MSEU: Condemn the arrest of MSEU leaders

Maruti Suzuki Employees Union
18th September

We write this at a time when our movement is under attack from all quarters, and three of our leaders, namely, Sonu Kumar (the President of MSEU), Shiv Kumar (the General Secretary of MSEU) and Ravinder, have been arrested by the police in a completely unjustified and unlawful manner.

All concerned probably know the way in which processes unfolded over the past few weeks. Our leaders went to the negotiation table with the management of Maruti Suzuki and the Labour Department on the 16th of September. Talks were still going on today, when they broke down because the management stubbornly refused to take back those workers that had been thrown out.

We believe that the management, prepared for this eventuality, had already made suitable arrangements with the police and the administration. That the government and its police have been bought over by the company management is absolutely clear. When talks broke down at about 10:15 pm today, the police spared no time in arresting our leaders. The attempt, clearly, is to cripple our movement when we have refused to back down in the face of all threats and enticements.

It is known to us that Ravinder already has an FIR filed against his name; but Sonu Kumar and Shiv Kumar have never been charged before. However, looking at the foul play that the police are already indulging in, we are sure that our leaders will be charged of crimes they never committed.

This way or that, we will continue our struggle. We appeal to all to condemn such acts by this unholy alliance of the police, the government and the company management. We ask you to stand in our support, in the support of our movement, of our arrested leaders and against injustice.

Rishipal
Executive Member
Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU)

Beyond the Blinding Haze of Corruption Battles!

Some have already started pondering whether Anna Hazare himself or an agitation on his lines could be used to highlight the issue of establishing a Common School System or for some other welfare measures that concern the downtrodden. My conviction that it is impossible emanates primarily from the analysis of the so-called amorphous ‘civil society’ which is essentially liberal bourgeois in character. What would one expect from a ‘movement’ (??) which relies heavily on the corporate sector – from a doctor who would love to deprive millions of Indians of primary healthcare and promote privatization of health facilities to collecting enormous amount from them as donations?

Why don’t we sit down and address a basic question about such trans-political antics which bring together the right wing fundamentalism, social democratic traditions, and progressives who would like to call themselves ‘left’ of a different type (who would jump at any gathering that gives them space and where the congregation is of a sufficiently large number) under one banner? What are those interests which are common to everyone – the corporates, ‘poor’ as well as the so-called ‘middle class’? Are we talking about bringing together the exploiters and the exploited (“the rich and the poor”, as Anna calls them) under the rubric of what they call ‘nation’ cemented through the slogans of ‘Bharat Maata ki Jai’, ‘Jai Hind’ and other symbolisms of a farcical nationhood represented by people holding Anna Hazare’s army days’ pictures? Is it not another social corporatist ideology that defines every right wing mobilisation throughout the globe? Is this a moment or an issue which would transcend all forms of polarisation in Indian society?

At a time when the nation has been reeling under inflation, poverty of people is depriving them of their basic necessities, a movement emerges which allows a much wanted deviation from the issues which could have taken the form of a class war, only if the Left had also realized it. Unfortunately we live in a political climate where particular forms of ‘Left’ politics are also fighting a battle for survival – which they believe could be won only by catering to the frustrations of the petty bourgeoisie assembled at the behest of a man who tries to become another ‘Gandhi’.

The rule of capital gets a breather in the form of this movement, as every systemic problem has been pinned down to a single cause, corruption, which of course needs only policing and, why not, also self-policing. Everybody wants a strong independent body above political ‘manipulations’ – so let it be, what’s the problem? The corporate world is all happy – it is already tired of buying and dealing with so many layers of politicians and bureaucrats – it wants a strong and resolute administration, which is not influenced by political flux and uncertainty.

Recognising that all indicators of economic and social life point towards an objective crisis of the system (which survives only by creating breathing spaces – through identitarian politics as well as momentary antics like this), one will have to go beyond the issues of how democratic is this ‘movement’ or how corrupt the corporate sector itself has been or how sectarian (on religious grounds as well as politically) this endeavor is or how well funded has been this movement (through money collected from Ford Foundation, UNDP… as well as through public fund collection). The question is – now that the Parliament has endorsed the will of Anna Hazare as the will of the people and therefore as the will of the Parliament, will it alleviate the poverty, and all other forms of oppression from society? Pointing to corruption as the most vicious form of oppression and playing down the more fundamental forms of exploitation unleashed by capitalism has been the hallmark of such a movement, which would never bring into focus the class question. It appears that everything will be alright if such a bill is passed, as if the system would not devise its own means of circumventing these acts.

Laws are not products constituted outside the system. Some of them may provide respite to people (without endangering the rule of capital) but they are never meant to subvert the system. Hence, if one has to recognize the utility of laws such as RTI or anti-corruption, it has to be done keeping in mind their role as instruments that keep dissent within the functional limits of capitalism. They are not meant to serve as instruments that would jeopardise the system. Those who portray this moment and act of a few disgruntled ex-bureaucrats and ‘civil society’ activists as revolutionary are misleading masses into a trap that would consolidate the rule of capital. The discontent that is there, evident in mobilizations, needs an articulation which tells people that laws only provide you a brief, temporal respite within the system (which would invent its own ways and means to accumulate, if not through ‘illegal’ cuts then through fully endorsed ‘incentives’). It may, at a certain plane, bring about contradictions within the system but it would never establish the truth that such pathologies are inherent part of the system.

