Neoliberalism, Education and the Politics of Capital: Searching Possibilities of Resistance

 Ravi Kumar 

That the instruments of imparting education extend beyond the classical notions of classroom learning is a fact few can disagree with today. It is, however, not enough to realise that the process of educating a human being transcends the limited universe of whatever form of formalised institution of teaching-learning transactions and is finally linked to the approach that one adopts to comprehend the processes of knowledge formation. This process of education is also closely linked to the desires of the dominant social structures to limit our view of the complex processes of knowledge creation. A limited and fragmented view of the world not only hides the systemic contradictions but also makes possible a process of regimentation. For instance, one can never fully appreciate the fact that the elite castes of India – not unlike the entrenched hegemonic class interests in any social order – need to segment the processes of education so that it in turn sustains the segmentation of the social order. Not unless one overcomes one’s ideological myopia to grasp the link between the processes of knowledge production in a society and its larger logic of production.  It is this myopia that compels us to explain the teacher-taught relationship through the undemocratic metaphor of teacher as god. It is the intrinsic uncritical appeal of such a metaphor that leads us even today to claim that the teacher reveals the path to the kingdom of god. And it is this belief in the existence of a particular kind of system that celebrates the existence of gods – which bases itself on uncriticality and opposition to dissent, and concomitant subordination to spiritual and/or temporal authorities – that is responsible for our failure to understand how, for example, the Dronacharya-Eklavya relationship, by virtue of it being embedded in class-caste relations, is an expression of the segmentation of society along class lines through segmentation of education. And this holds true as much for ancient India, as for us in our times, wherein a vision of understanding educational processes as going beyond classroom and institutionalised structures is seldom encouraged. Even if it is done the connections between the mode of production and educational systems is rarely explored.

This further results in the absence of an analysis that would try to understand the impact of neoliberalism on education and its implications for the working class. Even the most progressive voices/analyses of the so-called education sector (such divisions are in themselves yet another attempt to fragment the world view) fail to overcome these limitations. The problem areas that, as a consequence, emerge with regard to understanding the processes of education and knowledge creation are the following:

1. There is a tendency towards generating a dehistoricised understanding, i.e., denying conjuncturality of different stages of development of capital and the nature of educational discourse and conditions on the ground.

2. There exists a disjunction in the understanding of education and the comprehension of social structures/ relations.

3. Education, therefore, is not seen as a battlefield where a part of the everyday class struggles is waged. As a result, it is discounted as a site of accentuating class struggle.

4. There is a serious absence of reflection on the issue by the Indian Left.

5. Because of the above-mentioned factors education becomes a classroom-based affair shorn of class politics and outside the ambit of labour-capital conflict.

6. Consequently, education acquires a kind of autonomy and an agency of its own and, therefore, none of the educational alternatives in India have managed to establish themselves as real working class counter-narratives to the capital-driven discourse and practice of education.

7. Due to these drawbacks the notion of empowerment, which cannot be seen as something outside the ambit of class struggle, within the educational field becomes problematic.

A comprehensive understanding of the developments taking place today with respect to education and knowledge-formation at large can emerge only if the above-mentioned factors are taken in to account. It is only then that one can understand how neoliberalism does not only affect the institutions, moulding them to its own end, but also radically alters the way even welfarist, social-democratic forces understand education. Such an approach that enables us to see education as a terrain of class struggle would, for instance, reveal rather clearly how and why capital must alter the classical idea of a classroom in its neoliberal epoch. This conjuncture necessitates not only the emergence of schools without teachers/instructors, but ‘places’ where teaching-learning happens online and even through mobile phones or satellite television. In other words, when the state offers alternatives such as online education; or when private enterprises tell us through their advertisements that it does not matter if you miss classes because there is a virtual classroom; or when Abhishek Bachchan graphically shows how classrooms can happen anywhere (which would even mean, at the cost of exaggerating it, that child labour can go hand in hand with education), what with lessons being imparted through mobile phones; or when the new symbol of humane, concerned and conscientious India – Aamir Khan – tells you that education is possible even through satellite channels there is an underlying commonality in their visions.

What they are telling us is that equality of access to education is possible even within neoliberal capitalism. They are suggesting that access need not always be seen in direct person-to-person or person-to-institution contact, and that it can be impersonalised. The sum and summary of what they are suggesting is this: why do we always need to locate the question of equality within a framework of class relations or consider the state as the provider of educational means and facilities. The point they are making is that profiteering or mindless urge to accumulate surpluses can go hand in hand with the principle of equality and justice. In a nutshell, it is a denial of conjuncturality of capital-labour contradiction with the issue of knowledge formation and dissemination. This denial appears, in not so stark and unabashed a manner, when the progressive voices and forces uncritically get nostalgic about reviving the lost world of welfarism. In other words, they, unknowingly or otherwise, adopt the approach of ensuring equality or justice outside the ambit of class struggle, and thus fail to envisage this absolutely desirable quest of theirs, which is doubtless urgent, in terms of problematising the intentionality of capital at different moments in its history.

Emergence of the Neoliberal Order

Finally, it has arrived and made itself the dominant paradigm of our everyday life. It is unabashedly shrewd, callous and calculating. It uses the instruments of consensus as well as coercion with utmost dexterity, becomes part of our individuality and has all possible designs at its disposal to alienate us from our collective working class consciousness in such a way that for sometime the battlefield can become quite hazy with the mirage that the system offers all kinds of possibilities to resolve our problems and all we need to do is work hard and give our lives to it. This is the age of neoliberalism that represents the tyranny of capital in the most organised and atrocious manner and India’s economic and political scenario for last one-and-a-half decades represent this tyranny. It is a stage or a moment in capital accumulation that leads to an unprecedented expansion of capital by bringing into the commodified zones even aspects which have been considered as non-commodified such as education and health during the pre-neoliberal phase of capitalism. Simultaneously it uses its aggression to push further its aim without any hitch.

This phase of capitalism is especially intractable for those committed to resisting the rule of capital. In fact, there has been a neoliberal consensus evolving across diverse political formations and amply clear in the situation post-2009 general elections (Kumar, 2010). The rhetoric of social justice, demands for equity built on the premise of identitarian politics as well as the hollowness of a market driven purportedly by justice and equity have been exposed. What, then, remains as the subject of concern for all of us is: (1) to comprehend the logic and strategy of capital in the current conjuncture; (2) inquire into the way this is manifest in the arena of education; and (3) evolve ways of resisting this onslaught of capital. Towards achieving these tasks this paper tries to understand the idea of neoliberalism and what does it do.

To say that there has been a marked decline in ‘social sector’ spending by the Indian state would be stating the obvious. It would, however, be erroneous to reiterate that decline without analysing it as a consequence of the persistent battle between capital and labour. The mutilations in the education system are no more than embodiments of this conflict in the arena of state, economy and polity. The state becomes an agent of capital assisting in its expansion and, whenever/wherever necessary, repression – physical as well as intellectual. In other words, apart from the mere physicality of the neoliberal impact there are very dangerous and more powerful mental and intellectual instruments working overtime to consolidate the already gained grounds for capital or creating possibilities for newer grounds to be captured. This character of the neoliberal phase of capital accumulation emerges out of the specific historical moment in which it was born. It was the crisis of accumulation in “embedded liberalism” that paved way for this new system to emerge after the option of deepening “state control and regulation of the economy through corporatist strategies” (Harvey, 2007, p.12) became problematic because the Left, which had forwarded this idea, “failed to go much beyond traditional social democratic and corporatist solutions and these had by the mid-1970s proven inconsistent with the requirements of capital accumulation” (Harvey, 2007, p.13). Obviously, the increasing influence of Left was also becoming problematic for the unhindered expansion of capital. The influence of Left unions and mobilisations were strengthening. One finds the vibrant movement of the Left flourishing during the era of welfare capitalism even in India. Trade unionism as well as other forms of resistance to the rule of capital did pose a substantial challenge to the politics of the ruling class. The resistance in these two different phases also becomes a matter of relative comparison as we are confronted with moments of declining resistance to the politics of capital in the neoliberal era. It was this imperative of curtailing the challenges to capital accumulation that compelled neoliberalism to become a political ideology as well.

Hence, we find neoliberalism giving “priority to capital as money rather than capital as production” and by doing so it allows “policies to be adopted which clear the decks, removing subsidies and protection, and freeing up capital from fixed positions” intensifying the pace of restructuring. “It allows capital to regain mobility, dissolving the spatial and institutional rigidities in which it had become encased” (Gamble, 2001, pp.131-32). State, which was welfarist, and had undertaken campaigns of nationalisation and promised to take care of the health and educational concerns of its people started saying that it was not possible for it to bear the burden of educating every child or taking care of the health needs of its citizens. Consequently, it comes up with analysis that would suit its market logic. For instance, it argues, in context of secondary schools, that “the doubling of the share of private unaided schools indicates that parents are willing to pay for education that is perceived to be of good quality” (GOI, 2008, p. 15).  And the extension of this argument results in involving more and more private players in running the education system as a business. Consequently, the government plans to open model schools that “will be managed and run by involving corporates, philanthropic foundations, endowments, educational trusts, and reputed private providers” (GOI, 2008, p.17). This tendency to open up new avenues or withdraw from certain roles and responsibilities that till now were strictly considered the state’s domain has been intrinsic to the character of the neoliberal state. “The contribution of neoliberalism to the restructuring of capitalism was, therefore, to provide a means by which capital could begin to disengage from many of the positions and commitments which had been taken up during the Keynesian era.”(Gamble, 2001, p.132)

Even Neoliberalism talks of Dignity, Freedom, Autonomy and Well-Being – Where does the Problem lie

Neoliberalism functions on the premise that the “human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey, 2007, p.2). It uses the principle of freedom andjustice but as concepts that apply to individuals treating them as autonomous beings outside the social relations within which they are embedded. Hence, neoliberalism looks at the role of the state as a body that creates and preserves institutional frameworks that ensure this project of capital. The state has to not only “guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money” but also set up structures of coercion “to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets” (Harvey, 2007, p. 02). State intervention in management and regulation of market becomes negligible. It only has to facilitate its functioning but not intervene in what it does or wants to do. The quintessential example of this is found in the two simultaneous developments in India: (1) the state expenditure on education has been on the decline and the share of private sector in it has been on the rise because capital thinks that the education ‘sector’ needs to be liberated from the clutches of statist structures and principles; and (2) over Rs 40,000 crore have been spent on organisation of a game show (Commonwealth Games) with which neither the Indians relate nor did they want it because for them priorities could well have been health and education. It is happening because the post-recession Indian industry needs as many shows as possible like this one. These two developments show how the state creates opportunities for market and for this it withdraws and creates space for private capital in certain areas whereas it subsidises the expansion of private capital at the cost of its masses. However, it chooses not to spend on education and health to make them accessible to everyone.

It has been argued that liberalism had made life suffocating for people. Mongardini cites Burdeau who argues that it ceased to be ‘the hope of a whole people’ and had rather become ‘the ideology of a class: the bourgeoisie’. The state under bourgeoisie had been transformed into ‘into a closed power’ (Burdeau quoted in Mongardini, 1980, p. 318). In other words, under liberalism, state, rather than resolving the tension between the individual and the state, had made latter “the natural enemy of liberty” (Mongardini, 1980, p. 318). Neoliberalism is seen as defending the social rights of individuals. It “seems to begin as a civil reaction against the invasion of politics and bureaucratic machinery, of little groups against large groups, the private against the public. It is, however, from another point of view also an attempt to reestablish at ground level that relationship of political representation which has been broken and to recreate consensus on a new ideological platform which restores certainty to individual and social action” (Mongardini, 1980, p. 321). Hence, what one finds is that the ideals of human dignity and individual freedom have become the driving ideology, as the slogan, of neoliberal thought and “in so doing they chose wisely, for these are indeed compelling and seductive ideals. These values, they held, were threatened not only by fascism, dictatorships, and communism, but by all forms of state intervention that substituted collective judgements for those of individuals free to choose” (Harvey, 2007, p.5). And obviously, the agency to ensure this freedom and dignity has always been the market for neoliberal ideologues and states.

The idea that neoliberalism is dedicated to ensuring the well-being of human beings, through ensuring equity and justice has been instilled into our common sense. It is done through a variety of ways:

(1) There are arguments and theories of development, which never look at the political-economic aspects of development and, therefore, create a well-thought-out disjunction between, for instance, market, state and development. They tell us how equity and justice are attainable even within neoliberalism without transforming fundamentally the social relations that give rise to these inequities. Herrera arguing against the development economists points out how the softer development economists get away as critics of the system, which, in fact, “is a serious misunderstanding, because neither of them recommends rebuilding the welfare state, modifying the ownership structure of capital in favor of the public sector, applying a policy of income redistribution, or promoting public services—much less arguing in favor of state-led planned development. In spite of a few nuances or subtleties, their arguments always imply that the state should fully submit to the dominant forces of global capital and help its capital accumulation” (Herrera, 2006). Citing the example of Stiglitz, Herrrera argues how during Stiglitz’s regime as the chief economist of the World Bank, the international financial institution published its report on “Knowledge for Development” in 1998-99, which talked about “cooperation” with the private sector “in the fields of information and telecommunications: privatization, dismantlement of public research (even the transformation of research institutes into joint stock companies), and marketization of education (even by helping the poor to pay for their studies)” (Herrera, 2006). Amartya Sen, on the other hand, locates, in an occulted manner, the social and political rights within the ambit of market. “Without a liberal-style market, Sen seems to say, none of the other freedoms can work.” (Harvey, 2007, p. 184)

(2) Competition has been made the guiding ethics of everyday life. This ethics is not only based on the farcical idea that everyone has the equal opportunity to participate and perform in the competition but it also generates a desire among individuals to be part of this system, which, apparently, demonstrates thepossibility of equal probability to achieve the goal. This sense of competition, which wrongly presumes equal access to required information and which ignores the differential material conditions that go into the formation of an individual or group, though being essentially misplaced, generates a sense of constant involvement within the system. This not only complicates, and therefore delays, the task of mobilisation along class lines but also gradually fosters a misplaced sense of fidelity towards the system. While the ethics of competition cultivates fantasies, aspirations and generates possibilities to achieve them, it also encourages individuation and, therefore, diminishes sense of solidarity. This ethics becomes a part of us through the pedagogical experiences of everyday life under the rule of capital.

(3) There is a vast network of ideological apparatuses, which are at work to legitimise the neoliberal system as well as to garner support for it. While a great deal has been written about how media becomes an effective instrument of propaganda there are misrepresented and fallacious analyses carried out by intellectuals in favour of the neoliberal order. One very obvious example is the work of James Tooley, who argues, following Oxfam Education Report, that “private schools are emerging for the poor in a range of developing countries” (Tooley, 2004, p.06). While he quite intentionally ignores the same Oxfam Report when it also says that “while private schools are filling part of the space left as a result of the collapse of State provision, their potential to facilitate more rapid progress towards universal basic education has been exaggerated. They are unable to address the underlying problems facing poor households, not least because their users must be able to pay, which the parents of most children who are out of school often cannot do” (Watkins, 2000, p.230). Not only this but the whole argument forwarded by likes of Tooley, based on ‘evidence’ from India and elsewhere that “there is considerable evidence available…that suggests that private education is more beneficial to the poor than the government alternative, and hence that parents are making rational decisions by sending their children to private schools” is misplaced and out of context. It not only refuses to analyse the basic and fundamental causation behind the flourishing of sub-standard (or otherwise) private schools across India but also forwards an argument to encourage privatisation of education when it says that “the making of profits is an important motivation for entrepreneurs to enter the education market, and hence it may have some desirable impact, leading to the provision of schools that poor parents prefer to the government alternative. Without the profit motive, this suggests that there would be fewer private schools available, hence the choices available to poor parents would be severely limited” (Tooley, 2004, p.16).

They take the notions of competition, performance and achievement as a priori categories and begin their studies from those already given premises (Tooley, 2004; Tooley and Dixon, 2005). In that sense, their whole argument and research is designed to serve the system that is furthering that particular kind of education system, which rejects critical insight as an essential constituent of educational process or which trains students to dream of alternatives. Apart from such intellectuals working overtime to generate sufficient grounds for private capital to expand, the state has also been quite ‘sensitive’ to the needs and demands of private capital. Knowledge Commission, a body of recognised intellectuals, for instance, very clearly points towards the need to recognise the role played by private educational institutions and suggests that “those providing quality education should be encouraged, especially when they cater to less privileged children”. It also suggests that the government bureaucracy should not harass them and “it is necessary to simplify the rules and reduce the multiplicity of clearances required for private schools….” (GOI, 2009, p.48). These are mechanisms to generate consensus among masses in favour of the restructuring of the economy. And these processes, as Harvey Notes, have occurred globally:

“So how, then, was sufficient popular consent generated to legitimize the neoliberal turn? The channels through which this was done were diverse. Powerful ideological influences circulated through the corporations, the media, and the numerous institutions that constitute civil society–such as the universities, schools, churches, and professional associations. The ‘long march’ of neoliberal ideas through these institutions that Hayek had envisaged back in 1947, the organization of think-tanks (with corporate backing and funding), the capture of certain segments of the media, and the conversion of many intellectuals to neoliberal ways of thinking, created a climate of opinion in support of neoliberalism as the exclusive guarantor of freedom. These movements were later consolidated through the capture of political parties and, ultimately, state power” (Harvey, 2007, p.40).

(4) Neoliberalism weaves a world of fantasy around each individual as well as collectivities of achievable possibilities, thereby confining their imaginations to function within the operational regime of capital. The delusional mind becomes unaware of the labour-capital dialectic. For it the possibility of becoming one day what some people around him/her are or owning what they own has a blinding effect. That individual herself is located within that labour-capital dialectic never appears so to her. Capitalism, in general, through breaching the possibilities of solidarity among the working class creates the expansion and sustenance of neoliberalism possible.  What adds to this process is simultaneity of all of the above-mentioned socio-economic and political processes.

Education and the Politics of Capital -This is how Neoliberalism looks like

Neoliberalism, in general, is firmly entrenched today in India and with the tide of resistance getting lower at this moment its virulent form and tenor is visible in nearly every sector. The education sector is one of the ideal types, which demonstrates how the neoliberal assault works. The nature of changes, which have been brought about over the past few years and with particular vigour during the past one year have shown how neoliberal capital operates. The above-cited four factors that generate consensus and common sense about neoliberalism have been quite obviously active in the Indian context. A host of committees and commissions have been set up to establish how there cannot be any possible alternative to capitalism and, therefore, it is better to work within it. In terms of operationalisation, the state has been formulating policies that institutionalised discrimination – as different kinds of schools and colleges are established in accordance with the differential purchasing and socio-political power of the customers – that draws in more and more private funding in education sector and which denies equality of access to educational facilities of similar kind to everyone. The best example of such efforts to create a consensus in favour of neoliberalism can be found in the Yashpal Committee report, which has sanctioned everything that the neoliberal capital would like to put into place for its expansion. In other words, drastic changes in the form and content of the so-called education system are taking place due to the onset of the neoliberal stage. Hence, the developments inpolicycontent and form of education need to be seen in conjunction with the changing forms of capital accumulation. Following have been some of the manifestations of this development in the country.

1. Education is more than the formal institutional structures and classroom transactions. It is an arena that reflects the agenda and need of the dominant class interests in a society. Therefore, to understand whatever happens in education it is important to understand the class politics, or the labour-capital conflict, characterising a society. But due to this lack the character of the state is seldom questioned in the Indian education discourse. It, many a times, ends up being a nostalgic, illogical discourse that demands a neoliberal state to become welfarist. (Though I would admit that nostalgia has a potential, here, to generate a radical impulse as well.)

2. Capital in India never felt the need (during the past 60 years) to spread education (meaning democratise accessibility to education) because (a) the requirements of labour force were being met by an unequal system; (b) it was able to segment the educational levels of people in congruity with the segmented labour market thereby regulating the educational apparatus-labour market linkage as well.

3. Even today neoliberal capital cannot afford to democratise accessibility to education because it would amount to its decommodification.

4. Quite naturally, neoliberal capital destroys institutions that hamper its progress or appear not to make profits. It also curtails the pedagogic processes that potentially generate a critical perspective against the system – the decline of social sciences and fundamental researches in sciences is an example along with technicisation of science and popularisation of new ‘professional’ (skill-obsessed) courses in the social sciences.

5. In this scenario class manifests itself in following ways in education: (1) there is a particular kind of class formation that the education system foments; (2) the education system becomes an effective ideological state apparatus (ISA) evident in the way capital dominates over labour in their conflictual relationship even in the time of such a serious economic recession; and (3) the possibilities of transcending the capitalist mode of production through creating new imaginations of a world beyond capital becomes difficult and impossible thereby establishing the inevitability of capitalism.

6. Education, if located in the matrix of labour-capital conflict, unfolds as the battleground of competing classes. The constituents of this location – teachers or students remain workers whose realisation of their class position is delayed by the character/orientation of this location.

7. While education remains the most vital link for capitalism to sustain it also remains the location where the link can be broken because it is where the workers (when they realise that they are workers) are also in control of the kind of product that they produce to a great extent (though this freedom is diminishing and is differential across the uneven terrain of educational landscape).

When the Congress Party came to power along with a host of regional formations after General Elections in 2009, the Ministry of Human Resource Development made it amply clear that voices of dissent were not welcomed. Whether it has been the issue of passing Bills to further the expansion of capital or the issue of standardising the functioning of academic institutions such as universities for better control and better manipulation, all decisions are being taken unilaterally and without any attempt at consensus building. One example of how decisions to alter the syllabus or examination system, frame new service conditions for faculty members or completely transform the physical infrastructure have been taken in an undemocratic fashion can be seen in the University of Delhi where the faculty members as well as the students have been protesting for months. It has been happening in other universities as well but there is hardly any opposition. The tenor of the human resource development minister has been one of an outright corporate honcho. Irrespective of whether the Indian Institute of Technology faculty members were justified in demanding more salaries than faculty members of other institutions, the minister on hearing their demand remarked, “I am meeting some people from IITs and will ask them for a roadmap for the autonomy. If they tell us how much money from private investors they can get for the next five years, then we will give them more autonomy. They can take more projects and become private.” (Business Standard, 2009) What gets reflected in this statement is the way terminologies such as autonomy, freedom and choice are used. It is autonomy in sense of getting freed from barriers that would impede flow of capital. It is freedom from different kinds of restrictions, ranging from state policies to the ones posed by unionisation. “The neoliberal notion of academic freedom arises from viewing knowledge as a commodity…and education as a path to income generation that must be privatized and made profitable in order for it to be maximally effective.” (Caffentzis, 2005, p. 600) While the elementary education is in dire straits as the state fails to ensure that each child, irrespective of its class, caste or gender background, gets education of similar quality, higher education is moving towards becoming more and more inaccessible.

The neoliberal assault on education in India is different in terms of its trajectory compared to the West. In the UK or the US, for instance, thanks to concerted struggle by masses and also because of the needs of capital in those particular moments of history, laws and policies that made school education universally accessible to children were enacted. It was the phase of, what Harvey calls, “embedded liberalism” or what many others call Keynesianism. The crisis of the Keynesian model of accumulation was also reflected in the sphere of education when the governments of these nations began the process of withdrawal and started creating spaces for private capital within sectors where state control was entrenched. This pattern does not have much similarity with the Indian situation because the development of capitalism here has had a different trajectory. However, the welfare state that came into being, post Independence, did not create an education system on the lines of what Gandhi and others during our anti-colonial freedom struggle had conceived. It was a system designed to perpetuate class biases. The Indian state created distinction in terms of ‘elite’ institutions – the first IITs were born in early 1950s and the IIMs started in early 1960s – and the other institutions of higher education. Similarly, different types of schools were established by the Indian state for different sets of people. Even before these developments, the Indian Constitution could not include Right to Education as a Fundamental Right, which very well reflected the priorities of the state. Though included, more as a tokenism, in the Directive Principles of State Policy, expansion of education and ensuring equality of access were not the priorities for the welfare capitalism that was established under Jawaharlal Nehru. The needs of a skilled workforce were limited and the limited number of institutions was sufficiently meeting those needs. More than this nothing else was required. The intentions of equality and social justice were being defined in the limited sense of what could have served the needs of capital. It was a notion of equality and justice falling within the mandate provided by that particular stage of capitalism. Hence, it is not only fallacious to get nostalgic about the ‘great’ days of welfare state but it is also myopic in terms of analysis because it falls short of tracing the relationship of capital, in different forms and at different moments, with the education systems.

