Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is the Concept of Class Struggle Still Relevant?

Capitalism and Future of Democracy:A Debate-Part Two

M P Chandrasekharan: Has revolution resulted in anything other than transfer of power from one clique to another? Oppression of the innocent and powerless is a continuing feature before and after revolution. Even Communism has fostered emperors like Ceausescu. What is the difference between Revolution and Counter-Revolution? When members of CITU come to power do they not emulate Maharajas? When I asked these doubts to a Naxalite (long back) he asked me to read a book by K.Venu (I did not get the book). Venu later underwent a metamorphosis, passed through communal parties and ended up in Congress? (I am not sure). I think most people who talk about this stuff authentically are not too sure about themselves.

D K Warrier: Nothing wrong in fighting to better the conditions of your constituency (the working class). Problem is how to avoid the "silver bullets". The lead bullets are not lethal as far as ideas are concerned. There is a readily understandable heroism in facing the possibility of death for the cause, and so it is easy-- in a way. Even getting killed inadvertently by a stray bullet can make one a respected martyr. However, resisting a bribe is not at all easy. Poverty is by no means colourful and so far as I know few are respected for accepting deprivations rather than compromise of principles. This is perhaps the reason why peace and security have proved to be so disastrous for revolutionary ideas. It seems a matter of time before former radicals get transformed into admirers of capitalism. I think we need to invent a new method to keep our ideas sharp in the corrosive atmosphere of consumerism and cultural degradation exuded by modern capitalism. This is the need of the hour, without which all efforts to fight for a better world within the constraints of the present order will unfortunately go the way of the communist parties.

N P Chekkutty: John asks, Why do you think Communist Parties are capable or competent to absorb or address the issue of social class or subaltern politics?

To answer this, it is necessary to take a hard look at the alternatives. One option, as far as I can see, is the NGOs who are now taking over a great part of the work political parties used to do in the past. But NGOs do have inherent limitations. They, at least some of them, are doing good work at the social level, fighting evils and an unjust system and organizing and empowering the most deprived sections of the population. So far so good.

But beyond that politics is about a constructive rebuilding of society. It needs an involvement in the administration of power, and a conscious effort to lead the society on a more egalitarian principle. Here the NGOs are up against a wall. They are essentially grassroots organizations with a narrow focus. They do not have any programmatic understanding about the approach to take for social reorganization.

A few years ago, while I was at Kairali TV, I had a debate with Medha Patkar on this aspect. Her work was commendable, she had brought to the forefront the issue of the displaced at Narmada. But beyond that how do you go for changing the society on an alternative platform? She had no answer but that their work should influence political parties. It did too, for example, the RTI Act and the rural employment act in India. She agreed with me that only a political party with its own policies and programmes can take up such a task.

Then if this is the reality, only the organized communist parties which are still the most democratic in the country in spite of all their failures, the only forces available to take up this role. They are the only ones with a clear understanding, agenda and necessary power to effect change.

My complaint is that instead of taking up this role of a political alternative to the ruling classes, our communist parties are toeing their own class line. What use is the Communist Party if it voluntarily takes up the Congress agenda?

K Satchidanandan: The local struggles, transversal or micro-struggles as Foucault calls them -- on specific issues(Narmada, Nandigram, Plachimada, the Adivasi struggles for land, the struggles of women, Dalits, people with different sexual preferences, human rights struggles on diverse issues, anti-war struggles etc -- do have and have played their role in changing the set mores of the society and challenging/ revising/ reforming the State agenda and even changing the laws. After all what we call the Kerala Renaissance was but a conglomeration of such movements for internal reform, and similar movements across the country have played a major role in changing the attitudes of the society towards issues and towards marginalized/ oppressed social sections which get gradually reflected even in our legal systems.