Coming back to the point raised in the beginning, those who feel that Anna Hazare would take up the questions of education and health are grossly mistaken because the ‘Team’ with him – the drivers and strategists – would never be interested in demolishing capitalism and build a system where there is no place for commodification of education and health facilities. Even if individuals therein (including Anna) might want to raise these issues, this unity of “the rich and the poor” that we see on the issue of corruption cannot be envisaged on the issues that harm the mainstream interests of private capital. In fact, many in the corruption movement would rather argue that the state withdrawal from these sectors and segmentation of these facilities at least ensure that everybody gets something (‘something’ being amorphous like the ‘civil society’). On these issues, Anna’s fast will go Irom Sharmila’s way – no media attention and no parliament debate.

The Anti-Corruption Protests: A Great Opportunity, A Serious Danger

A STATEMENT

The Anna Hazare situation invites two common reactions: many dismiss it as a middle class driven “urban picnic”; and others, notably the mainstream media, describe it as just short of a revolutionary movement to establish “people’s power.” The same divide exists among progressives and those concerned with social change. Strategies differ on the basis of where one stands on this divide.The problem, however, is that neither of these reactions fully reflects the reality of what is happening.

We note that our position below is focused on what can be done in this situation, and is not meant to excuse or defend the government. We condemn the brutal, corrupt and anti-democratic actions of the UPA; we also, it must be noted, condemn the actions of the BJP and its State governments in trying to portray themselves as crusaders against corruption. The dangerous Lokpal Bill that has been presented must be withdrawn, and, as said below, a process initiated for effective institutions of people’s control that can be used to defeat corruption. We issue this statement precisely to caution against erroneous tactics that are strengthening the very state that we must fight against.

The Opportunity

It is true that the protests so far have been dominated by middle classes, and that they have been exaggerated by the media. But this does not mean that this process becomes meaningless. Precisely because there is no strong organised movement among the working class at the national level, no alternative media, and no consciously projected alternative to the existing system, a hyped up middle class movement can easily grow into something much larger. We can already see that happening, as protests are spreading and diversifying in terms of their mass base. People’s anger at this system and at the corrupt nature of the Indian state is hardly a middle class phenomenon alone.

For that reason, we cannot and should not dismiss this situation. The more people are willing to see this system for what it is, and to express their anger and disgust with it, the more there is an opportunity to expose it and fight for something new. A crisis is an opportunity for those who are fighting for change.

Therefore we cannot agree with those who look at these protests and hunger strikes and see in them a “blackmailing” of Parliament. Parliamentary democracy in this country has never been more than a very limited space. Even this space has been rendered meaningless in recent decades, by precisely the forces who today are shouting about its virtues.

For instance, the SEZ Act was passed after barely a day’s debate in Parliament. Economic reforms were introduced through stealth, FDI in retail is on the verge of being approved, and the UID project is going ahead – all without a whisper of Parliamentary approval. It is correct to be cynical of neoliberal pro-corporate leaders when they suddenly discover that Parliament is a sacrosanct institution. When people feel that the system is rotten to the core, we should not attempt to dilute that reality by saying that Parliament will deal with the problem.

The danger is not to Parliament; it lies elsewhere.

The Danger

The fact that people are angry is an opportunity. But it is also a risk, because that anger can be channeled in ways that actually strengthen the existing power structure. In this case, consider:

• The message being conveyed about these protests – the tactics of the leadership notwithstanding – is that of support to Anna Hazare and his “Team Anna.” Beyond the concept of “transparency”, the public campaign does not engage at all with the idea of a democratic organisation of the people (as opposed to one “supported” by the people). As such, this raises the question of whether those participating are being asked to fight to build people’s power, or whether they are fighting to increase the power of the “good leader.”

• The demand of the campaign too is not about, even in a minimal sense, democratising the Indian state or society. The Jan Lokpal being sought may address some types of corruption, or it may not do so; but it is not intended to give people any greater control over the state. It is projected as effective not because it will be democratic, but because it will be powerful, because it will stand “above” democracy and politics itself. Just as Anna is a good person who deserves support, so the Jan Lokpal will consist of good people who deserve power, and who will use it to “cleanse” the state.

• Most of those joining these protests are doing so on the basis of media coverage. In practically all areas (with one or two exceptions) the mobilisation lacks any core organisation. At most there are ad hoc groups of urban elites; but in large measure, the place of the organisation has been filled by the mainstream media itself. All the ideas sought to be communicated are therefore seen through the lenses that the media applies to them. As a result, even where elements in the leadership try to talk of popular struggle and democratic principles, they are overridden by an overwhelming focus on attacking the current power holders and replacing them with an even more powerful, more “clean” institution.