An extension of this fallacy is manifest in the way the arguments for a better educational system or efforts at establishing alternatives, which have emerged at different points of time, have always failed. There is an intrinsic relationship between the educational processes and the social processes of reproduction. The two cannot be separated. “Accordingly, a significant reshaping of education is inconceivable without a corresponding transformation of the social framework in which society’s educational practices must fulfill their vitally important and historically changing functions.” (Mészáros, 2009, p.216) In other words, it is important to locate oneself in terms of class position before formulating educational analyses or alternatives. One cannot formulate an alternative from the vantage point of capital and claim to fight alongside labour or claim to establish a socially and economically just education system. “The objective interests of the class had to prevail even when the subjectively well-meaning authors of those utopias and critical discourses sharply perceived and pilloried the inhuman manifestations of the dominant material interests.” (Mészáros, 2009, p.217) The reason behind the failure of efforts at changing the educational maladies and institute an alternative has been that they “reconciled with the standpoint of capital” (Mészáros, 2009, p.217).

Transforming the Education through Class Struggle – the only Alternative

In order to establish an alternative and build a movement towards it, it is important to recognise that this alternative could happen only outside capitalism. In this era of neoliberal capitalism, when the offensive of capital has pushed the resistance on the backfoot, a counter-narrative has to be rewritten. This counter-narrative has to be a comprehensive battle plan that would include educational transformation as well.

“Our educational task is therefore simultaneously also the task of a comprehensive social emancipatory transformation. Neither of the two can be put in front of the other. They are inseparable. The required radical social emancipatory transformation is inconceivable without the most active positive contribution of education in its all-embracing sense…. And vice-versa: education cannot work suspended in the air. It can and must be properly articulated and constantly reshaped in its dialectical interrelationship with the changing conditions and needs of the ongoing social emancipatory transformation. The two succeed or fail, stand or fall together” (Mészáros, 2009, p. 248).

There are a lot of alternatives being put forth against the so-called neoliberal assault. The most radical of these alternatives find marketisation of education, increasing commodification, consumerism and subservience of education to corporate houses extremely problematic. The authors of these alternatives also lament the transformed culture of the new education system that is coming into existence. These concerns appear quite justified. However, the problem begins when (1) the analysis of the situation is undertaken – in terms why these tendencies emerge and not so much in terms of how they operate; (2) what can be the alternative; and (3) who will be the driving forces of transformation. There is a tendency to enumerate the symptoms without indicating or identifying the socio-economic processes that give rise to them. Hence, even if such critiques of neoliberalism argue for alternatives the thrust is on reinstating the welfare stage of capitalism. The location of the problem within labour-capital dialectic always remains absent. Welfare state and its institutions become the possible alternatives as if the idea of exploitation and inequality was absent in such a stage.

Such critiques are forced to remain silent witnesses at moments when the neoliberal state adopts a welfarist stance on some of the issues. This happens because there is a distinct failure to uncover how and why certain institutions or policies come into being at particular moments in history and how those moments have also not been exclusive of class antagonism. Therefore, scholars and activists alike begin imagining that a particular state institution within capitalism can have the potential of being revolutionary and anti-state (read anti-capitalist). Such an understanding destroys the possibility of systemic transformation without which an education system, which is liberating, is impossible to achieve. What can be more naïve than to think that capitalism would allow its education systems to produce critical, self-reflexive and radical beings who would question the basic premises of the system founded on the principles of private property, exploitation and mindless race for accumulating wealth. Unless scores are settled with this naiveté of the ‘radical-progressive’ agenda of back to welfarism, which discounts class struggle as the only possible alternative for transforming iniquitous education or health ‘sector’, the battle cannot become sharp enough to threaten capital and its neoliberal epoch.


Business Standard (September 26, 2009), Kapil Sibal rules out salary hike for IIT faculty, available at, downloaded on 12th January 2010

Caffentzis, George (Dec., 2005) Academic Freedom & the Crisis of Neoliberalism: Some Cautions, Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 32, No. 106, pp. 599-608

Gamble, Andrew (Autumn 2001) Neoliberalism, Capital and Class, No. 75, pp.127-134

Government of India (2008) Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012), Volume II, Planning Commission, Oxford University Press: New Delhi

Government of India (March 2009) Knowledge Commission: Report to the Nation 2006-2009, Knowledge Commission: New Delhi

Harvey, David (2007) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Herrera, Rémy (May 2006) The Neoliberal ‘Rebirth’ of Development Economics, Monthly Review, Vo. 58, No.1, available at, downloaded on 10th August 2010

Kumar, Ravi (Winter 2010) India: General Elections 2009 and the Neoliberal Consensus, New Politics, Vol. XII, No. 4, Whole Number 48 pp. 107-111

Mészáros, István (2009) The Challenge and Burden of Historical Time: Socialism in the Twenty-First Century, Aakar Books: Delhi

Mongardini, C. (1980) Ideological Change and Neoliberalism, International Political Science Review, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 309-322

Tooley, James (2004) Could the Globalisation of Education benefit the Poor?, Occasional Paper No.3, The Liberal Institute of the Frierdrich Nauman Foundation: Potsdam

Tooley, Jame and Dixon, Pauline (2005) Private Schools Serving the Poor, Working Paper: A Study from Delhi, India, available at, downloaded on 12th May 2010

Watkins, Kevin (2000) The Oxfam Education Report, Oxfam GB: Oxford

More on what continues to ail University Democrats and the likes!

Released by Delhi State Committee, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS), A Unit of All India Revolutionary Youth Organization (A.I.R.Y.O.)

We have not abandoned purely student demands,
but the best way to bring THE UNIVERSITY INTO QUESTION
is to intensify the workers’ movement.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Jean-Pierre Duteuil, March 22nd Movement, 1968

KYS’s polemical tract, What Is Ailing University Democrats!, has received many responses, and having read through them closely we have drafted the following. Not all responses were productive for the ensuing debate but there were some that reflected a serious engagement with what KYS had argued. We are happy to reiterate some of the points raised in such responses and to develop them further. With respect to the other responses received, such as those from New Socialist Initiative (NSI) and from University Community for Democracy (UCD), we have some detailed clarifications to make, and of course, some new observations to highlight. Nevertheless, the principal segment of this response is dedicated to the much more significant debate on the nature of working class politics and forms of its alignment with the petty bourgeois section in a given society. We have done this, because those who have sincerely reflected on our observations deserve further elucidation of our position. For those interested mainly in our response to UCD’s rejoinder, we suggest a close reading of Sections 1 and 2. To those concerned with the debate on Marxism’s deployment of class analysis, student-youth politics and the way ahead for the working class movement, please use your discretion and move to Sections 3, 4 and 5.

1. Some Simple Facts for Those Who Harp About Being Factually Sound

To begin with we would like to emphasize that KYS has absolutely no misconceptions about the nature of University Community for Democracy (UCD). We see it as a forum dominated by certain tendencies. It was these dominating tendencies that we constantly confronted in meetings and which we critiqued in our paper. It was very clear to us that right from its inception the functioning and constitutive logic of this forum was heavily influenced by New Socialist Initiative (NSI). With each day of participation in UCD, it became clearer still that the space was not an “open” one. This was because many of us, who joined UCD later, i.e. around July of this year, were continuously considered and treated as outsiders. We will underscore this fact shortly by quoting from minutes of the meetings. We attribute UCD’s functioning and form of politics to the way NSI shaped the contours of UCD. In the interest of its liberal politics (articulated best in its approach to NGOs, the media, the politics of alliance-making, etc.), NSI did not simply propose action plans for UCD to ratify, but even upturned decisions of UCD’s general body meetings in undemocratic ways, hence rendering consensus building in UCD a meaningless endeavour.

The following are references to minutes of meetings and emails exchanged in response to them, which prove the observation highlighted above:

i) In the 24th July meeting it was recorded that some people objected to the extension of an invitation to NGO persons to speak at the July 30th protest meeting. Instead of NGO persons it was suggested that students should be asked to speak. The consensus reached after discussion was that the NGO speakers suggested by NSI would not be called for the protest meeting. For NSI the discussion on NGOs was deemed “unnecessary”. They were unhappy with what was obviously a disruption in their preset plan for the protest meeting. This is why on July 27th an email was sent out by a member of NSI that as UCD’s “most active participants” they had decided to organize a program in Ramjas College, on the same day as the protest meeting (in the morning), for which the disputed NGO person was invited.

Note the repercussions of such a manoeuvre—UCD’s decision on not calling any NGO person as a speaker for the July 30th program was undermined. In Ramjas College the forum was, by force, allied with NGO politics (after all, in such a program UCD would be discussed, and hence, would be sharing a discursive space with NGOs—a space it had decided not to share till it was more clear on the credentials of certain NGOs). Needless to say, KYS was against the inclusion of any kind of NGO and paid ‘activism’.

ii) On the night of 29th June, i.e. 8:52 p.m., a message was put up on the facebook account/google group (many UCD participants were not members of these at the time), asking people to come for a meeting the next morning (30th June) at 10 a.m. We will highlight the contents of this meeting but before that what needs to be noted is that on 29th June, which was the first meeting of the UCD on campus, it had been decided by consensus to meet on the 3rd of July. In the rushed and poorly coordinated meeting on 30th June it was decided by those present (mostly NSI and its sympathizers) that Gandhi Ashram should become a concrete project of the UCD, that creating communes was part of UCD’s vision, etc.

On the contrary, in the 29th June meeting it had been decided to slow down on the Gandhi Ashram and commune issue till there was substantial participation on behalf of affected students. This point has been hidden in the minutes of the 29th June meeting, and in fact, the minutes only discuss grand plans on how the ‘commune’ would be run. The hastily called 30th June meeting was basically aimed at clinching the commune issue even before the 3rd July meeting. After this 30th June meeting a team constituted by “UCD” went ahead to speak with the Gandhi Ashram management. In this regard, this “emergency meeting” was simply held to preset the agenda of the larger meeting to be held on 3rd July. Clearly, there was an overt attempt not to take all of UCD’s participants into confidence when strategizing UCD’s politics and action plan. Perhaps now the reader can understand why KYS has taken the position that coordinating a forum through cyberspace is highly problematic. As an organization, we strongly feel that it is a space that is actively used to undermine the consensus building initiatives of those who take out the time to present themselves in general body meetings. We do not buy the argument that such a meeting was called in haste because there were many Mirandians in dire need of alternative arrangements. Why don’t we? Well, because we knew that the number of students still in need of a PG was negligible—a point proved by the poor response of students to the Gandhi Ashram plan. We knew that such a meeting was actually called to exclude many from UCD’s decision making process.

iii) On 20th July it was noted by Aashima who was recording the minutes of the meeting that “there was a BRIEF [emphasis added] discussion about what our approach should be gradually, if we should focus on hostel evictions or also give more prominence to the issue of unregulated rents and problems in the neighbourhood since many students live in private accommodation.” Ironically, immediately post this meeting it was held that UCD had developed a detailed and important [emphasis added] position on the problem of escalating rents. KYS and CSW were consequently denounced for running a “parallel” campaign on the issue of rent and for compromising UCD’s attempts in this direction. There are two points we would like to clarify here. The first that NSI’s Commonwealth Games-University centric approach ensured that when rent was taken up by UCD it would be done so as a student specific issue/concern. That is why rent is mentioned in the first UCD parcha in precisely these terms—“It (University) has thus become an accomplice in the larger processes of reckless corporatisation that the whole city is undergoing in the bid of become a ‘global city’. This has left students [emphasis added] at the mercy of private accommodation, with its unregulated rents and precarious guarantees. Rents are rising in anticipation of the increased demand for PGs and flats, forcing many existing residents to move out and making accommodation unaffordable for incoming residents as well…” Indeed, raising rents as only a student specific concern is the brainchild of UCD. KYS was trying to point out this unfortunate fact in its last pamphlet, and was least interested in establishing a copyright on the issue of rent control.

The second point we would like to highlight here is that by conceptualizing rent as a student-University specific issue, UCD has not been pursuing a feasible or a desirable campaign for rent regulation. In that sense KYS’s initiatives on rent control cannot be compared or considered “parallel” to those of UCD for it conceptualizes rent as a generalized problem for migrants in city. Why is the UCD campaign not feasible or desirable? It is not feasible because the rents of one area, i.e. the University area, cannot be regulated without the regulation of rents across the city. The UCD campaign is not desirable either because its approach to rent does not take into consideration the majority of tenants in the city. After all, for the scores of DU students living with their families on rent it is not at all desirable that rent be perceived as a University-neighbourhood problem alone. In contrast to UCD and its many constituents, KYS has been mobilizing both students and non-student youth who live on rent. Considering rent regulation is the responsibility of the Delhi Government, we have approached the Chief Minister on the issue. Although the Chief Minister has given certain assurances, we know for a fact that to pressurize the government into action, the struggle for rent regulation across the city has to be further intensified.

Having drawn on these references we would like to highlight, in brief, the nature of KYS’ contribution to UCD and at what conjuncture we finally withdrew from the forum. We do this to put at rest certain presumptuous accusations about our “negative” or “non-proactive” role in UCD. As an organization with other commitments to attend to, KYS sent three to four of its members to UCD meetings up till the point it decided to move out of the forum. Yes, in that sense we didn’t seek to bombard the platform with our physical presence just so as to ensure that UCD’s contours mapped down to what had been pre-decided from before. Again, for UCD activities (such as area-campaigning in Vijaynagar or college campaigning) we sent our members. KYS also circulated UCD’s parcha independently at the SC/ST admission counters in Arts Faculty and amongst students living in Sangam Park-Gurmandi area. This area is a working class neighbourhood in which many students enrolled in Satyawati Morning and Satyawati Evening College, stay on rent. Furthermore, our fraternal organization, CSW also distributed the UCD parcha in University Hostel for Women.

When our participation was not possible during UCD activities such as attending DUTA’s GBMs, we informed other participants well in advance. There have been references to us sabotaging UCD’s campaign on the 21st of July, i.e. the first day of the academic session. If certain participants in UCD were not so hell bent on writing off KYS’s participation they would accept that there was a confusion that day about where to assemble first for college campaigning. KYS members had not checked their email accounts on the night of the 20th which is why they were under the impression that UCD campaigners were to assemble at Khalsa College first, watch the street play, and then move onto the other colleges slotted for campaigning that day. This is why KYS’s member reached Khalsa and not Daulat Ram College on the morning of July 21st. Post this incident our members checked posts of UCD on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the resentment continued on the part of “UCD”.

By the end of July, conditions were such within UCD’s functioning that KYS no longer considered it feasible to participate in the forum. Firstly, two consecutive meetings (22nd July and 24th July) were channelized in a way to literally flush out KYS from UCD (you would only get glimpses of this in the minutes—the real witness to this are the participants themselves). In such a hostile atmosphere no organization can consider serious participation possible. Secondly, and more importantly, the NGO-ization of UCD was something KYS refused to tolerate. Keeping the July 30th Ramjas program (especially its repercussions) in mind, KYS decided to withdraw from UCD. It attended the 30th July protest meeting but only its fraternal organization, CSW sent a speaker. By the end of the 30th July protest meeting even CSW decided to completely withdraw from UCD. So, for those who hinted that our non-participation in the “relay hunger strike” was noted by all, we would like to emphasize that KYS had withdrawn from the forum by then, like many others. Now that the ‘graph’ of our participation has been drawn for all to see, you will observe that claims of us not being supportive and pro-active, are based on wilful misconceptions.

Of course, what we also need to highlight here are the conscious attempts to frustrate the efforts of KYS and others to pave the way for UCD to come on its own. More than one person in their response to KYS’s earlier mail (such responses being quite a significant retrospective critique of UCD), have accepted that corner meetings prior to or after UCD’s larger meetings were actively pursued. We have shown above that such a practice was encouraged by NSI so as to control UCD’s political process—a control/influence not based on substantive debate and ideological consensus building but on apolitical ties of familiarity/friendship. When such apolitical influencing measures showed signs of breaking, NSI actively projected KYS’s arguments which were raised in UCD meetings, as an articulation of “pre-existing resentment”. Many in their email responses have revealed (intentionally or unintentionally) that NSI actively spread this rumour. Unfortunately for NSI, many individuals drawn to UCD could not be fooled for long about the real nature of KYS’s arguments, i.e. on the compromised form of NSI-influenced politics and the sectarianess of UCD’s constitutive logic. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to UCD coming on its own was the umbrella formation NSI had forced upon the forum, in the interest of promoting its own liberal politics.

Let us now draw attention to some crucial details that will elucidate KYS’s position further. Firstly, the crux of KYS’s critique (which some people failed to understand), pertains to how struggles demanding “democratic space from the University”, are elitist and sectarian. We have been arguing this because such struggles entail the following: i) demanding democracy for a privileged minority, i.e. 7 percent youth (i.e., the percentage of youth making it to higher education in India), whose inclusion in the University system is actually based on somebody else’s exclusion; ii) demanding from the University something it does not have—the real power residing somewhere else. Of course, the conclusion to be drawn from these two insights is not that University politics should be shunned, but rather, that the form of such politics be transformed. The solution lies in a politics that is based on uniting non-student youth and University students (please see our discussion below, on the DTU students’ protest and on the issue of fee hike. Also see section 5). Undeniably, for such politics to materialize, organizations will have to stop focusing on the University alone, and more importantly, will have to mobilize University students on issues that unite them with youth excluded from the education system. We do hope that in the near future there are more organizations like KYS, which along with work in the University; pursue neighbourhood work amongst youth residing in working class localities.

Secondly, KYS in its earlier pamphlet highlighted the tokenism prevalent in UCD’s approach to workers and workers’ issues. We stand by our earlier critique. With respect to some of the comments made by UCD’s participants regarding the forum’s approach to workers, we support what Naina highlighted in her mail on September 3rd. However, we would like to further problematize UCD’s position that there is nothing wrong/destructive in perceiving workers (their issues, etc.) through a petty bourgeois lens. Indeed, such practices are a serious obstacle in the path of progressive struggle. We would like to prove this by drawing attention to the highly problematic political and theoretical roots of such an approach. Politics based on petty bourgeois notions of empathy (sympathy, etc.) is nothing but the repetition of Bogdanovian tendencies in the working class movement, which were based on the neo-Kantian notion of verstehen. Such tendencies have always been criticized for their anti-revolutionary potential, and Lenin himself presented a devastating critique of these tendencies in Empirio-Criticism.

To elucidate—when you are seeking to understand the working class, you merely end up gathering empirical information on workers (i.e., how they feel, and how you would feel being in their shoes, etc), rather than perceiving the objective condition of the being of the working class (i.e. the conditions that create and reproduce the class in the first place). It is precisely because of this empirical fact-finding that you fail to reach the condition where you realize the organic connection between your oppression and the working class’s exploitation. Of course, the by-product of not reaching this condition is that the petty bourgeois class, as a whole, fails to realize the revolutionary potential of the working class, especially its ability to liberate all classes from the oppression of capitalism. As a result, the petty bourgeoisie continues to suspect and maintain ideological distance/discomfort with working class politics, and at most, engages with working class politics in patronizing ways.

Furthermore, we would like to reiterate that there is often little ‘good intention’ involved in practices like slum work/tutoring working class children, etc., for bodies like Women’s Development Cells, Social Service Leagues/NSS cells, etc., tend to institutionalize such activities into extra-curricular ones. Indeed, such bodies tap on the sensitiveness of certain individuals and draw them unnecessarily into the network of NGOs. Sadly, this is a huge loss for the working class movement since it doesn’t need youth who, through social work, continue to work within the system. Instead, the movement needs youth who engage with the process of class and realize the need for class struggle. Thus, the intention behind bringing these points to the attention of UCD members was not so much to “mock” their endeavours, but to reveal to them the drawbacks of their form of politics.

Thirdly, by raising the issue of the Miranda House construction workers we sought to establish how necessary workers are for launching a successful struggle against the Commonwealth Games (CWG). Unfortunately, in their response UCD completely elided this issue. In fact, they resorted to highlighting meaningless gestures made by them with respect to workers’ issues. We quote, “…[W]e have stood against construction work in the University that violates legally sanctioned labour standards and have integrated it into our demands…” Indeed, this ‘integration’ with no participation in actual workers’ struggles, amounts to tokenism. UCD and its dominant subset, i.e. ‘new’ socialists, may not be running a trade union, but really, should their pre-decided programs (“hunger strikes, etc.) be so inflexible that they cannot be part of a struggle for which they otherwise mouth support (especially when such a struggle is taking place just down the lane)? Furthermore, UCD’s choice of words while describing its support for workers is troubling indeed, for it reflects a non-engagement with workers’ real issues. It is assumed by the forum that provision of legally sanctioned labour laws means an end to workers’ exploitation. In reality, even when workers are employed according to legally sanctioned labour standards, the process of work itself is highly exploitative. In fact, as observed by our trade unions, sometimes legally sanctioned labour laws like those pertaining to overtime, accentuate workers’ exploitation. In the case of laws pertaining to overtime, contractors use them to exploit their existing force of workers, rather than employing more workers for the job.

You speak of boycotting the Games, yet you fail to support the most productive and meaningful attempts to stall the Games. Really, how can you boycott something that has boycotted you?! A boycott would result in substantial losses in the gains of all those profiting from the Games. Take for example the boycott of foreign goods during the Non-Cooperation movement; it led to a massive dip in sales, followed by a huge loss of profits earned by British manufacturing units, and hence, to a weakening of the colonial state’s position in the market. However, your ‘boycott’ doesn’t have any such repercussions, and it is you, in fact, that are bearing all the losses (the hostels have been taken away and you couldn’t stop it; the prices of everything you consume have risen and you couldn’t stop this either; etc., etc.). This has happened precisely because your ‘boycott’ has been envisaged in an isolationist manner (best captured in students/teachers buying anti-CWG badges and T-shirts). Friends, this is a crucial time and workers are far from silent. For a fact pending construction work at the numerous CWG work sites is not so much due to the rains/corruption (as highlighted by the media), but due to spontaneous and frequent protests by workers employed there. Imagine if these one lakh workers were organized, and then launched their struggles…there would be no Games. In this context, should we be content buying/selling badges, filing RTIs, etc, or, should we be helping bring in the real tides of change? Realizing the necessity of involving workers in the struggle against CWG, KYS and its fraternal organizations like Mazdoor Ekta Kendra and Delhi Nirman Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, have been mobilizing workers across different CWG sites. Our intervention in six CWG sites have met with success, but only one was highlighted by the media, i.e. the struggle of Miranda House construction workers. Indeed, the few ‘progressive’ newspapers that covered the workers’ protest did so not because they were interested in highlighting the workers’ demands, but because they were interested in highlighting the active participation of Miranda House students. So much for the media!

On a last note, we would like to emphasize that KYS brought out many other problems with respect to UCD’s campaign. On the question of how certain teachers were participating in UCD we hardly got a satisfactory response. Since Paresh Chandra in an email explained very well the problem with a certain form of teachers’ participation, we do not consider that any further arguments are needed on our behalf. Even on the issue of Gandhi Ashram we received a poor response from UCD, which basically, amounts to no response. For factual details and elaboration on the problems with the Gandhi Ashram project, please see Paresh’s response on September 3rd. Of course, on the question of the “relay hunger strike” we received no suitable reply. If UCD continues to hold on to its own definition of what such a hunger strike is then we have one suggestion to make. We know of a student who hails from an agrarian worker’s family and travels every day by train, from Sonepat (Haryana). He is able to eat only in the morning and is able to have his next meal only when he returns at night. Please also involve him since he is perpetually on hunger strike, i.e. according to your definition. Indeed, it will suit your politics of spectacle.

KYS would also like to object to the misrepresentation of some of its arguments. We have never claimed that only a dalit/poor/muslim/gay/tribal can speak on the issues of the oppressed. UCD has once again missed the point and quoted our arguments out of context. Kindly remember the exact context in which Sujit spoke of his Dalit background. He was replying to someone called Bala.poorna who alleged that Communists (including those in our organization) were upper castes and lacked commitment on the question of caste oppression. When responding to this diatribe our member highlighted his own social position so as to prove that not all Communists are upper castes, and that Bala, in fact, was writing off the voice of the oppressed by resorting to baseless accusations. Interestingly, the real nature of our arguments, were not lost on those who gave it proper thought. Individuals like Naina were quick to pick up our point and have argued very convincingly in our support. We reiterate, it is the form of politics which is important for all participants in a movement (be it the petty bourgeoisie or workers).

