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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For details, contact

A Review of Henry Bernstein’s “Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change”

Bhumika Chauhan

Henry Bernstein, Class Dynamics of Agrarian Change, Fernwood Press & Kumarian Press, 2010

This book, written by Henry Bernstein, is the first in the Agrarian Change and Peasant Studies series published by ‘Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies’ (based at the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands). Considering the size of the task it takes on in barely 125 pages – of providing an introduction to, an overview of, and a perspective on agrarian formations and transformations under capitalism – it would not have been possible, perhaps, for anybody else but Henry Bernstein to undertake it. His intimate and longstanding involvement in setting the agenda for the debates on the agrarian question allows him to paint the “big picture” of agrarian change in capitalism through generalisation and periodisation, yet remaining extremely sensitive to the specificities of its realisation in diverse spatial-temporal locations.

Marx derived the logic of capital and capitalist transformation by studying the industrial capitalism of northwest Europe – his account of agrarian change was also delimited by this concern. This leaves much space to be filled, as is one of Bernstein’s aims in this book, with an understanding of capitalism and agriculture before and since modern industrialisation. This is furthermore required in order to grasp the richness of Marx’s critique of political economy, and for its internal nurturing by exposing its conceptual and analytical tools to diverse empirical realities. As Bernstein himself states, the initial concerns of the book are “how capitalism developed in primarily agrarian societies before industrialization”, and “how agrarian change has been shaped by industrial capitalism once it was established and spread” (p.9). Of course, many have already made significant contributions in this direction. The importance of this slim volume lies in its attempt to consolidate them into a fairly coherent account of the complexity of agrarian change.

In attempts at understanding the development of capitalism, Bernstein distinguishes between two dominant approaches. The first focuses on understanding diverse national paths to agrarian capitalism. The classic case in this regard is of course the English path which Marx analysed – the crisis of feudalism in the 14th and 15th centuries leading to a change in class structure and the rise of the capitalist tenant farmer. In Prussia the feudal lords themselves became capitalist commodity producers and converted the peasants into wage labourers. In America, engagement in commodity relations led to the emergence of capitalist farming out of the independent small holding farmer, while in Japan and South Korea, the transition was a result of primitive accumulation for industrialisation through taxation of peasantry, without the development of agrarian capitalism (pp. 27-32).

The second perspective traces the “long march of commercial capitalism” since the 12th century towards agrarian capitalism. Bernstein finds elements of this perspective in the works of Giovanni Arrighi, Jairus Banaji and Jason Moore. They argue that if one were to look at international patterns of trade and finance it would be clear that capitalism was world-historic since its birth. In this line of thought, the English transition to agrarian capitalism occurred in the larger context of Dutch hegemony over world-capitalism, while England became hegemonic only after pioneering the Industrial Revolution. Rather disappointingly, this assertion which is apparently central to the theorisation of the development of capitalism is not sufficiently explained or substantiated.

However, despite lacking sufficient elaboration as far as the larger picture of the ‘long march’ is concerned, Bernstein’s exposition of the dynamics of labour and capital within commercial capitalism is nuanced and complex. The key classes in commercial capitalism, he writes, included aristocratic and colonial landlords who organised specialised commodity production, merchants who advanced credit and material to handicraftsmen and other producers of manufactured goods, capitalists in extractive sectors of mining and forestry, and financiers who funded this development. All of them were true capitalists according to Bernstein: they exploited labour for profit, invested to expand production, even through increased productivity, funded new sites for commodity production, and developed new markets for those commodities (p.33). Bernstein lays great stress on the fact that even before the emergence of industrial capital, and outside of the agrarian capital that developed in England, commercial capital in agriculture was already capitalist.

Commercial capitalism also utilised more flexible forms of labour than the ones Marx observed to be predominant in industrial capitalism. Bernstein endorses Banaji’s argument that capital is capable of exploiting labour in a variety of social arrangements and in varied historical circumstances, like in the form of slavery in specialised commodity production in plantations. The labourer may not be entirely dispossessed but loses the ability to reproduce himself outside commodity production. Here, Bernstein uses Robert Brenner’s concept of commodification of subsistence, which is shown to be central to the early trajectory of capitalism, along with the persistence of small farms, especially in the South.

