Students are Revolting: Education Cuts and Resistance

Dave Hill

Students are revolting! And quite right too. From the 52,000 strong demo in Westminster on Nov 10 (which went via the Millbank Tory Party HQ- not your average day at the office!) to disciplined and organized student occupations, sit-ins and teach-ins at Leeds, Manchester, Sussex, Middlesex and other Universities, through subsequent Days of Action, to student protests across Europe- Paris, Lisbon, Athens, Dublin. Saying, chanting, acting, demanding, `No to Education Cuts’, `No to (increased) Charges for Education’, `Education should be Free!’ The 10 Nov demo, organized by the National Union of Students and the college lecturers union, UCU, was the biggest student demonstration in a generation.

The next round was Wed 24 Nov, `Day X’. Students at universities, further education colleges, Sixth Forms and secondary schools walked out, and demonstrating against cuts and tuition fees, in a national day of action. Some marched on their local Tory party offices, just as 300 students and trade unionists in Barnet marched earlier on the local Tory Party HQ in Finchley!

The next `Day X’ is the day of the vote in Parliament on 9 Dec 2010 over the fees increase. There’ll be another massive demonstration. The Facebook group `Tuition Fee Vote: March on Parliament’ had 2,300 `attending’ within 45 minutes of being set up! Students and Workers realize this is a common struggle – Day X is supported by the three main anti-cuts umbrella organizations – the NSSN (National Shop Stewards Network), the RtW (Right to Work campaign) and the CoR (Campaign of Resistance) whose 27 Nov London rally of 1300 brought together organizations, socialist/ Marxist parties and groups, national organizations, local anti-cuts groups, students and school students.

One of the most remarkable and inspiring speeches, by 15 year old Barnaby, on Youtube explicitly linked the student struggle to wider struggles and workers struggles.

This time round, students are saying much more than `No Fees’. Saying and chanting `Students and Workers Unite and Fight’, `We are Part of a Wider Struggle!’ A recognition that our struggle is a common struggle for a better, a fairer, not a diminished and crueler, society. Facebook sites such as `School and FE students Against the Cuts’ have brilliant, basic, bold slogans- `Education for the masses not just for the ruling classes!’

What the banker’s crisis, the current crisis of neoliberal capitalism, `making the workers pay for the crisis’, the millionaire Con-Dem millionaire government is doing, is stoking raw anger. Not just among mainly middle class university students, but among working class students at Further Education colleges and Sixth Form colleges.

Raw Anger

There is raw anger at the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) that are currently for low-income working class kids to stay on and study from the ages of 16-19, worth up to £30 per week. Now they are to be scrapped. Nationally 46% of Further Education students get EMAs. In poorer areas like Knowsley, Birmingham and Leicester the figure is 80%. Those affected are kids like members of my family. My grandson is one of hundreds of thousands of working class, low parental income kids, who could not have afforded to stay on to do A levels without the EMA. Millions of working class families will see their EMA support abolished. This is nearly 50 years on from when I received the staying on at school grant that I got as a working class kid staying on at Sixth Form in the 1960s. I couldn’t have stayed on without that grant. Now, almost half a century on, neither will millions of others. This is part of cutting back the social democratic advances won by the trade unions and working class after the second world war. The fight is to save the last vestiges of our post-war social democratic settlement starts here! One benefit, one part of `the social wage’, is being taken away. This is the deliberate culling of educational opportunity.

So, too, is the trebling of fees for university students following the Con-Dem government’s acceptance of the Browne Review. The cap of £3,000 a year tuition fees has been raised to a maximum of £9,000 a year fees! The most expensive state university fees in the world. Leaving students with a projected post-university degree debt of £38,000, that will, inevitably cut out poorer families. And so there is disgust among students at the bankers taking their millions in bonuses while other families agonise over the spiralling cost of what… getting educated!

The Class System and Education

Schooling, education, universities, even as early as nurseries, serve to sort people out – their futures, their minds. To reproduce the class system. It’s not what the official rhetoric claims of course, and it’s certainly not what teachers and lecturers want. But the actual intent of the ruling/capitalist class is for education to create and reproduce a hierarchically tiered and very differentially rewarded workforce. That’s the economic aim. It’s all about sifting and sorting and allocating – on a (raced and gendered) social class basis, `education for the economy’. Little else is deemed important for the masses. Ah- and mind-control- education as an `ideological state apparatus`. Yes, the social and political aim is a socially compliant citizenry. To teach us all our very different places. In the words of one senior civil servant, `people must be educated once more to know their place’. And, to use Louis Althusser’s distinction between the Ideological State Apparatuses (mainly nowadays, the mass media and the education system, formerly mainly organized religions) and the Repressive State Apparatuses (the Laws themselves, the Police, the Armed Forces, Surveillance and Control mechanisms, state force) – when the Ideological State Apparatuses don’t work, then the police kettle students and protesters, charge demonstrators on horses (I remember that from the Grunwick Strike in 1977), and use their batons. The smiley face of the police officer leading/ liaising with marchers, organizers, demos in Brighton over the last few years is replaced by visored, shield bearing and baton wielding riot police.

In the capitalist world, education is differentially funded on a class basis, with different expectations, life chances, and personality characteristics being encouraged and reproduced. In a nutshell, (most) upper class kids get to private schools and elite universities. There they are trained for the Bullingdon Boy, Eton educated Cameron style of leadership, wealth and power. Born- and educated- to power.

Most `middle class’ kids go to schools that are in some way, formally or informally socially and academically selective, and are trained for lower professions and supervisory and managerial jobs. Around half of my grammar school Upper Sixth form in 1963 went on to become teachers. I don’t think any of my twin brother’s secondary school classmates who had left school at 15 went on to become teachers. Most went straight into the manual job market.

Most `working class’ kids go to the middle and bottom rungs of the ladder of educational schools, expectations and opportunity. Trained for skilled manual, semi and unskilled and routine jobs, earning (in most cases) a fraction of the ruling / upper/capitalist class. Some don’t. Most do. There is some (ever-diminishing) social mobility of course, it legitimates the system and gives the illusion of meritocracy. And, for some, better funded lives.

Most, if not all, of the `working class’, live poorer, sometimes far, far poorer, more materially circumscribed lives, being educated not to expect too much, to obey, to accept life’s inequalities, to accept mind-numbing `celebrity culture’ as a substitute for real news and critique. Cameron’s millionaire cabinet (18 millionaires in the Cabinet) think £30,000 a year is poverty! Tell that to the millions on £15,000 or on minimum wage or on benefits! Who know what being hard-up means on a daily basis.

Some, especially in the Tory party, want to bring back grammar schools. Tell that to the millions who got a second-rate education, second-rate funding, second-rate libraries and less qualified teachers in secondary schools compared with the lucky 20% who got into grammar school.

Yes, I was lucky, passing the 11-plus and getting a first-rate education at a Grammar School, encouraged to reach for the stars, study until the age of 21, and set professional ambitions. I went on to become a university professor of education: not the lifestyle of a banker or billionaire, but very comfortable.

Not so for millions who were separated out for a second-rate education system – like my twin brother, who went to local Secondary Schools.

Most working class kids in the 1960s were ejected at age 15 into factory, shop and building site work. Nothing wrong with that work, but manual workers, then as now, get far less in pay, pensions and benefits than the more highly qualified. Of course, both sets of workers – manual and professional – then and now get paid a tiny fraction compared to the ruling class, “the masters of the universe”, mostly educated at private schools, inheriting and passing on privilege.

That was when I was a teenager, half a century ago. But it’s now, too. At school level, with the market in schools, a socially differentiated system where schools choose the kids rather than parents choosing schools for their kids. And class-based, too. With the abolition of EMAs, more so! With more and more working class kids dropping out of education because they can’t afford to stay in it!