2. More About NSI’s Role In UCD And Its Real Position In India’s Left Circuit

In India’s Left movement, New Socialist Initiative (NSI) has been long identified as a bourgeois oppositional formation. We highlight this fact simply because in both NSI’s and UCD’s response we saw some unjustified/unsupported claims to the contrary. Despite its ambitious claims NSI is no longer considered a part of Communist League of India (CLI) camp. For more on politics of NSI please see Lal Salaam (a theoretical-political journal). It is interesting to note that one reason why NSI has been identified as such is due to its “official” or “unofficial” support (see report of CASIM) of political fronts like Indian Social Forum (ISF) and even World Social Forum (WSF). Both ISF and WSF are platforms severely criticized for their rainbow political formations in which NGOs and their funding play a big role in delegitimizing several (armed) people’s movements. In fact, in terms of the form of its politics, NSI is a mirror image of such platforms. In this context, we have one immediate question for all those who wrote off KYS’s observations as “malicious”—are critiques on NGOs and NGO-ised forums, presented by persons such P.J. James, James Petras, Shashi Prakash and many others, simply ad hominem attacks? Can everything be reduced to malice or does that accusation stem from your inability to respond to most of the political questions raised?

Moving on, we would like to flesh out the details of how NSI has actively shaped UCD as a mirror image of itself. We do not buy the argument that UCD is a loosely constituted body or “a composite group of left organizations, individuals, liberals, progressives”…blah, blah blah. We don’t, for the simple reason that UCD’s functioning has revealed something very different. The forum’s being and existence is best explained by drawing an analogy to the Chinese doll (with its several folds). NSI, an archetypal liberal organization, was the core of UCD (the doll according to the analogy being drawn), and from the very beginning different liberal positions were congealed around it. In spite of its claims of debating and then accepting/rejecting questions/programs, “as per the larger consensus in UCD”, NSI did not succumb to these liberal gestures at all. Acting as a vector of the liberal virus itself, it did not merely support ideas/suggestions but actively initiated and consolidated certain developments in UCD. Let us draw on some references which shed light on this not so innocent contribution of NSI in UCD. For instance, NSI members actively proposed the entry of NGOs in UCD’s campaign. Similarly, they supported and promoted NGOs as bodies that build “more nuanced bridges of understanding”. One of NSI’s members, in his adamant support and promotion of NGOs, even boycotted an ongoing discussion during a UCD meeting (24th July to be precise). And to top it all, many NSI members work for NGOs—a reality that orients them towards NGO-izing whatever platforms they are part of. Another revealing example comes to mind and this pertains to the way the media was approached and perceived by NSI. Instead of criticizing the media in its bourgeois form, NSI members went to the extent of identifying newspapers like Tehelka as “friends”/”part” of the campaign! One NSI members even said that Tehelka, if involved extensively, will make the process of the campaign “smooth” (29 June 2010). Expectedly, this perception also became that of UCD, as reflected in some emails exchanged during end June and early July. Of course, we would not have said anything if such statements on the media had not come from an organization that claims to be Marxist. Isn’t it a Marxist axiom that in the process of resisting capitalism we should not reproduce the spirit of bourgeois thinking?

3. How Marxism Identifies the Position of the Working Class vis-à-vis Identities

While upholding KYS’s critique of the form of politics represented by the main tendency in UCD as well as KYS’s understanding of the relationship between identity and class struggle, Paresh Chandra, in his most recent response differs on some of the specificities of KYS’s prognosis. His main difference with our position is that students’ class position cannot be identified on the basis of their class background and the kinds of colleges/institutions/courses they end up in. For him the main defining feature of student [all]- as- worker is the very condition they (students) are being ascribed within the university/education system (more on this later). He further accuses us for identifying the class position of students only on the basis of their background whereby reducing class to a “sociological fixity”. The end result being that we read class as a static sociological entity which can then be found more in some institutions/courses than the others. On the contrary, we had argued that ‘student’ is an identity comprising of different class positions and if we don’t see the different class positions within (and its implications) we will end up reducing university politics into an identitarian one (having identifiable common interests vis-à-vis other social entities and the state). To further elucidate, it is the different class trajectories (journeys) that determine the being of a student. These trajectories are based not only on class background but on the class process itself (i.e. the process whereby one’s class position is subject to change, depending on changes in the contingent factors in the economy). Thus, what kind of student one will end up being is determined by the combination of one’s class background and the class process (something which creates possibilities of contradictory class positions, particularly with respect to the middle strata, i.e. the petty bourgeoisie, the peasantry, etc.). To simplify the matter, there can be different kinds of students: working class, petty bourgeois, peasant, bourgeois, etc. We will restrict our discussion to working class and petty bourgeois students because of their particular bearing on the nature of university politics that exists in general.

Working class students find themselves in a condition where they get admission to lower grade educational institutes, and even when they enter the threshold of better institutions their inability to cope up causes them to perform badly. Considering this, their pursuit of higher education is such that they take with them merely the basic skills required to survive in the job market. Their education is directly based on them being future bearers of labour power/producers of surplus value, and hence, the logical conclusion of their education is them becoming workers. On the other hand, some petty bourgeois students, through education, come to acquire skills (as a property form), which then helps them share with the bourgeoisie, surplus value produced by workers. Characteristically, petty bourgeois students regard the future as relatively bright, and instead, complain of the drudgery of the present (for them the immediate is what is visible and troubling, i.e. the rigors of the education system and the fact that they sometimes receive less pocket money than what workers earn). Bourgeois students pursue an education so as to acquire the etiquettes which will help their further integration into the ruling class. Thus, their coming to universities to study does not make them part of the working class or petty bourgeoisie.

However, arguing from his position of student-as-worker, Paresh contends that our class analysis of students led us to project class as a sociological entity. To begin with, Paresh has unfortunately misread our historical empiric, i.e., a level where things will only appear as a sociological entity. We never equated class with what simply appears as a sociological entity, and, in fact, see it as a process which is bolstered by state policies seeking to fulfill the needs of the labour market. We concretely think class is a historical accumulation of humankind that has a determinate relationship with other classes, which might or might not appear as sociological entities in their different moments of congealment in the trajectory of their unfolding. In fact, in the paragraph quoted by Paresh, we have talked about students as a sociological entity, hence, requiring a class analysis. If only you had managed to go beyond the phenomenological level (where you have hypostasized our historical empiric) you would have definitely realized that our historical empiric is linked to how ‘student’ as a sociological entity, is connected to government education policies and the education market. For example, when we talked about youth who have studied in government schools, come from the Hindi medium background, rarely get admission to college hostels and struggle to cope with increasing college fees and English medium teaching/coursework, we were hinting at the existence of a dual education system (prevalence of both government schools & private schools). We were also hinting at the cut off system, an administrative process in which students coming from different backgrounds are distributed among graded colleges. Because of the cut off based admission process, many students coming from the working class get admission to low grade colleges, and do not get admission into hostels because such colleges do not have any.

In more ontological terms, we are saying that the state is the constitutive element in the expanded reproduction of the system, which requires different forms of labour to be produced through graded education. Indeed, how else can one explain that only 7 percent of all youth who clear the twelfth class examination, find their way into higher education, and that even at the level of higher education the Radhakrishna system of ‘centres of excellence’ prevails? How else would we explain that our school education is hierarchically arranged in the following manner: Charvaha Vidyalas/Ekal Schools for children of agrarian workers and poor peasants; Navodayas for children of agrarian elites; Sarvodayas for children of the urban working class; KVs (Central schools) for children of central government employees (a strata itself divided into a petty bourgeois and working class position); and expensive private schools like Woodstock, Doon, Mayo, Modern, DPS, etc. for you know whom.

Now that we have clarified what we meant to say in our quoted sentences, let us clarify what Paresh is actually saying in the paragraph quoted from Correspondence’s pamphlet. Paresh quotes, “When Marx says ‘working class,’ does he mean only the ‘male, white, industrial proletariat?…” Kudos to you, your move to go beyond Marx with Marx has allowed you to throw suspicion on Marx’s understanding. This is an infliction of the liberal virus on revolutionary ideas; ironically something you yourself criticized UCD members for. To relieve you of your (mis)reading of Marx, we leave you with Marx’s own words: “Labour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin” (Capital, Vol. I). Clearly, Marx had an understanding of the working class being both white and black. Numerous writings of both Marx and Engels will also prove that they believed the working class was constituted of all sexes. And as far as the industrial proletariat is concerned, Marx always considered it a subset of the working class, albeit the most important and essential force in the working class struggle.

Having said this we also wish to highlight another tacit misunderstanding of Paresh, that Marxism is just about Marx and for that matter what other great Marxist leaders have to say. In reality, Marxism is a summation of different experiences of the working class in its conflict with capital. It is a synthesized articulation of the concrete. This synthesized articulation was used by Marx in philosophical debates (German Ideology, Theses on Feuerbach), in the critique of political economy (Ricardo), in debates on socialism (Proudhon), and in debates on political forms (Eighteen Brumaire, Civil War in France, Critique of Gotha Program). This synthesized summation was continued and applied by different leaders of the international proletarian movement as well as by numerous militant activists in the movement.

Moving on, in his own piece, Paresh bestows the working class position as a whole onto some identities, especially students. Though Paresh many times concedes (here and there) that TENDENCY has some relationship with class POSITION, in his endeavour to apply the epithet of working class on students as a whole, he ultimately detaches tendency from class position. He comes to define tendency as “control on one’s life”, which almost becomes a quasi-behaviourist analysis of stimulus response. To quote him further on this, “in some [students] the petty bourgeois tendency is stronger while in others it is weaker and this varies in proportion to the degree of control an individual has over his/her life.” Having achieved this abstraction Paresh goes onto provide a solution to the thorny question of consciousness. To quote him, “a class conscious student would see herself/himself as a member of the working class and in that will leave behind determinations like prehistory and family.” We really wonder why a class conscious student belonging to a petty bourgeois class position will not develop a petty bourgeois class consciousness! Some (not Paresh) have even come to argue that the petty bourgeoisie can be de-classed and a different consciousness can be imputed in them. Indeed, these two positions might look dissimilar, but they do have kin affinities because both positions tendentially make class position unimportant for one’s consciousness.

We also wonder what the operative part of such analysis could be. One possible form that comes to our mind is the whole notion of “Campus Democracy” (supported by many Left liberals and ‘Left’ organizations on campus), which is achieved through struggles of students, teachers and other staff members to control the university (more on this point in section 5). We cannot actually be sure of whether this analysis is based on the summation of any past or contemporary, concrete experiment in student politics. Let us take the example of the most radical student movement of all time, i.e., the 1968 French student revolt. Many in their nostalgic account of this movement fail to identify the core experiment of the movement—one that should be generalized. The real essence of this movement is best projected in the pamphlet titled, THE MARCH 22nd MOVEMENT, which identified the demand to ‘Defend the common interest of all students’, as illusionary. This essence can also be extracted from statements made by some of its leaders. For example, one of the most radical French student leaders, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in an interview taken by Jean-Paul Sartre, argued that students’ seats in hostels (Cites) should be given to workers and apprentices, and that “well to do students in law and science-po go elsewhere”. Again in his interview to Herve Bourges, he vehemently asserted, “I do not believe in student unity for there are no objective interests common to all students”. In response to another question in the interview he criticized UNEF (considered a Left wing formation), for representing the bourgeoisie, and called it a pseudo mass movement because it did not represent real demands and aspirations of working class students. Cohn-Bendit clearly made a distinction between the November strikes and the Nanterre movement which emerged from the Nanterre campus located outside Paris, i.e. amongst the neighbouring slums. The students here were socially divided between affluent students from the wealthy quarters of Paris and students from working class backgrounds. So, ultimately, inheriting what can be termed the best of the 1968 legacy, we want to assert that the relationship between students and class struggle could take two forms: (i) working class students aligning with rest of the working class outside university campuses; and (ii) working class students uniting against the provision of facilities to a few privileged students, and thereby, demanding for the provision of these facilities to all.

Further we believe the views presented by Paresh stem from a particular (mis)understanding of the working class position and the ontological configuration of identities. This understanding of class is based on a highly problematic understanding of capitalism itself, i.e. of capitalism as a carceral continuum. Due to this conceptualization of capitalism in Foucaultian terms, an identity such as ‘students’ becomes a working class position. This is reflected in expressions such as students being monitored/regimentalized or losing the right to self-determinism—an incarceration considered emblematic of the working class position. It is also present in expressions such as “the working class is that section of people on which [sic] work is imposed”, and this working class with its continuum of subjectivity can be found “beyond localized time and space”. In these terms, the ancient slave, medieval serf and peasantry, i.e. on whomsoever work is imposed, is the working class! Clearly, people who argue from such positions, such as Paresh, actually forget the historicity of the modern working class. Marx clearly identified the working class as distinct from other laboring masses both in terms of time and space. In this regard he identified the working class as a section devoid of property (means of production), and hence, “free”/compelled to sell its labour power.

If we extend the logic of Paresh’s arguments, we will see that they assume that an identity such as ‘students’ is not divided amongst several class positions, but is the working class position itself. To highlight the danger of holding onto such a position we would like to draw immediate attention to the fact that such an “axiom” (if applicable) would apply even to capitalists. After all, capitalists too are bound by social etiquettes of the time and also complain of being caged in by prevailing social norms. In this regard do we attribute to them the working class position as well? We do not, and know that you too will agree to the same.

We suspect that a certain petty bourgeois discomfort with the formidable logic of Marxism, in particular, its notion of generalization, is the cause of this “status”/position borrowing. Rather than taking to the working class/proletarian position (in terms of tying one’s own petty bourgeois class interests with the interests of the working class), so as to resolve the petty bourgeois question, certain individuals from the petty bourgeois class have conveniently started calling themselves working class. Marxism as a politics and as a science has never encouraged the concealment or displacement of one’s class position, but has, on the contrary, called for the engagement with one’s class position in the process of class struggle. In other words, Marxism has always called a spade a spade when identifying different class positions and their articulation within different identities. According to Marxism, the petty bourgeois question can only be resolved on the basis of an engagement with one’s petty bourgeois class position in alignment with that of the working class position. The petty bourgeois question cannot be resolved by presuming a working class position itself.

What do we mean by the petty bourgeois question? Well, we believe it is best demonstrated in recent Bollywood movies like Three Idiots and Udaan. What comes across through this rather powerful medium is the present plight of the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. growing competition for limited facilities provided by capitalism, and the increasing mechanization of life due to ever growing demands of the system in place. At this historical conjuncture, the need of the hour is not to equate mechanization of petty bourgeois life with the working class position, but to show the petty bourgeoisie how their OPPRESSION ties up with the working class’s EXPLOITATION. Let us take the example of the medical profession for which youth from petty bourgeois families aspire for in large numbers. Indeed most doctors (mostly, self employed professionals) are from petty bourgeois backgrounds. However, to become doctors, these youth have to undergo cut-throat competition. This is because capitalism as a system does not provide healthcare to the majority of people, especially the working class considering its limited buying power. As a result, it makes provisions for limited number of medical educational institutes and jobs in medical institutions. And it is for these limited seats and jobs that petty bourgeois youth are forced to compete. In this context, the working class’s struggle for the provision of more healthcare facilities and investment in the social sector as a whole, indirectly benefits petty bourgeois youth aspiring to be doctors. It creates the condition for the creation of more medical educational institutes (more seats, hence less competition), as well as more hospitals (hence, more jobs). The process, of course, leads to a less mechanized way of life for youth aspiring for such employment. In a crucial way, it will prevent the growing mechanization of children’s lives, who, in the current scenario, lose their youth under the burden of studies/competition, and who have increasingly come to feel they have lost the right to self-determination.

In this context, the objective interest of this petty bourgeois section lies not in identifying itself as working class. Instead its objective interest lies in uniting with the emancipatory politics of the working class. Such unity is feasible and desirable because in the process of fighting for its own liberation the working class can build a system, annihilating class society, in which other sections of society will have freed and equal access to opportunities and resources.

Returning to the specific question of the working class position and the ontological configuration of identities, we would like to reiterate that it is wrong to perceive different identities as a subset of the working class. Rather than conceptualizing identities (woman, student, Dalit, OBC, Black, delinquents, etc.) as momentary congealments of the working class position, it is important to read them as multiclass entities—as sites of struggle in which contradictory class positions are in conflict with each other. The latter is the precise way in which Marxism conceptualizes identities. This is because it realizes that the different identities in existence have different ontological depths. For example, Marxism believes that the identity ‘woman’ is not the same as another identity, say that of ‘Dalit’, and that the two identities encompass a somewhat different (in terms of degree, etc.), conflict of varied class positions within them. Indeed, unlike the popular perception of Marxism as an epistemology, Marxism is the synthesis of multiple epistemologies that extract experiences emanating from different sites of struggle, i.e. from different identities. By extracting these varied experiences it actively unites the working class/proletarian experience (collective will of the class) that is spread across the different identities (just like other class positions are).

Having said this, let us trace the larger theoretical source of such analysis of identities vis-à-vis the working class position. The theoretical source from which Paresh’s arguments about students as workers emerge, is Negrian clap trap based on the mixing up of Foucault with Marx. In other words, such views stem from earlier endeavours to re-ontologize Marxism, i.e., going beyond Marx with Marx. Negri carries to the extreme the ideas of Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti (great leaders of the Italian working class movement), in particular, their analysis of the political class composition of workers. For Negri, class composition is not just based on determinations like labour power as variable capital, but also on determinations like the historical and social level of labour power’s reproduction. In other words, for him, determination of class composition should include, together with the wage structure, other structures that reproduce labour power.

Marx made a distinction between labour forms which are heterogeneous and take place in different concrete conditions. Hence, concrete labour. But these different heterogeneous labour forms, in capitalism, are commensurate at the level of value they produce, expressed in the price of the commodity at a given equilibrium level. Hence, abstract labour. Abstract labour expresses, therefore, certain relations of production, i.e. relations between producers of commodities and the capitalists who own the means of production and appropriate the surplus value created by labour. For Marx this dual character of labour (abstract and concrete labour) is conditioned on the skewed property relationship which forces a worker to work for a capitalist. Thus, in capitalism concrete labour forms a dialectical unity with abstract labour. Outside the relationship of production this duality cannot exist. Hence, for Marx, destroying the property relations is the precondition for liberation of labour from a condition where one person’s labour becomes another person’s profit.

Negri calls this conceptual distinction a qualitative and quantitative distinction. In this context, he argues that the theory of value, as a form of equilibrium, seizes to have any remaining validity in our time. Negri takes a clear cut Morishimite position. To quote Morishima “…as soon as heterogeneity of labour is allowed for, the theory of value is seen to conflict with Marx’s law of equalization of the rate of exploitation through society, unless the different sorts of labour are reduced to homogenous abstract human labour in proportion to their wage rates, ” (Marx’s Economics). Negri considers Marx’s labour theory of value simply as the refining of concepts developed by his contemporaries. He argues that there is another conception of labour theory of value present in Marx’s work (Grundrisse), which according to him departs radically from capitalist theories and Marxist theories, and focuses not on capitalist processes of valorization, but rather on the processes of labour’s self-valorization. To quote him further “Marx considered the value of labour not as a figure of equilibrium but as an antagonistic figure, as a subject of the dynamic rupture of the system. The concept of labour power is thus considered as valorizing element of production, relatively independent of the functioning of the capitalist law of value…This means that although in the first theory value was fixed in the structures of capital, in this second theory labour and value are both variable elements.” Having freed labour from the distinctively exploitative relationship to capital in the circuit of capital self valorization, Negri reduces Capital to an elementary expression of command. For him changing the property relationship within which the labour process takes place is no longer relevant. Again to quote him, “the notion of foundational war of all against all is based on an economy of private property and scarce resources. Material property, such as land or water or a car, cannot be in two places at once: my having and using it negates your having and using it. Immaterial property, however, such as an idea or image or a form of communication is infinitely reproducible…Some resources do remain scarce today, but many, in fact, particularly the newest elements of the economy, do not operate on a logic of scarcity,” (Multitude). The clear cut meaning to be drawn from this is that resources are scarce which is why they are owned by capitalists, but the newest elements of the economy such as immaterial property can be owned by anyone for self-valorization of one’s labour.

Again to quote him extensively, “The most important general phenomenon of the transformation of labour that we have witnessed in recent years is the passage toward what we call the factory-society. The factory can no longer be conceived as the paradigmatic site or the concentration of labour and production; laboring processes have moved outside the factory walls to invest the entire society. In other words, the apparent decline of the factory as the site of production does not mean a decline in the regime of and discipline of factory production, but means rather it is no longer limited to a particular site in society. It has insinuated itself throughout all forms of social production, spreading like a virus. All of society is now permeated through and through with the regime of the factory, that is, with the rules of the specifically capitalist relations of production. In this light, a series of Marxian distinctions need to be reviewed and reconsidered. For example, in the factory society the traditional conceptual distinction between productive and unproductive labour and between production and reproduction, which even in other periods had dubious validity, should today be considered defunct,” (Labour of Dionysius).

Having detached his ontology of labour from the circuit of capital’s self-valorization and its actualization in circulation, Negri comes to posit that a working class subjectivity for autonomy and self creation is now expressed in a new class composition. In his chronology of capitalism’s development there emerge, (i) Mass workers: all workers working for different capitalists spread over different junctures in the supply chain; (ii) the Collective worker: anyone on whom work is being imposed, and basically, anyone who helps reproduce labour power, (whether within or outside the circuit of capital accumulation and the labour process, such as women doing domestic labour, peasants, students, self-employed professionals, etc.). In a recent avatar, with increasing detachment from the existing working class movement, Negri, once a working class militant, has now come to sermonize from his position as a university democrat. His earlier collective worker has now metamorphosed into “multitude”, and hence, signifying that whomsoever is rejecting work and any control on their life, ARE CREATING a new world—his communism within capitalism (!).

Clearly, Negrian analysis includes playing with (distorting) certain key Marxist categories of analysis and arguments in the attempt to establish the petty bourgeois section (our term)/immaterial labour (his term—which itself is divided in petty bourgeois and worker), as the pivotal force in contemporary times. Of course, there will be an acceptance of the tangible presence of agricultural and industrial labour. To quote Negri, “Agricultural labour remains…dominant in quantitative terms, and industrial labour has not declined in terms of numbers globally. Immaterial labour constitutes a minority of global, and it is concentrated in some of the dominant regions of the globe. Our claim, rather, is that immaterial labour has become hegemonic in qualitative terms,” (Multitude); [emphasis in original]. By extension, this analysis means that the fight against capitalism is not against the property relationship within which the dual character of labour emerges, but SIMPLY AGAINST the daily transformation of our doing/our activities into abstract labour. Furthermore, only this so called hegemonic immaterial labour is in the position to do this. This model is best propagated by John Holloway in his article “Doing In-Against-and-Beyond Labour”. To quote Holloway, “…it is not just in the workplace: life itself is a constant struggle to break through the connections forced by abstract labour to create other sorts of social relations: when we refuse to go to work so that we can stay and play with the children, when we read (or write) an article like this, when we choose to do something not because it will bring us money but just because we enjoy it or consider it important. All the time we oppose use value to value, concrete doing to abstract labour. It is from these revolts of every day resistance, and not from the struggles of activists or parties that we must pose the question of the possibility of ceasing to create capitalism and creating a different sort of society.”

Of course, we sincerely doubt that Paresh is succumbing fully to such views. However, what we wish to point out is that a road somewhat half traveled with Negri, is a grave mistake for those committed to Marxism. If all the identities have simply entered into the reproduction structure of labour power then we can claim, based on this understanding, that all identities are equally subordinated to the rule of capital. And this is precisely what Paresh has almost come to argue. To quote him from his article, “Through and Beyond: Identities and Class Struggle”: “the problem of identities is the way it exists in the current conjuncture…all equally [emphasis added] subordinated to the rule of capital”.

However, contrary to Paresh’s analysis, for Marxism identities are not simply part of the whole (in the sense that they seamlessly flow into the whole, i.e. the working class position), but “parts” divided amongst different classes (Dalits, peasants, women etc. are all divided amongst different classes). In other words, all these identities cannot be axiomatically assumed to be part of the working class and hence, equally subordinated to the rule of capital. They should, instead, be seen as products of heterogeneous forms of labour and their alignment with different moments of capital. To illustrate this it is best to talk in terms of some concrete examples that reveal the multiple class positions present in identities and how these positions articulate themselves in a given social reality. Let us begin with the identity ‘peasant’ and how class differentiations within it are being overlooked by certain left organizations, in particular, Maoist organizations. Indeed, eliding the issue of class differentiation within the peasantry (akin to overlooking class differentiation within students) has been a perpetual problem in the Indian communist movement. Whenever movements have emerged and then intensified, communist organizations have often failed to address the issue of class divisions within the peasantry, thereby allowing rich peasants to curb the radical potential of such movements. As a result of this class collaborationist position, movements that are at junctures which can lead to further unfolding of radical and transformative politics, are withdrawn or die a natural death under the hegemony and dominance of rich peasants. It is this precise class collaborationist position vis-à-vis peasant politics that can be identified as revisionism in the Indian communist movement. Some details of this unfortunate process are discussed below.