Bernstein goes on to discuss the incorporation of the remaining world peasantry into the capitalist world through colonialism. The colonial state brought new agrarian production structures into the colonies: slave plantations in southern North America, haciendas in Latin America, zamindari and ryotwari in India, trade economies, labour reserves and concessionary companies in Africa. These did not only serve the budgets of the administration and the colonial state, but also led to “forced commercialization”. The peasants of the colonies were now the producers of cash crops for export, food crops for the domestic market as well as for export, and of labour power (workers, who also migrated from farms to plantations, railways construction etc.). The specialised industrial plantations of the nineteenth century experienced the classic type of capitalist commodity production although the majority of agricultural production in colonies witnessed petty commodity production. Undoubtedly, commodity production and commodification of subsistence had set in colonial peasantry in various forms and at various levels.

In this exploration of the relation between capitalism and colonialism, we encounter many debates surrounding colonialism, especially ones that centre on this question, and the connected one of how colonialism contributed to an incomplete capitalist transition in colonies. These discussions invariably keep coming to the issue of capitalist and pre-capitalist organisation of labour. Not all of the varied forms of labour regimes that colonialism instituted in the colonies – forced, semi-proletarian, family labour/petty commodity production and proletarianisation (p.54) – fit the classical model of capitalist production. Most of them were hybrids of ‘forced/unfree’ and ‘free’ wage labour. Those who understand the English path of transition to capitalism as the paradigm for this transition, think of all forms of labour except the ‘fully free’ one, to be ‘pre-capitalist’. Bernstein affirms Banaji’s contention that ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labours are fluid and ambiguous in social reality, and like others who argue for the “long history of commercial capitalism”, identifies social relations characterising all regimes of labour, established in the South by European colonialism, as capitalist.

Bernstein’s account of agrarian change since the 1870s highlights the role played by upstream and downstream activities in agriculture; it is through such activities that capitalism has penetrated to the most independent of farms. Upstream activities concern the conditions of production such as the supply of inputs and instruments of labour. Downstream activities include marketing, distribution and processing of farm produce. The book shows how with industrialisation, these activities have risen to such great importance that even so-called self-sufficient farmers have come to depend on powerful agents like agri-input and agri-food capital. This dependence has made them ever more dependent on money income for the purchase of means of subsistence: what we have called commodification of subsistence.

With the rise of neoliberal globalisation in agriculture there is a further deepening of commodification. With substantial withdrawal of the State from agriculture (more in the South than the North), transnational agribusinesses have become major agents in organising and regulating conditions of production and consumption within the global food economy (p.81). Along with the commodification of subsistence, Bernstein notes, there has been a new wave of depeasantisation. Much like in other domains, neoliberalism in agriculture is propped upon “accumulation by dispossession,” or to put it in a more orthodox manner, primitive accumulation, which entails the divorcing of the farmer from the means to farm.

That capitalism is still dispossessing the peasantry forces us to take note of an interesting fact: that the dispossession of the peasantry has been a very slow process, that capitalism has for a very long time, allowed a large portion of the population some means of production (in this case, land). This persistence of peasants or the continuing survival of non-capitalist farms is of particular interest to Bernstein as are those movements that strive for their preservation and restoration, movements that neoliberalism has re-invigorated. The issue of the persistence of peasantry, significant for epistemological-methodological as well as political reasons, comes up frequently in the book but receives a detailed treatment in the last three chapters that deal directly with class dynamics in agriculture. It is a methodological issue insofar as the simplistic way of understanding small farmers that grasps class as a sociologically fixed category and makes use of crude binaries, prevalent in even Marxist circles, is undialectical, and is often guilty of shying away from engaging with concrete facts; it is political because only an accurate analysis of class dynamics makes visible the struggle that lies inside the apparently homogenous class of peasants.

Bernstein presents three sets of explanations for the slow pace of depeasantisation. One, peasants themselves have, in various ways and to varying degrees, resisted commodification, dispossession and proletarianisation. But Bernstein finds this explanation to be inadequate because it does not take into account the interests and power of capital; he points out that often indigenous peasants, of their own initiative, turn to commodity production, and eventually capitalist farming (p.97). Peasant response to commodification has not been one of simple acceptance or rejection. It is marked by a complicated process of negotiation. The second set of explanations is that farming consists of certain technical and social aspects that obstruct capitalist investment. Because of this, capital is more comfortable letting the farmer take all risks and burdens involved, preferring upstream to downstream businesses. This second explanation is closely related to the third.

