Of AAP and the Leftist Chickens

Pothik Ghosh

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

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

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

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

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

  1. anaarkali says:

    the AAP is clearly a liberal democratic party with some socialist and anarchist tinging. why enter into such a long critique of it from a Marxist point of view? what should concern us is why proletarian/ peasant mobilisation with a clearly marxist understanding is not making any headway. phenomena such as AAP will happen but we have to ask how more radical mobilisations can gain critical mass support. just trashing the AAP will not get us very far. and the history of the past century should teach us that nothing is inevitable. since the AAP has not posited an overthrow of the capitalist system but only a tinkering with its governance there will not be any failure but only a moderation of whatever it wants to achieve. it is more likely that capital will sabotage even the limited liberal democratic project of the AAP.

  2. I’m afraid Mr. Ghosh is still stuck in 20th century ideological posturing; it is such rigidity of thought that has resulted in every ‘Left experiment’ in India ending in failure. It is true that social welfare of the Keynesian variety in the neo-liberal world cannot work, but when has AAP called itself a social democratic force? AAP cannot be defined as of yet, because it is not a political party in the traditional sense. It is a political experiment, a party in the making, a movement, much like the Congress was once a movement. It has been called incoherent, but it is this incoherence that is its strength. Whether it succeeds or not, who can say? but i certainly believe that it is important to engage with it, rather than writing longish editorials talking about the ‘inevitably’ of its failure.

  3. Narendra mohan says:

    There is little doubt that the AAP movement will fail. If its aim is liberation of the people from poverty and oppression (leave alone class issues). AAP has been notably silent about corporations and corporate corruption. This is not to reject engaging with it, but to be aware of its limitations. Mr. Ghosh is right about “Brahmanical’ theorising. There is a new working class,that has emerged from the ruins of the old public sector based working class. It has demonstrated its presence time and again, particularly in the Delhi region. Let Marxists work with them and build an organic leadership from them armed with theory.

  4. Narendra mohan says:

    The working class is a broader term than the Industrial proletariat and is a much more diverse group. In India it is bound be much more heterogeneous in its links with both urban capital big and small and landed interests. The revolutionary left, while its leading layers have been drawn from this very class, makes a fetish of organising the “grass roots” even in broad non-class-based organisations such as women and students. Given the schematism most revolutionary organisations have borrowed from the Chinese experience, including the strategy of surrounding cities from the countryside, they have little time, energy or creativity for working in cities and with the working class even the blue collar working class. It has for decades depended upon small proprietors, artisans, petty traders and declasse sections of the rural poor.

  5. Narendra mohan says:

    Correction – The sentence ” The revolutionary left, while its leadeing layers have been drawn from this very class”, should read from the very same sections of this class”.

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