Theorising the Present Political Crisis in Bangladesh

Nazmul Sultan

Predictably enough, with the arrival of the scheduled parliamentary elections, Bangladesh has once again become entangled in a rather inextricable political crisis. The recently held national parliamentary elections—boycotted by the major opposition parties—is only a prelude to further political contestation over the occupation of state power. The crisis is structural and constitutive of the political system— the moral bankruptcy and the lack of will that the concerned political parties show is not the cause, but rather the effect, of the structural conflict. Elections—that is, the process through which the occupier of the centre of explicit political power is periodically shifted—take place amid chaos and unrest across the world. The procedural concern regarding elections might be a problem in its own right, but this is not the fundamental source of the present crisis in Bangladesh. The crux of the problem lies in the irresolvable contradiction constitutive of the distribution of explicit political power in Bangladesh. What is at stake is not simply the dysfunctionality of institutions such as the election commission, nor is it primarily a conflict between the two political parties over the occupation of power. To be sure, the power struggle between the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is the occasion that triggers the crisis. However, the fundamental source of the crisis, as I will seek to show in this article, lies in the conflictual instability over the very distribution of political power, involving the political society, civil society, military apparatus and, not so obviously, the people.

Elections and the Suspension of Power

Let us start with a plain narration of the crisis at stake. Apparently, the crisis is about the failure of the two parties to reach an agreement regarding the procedural arrangement of national parliamentary politics. The terms of procedural arrangement concerns this central register of dispute: the suspension of political power of the elected ruling party. The provisional Non-party Caretaker Government — once orchestrated as an apparently innovative solution to this crisis — is no longer a viable option for the political society. The legally-sanctioned arrangement of the caretaker government required the elected ruling party to suspend its power three months prior to election so that the non-party provisional government could oversee the electoral process. Although the chief of the provisional government was required to be chosen from among retired Supreme Court chief justices, the advisers were chosen from the recommended candidates by the political parties. As a result, the political society collectively retained control over the provisional government. Despite the presence of the non-party provisional government, the pre-election period had always been marked by political confrontation between the major parties. The contention over the appointment of the Chief Adviser of the provisional government in 2006 ended up in a political stalemate and resulted in a quasi-military coup that installed another Caretaker Government for the next couple of years. The coming together of the civil society actors and the military to occupy the place of governmental power added a twist to the preceding contestation that was limited to being one between the political and civil societies. Heavily persecuted by the military-backed regime, both the major political parties share a common opposition against the extra-political-society agents. So now, while the BNP demands that a national government be installed prior to the election, the AL dismisses the demand by claiming that the non-partisan provisional government would pave the way for the intrusion of non-political actors (a not-so-hidden reference to the civil society) in the sphere of political power.

The explicit political power – at its institutionalised locus — is disproportionately concentrated in the ruling regime. The power of the ruling regime appears to be an almost permanent prerogative. The ruling regime holds sway over almost all the central registers of political power, perhaps with the exception of the civil society. In most cases, the ruling regime is also able to secure its political control over the military, a force whose relative autonomy nevertheless remains fairly obvious. The concentration of power is generally explained by the lack of functionality of the institutions. The lack of will among politicians to allow institutions to function autonomously is then singled out as the source of the problem. The lack of autonomous procedurality in the political institutions is, of course, apparent. However, to delimit the problem to the moral lack of the politicians is to overlook the underlying logic that generates the concentration of power. Although, as I remarked earlier, there is a “conflictual instability” in the distribution of power, this instability should not be conflated with disequilibrium. Often in the form of parallelism with the supposedly “ideal types” of democracy in the West, the political arrangement of non-western countries is theorised as the lack of equilibrium among institutions. Such an understanding of our political horizon misses the presence of a distinct organism that cannot readily be understood in terms of western political models. The arrangement of power is unstable, but this instability forms an equilibrium of its own. Regardless of the impression that the facticity of political institutions provide, political power is not an unmoored force reproduced by the monopoly over violence. The question of legitimacy is crucial here. This is so not only because of its justification of the relationship of domination (as pointed out by Weber), but also because of the production of political power through the contesting process of legitimation. There is a gap that separates the claim of popular sovereignty from the institutions. In the putatively universal mode of modern democracy’s self-description, the constitutions of the post-colonial nation-states state that the people are the sovereign, and they transfer that sovereignty to the elected regime through periodic elections. In other words, the elected government and the political institutions claim to represent the people. This normative account is inadequate in understanding the disseminated form of political sovereignty, as it misses how the claims of sovereignty remain more volatile, contingent and tied up with the staging of the extra-institutional people.

In the case of Bangladesh, the foundation of the present political order was laid by the event of 1971. The political horizon of “the national” conditions the form of political legitimacy and draws the spectrum of partisanship. The dominant form of legitimacy that exists in Bangladesh is correlated with the “Bengali nation”—i.e. the Bengali nation’s right to rule over itself. This form of legitimacy has no determinate dovetailing with the institutionalised regime of the political. If the judiciary, the bureaucracy, and other legally autonomous spheres of political order cannot lay claim to be autonomous agencies and are easily folded under the agency of the ruling regime, this is primarily because of the reason that these institutions cannot appeal to the founding legitimacy in the way the extra-institutional people do. Granted, these institutions have their own logics of operation, and yet they have no agency to assert their political autonomy. Even whatever legitimacy the operation of pastoral power provides to the ruling regime, it is always vulnerable vis-à-vis the claims of the extra-institutional people. In any case, the imbalance of power, I would suggest, has a deeper root than sheer institutional dysfunctionality. The ruling regime is in a position to control and navigate the institutions at the level of decision, if not at the level of institutional logic. The concentration of power in the hand of the ruling regime results in an irresolvable tension within the sphere of political power. At the moment of election – that is, the moment when the power is to be transferred — the systematic absence of an autonomous procedurality and the attendant concentration of power in the ruling regime enter into a sharp contest. The opposition party — along with the civil society and any other actors concerned with a “fair” election — cannot but oppose the occurrence of elections under the aegis of the ruling regime. There are two forms of determinate contest in the political sphere: (i) the apparent and predominant contest between the political parties, who, in their identity and difference, form the political society; (ii) the simultaneous tension between the political and civil societies. The Non-partisan Caretaker Government was a solution that kept the suspended power within the political society with the aim of mitigating the tension between the two main parties. This option has lost its credibility owing to the introduction of the second form of contest following the rupture of the military-backed regime. The military-backed caretaker regime has established that the suspension of political power for the “caretakers” to come into being is not immune to the intrusion of the civil society into the sphere that the political society claims as its own. There is clearly a generalised opposition to the civil society from the partisans of political society. Evidently, both the BNP and the AL are not willing to leave power to a caretaker government that is open to the influence of extra-political-society actors. Thus the BNP came up with another option, that of the “national government”. Clearly, this would be more immune to the risks than what the old model of the caretaker government faced. The problem is there is not enough political force present in the political sphere to make the AL accept this otherwise amenable demand. The political ambition of the ruling party lies in outdoing both the external civil society and the opposition party (internal to political society) by way of rhetorically reducing the opposition party and the civil society to the same level.

French political theorist Claude Lefort famously argued that the locus of power is empty in democracy.(1) In contrast to the monarchic regime, wherein the king embodied society by virtue of being the mediator between the other-worldly and the worldly, the source of the legitimacy that hierarchically ordered society broke down with the arrival of modern democracy. Against the grain of the much-vaunted claim of modern liberal democracy concerning its ability to represent the will of the people in an institutionalised form, Lefort has argued that neither the people nor the institutionalised structure can occupy the empty place of power. The place of power is impersonal, and thus it is impossible for any political agency to identify itself with the locus of power. It is a form of society that internalises the impossibility of representing the people in the political institutions, despite taking the former as a symbolic ground of power. According to Lefort, it was not for nothing that many socialists and liberals protested against universal suffrage in its inaugural moment. The numericalisation of the will of the people would effectively displace the substantial and extra-institutional emergence and assertion of the people. Since the locus of power is empty and society is instituted without an organic body, the tendency of disincorporation introduces a gap between the sphere of power, and law and knowledge. Legality and the sphere of knowledge assert their independence from the sphere of power. Lefort’s argument hinges on the observation that only the mechanism of the exercise of power is visible, not the locus of the power itself. The government, or that which possesses the executive register of power, is posterior to the institutionalised form that conditions it. And thus, says Lefort, the government is not capable of embodying the power in itself, nor can it use the power for its own end. It does exercise power explicitly, but the government cannot identify with the mechanism and process that allow it to exercise power. In that sense, the institutional-form that makes it possible for the government to exercise power is prior. Furthering Lefort’s argument, Ernesto Laclau contends that there is a permanent gap between the form and content of political community in democracy. As a supplement to Lefort, Laclau argues that democracy “requires the constant and active production of the emptiness.”(2) The particular hegemonic “aggregation of demands” tends to be generalised and, in so doing, it seeks to represent the (incomplete) universality of the community through the particularity of its own constitution.

Lefort’s theorisation of modern democracy poses considerable questions and problems. His account is based on the transition from monarchy to democracy. While for someone like Foucault the ruptural shift from the old monarchic regime to the modern institutionalised democracy coincided with the expansion of disciplinary practices to the finest grain of society, Lefort’s account describes the political organisation of the form of modern society as indeterminately determinate, claiming a rupture among the spheres of (political) power, knowledge and legality. Lefort is certainly correct in arguing that the marker of certainty has dissolved in modern democracy insofar as the ordering of society is concerned, as the political order of society was no longer strictly hierarchised. However, it is unclear how would he theorise the empty locus of power itself other than referring to the void that had been produced through the disappearance of the monarchic form and reproduced by the sustenance of the institutional arrangement of modern democracy. Insofar as the empty locus of power acts as a foundation (as its emptiness determines how the sphere of power is arranged and correlated with other spheres), it is imperative for us to think whether it is pure emptiness or a form of (incompletely and contingently) saturated political foundation. The case of Bangladesh is an interesting instance. Coming out of the colonial experience, Bangladesh is certainly not the ideal site for thinking Lefort’s Europe-centered account of democracy. That being the case, the distribution of political power in Bangladesh clearly poses certain questions that are akin to Lefort’s problematic. Given the concentration of power in the ruling regime and the lack of autonomy of the political institutions, there is a profound imbalance in the distribution of political power. This adds complexity to the form of political sphere. As our discussion of election and its attendant suspension of political power has shown, there is a fundamental uncertainty regarding the very form — and not just content — of the political community. If all the contests were over the content of power, there would not have been enough reason for disputing the suspension of power. The otherwise banal ideological debates among political parties indicates that the core of their political reasoning is not so much concerning governance, but rather about instantiating the border and order of the political community. The political parties thus manifest the drive to collapse the distinction between the prior empty place of power and their occupation of it, as though their particular occupation of power is the only means to safeguard it. This centripetal force of power also explains why the sphere of law and knowledge are so closely tailed with the political sphere in Bangladesh. The subordination of legality to politics — whether in the form of para-legalism or simple suspension — is barely a matter of dispute. More interestingly, the intellectual sphere of Bangladesh shows a remarkable tendency to divide itself between the rival camps of Bengali and Bangladeshi nationalism, while the autonomy-seeking section of it remains trapped in unreflective contrarianism. While the constitutional democratic political structure formally generates a necessity for extricating the place of power from the particular contents that occupy it, this institutional drive is neutralised and outdriven by the presence of a saturated political foundation that collapses the distinction between form and content of politics. Unlike the Laclauian hegemony that explains the occupation of power through the becoming-universal of a particularity amid the plurality of demands and groups, the appeal to the foundation of political community generates a desire for an immediate identity between the form and content of the polity. The drive to saturate the empty locus of power is that which explains both the danger and potency of Bangladesh’s political horizon. The articulation of this claim would require us to make a foray into how the people construct themselves by bypassing the logic of institutions.

The People and the Institutions

Between the people and the sphere of political power, there is a lack of correspondence. This is, however, a lack that is systematic. To be sure, the failure to reflect the political will of “the people” in the institutional order of the political system is the perennial crisis of modern representative democracy. This is a constitutive failure of constitutional democratic system — it is inherently incapable of accommodating the extra-institutional entity that is the people. In the West, “public opinion” emerged as a mediating process in introducing the institutionalised correspondence between the people and the political institutions. Public opinion, of course, is not the pure will of the people. Its form is institutionally determined, whereby the opinion of the individuated citizens – which is distinct from the truth-claim that a political collectivity pushes for — operates within clear limits. Given the absence of the role that “public opinion” plays in the West, there is a vacuum between the institutions and the people. As I said earlier, the gap is constitutive of constitutional democracy. What is, however, specific to the Bangladeshi scenario is the absence of any mitigating correspondence between the two poles. No absence, however, is pure absence. This structural particularity is also at the root of the extra-institutional politicisation of the people in the Bangladeshi context. What we call the people is far from being a readily accessible political category. Instead, it is one of the most complex political entities. Partly because of the “failure” of the institutions to set up a neutralising correspondence with the people a la public opinion, the Bangladeshi people are in a privileged position to extra-systematically contest political power. As the diagram shows, the political construction of the people leaps over the realm of non-correspondence and directly enters into the realm of power.(3) The Shahbag movement is an apt example. The current scenario is complicated precisely because of the Shahbag event. It heralded a new political configuration. To portray the post-Shahbag crisis as merely a contest between proponents and opponents of the trial of war criminals is to fall short of understanding how the congealed image of Shahbag has transformed the ordinary regime of power distribution. Moving beyond the myopic concern with what the demand of the movement was and who constituted the sociological formation of its ranks, we need to look at the way in which it amounted to a contestatory construction of the people and, in so doing, mobilised an extra-institutional source of legitimacy.

diagram for RN article

The political power that the movement generated did not arise through any institutional process, nor did it gather force in the manner of issue-based social movements that operate through channeling the demands and mounting pressure on the concerned authority. The event came into being abruptly, and mobilised political claims by way of reclaiming the founding legitimacy of the polity. The people that the Shahbag Movement brought into being by way of re-invoking the political community form founded by 1971 is political in the sense that it generated political power independently of the permanent agencies of the sphere of political power. The virtual impossibility of affecting the sphere of political power through an institutionalised process breeds the possibility for the people to put themselves in the sphere of political power through bypassing what I have called “the sphere of systematic non-correspondence”. As I argued above, while the Shahbag movement contended with the state over the source of legitimacy, it did not result in an antagonistic contestation with the state over political power. This is precisely the feature that made it susceptible to the cooptation of the ruling regime. With the symbolic fulfillment of the explicit demands that the movement put forward, the AL regime could articulate the afterlife of the movement in its own terms. Political events do not just burst through the surface and then vanish without any effect. They do disappear, but in so doing, they alter the relations of forces in often not-so-apparent manner. The continued presence of the Shahbag Movement registers such a transformation. On the one hand, it has made it nearly impossible for the political parties and platforms to negotiate with what the movement had identified as “anti-1971” forces, thus affecting the border of the regime of political power. On the other hand, its claim to the source of legitimacy –and the attendant construction of the people — provided it with a political authority that, however, was not directly antagonistic to the state. These paradoxical features have rendered the event amenable to cooption by the ruling regime, which through such cooption sought to boost itself with the power that flowed from the Shahbag Movement. If the Shahbag Movement is reduced to the demands that it voiced, then it is possible to find the cooption acceptable. The present crisis is not a crisis centered on the war-criminal issue. It is a structural crisis integral to our political system, whereby the afterlife of the Shahbag movement has added productive complexity to the crisis.