The third set of explanations for peasants’ persistence is that they work to the benefit of capital. Bernstein argues that family farms are not merely to be seen as competing with or independent of capitalist corporations. Many of them are dependent on upstream or downstream corporations and banks via contracts or other arrangements. Following Kautsky, he explains that the peasantry persists, or rather, is allowed to exist by capital, only so long as it helps lower the cost of labour-power (p.94). That is to say, family-worked farms could produce cheaper food commodities and lower the cost of labour power, and hence wage. Furthermore, peasants and small farmers who sell a portion of their labour-power can make do with low wages, because a part of their reproduction is provided for by their farms.

In all such explanations, there is some notion that small farmers are exploited by capital. According to Bernstein there are several notions of exploitation by capital as far as family labour is concerned: “as labour force working with other people’s means of production or as self-exploiting in ways that represent indirect exploitation by capital or at least in ways that benefit capital” (p.101). For some, the agrarian populists particularly, the small-scale farm is to be treated as one class in relation to capital which exploits it. Such notions are further fuelled by the recent spree of peasant dispossession. However, Bernstein argues that the small-scale, family farms are themselves differentiating into classes with the increasing penetration of capital, and not all of them are at the losing end.

To explain this assertion, Bernstein explores the class dynamics of family farming. This requires us to first understand the process of commodification in family farming. He asserts that the tendency of capital towards generalised commodity production does not imply that “all elements of social existence are necessarily and comprehensively commodified. Rather it signifies the commodification of subsistence: that reproduction cannot take place outside commodity relations and the discipline they impose” (p.102; emphasis original). And as has been demonstrated already, commodification of subsistence is characteristic of small farmers. Small farmers are also (before further differentiation) petty commodity producers, and petty commodity production in capitalism combines the class “places” of capital, in the form of land, tools, seeds, fertilizers etc., and labour, in the form of families/households. There is then, in petty commodity production, a contradiction between these two class places, that is between the reproduction of capital and the reproduction of labour; money, on the one hand, has to be allocated for rent and replacement of other means of production, and on the other, for consumption.

This contradiction, Bernstein asserts, is the source of differentiation among small, ‘non-capitalist’ farmers. Rich peasants or emergent capitalist farmers expand themselves as capital and tend to employ wage labour. Those struggling to reproduce themselves as capital as well as labour are the poor farmers. The contradiction of the two class places in petty commodity production is most apparent in the poor farmers when they try to push down the scale of consumption of the family, the labour, in order to keep ownership of land, the capital. The middle farmers are those who can reproduce themselves as capital on the same scale of production, and as labour on the same scale of consumption. These relatively stable petty commodity producers are at the heart of agrarian populism and its notion of self-sufficient farmers. They are of special interest to Bernstein since even these seemingly self-sufficient farmers usually exploit wage labour.

After explaining the class position of small farmers, Bernstein goes on to explain how these farmers are integrated into capitalism even outside the farm. The emergent capitalist farmer invests in upstream and downstream businesses like crop trading and processing, rural retail trade, transport, advancing credit etc. Poor farmers, it has been seen, cannot survive without selling their labour power wherever possible. Even medium farmers engage in off-farm activities including labour migration. Such off-farm activity is necessary for many medium-farmer households if they are to avoid proletarianisation. The facts are that there are no self-sufficient family farms that neither hire nor sell wage labour, and that all three classes of farmers are engaged in the wider capitalist market. And these facts clearly go against the assertions of those who claim that (1) there are ‘non-capitalist’, self-sufficient ‘small family farm’, and (2) they need to be guarded against capitalist penetration. Bernstein effectively demonstrates that there is no self-sufficiency in family farms, and capital has already penetrated to the roots.

So, if one places the agricultural sector, as one should, within the larger context in which it is truly situated, that is, if one takes into account the determinations beyond farming and agriculture, then the diversity of class formations in the countryside of the global South (the very many in-betweens we encounter: semi-proletarians etc.) begins to become comprehensible. As such, Bernstein speaks of classes of labour: “[t]he social locations and identities the working poor inhabit, combine and move between make for ever more fluid boundaries and defy inherited assumptions of fixed and uniform notions of ‘worker,’ ‘famers,’ ‘petty trader,’ ‘urban,’ ‘rural,’ ’employed,’ and ‘self-employed'” (p.111). He also distinguishes between different “classes of capital” on the basis of different “interests and strategies of capital in particular activities and sectors like industry, finance or agriculture and on scales from local to regional, national and international” (p.112). By this logic, the corporate agribusinesses and the “rich peasants” are different, yet part of the same capitalist class.

