Maruti Suzuki Manesar: The Last Rites of Exemplary Punishment

Faridabad Majdoor Samachar

On Sunday, March 12, there were discussions with some eight or ten friends and comrades from Kathmandu, Morena, Delhi and Gurgaon at Majdoor Library. The March 10 judgment in the Maruti Suzuki Manesar case was also discussed. There were some discussions on the same case on March 16 and 17 with temporary workers of the Honda Manesar and Maruti Gurgaon factories. We had more discussions with friends from Gurgaon, Delhi, Kolkata and America after the judge sentenced 13 workers to life imprisonment on March 18.

After June 2011, relations became increasingly close among apprentices, trainees, workers hired through contractor companies and permanent workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory. The company and the government also gave the workers one concession after another in order to re-establish control. Despite the concessions, on the evening of July 18, 2012, 4,000 of Shifts A and B attacked two symbols of the wage system — managers and factory buildings. This was not a sudden outburst of anger. The question was: Why should anyone be a wage worker? The luminosity produced by this rather hard knock given to wage work in order to end it reached all over the world. The possibility that such luminosity could spread through thousands of factories in the Industrial Model Town of Manesar and nearby industrial areas became distinct. But it did not come to pass.

In this scenario:

– The government, scared by the luminosity, immediately stationed 600 police commandos at IMT Manesar and arrested 147 workers. The police commandos continue to be stationed there even in 2017.

– The company was scared by the luminosity and the chairman called it class war. The management of the Manesar factory discharged 546 permanent workers and dismissed 3,000 apprentices, trainees, workers hired through contractor companies.

– Central trade unions, scared by the power of this luminosity, immediately constituted a committee of 16 union leaders to take matters out of the workers’ arena. The committee turned it into a matter of petitioning officers and ministers in Gurgaon with applications, memoranda, dharna, demonstrations, hunger strike and such like, making Gurgaon the arena for further action. The committee couldn’t entangle the temporary workers. But the 546 discharged permanent workers, their friends and comrades, and families of the 147 jailed workers became as if bonded to the committee of the 16 union leaders. They were like its captive audience. Within six months, the committee breathed its last. But those using aggressive language moved the demonstrations, hunger strikes, etc., 200 km away to the rural environs of Kaithal. By At the end of the year, on July 18, 2013, under the umbrella of 19-23 so-called revolutionary groups, with police permission, a charade was enacted in the form of a candle-light procession in daylight at the Leisure Valley park in Gurgaon, with grim faces, hoisting a picture of the dead HR manager, declared ‘pro-worker’, since he had gone (he was sent by the company) to Chandigarh for registration of the union.

– Activists and so-called revolutionary groups, scared by the luminosity, sought to deny the existence of something the workers had themselves produced. For them, workers are poor and helpless, and there is no such thing as acts by workers. According to such revolutionary groups and activists, workers need direction from others even to resolve daily problems. In their view, workers merely react. For such activists and ‘revolutionaries’, who are experts in reacting, governments, companies, capital act, and the people-workers react. And so, activists and the so-called revolutionary groups fabricated a story for July 18, 2012 too: it was a conspiracy of the Maruti Suzuki Company; 200 bouncers attacked workers; workers defended themselves in response, and the tragic accident resulted.

– Liberals are very scared of the luminosity. In order to maintain the prevalent hierarchies, liberals wish to do something for incapable workers, helpless peasants and the pitiable poor. Ever conscious of their own interests, the liberals further promote their self-interest even in the course of “doing something”. So, the stories fabricated by activists and the so-called revolutionary groups go well with the liberals. Liberal reporters and liberal lawyers readily lapped up the stories on Maruti Manesar fabricated by activists and so-called revolutionary groups in opposition to the fabrications of the company and government. And, courts and litigation became the next stop for the hypocrites after candles in the daylight and the farce of the pro-worker manager.

Managers in terror

Factory managers in Faridabad were scared of the luminosity produced by the workers at Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory on 18 July 2012. Every branch of the state in India was in agreement that the fear of this luminosity must be removed from the hearts and minds of the company higher-ups here, and the Chairmen/MDs/CEOs of corporations in Japan, America, Europe. Towards that end, concerted attempts were made, following a time-tested script, to spread terror among workers. This is why bail was denied to the 147 arrested workers by the district court, high court and the Supreme Court for three years. Armed commandos were, of course, around. And middlemen, well-versed in the protocol of controlling workers, continued playing their role of spreading terror among workers through their shenanigans, writings, speeches, pamphlets, posters, etc.

‘Punishment shall be exemplary’ — workers in Noida busted this notion in February 2013, and workers completely tore asunder this concept at Okhla industrial area on the following day. This series has gone on unbroken. It is spreading. At IMT Manesar, even with 600 commandos stationed there, the fearlessness of the men and women workers in the factories of Munjal Kiriyu, Auto Liv, JNS, Baxter, Napino Auto, ASTI Electronics, Jay Ushin, etc. has been fascinating. The same has more or less been true of the workers of Palwal district at the Prithla- Baghola industrial area, and the workers of Dhruv Global and Lakhani Vardhan group factories at Faridabad; managers and directors fled from factories terrorised by workers in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon in February 2015. The fearlessness of women workers in the tea estates of Munnar, Kerala, who chased away middlemen, is another example. Without any middlemen, the women workers of garment factories in Bangalore, Karnataka scared the central government into canceling the new PF rules. Honda Tapukara factory workers… workers of Bin Laden group in Saudi Arabia … garment workers of Bangladesh…. In December 2015, eight workers of Pricol factory in Tamil Nadu were sentenced to double life imprisonment and yet between January 4 and 10, 2016, 2,400 fearless workers (between 18 and 20 years old) of Lucas TVS factory put the management and the government in a spot.

Formalities-formalities-formalities

In such a time, the matter concerning the jailed Maruti Suzuki workers shifted from being in the purview of workers to a series of formalities, which has continued till date. In this period, when laws have become irrelevant, the scope of legislation-constitution-law is no more than a formality. Police investigation (farcical investigation), witnesses (farcical witnesses), evidence (farcical evidence), company lawyers, government lawyer, district judge, High Court judge, Supreme Court judge, defence lawyers, journalists sympathetic to either side, company officers, government officers, activists, so-called revolutionary groups, union leaders kept playing their formal roles. Punishment is also a formality as it has already been hollowed out. All these people involved in formal acts were essentially ‘going through the motions’.

Union leaders called for a lunch boycott in factory canteens for a couple of days when the judgment convicting workers was announced. An hour-long tool-down happened in the Maruti Suzuki group of factories after the sentence was pronounced. The government, assuaged now by Sunday struggles, allowed unions to hold a meeting at IMT Manesar on March 23. That meeting was organised by 40 unions from IMT and surrounding industrial areas at the end of the A shift in the factories, and was attended by 5,000-7,000 workers. Despite the large turnout, union leaders in speech after speech talked of moving the high court with an appeal. A comrade who attended the meeting called it a fundraising meeting. At present, 80-90% workers in factories are temporary while 90% at this meeting were permanent workers. According to the law, permanent workers alone can become members of factory unions. According to the law, temporary workers cannot become members of factory unions. Then, on April 4, country-wide protest demonstrations, events in other countries demanding the release of the workers and, at the same time, a memorandum asking the President of India to commute the sentence was handed by leaders in Gurgaon to the Deputy Collector of Gurgaon.

We can only give them our love

An eighty-year-old ‘revolutionary’ came from Kolkata to Gurgaon. In his view, solidarity of militant unions is essential to speed up the revolution. Maruti Suzuki Manesar union is, today, an example of a militant union. Two leaders of the Maruti Suzuki Manesar union came to meet the senior ‘revolutionary’. In the course of conversation, the senior ‘revolutionary’ kept devising strategies out of blind alleys, dead ends. The two young leaders, who had been present during the heady days of 2011-2012 at Maruti Manesar, repeatedly said that a lot had changed and now they could only give their love to the temporary workers.

Let’s take a look at this love. In the three-year management-union settlement signed in 2012, the wage of permanent workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory was hiked by Rs 18,800. Then, in the three-year settlement in September 2015, permanent workers wages were increased by Rs. 16,000. The wages of young permanent workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory is in the range of Rs 50,000-60,000. The Maruti management was so pleased with the settlement of September 2015 that it gave a gift of Rs 3,000 to every permanent worker. And on September 26, the day after the settlement was announced by leaders, 400 temporary workmen refused to enter the factory for the 6:30 am morning shift, in protest against the management-union settlement. (Temporary workmen, TW, are the workers hired directly by the company for seven months, a practice since July 2012, and are kept besides the workers hired through contractor companies.) Friends of the TW from B Shift also gathered at the factory gate. Immediately some men from the 14 villages adopted by the Maruti Suzuki Company, reached the factory in vehicles and clashed with the workers gathered there. Police intervention. Inside the factory, the ‘militant’ union cooperated with the management to keep production going. The company claimed normal production in the A shift but instead of 1,440 vehicles being assembled on the three assembly lines in the A shift, only 781 vehicles were assembled as the temporary workmen stayed away from work.

Translated by Anuradha from the April 2017 issue of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar. Email: majdoorsamachartalmel@gmail.com

Solidarity-givers of India and destiny of the Kashmiri tehreek

Pothik Ghosh

“…a free multitude is guided more by hope than fear; a conquered one, more by fear than hope: inasmuch as the former aims at making use of life, the latter but at escaping death.”
– Spinoza (2004, p.315)

“…you Chartists must not simply express pious wishes for the liberation of nations. Defeat your own internal enemies and you will then be able to pride yourselves on having defeated the entire old society.”
– Marx (2001, p.118)

Kashmir is free and how

Kashmir is no longer a nation of oppressed individuals. It is an impersonal war machine of unremitting resistance and collective courage. The pronounced mass-insurrectionary turn that its 70-year-old national liberation movement has taken since the emergence of the everyman stone-pelter in 2010 is proof of that. The cyclical return of militant mass upsurges every summer with unerring frequency, and their steadily rising intensity, has revealed that Kashmiri society has, over the past seven years, become almost entirely insurgent.

However, last year’s mass uprising, which followed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s assassination by the Indian forces, marked an even more decisive shift in this mass-insurrectionary character of the tehreek. It demonstrated that the Kashmiri war machine was now on an unstoppable roll. And whatever little doubt there might have been on that score ought to be set at rest by the ongoing Valley-wide students’ revolts. These revolts have been triggered by a surge in coercive operations by the Indian security forces after an abysmally low voter turnout was recorded during a recent bypoll in the occupied territory.

The current revolts, not unlike the mass uprising last year, demonstrate that the security forces are in a situation of retreat. The way things played out between the insurrectionary Kashmiri mass and the Indian paramilitary contingents during the 2016 uprising showed the Kashmiri people had, through their fierce resistance, chased the forces back into their bunkers and barracks. In such circumstances, the rise in sub-human forms of coercion by the security forces was, contrary to established common sense, a measure of weakening of the occupation, not its strength. And that is also pretty much the case insofar as the response of the forces to the current revolts in the Valley is concerned.

The hitherto unparalleled levels of barbaric coercion perpetrated on the Kashmiri people by the Indian Army and paramilitary forces do not in any way demonstrate the tightening of India’s control on occupied territory. Such savagery is, instead, an indication of the anxiety of an occupation that is fast losing its grip. It is an expression of fear and desperation of the occupation forces confronted with the death-defying valour of an advancing multitude.

Kashmir is, indisputably, an insurgent society. It is, therefore, a free society! The occupation, and its apparatus of venial local collaboration, enjoys not even a shred of consent among the Kashmiri population – now more than ever. This is revealed, among other things, by how the occupation has of late been going about its business. The threats issued by a frustrated Indian army chief to the stone-pelting masses of Kashmir for coming to the aid of armed freedom fighters, every time the latter are engaged in skirmishes with the Indian forces, is a case in point. General Bipin Rawat’s threats, which have subsequently been made good on the ground by the Indian forces, underscore how armed struggle in Kashmir is, contrary to Indian propaganda, an organic extension of the mass movement: the two have more and more come to work in complementary tandem with one another. (This has ensured the Kashmiri movement is not militarised even as armed struggle remains one of its indispensable aspects.) General Rawat has admitted, in almost as many words, that Kashmiri people are hostile towards the army and the Indian nation-state it represents. His frothing-at-the-mouth statement is clear evidence of that.