At present, in many parts of India we can see Maoist politics at work. The problem with this politics (as highlighted by us on several platforms) is its promotion of a conglomeration/alliance between peasants (ignoring the class differentiation within), regional bourgeoisie (considered as national bourgeoisie vis-à-vis the wrongly ascertained All-India bourgeoisie/big bourgeoisie as comprador and bureaucratic bourgeoisie), petty bourgeoisie (itself divided tendentially into polarizing class processes), and the working class. The crux of our argument is that this form of alliance amounts to singing old songs in new times. This is because since the time of 1947 (the “transfer of power”) the Indian bourgeoisie has come on its own after successfully hegemonizing the Indian national liberation struggle. Following this, in the period of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, heightened conflicts emerged between the 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. The roots of the regional bourgeoisie lay in the transformation of property forms held by the rank of rich peasants. For example, after gradually acquiring property owned by poor peasants, the class of rich peasants moved onto diversifying their capital. No longer did they remain merely rich peasants but became petrol pump/cinema hall owners or entered the lucrative business of transportation, hardware, construction, etc. In this context one can say the tumultuous years post Independence were characterized by struggles based on competitive claims of different moments in the being and becoming of India’s capitalist class. Ironically, many a time Communists wrongly identified these struggles (constitutive of both friend and enemy classes), and formed united-fronts with them.

India’s Independence from colonial rule was based firmly on a multi-class alliance. Post this historical conjuncture, Communists came to make several mistakes while reading crucial moments in the process of class. Their misreading of historical moments for what they were, led them to make a series of dangerous alliances with the Congress, etc. Many such alliances led to the erosion of the Communist Party’s support base in constituencies such as those of the depressed classes. In reaction to the growing inertia and revisionism within the Communist movement, the militant Naxalbari struggle emerged. This militant struggle spread like fire and took the form of a prolonged movement, which actively sought to strengthen the anti-revisionist forces in the Communist movement. To coordinate the anti-revisionist tendency in the Communist movement a front called the All India Coordination Committee for Communist Revolutionaries (A.I.C.C.C.R.) was formed. Unfortunately, this body was dissolved. In its place emerged the Communist Party of India-Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) which was based on a party program that continued to project the Democratic Revolution as communist strategy. Splinter groups that have subsequently emerged follow some form or the other of this party program. One can say that by deferring the Socialist Revolution the progeny of the Naxalite movement are actually devouring their mother (i.e., the militancy thrown up again and again by dispossessed tribals and agrarian labour).

Take, for example, the Telangana movement in which two tendencies prevailed; one, which sought to keep the alliance intact by neutralizing the claims of agrarian workers who were key participants in the movement, and two, which sought to continue the struggle based on agrarian workers demands (1). The Communist Party came under the sway of the former, and the Telengana movement was withdrawn, hence, firmly establishing the Party (its legitimacy, etc.) on the rank of rich peasants. Post this maneuver the Communist Party came to be identified as the party of Kamma and Reddy—these being the two castes to which rich peasants (and later the regional bourgeoisie) belonged. Jokes circulating in the Dalit circle such as, “he is a Kama-Red” etc., reflect this unfortunate fact. Furthermore, if we trace the history of many rich peasant families involved in the early phase of the Telengana movement, we will find that many were transformed into the regional bourgeoisie. For example, the owner of one of the biggest drug companies in the world today, i.e., Dr. Reddy, hails from a rich peasant background. Similarly, the owners of Nagarjuna, a construction company, are from rich peasant families. They started out by outbidding Birla for the construction of the Nagarjuna Dam and have subsequently become one of the biggest construction companies in the world with several projects in war ridden Iraq and Afghanistan. Ramji Rao is also a notable example. His family participated in the Telengana movement, and he himself, was a state committee member of the CPI (later joined NT Rama Rao). Interestingly, he is now the owner of a 2000 acre film city—the biggest film city in the world!

Another historical blunder comes to mind. This time we speak of Maharashtra and the linguistic struggle that emerged in the early 1960s. The Communist Party supported the movement, and in fact, many workers became martyrs for the movement under the illusion that they were fighting for “Workers’ Raj”. In reality, the movement was in the hegemony of the emerging Maratha regional bourgeoisie/rich peasantry which was opposed to the older Marwari-Gujrati bourgeoisie based in the ‘Maharashtra’ region. All the working class got in return for their martyrdom was betrayal, embodied most cruelly in the celebration of Maharashtra Day on May Day, i.e. May 1st.

Indeed, if 1947 was the tragedy, the compromise in the Telangana movement was a farce. Similarly, the CPI-ML party program and its continuation are farcical repetitions where revolutionary zeal emanating from dispossessed tribals and agrarian workers are galvanized to proclaim deferment of the socialist revolution, and hence, to keep the form of Indian revolution perpetually at the democratic stage.

In this context, we believe that Maoists in India are communists only at a nascent stage of their struggle, i.e. when they begin to emerge from the struggles of dispossessed tribals and agrarian workers. We say this because once their influence in a region grows (i.e., with the formation of ‘liberated zones’), they come to make dangerous alliances with regional elites, and their politics increasingly fails to engage with differentiation present within the tribal and peasant population. It is a fact that the tribal population, for example, is not a homogenous group as often projected by Maoists. Tribal elites ally with the private business sector and become stakeholders in the lucrative forest-goods trade, or become contractors /transporters /moneylenders /suppliers of essential commodities in the region. In pursuing their business these tribal elites do not hesitate in exploiting their poorer tribal ‘brethren’. Similarly, rich peasants in Maoist-influenced regions, rake in significant profits through poppy cultivation, etc. They too openly exploit agrarian labour and poorer tribals employed by them. Though we as a tendency in the larger Left movement will always stand by the proletarian content in the Maoist movement, (and hence, oppose any state repression against them), we continue to criticize their class collaborationist line with respect to enemy classes (unity and struggle). Thus, as argued in this discussion on Maoist/peasant question, taking any sociological entity or identity as homogenous and then constituting a united front, leads to neutralization of the working class position and decimation of the movement’s radical potential.

4. Detailing the strategy and tactics of United Front

This brings us to the very important question of strategy and tactics of United Front. United Front is crucial for the working class movement because it ensures unity between different sections of workers spread over different identities, and also because it unites the working class with other oppressed sections in society. Although United Front ensures the working class is not isolated in its struggle against the rule of capital, it prevents the neutralization of the working class’s position, and hence, keeps intact the foundational logic of the progressive movement (i.e. the impulse of going beyond the system). We believe the dialectics of certain entities determine the form of United Front. These entities are: geopolitical formations (agrarian, forest, urban, slums, factories, universities, etc.); class (rich peasants, small peasants, agrarian workers, tribal contractors, dispossessed tribals, industrial and commercial capitalists, rentier petty bourgeoisie, slum proletariat, workers); different demands and tendencies; and different forms of politics. It is only through concrete analysis of the dialectical process of these entities that we can establish what form of United Front is Rational, Desirable and Feasible. No abstract and ahistorical generalization on the form of United Front and the participation of Communists in it is productive. Having said this, certain general features of any United Front can be summed up and synthesized in practices which we undertake, using, of course, the past experiences of the Communist movement. In the muddy history of United Front its formal conceptualization by the Comintern Congress of 1921 is often lost. Its essence is best retrieved from the report of this Congress in which it is conceptualized as maneuver designed to build unity between workers, given the historical context of the time. According to the Comintern Congress, United Front stood for the minority of communists trying to win over the majority of non-revolutionary workers (2). Later the basic thrust and spirit of United Front was applied by the Comintern to resolve the question of national liberation/nationalities, race, etc. According to its principles, communist workers were to ally with non-revolutionary workers and other sections of society in struggle against oppression, keeping their independence intact. So, the unity could not be based on the neutralization of one’s position. In other words, autonomy of action and will was emphasized. Furthermore, it was argued that with the spread of the working class will amongst non-revolutionary workers, communists would be in the position to expose to the workers the hollowness of non-revolutionary organizations that would obviously rebel against activities embodying the working class will.

Following the Comintern Congress, the principles of United Front found their way into many struggles as well as theses on the combined struggle of the working class and other classes in society (see Roy-Lenin Thesis on Nationality Question, the Dimitrov thesis of 1934-35 where the concept of popular/national front is discussed, Blum Thesis, National Front Thesis by Ho-Chi Min, etc.). In China the first United Front was formed between 1924 and 1927, and was based on the alliance of KMT and CPC. In 1937 the second United Front was formed between the KMT and CPC, which lasted till 1943. From the Second United Front (of KMT and CPC) many insights can be drawn regarding the Chinese communist strategy; many of which are applicable today and should be generalized. The Second United Front was based firmly on the basic thrust and spirit of the Communist International, and thereby, a Leninist position. As a result the Second United Front was based on the expansive hegemony of the proletariat and was characterized by endeavours to continuously work amongst the masses so as to wean them away from the enemy’s fold.

In this rich history of varied experiments with United Front, the so called Gramscian position is often picked up and emphasized. Gramsci’s writings were the product of a particular historical conjuncture, and were composed at a time when he identified the Southern question as the key problem of revolution in Italy. The whole question was centered on how to make the national-popular come on its own. According to Gramsci the failure of the ‘national-popular’ to come on its own amounted to the bourgeoisie winning over the petty bourgeoisie/peasantry. This failure of national popular or the new nation state (after the unification of Italy) was the result of a passive revolution based on the mass of peasantry giving only a passive and limited consent to a new political order. This limited consent of the peasantry led to a weak basis for a new political order, resulting in the Italian Risorgimento which relied increasingly on force. In this context, Gramsci defined as the special historical project of the proletariat, the helping of the nation to come on its own and the re-articulating of the demands and aspirations of the peasantry. With this project in hand the proletariat would come to form a new historical bloc based on continuous endeavours to win the heart and mind of the peasantry (also known as a war of position that came before a war of movement, or frontal attack). Unfortunately, Gramsci’s position on related practices led him to support National Socialism (Mussolini). In fact, precisely because there are fragmentary and inconclusive statements in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks about the extent to which working class hegemony can or must be developed before state power is transformed; his views have since then often been used to propel social democratic trends like Eurocommunism. Nevertheless, (leaving aside his momentary lapses-support for Mussolini and his appropriation by Eurocommunism), for Gramsci the central concern for the United Front was the weaning away of the petty bourgeois class/peasantry from the clutches of the bourgeoisie into the fold of the communist working class movement. (In this way Gramsci remained within the overall tradition of the early Communist International)

Unfortunately, Gramsci’s position, once detached from its concern for the working class movement, is often translated into different kinds of alliance building (Rainbow Coalition, etc.) in which different sections are sought to be won over by neutralizing one’s own demands. In other words, to resolve the antagonism that comes with alliance building, the neutralization of one’s own position is actively pursued. The so called Gramscian position has also been translated into a second form of alliance, i.e. the so called Democratic Alliance. This form of alliance building is based not on the neutralization of one’s demands but on the notion of equivalence of dis/content. An excellent example comes to mind—students are being evicted, so are basti people, and hence, the two can unite. In fact, it is assumed that wider the chain of equivalence, the wider the democratic alliance, and hence, the wider the collective built. However, the problem with such a position lies precisely in its assumption that equivalence in content (quantity) means the equivalence in form (quality). In reality an engagement with the form in which discontent exists in different sites/demands is very important; otherwise a de-materialized so called dialectics will make us believe that a certain level of discontent (quantity) is translatable into qualitatively different forms of articulation. To prove this let us draw on immediate events/incidents before us. Students have been evicted from college hostels in the wake of the Commonwealth Games, yet despite their obvious discontent they have not come forward to stop evictions taking place in other parts of the city (according to the golden rule of equivalence of discontent, they should have). Similarly, more the eviction of students, the more students should have aligned with others evicted. However, this has not happened either. Indeed, evicted students do not see an equivalence in the eviction of slum dwellers. The reason for this is the material constraints created by the complexities of varied class positions. We draw an analogy to elucidate how material constraints exist on the dialectical flow of one “part” into the rest of the whole: A small cat when it grows will become a big cat that meows and not a lion that roars.

The third form of alliance building would be the Leninist position, which is based on expansive hegemony of the working class. According to this position, the expansive hegemony of the working class can only be forged in the alliance by one medium, i.e. uniting of the different sections of workers scattered across different identities. It is the ability to unite heterogeneous labour forms that allows for the emergence of collective will (communist subjectivity). The highest development in the form of this collective will is embodied in Communist parties, whereas in its lowest level of development it is embodied in the communist subjectivity present in individuals, small organizations etc. So, it is only when this medium is acquired that we can make a successful alliance with other oppressed sections in society. For the sake of elucidation we refer to communist organizations’ political work amongst the Dalit community.

As an organization KYS is sensitive to the fact that ‘Dalit’ is an identity divided between a petty bourgeois class position and a working class position. In fact, we see the identity of Dalit as an articulation of United Front. Within this United Front, either the working class’ expansive hegemony can exist or the petty bourgeoisie’s expansive hegemony can exist. Currently, it is the latter that is in force. In the case of the petty bourgeoisie, the understanding of Dalit identity is based on the persistence of the identity across time and space. This position is best articulated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (see ‘Note by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on the Depressed Classes’, in Indian Franchise Committee, Vo.I, Calcutta, 1932, pp 202-11). In this piece Ambedkar argued against using any economic criterion for defining the depressed classes, citing examples of many well off persons amongst untouchables. Simultaneously, he argued against the universal voting right saying that the so-called better off amongst the untouchables would equally represent the poorer untouchables. Interestingly, due to the retention of the property qualification only 3.56 percent of untouchables were given voting rights in Bombay Presidency. Even today, the myth of representational politics is being kept alive within the Dalit community which is best projected in slogans such as “DM se CM, CM se PM!” etc. In reality, despite Dalit MLAs, MPs and CMs coming into existence, the material social conditions of majority Dalits remain the same.

Apart from the issue of voting rights we can see petty bourgeois hegemony articulate itself within reservation and the labour market. By demanding proportionate reservation the petty bourgeois section of the Dalit community has created ample space for its own upward mobility, and none for the working class segment of this community (who are in the majority). For example, the crème de la crème of the Dalit community are the first to pick up the few government jobs reserved for Scheduled Castes (i.e., according to the principle of proportion). In no way does their upward mobility in the labour market uplift the conditions of the majority Dalits, i.e. working class Dalits, who to this day toil on other people’s fields or do back breaking and degrading work like manual scavenging. Again, at the level of education, reservation works in the favour of this petty bourgeois section. The fifteen percent reservation provided to Scheduled Caste (SC) students in government institutes for higher education works in the following way: out of every hundred seats, fifteen are reserved for SC students, and for these fifteen seats both petty bourgeois and working class Dalits are made to compete. Considering that the total number of Dalits who seek admission is always greater than the number of seats, the reserved seats end up being distributed according to ‘merit’. In this context the seats go to Dalits from the petty bourgeois class since they have had access to better schooling etc., and hence, are more ‘meritorious’.

In opposition to this expansive hegemony of the petty bourgeoisie is the work of Communist organizations. In the debate on franchise, for example, the Communist Party of India argued vociferously from the proletarian position. Communist leader Ranadive argued that all Dalits should be allowed to vote, and at a particular historical conjuncture even supported separate electorates. Ranadive openly criticized the representational form of politics supported by Ambedkar, and posited, instead, direct democracy to all people (with special provisions to the oppressed section having specific requirements). Communists also worked extensively within caste associations of the time such as the Mahar Samaj Sewa Sangh, thereby, strengthening endeavours of the Dalit movement to fight casteism prevalent at cultural and social levels. Joint teams, comprising of both “upper” castes and “untouchables”, were consciously sent to the anti-caste movement’s various sites of struggle (the Nasik Temple Satyagraha, etc.). It is also a fact that to unite the working class movement against casteism, communist trade unions made many individuals from “untouchable” castes the leaders of Mill Committees, and also, Presidents of All-India Conferences (Comrade Bhise, who was made President of the All India Textile Workers’ Conference, is an important example). In this regard, Communists also fought against the exclusion of “untouchable” castes from certain jobs. For example, during the 1928 general strike (the first general strike to be led by Communists) they demanded that Dalits be employed in the weaving department of textile mills across Bombay. Communist organizations also invested in and promoted individuals from the Dalit movement, who later became cultural icons of the Communist movement. The strategy of the Communist movement (embodied in the several tactics mentioned above), was tremendously successful in weaning away many Dalit leaders and activists from the folds of the petty bourgeois dominated Dalit movement. Indeed it was these Dalit communist leaders who led many landmark anti-caste struggles. For the record, it was Comrade R.B. More’s efforts which led to Dr. Ambedkar’s participation in the Mahar Satyagraha. R.B. More went onto join the Communist Party of India and represented a formidable link between the Dalit and Communist movement.

Similarly, in today’s context, we as a Communist youth organization actively send joint teams to protests against caste atrocities. To unite working class youth against casteism it consciously promotes leaders from Dalit working class backgrounds. This is why both its Delhi and Haryana state committees are headed by Dalit youth from families of agrarian workers. In the University context, the organization has been arguing for a change in the form in which reservation is implemented. By raising this particular demand on several platforms (including those hegemonized by the petty bourgeois class of Dalits), as well as through its neighbourhood work in working class colonies, KYS has constantly sought to expose the class divisions within the Dalit community. This strategy stems from the fact that its cadre base comes from working class youth.

Indeed, we are the only Left organization in Delhi University (DU) that invests considerable energy/resources (in terms of the number of cadre mobilized, monetary funds spent, etc.) in the admission process of SC/ST students. In fact, we are the only Left organization which remains available to Dalit students from day one of the registration process to the last day of the counseling session. Our demand for a different form of reservation’s implementation stems from the detailed observations we have made during this admission process (in particular, the exclusion of Dalit working class students). Considering the limited seats made available to Dalit students, we have found that most working class Dalits, i.e. children of agrarian labourers who come from neighbouring states like Haryana, Western U.P. and Rajasthan, are denied admission to DU. In this context we have come to demand two things:

i) That reservation should be modeled on a roster system, according to which seats are first allotted to working class Dalit students from government schools.
ii) That there should be an overall increase in the number of seats provided to Dalit students, and to those from the general category.

While the former demand is an important step in revealing the immediate tension between the two classes present in the Dalit community, the latter is a crucial step for building organization work/influence amongst the (discontent) working class segment present in upper castes as well (3). The latter demand helps the organization to expose the hollowness of upper caste pride as well as the lack of unity within upper castes due to the presence of class divisions within them. The synthesis of these two maneuvers not only helps build a successful anti-caste front but also develops a potent opposition to capitalism embodied in capitalist education policies. While a Dalit front can be co-opted by the system, an anti-caste front constituted of Dalit and non-Dalit working class and its allies will go beyond, both, the caste system and capitalism.

Hence, the synthesis of the two maneuvers mentioned above is what amounts to the medium highlighted earlier, i.e. uniting of the different sections of workers scattered across different identities. It is this medium that subsequently paves the way for a successful alliance to be forged with progressive sections of the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. an alliance based on the expansive hegemony of the working class.

To prove how necessary such an alliance is even for the petty bourgeoisie, we would like to draw attention to the recent struggle of engineering students enrolled in Delhi Technical University (DTU), or the erstwhile, Delhi School of Engineering, of which many of our members were part of. Early this year, students of DTU carried out a prolonged and very militant struggle to prevent the conversion of their institution from a central government recognized institute to a state government recognized institute. For a month the students’ struggle persisted and they even ensured hundred percent boycott of the annual examination. However, despite its militancy the students’ struggle met with failure. The reason behind this defeat was the failure of the engineering students to ally their struggle with the concerns of other oppressed and exploited sections in society. The movement remained student/university specific, thereby, failing to become a trans-local one. When participating in the DTU struggle, KYS highlighted the need for the engineering students to reach out to government schools students in the city. We argued that for students aspiring for higher education, the devaluation of the engineering degree was a genuine concern, and that it was necessary to galvanize school students on the issue. The rationale behind approaching government school students (working class students, to be precise) was that they depended heavily on central government-subsidized higher education. With DTU becoming a state government run institution, a massive fee hike was introduced along with several other detrimental changes. Working class school students would have been a crucial fighting force against this gradual privatization of education. Their presence in the DTU struggle would have terrorized the Delhi and central government into accepting all the demands of the movement. Perhaps, if we had more extensive work in government schools in the city, we could have won over the DTU students regarding this strategy of alliance. Currently, our youth organization has work amongst only four government schools and some polytechnic institutes in Delhi.

Friends, this is precisely why we are concerned with the question of United Front, albeit with a notion of the hegemony principle. Indeed, we are concerned with the petty bourgeois question, and this is namely for two key reasons. Firstly, because we are not sectarian, we do not attempt to raise working class struggles in isolation. We obviously think that any isolationist stand will simply reduce working class militants into smaller sects/progressive clubs. Secondly, we realize the petty bourgeois section is being proletarianized gradually, which then creates possibilities for its mobilization either by the working class movement, or, by fascist forces (that seek to keep alive the hegemony of the bourgeoisie).

To talk in more concrete terms of the situation in universities like Delhi University (DU), we do recognize the north campus as a site of struggle, where ‘students’ as a sociological entity (within which different class positions are present) is constituted by administrative policies like cut-offs, funding for hostel facility only in certain colleges, the provision of limited number of seats in existing college hostels, the subsequent exclusion of a large number students from hostels, and thereby, the compulsion for them to live on rent. In this context, we see two concrete demands emerge, which, if given a proper political form by a Left organization, have tremendous potential. One of these demands is rent regulation in Delhi and the second is the demand for more hostels. The issue of rent regulation is a unifying factor for it unifies petty bourgeois students (living on rent in PGs) with working class students and their families who live on rent. From this unity, more hostels can also be demanded and fought for effectively. In the context of DU another pertinent issue emerges, i.e. the problem of fee hikes. This issue, unfortunately, has not been properly theorized and tapped on by many Left student groups. The fact that ‘Left’ student organizations have been unable to tap on the issue and mobilize effectively on it, is because they have made the target of this struggle (i) second and third year college students who are not affected by fee hikes (considering college administrations introduce such hikes for first year students), and are hence, least interested; (ii) first year students whose admission is confirmed on the basis that they pay the hiked fees, and are hence, more interested in “moving on”. Thus, the issue of fee hike is best raised amongst government school students or those who are going to join DU, and hence, have an objective interest in fighting for subsidized higher education. Our larger point is that the constituency of university struggles lies, both, in students enrolled in the university and those outside the university, i.e. school students. This has been KYS’s strategy with respect to Delhi University, and in concrete terms, we have been going to school students with the following demands: (i) abolition of the cut off system; ii) roll back of fee hikes in universities.

We hope this detailed exposition of our understanding on student-youth politics, clears any doubts about our political credibility and the feasibility of our political initiatives. Perhaps, for a distant observer our critique of UCD may have initially seemed liquidationalist in “sectarian” tenor. However, how can we be accused of liquidating a forum that was self-contradictory, and thereby, collapsed under its own weight? In that sense the purpose of triggering the debate was simply to show the fact that UCD had collapsed.

To straighten the record, once and for all, wish to reiterate that our position on UCD is based on the fact that UCD lacked spontaneity of form. If there was a chance for spontaneity in the form of UCD’s politics to emerge, i.e., if evicted students themselves had started a movement, or, participated in large numbers, then we would have definitely waited and continued to participate in the forum. Nothing of this kind happened. Some independent Left-leaning individuals and representatives of different organizations came together to form a JOINT FORUM/FRONT, which should not be conflated with United Front (4). This is a fact well brought out by a UCD member, Devangana, in a lengthy introspective mail. According to such accounts, even before the initial meetings in D-School, the contours of UCD were being fixed by a circuit of people familiar with each other. Considering this, we as participants, insisted that the constitutive logic of the forum be left open to further discussion and debate. Unfortunately, this intervention on our behalf was continually written off by a subset of UCD, and we quote them on this, “…basically the KYS saw itself as an advisory committee whose only role would be to teach us how to conduct ourselves…” The tenor of such comments are really like the old saying “Don’t just talk, do something!” In reality, the problem was not that KYS “was not doing something” (we were taking initiatives both inside and outside the forum, as everyone was free to do), but that we were challenging preset agendas of UCD and its goals and direction. Indeed, there were many who played an inactive role in UCD, and KYS was not one of them. We were identified to the contrary because in the process of actively participating, we were constantly questioning the preset contours of UCD. However, now that the edifice of UCD has collapsed and the “new” socialists are in disarray, there are many well intentioned individuals like Devangana who are hopeful of evolving a better strategy and building a new form of politics. In this context, what comes to mind is Mao’s motto, “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent”.

