class structure of the participant local movements, an analysis of which is not offered in this book. Without class analysis, the arguments for the possibility that this ‘movement of movements’ could develop into something significant are somewhat hollow.

* * *

The entire length of the book, in delineating the features of Trotsky’s theory, argues for the possibility of permanent revolution in backward, dependent capitalist or non-capitalist nations. In this it primarily uses cases, like of Russia and China, which can no longer be called socialist or post-capitalist. But does the failure of permanent revolution here tell us that the theory is erroneous? It does not. The predictions or hypotheses derived from the theory are, true to its dialectical method, contingent on the political developments in the situation: whether the revolutionary ‘fervour’ can push its leadership (even despite themselves) into following the flow of the process towards an uninterrupted, combined revolution. That is, whether the leadership can see the logical development of a bourgeois-democratic revolution led by the proletarian vanguard into a socialist revolution. But for the various factors pressing on the Soviet leadership (the theoretical and practical Menshevism is the only factor Löwy discusses; there might be others given the spread of the same ideas among most of the Comintern leadership), Trotsky might have been proved right and we might have seen a socialist revolution radiating from Russia. It is characteristic of Trotsky’s dialectical approach to not impose determinist diktats on reality – the political trajectory of a revolution is always too complex and overdetermined for that.

This edition of the book is an abridged version of a much longer book originally published in 1981. What has been reproduced is Part One of the two-part book. Replacing the second part is the 2010 interview of the author that makes for a helpful supplement to the chapters that are republished, though perhaps not a substitute for the chapters that are not. Löwy explains in this interview that Part Two, which contained analyses of events in Russia, China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Cuba on the basis of the theory presented in Part One, has become ‘outdated’. Although there still is considerable, albeit scattered, historical analysis in this edition, one cannot help but feel deprived (due, in part, no doubt to references, which were not edited out, to the unpublished chapters that make promises of more in-depth study to come). When historical events are discussed they do sufficiently concretise some of Löwy’s assertions. However, a more detailed study would have demonstrated what is meant, for instance, by the ‘dialectics of totality’ within uneven and combined development and its significance for revolutionary praxis. To better explain how the interests of the peasants are bound to the proletarian revolution, or how the interests of the workers of one nation are bound to those of workers of all nations, and most importantly, how these can be successfully translated into revolutionary praxis, an analysis of the class structure of societies under transformation in the past would have been invaluable.

A great deal of what Löwy has to say on the subject seems to imply that the demise of the Russian and the international working class movement was the result largely of Stalin’s ideological distortions, or at least of the failure of the communist leadership to see what Trotsky and Lenin saw. Would the working class movement have remained strong if it were not for Stalin and the Comintern’s fallacious understanding of history and socialism? The international communist leadership in its entirety might have been convinced that socialism could thrive in one country, while other nations must necessarily embrace capitalism first. But were there really no other factors that worked for the detriment of the working class movement, along with the definite suffocating repercussions of the leadership’s conservatism? The only way to be sure and accurate is to do a detailed class analysis of the conditions in which the proletarian struggle weakened in Russia and other countries where Löwy holds the Comintern leadership directly responsible. One wonders whether the historical analyses in the original edition would have been helpful in this respect as well.

An updated historical analysis would go a long way in not only strengthening the theory of permanent revolution, but also in understanding recent class dynamics, and formulating new revolutionary strategies. For instance, what contingencies created the situations that led to China’s capitalist turn in the ’70s, or even to Cuba’s recent economic ‘reforms’? Would it be right to suggest, as Löwy does for Russia, that the still predominantly stagist and economistic credo of the communist parties is the primary cause?

For us here in India, lessons from Trotsky take on significance in view of the hesitations, on various grounds, of the various communist parties to organise on the basis of proletarian hegemony. Some seem to believe that there is a need to stay with the bourgeoisie until capitalism exhausts itself, while others are still fighting semi-feudalism alongside the rich peasantry, both of them alienating the proletariat in the process. Much of what Löwy says about the inability of the bourgeoisie to fulfill the three national democratic tasks (see note-2) fits the Indian situation like a glove. There is social unrest and mass movements resulting from the failure of the capitalist economy and state on each of these counts. Löwy is also right about the ability of the bourgeoisie to create a more or less stable state despite these failures, if the revolutionary forces do not develop within these locations of unrest and push them towards an alternative.

This book is not only a very helpful introduction to Trotsky’s work but also an important step towards contemporizing the theory of permanent revolution. Löwy limits himself to applying Trotsky to international social (not necessarily socialist) movements. It is obvious that much is still needed. Löwy does not omit the moments of real or apparent contradictions in Trotsky’s work. Attempts to explain these contradictions are convincing on most occasions if not all (perhaps someone more familiar with Trotsky’s texts and his time would be a better judge). But the reader will undoubtedly realise that Löwy’s loyalties, like Trotsky’s, lie with explicating the possibilities of permanent revolution rather than with particular persons or texts.


Notes:

(1) Capitalism, as an ever-expanding social totality, is constitutively contradictory and is thus, in essence, uneven. Such unevenness renders the deficit of democracy (a la primitive accumulation) as much a constitutive part of capitalism as the democracy of competition (a la normal accumulation through market-based economic means and mechanisms). The failure of most Indian communists to grasp this essence of capital is the key reason for their inability to realise that struggles against all forms and kinds of democratic deficit cannot any longer be struggles against feudalism and for the ushering in of capitalism. Instead, such struggles for democratisation must be re-envisaged as movements to unravel capitalism, as a total network of democratic and undemocratic space-times, to go beyond it towards socialism.

(2) A national-democratic revolution according to Trotsky comprises of the following tasks:

  1. The agrarian democratic revolution: the bold and definitive abolition of residues of slavery, feudalism and ‘Asiatic Despotism’; the liquidation of all pre-capitalist forms of exploitation (corvee, forced labour, etc.); and the expropriation of the great landowners and the distribution of the land to the peasantry.
  2. National liberation: the unification of the nation and its emancipation from imperialist domination, the creation of a unified national market, and its protection from cheaper foreign goods; the control of certain strategic national resources.
  3. Democracy: for Trotsky this included not only the establishment of democratic freedoms, a democratic republic and the end of military rule, but also the creation of the social and cultural conditions for popular participation in political life by the reduction of the working day to eight hours and through universal public education.” (89)