And if that is not good enough one only needs to turn one’s attention to how some videos of abuse of Kashmiri youth by the footsoldiers of repressive state apparatuses have gone viral on the internet. Considering that such videos serve no other purpose than demonstrate the capacity of the occupation to humiliate the Kashmiri people and strike the fear of god in their hearts, their production and circulation is most likely the work of some or the other agency – official or otherwise – of the Indian state.

However, that has not, in any way, served to break the morale of the resistance. The current mass upsurges in the Valley continue undeterred. Clearly, the Indian state, and the occupation it helms, can now do little else than purvey and openly champion such savagery, even as such savagery continues to be rendered less and less effective.

A case of the missing counter-power

Kashmir is, for all practical purposes, free. However, it is this freedom wrested by the Kashmiri tehreek for itself that is also its greatest predicament. One that confronts the movement as a question it can no longer afford to either ignore or defer: how can the force that is this freedom break through the obstructive power of occupation, and in the process organise itself into a counter-power? For, until and unless that happens, the advancing multitude of Kashmiri resistance is bound to keep running into a wall of overt repressiveness. This is the only thing that now constitutes the power of occupation in the face of an insurgent everydayness, which is well-nigh unmanageable.

The seemingly unending cycle of ever-intensifying multitudinous resistance and its obstruction by increasing levels of coercive state power demonstrates the stalemate the Kashmiri national liberation movement is caught in. The Manichean form imposed on the movement by the occupation will have to be decimated if the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination is to break out of this stalemate, and fully realise itself.

In other words, what is unavoidable is the unraveling of the Indian nation-state, which imposes this Manichean form on the Kashmiri national liberation struggle by virtue of being the centre and source of the occupation. No serious strategic attempt has been made so far to effect such unraveling. As a result, the resistance stands condemned to be part of an ever-intensifying vicious circle of mass action and its suppression by the repressive apparatuses of the Indian state. In fact, the Indian state ‘legitimises’ and steps up the coercive might that animates such suppression precisely by imposing this Manichean form on the Kashmiri resistance. It accomplishes this imposition because by its very existence as a nation-state that occupies Kashmir it ensures the mass-insurrectionary resistance against it is eventually mediated, and thus captured, by the Hurriyat parties.

As the institutionalised leadership of the Kashmiri tehreek, the Hurriyat is, by default, the nascent Kashmiri state. It exists only to articulate the insurgent Kashmiri people by tending to represent them. The existence of such an institutionalised leadership is not a matter of choice, though. This has little, if anything, to do with whether or not – and to what extent – the Hurriyat leaders are personally incorruptible. It is ineluctable because, as we have observed, it is something that is necessitated by the fact that the geo-political entity, which is the centre and source of the occupation of Kashmir is invariably a nation-state – the Indian nation-state.

Be that as it may, the existence of this institutionalised leadership ensures the movement is etatised in form while it is still a movement. Not surprisingly, this enables the Indian state to step up its military might vis-à-vis the tehreek, and produce justifications for repressive manoeuvres against it. Worse, it shackles and undermines the multitudinous form the movement has assumed, and thus thwarts the generalisability of the non-Manichean politics of self-organisation and self-emancipation that is clearly, albeit incipiently, posited by this multitudinous form.

In an overall sense, all of this is tantamount to the appropriation of the Kashmiri war machine by the Indian state. It is precisely such appropriation that Deleuze and Guattari caution us against when they write (2004, p. 461):

“When the State appropriates the war machine, the latter obviously changes in nature and function, since it is afterward directed against…all State destroyers, or else expresses relations between States, to the extent that a State undertakes exclusively to destroy another State or impose its aims upon it.”

Internalised occupation, multitudinality and the proletariat-to-come

At this point, we would do well to grasp the precise sense in which the character of the Kashmiri resistance in its current insurrectionary expression is multitudinous. The various politico-ideological forms through which mass action organises itself on the ground in Kashmir are in a state of constant flux and mutation. Their discursive signification is also continually shifting. That is so because those forms are almost entirely a function of self-activity of the Kashmiri masses – a self-activity that has become nearly unharnessable.

This is the reason why the leaders thrown up in the process of mobilisation, activation and/or generation of those politico-ideological forms manage to acquire very little stability or institutional fixity. They are, obviously, as transient as the discursive forms they are concomitant with.

In other words, the mass-insurrectionary specificity of the current moment of the Kashmiri resistance lies in the fact that masses accept historically given politico-ideological forms of organising action only to constantly master and overcome those forms, and generate new ones. It is the structuring of the masses into such a movement – which, in turn, is the outcome of their own unrelenting self-activity – that has rendered them multitudinous. This multitudinality is nothing but the capacity of the masses to articulate the insurgency of their everyday existence in its ontological primacy.

Multitudinality is the sociality of segmentation and its constitutively Manichean political form existing in a state of unprecedented precarity and crisis respectively. The multitude, then, is a socio-political form that is an intimation of what it seeks to be but is not yet: sociality as a politics qua process of abolition of segmentation and its constitutively Manichean political form, precisely by working through that form. In that context, the proletariat as a political subject is, for us, nothing save the concrete articulation of this process – together with the struggle constitutive of it in it being in and against the systemically imposed Manichean form.

The way Hardt and Negri distinguish the “traditional modern conception” of insurrection from the one that is of a more recent vintage – arguably the type the Kashmiri resistance now incarnates – is instructive for our purposes here (2005, p. 69):

“The traditional modern conception of insurrection, for example, which was defined primarily in the numerous episodes from the Paris Commune to the October Revolution, was characterized by a movement from the insurrectional activity of the masses to the creation of political vanguards, from civil war to the building of a revolutionary government, from the construction of organizations of counterpower to the conquest of state power, and from opening the constituent process to establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Such sequences of revolutionary activity are unimaginable today, and instead the experience of insurrection is being rediscovered, so to speak, in the flesh of the multitude. It may be that insurrectional activity is no longer divided into such stages but develops simultaneously.”

The multitudinous war machine anticipates its own transformation into a proletarian political subject in this precise sense. In the absence of such transformation, it is condemned to be constantly captured by the state to be transformed into a cog in its repressive apparatus.

Now, to the extent that Kashmiri society is multitudinous in being insurgent, it reveals itself to be segmented precisely in demonstrating the hitherto unprecedented precarity of the segments that constitute it, and the chronic instability of the hierarchical relations among them. In other words, the Kashmiri movement in demonstrating its multitudinality reveals how the occupation of Kashmir has been much more than what it is in its immediate historical appearance – the workings of an externalised power of domination, and a Manichean struggle between this power and the force of resistance against it.

Historically speaking, the occupation, of course, began as an external imposition. But it then went on to become internal to Kashmiri society. It has, for a while now, been embedded in the very fabric of the occupied society. That is evident not only in the divide between the collaborator class and the rest of the Kashmiri population, but also in the differentiated ways in which the occupation has so far been experienced and resisted by different non-collaborating sections of Kashmiri society. That, needless to say, has been a function of the economic relations and attendant vectors of social power constitutive of that society. This shows the Indian occupation of Kashmir has reproduced itself precisely because it has functioned as a power that internally regulates the hierarchical intercourse among segments constitutive of Kashmiri society by virtue of residing in each and every transaction among those segments.

The multitudinous character of the resistance is a clear indication that this is precisely what is now breaking down in Kashmir. In being an expression of the instability of segmentation and hierarchy in Kashmiri society, this multitudinality demonstrates the crisis of occupation as a regulative power internal to that society.

It shows the dismantling of the occupation is now inseparable from the transformation of Kashmiri society into a non-segmental sociality. For that, the only thing anti-occupation politics now needs to do is fully realise its own pronounced tendency of becoming a rigorously articulated dynamic of de-segmentation. The current multitudinous character of the Kashmiri tehreek has been posing the necessity of generalising this tendency by virtue of being an expression of precariousness, and thus crisis, of segmentation.

That is quite possibly why the tehreek’s institutionalised leadership – as in the Hurriyat – manifestly has very little say now on how anti-occupation militancy gets organised on the ground. The transience of politico-ideological forms – and the concomitant ephemerality of leadership – through which the Kashmiri masses have lately been organising their various actions against the occupation shows exactly why and how the larger movement is now beyond any significant control of a stable or institutionalised leadership. The only function that Hurriyat parties now evidently have is to put their seal of formal legitimacy on what is happening on the ground, or what has already been decided by the multitudinous resistance. This they do by periodically issuing official statements and/or making public announcements.

The Occupation’s Manichean trap

Yet, it is undeniable the Kashmiri resistance, its current multitudinous character notwithstanding, still needs such an institutionalised leadership, if only to confer formal legitimacy on its activities. This shows the function of the Hurriyat is purely statal, even if such statal functionality is for now nascent. Such mediation of the resistance by an institutionalised leadership ensures the former remains trapped in the Manichean political form, which makes it relatively easy, both logistically and strategically, for the occupation to target it coercively, militarily.

The statal form in which the movement comes to be articulated, thanks to it being represented by the Hurriyat, also ensures that the loosening segmentation of the sociality is once again tightly regimented. As a result, the multitude tends to lapse back into a cohesive order of social segmentation, instead of realising the non-segmented processual existence it so clearly posits. And tends towards. That, in turn, also tends to restore the occupation as the regulating power internal to the segmented society of Kashmir.

This then is exactly what Kashmir is now: a situation of constantly accelerating oscillation between the loosening and tightening of social segmentation, and thus the constantly intensifying precariousness of occupation.

But let us now be more accurate about all of this. It is not the existence of institutionalised leadership of the Hurriyat parties that makes it easy for the Indian state to unleash coercion on the Kashmiri resistance, albeit that is how it appears to be. It is, actually, the other way around.

The existence of the occupation now as a purely irrational and naked power of coercion, thanks to the multitudinous character of the Kashmiri resistance, compels this mass-insurrectionary movement to eventually seek representation through an institutionalised form such as the Hurriyat. In the process, the multitudinality of the resistance is captured and repressed.

Therefore, the Hurriyat, precisely in being the institutional leadership of Kashmir’s national liberation struggle, is, in the latter’s multitudinal moment, doomed to be mobilised by the Indian state as an instrument to better target its coercive and military manoeuvres against the resistance. Hence, it will not be incorrect to insist that this is, in fact, the reason why the state ‘allows’ for the existence of – and even reproduces – the Hurriyat as an institutionalised leadership of the Kashmiri national liberation movement.

The way out of this then is really quite simple. The military and coercive might, which is all that is left of the power of occupation, will have to be decimated for the Kashmiri resistance to realise the non-segmental sociality its current multitudinous character posits. And that, in turn, shall be achieved only through the unravelling of the Indian nation-state, and the power of political economy that necessitates its existence as also that of the geo-political configuration of South Asia constitutive of it as this nation-state. Only that would accomplish the end of occupation, both in form and substance, and simultaneously amount to Kashmir attaining its goal of full self-determination.

Kashmiri self-determination and unravelling of the Indian nation-state

In fact, so crucial is the unravelling of the Indian nation-state for Kashmir that were the latter to gain national independence formally without the former unravelling, such independence would amount to nothing save the perpetuation of Indian occupation by other means. Therefore, as long as the Indian nation-state exists, formal separation of Kashmir from its forced incorporation into the so-called Indian Union will not automatically translate into decolonisation.

Decolonisation, after all, is not merely the end of formal colonisation. It must also be the end of occupation in substance – that is, it must amount to thwarting all possibility of post-colonial neo-colonisation. The Indian nation-state will, without doubt, resort to such neo-colonisation of Kashmir if it gains its national independence without extinguishing India.

This it will do by instrumentalising the ruling classes of the formally free Kashmiri nation in much the same way it now instrumentalises the institutionalised leadership of its national liberation movement. Its very existence as the kind of nation-state it is, destines India to do nothing else but this in a scenario where Kashmir is formally free.

That such a scenario is now not entirely implausible is something the Kashmiri resistance, and all those who claim to be in solidarity with it, must seriously reckon with. In the face of uncontrollable multitudinalisation of the Kashmiri national liberation struggle, which reveals the social-revolutionary orientation it has almost nearly acquired, the Indian state could well employ the strategic ruse of formally granting Kashmir national independence in order to regiment this multitudinality and, thereby, nip the impending social revolution in the bud.

After all, the sovereign state of the new Kashmiri nation would, by virtue of coming into existence, necessarily tend towards containing this multitudinousness by structuring it into a national society. And that would be crucial for the continued survival of India. The social-revolutionary upheaval that the increasing multitudinisation of the Kashmiri movement portends for the entire subcontinent, threatens the Indian nation-state with inevitable extinction.