5. University Democracy or Going Beyond: A Contribution to the Critique of the University System

To sum up, we have been arguing that for student politics to become truly transformative (anti-systemic), it is imperative that Left organizations (and Left leaning individuals) address the class divisions present within the student body. It is only with consistent political work amongst working class students and working class youth (those who are not enrolled in universities) that organizations can build a stable and formidable base for a consistent anti-systemic movement. In this way, by connecting the university with the issues of youth excluded from it, organizations are building a unity which lasts despite the momentariness of student life and peculiarities of the university cycle. Further we have argued that without this political strategy, left organizations cannot build a base within non-working class students; the reason being that a form of politics which is devoid of working class students’ radicalism can only lead to partial (fleeting) radicalization of petty bourgeois students. As a result, it is only when a strong base has been created within working class students and youth that the issues of other students can be galvanized (forming United Fronts), effectively into an anti-systemic movement. In this context, we believe that perceiving university politics through the prism of campus democracy (something which all ‘Left’ organizations espouse to) is a self-defeating endeavour. In a polemical vein we have raised the following question: What ails university democrats? The answer: the disease is university (social) democracy itself.

Let us look more closely at the demand for campus democracy or democratic functioning in the university. As a demand it is present in many forms. We have those who argue that ‘democracy’ is a pertinent issue for all University youth, irrespective of class divisions within them. Thus, according to such formulations, campus democracy is a larger unifying demand with tremendous potential for building transformative politics. On the other hand, we have those who argue that students/university youth as workers have much to fight for against the current university system (internal assessment, regimented class programs, etc.). Here too the struggle for democratic functioning by university youth is considered an important and anti-systemic struggle. In other words, the operative part of this demand of campus democracy is the right of self-determinism, i.e., existing University students, teachers and other staff should have the right to run the University in ways they deem fit.

It is precisely here that the hollowness of campus democracy as a demand and as an agenda emerges. Why? Because campus democracy as an agenda is more Janus-faced than progressive. The call for ‘campus’ democracy is, after all, based on a minority of youth who make it to higher education. Needless to say, the inclusion of this minority that aspires for democracy is based on the exclusion of the majority of youth from the university system (embodied in the cut off system, continuous fee hikes, etc.). In many ways then campus democracy is based simply on the semblance of democracy. Drawing an analogy to the Greek republican tradition, one can say that campus democracy works in the very same way. Just as the Greeks built ‘democratic’ city states based on the division between citizens and slaves, university democrats and liberals of today are basing their university politics on the privileged few who make it to higher education. And just like the saying carved on the Greek academia’s portal, “only those who know geometry can enter”, university democrats and liberals of today are basically saying now that you have made it into the privileged inner circle, let us speak of democracy for us.

Apart from this the problem with campus democracy is also locatable in its emphasis. Its narrative and action plans are clearly based on questions of protocol. In other words, campus democracy’s emphasis is not on locating flaws in the system itself (capitalist education policies that exclude the majority from higher education), but in identifying secondary and contingent deviations such as corruption, violation of set procedure, lack of transparency, etc. Of course, these issues (of corruption, lack of transparency, etc.) can do very little when it comes to mobilization of university-youth. As pointed out by Naina in her last email, there is an obvious limitation to how much students can be radicalized using the demand for campus democracy. If the lifeline of campus democracy is the existing student population then there is a serious problem, for these people are not here to stay for long. Considering the university cycle, majority of students are here for a period of 3 to 5 years (the compulsion to work ensures that most do not have the staying power for further studies or research work), and by the time campus democracy as an issue can radicalize them (if it can), it is time for them to go. What then do we achieve if the base of our struggle itself is unstable?

It is a fact that this university cycle has become so engrained in the politics of ‘Left’ student organizations that now an instrumentalist notion of cadre building has developed within them. In other words, since students are enrolled in the university only for a limited period of time, ‘left’ organizations on campus seek to make their presence felt amongst them using the politics of spectacle. Student organizers have come to count their voting figures as the index of their success, which leads them to use (again and again) temporary political activities as a means to draw attention. The emphasis and political logic of these ‘left’ organizations are no longer based on long term plans for taking youth politics forward, but simply, about gathering electoral support or cadre building (which is very often based on little consciousness raising and ideological training). As a result of planning from one academic session to another, these organizations have failed to work intensively and consistently amongst working class students. This failure is embodied in the fact that despite their existence on campus, these ‘left’ organizations are unable to galvanize the support of working class students. Instead of being seen with ‘Left’ student organizations, working class students can be seen with ABVP goons and NSUI lumpens. Ironically, in the battles to save ‘campus democracy’ we are thrown against working class students (coming from peripheral colleges) who have sided with ABVP goons and NSUI lumpens. This happens because student organizations of the ruling class manipulate to their advantage, the discontent prevailing in working class students. They are successful in doing so because ‘left’ student organizations fail to identify the class discontent of these working class students, and hence, give this discontent a progressive form (and radical articulation). In this context, when working class students, (coming mostly from peripheral colleges but also from some north campus colleges of DU), attack us vehemently during brawls between ‘left’ student organizations and ABVP/NSUI; we must realize why they do so. It is because of an enmity stemming from their class position, which then ultimately translates into them despising ‘leftists’. Their enmity characterizes ‘leftists’ as “cool-daddy’s boys”, liberal, oddly dressed, long haired, persons (weirdos). Until we engage with their class discontent can we really wean them away from fascist forces? And can we win ‘the battle of democracy’ without them?

Indeed, the paradox is that campus democracy itself is not strong enough to save its own tenor from the onslaught of government policies. The problem is that it cannot stand on its own: something is missing in its edifice. We believe the missing link is the involvement of working class students and youth. As highlighted above with respect to the issue of fee hikes and the DTU students’ protest, struggles against the onslaught of capitalist education policies can only meet with success once such struggles spill out of the university. Since such policies affect working class youth the most, it is imperative that university students engage actively with class divisions within them, and persistently connect their oppression with concerns of working class youth who are denied admission to universities. If they do so the content as well as the form of university politics will drastically change, and indeed, change for the better. As long as students from petty bourgeois backgrounds are not exposed to the pull and push of the radicalized working class youth politics, they are liable to be co-opted by the ruling ideology and system in place. With a few relaxations here and there, with a few generous grants released now and then, with every small gesture of ‘democratic’ functioning, the prevailing education system can win over majority of petty bourgeois students. Even as we speak, it is doing precisely this. Thus, the petty bourgeois student’s militancy needs another axis for transformative politics to even take root. It needs another vision and it needs a different set of goals so as to take on the current education system. On allying with working class youth, petty bourgeois students will learn to question the very logic of the system in place (embodied in the principle of exclusion of the majority from education), rather than just raising issues of poor implementation, corruption, etc. They will learn that the working class is not only to be found in villages and slums, but within them and around them, and that victory lies in allying with working class issues.

Friends, let our struggles be based on the demand for going beyond empty notions of democracy. Let us, in other words, struggle both within and outside the university so that youth politics comes to be based on a constant linking of issues within the university with those outside (YET CONNECTED to) it.


(1) The latter tendency existed in another variant form, which supported the continuation of the movement on the basis of agrarian workers but called for a change in the methods pursued.

(2) Unfortunately, many times without a close reading of documents, the early Comintern’s endeavours as well as communist activities are wrongly identified as propagating “the praxis of the United Front (from above)”. If this had been the political approach of the Comintern, then, rather than a United Front it would have basically propagated the creation of joint fronts of leaders from different organizations. However, the involvement of the masses and the need to wean them away from bourgeois oppositional formations was the emphasis of the Comintern and its strategy of United Front.

(3) Interestingly, there is a third position on this issue of reservation, according to which reservation should neither be opposed nor supported. Instead, another measure, i.e. education for all, should be pursued. The problem with this position (and its abstract demand) is that it fails to tap on the specific dynamics of class conflict prevalent in different caste identities.

(4) UCD’s formation, at most, can be termed a United Front in proxy or a United Front from above which clearly lacked a mass bass. Considering the nature of the forum, it was imperative for participants who were Marxist, to ensure that the proletarian line was not diluted.

Liberal or Radical: A Dialectical Appraisal of Students’ Politics

 Paresh Chandra

Even though my participation in the current debate puts me incontrovertibly in the same “camp” as the KYS (Krantikari Yuva Sangathan), in fact precisely because this is so, it is important that I flesh out my differences with the way the KYS pamphlet formulates its critique of the UCD (University Community for Democracy). Without going into details, and without bothering to censure them for their aggressive style I will try to get at the definitive concept of their problematic and then proceed to show how I differ.

The KYS pamphlet clearly brings out the organisation’s commitment to a genuinely transformative politics that unequivocally upholds the position of the working class as the only possible agent of systemic change. In an identifiably Zizekian phraseology they have argued that the working class, instead of being one of many of identities, is the terrain which allows, or rather, determines, the way identities assert themselves. So far I have no disagreements with the pamphlet. My disagreement begins when the pamphlet fails to complete the dialectic hence begun. After having argued thus, the pamphlet goes on to say:

“It is a fact that students who join universities like Delhi University (DU), are from different classes. The trend in DU is that students from working class backgrounds generally join the peripheral and evening colleges of DU. They are mostly youth who: a) have studied in government schools, b) come from the Hindi medium background, c) who do not usually get admission to college hostels considering their 12th class schooling, d) are those who really struggle to cope with rising college fees and English medium teaching/coursework. Students from petty bourgeois backgrounds are quite the opposite—a significant number of them have studied in respectable public schools, get admission to the best north and south campus colleges of DU, and are generally the first to get admission to the limited college hostels of DU.”

Quite clearly there is a change in the manner in which class is being conceptualized. Clearly referring to class at a phenomenological plain, and hence deploying a sociological understanding of class, this paragraph reduces it to an identity. So then, there are two ways in which class is seen, first as a process and second as a sociological fixity. In itself, even this is not disturbing. But dialectical logic requires the explaining away of this duality, the exposition of the relationship between what one can call class-as-identity and class-as-class.

First of all I will assert that the KYS pamphlet fails to bring out this relationship (readers can take a look at the pamphlet for proof), and in failing to do so over-emphasizes one side of the duality. Despite arguing that class is not an identity, by and large, the pamphlet treats the working class as if it were an identity located in certain geo-political locations, and not in others (not in North Campus and in the peripheral colleges, for instance). Even when the pamphlet concedes that North Campus and places like it may have working class elements, it speaks in terms of clearly identifiable individuals and not tendencies that work in trans-individual ways. In other words, even here class remains an identity. This is not merely a misunderstanding; it is an over-emphasis borne of a certain sort of engagement with society and needs to be located in that experience. One can try and do just this after having explicated the nature of the relationship between class-as-identity and class-as-class.

*      *      *

The relationship between identities and the process called class is akin to that between particulars and the universal immanent in them, and constructed through continuous abstraction from them; the relationship is – to reassert what cannot be asserted too often – dialectical. An identity is valid at a particular spatio-temporal location, and rooted within it is the logic of truly transformative politics. But so long as an identity does not destroy itself, it continuously gets co-opted within the competitive system of capitalism. After a point an identity needs to transcend itself and move toward assimilation into the multitude of struggling identities. At the same time if one does not recognize the struggles of identities, one recognizes nothing, since struggle is necessarily posed in terms of identities. The class-for-itself is always in the process of being constructed, but is never out there, present a priori, to be recognized as somehow different from and superior to the multitude of identities. To explicate this understanding of class and to locate the student in this understanding I will quote at length from a pamphlet brought out by “Correspondence”.

“When Marx says ‘working class,’ does he mean only the ‘male, white, industrial proletariat?’ Maybe. But what was the logic behind designating somebody a worker? The working class is that section of the people on which work is imposed; the people who are alienated from their creativity, who are forced to create in circumstances that they do not want to create in, and who as a result will have to fight to be able to determine these circumstances. There was another concept, that Marx often made use of: the collective worker. The collective worker is this continuum, a continuum beyond localized time or space, of the working class subjectivity. The collective worker is a universal, common to all those on whom work is imposed. Work is imposed on the collective worker: the collective worker is made of various individuals on whom work is imposed in various ways; in a different way in the factory, in a different way in agriculture, in a different way in the university, in a different way in the household. So work is imposed on the professor in one way. It is imposed on the student in another. Studenthood is a phase in the life of this ‘collective worker.’ It doesn’t matter if some students come from rich households, if some will go on to become factory owners, or vice chancellors, at the moment of studenthood they are part of the collective worker. Professors and students are part of the same continuum. They together occupy the university, and in fighting for self-determination they are essentially on the same side. So in opposition to the student as a consumer, and the student as a product, is the student as worker.”

It should be evident that we are not speaking about individual students and the trajectories their lives may take. The student as a member of the working class experiences imposition of work insofar as s/he too has no control over the many hours s/he has to spend in the university, in attending class, courses studied, fees paid, exams written etc. Decisions are made at another level by administrators whose only considerations are the interests of the market, not what students, or for that matter, professors and karamcharis desire. Members of the administration are not elected representatives; they come in through mechanisms in which we have no say. Today we might be fighting the semester system, or the service regulations, or against the attendance rule, fee-hike or for timely payment of karamchari salaries, but we also need to fight the arbitrariness with which these problems impose themselves upon us. It is this arbitrariness of imposition that determines the students’ status as a member of the working class.

According to this view, it does not matter whether a student comes from a rich family or a poor family – because we talk in terms of the collective worker, we deal with tendencies and potential, not with determination and destiny (which we have to consider when speaking for individuals). At this level of abstraction any geo-political space bears within it the potential for positing a truly transformative form of politics, insofar as each localized moment of capitalism is constituted by the fundamental conflict between labour and capital. The idea that because a student comes from a (relatively) high-income group it makes her/him petty bourgeois has no validity; firstly because the parents belong to this group, and secondly, because income group is not what decides whether an individual is petty bourgeois or not, but the control s/he has over her/his labour power.

In fact, “petty-bourgeois” refers not so much to a fixed position as to a tendency. Each individual, living in the system of capitalism, is constituted by the struggle between this tendency and the tendency toward proletarianisation. The student is a part of the collective worker, but at the same time is also haunted by this specter of possible petty-bourgeoisfication. In some the petty-bourgeois tendency is stronger while in others it is weaker and this varies in proportion to the degree of control an individual has over her/his life. It is undeniable that the socio-economic security that certain parents are able to provide their children, who then become students, means that these students are not easily discontented, and when they are discontented their immediate impulse is to go back to the previous state of relative comfort. In these individuals the petty-bourgeois tendency is strong and hence they are more likely, at a moment of conflict, when they feel pressed, to go for a local resolution, which helps consolidate the status quo.

The KYS pamphlet claims that this is the position of the student studying in North Campus. If this is so, then undoubtedly it will be difficult to facilitate the emergence of a truly radical form of politics here; but even then it is not impossible. This is not the beginning of a lesson in the “optimism of spirit”; one is merely trying to point out that the difference between the North Campus or any other identifiable geo-political space with any other, is one of degree and not kind (“lesser or greater degree of petty-bourgeoisfication,” and not “working class and petty-bourgeois”). Perhaps comrades from the KYS think that they never contradicted this dictum. I will remind them that after a point quantity changes into quality – this seems to have happened in their pamphlet. A class-conscious student would see herself/himself as a member of the working class and in that will leave behind determinations like prehistory and family. All locations and identities are potentially arena for struggle, and this is what the KYS pamphlet fails to take cognizance of. However – and this is not to be denied – there is more to this story. I will come now to the experience that gives birth to a theorisation like the one offered by the said pamphlet.

*      *      *

When one is engaged in the pragmatics of political activity, it becomes necessary to function at a level of abstraction altogether different from the one that forms the core of the science of revolution making – this is the difference between tactic and strategy. Our experiences in “students’ politics” tells us that because of certain reasons, which are clearly linked to the petty-bourgeois tendency discussed earlier, it is harder to build a ground for a sustainable agitational politics in places like North Campus, as opposed to peripheral colleges of DU or polytechnics. So tactically, it might seem more fruitful for an organisation to focus on these other areas. One might even go as far as to say that the form of politics that a space like North Campus might throw up is much more likely to be ideologically compromised than the ones thrown by the so-called peripheral zones.

However, the North Campus continues to be a possible terrain for political engagement for those located here and willing to recognize it as a space, like any other, where individuals do not have control over their labour process. Of necessity, such individuals will be forced to ally with petty-bourgeois tendencies, which at certain moments show an anti-capitalistic tenor, during the course of their struggles – tendencies that in the final instance are constitutive of capitalism. How does one recognize these tendencies as they unfurl into political activity? To answer this question, which is really the most important one here, I will try to engage with the politics of the UCD (University Community for Demcracy) as it has unfolded so far. Below are two quotes from the UCD response to the KYS pamphlet.

“Mocking these attempts the way the KYS pamphlet does is precisely what discourages fellow “petty-Bourgeois” folk from making even that small effort, and makes politics into a club rather than a movement.”

“We have no claim to be any revolution’s vanguard, or harbingers of a future ideal society. However, each of us is actively engaging with how we want to visualize an ideal society. Ideologically some of us are committed Marxists, some are liberals, while most of us are still exploring our paths in the world of ideas and commitments. Some of us are members of other organizations. All we demand is that these not be reactionary, communal, sexist or casteist.”

Clearly, everybody is free to visualize the ideal society of the future – of the ones who do get involved in this task committed Marxists are only a section. Others are liberals. What is needed to be a member of the UCD is not a positive commitment to a politics, but characteristics that can comfortably be clubbed under “political correctness”. Apparently what keeps the petty bourgeoisie (keeping in mind that the ontology been accorded to this “class” is provisional) from political action is not their class position, not the fact that they have a stake in the system, that they like being petty bourgeois, but merely the fear that the KYS will come swooping down on them in a typically undemocratic manner. This complete willingness to accept anything, in what can only be called a liberal democratic spirit, is understandable when it comes from a loosely constituted group with no regulating epistemology, but it is disturbing that the “committed Marxists” in the group have nothing to add – the entire response, falls in line with these utterances and nothing disturbs its harmony. Hence, I, already engaged in this debate, am forced to state my case strongly.

*      *      *

There are two ways in which a vanguardist group (read: a group trying to intervene with an idea of transformation, not the “authentic” vanguard/party) could intervene in a situation. Either a conflict has taken place and the people affected have reacted – in which case the vanguard could enter the movement and try to “direct” its course (this is not necessarily as mechanical a process as it sounds – the final direction that a movement takes could be a compromise between the inertia of the movement and the intervention of the vanguard, or it could be a mutually redefining dialogue). The other alternative covers those situations where a vanguard perceives a moment of conflict gone unquestioned, and decides to “construct” a movement around it. In both cases the vanguard takes its “principles” with it, but in the second case the primacy of these principles is much more apparent. In a case of the first kind the vanguard enters the movement with, in fact because of, its principles, but also with the knowledge that the movement has a direction of its own – this is why it could decide not to enter a movement if it perceives that the inertia of the movement is taking it in an unwanted and unalterable direction. In the second case however the vanguard decides the direction of the movement. Of course once the movement becomes a “mass movement” the weight of the mass could change the direction but the initial impetus that the vanguard provides would be hard to shake off completely.

Despite possible claims to the contrary the inception of the UCD and the conception of the entire movement falls in the second of the two patterns charted above. Although the “Facebook Group” might have been joined by a number of students who were actually affected, the movement proper – if it ever was that – began as an initiative of a few who stood “outside” this conflict and had been drawn to it because of larger political/social commitments.  If this was the case then it was important that the aims of the campaign should have been defined early, and clearly, but this never happened. In fact it is not hard to perceive in the passages quoted earlier and in workings of the UCD overall, a reluctance to discuss these questions.

I will mention something that has emerged repeatedly in various responses to the KYS pamphlet; the UCD response too throws at us the same thing. They say, “Is it not enough that some people are trying to do something? Why do you attack us? Why don’t you too help us?” As if the moment one begins to do “something” what one does becomes irrelevant – it merely detracts from the task of doing “something.” Exploring what this “something” is leads us to the question of form. The way I see it, at the center of KYS’s attack lay a concern with form – the difference of form which decides what politics is merely transgressive and extralegal and what transcendental and illegal/metalegal. Two organisations/groups pick up the same issue and yet there is a difference. While one picks it up in a way that allows the system to deal with it without needing to burp, even though this organisation is able to mobilize “vast numbers”. The other organisation is able to mobilize only a few and yet it mobilizes them in a form that cannot be accommodated within the system. Which is to say, if one does not concern oneself with these abstract questions, which we have to admit have been brushed under the carpet throughout all UCD meetings, we could make all the noise in the world, mobilize millions and yet it would all come to nothing.

To get back, who says “atleast I am doing something?” S/he who does not care what s/he is doing. Hence s/he who does not, in the final instance, have a stake in what is being done. This is the position of that bunch of people who can afford to not care what they do. They are not out to change the world, to make it more equal and so on. They are out to satisfy their conscience – well meaning people, undoubtedly, they feel guilty for not being great sufferers, for being what they are. They need to feel that they too do something for the world. The moment they get this feeling they find felicity; this is the limit of their political project. So what has happened: a moment of conflict was thrown, a group of people got involved, tried to conjure a movement, not knowing where they want to go with it, not caring either; they do “something,” which is in effect nothing objectively, but everything for their subjectivity. Precisely because they do not have a theory of revolution (for they do not need a theory of revolution), the only measure they have to judge the success of their movement is subjective satisfaction. Since they find themselves satisfied, they conclude: “it was good.”

*      *      *

This is the petty-bourgeois-dom that the KYS has charged the UCD of, and it is the dangers of this tendency, as has been said before, that the KYS finds in locations like the North Campus. Certain concerns that the KYS expressed in their pamphlet, albeit in a polemical vein, and which were badly addressed by the UCD response demonstrate the problems of such politics. I will try and deconstruct some of the “concrete” steps that were involved in the form of politics that the UCD spawned, so as to be able to demonstrate exactly how it is a compromised form (emerging out of a petty-bourgeois tendency unchecked by the “committed Marxists” of the group):

1) Teachers taking classes outside/bringing their students to the protest-site: At least in the last few years, if not for longer, whenever we (of the Left) have had to mobilize students, this is a trick we have used. Certain professors, whom we know, and who are indubitably well-intentioned Leftists ask their students to join the protest/rally/whatever. Even if the question is not of internal assessment teachers do have some power over students, and at least some students will do what the teacher asks. This has been an efficient way of increasing numbers on the road. However the clearly pedagogic and top-down nature of this mobilisation implies that no politicisation happens – in fact there might actually be some resentment on part of students “mobilized” in this fashion. The larger point, however, is that this gives us a false sense of “having numbers” – something which is, to my mind, not very good.

2) On the commune:  In the first meeting (which I attended) there was no talk of a commune. After the meeting something happened, and in the evening I heard talk of this idea. In the next meeting it was brought up, supported by some, resisted by some, and if I remember correctly, it was left an open question. In the third meeting or maybe the one after that, the first draft of the pamphlet was discussed which made mention of this idea, without using the word “commune”. The idea was debated once again. Following were the objections made against the attempt to create such a space:

  • Is it in our capacity to arrange alternative accommodation?
  • Why are we doing this? Three reasons were offered by those in favor of this idea. The first was that those left ‘homeless’ (presumably girls from Miranda College, who because they had not been informed of the unavailability of the college hostel beforehand, would have no place to stay) need a place to stay. The second was that this space would serve as a retreat for the movement. The third was that this would be a place of politicisation, a space where an alternative form of “student self-organisation” would be posited etc. Opponents of this idea thought that we should not be wasting our energy on finding shelter – students can do it on their own. Another response to the first point, which also engages with the second, was that if we have to retreat we will occupy college buildings – a much more radical step. People nodded their heads but the plan concerning the commune went ahead, and this alternative idea was not mentioned. The final response, to all three reasons offered, was: who are we to decide the form of the movement already? Let there be a movement, let the “masses” come and then we can decide democratically. Heads nodded. At the end, we concluded that the mention of “envisaging such an alternative” should either be excluded or toned down in the first pamphlet. However in the next draft of the pamphlet the word “commune” came, the paragraph became stronger. (See the note below)

There is nothing wrong with communes, if they come up during the course of a movement. But to aim at “setting up” a commune, even before the movement has actually begun, before the first demonstration or protest, is a problem. Firstly, because claiming to be a platform, not an organisation, a platform which functions democratically, the UCD was showing the worst form of substitutionism – already deciding what was to be done later, without having consulted those who could become part of the movement. More importantly, if we have learnt from past experience we should know that such a space can only be a bubble, which precisely in seeming to be outside the control of commodification gets included in the market. Theoretically, a commune is no different from other market interests, unless it emerges directly from a movement. As a spatially localized zone it is forced into negotiations with the market, an administration is inevitable, the larger questions of class-struggle are, if anything, suspended inside this space of privilege. That such a form of politics was being pushed from the beginning, and most strongly by the “committed Marxists” present in the UCD is explained, in the final analysis by referring to the now notorious “petty-bourgeois tendency,” that they have been unable to transcend.