The empty politics of “good governance”

The civil society is once again at the forefront of national politics. The civil society — or what is rather barbarically translated as Susheel Samaj (civilised society) in Bengali — is a complex entity whose understanding requires close theoretical and historical investigation. This is a task that I cannot undertake here. The grotesque name that they have given themselves is more than a symptom of mere linguistic incompetence. It designates the preconception that posits both the political society and the people as unqualified subjects of politics. Nevertheless, let us consider some of the prevalent (mis)conceptions about civil society in the context of Bangladesh. While it is obviously true that the Bangladeshi civil society did not evolve in the way in which western civil societies have, this contrast does not warrant us to conceptualise this civil society as historically parasitic or an entity without any social root. The civil society is neither simply a conglomeration of self-interested agents bent on procuring their economic and cultural interests. To be sure, they are self-interested, but that does not tell us much about their political drives and actions. The modern theorisation of civil society that came into being with Hegel explicates it as a mediator between the natural realm of family and the rational sphere of the state. For Hegel, individuals operate as self-interested subjects in civil society; but, in so doing, they conjure up a collective rationality which, in turn, results in a form of society that strikes a balance between the individual and the collective. The self-conception of Bangladeshi civil society expresses the desire to mediate between the “development-seeking” people and the “corrupted and irrational” state. However, since they deem the state as utterly irrational and self-serving, and the people as incapable of acting at the institutional sites, that dual presuppositions lead them to decide for both the state and the people. The task of mediation, as it were, is nothing less than dictating the logics of the entities between which they purport to mediate. In one sense, the political constitution of civil society captures the paradox of our political community in a rather actualised way. The paradox resides in the duality of the nation and the state. The civil society is as much under the condition of the national as any other political agent in Bangladesh. The cultural imagination of the civil society, however westernised, clearly feeds into the horizon of Bengali nationalism. The border and order of the political community that it envisages is under the condition of the national. As I noted above, its commitment to the liberal-democratic structure as the form of governance – with its attendant institutionalism, moral and cultural configurations and so on — puts them in an antagonistic relationship with regard to the political society. Indeed, there is clearly a generalised opposition to the civil society from the otherwise diverging entities of the political society. If the ruling regime does little to ensure the autonomy and independence of the institutions such as the judiciary and administration, it is because these institutions do not figure in the production of legitimacy and its attendant political power in the way in which the street does. Missing this central site of political power, the civil society takes institutions as the objects of politics. The liberal democracy that they push for is one that only knows institutions, extricated as it is from the extra-institutional sources of politics.

Being preoccupied with the task of ostracising corruption from the institutions, the politics of “good governance” is unable to intervene in the extra-institutional sites of politics. As a result, it is an ideology — regardless of its intentions — that strives to negate and excoriate the unruly self-representing people from the sphere of politics. The true subject of the politics of “good governance” is a non-subject proper. From the student rebellion of 2007 to the Shahbag Movement, the civil society had found itself incapable of — if not always indifferent to — dealing with the extra-institutional grounding of politics. The signature characteristic of the civil society’s political vision is the fear of disorder. Constitutionally incapable of realising how the moments of “disorder” are the fecund sites of politics, the civil society locates the source of all crises in the corruption of institutions. Owing to the lack-based understanding specified above, it transposes political contestations on to an empty normative horizon. The failure to influence both the institutional terrain dominated by the ruling regime and the extra-institutional sites, the ideologues of good governance have no other option than relying on the superlative intervention of western diplomats and the military.

The Crisis of the Left-Over Left

This complicated scenario of national politics has dragged the left into a quagmire. The modest success of the post-1971 Left has been dependent on the mobilisation of the nationalist condition of politics. With the emergence of a group of strong nationalist political activists in the last decade — a group that ideologically leans towards the Awami League and yet maintains a distance from its institutional aspects — the Left has been encountering contest and resistance in the attempt to short-circuit between nationalist and traditional leftist discourses. Nor can the Left lay claim to represent the urban workers and poor, the conspicuous outsider in the national politics. In short, the left is unable to instantiate any particular people as the legitimising ground of its politics. The stage-ist left, by and large, is happy to hibernate, while waiting for the coming of the pure (and thus mythological) class-conscious working class. The more active section of the left is oriented to the social issues. In the recent past, they have rather successfully led few social movements. This otherwise promising social-content-oriented section of the left’s crisis lies in its failure to transform social issues into political contest proper. While the Left’s pointing out of injustice and oppression normatively makes sense to the public, that act of making-sense does not get catapulted into a political contestation by itself. The precondition of the emergence of a political contestation requires not only an articulation of the terms of opposition, but also a contesting horizon of the collectivity, i.e. the possibility of a political community. This is precisely what the Left has been unable to generate in the recent years.

As an insignificant actor in the equation of electoral politics, the Left does not hold any effective leverage in shaping the terms of parliamentary elections. A large chunk of the old Left has allied with — or rather tailed behind —the ruling regime. At the level of ideological articulation, this section of the Left has little bearing on Bangladeshi politics. This political inaction is exacerbated by the Left’s understandably ambivalent relationship to the afterlife of the Shahbag movement. The epochal importance, if any, of the Shahbag movement resided in its instantiation of the possibility to re-enact the politics-form of the national by way of constructing the extra-statal people. With the subsumption of the afterlife of the movement by the ruling regime, the persistent presence of its after-effect has got crystallized into something that tends in the direction of lending legitimacy to the Awami League regime. Clearly, any provisional alliance with the AL has to reckon with the fact that the Shahbag movement does not have primacy here — it is the AL’s internal contest with the oppositional party and the civil society that dictates the terms.

Although it is true that the national is the dominant condition of the political in Bangladesh, there is no reason to resign and hold that there is no possibility of articulating a political grounding that would stand outside the present condition. I argued that the crisis of the Left owes to their growing dislocation from the internal order of the national, resulting in a redundant tailism with the mainstream Bengali Nationalist forces. The “outside” that the left needs is not necessarily an absolute outside — the possibilities of constructing a new ground of politics is present in the society. The possibilities themselves must be seized upon — the task of politics is more about subjectivating those possibilities than about waiting for a fully interiorized outside. The manoeuvre to dislodge this state of politics must re-examine the unquestioned ontological presuppositions and discursive strategies of the traditional Left. Hopefulness is empty and self-circling when it obdurately bypasses the facticity of despair. The Left must recognise and reflect on its apparently unmoving negativity, if it wants to break out of the existing state of political order.

Notes

(1) Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, (Cambridge: Polity, 1988).

(2) Ernest Laclau, “Democracy and the Question of Power,” Constellations 8, no. 1 (2001): 12.

(3) I do not consider the anti-Shahbag Hefazat-e-Islami movement as another example of constructing the people. For sure, the Hefazat reaction drew huge crowds, garnering considerable support. However, in terms of the politics-form, it was neither able to carve out a space outside of the national nor was it able to appeal to the existing political foundations. As a result, notwithstanding its numerical force, it remained caught up in the moment of its negative energy vis-à-vis the Shahbag Movement.

Of AAP and the Leftist Chickens

Pothik Ghosh

This, indeed, appears to have become a season for homecoming. The chickens that had hitherto ranged freely on the so-called progressive side of the fence are now coming home to roost. Indian democracy is the fashionable address that home bears. And the path that is leading the poultry to it is called the Aam Admi Party (AAP). What had started as a diffident trickle, towards the common man’s abode, during the anti-corruption movement of Anna Hazare, et al., has now become a veritable flood. Power does work, we finally seem to be discovering, as a rather effective magnet for those who are more incorruptible than others.

The left in India has been, for all practical purposes, a catch-all category that has come to accommodate everyone from revolutionary groups of various hues and independent Marxists of myriad denominations to different shades of self-righteous social democrats and bleeding-heart maverick liberals who like to don the radical garb. And in this scramble to make it to the maternal lap of Indian democracy, over which plays the soothing lullaby of the common man, that eclectic purport of the leftist signboard has not been lost one bit. The leftist constituency of the AAP – which has flocked behind it by way of intellectual justification and sympathy if not outright political support – is a fair representation of that eclecticism. It has in its ranks both those who continue to profess their faith in revolutionary transformation and those who think that social democracy is now a quicker and surer way to get to where revolutionary politics had, in a different age, promised to deliver them.

But it is not as if we, who have decided to keep the flame of revolutionary politics burning by staying put, are faring any better. Wallowing in the Brahminical purity of theory, most of us are busy these days reminding the world about the superiority of our theoretically-endowed position over that of commonsensical morality. We seem to have forgotten that this theory, from which we seek to derive the prestige of our unshakeable faith, is not a doctrine. It is that which is found and refound in the everyday struggles of labour against capital. As a consequence, theory and its prestige has either become an alibi for criticism-as-quietism or a licence to indulge in pragmatist-reactive politics of demands to expose the AAP.

It would not be inappropriate, therefore, to polemically raise a few, somewhat conceptual issues as a way of critically engaging with each of those two AAP-supporting leftist trends, and also perhaps with those among us who have been dogged in their criticism of this politics of the common man.

I

Let us begin with those ‘Marxist’ and ‘communist’ votaries of bourgeois-democratic revolution who insist that the AAP could likely become a ‘progressive alliance of classes’. Against them it ought to be contended that this is not objectively possible in this late capitalist conjuncture. For, if this conjuncture is that of the generalised state of exception – where the question of rights has objectively become more about negative determination than positive entitlements on account of capital having entered into terminal crisis at the global level – then such an alliance, regardless of whether it is envisaged through the populism of the left or that of the right, is bound to be social corporatist and would thus tend, once again, towards renewal of dominance.

As for the thesis of “dominance without hegemony”, it has always lacked rigour. That must be particularly emphasised here because it is this thesis that either explicitly or implicitly underlies virtually all arguments for democratic revolution as the completion of bourgeois democracy: the closing of the supposed gap between dominance and hegemony of the national bourgeoisie.

It is our view that the Marxian conception of hegemony as propounded by Antonio Gramsci has two connotations – that of the bourgeois class and that of capital as a structure of social power. And I tend to think that the former, which Gramsci at least in one place in his Prison Notebooks calls “external hegemony”, is coeval with dominance. The intensity of this dominance or external hegemony is inversely proportional to the strength of the tendency of constitutive (repeat constitutive) crisis of the hegemony of capital as a structure (which in Gramsci is termed hegemony without any qualifying adjective) at a given moment in history. From there it follows that the current conjuncture of this hegemony of capital as an epoch of hierarchically excluding but productively inclusive social power is characterised by a relative growth in the strength of that tendency of constitutive crisis and a commensurate weakening of the counter-tendency of stabilisation of the subsumption of that crisis. The Indian specificity of this conjuncture unmistakably bears that out. Consequently, what one gets is not only greater administered authoritarianism at all levels of the social formation/state-formation complex but also an acceleration of the rate at which such (coercive) dominance is socio-politically renewed through mass mobilisations and movements against precisely such administered authoritarianism.

What we have on our hands then is not dominance without hegemony but the rapid shifting of different regimes of dominance precisely on account of struggles against specific and immediate forms of dominance being already always hegemonised (or, inscribed within and articulated by the capitalist structure of dominance and competition). This is exactly what the Indian situation, when grasped in and through the thick interweaving of its polity, society and various mass movements, reveals. Social corporatism is the form of such politics, and AAP and the anti-corruption movement that birthed it are no exceptions. The generalised state of exception is the constitutive tendency of this social corporatist form. The rapid renewal of the social corporatist form (and its persistence at all levels of our social being) through precisely rights-based mass movements, which would in the past qualify as democratic, is the neoliberal specificity of late capitalism.

In such circumstances, it is quite pointless to talk about ‘completing’ the bourgeois democratic project, whose ‘incompleteness’ is supposedly reflected in the purported absence of hegemony of capital. For, the rapid turnover of various regimes of dominance, in, as and through mass mobilisations precisely against historically specific forms of dominance, shows that hegemony of capital as a differentially inclusive configuration or structure of power (or combined and uneven development) is very much alive and kicking, and complete. Such politics of accelerated rate of renewal and increasing pervasiveness of the social corporatist form – read coercive dominance of a class constituted through a mass movement – embodies a crisis in hegemony of capital. But that is not yet a crisis of hegemony, which would amount to its collapse. This crisis in hegemony is, of course, incipiently a crisis of hegemony but only incipiently and is, therefore, not as such the latter’s generalisation. This is because it is a crisis of capital that nevertheless is articulated by the structure of capital itself. It is something like the constitutive lack of the symbolic order in Lacanian psychoanalysis.

This crisis in capital can be transformed as the incipient crisis of capital it always already is into generalised actuality only through subjective intervention that is able to beat the cunning of the structure of capital. And such an intervention would be one that subtracts itself from the strategic orientation of rights-based politics and politics of democratic revolution while holding on to the question of democratisation as a necessarily determinate tactical condition of the revolutionary strategy.

But movements that would amount to such an intervention cannot be ones that base themselves on an acknowledgement and affirmation of a stageist interregnum or temporal lag between the question of democratisation and the question of communist revolution. Therefore, the argument that the AAP has the potential to be a democratic revolutionary movement is thoroughly misplaced precisely because such a ‘Marxist’ argument is premised on the affirmation of this temporal lag or stageist interregnum between democratic revolution and proletarian revolution. A democratic-revolutionary strategy of working-class revolution – which is necessarily premised on this conception of temporal or stageist lag between completing the bourgeois democratic revolution and the beginning of a proletarian revolution – would in this conjuncture of the generalised state of exception amount to nothing but farcical repetition. A rapidly accelerated and accelerating farcical repetition of passive revolution as expanded reproduction of capital as a specific epochal configuration of social power.