The unravelling of the Indian nation-state is, clearly, the destiny of the Kashmiri national liberation movement. Its multitudinous character indicates that with great acuity and accuracy. That is the only way for the Kashmiri people to really end the occupation, and achieve their goal of national independence and self-determination in any substantive and meaningful sense.

Settling for formal national independence in the absence of such unravelling of India would mean, as we have already observed, that Kashmir is trapped by the Indian nation-state in a renewed bout of occupation in the form of neo-colonisation.

Is Kashmir a case of classical colonialism?

To properly understand why that is so, one needs to rigorously inquire into the substance of the Indian occupation of Kashmir. It has historically been a colonial occupation. And even now that is the discursive form in which the relationship between India and Kashmir manifests itself. Yet, if we were to look through this discursive appearance to grasp how it is articulated within the larger structure of hierarchised socio-economic relations that are concretely indexed by this entity called the Indian Union, we will realise the Indian occupation of Kashmir is far from classical colonialism.

The main purpose of this occupation, unlike classical colonialism, is not extraction of Kashmiri resources for Indian industry. Nor is it about opening up markets for absorbing commodities overproduced by industry in the Indian mainland. Of course, both do, in some measure, still happen – actually quite a bit when it comes to something like hydroelectricity. But that is not the central point of the occupation.

The whole purpose of Kashmir’s occupation is the securing of geo-political hegemony of India in South Asia. In this context, the de-development Indian occupation wreaks in Kashmir is neither for extraction of indigenous resources nor is it for opening up consumption markets for commodities overproduced by industry in the Indian mainland. It is, instead, a necessary part of an attempt to ensure the perennial subservience of the occupied population while guaranteeing the effective operation of various patronage networks run by the occupation in order to make the subservient population even more dependent on the Indian state so that it is completely at its mercy. That is the occupation’s way of ensuring its own longevity.

India’s geo-political hegemony, which its occupation of Kashmir asserts and maintains, is absolutely crucial for the nation. For, it is precisely through such regional hegemony that the Indian nation-state is able to produce and shore up nationalist consensus in its mainland. That is important because only by producing and reinforcing such consensus can the Indian nation-state – which is nothing but a concrete historical index of social labour organised into a systemic regime of differentiated or segmented necessity – maintain and reproduce itself.

The Indian nation-state is like every other nation-state, which is constitutive of the capitalist world-system as the basic unit of organising international division of labour. It, therefore, concretely indexes the organisation of social labour into a regime of differential dis-privilege and differentiated necessity. In other words, it is a concretely-indexed system of transfer and extraction of surplus labour-time.

Nationalist consensus, in such a situation, is the ideological form constitutive of this materiality of segmented organisation of social labour in its different and differentiated, but mutually combined historical contexts. It is a form that is constitutive of different segments of social labour representing their everyday struggles in terms of rights. Consequently, this form, in being bolstered, reinforces such juridical representation (and distortion) of the everyday struggles of social labour. As a result, the strengthening of this form enables the reproduction of the capitalist system and the nation-state that is its concrete index.

Now, as far as India’s socio-historical specificity is concerned, it can bolster this nationalist consensus – its register preponderantly Islamophobic and brahminical – only by asserting its hegemony in South Asia, primarily through the occupation of Kashmir. In fact, this is the specificity of India occupied Kashmir (IoK), wherein it serves to preserve capital by reinforcing the power of political economy in its concrete South Asian regionality and, thereby, in its particular global conjuncturality. It is in this precise sense that India is an imperialist entity. Here, once again, is evidence – this time perhaps even more conclusive – that there can be no real freedom for Kashmir without the unravelling of the Indian nation-state.

India’s mediatic solidarity-givers and the missing proletarian revolution

Of course, it is very important that this is registered by the Kashmiri resistance at the level of its collective intelligence. But it is even more important the solidarity-givers of Indian mainland grasp this. For, it is in the Indian mainland that the final battle for the liberation of Kashmir will have to be fought and won.

It is here the unravelling of the Indian nation-state will have to be ultimately effected by shattering the nationalist consensus. And this will only be brought about through militant interventions that foreground the counter-tendency of rupture inherent in the quotidian nature of the struggles of different segments of ‘Indian’ social labour vis-à-vis their default tendency of juridical representation and systemic subsumption.

But for that, solidarity-giving Indian mainlanders need to realise the question that has been driving their enterprise is thoroughly misplaced. In giving such solidarity to the Kashmiri tehreek, they have always asked: ‘What can we do for Kashmir and its struggle against occupation?’ But solidarity is not a sentiment to be abstractly expressed and extended. It is a politics that has to be produced as a concrete strategy and materiality.

In order to produce such a strategy mainland solidarity-givers would do well to invert their question. What they need to ask, instead, is the following: What is the Kashmiri movement against Indian occupation doing for the everyday struggles of the working people of mainland India?

The answer to that is something they need to build on. Only then will their sympathy for the suffering people of IoK cease to be the abstract charity it currently is, and become a concretely-grounded empathy for the sufferings of comrades with whom they share a concrete horizon of internationalism of struggles.

In other words, one cannot produce such a politics of solidarity unless one recognises that the challenge the Kashmiri movement poses to India’s geo-political hegemony in South Asia favours and advances the everyday struggles of working masses in the Indian mainland. Such a challenge, needless to say, tends to concomitantly weaken the Indian nation-state as a concrete historical index of organising labour into a sociality of capital.

In such circumstances, unravelling of the Indian nation and its constitutive state is absolutely indispensable for the emancipation of mainland India’s social labour from the regime of differentiated necessity it is imprisoned in. Once this is recognised, all the confusion, equivocation and bad faith, which have recently come to the fore, thanks to some Indian leftists distinguishing between “azadi in India” and “azadi from India” so that they can comfortably ride both horses, will vanish like camphor.

The everyday struggles of the masses inhabiting the Indian mainland are nothing but struggles of various segments of social labour to emancipate themselves from the necessity constitutive of their differentiated quotidian existence. However, the systemic regime within which such struggles emerge to challenge that regime in its concrete specifications tends to register, articulate and situate those struggles as demands for rights placed on the system. That amounts to the fetishisation or mystification of those struggles and their everydayness into juridicality. And this is precisely the reason why disaffection with the system often adopts nationalism and other related reactionary ideological forms to represent itself as an everyday experience. This is how different segments of social labour come to be organised into a hierarchy of biopolitical identities.

For this reason, mainland Indians committed to forging an effective politics of solidarity with the Kashmiri national liberation struggle must necessarily double up as militants of proletarian-revolutionary politics. They need to intervene in the various everyday struggles of different segments of social labour – including their own – to demonstrate through militant inquiry and self-inquiry how those struggles are actually system-unravelling, and are rendered juridical only on account of being counted and placed by the system. Only through such interventionist demonstrations can those everyday struggles be impelled to generalise what they ontologically are: basic units of a movement that will negate the Indian nation-state as a historically indexed regime of capital.

Such a movement in the mainland will significantly undermine the hegemony of the Indian nation-state. That will, in turn, enable the Kashmiri national liberation struggle to advance further. What we shall have, in such circumstances, is the dialectical unfolding of the Kashmiri resistance enabling the everyday struggles of the working masses in the Indian mainland, even as the latter enable the former’s advance by being the generalisation of their own revolutionary ontology.

The Indian solidarity-givers – most of them ‘radicals’ of some sort or the other – have made no serious attempt to envision their politics of solidarity in those concrete terms. Theirs has mostly been a ‘solidarity’ of self-aggrandising display of bravado and social-mediatic spectacles of abstract heroism. In this context, the criticism Fanon levelled against those “French intellectuals and democrats” who sought to be in solidarity with the Algerian national liberation struggle becomes quite pertinent (1988, p.80):

“…French intellectuals and democrats have periodically addressed themselves to the FLN. Most of the time they have proffered either political advice or criticisms concerning this or that aspect of the war of liberation. This attitude of the French intelligentsia must not be interpreted as the consequence of an inner solidarity with the Algerian people. This advice and these criticisms are to be explained by the ill-repressed desire to guide, to direct the very liberation movement of the oppressed.

“Thus can be understood the constant oscillation of the French democrats between a manifest or latent hostility and the wholly unreal aspiration to militate ‘actively to the end.’ Such a confusion indicates a lack of preparation for the facing of concrete problems and a failure on the part of French democrats to immerse themselves in the political life of their own country.”

‘Political equality of nations’: the burden of an abstract schema

This failure of our solidarity-giving mainland ‘radicals’ – leftists or otherwise – to envisage their solidarity with the Kashmiri national liberation movement by way of “immers(ing) themselves in the political life of their own country” stems from the strategically flawed manner in which they approach and champion the cause of Kashmir’s national independence. So far they have, to all intents and purposes, been guided in this by the abstract schema of political equality of nations. A hoary Leninist dogma now, it was meant to do no more than fulfil the specific revolutionary-tactical requirements of Lenin’s own conjuncture.

As a Naxalite/Maoist articulation in the Indian context, political equality of nations implied federal equality of nationalities. It was meant to be a tactical manoeuvre to democratise the Indian Union by way of deepening its federalisation. Now it must be clarified here that separation of a nationality/nation from the Indian Union is not necessarily a break with this process of federalisation. In fact, it can very well spell its continuity. That is because one can quite legitimately raise and articulate the question of formal separation and national independence from the Indian Union by employing this federalising approach. All one needs to do in such a situation is change one’s articulation of the territorial form of federalism from the national to the regional/subcontinental. India’s politico-economic relations with Nepal and Bhutan – or, for that matter, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar –, or even Pakistan, arguably testify to that.

Such a federalising approach to the question of national independence of Kashmir – or other occupied territories in the so-called Indian Northeast – is bound to continue placing the Indian Union at the geo-political centre of things, implicitly or otherwise. That is because such an approach to the question of separation and national independence necessarily presupposes the continued existence of the Indian nation-state.

Not surprisingly, the politics of solidarity-giving, which is either deliberately or unreflexively informed by this bourgeois republican conception of political equality of nations, contributes to both reinforcing India’s position as a regional hegemon and its continued Manichean domination of Kashmir.

In fact, it is on account of this approach that Indian radicals, who support the Kashmiri national liberation struggle, have proved to be, in effect, no different from those sections of the Indian left, which pose the question of Kashmir as nothing more than a human rights issue. Arguably, the former, just like the latter, have no real socio-political programme for unravelling the Indian nation-state through a praxis of concretely-grounded post-national revolutionary internationalism. Hence, their support for Kashmir’s azadi has meant no more than placing it as a demand on the Indian state. Such an abstract politics of demand, not unlike the left-liberal politics of human rights, confers legitimacy on the Indian state and is, in essence, both reformist and nationalist.

Of course, some among those solidarity-givers are participants in, or ideological supporters of, the armed struggle being waged by the Indian Maoists in the geographic heart of this nation. But to the extent that the Indian Maoists’ ‘revolutionary’ programme is that of democratising the Indian nation in the process of seizing its state apparatus, and not of effecting its unravelling, they are, at best, reformists with guns.

The short point here being almost all our solidarity-giving mainlanders have proved incapable of envisaging their solidarity with the Kashmiri tehreek in terms of a concrete, mainland-based praxis for unravelling the Indian nation-state. This incapability stems from their failure to accurately grasp and concretely analyse the political-economic specificity of the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Relative surplus population: the political economy and biopolitics of occupation

We have already seen how the main purpose of occupation of Kashmir is to bolster nationalist consensus in the Indian mainland by asserting India’s subcontinental hegemony. But in the process of accomplishing that the occupation has also rendered Kashmir a reserve of “relative surplus population” (Marx, 1986, pp. 589-599).

That part of the population, which does not directly participate in industrial production at any given moment of development of capital, is relative surplus population. This population, it must also be clarified, keeps burgeoning as increasing levels of automation – or organic composition of capital (c/v) – tend to expel more and more living labour from the circuit of industrial production.

That does not, however, mean this surplus population is dispensable for capital, and is its absolute outside. The productive internality of relative surplus population to capital lies in the fact that capital must necessarily produce it in order to raise the productivity of its industrial economy. It is also productively internal to capital because precisely in being outside the latter’s circuit of industrial production it is systemically functionalised to both subsidise and regiment the labour that is productively employed.