In the final chapter, Bernstein arrives at the political aspects of class struggle. Class exploitation, he writes, is not experienced in any pure form, but is mediated through specific identities like “urban/rural dwellers, industrial workers/agricultural labourers, urban craftsmen and women peasants, men/women, mental/manual labour, young/old, black/white, regional, national and ethnic differences and so on” (Gibbon and Neocosmos 1985 cited on p.117). Differentiating between “struggle over class” and “struggle between classes” (p.117), Bernstein concludes that the former is a condition of the latter, that is, the struggles over class of the working poor are inflected and restricted by social divisions such as religion, caste, colour and gender. The struggle between classes can only be successful subsequent to the working class resolving the social divisions within. He asks us to appreciate the complexity of the experience of the circumstance of oppression.

Bernstein’s thrust in the book is on uncovering the class reality of the small-farmers, refuting positions that assert that a homogenous class of independent farmers exists, and exposing farmers’ movements that claim to represent all farmers but actually serve the interest of the rich peasants. While these are very relevant theoretical and political issues that need to be addressed, a greater attention could have been given to the task of providing a more thorough perspective on agriculture in general and its overall class structure. The book also lacks adequate empirical support for assertions regarding the contribution of off-farm activities to the household income of family-farmers. Furthermore, despite being so concerned with the South, there is not much said on the various positions articulated within the mode of production debate on Indian agriculture (excepting Banaji’s); another oversight for a book aiming to make new students of agrarian relations familiar with important works and debates. Additionally, a small issue with the style of the book is that its simplicity at times ends up giving a very simplistic sense of very complex processes and experiences to the unfamiliar reader.

However, for the not so unfamiliar reader, and for the activist, for people, that is, who are aware of the numerous compounded issues that the agrarian working class, and the working class in general, faces, Bernstein’s book provides a ‘big picture’. Instead of focusing on one or a few problems of the agrarian population, like so many works on agrarian change have already done, Bernstein attempts to create a broader perspective about capitalist transformation in agriculture.

Politically, the book makes several significant contributions, not perhaps in saying something very new, but certainly in reiterating some very important things. In focusing on the fact that capital may exploit labour in many ways, including, without completely divorcing it from the means of production, the book tells us, like a few have tried to in the past as well, that the working-class may be found in many locations. Bernstein understands class as a process, intersecting with other determinations like gender, age, caste, ethnicity etc. In recognising the fluid nature of identities in this world of complex experiences, denying the exclusivity of class and yet insisting on its universality, such an analysis can only bolster our understanding of working-class unity, and ways of its construction.

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.


(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”,

(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.

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’


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.


(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.


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.

Rethinking the Popular: Investigating the Who/What/Why of the Anti-Corruption Campaigns

Subhashini Shriya

We recently saw the middle class rise up to the occasion to bring about, what in a flourish was termed, a “Revolution” against corruption. While the emotions and the anger that informed the launch of such an offensive against the regime can hardly be denied or dismissed, the “revolutionary” potential of the movements led by Ramdev and Hazare were grossly suspect and revealed a tendency to preserve rather than change the status quo. Is there another way to address the chagrin the middle classes feel against the dysfunctional state of the system, something they encounter and experience in the rising pressures on their everyday life as examples of corruption? Are instances of corruption aberrations in the functioning of the state or are they, instead, central to its very logic of monopolising the control over common resources in the process of mediating their appropriation by the forces of capital? Can corruption be eliminated without ridding politics of the concept of a nation-state and the capital it serves? And what would the logical orientation of a movement that seeks to address the issue of corruption as a problem integral and intrinsic to a capitalist organisation of the social and the economic be?