II

Now for those who think that the AAP is or can be an effective social democratic force. The argument against them would, in terms of logic, be much the same, save a few differences in detail. Here are some rhetorical questions that need to be asked of them. Is it possible in this late capitalist conjuncture – which in the aftermath of de-fascisation and decolonisation is characterised in it being a generalised state of exception – for social democracy to be a politics of reformism in the traditional Keynesian sense? In other words, can social democracy, even when it apparently has the subjective tenor of militant reformism, be a politics of reform of the sphere of distribution of value that in seeking to demand and effect such reform is, objectively speaking, orientated in the direction of overall betterment of the condition of the working class vis-a-vis capital? For, isn’t precisely the generalised state of exception, which characterises this late capitalist conjuncture, all about reform in the distribution of value being objectively constrained to further intensify and irrationalise segmentation of labour-power and thus the working class? And is that, therefore, not the reason why the discourse of rights, which is the ideological form of a politics seeking to reform the distribution of value, is objectively becoming more and more a politics of negative determination and less and less a politics of positive entitlements. And, in such a situation, can the subjectivity of social democratic politics itself remain, for long, working-class reformist and not be transformed into an out and out petty-bourgeois modality of competitive politics even at its mass-movemental level? In that sense, has not our conjunctural objectivity already ensured that the line that had earlier divided – either spatially or temporally or both – the populism of the left from that of the right tends to blur more and more?

The way the Maruti movement had unfolded till July 2012 – insofar as it sought to challenge and thus tended to move beyond the traditional trade unionist and vanguardist framework of radical working-class politics in all its variety – demonstrates that what is and must be first and foremost on the agenda of radical transformative politics today is the struggle against social corporatist aggregation. The Maruti movement, together with various other incidents of industrial unrest in the country over the past few years, have arguably revealed that such social corporatist aggregation, regardless of its ideological provenance and its ideology-reflecting charter of demands, is an articulation of the capitalist tendency to intensify segmentation of the working class and simultaneously regiment that segmentation into a coherent systemic whole, thereby rendering it more openly irrational.

But then, does the politics of common man, as envisaged by the AAP, even qualify as properly social democratic? There are some who contend that the AAP is a phenomenon of the rise of the new “middle sections” of the working class that the Indian left has made no serious attempt to reach out to and organise. There can be little doubt on that score. The sociology of the preponderant and leading sections of the AAP definitely suggests that. And the failure of virtually all the left groups here, whether revisionist or so-called radical, to seriously engage with these new ‘middle layers’ of the working class in order to enable them to self-organise could well be one of the reasons for their gravitation towards the anti-corruption movement and the AAP. Most of us, who swear by proletarian revolutionary generalisation, have never seriously considered the task of enabling those sections of the working class – the so-called white-collar and service-sector workers – to self-organise. Our often unstated assumption that only the traditional blue-collared workers, and sections mired in resource poverty, are working class is one of the key reasons for that failure. Yet the fact remains that the AAP, in having mobilised them on its anti-corruption plank as ‘common men and women’, has organised them as consumers and not as a constituent of the working class.

What is even more dangerous about this kind and form of mobilisation is that it poses a politics that is inimical and directly antithetical to the interests and politics of the working class. Sure, the AAP’s politics of the common man is about rendering the overall distribution of value better. But unlike social democracy that seeks this betterment in distribution at the workers’ end, any politics against corruption is about eliminating glitches in the realm of consumption as realisation of value. As a result, it is a politics that reinforces the logic of production being determined by and subordinate to consumption as realisation of value. On the other hand, social democracy – even as it does not seek to re-organise the given production process to abolish class segmentation and division – is premised on an implicit acknowledgement of irreconcilability of the antagonism between labour and capital.

Clearly, the mobilisation of those so-called middle sections of the working class as people whose consumption is blighted by graft bespeaks a politics that strengthens the enslavement of workers by the logic of realisation of value, and is thus an ideology for intensification of work. Had they been organised in terms of their worker-alterity, it would have been a radically different kind of politics. One that is constitutive of the point of production posing a direct challenge to its determination by the point of consumption-as-realisation-of-value. That would have been the beginning of the latter’s subversion, and thus the subversion of the dualised structure of production being determined by consumption-as-realisation-of-value. In other words, it would have been a determinate moment constitutive of the politics of subversion of the law of value.

Therefore, the ideology and politics of class collaboration articulated by the social corporatist form specific to this politics of the common man is, to begin with, far more reactionary than the ideological form of class collaboration posed by a social democratic subjective disposition. Such politics driven solely by the morality of honesty and probity is at its core, one ought to say now without mincing too many words, patently and unabashedly anti-working class.

III

Let us back this charge with a string of similar assertions as a way of getting to the point from where we can start making sense of this discourse of a common man’s politics of honesty and probity in terms of its social-material foundations. A politics against corruption as a politics for the common man is, in this conjuncture, inevitably bound to be a politics for greater efficiency. Such politics is populist but with an ideological orientation that is clearly neoliberal whose preponderant political subjectivity at the so-called grassroots level is fascistic.

In such circumstances, it would not be misplaced at all to characterise such politics as one of rightwing populism, whose class character, particularly in its mass movemental moment, is that of petty-bourgeois social corporatism. This ideological orientation and class character derives from the fact that the strategic focus of such politics accords primacy to the moment of consumption or non-work socialisation, and the spacetime of circulation of value. For, what else would efficiency be in capitalism save the enhanced facility of consumption as non-work socialisation? Hence, the politics of the so-called common man is a politics that seeks to redress the problems of inefficiency in the domain of consumption in their immediacy, by papering over and obscuring how such inefficiency is nothing but an expression of that domain of socialisation (or consumption) being hierarchical (or, more precisely, differentially inclusive). Concomitantly, such politics also obscures how this differentially inclusive organisation of consumption or non-work socialisation is essentially the functionality of social division of labour, which is nothing but the capitalist organisation of the production process.

And this is the reason why, among other things, the preponderant ideological orientation and political subjectivity of such politics is, as we have observed, fascistic at the level of mobilisation. The link between fascism and a politics that seeks to redress the problems in the domain of consumption in their immediate purity while steering clear of all attempts to problematise the structuring of that domain is almost self-evident. For, such politics, which seeks to resolve the problems in the domain of consumption and non-work socialisation in their pure immediacy without seeking to address them at the fundamental level of the structuring of the domain of consumption, is bound to generate and be positively disposed towards a discourse of securitisation, and a strong police state. By extension, such politics, regardless of its homilies to secularism, and such apparently secular practices as fielding of Muslim candidates in majority-dominated constituencies, will, on the whole, have an Islamophobic character.

Such politics of the common man, therefore, serves to reinforce and reproduce the production/consumption (circulation) split constitutive of capital as a mode of social being. More pertinently, it tends to do so by increasing the subordination of production (or the spacetime of living labour) to the domain of consumption, which in being situated within and articulated by the structure of capital as the spacetime of reproduction is basically the spacetime of consolidation, accumulation and thus dead labour. In this late capitalist conjuncture of biocapitalism, wherein our entire life in all its cognitive and affective dimensions has been rendered productive or a direct source of value extraction, this politics of the common man is doubly reactionary.

Such politics, strategically focused on redressing solely and purely the problems at the point of consumption in their immediacy, is paradigmatically constrained not to problematise the structuring of the given domain of consumption. It is, as a result, destined to passively accept that domain in the way it is structured. This is tantamount to affirmation of the given modalities of consumption. That not only means, as we have seen above, the reinforcement of determination of the point of production by the domain of consumption and non-work socialisation, it also means the failure or refusal to discern how consumption in being consumption is, in its given forms and modalities, now also a site of direct extraction of value. In other words, it fails to see how consumption, bound by and within its given forms and modalities, has been rendered productive.

So, even as the politics of the common man makes the domain of consumption its strategic focus, its passive approach to the question of consumption and its capitalist structuring, prevents it from posing a politics against capital as the historically concrete logic of social power that is transforming our entire society, including what had hitherto been purely the spatio-temporality of non-work socialisation (or circulation of value), into a social factory that is rendering more and more indistinguishable the hitherto clearly demarcated spacetimes of work and reproductive leisure. That is the only form in which politics focused strategically on what has traditionally been the domain of consumption and circulation can be radically transformative.

Clearly then, the politics of common man, which is a politics for greater efficiency and ‘democratisation’ at the point of consumption, has little if any similarity with the politics to re-define social needs through re-organisation of the production process by way of a struggle to transform the differentially inclusive or class-divided structure that it is constitutive of. It will, when all is said and little done, amount to greater imposition of work and, as a result, greater regimentation and increasing command of living labour. More clearly, this means that workers’ rights must always be second to the rights (read privileges) of those who live off such work as consumers and accumulators. Therefore, the politics of common man, with its shibboleths of ‘efficiency’ and ‘democratic governance’ that is supposed to yield such efficiency, is, at its heart, an anti-working class politics. That such politics tirelessly raises slogans of corporate graft, etc, should not deceive us because capital is not exhausted by private corporations. Capital is neither a single institutional entity nor a group of them. It is a structure of differential social power constitutive of infinitely multiple and proliferating levels of imposition and intensification of work, and extraction and transfer of value.

IV

The resultant sharpening of the contradictions constitutive of this social corporatist operation is the lever that militants of transformative politics need to recognise and hit. In such a situation, the difference between left populism and right populism ceases to make any strategically productive sense. The new political project of capital, which is characterised by its late conjunctural specificity, is what we have explicated as and termed neoliberalism. And the grasping of the nature of this new political project of capital involves, among other things, rethinking the strategic productivity of such ideological categories as left populism and right populism through which we on the left have traditionally made sense of the character of the political project and forms of capitalist class politics. Such an endeavour doubtless involves a huge risk that is not only ideological but, more importantly, political. However, as days go by, the characteristic specificity of our conjuncture leaves us with less and less choice on whether or not we can hazard that risk.

Let us, therefore, start that process of risk-taking right here by attempting to analytically grasp not only the new social-material reality of capital that is the basis of the AAP phenomenon but also how the vacuum created by failures of the militants of revolutionary working-class politics has led to the crystallisation of that new objective reality into a correspondent subjective form: common man’s politics against corruption.

The current conjuncture of late capitalism is characterised by increasing precarity of the working class across it various sections and segments. Such precarisation of the working class has been due to a rapid rate of change in the organic composition of capital wrought by increasing levels of competition that, in turn, has been further intensified by the change in organic composition of capital and its increasing rate. Clearly, increase in the rate of competition and change in the organic composition of capital are mutually entwined into a feedback loop. This all-pervasive precarity has meant an across-the-board anti-systemic unity with its basis in a shared affectivity generated by that common social condition. But since the subjective disposition constitutive of this affective unity against the system grasps the source of this condition of all-round precarity only in terms of the juridical form of the system, the politics it generates is against the system only in the immediately existing specificity of its juridical form. Not surprisingly, such politics, which in the instant case is what the AAP phenomenon stands for, is constitutive of an anti-systemic unity that is aggregative and thus social corporatist. Now, why is such aggregative unity, based on a common affect arising from the more or less common social condition of precarity, social corporatist? That is because this unity leaves the real material segmentations among its various constituents intact. Something that eventually leads to the instrumentalisation of socially and/or economically subordinate segments and sections of the working class by its dominant segments and sections.

Also, since such politics of aggregation is contingent on papering over segmentations internal to the working class, notwithstanding its affective unity, it fails to critique the system at the level of its structure of socio-technical division of labour. This means that such politics of aggregative anti-systemic unity fails to question the organisation of the production process at its basic structural level. As a result, the dialectic of competition (and class struggle) and change in organic composition of capital (and intensification of segmentation of labour-power and increasing socialisation of precarity) not only continues unabated. But precisely because it plays out unchecked does the rate of the dynamic that actualises the dialectic is further heightened. The socialisation of precarisation continues to both intensify and accelerate, even as there is no let up in the vengeance with which some segments and sections instrumentalise others. Consequently, no social corporatist regime is able to stabilise, even as the hegemony of social corporatism as the political logic of mass mobilisation against a particular social corporatist regime and form in crisis remains unquestioned. This amounts to, as we have observed earlier, a rapid turnover of various social corporatist regimes.

This is the new social-material condition of capitalist globality in its barbaric moment of which AAP is only the local and most recent symptom. Clearly, the rise of the AAP is on account of this affective anti-systemic unity even as this unity displays a marked lack of will to grasp the increasingly socialised condition of precarity that underlies it as its necessary condition of possibility in terms of the segmental structure of the system of socio-technical division of labour. This deficit of will should almost certainly be ascribed to the inability and/or unwillingness of militants of proletarian-revolutionary politics to move towards revolutionary generalisation as the simultaneity of unity and struggle (struggle in unity, unity in struggle and unity as struggle). Those militants and their organisations have remained stuck in their sectionalised class bases, which they have as a result ghettoised, striking sectarian stances that have amounted to no more than militant reformism. This problem of theirs they will have to overcome if they are serious about leveraging the sharpening of contradictions, which the AAP will inevitably yield, to open up the horizon of revolutionary generalisation. And for that they would do well to realise that the wars of position into which they have been compelled by the objective structural logic of the system is only an integral moment in the dialectical unfolding of the war of manoeuvre and that this moment cannot be prolonged, or be a struggle unto itself for too long.

In other words, militants of revolutionary working-class politics will have to ensure, through their subjective intervention, that the affective anti-systemic unity that has emerged on account of increasing pervasiveness of the social condition of precarity grasps itself as that unity, not merely in terms of the immediate juridical form it confronts the system as, but primarily in terms of the socio-technical division of labour as the structural basis of that system. In other words, such interventions will have to strengthen the affective unity through struggles against concrete material divisions and segmentations internal to that unity. Only then will such unity cease to be social corporatist and instrumental and will be transformed into the actuality of radical antagonism with regard to capital as a specific epochal configuration of social power.

What will be crucial, therefore, is the politico-ideological direction that will emerge because of and through the contradictions that the politics of AAP will inevitably open up at the grassroots, and consequently fail as the project it currently is. The jury is, and should justifiably be, out on that one. The failure of such politics is certain but what will come out of that failure is probably less so. A rightward turn, given the current state of affairs, is a strong possibility indeed. However, it should stay that way and never become a certainty in our critique of the AAP phenomenon. Otherwise, for militants of radical political projects, this can only imply subjective quietism. The question really is, how can a critique of the AAP phenomenon, and the concomitant diagnosis of its inevitable failure, arm the militants of radical politics with the strategic wherewithal to subjectively intervene in the concrete contradictions that will be constitutive of the AAP’s inevitable failure in order to leverage the situation and turn it in a transformative direction. For, the contradictions that are constitutive of AAP, which will be the cause of its eventual failure, present an opportunity both for the reconstitution of the system and its unravelling. What is made of those contradictions, or how they are seized, is entirely contingent on how well a critique of the AAP is able to prefigure the play of the tendency of hope and the counter-tendency of despair, which those contradictions posit, in terms of the concrete social-industrial process in its regional, national and subcontinental entirety. Only that, and nothing else, shall determine whether the failure of the AAP will yield a neoliberal dictatorship propped up by a society in perpetual fascistic flux, or a radical transformative politics of hope.

Why is Hurricane Sandy a political issue?