This shows capital is a system that productively includes precisely through hierarchical exclusion. It also reveals that capital as a system – political economy to be precise – is much more than industrial production and wage-labour, albeit the latter is undoubtedly its organising centre. In such circumstances, the existence of relative surplus population itself constitutes a segmented economy of its own reproduction, which is an economy of production of surplus labour-power.

But what of the population of Kashmir? How exactly does it qualify as an economy of relative surplus population? How does its military occupation by India, which marks it as an outside of the Indian mainland and the nationalist consensus constitutive of it, at once also internalise it into the capitalist economy and sociality that is concretely indexed by this Indian nation-state?

For one, the living human bodies that comprise this population exist, and are reproduced, only to be tortured and/or killed. In this they are typically “homo sacer” (Agamben, 1998, p. 82): “Life that cannot be sacrificed and yet may be killed….” This is integral to securing, as we have earlier observed, the power of political economy in its regionality by enabling India to assert its geo-political hegemony. For another, the occupied territory with its population is one of the many laboratories of capital qua the Indian state where the latter sharpens various modalities of command and coercion for them to be subsequently deployed at different controlled levels of intensity in the Indian mainland in order to enhance extraction and/or transfer of surplus labour-time. This is the biopolitical crux of the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

But the thing with relative surplus population is that it is internal to capital by virtue of being outside its productive circuit. This renders it the immanent crisis of capital. One that always threatens to run amok and unravel the system, and yet something that capital cannot do without.

For this reason, capital as a system is, in Marx’s words, a “moving contradiction” that always tends to allay and manage, and even productivise, the experience of alienation constitutive of the process of subjectivation concomitant with the production of relative surplus population. But in doing that it invariably tends to intensify the crisis embodied in the surplus population, which it once again seeks to manage, etc. And thus unfolds this centrifugalising dialectic till the crisis becomes so completely unmanageable that it unravels capital and tends towards instituting a new, post-capitalist duration.

Clearly, once we begin to see the people of occupied Kashmir as relative surplus population we become theoretically capable of knocking the bottom out of the specious argument – articulated by a section of Indian left-liberals – that the unrest in Kashmir is due to lack of employment opportunities. The relative surplus population, and its economy, is always linked to provisioning of productive employment insofar as the latter is constitutive of the industrial economy that necessarily produces and mobilises this surplus population in the course of its development or expanded reproduction.

In such circumstances, the suggestion that requisite employment opportunities could address the concerns and anger of the insurgent Kashmiri masses, which constitute a reserve of surplus labouring population, is fallacious. The process through which a certain mass of people is rendered relative surplus population is that of progressive increase in the organic composition of capital. And that, contrary to liberal apologetics, leads to “no corresponding rise in the general demand for labour” (Marx, 1986, p.599). Marx writes (1986, pp.598-599):

“…if through the introduction of new, or the extension of old, machinery, a portion of variable capital is transformed into constant, the economic apologist interprets this operation which “fixes” capital and by that very act sets labourers “free,” in exactly the opposite way, pretending that it sets free capital for the labourers. Only now can one fully understand the effrontery of these apologists. What are set free are not only the labourers immediately turned out by the machines, but also their future substitutes in the rising generation, and the additional contingent, that with the usual extension of trade on the old basis would be regularly absorbed. They are now all “set free,” and every new bit of capital looking out for employment can dispose of them. Whether it attracts them or others, the effect on the general labour demand will be nil, if this capital is just sufficient to take out of the market as many labourers as the machines threw upon it. If it employs a smaller number, that of the supernumeraries increases; if it employs a greater, the general demand for labour only increases to the extent of the excess of the employed over those “set free.” The impulse that additional capital, seeking an outlet, would otherwise have given to the general demand for labour, is therefore in every case neutralised to the extent of the labourers thrown out of employment by the machine. That is to say, the mechanism of capitalistic production so manages matters that the absolute increase of capital is accompanied by no corresponding rise in the general demand for labour. And this the apologist calls a compensation for the misery, the sufferings, the possible death of the displaced labourers during the transition period that banishes them into the industrial reserve army! The demand for labour is not identical with increase of capital, nor supply of labour with increase of the working class. It is not a case of two independent forces working on one another. Les dés sont pipés.”

In this context, the left-liberal contention that lack of proper employment is the source of mass unrest in Kashmir is, of course, theoretically erroneous. It is politically disingenuous too. This suggestion, implied or otherwise, of creating requisite employment opportunities for the Kashmiri population is meant to enable further segmentation of the economy of the surplus population in Kashmir so that its current multitudinality is dissipated and its mass-insurrectionary character rendered diffuse. This shows how such a liberal argument is steeped in nationalism and ensures liberalism remains the obverse of reactionary nationalism.

Now the surplus population is structurally internal to the productive-industrial economy of capital on account of its experience of being outside the latter. It is, therefore, a contradiction at the heart of capital the latter needs to manage, and leverage as a regimenting and thus productivising force vis-à-vis productively employed labour. Surplus population is, therefore, also the force that can unravel the economy of capital.

Such a situation arises when the capitalist social system can no longer manage the surplus population it is compelled to produce in order to reproduce itself by increasing productivity. Then the subjective experience of being alienated from capital tends to institute its own duration and become its own material ground. This is the tendency of subtraction from capital that is also simultaneously the tendency of its negation. Any intervention that strives to be radical should seek to sharpen this tendency of subtraction qua negation, which is inherent in the subjective experience of alienation constitutive of the production and mobilisation of relative surplus population. ‘Bifo’ Berardi helps us theorise such politics when he writes (2009. pp. 45-46):

“Labor is an activity estranged from the existence of the workers that is imposed on everyday life by the construction of disciplinary structures created over the course of the entire history of modern civilization. Only the estrangement from labor makes liberatory dynamics possible, shifting the flow of desire from (industrial) repetition towards (cognitive) difference. The concept of estrangement implies an intentionality that is determined by an estranged behavior.

“Estranged from what? From all forms of labor dependent on capital.

“Workers do not suffer from their alienation when they can transform it into active estrangement, that is to say, into refusal.”

Kashmiri migrants, financialisation and the economy of surplus(ed) population

On this count, things are turning out to be no different with regard to Kashmir. The subjective experience of alienation produced by the military-coercive power of the occupation among the population in the Valley is what has always threatened the existence of the Indian nation-state, and the capitalist social power it has indexed. This is best exemplified by the multitudinous, mass-insurrectionary form the Kashmiri resistance has come to assume of late.

That, however, is only one part of the story. The other part is how de-development being wreaked by the occupation has been compelling sections of the occupied population – mainly cognitarians such as higher education-seeking students and young professionals of various kinds – to come to the mainland in search of better livelihood opportunities. That has provided the Indian executives of capital –the various governments that have manned the Indian state from time to time – with the opportunity to integrate this section of the occupied population, and through them produce and strengthen consensus in its favour in the occupied territory. Programmes such as Operation Sadbhavana are only the most blatant and overt attempts by the executives of Indian state to leverage this opportunity.

They have, however, failed to achieve anything of significance. In fact, the presence of Kashmiris – cognitarians but also some non-cognitarian working people – in the Indian mainland has only served to worsen the occupation’s crisis of legitimacy in the Valley. The Indian occupation of Kashmir is, without doubt, a politico-military fact insofar as the occupied territory is concerned. But for that very reason, it also functions as an ethno-nationalist, and/or ethno-religious and Islmaophobic ideology in the mainland.

This ideology – embodied by significant sections of non-Kashmiri and/or non-Muslim working people in the course of their everyday social operations – serves to regiment the migrants from the occupied territory into yet another category of relative surplus population.

In fact, it is by regimenting this section of Kashmiri migrants through the agency of other, more ‘mainstreamed’ non-Kashmiri and/or non-Muslim Indian working people that capital seeks to manage the overall increase in precarity of Indian social labour due to an unprecedented level of same-skilling having been effected by a qualitative leap in productive forces.

In this situation, migrants from IoK are no longer the only people who constitute relative surplus population. Considering that the overall increase in precarity of social labour on the Indian subcontinent, together with the world at large, has resulted in near complete disappearance of permanent productive employment, what we have now is a situation, wherein almost the entire working population has become surplus.

In such a scenario, productive employment is almost entirely temporary in nature, and is a constantly revolving door of entry and exit that serves to manage and regiment this surplus population by enabling its hierarchical, though precarious, economy of reproduction. Therefore, what we arguably have here is no longer simply an economy that produces surplus population and serves to manage and reproduce it. Rather, it is now an economy constitutive of surplus(ing) of the entire population. This is a qualitative shift in the economy of relative surplus population – a change that is characteristic of our late-capitalist, or neoliberal, conjuncture.

What such an economy of surplus(ing) does is it steps up the tendency of capital accumulation to entirely financialise itself. As a result, the process of capital accumulation becomes more and more speculative (M-M’) while the centrality of industrial production (valorisation through creation of use-values or M-C-M’) is progressively diminished. This shift has, in turn, obviously further entrenched the economy of surplus(ing) of the entire population. As far as mainland India is concerned, this has been evident in the increasing casualisation and contractualisation of so-called productive employment in almost all sectors of the economy.

In such circumstances, the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of non-Kashmiri and/or non-Muslim Indian working people seek to cope with this intensifying precarisation, which is imposed by the system, by socially regimenting the Kashmiri Muslim migrants. They become the systemic agency of such regimentation because by actively inflicting such regimentation on the Kashmiri migrants at the system’s behest they seek to somewhat assuage the subalternisation they experience on account of increasing socio-economic precarity. The ethno-nationalist/ethno-religious ideological register in which the Indian occupation of Kashmir operates as a form of socialisation in the Indian mainland ensures that.

This demonstrates, as we have insisted, that the Kashmiri migrants are now a segment of the almost entirely surplus(ed) population of working masses in the Indian mainland. The implication being that they are differentially integrated into the economy of capital – which in its objective existence is concretely indexed by the Indian nation-state – precisely on account of their subjective experience of being alienated from both that geo-political entity called the Indian Union, and the sociality of mainland India.

It also shows that the privilege enjoyed by the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of surplus(ed) population of mainland India vis-à-vis the segment of migrant Kashmiri Muslims is nothing but a socially embedded ideological form that serves to entrench them further in the system. It enables those who articulate it, to do no more than merely cope with the effects of their precarity and subalternisation by way of socially oppressing and regimenting others, and, thereby, acceding to their own continued precarisation and domination by the system.

Such ‘privilege’ then is a mechanism constitutive of the politics and economy of segmentation of the entire surplus(ed) population through which capital manages and controls this population, and thus ensures its own continued survival as a process of exploitation and deepening precarity.

Barbaric fascisation and a militant inquiry of hope

Of course, the progressive deepening of such precarity will enhance the probability of weakening the grip this ‘privilege’ has on the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian working people. But that is only a probability and there is nothing predetermined about it. What is, at this point, certain is that such deepening of socio-economic precarity will be politically reflected in an even greater intensification of the barbaric fascisation we currently confront in this part of the world.

What is needed, in such circumstances, are interventions that demonstrate through a ceaseless process of militant inquiry and self-inquiry how the Indian occupation of Kashmir, among other such apparently archaic forms of socio-economic domination, functions as a socially-embedded ideology that enables capital to perpetuate itself as the exploitative and precarity-inducing system it is.

Such investigations will have to continuously demonstrate to the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian working people how their ‘privilege’ vis-à-vis the Kashmiri migrants is something that concretely renders them complicit in their own systemic domination, exploitation and precarisation too. That is crucial if those ‘mainstreamed’ sections of the working population in mainland India are to turn away from their ‘privilege’ – qua socialised regimentation of Kashmiri migrants – and focus on negating the Indian nation-state as the concrete regional index of capital in this part of the world. This, as we have seen over and over again, is both the source of occupation of Kashmir and regimentation of the surplus(ed) population of mainland India.

Such inquiry and self-inquiry-driven militant interventions is exactly what mainland Indians claiming to be in solidarity with the Kashmiri resistance need to engage in, particularly with regard to their own more ‘mainstreamed’ locations. Only then will they come to practise solidarity as a politics of concrete heroism.

Those interventions on their part will make it easier for the Kashmiri migrants to compel the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian working people to grasp how Indian occupation of Kashmir is the system’s instrument to regiment not only Kashmiris but the ‘Indian’ working people as a whole. The migrant Kashmiri cognitarian is likely to accomplish that by way of militating against concrete forms of social regimentation imposed on him/her in mainland India through operationalisation of the occupation as a socially-embedded ideology. That is important if his/her subjective experience of alienation is to really become its own material ground. Something that can only be achieved in the process of abolishing the objectivity of the economy, which integrates him/her precisely by producing this experience of alienation.

