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People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

Dialectics of Human Nature in Marx’s Philosophy Palgrave Macmillan, New York and London, 2012. 244pp., $85 ...
How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism Pluto Press, London, 2015. 386pp., ...
During the past years there has been an impressive wave of student movements.1 What has ...
France has been intervening in Mali for four months, so President Hollande could not avoid ...
A man holds a roll of pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a rally ...
Originally published: Logos Journal by Richard D. Wolff (Winter 2018 Vol. 17 No. 1)   | Concepts ...
Fidel Castro, who defended the values of the revolution that he led in his country ...
  New Left Review 82, July-August 2013 VICTOR SERGE Victor Serge (1890–1947) spent the last six years of ...
The impact of austerity has thrown politics in Britain into turmoil. Both parties of the ...
I. Totalitarianism and Marxist Historiography of the European Civil War It is an article of common ...

Archive for October, 2015

The High Stakes of Turkey’s Election-Sinan Ulgen

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on The High Stakes of Turkey’s Election-Sinan Ulgen


Five months after voting for a new parliament, Turks are again going to the polls this weekend. Yet the stakes could not be more different for the two elections taking place within half a year of each other.

In the June elections, the key question was whether the pro-Kurdish HDP would clear the 10 percent national threshold. Linked to that was whether the ruling AK Party would get a constitutional majority, which would have allowed President Erdogan to drive his agenda of constitutional change and introduce the presidential system. This time around, the key question is whether the ruling AK Party can win back the majority it lost in June, and linked to that, whether there is a third round of elections looming in the horizon.

The latest opinion polls demonstrate that a very similar outcome is expected from the November elections, with four parties getting representation in Parliament, each with very similar support levels to the June elections and no single-party majority. This may seem a surreal expectation given the momentous events that have affected Turkey’s domestic environment. The resurgence of the military conflict between the government and the PKK, the Islamic State–perpetrated suicide bombings in Ankara that have led to more than 100 casualties, the rise in Syrian refugees now surpassing the 2.2 million benchmark: none of these dynamics have apparently swayed voting patterns in Turkey.

An explanation for this surprising behavior is the acute degree of political polarization that has ossified allegiances. In today’s Turkey, political competition has turned into a contest driven by cultural identities with clearly delineated and deep divisions between the nationalist, Kurdish, religious and secular constituencies. Turkish society seems to have been taken prisoner by this upsurge of identity politics, and is utterly powerless to transcend these cleavages.

This exceptionalism is also demonstrated by the shallowness of the ongoing political campaigning. Unlike past elections, when Turks were exposed to a myriad of party flags in every street corner, noisy minivans broadcasting political party slogans and jingles and countless mass rallies, this time around there is scant indication that a critical election will take place within days. It is as if, cognizant of the deep divisions, the body politic has also given up hope that campaigning will bring about any change.

Yet the prevailing degree of polarization is clearly inimical to Turkey and its democracy. It eliminates all prospects for consensus-driven rational policy making even where core strategic and security interests are involved. The reaction of the Turkish political class to the heinous Ankara bombing is a case in point; instead of displaying even for a brief moment a proclivity for national unity, their instinct was to engage in games of recrimination. But polarization has also proven to be detrimental to another aspect of Turkish democracy, as it has killed any pretense of accountability. There is no more room for self-criticism in Turkish politics, for fear that it will be abused by the competition. Again, the reaction to the Ankara bombings, where no government minister showed responsibility and resigned, is illustrative of this deficit.

The November elections provide an opportunity for Turkey to redress this environment of acrimony. The emergence of another divided parliament with no clear majorities should, under current circumstances, be viewed positively. It will mean the end of majority rule. And the establishment of a broad-based coalition government will force the Turkish political class to relearn the art of consensus politics. But this more optimistic scenario will emerge only if there is an understanding among Turkey’s political leaders, including President Erdogan, that the country has indeed entered the era of coalitions after thirteen years of single-party rule. The tantamount fear is that this particular lesson of the two consecutive elections will go unheeded and Turkey will enter yet another electoral cycle in the first months of the new year, with disastrous consequences for this critical country’s political and economic stability.

Sinan Ülgen is the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

Images: Flickr/Voice of America [4]

Emile Hokayem: Intervention and diplomacy unlikely to settle Syrian crisis soon

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on Emile Hokayem: Intervention and diplomacy unlikely to settle Syrian crisis soon


—Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security

The Syrian crisis has been a major theme of recent Dialogues, and this year will be no different. The IISS Manama Dialogue coincidentally starts on the evening of the Vienna meeting called by the United States and Russia. Some officials negotiating in Vienna will travel to Manama, where they will have an opportunity to explain the potential progress achieved there and mobilise regional support for a new diplomatic push to manage and possibly solve the conflict.

In recent weeks, the already convoluted Syrian war has acquired additional complexity with the Russian intervention to shore up the weakening regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The conflict is becoming more internationalised and more regionalised, and its effects are now felt as far Europe.

The premise of the Vienna talks is that international actors now recognise these costs and are willing to pressure their regional Syrian allies and proxies to commit to a de-escalation in a first phase, followed by a settlement. This premise is shaky, as have been previous assumptions about the Syrian crisis.

The battlefield gains of those rebels who are not affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) during the first nine months of 2015 have forced Iran and Russia to quantitatively and qualitatively increase their support for Assad. He faced a shortage of manpower, as well as war fatigue and even despair within his constituency. During the spring and the summer, a rebel coalition called Jaysh al-Fatah scored significant territorial gains and approached the regime’s heartland in the northwest. While not wedded to Assad, Iran and Russia have a strong preference for the survival of the regime; importantly, they currently see no viable replacement for Assad, including from within its ranks.

Russia is intervening in Syria under the guise of fighting ISIS, the extreme jihadi organisation that has considerably expanded since its establishment in 2013. The resilience of ISIS has certainly heightened fears of a jihadi takeover of the country. A US-led coalition fighting ISIS since mid-2014 has struggled to achieve significant gains, in part because of a flawed US strategy and in part because none of the key actors have made its defeat its top priority.

In fact, Russia has conducted almost 90% of its strikes against non-ISIS groups that are in fact the real threat to the regime. Some of these groups, such as the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, are of a Salafi–jihadi persuasion; others represent more mainstream Islamist or nationalist outlooks. So far, the most-frequently targeted groups have been units operating under the franchise of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), most of which are well known to and sometimes armed by Western and Arab governments.

Still, Russian airpower and a coordinated Assad–Iranian ground campaign have not yet translated into decisive advances for the Assad regime against the rebels. In fact, FSA units and their allies have made good use of their anti-tank weapons to stall regime attacks in Homs and Hama provinces. The real impact of the Russian strikes and of increased coordination between Russia, Iran and Assad will likely be felt in coming months, and close air support could be a military game changer in many areas. But Russian strikes have also had the insidious effect of allowing ISIS to make gains against rebel forces fighting against both Assad and the jihadi movement, notably in Aleppo province and other central regions.

The Russian strategy seems to be designed to weaken mainstream rebel groups to create space for the Assad regime, to force others to agree to a ceasefire and to drive the remainder to radicalise, making them impossible to include in peace talks. This is a high-risk approach: not only will it test Russian capabilities and the level of coordination between Russia, Iran and Assad, but it also risks backfiring by weakening rebel groups relative to ISIS.

Regardless of its military performance and the future costs of its intervention, Russia has positioned itself as a key actor in the management and possible resolution of the Syrian crisis. Ever confused and hesitant, and bereft of a Syria policy, the US has been forced to accept this reality. The Obama administration has clearly rejected the option of escalating perhaps quixotically in Syria, although it has been forced to accept that some of its regional allies have done so.

Moreover, after resisting the inclusion of Iran in previous rounds of diplomacy, and now that the nuclear deal with Iran has been finalised, the US has advocated bringing Iran to the table. As a result, the pro-Assad camp comes across as more coherent and united while the pro-rebellion side looks fragmented and purposeless. The Vienna talks partly reflect this state of affairs.

The Syrian tragedy certainly requires diplomatic and humanitarian mobilisation. Notwithstanding the current diplomatic frenzy and the dedication of the United Nations envoy, it is sadly unlikely that the conflict can be steered towards meaningful de-escalation at present.

This post is part of the 2015 Manama Dialogue blog, Manama Voices.

The Man Who Flew-Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Jamey Gambrell

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on The Man Who Flew-Svetlana Alexievich, translated by Jamey Gambrell


Svetlana Alexievich
The Story of the Man Who Flew Like a Bird:
Ivan Mashovets—Graduate Student of the Philosophy Department


On October 8, the Nobel Committee announced that the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature was being awarded to Svetlana Alexievich, a writer and journalist whose body of work is unique both in scope and in genre.

The bare facts of Alexievich’s biography reflect the nature of her greater subject: the memory, aspirations, tragedy, and fluid historical identity of Homo sovieticus. She was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine that lies at the eastern edge of the Carpathian Mountains, about 85 miles south of Lviv, and a mere 150 or so miles from the borders of Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia, respectively. The city was annexed by the USSR only a few years before her birth in 1948. Her mother was Ukrainian and her father Belarussian. She grew up in Minsk, Belarus, where she studied journalism, developed her own exceptional voice, and became a Russian writer.

Over the course of several decades and numerous books, Alexievich has pursued a distinctive kind of narrative based on journalistic research and the distillation of thousands of firsthand interviews with people directly affected by all the major events of the Soviet and post-Soviet period. She has uncovered the unknown but crucial work that Soviet women did in World War II, recounted the memories of children caught up in the “Great Patriotic War,” documented the realities facing soldiers in the Soviet-Afghan war, which were kept from the Soviet public, and recorded the experiences of those who lived through the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In her most recent book, she deftly orchestrates a great chorus of diverse voices to chronicle the human toll—emotional, physical, economic, and political—of the collapse of the USSR, a country that once made up a sixth of the world’s land mass.1 Alexievich’s oeuvre comprises nothing less than a history of epic proportions, which she has called “Voices of Utopia.” This undertaking has brought the writer many awards and accolades from Western European countries in particular, and from Russia, where her books have been printed and reprinted many times; she is a well-known critic of the Putin regime. In her home, Belarus, however, under the dictatorship of Aleksandr Lukashenko, she has been subject to the same political censorship and pressure as many of her colleagues (as Timothy Snyder pointed out in the NYR Daily 2). For over a decade she lived in various European cities, because it was not safe to return to Minsk (though she did in 2011), and her books have not been published in Belarus since 1994.
In announcing the award, the Swedish Academy called Alexievich’s “polyphonic writings…a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” “By means of her extraordinary method—a carefully composed collage of human voices,” the Academy went on to say, “Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era.” As she writes:

I don’t just record a dry history of events and facts, I’m writing a history of human feelings. What people thought, understood and remembered during the event. What they believed in or mistrusted, what illusions, hopes and fears they experienced. This is impossible to imagine or invent, at any rate in such multitude of real details. We quickly forget what we were like ten or twenty or fifty years ago….
I’m searching life for observations, nuances, details. Because my interest in life is not the event as such, not war as such, not Chernobyl as such, not suicide as such. What I am interested in is what happens to the human being….
Svetlana Alexievich’s interest in what happens to the human being is evident on every page of her writing. Among other things, her work testifies to the immense power of compassion to create understanding of our fellow human beings.

The text below is from a collection of more than a dozen tales of suicide that Alexievich published in Russia in 1994 under the title Zacharovannye smert’iu (Enchanted by Death). In the introduction she wrote that she sought to “distinguish…the lonely human voice. They all sound different. Each one has its own secret.”

—Jamey Gambrell
Archive of Svetlana Alexievich
Svetlana Alexievich
The Story of the Man Who Flew Like a Bird:
Ivan Mashovets—Graduate Student of the Philosophy Department

From the account of his friend, Vladimir Staniukevich, graduate student in the Philosophy Department:

…He wanted to leave unnoticed, of course. It was evening. Twilight. But several students in the nearby dormitory saw him jump. He opened his window wide, stood up on the sill, and looked down for a long time. Then he turned around, pushed hard, and flew… He flew from the twelfth floor…

A woman was passing by with a little boy. The youngster looked up:

“Mama, look, that man is flying like a bird…”

He flew for five seconds…

The district police officer told me all this when I returned to the dormitory; I was the only person who could be called his friend in any sense. The next day I saw a photo in the evening paper: he lay on the pavement face down…in the pose of a flying man…

I can try to put some of it into words… Although everything is slipping away… You and I won’t make it out of this labyrinth… It will be a partial explanation, a physical explanation, not a spiritual one. For instance, there’s something called the trust hotline. A person calls and says: “I want to commit suicide.” In fifteen minutes they dissuade him. They find out the reason. But it isn’t really the reason, it’s the trigger…

The day before he saw me in the hall:

“Be sure to come by. We have to talk.”

That evening I knocked on his door several times, but he didn’t open it. Through the wall I could hear he was there (our rooms are adjacent). He was pacing. Back and forth. Back and forth. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll drop by tomorrow.” Tomorrow I talked to the policeman.

“What’s this?” The policeman showed me a vaguely familiar folder.

I leaned over the table:

“It’s his dissertation. There’s the title page: Marxism and Religion.”

All the pages were crossed out. Diagonally, in red pencil, he’d written furiously: “Nonsense!! Gibberish!! Lies!!” It was his handwriting… I recognized it…

He was always afraid of water… I remember that from our college days. But he’d never said that he was afraid of heights…

His dissertation didn’t pan out. Well, to hell with it! You have to admit you’re a prisoner of utopia… Why jump from the twelfth floor on account of that? These days how many people are rewriting their master’s essay, their doctoral dissertation, and how many are afraid to admit what the title was? It’s embarrassing, uncomfortable… Maybe he decided: I’ll throw off these clothes and this physical shell…

Behavioral logic didn’t lead to this, but the act was committed nonetheless… There’s the concept of fate. You’ve been given a path to follow… You rise to it… You either rise, or fall… I think he believed that there is another life… In a thin layer… Was he religious? This is where speculation begins… If he believed, it was without intermediaries, without cultish organizations, without any ritual. But suicide is impossible for a religious person, he wouldn’t dare violate God’s plan… Break the thread… The trigger mechanism works more easily for atheists. They don’t believe in another life, aren’t afraid of what might be. What’s the difference between seventy years or a hundred? It’s just a moment, a grain of sand. A molecule of time…

He and I once talked about socialism not resolving the problem of death, or at least of old age. It just skirts it…

I saw him make the acquaintance of a crazy guy in a used bookstore. This guy, too, was rummaging around in old books on Marxism, like we were. Then he told me:

“You know what he said? ‘I’m the one who’s normal—but you’re suffering.’ And you know, he was right.”
Art Resource
‘Marx as Prometheus’; engraving, 1843
I think that he was a sincere Marxist and saw Marxism as a humanitarian idea, where “we” means much more than “I.” Like some kind of unified planetary civilization in the future… When you’d drop by his room he’d be lying there, surrounded by books: Plekhanov, Marx, biographies of Hitler, Stalin, Hans Christian Andersen stories, Bunin, the Bible, the Koran. He was reading it all at once. I remember some fragments of his thoughts, but only fragments. I reconstructed them afterward… I’m trying to find meaning in his death… Not an excuse, not a reason… Meaning! In his words…

“What is the difference between a scholar and a priest? The priest comes to know the unknown through faith. But the scholar tries to comprehend it through facts, through knowledge. Knowledge is rational. But let’s take death, for instance. Just death. Death goes beyond thought.

“We Marxists have taken on the role of church ministers. We say we know the answer to the question: How do you make everyone happy? How?! My favorite childhood book was The Human-Amphibian by A. Belyaev. I reread it again recently. It’s a response to all the utopians of the world… The father turns his son into a human-amphibian. He wants to give him the oceans of the world, to make him happy by changing his human nature. He’s a brilliant engineer… The father believes that he’s uncovered the secret… That he’s God! He made his son into the most miserable of people… Nature doesn’t reveal itself to human reason… It only entices it.”

Here are a few more of his monologues. As I remember them, at least.

“The phenomenon of Hitler will trouble many minds for a long time to come. Excite them. How, after all, is the mechanism of mass psychosis launched? Mothers held their children up crying: ‘Here, Führer, take them!’

“We are consumers of Marxism. Who can say he knows Marxism? Knows Lenin, knows Marx? There’s early Marx… And Marx at the end of his life… The halftones, shades, the whole blossoming complexity of it all, is unknowable to us. No one can increase our knowledge. We are all interpreters…

“At the moment we’re stuck in the past like we used to be stuck in the future. I also thought I hated this my whole life, but it turns out that I loved it. Loved?… How can anyone possibly love this pool of blood? This cemetery? What filth, what nightmares…what blood is mixed into it all… But I do love it!

