The AAP Crisis: Left and Precarious Politics

Pothik Ghosh and Pratyush Chandra

Self-declared radical leftists of this country appear to have mastered rather well the art of making a virtue out of necessity. Unfortunately, that is just about the only art – or, for that matter, science – they are in command of. When earlier this year the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) swept the Delhi assembly elections, many among those phrase-mongering ‘radical leftists’ had seen in this electoral victory a crucial tactical opening for the strategic advance of radical democracy, if not also for working-class politics. They saw the apparently mind-boggling political emergence of the AAP in those terms not because they thought the AAP was the new left, albeit a few of them did also claim as much. Rather, they had imagined that their versions of transformative politics – radical democracy for some, working-class revolutionism for others – could ride to the winning-post on the back of the configuration of social forces that underlay AAP’s overwhelming electoral showing, even as the AAP would itself be exposed in the process as a thoroughly inadequate representative of the social aspirations and churn it had fanned and mobilised. Some among them had asserted, with the bluster characteristic of revolutionary phrase-mongers, that bidding goodbye to AAP by way of welcoming it would be a piece of cake. Their assumption having been that the social-corporatist populism the AAP represented would unravel due to the irreconcilably conflicted social forces that comprised it, which would, for them, result in the emergence of radical transformative politics, pretty much on its own. What they failed to grasp was that the populist roadblock the AAP embodies vis-à-vis a transformative political project has little to do with that political party per se. Rather, the populism the AAP embodies is a particular configuration of social forces, and a particular structure and imaginary of social practice, at the grassroots that has risen up to the political surface to congeal in the shape of a party such as the AAP. Unless subjective interventions occur at the level of that social configuration in order to accentuate the contradictions that are constitutive of it, the social corporatist populist politics, of which AAP is merely a symptom, cannot be got rid of. In fact, in the absence of such subjective intervention, this structure of social corporatist populism will continue to perpetuate itself by merely changing the political shape, form and name of its political representatives.        

I

Clearly, there is no royal road to socio-political transformation. The fundamental social changes constitutive of such politics cannot be brought about by merely relying on the troubles that plague the political camp of populism. Now that Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the AAP government in Delhi, has brutally unleashed the Delhi police on a delegation/rally of contract workers and students, even as the AAP itself degenerates into a faction fight among its different authoritarian satraps, Radical Notes would wish to forcefully remind our ‘radical leftists’ what we have insisted all along. This reminder is necessitated by the holier-than-thou stance that our ‘radical leftists’ – even those among them who were more unqualified than others in their affirmation of the ascendancy of the AAP – are currently striking vis-à-vis the AAP in what they perceive to be its hour of trouble. This holier-than-thou attitude continues to perpetuate the politics of exposure that had been integral to the earlier ‘radical leftist’ strategy of riding on AAP’s popularity only to best it. That, needless to say, does little to advance the cause of radical social transformation, let alone working-class politics, because it is, subjectively speaking, little more than liberal petty-bourgeois opportunism and competitiveness that is as much caught in the paradigm of populist politics as the political formation it seeks to outdo. After all, counter-hegemony, which radical working-class politics is supposed to be an articulation of, is not about out-competing the prevailing hegemon to take its place. It is, instead, the affirmation of a new mode of associational socialisation that antagonistically articulates the destruction of the structure of competitive, or exchange-based, socialisation that engenders the hegemonic modality in the first place.

Some of our ‘radical leftists’ who imagined, one way or another, that the AAP’s rise in Delhi – driven as it was by large sections of the urban poor and the precariat –would temporarily halt what they claim to be the BJP’s fascist juggernaut in its tracks, and give some breathing space to the working class and other radical democratic subjects to organise themselves politically, must now realise that nothing like that was ever on the cards. It could not have been. It cannot ever be. Contrary to such castles in the air, Radical Notes, and its extended fraternity, has always insisted that such hopes were thoroughly misplaced. 