Saswat Pattanayak

President Obama and his administration have been exchanging high-fives and posing for stock images to bring home the point that Sandy’s aftermath is being dealt with successfully. Reassuring this to the rest of the world, the president then visits his campaign rallies. And after his inspiring speeches are registered the liberal media spins portray how neighbors should be helping each other, how communities should come together and how individual charities make all the difference in resolving natural disaster crisis. They paint the aftermath a victory for a president who hugs the visibly grateful citizens with a confident smile facing the camera. We are Americans, and we are always victorious, no matter what challenges we face, the stenographers parrot the administration lines in corporate newsrooms day after day while raking in advertisement money for their journalistic services. Things are under control and even the New York Marathon preparations are. And if the Marathon race doesn’t start from Staten Island, no sweating required. The next fanfare championship is getting held nationwide, come Tuesday. Don’t forget to join the celebrations. Don’t forget to vote the millionaire orators back to power.

Except that, there is a problem here. Maybe too many of them to find a place in this essay. Partly because most tragedies related to Sandy are not being covered by the media whose major source of revenue is from electoral campaign teams at this point and they cannot afford to upset their bosses. And the executive branch, let alone conveying to us effectively the tragedies, is choosing to depict it as an electoral victory of showmanship for a clueless leader.

As a bystander to this ongoing crisis, waiting for the food and the milk to be stocked back in the local grocery stores here in Queens, as a jeopardized New Yorker waiting for the public transportation system to resume full service, let me attempt at painting just a slightly different picture.

The truth is there has been no aftermath to Hurricane Sandy. The storm is still very much alive and kicking the livelihoods of millions of people in this country. Being a survivor and chronicler of the killer cyclone in coastal belts of Orissa (India) exactly 13 years ago, I am acutely aware of two simple premises: devastations of a storm are not felt when its at the peak, and that the natural disasters that hit the headlines are invariably human-made trail of tragedies. They do not bring along surprise elements with them. Precisely because of such predictability of natural disasters, there are functional Met offices and salaried task force professionals who are required to address the inevitabilities all year round.

Hurricane Sandy therefore was not supposed to be a fluke nor was it supposed to render millions of people homeless and hundreds dead. Weeks of predictions and media engagements with weather maps and NASA images and boasting of American priorities were the signs of how devastating the approaching times were going to be. But what they also were indicative of was that the governmental administration and the respective agencies directly responsible for addressing the consequences were going to be better prepared, considering Sandy had claimed 61 lives in Haiti on its course. What it meant was that the United States government which is duly elected to hold offices of power to administer on behalf of its citizens was meant to be constantly prepared to face and address challenges. What it meant was that the government had access and willingness to access, all the areas affected by a natural disaster of such enormous potential. What it meant was that the politicians and those that they appoint as bureaucrats were supposed to be sensitive to the needs of the people who were going to be impacted by the storm. That, the required assistance was not just going to be promised via press meets and television channels that made no sense to the affected masses rendered hapless without electricity, but that the access to basic needs of the affected were made available to the people as they were required.

What the Obama administration has failed to act upon is everything that was desirable and possible. Five days after Sandy hit the coast, if the administration had no visual footage of how an entire borough of New York City looked like, let alone displaying a willingness to access the territory, that is a failure of the political will of an administration which has been mandated by the people to practice good, ethical and humane governance. When the media channels finally made their way to interview helpless citizens in Staten Island several days after Sandy and they found the women saying they are literally dying out of access to food and basic utilities and the President of the country is cheerfully applauding the works of his campaign team in far away political trails, that is a failure on part of the political will of an administration that was put to place to prioritize agendas based on needs of people, not greeds for reelections.

If several townships and villages still are submerged in sewage water in New Jersey, stinking to the point of turning off the anchors inside newsrooms in Atlanta, and yet the President and the governors pat each others’ backs on accomplishments and pose with wider grins to declare Obama’s bipartisanship abilities as an incumbent, it is a political tragedy of massive proportions that shamelessly cashes on distressed emotions for gleeful votes.

If the federal government can send drones to monitor Pakistani air space and fails to send helicopters to Staten Island to carry food, medicines and drinking water, and if the commercial airlines at JFK and LaGuardia are able to fly across the border while the administration cannot send essential relief items to its own citizens stuck in darkness in Rockaway, Queens, then it is crude reflection of a failed politics at Washington DC and it is time for the president to stop patting backs of his officials.

Even as the FEMA continues to be showered with praises by the president and the liberal media there are millions of people without essential amenities, access and hopes. There is no telling when the electricity will be restored, when the roads will be cleared, when the sewage water will be pumped out, when the proliferating infections will be addressed, when drinking water will be made available to millions of Americans, if at all the insurance companies will be kept aside and the government will offer assistance to people to rebuild their homes and businesses, there is no telling when medicines will reach the needy, when the toddlers will have access to milk, when the people can get food at local stores or gas at the local pumps. When long queues of vehicles parade New York City streets to wait for hours until they get access to a rare petrol pump, there is no telling when the rest of the country devastated by Sandy will be on the roads to recovery once again. When new-born infants are hand-pumped by luxury hospitals of Manhattan on their ways to evacuation, there is no telling when rest of the healthcare units will attend to the suffering patients existing in abysmal darkness in the cold winter nights.

Even a country languishing in the Third World offers its needy people with minimum compensations from the government to address emergency situations, but in the United States, the epicenter of inhuman capitalism, there is no telling when if at all, the sufferers will find any funding that are not bound by loan shark terms, just to re-envision their lives after this unfortunate and entirely mismanaged tragedy of highest proportion. There is no telling when the government if at all, will take any steps towards distributing blankets at the very least, so the millions of people shivering in devastated regions can cover themselves up and be able to at least sleep during lingering dark nights.

Hurricane Sandy is all about politics. It is more about politics than Hurricane Katrina was. This is the week of reelection for the Democratic Czar and his liberal cronies who have constantly manipulated the media headlines to suppress the truths about their wrongdoings, be it their offerings of tax breaks to the rich and the corporate bailouts for the very financial institutions that crumbled the economy, or their warmongering foreign policies that have taken thousands of innocent lives worldwide, or their incompetent domestic policies that perpetuate the jobless scene for the twenty-three million Americans in home, their refusal to admit absolute inefficiency in passing favorable laws during the first two years when they were in majority while waiting for the second half of the term to blame oppositional politics for their own failures, or their suppressing the truths about gun-control and their aiding of drug mafia in the “Fast and Furious” investigations whose truths were so dangerous for the regime that the Nobel laureate Obama had to invoke executive privilege to justify suppression of facts, not to mention their continuous torturing of the truth seekers such as Bradley Manning and those that support transparency. The Democrat Czars outrightly lied about Libya and the killing of the diplomat by citing a Youtube video as the cause behind the violence without admitting that the real causes of the massively orchestrated 9-11 protests worldwide were a result of Obama regime’s failed foreign policies of aggression that have perpetuated warfare abroad with hatred and terror funding. The American government has lied to its people about Muhammad Gaddafi and conveniently depicted him as an Islamic terrorist to gain a manufactured consent for his atrocious murder while the Obama regime was constantly funding the reactionary fanatic groups in Libya to oust the secular regime with an aim to create geopolitical imbalance in the region that would proliferate the needs for continued wars. Guantanamo Bay is still wide open and Iran is the next battleground for this regime that must win this electoral bidding once again to continue its onslaughts world over. The US administrations have historically thrived with lies and deception, most of which targeted towards their own citizens. Be it the legacies of anti-Soviet hysteria which a war hawk Kennedy made money and power off, or the epochs of Korean and Vietnam War, the US presidents have constantly lied to the American people with help from their media establishments. But what has remained a constant are the popular oppositions to the White House be it in forms of antiwar movements or anticapitalism demonstrations on the streets. What sets Barack Obama aside is the brilliant manner in which he has continued the legacies of suppressions with an ease of a successful liberal. He has perfected the skill of sabotaging peoples’ organized efforts against systemic failures and furthered it to the point where the people are silenced – with their own will. And as a result the very antiwar movements that brought Obama to power today languish in anonymity while the war-president proudly adds names to the unprecedented kill-lists and indefinite detention rolls that would make even the infamous “Patriot Act” (timely upgraded each year by Democrats) look like a highschool skit.

Occupy Wall Street movement could have perhaps sustained and even gained grounds under another administration, but the Democrats quickly seized the moment to hijack most of the dissent by depicting the White House power itself as the victim of American capitalism. The word hypocrisy lost its original meaning under Obama administration as the biggest bailouts and governmental supports to the greedy corporates of the world were successfully projected as the most desirable necessities. Deliberately manipulative statements of Hillary Clinton regarding Libyan crisis was brushed aside as the result of uninformed intelligence officers and when the emails surfaced to the contrary, both the Vice President and the President lied to the American public with such enormity that the citizens have now started dismissing Libya as “just a four deaths” casualty.

And with Sandy appearing like “just a few hundreds mess” despite devastating millions, the administration has started suppressing facts related to misgovernance and bureaucratic red-tapism. When five nursing homes in Rockway beach were directed by government officials to not evacuate even as they clearly fell within the Zone A, no one is mentioning about lack of governance. When two siblings, aged two and four, died in the storm, reporters questioned why their neighbor did not open the doors, but there is no question asked as to why the entire region was so inaccessible for officials and relief workers all these days. If media can reach nook and corners of flood affected areas to declare “breaking stories” every now and then, what possibly has been preventing the government officials from reaching out to the affected people with basic food, clothing and shelters? How long are the victims of American capitalism supposed to remain grateful towards their perpetrators for the false reassurance that they are being taken care of?

Hundreds of patients silently suffered the storm because they believed in the government for weeks that everything was being taken care of. Even after days have passed since the storm worst-hit the areas, people are still silently believing the government when the President says that everything was being taken care of. Tens of thousands of “public housing” residents were forcefully evacuated because power needed to be disconnected in lower Manhattan and yet within two days the rich started functioning again amidst cheers and whistles at the Stock Exchange right in the middle of the Sandy’s eye. And the people following their dreamy pied piper are believing the President when he implies that in taking care of the Stock Exchange, the dead will find justice. The lying President and his unprepared team suddenly turn teary-eyed and appeal to the neighbors to help each other in times of crisis while they merrily resume the services of Wall Street capitalism with generators and drinking water and food supplies without a blink. When millions of people continue to brave the winter nights without heat and fill plastic bottles with water from fire hydrants, the Obama administration loses no moment in providing electricity to the “Freedom Tower” right in Lower Manhattan catering to the wealthiest of the lot in this country.

Contrary to how the Obama regime paints the picture, the hurricane Sandy was not an unfortunate event. It was an inevitable one. What is unfortunate is the embarrassing administration in Washington DC today and the capitalistic economic system that it supports and furthers, the farcical elections that it holds by spending $6 billion of taxpayer money towards an extravaganza at a time when hundreds of men, women and children are found dead and thousands missing owing to governmental apathy and administrative inactions.

If the corporate honchos at Wall Street can get power back and running in two days, there is no telling why grieving mothers and dying toddlers must remain without power and suffer without food; communities devastated and neighbors estranged; while the government turns its focus towards “swing states” to plead for votes while condemning the victims of its administrative disaster to the whims of charity.

But then, in this strange world of Obama and his liberal cronies, the Stock Exchange has more “power” than its “natural” victims.

Economy Democracy Manifesto

A new historical vista is opening before us in this time of change. Capitalism as a system has spawned deepening economic crisis alongside its bought-and-paid for political establishment. Neither serves the needs of our society. Whether it is secure, well-paid and meaningful jobs or a sustainable relationship with the natural environment that we depend on, our society is not delivering the results people need and deserve. We do not have the lives we want and our children’s future is threatened because of social conditions that can and should be changed. One key cause for this intolerable state of affairs is the lack of genuine democracy in our economy as well as in our politics. One key solution is thus the institution of genuine economic democracy as the basis for a genuine political democracy as well. That means transforming the workplace in our society as we propose in what follows.

We are encouraged by The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement spreading across the United States and beyond. Not only does OWS express a widespread popular rejection of our system’s social injustice and lack of democracy. OWS is also a movement for goals that include economic democracy. We welcome, support, and seek to build OWS as the urgently needed, broad movement to reorganize our society, to make our institutions accountable to the public will, and to establish both economic democracy and ecological sanity.

1) Capitalism and “delivering the goods”

Capitalism today abuses the people, environment, politics and culture in equal measures. It has fostered new extremes of wealth and poverty inside most countries, and such extremes always undermine or prevent democratic politics. Capitalist production for profit likewise endangers us by its global warming, widening pollution, and looming energy crisis. And now capitalism’s recurrent instability (what others call the “business cycle”) has plunged the world into the second massive global economic crisis in the last 75 years.

Yet both Republican and Democratic governments have failed to bring a recovery to the great mass of the American people. We continue to face high unemployment and home foreclosures alongside shrinking real wages, benefits and job security. Thus, increasing personal debt is required to secure basic needs. The government uses our taxes to bring recovery from the economic crisis to banks, stock markets, and major corporations. We have waited for bailouts of the corporate rich to trickle down to the rest of us; it never happened. To pay for their recovery we are told now to submit to cuts in public services, public employment, and even our social security and Medicare benefits. The budget deficits and national debts incurred to save capitalism from its own fundamental flaws are now used to justify shifting the cost of their recovery onto everyone else. We should not pay for capitalism’s crisis and for the government’s unjust and failed response to that crisis. It is time to take a different path, to make long-overdue economic, social and political changes.

We begin by drawing lessons from previous efforts to go beyond capitalism. Traditional socialism – as in the USSR – emphasized public instead of private ownership of means of production and government economic planning instead of markets. But that concentrated too much power in the government and thereby corrupted the socialist project. Yet the recent reversions back to capitalism neither overcame nor rectified the failures of Soviet-style socialism.

We have also learned from the last great capitalist crisis in the US during the1930s. Then an unprecedented upsurge of union organizing by the CIO and political mobilizations by Socialist and Communist parties won major reforms: establishing Social Security and unemployment insurance, creating and filling 11 million federal jobs. Very expensive reforms in the middle of a depression were paid for in part by heavily taxing corporations and the rich (who were also then heavily regulated). However, New Deal reforms were evaded, weakened or abolished in the decades after 1945. To increase their profits, major corporate shareholders and their boards of directors had every incentive to dismantle reforms. They used their profits to undo the New Deal. Reforms won will always remain insecure until workers who benefit from the reforms are in the position of receiving the profits of their enterprises and using them to extend, not undermine, those reforms.

The task facing us, therefore, goes well beyond choosing between private and public ownership and between markets and planning. Nor can we be content to re-enact reforms that capitalist enterprises can and will undermine. These are not our only alternatives. The strategy we propose is to establish a genuinely democratic basis – by means of reorganizing our productive enterprises – to support those reforms and that combination of property ownership and distribution of resources and products that best serve our social, cultural and ecological needs.