“I proposed a new dissertation topic to our professor: ‘Socialism as an Intellectual Mistake.’ His response was: ‘Nonsense.’ As if I could decipher the Bible or the Apocalypse with equal success. Well, nonsense is a form of creativity, too… The old man was bewildered. You know him yourself—he’s not one of those old farts, but everything that happened was a personal tragedy for him. I have to rewrite my dissertation, but how can he rewrite his life? Right now each of us has to rehabilitate himself. There’s a mental illness—multiple, or dissociated, personality disorder. People who have it forget their names, social positions, their friends and even their children, their lives. It’s a dissolution of personality…when a person can’t combine the official take or government belief, his own point of view, and his doubts…how true is what he thinks, and how true is what he says. The personality splits into two or three parts… There are plenty of history teachers and professors in psychiatric hospitals… The better they were at instilling something, the more they were corrupted… At the very least three generations…and a few others are infected… How mysteriously everything eludes definition… The temptation of utopia…

“Take Jack London… Remember his story about how you can live life even if you’re in a straitjacket? You just have to shrivel up, sink down, and get used to it… You’ll even be able to dream…”

Now that I analyze what he said…follow his train of thought… I can see that he was preparing for departure…

We were drinking tea one time, and out of the blue he said:

“I know how long I have…”

“Vanya, what on earth are you saying!” my wife exclaimed. “We were just getting ready to marry you off.”

“I was joking. You know, animals never commit suicide. They don’t violate the course…”

The day after that conversation the dormitory housekeeper found a suit, practically brand new, in the rubbish bin; his passport was in the pocket. She ran to his room. He was embarrassed and muttered something about having been drunk. But he never ever touched a drop! He kept the passport, but gave her the suit: “I don’t need it anymore.”

He’d decided to get rid of these clothes, this physical membrane. He had a more subtle, detailed understanding than we did of what awaited him. And he liked Christ’s age.

One might think he’d gone mad. But a few weeks earlier I’d heard his research presentation… Water-tight logic. A superb defense!

Does a person really need to know when his time will come? I once knew a guy who knew it. A friend of my father’s. When he left for the war, a gypsy woman prophesied: he needn’t be afraid of bullets because he wouldn’t die in the war, but at age fifty-eight at home, sitting in an armchair. He went through the whole war, came under fire, was known as a foolhardy fellow, and was sent on the most difficult missions. He returned without a scratch. Until age fifty-seven he drank and smoked since he knew he’d die at fifty-eight, so until then he could do anything. His last year was terrible… He was constantly afraid of death… He was waiting for it… And he died at age fifty-eight, at home…in an armchair in front of the television…

Is it better for a person when the line has been drawn? The border between here and there? This is where the questions begin…

Once I suggested he dig into his childhood memories and desires, what he’d dreamed of and then forgotten. He could fulfill them now… He never talked to me about his childhood. Then suddenly he opened up. From the age of three months he had lived in the country with his grandmother. When he got a bit older he would stand on a tree stump and wait for his mama. Mama returned after he’d finished school, with three brothers and sisters—each child from a different man. He studied at the university, kept ten rubles for himself, and sent the rest of his stipend home. To Mama…

“I don’t remember her ever washing anything for me, not even a handkerchief. But in the summer I’ll go back to the country: I’ll repaper the walls. And if she says a kind word to me, I’ll be so happy…”

He never had a girlfriend…

His brother came for him from the countryside. He was in the morgue… We began looking for a woman to help, to wash him, dress him. There are women who do that sort of thing. When she came she was drunk. I dressed him myself…

In the village I sat alone with him all night. Amid the old men and women. His brother didn’t hide the truth, although I’d asked him not to say anything, at least to their mother. But he got drunk and blabbed everything. It poured for two days. At the cemetery a tractor had to pull the car with the casket. The old ladies crossed themselves fearfully and zealously:

“Went against God’s will, he did.”

The priest wouldn’t let him be buried in the cemetery: he’d committed an unforgivable sin… But the director of the village council arrived in a van and gave his permission…

We returned at twilight. Wet. Destroyed. Drunk. It occurred to me that for some reason righteous men and dreamers always choose these kinds of places. This is the only kind of place they are born. Our conversations about Marxism as a unified planetary civilization floated up in my memory. About Christ being the first socialist. And about how the mystery of Marxist religion wasn’t fully comprehensible to us, even though we were up to our knees in blood.

Everyone sat down at the table. They poured me a glass of homemade vodka right away. I drank it…

A year later my wife and I went to the cemetery again…

“He’s not here,” my wife said. “When we came the other times we were visiting him, this time it’s just a tombstone. Remember how he used to smile in photographs?”

So he had moved on. Women are more delicate instruments than men, and she felt it.

The landscape was the same. Wet. Dilapidated. Drunk. His mother showered us with apples for the trip. The tipsy tractor driver drove us to the bus stop…

English translation © 2011 by Jamey Gambrell

To be published in 2016 under the tentative title Time Second Hand by Fitzcarraldo Editions, London. ↩

“Svetlana Alexievich: The Truth in Many Voices,” October 12, 2015. ↩http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/nov/19/man-who-flew/

On the Current Conjuncture and Agrarian Reform in Brazil-the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST)

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on On the Current Conjuncture and Agrarian Reform in Brazil-the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST)


The political crisis that began after the re-election of Dilma Rousseff and the offensive by the opposition and the most conservative sectors of the country has put some warnings on the agenda again.

Given the national and international political conjuncture, one of the main warnings is not to equate political struggle with electoral struggle and not to succumb to the pitfalls of traditional politics.

That said, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) is issuing its official position on the current political crisis and the current situation of agrarian reform in Brazil.

In addition to denouncing persecution, killings, and the criminalization of social movements in the city and in the countryside and criticizing the austerity that has impacted the working class very severely, the MST is demanding that the federal government make it a priority to settle all the 120,000 families in encampments (some for more than ten years), establish a National Plan of Healthy Food Production, and implement the National Program of Agroecology, approved in 2012 and stalled to this day.

The MST’s Position on the Political Conjuncture
and the Situation of Agrarian Reform

1. The Brazilian people have built democracy in the contradictions of class struggle.  We still have a long way to go, but we will not allow any setback in the rights won in our people’s struggle.

2. We have joined in building the Brazilian Popular Front, and all the initiatives of the Brazilian working-class struggles to defend workers’ rights and national causes, such as the mobilization scheduled for October 2 and 3, to advocate for changes in economic policy and the oil dispute for the Brazilian people, in the face of plans to privatize Petrobras and surrender the pre-salt, breaking the rules of production sharing and allocation of royalties for education.

3. We recognize the existence of a global economic crisis, but we do not believe that the workers should pay its cost.  We are against austerity measures and think that the Dilma government is implementing neoliberal adjustment measures that harm workers’ rights and slash social investments.  We express our total disagreement with the current economic policy.  And we demand that the president at least implement the program that got her elected.

4. The program for agrarian reform, which was already weak, suffered an aggressive cut of 64% in the MDA (Ministry of Agrarian Development) and INCRA (National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform) budgets.  Moreover, these agencies are threatened with closure.

5. We repudiate the suspension by the center of government, yielding to pressure from large farmers, of Normative Instruction No. 83, which established rules to speed up processes for expropriation of land, mainly in areas where slave labor is found.

6. We demand that the federal government implement the commitments made by President Dilma, in the meeting with the national leadership of the MST held in December 2014, which agreed on the following:

a) First, settle all the 120,000 families currently in encampments (some for more than ten years).  Present a plan with goals;

b) Develop on an emergency basis a development project for settlements, ensuring the necessary infrastructure;

c) Implement the agro-industry program for settlements;

d) Have a National Plan of Healthy Food Production.  Implement the National Program of Agroecology, approved in 2012 and stalled to this day;

e) Guarantee the issuing of credits for families, as a fundamental right for the development of food production, especially to women, ensuring their economic autonomy;

f) Disburse and augment the necessary resources for the Food Acquisition Program (PAA) and strengthen the National School Nutrition Policy (PNAE);

g) Ensure that all families in settlements have Technical Assistance.  Ensure the management and operation of the National Agency for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (ANATER) together with the executive agencies for family farming;

h) Guarantee resources for rural housing projects, especially for the 120,000 settlement families who do not own homes;

i) Disburse the necessary resources for rural schools, especially for the projects of the National Program of Education in Agrarian Reform (PRONERA).

7. We denounce persecution, killings and the criminalization of social movements.  It is not a crime to struggle!  We condemn the massacre orchestrated by agribusiness and conservative forces against indigenous peoples, especially the Guarani-Kaiowá people.  We demand the veto of the anti-terror law proposed by the executive branch and approved by Congress.

8. We will always struggle in defense of agrarian reform and to ensure the rights of our social base.  We are committed to united mobilization in the Brazilian countryside, with all the organizations and movements impacted by agribusiness and mining.

9. The current conjuncture of the class struggle summons us to political struggle, spelled out in our specific slogans.  Structural changes and the pressure to achieve popular and structural reforms, such as agrarian reform, urban reform, political reform, the democratization of the media, university reform, go through an extensive process of social mobilization and strengthening of the alliances of the rural and urban working classes.  We are continuing the struggle!

São Paulo, September 11, 2015.
National Leadership of the MST

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), is a social movement founded in 1984.  Em português.

China’s next 5-year plan: The devil is in the details-ASIA UNHEDGED

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on China’s next 5-year plan: The devil is in the details-ASIA UNHEDGED


Top Communist Party of China (CPC) and state leaders Xi Jinping (C), Li Keqiang (3rd R), Zhang Dejiang (3rd L), Yu Zhengsheng (2nd R), Liu Yunshan (2nd L), Wang Qishan (R) and Zhang Gaoli (L) attend the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, in Beijing, capital of China. The meeting was held from Oct. 26 to 29 in Beijing. [Xinhua]
Most analysts have done the math on China’s projected economic growth based on official pronouncements, so the details that came out about China’s 13th five-year plan this week weren’t a surprise. But where the Chinese party leadership is concerned, you never know what they’ll do until they actually do it.

In this vein, IHS Global Insight China economist Brian Jackson notes in a report that the Chinese government is repeating the themes from the previous five-year plans, though they say the themes will grow in importance and specificity. For instance, the government still expects the economy to double in size by 2020, and to do this is needs to post average growth of 6.6% over that period.
Top Communist Party of China (CPC) and state leaders Xi Jinping (C), Li Keqiang (3rd R), Zhang Dejiang (3rd L), Yu Zhengsheng (2nd R), Liu Yunshan (2nd L), Wang Qishan (R) and Zhang Gaoli (L) attend the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, in Beijing, capital of China. The meeting was held from Oct. 26 to 29 in Beijing. [Xinhua]
The biggest change in the plan was the widely reported move from a one-child policy to a two-child policy. But Jackson notes the easing of the rule largely formalizes changes that were already underway in the country’s birth stance.
The economist also says rather wordily that “the largest macroeconomic implication is defacto affirmation of a 6.5% growth minimum during 2016-2020, which will define the necessary intensity of both reform and stimulus.”

Jackson may be stating the obvious where the 6.5% growth minimum is concerned. But now that the invisible bar has been set, China faces the challenge of hitting or exceeding this target for the next five years.

There’s more to come. Specific economic targets, including quantitative ones will be released in March 2016 and will offer a better handle on the pace and degree of official policy and spending changes needed. You can also count on plenty of official leaks via other official documents in the meantime, Jackson says.

India Today (Part Two of Three-Part Series)-Paul Le Blanc

Posted by admin On October - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on India Today (Part Two of Three-Part Series)-Paul Le Blanc


Workers taking part in a two-day general strike in 2013 involving more than 100 million people.
(This article was inspired by a recent tour of India by the author, in the summer of 2015.  Read the first piece, “India Yesterday”. The third, “The Struggle for India’s Future”, will be published shortly. Read more articles by Paul Le Blanc.]

When I first visited India, to attend the Mumbai (Bombay) World Social Forum in 2004, I was overwhelmed by the poverty that I saw there – its extensive and intensive qualities outmatching poverty I had seen in United States slums, in Mexican shantytowns, in U.S.-devastated Nicaragua – offset only by the incredible vitality and energy of these impoverished men, women and children as they worked and struggled to ensure the survival of their families and themselves.

Eleven years later, spending twice as much time and seeing much more of the country, I found poverty’s persistence, but also unmistakable signs of economic growth. In a recent volume India Becoming, A Portrait of Life in Modern India, Akash Kapur focuses attention on what is happening in the cities – “crucibles of the new nation,” as he phrases it, although he adds political scientist Sunil Khilnani’s characterization: “bloated receptacles of every hope and frustration.”[i]

According to Kapur, “India’s traditional agricultural economy was becoming a relic.  Cities – with their software parks and service-sector jobs and armies of young, independent workers – were building a new economy.”  Elaborating on this theme, he acknowledges that about 70 percent of the population still lives in the countryside, but stresses that between 2000 and 2030 it has been estimated that India’s urban population will increase by about 300 million people, and that more than 70 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product will be generated by the cities.[ii]

As the laws of uneven and combined development would lead one to expect, the consequences are highly contradictory.

Promise and Crisis of Indian Capitalism

India’s major industries include an impressive array of petroleum products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, agribusinesses (such as tea plantations), textiles, steel, transportation systems and equipment, machinery, leather, cement, mining, construction, and of course computer software, not to mention a thriving service sector.  The country’s labor force consists of 502.5 million people, 49 percent of whom are engaged in agriculture, 20 percent in industry, and 31 percent in the service sector.[iii]

It was in the Nehru years, under the banner of “progress” and “development” and with a quasi-“socialist” veneer, that this process dramatically advanced.  The state-supported proliferation of industries, large dams and other transformations advanced an India-specific capitalism on behalf of the indigenous bourgeois forces that had dominated Nehru’s Congress Party.  In order to accomplish the independent development of capitalist India, it helped to be relatively free from the imperial reach of U.S. business enterprises.  This was facilitated by economic aid from the USSR and a left-leaning neutralism during the Cold War global confrontation between U.S.-led capitalism and the USSR’s Communist Bloc.

With the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, as Arundhati Roy has nicely phrased it, “the Indian government . . . performed a high-speed somersault and aligned itself completely with the United States” (at a time when the neo-liberal “Reagan Revolution” and “Thatcher Revolution” were in full swing), which meant “the rules of the game changed suddenly and completely.”  The already-begun “dispossession and displacement” of masses of people, associated with India’s modernization process would, in the new era of privatization and structural adjustment, be “accelerated . . . at a mind-numbing speed,” to the detriment of “millions of people who lived in remote villages and deep in the heart of untouched forests,” as Roy points out. At the end of his upbeat India Becoming, Kapur acknowledges some of the turmoil on which Roy focuses, reflecting that many people “wouldn’t survive the turmoil.  Their lives, and their way of life, would be shattered.  So much was being broken in the new India. . . . A world was dying.”  And yet, he insists with a dogged optimism, “I resolved to hold on to this conviction: that ineluctably, if at times haltingly, a new world was rising to take its place.”[iv]

Yet the realities are too messy to be tamed by such a hopeful flourish.  In her brilliant, award-winning account of Mumbai today, Katherine Boo describes a Mumbai slum area inserted “in the thriving western suburbs of the Indian financial capital,” with 3000 people “packed into, or on top of, 335 huts,” amid “a continual coming-and-going of migrants from all over India.”  This is one of several impoverished squatter settlements looking like “villages that had been airdropped into gaps between elegant modernities.”  As one of the young slum-dwellers said to her: “Everything around us is roses.  And we’re the shit in between.”[v]  Roy sketches a larger context, in 2009 comments that have lost none of their relevance:

Two decades of this kind of “Progress” in India has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it – and a much, much vaster, desperate, underclass.  Tens of millions of people have been dispossessed and displaced from their land by floods, droughts, and desertification caused by indiscriminate environmental engineering and massive infrastructural projects, dams, mines, and Special Economic Zones.  All developed in the name of the poor, but really meant to service the rising demands of the new aristocracy.[vi]

India was similarly described U.S. labor analyst David Macaray, who added “that 400 million Indians are illiterate, that universal rural electrification (promised to be in place by 1990) is still out of reach, that infant mortality rates and child malnutrition are alarming problems and that nonunion factory workers are still being exploited.”[vii]

Patterns of Political Economy

There are a number of additional complications – some having to do with political shifts in the country.  While the humane and dignified image of Jawaharlal Nehru persisted thanks to strong residues of his youthful idealism, there were many in Congress not so graced – and such politicians profited spectacularly.  It is said that Nehru was a poor judge of character, and there were characters in and around his regime, and within the upper levels of the Congress Party, who made use of the old left-nationalist idealism to feather their nests and do favors for friends and relatives.  Such developments were hardly reversed when Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, succeeded him as Prime Minister, within two years of his 1964 death.  She seemed to lean to the left in order to outdo rivals in Congress, particularly after briefly being bumped from power from 1977 to 1980.  At the same time, in her commitment to “modernization” she further centralized her power, riding roughshod over political opponents to her left and right, and over the rights of ethnic and religious minorities as well, including persecution of Sikhs, which led to her assassination in 1984.