Far from being a tactical and temporary halting of the BJP-RSS, the electoral ascendancy of the AAP should be seen, as we have argued right from the very beginning, as the continuance of the process of counter-revolutionary (subjective) mobilisation of objective revolutionary possibilities. A move that was inaugurated last year by the AAP’s brief stint in power in Delhi, and Narendra Modi’s ascendancy in the parliamentary elections soon after. In fact, this counter-revolutionary turn, if one goes out on a limb, began further back in 2009 with the ascent to power of the so-called UPA-2 in the 15th Lok Sabha elections. Counter-revolution is nothing but mystified revolution. That was precisely the reason why Ernest Mandel had once said, and we paraphrase: either revolution will disarm counter-revolution or counter-revolution will disarm revolution. That has always, more or less, been the case in moments of accumulation and concentration of crisis in the epoch of capital. In that context, the Kejriwal versus Modi contest has been no more than a moment in a protracted sequence of reshuffling of various social-interest groups that comprise the fascistically reactionary and sectarian alliance at the grassroots constitutive of the ongoing process of the globalising neoliberal counter-revolution. Therefore, what we will possibly see in terms of expressions of reactionary fascistic sectarianism – both socio-cultural and socio-economic – at the grassroots is only a shift in emphasis in its politico-ideological register. The brutal lathicharge, and firing of tear-gas shells, on the rally/delegation of contract workers and students, reportedly ordered by Kejriwal, merely symptomatises the continuance of the generalised state of exception that Modi as prime minister signifies with regard to the rest of the country.

II

Therefore, what the AAP’s electoral victory, and the BJP’s rout, in Delhi have delivered is simply yet another political expression of what goes on in capitalism as a network of different capitals. And that is, mutual competition among different capitals even as they cooperate, amid and through their unflinching game of politico-economic oneupmanship, to keep the working class at bay. The so-called new political culture, which various spokespersons of the AAP ceaselessly, breathlessly and self-righteously promised on sundry television channels in the immediate wake of their electoral victory two months ago, is now clearly there for all to see. However, what needs to be grasped, as far as the working-class movement in this country is concerned, is what this ‘new’ political culture amounts to in terms of the concrete structuring of classes. This structuring must be understood in terms of an alliance between the petty-bourgeoisie and a section of the bourgeoisie of Delhi merrily cohabiting with a dominant section of the bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois and lumpen-proletarian footsoldiers while trying hard to improve its position in the game of bargaining and negotiation with the latter. Our ‘radical leftists’, had they dropped the blinkers of abstract, parliamentary secularism in order to look at a phenomenon such as the AAP in terms of its materiality, would have realised right at the very beginning of this charade that this ‘new’ political culture could hardly have been otherwise.

In this not-so strange situation that is capital, all that we can expect is cooperation between various sections that are constitutive of it. (Here we ought to understand capital as the structure of fetishised social relations, not as an entity or stock.) This cooperation will be geared towards further stepping up socio-economic and cultural regimentation of social labour, what with those sections taking turns to politically instrumentalise the working class, ideologically reinforce and intensify its internal segmentation and recruit its disaffection to bolster their respective positions vis-à-vis one another in the game of mutual competition, bargaining and negotiation. And that would be regardless of whether or not the AAP, or for that matter even the BJP, is around and/or in power. The former – that is, the alliance between Delhi’s reactionary petty-bourgeoisie and a section of its bourgeoisie – will recruit the growing disaffection of the working class of the city-state to give its bargaining and negotiation with the dominant section of the bourgeoisie more heft. In fact, that is precisely what was accomplished by way of the electoral victory of the AAP. On the other hand, the dominant bourgeoisie, and its petty-bourgeois quislings, will instrumentalise and use the disaffection of the working class, as and when they get the opportunity – something that will surely be amply provided by policy-decisions of the Delhi state government – to retrieve those portions of their ground that are likely to be eroded, thanks to the bargain the former will drive.

That this so-called new political culture will be all about cohabitation of different segments of capital, and class collaborationist instrumentalism, is fairly clear to both the BJP and the AAP. After all, it is not for nothing that the AAP, soon after the election results, categorically stated that Delhi, which had so far been the city of the rich would now be, not a city of the poor, but a city of both the rich and the poor. The BJP, on the other hand, made its share of overtures on that score by unambiguously and repeatedly lending sanctity to the formulation: “Modi as PM, Kejriwal as CM”.

III

Clearly, there is no alternative other than a concerted subjective intervention to construct an independent and new working-class movement against capital as the logic of exploitation and oppression. However, in order to accomplish that we must learn the very important lesson that the triumphal emergence of the AAP two months ago (preceded by BJP’s victory almost a year back), and the concomitant marginalisation and decline of the traditional social democratic left (including both the official left and the self-declared revolutionary left), has to offer. First of all, it is quite apparent that the capitalist need for a new social compact that addresses the contemporary political economic crisis in which states find themselves is not satisfied by the social democratic political techniques fashioned during the Fordist regime of accumulation to manage asymmetries in commodity and labour markets by demand management. It is not for nothing that class-collaborationist and social-corporatist reformism – as a response to the current terminal crisis of capital in its growing failure to stabilise its organic composition – is increasingly being articulated in terms of minimising and reordering the institutions and norms to ensure the freedom and fairness supposedly intrinsic to the endless, ruthless and volatile expansion of commodity and social exchange. 