The net result of all this is that “corruption” becomes defined very narrowly, as the taking of benefit in violation of the law. The ultimate message of this movement is: trust the rules, trust the state, trust the Lokpal; what matters is finding the right leaders and having faith in them. This is the message that is sent by the mobilising instrument, the media, regardless of what the leaders may actually say.

This is not only not a democratic message, it is an anti-democratic one. At this moment, in India, it is also dangerous. Brutality, injustice and oppression in this country is not a result of violation of the law alone. Indeed, much of it happens because of the law in the first place. We have a state machinery which has brazenly shown itself to be the servant of predatory private capital. This is the biggest reason for the current boom in corruption: the enormous money generated through superprofits that is then used to purchase the state and generate more superprofits. Sometimes this is exposed as violating some law and gets called a “scam”; but at other times, as in most economic reforms, it simply changes the law. The SEZ Act is again a good example. It triggered a wave of land grabbing across the country, which was only slowed by the global economic crisis; but there was nothing “corrupt” in the Lokpal sense about most SEZ-relatedactions. Our people are being crushed by a cycle of intensifying capitalist exploitation and repression. Can this be stopped by good leaders with the right powers?

Many would answer “Obviously not; a Jan Lokpal cannot address everything.” This may be true, but that is not the message actually being sent out. Rather the message is that Lokpal-style solutions and Anna Hazare-style “good leaders” are the answers to people’s anger at injustice. When the leadership, Ramdev-style, starts adding on a laundry list of additional issues to its demands – as land acquisition has recently been added – it reinforces this dangerous message. Thus this movement not only does not weaken the state; implicitly, through the message it sends, it builds people’s support for making the state and its leadership more powerful. This of course the reason that it attracts support from everyone from Jindal Aluminium to the RSS.

What Can Be Done

The mere fact that people are protesting against the government does not mean that they are fighting the state. The Indian state certainly has little to fear – as a state – from a mobilisation whose prime message is that change happens through good leaders. The current power holders are resisting the threat to their position, but the system itself is not under threat. Indeed, the danger is not to the state or its institutions, but to efforts at deeper social change in this society.

The dilemma of the current situation cannot be answered by simply joining wholeheartedly, or by withdrawing in silence.

Some have declared support for the current movement, while seeking to push it to take up other issues. The sympathies of some in the leadership for left and progressive positions is often cited. But the main engines of these protests – the media and urban elite circles – are actively opposed to any such positions. One has simply to imagine what will happen if this mobilisation does begin to turn towards a more radical stance: the media will instantly change its position from “Anna is India” to “Anna is a power crazed megalomaniac”, confusion, slanders and disinformation will start, and the movement will collapse. Given this reality, simply joining at this stage will be counterproductive. People will no longer be able to distinguish between forces who fight for social transformation and those who are upholding the current system; and when the latter fail, they will take down the former with them.

But to remain silent is to be irrelevant at an important time. It is also important not to fall into the trap of those who, in their criticism of the anti-democratic tendencies of this movement, start defending the existing state. In our view parliamentary supremacy is not and cannot be the slogan of those who seek social change.

What is required therefore is an approach built on two realities. The first is that the current explosion of scams is a direct result of neoliberal policies that have converted the state into the arm of a particularly predatory, criminal form of big capital. Today the real face of the state is more apparent then ever before, and corruption is one glaring sign of it. Therefore, to try to fight corruption without fighting for true people’s power over the economy and society is impossible. Therefore, our demands must focus on building such people’s power over the institutions of the state.

The second reality is that the current atmosphere of anger and suspicion of the state offers a chance to raise precisely these issues and to make the link between corruption and the system under which we live. The more political forces, mass organisations and people’s struggles do this, while keeping their identity separate from ‘India Against Corruption’, the more it will be possible to use this opportunity to build and expand radical struggles. If people can see the system is rotten, that can be developed that into an awareness that this rottenness goes far deeper than mere corruption and dishonest leaders. That is the challenge of this moment.

Abhay Shukla, Pune
Arvind Ghosh, Nagpur
Asit Das, POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, Delhi
Bijay-bhai, Adivasi Mukti Sanghatan
Biju Mathew, Mining Zone People’s Solidarity Group
C.R. Bijoy, Coimbatore
Kiran Shaheen, Journalist
Pothik Ghosh, Radical Notes
Pratyush Chandra, Radical Notes
Ravi Kumar, Dept of Sociology, South Asian University
Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity
Shiraz Bulsara, Kasthakari Sanghatna

(all signatures are in individual capacity; additional signatures welcome)

On the Arrest and Release of Students on 9th August

100 hr Barricade by Students and Youth Against Corruption and Corporate loot. Thousands of students were detained and later released in order to prevent them from carrying out their 100 hr barricade at night. An interview with Sandipan Talukdar (AISA).