And so too at University. In addition to having a three tier higher education system (elite/ Russell Group universities; other old universities; and a third tier, much more working class, tier of ex-polytechnics). There will be less of them, there will be less working class kids going to universities when fees are raised. The culling of educational opportunity. So people will once again not only know their place, but will be less able to change places!


But people resist! Students are rebelling! Some trade unions are resisting cuts! And many teachers, students, workers, retirees, have visions of different utopias, past, present and future. Some remember the hopes and visions of the welfare state, of a free education and health service, free at the point of delivery, available on the basis of need not ability to pay. And some of us want better than that! Not its destruction.

Divisive and divided education for conformity is resisted! Many resist! Many teachers/ lecturers/ `teacher trainers’/ students/ families resist magnificently! (I’ve been involved in teacher education for forty years, I see it). Many try day in day out to raise expectations, refusing to label and stereotype and demean kids from particular class and ethnic backgrounds. The best teachers and lecturers, and other cultural/media workers, try, teach, show that we, and that kids’ and students’ futures, need not just be as compliant cogs in an economic machine.

Many – and it will become millions! – not only want but see the possibilities of a far better, far fairer, far more socially just, far more equal education system, society, politics and economy. Students – and anti-cuts campaigns and groups up and down the country – are prepared to struggle and demonstrate and organize. We’ve got to change this educational and social and economic system. And we can. But not with any of the current main parties!

All three of them want to/ accept slash and burn the welfare state, to reverse hard won historical rights and benefits. That’s where socialist groups and parties and anti-cuts campaigns come in. For me, a way forward is TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and local anti-cuts movements and coalitions – including the example of the students at Sussex University and other universities, sitting in, teaching-in, joining workers and trade unionists on our marches and demos.

One of the brilliant speeches at the CoR rally was by John McDonnell, one of the very few remaining socialist MPs left.

`This generation was meant to be apathetic, only interested in careers…. They’ve taught my generation, that we have been too long on our knees. And it’s time to stand up and fight. You students (who were arrested during Millbank and the kettling), you are not the criminals… The real criminals are the ones attacking our education system… say this to the TUC, it is time to play your role! We want co-ordinated industrial action, co-ordinated strike action across the country. It is time for generalized strike action. We are posing an alternative.… When Parliament refuses to represent. When politicians lie. When governments seek to ignore us… We have no other alternative but to take to the streets. And direct action to bring them down. Take to the streets’.

Local anti-cuts movements, occupations, sit-ins, demonstrations, and national coalitions such as TUSC, if they are organised democratically, can bring together workers, trade unionists, different socialist groups, students, teachers, OAPs – the people! – black, white, men, women, people of all religions and sexualities – in a common fight for equality. The struggle is wider than just over education!

Dave Hill is Professor of Education at Middlesex, and Visiting Professor of Education at Athens and Limerick Universities. Formerly a Labour Parliamentary candidate and Labour Group Leader, he was the TUSC general election candidate for Brighton Kemptown in May 2010, and is active in the Brighton Anti-Cuts Coalition. He was on the recent Education national demonstration, and is involved in Student / Lecturer actions against the Cuts/ at Sussex and Middlesex Universities.

Communalism, Business Houses, Citizenship and GUJURATE

Raju J Das

The reason for the power of saffron politics is only partly political. India’s business class is not unconnected to this. The power of saffron politics also raises troubling questions about the sense of citizenship.

Some commentators focus on the political factors behind the success of the saffron electoral-machine. One argument has been that Congress has played a ‘soft’ hindutva (for example, by giving tickets to some disgruntled members of hindutva forces as in Gujarat). Others say that Congress’ secularism has not cut much ice with the voters who fall for the communal propaganda. There is some truth in the political interpretations of electoral success of communal politics. What is neglected in these discussions – both on TV and in newspapers – is often what tends to be neglected in many discussions of India’s polity as such: the role of business. What is the possible connection between the business houses and communal politics? Are the business houses – the so-called corporate citizens – a secular force? This issue needs to be more thoroughly investigated. I can only indicate a few things.

At the national level and in the States, the business class, by ushering in the neoliberal regime, has cleared the ground for a specific kind of electoral politics. This is one which is not oriented towards development: here development is seen in the sense of development for/of the poor, a process which is not primarily based on the idea that development of the poor can happen only when the business class prospers, by the so-called trickle-down mechanism. By forcing all political parties to take the free-market approach, by forcing them to pursue neo-liberalism, India’s business class (in solidarity with its brothers/sisters in the advanced world) have contributed to the erasure of any substantive difference between them. In terms of economic policies there is practically little difference between Congress and BJP. Even, the Left parties are not further behind in terms of following neo-liberal policies. When economic policies stop being the differentiators of political parties, when all parties pursue more or less similar pro-business policies, they choose cheap identity politics to divide the electorate and win elections: hindutva, regionalism, linguistic identity, caste-ism, etc. By making jobs scarce, by making it difficult for ordinary toiling masses to earn a decent livelihood, neoliberalism creates the usual kind of jealousy and spirit of nasty competition among labouring people, which take religious (and other) form. The rise of the religious right in the last 15 years or so and the rise of corporate power under neoliberalism are not isolated from one another. Let’s now come to Gujarat more specifically, which combines religious politics and neoliberalism.

Modi & co. has used the veneer, the appearance, of a specific style of ‘development’ and has resorted tohindutva to sell his communalism agenda and to benefit his business-class mentors. The veneer of development is about, among other things, bijlisadak and pani. It is also about attracting industries and creating some jobs. It is about creating what can be called Guju-rate (the Gujurat-style rate of economic growth). Behind all this lies the fact that business houses remain attracted to Gujarat and invest there with huge subsidies from the government which increase their profit and competitive position vis a vis businesses located elsewhere. They have poured in millions of rupees in the last five years. They like Gujarat’s resources which are happily made available by its governing regime. They like Gujarat’s labour, made quiet by the decisive and strong regime – it is for nothing that Modi is seen as the CEO of Gujurat – a regime that boasts of the lowest person-days lost in labour conflict among all the States. The good business climate of Gujarat making Guju-rate possible is created by Modi’s ‘determined’ and ‘strong’ character. The business houses enjoy a cosy relation with the regime. And this happens, despite the fact that the regime is widely seen as one that was complicit in the 2002 carnage of a given section of Indian citizens on religious grounds. The idea of so-called corporate social responsibility does not worry the business houses at all. Their business is the business of doing business. If business requires doing business with a regime that is communal and fascistic, so be it. It does not matter. To the extent that the business houses have been heavily investing in the State in their own interest which the regime boasts of – whether this ‘development’ helps the rural and urban poor in any significant and economically and ecologically sustainable manner is another matter (just look at social-human indicators of development in this State) – and to the extent that the ‘development’ veneer as well as communal propaganda in the electoral campaign have helped the regime return to power, the business houses cannot be seen as unconnected to the political success of the regime.

In addition to this material ‘support’ – one must also know where Modi got the money to fight elections, who funded Modi’s communal agenda – there is also an ideological support for the man and his regime which came from business houses. Ratan Tata has said: Modi will not have to attract people to Gujarat, it will be stupid if you are not here. Anil Ambani was all praise for his Modi Bhai, whose various achievements he counts including the Narmada (as if all the fight against the Narmada by India’s civil society by Medha Patkar and others was non-sense). It is this sort of business-inspired ideological support for Modi – that is indeed used during electoral campaign – that has propped up Modi in ‘popular’ imagination. This requires a detailed analysis.

If the business forces are really for a country free from communalism, have they ever seriously considered an investment strike – at least a threat of it? A slight indication of the trouble of class politics in a State (look at what happened in West Bengal earlier) makes the business class look elsewhere. But communal politics? It can survive with it much better than class politics perhaps. In part because communal politics helps the business class divide any possible opposition to itself from the workers’ side, and because communal politics produces the sort of rightwing decisiveness that obliterates any possibility of anti-business opposition, business houses tend to enjoy a comradely relation with the communal regime.