2) Economic Democracy at the Workplace and in Society

The change we propose – as a new and major addition to the agenda for social change – is to occur inside production: inside the enterprises and other institutions (households, the state, schools, and so on) that produce and distribute the goods and services upon which society depends. Wherever production occurs, the workers must become collectively their own bosses, their own board of directors. Everyone’s job description would change: in addition to your specific task, you would be required to participate fully in designing and running the enterprise. Decisions once made by private corporate boards of directors or state officials – what, how and where to produce and how to use the revenues received – would instead be made collectively and democratically by the workers themselves. Education would be redesigned to train all persons in the leadership and control functions now reserved for elites.

Such a reorganization of production would finally and genuinely subordinate the state to the people. The state’s revenues (taxes, etc.) would depend on what the workers gave the state out of the revenues of the workers’ enterprises. Instead of capitalists, a small minority, funding and thereby controlling the state, the majority – workers – would finally gain that crucial social position.

Of course, workplace democracy must intertwine with community democracy in the residential locations that are mutually interactive and interdependent with work locations. Economic and political democracy need and would reinforce one another. Self-directed workers and self-directed community residents must democratically share decision-making at both locations. Local, regional and national state institutions will henceforth incorporate shared democratic decision-making between workplace and residence based communities. Such institutions would draw upon the lessons of past capitalist and socialist experiences.

3) Benefits of Workplace Democracy

When workforce and residential communities decide together how the economy evolves, the results will differ sharply from the results of capitalism. Workplace democracy would not, for example, move production to other countries as capitalist corporations have done. Workers’ self-directed enterprises would not pay a few top managers huge salaries and bonuses while most workers’ paychecks and benefits stagnate. Worker-run enterprises sharing democratic decision-making with surrounding communities would not install toxic and dangerous technologies as capitalist enterprises often do to earn more profits. They would, however, be far more likely to provide daycare, elder care and other supportive services. For the first time in human history, societies could democratically rethink and re-organize the time they devote to work, play, relationships, and cultural activities. Instead of complaining that we lack time for the most meaningful parts of our lives, we could together decide to reduce labor time, to concentrate on the consumer goods we really need, and thereby to allow more time for the important relationships in our lives. We might thereby overcome the divisions and tensions (often defined in racial, gender, ethnic, religious, and other terms) that capitalism imposes on populations by splitting them into fully employed, partly employed, and contingent laborers, and those excluded from the labor market.

A new society can be built on the basis of democratically reorganizing our workplaces, where adults spend most of their lifetimes. Over recent centuries, the human community dispensed with kings, emperors, and czars in favor of representative (and partly democratic) parliaments and congresses. The fears and warnings of disaster by those opposed to that social change were proved wrong by history. The change we advocate today takes democracy another necessary and logical step: into the workplace. Those who fear (and threaten) that it will not work will likewise be proven wrong.

4) An Immediate and Realistic Project

There are practical and popular steps we can take now toward realizing economic democracy. Against massive, wasteful and cruel unemployment and poverty, we propose a new kind of public works program. It would differ from the federal employment programs of the New Deal (when FDR hired millions of the unemployed) in two ways. First, it would focus on a “green” and support service agenda. By “green” we mean massively improving the sustainability of workplace and residential communities by, for example, building energy-saving mass transportation systems, restoring waterways, forests, etc., weatherizing residential and workplace structures, and establishing systematic anti-pollution programs. By “support service” we mean new programs of children’s day-care and elder-care to help all families coping with the conditions of work and demographics in the US today.

However, the new kind of pubic works program we propose would differ even more dramatically from all past public works projects. Instead of paying a weekly dole to the unemployed, our public works program would emphasize providing the unemployed with the funds to begin and build their own cooperative, self-directed democratic enterprises.

The gains from this project are many. The ecological benefits alone would make this the most massive environmental program in US history. Economic benefits would be huge as millions of citizens restore self-esteem damaged by unemployment and earn incomes enabling them to keep their homes and, by their purchases, provide jobs to others. Public employment at decent pay for all would go a long way toward lessening the gender, racial, and other job discriminations now dividing our people.

A special benefit would be a new freedom of choice for Americans. As a people, we could see, examine and evaluate the benefits of working inside enterprises where every worker is both employee and employer, where decisions are debated and decided democratically. For the first time in US history, we will begin to enjoy this freedom of choice: working in a top-down, hierarchically organized capitalist corporation or working in a cooperative, democratic workplace. The future of our society will then depend on how Americans make that choice, and that is how the future of a democratic society should be determined.

5) The Rich Roots Sustaining this Project

Americans have been interested in and built various kinds of cooperative enterprises – more or less non-capitalist enterprises – throughout our history. The idea of building a “cooperative commonwealth” has repeatedly attracted many. Today, an estimated 13.7 million Americans work in 11,400 Employee Stock Ownership Plan companies (ESOPs), in which employees own part or all of those companies. So-called “not-for-profit” enterprises abound across the US in many different fields. Some alternative, non-capitalist enterprises are inspired by the example of Mondragon, a federation of over 250 democratically-run worker cooperatives employing 100,000 based in Spain’s Basque region. Since their wages are determined by the worker-owners themselves, the ratio between the wages of those with mostly executive functions and others average 5:1 as compared to the 475:1 in contemporary capitalist multinational corporations.

The US cooperative movement stretches today from the Arizmendi Association (San Francisco Bay) to the Vida Verde Cleaning Cooperative (Massachusetts) to Black Star Collective Pub and Brewery (Austin, Texas), to name just a few. The largest conglomerate of worker owned co-operatives in the U.S. is the “Evergreen Cooperative Model” (or “Cleveland Model”), consisting e.g. of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry (ECL), the Ohio Cooperative Solar (OCS), and the Green City Growers. These cooperatives share a) common ownership and democracy at the workplace; b) ecological commitments to produce sustainable goods and services and create “green jobs”, and c) new kinds of communal economic planning, mediated by “anchor institutions” (e.g. universities, non-profit hospitals), community foundations, development funds, state-owned banks or employee ownership banks etc. Such cooperatives are generating new concepts and kinds of economic development.

These examples’ varying kinds and degrees of democracy in the workplace all attest to an immense social basis of interest in and commitment to non-capitalist forms of work. Contrary to much popular mythology, there is a solid popular base for a movement to expand and diversify the options for organizing production. Workplace democracy responds to deep needs and desires.

If you are interested in getting further information about this proposal, in joining the discussion it engages, or in participating in activities to achieve its realization, please find us on Facebook at Economic Democracy Manifesto or email manifesto@rdwolff.com

“Economic Democracy Manifesto” Group

David van Arsdale
Michael McCabe
Costas Panayotakis
Jan Rehmann
Sohnya Sayres
Billy Wharton
Richard D. Wolff

Significance of a counter-hegemonic culture: : An Urgent Need for Marxist Reading Groups

Raju J Das

Capitalism creates poverty. It indeed requires poverty and thrives on it. It causes and requires massive social and geographical inequality. And capitalism is inherently crisis-prone. We have just witnessed a major global economic crisis. In part because of its crisis-proneness, modern world capitalism is necessarily imperialist: advanced capitalist countries try to shift the effects of the crises they experience to politically and economically weaker countries (often with the connivance of the state in these countries). Normal mechanisms of capitalism and the combination of economic crisis and imperialism have major adverse impacts on the living conditions of the working masses in general and workers and poor peasants in the less developed countries such as India in particular.

No system of injustice goes unchallenged, however. Away from the pre-occupations of the corporate-controlled mainstream media, people’s movements against the profit-driven system have been taking place. Consider, for example, the Arab Spring, various social justice movements in India and elsewhere, as well as the ‘occupy movements’ in the US and Europe, which are bound to leave an impression on the radical imagination of the masses, even if they are being repressed. Humans have an irrepressible quest for justice and have a desire for a humane world. These various movements have emerged in response to the heightened levels of exploitation of workers, massive amount of dispossession of peasants from their property, undemocratic control over socio-economic activity and the government by large companies, and the irreparable ecological devastation and cultural impoverishment.

Many activists and movements have been inspired in their thinking by the critique by Marx and other progressive scholars of capitalist commodification and development. Ideologically, these protests and the recent economic crises call into question the legitimacy not only of capitalism, including its neoliberal form, but also of capitalist nation-states and global ‘state’ apparatuses (e.g. World Bank; IMF). This happens in richer countries and in poorer countries such as India as well.

There has indeed been an extraordinary resurgence of interest in a Marxist worldview recently, which as Terry Eagleton put it, is the ‘most theoretically rich, politically uncompromising critique of [the capitalist] system’ (Why Marx was right?). The process of resurgence of this intellectually insurgent worldview (Marxism) has been helped by the fact that the social relations of authoritarian ‘communism’, and other related views, which had acted as a fetter on the development of productive powers of Marxist research, have been burst asunder. In this context, question of alternatives to capitalism (beyond Keynesianism, state-bureaucratism, and neo-populism) – and the role of (Marxist) intellectuals whether in academy, in the media or ‘civil society’ in radical social change – are being actively discussed the world over. This has led to a series of important interventions rethinking political parties, democracy and visions of viable socialisms. More and more people are reading Marx and Marxists, and reading them critically, for Marxism is a science which must be updated where necessary. There is an outpouring of Marxist discussions including in journals such as New York-based Science and Society, world’s longest continuously published Marxist journal, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in October 2011, Review of Radical Political Economics (from Cornell University), Historical Materialism (from SOAS, London), Capital and Class, and so on. Much of this resurgence is exhibited on- online, Radical Notes itself being a testimony to this as is, for example, Sanhati.

The remaking of socialist visions – which emphasize socialism as the flourishing of optimal level of democracy in all spheres of human life – has also meant extensive considerations of race, caste, tribality, gender, sexuality and disability. These issues of social oppression/discrimination are important in their own right. But they are important dominantly because of the ways in which capitalism subordinates them to its own logic. Capitalism furthers its accumulation projects by using these sources of oppression to define certain working subjects as less than average workers who can be paid lower compensations. Capital also politically dominates the suffering subjects (workers and peasants) by dividing them on the basis of these non-class identities. An aspect of the resurgence of Marxist research is the immense popularity of Marxist dialectics as a holistic way of looking at the capitalist world, in terms of its unity as well as difference, from the standpoint of radically changing it. Such a dialectical method allows us to reflect on various methods of exploitation and social oppression as interconnected and as forming a concrete whole.

Reading Marx and those who engage in what the American Marxist, Hal Draper called ‘Marx’s Marxism’ would be more than apt at a political moment when neoliberalism, in theory and practice, is in crisis, when the turbulence of capitalist economies is part of daily life. As David Harvey and others have argued, Marx is more relevant now than he was during his own time.

The problems caused by capitalism are everywhere. These problems are, however, particularly acute in less developed countries and in the most under-developed parts of these poor countries. In many under-developed regions of India (e.g. Odisha), capitalist market relations in land and labour coexist with remnants of coercive production relations in some localities and with highly undemocratic relations of casteism, patriarchy and tribalism more generally. The institutions of the state are more or less ‘instruments’ of property-owners, including those whose main object is to subject natural resources and working people to cruel forms of commodification and ruthless forms of exploitation, all in the name of development and dollars (export earnings). There is an inverse relation between democratic rhetoric and its actual content. There is an absence of democratic values both in the economy or polity: ordinary people have little real democratic control over the way our resources and abilities to work are used. The cult of violence is everywhere. There is systemic violence as that caused when people’s livelihood is snatched away from them or when people do not have the money to buy basic necessities because of which they starve to death or suffer from poverty-caused diseases. Related to this violence is ‘agentic violence’: in some places ordinary people, often out of sheer desperation, tend to resort to violence (which is unproductive in the long run), in response to which and often to preempt which the state resorts to massive and disproportionate violence.

The situation in more under-developed regions of India and in similar other countries raises several questions. Why are these regions so poor when they are so rich in terms of natural resources and labouring quality of their workers and peasants? How does capitalism make use of undemocratic social and economic relations? What explains the inability of the political and intellectual elite to help the suffering masses in any significant way? Just why it is that the majority of our people have no access to nutritious food, decent housing and clothing, quality education and health-care as well as other amenities including safe drinking water and electricity? These and many other questions can be fruitfully explored only if we have an adequate understanding of capitalism as such and the ways in which it works in concrete circumstances. Understanding Marx is essential therefore. A proper understanding of Marx and his legacy would also make clear to people that the Marxist vision is a vision of a society which is authentically democratic and that Marxism has little to do with any political activity which is aimed at hurting individuals. Individuals are bearers of social relations. What needs to be changed is the system of social relations, not occupiers of positions in the system.

To understand the world, it is not enough to have sense-data. We need theory, this is because important aspects of the world are not immediately accessible to mere empirical observation. To understand the world from the standpoint of the majority, the working masses, we need a theory from their standpoint. Radical transformation in the direction of social, economic and ecological democracy and justice is not possible without a radical theory. Marx and his legacy provide such a theory. It would be useful to set up Radical/progressive reading groups in different places to promote a counter-hegemonic culture, a tradition of radical imagination in theory. Consisting of interested academics, activists, workers-peasants, and indeed anyone who is interested in critically understanding the current situation with a view to radically transcend it and deepen the democratic content/spirit of our society to the highest extent possible, this group could meet regularly to read the Marxist and progressive literature on topics of classical and contemporary significance and discuss it in a comradely and non-sectarian manner. It will also connect the readings and the discussions to the world around us and draw theoretical implications for political practice. There are thousands of progressive people engaged in theoretical-political struggle for justice. Often in terms of theory, politics and method of struggles, there are ‘deep’ divisions among them (including, and interestingly, over the fact of whether poor countries such as India are dominantly capitalist or not). Perhaps an understanding of Marx and his legacy would show that the divisions are not as real as they appear to be, and that there is cause more for unity and less for division: at least the divisions should be discussed in the light of theoretical discussions the foundation for which was laid by Marx. These reading groups cannot only read radical academic literature but also encourage performance of radical art in its various forms and reflect on these theoretically.

A culture that accurately reflects the interest and ideas of the majority of the people is a most democratic process to promote. Setting up Marxist Readings Groups is an important need of the hour therefore.

Raju J Das is an Associate Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada. Email: rajudas@yorku.ca

What the Occupy Movement fails to do

Prakash Kona

I never understood what the Occupy Movement aimed to achieve to begin with. Either it was too ambitious in aspiring to challenge corporate despotism or its goals were impossible to begin with. Not to mention it continues to be abstract and surreal as ever. I like to watch the protesters on TV who sometimes look innocent to me. The comparison with the Arab Spring by way of analogy is a completely wrong one. The comparison is not between apples and oranges since both are fruits but more like comparing a blue stocking with oxtail soup. Those who have traveled or at least have watched international movies with interest know for a fact that third world streets have a different character from those of the first world. Third world streets like third world life are filled with all too visible contradictions. The contradictions are disguised in the colonial economies of the west. The Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring are as distinct as Tahrir Square and Wall Street and the people who stand there.