At the same time it is true that their interests are at times mutually contradictory (See some Dalit leaders welcoming globalization as a new opening enabling them to transcend caste barriers and join a global technological society.) Ambedkar and Sree Narayana Guru also had found colonialism preferable to feudal landlordism and the suffocating caste system. Narayana Guru even said it was the British who had given “us” sanyas, meaning the Brahmins would never have allowed an Ezhava to be a sanyasi, which has a kind of truth in it in a specific circumstance and from a specific perspective, but may not be true in a larger national or human context. While macro programmes and mega ideologies seem to be under attack from post-Modernists, countries like ours still need larger, more inclusive and basic agendas of social reconstruction. The Indian State certainly has such an agenda which is the New Capitalist agenda, and it is in this context that we need to develop alternative agendas. I would not say that it is only the communists who need to, or are qualified to, think about such an agenda, socialists of various hues, radical intellectuals, even genuine Congress men who have not forgotten Gandhi entirely, if that species still exists, and activists from social reform organizations and secularists need to come together and work on an alternative agenda. This again may be a mad dream, but can't we think of an Indian Socialist Forum, like the World Socialist Forum --but not as its branch, as our context is as much specific as it is general-- where people of different persuasions but working towards another form of society can come together and initiate a national dialogue on change and reform? Let diverse thinkers address us, including Zizek-- I don't think he has visited India -- and let us speak, argue, and arrive at a consensus as to what is the best form of just and egalitarian social reorganization possible (by which I mean not only economic, but also cultural and ethical reorganization) and what are its modes in the given global and Indian circumstance!

John Samuel: Thanks Satchi for your perspective. Here again, we seem to be on the same page. World Social Forum was an initiative many of us promoted, where there is a diverse group of people-- as an open space to discuss, debate and think through alternatives. I have been a part of the process from the very beginning. While it helped to bring together a whole group of actors opposed to imperialist globalization, and build up solidarity beyond the English-speaking world, one wonders whether WSF will be able to sustain itself and keep its organic form. The India Social Forum too has active participation from CPM, CPI, progressive NGOs and social movements. But your suggestion is worth taking up for further discussions. In fact many friends (like Aruna Roy and others) too have been talking about such a possibility...

V. Sasikumar: John writes, "Often anything that happens in Washington, New York, London or Brussels or any such cities qualify an action to be “global”. Anything that is appeared in the BBC or CNN is worthy enough to be “global'. Any book that is published in London or New York or reviewed in the Time or the News Week or the Economist is supposed to have “global” influence. Any theory or knowledge that gets manufactured or processed in the northern universities or think-tanks is supposed to have “global significance”. By the same token cities of the South, knowledge from the south and the
media in the south are still “local” or “national”."

Interestingly, this reminds me of what our senior scientists have always been telling us: You should publish in international journals. I used to wonder what these are, or how a journal becomes International. As you said, a journal seems to become "International" when it is published in
the west, or sometimes even in countries like Japan. Journals published in India are merely national, and have little value.

John Samuel: Yes, Sasi Kumar. This is something that needs to be challenged-- the political economy of knowledge production, legitimization and dissemination. It is there in science, technology and every field...I wrote an essay in 1994 (on people-centered advocacy) but till it was published in a book (in 1999) brought out by Kumarion in the US, it was never quoted (now it is in the curriculum of few universities). Some of our best authors and books are not even quoted or mentioned in any of the standard books published in the west....

We need to create journals, research institutions and publications of of the best quality that can compete with any other such things in the world.

V Sasikumar : And we certainly can, if only our own scientists would be willing to publish their good papers in Indian journals instead of sending them abroad.

Your contention was that a big, powerful body/movement has to evolve to counter the beast. But I have some apprehensions about that. A beauty can possibly be big, though I am not very sure about that. But will not a big, powerful beauty soon evolve into a beast? Intuitively, I feel that is bound to happen. We may be building another beast to counter the existing beast. What form that beast will take, I have no idea. But if that happens, then we would be back to square one. Again, just intuitively, I have a feeling that only small beauties can ultimately eliminate the beast, or beasts of any kind, though this is bound to take a lot of time, and a lot of suffering.