Communalism thrives on a specific irrational politics of rejection: the idea that a person will reject his/her fellow citizens who are different from him/her in terms of religion. India’s business houses  – like global business houses that enjoyed doing business with South Africa’s erstwhile apartheid regime – do not mind doing business with a communal regime. How will the same business houses respond if the consumers start rejecting their products – a Reliance mobile or  a Tata car, for example – because they are associated with a regime which spreads hate and the politics of rejection of the religious other?

This then leads me to my second point. This is about us as ordinary citizens. What does the success of communal politics (including Modi’s electoral win) say about us as citizens? What does it say about our democracy and the institutions of the state that are supposed to protect the secular fabric of the constitution? How can a person kill someone next to her just because she may have different religious views? How can one believe in the lie created by a few people that one is worse off because of his/her religion? What has happened to our education system – indeed our whole ideological apparatus – that is no longer able to encourage citizens of different religious identities to live in peace? What is it that makes citizens believe Modi-type character when he treats every criticism of him as a criticism of an entire region/province (e.g. Gujarat)? What is it that makes one feel proud to be a citizen of a country when her fellow citizens are treated as second class citizens? What has happened to our sense of citizenship? The quality of one’s citizenship depends on how one’s fellow citizens are treated. If they are treated (and killed and tortured) as second class citizens by a state of whose citizen one is, then does one’s citizenship not stand devalued? And what can we say about the entire set of state apparatuses, including the judiciary, that has allowed the gradual process of capture of parts of the state and civil society by communal forces, the forces that live by spreading the idea of violence on religious grounds?

Let’s not be obsessed with explaining the rise of these communal forces by the failure of the Congress, the premier party of Indian business houses. Both are elements of a system, and both of them have to be explained by the dynamics of the political-economy system as such. The rise of the communal power is not merely an electoral rise. Therefore, to fight against them is not to be merely an electoral fight. The fact that the communal forces have carved out a space within our polity as such, within the state itself, and within civil society, has to be explained. In this explanation, the silent role of the business houses and changing ideological nature of the sense of our citizenship must be understood, and the business houses must be made to reconsider how they deal with communal regimes. They must be asked to take side: are they on the side of communal forces or secular forces?

Raju J Das is an Associate Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada.

Liberal or Radical: A Dialectical Appraisal of Students’ Politics

 Paresh Chandra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

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



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

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

What it became in the final draft:

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

A Fabulist among Communists: José Saramago

Manash Bhattacharjee

The death of José Saramago (1922-2010) doesn’t escape its sombre irony. It is a final punctuation mark in the life of a writer who wrote unpunctuated, seamless sentences. The man who designated the writer as an apprentice and his characters as masters, was ultimately forced to quit his training at the ripe age of eighty-seven. Nevertheless, in tune with his working class roots, Saramago kept his tryst with productivity as diligently as his respiratory illness worked against him.

In his meditative, 1998 Nobel Prize speech, Saramago began by paying tribute to his illiterate grandfather, Jerónimo Meirinho, calling him the wisest man he ever knew. Why was the grandfather so wise? Because he could tell stories endlessly, recounting, what Saramago called, “an untiring rumour of memories”.

This early exposure to oral storytelling helped Saramago incorporate its skills in his writing. He urged the reader to “hear” his novels by reading them aloud, rather than silently. His prose demanded the recognition of the oral as much as the written techniques of language. Saramago himself used the term “written orality” to signify the language he deployed. It opens up an interesting horizon in our understanding of writing’s aural character, apart from the visual. It also grants a twofold meaning to the narrator: as a voice and as a signature.

This must have immediate repercussions on Roland Barthes’ contentions regarding the death of the author.

Unlike what Barthes pointed out, in Saramago’s writing, the “hand” is not “cut off from any voice”. Saramago makes hand and voice work together, where the voice feeds the hand, the way hearing precedes (hence, dictates) writing. The author (in) Saramago thus exists between two disparate credentials, that of the writer and of the oral narrator. The dissemination of language occurs through this process of reciprocal translation between voice and hand, body and mind, memory and invention.

The other contention of Barthes, about the difference between reader and writer, gets blurred as Saramago’s writing itself emerges as a kind of reading. Saramago is infamous for committing mischief with religious and historical narratives. A task he owes to both, a reading and a counter-reading of canonical texts to produce new, critical versions by a reader. The author (in) Saramago is a reader beyond recognition.

For example, in The History of the Siege of Lisbon, Saramago reads between the lines of history and legend, to produce a counter tale. Raimundo Silva, a proofreader, tampers with a vital fact about the Christian re-conquest of Lisbon, by making the Crusaders refuse to help the Portuguese king, hence by default siding with the Moors. Such a move mocks and disturbs Portugal’s nationalist imaginary.

Saramago also spoke of inviting the reader (speculatively, including himself) to “accept a pact”, where he would transform an “absurd idea” into a “logical” stream of thought. He called this “the possibility of the impossible”.

This is particularly evident in novels like Blindness, Seeing and Death with Interruptions, where improbable events take place in a believable language. The events serve as an allegorical device by Saramago to bring to focus his deepest concerns about the human world. The language is believable because Saramago’s plots exaggerate on the oldest anxieties of human beings. He reworks old questions in the light of contemporary concerns, where the bizarre clashes against the everyday. This rupture between the bizarre and the everyday is the key secret of Saramago’s power to both enthral and disturb his audience. Whenever Saramago delves into the theme of political decadence, as he does in Seeing, he traps the reader at the psychological level, but keeps him marvelling at the ingenuity of the plot. The question of plot in Saramago works in an insidious manner: to highlight a particular crisis in the world which the writer finds to be going out of hand, and therefore in need of a radical sub-version of vision. It is a critical subversion of reality, where uncanny events emerge from the heart of the mundane. There is a constant tendency in Saramago to fuse the surreal with the pragmatic. Born to landless peasants, and brought up in a working class neighbourhood, the writer was vigilant about the contradictions of life.

Saramago spent his formative years under Salazar’s fascist dictatorship. This had a deep impact on his working class sensibilities. Saramago became a card carrying member of the Communist Party of Portugal from 1969, when the party was illegal. His relationship with the movement was, however, always critical.

In the 1980s, Saramago sided with the reformist rebellion within the party. Except him, everyone else was expelled. Fidel Castro was a friend who invited him many times to Cuba. Yet in 2003, despite and because of his love for Cuba, Saramago disowned Castro by saying, he “has lost my confidence, damaged my hopes, cheated my dreams”. In 2004, during his visit to Columbia, Saramago designated the two rebel guerrilla groups in that country as “armed gangs”.

There have been polemical attacks by communist intellectuals against Saramago on these issues. It includes sociologist James Petras’ open letter to Saramago regarding the comments on the Columbian guerrilla in the American newsletter Counterpunch, where he accused the writer of “bizarre historical amnesia”.

What is, however, missing in these attacks is the old question post-Stalinist, communist politics needs to ask itself: How does the movement and the party understand the relationship between writers and politics?

For Saramago, like Garcia Marquez, being a writer and being part of politics sometimes uncomfortably came to mean torn loyalties. This rupture of loyalty however doesn’t take place under any relativistic prism. It is not a rupture with the political but rather a rupture within the political. It works as an event which always reaffirms the presence of ethics in politics. Am alert writer, free from the burdens of bourgeois/religious morality, may not fail to distinguish and question the difference between politics as such, and what happens in the name of politics. In other words, the writer would question the representative form of politics and probe the justifications of its excesses. Such an intervention, in cases like Saramago’s, steers clear from any individualised conception of both society and politics.

Despite the de-individualised form of such a writer’s identity, involved in the larger dream of historical transformation, clashes can occur with the vagaries of political expediency and its justificatory, ideological logic. Saramago called himself a “hormonal communist” and yet added, he wouldn’t “make excuses for what communist regimes have done”.