That’s not the point however. What I fail to understand about the Occupy Movement is what exactly they intend to achieve with the “occupation”? If their aim is to make people aware of inequalities in society, the people already are in my view. If their aim is to challenge corporatism I don’t think this is going to happen by standing on a street. If the police eventually evacuated them, what do you want the police to do? To stand and watch the protesters as if it were a scene in the setting of a Hollywood film. Even if there were no police how long the standing around is expected to continue?

Seriously I’m suspicious of motives with which people arrive on a platform though I’m not cynical to the extent of doubting what the ones inspired with a sense of justice are capable of achieving. Definitely the Occupy Movement is not a prelude to a revolution of sorts. It is not a prelude either to political awakening because I’m certain that common people are conscious of the line of thought taken by the Occupy Movement. There are no lessons to be gained by its failure since not much was meant to be achieved by its success. I’m afraid very soon it’ll evacuate public memory as well and turn into one of those countless additions to youtube.com. Democracy in the western sense of the term with all its accompanying benefits in terms of being able to speak against authority without fear of getting killed or going to jail is the goal of Arab Spring. What is the goal of the Occupy Movement which is already happening within the parameters of an established democracy? The Haussmannized streets of carefully planned western cities will not allow for an armed insurrection of any kind. The European Revolutions of 1848 lead to a complete renovation of Paris and other cities making it possible for the state’s armed forces to brutally suppress any possibility of an uprising. If the Occupy Movement was peaceful and nonviolent it owed to lack of choice more than anything else. In principle I don’t think there could be peaceful movements. They are bound to be provocative in passive resistance as much as in active resistance.

If the goal of the movement is to fight inequalities it can demonstrate its true intentions in the politics of daily life. Western lifestyles which thrive on excess are anathema. The working classes irrespective of where they are from – ultimately they want those who speak of equality to work and live like the poor. Unless the protestors are one with those whom they claim to speak for, their movement will at best be cumulative acts of frustration put together. Only the discipline that comes with living, working and thinking like the masses can confront Wall Street who George Carlin refers to as the America’s “real owners.” Back in the 19th century when Jane Addams the prominent feminist and public philosopher went to meet Tolstoy, he not only called her an “absentee landlord” but asked her the question: “Do you think you will help the people more by adding yourself to the crowded city than you would by tilling your own soil?” This is not to disparage Jane Addams who is a unique woman and profound thinker in her own right but to say that the divorce between living like the poor and talking about them is more prominent with American forms of protest than perhaps with the European who might have a slightly more realistic view of life in relation to politics and change.

The fact that despite the growing poverty and unemployment no social revolt is possible in the United States is evident owing to the success of the propaganda machinery. The Steve Jobs phenomenon that occupied media attention says everything about the success of American propaganda. Suddenly Steve Jobs (who most people did not even hear of until he died) is the new hero for the young, right from Japan to India all the way to the Middle East (since he had a Syrian Sunni Muslim father who abandoned him by the way) and of course Europe and the United States. Steve Jobs like any other corporate warlord achieved his success through a combination of uncanny brilliance and ruthless elimination of competition. That’s how business empires are built – by eliminating the small in order to arrive at the big. Steve Jobs’ success is possible because he is a white guy and if the world knew that there is a Sunni Muslim Arab hiding beneath the whiteness it would have been harder for him to reach where he did.

For all their private suffering men like Jobs are contemptible to say the least. It amazes me therefore that so many people should want to be Steve Jobs without realizing that these are media manufactured heroes. These are not the blatantly impossible individual achievements that we see in the novels of Ayn Rand. These are facades that global capitalism needs to lead the educated masses to play their role in global exploitation of the poor. This “hero” making formula is used day in day out by American television and Hollywood while parroted by the rest of the world, with sportspeople or actors or business entrepreneurs in turns becoming heroes out of nowhere. All dropouts are not going to be Steve Jobs. Unfortunately most dropouts would like to believe that they could be so. That’s how propaganda works.

To date I attribute the success of American imperialism not to its military prowess which truly speaking is pretty pathetic given their poorly motivated cadres. The fact that they’ve been for so many years in Afghanistan and yet a barely armed but ruthless Taliban continues to gives them the shudder says everything about the so-called military power of the US. You need people to fight wars and not technology is a lesson that comes out rather well in the Afghanistan fiasco. Rather, it is to TV serials such as the globally popular “Friends” that America owes its real success. I’ve met people from various countries of the world who talk and think like those characters in the “Friends” sitcom. This is where we need to challenge American domination of the third world. At the same time that they are defeated economically and politically it is imperative that American hegemony be destroyed culturally as well to give alternate ways of expression a possibility to see the light of day.

The Occupy Movement if at all there is one in all sincerity should go to the small towns and take a walk through those parts of the cities that the poor inhabit. That’s where real America lives. Not in the universities and certainly not in the big cities. It is those small town Americans who are real harbingers of social and political change. The spaces that the media is not interested in – those are the spaces where real change is possible. To educate the poor and to selflessly work toward the uplift of the downtrodden classes – that’s the day the corporate world will begin to have sleepless nights.

Prakash Kona is an Associate Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

“The Ultimate Contradiction of the Revolution”

Pratyush Chandra

Published as Afterword in Ron Ridenour’s book “Sounds of Venezuela”, New Century Book House, Chennai, 2011. This article tries to address some questions that have been raised by many Tamil comrades regarding the foreign policy of the Venezuelan State, especially in the context of state repression against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the Venezuelan and other ALBA states’ support to the Sri Lankan government in international forums.

The narrative Ron Ridenour has woven here in these pages provides a glimpse of the Venezuelan reality, which exposes not only the significance of the Bolivarian revolutionary processes, but also their contradictions. Obviously, these contradictions are the source of much anxiety among the friends of the Bolivarian revolution throughout the globe. But is it not true that a revolution is as much about hope as it is about apprehensions and dangers? A revolution is always unsettling. You cannot ever pronounce the final judgement about the event called revolution. That is why what famous Marxist historian George Rudé said about the French Revolution is true for all revolutions—”the Revolution remains an ever-open field of enquiry.”(1)

I

Nothing remains settled in the revolutionary process—otherwise how can it be called a revolution? We need to understand that this process is constituted by conflicts among various ever-new possibilities that emerge at every moment therein. Ideological struggles are nothing but representations of these conflicts; expressed in political programmatic language, these possibilities constitute the various lines within the revolutionary movement. These conflicts are what determine the course of the revolution.

To be more specific, there is always an impulse internal to the revolutionary process that seeks to control or limit the pace and extent of the revolution—to make things settled. It can have a positive implication to the extent that it compels the revolutionaries to be conscious of the course of the revolution and to be vigilant enough to differentiate between the forces of reaction and revolution that are internally germinating. The ‘faces’ of these forces do not remain the same—what seems revolutionary at one moment might dawn as reactionary at another. The conservative impulse we are talking about lies somewhere in the interstices of the moments of movement and consolidation, trying to break the simultaneity of these moments. When it is able to break this simultaneity, it morphs into a Thermidorian form with the apparent task of consolidating the revolutionary achievements and protecting them from the enemies. This Thermidorian power externalises all problems of revolution—it tries to cleanse the revolution of these problems so thoroughly that what emerges out of this deadly bath is a revolution sans revolution—sanitised of all contradictions.

The formalisation or institutionalisation of the achievements cannot be avoided. However, this is what gives birth to a new status quo, which tries to guard itself against revolutionary impermanence. It is a conflict like this that could be understood as a two-line struggle—between the emerging headquarters and the forces of continuous revolution. This struggle is in fact the revolutionary truth which cannot be avoided. No moment in the revolutionary movement is devoid of the forces of conservation, which have the potentiality of turning into a full-scale centrism or even reaction depending on the balance of class forces.

With regard to the revolutionary processes in Venezuela, it has been regularly emphasized that “the ultimate contradiction of the (Bolivarian) revolution” is the struggle internal to Chavism—”between the ‘endogenous right’ and the masses who have been mobilised.” Chávez himself frequently describes the Venezuelan reality in Gramscian terms—”The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” However, as Gramsci said, in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear—which appear in Venezuela (alongside the continued existence of the old oligarchy, latifundistas, monopoly capitalists and US imperialism) in the form of the new ‘boli-bourgeoisie,’ the military-civil bureaucracy, and ‘the party functionaries and nomenklatura’ who seek to thwart the class and mass initiatives from below.(2) These are the material forces, which with their dispassionate mannerisms try to conserve a pragmatic and ‘realistic’ Bolivarian future against the erratic spontaneism of grass roots initiatives. These are the Bolivarian headquarters.

II

As is well-known, historically there has been a systematic erosion of productive sectors in Venezuela which are not allied to operations of the oil industry. Since 1998, there has been a consistent endeavour to rebuild these other sectors of production and infrastructure around them. In order to achieve this, many steps both backwards and forward have been taken. Many bureaucratic, intermediary and petty bourgeois interests have not just been tolerated but even encouraged and promoted to compete with old oligarchies and corporate interests. Incentives to ‘native bourgeoisie’ and petty bourgeoisie have been an interim strategy of the Bolivarian regime to fragment the corporate unity of capital, while helping in diversifying the Venezuelan economy. In fact, the imperative to create an ‘alternative social bloc’ against corporate hegemony has forced a vision under which “capitalist sectors whose business activity entered into an objective contradiction with transnational capital” are not considered unapproachable.(3)

However, the radical supporters of the Venezuelan transformation have cautioned that the pragmatic need to neutralise private capitalist interests in order to develop a broader bloc against immediate enemies, like transnational capital and imperialist interests, must not scuttle the anti-capitalist nature of the transformation. It has been shown how “‘incentives’ to private capitalists in order to increase productivity” fail generally because they tend to strengthen the historically nurtured rentierist character of Venezuela’s native bourgeoisie. For example, incentives in agriculture without having a fundamental structural transformation have cost the Chávez government heavily, both politically and economically, as “the big landowner (latifundist) recipients of the Government’s generous agricultural credits and grants are not investing in agricultural production, in raising cattle, purchasing new seeds, new machinery, and new dairy animals. They are transferring Government funding into real estate, Government bonds, banking and speculative investment funds or overseas.”(4) These latifundistas have successfully used to their own advantage the Bolivarian government’s urgency to ensure domestic food security and agricultural productivity amidst volatile international relations by bargaining protection from the upsurge of peasants and landless organisations demanding radical land reforms. However, there has been an increasing realisation within the Bolivarian circles about the futility of such compromises with the rentierist forces.

The emergence of the Bolivarians at the helm of the existing political economic institutions has, of course, intensified the internal class struggle leading to a tremendous crisis for the status quo. But there still exists a considerable space for the consolidation of powerful economic interests because these institutions were essentially built for this purpose. The most recent case of their successful manoeuvrings has been exposed by WikiLeaks, which narrates how a radical Chavista, “Eduardo Saman was replaced as commerce minister following pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to protect old patent legislation and their profits.”(5)

There is a massive danger of the containment of the revolutionary pace and agenda, if the revolutionary forces are not vigilant enough with regard to the activities of those social classes that are crowding the institutions of revolution for incentives and patronage. The new intermediate interests that have emerged close to the state structure, along with the old ones, have resisted every popular attack on private capital. They have attempted to thwart endeavours to institute workers’ control over economic activities. Even within the oil and other ‘monopolistic’ industries, these interests have not conceded any substantial move beyond nationalisation, as state monopoly allows them to use their own proximity to the state machinery for intermediary profiteering. There has been a consistent resistance to the attempts to institute co-management,(6) not just from the side of corporate interests, but also from economistic trade unionism (especially in the state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA), which cannot envisage a system of workers’ control that questions the institutional hierarchy and labour aristocracy.

As long as there is a popular movement which questions and subverts the norms and everydayness of the bourgeois state in Venezuela, with the resoluteness to build ‘a new state from below’ with the novel institutions of protagonistic democracy and communal councils, there is a hope for the Bolivarian Revolution. Or else, “it will lapse into a new variety of capitalism with populist characteristics.”(7) That is why there has been a growing need to envisage the alternative bloc and class alliances which are subservient to the exigencies of “an overall system of socialized production.”(8) The accommodation of capitalist interests in any form (state or private), even when they are in consonance with the immediate interests of the revolutionary transformation at a particular juncture, is fraught with risks of the reassertion of ‘the logic of capital,’ and “there will be a constant struggle to see who will defeat whom.”(9) It is this logic and its constitutive representatives, who try to consolidate their position through the so-called ‘endogenous right’ of the revolution.

III

The emergence of headquarters in a revolution is linked with the question of state, state power and hegemony. During a revolutionary period the state returns to its elements—it emerges as a naked instrument of suppression—of holding down adversaries. The proletarian dictatorship too will not allow its enemies to have a free play. Revolution is a period when class struggles begin to explode the barriers of the existing state order and point beyond them. On the one hand, there are “struggles for state power; on the other, the state itself is simultaneously forced to participate openly in them. There is not only a struggle against the state; the state itself is exposed as a weapon of class struggle, as one of the most important instruments for the maintenance of class rule.”(10)

The global division of labour and the US hegemony reduced the Venezuelan economy to mere accumulation of oil rents, thus making proximity to the state the only viable route to economic success. In such an economy, the statist tendencies are bound to be very strong and entrenched in every layer of society. To complicate the matter, revolutionaries in Venezuela found themselves at the helm of the bourgeois state by following its rules, not by any insurrection. In such a situation, reformist tendencies will definitely be stronger among the ranks of the Bolivarians, who find revolutionary measures futile and even adventurist. These tendencies did suffer a temporary setback during the attempted coup of 2002, but as time elapses the cautious self-critical forces begin to find safe-play, gradualism and tactical compromises essential to consolidate power and achievements and to pre-empt any such drastic attack by counter-revolutionaries in future.

The left Chavistas, on the other hand, stress on the task of smashing the bourgeois state from within while positing a new state from below based on co-management of social and economic life. Like the ‘endogenous right’ they understand the need to consolidate, but for them consolidation is not separate from the destruction of the existing state form. Like Russian revolutionaries, they emphasize the development and independence of the working classes and their organs of self-activity, because only in this way can the workers protect their state, while protecting themselves from it! The defeat of the 2002 coup also demonstrates the impact of the unleashing of popular energy and self-activity and what that could achieve. Moreover, unlike in Russia, the state in Venezuela remains a bourgeois parliamentary state, which is alienated from the everyday life of the revolutionary masses.

IV

Among several valuable insights that Ron Ridenour’s text provides regarding the nature of contradictions that pervade the revolutionary transition in Venezuela, there is an important point on the Venezuelan state’s approach to the struggles of the Colombian guerrillas, the FARC. Ridenour hints at the vacillation in this approach. However, such anomalies are numerous, especially when it comes to international relations. Throughout the globe, post-1998 developments in Latin America have been watched very intently, with a lot of hope and expectation. The consistent defiance of US hegemony by the Chávez regime has been a source of inspiration for various progressive movements everywhere. At least with regard to its position on the American manoeuvrings globally, nobody can fault the Venezuelan state—it never wasted any time to decry the imperialist interventions anywhere in the world.