The centrality of the malaise of corruption in the self-image of the country has had a long history. Through the all-pervasive bureaucratic regime of the licence-permit raj to the increasingly privatised neoliberal economy that has emerged over the past two decades, corruption has been most readily identified as the primary cause of the failure of the state to deliver on promises of social welfare: the decrepit infrastructure in most parts of the country, the inefficiency of the state, the unyielding and indifferent attitude of the bureaucracy towards the people and much else. Seen as the misuse of public office for private profit, the issue has sounded the death knell of powerful regimes such as that of the Congress in 1989, post Rajiv Gandhi’s alleged involvement in the Bofors scam. That, however, has always been just as far as the discontent of the masses would drive their agenda of much dearly felt need for ‘change’. The mass disillusionment with the functioning of the state repeatedly gets articulated in the form of disenchantment with the functioning of this or that government, mostly resolving into some patching up in the superstructure of the existing regime of accumulation so that the regime is increasingly insulated from the impact of the political. As a result, this politics of mass disillusionment and disenchantment remains pigeonholed within the electoral democratic process; what with capital and the institutionalised embodiment of its logic in the state reconfigure themselves to accommodate the limited demands of such movements and/or destroy the movements by sheer brute force. The anger frustrated, finally fades away till the time another major expose is fed to the people by the mass media and the Opposition takes its place firmly by the side of the people, ready to take its turn on the other end of the equation between the ever-thwarted masses and the ever-triumphant state.

A quick look at the recent scams to have rocked the country, be it the one over allocation of 2G spectrum to telecom companies or that involving Reliance India Ltd. and the petroleum and natural gas ministry over the extraction of natural gas in the Krishna Godavari basin, makes it amply clear that the core of the debate here is not the small amounts that an average middle-class citizen of the country forgoes at every interface with the government in the form of bribes, but the misappropriation of huge sums of money and transactions between members of the state and multinational corporations and big businesses capturing the resource base of the country by means that appear to be outside the pale of the law. What becomes the benchmark of acceptability within such a perception of corruption is a law which, even on its own terms, is designed for facilitating access of big international capital to the natural resources of the country (in the form of laws such as the Land Acquisition Act 1894) and a state fully integrated in an international economy geared towards private profit-making and ever-intensifying accumulation of capital.

What gets obscured in such an understanding of the phenomenon is that the rule of law, which most anti-corruption impulses and movements pose and derive their legitimacy from, is as much intrinsic to the system of capital accumulation as the absence of the law is indispensable to it. Capital as a historically specific social system is programmed to maintain and reproduce itself through its constant expansion and intensification, thanks to the structure of its power being political-economic. That is the heart of the reason why capital is always on the lookout for fresh terrains of investment and profit-making that is constitutive of an ever-heightening process of commodification of resources. It is this process of perpetual commodification that has through history, starting as far back as the movement to enclose the agrarian/pastoral commons in 13th century England, given unto us the capitalist system or dynamic that is inherently driven to constantly militate against its own boundaries, articulated in the form of laws to regulate the twin-processes of production and reproduction, to maintain itself through its expansion and intensification. Clearly, the law and its exception constitute, in their mutual complementarity, capital and its historically specific process of accumulation. In fact, every violation of or exception to a law is almost always the founding gesture of a new law. That is the self-cannibalising essence of capitalism called creative destruction through which it beats its multiple crises in the specificity of its respective historical moments to recreate and reinforce itself. In that sense, the illegal exception to the law is not outside or beyond its ambit but is its constitutive, founding essence. This is the specific (bourgeois) historicity of the rule law with regard to the other historicities of political rule.

What is then ‘beyond’ the ambit of this law also comes to pose itself as beyond the scope of so-called capitalist accumulation through market-based competition and becomes one of the many kinds of primitive accumulation that we witness today. The state machinery being the custodian of all resources within the geographical/political boundary of the country becomes the inevitable mediating agent for capital in making this leap from the ambit of the legal to that beyond. The use of influence, both monetary and political, that big capital exercises over governments and the repressive state apparatuses under their control to acquire land and other associated common resources – thereby appropriating the means and conditions of production – for them at prices way below that of the market renders evident the limitations of formulating the question of corruption within the discourse of neo-liberal legality, a critique of corruption therefore revealing the potential to mount an effective critique of such a legal system and the state that embodies and enforces it. Such an addressing of the issue of corruption would necessarily compel movements directed against that problem to drastically alter their social orientation and appearance. That would mean those movements end their current isolation from struggles centred on questions that pose a far more direct challenge to the capitalist organisation of social life, and integrate with them. The hostility that current anti-corruption movements exhibit towards movements that are working class in character, at any rate objectively, prove that radical transformation of the system is the last thing on their agenda. That, among other things, reveals the class character of those anti-corruption movements. It is only if the politics of anti-corruption is reconfigured in those terms can the debate around corruption develop any truly revolutionary potential.