This is a post-Sartrean distinction where a writer refuses to follow any diktat which seeks to undermine criticism in the name of ideological commitment. The angst of good faith is privileged over the paranoia of bad faith. To the disgrace of political regimes, such writers have been violently punished by disciplining bosses in the shadow of ideological excuses. Saramago was fortunate to escape, unlike others, in this regard.

Both literary temperament and politics work within certain constraints. The rationalist logic of politics cannot forcibly restrain the intense logic of literary imagination. Imagination is political, but on its own grounds. This issue not only begs a re-reading of the Frankfurt School and other intellectuals, but more importantly a re-reading of the (auto)biographies of poets and writers who were convicted under communist regimes.

What Saramago owed to communist ideas is best exemplified in his novels. A modern fabulist, he set the mythical vis-à-vis the historical, and the moral vis-à-vis the political. The materiality of Saramago’s imagination never failed to assert its concern of how class divisions work in historical contexts.

In Balthazar and Blimunda, Saramago used the baroque style to capture the violent contrasts between the royalty and the Church on the one hand and the common people on the other. His description of elaborate grandeur surrounding royal and religious formalities gets constantly tampered by his sense of bitter irony and irreverence. The story pays homage to the courage of marginal but talented heroes and heretics who don’t give up the audacity to dream and love in the midst of an impending auto-da-fé.

In novels like The History and All the Names, Saramago also showed his keenness towards certain minor figures like the proofreader and the clerk. These figures, alluding to Saramago’s own journey through these crafts and positions, gain extraordinary prominence due to their idiosyncratic insights into history and society.

Once when asked to specify his identity, Saramago said: “First of all I’m Portuguese, then Iberian, and then, if I feel like it, I’m European.” To prefer linguistic and geographical specificities about oneself over an occidental frame of reference shows how Saramago understood political contexts without taking the rhetoric of grand, cultural narratives too seriously. His understanding of communist politics can also be read through this register.

In 2002, Saramago enraged Jews by comparing Israel’s barbarities with the Holocaust. Saramago’s interest in the Middle East and his siding with the Palestinians is an illuminating shift from a writer who was whimsical about his European identity.

In his last published book of essays, The Notebook, Saramago severely criticised the new global economic order. He called George Bush “the high priest of all liars” and severely took the United States to task.

In a world besieged by neo-liberal fascism, the populist decadence of democracy and the calculated murdering of the poor and the other, Saramago’s voice is a warning from the future. It is very different from the way Hollywood imagines the future in the form of re-colonising, scientific fantasies. Saramago tried to persistently tell us, the future is disappearing before our eyes.

The writer is a poet and a political theorist, living in New Delhi. This article is a slightly improved version of the one by the same title as it appeared in the Literary Review section of The Hindu, 4th July, 2010.

The Business of Social Justice under Neoliberalism

Ravi Kumar

Those who celebrated the death of universals and the triumph of the particular have been shown repeatedly by history the myopia of their understanding. The experiences of particulars have been determined in ultimate analysis by universals. The fallacious understanding that the upholders of social justice would be different from their opponents has been exposed time and again. Those who thought that the backward caste and dalit ‘upsurge’ in north Indian states were revolutions that would subvert the system were repeatedly confronted with the dynamics of identity politics that used such mobilizations in the interest of the emerging elite of these castes. The formation of classes within the caste system has reached a new stage and the contemporary identity politics reflects that amply and starkly. This politics helps in containing the class conflicts and corrupts the anti-casteist ‘guerrilla fights’ against social segmentation by their sublimation to competitive identity assertions.

The universal of capital has been in control of the state of affairs in India for quite some time now. Those who deny the universality of capital deny the centrality of the labour-capital conflict, determining the shape and tenor of various other social conflicts. Thus, they neglect the existence of an integrated coherent social formation in India under capital’s command providing meanings and functions to various forms of exploitation and oppression (both new and old).

It is this universality of capital that brings together the authoritarian, repressive and outrightly neoliberal United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with other political formations when the Right to Education Act is passed in Parliament or when the health system is commodified through National Rural Health Mission or when Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan becomes the flagship programme to give a substandard education (!) to every poor and deprived Indian.

Those who supported the Right to Education Bill (and there were none in the Parliament to oppose the flaws of the new Act) included not only the politicians of all hues and colours but also the amorphous civil society actors. Not even a month has elapsed since its implementation and there are concerns at why the Ministry of Human Resource Development wants to turn the School Management Committees (SMCs) into advisory role in aided schools. Through the proposed amendments the Indian government declares that

‘let there be democracy, participation and empowerment of community happen only in the government schools while the other schools be allowed to become centres of manipulation which would give a hoot to what those who should actually control the schools – the people – think and want’.

These amendments have been proposed on suggestion of politicians who fear that the original role of SMCs may affect minority schools adversely. It is surprising that while one form of identitarianism is culminating into taking away whatever representation the democratic aspirations of people had within the suffocatingly commodified school system, there is another form of identity politics that wants to hand over the health system in rural areas to private capital. Yes, in Uttar Pradesh the Bahujan Samaj Party has opened doors for big health sharks – Max, Rockland, Fortis and Apollo – to manage, upgrade, operate and maintain the rural health sector. In the initial phase there will be four district hospitals, eight community health centres, twenty three primary health centres and 210 sub centres.

School Management Committees have been seen in positive light because they are potentially believed to bring Dalits, women and other underprivileged groups into the core of a control group that would manage schools. Though there are a lot of questions regarding how effectively would it work looking at the past experiences of the Village Education Committees (VECs) which many states in India already have. How could they be made more effective is a matter of separate debate but their existence as an instrument to democratize the school education at local level bases itself on the principle that there are sections (seen primarily as social identities) in our society which have been systematically excluded from roles of managing institutions meant for masses. Hence, an idea of operationalising social justice and bring about equity through the model of identity politics constitutes the bedrock of such endeavours. And the recent proposal to amend the Right to Education would dissolve even that possibility.

On the other hand, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), whose existence has been based on the politics of social identities, has very effectively demonstrated through its politics how neoliberal capital can use such a politics to further its agenda. Laced with the idiom of social justice and equality for the Dalits, BSP’s politics has always implied a disjunct between economic and social justice. Given the nature of a wide economic disparity in Uttar Pradesh it cannot be part of any social justice imagination to hand over the health services to private capital. It can only be in the interest of capital and not the people who have been time and again mobilized on the basis of their social and economic deprivation. This becomes starkly clear when one looks at the statistics. According to the NSSO survey carried out in 2004 – 2005, the average monthly capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) in rural UP was Rs.532.63 and in urban areas it was Rs.857.05. However, MPCE of 78.6% of the Scheduled Caste (SC) population in rural areas was below the average MPCE of the rural population of the state and 81.6% of SCs in urban areas had less than the average MPCE of urban population. These figures tell a lot about the purchasing capacity of the Scheduled Caste social group of the state. Identity politics, then, becomes an important tool for the expansion of capital while it continues to weave a web of illusion that it represents the interests of those on the margins of the society.

Hence, we have in front of us two apparently different forms of political streams. We have a UPA, which unabashedly pushes the agenda of neoliberal capital through its policies and programmes and also validates the need for identitarian politics through slogans of justice and equality when its ‘young’ marshal sleeps and eats with ‘dalits’. On the other hand, we have the Bahujan Samaj Party which has survived through identity politics of different forms and content and is gradually moving towards becoming an effective agent of neoliberal capital. What lies as a common ground between them, and in Indian politics in general today, is the perpetuation of competitive identity politics that mutilates the anti-systemic possibilities inherent in the generalized social crisis borne out of the ongoing process of capital accumulation. Identity politics creates a façade of an equal and horizontal competition for “social inclusion”. Social identity becomes the easiest possible means to mobilize the masses whenever the need arises. In fact, it becomes an important means for particular stages of capital accumulation to sustain and expand their regimes. Hence, whosoever holds the reign of political power the winning slogans of social justice and equality, with all its farce, are important cards wrapped under its belt to be flashed whenever required. They would act as agents of neoliberal capital while flashing those cards, singing the song of liberation of downtrodden and oppressed, keeping the dangers of a class war at bay. Identitarianism becomes the new tool for neoliberal capital to expand itself by obscuring the vertical divide in the society and by intensifying horizontal competition. This keeps the working class politics at the margins, “as the organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers”. While it becomes easier to identify the perils of such a political conjuncture, it is becoming, surprisingly, difficult for the working class politics to wage a battle for social justice and equality as principles essentially located outside the neoliberal fold.