In order to visualise this conjuncture as a ground for the regeneration of a real class movement of workers, not just as the existential plight of the diverse strata of workers, this (de)regulatory structural adjustment must be grasped in terms of an attempt to resolve the crisis of reproducing capital as social power, of sustaining capital’s ability to subsume labour and valorise its autonomy to facilitate recomposition – of labour to recompose capital. Only this will enable us to understand how the rise of the AAP, and the growing irrelevance of the traditional left in all its (reformist) variety, reveals a qualitatively new order of socio-technical recomposition of labour. One that is constitutive of the increasing levelling of the ground between manual labour and cognitive labour, and the rise of affective labour. Every aspect of societal life, whether it’s in the sphere of production, nonproduction or reproduction, is networked in continuous and overlapping chains of real subsumption, rendering their discreteness precarious. 

The explanation offered by autonomist Christian Marazzi, in his Capital and Affects, is pertinent here: 

“Post-Fordist ‘total quality’ does not stop the production of goods and services, but includes the sphere of distribution, sales consumption, and reproduction. This is why communicative-relational work, which normally is defined as activities of care or of general services to the person, acquires a universal value. In post-Fordism, work has taken on a servile connotation because communicative-relational action, although increasingly relevant in economic terms, is not correctly recognised. Thus, work becomes an opportunity to impose personal hierarchies where one worker has authority over the other, and becomes the terrain where attitudes, feelings and dispositions such as cynicism, fear or denunciation can grow and fester. But the servile connotation of work is not founded on the distinction between productive and nonproductive work, but on the absence of economic compensation for communicative-relational activities.”

The political response of capital to the disaffection this has produced is what Marazzi terms “Berlusconism”. He writes: 

“The post-Fordist regime entails the crisis of the classical institutions typical of representative democracies, and even more so, of the parliamentary system. This crisis originates in the overlap between productive and communicative action, which has fractured the classic separation between economical and political spheres while con-fusing instrumental and politico-communicative activities. This has unleashed social and political processes that are not understandable through classical political rationality.

“The first consequence of this crisis is the proliferation of parties and movements that present themselves as representing the collectivity on the basis of limited interests and ‘themes,’ as can be seen in the increasing difficulty on the part of the Executive and Legislative powers to create a consensus around issues of common interest. What we call Berlusconism is not merely an Italian phenomenon due to an ‘informal galope,’ as Paul Virilio defined it. It is simply the earliest expression of an interest-based political action within the communicative sector. Berlusconism is not a ‘television anomaly’ that can be liquidated with some kind of antitrust law, but is in fact an experiment in post-Fordist governance. In it, we find the explosive synthesis of all the traits of the historical trend unleashed by the post-Fordist shift.”

The decline of the left with its more and more reliance on episodic spectacles and the proliferation of big and small populist formations with their cacophonous post-ideological theatrics, all are symptoms of precarious politics that post-Fordism has perpetuated. A reliance on the empty names like “common man” is also an attempt to create a consensus when there isn’t any. This scenario is in fact the politico-comical representation of capital’s “vampire-like” pre-dawn desperation to locate and subsume living labour.

IV

What is the exact correlation between the current neoliberal, post-Fordist conjuncture, characterised by the increasing footlooseness of social labour, and the emergence of a force such as the AAP to the political centre-stage? Obviously, this correlation is not a directly correspondent one. Its exact digits can be laid bare only through a protracted process of militant workers’ inquiry and workers’ self-inquiry. However, what such footlooseness, and more precisely precarity, has definitely resulted in is the growing political redundancy of the traditional, leftist and unionist forms of organising the working class. And that is because the fundamental change at the level of the organic composition of capital, which is reflected by this growing precarity of social labour, has been constitutive of a new terrain of class struggle. One to which the traditional forms of organising the working class as an independent political force have proved to be patently inadequate. It is on this terrain that a force such as the AAP has emerged, of course only to re-commit the disaffection of the recomposed social labour to capital and its state. The much talked-about support lent to the AAP by Delhi autodrivers, who ought to be seen as a textbook illustration of footloose, precarious mass-workers, is a case in point.