But this has led to a genuine rise of expectations for support from progressive Latin American regimes (if not materially, at least through statements) for local movements against their particular oppressive states, even when there is no direct western backing to these states. In recent years, with many states lining up to define their own ‘war against terrorism’ in order to crush local critical voices and movements against them, the stance of the Venezuelan and Cuban states has not been supportive of the oppressed. In fact, any official voice from the West critical of the local states has many a time provoked statements from the progressive Latin American regimes that are supportive of the southern states like Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka even when these are highly oppressive. This has greatly frustrated the solidarity movements—some even going to the extent of calling the Latin American revolutionary processes ephemeral.

However, one must understand that the revolutionary process is not linear and smooth. It is not something homogeneous, and its targets are not just external. The intensification of revolution is the heightening of contradictions that constitute it. In fact, these constitutive contradictions internalise the so-called external elements—’alien’ class interests, the vestiges of old regimes, etc. Any attempt to avoid contradictions is a conservative attempt from the ‘endogenous right’ to homogenise the revolutionary voices behind the new institutions, alienating them from their organic roots in class struggle, thus giving birth to new bureaucracies—the agencies of the new order. It is the ‘endogeneity’ of this tendency that forces the revolutionary leadership to reassess the coordinates of the contradictions time and again. A fine discrimination of these coordinates in the revolutionary process gives an insight into the apparent anomalies. It was not for nothing that the 20th century revolutionaries time and again stressed the need to differentiate between the state (which even well into the first phase of communist society safeguards the bourgeois law) and the revolutionary masses. An understanding of this aspect is crucial in order to comprehend the problems and prospects of policy designs under a revolutionary regime, including its foreign policy and international relations.

It must be noted that revolutionary internationalism of the working class is an important weapon with which a revolution generalizes itself and resists its degeneration into nationalist statism by not allowing ‘revolutionary passion’ to die out. But it is not simply a subjective aspiration to generalize that gives birth to internationalism. Rather, it “is a necessity arising out of the fact that the capitalist class, which rules over the workers, does not limit its rule to one country.”(11) Thus, internationalism is a result of the class struggle going global—it is an endeavour to thwart the capitalist strategy of intensifying capitalist accumulation by segmenting the working class and its consciousness. It is in this regard that a revolution can be termed as international both at the levels of its causes and impact. It represents a crisis for the capitalist system.

Solidarity efforts in support of revolution beyond the immediate location of its occurrence, along with ‘indigenous’ revolutionaries’ support for movements beyond their location are crucial even for the survival of the revolution as a revolution. It can survive as such only by constantly asserting its international character, its inseparability from international class struggle. Otherwise, it will implode or be reduced to a mere regime change.

It is interesting to see how revolutionaries have time and again talked about the foreign policy of a revolution, not just that of the state. And this has been assessed by the revolution’s galvanising effect on the struggles of the working class and the oppressed in other locations. While criticizing the foreign policy of the Provisional Government (that emerged after the February Revolution of 1917) for conducting it with the capitalists, Lenin remarked:

Yet 1905 showed what the Russian revolution’s foreign policy should be like. It is an indisputable fact that October 17, 1905, was followed by mass unrest and barricade-building in the streets of Vienna and Prague. After 1905 came 1908 in Turkey, 1909 in Persia and 1910 in China. If, instead of compromising with the capitalists, you call on the truly revolutionary democrats, the working class, the oppressed, you will have as allies the oppressed classes instead of the oppressors, and the nationalities which are now being rent to pieces instead of the nationalities in which the oppressing classes now temporarily predominate.(12)

It is in this regard that many struggling peoples across the globe find the foreign policies of the progressive regimes in Latin America wanting. Especially, Cuba and Venezuela, the countries which are in the leadership of the anti-imperialist realignment in the post-Cold War era, have been criticized for not standing against the oppressive regimes of the Global South. They have been chastised for their frequent open support to these regimes, whenever they are attacked by the so-called international community.

The genuineness of these criticisms can hardly be questioned; however, they must go further and explain these stances in terms of their material foundation, rather than locating them in some sort of ideological and personality-oriented tendencies as many have done, who reduce the Chávez phenomenon to populist demagoguery and the Cuban regime to Stalinism. The existential anxiety of these regimes in the face of a strong imperialist unity against them is definitely one reason that must be considered. This makes them wary of any interventionist strategy on the part of the ‘international community’ against any regime. Further, the existentialist need to have an oppositional bloc in the international forums puts them in the company of strange allies.

However, we will have to make a fine distinction between the revolutionary process itself and the institutions, states and individuals that come up during this process. We cannot reduce the revolutions to their particular passing moments. We will have to recognize and accept that these revolutions are marked by intense internal contradictions, whose astute descriptions we find in Ridenour’s travelogue. The states in themselves have a conservative agenda, even when they are deeply embedded in the revolutionary process. They have the task to defend what has been achieved, and in mounting this defence they frequently fail to differentiate between the actual enemies of the revolution and the revolutionaries who are aware of the dilemma, of which Rosa Luxemburg talked about:

“Either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy, resolute tempo, break down all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it is quite soon thrown backward behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by counter-revolution. To stand still, to mark time on one spot, to be contented with the first goal it happens to reach, is never possible in revolution.”(13)

Notes

1. George Rudé: Revolutionary Europe 1783-1815. Fontana/Collins, 1964.
2. Michael Lebowitz: The Spectre of Socialism for the 21st Century (2008). Available online at: http://links.org.au/node/503/1594%20.
3. Marta Harnecker: Rebuilding the Left. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2007, p. 35.
4. James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: What’s Left in Latin America? Regime Change in New Times. Ashgate: 2009, pp. 192-3.
5. Tamara Pearson: “Venezuelans to Debate Patenting Laws after Revelation that Companies Conspired in Firing of Radical Minister,” http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/6490 (September 15, 2011).
6. The system of co-management envisages social control against any competitive congealment of sectionalist interests over economic activities. Under this system the economic sectors are co-managed by workers with the community at large.
7. Michael Lebowitz: Build it Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century. Monthly Review Press & Daanish, 2006, p. 116.
8. Petras and Veltmeyer, op cit, p. 234
9. Marta Harnecker, op cit, p. 36.
10. Georg Lukacs: Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought. Verso, 1970.
11. V.I. Lenin: Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party (1895-96). Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 109.
12. V.I. Lenin: Speeches at First All Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies (June-July 1917). Collected Works, Vol. 25.
13. Rosa Luxemburg: The Russian Revolution (1918). Available at http://www.marxists.org.

Cuba-ALBA lands are Tamils’ natural allies

Following is the text of Ron Ridenour’s talk in Chennai (November 12, 2011). Ron is in India for the launching of the Indian edition of his books “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”, “Sounds of Venezuela”, and “Cuba: Revolution in Action”.

Greetings and appreciation to the Latin American Friendship Association of Chennai, India for inspiring me to become aware of the oppression of the Tamil people by the Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka, and for encouraging me to remind our comrade governments of Cuba and other ALBA country governments of their strong commitment to international solidarity to oppressed people everywhere.

Also I extend my appreciation to New Century Book House for publishing “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”, “Sounds of Venezuela”, and “Cuba: Revolution in Action”. Thank you Amarantha for your translation of the Venezuela book; Dhanapal Kumar for your translation of the Cuba book; and Thiagu for your translation-in-progress of the Tamil Nation book.

I start from the premise that Martin Luther King expressed: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”. In the country of my birth, The Devil’s Own Country, I experienced similar injustice committed against the native peoples and the black people as Tamils suffer, especially in Sri Lanka where they are subjugated to Shinalese chauvinism. I joined with millions of brothers and sisters of all colours to fight racism, to struggle for equal rights, for education and health care for all, even the basic right to vote.

Europeans invaded the Americans and stole the lands and wealth held by native peoples for thousands of years. They enslaved black Africans who they held as slaves and even after slavery ended they kept them as second-class citizens.

Black people developed various forms of struggle including civil disobedience, sit-ins, pickets, mass rallies, propaganda, and voting for equality where possible. Another form of struggle was the Black Panther Party’s armed self-defence when attacked by Ku Klux Klan and the ruling class’ police. Another form was the Gravey Movement that called for separation from the United States, demanding territory in the south. Very much like the Tamils after the 1976 Vattukottai resolution.

In the United States millions of blacks and whites fought this racist discrimination for over a century and eventually won most basic rights but not before millions were arrested, imprisoned for long times, and many murdered. Many thousands of black people were lynched, burned alive, mutilated, tortured to death until the 1980s.

Fidel Castro: “Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are out enemies…Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers.” “To be internationalist is to settle our debt with humanity.”

Che Guevara from “Socialism and Man”: “The revolutionary is the ideological motor force of the revolution. If he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the revolution, which he heads will cease to be an inspiring force and he will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people.”

I believe that these principles apply to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. I believe Che would agree with your struggle for equality and when not possible to achieve within the Sri Lankan chauvinist context, he would understand your fight for your own nationhood.

I think this is also what Lenin meant in his 1916 thesis, “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”:

“Victorious socialism must necessarily establish a full democracy and, consequently, not only introduce full equality of nations but also realize the right of the oppressed nations to self-determination, that is, the right to free political separation.”

I am hurt and deeply disappointed that the government of Cuba—where I have lived and worked side by side with the people and government for eight years—as well as the socialist-progressive governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and other Latin American governments have not understood that those principles must apply to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. I got involved in solidarity with your people’s struggle because you have been so brutally treated, and because of these righteous principles expressed by Lenin, Fidel and Che. I have written critically about these governments siding with the Sinhalese governments of Sri Lanka while it denies the Tamil people those basic principles and rights, and commits genocide.

Perhaps Cuba+ have not understood the history of struggle that Tamils have undergone to win full equal rights before taking up arms. For 30 years you fought peacefully but you were met with brutal force, with pogroms/massacres of hundreds and thousands of people—even worse than that used against blacks in the US, and against Palestinians by Israelis. And, unfortunately, it was not only the governments that have done this against Tamils but also misguided Buddhist monks who betray the peaceful, coexistence values of Buddhism.

Your people’s organizations must meet and discuss these realities with the communist and socialist parties and with people’s grass roots and indigenous organizations in Latin America and elsewhere. You must explain to them your history, why you had to take up arms and fight for separation, for an independent nation. They have to hear of your suffering, of your struggles, why Tamil Eelam is a NECESSITY. You must remind them what they say about international solidarity, about what Lenin meant about political separation when the ruling powers will not grant a people their basic democratic and equal rights.

The progressive governments have won majority votes for new constitutions in Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Venezuela that grant equal rights to their indigenous peoples. In Bolivia, for instance, under the new constitution there are four official national languages, three of them are indigenous ones as well as Spanish. The same equalitarian development is happening in several progressive-pro socialist governments in Latin America. If these people could know you simply want these same rights, they would listen to you and stop backing Sri Lanka. But they have been misguided because when they hear the worst terrorist in the world—The United States of America government—raise a little finger of possible criticism that maybe the Sri Lanka government should investigate itself to find some official scapegoat for violating human rights, Cuba+ react against this hypocrisy. But they must know that in this case the Sri Lanka government is a terrible violator of human rights, and not just against the Tamils, but also against Muslims, the indigenous tribes, and it also exploits Sinhalese workers and the poor, and castes.

We must understand that Cuba, and so many governments and peoples, has been victimized by the United States false accusation that it commits “human rights abuse”. Cuba has been blockaded by the US since its victory in 1959. The US tried to overthrow the new revolution in April 1961. It brought the entire world to the brink of a nuclear war in October 1962. The US has sabotaged Cuba, murdered and handicapped thousands of its citizens; it even infiltrated bacteriological diseases in its livestock, its grains and sugar cane.

What has Cuba done to “deserve” this murderous aggression? It has done what Big Capital does not do, what imperialists will not do. It has introduced full and free education and health care. It has assured every citizen food and shelter. No one starves. 80% of its people own their own homes after paying the state simply what it actually costs to build them.

It has organized an excellent system of disaster management in which people and their animals are evacuated before hurricanes hit the island nation. And more often than not no one is killed, and their livestock is saved. That is not what happens in the United States especially in the areas where blacks and poor people live and are struck by natural disasters.

Cuba came to the aid of Angola when attacked by apartheid South Africa. Cuba, alongside with the new Venezuela, comes to the aid of tens of millions of people in scores of land around the world with their medical care, curing even blindness, and educating people to read and write, offering sports and technical assistance. Cuba has more doctors serving the international arena than is offered by all the governments in the United Nations. Cuba does not export war and torture, disease and starvation. It exports “human capital”.

Tamils in Tamil Nadu, Sri Lanka Tamil refugees here and in the Diaspora should not rely on the greatest terrorist in the world to help them. The Yankees offer no help without humiliating costs. We must be aware that since World War 11, the US has invaded/intervened militarily 160 times in 66 countries. We must understand that now with a black-faced puppet president of Big Capital, the imperialists are at war in seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia and now Uganda. They kill tens of millions; they torture hundreds of thousands; they starve hundreds of millions.

US’s staunch ally, Zionist Israel commits genocide against the Palestinian people. It offered Mossad intelligence, great amounts of weaponry, killer aircraft and even pilots to Sri Lanka, in order to murder the Tamils. After the end of the war, May 2009, Sri Lanka sent its military chief-of-staff, Donald Perera, to Israel as its ambassador, a reward for Zionist assistance. He told the largest Zionist daily, Yedioth Abornoth,: “I consider your country a partner in the war against terror,” thus coupling terrorism with the Palestinians’ struggle for their homeland and the Tamils’ simple right to exist in peace and equality.

Perera spoke proudly of having “a great relationship with your military industries and with Israel Aerospace industries.”

Perera spoke about the murder, on May 31, 2010, of nine Turkish solidarity activists bound for Gaza with survival supplies: “I can understand that Israel had to protect itself.”

Perhaps because of the complexity of geo-politics, the history of standing for sovereignty of the member nations of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), the leaders of Cuba and ALBA lands (Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Latin America) cannot support the goal of a separate nation within Sri Lanka. But they could be convinced to chastise the Sri Lankan government for its atrocities against the Tamil people, and the other oppressed people under the chauvinist Sinhalese leadership. They could see within the context of their moral ideology that it is only right that Tamils must have equality and the basic right to exist without fear of murder and takeovers of their homes and lands. Your peoples’ organizations should remind these pro-Palestinian governments that it is only Israel that supports the US blockade against Cuba; that it is the US and Israel that lead the tiny opposition to Palestine’s right to be a member of the United Nations.