This is how the struggle against Indian occupation of Kashmir also becomes a working-class question internal to the everydayness of social labour in its different moments in mainland India. A necessary moment, therefore, in the constellation of struggles that will negate the Indian nation-state, and in the process tend towards transforming South Asia into a post-national geo-polity.

Let us try and illustrate this empirically. One of the more serious and chronic problems the migrant Kashmiri Muslims – particularly the cognitarians among them – face in mainland India is the accessing of liveable rented accommodation. The functioning of the occupation as an ethno-nationalist/ethno-religious, Islamophobic ideology in mainland India ensures that. As an ideological register embedded in the form of everyday socialisation, it is embodied and animated by the ‘mainstreamed’ sections of working people of mainland India. It is they who hugely contribute to this difficulty of the Kashmiri Muslim migrant in the process of compounding the precarity of his/her livelihood and life.

And yet, it is this same occupation as a politico-military fact that serves to regiment those ‘mainstreamed’ sections of Indian population. The migration from the Valley to mainland India has obviously made it easier for rent-seeking landlords to push up house rents, particularly in those urban areas that are inhabited by not-too-insignificant chunks of Kashmiri migrants. This is due to the additional demand for housing in such areas. Such rent hikes obviously affects all, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris alike, even while there is a social differential at work in terms of ease of access to rented accommodation. Such rent hikes imply an across-the-board cut in social wages – and intensification of work both in the reproductive and the so-called productive realms.

The occupation of Kashmir stands revealed here as something that clearly enables rent-seeking sections of capital to extract more rent from all house-tenants in mainland India. It, therefore, also reveals itself as a mechanism by which capital as a socio-economic system regiments all the working people – or the entire surplus(ed) population – in the Indian mainland by compelling them as a collectivity to do more labour – both unproductive and productive.

Here then is a concrete instance of how the occupation of Kashmir is an instrument through which capital seeks to regiment Kashmiri masses in the Valley, and migrant Kashmiri cognitarians and non-Kashmiri working people in mainland India as various segments of a constantly surplus(ed) population.

Interventions in the form of militant inquiry in mainland India can go a long way in uncovering more such concrete examples. And only through such uncovering can a concretely internationalist politics of solidarity be forged between the Kashmiri resistance against Indian occupation and the everyday struggles of social labour in mainland India.

Let us then hope a concrete-utopian hope for a perpetual machine of insurgency, which will not rest until it has radically re-ordered all of South Asia into an ever-expanding, post-national and non-statal horizon of revolution. That is what the Kashmiri tehreek is fated to achieve. And so are we, if we care to take note of things.

References

Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, tr. Daniel Heller-Roazen [Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1998]

Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’, The Soul At Work, trs. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia [Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, California, 2009]

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus, tr. Brian Massumi [Continuum, London, New York, 2004]

Fanon, Frantz, Toward the African Revolution, tr. Haakon Chevalier [Grove Press, New York, 1988]

Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio, Multitude [Penguin Books, New York, 2006]

Marx, Karl, ‘Speech at the International Meeting held in London on November 29, 1847 to mark the 17th anniversary of the Polish Uprising of 1830’. In On the National and Colonial Questions: Selected Writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ed. Aijaz Ahmad [LeftWord, Delhi, 2001]

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume I, tr. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Frederick Engels [Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986]

Spinoza, Benedict de, A Political Treatise in A Theologico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, tr. R.H.M. Elwes [Dover Publications, New York, 2004]

A Review of “Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture”

Viplav

Gabriel Kuhn (ed. & trans.). Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety: Forging a Militant Working-Class Culture. Selected Writings of Julius Deutsch. Oakland, CA: PM Press. 2017

This collection of essays by Austromarxist organiser Julius Deutsch brings into focus a rarely emphasised aspect of the workers’ movement. The idea that this movement is cultural is, of course, not novel. Especially after Gramsci, no one has disputed that. Perhaps it has been overemphasised. Some who are wary of Gramsci have stressed the same via Maoism – through the experience or the idea of Cultural Revolution. But in general the cultural question has been reduced to disputes over traditions and their interpretations, thus focusing on the rewriting of their histories; and, more recently, to valorising the alterity of the subalterns.

The uniqueness of the Austromarxist approach, as represented in this volume, lies in its relative negligence of the talk about historical traditions and alter-traditions. This avoidance allows us to understand culture in its making or doing, not overloaded by the question of legacies and traditions. The building of culture is understood in terms of the fight against capitalism. Culture is about the ethos of this struggle. If this culture is essentially solidaristic, this solidarity is central to the struggle itself. As the editor of this volume rightly contends:

“The historical workers’ movement addressed all aspects of everyday existence, including some – such as sports and drink – that might be considered bourgeois, middle class, or lifestylist by contemporary activists.” (v)


The book contains Deutsch’s writings on the role of sports, anti-alcoholism and workers’ militia in workers’ struggles, especially during the open barbaric conjunctures of capitalism, like fascism. Here we are witness to the Austromarxist elaborations on Korporkultur, which combined anti-fascist workers’ militia with sports international and anti-alcohol movements. It emphasises on “the physicality of the proletarian movement”. (vii)

Gabriel Kuhn has written a lucid introduction providing a detailed historical background in which these texts were conceived. Kuhn appends a short note prior to this pointing out two positive lessons that can be drawn for our times from these writings. It is this that makes this volume well worth a read. The first – the cultural aspect of the workers’ movement – we have already mentioned. The second is the emphasis Austro-Marxism placed on the unity and coordination between different ideological-organisational tendencies within the working-class movement. In Kuhn’s own words, “at a time when the Left is on defensive and the combined threat of neoliberalism and neofascism seems to make leftwing unity mandatory, it is crucial to learn from past attempts at forming broad working-class alliances, and to examine both their achievements and their failures”.(vi)

This book does another very important service to the contemporary knowledge within the radical movements. It dispels the long-nurtured myth that Austromarxists were simply armchair intellectuals who theorised from ivory towers. It was a myth similar to that of Kautsky, whose most principled disciple and vociferous critic Lenin called him a “renegade” at a particular historical juncture and that epithet has, ever since, remained as if it were his first name. With regard to the Austromarxists, the myth was very unfortunate not just because it presented a wrong picture of them, but more so because it kept in oblivion perhaps the most heroic attempt of the working class to self-organise, and resist the insurgence of the fascist forces. Also, the great experience of Red Vienna was rendered marginal in the euphoria of the East European “successes”. One-and-a-half decades of Red Vienna (1919-34) have been considered by scholars as “the most innovative example of a progressive urban culture and society to be attempted by any major socialist or communist organisation outside of Russia” (Anson Rabinbach), and as “one of the most spectacular cultural triumphs of Western history” (Karl Polanyi, quoted on pp 8). But the intoxication of East European “successes”, despite their statist and nationalist character, overwhelmed the socialist imagination throughout the globe, and effectively outlawed every urban insurgence, which was in fact closer to the ideal of Paris Commune – its self-organisational and self-emancipatory nature – from mainstream working-class literature.

Since Red Vienna had to guard itself against conservative forces right from its inception, workers’ militias in Austria were formed early on, though their network was formalised in 1923 as the Republican Schutzbund to counter reactionary paramilitary organisation Heimwehr (Militant Home Defense) – “to save the working class from the violent acts of monarchism and fascism; it wants to defend democracy and the republic”. (15) But the tragedy lay in the fact that in the name of defending democracy and the republic, the leadership never allowed the militias to save the working class from the fascist attack. They deferred the civil war by their inaction, and effectively strengthened the state machinery, but when the civil war eventually came upon them in 1934, the militias were led to a heroic defeat. Otto Bauer himself admitted: “We avoided the struggle because we wanted to spare the country the catastrophe of a bloody civil war. Eleven months later, the civil war came anyway, but for us under much less favourable circumstances. We had made a mistake; the most fatal of our mistakes.”(20)

The tenor and content of Julius Deutsch’s writings provide us enough clues to the Austromarxist style of thinking politics that led to a political paralysis at critical junctures. In the first text, which deals directly with workers’ militias, Deutsch recognises the need for incorporating the defence units into “the workers’ culture as a whole” and for their integration with other workers’ organisations. “This is necessary since, in most countries, civil war is latent. It might slumber for a while, but then it breaks out again with full force.” (61) Quite clearly they were quick in identifying the latent perils of their times, but they reduced the question of political interventions to manufacturing forms and institutions. The text is more about the need for a centralised controlling of the militias and keeping them disciplined rather than about politicising them – developing their self-capacity to respond to the daily class struggles. Deutsch externalises the need for proletarian self-defence and reduces it to organisational-administrative issues of mere defence.

The subsequent text that deals with mass sports provides a solid critique of bourgeois sport:

“Workers’ sport differs at its very core from the sport of the propertied classes. While the latter is individualistic, the former is collectivist. While bourgeois sport champions individual performance and records, workers’ sport champions mass achievements and solidarity.
The terms bourgeois sport and workers’ sport do not only indicate political opposites. They also indicate deep factual differences. Their very essence is different. Workers’ sport is closely tied to the development of a new proletarian culture.”(77. Emphases original)

Evidently, Deutsch does well to substantiate the point that the Austromarxist presentation of the cultural question was not just about traditions, but about building “a new proletarian culture”. However, it is precisely this presentation that once again externalises the cultural question, reducing it to the issue of engineering new institutions and organising events. They were unable to present the proletarian cultural question as immanent in the daily contention between labour and capital. Hence, it seems that collectivism and solidarity were to be externally injected through institutions like sports clubs and Workers’ Olympics.

The last text deals with the importance of sobriety, which once again treats it more like an issue related to workers’ discipline, and an organisational problem. Deutsch is very emphatic in recognising the thusness of class struggle:

“The question is not whether we wish for a class struggle. The class struggle simply exists. It is a fact, and we have to accept it as such, just like the wind and the weather.”(95. Emphases original)

But ultimately, for him, this is a mere fact, of which workers must be made conscious. Attaining this consciousness needs a pedagogic disciplining by the enlightened leadership. The ethos of class struggle has to be engineered.

The Austromarxists were way ahead of their comrades in other parts of Europe in recognising the importance of the physicality of workers’ movement – of regular militias, sports culture and sobriety, which were generally stressed in lifestylist and conservative politics. They also understood the importance of proletarian self-defence. But despite its recognition, it was fitted in the same social-democratic vanguardist mould, reducing self-defence to a defence of the republican status quo, thus, disciplining the proletarian self in the service of the crumbling system, never allowing the full leeway to the potential of the proletarian self-defence to become a ground for the reconstruction of the Austrian society.

The Austrian experience is far more important than the Russian experience for us today, not just because what Austrians tried to do in a much more complex and advanced society, but also because the inertia of which the Austrian social democrats suffered, resonates with the experience of the organised left of our times. Walter Benjamin writes in his essay “Moscow” (1927): “What distinguishes the Bolshevik, the Russian Communist, from his Western comrade is this unconditional readiness for mobilisation.” Lukacs once noted, using Shakespeare, that in Lenin blood and judgement commingled. The Austrian comrades too had blood and judgement, but they were surely not “well mixed.” Making the issues of culture, discipline, sports and consumption subservient to the “immutable fetish” of the organisational question, led to sclerotic tendencies within their politics. The present volume provides a sharp and clear glimpse of the strength and weaknesses of Austro-Marxism, which are ingrained in the politics of the institutionalised left in general.

A Review of “The Deed of Words”

Paresh Chandra

Pothik Ghosh. The Deed of Words: Two Considerations on Politics of Literature. Delhi: Aakar. 2016.

I

The two writers Pothik Ghosh brings together in his new book are distant enough from each other that most readers of the book will not have read them both. Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh is an important name in the history of 20th century Hindi literature, particularly for those with an interest in modernism or “aesthetics and politics”, but he is still a figure in Hindi modernism. Akhtaruzzaman Elias, a Bangladeshi writer, is more recent, perhaps slightly more obscure, and almost entirely untranslated.

Even so, it would be a disservice to Muktibodh and Elias, not to mention to Ghosh, if I set about trying to summarize what the book has to say about them. Far more useful would be to ask: What allows for these two short monographs (for that is what they are) to constitute a coherent book (for that is what it is)? Ghosh compares neither Muktibodh and Elias, nor literature and politics, yet he writes of these things together. What, then, constitutes Ghosh’s comparative optic?