If the idea of a commune had cropped up during the movement, it could have been a different proposition altogether. Suppose the UCD had, after a series of protests, occupied a college building (even if having mobilized students only from Miranda College) and then under threat of forceful repression from the administration retreated to another area (say a “working class” area). There we could have tried to set up such a space, with the collabouration of those involved in struggles in that area. In this situation, instead of being a retreat, the commune would have actually comprised a move forward in the direction of the generalisation of the struggle against capital.

3) Because members of the UCD have been stressing the democratic manner in which the platform functions, it seems important that they explain why decisions taken in the meetings failed to reflect in the pamphlet brought out. Reactions of some members of the UCD to the “official UCD” response, also suggests problems in its internal functioning.

4) A compromised form is even now undermining the efforts of the UCD. The UCD is at this point trying to expand the campaign to politicize people by selling badges and t-shirts. Rumor has it that people who are buying these commodities (for these are commodities) are being politicized and the number of commodities sold is a measure of politicisation done. What is one to say to this? For one, only those who can afford to buy these will buy them. The bigger problem however is the complete lack of analysis that this attempt comes from – in a system dependent on commodity production we think selling a commodity can help the cause of transformation. People buy so many things! They will also buy these commodities. After buying them, they will feel better, conscience at ease, for they have now done there bit for the world. So then, we help the logic of the market along, and set at ease precisely those consciences, which we on other occasions try to hit at (not that this is particularly useful).

*      *      *

All these problems constitute the form of politics envisaged by the UCD – a limited political project that brackets out any attempt to generalize the struggle, which cannot, or will not, stay wary of the difference between surface reform and the asking of structural questions, which seeks after either localized resolution, or attempts to create a local alternative as an end in-itself. With its tendency to over-emphasize and to side-step dialectical reasoning, the KYS pamphlet tries to bring out these problems in the politics of the UCD, and its members. The said over-emphasis makes it seem as if these problems are inevitable for a form that emerges out of this location.  One will allow that the petty-bourgeois position too gains a provisional ontological mooring, but more than that, while trying to conceptualize the terrain and agency of political action, cannot be granted. One cannot deny the inevitability of the problems that the “natural” form of politics that this position throws up contains, but it has to be asserted that these can, nonetheless, be resolved with a proper amount of retrospection and with an engagement with other forms that arise out of other locations. Unfortunately the UCD response not only does not attempt this, but tries to evade its necessity by claiming that the issues raised by the KYS have no basis in reality and are founded in the “mal-intent” of KYS-members and in a series of “lies”.



The said paragraph in the initial draft of the first pamphlet:

“At the same time, we call upon students to envision another space, an imaginative and practical alternative that is self-governed by members of the university community, that meets its own needs and conducts itself in a responsible and democratic fashion.”

What it became in the final draft:

“On our part, let us work towards creating another space, a commune perhaps, an imaginative and practical alternative that is self-governed by members of the university community, a cooperative living space that meets its own needs and conducts itself in a responsible and democratic fashion.” [emphasis original]

Discussing “United Front” in the context of the NSI-UCD-KYS Debate

Pothik Ghosh

First, an axiomatic assertion: the communist conception of the United Front is by no means meant to enable the politics of liberal consensus to come into its own. If anything, it is meant to extinguish the condition of possibility for such politics. The United Front – at least in the realm of revolutionary communist theory – has always been envisaged as a programmatic concept of advance-through-generalisation for the capital-unraveling politics of the proletariat, even as it steers clear of the trap of substituting overgeneralised sectarianism for real, essential unity among concretely varied working-class locations.

This essence of the communist concept and practice of the United Front is most at stake in the ongoing polemical exchanges between the New Socialist Initiative-led University Community for Democracy (UCD) and the Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS). Yet, unfortunately, it is precisely this politico-theoretical essence that has been lost in the fog of those polemics. The NSI, which has to all intents and purposes been the key organising and driving force behind the UCD, clearly envisages socialist United Front politics, discernible in its defence of the current shape and directionality of the UCD, as one of consensus between various social blocs and classes in their ostensibly common struggle against the manoeuvres of dominant politico-economic and socio-political forms of capitalism in the specific location of the university and its neighbourhood. On the other hand, the KYS has, its intentions to the contrary notwithstanding, failed to free the revolutionary impulse – which underpins its otherwise absolutely valid criticism of the UCD as a material embodiment of the politics and ideology of liberal consensus (essentially integral to the hegemony of capitalism) – from the fetish of the historical specificity of its own experience. As a consequence, its otherwise legitimate polemic against the UCD and the NSI has failed to overcome its sectarian tenor and ignite a substantive debate.


UCD’s Rejoinder to the KYS pamphlet

University Community for Democracy (UCD)

The following is a rejoinder drafted by University Community for Democracy to the pamphlet circulated by Krantikari Yuva Sangathan titled “What is Ailing University Democrats”. We will first present what we see as certain basic misconceptions and flawed assumptions at work in way KYS has understood UCD, and then proceed to factually refute a number of statements made in their pamphlet.

UCD is a platform primarily consisting of students and some teachers of Delhi University. It was formed when many of us who were deeply offended by the way the University authorities had decided to evict students from their legitimate right to hostel accommodation decided to come together and protest against this eviction. In the course of our discussions, we concluded that the callous behaviour of the University administration in this instance had to be linked to a larger pattern of increasingly irresponsible and authoritarian governance in Delhi University. Hence, we decided to call ourselves University Community for Democracy. For us, democracy is a mode of governance and organisation which is transparent, open and inclusive. At the same time, while each organisation and individual harbours its own ideological worldview, the fact of coming together on this platform has not been to absolve those differences but to come together with a basic common understanding of the problem at hand. It is, therefore, a coming together of those from the Left and not elsewhere. While demanding our democratic space from University authorities we have also tried to realise what democracy can be for us in our own workings as a platform. All our meetings are held in the open (most of them have been held in the lawns of Delhi School of Economics), all decisions are taken in these open meetings, which are duly recorded in minutes put up on freely accessible internet forums. We do not claim to be saviour of anyone in the University, the downtrodden, the working classes or the poor. We have no claim to be any revolution’s vanguard, or harbingers of a future ideal society. However, each of us is actively engaging with how we want to visualise an ideal society. Ideologically some of us are committed Marxists, some are liberals, while most of us are still exploring our paths in the world of ideas and commitments. Some of us are members of other organisations. All we demand is that these not be reactionary, communal, sexist or casteist.

The KYS pamphlet demonstrates their failure to understand this basic character of the UCD. The central paradox in their formulation is that they see the UCD as an organisation. It isn’t. UCD was always conceived as a network of those who shared a basic understanding of a common problem afflicting both the University in particular and in the city in general. So when the weaknesses of UCD are pointed out, it seem to assume that UCD is an organisation with a defined manifesto in rivalry with (and thereby judged retrograde in comparison to) another organisation like KYS, whereas UCD was loosely assembled as a forum precisely for individuals and organisations like KYS and NSI to ally their valuable experience with mobilisation and work together. The very fact that KYS has criticised UCD for its politics vis-à-vis KYS demonstrates that they saw themselves separate from it, and thereby missed the spirit behind which the network was formed. Indeed, one could go on to argue that the very distinction drawn between UCD and KYS as distinct organisations confirms the strange sense of competitiveness one sensed throughout from KYS members when they consistently spoke (and Sujit reinforces this sense in his reply to Bala) of some issues, such as rent regulation, as rightfully their forte, given that they raised it months before UCD was born. The fact is that UCD was never in competition in KYS, for the efforts of KYS members was considered part of what UCD was meant to be. That is why one was rather bewildered when one found KYS drafting pamphlets on concerns that overlapped with those of the UCD without once informing or involving fellow members in the UCD. Indeed, upon being confronted on this issue, KYS members spoke of their struggle as a “separate” one that needed no prior permission from the UCD. This position seemed to miss the point entirely (no one was demanding that KYS ask for ‘permission’ anyway), for it assumed that the two groups were rivals competing for the same political claims rather than colleagues fighting in the same battle. This attitude, destructive to cooperative participation and petty, to say the least, also finds its way into Sujit’s so-called ‘critique’.

It is also for this reason that one wonders at the naïveté of those who claim that attacking the behaviour of KYS members is a ‘personal attack’, as if the ‘personal’ is somehow a pristine space cleansed of politics and ideology. Indeed, the questions being raised about KYS members’ personal maturity is an intensely political question, especially given that (and this will be understood by those who regularly attended the meetings and did the work) the same KYS members rarely leant themselves to the actual labour of UCD activity (drafting and printing posters and pamphlets, campaigning in colleges, etc). Surely one’s own physical contribution is as much a measure of one’s politics as ideological contestations about the working class. In that sense, it is not simply “fashionable activism” to ask the question of who did what, for some have consistently worked harder than others to make the UCD campaign successful, and those ‘some’ have a right to be ‘resentful’ when others who never fully contributed to that process later claim that the process was undemocratic and politically flawed. The question needs to be asked: as UCD members, what did the KYS members do to improve the process? Having had all the problems they had, at what point did they make the space their own to do something about it? Merely making suggestions at meetings for others to implement is not enough.

Speaking of making suggestions, the KYS pamphlet claims that the valuable ones made by KYS members were “swept under the carpet as mere issues of modus operandi or as divisive tactics”. Besides being factually untrue, as the minutes of the meetings show, it is rather reductive to claim that an imperative to focus on a meeting’s agenda is tantamount to undemocratic repression of criticism. Any member of any organisation knows that meetings have to be conducted with a certain discipline, and cannot simply become occasions for everyone to mouth their opinions on any matter generally concerning the organisation (we hope KYS meetings function with this discipline as well). Those larger questions are of course very important, and it was even felt that a separate meeting should be called specifically in order to discuss the ideological differences that had been raised in previous meetings. Alok, a KYS representative and member of the UCD, was categorically asked to take the initiative to decide a time for the meeting. But taking initiative is precisely what KYS members haven’t been doing in the UCD campaign, so it isn’t surprising that such a meeting was never held.

The KYS pamphlet confirms our argument when it states that “in the very beginning in UCD meetings there have been activists and organisations that have questioned the constituting logic of the forum” (emphasis added). So basically the KYS saw itself as an advisory committee whose only role would be to teach us how to conduct ourselves, to point out faults in our “constituting logic” before it had even been built! This brings us back to our earlier point: UCD wasn’t allowed to grow because KYS seemed determined to see themselves as critical outsiders rather than as participative insiders. They were quick to criticise at every step of the way, without contributing offering concrete suggestions or constructive proposals on what alternative to follow. Many members found this behaviour by KYS members disruptive, and their objections have been noted in the minutes of more than one meeting. In this regard, refer to the minutes of the following meeting:

Minutes of UCD meeting on 22nd July 2010 – pertaining to an incident on 21st July!/topic.php?uid=135067129852679&topic=211

“The meeting today began with a discussion on the issue of an incident at Hans Raj College where the KYS and CSW (who are members of the UCD) were distributing their organisational parchas and running a parallel campaign on similar issue at a time when they had committed to UCD work – they were to be at Daulat Ram college as part of the UCD college campaign. The discussion was hoping to arrive at a sense of how we will work together as a collective and proceed with our campaign in a democratic manner, without fragmenting into competing campaigns, since most people felt that the UCD is a collective for moving ahead with the issues offset by the Commonwealth Games in the city, and now, the more specific issue of hostel evictions in the university”.

“Also, while everybody agreed that there was absolutely no issue with the fact of individuals and groups will be part of separate agendas and campaigns, we did think it necessary that we must not allow this to become disruptive to our campaign’s efforts. That was raised in the context of how the KYS and CSW apart from absenting from the slotted work at the slotted time for UCD activities were conducting their own campaign on rent regulation (an issue that had come up in the previous meeting to be brought out in the next UCD parcha) and demand for more hostels, and even while they distributed their pamphlets they did not distribute the UCD pamphlets. Some members of the UCD who went to Hanraj yesterday when they came to know about it, brought up the incident in the meeting as an issue of honesty and trust of the collective which consists of individuals, groups as well as organisations. KYS did apologise for the comments by a member of their team. The latter was quoted saying that their campaign and pamphlet were better than that of UCD”.

“While members of the KYS and CSW said that their being at Hans Raj was a result of confusion, there was disagreement about this since it was seen as a breach of trust, going against the spirit of this campaign and collective. While some members assumed KYS and CSW had stepped out of the campaign already, KYS and CSW denied such a claim”.

“Finally, to end the matter a resolution was passed in the house stating that there was a case of misconduct by KYS and CSW relating to the incidents of the previous day. (Out of 24 people, 14 voted in favour of the resolution, 4 voted against, 6 abstained from voting)”.

In this regard, one could even call the KYS duplicitous, because they wore down the UCD at a time when, unlike KYS, it was still a very new campaign at an early stage of its formation. Thus, while their 5,297 words of vitriolic diatribe might sound radical to those dissociated with the workings of the campaign, we maintain that to decry a process one never contributed to help or improve is possibly the most flawed form of politics. When theory cannot give direction to praxis it is rendered meaningless.

And now we have this long litany of accusations against us, trying to prove how we are not an organisation that can lead students of oppressed classes for a joint struggle with the working class to destroy class and emancipate the world. Both the KYS pamphlet and Sujit’s reply to Bala is littered with rather self-conscious references to “petty-Bourgeois” backgrounds as somehow endangering one’s commitment to politics. Perhaps KYS has to ask itself whether experiential politics can be stretched to such an idealtypical situation that anyone who is not dalit/poor/muslim/woman/gay/tribal cannot speak, as if access to capital necessarily yields a flawed political subjectivity. Of course it is important to remember one’s class position, but there is also something to be said for those still trying to become politicised despite their privileged subject positions. Mocking these attempts the way the KYS pamphlet does is precisely what discourages fellow “petty-Bourgeois” folk from making even that small effort, and makes politics into a club rather than a movement. That is the brand of politics KYS espouses, and it is not one we endorse. Thus, when KYS accuses us of not being this or that, the irony of the matter is that we have never claimed to be what KYS accuses us of not being! Unlike the KYS, we do not use Left rhetoric merely as a means to vilify, nor are we impressed by KYS’ attempts to claim the moral high-ground by claiming to work for the oppressed and exploited of this country (itself a suspect claim). For most of us in the UCD, our work has been a discovery of the politics of democracy and protest. We are not here to wear medals for being the most radical. If we were, then KYS has already declared itself the winner, and we happily concede them the title.


The following section consists of a point-wise rejoinder to the slanderous allegations the KYS has levelled against the UCD. Sections of the KYS pamphlet have been reproduced in bold and our responses follow in standard lettering. We have not commented on all the factual inaccuracies, for there are far too many and unlike KYS, we have work to do for our campaign. What we have highlighted are only the sections that disturb us the most. We have also consciously chosen not to respond to the large passages in the KYS pamphlet that pontificate about the nature of the working class. There are countless critiques and counter-critiques of their position within Marxist theory, and doing so here will digress from our major points of contention. Nevertheless we thank them for their effort to educate all of us.

1. Regarding teachers and internal assessment

These teachers, acting as pied-pipers and humming the threatening tune of internal assessment, drew their hapless students to the venue by taking their classes there. Students (the majority of whom were oblivious to the issues raised), were obviously not taken into confidence when they were made to come to the “hunger strike” site.

This is a straight lie. No students were ever threatened with internal assessment. Moreover, we are offended by the cavalier recklessness with which KYS questions the credibility of teachers who have been crucial for stimulating progressive debate in the University for decades, and who have stood by the student community in countless cases of injustice against students.

2. Regarding rent regulation

Let us take the example of rent regulation raised during the “hunger strike”. Firstly, UCD began its campaign with absolutely no concrete demand of rent regulation. The forum was forced to pick up the issue of rent regulation in addition to the issue of hostel eviction because it was constantly accosted by the majority of students who had never even lived in college hostels, and had for a long time been faced with the problem of escalating rents. There was also urgency in making rent regulation an active demand of the UCD campaign because some other organisations had already launched a full-fledged campaign on rent regulation in the city. Hence, it was more in a competitive spirit than with any serious commitment and understanding on the issue that rent regulation became part of UCD’s charter of demands.

Please check our very first parcha, released on . It reads: “It (University) has thus become an accomplice in the larger processes of reckless corporatisation that the whole city is undergoing in the bid of become a ‘global city’. This has left students at the mercy of private accommodation, with its unregulated rents and precarious guarantees. Rents are rising in anticipation of the increased demand for PGs and flats, forcing many existing residents to move out and making accommodation unaffordable for incoming residents as well. The University had made no attempt to devise a mechanism to control or subsidise rents”.

Please also refer to the minutes of the following meetings:

Minutes of UCD meeting on 3rd July 2010!/topic.php?uid=135067129852679&topic=193

“There were concerns shared about whether we would like to gradually broaden this to wider struggles in the city. It was accepted that we would be broadening our ideas gradually and linking it to wider struggles. This is why we have tried to form a larger forum and this is a campaign within it at the moment” (the ‘this’ we are talking about is the campaign concerning hostel evictions).

Minutes of UCD meeting on 20th July 2010!/topic.php?uid=135067129852679&topic=207

“There was a brief discussion about what our approach should be gradually, if we should focus on hostel evictions or also give more prominence to the issue of unregulated rents and problems in the neighbourhood since many students live in private accommodation”.

The very fact that KYS makes this claim despite all this history is itself evidence of the competitiveness prevalent behind the KYS’ anxiety to declare their campaign on rent regulation as the only legitimate one, and to declare all others as motivated “more in a competitive spirit than with any serious commitment”.

3. Regarding the decision to approach University authorities

This is precisely why UCD’s “hunger strike” targeted the audience in Arts Faculty (a transit point for the student/ teaching community), and not any tangible authority (which in this case should really have been the Government of Delhi). And this is why the best that UCD can do on the issue of rent is to demand rent regulation from the Dean of Colleges! Quite rightly, their delegation was informed by the Dean of her incapability to regulate rents since this was way beyond the University authorities’ jurisdiction and responsibility. We return to the fundamental question: why does the University remain the centre of UCD’s resistance when authorities beyond the Vice Chancellor are to blame, and when there are many people apart from students/teachers who are adversely affected by unregulated rents?

We approached the University authorities – the Vice Chancellor – because he is responsible for ensuring a safe, affordable accommodation for the students of Delhi University. In the past (2006) there have been attempts to enlist all those PGs and private accommodation places with the University in order to centrally keep a check on rents. Similarly, on the issue of workers, being the principal employer the University is again directly responsible for seeing to it that workers are paid minimum wages and have proper housing and access to basic facilities.

4. Regarding visit to Bhalaswa

UCD now seeks to locate the working class and its struggle in a far off resettlement colony called Bhalaswa. Unfortunately, judging by recent email correspondences between UCD and students of the Women’s Development Cell (WDC) in Miranda House, the trips to Bhalaswa are being envisaged by the students more as extra-curricular activities. This indicates that UCD’s form of politics is really incapable of building a long-standing and formidable unity between the student community and working class.

It was decided in the very beginning of the campaign that UCD would establish connections with others in the city affected by the Games. It was felt that since students were not the only ones held hostage by the Games, it was necessary to forge ties of solidarity with other organisations working on overlapping concerns, while recognising that our constituency remained the University. In the case of Bhalaswa, we were extended an invitation by people working with Bhalaswa Lok Shakti Manch to come and visit their resettlement colony. The trip was not an official UCD objective, and the students who went did so in the capacity of individuals wishing to extend their support to the Bhalaswa movement.

Please refer to the minutes of the following meeting:

Minutes of UCD meeting on 5th August 2010!/topic.php?uid=135067129852679&topic=219

“Kaveri forwarded a message which came from the group from Bhulaswa who came for the protest meeting saying that people interested in visiting the Bhulaswa resettlement site could do so on Tuesday. Please leave your number so that this can be arranged”.

In any case, even if the trip had been an official UCD activity, it would still not justify the KYS’ mocking epithet “extra-curricular”. Most of us may never know what it is like to be a construction worker or a displaced adivasi, but visiting places like Bhalaswa is valuable in and of itself as the smallest of attempts to understand the plight of others, even if it can’t bring about the revolution of the working class that KYS is obviously so successful in doing.

5. Regarding workers’ protest

The same day that UCD began its “relay hunger strike”, workers down the road were protesting against their severe exploitation under various CWG construction projects. UCD failed to respond and join the struggle. The message, therefore, sent out was clear enough—we will participate only when we are in charge and not workers, and we will raise workers’ issues only as an addition to our never-ending list of “democratic” demands. Considering this, are not the issues of workers’ rights being raised in tokenism, i.e. only when it suits them?

Do not brush aside the practical aspects of the campaign. We are not a trade union. We are too small a force to claim to organise workers at the construction sites all over the University. If we were 250 people, we might have been able to attempt to organise workers, but when those actually willing to labour for the campaign number 20 or less at any given time, we cannot (it would have helped if KYS had added to our numbers of working campaigners). But as a university community we have stood against construction work in the University that violates legally sanctioned labour standards, and have integrated it into our demands. Also, the decision to sit on a relay hunger strike was taken well over a week before it began and posters had been put up. Meanwhile, the KYS/CSW workers protest was decided and its posters put up a day before. And then too, in at least three different venues we found that KYS/CSW had pasted their posters corner to corner over UCD ones. If this is not malicious what is?).

6. Regarding Gandhi Ashram

The first pamphlet printed by the UCD spoke of the need to build communes in places off campus. In fact, a team met with the management of a Gandhian trust (funded by Ministry of Social Justice) which ran a hostel near Kingsway Camp, called Gandhi Ashram. The place soon began to be promoted via e-mails etc. almost like any other private accommodation; the purpose being to provide a space for those still desperately looking for affordable accommodations and also to provide a space for regrouping when things got rough during the campaign. Ironically, the Gandhi Ashram hostel is meant for poor Dalit school students who were obviously going to be displaced if college students moved into the dormitories. No one seemed to reckon with this inevitability while the plan was still being hatched.

What we also found disturbing about the Gandhi Ashram plan was the desire of creating an isolated “democratic” space. The message being sent out was nothing but we can create our own isolated commune-like space in this big bad world. This approach stems from the sectarian University-centric politics of the UCD highlighted above, and also from a non-revolutionary conceptualisation of commune life. For many participants in UCD, the commune with its base in Gandhi Ashram was an apparent ‘pre-figuration’ of a new society, whereas it was far from that. Commune was being envisaged as a centre of ‘counter-culture’—an oasis in capitalist wilderness. Interestingly, this is a very familiar trope—it is based, both at once, on a vision of a transformed society without real hope for a process of transformation. This is because it is based on the vision that the lives of a minority can magically change without transforming the whole. This is, after all, how (phantom) revolution itself, is envisaged according to the pipe-dreams (joint-dreams?) of petty bourgeois students/intellectuals who enjoy the comforts/security of generous remittances from home—‘let us, at least, as a small privileged community enjoy revolution making’.

Of course, as pointed out by us in the meetings, it was nothing but ridiculous that UCD spoke of building a commune in a place which was actually going to be charging the students Rs. 1500 per bed and where 6 to 8 women students would have to live per room. How can a commune work within a market structure, and how can a place which gives you no control on the rules and regulations to be implemented, become a progressive, commune-like accommodation?! Despite these criticisms, UCD went ahead and would have signed a MoU with the Gandhi Ashram management, if it wasn’t for the sheer lack of students interested in the place. In fact, just so as to get students to join the bandwagon, emails were sent out exaggerating the facilities available at Gandhi Ashram. In the interest of pulling a crowd, the green lawns of the Ashram were highlighted. Meanwhile, it was downplayed that no fooding would be available at the place and that this was going to be a
dormitory system.