Workers’ inquiry being jointly conducted by University Worker, ‘Zero History’ and ‘Radical Notes’ in the Wazirpur industrial area of Delhi has, for instance, been indicating that among the footloose, same-skilled workers circulating amid various trades/jobs in the steel sector (and across it to other sectors), trade- and factory-based organising is fast turning out to be ephemeral and ineffective in political terms. What is being posited, instead, is the need to figure out, and construct, a new political composition of the class at the level of the industrial area, which as far as Wazirpur is concerned is also a working-class residential neighbourhood. The question, insofar as the working class is concerned, is now no longer merely about the sphere of production in the traditional sense. Rather, it is about how the sphere of consumption – constitutive of the domain of circulation of value, and the realm of social reproduction as the point of production of labour-power – is becoming more and more clearly a domain of production in its own right. And this is not only because social reproduction is a moment of work to produce labour-power, which is an indispensable ingredient in the production and extraction of surplus-value that Marx’s circuit of capital tangentially alludes to. But it is now also a site of direct extraction of surplus-value, through socialisation/ communicative-relationality being rendered productive work. Here once again the mass-worker category can usefully illuminate things.

For example, a person who is a worker today at a steel-rolling mill – hot or cold – is tomorrow a handcart-pusher, a trolley-rickshawpuller or a hawker selling savouries and sweets in the area by leveraging his communicative-relational capacities of socialisation as a worker-inhabitant of that area. How can traditional ‘leftist’ forms of trade-, skill- and factory-based organising of the working class politically address and articulate the questions of such a mass-worker and a social worker? In such circumstances, parties and movements such as the AAP, and even to some extent the BJP, come up as parties, movements or groups that seek to “represent the collectivity on the basis of limited interests and ‘themes’” such as corruption, etc. Considering that a political composition, commensurate with this new socio-technical composition of the working class has not yet emerged in its generalised actuality, the politics of the AAP, and to some extent the BJP, is all about management of the anarchy (by capital, for capital) that this new socio-technical composition of labour amounts to. In fact, we can, dialectically speaking, see the non-emergence of this new (revolutionary) political composition of the working class as both the cause and consequence of the emergence of forces such as the AAP, and even the sangh parivar’s grassroots organisations, in such sectors of society. But the good news is this anarchy, precisely because it is being produced by capital, can now, therefore, no longer be effectively rationalised, and controlled, by it. Irrational and oppressive social violence, and open coercion by the repressive state apparatuses will continue to intensify more and more, further exposing the illegitimacy of the political project of late capitalism. Neoliberalism is nothing but this political project.

In such a situation, the political management of this crisis of capital, which is what the emergence of the AAP at the state level and the BJP at the national level amounts to, will turn out be rather transient. And sooner rather than later, class-based fissures lurking in the instrumentalist, social-corporatist ‘solidarity’ of the AAP are likely to erupt into the open. And that is the opportunity militants committed to revolutionary working-class politics need to prepare themselves for. 

Such preparation, it ought to be stated here, will require, for now, a lot of patient, painstaking, anonymous and invisible work that will have little, if any, resemblance to the kind of politics of spectacle that much of our ‘radical leftists’ are addicted to. To think that the eruption of such contradictions into the open will automatically impel those contradictions to take the form of a radical transformative movement that then falls into the lap of our ‘radical leftists’, who meanwhile merely need to keep themselves busy with their politics of spectacle, is a politically dangerous assumption to make. Such an assumption will, contrary to the beliefs and dogmas of our ‘radical leftists’ currently busy indulging single-mindedly in spectacular forms of politics of exposure, lead working-class politics down the path of unmitigated damnation. For, the opening up of those fissures within the current configuration of social corporatism can, in such circumstances, only be instrumentalised yet again by one or another section of capital to grind its own axe. That, needless to say, will mean the counter-revolutionary vicious cycle continues to repeat itself through its progressive deepening.

Therefore, unless the phenomenon of radical recomposition of both production and labour processes – which has been about increasing disintegration of earlier Fordist assembly lines, decentralisation of work and increasing levels of footlooseness of labour that has brought into being the new mass-worker and social-worker – is recognised, and militant investigations into concrete forms of those new compositions of social labour are launched to ascertain what concrete political composition can be extracted and constructed from within and against them, the working class is condemned to alternate between being the slave of Beelzebub and the servant of Satan. There is simply no alternative for the proponents of working-class politics than to hit the ground running.

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