The power of the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty was reflected in the ascension of Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, to the position of Prime Minister after her death.  Having a more “live-and-let-live” approach than his mother, Rajiv’s regime significantly eased up on political opponents, pursued policies of pro-business “liberalization” that, among other things, sought to open up India to more foreign investment, carrying out what were denounced by critics as “pro-city” and “pro-rich” reforms.  He also became mired in sufficient levels of corruption to result in electoral defeat in the face of a center-left electoral coalition in 1989.  Two years later, while campaigning to bring Congress back to power, Rajiv was killed by a Tamil assassin because of support his regime had given to Sri Lankan repression of the Tamil Tigers.  Elections swept Congress back into power (which it held until 1998), and pro-business “liberalization” policies were extended and accelerated.[viii]

Marxist economist Prabhat Patnaik has noted that the policies of Congress from 1947 to 1990 had represented “the classic case of bourgeois economic nationalism.”  His cogent summary deserves serious attention:

The bourgeoisie was more developed as a class at the time of independence from colonial rule than its counterparts elsewhere in Asia: it had a stronger productive base owing to greater industrialization in the colonial period, and a larger social weight because of this as well as its association with the anticolonial struggle.  Correspondingly, however, it also faced a more organized proletariat, a more vocal petty bourgeoisie and salariat, and a peasantry made militant by Depression-induced impoverishment.  It used the state for a relatively autonomous capitalist development, and asserted itself both politically and economically vis-á-vis imperialism: protection against foreign goods and capital (even while collaborating with the latter), non-alignment [in the Cold War], a democratic polity, and a strong state-capitalist sector were hallmarks of the Indian dirigiste [statist] strategy.

But the absence of thoroughgoing land reforms, a result of the bourgeoisie’s compromise with landlordism, kept productive forces in agriculture arrested.  The market for mass consumption goods remained restricted and grew slowly for this reason.  Moreover, the ability of the state capitalist sector to keep expanding, and thereby to keep enlarging the market for the private capitalist sector, got progressively undermined: the low agricultural growth put a ceiling on the rate at which public investment could grow without squeezing the living standard of the masses to an extent intolerable in a democracy; in addition, the ruling classes enriched themselves from the public exchequer, a form of ‘primitive accumulation of capital,’ which further curtailed the growth of public investment.  The dirigiste strategy of capitalist development, dependent on expanding public investment, entered a cul-de-sac and lost social support even as metropolitan capital, and particularly finance capital, stepped up its offensive against this strategy through the Bretton Woods institutions [i.e., the International Monetary Fund and World Bank], and later the World Trade Organization (WTO), in a world where the crucial support coming earlier from socialist countries [i.e,, the Communist Bloc] had disappeared.[ix]

There is additional complexity in Indian developments, suggested in an analysis of Vijay Prashad, involving the dramatic shifts in the global economy.  Such shifts have powerfully challenged India’s business elite, but Prashad also notes counter-tendencies that have been profoundly beneficial to it.

Nehru’s India had been in the leadership of what Prashad has called “the Third World Project” – related to the non-aligned movement of predominantly former colonial countries determined (a) to remain neutral in the Cold War, (b) to employ economic strategies that involved statist and import-substitution policies designed to enhance relative economic independence from the major capitalist powers (United States and Western Europe), and (c) to develop, between the countries in this bloc, “social and cultural connections against racist hierarchy.”

Nehru’s successors would eventually run into a powerful effective counter-attack.  “The debt crisis of the early 1980s, manufactured by the Volcker shock of 1979, shattered the basis of the Third World Project,” according to Prashad.  “Dollar-denominated debt – accumulated for a range of reasons from the aggrandized consumer needs of the new elites, including for arms purchases, to the requirements of foreign capital for infrastructural development – now increased.  Simple interest on dollar loans rose by 21 percent.”  The project of third world unity collapsed as “surplus budgets spiraled into catastrophic deficits, as countries were not longer able to meet their most basic financial commitments.”  One by one, “each country was given its dose of [austerity-related] reforms, mostly under the name of Structural Adjustment – what this meant of course was that no longer could a short-term balance-of-payments problem be dealt with as a liquidity problem; it was turned into a problem of political and economic choices and values, and it meant that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its various organizations could now come in and determine the path for a country.”[x]

This path became known as neo-liberalism (referring to a new version of the laissez-faire policies long-ago advocated by such 18th-century liberal economists as Adam Smith).  “The institutions dominated by the North and the global financial sector pushed for a decrease in the role of the state in social life and for a constrained sovereignty of states in general,” Prashad explains.  “One way to accomplish this objective was for the IMF, for instance, to move a policy agenda that called for the state to cut back on social spending for people’s needs and, in the name of efficiency, to turn that over to the private (corporate) sector.”  This was interrelated with what is often referred to as globalization, involving the utilization of new technologies and communications systems enabling major business firms “to break up the production process and locate parts of the factory line in different countries,” with multi-national corporations thereby maintaining “final control of the entire chain of production” in ways that “weaken not only the state’s ability to determine its own policy,” but also narrowing “the kinds of policy options (such as nationalization) available to states to enhance their national economies.”[xi]

As Prasahd has emphasized, however, the relative decline of U.S. and Western European capitalism (the North), combined with the economic rise and partnership of capitalist economies elsewhere on the planet – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (often termed “the BRICS”) – has generated what he calls “Neoliberalism with Southern Characteristics.”  This involves “sales of commodities and low wages to workers alongside the recycled surplus turned over as credit to the North as the livelihood of the majority of its own citizens remains flat.”   Of course, the economic elites of the BRICS enjoy dramatic benefits – for example, although “the Indian people experience high levels of poverty and hunger,” India’s economic “growth rate is steadily increasing.”[xii]

This further contextualizes the “high-speed somersault” that Arundhati Roy has pointed to, and according to Patnaik, “the decline of whatever anti-imperialist commitments the bourgeoisie had had, is mirrored in the change in the orientation of the traditional bourgeois party, Congress.  This change has been responsible for its loss of support, which has left a vacuum that the communal forces have moved in to fill.”[xiii]

Ideology and Politics

These “communal forces” need to be specified.  Communalism is a term often associated with having allegiance to one’s own ethnic or religious group rather than to the wider society.  In South Asia it is used “denote attempts to construct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities, and to stimulate communal violence between those groups.”  Communal violence in India has generally involved conflict between Hindus and Muslims, but also between Hindus and directed against other groups (Sikhs, Christians, immigrants, etc.).  The foremost political expression of communalism in India for the past three decades has been the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP – Indian People’s Party).[xiv]

The BJP traces its roots to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, an Indian nationalist party that existing from 1951 to 1977 as the electoral arm of a Hindu right-wing group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – National Patriotic Organization).  The RSS, founded in 1925, posed as an alternative to the Congress-led independence movement, whose struggles it shunned.  Calling for “selfless service to India” under the banner of “Hindu nationalism,” it drew inspiration from Italian fascism and German Nazism.  The assassin of Mohandas Gandhi had been associated with it in earlier years, and was an activist in V.D. Savarkar’s group, Hindu Mahasabha (Hindu Assembly), which advanced the ideology of Hindutva.  This holds that the entire Indian sub-continent is the homeland of the Hindus – emphasizing their sharing of “a common blood,” opposing the “co-mingling of races,” viewing Muslims as the spawn of “foreign invasion,” and insisting that Hindus represent “a common nation, . . . a common race, . . . and a common civilization.”[xv]

Hindutva was formally proclaimed the ideology of the BJP in 1989, and its leaders and militants have been denounced for fomenting murderous violence against Muslims and others in numerous incidents.  Among the more recent infamous examples are those taking place in 1992, when mobs destroyed a Muslim mosque in order to replace it with a Hindu temple (in the violent aftermath 2000 were killed, mostly Muslims, and many more injured, with the destruction of many mosques, stores, and homes throughout the country), and 2002, when a horrific destruction of a train carrying 59 Hindu pilgrims was used as a pretext for three days of incredibly brutal violence and slaughter directed against Muslim, especially women and children (as many as 2000 being killed, many after being tortured, mutilated or raped; 150,000 were displaced).  The BJP was implicated in both of these cases, and yet the party moved on to make big electoral gains (from two parliamentary seats in 1984 to a commanding 282 in 2014), and elections have given it control of the government more than once.[xvi]

Such developments caused many on the Left to lament, in Prabhat Patnaik’s words, “a communal-fascist party, which had nothing to do with the freedom struggle, occupying the offices of the government and surrendering the country bit by bit to a reimposition of imperialist hegemony.”  Along with “patriotic” bigotry, the BJP was associated with a strong social conservatism, and – for a time – favoring tariff protection for Indian business.  This last position was quickly abandoned in favor of full-throated support for “globalization,” linked with deregulation and privatization of government owned enterprises.  BJP policies have also involved rolling back labor and environmental regulations and privatization of social services – bringing much praise from the business community.[xvii]

Perry Anderson seems to challenge Patnaik’s characterization of the BJP on two points: (1) to term it “fascist” is to mislabel it since (in contrast to the rise of actual fascism in Italy and Germany) “there was no working-class threat, no economic slump, no revanchist drive”; and (2) the “saturation of politics with Hindu pathos,” far from being unique to the BJP, can be found in the orientation of Gandhi and was maintained by Congress – the BJP simply proving to be better at it.[xviii]

The insistence on recasting all of Indian reality within the aura of Hinduism – brilliantly articulated by Hindutva’s founder V.D. Savarkar (himself an atheist) – enjoys, as Anderson shrewdly notes, liberal and multi-cultural echoes.  The historical pattern of creating within itself “pluralism and peaceable harmony, its teeming multiplicity of different deities, beliefs and rituals a veritable template for a modern multi-culturalism,” which enables liberal-minded Indians in Congress and to its left to comprehend Hinduism as a unique religion that “has so capaciously included even atheism in its repertoire, along with monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and any other sort of theism.”  Anderson wryly concludes: “In this version, secularism cannot be at odds with a Hinduism whose values are so close to its own.”[xix]

While one can argue that Anderson’s vision of ideological convergence understates the BJP pattern of fomenting murderous communal violence, it is difficult to deny substantial Congress/BJP convergence in regard to economic perspectives.  Here India’s two major political parties – despite some differences – currently have much in common.  In the run-up to the 2009 elections (which Congress won) “there was absolute consensus across party lines about economic reforms,” Arundhati Roy noted, adding that the former chief ideologist of the BJP, a very disgruntled K. N. Govindacharya, “sarcastically suggested that the Congress and BJP form a coalition.”  No need – the BJP won the 2014 elections, and the voter dissatisfaction that generated this (thanks to adverse impacts of pro-business economic “reforms) may once again swing in favor of Congress.  Noting the substantial corruption infecting both parties, Govindacharya put his finger on the deepest aspect of their common corruption: “This nexus of political power and money power will definitely influence the formulation of policies also. It will be difficult for the political parties to strike a different line or mode that will be injurious or harmful to the interests of the corporates.”[xx]

Class Struggle, Oppression, Social Movements

This brings us to the all-important “what is to be done?” question, and particularly to an examination of some of the forces on the Indian Left that are struggling to develop answers.  For Marxists, of course, the natural force that one must look is the working class, and it is the organized labor movement “at the point of production” that has been a special focus for left-wing parties.

In fact, most of the several dozen trade union federations are affiliated to political parties.  This goes beyond the organized left, Congress and the BJP having the resources to build the largest of India’s trade union federations (with memberships of 33.3 million and 17.1 million, respectively). To the left of those, there are the Communist Party of India-led All India Trade Union Congress (14.2 million), the socialist-led Hind Mazdoor Sabha, or Workers Assembly of India (9.1 million), the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Centre of Indian Trade Unions (5.7 million), and several different federations (with a combined total of close to 9 million) connected to one or another of the many Marxist-Leninist parties.  The number of workers in unions climbed from 12.3 million in 1989, to 24.8 million in 2002, to more than 90 million in 2013.  Yet with the BJP’s return to power in 2014, a raft of “labor reforms” – designed to undermine union power – were advanced by the government, setting the stage for new confrontations with organized labor (with even the pro-BJP labor federation joining in the protests).[xxi]

Beyond “the point of production,” however, there are multiple oppressions bubbling up and sometimes overflowing within the fluid political, social, and economic contexts we have traced here. The rise of social movements, pressing for various reforms in society, are arguably no less important to the interests of the working class, and to the advance of working-class consciousness and the class struggle, than is the persistence of trade unions pressing for various reforms in the workplace.  This is consistent, of course, with Lenin’s stricture that a revolutionary socialist must function not like a trade union secretary but as “a tribune of the people” – actively opposing every form of oppression and tyranny no matter what social sector or class is involved.  There is also the pointed observation of social analyst Sumanta Banaerjee: “With the governing institutions and their underlying ideology failing to respond to the aspirations of its citizens, the nation state is threatened with disintegration.”  Which suggests a revolutionary potential inherent in the welling-up of this diverse range of problems outside the parameters of “the point of production.”[xxii]

“Indian Marxists, however, have too often behaved as if the economic is the only reality or invariably the most important one,” Achin Vanaik pointed out in 1990.  “Class has been allowed to subsume all other divisions.  Thus the legitimacy of autonomous organization by Dalits or women is often denied and the approach of leftists toward such movements essentially manipulative and paternalistic, focusing on giving them the ‘correct class line’ which, of course, they are best able to provide as a result of their ‘superior’ analysis of Indian reality.”[xxiii]

Under the broad banners of social movement, people’s movement, popular movement, etc., activists refusing to submit to the “superior” wisdom of left-wing parties have, since the early 1970s, organized a proliferation of social mobilizations in India around a variety of issues.  “Much of the work of these new movements has been undertaken or organized by what are called non-governmental organizations (NGOs), voluntary agencies (VAs) or action groups (AGs),” Vanaik observed in 1990.  “These are a mixed bag ranging from charity groups to development missions (often, in effect, a less bureaucratic and more flexible arm of the state) to militant grassroots organizations to self-conscious non-party political formations with a theorized rejection of traditional forms of left organization and of their supposedly state-centered strategies for social transformation.”  Vanaik offered two particularly shrewd comments: (1) “these social movements very often have a short life-span, collapsing as a result of loss of cadres or funds or because of various crises affecting individuals, the organizations or their activities”; and (2) “these movements may be against this or that aspect of the system but not necessarily against the system as a whole,” and “even their gains are not necessarily cumulative nor irreversible.”[xxiv]

Despite the ups and downs of one or another manifestation of the “social movement” phenomenon, however, it has proved to be durable and to have lasting impact on the Indian political scene.  There have been movements of unorganized labor in rural and urban areas, of landless rural dwellers and of peasants, of displaced and homeless people, of the urban poor, of small subsistence entrepreneurs, and of unemployed youth.  There are also struggles of tribal and indigenous peoples (known as adivasis, or “first residents”), as well as the long-standing struggles of the Dalits.  Environmental concerns – ranging from fights against industrial pollution to pushing against deforestation to opposing ecologically damaging big dam projects – have provoked popular mobilizations.  Action around the rights of gays, lesbians, and other oppressed sexual minorities has been facilitated by broader struggles for gender equality.  Dramatic instances of sexual and murderous violence against women have generated a recent and widespread upsurge of militant protest.[xxv]

Resisting what are perceived as rigid and domineering ideologies characterizing many left-wing parties, activists and supporters of the new social movements have made use of ideological orientations that may draw from Marxist and socialist conceptions, but also perspectives associated with the old Gandhian movement, varieties of ecological analysis, feminist theory, etc.[xxvi]  Related to this, “post-modern” critics of Marxism insist that “class” (and especially the working class) has become less relevant than identities related to gender, race, and sexuality, not to mention such “non-class” issues as environmental degradation and political corruption. Some who see themselves as defenders of Marxism, on the other hand, denounce “middle class” diversions from proletarian class struggle.