Regardless of whether Cuba has achieved socialism—it is a long process after all and there is so much destruction and subversion coming from the Yankee imperialists—the Cuban people and the government are still worthy of our love and support. They have conducted no wars or torture against any people and they have helped many millions. It is now time that they are approached by all your organizations and become convinced to come to the aid of their natural brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka—the oppressed Tamil people.

We have wandered over the deserts and the seas. We have been hungry and thirsty. We have been murdered and tortured. We are of the working class, of the castes; we are many races and nationalities. We share a common vision: freedom and equality; bread and water on the table; a shelter over our heads. We must fight together to live in peace and harmony.

We must unite around the world and struggle for an independent international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity against Sri Lanka government leaders.

We must call for a worldwide BOYCOTT of Sri Lanka.
CHE GUEVARA would be on our side today!

Taking the Jajabor’s Journey Forward: Remembering Bhupen Hazarika

Mayur Chetia and Nayanjyoti

Mourning people from across Assam assemble in miles and miles of roads leading up to Bhupen Hazarika’s funeral. He’s a restless jajabor/wanderer no more. Paeans after paeans are being sung now after the ‘great cultural hero’, the ‘greatest Assamese’, the believer in ‘the power of the nation’ (the ‘nation’ being ‘Akhand Bharat’ or ‘Brihottor Axom’, depending on whichever variety of nationalists sing). Bhupenda is dead. Assam is in despair.

Despair and tears are nothing new to be offered by the people of the region, daily humiliated by their exploited, displaced existence. These intricacies of social existence lie shining sharply or muffled in Hazarika’s songs and journey over the years. The music is everywhere, even at the funeral, where of the reported 100,000 people, more were singing than crying. There is arguably no one in Assam who has not known, loved, hated, listened and sung Hazarika, and whom he has not sung of. And this is much before mass media as we know today existed.

In this fractured land where ‘identity’ is supposed to be the reigning logic of existence, of unity or separation, Hazarika touched, sung and wove a rich and ambiguous cultural fabric. And because of it, we find ourselves confronting a troubled legacy, a serpentine history. Absolute ‘consistency’ is perhaps not a desirable quality and much more so with questions and figures of culture. But Bhupen Hazarika’s jajabor/nomadic inconsistency, and so perhaps the ups and downs of the journey of those whom he sang for and about, is historic. Riding on the energy of the communist-led peasant uprisings which lasted up to the mid 1950s in Assam, Hazarika’s radicalism borrowed directly from the ‘people’s singer’, the communist legacy of Comrade Bishnu Rabha and Jyoti Prasad Agarwala. Thus Hazarika would declare ‘kasi khonot aji bor suk’ (‘my sickle is too sharp today’). When the Indian Peoples’ Theatre Association (IPTA) had its dynamic heyday, Bhupen Hazarika was its president. He was a socialist when South Asia was gripped by its promise. He sang of hearing its echoes, of the energy of the masses, of the red sun on his black hair, from the depths of the night- ‘mur gaon’ore xeema’re, paharor xipare, nixar siyortir protidhoni xunu’ (‘from the end of the horizon of my village, from across the hills, echoes come to me of the cry of the night’). He was then ‘prothom nohoi, dritiyo nohoi, tritiyo srenir jatri’ (‘not of the first, not of the second- we are travelers of the third class’). Celebrating the vitality of the working masses, he identified himself as a co-traveler chugging ‘towards the destination together’.

But as the peasant uprisings were contained, this radicalism which was in identification with the stirrings of the tiller-of-the-land turned into the jingoist one of the son-of-the-soil, and come the Indo-China war of 1962, Hazarika turned into a ‘patriotic’ nationalist. He would discover terror and bloodshed committed on the hapless (sic) Indian Army soldiers by the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army, and demand a strong defense against the ‘violent marauders’ along the Himalayas (‘aji kameng ximanta dekhilu, dekhi xotrur poxuttva sinilu’ (‘today I saw Kameng border, and recognized the enemy’s bestiality’). However, this hatred for the Chinese proved to be short-lived. For Hazarika, the jajabor/internationalist, who loved to talk of Gorky and his tales sitting at the tomb of Mark Twain’, it could have been hardly otherwise. Nonetheless, this contradictory pull between a rabid form of nationalism and the spirit of internationalism continued to haunt him his entire life.

Contradictions and ambiguities also followed his engagement with the six year long anti-immigrant Assam movement which started in 1979. On the one hand Hazarika would, supporting the mass character of the movement, also attest to its principal aim of the expulsion of peasant migrants from Bangladesh led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU). And on the other, it was precisely during its heydays, when sentiments were sharpening against ‘migrants’ conflated with Muslims as a whole, that he composed and sang ‘Mohabahu Brahmaputra’ where he painted the long history of migration and assimilation of diverse people which built a composite culture in the region, singing ‘podda nodir dhumuhat pori, koto xotojon aahiley; luit’or duyu parote kotona atithik adoriley … kisu lobo lagey, kisu dibo lagey, jin jaboloi holey…Robindranatheo koley’ (‘caught on the storm of river Podda, hundreds came, and the banks of the Brahmaputra welcomed them as guests … take some, give some, to melt into each other…also said Rabindranath’). Though often interpreted as a liberal plea, this can be read as a warning of the danger of a sectarian politics of essentialising, of the aggressive upper-caste Assamese Hindu colour of the movement, which sought to violently erase this myriad history into extinction. His assertion that ‘we all have a history of migration and thus we (including the migrants from the erstwhile East-Bengal, now Bangladesh) must strive to live together’, baffled both the supporters as well as the opponents of the movement. Many within AASU began to suspect his support for the movement, as despite his apparent avowal that the Assamese people are in the danger of becoming homeless in their own land (the official AASU line), all he had to offer as a solution was a narrative of migration- hardly a satisfactory answer to the requirements of a sharp anti-immigrant tenor.

Then with the rise of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in the late 1980s-early 1990s, he sings of the countless blood-drenched sacrifices and the new meaning of the coming sunrise in the east (ULFA’s symbol is a rising sun). Ever enthusiastic of the potential of collective action and need for self-determination by the people, many would say, the sharpness of an anti-Indian state position and a critique of ‘Operation Bajrang’ brand of military domination, expected of a bard of a subjugated population was never there in him. A systemic critique would then be a muffled echo in his songs, as he would even turn the battle cries of the working class into abstract liberal appeals for humanity. Thus though the pathos of loss and ceaseless motion are captured Hazarika’s memorable voice in ‘bistirno parore’, his translation of the melancholy and anger of the worker with capitalist and racist exploitation in Paul Robeson’s Ol’ Man River becomes a mere petty bourgeois radical angst with the erosion of vague societal values in modern times.

With the ever more naked rightist turn in the political life of Assam’s middle classes in the late 1990s, Hazarika followed suit. With the formation of the NDA government (Asom Gana Parishad or AGP was part of the coalition) in 1998, his political journey came to its culmination with viewing the rabidly communal RSS as the authentic agent of social transformation. He even contested a Lok Sabha seat from Guwahati (which he fortunately lost) on a BJP ticket in 2004, with its cadres blaring his humanist plea ‘mahuhe manuhor babey, jodihe okonu nabhabey…bhabibo kunenu kuwa, xomonia’ (‘if man doesn’t think of man … who will?’) on their election vans. Under the pressure of RSS, he even tried to replace the word Axom with Bharat (as Axom is only to be subsumed within the larger Indian national discourse) in some of his old compositions, but these modifications never became popular. Hazarika’s use of rhetorical forms, like of the ‘virgin earth’ and ‘nation as the mother’ and thus someone to be protected, have been used by patriarchal chauvinists, and this tinge in his content had itself perhaps led to his ‘straying’ into the right wing fold who today find it easy to appropriate him as their own.

Similar turns can also be read in celebrated cultural figures like Bob Dylan who went from being the anthem singer of the radical 1960s generation in the United States to a controversial tryst with a particularly devout form of Christianity. His twists and turns apart, Hazarika did give creative expression to a whole range of feelings of the people of the region, hardly ever discovered by those who had officially avowed ‘art for the sake of society’. Establishing such a chord with people is hardly possible for the crass careerist, and Hazarika, to be sure, was not among them. His compositions blurred the lines between the classical and the folk, between ‘high culture’ and the popular. If he was skilled in composing highly sanskritised Assamese poetry, he was equally at ease in giving voice to the joyous melody of the elephant hunter from Xibaxagor who seduces the gabhoru of Gauripur with his rustic Bihu songs. He was perhaps also the first one to bring the qawwali genre into Assamese (‘samma thakile jarur jarur’). And his songs of love and longing are almost always permeated with a high bout of subversive eroticism, a taboo in the caste Hindu households of the Assamese Shreejuts (‘sikmik bijuli, kije tumar xongo priya’). Thus he declares, ‘xomajor niti niyom bhongatu notun niyom’ (‘breaking old rules is the rule of today’). Since the late 1990s (along with the rightist turn in his politics), Hazarika’s creativity was in rapid decline. He wrote very little in these years and though he composed a few songs for some Bollywood films, they were far inferior, in content and form, to his earlier compositions.

With Hazarika, the only ‘consistency’ then is of the love for wandering, a constant restless flux. A joyous yet troubled sense of celebration with the changing current and flows of the Brahmaputra being the womb and funeral of the numberless cultures melting into each other, led him also to the Podda, the Mississippi and the Volga. In ‘moi eti jajabor’, after the first two stanzas of such wanderings, he reflects on his peripatetic musings, saying ‘bohu jajabor lokhyo bihin, mur pise ase pon’ (‘many wanderers are directionless, but not me’) and in the next stanza goes on to specify why this is so. He pauses a while, saddened and wondering, at the immense inequality between ‘the rows of skyscrapers and the homeless in their shadows’. In his own jajaboria way he identifies the atrocities, loud or silent, stemming from the interstices of the world, and joining voice with the joyous songs of the people struggling against them, moves on again.

For some time now and at his death, when various varieties of nationalists are vying to uphold him as their hero, it would perhaps be more appropriate to read him at best as a signifier of changing times, wound up with the fortunes of various strata of the people of the region. He was never, as the nationalists would have us believe, a poster boy for ‘Akhand Bharat’ or ‘Brihottor Axom’, consistent with belief in the power of the nation. His belief in people and their creative collectivity at times borrowed from the liberal language and metaphors, and the chauvinist turn of his politics can probably be read in this, but a stress on isolated parochial history and/or pre-critical sense of superiority was never his agenda. Even while acquiescing at times with the linguistic Assamese nationalism of AASU which was based on closure, Hazarika nonetheless also continued singing in Bengali and Hindi as also in many other languages, ever in search for the continuities (a friend from Bangladesh just called yesterday to say that many in Bangladesh will probably only now know that he was an Assamese, and not a Bengali!). This also cannot be read (as the triumphant Indian nationalist would have it) as agreeing uncritically to the idea of a homogeneous ‘great Indian nation’. This search is a continuous one which goes beyond the nation. His repeated stress on the metaphor of the ‘river’ and of migration histories brings this out. The song of the young female worker in the tea plantation, who distinguishes herself from the mainstream caste Hindu culture, singing ‘Laxmi nohoi, mure naam saameli’(‘No, my name is not Laxmi; I am Saameli’), also brings this is a case in point where the pathos of the displaced journey of indentured labour and the conditions of bondage under which she worked is brought to life.

We look at this legacy of Hazarika today, when the ashes of countless revolts of the people of the region lie scattered over its plains and hills. As we enter a new phase of capitalist exploitation and uncertainty, the brutalized people search for new forms of organization and collectivity, its new voice. It mourns its singer at this hour, critically appraising him, seeking to wrench him free from the violence of the right wing nationalists, and sing anew the songs of the people. Just days before his death, Hazarika expressed a desire to be cremated near the tomb of his communist mentor, his dear Bistuda or Comrade Bishnu Rabha. Perhaps he wanted to return where he really belonged: to the theatre of creation rumbling in the hearth of the working people. We must fulfill this last wish of his while evaluating his life, taking his songs and journey forward. This year itself, two radical peoples’ theatre personalities, Badal Sircar and Gursharan Singh, who sung with and of the vitality and creativity of the working classes passed away. With Hazarika, even with his troubled legacy, we need to reclaim the voice which once spoke of and inspired the working masses, with whom he sought to melt, singing…

Xitore xemeka rati…
Bostro bihin kunu khetiyokor,
Bhagi pora pojatir tunh jui ekurat,
Umi umi joli thoka,
Raktim jen eti uttap hou

Xemeka xemeka rati…
Khadyo bihin kunu din majoor’or,
Prano’te lukai thoka xudha agoni’r,
Hotathe bhomoki utha prosondo jen, eti pratap hau

Kontho rudho kunu xu gayokor
Probhat anibo pora,
Othoso nuguwa, kunu somor gitor babey,
Moi jen eti sudha kontho hou

(On a wilting winter night, may I be,
in a clothless peasant’s broken hut,
of the slowly burning ember from the hay,
the red glowing warmth. .

Wilting winter night, and may I be,
from the fire of the empty-stomach of a daily labourer,
the suddenly erupting power,
burning bright …

Of a voiceless singer’s unsung war song,
which can wrench out the dawn,
may I be, the music …)

CPI (Maoist)’s letter to civil liberties organisations

THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF INDIA (MAOIST)
Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh-UP Territorial Regional Committee
1st September 2011

Red salute to all the members of PUCL, PUDR and all the justice loving intellectuals!

This is to inform you that on 2nd March, 2011, Niyamat Ansari of village Jerua, PO Manika, District Latehar (Jharkhand) was awarded the death penalty as per the regulations/procedure of our lower level committee. As Niyamat Ansari and Bhukhan Singh, were working in close association with Gram Swaraj Sanstha and Jean Dreze, member of the Central Vigilance Committee of NREGA, some intellectuals across the entire state and country have in one voice criticized the CPI (Maoist) party for this incident. Along with this a fact finding team was constituted under the leadership of Jean Dreze in which some of the intellectuals who support our movement were included. Nandlal Singh, Gokhul Basant, Aruna Roy were part of this team. Following this in reaction one of the members of our lower level committee without applying his mind put up posters asking for action against these intellectual friends in our people’s court. Also some words were used in a pamphlet, which were nowhere near correct, as citizens can express their reaction even on any right action of ours. It is their right to express their opposition in response. Even in such a situation our organisation does not believe in taking any such action. Therefore in this matter, with the most heart-felt self- criticism we take back the decree issued by our lower committee members and apologize to all the justice loving intellectuals for these mistakes. Also no action will be taken on Bhukhan Singh for the time being and the lower level committee too has been prohibited from taking any such action.

Now the question is why was Niyamat Ansari awarded the death penalty. On this matter too several facts have been provided by the lower level committee. But nevertheless we have not reached a conclusion, as a team has been constituted to do a fact finding on the above incident. We assure you people that we will do an in depth fact finding in this matter and will try to present the truth behind this incident at the earliest.

With revolutionary greetings.
Spokesperson.
Manas