N C Narayanan: I'm glad to read your last line. This is what I thought when I read Sasi Kumar's mail. When the west 'sets' standards we have two options. First is de-linking and creating our niche of scholarship. Second is to surpass them with quality work. In the first case, we should be self-confident enough not to look to the west for recognition and pat. In social science, our own Economic and Political Weekly is one journal that has survived the test of time and adapted to times. Until recently (or still?) EPW was not a refereed journal. However, it is respected and widely read at least in this part of the world and has much wider audience than any western refereed journal.

John Samuel: Chekkutty, Yes. You have a point. In fact NGOs and the role of NGOs are rather transitory or transitional or like a bridge when there is flux of political process and ideas. If we look at the history of 19th century, many of the political ideas, ideals first started with small groups or organizations and many of them got transformed into bigger political formations. There were a number of them, from Servants of India Society to Tolstoy Farm of Gandhi, in the 19th century and early 20th century. Such small formations or institutions operate in the political and social vacuum at a given point in time -- mostly in a reformative mode, but sometime with revolutionary potential.

Left parties do have a very important role to play in Indian politics. But let us be real: What is the real presence or influence of these parties beyond three states? Why is it that all the key leaders of these parties came from Brahminical or upper caste background? Why is it that the left parties failed to understand the issue of adivasi communities, dalits and women? In most of the states of India (except two or three) the left parties do not even have the influence of NGOs or social movements. So if it is not a real pan-Indian party in terms of mass base and real presence, how can it be competent to absorb and even mobilize the tribal communities, and poorest of the poor in MP, UP, Orissa? When these parties are by and large run by NGO (non- gazetted officers) class, is it a wonder the party is more about the privatization of airports and less bothered about the land struggles of Ekta Parishat and others in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere? The tragedy is that such a political space in many of the states are occupied by the Sangh Parivar, Maoists or the likes of Minority Front in Bengal.

(To be concluded.)

1 comment:

Bird said...

Class, Class Struggle and Communist party are terms often discussed superficially while dealing with Marxism. Let us see how they are defined in Marxism.

Class is a group of people who have common existence characteristics; it is more or less defined by their relation ship with the system which produces goods and services they use. People need goods and services to exists and procreate, therefore a classification based on their relation with the system which produces good and services is a valid classification.
Class struggle is the struggle between classes for the share of the goods and services produced in the system. If classes exist around the system producing goods and services with varying level of relationship with that system, it is quite natural to have struggle between them regarding the share of the fruits of that system.
Party is the vanguard of a specific class, and consists of the most class conscious section of that class. It is only an objectification of its class consciousness. Consciousness is used in practice – struggles and build-ups based on fruits of struggle and by that it is advanced. A member of the party remains in it in same rank depends on his participation and in the practise and his lessons from it. He may be pushed back, superseded by some one else who participated in a better practise and learned better lesson -depends on the history and its turns disregarding it is accidental or anticipated. Therefore party and its ranks are not static, leaving no specific role for seniority.
More over, party should always consist of the most conscious elements of the class; also it should be with the masses of the class. It should be at the centre of the class – having a contact with the class is not enough? Support it enjoys from the whole class should be active not passive. For all practical purpose Party and the class is one and the same. Therefore party even though have a set of policies, struggles, programs, tactics, organizational forms which persists for a considerably long period - they are well thought and practised and whole class is aware and discussed or approved it, will have a flux of new struggles, programs, tactics, organizational which are of transient nature all over its breadth and width. The latter may condense as former or die out sooner or later. Party and the class is monolithic at its effectiveness but encompass endless forms at each point in which the class encounter the world – the experience of the class. Since class struggle is the important reality in the experience of the class, its influence is vital. But it is not the only source of experiences to the metabolism of the class and the party.

Therefore Class (as a relation), Class Conscious, Party as the Vanguard, and Class Struggle and Class experience – are the crucial terms when we discuss CPM or any communist party.

What are the classes in Kerala? This is an important question.