One problem with this involves the fuzzy, obscurantist term “middle class.”  The bourgeoisie (capitalists below the old landowning nobility but above the laboring masses) have been tagged as middle class, yet the term has also been applied to a “petty bourgeoisie” that apparently includes small shopkeepers, commercial farmers, white collar workers (such as store clerks, office workers, professionals, teachers, government employees).  In the United States the great mass of blue-collar and white-collar workers refer to themselves as “the middle class”: neither rich nor poor but in the middle.  This is, of course, in contrast to Marx and Engels who, in the Communist Manifesto, refer to those dependent on the sale of their own labor-power to making a living as, in fact, the proletariat, or working class.

And in fact, the great trend of global capitalism over the past century has been the accelerating proletarianization of great swathes of the world’s labor force – embracing “professionals” and technicians, white-collar laborers of multiple varieties, and soaring percentages of those who graduate from institutions of higher learning.  Similar “proletarianization” trends can be found among agrarian laborers and subsistence farmers.  The “informal sectors” of the economy, while often having a mixed-class dimension (including subsistence “businesses”), are similarly impacted by the “proletarianization” dynamic.  The great majority of women, of ethnic and racial minorities, the great majority of gays and lesbians and sexual minorities, the great majority of those who are hurt by such problems as corruption and the degradation of our environment, not to mention declining quality of life (in housing, sanitation, public transportation, education, health care, etc.), are part of the laboring majority, the proletarian and semi-proletarian layers that make up the great majority of the people.[xxvii]

Corruption has recently become an essential issue impacting on India’s political scene.

Throughout Indian society there has been a sense that “India’s main pillars of governance – the legislature, executive and judiciary – have failed to address the voices of internal dissent,” but also, increasingly and dramatically, the credibility of these institutions have been eroded because of corruption and criminal activity.”  The anti-corruption struggle has therefore seemed to pose a far-reaching systemic critique. Tremendously popular in Delhi, this movement (despite ruptures with activists who were in disagreement) decided to put itself forward as a political party – the Aam Adami Party (APP – Commoners’ Party), quickly winning control of the government of the massive urban area of Delhi.  A young AAP partisan named Akash explained to me: “The ideology of my political party is to make India a corruption-free country, and provide a lot of opportunities for citizens of our nation.”  As implied in Akash’s two-sentence summary, there is (as Marxist analyst Kunal Chattopadhay notes) the linkage of the anti-corruption stance with “social issues that matter to the poor, without first looking over its shoulder to see whether Congress would agree.”  Its popularity involves a fusion of mass struggle with a stance completely rejecting both Congress and BJP.[xxviii]

Given the limitations of its internal resources (ranging from financial to analytical), and its specific cultural-political relevance to Delhi, it seems unlikely that the APP can develop an India-wide reach.  There is also the dynamic pointed to by an anti-corruption leader who opposed going electoral: “elections require huge funds, which will be tough for activists to organize without compromising on their values.”[xxix]  And then there are the normal pressures of bourgeois politics (the need to be “realistic”) that make it difficult to prevent candidates from becoming corrupted, one way or another, after being elected.  The adoption of neo-liberal policies by the ostensibly Marxist regime in West Bengal (leading to its being voted out after many years) is a recent example.

And yet there may be hints here for revolutionary Marxists.  Radical dimensions of the social movements and their struggles may be a key to building a broadly based revolutionary effort.  Marx once argued that the working class possesses the advantage of numbers, “but numbers weigh in the balance only if united by combination and led by knowledge.”  India’s diverse laboring majority is represented not only by trade unions but by the multiplicity of social movements.  A structured alliance of all forces working to bring about a systemic change could be central to bringing the rich resources of India under the democratic control of the laboring majority.  A revolutionary Marxist left could play a decisive role in drawing together such an alliance, interweaving reform struggles with an uncompromising commitment to socialism, which was the approach of Marx his revolutionary successors.[xxx]

Where is this “revolutionary Marxist left” which could be essential for the future of India?  Or how it could it be brought into being?

[i] Akash Kapur, India Becoming, A Portrait of Life in Modern India (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012), 46.
[ii] Kapur, 45.
[iii] “Economy of India,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_India (accessed 13/07/2015).
[iv] Arundhati Roy, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to the Grasshoppers, new edition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), 6; Kapur, 287.
[v] Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (New York: Random House, 2012), ix, xii.
[vi] Roy, 6.
[vii] David Macaray, “Brief Look at Labor Unions in India,” Truthout, 10 December, 2009, http://truth-out.org/archive/component/k2/item/87147:brief-look-at-labor… (accessed 22/07/2015).
[viii] Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology (London: Verso, 2013), 129-136; Ali, 145-324; Achin Vanaik, The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (London: Verso, 1990), 93-102.
[ix] Prabhat Patniak, The Retreat to Unfreedom: Essays on the Emerging World Order (New Delhi: Tulika, 2003), 118.
[x] Vijay Prashad, Neo-liberalism with Southern Characteristics: The Rise of the BRICS (New York: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2013), 4-5.
[xi] Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK” Oxford University Press, 2010), 1-20; Manfred B. Steger, Globalization, A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003); Prashad, 6.
[xii] Prashad, 7-15.
[xiii] Patniak, 66.
[xiv] “Communalism (South Asia),” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communalism_(South_Asia)  (accessed 13/07/2015); Vanaik, The Painful Transition, 139-176.
[xv] “Bharatiya Janata Party,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bharatiya_Janata_Party (accessed 13/07/2015); Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashtriya_Swayamsevak_Sangh (accessed 13/07/2015); V. D. Savarkar, Hindutva (Bombay: S. S. Savarkar, 1969), 4, 10-12, 28-29, 38-39, 42-44, 85, 115-116.
[xvi] Roy, 154-155; “Demolition of Babri Masjid,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demolition_of_the_Babri_Masjid (accessed 13/07/2015); “A Destructive Legacy,” The Economist, November 26, 2009, http://www.economist.com/node/14969084 (accessed 13/07/2015); “2002 Gujarat Riots,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_Gujarat_riots (accessed 13/07/2015); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Communal Fascism and its Dangers,” International Viewpoint, 4 November 2014, http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3697 (accessed 16/07/2015).
[xvii] Patnaik, 115; “Bharatiya Janata Party,” Wikipedia.
[xviii] Anderson, 147, 149.
[xix] Ibid., 150.
[xx] Roy, 15; Ramesh Ramachandran, “BJP Under Modi Will Become Like Congress Under Indira,” Tehelka.Com, November 15, 2014, http://www.tehelka.com/govindacharya-interview-rss-bjp-narendra-modi-amit-shah/ (accessed 13/07/2015); “Govindacharya Criticizes Congress, BJP Over Corruption,” Outlook, July 27, 2011, http://www.outlookindia.com/news/article/govindacharya-criticises-cong-b… (accessed 13/07/2015).  Anderson (158) similarly notes the “large measure of convergence” but adds: “Organizationally, they are not so similar, sine the BJP possesses real cadres and members, Congress little more than a memory of them.”
[xxi] Sreelatha Menon, “Indian Trade Unions Are Getting Bigger,” Business Standard, April 6, 2013, http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/indian-trade-uni… (accessed 22/07/2015); Nisheth Desai Associates, India: Trade Unions and Collective Bargaining, Mumbai: March 2015, http://www.nishithdesai.com/fileadmin/user_upload/pdfs/Research%20Papers… (accessed 22/07/2015); “Trade Unions Officially Declare National Strike to Protest Labour Reforms,” Business Standard, May 27, 2015, http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/trade-unions-off… (accessed 22/07/2015).
[xxii] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, What Is To Be Done? in Revolution, Democracy, Socialism, Selected Writings, ed. by Paul LeBlanc (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 143; Sumanta Banerjee, “India at Odds with Itself,” Himāl, Vol. 26, No. 1 (January 2013), 28.  On the necessity of Marxist theorizations of social movements, with examples, see Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky, and Alf Gunvald Nilsen, eds., Marxism and Social Movements (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014).
[xxiii] Vanaik, 200.
[xxiv] Vanaik, 201, 202.
[xxv] See special issue, “Labour and Its Discontents,” of Himāl, March 2015, especially articles by Anumeha Yadov, Archana Aggarwall, Simon Harding; “List of trade unions in India tea gardens,” Wikipedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_trade_unions_in_Indian_tea_gardens (accessed 23/07/2015); Sujoy Dhar, “Malnutrition Deaths in India’s Tea Gardens Highlight Worker Abuses,” Thomson Reuters Foundation, 1 August 2014, http://www.trust.org/item/20140801120753-lmv68/ (accessed 23/07/2015); Sanhati Collective, Sanhati Selections, An Anthology in Solidarity With People’s Struggles 2012-13 (Kolkata: Kranti Press, 2014); Soma Marik, “India: Scrap Article 377: Defend Queer Rights Through Mass Movements,” Links, December 13, 2013, http://links.org.au/node/3635 (accessed 22/07/2015); Soma Marik, “The Barasat Rape and Murder: Some Reflections,” Radical Socialist, June 2013 http://www.radicalsocialist.in/blog/556-the-barasat-rape-and-murder-some… (accessed 22/07/2015); Tithi Battacharya, “India’s Daughter: Neoliberalism’s Dreams and Nightmares of Violence,” International Socialist Review #97, Summer 2015, 53-71.
[xxvi] “Social Movement in India,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_movement_in_India (accessed 22/07/2015).
[xxvii] See: Ronaldo Munck, Globalisation and Labour: The New “Great Transformation” (London: Zed Books, 2002); Paul Mason, Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global (Chicago: Verso, 2010); Paul Mason, Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere (London: Verso, 2013).
[xxviii] Banerjee, 27; “Aam Adami Party,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aam_Aadmi_Party  (accessed 22/07/2015); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Lessons of the Aam Adami Party Campaign for the Left,” Radical Socialist, 8 February 2015, http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/681-lessons-o… (accessed 22/07/2015).
[xxix] Anna Hazare quoted in “Aam Adami Party,” Wikipedia.
[xxx] Elements of this perspective are suggested in Vanaik, 203-204.  See also Karl Marx, “Inaugural Address to the International Workingmen’s Association,” in Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci: A Reader in Revolutionary Marxist Politics (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996), 158.

How 4 federal lawyers paved the way to kill Osama bin Laden

Posted by admin On October - 29 - 2015 Comments Off on How 4 federal lawyers paved the way to kill Osama bin Laden

WASHINGTON: Weeks before President Barack Obama ordered the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011, four administration lawyers hammered out rationales intended to overcome any legal obstacles — and made it all but inevitable that Navy SEALs would kill the fugitive Qaida leader, not capture him.

Stretching sparse precedents, the lawyers worked in intense secrecy. Fearing leaks, the White House would not let them consult aides or even the administration’s top lawyer, attorney general Eric Holder. They did their own research, wrote memos on highly secure laptops and traded drafts hand-delivered by trusted couriers.

Just days before the raid, the lawyers drafted five secret memos so that if pressed later, they could prove they were not inventing after-the-fact reasons for having blessed it. “We should memorialize our rationales because we may be called upon to explain our legal conclusions, particularly if the operation goes terribly badly,” said Stephen W Preston, the CIA’s general counsel, according to officials familiar with the internal deliberations.

While the bin Laden operation has been much scrutinized, the story of how a tiny team of government lawyers helped shape and justify Obama’s high-stakes decision has not been previously told. The group worked as military and intelligence officials conducted a parallel effort to explore options and prepare members of SEAL Team 6 for the possible mission.

The legal analysis offered the administration wide flexibility to send ground forces onto Pakistani soil without the country’s consent, to explicitly authorize a lethal mission, to delay telling Congress until afterward, and to bury a wartime enemy at sea. By the end, one official said, the lawyers concluded that there was “clear and ample authority for the use of lethal force under US and international law.”

Some legal scholars later raised objections, but criticism was muted after the successful operation. The administration lawyers, however, did not know at the time how events would play out, and they faced the “unenviable task” of “resolving a cluster of sensitive legal issues without any consultation with colleagues,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who worked on a Justice Department detainee policy task force in 2009.

“The proposed raid required answers to many hard legal questions, some of which were entirely novel despite a decade’s worth of conflict with al-Qaida,” Chesney said.

This account of the role of the four lawyers — Preston; Mary B. DeRosa, the National Security Council’s legal adviser; Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel; and then-Rear Adm. James W. Crawford III, the Joint Chiefs of Staff legal adviser — is based on interviews with more than a half-dozen current and former administration officials who had direct knowledge of the planning for the raid. While outlines of some of the government’s rationales have been mentioned previously, the officials provided new insights and details about the analysis and decision-making process.

The officials described the secret legal deliberations and memos for a forthcoming book on national security legal policy under Obama. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.

India Yesterday: Development and Revolution (Part 1 of Three-Part Series)-Paul Le Blanc

Posted by admin On October - 14 - 2015 Comments Off on India Yesterday: Development and Revolution (Part 1 of Three-Part Series)-Paul Le Blanc


[This article was inspired by a recent tour of India by the author, in the summer of 2015.  A second and third article – “India Today” and “The Struggle for India’s Future” – will be published shortly. Read more articles by Paul Le Blanc.]

India is pivotal to the future of the global capitalist system.  With a land-mass roughly comparable to that of the European continent, but with almost twice as many people (more than 1.2 billion – close to 18% of the global population), India’s economic growth rate trends at three times that of the United States.  It was, along with the People’s Republic of China and the United States, responsible for 80 percent of international economic growth in the early months of 2015, and is said to be the world’s fastest growing economy, already the world’s seventh largest economy (measured by Gross Domestic Product) or the third largest economy (by purchasing power parity).[1]

Over 500 million laborers and their families – often beset by multiple forms of oppression interwoven with grinding poverty and the “routine” exploitation associated with the profit system – are at the heart of this dynamically growing capitalist economy.  Just as it played a vanguard role in overcoming the old colonial order that devastated a majority of the world’s peoples in the twentieth century, India may well play a central role in the wave of future revolutions that must occur if we have any hope of moving beyond the destructive dynamics of capital accumulation, although at this historical moment we seem very far from any such transformations.

“Revolutionary internationalism” is not really a charitable slogan, nor can it be properly understood as a slogan at all – it is a necessity for those who wish to understand and change the world.  The modest survey offered here is designed to provide some of the history of this massive and complex land, and some information on current realities there.  It will conclude with a focus on revolutionary currents existing in today’s India that are reaching for a socialist future.  There is much to be learned about such things that can have value for those struggling for a better world across the face of the Earth.

In this essay, as we focus on India, we will touch on the dynamics of how history “works,” the strategic dynamics of revolutionary struggle, and the impact of capitalism in both advancing and thwarting liberation struggles – all of which have implications going far beyond Indian specifics.

Dialectics of Historical Development

More than any country on the planet, India is a land of uneven and combined development – an amazingly fluid and contradictory totality from its earliest beginnings, right down to its geographical specifics.  It is the largest piece of a vast South Asian “sub-continent,” with high mountain ranges, vast plains, deep river valleys, lush coastal areas, deserts and forests and jungles, and especially with a rich diversity of peoples and cultures.[2]

The Neolithic revolution, with the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture, hit different parts of this subcontinent in different millennia, with transitions from Stone Age to Bronze Age to Iron Age unfolding at varying times in one place or another.  Adding to the amazing diversity were ongoing infusions and migrations of peoples, and periodic invasions and conquests – drawing new peoples and cultures into the mix.

From its earliest history there was a panoramic succession of civilizations, kingdoms, empires, with various segments coming together into centralized entities to endure for a century or two or three, only to collapse and fragment.

“The sub-continent as we know it today never formed a single political or cultural unit in pre-modern times,” Perry Anderson has recently observed.  “For much the longest stretches of its history, its lands were divided between a varying assortment of middle-sized kingdoms, of different stripes” – one Buddhist, another Hindu, a third Muslim, separated from each other by intervals of 500 to 1000 years, and each occupying only sizeable chunks of what we now know as India (the very name coming from outside the country, from the ancient Greeks who used it in reference to peoples around and beyond the Indus River).  Variety is a hallmark even of conversation within India.  While there are four major language groups, the Indian Constitution identifies twenty-two officially recognized languages.  According to census data, in fact, there are 30 languages spoken by more than a million native speakers, with 122 spoken by more than 10,000.[3]

Economics of Civilization

Civilizations in India seem to follow a certain pattern that can be seen throughout the ancient world.  The wealth of society, and the underlying economic surplus, is produced by laboring majorities – mostly peasants, but also skilled workers (artisans and craftsmen) and less skilled laborers.  With the rise of civilizations, powerful minorities seek to exploit such labor and to use such wealth to develop society in ways that will enhance their own wealth and power.