The lies continue. Firstly, Gandhi Ashram was visualised as a means to tackle the practical problem of students who couldn’t find safe and affordable accommodation (particularly girls, who also face the problem of safety). We never claimed it to be an isolated island of counter-culture, but yes, a space where those resorting to that accommodation could critically engage with the problem at hand, and therefore with ideas like a community kitchen. No Dalit students were going to be displaced, because the rooms being given to us were at that time unused. A member of KYS was even present as part of the team that went to Gandhi Ashram to figure out the modalities of making this arrangement. No facilities were ever “advertised”, and all that was publicly declared was the availability of Gandhi Ashram as an option (though of course, if KYS sees any form of publicisation, whether press releases to the media or circulation through emails, as part of a larger Bourgeois capitalist conspiracy, we advise them to kindly sharpen their political understanding; sophomoric regurgitations of Das Kapital isn’t going to cut it). Not once was it thought of as a final solution, but only as a temporary arrangement for students who had not found or could not afford accommodation elsewhere.. Regarding food arrangements, we were in discussion with the Ashram authorities about the possibility of expanding kitchen facilities. And as for the charge of Rs.1500 per month, that price is about one-fourth the cost of accommodation in the outlying regions of North Campus. At any rate, not once did KYS members suggest an alternative to Gandhi Ashram as a possible venue to rehabilitate students who could not afford anything else, which is ironic given their constant chest-thumping about being champions of the poor. Instead of appreciating the attempt made to lend some respite to students while carrying on the work of politicisation through the campaign, all the KYS members seem capable of doing is ill-intentioned criticism and hysterical slander.


We hope this rejoinder will put to rest the false allegations made by KYS against UCD. We do not have any faith in KYS’ capacity to introspect about the falsity of their claims. We only hope that the wider audience privy to this debate will learn to take KYS statements with a pinch of salt. Our experience with the KYS has been one big negative lesson, and we are glad that our work now proceeds far more productively and democratically. Anybody wishing to know more about the UCD, to really see how it functions for themselves, is always welcome to visit us on our face-book page, to join our googlegroups mailing list, or to attend our meetings. We are always open.

What is ailing University Democrats!

Delhi State Committee,
Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)


Mao Tse-tung

NOTE: This is a review and summation of the proceedings of the forum, University Community for Democracy (UCD). UCD is constituted of different individuals who may or may not belong to organizations. Apart from some dominant tendencies which we have criticized below, the forum has some well-intentioned individuals who have increasingly become discontent with UCD’s functioning. We have prepared this piece for internal discussion within our organization, but due to requests from certain friends in UCD, we are going public with it. It encompasses many points of criticism which we often raised in UCD meetings.

Recently, some University teachers and students in the north campus of Delhi University have been running a campaign under the banner of the UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY FOR DEMOCRACY (UCD). To use the words of the campaign’s founding members, the campaign is committed to fighting against “shrinking democratic space in the University”. The focus of the campaign has particularly been on the eviction of college students from university hostels, in the wake of the Commonwealth Games. A section of “left” intellectuals and “progressive” activists can be seen allying themselves with this forum. It has become fashionable for some to be seen in its meetings and, for those who navigate more in the realms of virtual reality, to trail the forum’s activities in cyberspace.

However, in the very beginning in UCD meetings there have been activists and organizations that have questioned the constituting logic of the forum. Most of such criticism was swept under the carpet as mere issues of modus operandi or as divisive tactics. The validity of the criticism raised was often lost to many of the forum’s participants who were hostile to organization structure, and hence, to criticisms coming from organizations. Even when some of our points of criticism were noted they were hardly addressed in a manner that reassured us of UCD’s commitment to the issues raised. The following pages are a delineation of this unfortunate fact.

At a time when the Commonwealth Games (CWG) are the focus of the media, many activities of the UCD come across more as publicity gimmicks than anything else. It is important for many of the forum’s participants to be seen resisting the Games but to do that they have to mobilize people on issues close to them. With little understanding on the issues concerning different people, UCD raises them in an opportunistic vein, just so as to galvanize different issues and use them. In reality CWG is the starting point and be all and end all of their resistance. And no matter how earnestly UCD denies it, this has been their strategy because right now the Games are the highlight of the season. Even before the University opened and the campaign could take proper shape; there were overt attempts to reach the media for coverage (such as forming media coordination teams and releasing press statements).

Even the “relay hunger strike”, or rather “skip one’s lunch” strike was no exception (it is interesting to note that UCD members sat on “hunger strike” from 9am to 9pm, which basically means they did not sacrifice their breakfast and dinner—In reality a relay hunger strike is continuous, and, thereby, includes people sitting on hunger strike twenty four hours—the term relay refers to somebody ending their hunger strike and another person taking their place). Since a “hunger strike” by University students and teachers is an eye-catching story for the media, it was more important to be seen in this act of drama even if the demands of those on “hunger strike” stood thoroughly misplaced. Sadly, so as to project a significant gathering at the venue of the “hunger strike”, students were actually subjected to authoritarian tactics by teachers supportive of UCD. These teachers, acting as pied-pipers and humming the threatening tune of internal assessment, drew their hapless students to the venue by taking their classes there. Students (the majority of whom were oblivious to the issues raised), were obviously not taken into confidence when they were made to come to the “hunger strike” site.

The fact that the demands of those on “hunger strike” were misplaced reflects nothing but a sheer lack of seriousness and understanding on the issues raised. It was the form in which the “relay hunger strike” raised certain demands that was highly problematic for it reeked of sheer opportunism and sectarianism. Let us take the example of rent regulation raised during the “hunger strike”. Firstly, UCD began its campaign with absolutely no concrete demand of rent regulation. The forum was forced to pick up the issue of rent regulation in addition to the issue of hostel eviction because it was constantly accosted by the majority of students who had never even lived in college hostels, and had for a long time been faced with the problem of escalating rents. There was also urgency in making rent regulation an active demand of the UCD campaign because some other organizations had already launched a full-fledged campaign on rent regulation in the city. Hence, it was more in a competitive spirit than with any serious commitment and understanding on the issue that rent regulation became part of UCD’s charter of demands.

To further delineate the opportunism with which the issue of rent was finally raised by UCD, we would like to bring the reader’s attention to the fact that although they are now talking of rent control; escalating rents are actually being conceptualized as a University neighbourhood problem rather than a general problem for migrants coming to the city (for further illustration of this point please see CSW and KYS’s paper). This is precisely why UCD’s “hunger strike” targeted the audience in Arts Faculty (a transit point for the student/teaching community), and not any tangible authority (which in this case should really have been the Government of Delhi). And this is why the best that UCD can do on the issue of rent is to demand rent regulation from the Dean of Colleges! Quite rightly, their delegation was informed by the Dean of her incapability to regulate rents since this was way beyond the University authorities’ jurisdiction and responsibility. We return to the fundamental question— why does the University remain the centre of UCD’s resistance when authorities beyond the Vice Chancellor are to blame, and when there are many people apart from students/teachers who are adversely affected by unregulated rents? To the reader who might still believe that raising the issue of rent regulation at the University level is perhaps what is immediately feasible for UCD, we have one question—has the life of the minority ever drastically changed without a transformation in the life of the majority? For example, can an individual educated woman today feel hundred percent secure and confident in a work space when the majority of women in society are still perceived as objects of sexual consumption and undeserving of career opportunities? Friends, the answer is no and experience has taught us that.

The question of the sectarian political approach of UCD was raised several times in the meetings. As argued by us in such meetings, issues and demands should really be raised in a way that they appeal to a larger section of people affected by the state’s inaction and its collusion with private business interests. In this way we connect concerns, struggles and militancy of different sections of people who are often segregated from each other due to the functioning of the system in place. For example, the student community and workers find themselves separated by work schedules, their class backgrounds, spatial settings/norms (in terms of workers being restricted to the space of factories/work sites and students to the space of their classrooms), etc. As a result we need a politics that paves the way for a combined struggle by the different oppressed sections of society. And it is only a combined struggle that can create an effective front of resistance to the onslaught of oppression and exploitation we are witness to. However, more than a generalized struggle against recent developments in the city, UCD’s initiatives are more sectarian than anything else. In fact, their particularized (University-CWG-centric) struggle is nothing but the substitution of the generalized working class struggle by ‘middle’ class intellectualism.

Mobilization of workers and strengthening of the working class movement is essential because in our society it is the working class that is in the majority. Its labour creates profit, rent and basically all the resources in society. Understandably then, if the working class fights back the whole system is paralyzed. Apart from the fact that it is the direct object of the most fundamental and determinative form of oppression and exploitation in capitalist society, the working class is the revolutionary class also because its interests do not rest on the oppression of other classes. In fact, precisely because its objective interest for its own emancipation is the destruction of class, it can create conditions for the liberation of all human beings in the struggle to liberate itself.

Thus, contrary to the middle class intellectual’s popular perception of the working class as just another identity asserted along with numerous other identities, the working class is actually a social positioning and not an identity. It is a position which is spread over different kinds of identities, and determines how and when the different identities will assert themselves. It is ultimately through the position of the working class that different identities can be united and radicalized into a wider anti-systemic struggle that goes beyond the form in which society exists. Realizing this, ‘old’ socialism has maintained the working class as its base and has constantly assessed the dynamics of the process of class in order to pursue its politics. ‘New’ socialism on the other hand, has made students/intellectuals their constituting base. In reality, however, students/intellectuals are divided amongst different class trajectories. To put it more accurately, students abstracted from their class position have come to be envisaged as agents of ‘new’ socialism. Indeed, ‘student radicalism’ which is actively promoted by ‘new’ socialism is a by-product of making students an identity devoid of class.

It is a fact that students who join universities like Delhi University (DU), are from different classes. The trend in DU is that students from working class backgrounds generally join the peripheral and evening colleges of DU. They are mostly youth who: a) have studied in government schools, b) come from the Hindi medium background, c) who do not usually get admission to college hostels considering their 12th class schooling, d) are those who really struggle to cope with rising college fees and English medium teaching/coursework. Students from petty bourgeois backgrounds are quite the opposite—a significant number of them have studied in respectable public schools, get admission to the best north and south campus colleges of DU, and are generally the first to get admission to the limited college hostels of DU.

As a result of this abstraction of students’ class backgrounds, forums such as UCD end up raising issues of students in a manner which isolates them from the issues of the working class. This reduces the possibilities of unity between the student community and the working class. To delineate this fact it is best to highlight the issue of rent regulation again. Rather than identifying rent as a problem affecting the student/teaching community as well as workers (most of whom live on rent near industrial belts in Delhi), UCD chose to raise the problem of rent only within the ambit of the University area, and demanded rent regulation from University authorities alone. By refusing to raise rent as a generalized concern of migrants in the city, UCD has simply encouraged the student community to see this as a problem specific to them. Having effaced the issue of class struggle in the immediate locality (the immediate locality being issues of working class youth/students/construction workers, etc. in the University), UCD now seeks to locate the working class and its struggle in a far off resettlement colony called Bhalaswa. Unfortunately, judging by recent email correspondences between UCD and students of the Women’s Development Cell (WDC) in Miranda House, the trips to Bhalaswa are being envisaged by the students more as extra-curricular activities. This indicates that UCD’s form of politics is really incapable of building a long-standing and formidable unity between the student community and working class. Its politics, in fact, inculcates within students a PHILANTHROPIC approach to working class issues, and little or no realization of the significance of class struggle for the transformation of our society. Instead of unity and combined struggle, UCD’s form of politics inculcates a perception/political tendency in the student movement to i) see the working class as a “mass of laboring poor” and not as a class which embodies itself even in the student constituency, ii) to perceive the issues of the working class as markedly different from those of students, and at most, only momentarily connected/’aligned’ with issues of students.

It is not only that the ‘new’ socialists deny the class background of the student community. They also, by denying students their varied class position, end up trying to mobilize only those who come from petty bourgeois backgrounds. As a result, organizations in UCD, such as New Socialist Initiative (NSI) are never seen raising issues of Dalit students who struggle to get admission in DU, of working class students who struggle to pay escalating college fees, or basically, any problem faced by students coming from government schools. In reality, for them, issues of those studying in peripheral/evening colleges or of those studying through correspondence/non-collegiate board are supposedly beyond the concerns of student activism. It is the issues of students studying in the big north campus colleges that are the central concerns of such organizations. For example, such organizations strictly function according to the University calendar. They will be active only during the actual academic session (i.e. between July and March when classes are on), and, will be mostly seen organizing seminars—these being a hot favorite of students from petty bourgeois backgrounds, who enjoy debating theories thrown at them in class. Furthermore, their campaigns in the University are centered on certain pet issues of students studying in a select few north campus colleges. These include protests against college hostel rules; night vigils/candle-marches to ‘take back the night’ or presumably to establish a ‘safe’ university campus somehow; etc. One wonders, how such campaigns actually address the concerns of the majority of students—many of whom do not stay on campus and are denied hostel admission due to the ‘lack of merit’.

Of course, when we as participants in UCD argued how necessary it was to mobilize the working class which is in the majority of those exploited in the name of development, grand events like CWG, etc., our point was noted. UCD posters soon began to carry slogans highlighting exploitation of workers, and as a gesture workers are now talked about in some of the UCD meetings. But the form in which workers’ issues are being raised by them is fundamentally paternalistic and patronizing. In a sympathetic mode the forum speaks of workers and other vulnerable sections of society, but no workers are part of the joint forum. Neither does the forum do anything to promote workers’ self-organization, nor does it participate in workers’ struggles. Making patronizing trips to resettlement colonies in the city, just so as to “investigate” and “report” the plight of slum dwellers, are more measures to appease angry activists in UCD and clear one’s conscience than to draw a formidable, active and organic link between the University community and the working class.

In fact, the recent trip to Bhalaswa was merely a gesture—a move to forge, in haste, some semblance of an alliance with the working class. No way does such a gesture promote self-organization by workers. In the case of Bhalaswa, UCD immediately began promoting a group working in the area, of whose politics they have little knowledge. In fact, in the interest of ‘alliance making’ they have refused to interrogate whether the group really represents the voice of the oppressed in Bhalaswa or is just another bourgeois oppositional group. Similarly, UCD has not taken on the responsibility of assessing, themselves, the actual class dynamics working in Bhalaswa. It is simply assumed that all those residing in resettlement colonies/slums like Bhalaswa belong to the same class composition, whereas the ground reality is more complex. Clearly, UCD’s form of politics, i.e. ‘alliance-making’ is highly problematic. This is because it simply absolves the forum of questioning the constitutive logic and politics of the organizations/groups it is allying with. It also absolves the forum of the responsibility of organizing those constituencies of people themselves. Thirdly, such form of politics leaves ample space for a lot of opportunistic maneuvering. In other words, the forum can move in and out of such alliances, depending on their own calculated interests. An important question arises here, what will happen to these alliances once the CWG are over? Well, expectedly, they will dissipate as quickly as they emerged. The analogy of a cinema hall is perhaps apt to explain this inevitability—just like everyone comes to watch a film in the theatre, cry/laugh together and then go their separate ways, most UCD groups/individuals will move on from the momentary ‘alliances’/joint initiatives they have made during the drama of CWG. A few of them, of course, will leave with plum NGO jobs in hand, and an ‘activist’ image that they can thrive on.

Hence, the point that we are trying to drive home is, that UCD can talk about workers and claim to be radical right through, whereas students/teachers continue to run the show while workers are merely expected to follow and indulge in experience-sharing. Workers’ issues then become just another ingredient to be added to cooking pot of resistance. Friends, the fact is that the forum’s form of intervention is limited to the university community responding on workers’ issues but doing nothing otherwise to help build workers’ self-organizations. Is it not true then that the University democrats finds workers’ issues “good” when they are OBJECTS of reform and concern but not when they are SUBJECTS of the struggle against the system? Here it is perhaps best to highlight the recent struggle of construction workers at the Miranda House CWG work site and UCD’s response—or rather lack of response to it. Friends, since the beginning of August construction workers and their trade union have been protesting against the Miranda House officials for non-payment of the workers’ long-standing dues and the violation of several labour laws. The same day that UCD began its “relay hunger strike”, workers down the road were protesting against their severe exploitation under various CWG construction projects. UCD failed to respond and join the struggle. The message, therefore, sent out was clear enough—we will participate only when we are in charge and not workers, and we will raise workers’ issues only as an addition to our never-ending list of “democratic” demands. Considering this, are not the issues of workers’ rights being raised in tokenism, i.e. only when it suits them?

Interestingly, some participants in the University Community for Democracy, who openly claim their “left” leanings, have unhesitatingly claimed in meetings that there is nothing wrong in particularizing the struggle since the University is their ambit of movement and sense of being. What we perhaps need to add here is the fact that when they are particularizing the struggle to the University, they particularize it even further by only raising issues of a select section of the University community. Such an approach defers the need to generalize issues of struggle, which is why people end up raising struggles in isolation. Such campaigns lose steam, credibility and relevance since they do not tap on certain organic links between their concerns and those of other affected sections in society. Of course, the aforementioned approach is nothing but opportunistic. By keeping the campaign University specific such participants aim for greater projection of themselves in the student community and media (which prefers to highlight University issues any day). By investing all their energy at the University level such participants seek a radical projection of themselves during DUSU elections, etc. This, beyond doubt, is a calculated move by many so called left intellectuals and groups in UCD. It is reflected in the larger party politics of such groups, and also in the double standards maintained vis-à-vis the entry of NGOs in the forum’s programs.

CPI(ML) Liberation, the parent party of AISA (a “left” student organization), in the interest of electoral victories has been allying with the RJD and sometimes with the JD(U). One moment it can be seen opposing the traitor Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) in Bengal, and the next moment it can be seen allying with the CPM in the Bihar Assembly elections! The same kind of double standards was replicated when we opposed the entry of NGOs in the protest meeting held on 30th July and AISA supported us, but then went on to invite the same NGO person to their own program against the Commonwealth Games on August 2, 2010! Needless to say, with elections round the corner crowd pulling tactics become more important. We know for a fact that there are reservations within AISA’s own cadre about participating in UCD, yet it continues in the forum for electoral gains.

It is very disturbing that NGOs which are bodies hugely funded by exploitative governments or by multinational corporations, are provided space on platforms of resistance against exploitation. The history of NGOs tells us that they are compromised bodies which sway on issues depending on the terms and conditions of the funding they receive. They have become a big employment recruitment network and that’s about it, for their work amongst people is channeled more towards ‘welfare’ than towards transformation of society. Instead of using its own agencies to provide for people, the state has been retreating from the social sector, leaving the space open for NGOs. NGOs simply use the limited funding released by governments and non-government organizations so as to absolve the state of its larger responsibilities. And to do this they unhesitatingly exploit a cheap labour force. For example, NGO workers (‘activists’) on the ground receive a meager salary compared to NGO employees in the higher echelons.

Interestingly, by arguing that NGO people are “well-versed” in issues/“are radical”, and by promoting them as speakers, UCD is actually creating a hierarchy of knowledge. And this hierarchy is nothing but a replication of capitalist division of labour in which intellect takes precedence over action/organization building, and the suave, Oxfam funded NGO spokesperson replaces the ‘not so articulate’ trade unionist/ political activist.

There are two more disturbing things to note about UCD’s campaign. One pertains to its search for an alternative accommodation for evicted students, and the other to its “free left” image. In its initial meetings, some UCD members pushed forward the search for an alternative accommodation. The first pamphlet printed by the UCD spoke of the need to build communes in places off campus. In fact, a team met with the management of a Gandhian trust (funded by Ministry of Social Justice) which ran a hostel near Kingsway Camp, called Gandhi Ashram. The place soon began to be promoted via e-mails etc. almost like any other private accommodation; the purpose being to provide a space for those still desperately looking for affordable accommodations and also to provide a space for regrouping when things got rough during the campaign. Ironically, the Gandhi Ashram hostel is meant for poor Dalit school students who were obviously going to be displaced if college students moved into the dormitories. No one seemed to reckon with this inevitability while the plan was still being hatched.

What we also found disturbing about the Gandhi Ashram plan was the desire of creating an isolated “democratic” space. The message being sent out was nothing but we can create our own isolated commune-like space in this big bad world. This approach stems from the sectarian University-centric politics of the UCD highlighted above, and also from a non-revolutionary conceptualization of commune life. For many participants in UCD, the commune with its base in Gandhi Ashram was an apparent ‘pre-figuration’ of a new society, whereas it was far from that. Commune was being envisaged as a centre of ‘counter-culture’—an oasis in capitalist wilderness. Interestingly, this is a very familiar trope—it is based, both at once, on a vision of a transformed society without real hope for a process of transformation. This is because it is based on the vision that the lives of a minority can magically change without transforming the whole. This is, after all, how (phantom) revolution itself, is envisaged according to the pipe-dreams (joint-dreams?) of petty bourgeois students/intellectuals who enjoy the comforts/security of generous remittances from home—‘let us, at least, as a small privileged community enjoy revolution making’.

Of course, as pointed out by us in the meetings, it was nothing but ridiculous that UCD spoke of building a commune in a place which was actually going to be charging the students Rs. 1500 per bed and where 6 to 8 women students would have to live per room. How can a commune work within a market structure, and how can a place which gives you no control on the rules and regulations to be implemented, become a progressive, commune-like accommodation?! Despite these criticisms, UCD went ahead and would have signed a MoU with the Gandhi Ashram management, if it wasn’t for the sheer lack of students interested in the place. In fact, just so as to get students to join the bandwagon, emails were sent out exaggerating the facilities available at Gandhi Ashram. In the interest of pulling a crowd, the green lawns of the Ashram were highlighted. Meanwhile, it was downplayed that no fooding would be available at the place and that this was going to be a dormitory system. Indeed, such concealment amounts to lying.

Lastly, as we would like to point out, it is a shame that the University Community for Democracy prides itself for its “Free Left” image. It is typical for such a forum to claim its steadfast commitment to ‘democratic issues’. However, in reality, their idea of democracy is based on the empty notion of dialogue and communication. Democracy is, unfortunately, abstracted from its link with socio-economic forces which is why it becomes more difficult to build a consistent anti-systemic movement. We see this problematic notion of democracy manifested in the very first pamphlet released by UCD. What was repeatedly highlighted in it, as a problem, was the fact that recent developments in the city as well as at the level of the University were not discussed before implementation.

Ironically, despite all their claims, most UCD participants stand for a façade of democracy and democratic functioning. For example, many emails and curt replies to questions raised in the meetings reflect the emerging dogma that only “pragmatic” things should be discussed in meetings (pragmatic issues being those that will help UCD attract more people). Thereby, it was constantly demanded that the ideological issues be shunned, and in a very undemocratic way, that is precisely what happened in meetings. The question is, what is it that UCD will do with the people who are immediately attracted to its campaign. Aren’t they supposed to work on these people and ideologically bring them closer to progressive politics? What does one read into this persistent impatience with ideological issues? Why do they behave as if the campaign is running against time? One can only presume that they want their whole show to be unfolded before CWG! In that case there is really no long term commitment to the issues being raised, and those that join the UCD campaign are just being perceived as faces/numbers to be posited against the Games, rather than thinking human beings who have the potential to link their immediate concerns with long term politics.

Furthermore, due to its “free left” image, we find that most UCD participants enjoy asserting their “individual” form of participation vis-à-vis an organizational one. As a result, UCD has succeeded in joining a lineage of platform and forum hopping so common to bodies that are dominated by individuals. The simple fact is platforms will be unsteady as long as “radical” individuals refuse to put their “radical-ness” to the test and bring themselves under the discipline and responsibility of organization/party structure. Left fronts and left organizations cannot make individuals their fighting force and leave untouched/un-mobilized the majority of those exploited, i.e. working class. After all, what is the best form of protesting against the Commonwealth Games? Is it not by organizing the large number of workers employed under CWG projects and mobilizing them to stop work at the numerous construction sites? Indeed, this is the most effective way of exposing the Games for what they are, and certain organizations and trade unions have been doing this since the very beginning of CWG construction work.

Having said this, it must begin to seem obvious somewhere to the reader why UCD has raised the issue of workers’ rights more in the spirit of opportunism. What else can be expected when there are group’s dominating UCD, such as New Socialist Initiative (NSI), that have no work amongst workers, i.e. no trade union to speak of, and basically do nothing to promote workers’ self-organization. In their book of strategy workers issues will always be raised so as to appear radical/cool in front of impressionable students than to actually organize workers. Their politics will, in fact, promote workers’ rights and NGOs in the same breath. It is a fact, that NSI has more presence in the NGO network than in the existing workers’ movement. This is because most of their members work for NGOs, and hence, have an objective interest in promoting them. This is why on the day of the protest meeting on 30th July NSI took additional effort to put together a program in Ramjas College, inviting a now well known NGO person. Of course, we didn’t see that kind of effort put in when it came to extending solidarity to the construction workers’ struggle in Miranda House College. The fact is that groups such as NSI have work only in the University and are inactive in any other constituencies of people, especially the working class. At a time when there is an uproar regarding the Commonwealth Games, their attempt to oppose the Commonwealth Games is doomed to be student-centric and University specific. And even when they do raise the issues of the university community it will be done so opportunistically, and the issues raised will be those that cater to a select section of the university community.