Why these writers? Criteria of selection are always important. We will turn to Ghosh’s own remarks later and begin instead by invoking what I think is a revealing, if obvious, point of comparison with Alain Badiou. Jean-Jacques Lecercle notes that where Deleuze has an expansive range of references, Badiou works with a fairly small canon.(1) Deleuze’s desire for an immanent criticism is well-known; Lecercle shrewdly points out the trouble with a theorist making a claim to immanence and working with a diverse canon — does the spiel about immanence merely allow Deleuze to transform all these writers into more of the same? On the other hand, Badiou instrumentalizes the literature he chooses very visibly. But that is also why he chooses writers who are a good “fit”, writers who are, arguably, essential to his philosophy. Ghosh is akin to Badiou in this regard. At a moment where literary system building, and the hunt for a new sensitive literary criticism seem to constitute the organizing polarity in academic literary scholarship, Ghosh works with a different set of principles.

II

The artist who designed the book’s cover narrates an incident: he walks into the publisher’s office and is confronted by an intellectual with a grave beard. The beard berates him for the excesses of the cover, excesses in what it does, and for its failure in doing what a book cover is supposed to do. The title doesn’t stand out clearly, nor does the name of the author. Why would anybody buy this? The artist, mildly irritated and unable to think of a suitable comeback, inquires under his breath if the beard has read Pothik Ghosh’s work. He had not, but he was right. The cover is cluttered, too bright in parts, not enough in others, with a preponderance of red. But it is appropriate for this book.

Aditya Bahl’s cover works with an image familiar to those who have been students of the University of Delhi, such as himself, or me. The university has an institution it calls the “walls of democracy”, the only walls on campus where people are allowed to put posters — posters for the university students’ elections, teachers’ elections, pamphlets for demonstrations, rallies, marches, seminars and conferences, billets for sales, rentals etc. Any poster will last only a few hours before being plastered over by another. Often right-wing organizations will tear up posters put by leftists, and though leftists try to respond in kind, the right-wingers have far too much money and far too many posters to lose this battle. In any case, the most common sight of these walls is the one with which Bahl begins. Fragments of posters layered one upon another, bits of words in three languages, images in different colors that do not belong together. The fragments that Bahl captures were clearly meant to say something, but if this image says anything now, the burden of sense making lies entirely upon the one willing to wager on it. As this image images time, so Ghosh’s book, especially the chapter on Elias, tries to think it.

What Ghosh finds essential to Elias’ work is the attempt to produce such images, which capture the present in its absences, an attempt, equally, to image pasts in their presentness. He explicates what this entails using Walter Benjamin’s conception of the allegorical (the Trauerspiel book) and his “Theses on the Philosophy of History”. For example, a rallying mob, short-circuiting moments that lie across the linear axis of time, invokes and brings into the present those who had rallied in the past.

Yesterday Ayub Khan’s police killed a boy from the university, such a huge protest happens, Anwar can’t get to see any of it! … Osman’s heart skips a few beats: so many people here, are they all breathing, fish-rice-eating normal human beings like him? This human flood here, he finds the attire, demeanor of many of them unfamiliar? Who are they? Does it mean people from eras long gone by have also joined the procession? (Deed of Words, 26)

This passage is followed by a page-long catalog of “people from eras long gone by” who have joined the procession. Two maneuvers are made simultaneously: on the one hand, the passage highlights that what is visible in the present (i.e., what is present in the present moment) does not exhaust it, and in fact conceals a lot; on the other hand, what is invisible in the present gives us access to the presence of pasts hitherto unrealized precisely because in their respective presents, they were not entirely presenced.

What Elias images in this fashion, Ghosh (as militant philosopher) must think in the allegorical mode (to be named by and by). His task is not description; to describe would be to allow thinking to be determined by the presents to which the posters, or the marchers, belong and the connections that history has already formed between them. To think, here, is to produce what Benjamin may have called a figure, a constellation, a palimpsest, a mosaic; it is to produce a momentary unity that has little to do with those presents, or with the desire to recover them. The term that Ghosh adds to the list above is the “command concept”, which wills into existence a future whose conditions of possibility it simultaneously produces by constellating the absences of the past. This past is made visible only by the future the concept wills, and that future’s substantiality depends on the past(s) so made visible. The concept that commands is Ghosh’s attempt to capture the complications of this future anteriority. The production of a command concept is a deed of the word.

Which brings us to the type on the cover. The production of a figure (command concept) using the fragments one encounters is a difficult business, not least because it can only take the form of a wager. Its being lies in the claim that such a figure exists, and the claim is just a claim till the future that realizes it arrives. The wager lies in the fact that we carry on under the assumption that our action constitutes a deed of words, where it threatens to disappear in what it constellates, a deed of mere words. It threatens to become another layer, torn up or plastered over. It is this trait of the deed that Bahl tries to capture in the type, where the shadows in the font, on one hand, pretend to a solemnity that no work warrants, while on the other, it is these shadows that ensure that the title does not stand clearly against the background. At first glance, the title disappears into the cover; then you notice that what was making it disappear in this manner was also what tried to separate it from the background, declaring that it alone was the deed that constructed the image’s meaning.

III

For very long, Marxists, Ghosh among them, have turned to the final sentences of Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” to argue for the communist politicization of art, construed in either a Lukácsian or a Brechtian vein. In the book’s second chapter, “Literature in Use: The Muktibodh Alibi”, Ghosh begins by closing off this possibility: let us not speak of politicizing art. To explain his decision, Ghosh makes use of Muktibodh’s work. I will begin with those final sentences from Benjamin; my explanation too is in the spirit of Ghosh’s work.

This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art. (Illuminations, 242)

An imbalance in this equation tends to go undetected: the first statement concerns the domain of politics, the second the domain of art; the aestheticization of politics demands the politicization of the domain of politics, what Benjamin elsewhere calls the production of a “real state of emergency”. Communism responds by politicizing art, which is insufficient; worse, as Claudia Brodsky insists, it is a mirror reflection of the aestheticization of politics. Benjamin:

The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. (Illuminations, 242)

The aestheticization of politics lay in the “masses” being offered a merely symbolic resolution (expression) to material problems: the resolution of political problems using aesthetic means. The politicization of art, in a situation in which a political response in the domain of politics is required, is the same thing: political problems, aesthetic response.

Starting somewhere here, Ghosh asserts a different principle for looking at the problem of aesthetics and politics, one which must allow for the autonomy of art vis-à-vis politics. Ghosh returns to that infamous slogan (which Benjamin too mentions in the aforementioned final paragraph of the aforementioned essay): l’art pour l’art. But Ghosh’s is “arguably, an attempt to resignify art for art’s sake as a proposal for revolutionary politics. For, insofar as revolutionary politics seeks to break with and decimate the structure of exchange and relationality, this is the only pertinent way to think the use of art and literature from its vantage-point” (Deed of Words, 70).

Ghosh works with an unusual understanding of art (other than Muktibodh, key references are Brecht, Blanchot and Badiou): art asserts its autonomy not just in relation to politics, but more significantly in relation to its inevitable identification as art. The work, having reached its end (having become art), enters the domain of exchange — any claim to its autonomy now only serves as a reminder of its imbrication in exchange relations. Ghosh argues that a work produces with the reader, as it did with the author, a zone of subtraction, and that this is the assertion of its autonomy — once again, not merely in relation to politics, but with respect to its identification as art. But if this moment of subtractive autonomy is the recto, the verso is the negation of the domain of value from which art subtracts itself. (As a parallel, Ghosh’s criticism of a politics of “the commons” is that it tries to envisage subtraction merely as an “opting out” that leaves the entire system of exchange intact, whereas a subtractive politics destroys what it opts out of.) A reading of Muktibodh’s Brahmrakshas brings Ghosh to this point; or, he reads Muktibodh’s Brahmrakshas with this understanding. I shall begin by citing an interesting image Ghosh employs:

… The opening shot of Mani Kaul’s Satah se uthata aadmi (Man Arising from the Surface), a film on the poet’s life and letters. The scene is that of a fragment of a North Indian small-town landscape — with dawn breaking over it — seen from inside a house through its rear window that suddenly slams shut on it. … The birth of art is the recommencement, at the level of the individual, of that which movemental politics incarnates at the social level of abstraction. For Muktibodh, art is, as the opening shot of Kaul’s film metaphorically reveals, all about how the individual resumes, must resume, in his “interiority” that which he sees as being interrupted in the world outside. (Deed of Words, 73)

The parallelism of politics and art, for Ghosh, is to be thought in terms of such “incarnation” of the “that which”. Ghosh’s favored way to denominate this is probably the phrase “real movement”, which Marx uses to define communism.(2) Uninterrupted unfolding is the essence of art as subtraction, as it is of politics; interruption produces art as a reified thing, as do institutions which limit politics.

The end of the work is inevitable and demands another formulation, another moment, which is the moment of the writing of Ghosh’s book.(3) The window slamming shut can also be seen to symbolize this unavoidable reification of art, when it closes in upon itself and becomes a thing in the domain of value. At the end of the work (of art) how is another commencement to be imagined? Althusser, in his essay on Brecht, memorably quoted by a character in Godard’s La Chinoise, pictures this next moment: “I look back, and I am suddenly and irresistibly assailed by the question: are not these few pages, in their maladroit and groping way, simply that unfamiliar play El Nost Milan, performed on a June evening, pursuing in me its incomplete meaning, searching in me, despite myself, now that all the actors and sets have been cleared away, for the advent of its silent discourse?” (For Marx, 151).

IV

In his preface, Ghosh writes that Muktibodh and elias are only pretexts for him. But it is not difficult to glean that what is actually at stake here is a well-concealed methodological maneuver that he is hesitant to own up to. This maneuver concerns the idea of “mediation”, both a stumbling block and raison d’être for much Marxist literary criticism. The work is seen by such criticism as the yoking together, or an articulated totality, of different levels of abstractions (layers), such that, in tracing them, one can traverse the distance from the deepest/furthest to the most accessible. These layers can be denominated in multiple ways (the unconscious and history are two common names for the deepest/furthest).

The “ideal type” of (a certain kind of) Marxist literary criticism would navigate each mediating level and be a complete map of the work, as it were, hopefully without being the work. So, for instance, criticism could begin by “close reading” a few passages of a work, slowly account for style, proceed to historicizing the form or the “content of the form”, and finally arrive at an understanding of the work that fits without violently reducing or transforming it. But even the map of the work which is the work is infinitely different from the work (as we have learnt from Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote).

Ghosh is clear-sighted about this, which is probably why his work is unlikely to get the attention it deserves from academic Marxists, or from Marxists who happen to be academics. He uses the idea of the “wager” to posit an image of thought in which its commencement and its recommencement is constituted of leaps; transitions are undetermined in relations to all things except the labor of thought. Mediations are chromatic steps introduced to make the jumps seem smaller, but no matter how small an interval may seem, the before and the after are entirely different, i.e., unmediated. There can be no satisfying accounts of mediations, because this is the name given to that which is not accounted for.

A signature move in this book, which may put off many trained literary critics (even of the Marxian variety), is the one where Ghosh gives us an extended quote and begins his commentary with “Clearly…”. For example:

“Great, well-known idealists are these days found slaving at Ravan’s home, filling water, and busy being their master’s voice. Many well-known progressive personalities are also in the grip of this ailment. An individual who refuses to fill water for Ravan has to see his children teeter precariously on the brink. And you know, how famous progressive personalities with halos of glory around their heads too (I can’t speak for all) laugh at them or are filled with the kind of pity one feels for the lowly for them. So, in short, nobody is willing to grant recognition to a person whose existence is precarious, irrespective of how ethical that person might be.” [My translation.]

Clearly, the ethical condition of possibility of art, literature and other such critical intellectual vocations would be the universality of the truth of determinate subtraction — which those pursuits are in their emerging — in being-subtraction uninterruptedly. (Deed of Words, 94)

Schematically: The passage begins with a quote in Hindi, or Bengali, which Ghosh translates, and then his commentary.

The more acceptable mode is one in which the critic’s commentary begins with a brief summarizing gesture, even a careful paraphrase, and the contextualizing operation that follows segues into the theoretical language particular to the critic. As I see it, the reason Ghosh does not follow this protocol is part indiscipline, part decision.