9 Aug ’11 – 100hr Student Youth Barricade Against Corruption and Corporate Loot (part 2)

Organised by Student-Youth Campaign Against Corruption at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi after a nation wide campaign. Interview with Aslam Khan, Student-Youth Campaign Against Corruption

9 Aug ’11 – 100hr Student Youth Barricade Against Corruption and Corporate Loot

Organised by Student-Youth Campaign Against Corruption at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi after a nation wide campaign. Interview with Kavita Krishnan of CPI (ML)Liberation

Ramdev’s ‘divine’ reaction against corruption

Satyabrata

“Violating all temporal standards of morality, justice and freedom, Fascism claims divine sanctions.”— M.N. Roy

Thanks to Anna Hazare, the government was recently forced to confront the question of corruption in a fashion that it was left with no choice but to form an ‘independent’ representative institution tasked with graft control. Rama Krishna Yadav, aka Baba Ramdev, stood beside him. It was not the first time that the “Baba” was in politics. In mid 2010, he went on a rally with other ‘babas’ in Haridwar demanding the cleaning of Ganga. Ramdev, not unlike all others, is political. Now, however, he has come to be the embodiment of a particular ideology. If his projects are carefully scrutinised in the context of the Indian economy, the political-economic basis for his ideology becomes evident.

The Baba came into limelight because of his simple methods, which he called pranayams and asanas, for curing arthritis and ulcers and relieving stress. It was initially embraced as a practice by those sections of the Indian public that suffered from those physical/mental troubles without any hope of redress, thanks to the profit-centred and unhinged Indian healthcare system in its private and public avatars respectively. These ‘yogic’ practices proved to be helpful and the Baba became an instant hit. He held ‘shivirs’ (camps) throughout India and had thousands of people attending them. Ramdev became a pranayam guru. Then came the second phase when he claimed he could cure cancer. And in some television channels dedicated to ‘religion and spirituality’ you had people validating his claims. Ramdev has an ayurvedic ‘trust’ that sells powders, herbal medicinal products and so on. In a recent interview to Shekhar Gupta (NDTV Walk the Talk), the so-called baba claimed his turnover between 2006 and 2011 had been Rs 1,100 crore. This, according to him, had come from the 10 crore people who apparently believed in him. It must be noted here that the sale of Ramdev’s ayurvedic products has been on a steady rise. They can be found in all major cities. This is how Ramdev, the yoga guru, became Ramdev, the ayurvedic capitalist. Now he virtually owns several hundred acres of lands in the UK, to where his market has expanded. The costs Ramdev’s ‘trust’ charges for those products can be seen on the webpage http://www.pypt.org/35-membership.html.

Soon after the ‘Anna Hazare movement’ we now have the Baba Ramdev movement. Hazare seems to have passed the baton of anti-corruption rolled in Gandhian satyagraha to Ramdev in a relay movement of sorts. But clearly ‘the Ramdev movement’ has the compulsion to display a different kind of political dynamism.

And the specificity of this display of political dynamism stems from Ramdev’s capitalist project premised upon claims, and sometimes proof, that ancient Indian medical science is superior to modern medical science. He has been able to convince people on that count and hence his market is expanding. But when the question of ancient India comes, can the great defenders of that “great culture” be far behind? The ‘Ramdev movement’ has, not surprisingly, drawn the support of the RSS-BJP. A fascistic movement seems to be re-emerging, this time with a popular leader and a popular issue (anti-corruption) at the centre.

On May 13, Ramdev wrote a letter to the prime minister. The following are the three (sic) demands he put forth in that missive:

1. To bring back to the nation Rs 400 trillion (US$ 9 trillion) of black money that is national wealth.

1.1. Create a law to declare money stashed away in foreign accounts as national assets.

1.2. Create a law for foreign account policy where each citizen having a foreign account has to disclose complete information.

1.3 Sign US Convention against Corruption, thus paving the way for getting black money back. (He probably means UN Convention against corruption http://www.unodc.org/documents/treaties/UNCAC/Publications/Convention/08-50026_E.pdf.)

1.4. Recall high-denomination currency i.e., 500- and 1,000-rupee notes and make 100-rupee notes as sparsely available as possible.

2. To stamp out corruption fully by enacting stringent laws for a capable Lok Pal that should have three important points:

2.1. It should be able to punish any official irrespective of designation if found guilty.

2.2. Any person should be able to file an FIR against corruption and if proofs are provided then the Lok Pal should be able to take action against the guilty.

2.3. Once a fast-track court declares a person guilty of corruption then he or she should be given harsh punishment like death sentence or life imprisonment if corruption involves crores or lakhs of rupees. The law should have the provision to declare assets of all such persons national assets.

3. To end foreign laws, customs and culture prevailing in the independent Bharat so that every Indian can get economic and social justice. We should follow Mahatma Gandhi’s book named Hind Swaraj that says that after Independence we need to remove the British system and adopt the Bharatiya system.

3.1. We need to abolish the Land Acquisition Act 1984 because by using this Act the government is exploiting farmers. A farmer who is the producer of food is not respected and is getting killed daily by wrong government policies. We need to impose a complete ban on genetically-modified food, which is dangerous for the health of citizens of this nation.