Long-ago histories of ancient civilizations sometimes extol the “wise” rulers who held their own greed in check.  If enough wealth can be kept by a majority of the people (those who labor), this stimulates economic diversification, generating the creation of greater wealth for society as a whole, coupled with improved living conditions and the encouragement of creativity, the development of the arts, science, technology, the development of public works and services (roads, bridges, canals, irrigation systems), creating more prosperity – all in an upward spiral.   This seems to have been the case under the early democracy of ancient Athens and the enlightened despotism of India’s Buddhist emperor Ashoka.[4]  Of course, the policies imposed by benevolent emperors seem ultimately and invariably to be undone by their successors.

Students of history have traced what happens when the opposite trends develop, with more and more of the wealth being siphoned off by wealthy and powerful elites.  The laboring masses get less and less, while the powerful elites live increasingly lavish lifestyles, intent on displaying their power and importance with incredibly expensive monuments and palaces, expanding their power through increasing and expensive armies and conquests.  Deprived of resources thus diverted, public services diminish, economic development stagnates or declines (as do living conditions for the majority), the economic surplus produced by laboring majorities shrinks, and the consequence of diminishing wealth means that elaborate power structures of the greedy elites cannot be sustained, and so inevitably erode and collapse.

This pattern was repeated more than once in India.  But the collapse of empire does not always mean the collapse of all the gains of civilization, and as new power structures crystallize and grow, they benefit from the accumulation of previous cultural and technological development.  Layers of development-decline-residue-redevelopment built up over time to shape the complex reality that would become known as India.

A defining occurrence came with the influx of the Aryan peoples from the north and west – nomadic masses who kept herds of animals but without highly developed agriculture.  Their Vedic religion would be a major source in the crystallization, roughly 3500 years ago, for what we know as Hinduism.  This religious ideology included war-like gods, reflecting the importance of warriors in the Aryan culture.  There were class divisions, with priests and warriors at the top and, as usual, laborers being the great majority.  As the Aryans, in territories they entered, absorbed the agricultural patterns of the original inhabitants, the lower class became known as cultivators, and the conquered peoples came to be referred to more simply as toilers.[5]

These social layers evolved into what has become known as castes, a social hierarchy ordering marriage and social roles of those who occupy the different strata within it. The four major castes included Brahmins (priests, educated ones, sometimes rulers), Kshatriyas (warriors, sometimes rulers), Vaisyas (farmers, merchants, traders), and Sudras (toilers, servants, skilled and unskilled laborers, sometimes peasants).  Below this bottom category were layers of “outcastes” and “fallen ones” who might be called Chandalas or patitas; in modern times, they have been referred to as Dalits (untouchables, associated with what were considered impure occupations – cleaning streets, latrines, and sewers; garbage removal; contact with animal carcasses, whether as butchers or leather workers).[6]

Economic and technological developments, as well as urbanization, generated the development of sub-castes within this general framework, incorporating new occupations – carpentry, metal smelting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, etc. Over time, as many as 3000 sub-castes would come into being.  Caste status became hereditary and increasingly rigid, subject to strict rules and prohibitions.

Belief Systems and Material Realities

The caste system also became tightly integrated into the crystalizing belief system that came to be known as Hinduism.  In contrast to idealized and religiously dogmatic understandings that see a straight line from ancient older Vedic religion to more recent Hinduism, serious scholars find greater complexity and fluidity, with various converging currents and developments.  It is certainly the case that Hinduism is a religion that incorporated various regional and local deities, mystical narratives, holy belief systems, and cultural specifics into itself, with thousands of gods as manifestations of the Divine Spirit (although the Big Three would be Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva).  Infused with notions having to do with circles of life (reincarnation) and the impartial principle of moral cause and effect (karma: what you do now, in this life, will determine your future incarnation), Hinduism could for some provide a pathway to spiritual development but for many became a recipe for keeping people in line: if you are low-caste or untouchable, you should live harmoniously, obediently staying “in your place” in order to come back in a higher life-station – or otherwise come back in a far worse situation, even as a rodent or insect.[7]

Yet the growing complexity of social and economic development naturally generated an ongoing evolution of perceptions, ideas, and belief systems – often in sharp contradiction to those associated with early Hindu ideology.  New belief systems and religions crystallized, succinctly described in Chris Harman’s People’s History of the World:

The best known of these sects were to be the Jain followers of Mahavira and the Buddhist followers of Gautama.  They had certain points in common.  They opposed blood sacrifices and animal slaughter.  They counterposed ahimsa (non-killing) to warfare.  They rejected caste distinctions – their founders were not Brahmans.  They tended to stress the need for rational understanding of events and processes, in some cases dispensing with the old tales of godly adventures and exploits to such an extent as to border on materialism and atheism.[8]

In fact, despite widespread efforts to repress them, philosophically materialist orientations rejecting Vedic, Hindu and other religious belief systems were deeply rooted (associated with the labels Cārvāka, Lokāyata and Bṛhaspatya), and related to these secular approaches to reality, scientific inquiry flowered.  Absorbing and further developing scientific contributions of Greece and Rome, Indians effected a veritable revolution in mathematics, with the development of the decimal system, the concept of zero, the understanding of π, breakthroughs in geometry and trigonometry, and more.  Such developments were absorbed into the Arab world, thanks to ongoing trade with the Middle East, and this filtered into Europe especially in the wake of the Crusades, which eventually fed into the European Renaissance that inaugurated what some historians call “Modern History.”[9]

The common Hindu strategy of incorporating other belief systems into itself did result in the cooptation of various other religious challenges, although some Buddhists and Jains would continue to maintain their own distinctive orientations.  Yet for reasons deserving greater examination than is possible here, the dominant social structures and ideologies succeeded in preserving themselves and closing off promising paths of scientific and social development.  According to Harman, “what had been a region of rapid change and intellectual ferment for centuries became characterized, for close to 1,000 years, by inward looking villages, religious superstition, and fragmented, warring, parasitic kingdoms.”  Identifying the caste system with such stagnation, he adds: “One product was the fully formed system of a multitude of castes encountered by Muslim and European conquerors in the next millennium.”[10]

Harman’s reference to “Muslim and European conquerors,” it can be argued, is problematical.  One conquest is defined by religion, the other by geography.  Since the Europeans in question were predominantly Christian, why not refer to them as “Christian conquerors”?  More useful, however, would be to not allow the “other” conquerors’ religion to obscure their geography: we are identifying influxes or invasions from several different parts of the world.  Nehru notes that it was the British who referred to a “Moslem” period of Indian history, but that this actually involved a series of Afghan, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Mongol (or Mughal) interventions and infusions.  This brought cultural and technological innovations, generating greater economic surpluses (thereby intensifying struggles over who would secure the benefits of such surpluses).[11]

The triumphant invasions – and the creation of the great Mughal empire – added a new layer to India’s development. This brought dynamic new influences, greater centralization, and (after unsuccessful efforts at forced Islamification) the compromises and adaptations with Hinduism and other aspects of indigenous culture that would be required for durable rule over vast stretches of India.  Over time, and more organically, varieties of Islam also became rooted and influential among the Indian peoples.  Also becoming part of the mix was the development of new religious perspectives, such as Sikhism (proclaiming “there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, there is only one Creator, the uncaused Cause of all”), and the later appearance of small groups of Christians – drawn to the teachings of missionaries from the West.[12]

Yet in Western Europe, something that, materially, was far more transformative than Christianity would soon have a explosive impact on India, and the entire world – the development of the most dynamic form of economy in human history: capitalism.  Karl Marx, in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, had emphasized the revolutionary role played by this new mode of production – capitalism – in the destruction of European feudalism. Five years later he predicted a similar scenario for India.  There is a debate among Marxist scholars here.  For a long time, Marxists associated with the Communist Party, including in India, following a rigid schema, superimposed on all human history:

Many historians have more recently insisted that despite the existence of landed elites and peasant masses, “feudalism” as manifested in Europe did not exist in India; there are indications that Marx would have agreed with this, which is why he spoke of an “Asiatic mode of production” inconsistent with the development schema through which much of Europe’s history can be understood.  Some refer more simply to a tributary society or a tributary mode of production.  Eric Wolf and those following him use such terminology to refer to all non-capitalist economies which have evolved beyond kinship-based cooperative societies, and which instead involve predominantly agricultural producers of economic surplus who have that surplus taken from them, through political means, by powerful minorities.  This process takes place across continents (and even European feudalism could be termed a tributary society). Samir Amin and those following him – seeming to reach for a more satisfactory formulation of what Marx termed “Asiatic mode of production” – see a centralized state as the entity that extracts surplus from laboring majorities (largely through some form of taxation), using the new “tributary” term to specify that.[13]

Regardless of terminological questions, in civilizations arising in India (as is the case with civilizations in general), we see history taking the form of powerful minorities extracting economic surplus from laboring majorities.  And the fact remains that the development of capitalism on the sub-continent did not arise organically within those civilizations.  Instead, this took place thanks to India’s absorption into the British Empire, which in turn would (as Marx put it) “dissolve the hereditary divisions of labor, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power.”  Yet Marx saw no automatic progress for the Indian peoples in all of this.  “There cannot remain any doubt,” he wrote, “but that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindustan [India] is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindustan had to suffer before.”  Surveying “all the civil wars, invasions, revolutions, conquests, famines,” in pre-colonial/pre-capitalist India, and acknowledging “strangely complex, rapid and destructive” aspects to be found in the earlier catastrophes, Marx nonetheless identified something qualitatively new and pernicious that capitalism would introduce for the quality of life experienced by the vast laboring majorities – the degradation and devastation of the traditional village economies.[14]

At the same time, the dramatic and devastating transformation of material realities would help to generate dramatic alterations in the realms of ideology and consciousness.

Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism

It had been the historical “changing mosaic of mostly regional rulers” (as Anderson aptly puts it) that facilitated the invasion and growing dominance of foreign capital.  Britain’s East India Company tentatively inserted its nose, tongue and fingers into the Indian polity in the 1600s, but within a hundred years it was able to push through with both hands and arms, head and torso, legs and feet.  Nor did it stop with that – in harness with the British government, playing various fragments of the Indian elites against others, manipulating generally quite willing Indian princes, making and breaking deals, it brought more and more of India under its domination.  “India’s segmented society and denationalized governments did not constitute a serious challenge to the British,” explains Indian historian B. B. Misra.  “Indian troops conquered the country for the British.” The East India Company’s expensive corruptions, over-reach and mismanagement set the context within which there arose the extensive and bloody uprisings of 1857, which generated far bloodier reprisals by British military forces.  The British government re-established the “order” of British domination by taking ownership and control of India into its own hands.  India would become “the brightest jewel in the crown of the British Empire,” in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, as he moved to make Queen Victoria “Empress of India” in 1877.[15]

While British troops were essential for this conquest, the buying up and utilization of Indians in the British Empire’s military forces (over 200,000) and police forces (150,000 by the 1880s) was no less essential.  As Anderson has stressed, “if the British could gain and keep a firm grip on such a vast land-mass, it was because they could count on its multiple fragmentations – ethnic, linguistic, dynastic, social, confessional [religious].”  Other forms of collaboration were no less essential.  Two-fifths of India’s territory, with 20 percent of its population, was left in the hands of princes, mostly Hindu, consistently patronized and scrutinized by the British overlords.  The rest was under direct British rule, but here landlords (Hindu and Muslim) “were beneficiaries of the colonial regime, not a few having originally acquired their properties through its good offices, and all enjoying its protection in their exploitation of tenants and laborers beneath them.”  The consequences for millions of Indians would be fatal.  Historian Mike Davis has noted that between 1875 and 1902, famines caused death by starvation for 12.2 to 29.3 million people, while in the same period Britain continued to export food from India.[16]  Of course, the British imperialists had no desire to exterminate the Indian peoples, whose living labor was seen as a resource for profitable exploitation – the unfortunate exterminations taking place can be chalked up only as “collateral damage” in the expansion of the global capitalist order.

The capitalist dynamics that drove Britain forward to penetrate and then dominate India are unique among economic systems and empires in human history.

“The ancient economic organization of the Indians – the communist village community – had persisted in its various forms for millennia and had undergone a long, internal history, despite the political storms that had raged in the ‘lands of the clouds,’” Rosa Luxemburg wrote in her classic The Accumulation of Capital (1913).  Viewing the persistence of the peasant village economy over the course of multiple pre-colonial transformations, she commented: “Then came the British, and the blight of capitalist civilization accomplished in a short time what millennia, and the sword of the Mughals, had failed to achieve, namely the complete destruction of the entire social organization of the people.”  While modern research suggests greater complexity in India’s pre-colonial peasant villages over the millennia, it also corroborates Luxemburg’s description of the destructive impact of the capital accumulation process.[17]

Describing how British imperialism first “artificially created a landed aristocracy in India at the expense of the ancient property rights of the peasant communities,” and then moved to “protect the peasants from these oppressors and to bring this ‘illegally usurped land’ into the possession of British capitalists,” Luxemburg observed that “the British were the first conquerors of India to show a gross indifference toward the works of civilization that formed its public utilities and economic infrastructure.”[18]

This was quite natural for capitalism, given “the ravenous greed, the voracious appetite for accumulation, the very essence of which is to take advantage of each new political and economic conjuncture with no thought for tomorrow, [which] precludes any appreciation of the value of the works of economic infrastructure that have been left by previous civilizations.”[19]

In a similar vein, Lenin had observed as early as 1908 that “there is no end to the acts of violence and plunder which goes under the name of the British system of government in India,” generating “abject mass poverty, such chronic starvation among the people.”  He observed that “the most Liberal and Radical personalities of free Britain . . . become regular Genghis Khans when appointed to govern India, and are capable of sanctioning every means of ‘pacifying’ the population in their charge.”

Approvingly pointing to the British working-class socialist Keir Hardie, who visited India to agitate for people’s “most elementary democratic demands,” Lenin commented that “the whole British bourgeois press raised a howl against this ‘rebel.’”  He concluded “there can be no doubt that the age-old plunder of India by the British, and the contemporary struggle of all these ‘advanced’ Europeans against Persian and Indian democracy, will steel millions, tens of millions of proletarians in Asia to wage a struggle against their oppressors,” adding “the class-conscious European worker now has comrades in Asia, and their number will grow by leaps and bounds.”[20]

Modern Revolutionary Struggle

“The British became dominant in India, and the foremost power in the world,” as Jawaharlal Nehru has pointed out, “because they were the heralds of the new big-machine industrial civilization.” These capitalists advanced a transformative mode of production and complex of technologies, and also brought into being (both with the modern working class and masses of exploited colonial peoples) what “represented a new historic force which was going to change the world, and were thus, unknown to themselves, the forerunners of change and revolution,” according to Nehru, who added: “And yet they deliberately tried to prevent change, except in so far as this was necessary to consolidate their position and help them in exploiting the country and its people to their own advantage.”  The influx of ideas from Europe provided tools for many of the Indians who now sought to liberate their land from imperialism’s grasp.  The language of civil liberties, democratic rights, nationhood and national self-determination – and in some cases the vocabulary of anti-imperialism and socialism – entered into the conceptualizations and rhetoric of Indian freedom fighters.[21]

The central force in India’s liberation struggle came to be the Indian National Congress, formed in 1885, by 1914 having established itself as a permanent and significant element in Indian national life.  Initially, as Nehru commented, it was largely made up of representatives of India’s “new professional classes” – whom he described as “English-educated classes in the subordinate services and the learned professions, both looking to the British power for advancement and both influenced in varying degrees by western thought.”  There was also the small but growing sector of Indian businessmen – initially “merchants who were really middlemen of British trade and industry, profiting by the leavings of that industry.”  But soon some began investing in manufacturing as well.  Among these sectors there “grew up a spirit of revolt against the rigid conventions and social framework of Hindu society.  They looked to English liberalism and institutions for inspiration.”  As time went on, “a new type of leadership appeared, more aggressive and defiant and representing the much larger numbers of the lower middle classes as well as students and young men,” influenced by the Irish and Russian revolutionaries who had no interest in compromising with the oppressive powers-that-be, but instead were dedicated to overthrowing them.[22]

Missing from Congress, at this point, were the masses of the Indian people. Nehru conveys mixed impressions of early twentieth-century peasants.  “The peasant starved, yet centuries of an unequal struggle against his environment had taught him to endure, and even in poverty and starvation he had a certain calm dignity, a feeling of submission to an all-powerful fate.”  Yet Nehru also sensed that the dignity could give way to something else.  “The peasantry were servile and fear-ridden; the industrial workers were no better,” he remembered.  “I remember visiting some of these slums of industrial workers, gasping for breath there, and coming out dazed and full of horror and anger.  I remember also going down a coal mine of Jharia and seeing the conditions in which our womenfolk worked there.  I can never forget that picture or the shock that came to me that human beings should labor thus.”[23]

Such people as these responded to Mohandas Gandhi at the dawn of the twentieth century’s second decade.  They identified with his rejection of the “Westernization” that had separated nationalist intellectuals from the masses, and with his embrace of a spirituality and simplicity that were deeply rooted in India’s popular cultures.  He believed that mass consciousness (linked to personal consciousness) and mass mobilizations (linked to personal action) would be keys to liberation.[24]  Nehru recalled:

He was like a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take deep breaths; like a beam of light that pierced the darkness and removed the scales from our eyes; like a whirlwind that upset many things, but most of all the working of people’s minds.  He did not descend from the top; he seemed to emerge from the millions of India, speaking their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition.  Get off the backs of these peasants and workers, he told us, all you who live by their exploitation; get rid of the system that produces this poverty and misery.  Political freedom took new shape then and acquired a new content.  Much that he said we only partially accepted or sometimes did not accept at all.  But that was secondary.  The essence of his teaching was fearlessness and truth, and action allied to these, always keeping the welfare of the masses in view. . . .  Gandhi was an odd kind of pacifist, for he was an activist full of dynamic energy.  There was no submission in him to fate or anything he considered evil; he was full of resistance, though this was peaceful and courteous.[25]

Gandhi’s influence transformed Congress. He had greater clarity than most about the centrality of mass action, and he demonstrated the ability to carry out mobilizations in 1919-21, 1930-31, and 1942-43 (each more massive than the last).