Franklin Rosemont: Herbert Marcuse and Surrealism

Here we link an important essay that explores Marcuse’s engagement with Surrealism. It was written by a prominent American left activist and scholar, co-founder of the Chicago Surrealist Group, Franklin Rosemont, who died last April (12 April, 2009). The essay also contains letters between Rosemont and Marcuse.

During the last twenty-five years of his life, Herbert Marcuse repeatedly affirmed a lively and sympathetic interest in surrealism. His many references to the subject, in Eros and Civilization and in nearly all his subsequent books, as well as in scattered articles and interviews, reveal that this interest was continually expanding and deepening. At least from May ’68 on, as his commentators have conceded, surrealism was central to his vision of revolutionary social transformation.

Marcuse’s letters to the Chicago surrealist in the early 1970s – published here for the first time – constitute his only sustained discussion of the aims and principles, theory and practice, past and future of surrealism. Adding appreciably to our knowledge of the great critical theorist’s mature thought, these letters should also help stimulate a broader discussion not only of surrealism as such, but of the whole complex interplay of poetry, imagination, revolt and revolution – today and tomorrow.

From one of Marcuse’s letters included in the essay:

“The gap which separates art and the people could be reduced to the degree to which the people cease to be “the people” (=those who are ruled) and become freely associated individuals. The real socialist revolution of the 20th and 21st centuries would be catastrophic transformation not only of the material and cultural institutions but also of the sensibility, imagination and reason of the men and women engaged in this transformation. In this transformation, the esthetic qualities would play a decisive part – not as decoration, ritual, and surface but as the expression of the vital needs of the individuals.”

The complete text

A Generalised State of Exception and the Maoists in India

Pothik Ghosh
A shorter version of the article appeared in The Hindustan Times (April 8 2010)

Appearances, as the cliché goes, are often deceptive. The annihilation of 73 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, by combatants of the Maoist People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army has, however, given a new twist to that cliché. The incident, thanks to the phenomenology constructed for it by an ever-increasing number of breathlessly sensationalist television news channels, has become as overwhelming as its visual effect. But before ‘liberal’ middle India allows itself to be overwhelmed by the appearance of the incident and gives in to a sense of outrage served to it by its bad conscience – the tragedy-hungry, bloodthirsty and shrill mass media – it would do well to take a step back from the popular representations of the “massacre” and ponder hard on what lies beyond the vanishing point of those ‘galling images’.

Before the more vocal, patriotic and humane sections of this liberal citizenry begin shouting at the top of their voices that the law of the land, the sovereignty of its state and, therefore, the very idea of democratic India is facing its gravest adversary ever, they would do well to remember how the rule of the law (nomos) is envisaged in modern jurisprudence. Constitutive of a modern and democratic legal regime is its undemocratic exception, something that it bares when the socio-political order it is meant to maintain and enable runs into an existential crisis. This appearance of the undemocratic exception, from the depths of the democratic law where it lies carefully concealed, onto the surface of legal legitimacy entails the suspension of the democratic aspects of the ‘normal’ law. That the Indian Constitution has provisions for the declaration of internal emergency – something the nation actually experienced once as a matter of political and legal fact in the ’70s – under certain conditions shows how the democratic law of a democratic state can suspend itself to legitimately institute its undemocratic exception.

The first and most important thing we must, therefore, grasp is the conditions that lead to the institution of the exception as the norm imply a situation in which usual (‘normal’) forms of mass democratic politics, including electoral politics, cannot be allowed to have an unbridled run without imperiling the system of representative democracy that purportedly make such forms of politics possible and necessary in the first place. The emergence of the exception as the law ensures precisely that by either entirely precluding or significantly eliding rights that allow and/or enable such forms of democratic politics. In such circumstances, electoral politics ceases to be an effective vehicle in carrying forth the voice of the toiling masses and the underclass that are embodied in various identities of either religious/ linguistic/ regional/ gender minorities or socio-occupational marginals.

That, needless to say, compels such social groups, which encounter the law of the Indian state not as an embodiment of democracy but in the form of its undemocratic exception, to look to other not-so legitimate means of politics to express their disaffection and disenfranchisement. That has precisely been the case in large swathes of eastern and central India leading to the emergence of the Maoist path of armed struggle as the only possible form of politics for the agrarian-tribal working masses to articulate their utter lack of agency and their progressive immiseration. It would not, as a matter of fact, be an exaggeration to say the state has enforced an undeclared internal emergency in those areas. It is this that the liberal India must bear in mind before spewing, as is its wont, venom on the Maoists and their social base for not adopting the constitutionally-ordained way of elections and non-violent mass politics to articulate their discontent and having unleashed, instead, an armed campaign that seeks to jeopardise the sovereignty of the democratic Indian state. Our legalist democrats must understand that the state the Maoists challenge is not the state of democratic law but, to borrow Italian legal theorist Giorgio Agamben’s concept, the “generalised state of exception”.

Clearly, the Maoist-dominated areas of eastern and central India, of which Dantewada is a key nerve centre, are in a state of war that, in both the apparent military sense and the structural political-economic one, has been thrust upon the underclass and working strata of the local tribal population on behalf of global capital – of which Indian capital is a significant and powerful part – by the Indian state. This modern capitalist state consists not merely of multiple levels of governmental agency but devolves into the local elite, many of whom belong to the same tribal population from which the Maoists also derive their social base. That, one believes, should take care of the claim that the Maoists comprise an external force that has sowed the seeds of fratricidal conflicts within idyllic tribal communities. The capitalist Indian state, as the example above shows, is as much internal to such stratified tribal communities as the Maoists.

In that context, it might be useful to wonder how such conditions, which necessitate the suspension of democratic law and the institution of its undemocratic exception as an ethico-legal norm, get created in the life of a democratic state. For, only by seeking to answer that question would we arrive at a better understanding of how the political economy of capital, especially in areas under Maoist control, determines the military aspect of the conflict.

The undemocratic exception of the law is the established norm at the moment of the founding of the law of the liberal-democratic state and the capitalist socio-economic formation that such law is meant to facilitate, conserve and reinforce. It is this historical moment of founding of capitalism, when existing instruments of pre-capitalist feudal coercion were deployed to alienate a section of pre-capitalist producers such as peasants and artisans from their means of production, that Marx termed primitive accumulation of capital. This process was meant to be a double-whammy: resources in the form of capital were accumulated even as the dispossessed sections became the workforce that would labour in accordance with the demands, determinations and caprices of capital. The law of the liberal-democratic capitalist state, which allows competition and contention, could not have been the norm in the founding of capitalism and its state as such competition would have meant a direct challenge to the emergence and existence of capitalism as a system. That was precisely the reason why the undemocratic exception was the norm in the founding of capital. And it is this undemocratic exception that returns as the law, even as the ‘normal’ democratic law is suspended, to enable capital to indulge in primitive accumulation as and when that is required of it.

That has precisely been the case in those areas of Maoist influence. Primitive accumulation of capital, as Marx explicated it, is not a one-time historical affair. It recurs with cyclical constancy in and through various moments of stabilised and established capitalism, when those moments run into a crisis of overaccumulation, enabling capital to reconstitute and refound itself to tide over such crises. In such situations, primitive accumulation of capital kicks in, as does the undemocratic exception, to enable the crisis-ridden system to reconstitute itself. Overaccumulation is a moment in the development of capitalism when the value of accumulated capital falls. This spells a considerable weakening of the hegemony of the hierarchised configuration of capitalist class power.