3.2. On the language issue the whole nation is suffering because 99% of people do not know English. When countries like Japan, China, France, Germany, Denmark, Russia, etc. educate their citizens in their own language and produce doctors, scientists, engineers, etc. then why cannot we do so in our own national and native languages. Each of our languages has more words than any foreign language. Why are we neglecting and giving such a low importance to our own languages. Technological innovations and inventions do not depend upon a language, it is a function of human intellect and mind and the world is a witness that Bharatiya’s thinking and mind is one of the best in the world. The language of law, justice, science, engineering, medicine and so on should be in our national or regional languages. Only then will smart kids of poor people be able to become scientists, doctors and engineers.

3.3. Why are we given Macaulay’s education, which was created to make Indians into Englishmen and why are 34,735 laws created by the British still imposed on this nation? Why are people of this country still tortured and humiliated by using those laws in the same way as the British would do.

3.4. When Bharat has given the world physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, all social sciences, law and justice system, astrology, astronomy, astrophysics, social structure, time (days, years), names of planets, economics, a cultured society and highly-advanced philosophy, and spirituality to the whole world then why are we always taught that everything is developed by the western world? We ought to give highest preference to our own culture.

3.5. Although the democratic system is best in the world but it has its demerits too. Had we not had this faulty law and order system in our country then such a big conspiracy would not have been created, and so much corruption would not have happened and our people would not be in such a bad condition. So it is imperative that those people, who are indulging this conspiracy in the name of democracy and are looting this nation through corruption, are changed together with the system. State-funding of elections, election of the prime minister directly by the citizens of this nation through mandatory voting should be there. Thus only honest people will come to power and then only strong democracy and a high-value parliament will be formed. We want to make it clear that we do not want to change the Constitution of India created by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar but want to change the system created by the British and still followed. Example, Land acquisition act was not created by the Late Shri Bhimrao Ambedkar but by the British and so was Macaulay’s education system.

After that, the Baba went on a hunger strike demanding the fulfillment of his demands. On June 5, at around 1 in the morning, police attacked Ramdev and his supporters. Apparently, Ramdev’s demands might seem stupid and, at best, populist, but if one examines them carefully one will find in them a whole buffalo-nationalistic, imperialistic project at work designed to empower national capital. Whether this is the result of deliberate manoeuvring or spontaneous reaction doesn’t matter. What matters is that danger looms over the Indian working class. The ‘satyagraha’ and an attack on the ‘satyagrahis’ by the Congress-led Union government can be understood only if the social base of the Congress and its allies and the contradiction that exists between it and the social base of figures such as Ramdev and political groups such as the sangh parivar is taken into account.

If the movement unfolds we shall not only see the demon that has always been around — the Indian State and the current government that typifies it — but another more dangerous one in the making: the mass as a murderous mob under the ideological, if not political, leadership of sangh parivar and similar right-wing forces.

The Congress and its UPA government are doing the only thing it can do: defend the interests of its big bourgeois class base and its ideology. The bourgeois media, on the other hand, is doing its job well in terms of defending and promoting an “innocent” Ramdev. Meanwhile, the disaffection and dissent of the socially dominated working masses, in the absence of a revolutionary working-class ideology and force, inevitably ends up being articulated through and in that ideology of defence for a godman of reaction.

Forget Corruption, fight bourgeois class rule

Satyabrata

Can “corruption” be seen as a homogeneous practice? Is the corruption of a government evident, say, in the signing of an MoU, and that of a clerk taking bribes the same? The answer is obviously no! A society where money constitutes the primary means by which people satisfy their needs, with needs increasing and relative wages declining, striking a moral stance on corruption amounts to submitting to the ruling hegemony. But to inquire, on the other hand, into the causes of corruption is to take the first step in launching a concerted attack on that hegemony. The power of the system rests, in large measure, on its capacity to prevent people from engaging in the process of critical thinking; to convert them into passive recipients of Ideology. The “Hazare movement” is one such example where hegemony subsumes dissent, and distorts it.

Therefore, a politico-strategic exposition of the Jan Lokpal Bill, which has brought large masses of students, youth, industrialists and politicians out on to the streets, is a necessary condition for engaging with what might be called the “Hazare movement”. In an ideal sense, the Jan Lokpal Bill is a legislative attempt to check corruption. It demands the setting up of a central Lokpal, and state-level Lokayuktas, that will be independent of governments. Members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities, and not by politicians, through a completely ‘transparent’ and ‘participatory’ process. Its tasks shall include inquiry into cases of delayed delivery of public services and imposition of penalty on officials found guilty.

Here it becomes necessary to understand the role of representative institutions in a representative democracy as another representative institution is probably about to be set up. Representative bodies are institutions through which political power is wielded. In that sense they are not very different from “management” of industries, especially as far as their task of control over masses is concerned. The difference is they are elected (directly or indirectly) by the people. The cry of the people today against corruption on the streets is the participation of “people” to undo something that hampers their lives. Of course such desire is refracted through shards of ideology but that certainly does not negate its impulse to grapple with the system in order to rid it of its warts. The trouble, however, is the anti-corruption movement is about to be institutionalised by the state, which is seeking to bring it within the realm of its operation. That, in itself, appears to be a welfarist act. That is, if one doesn’t go deeper to understand the logic of the State.