There were others in the independence movement who were further to the left than Gandhi, and not inclined to accept his doctrine of non-violence.  One was the early Communist M. N. Roy, “along with Gandhi one of the two most original and significant political thinkers in India in the twentieth century,” according to historian Kunal Chattopadhyay.  Roy’s efforts to explain Bolshevism elicited Gandhi’s outright rejection.  “Insofar as it is based on violence and a denial of god, it repels me,” the Mahatma responded.  “I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes.”  Gandhi asserted: “I desire to end capitalism almost if not quite as much as the most advanced socialist or even communist.  But our methods differ, our languages differ.”[26]

Far more popular than Roy, and for a time rivaling even Gandhi, was the youthful revolutionary romantic Bhaghat Singh – a brilliant intellectual and writer, blending a heady mix of Marxist, anarchist, and other radical influences – who sought to forge links between the national struggle and the class struggle.  He was involved in an assassination of a British official to avenge the killing by British authorities, during a nonviolent protest, of the elderly and highly esteemed Lala Rajpat Rai.  For this Singh himself became a martyr at the age of 23 in 1931.  The director of British intelligence commented that Singh’s “photograph was on sale in every city and township and for a time rivaled in popularity even that of Mr. Gandhi himself.”[27]

But Gandhi had more staying power.  As Perry Anderson emphasizes, Gandhi was “a first-class organizer and fund-raiser – diligent, efficient, meticulous – who rebuilt Congress from top to bottom,” with an effective organizational structure ensuring national cohesion, “not to speak of an ample treasury.”  Some of Singh’s followers ended up in the Communist Party of India, and others helped form the Revolutionary Socialist Party – but neither of these came close, in size and influence, to Congress under Gandhi, which contained an incredibly diverse range of social and political forces.  Within Congress’s broad tent, there was a significant formation called the Congress Socialist Party, “combining Marxists, Fabians, and other socialistically inclined Congress members,” as Soma Marik describes it, although Gandhi proved quite adept at helping to contain their influence.[28]

Largely under Gandhi’s leadership – although with substantial input from others – the Indian National Congress spearheaded a national liberation struggle that finally brought an end to the British colonial domination of India.

Strategy for Independence

The common “understanding” of the Indian independence struggle is incoherent – perceived either as “a mere conglomeration of different struggles,” or simply as the manifestation of Gandhi’s “principles such as non-violence,” but “without an overall strategy,” as historian Bipan Chandra has put it.  That would have proved incapable of freeing India from colonial oppression.  As Chandra indicates, that triumph would have been impossible without a clear analysis of the situation in colonial India and without a sophisticated and multi-faceted strategy on how to get from the oppressive “here” to the hoped-for “there.”  He concludes that the strategic orientation of the national movement under Gandhi’s leadership “has a certain significance in world history comparable to that of the British, French, Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions.”  In his theorizations of Indian nationalist revolutionary strategy Chandra makes use of Marxist conceptualizations developed by Antonio Gramsci, and he adds, intriguingly, that “India’s is the only actual historical example of a semi-democratic or democratic type of state structure being replaced or transformed.”[29]

This brings us to the analysis of the situation, which saw that while repressive and violent force was decisive in maintaining British power, an essential element involved the acquiescence of the Indian population – maintained through “certain rules of law and codes of administration” interlarded with possibilities of self-expression, participation, and advancement for major sectors of the population.  The British colonial regime maintained a “legal authoritarianism” that – “semi-democratic, semi-authoritarian” – sought to promote beliefs that (a) British colonialism was benevolently helping to “modernize” India, (b) that “the Indian people were too weak and disunited to oppose them successfully,” and (c) that the colonial regime was invincible and “would crush all opposition except to the extent that they permitted it,” this phrase we have italicized referring to “semi-democratic” policies with which the British colonial rulers sought to buttress their domination of India.  (Chandra stresses that the specific Gandhian-nationalist strategy might not have been effective in different contexts, such as those in which authoritarian violence was not limited by any legal or other constraints.)[30]

In the face of this, a basic strategic perspective was developed to “struggle for the minds and hearts of men and women so that nationalist influence would continuously grow among the people through different channels and through different phases and stages of the national movement.”  Geared not to reform the colonial regime but to overthrow it, this strategic perspective alternated between illegal actions and phases of functioning within the legal structures maintained by colonial regime.[31]  The strategic perspective was animated by four basic objectives: 1) bring the masses of people “into active politics and political action”; 2) “erode the hegemony or ideological influence of the colonial rulers inch by inch in every area of life”; 3) “undermine the hold of the colonial state on the members of its own state apparatuses”; and 4) “constantly expand the semi-democratic political space, and to prevent the colonial authorities from limiting the existing space, within which legal activities and peaceful mass struggles could be organized.”[32]

A major aspect of the strategy was “the long-drawn out character of the hegemonic struggle” which Chandra describes as “Struggle-Truce-Struggle” (S-T-S).  An intensely active period of “vigorous confrontation with colonial authority” (marked by mass actions and civil disobedience) which, after political concessions were secured, would be followed by a longer and – in some ways – more passive period within which, however, “intense political and ideological work was carried on among the masses” in part to build consciousness about the inadequacy of the reforms that were won, leading to another upsurge of active struggle with the authorities.  The so-called “passive” periods included “extensive tours by leaders, organization of public meetings on an extensive scale, and the organization of workers, peasants and students and youth and their struggles, mostly by the left-wing, during the late 1920s and the 1930s.”  The dynamic was “an upward spiraling one,” with both phases of the movement utilized “to undermine colonial hegemony, to recruit and train nationalist workers, and to build up the people’s capacity to struggle,” and with each stage representing “an advance over the previous one.”  Any reforms won were not seen as helping the colonial system to work better, but to undermine it and bring it down.[33]

Noting that “the political struggle was perpetual, only its forms underwent change,” Chandra emphasizes, at the same time, the need for the two phases:

The nationalist strategy, under Gandhiji’s leadership, was based on the assumptions that by its very nature a mass movement could not be carried on or sustained indefinitely or for a prolonged period, that a mass movement must ebb sooner or later, that mass movements had to be short lived, and that periods of rest and consolidation, of ‘breathing time,’ must intervene so that the movement could consolidate, recuperate and gather strength for the next round of struggle.

Seeking to “increase the people’s capacity to sacrifice and face colonial repression through ideological work,” the nationalist leadership “recognized the limits of their capacity to suffer,” and it “also based its tactics on the fact that the colonial state was not yet . . . in disarray,” but still had “considerable capacity to crush a movement,” which also dictated the need for the movement not to reach beyond its current strength.[34]

Another element in the strategic perspective involved an understanding of the different components that are essential elements of any revolutionary movement.  Along with the commitment to building a mass movement, there was an understanding that “a mass movement needed a ‘standing army’ or ‘steel frame’ of wholetime political workers” – what are sometimes referred to as cadres, those who have the political understanding and the organizational skills required for “organizing and mobilizing the masses.”  Chandra notes that “the national movement produced thousands of these wholetime workers who devoted their entire lives to the freedom struggle.”  Yet the movement’s “real striking power could come only from the masses.”[35]

This crucial point – the absolute necessity of mass action – was related to a central tactical precept (and for Gandhi, a central moral precept) of the movement: “he adoption of non-violent forms of struggle enabled the participation of the mass of the people who could not have participated in a similar manner in a movement that adopted violent forms.”  In addition, “non-violence as a form of struggle and political behavior was also linked to the semi-hegemonic, semi-authoritarian character of the colonial state and the democratic polity in Britain.”  The non-violent breaking of British colonial laws would either generate violent force on the part of the authorities (causing them to be seen as brutish), or would result in their inability to enforce their own laws.  Either way, the nationalist movement would win – “the hegemony of colonial rule or its moral basis was destroyed bit by bit.”[36]

In contrast, the resort to revolutionary violence would provide a justification for the government in “launching a massive attack on the popular movement,” with a consequent “heavy repression, it was believed, [that] would demoralize the people and lead to political passivity.”  It was believed that “mass movements in which millions participate . . . have to be, by their very nature, non-violent.”  Chandra concludes that even if the non-violent mass struggles were suppressed, repressed, compelled to compromise, or “defeated in terms of their stated objectives of winning freedom,” the fact remained that in terms of undermining the hegemony of the colonial power and building up the hegemony of the national struggle, such efforts constituted “great successes, and marked leaps in mass political consciousness.”[37]

Although he withdrew from the formal leadership of Congress in 1934, Gandhi had helped set the stage for its becoming a powerful electoral force when the 1935 Government of India Act offered limited self-rule, for India, while keeping it within the Empire.  Nehru and his party took advantage of the new opportunity.   The membership of Congress soared from 470,000 in 1935 to 4.5 million by 1938, as it ran and won election campaigns, with 8 out of 11 provinces coming under Congress rule.  This gave immense authority to the independence struggle.  The Second World War “intervened,” along with the massive civil disobedience campaign designed to compel Britain to “Quit India!” — in some ways interrupting and in other ways accelerating the independence process.[38]

“British rule was more thoroughly discredited than ever in the eyes of the Indians,” according to one Indian journalist on the scene, who added that “psychologically they had begun to look upon their struggle against Britain as a contest in which they were sure to win.”  While 37,000 Congress members and supporters languished in prison, British authority sank even further for demonstrating utter inefficiency in allowing war-time food shortages to escalate into a full-scale famine in Bengal during 1943-44.  Almost five million people starved to death, with many millions more crippled by malnutrition.  Some Indians were rallying to an anti-colonialist Indian National Army in Japanese-occupied Burma, viewed as heroes by many in their homeland.  And in the war’s immediate aftermath, the Communist Party of India was making visible gains in trade unions and peasants organizations, as well as electorally, and seemed well on its way to becoming a force to be reckoned with.  The conclusion of World War II saw an upsurge in which radical nationalists, Socialists, Communists, and Trotskyists played vital roles in struggles of youth, workers, peasants, and even some military forces.[39]

Giving way to Congress appeared to be the best option to increasing numbers of British policy-makers.  Two years after the conclusion of the Second World War, independence was finally grasped.

And yet there were contradictory qualities afflicting Gandhi and Congress – one having to do with religion, the other with economics.  Together they undermined much of the promise of the triumphant revolution.

Although Gandhi’s religion was crafted by the man himself – including aspects of Jain-influenced Hinduism and elements of Tolstoyan Christianity – he believed in it sincerely and deeply, seeing it as the core of all he did in the realm of politics.  In many ways open, inclusive, and tolerant, it was also marked by certain rigidities and a cultural narrowness.  This was true of matters having to do with gender, sex and sexuality, but even more crucially in the way Gandhi defined India’s struggle for independence.  Despite his sincere desire to have the Congress-led nationalist struggle seen as all-inclusive, for Gandhi (as Perry Anderson notes) “Hinduism was indigenous to the subcontinent and peculiar to it,” while in his mind “Islam was neither,” and this sensibility inevitably colored much of what he said and did, grating against the sensibilities of colonial India’s substantial Muslim population.  Congress proved unable to “bring itself to confront its composition as an overwhelmingly Hindu party, and accept the need for generous arrangements with the Muslim party that had emerged opposite it, dropping the fiction that it represented the entire nation.”  The result was that a great many of India’s Muslims rejected Congress, formed their own organizations and struggles, and called for their own Muslim country – all fiercely opposed by Gandhi and his co-thinkers.[40]

This contributed to a terrible catastrophe.  In 1947, a hasty British pull-out was yoked to the last-minute partition into separate Muslim and Hindu countries, Pakistan and India, with millions of people suddenly caught in “the wrong place.” The result was a horrific tidal-wave of popular violence in which masses of people slaughtered each other at the dawn of independence, with a death-toll of perhaps one million men, women, and children, the rape of more than 75,000 women, and the devastating displacement of more than 10 million people (some still living in refugee camps or precarious conditions more than six decades later).  The sizeable Muslim remnant inside India has, to a large extent, endured in second-class citizenship.[41]  At the same time, India and Pakistan have remained in a state of armed hostility and border disputes, sometimes bursting into military conflict, ethnic violence and terrorism, with added tension flowing from the acquisition of nuclear weapons by both sides.

And then there was the question of socialism.  An immensely popular leader of Congress’s left wing, Jawaharlal Nehru (being groomed as the future leader of Congress), had unambiguously explained the link between socialism and independence in addressing India’s Trade Union Congress in 1929:

It is the system that is wrong, the system that is based on the exploitation of the few and the prostitution of labor . . . which is the natural outcome of capitalism and imperialism and if you would do away with the system you will have to root out both capitalism and imperialism and substitute a saner, healthier order. . . . It will not profit you much if there is a change in your masters and your miseries continue.  You will not rejoice if a handful of Indians become high officers of the State or draw bigger dividends, and your miserable conditions remain. . . . You want a living wage and not a dying wage. [42]

In 1937 he insisted that “the only key to the solution of the world’s problems and of India’s problems is socialism,” emphasizing: “I see no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degradation and the subjection of the Indian people except through socialism.  That involves vast and revolutionary changes in our political and social structure, the ending of vested interests in land and industry, as well as the feudal and autocratic Indian states system.”  In later years Nehru emphasized more than once that genuine democracy and genuine socialism are inseparably linked.  On the one hand, “even a complete nationalization (so-called) of industry unaccompanied by political democracy will only lead to a different kind of exploitation, for while industry will then belong to the state, the state itself will not belong to the people.”  On the other hand: “If there is economic inequality in the country, all the political democracy and all the adult suffrage in the world cannot bring about real democracy.”[43]

Although Gandhi was Nehru’s mentor, this was not part of his doctrine.  As critic Randhir Singh later noted, “Gandhi’s political theory and practice (non-violence, trusteeship, satyagraha, etc.) had no room at all for any genuine economic structural change.”  According to biographer Bikhu Parekh, Gandhi believed “a society’s wealth consisted in the character of its members, not in the quantity of its material objects, and the purpose of its economic arrangements should be to create the necessary economic basis of the good life.”  While his economic thought was vague, Gandhi reached for what he called trusteeship, in which, as his biographer has explained, “a rich man was allowed to retain his property, but was expected to hold his wealth and personal talents in trust and to use them for the service of society.”  The biographer adds: “Gandhi conceded that such a voluntary form of socialism or ‘renunciation’ was rare, and that only one of his many capitalist friends had come close to it.”  Policies based on genuine socialist perspectives, on the other hand, were quite unacceptable to wealthy Indian entrepreneurs – particularly the Birla family and others like them, ardent nationalists in Congress, strong supporters and good friends of Gandhi.  It was similarly unacceptable to other key Congress figures, and to Gandhi as well.  Nehru was given a choice.  He could hold on to his socialist views, by all means, but not try to lead Congress into socialist direction, and then he could soon become the leader of Congress.  Or, if committed to an actual struggle for socialism, he could split from Congress and from Gandhi, and move to the margins.  Nehru gave in.[44]

Dilemmas of Independence

Independence was finally won, with Congress at the helm and the eloquent, compromised Nehru as the liberated country’s first Prime Minister.  While Nehru may have been keenly aware of limitations inherent in liberation as designed by Gandhi, the way things turned out seem to have been a revelation to Gandhi himself.  Shortly before his death he confessed: “I do not understand how all these terrible things are happening in our country . . . What mistakes have we made, for we must have made mistakes?  Otherwise how could all these things happen?”[45]

Aging Marxist critic Randhir Singh, one of Gandhi’s contemporaries, looked back on it all and reflected that “we know of Gandhi’s love and concern for the Indian people which to him meant, above all, the impoverished peasantry of India – ‘the semi-starved masses – slowly sinking into lifelessness’ as he once put it – a love and concern (rather paternal in nature, always fearful of people straying from the ‘right’ path) which was possibly the most distinguishing feature of Gandhi’s social philosophy.”  Gandhi’s vision was that the peasant would be empowered in the liberated country, “yet it was not Gandhi’s peasant but a Birla who inherited India in 1947, along with, of course, communal violence [between Hindu and Muslin], the partition, and much else that Gandhi did not want.”[46]

“Democratic” India – deeply flawed in ways that Nehru had once warned about – employed socialist rhetoric to fashion policies that, in fact, crafted what the Marxist Singh termed “a state-supported India-specific capitalism,” enjoying significant modernization for some and a “significant degree of economic growth,” but with “nothing much in it for the common Indian people.”  This corresponded to the perceptions of others as well.  “Our economy and social structure have outlived their day and it has become a matter or urgent necessity for us to refashion them so that they may promote the happiness of all our people in things material and spiritual,” Nehru complained in 1952.  “We must aim at a classless society based on co-operative effort, and opportunities for all.”[47]  But there was no way for Nehru’s India to achieve that.