The only way in which capitalism can beat this crisis is by investing in and expanding into relatively less capitalised zones. In a sense, this expansion is akin to the historical founding of capitalism. Thus primitive accumulation of capital must be seen not as the conception of a historical event but as a logico-historical conceptualisation, as indeed it is in Marx’s own theorisation That is precisely what has been happening in ‘Maoist country’ where the executive arms of capital have, through coercive means, been trying to enable capital to beat its current crisis of overaccumulation – of which the international financial crisis is the most visible symptom – by expanding into those areas and occupying them by dispossessing the populations of those less commodified areas of their community-held commons (such as mineral resources, forest produce and land), and even their autonomous means of expression and life, in order to be able to invest.

It is this attempt by capital to reconstitute itself into a stable system once again that has led to the suspension of the democratic laws and invocation of and amendments to constitutional-legal clauses that institute the coercive exception as the legal norm in those areas. The ongoing Maoist insurgency is no more than a response to this generalised state of exception and the political economy it is seeking to rescue and reconstitute.

The leaflet for JNU’s meeting

Below is the text of the leaflet that was distributed for JNU’s meeting (05/04/2010):

To remain human one has to take sides. This declaration of partisanship is now an axiom. The full-fledged but undeclared war – ‘Operation Greenhunt’ – which has been unleashed by the powers-that-be on the toiling masses of central and eastern India, their heroic struggles to protect their livelihoods from the increasing depredations of capital, and the radical leadership of such struggles has ensured that. What we need to ask now is not what this axiom of partisanship amounts to, but how should it be construed.

The appearance of diverse levels of popular upsurge in Indian society can be saved only when we, their supporters outside the physical and socio-occupational geographic boundaries of those struggles, commit ourselves to go the whole hog in recognising the self-constituting essence that binds these struggles together (irrespective of their localised tenor), and in claiming and reclaiming it in our respective locations. Thus we bring ourselves within the purview of transformative politics.

That will, of course, imply we cease to be passive supporters of ‘those’ movements and become their active comrades-in-arms. What those rural-tribal struggles desperately need at this precarious juncture is our willingness and capacity to envisage ourselves – our ‘outsideness’ notwithstanding – as being internal to them in the sense of being actively engaged in the politics of social transformation. This politics cannot remain limited to fighting the ruling classes and their state by the way of just counter-propaganda – which has as its diesel nothing more than left-liberal humanitarian outrage. It must go beyond that to ground and articulate such counter-propagandistic manoeuvres, doubtless necessary but patently insufficient in themselves, in a countless multiplicity of struggles that concretely articulate the critique of the generalised political economy in the specificity of its respective physical geographic and socio-occupational locations.

Marx and his comrades in the First International declared, “Since the various sections of workingmen in the same country, and the working classes in different countries, are placed under different circumstances and have attained to different degrees of development, it seems almost necessary that the theoretical notions which reflect the real movement should also diverge.” The test for the revolutionaries is to envisage “the community of action” among and through these divergences. What anti-capitalist movements require today, so that they can unfold into a self-constituting constellation of revolutions, is what Marx called “the spirit of generalisation”. As long as this spirit is missing, the working class will continue to be an infernal miasma of sectarian conflicts even as the representatives of its various radical sections, caught in the pragmatics of their respective experiences, are unable to see the generalised thread of political economy that not only links their locations and movements to each other but makes them constantly unfold into one another.

All of us who oppose Operation Greenhunt must, in the illuminating light of this spirit, begin to recognise in it a particularised manifestation of a generalised assault that capital in its late neo-liberal moment has unleashed on all sections of the working masses. Only then will we be able to truly share the struggle and the misery of the toiling masses in the agrarian-tribal zones by embracing their destiny on our own grounds.

On the Kafila Debate on Arundhati Roy’s ‘Outlook’ Article on Maoists

Pothik Ghosh: There is no doubt the Indian Maoist movement – which has erupted in the sense of pure socio-occupational and physical geography in the agrarian-tribal location – has rendered the externalised imposition of a given Marxological/communistological historiography to define (in discourse) and articulate (in the materiality of lived practice) its struggle uniquely determinate to the specificity of its historico-geographic location redundant. But to assert that it has done so by claiming something that is purely autonomous tribal aspiration and struggle would be equally fallacious. For, tribal identities as they exist and pose themselves in and through struggles – both in areas of Maoist influence as also in sangh parivar-infested tribal areas of especially Orissa and Madhya Pradesh – are formed by being inscribed within the determinate, if not discursive, mode of capital. Those identities and their movements are thus either articulated by the specific configuration of dualised and hierarchised capitalist power, or are responses to the respective historico-geographic specifications of such a general configuration of power.

In such a situation, one must speak of rupture, not in terms of romantically reified forms, but in terms of what is yielded through the posing of a continuous critique. The empirically discernible form of the Indian Maoist movement in emergence is clearly a rupture with both the capitalist continuum of history (and thus its historiographic sense) and the established Marxological narrative (an analytic really) of the history of capitalism. But then the subsequent affirmative emphasis on this Indian Maoist form as form, both for its original physical geographic location and outside it, marks a return of the logic of duality via the return of the tendency of representation and the discursive structure of capitalism. This form, therefore, can continue to be the horizon of rupture, which it has been in its emergence, only when it posits its own negation as a form qua form for other specific temporal, spatial, spatio-temporal and socio-occupational moments.

The repeated failure of the Indian Maoist/Naxal movement to not only expand beyond the specific historico-geographic boundaries within which it has emerged, but, therefore, as a result face imminent defeat, if not cooption (the experience of the constituents of Communist Party of India (Maoist) in Jharkhand and Liberation in Bihar would be telling on that score), in its purported historico-geographic and socio-occupational bastions is, if one were to talk in terms of effects, precisely due to this problem of reifying one moment of the process, which is meant to unfold by constituting itself through critique of its reified/abstracted moments, and thus obstruct its critically constitutive unfolding.

The point is, the Indian Maoist movement can be defended or saved as the specific embodiment of the general revolutionary logic of event or rupture that it is, only if that logic unfolds through its critical re-enactment, or reconstitution if you will, for other historical locations through the emergence of forms idiomatically specific to the diverse historicalness of those locations. To that extent, socialism ceases to be a systemic horizon in a teleological sense and becomes a horizon of continuous motion that is not serial but dialectical having to be constantly constituted through critical opposition and rupture. It was not for nothing that Marx in his ‘The Class Struggles in France’ came up with the idea of “revolution in permanence”.

Thus, socialism, as a mobile and open ‘epistemological discourse’, can be aphoristically called a multiplicity of singularities. That is also the epistemological context of Benjamin’s ‘Theses on Philosophy of History’, and his injunction therein to “blast open the continuum of history” must be seen as a critical struggle against the distortionary conflation of labour’s life-world and its history with the textual abstraction of a centred historiography and/or analytic. It’s a struggle to reclaim life and its history from such abstraction and domination and in the same movement pose the idea of life-world in critical opposition to the discourse of textuality, even as we show that the life we live empirically, before its reclamation through critique, is an analytic abstraction or text. This idea of the life-world, which was formulated by Marx as a conceptualisation of the horizon of constantly self-constituting and thus dialectical motion, is something that is constitutively posed in our continuous Benjaminian struggle to disrupt the analytic continuum of history that constantly forms following every successful move to blast it open. The counter-discursive horizon that this continuous critical struggle to overcome the horizon of discursivness or reason in history, which is history as a continuum, poses is what Benjamin called montage and Trotsky narrative in the context of formulating a revolutionary discourse of history. It’s really a narrative (Trotsky) or montage (Benjamin) of singularities, where the constitutive narrative/montage link among them is the fact of them being singularities or events. It’s this horizon of revolutionary history, which is a horizon of constant ruptures, that Foucault posed as “genealogy” against the horizon of conservative and reactionary history, which is canonically called History and is a serial continuum. Foucault’s term for singularities and their repeated self-constituting evental emergence is respectively fragments and archaeology, something that was his active critical-political-methodological engagement, as opposed to a detached discursive-methodological engagement, with history both as it is lived and is formulated as discourse. The generalised horizon that is posited by him for his event-constituting archaeological manoeuvre is termed by him, in a quasi-structuralist kind of way, as the “history of problematics”. My subjective preference is, however, for the Benjamanian concept of gestus over Foucauldian fragment, which as a word still has the whiff of the old whole-fragment (universal-particular) dualised and discursive discourse.