With the present condition of the revolutionary working class movement being one of retreat, such a formulation on the phenomenon of corruption is conspicuous primarily in its absence. In its place, proliferate a spectrum of responses directed by various petty bourgeois impulses characterised by an internal differentiation reflective of the variegated and oscillating nature of the petty bourgeois class position. This internal differentiation in tendencies can be identified in terms of their different degrees of affinity and antagonism towards big capital that dominates the state machinery, apparently subverting it by corrupt means.

The first can be seen as the urban middle-class, white-collar, salaried worker mobilised mostly under the leadership of Hazare. This section of the middle class remains more or less attached to big capital as its managerial and clerical cadre and sees itself as having access to enough mobility within the system to remain invested in its interests. The discursive, qualitative nature of resources that comprise the cultural capital of this section are, by dint of its urban location, common to that of the global big bourgeoisie. This allows it to find a greater resonance with the globalised, ‘westernised’ cultural idiom that is increasingly coming to dominate society. Consequently, the emphasis here remains limited to the efficiency of the state system with an eye on even the most minor of corruption practices and an elaborate law proposed as a concrete solution to the problem. The movement allows for every possibility for the state to effectively address its concerns and co-opt, more precisely subsume, it within its existing logic without much danger to the status quo.

The second is the small-town mercantile sections of the petty bourgeoisie, particularly from western Uttar Pradesh, whipped up by Ramdev. This section of the suburban petty-bourgeoisie can be understood in terms of its location outside organised corporate capital and its concomitant political marginalisation by the forces of big capital at both the central and the state level. It, however, experiences its antagonism with big capital primarily through phenomena like the constantly increasing cost of living, the centralisation and corporatisation of their occupational spheres like certain services and retail, increasing unemployment even among the educated, and other such forms of social domination that are far more indirect than those experienced by wage workers occupying lower rungs of the social ladder.  Also, having seen days of greater political and economic influence (at least at the local level) there exists among those sections an aspiration to integrate themselves with the dominant sections of the capitalist mainstream, albeit with much lower chances of actually making it than the urban professional.

The split elaborated above within a constituency that appears to have forged a broad consensus and unity on the issue of corruption is reflective of a deeper contradiction within the petty bourgeois class situation itself. The expansion of capital constantly polarises society, further splitting every terrain it enters into a section that experiences an upward mobility of sorts within the system and another which is pushed further towards proletarianisation. The petty bourgeoisie, which provides the basis for movements like that of Hazare and Ramdev, is perched precariously close to the edge of the precipice, forever vulnerable to that arbitrary sleight of hand with which capital might push it into what it itself recognises as the ‘working classes’, or the class subordinate to them. This leaves them suspended in a realm of constant competition, where every instance of consolidation of their class position and privilege gives way to another moment of threat and instability due to the constant reconfiguration and expansion of capital. At the same time such a class position is ideologically characterised by a strong aversion towards identifying with the working classes or a working-class position, not allowing the petty bourgeoisie the luxury to pose a problem without any regard for the preservation of their own position in society like the working class can. The challenge they pose to the system, therefore, always remains circumscribed by the logic of the system itself, understood only in terms of their immediate questions and demands thereof. Such petty-bourgeois movements thus always limit themselves to merely seek change of regime and not a political-economic reorganisation of society itself. Consequently, the change that such movements bring about reinforces the totality of the capitalist structure of social relations instead of demolishing it.

The difference between the socio-economic constituencies of the two leaders was not only evident in the particular kind of rhetoric employed by each one of them but also in the posing of their primary demands. Far from a detailed legislative road map to end corruption, the followers of the Baba rallied behind the much broader and ambiguous demand of “bringing back to the nation the Rs 400 trillion black money which is a national wealth”. On the other hand, much more clearly articulated have been demands pertaining to the redressal of the condition of peasants labouring under the burden of sterile and input-intensive genetically modified crops, breaking the hierarchy between English and vernacular education, propagation and encouraging of indigenous knowledge etc. On the whole, what these demands reflect is the aspiration of a section of the petty bourgeoisie, which despite having access to limited resources (such as medium-sized plots of agricultural land and higher education among others) is finding itself increasingly at a comparative disadvantage vis-a-vis another section of the petty bourgeoisie – the urban middle class of salaried workers – with an awareness, albeit inarticulate, of the losing battle it has been forced into fighting with those above it, those below and even itself.