Sympathetic historian Stanley Wolpert has observed that urban growth has been accompanied by the fact that “three-quarters of Kolkata’s families live in single-room squalor or unsheltered out of doors, without running water or adequate lavatory facilities.  Yet it is the first Indian city to have expended a fortune on a mile of modern subway, in the best part of its posh Fort district.”  He adds that “every major city of India faces the same proliferating problems: inadequate housing, transport, sewerage, water, schools, and hospitals,” and that “India’s democracy . . . [has been] subject to private pressures and purchases, favoritism and nepotism, bossism and corruption of very political variety.”[48]

A recent report specifies realities that would have horrified Gandhi and Nehru, occurring as they do over half a century after the triumphant independence struggle to which they had devoted their lives:

The Indian state has a unique co-existence of contradictions as the prevalent government practices do not reflect the values enshrined in the Constitution.  The widespread discontentment among the people belonging to varied castes, sub-castes, tribes, regions, religion and gender reiterates this fact.  The state is increasingly gaining an image of the perpetrator of violence for withholding the justifiable demands of its citizens.

The growth of the Indian economy following the liberalization [the neoliberal economic turn] in 1991, has been at the cost of marginalization, exclusion and the expropriation of a vast section of the society.  Industrialisation required access to land and natural resources, which were seized by expropriating the actual rights holders. . . . The state collaborated with private parties to perpetuate further violence upon its populace.  The ruthless treatment of workers in the manufacturing and construction industries further reveals the lack of humanity, an intrinsic element of capitalism in a neo-liberal regime.  The state abandoned its regulator role and allowed capital to maximize profit by the exploitation of labor.[49]

We must explore elsewhere and in greater detail the remarkable developments and dilemmas of modern-day India, which – in a manner fully consistent with the dynamics of “uneven and combined development” – have made that country a central component of the global capitalist order.[50]

Also worth examining is the rise and development of the force that was closest to providing a revolutionary alternative to the Congress mainstream, the Communist Party of India.  As it turned out, the CPI proved quite unable to surpass Congress’s influence in the struggle for independence, or – related to this – to provide a consistent revolutionary leadership.  Such explorations can provide a framework for comprehending the complexities of the revolutionary left in India today, which may open up future possibilities.

In all of this, we will find illuminating peculiarities to match those suggested in this survey of India’s history.  Comprehending such current realities, as well as present-day struggles of India’s revolutionary activists, will provide rich insights for those in all countries who hope to create a world of the free and the equal.
[1] “Economy of India,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_India; Ankit Panda, “IMF: India Will Be Fastest Growing Major Economy by 2016,” The Diplomat, January 21, 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/01/imf-india-will-be-fastest-growing-major-economy-by-2016/; “World GDP,” The Economist, June 13, 2015 http://www.economist.com/news/economic-and-financial-indicators/21654018-world-gdp  (all accessed 13/07/2015).
[2] Much of the background information for this summary history is drawn from Stanley Wolpert, India, Fourth Edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), a valuable introductory text.
[3] Perry Anderson, The Indian Ideology (London: Verso, 2013), 10 11; “Languages of India,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_India (accessed 13/07/2015).
[4] On ancient Athens, see R. K. Sinclair, Democracy and Participation in Athens (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), and Ellen Meiksins Wood, Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy (London: Verso, 1997).  On Ashoka, see Wolpert, 35-36; Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1999), 132-135; D. D. Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History (Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1956), 188-199.  Book-length studies can be found in Romila Thapar, Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, Revised Edition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997) and Nayanjot Lahiri, Ashoka in Ancient India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 2015).
[5] Wolpert, 27-29.  Also see Nehru, 245-248, 250-256, Kosambi, 75-135, Kumar Goshal, The People of India (New York: Sheridan House, 1944), 17-20.
[6] Wolpert, 111-121.  Also see Kosambi, 91-96, 237-243, Goshal, The People of India, 55-57, and Irfan Habib, “Caste in Indian History,” Essays in Indian History, Towards a Marxist Perception (London: Anthem Press, 2002), 161-179.
[7] Wolpert, 68-77, 79-80; Kumkum Roy, Kunal Chakrabarti, Tanika Sarkar, The Vedas, Hinduism, Hindutva (Kolkata: Heinrich Boll Foundation and Ebong Alap, 2005); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “In Defense of Secularism,” Economic and Political Weekly, February 4, 2006, 405-407.
[8] Chris Harman, A People’s History of the World, From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (London: Verso, 2008), 50-51; on Buddhism and Jainism, also see Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1972), 122-159.
[9] Wolpert, 182-183; Nehru, 115-117, 216-221; Harman, 52; Chattopadhyaya, 101-105, 185-199.
[10] Harman, 52-53.
[11] Nehru, 237-245; Wolpert, 38-43; Habib, “Forms of Class Struggle in Mughal India” and “The Economic History of Medieval India: A Survey,” Essays in Indian History, 233-258, 367-409.
[12] Wolpert, 68-109; Goshal, The People of India,18-19, 58-59; Kosambi, 340-343.
[13] For an invaluable, wide-ranging anthology on the “Asiatic mode of production,” see Anne M. Bailey and Josep R. Llobera, eds., The Asiatic Mode of Production, Science and Politics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).  For different approaches regarding the concept of “tributary mode of production,” see Samir Amin, Unequal Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980), Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People Without History (University of California Press, 1982), John Haldon, The State and the Tributary Mode of Production (London: Verso, 1994), Irfan Habib, “Processes of Accumulation in Pre-Colonial and Colonial India,” in Essays in Indian History, 259-295, and Neil Davidson, “Asiatic, Tributary, or Absolutist?” in We Cannot Escape History: States and Revolutions (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), 57-66.
[14] Marx cited in R. Palme Dutt, India Today (London: Victor Gollancz, 1940), 97; Karl Marx, “The Future Results of British Rule in India” (1853), Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 12 (New York: International Publishers, 1979), 217.  This and much more of relevance can be found in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Colonialism (New York: International Publishers, 1972).  Also see Habib, “Marx’s Perception of India,” Essays in Indian History, 14-58.
[15] Anderson, 10, 11; Denis Judd, The Lion and the Tiger: The Rise and Fall of the British Raj, 1600-1947 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004), 94.  See also Goshal, The People of India, 71- 146, and Kunal Chattopadhyay, “India, Great Rebellion of 1857 (the Sepoy Revolt),” in Immanuel Ness et al, ed., The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, 1500 to the Present (Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), Volume IV, 1685-1692.
[16] Anderson, 11-12, 14; Davis cited in Arundhati Roy, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to the Grasshoppers, new edition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015), 162, but also see Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts (London: Verso, 2000), 25-58, 159-175, 311-340.
[17] Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, in The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, Vol. II, ed. by Peter Hudis and Paul Le Blanc (London: Verso, 2015), 267-268. See Nehru, 303-304, but also Habib, “Social Distribution of Landed Property in Pre-British India” and “The Peasant in Indian History” in Essays in Indian History, 59-160.
[18] Luxemburg, 269-270.
[19] Ibid., 270.
[20] V. I. Lenin, “Flammable Material in World Politics,” Collected Works, Volume 15 (Moscow: Progress
Publishers, 1973), 182-188.
[21] Nehru, 312, 313, 319; Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, Third Edition (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 114-120.
[22] Judith M. Brown, Modern India: The Origins of and Asian Democracy, Second Edition (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1994), 173, 183, 184, 188, 189; Metcalf, 136-137; Nehru, 319-320, 353.  See also Anderson, 14-15.
[23] Nehru, 356-357.
[24] See Joan V. Bondurant, The Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict, new revised edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), and M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha) (New York: Schocken Books, 1961).  For a critical, informative account, see Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948),” International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, 1500 to the Present, Volume III, 1324-1332.
[25] Nehru, 358, 360
[26] Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Roy, Manabendra Nath (1887-1954),” International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Vol. VI, 2876; Sibnarayan Ray, In Freedom’s Quest: A Study of the Life and Works of M. N. Roy, Volume II: The Comintern Years, 1922-27 (Kolkata: Minerva Associates, 2002), 111-112; Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi (New York: Sterling, 2010), 130.
[27] “Bhagat Singh,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagat_Singh (accessed 20 July 215); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Bhagat Singh,” in International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Vol. VI, 3041-3042; Soma Marik, “Indian National Liberation,” International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Vol. IV, 1710;
[28] Anderson, 17; Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukerjee, Aditya Mukerjee, Sucheta Mahajan, K.N. Panikkar, India’s Struggle for Independence (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 296-310.
[29] Chandra, et al, India’s Struggle for Independence, 505, 516-517.
[30] Ibid., 506.
[31] Ibid., 507.
[32] Ibid., 507-509.
[33] Ibid., 509-510.
[34] Ibid., 510-511.
[35] Ibid., 511.
[36] Ibid., 514-515.
[37] Ibid., 516.
[38] Anderson, 46-47; Nehru, 416-495.
[39] On the Communist Party of India’s activities from World War II to Independence, see Eugene D. Overstreet and Marshall Windmiller, Communism in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 171-251.  On militant insurgent activity leading up to 1947, see: Kumar Goshal, People in the Colonies (New York: Sheridan House, 1948), 227-228, 232, 237; Metcalf, 209-210; Harkishan Singh Surjeet, March of the Communist Movement in India (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1998), 58-60; Asoka Meta, “Nationalists, Socialist and Communists in India,” The Strategy of Deception: A Study in World-Wide Communist Tactics, ed. by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick (New York: Farrar, Straus and Co., 1963), 122-124; K. Damodaran, “The Tragedy of Indian Communism,” The Stalinist Legacy, ed. by Tariq Ali (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), 352; Kunal Chattopadhyay, “India, post-World War II upsurge,” in International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Volume IV, 1704-1708.
[40] Anderson, 18-31, 139; Brown, 190-192, 236-239, 330-337; Metcalf, 162-165, 196-197, 207-217.  Also see Kathryn Tidrick, Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life (London: Verso, 2013).
[41] Anderson, 53-102, 144; Brown, 338-340; Metcalf, 217-223; “Partition of India,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India (accessed 13/7/2015); Marik, “Indian National Liberation,” 1711.
[42] Nehru quoted in Wolpert, 190.
[43] Nehru quoted in Wolpert, 210; Nehru quoted in Tariq Ali, The Nehrus and the Gandhis, An Indian Dynasty (London: Picador, 2004), 53-54; Nehru, 502.
[44] Ali, 57, 85, 87-88; Anderson, 42-43; Parekh, 129-130; Randhir Singh, “Talking of a Few Forgotten or Forbidden Things,” in Marxism, Socialism, Indian Politics: A View from the Left (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2008), 229; Charles Bettelheim, India Independent (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1968), 130-131; Chandra, et al, India’s Struggle for Independence, 375-385, 519, 524-528.
[45] Gandhi quoted in Singh, 230.
[46] Singh, 229.
[47] Ibid., 228, Wolpert, 194.
[48] Wolpert, 141, 143-144, 145, 193, 194.
[49] South Asia Alliance for Poverty Education, Crises, Vulnerability and Poverty in South Asia, People’s Struggles for Justice and Dignity (Katmandu, Nepal: Sthapit Press, 2013), 17.
[50] Key works include: Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari, Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India (New Delhi/New York: Penguin/Viking, 2012); Achin Vanaik, The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India (London: Verso, 1990), and Achin Vanaik, “Subcontinental Strategies,” New Left Review 70, July-August 2011; Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (New York: Random House, 2012); Arundhati Roy, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to the Grasshoppers, new edition (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).  Also relevant is Vijay Prashad, Neo-liberalism with Southern Characteristics: The Rise of the BRICS (New York: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2013) – referring to Brazil, Russian India, China, and South Africa, rising capitalist economies challenging U.S. and Western European hegemony.


Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought: Laclau, Negri, Badiou-Oliver Harrison

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Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought: Laclau, Negri, Badiou
Ashgate, Farnham and Burlington, VT, 2014. 184pp., £60 hb

Reviewed by Andrew Rowcroft


Andrew Rowcroft is currently completing his doctorate on post-Marxist theory and contemporary British and American Fiction. He is the convenor for the Marx Research Seminar at the University of Lincoln, and can be contacted via arowcroft@lincoln.ac.uk.


With the crisis and collapse of Marxism as the dominant paradigm of the twentieth century progressive left, post-Marxism (‘postmodern’ or ‘poststructuralist’ Marxism) started to gain ascendancy across fields as diverse as social and political theory, literary studies, and philosophy. Rendered as a more intellectually palatable Marxism (within a postmodern age of radical scepticism), post-Marxism has been a steady undercurrent of Marxist scholarship since the end of the Second World War. It is not without its opponents, however, and it is regarded by some orthodox scholars as a fashionable posture, the ‘advanced stage of an intellectual malady’, and even a ‘short pit stop on the way to anti-Marxism’. (Geras, 1987; Wood, 1998).

Situating the end of Marxist discourse with the collapse of actually existing socialism in 1989, Oliver Harrison begins this study of Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought by arguing that Marxism has, for some time now, been ‘ossified into a doctrine that justified state terror’ (1). For Harrison, the emergence of post-Marxism is more readily located in the 1980s, particularly with the publication of Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), a central text in these debates. Limiting the study to three ‘post-Marxist’ scholars (the recently deceased Argentine political philosopher Ernesto Laclau, the communist intellectual and activist Toni Negri, and the French philosopher and critic Alain Badiou) Harrison problematizes their relation to Marx by building in another layer from which these thinkers draw: Laclau has an obvious debt to Gramsci’s conception of hegemony, Negri to Lenin’s writings on party structure and organisational form, and Badiou to Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Thankfully, and for all our sakes, Harrison avoids the double prefix ‘post’ which has become popular in recent cultural enquiry (are these figures, one may ask, post-Marxist or post-post-Marxist?).

The chapter structure emphasises simplicity and readability. After a series of short chapters on historical and theoretical contexts, each theorist is located within a single detailed chapter. The Introduction is rewardingly brief, with Harrison contending that the questioning of Marx’s most elementary claims has actually provided a rich source of new material, acting as a complement to, rather than a displacement of, Marx’s oeuvre. His focus on the return of Marx’s approach to capitalist crisis post-2008 is not dealt with sufficiently however; he simply acknowledges that in times of crisis ‘the Marxist critique of political economy remains authoritative’ yet without the ‘revolutionary prescriptions’ typically associated with it (1).