However, to the extent that genealogy, montage or narrative are all discourses of history, they appear as a serialised continuum in much the same way as the analytic-centric form of conservative History. But we must remember that the former is a discourse of life-world, which makes it a discourse of counter-discourse, even as the latter is a discourse of lived life, which in not being critical and in being established, is really an abstraction and thus a textual discourse. Thus in the material operation of empirical living, the former posits continuous critical opposition and rupture with abstract schemas that seek to prevent life from constantly constituting itself critically and thus autonomously; even as the latter seeks to transform lived life into a non-critical piece of the abstract schema of history as it is given in the positive materiality of empirical human lives. Thus motion in the latter is really the continuance of the abstract schema through time. The former is a discourse, as you also seem to be pointing out, of living history while constituting it, while the latter is a discourse of living history as the a priori abstraction in which it is given.

To return, through this theoretical excursus, to the immediate question at hand, is to once again focus on the need to generalise the logic of event or rupture enacted by the Maoist movement and the failure on that count. It is in this context that Arundhati Roy’s Outlook article poses a problematic. The article is a problem, not per se, but in that it enacts a modality of radical politics at the urban location that obstructs the recognition of this need to constantly generalise the evental logic that has found its specific expression for the agrarian-tribal location in the form of the Maoist movement. It is, in fact, more of a problem because this modality of radical politics is fast becoming a dominant modality among urban radicals. The failure to recognise this need for generalisation of the logic encapsulated by the Maoist movement for all other locations beyond the agrarian-tribal geography conveniently enables urban radicals like us to displace the identity crisis and anxiety we experience as denizens of our specific urban ground on to some other ground – in this case the ground of insurgent tribals and peasants – and live our own class rage, without recognising it as such, cathartically and vicariously. That enables such urban radicals to exempt themselves from taking up the more difficult struggle of engaging with and critically opposing the configurations of capitalist class power – which in its myriad ideological forms of culture, economy, society is the real cause of anxiety and crisis that urban creatures face – on their own specific ground to overcome the crisis they experience as city inhabitants.

That, of course, is not the failure of Roy or the Maoists, much less their tribal-peasant base, alone. It’s the failure of all working-class forces, which includes me and my comrades as well, in all other locations. The point is to begin, as Zizek says citing Lenin, from the beginning by recognising this failure.

Pratyush Chandra: One point that interests me in Jairus Banaji’s post in Kafila and the subsequent debate on the post is his focus on labour as the centre of the movement. I think this focus is fundamental in order to ground various local/localised struggles in political economy (or rather in its critique) and to understand the underlying interconnections between them (whether the leadership of these struggles understand them in this manner is immaterial – did not Marx appreciate Paris Commune even when Blanquists were in hegemony?).

Marx’s conceptualisation of labour and of capital-labour relations is rich enough to provide tools for comprehending various struggles against capitalist accumulation (both primitive and normal). He understood subsumption of labour by capital as a process (not some particular fixed states), which starts from being formal to real – from a stage where labour is subsumed through non-capitalist “forms” of exploitation to the actual subsumption in “pure” wage-labour form. Between these two poles, subsumption can take a plethora of forms. Who knows better than Jairus that unwaged labour (reproductive or otherwise) is also part of the capitalist subsumption of labour.

So how do we understand tribals and “peasants” struggles against land and resource alienation within this framework? They are essentially fighting against capitalist efforts to alienate them from their resources, which create (or, better, reproduce) conditions for the subsumption of their labour by capital. Whether they will become wage labourers is not at all essential; if they are not employed, or even employable, they still remain labourers as part of the reserve army of proletarians or surplus population (stagnant, latent and floating) reproducing themselves on their small pieces of land, or by food gathering (in forests or trash cans). Their struggle, in a Marxist sense, can be understood as part of the anti-systemic working class struggle to control the conditions of production and, I stress, reproduction too.

Now coming to the forms of struggle (armed, unarmed, etc), I think we as Marxists (of all hues and colours) cannot act as idealists, by considering only those movements as working class movements or anti-capitalist movements, which are projected in our idioms, and are developing according to our framework of strategic-building. The working class can throw diverse forms of struggles according to its internal constituents or class composition. However, one must critique forms in order to show the limitations and problems of those forms, in order to avoid the problem of overgeneralisation of particular forms, and also in order to undertake the revolutionary task of generalisation seriously, which essentially means to see a revolutionary building up against capitalism within and through all forms of working-class struggles.

Sri Lanka: Parliamentary General Election 2010

Election Manifesto of the New-Democratic Party


The entire people of Sri Lanka are facing acute crises and problems at two levels. One concerns the failure to resolve the national question caused by chauvinistic capitalist oppression. The other concerns the economic crises and problems that developed as a result of class oppression. Besides these, people have to struggle against a variety of problems faced by them in their daily lives. In all of these problems, the ruling classes comprising the government and the opposition factions are on one side and the overwhelming majority comprising the working people are on the other. Another fact that needs to be noted is that the imperialist forces of global hegemony and forces of regional hegemony have continued to meddle and tamper with the national question which is the main contradiction, and in the economic issues arising from the class contradiction, which is the fundamental contradiction. The effects and consequences of the above factors are been experienced as sorrow and suffering by the people at all levels of the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society. Hence we briefly place before the public in the Election Manifesto of the New Democratic Party the basic political stand and the demands put forward by the Party.

The National Question and the Tamils

The New Democratic Party has consistently emphasised that the national question is the principal contradiction in Sri Lanka. The end of the war has not brought the national question to its end. Since chauvinism is even more closely bonded to the state machinery, national oppression against the Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil nationalities has intensified further. The three nationalities are affected in different ways according to their specific conditions of existence.

Generally, all three minority nationalities are subject to discriminatory treatment. Their right to education in their mother tongue and the right to conduct their affairs in their language are unlawfully denied to them. Besides, allocation of places in higher education, vocational training and the professions are unfavourable to them. In addition, owing to chauvinistic oppression against the Tamil nationality being implemented as a chauvinist war of national oppression in their traditional homelands, Tamils have suffered loss of life, disablement, and loss of property on an unprecedented, massive scale. Several hundred thousands have been forced to be displaced within the country and abroad. Amid this, in addition to land already appropriated from Tamils for establishing “High Security Zones”, planned colonisation of Sinhalese is being intensified with the aim of reducing them to a minority in their own territories.

Besides those in the open prisons called “Refugee Camps”, thousands are languishing in prisons and detention caps, as terror suspects, without trial or inquiry. Not merely Tamils and Hill Country Tamils but also Muslims and Sinhalese are put through such suffering for political reasons. The main cause for this situation is planned chauvinistic oppression by the state. Yet, attempts to resolve the national question, firstly as parliamentary deals, secondly as peaceful campaigns and thirdly as armed struggle, based on the claim that the Tamils could by themselves resolve the Tamil national question, failed. There were two fundamental reasons for the failure. Firstly, at no stage was the liberation struggle of the Tamil nationality carried forward as a mass struggle. That was the reason why weapons gained prominence while democratic practices were rejected. Secondly, the struggle with a narrow nationalist outlook was isolated from the struggles of other oppressed people. As a result, the struggle of the Tamils tended to rely on and side with Western powers and to deny support and even be hostile to struggles against imperialism and hegemony. As a result, the liberation struggle of the Tamils became isolated within Sri Lanka as well as internationally. It was because the three stages of struggle were guided by the same incorrect, upper class, elitist thinking that they pushed the Tamil people into a great tragedy. Thus there is a need to be freed from these errors, unite the Tamil people on a working class basis, create militant solidarity between them and other oppressed people and carry forward the fourth stage of the struggle. The New Democratic Party made clear its observations on the matter even before the struggle of the LTTE faced downfall.