What is needed in such circumstances is an open challenge to the capital-effected segmentation of the working class, which would indeed be a challenge to capital itself. This logic of segmentation is, however, internalised in the very processes through which different sections, including the various sections of the working class, inhabiting the capitalist social order reproduce themselves. The competitive capitalist logic of segmentation and division of the working class is integral to their modes of socialisation, education, cultural training and ambition. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the petty-bourgeois class position lies not only outside the working class but is pretty much integral to its social being as well. The self-perception of the petty-bourgeois sections within the larger working masses is grounded in their objectively identifiable social, economic and thus cultural superiority vis-à-vis the more proletarianised sections of the working masses. And this subjectivity identifies as the working class only those social strata that are subordinate to the stratum that comprises the petty-bourgeois position within the working class and which shapes the subjectivity in question. The consciousness that emanates from such petty-bourgeois subjectivity of the working class fuels the political ambition of those petty-bourgeois sections to obtain to class positions above them. Such a deadlock calls for the presence of subjective forces strong enough to expose the routine and bring this section of society, already subsumed by capital and made a part of the internally-segmented working class, to the realisation of the inevitability of such competition and vulnerability and the impossibility of consolidating their current position within capitalism. One cannot therefore overemphasise the fact that the fight against corruption has to be posed as mediating the larger fight against capitalism and the bourgeois nation-state and not reinforcing these categories as is being done by the current anti-corruption movements.

Alternately, the absence of opposition to the logic of capital in its entirety might drive such mass-populist upsurges to attempt resolving the question of segmentation through constantly displacing their anger towards the system on to a culturally constructed “other” reinforcing the national chauvinism and strong moral self-righteousness that already functions as its primary ideological vehicle. At cross purposes with the basic impulse informing its emergence, such othering only allows capital further options to transfer its crisis from one section of the same class to another, perpetuating its domination.

Indeed, the insecurity stemming from the tension between possible assimilation and imminent rejection by big capital is reflected in the particular brand of culture that different sections of the petty bourgeoisie deploy to construct the concept of national identity commensurate with the specificity of their respective cultural identities that, in turn, are contingent on the specificity of their respective socio-economic locations. Such petty-bourgeois cultural constructions, irrespective of the discursive differences due to their respective socio-economic contingencies, share the same contradictory orientation and the concomitant sense of moral superiority and cultural victimisation with regard to the globalised cultural idiom that is without doubt the ideology of big capital. At the foundation of the strong strain of cultural nationalism characteristic of Ramdev’s Bharat Swabhiman Manch lies an essentialised “Indian” identity steeped in Hindu symbolism and constructed as much in opposition to a global/’western’ cultural idiom as that of cultural minorities within the country. Such a conceptualisation of culture as identity denies one of its most significant roles — that of mediating a group’s experience of social reality in tandem with its position within the differentially inclusive capitalist organisation of production and reproduction. It only reinforces the fissures within the already stratified working class, undermining any possibility for various groups with interests antagonistic to those of capital to come together on a solidaristic, as opposed to a merely pragmatic aggregative, basis. That, needless to say, preserves and even aggravates the competition within the working class. Strong nationalist sentiments conveniently engulf both sections of the petty bourgeoisie – the Ramdev-led suburban mercantile classes and the Hazare-led urban middle classes – currently in political play offering one the hope of getting protection from the competition with big capital from a “neutral” democratic state and the other to extend the logic of competition to global proportions vying with other states for political and economic influence. The heady mix of God, godmen and parliamentary democracy is, therefore, far from allowing a critical demolition of the very logic of capitalism. If anything, it merely serves as a palliative, helping to internalise and rationalise the alienation engendered by it. This makes it increasingly easy for the movement to develop a fascistic tendency, not to suggest that such a tendency will necessarily get realised in a fascist regime.

Bourgeois morality remains of little practical significance for both the big bourgeoisie, too unscrupulously engaged in the pursuit of profit to bother with any fidelity to morals that might act as a barrier to accumulation; and the working class, which despite being ideologically hegemonised by such morality witnesses its hollowness and hypocrisy in their daily struggle with capital in the factories and on the streets. The only people for whom this remains a real concern are precisely our middle classes and the petty bourgeois, whose entire relationship with the larger capitalist system is ideologically justified by such moral categories as honesty, discipline, commitment to hard work. Such moral virtues are, however, far from being absolute and transform themselves in keeping with the economic (in the broad sense of the dominant mode of production and reproduction of life) impulses dominant at a time. In premising their entire ideological edifice on a morality so essentially changeable in nature, such movements attempt to also ossify and reify morality, transforming what are essentially political phenomena into political categories. This renders moral functions such as honesty, efficiency etc opaque, corruption as a transcendental sin, with no historicity or material/ political-economic basis, foreclosing the possibility of seeing the political economic processes that go into their construction, which ultimately is also the only key to their deconstruction and destruction. Moreover, the law becomes the guarantor and protector of such morality and becomes as absolute and transcendental as these values appear to be, only being further reinforced by such movements rather than being effectively challenged.