Chapter Two gives a short overview of the historical development of Marxist theory across the twentieth century, and is organised around the key thematic headings which have dominated the discourse (orthodoxy, Western Marxism, critical theory, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-Marxism), which Harrison reads as successive stages in the theory’s development. Beginning with an interesting and well-written biography of Marx, Harrison situates Marx’s method and writing as a product of nineteenth century ‘scientific’ enquiry. Strictly speaking, there is nothing new here. Harrison’s focus on the role of Engels deserves some mention, contending that his intervention fostered a more deterministic Marxism than its author had originally intended. Harrison ends this section by arguing post-Marxism must be ‘considered on a case-by-case basis’, but he says little regarding the political consequences of this theoretical fragmentation. In a bid to problematize the so-called ‘ambiguous’ theory of these figures, Marx’s revolutionary subjectivity remains the ‘benchmark’ of Harrison’s enterprise. Yet, while the close focus on selected writings breeds a rewarding proximity with the material, Harrison offers little comment on the larger structural deployments that are the staple of Marxism proper. Perry Anderson’s exemplary Considerations on Western Marxism (1976) is notable for its quick gloss here, with Harrison missing commentary on how the aesthetic came to be the driving preoccupation of Marxist thought from the Frankfurt school onwards.

The chapter on revolutionary subjectivity is the first of the more ‘meaty’ sections on Marx, followed by chapters on Laclau, Negri, and Badiou. Harrison reads Marx’s revolutionary subjectivity as defined by productive activity operating in historically determinate objective and subjective conditions, a ‘prism of human productive activity directed towards the seizure of power’. It emerges via ‘gradual educative experience’ and is neither ‘spontaneous nor inevitable’ (21).

Harrison complements this reading with a launch into the second tier of theorists who constitute the middle base of the study, with a focus on their deviations from orthodoxy. After unpacking Marx’s materialist concept of history, Harrison then focuses on Lenin’s creation of an ‘advanced revolutionary theory’ within the specific limitations of Russian society. Followed by short sections on Gramsci’s re-writing of a Marxist theory of politics through hegemony and, Mao’s application of Marx to a situation without a working class agent, this section is eminently clear and lucid.

Chapter Four offers an excellent overview of Laclau’s political writings, refreshing for its situation of Laclau’s formative political experiences in his native Argentina, which played a major role in his writing on tactical alliances with non-revolutionary sectors. Expectedly, Harrison’s focus remains largely with Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, a work that crystalized the development of post-Marxism. There is little to take to task here; the subject matter is well-handled and broached through smaller subsections focusing on class, discourse, populism, and, of course, subjectivity. The chief task with discussing Laclau however, is the difficulty of registering his thought as interventions in concrete historical circumstances. Harrison does well here, situating the retreat from class within the larger ‘political’ abandonment of social class occurring across Marxist theory.

The Chapter on Negri and the concept of the Multitude follows. Once again, Harrison situates the critic’s thought within the historical and political crisis of its time; in this case the aggressive workers movement in Italy, which for Negri, allowed the rethinking of the Marxist labour/capital binary. In Harrison’s reading of Negri, the form or composition of the working class is different in each particular stage and therefore revolutionary subjectivity cannot be subordinated to an objective position within the relations of production. Negri’s reading of the Grundrisse finds an admirable place here; so often overlooked for his more established work with Michael Hardt. For Harrison, Negri’s reading of Marx through Lenin allowed a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between class composition and organisational form, allowing Negri to ‘reformulate a theory of revolutionary subjectivity in the Italian context’ of his time’ (75).

The final theoretical chapter, on Badiou’s `Communist Hypothesis’, was for this critic the most engaging. Badiou’s continued fidelity to the thought of Mao demonstrates, for Harrison, a structural break with Marx’s thought on revolutionary subjectivity. While Badiou accepts social class as a ‘fully reliable tool’ it remains crucial to ‘move beyond the idea that politics represents objective groups that can be designated as classes’ (Badiou quoted in Harrison, 101). While providing new theoretical resources for these discussions, Harrison remains sensitive to the weakness of Badiou’s account. Divorced from any focus on the ‘economic’, and characterised by a rigid anti-statism, the political effectivity of Badiou’s writing can thus be seriously questioned.

Typically, studies of post-Marxism are guilty of perpetrating the very criticism of orthodoxy they seek to dispel. Harrison’s book is considerably more sensitive to these processes than many others. It concludes with an attempted synthesis of these discrepant positions, arguing to retain Negri’s emphasis on ‘changing forms of productive activity; combine this with Laclau’s formal hegemonic logic […] and finally integrate Badiou’s insights regarding […] the protracted and disciplined nature of revolutionary commitment’. (130). As a ‘complex continuity’ of Marx’s emancipatory project, this is certainly a difficult programme to follow.

The conclusion ends by proposing that a post-Marxist theory of revolutionary subjectivity can be located around ‘fundamental tendencies’, chief of which remains the abandonment of Marx’s theory of history. Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought is an excellent addition to the emerging field of critical scholarship on this fascinating area. The subject is well handled and clear, adding an intellectual clarity to a theoretical field that desperately cries out for a clear thematic approach. The clarity and energy Harrison brings to these debates – which, often, are all too quickly given over to academic jargon – is one of the defining achievements of the book. Anyone wishing to become acquainted with these thinkers, and those interested in the complex debt modern critical theory has to Marx, would do well to read this book.

13 September 2015

Geras, Norman 1987. ‘Post-Marxism?’ New Left Review volume 1 no 163, pp. 40-82.
Wood, Ellen Meiksins 1998. The Retreat from Class: The New “True” Socialism (London: Verso).

Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia-Ciro Roberto Bustos

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Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia
Verso, London, 2013. 468pp., £25 hb

Reviewed by Daniel Gaido


Daniel Gaido is a researcher at the National Research Council (Conicet), Argentina. He is author of The Formative Period of American Capitalism (Routledge, 2006) and co-editor, with Richard Day, of Witnesses to Permanent Revolution (Brill, 2009), Discovering Imperialism (Brill, 2009) and Responses to Marx’s ‘Capital’ (Brill, forthcoming).


The publication of these memoirs by one of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s key men in Argentina and Bolivia is a major political and literary achievement. Politically, not because it shows the superiority of Che’s rural armed foco strategy and his peasant way to socialism over Marx’s strategy of building a revolutionary working-class political party, but because it provides a truthful account of Che’s guerrillas exploits, and in that sense it is the best homage that could have been paid to his memory. Artistically, because Bustos’ unique experiences are rendered in a lively and captivating style, which makes the reading of these at times brutal and traumatizing reminiscences an enjoyable experience.

Ciro Bustos was born in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1932. A painter by profession, he studied at the School of Fine Arts of the National University of Cuyo, Mendoza. Attracted by the Cuban Revolution, in 1961 he travelled to Havana, where he met Che, who included him in the group he chose to carry out his revolutionary project in Argentina – part of Che’s wider “continental plan” to set up a guerrilla base in Northern Argentina and Southern Bolivia and Peru. As such, along with Jorge Masetti, Bustos was a member of the founding nucleus of the People’s Guerrilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero del Pueblo, EGP), which operated in the Argentine province of Salta in 1963-4. After the failure of that attempt, Che reconvened Bustos for his guerrilla project in the Ñancahuazú region of Bolivia. After the defeat of this new project, Bustos was sentenced in Camiri to 30 years in prison. Released in 1970 by the government of General Juan José Torres in Bolivia, he lived under Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile and moved to Argentina shortly before Pinochet’s coup in 1973, only in order to be forced to leave his country shortly before Videla’s coup in 1976. He now lives in Malmö, Sweden, where he wrote his memoirs, originally published in Spanish as El Che quiere verte in 2011.

We will skip over Bustos’ formative years in Argentina and begin with the account of his experiences in Cuba. He tells, for instance, that already in the second half of the year 1961 (“la segunda mitad del año 61”, the English version reads: “the mid-sixties”) “Political control had degenerated into Stalinist sectarianism, spreading through Cuban society” (38). He also recalls an Argentine professional couple, doctors sent by the Argentine Communist Party, who invited him over to dinner. The wife, seeing him excited about the revolution, told him: “Your disillusionment will be very painful, I’m afraid. Communists are coming out of the woodworks like mice, taking over everything, to get at the cheese” (43).

Those early symptoms of Stalinization led to an early crisis when Jorge Ricardo Masetti, the journalist who had risked his life to report on the Sierra Maestra guerrillas during the revolution, and who had been trusted with the creation of Cuba’s news agency, Prensa Latina, was ousted from that institution in April 1961, prompting Gabriel García Márquez’s resignation. The blow at Masetti – whose name would be erased from the history of Prensa Latina in a time-honoured Stalinist fashion (455-6) – was a blow at Che, who gradually changed his attitude towards the Cuban Trotskyists from denouncing them as agents of American imperialism to rescuing from jail those whom he could still help (by 1965 the Cuban Trotskyists where officially banned, see Gary Tennant’s outstanding dissertation, available online: Dissident Cuban Communism: The Case of Trotskyism, 1932-1965).

Che made perfectly clear to his recruits that commitment to his project was “more a commitment to death than to life” (50), telling them: “‘Remember, as from now, you are dead men. From now on, you’re living on borrowed time’” (76). This Guevarist conception of revolutionary politics as a suicidal enterprise stemmed from Che’s conception of armed propaganda as the demiurge of subjective conditions, but his urgency to set up guerrilla groups in Latin America must also be seen as a series of increasingly desperate attempts to rescue the Cuban revolution from the deadly embrace of Stalinism.

Che formally appointed Masetti, now persona non grata for the Stalinists, as his second in command or comandante segundo, at the head of a group of half a dozen people, recruited mostly from the periphery of the Argentine Communist Party, in charge of setting up a rural guerrilla base in the Orán region of the Argentine province of Salta. Bustos’ memoirs recount in detail the “army of five madmen’s” tortured odyssey from Cuba through Prague, Algiers (an attempt by Masetti and Che to break free from their dependence on the Stalinist apparatus) and Bolivia to Argentina, from November 1962 to June 1963. Bustos was put in charge of the group’s communications with Cuba, and he vividly remembers this reference to the Cuban revolution in one of the messages: “In one that I helped decipher — the phrase is engraved on my memory — Che says: ‘Nuestra atalaya se hunde lenta pero inexorablemente’ (Our vantage point is slowly but inexorably sinking), and he added that by now we should be in our zone of operation in northern Argentina” (99).

Masetti’s guerrilla army was swiftly and overwhelmingly defeated, more by its geographical isolation and lack of a social base than by actual combats, of which Bustos recalls only one incident. But still, twelve people died and thirteen guerrillas were taken prisoner and put on trial, Bustos himself only barely escaping because he had been put in charge of establishing the urban support network, of which the mainstay was the group that edited the journal Pasado y Presente in the city of Córdoba. It was in Córdoba that he learned that the border police had raided the guerrilla camp in Salta – through the local newspaper (172). Bustos vindicates his former comandante’s revolutionary record and rejects the accusation that Masetti executed two of his own men due to their Jewish extraction, adding that “half the EGP national leadership was Jewish” (155). He also sets the historical record straight against “the efforts of the Cubans in the Americas department to Peronize our experience […] We worked exclusively with young people disenchanted with the Communist Party and groups that had split off from the party. Che gave express orders that no Peronists were to be accepted” (461), because, he said: “It’s too risky, they are too infiltrated” (289).

After the disastrous Salta experience, the EGP began to have doubts about Che’s foquist strategy, and Bustos together with José María “Pancho” Aricó travelled to Cuba in May-July 1964 to explain them to Che himself, but Aricó was overwhelmed by Che’s presence and kept silent. The EGP urban structure in Argentina was still largely intact, and at the beginning of 1965 their leadership held a plenary session in Montevideo, Uruguay, where it was decided to suspend guerrilla activities in Argentina “until such time as conditions were ripe for us to move into a more populated area with access to, and the participation of, an organized workers’ movement” (206). But this resolution couldn’t be transmitted to Che, because in that same year he fired his parting salvo against the Stalinists at his famous last speech in Algiers on 24 February and then disappeared from sight, prompting all sorts of rumours until, in October 1965, Fidel Castro announced his departure from Cuba and his resignation from all his army ranks as well as his government posts.

In May 1966 Bustos was summoned back to Havana and later travelled through China. Then, in January 1967 he was met by Tamara Bunke, the young woman who would die later that year with Guevara in Bolivia, with the message “Che Wants to See You.” He flew to La Paz, Bolivia, where he met Régis Debray, the vain and superficial “theoretician” of foquism, and Tamara herself. Together they reached Che’s guerrilla camp at Ñancahuazú in March 1967, where Che entrusted him with the mission of activating the EGP network. “Strategic objective: Seizing power in Argentina,” Che told him (276). His plans were to enter Argentina with two columns of about one hundred men, “Argentines, in the space of no more than two years” (277). Despite the mandate he had received from the EGP not to insist on a guerrilla foco, Bustos decided to go on with Che’s plans, faced with the fait accompli of his presence at the head of a guerrilla force, but events immediately went out of control.

The desertion of three unreliable recruits prompted their discovery by the army, the abandonment of the base camp and an early military confrontation on 23 March 1967, in which the army fell into an ambush, suffering several dead and injured as well as a major, a captain and many soldiers taken prisoner. Despite this early triumph, the prospects of Che’s Bolivian guerrilla were grim: contact with the outside world was lost, supplies were low, the number of sick people (due among other things to malnutrition) was mounting, and there were no realistic prospects of recruitment among the local population. Indeed, the chosen location was most unsuitable for creating a peasant base: “Bolivia was the only country in South America where (in 1952) a nationalist revolution had introduced agrarian reform, giving land rights back to its peasant farmers, descendants of the ancient Inca empire. The miserable inhabitants of the area where the guerrillas were fighting actually owned their shacks and strips of land — with more bugs than fruit on it, but nonetheless theirs. At the slightest sign of outside interference or latent threat to their possessions, they would inform the army” (284).

It was decided that Bustos, Debray and a freelance photographer who somehow managed to reach the guerrillas, George Andrew Roth, should try to escape the army’s dragnet, taking advantage of Roth’s bona fide status as a journalist, with a safe-conduct from the top military brass. They were quickly arrested on 20 April 1967 and subjected to intensive interrogation, though not tortured.

Bustos’ instructions were to keep the guerrilla’s network in Argentina (then under the military dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía) secret at all costs. As regards the Ñancahuazú guerrillas, Che instructed him to avoid revealing the presence of Cubans. As for Che’s own presence, it was to be revealed only if it became clear that the army already knew it, and then given as much publicity as possible to try to break the guerrillas’ isolation. According to Bustos: “it did not matter what Debray or I said, nor when we said it: they already knew […] they had already established the presence of Che under the alias of Ramón, a group of Cubans under his command, some Peruvians and, naturally, Bolivians” (343-4). In these conditions, Bustos drew sketches of the guerrillas which later led to the accusation that it was him who had betrayed Che, although according to one of the CIA agents, who spoke about it years later, Debray “sang like a canary” (xiv).

Bustos believes that Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership abandoned Che and his guerrillas to their fate: “Cuban Intelligence had recalled their man Renán Montero (aka Moleón in Bolivia or Iván when the EGP were training in Havana) from his post in La Paz in March, immediately after the first combat. He was not replaced” (357). The same happened to him, and to his wife and two daughters, during his trial and subsequent imprisonment: they received no help whatsoever, while the Cuban state showered attentions on Debray, who did not really need them (his mother was a Gaullist member of parliament for Paris and he enjoyed the personal protection of General Charles de Gaulle).

During Bustos and Debray’s trial at Camiri, Che was murdered on 9 October 1967, and they were subsequently condemned to a thirty-year sentence, but released in December 1970 by the left-wing military regime of General Juan José Torres, subsequently killed in Argentina by the military dictatorship in 1976. During their time in prison Che’s diary was delivered to the Cuban government (which immediately published it) by Antonio Arguedas, minister of the interior in President Barrientos’ government, an ex-Communist and self-confessed CIA agent during the previous six years. “Arguedas lived in Cuba for a time (like Ramón Mercader, Trotsky’s killer), was showered with honours, received the honorary title of ‘compañero’, attended the 26th of July ceremonies in the Plaza de la Revolución in the government box, and returned to Bolivia two coups d’état later” (400).

The English translation is not a full rendering of the beautiful Spanish original but a slightly shortened version. On the other hand, the chapter headings have been improved and provided with a chronology. For reasons of space we cannot provide examples of Bustos’ prose, we will close this review with an anecdote from his time at Camiri prison: “Only once was a book confiscated: A Plan for Escape by Bioy Casares, which had nothing to do with prisoners escaping” (384).

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