Indiscipline insofar as he has not spent years in the disciplining apparatus of a literature department and does not have to deal with the anxiety of publishing in peer-reviewed journals etc. Not conditioned by this particular anxiety, he approaches his writing as a moment in his thinking process, a moment in which it is externalized so that it can allow thinking to recommence. It has no need to be a final product and it is this that makes for a hermetic style that readers, including academics, have been impatient with over the years. We must note, of course, that he has his readers, who continue to read his work because they too are part of this process of thinking, though thinking is not their business.

A decision because it is a direct consequence of Ghosh’s conception of thinking’s unfolding as uninterrupted becoming-other; this is what dialectical unfolding is for him. Another way to put this would be to say he takes Benjamin’s sketching out of the task of the translator very seriously — translation is precisely a kind of recommencement in another language, not making a work available in another language, but making another language available to the work. The attempt to lay out mediations, the fantasy of close reading, and the attempt in the writing of a critical essay to mediate the movement from the text to the theorization are, in Ghosh’s view, all illusions, things that get in the way of thinking. His enterprise is to think under the condition of a work and he feels no need to hide the leap from the quote to his own thinking, and may even want to highlight it. If one were to read the passage quoted above without a familiarity with not just Badiou’s thought but Ghosh’s version of his thought, one is likely to feel frustrated.

And yet, if Ghosh’s method is unapologetically bold, his explication of it, to return to the beginning of this section, is modest. So to modify the question with which Ghosh opens the second chapter of the book: why should ambition hide behind modesty? Why, instead of claiming this conception of thinking (in the condition of art/literature), does Ghosh stage it as partial failure? Does he not identify entirely with this image, or is he surrendering himself to the affectations of his academic readership, ducking his own call for an “academics beyond the academia”?

V

This essay has made passing references to Ghosh’s style. In lieu of a conclusion, I wish to reflect on it at greater length. Those who have read his essays on Radical Notes, his earlier monograph on Elias or on psychoanalysis, or his book Insurgent Metaphors, know full well that he makes no concessions to the reader. In part, in great part, this is because he conceives of writing as the inscription of a process of thought, with which he and others internal to this process struggle in order to make it unfold. As a Marxist, he rejects unabashedly the social-democratic distaste for preaching to the converted — for him, preaching is meaningful only to the converted — and as a theorist, he does not share the academic’s yearning for a readership. But there is more to the “difficulty” of his style, and this more, I hesitatingly contend, is a political problem. Look at the following passage from the chapter on Elias:

Therefore, the savage mind is activation of dialectical reason, which is analytical reason constantly overcoming itself by grasping its own logic of emerging to actualize it. The logic of emerging of analytical reason is, it must be stated at the risk of some repetition, also its unconscious when it exists as itself, which is dialectical reason in “repose.” (Deed of Words, 24)

This is by no means the most trying bit of his prose, but it demonstrates what needs to be demonstrated. This is Ghosh’s attempt to grasp dialectical reason dialectically, at the same time as he grasps analytical reason dialectically. They must be grasped together, in order to be grasped dialectically, because they together constitute the dialectic that has to be grasped. The final clause of the first sentence “to actualize it”, contains the second moment of the dialectic, the first moment being analytical reason’s overcoming of itself. It is this final clause that pushes the sentence to a point where very few readers would patiently be willing to follow it; in the process, it takes its toll on syntax too. And there is indeed risk of repetition — for by this point Ghosh has already stated this formulation in at least three other different ways.

The “dialectical sentence”, one that is not merely chiasmic, containing a “thesis and antithesis” (from the rock-ribbed triad that is often mistaken for the dialectic), but one that holds three moments of time — the beginning with two, the moment without duration that is sublation, and the appearance of another two, is a strange fantasy. It requires elaborate use of “suspended syntax”, not unlike the first sentence of Paradise Lost, and is responsible for much of the difficulty of Ghosh’s style. And what is gained even if one does succeed in producing such an unlikely sentence? The moment the dialectic is represented, it demands immediate restatement against the grain of the first representation. If in the first instance sublation has no duration, becoming a vanishing mediator, in the second and third instances the initial and the final must respectively play the same role.

In the first place then, there is the excessively knotted sentence, and then repetition. The political problem hides in this stylistic issue. Even Hegel — for whom God as Absolute Spirit was the totality of Father, Son, and Spirit, the process by which each leads to the other — willingly paused with the Trinity as a commonsense representation of this process. Fredric Jameson points out in The Hegel Variations that, at the end of the Phenomenology, Reason does not destroy commonsense and picture-thinking — they have to continue to exist; reification cannot be sidestepped, and it never disappears. The search for the sentence that captures dialectical unfolding without pause reflects a distaste, even a fear of representation, which is the same thing as the fear of reification. Ghosh’s most breathless passages are the ones which contain the essence of his argument. Since these arguments tend to be “dialectical”, their being arguments depends upon a fundamental asymmetry in the dialectic: if one side of the dialectic is not heavier we are left moving around in circles. Fearing the institutionalization of such asymmetry, an asymmetry essential to the polemical import of the arguments, Ghosh immediately tries to balance them out.

The struggle with syntax and repetition are recognized pitfalls of writing dialectically but the fear of reification threatens to push the dialectic back to a properly idealist moment. This fear, which whether unwillingly or otherwise becomes a significant organizing factor in Ghosh’s prose, undermines the centrality that the wager (and courage — as opposed to anxiety — to put into play Alain Badiou’s binary from Theory of the Subject, which Ghosh would no doubt appreciate) has for his thought. The appearance of this anxiety in his style may well be an important repressed of his theorization. Something remains to be said about that.

Notes

(1) See the second chapter, “A question of style”, in Jean-Jacques Lecerle’s Badiou and Deleuze Read Literature.

(2) Badiou’s conception of the “Event” and the four domains (politics, art, science, and love) in which it takes place could also be evoked to explicate this.

(3) Ghosh discusses this with reference to Muktibodh’s “Ek lambi kavita ka ant” (“End of a Long Poem”).

References

Althusser, Louis. For Marx. New York: Verso. [1965] 2005.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. New York: Schocken. [1950] 2007.

Ghosh, Pothik. The Deed of Words: Two Considerations on Politics of Literature. Delhi: Aakar. 2016.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques. Badiou and Deleuze read literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2010.

On “Autonomy in India”

Pratik Ali

A response to ‘Autonomy in India: Tactical and Strategic Considerations in the New Wave of Workers’ Struggles’ by Mithilesh Kumar and Ranabir Samaddar, Viewpoint (Jan 23, 2017)

I help a few friends in publishing and distributing every month a newspaper – Faridabad Majdoor Samachar – in the Delhi-NCR area, in which we try to present to workers an image of their own activities which we think are full of transformative possibilities. We also keep these activities of workers at the center of our discussions by consistently trying to interpret their implications anew. What we see the workers doing, and what we hear of from other places today, gives the impression that some great churning is taking place which we dare not try to fit unthinkingly into existing moulds bequeathed to us by past experience.

It is in this context that I place this response to the article “Autonomy in India”. My chief criticism is that apart from the many erroneous commissions and omissions, it presents workers as a “fragmented”, hapless lot, and by trying to place them in bygone frameworks, completely misses their present radical potential. This essay will point out how, in their characterization of workers today, the authors of ‘Autonomy in India’ place the irrelevant in the spotlight, exceptionalize the normal, and thus manage to get away with presenting an image of workers which is, even by the examples they invoke, less representative of their activities.

Making the irrelevant relevant

1.“State’s machinery to protect the rights of unorganized workers

The authors inform us that “the state is now trying to find ways to normalize the figure of the unorganized worker through social measures, while allowing – and in fact facilitating – the uncertain conditions of work in the wake of globalization.” Whatever the “normalization” of 80%-90% of the workforce means, we find that this age-old distinction between “organized-unorganized” workers is coming into question in churnings in the factory mode today that make laws, legal redress, labour commissions, etc. increasingly irrelevant. This is amply evident when we consider even the cases of “organized” workers today, as at Munjal Kiriyu (Sec-4, IMT Manesar), Haryana:

“…A union was established in the Munjal Kiriyu factory at the beginning of 2013. As per law, only the permanents took membership of the same. In present conditions, actual workers’ organization is made possible by the inter-mixing between permanents, trainees, apprentices and temps. On 26.11.13, the union signed a three-year agreement with the management that sought to weaken and break this actual workers’ organization. But the bonds between permanents, trainees and temps proved resilient, and even before a month was over since the legal agreement was signed, all workers stopped production on 18.11.13 in support of three trainees (?). After production was stalled for 25 days, the union and the management made an agreement with elusive traps involving provisions for dismissal and discharge…. The real meaning of this “victory” of the union-management agreement of 15.1.14 (after 25 days of stalled production) was revealed to the permanents later in April that year. Permanents broke ties for the first time from a big union in May to join hands with another big union. At that time, the company straight away attacked the permanents, whose collective strength was already depleted by weakening of their ties with the temps due to management-union interventions. 195 permanents were removed from the factory on 24.9.14, as 400 temps, 100 diploma trainees, and 43 permanents continued production within. The debarred permanent workers then, on 25th September, returned to take shelter under the roof of the former big union. A month, two months, three months passed since the 195 workers debarred from the factory were sitting outside it. Hearings-after-hearings took place at the Labour Department. Initially, big unions were very active, but then grew lax, and finally became completely distant from the workers. Apart from those removed from work, the company added to the numbers of those suspended. Workers sitting-in at the factory gates since 25th September accepted the management’s conditions on 15.1.15 when they saw that resistance wasn’t bearing fruit. Leaving the 9 who were terminated, and 20 who were suspended, the rest of the workers returned inside the factory. Reports about Munjal Kiriyu workers will be found in the 2014 September, October, November and January 2015 newspapers of Majdoor Samachar…” (FMS, Feb 2015)

Or, let us look at the more recent case of the Honda (Tapukara) factory in Alwar district (Rajasthan),

“…On 16th February, in order to stem the upsurge of temporary and permanent workers, the workers were evicted from the factory by means of police action. Following that, a huge number of new temporary workers were recruited, and the factory was kept operational through them and a few permanent workers. Meanwhile, the workers evicted from the factory were made to run around Gurgaon, Jaipur, Alwar by mediators/brokers (middlepersons) for obtaining relief.

On 6th June, there was a settlement between the Honda management and unions in the presence of the Labour Commissioner of the Rajasthan government. Out of more than 4000 workers evicted from the factory, 256 permanent workers were to go back to work at the factory starting the 8th of June. As for the rest, it was decided to have talks on the 13th of June at the Labour Department.

The union thanked the Honda management and the Labour Department of Rajasthan Government in press releases. On the 8th of June, the permanent workers went into the factory to work in accordance with the settlement.

And then, come 13th, the Honda management never showed up for the talks scheduled at the Labour department. The company bluntly said that it would not recall even a single worker of the thousands of temporary workers evicted from the factory. 102 permanent workers of Honda Tapukara have been dismissed and 47 have been suspended.
With the Honda management “going back on its words”, the union has once more started a series of protest-demonstration-appeals since 20th June.” (FMS, July 2016)

And from recent events at the Bellsonica factory in Sec-8, IMT Manesar,

“The union keeps saying : workers will benefit from peacefully keeping up regular production at the factory, abiding by the Labour department and the Courts. Far from the workers gaining anything through these proceedings going on since one and a half years, the company has instead fired many permanents, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies.” (FMS, July 2016)

These are only a few cases among many – Bridgestone IMT Manesar (Hindi report in FMS, Nov 2015), Napino Auto IMT Manesar (Hindi report in FMS, May 2016), Omax Auto IMT Manesar (Hindi report in FMS, May 2016), and so on – in which: first, the “organized-unorganized” distinction has proved unhelpful and a hindrance to workers’ activities vis-à-vis managements and work, and second, “organized” workers bear witness to the breakdown of the “state machinery” that is supposed to “ensure their rights,” to say nothing about the vast majority of cases in which “unorganized” workers witness this breakdown as a matter of course. We observe, rather, that laws, legal redress, the rights-framework have become irrelevant for workers, and any attempt to channelize workers’ activities through these means is only harmful for workers’ expressions of agency. In contradistinction to this, consider the possibilities thrown out of workers organizing themselves beyond this statized “organized-unorganized” distinction. For example, Maruti Suzuki (which “Autonomy in India” misrepresents)

“…In 2011, in the factory in Manesar, there were 950 permanent workers, 500 trainees, 200 apprentices, 1200 workers hired through contractors for work in the direct production process; around 1500 workers were hired through contractors for various auxiliary functions. The pace of work was such that a car was being assembled in 45 seconds. Some permanent workers attempted to organise another union against the existing union. Strong arm tactics of the management to make permanent workers (most of whom were not even aware of the attempt at another union formation) accept the existing union gave rise to a charged atmosphere. All around discontent coalesced into sudden stoppage of work. On 4th June 2011 when A and B shift workers were together in the factory, they took over entry and exit points. Most workers in factories today in the subcontinent are temporary workers — the percentage of permanent workers varies from 0 to 5 to 25% of the work force. On 4th June permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, and workers hired through contractors came together, and in this way a workers’ organisation appropriate for the current conditions took shape, transcending the legal framework wherein only permanent workers can be members of the factory trade union. What started on 4th June and continued for 13 days should be termed a ‘deoccupation’ of the factory. Around 3000 workers stayed in an atmosphere of freedom inside the factory premises during those days.