Friends, ask yourself—would you rather stand by opportunistic and sectarian politics that takes for granted the issues/concerns of the majority, or would you rather stand by the combined struggle of workers and students? Friends, it is high time we recognize that NGO-ised, petty-bourgeois dominated campaigns are more enemies than friends in the struggle for emancipation. It is time to stop doing the fashionable and to be seen doing the productive. It is time to play the role of the harsh critic and to organize a formidable combined struggle against the oppression and exploitation prevalent in our society.



Organized by the journals:


The venue of the Conference will be the city of Athens and possibly the surrounding areas.

Conference and Local Organizing Committee Coordinators:
Dave Hill, (Middlesex University, UK)
Peter McLaren, (UCLA, USA)
Kostas Skordoulis, (University of Athens, Greece)

Keynote Speakers:
To be announced, to include Dave Hill, (Middlesex University, UK), Peter McLaren, (UCLA, USA), Ravi Kumar (Jamia Milia Islamia University, Delhi, India). There will also be keynote speakers from Greece. Key women Marxist writers are being invited as Plenary speakers.

Important Dates

Participants should submit an abstract of 300 words by: 15 December 2010.
Notification of acceptance of paper presentation by: 15 January 2011.
Full papers should be submitted by: 30 May 2011.

The papers will be peer reviewed and published in the Conference Proceedings.

Selected papers will be published in Special Issues of JCEPS, Cultural Logic and KRITIKI.

There will be 6 plenary presentations (two per day), each plenary session lasting one hour. Other papers will have 30 minutes (inclusive of the paper presentation plus discussion)

Conference Fee

The Conference fee is 300 Euros. (approx $380, or £245). The fee covers participation in the conference, the book of abstracts, coffee/tea/refreshments during conference breaks and participation in the conference dinner in a traditional taverna.

Participation of unemployed, and of colleagues from the third world is free/ no fees.

Further Information about the Invited speakers will be announced in the second circular. As will the contact address and registration details for the conference. Though in the meantime it would be interesting to see who might intend to offer papers… send me a provisional (non-binding) indication of interest if you like? ( and ) (It’s not mandatory to let me know in advance… … paper abstracts can be submitted until 15 Dec 2010.

Many thanks

Dave Hill, Kostas Skordoulis and Peter McLaren

Commonwealth Games in Delhi: Down with eviction of students from College Hostels!

Down with eviction of students from College Hostels!
Onwards to students self-activity!!

The current administration of Delhi University has attempted to reshape the University through a series of sinister agendas – be it the introduction of semester system, the European Studies Programme or the biometric identification system. All of them have shared one thing in common: the thwarting of democratic debate on proposals for change, and the routine violation of regulatory protocols.

The latest episode has been the eviction of students (2,000 students according to reports) from a number of hostels in Delhi University in order to make them available for the Commonwealth Games. Hostels are being renovated and beautified for the officials and visitors of the Games, while students are scrambling around for their own accommodation. The students, like the 40,000 families on the Yamuna bank, are now among the many that have been displaced in the name of national glory. What comes into question is the fact that the University has agreed to avail of 20 crores of rupees from the Commonwealth Games project without taking any cognisance of how and where such resources are generated. It has thus become an accomplice in the larger process of reckless corporatisation that the whole city is undergoing in the bid of becoming a “global city”.

This has left students at the mercy of private accommodation, with its unregulated rents and precarious guarantees. Rents are rising in anticipation of the increased demand for PGs and flats, forcing many existing residents to move out and making accommodation unaffordable for incoming residents as well. The University has made no attempt to devise a mechanism to control or subsidise rents. The inflated prices that students pay are in effect the costs they bear for the cosmetic surgery DU is undergoing, and by extension, the hidden burden they carry for the Commonwealth Games. Some newspaper reports even indicate that hostel fees may increase after the hostels have been “upgraded”. Moreover, the lack of a viable and safe alternative has compelled many girls seeking admission in DU to rethink their decision. The University has also failed to consider living conditions around campus, especially from a gender-sensitive perspective. We can only begin to imagine what it must be like for those with physical disabilities to navigate around dug-up roads, unmarked holes and hazardous construction material.

The students are told that their eviction is “for their own good”. It is “for them” that the authorities are “improving student infrastructure”, making “world-class” hostels. Where was this concern for well-being when the college authorities took the decision to evict students? Not once was there any dialogue with students about this “upgradation”, or about the best and most suitable way to go about it. Instead, the whole decision-making process was shrouded in mystery, leading to utter chaos and confusion: while Hansraj made its hostel residents sign a bond last year declaring they had no objection to being evicted between July and October 2010, Miranda House students have still not been officially informed about the eviction!

We cannot allow the University to get away with such deliberate and avoidable irresponsibility. We make the following demands from the University:

• We demand the provision of alternate accommodation for evicted students.
• This accommodation should be at par with the hostels, both in terms of prices as well as qualitative conditions such as basic amenities and safety.
• We also demand, as conscientious members of a larger community, that this provision not be met at the cost of another section of society.

On our part, let us work towards creating another space, a commune perhaps, an imaginative and practical alternative that is self-governed by members of the university community, a cooperative living space that meets its own needs and conducts itself in a responsible and democratic fashion.

If you are angered by what you see around you in the University, and indeed, in the city, if you want to speak out against the shrinking of democratic space and are ready to reclaim what is rightfully yours, please come and join us!


University Community for Democracy

Contact: * Malay 9871924612 * Naina 9313356046 * Praveen 9911078111

A socialist manifesto for education

Dave Hill

The author is a supporter of Socialist Resistance and was the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown in the June 2010 British general election. He offered his alternative to the market driven education “reforms” of the other parties.

I have spent my lifetime as a teacher in `challenging’ primary and secondary schools and in teacher `training’ and in universities trying to tackle inequalities in schooling- inequalities that result in millions of working class children having far less educational opportunities- and subsequently, usually lower paid jobs- than the children of richer parents, especially the 7% who go to private schools- and snap up most of the highest paid, elite, jobs.

The very choice of what and how it should be taught, how and what schooling should be organised, how any whom it should be funded, and where and how the funding should be targeted, and a consideration of `who wins and who loses’ through all of the above, are all intensely political. And we want that politics to be in the interests of the millions not the millionaires!

I come from a working class family brought up in some poverty, for example on Free School Meals (like a million others!) in St. Martins’ St., off the Lewes Rd., Brighton. I went to Westlain Grammar School, my brothers to underfunded secondary modern schools, such as Queens Park and Moulscoomb. Three times as much was spent on the education of grammar school students (which educated 20% of state schooled children) than on Secondary Modern students (which educated nearly all the other state school children under the then selective school system)! My children went to local state schools. The inequalities I have witnessed- and lived- as a child, and as a teacher and socialist political activist, have led me to spending my life fighting for greater equality in education and society, and against racism, sexism and against homophobia.

What an indictment of our divisive education system that students from private schools are 25 times more likely to get to one of the top British universities than those who come from a lower social class or live in a poor area. And that (in 2008), only 35% of pupils eligible for free school meals obtained five or more A* to C GCSE grades, compared with 63% of pupils from wealthier backgrounds. This stark education inequality mirrors that in our grossly unequal society.

It is incredible, actually it is only too believable, that in Britain today, the richest section of society have 17 years of healthy life more than the least well-off in society. The minimum wage should be raised by 50%. How can people- decent hard working people like some in my own family, live on take-home pay of less than £200 a week! And there should be a maximum wage, too! Nobody, banker, boss, or buy-out bully, should be on more than £250,000 a year- (and this figure should reduce progressively so that within 10 years no-one is taking more than four times the average wage, nobody should be creaming off £27 million or £90 million a year for example! Certainly not when there are 4 million children living in poverty! I was once one of them. I was helped by the welfare state. We need our public services. We need to improve them, not cut them, not attack them.

All three parties, New Labour, LibDem, Tory, dance to the music of big business. All are promising cuts. Whatever they say, those cuts will hit schools, children, and the quality of education in our state schools. Already we are seeing staff cuts and course closures in universities up and down the country. In Brighton, for example, both Brighton and Sussex Universities are promising to cut out the nurseries, and Sussex to chop over 100 jobs. Brighton University is proposing to cut its Adult Ed art courses. Vandalism! Cutting popular and widely used public services!’

And don’t believe cuts are necessary. They’re not! Cutting the Trident nuclear submarine replacement programme, bringing troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, stopping the Identity Card programme, and collecting even some even of the £120 billion in taxes unpaid by the rich… yes, £120 billion! And raising taxes high earners…would mean cuts are not necessary at all!

But you won’t hear that from the other parties, just from Socialists, like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and from Respect.

A socialist manifesto is:

1. Cut class sizes (they are currently some of the largest in the rich world- much larger than in private schools for example). According to OECD research Britain is 23rd out of 30 developed countries in terms of large class size. Other countries such as Finland have a maximum class size of 20. Finland is widely seen as providing an extremely high quality of education. For a maximum class size of 20 by 2020 in both primary and secondary schools!’

2. Abolish league tables and abolish SATS (some external testing is necessary, but SATS so very often restricts teaching to `teaching to the test’, and results in undue stress (and an increase in bedwetting, compared to the pre-SATS era, for example).

3. Restore local democratic control of `Academies’. They should be run by the democratically elected local councils, and keep to national pay and conditions agreements. Why should rich businessmen and women take control of any of our schools? Let’s keep the added investment- but it’s the government that pays for that added investment anyhow! Let’s keep and enhance the added investment, but distribute it fairly between all schools. Our schools and the children in them are not for sale! Nor, through uneven funding for different types of school (e.g. academies) should some schools be set up for success at the expense of others being set up (and underfunded) for relative failure.

4. Private profiteering out of our schools! Bring the education services hived off to private profiteers back into either national or local private ownership! These include Ofsted, Student grants, school meals, cleaning and caretaking.

5. Free, nutritious, balanced school meals for every child to combat poor diets, obesity, and… yes… for some children… hunger!

6. Restore free adult education classes in pastime and leisure studies as well as in vocational training/ studies

7. Restore free funded residential centres and Youth Centres/ Youth clubs for our children so they can widen their experiences of life in safe circumstances and enhance their education beyond the confines of the home or city.

8. For a fully Comprehensive Secondary School system, so that each school has a broad social class mix and mix of ability and attainment levels.

9. For the integration of Private schools into the state education system- so that the goodies of the private school system are shared amongst all pupils/ students. All schools to be under democratic locally elected local council control. No to Private Schools. No to religious groups running schools. No to big business / private capital running our schools and children!

10. Free up the curriculum so there can be more creativity and cross-subject/ disciplinary work.

11. Get Ofsted and their flawed tick-box system off the back of teachers. The results of Ofsted are to penalise even the best schools (outstanding in every aspect- other than in SATS attainments) in the poorest areas.

12. Encourage Critical Thinking across the curriculum. Teach children not `what to think’, but also `how to think’. Including how to think critically about the media and politicians.

13. Teach in schools for ecological literacy and a readiness to act for environmental justice as well as economic and social justice Encourage children to `reach for the stars- and to work for a society that lets that happen- a fairer society with much more equal chances, pay packets and power, and about environmental and sustainability issues.

14. Proper recognition of all school workers, and no compulsory redundancies. For teachers, secretarial and support staff, teaching assistants, school meals supervisory assistants, caretaking staff, there should be workplace democratic regular school forums in every school. Regarding jobs (for example the threatened job cuts at Sussex University- and the `inevitable’ job cuts in every? school after the election- no compulsory redundancies- any restructuring to be conditional on agreement with the unions.

15. Setting up of school councils – to encourage democratic understanding, citizenship, social responsibility, and a welcoming and valuing of `student/ pupil voice’.

16. Ensuring that schools are anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic- making sure schools encourage equality, welcome different home and group cultures.. As part of this, anti-bullying practices in every school must be fully implemented, to combat bullying of all sorts, including racism, sexism, homophobia, and bullying based on disabilities. And this should be not just in anti-bullying policies, but also be part of the curriculum too!

17. An honest sex education curriculum in schools that teaches children not just `when to say no’, but also when to say `yes’, a programme that is focuses on positives and pleasure and personal worth, not on stigmatising sex and sexualities.

18. No to `Faith Schools’ and Get organised religion out of schools. If Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, or whichever religion wishes to teach religion, let them do it in their own time, places of worship (Saturday/ Sunday schools) or in their supplementary or complementary schools. Teach ethics and spirituality by all means, and teach about religions. But no brainwashing. Teach a critical approach to religions.

19. Broaden teacher education and training so that the negative effects of the `technicisation and detheorising’ of teacher training (that were the result of the 1992/1993 Conservative re-organisation of what was then called teacher education- subsequently retitled teacher training). Bring back the study and awareness of the social and political and psychological contexts of teaching, including an understanding of and commitment to challenge and overturn racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of under-expectation and discrimination- such as discrimination against working class pupils.

20. A good, local school for every child. No school closures! “Surplus places” should actually mean lower class sizes! And increased community use of school facilities.

21. A completely fully funded, publicly owned and democratic education system from pre-school right through to university. Education is a right not a commodity to be bought and sold. So, no fees, like in Scandinavia, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, where education up to PhD level is free. No university of further education/ vocational training fees, and a living grant for students from less well-off backgrounds/ income.

In my jobs, firstly as a teacher, and now as a Professor of Education (and writer/ editor of 17 books on education and equality) I have been round hundreds of schools. Many of them are brilliant. Schools in the poorest areas, schools in better off areas! Brilliant. But, with better funding, smaller class sizes, an end to the destructive competition between schools (if every school is a good local school) and with more professional judgement being allowed for teachers- then I look forward to a time when all state schools match the class sizes and results of the currently more lavishly funded private schools’. And working class kids – black, brown, white- get the fair deal currently trumpeted- but in actuality denied- by all three major parties.

Prof. Dave Hill, The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown. He teaches at Middlesex University and is Visiting Professor of Critical Education Policy and Equality Studies at the University of Limerick, Ireland. This article appeared in Socialist Resistance on 15 April 2010.

University Struggles at the End of the Edu-Deal

George Caffentzis

We should not ask for the university to be destroyed, nor for it to be preserved. We should not ask for anything. We should ask ourselves and each other to take control of these universities, collectively, so that education can begin.

From a flyer found in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, originally written in the University of California

Since the massive student revolt in France, in 2006, against the Contrat Première Embauche (CPE), and the ‘anomalous wave’ in Italy in 2008, student protest has mounted in almost every part of the world, suggesting a reprise of the heady days of 1968. It reached a crescendo in the Fall and Winter of 2009 when campus strikes and occupations proliferated from California to Austria, Germany, Croatia, Switzerland and later the UK. The website counted 168 universities (mostly in Europe) where actions took place between 20 October and the end of December 2009. And the surge is far from over. On 4 March, 2010 in the US, on the occasion of a nationwide day of action (the first since May 1970) called in defense of public education, one of the coordinating organisations listed 64 different campuses that saw some form of protest. ( On the same day, the South African Students’ Congress (SASCO) tried to close down nine universities calling for free university education. The protest at the University of Johannesburg proved to be the most contentious, with the police driving students away with water cannons from a burning barricade.

At the root of the most recent mobilisations are the budget cuts that governments and academic institutions have implemented in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown and the tuition hikes that have followed from them, up to 32 percent in the University of California system, and similar increases in some British universities. In this sense, the new student movement can be seen as the main organised response to the global financial crisis. Indeed, ‘We won’t pay for your crisis’ – the slogan of striking Italian students – has become an international battle cry. But the economic crisis has exacerbated a general dissatisfaction that has deeper sources, stemming from the neoliberal reform of education and the restructuring of production that have taken place over the last three decades, which have affected every aspect of student life throughout the world.(1)

The End of the Edu-Deal

The most outstanding elements of this restructuring have been the corporatisation of the university systems, and the commercialisation of education. ‘For profit’ universities are still a minority on the academic scene but the ‘becoming business’ of academe is well advanced especially in the US, where it dates back to the passing of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, that enabled universities to apply for patents for ‘discoveries’ made in their labs that companies would have to pay to use. Since then, the restructuring of academe as a money-making venture has proceeded unabated. The opening of university labs to private enterprise, the selling of knowledge on the world market (through online education and off-shore teaching), the precarisation of academic labour and introduction of constantly rising tuition fees forcing students to plunge ever further into debt, have become standard features of the US academic life, and with regional differences the same trends can now be registered worldwide.

In Europe, the struggle epitomising the new student movement has been against the ‘Bologna Process’, an EU project that institutes a European Higher Education Area, and promotes the circulation of labour within its territory through the homogenisation and standardisation of schooling programs and degrees. The Bologna Process unabashedly places the university at the service of business. It redefines education as the production of mobile and flexible workers, possessing the skills employers require; it centralises the creation of pedagogical standards, removes control from local actors, and devalues local knowledge and local concerns. Similar developments have been taking place in many university systems in Africa and Asia (like Taiwan, Singapore, Japan) that also are being ‘Americanized’ and standardised (for example, in Taiwan through the imposition of the Social Science Citation Index to evaluate professors) – so that global corporations can use Indian, Russian, South African or Brazilian, instead of US or EU ‘knowledge workers’, with the confidence that they are fit for the job.(2)

It is generally recognised that the commercialisation of the university system has partly been a response to the student struggles and social movements of the ’60s and ’70s, which marked the end of the education policy that had prevailed in the Keynesian era. As campus after campus, from Berkeley to Berlin, became the hotbed of an anti-authoritarian revolt, dispelling the Keynesian illusion that investment in college education would pay down the line in the form of an increase in the general productivity of work, the ideology of education as preparation to civic life and a public good had to be discarded.(3)

But the new neoliberal regime also represented the end of a class deal. With the elimination of stipends, allowances, and free tuition, the cost of ‘education’, i.e. the cost of preparing oneself for work, has been imposed squarely on the work-force, in what amounts to a massive wage-cut, that is particularly onerous considering that precarity has become the dominant work relation, and that, like any other commodity, the knowledge ‘bought’ is quickly devalued by technological innovation. It is also the end of the role of the state as mediator. In the corporatised university students now confront capital directly, in the crowded classrooms where teachers can hardly match names on the rosters with faces, in the expansion of adjunct teaching and, above all, in the mounting student debt which, by turning students into indentured servants to the banks and/or state, acts as a disciplinary mechanism on student life, also casting a long shadow on their future.

Still, through the 1990s, student enrollment continued to grow across the world under the pressure of an economic restructuring making education a condition for employment. It became a mantra, during the last two decades, from New York to Paris to Nairobi, to claim that with the rise of the ‘knowledge society’ and information revolution, cost what it may, college education is a ‘must’ (World Bank 2002). Statistics seemed to confirm the wisdom of climbing the education ladder, pointing to an 83 percent differential in the US between the wages of college graduates and those of workers with high school degrees. But the increase in enrollment and indebtedness must also be read as a form of struggle, a rejection of the restrictions imposed by the subjection of education to the logic of the market, a hidden form of appropriation, manifesting itself in time through the increase in the numbers of those defaulting on their loan repayments.

There is not doubt, in this context, that the global financial crisis of 2008 targets this strategy of resistance, removing, through budget cut backs, layoffs, and the massification of unemployment, the last remaining guarantees. Certainly the ‘edu-deal’, that promised higher wages and work satisfaction in exchange for workers and their families taking on the cost for higher education, is dissolving as well. In the crisis capital is reneging on this ‘deal’, certainly because of the proliferation of defaults and because capitalism today refuses any guarantees, such as the promise of high wages to future knowledge workers.

The university financial crisis (the tuition fee increases, budget cut backs, furloughs and lay-offs) is directly aimed at eliminating the wage guarantee that formal higher education was supposed to bring and at taming the ‘cognitariat’. As in the case of immigrant workers, the attack on the students does not signify that knowledge workers are not needed, but rather that they need to be further disciplined and proletarianised, through an attack on the power they have begun to claim partly because of their position in the process of accumulation.

Student rebellion is therefore deep-seated, with the prospect of debt slavery being compounded by a future of insecurity and a sense of alienation from an institution perceived to be mercenary and bureaucratic that, in the bargain, produces a commodity subject to rapid devaluation.

Demands or Occupations?

The student movement, however, faces a political problem, most evident in the US and, to a lesser extent, in Europe. The movement has two souls. On the one side, it demands free university education, reviving the dream of publicly financed ‘mass scholarity’, ostensibly proposing to return to the model of the Keynesian era. On the other, it is in revolt against the university itself, calling for a mass exit from it or aiming to transform the campus into a base for alternative knowledge production that is accessible to those outside its ‘walls’.(4)

This dichotomy, which some characterise as a return to the ‘reform versus revolution’ disputes of the past, has become most visible in the debate sparked off during the University of California strikes last year, over ‘demands’ versus ‘occupations’, which at times has taken an acrimonious tone, as these terms have become complex signifiers for hierarchies and identities, differential power relations, and consequences for risk taking.

The contrast is not purely ideological. It is rooted in the contradictions facing every antagonistic movement today. Economic restructuring has fragmented the workforce, deepened divisions and, not last, it has increased the effort and time required for daily reproduction. A student population holding two or three jobs is less prone to organise than its more affluent peers in the ‘6os.

At the same time there is a sense, among many, that there is nothing more to negotiate, that demands have become superfluous since, for the majority of students, acquiring a certificate is no guarantee for the future which promises simply more precarity and constant self-recycling. Many students realise that capitalism has nothing to offer this generation, that no ‘new deal’ is possible, even in the metropolitan areas of the world, where most wealth is accumulated. Though there is a widespread temptation to revive it, the Keynesian interest group politics of making demands and ‘dealing’ is long dead.

Thus the slogan ‘occupy everything’ – building occupation being seen as a means of self-empowerment, the creation of spaces that students can control, a break in the flow of work and value through which the university expands its reach, and the production of a ‘counter-power’ prefigurative of the communalising relations students today want to construct.

It is hard to know how the ‘demands/occupation’ conflict within the student movement will be resolved. What is certain is that this is a major challenge the movement must overcome in order to increase in its power and its capacity to connect with other struggles. This will be a necessary step if the movement is to gain the power to reclaim education from the hands of the academic authorities and the state. As a next step there is presently much discussion about creating ‘knowledge commons’, in the sense of creating forms of autonomous knowledge production, not finalised or conditioned by the market and open to those outside the campus walls.

Meanwhile, as Edu-Notes has recognised,

already the student movement is creating a common of its own in the very process of the struggle. At the speed of light, news of the strikes, rallies, and occupations, have circulated around the world prompting a global electronic tam-tam of exchanged communiqués, slogans, messages of solidarity and support, resulting in an exceptional volume of images, documents, stories.(5)

Yet, the main ‘common’ the movement will have to construct is the extension of its mobilisation to other workers in the crisis. Key to this construction will be the issue of the debt that is the arch ‘anti-common’, since it is the transformation of collective surplus that could be used for the liberation of workers into a tool of their enslavement. Abolition of the student debt can be the connective tissue between the movement and the others struggling against foreclosures in the US and the larger movement against sovereign debt internationally.

George Caffentzis is a member of the Midnight Notes Collective. Together with the collective, he has co-edited two books, Midnight Oil: Work Energy War 1973-1992 and Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles in the Fourth World War. Both were published by Autonomedia Press.


I want to thank the students and faculty I recently interviewed from the University of California, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and Rhodes University in South Africa for sharing their knowledge. I also want to thank my comrades in the Edu-Notes group for their insights and inspiration.


(1) Edu-factory Collective, Towards a Global Autonomous University, Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2009

(2) See, Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, Alidou, Ousseina, A Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles Against Structural Adjustment in African Universities, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000, Richard Pithouse, Asinamali: University Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa, Trenton: Africa World Press, 2006 and Arthur Hou-ming Huang, ‘Science as Ideology: SSCI, TSSCI and the Evaluation System of Social Sciences in Taiwan’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 10 2009, Number 2, pp. 282-291.

(3) George Caffentzis, ‘Throwing Away the Ladder: The Universities in the Crisis’, Zerowork I, 1975, pp. 128-142.

(4) After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California, 2010, Accessed at

(5) Edu-Notes, ‘Introduction to Edu-Notes’, unpublished manuscript.