The widespread hue and cry over the Hazare movement is evidence that the ideological apparatuses of the state are at work to include dissent and the idea of mass participation it poses into a re-presentative body. That would, among other things, lead to the institutional inclusion of participatory democracy – an idea posed by the politics of dissent – even as such participation is exteriorised by the masses. It is indicative of the necessity of the existence of the state and civil society as two separate bodies embodying alienation and dissent respectively. The Hazare movement is politico-ideologically bankrupt to grasp how the state is an institution to wield political power. And is not such a movement, therefore, condemned to express impulses of capitalist ‘de-statisation’ which, at the level of political logic, have much in common with the current politico-economic consensus to increasingly privatise the public sphere, delivering significant aspects of life and livelihood into the hands of private players? No state can survive without the support of its people and this has been proved time and time again. But the “powerful state” learns and doesn’t allow its people to learn, if only to exist and exist better. An anti-corruption movement that bases itself merely on the outburst of people’s spontaneous dissent with regard to the system is bound to squander its potential revolutionary impulse because its institutionalisation by liberal politics is its inescapable fate.

‘If power is not seized, counter-revolution will rise’: Vijay Prashad on the Arab revolt (Part I)

Vijay Prashad is a prominent Marxist scholar from South Asia. He is George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut. He has written extensively on international affairs for both academic and popular journals. His most recent book The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (2007) has been widely acclaimed as the most authentic rewriting of the world history of the postcolonial Global South and the idea of the “Third World”.

Vijay Prashad

 

Pothik Ghosh (PG): In what sense can the recent events in the Arab World be called revolutions? How are they different from the colour revolutions of the past two decades?

Vijay Prashad (VP): All revolutions are not identical. The colour revolutions in Eastern Europe had a different tempo. They were also of a different class character. They were also along the grain of US imperialism, even though the people were acting not for US but for their own specific class and national interests. I have in mind the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. Otpor in the Ukraine, among others, was well lubricated by George Soros’s Open Society and the US government’s National Democratic Institute. Russian money also swept in on both sides of the ledger. These Eastern European revolutions were mainly political battles in regions of the world still unsettled by the traumatic transition from state socialism to predatory capitalism.

The Arab revolt that we now witness is something akin to a “1968” for the Arab World. Sixty per cent of the Arab population is under 30 (70 per cent in Egypt). Their slogans are about dignity and employment. The resource curse brought wealth to a small population of their societies, but little economic development. Social development came to some parts of the Arab world: Tunisia’s literacy rate is 75 per cent, Egypt’s is just over 70 per cent, Libya almost 90 per cent. The educated lower-middle-class and middle-class youth have not been able to find jobs. The concatenation of humiliations revolts these young people: no job, no respect from an authoritarian state, and then to top it off the general malaise of being a second-class citizen on the world stage – second to the US-Israel and so on – was overwhelming. The chants on the streets are about this combination of dignity, justice and jobs.

PG: Does the so-called Jasmine Revolution have in it to transform the preponderant character of the politico-ideological topography of oppositional politics – from Islamist identitarianism to an organic variant of working-class politics – in West Asia and the Maghreb? Under what circumstances can this series of general strikes, which seem to be spreading like a brushfire through the region, morph into a constellation of counter-power? Or, would that in your eyes merely be a vicarious desire of Leftists from outside the region?

VP: I fear that we are being vicarious. The youth, the working class, the middle class have opened up the tempo of struggle. The direction it will take is not clear. I am given over to analogies when I see revolutions, largely because the events of change are so contingent.

It is in the melee that spontaneity and structure jostle. The organised working class is weaker than the organised theocratic bloc, at least in Egypt. Social change of a progressive type has come to the Arab lands largely through the Colonels. Workers’ struggles have not reached fruition in any country. In Iraq, where the workers movement was advanced in the 1950s, it was preempted by the military – and then they made a tacit alliance.

One cannot say what is going to happen with certainty. The Mexican Revolution opened up in 1911, but didn’t settle into the PRI regime till the writing of the 1917 constitution and the elevation of Carranza to the presidency in 1920 or perhaps Cardenas in 1934. I find many parallels between Mexico and Egypt. In both, the Left was not sufficiently developed. Perils of the Right always lingered. If the Pharonic state withers, as Porfirio Diaz’s state did, the peasants and the working class might move beyond spontaneity and come forward with some more structure. Spontaneity is fine, but if power is not seized effectively, counter-revolution will rise forth effectively and securely.

PG: What are, in your opinion, the perils if such a transformation fails to occur? Will not such a failure lead to an inevitable consolidation of the global neoliberal conjuncture, which manifests itself in West Asia as fascistic Islamism on one hand and authoritarianism on the other?