Since the Muslims are spread throughout the country, they face different kinds of oppression according to the environments in which they live. Also, their livelihood and small trade have been subject to attack by fanatically chauvinistic gangs, Muslims in different parts of the country have from time to time faced fierce chauvinist attacks. Tamil narrow nationalism has, in addition, targeted Muslims and carried out massacres. The expulsion of Muslims from the North in 1990 was a major act of cruelty against them. The government, while on the one hand engaging in activities that divide the Tamils and Muslims, has been colluding with chauvinistic gangs in seizing land and property from Muslims, and denying the Muslims their rights.

Hill Country Tamils

The Hill Country Tamils have, since deprivation of their right to citizenship in 1948, have struggled for their existence. The Sirima-Shastri Accord of 1963 was a great injustice perpetrated against them. Cruel exploitation of their labour and their expulsion of many from the plantations following the nationalisation of the plantations facilitated the implementation of that accord. Efforts have intensified to suppress the political voice that they may have through the right to vote that they won as a result of a prolonged struggle. Planned Sinhala colonisation and schemes like the Upper Kotmale Scheme designed to destroy plantations on the one hand and chauvinist attacks against them on the other persist. The so-called leaders of the Hill Country Tamils are accomplices of the chauvinists in activities designed to prevent the identification of the Hill Country Tamils as a distinct nationality. The people need to recognise the true nature of such leaders.

The Way to a Solution

In the current situation where the national question is being exacerbated and the minority nationalities are severely oppressed, the New-Democratic Party emphasises that, without resolving the national question, it is not possible resolve other problems faced by the country. From that position, the New-Democratic Party has consistently put forward the following idea as the basis for a long-term solution for the national question.

A just and lasting solution to the national question is possible only through rebuilding the country as a multi-ethnic, multi-nationality entity with autonomous regions for the nationalities and autonomous structures to preserve the unique identity of communities without a contiguous territory, based on the principle of the right to self determination within the framework of a united Sri Lanka which treats all nationalities and national minorities as equals.

Immediate Steps

At the same time, taking into account the consequences of the war and the direct impact of chauvinistic attacks, the New-Democratic Party urges the following immediate steps.
• All the people been displaced as a result of the war should be immediately resettled in their own homes.
• Normal life should be restored for people affected by war, through reconstruction and rehabilitation.
• All losses due to war should be compensated and opportunity provided for communities to rebuild their lives based on self-reliance.
• Military camps should be removed from areas in which civilians live in large numbers.
• All those under detention without trial or inquiry should be released forthwith and due compensation paid for the injustice done to them.
• Planned colonisation should be stopped forthwith, High Security Zones done away with, and the right of communities to their traditional territory respected.
• Acts of communal hatred affecting the life and livelihood of Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil people should be ended immediately, and firm action taken against those who provoke communal hatred.
• The legal right of all speakers of Tamil to education in their mother tongue and to carry out all affairs including matters relating to the state in Tamil in any part of the country should be safeguarded.
• Provocation of hatred towards the Muslims and acts of violence directed against Muslim communities should be prevented.
• Moves to appropriate land belonging to the Muslims in their traditional areas should be prevented.
• Hill Country Tamils should be recognised as a nationality and their right to existence in regions in which they have lived for several generations should be affirmed.
• The Hill Country Tamils, especially the plantation workers, should be given an adequate wage increase, and be granted the legal right, opportunity and means to possess their own homes and land in order to maintain an independent economic existence by developing cultivation and animal husbandry.
• Educational and employment opportunities should be enhanced for the Hill Country Tamil community, which is still backward in education and employment.

Social Oppression

The well being of any nationality of Sri Lanka cannot be isolated from that of other nationalities. Hence, it is not possible to isolate the liberation of the Tamil, Muslim and Hill Country Tamil people cannot be viewed in isolation from the interests of the country as a whole. Likewise, we cannot ignore oppression based on class, caste and gender, nationally and within each community. It should again be reminded here as a lesson of historical experience that the tendency to be blind to social oppression, on the pretext of the liberation struggle of the Tamil people and unity of the nationality, has in no way helped the liberation of the Tamil people.

Many trade union rights and other legal rights won by the workers through struggle have been lost under the liberalised private sector economy, which is part of capitalist globalisation.

Several obstacles exist in society that prevent the victories scored in the struggle against casteism under the leadership of our Marxist Leninist party from leading to a total elimination of caste domination. Tamil narrow nationalism has been an accomplice to those evil forces.

While education and employment opportunities for women have increased, their work load too has increased. Besides that, there is also an increase in sexual harassment in their places of work. Thus, besides oppression based on caste, nationality and class, working women suffer gender-based oppression within the family and outside. Neither armed struggle nor urban employment has helped working class women to win liberation. The concerns of feminist campaigners remain confined to the boundaries of the well to do middle class.

We never accepted the argument that the unity of the nationality or of the community will be wrecked by raising issues of social oppression. The New Democratic Party has not exempted any social injustice. It has struggled against all forms of social oppression including chauvinistic oppression. Thus the following demands are included in the Election Manifesto of the Party.
• All trade union rights denied to the working class following the Open Economic Policy should be restored. All employment sectors should without exception be given the right to organise as a trade union.
• The rise in prices should be arrested, the cost of living controlled, and wage increases should be granted.
• The rights of working people including workers, peasants and fisher folk should be assured.
• Untouchability, caste-based discrimination, disregard and oppression that are still practiced as a result of residual caste ideology should be fully eliminated.
• In addition to strong legal action against all social violence against women, the idea of gender equality should be emphasised in all social institutions including schools.
• Sections of the people who remain backward on the basis of class, gender, caste and region should be granted special concessions in education, higher education and employment.

Alternative Political Path

To win the above demands, it is important to build a new front of mass struggle that brings together all nationalities and national minorities along an alternative political path based on broad unity of the people. It is only through the total rejection of the narrow Tamil nationalist outlook which portrayed the Sinhalese people as enemies and acting on the basis that the broad masses of Sinhala working people are an ally that it will be possible to defeat the chauvinism afflicting the Sinhalese people and enable them to accept the rights of other nationalities. Through that, it will also be possible to salvage the struggle of the Tamil people against national oppression from the tendency to isolate the Tamil people from other nationalities of Sri Lanka, and thereby carry forward the struggle.

Global domination by the US and the regional hegemonic ambitions of India, besides contributing to the transformation of the national conflict into war, have been obstacles to finding a just solution to the national question. The imperialist grip on Sri Lanka has tightened during the past three decades. Sri Lanka is now a major debtor nation. Sri Lanka, without a national economy, depends on earnings from the sale of its labour power in the international market, directly or indirectly through means such as the garment industry. Hence, it is important to rescue the sovereignty and the economy of the country from US-led Western imperialism and from Indian hegemony. All foreign involvements that seek to use the national question for purposes of intervention, and domination trade, political and military affairs should be opposed.

The New Democratic Party has never believed that useful political change can be brought about through the parliamentary system. It has never propagated such faith among the people. The importance of this election to the Party is the opportunity that it provides to take correct ideas among the people and thereby mobilise the people along an alternative political path.

The people by studying, understanding and supporting the stand of the Party will be strengthening the struggle for their rights. We pledge that, with the strength of that support, the New Democratic Party will work resolutely with the people within and outside parliament to mobilise the people and advance along the path of struggle.

If the people will grant us parliamentary representation at this election, we pledge that we will continue to be an honest political force which is true to the people and act to build a new political culture and advance our political cause.