The recent widespread mobilisation against corruption that one witnessed remains in the very way it has articulated itself a limited and definitely non-revolutionary project. The impulses that guide it can, under the leadership of the working class, move towards an actual resolution by following the logic of what constitutes corruption and addressing those rather than shadow-boxing with corruption at the level of its isolated appearance. Given that the working class is not and cannot be seen as external to the current mobilisation and also the increasing segmentation within the petty bourgeoisie itself, the possibility of such a transformation of the movement remains the function of the strength of existing subjective forces to guide the blow to the heart of the matter.

Needless to say, envisioning a fight against corruption led by the working class would entail locating it in the broader continuum of class struggle, amidst a whole set of other agitations to expose and counter capital in all its operations. A struggle against corruption in itself can, therefore, never suffice as a revolutionary campaign without being closely linked to movements against unemployment, price rise, work hours and wages etc. A primary question that such a revolutionary reconceptualisation of the problem would have to deal with is that of form. This is to say that such a movement would have to clearly distinguish itself from mass movements led by petty bourgeois tendencies constitutive of the current campaigns mounted by Ramdev and Hazare. Such distinction would arise primarily from the mobilisation of a different constituency: the proletarianised sections of the working class who have nothing to lose in seeking to decimate capitalism. The agitational methods of such a movement would differ radically from the current campaigns restricted to symbolic hunger strikes and civil society-speak and could take a variety of militant forms such as the gherao of public offices charged with corruption, active mass mobilisations against reduction of rents and prices in working-class neighbourhoods and for better access to social wages such as health, sanitation and so on and disobeying all laws and policies that enable the exploitation and domination of the working masses by legitimising continuous expropriation of their means and conditions of production, including the reconfiguration of social space and time and so on. Most importantly, such a movement can arise only in conjunction with a spontaneous upheaval of the working class. Spontaneity here suggests a high degree of class consciousness in the working class where it is able to invest the movement with an organic creativity and is not led by the top, it would only then be able to make the journey from being a  mass-populist movement it currently is (and which very much functions within the bounds of hegemony, actually strengthening it) to being a popular movement (which reflects the counter-hegemonic will of the working class that poses the social not as a stabilised juridical system of segmentation but as one of continuous “real movement”).

This, however, is not to dismiss or belittle the importance of a vanguardist force to organise that spontaneity and channel it to revolutionary ends, the development of class consciousness itself being dialectically bound with the strength of subjective forces. Last but not least, the possibility of such a movement can only be envisioned where the working class has already been extensively organised and mobilised by the revolutionary forces. This condition in itself makes necessary the raising of issues closer to the everyday lives of the working class for whom the oppression of inhuman hours of work and crazy work load is much more crucial than issues of corruption and for whom such issues would have to be the primary basis for organising. Having developed its own subjective strength as a class, the working class led by a revolutionary organisation/party can address concerns such as corruption as part of an offensive against capital and the state instead of playing on the defensive and being forced to join a bandwagon led by essentially compromised forces functioning within the limited logic that capital allows it access to. The alliance forged with the petty bourgeoisie in such a scenario will emerge from the common struggle against capital and not the dependence of a Communist organisation on petty bourgeois mobilisation in the absence of an extensive independent mass base. That is something that some so-called radical communist groups, which have frenetically rushed to either join the Hazare movement or seek through their completely bankrupt ideological contortions a popular element in the Ramdev movement, would do well to remember. The fight against corruption then would have to be not just against the small-time government clerk or the bureaucrat, waged through the means of legislative amendments, but also against such ploys as the Lokpal Bill. Such struggles must surely not be about re-instilling public faith in farces such as the bourgeois law and parliamentary democracy, but must, instead, envisage the decimation of such discourses and practices of cooptative politics as its principal task.