VP: If such a transformation fails, which god willing it won’t, then we are in for at least three options: (1) the military, under Egyptian ruling class and US pressure, will take control. This is off the cards in Tunisia for now, mainly because the second option presented itself; (2) elements of the ruling coalition are able to dissipate the crowds through a series of hasty concessions, notably the removal of the face of the autocracy (Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia). If Mubarak leaves and the reins of the Mubarakian state are handed over to the safe-keeping of one of his many bloodsoaked henchman such as Omar Suleiman…. Mubarak tried this with Ahmed Shafik, but he could as well have gone to Tantawi….all generals who are close to Mubarak and seen as safe by the ruling bloc. We shall wait to see who all among the elite will start to distance themselves from Mubarak, and try to reach out to the streets for credibility. As a last-ditch effort, the Shah of Iran put Shapour Bakhtiar as PM. That didn’t work. Then the revolt spread further. If that does not work, then, (3) the US embassy will send a message to Mohamed El-Baradei, giving him their green light. El-Baradei is seen by the Muslim Brotherhood as a credible candidate. Speaking to the crowds on January 30 he said that in a few days the matter will be settled. Does this mean that he will be the new state leader, with the backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and certainly with sections of Mubarak’s clique? Will this be sufficient for the crowds? They might have to live with it. El-Baradei is a maverick, having irritated Washington at the IAEA over Iran. He will not be a pushover. On the other hand, he will probably carry on the economic policy of Mubarak. His entire agenda was for political reforms. This is along the grain of the IMF-World Bank Structural Adjustment part 2, viz., the same old privatisation agenda alongside “good governance”. El-Baradei wanted good governance in Egypt. The streets want more. It will be a truce for the moment, or as Chavez said, “por ahora“.

PG: The Radical Islamists, their near-complete domination of the oppositional/dissident politico-ideological space in the region notwithstanding, have failed to rise up to the occasion as an effective organisational force – one especially has the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt in mind. What do you think is the reason?

VP: The Muslim Brotherhood is on the streets. It has set its own ideology to mute. That is very clear. Its spokesperson Gamel Nasser has said that they are only a small part of the protests, and that the protest is about Egypt not Islam. This is very clever. It is similar to what the mullahs said in Iran during the protests of 1978 and 1979. They waited in the wings for the “multitude” to overthrow the Shah, and then they descended. Would the MB do that? If one says this is simply the people’s revolt and not that of any organised force, it’s, of course, true. But it is inadequate. The ‘people’ can be mobilised, can act; but can the ‘people’ govern without mediation, without some structure. This is where the structured elements come into play. If there is no alternative that forms, then the Muslim Brotherhood will take power. That the Muslim Brotherhood wants to stand behind El-Baradei means they don’t want to immediately antagonise the US. That will come later.

PG: What does the emergence of characters like El-Baradei signify? Are they really the “political face” of the resistance as the global media seems to be projecting?

VP: El-Baradei comes with credibility. He served in the Nasserite ministry of external affairs in the 1960s. He then served in the foreign ministry under Ismail Fahmi. One forgets how impressive Fahmi was. He resigned from Sadat’s cabinet when the Egyptian leader went to Jerusalem. Fahmi was a Nasserite. For one year, El-Baradei served with Boutros Boutros Ghali at the foreign ministry. That was the start of this relationship. Both fled for the UN bureaucracy. Boutros Ghali was more pliant than Fahmi. I think El-Baradei is more along Fahmi’s lines. At the IAEA he did not bend to the US pressure. Given that he spent the worst years of Mubarak’s rule outside Cairo gives him credibility. A man of his class would have been coopted into the Mubarak rule. Only an outsider like him can be both of the ruling bloc (in terms of class position and instinct) and outside the ruling apparatus (i. e. of Mubarak’s cabinet circle). It is a point of great privilege.

With the MB careful not to act in its own face, and the ‘people’ without easy ways to spot leaders, and with Ayman Nour not in the best of health, it is credible that El-Baradei takes on the mantle.

PG: Is the disappearance of working-class and other avowedly Left-democratic political organisations, which had a very strong presence in that part of the world till a few decades ago, merely the result of their brutal suppression by various authoritarian regimes (such as Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq, Hafez Assad’s in Syria and Nasser’s and Mubarak’s in Egypt) and/or their systematic physical decimation by Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood? Or, does it also have to do with certain inherent politico-theoretical weaknesses of those groups? Has not the fatal flaw of left/ communist/ socialist forces in the Islamic, particularly the Arab, world been their unwillingness, or inability, to grasp and pose the universal question of the “self-emancipation of the working class” in the determinateness of their specific culture and historicity?

VP: Don’t underestimate the repression. In Egypt, the 2006 budget for internal security was $1.5 billion. There are 1.5 million police officers, four times more than army personnel. I am told that there is now about 1 police officer per 37 people. This is extreme. The subvention that comes from the US  of $1.3 billion helps fund this monstrosity.

The high point of the Egyptian working class was in 1977. This was the bread uprising. It was trounced. Sadat then went to the IMF with a cat’s smile. He inaugurated the infitah. He covered the books by three means: the infitah allowed for some export-oriented production, the religious cover (al-rais al-mou’min) allowed him to try and undercut the Brotherhood, and seek some funds from the Saudis, and the bursary from the US for the deal he cut with Israel. This provided the means to enhance the security apparatus and further crush the workers’ movements.

Was there even space or time to think about creative ways to pose the self-emancipation question? Were there intellectuals who were doing this? Are we in Ajami’s Dream Palace of the Arabs, worrying about the decline of the questions? Recall that in March 1954 the major Wafd and Communist unions made a pact with the Nasserite regime; for concessions it would support the new dispensation. That struck down its independence. The unions put themselves in the service of the Nation over their Class. In the long run, this was a fatal error. But the organised working class was small (as Workers on the Nile shows, most workers were in the “informal” sector). The best that the CP and the Wafd could do in the new circumstances was to argue that the working class plays a central role in the national movement. Nasser and his Revolutionary Command Council, on the other hand, heard this but did not buy it. They saw the military as the agent of history. It was their prejudice.

A working class uprising – how far will it go?

Taken from an article published at LIBCOM

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The fundamental class nature of the protests in North Africa is undeniable. In Tunisia, Algeria and Libya a generation of proletarianised youngsters have led mass protests, the immediate reason for which has been their desperate standard of living in countries which support a wealthy and transparently self-interested ruling class, less schooled in the modern techniques of bourgeois self-justification than their Western counterparts. The same issues are repeated in countries across the region. We will attempt a brief and preliminary survey of the class aspects of events here; again due to restrictions on information and rapidly developing events this survey is necessarily incomplete.

Expropriations

The uprisings in Tunisia and Algeria have involved the expropriation of goods from supermarkets, shops and warehouses during mass demonstrations. This is to be expected ; one of the immediate catalysts for the uprisings was the cost of essentials rising rapidly, with scarcity compounded by security forces shutting down the country. Moreover, during situations where working class people are becoming aware of their own power, respect for the nicities of commodity exchange evaporates, especially when money (or the lack of it) limits their access to the essentials of life. Such expropriations are a feature of all proletarian uprisings, as is the line on “violent looters” spun to justify brutal crackdowns.

Strikes – or the lack of them

Information on the extent to which strikes have formed part of the movement in North Africa is limited. We know of strikes by teachers in solidarity with protesting students. Likewise there have been calls for general strikes led by ‘professional’ workers such as lawyers, but it is unclear whether they were attended by workers more widely. We can say the same of the general strike called in Sfax – until more information is made available, it is hard to say to what extent it was observed. We know of strikes in the mining town of Gafsa, but again the scale of participation in these strikes is unclear. We do not know to what extent people have participated in organised strikes, or simply not gone to work due to the unrest on the streets. Lockouts after the state of emergency was declared would have precluded many strikes.

Obviously the unemployed and students who have formed the bulk of protesters on the streets do not have labour to withdraw in the same way as workers. Demonstrations, blockades and riots all can form part of class struggle, and can advance it by disrupting the economy and drawing lines of confrontation. Radicalisation by police truncheons can often push confrontation with the state further, and draw more people into events by making the role of the state in maintaining order through violence clear. However, all major uprisings have involved mass strike action, and the mass strike is a means by which the common interest of proletarians as working class and their power to cripple capital by expropriating the means of life from it can become clear. The direction and scale of the insurrection is likely to be determined by the extent to which strike action spreads through the economy.

Part of the explanation of our limited knowledge of strikes could be the focus of the media on street protests and the ‘political’ dimension presented by the calls to oust the current government. Strikes taking place in parallel may not be deemed newsworthy. On the other hand, it may be that there has not been generalised strike action. The role of tourism in Tunisia’s economy, employing significant numbers of workers (half of the workforce is employed in the service sector) is not enough to account for this – industry such as manufacturing, mining and the oil industry accounts for a third of the workforce. This is the classic terrain for mass strikes of the kind that has been a feature of all historic working class uprisings, and this would have a significant effect in a major oil and minerals exporter such as Tunisia.

On the other hand it is important to bear in mind the effect a drop in tourism revenues can have in a country like Tunisa – a few global headlines about rioting can lead to the paralysis of a major section of the economy. Ben Ali called on rioters to stop due to fears about the decline in tourism, and was clear and vocal about this. Nonetheless, a generalised strike movement would be vital in broadening a specifically class consciousness, widening the movement and radicalising the situation.

Not a revolution – yet.

The media has been quick to label events in Tunisia a ‘revolution’, and the name ‘ the Jasmine revolution’ has been rapidly applied to bring it in line with a range of other political revolutions which ushered in new governments (usually pro-US) in various countries. Such events are only ‘revolutions’ in a political sense, with one government replacing another. Tunisa has not yet seen a true revolution, as the rule of capital and the fundamental balance of power between classes in the country has not yet changed. Such a possibility would require the working class of the region to draw lessons from the radical display of their own power which has unfolded over the past weeks. Given that the fundamental issues – unemployment, high prices and poor housing cannot be solved by decree by governments even if they wanted to, it is unlikely that we will see the status quo return in North Africa any time soon.