The company and the government were taken aback. During the deoccupation many more bonds developed between the various categories of workers. The company was forced to take a step backwards and revoke the termination of 11 workers for production to restart. 

There was a dramatic change in the atmosphere in the factory. The bonds between workers continued to grow and management officials were increasingly on the defensive. The company was forced to plan and prepare to re-establish its control. It went to far away industrial training institutes and secretly recruited hundreds of “ladke” (young boys). On 28th August, a weekly day off, 400 police men came to the factory overnight. The company staff had arrived earlier. With metal sheets, the factory was secured in military fashion. On the morning of the 29th when workers arrived for their 7:00 am shift, there were notices announcing dismissals and suspensions, and entry for permanent workers was conditional on signing of good conduct bonds.

All the workers, both permanent and temporary, stayed out of the factory. Inside the factory were the new hires and workers brought from the company’s Gurgaon factory, with a few permanent workers from the Manesar plant. Arrangements for their stay inside the factory had been made. Managerial and supervisory staff members also had to work in the production process with the workers in 12 hour shifts. This was a well rehearsed chess game to soften workers and impose conditions.

Repeated attempts were made to instigate workers to violence. The workers refused to be instigated, even when some of them were called by the state government for negotiations and were arrested there.

More than 3000 workers organized themselves into two 12 hour shifts outside the factory. At any time, there were more than 1500 workers spread out near the workers’ entry gate. This continued for the whole of September 2011. Many kinds of discussions took place. Bonding between different categories of workers acquired new dimensions.” (See the entire report ‘An Account of Factory Workers Today’)

Workers’ activities run contrary to the discourse on dwindling rights; rather, we note that the weakness of workers lies not in “precariousness” due to ineffective labour regimes, but rather in holding their activities hostage to those labour regimes. We need only recall the mass upsurge among workers in Bengaluru, in which the role of the state-machinery became more than clear: suppression, or diffusion by giving concessions, of workers’ activities. This was also seen in the recent mass-absence of workers from factories in Bangladesh.

2. “How do the workers mobilize and organize? What methods or approaches will be adopted by the political organizers?.. This is a vital supplement to the Maruti case, which demonstrated that even in the organized sector – at the cutting edge of technological innovation in the workplace – the radical Left has an important role to play. With the rise of casualization of labor, it is true that workers have become more geographically mobile and contractually flexible; but the upshot may be that they are now more amenable to the kind of politics articulated by the radical Left… Who organizes the workers at sites that have not been previously organized or where trade union influence has been minimal?”

What the authors present as a victory of Maruti Suzuki workers in 2000 (victory in the form of a tripartite negotiation) seems reminiscent of the “organized” workers-unions-organizations’ appeals in 2016 from Jantar Mantar to the parliamentary conscience for the workers of Honda Tapukara, which was followed by a photo-op with Delhi’s Labour Minister, a continuing court case, and a dead end which was not even spoken about.

At a time when it has become amply evident that representative frameworks are dysfunctional in supporting workers’ organization, is there any case for the good vs. bad representative argument? Is there any case for the “radical Left” better than the “classical Left” idea? We can ask workers from ASTI Electronics (Sec-8, IMT Manesar),

“Temporary workers depended on the strength of their backs. We were approached by all – IMK, KNS, Bigul Mazdoor Dasta – to hijack our struggle, but we didn’t let them. We agreed that they could give us suggestions, and we did take suggestions, but made it clear from the first day onwards that acting or not acting upon suggestions was up to us. A leader from AITUC said the HMS does this kind of politics every time, you should trust us, we will fight your struggle. A temporary worker replied, “It was good of you to come, but we’ve seen what you did in Napino Auto. You may leave, thank you.” A CITU leader then said many things against Modi, that he is bringing laws that will spoil the workers’ future, that we have to stop those laws from coming into action. A temporary worker replied, “You are senile now, have gained immense knowledge, but this is not a platform for election mongering.” It is a platform of workers; the laws you speak of haven’t yet come, and already we are doomed. You haven’t been able to implement laws presently in place, but still speak of a future. When somebody from Bigul came to speak, IMK protested, demanding they not be permitted to speak. They were told that this platform isn’t IMK’s, but of the contract workers. It is our decision whom to allow or disallow from speaking.” (FMS, April 2015)

Or we could also test the validity of these claims against certain “militant” tactics of the Bellsonica Union:

“In June, workers at the factory bluntly told the union leaders that the union should right away do something for immediate relief, failing which the workers would act on their own.

The union which had been holding out hopes for months for the decisive date of 12 July at the High Court, taxed its brains and made a plan : as the saying goes, kill the snake without breaking the stick. To ensure that the production does not suffer, the company does not face losses, the company does not get annoyed – the weekly off day in the factory was chosen. A lot of thought also went into the “action” – to act without putting the government authorities under pressure, without being a bother, without angering them. A Sunday was found to be the best choice. 6000 handbills were printed for distribution. 1500 posters were printed for Dharuhera, Bawal, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Delhi University and IMT Manesar. Towards the end of June, the union kept many workers busy working in the Bellsonica factory and their colleagues outside the factory.
Sunday is a holiday at the factory. Government offices are closed on Sundays. Hence, the middlepersons/brokers calling for revolution-vevolution announce

“Program : Collective Hunger Strike
Venue : Mini Secretariat, Gurgaon
Time : 9 AM – 5 PM
Date : July 3 2016”” (FMS, July 2016)

The bankruptcy of radical Left politics was visible already in the events around the Maruti Suzuki de-occupation, of which our authors present only incomplete fragments, using the same obfuscatory lens of the “radical”. A more detailed account:

“Permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, workers hired through contractor companies, new workers who had been hired to run the second assembly plant — all these workers, around 4000 workers, in a meticulous operation on the evening of 18 July 2012 attacked two symbols of the wages system : managers and factory buildings. It was not this or that bad manager who became the target but rather any and every manager; hundreds of managers, MANAGERS AS SUCH WERE A TARGET. It is this that makes happenings in the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory one of global importance. Suppression that triggers explosion is well known, but concessions being rejected en masse is a new phenomenon. It is a radical point of departure. Maruti Suzuki Manesar is a good example, but what is more important is that amongst factory workers in the national capital region in India, similar things at different stages and levels are gaining currency.

In the following days, the two thousand factories in IMT Manesar offered a significant ground for workers to meet other workers and to bond with them. In place of that…central trade unions acted fast and shifted the venue 25 km away to Gurgaon by constituting a committee of 16 trade union leaders who would decide what steps are to be taken. Of the discharged permanent workers numbering 546, those remaining outside the jail were pushed into becoming an audience for this committee. Other workers’ representatives/supporters, critical of central trade unions, but who also see workers as victims and as lacking consciousness, erased the active role of the workers on 18th July. They made out the company to be the active force that had conspired and hired bouncers to attack workers to instigate them. Poor workers only reacted to the bouncers’ attack and so were caught in the management’s trap. 60-70 thousand leaflets with these falsehoods were distributed amongst workers in IMT Manesar, Gurgaon, Delhi and Faridabad. Knowingly or unknowingly these do-gooders encouraged the workers to set out on paths that were tiresome and exhausting. Petitions, demonstrations, protests by the family members of the jailed and sacked workers; hunger strikes, bicycle protest tours…steps which gave some support to the workers’ cause, but which, if relied upon solely, only made workers tired and exhausted. Because of the ineffectiveness of the committee of 16, those more to the left gained ground. And the venue was shifted 200 km away to a peasant dominated area.

By July 2013 the complete bankruptcy of all those who considered workers as poor, exploited victims, had reached a stage where these ‘struggles’ came to an ignominious end — on 18 July 2013 in a candlelight protest in daylight in a park provided by the government, a portrait of the manager who died in 2012 was carried…” (From ‘An Account of Factory Workers Today’ cited above)

To suggest that a tendency working against the direction of workers’ activities ought to play a decisive role in mediation, and even organization of workers, follows the same line of argument by which a dysfunctional state machinery is expected to become functional in regulating workers’ activities. In this mode of thinking, the organization of workers’ activities not just complements their regulation, but becomes its means too.

3. “The rural rich gentry, the upper caste kulaks, and the wise elders of the nearby settlements all supported the company bosses….Perhaps the postcolonial condition not only does not completely transform peasants into workers at least for now, but in this condition the workers have to traverse both spheres. In the case of Maruti the workers who were part of the struggle were only the first generation who had given up farming and taken up technical education to become part of the skilled workforce. Maybe that is the reason that forced them to look for succour in their villages rather than in their so-called autonomous self.”

Following on their inadequate characterisation of workers as “precarious,” “fragmented,” or otherwise weakened by “globalization”, the authors turn to add more “local” qualifications pertaining to remnants (or fables) of earlier social structures (e.g., the management vs. the Dalit worker; the local contractor vs. the migrant labourer; “Taking into account that many of [the Maruti Suzuki] workers belonged to villages around Gurgaon-Manesar, their impulse led them to fall back on the community organization of the khap panchayat.” and so on).

Notwithstanding the absence in history of a worker completely bereft of baggages, whether of past identities, or of present links to non-worker habitats (e.g., to a rural community), this approach fails to look at the factory (or the neighborhoods) as a space in which churning takes place between people of very varied such experiences, under very new, unprecedented conditions. Rather than look at the links and discussions that emerge between workers in a new space like this, the authors try to reduce everything to the play of old themes and remnants. Thus, they fail to even imagine the possibility of something new and different to emerge from workers’ activities.

“Maxop, Sec-6, IMT Manesar: 12 hour shifts for the manufacture of automobile parts for export. .. Work load is a lot, workers keep leaving, there are always vacancies.. High temperatures in the factory.. On the night shift of 16th January, Kaleem Ansari was working on a pressure die casting machine. At 2:10am in the night, a casting part got stuck in the machine. When Kaleem attempted to remove the part from the machine, it suddenly sprung into action due to being on auto-plan. His head got sucked into the casting machine, and he died immediately. Workers stopped work. Left the factory premises. The factory was shut on the 17th, on the 18th January too. Work commenced on the 19th.” (FMS, February 2015)

We find among factory workers a trend wherein even one person on the factory floor becomes a focal point of concern for every other worker. In this process, the force of past identities, or specific differences, to set apart collectivities is challenged by the workers’ understanding of their common situations. This trend is repeated again and again: to take another example, in Udyog Vihar in February 2015 one garment worker was beaten up, but it provided a trigger for a widespread anger against many factories and cars of management. More than 2000 policemen refused to act on seeing the sheer number of workers having a go at the factories (Hindi report in FMS, March 2015). We also heard from workers of a Micromax factory at Mayapuri, Delhi (FMS, December 2016),

“There are about 450 workers in the Mayapuri Micromax factory, with 9 hours long duty in a day, paid 9000 (after deduction of esi/pf) rupees a month. As soon as workers spend sometime in the factory, they begin to refuse overtime. Hence, the Micromax management is concerned at all times with enlisting new workers. In Novermber 2016, the management removed 4 workers from 13 in a small department. The 9 remaining workers in the department halted work. The management had to take back the four removed workers.”

Where even one worker becomes a focal point of discussion among tens of thousands and an invitation for collective action, we infer that many differences, specificities, and the so-called baggages no longer hinder action and, therefore, become irrelevant. This is an indication that we need to look at workers’ activities as something radically different and irreducible to old identities.

This emergence of new tendencies is particularly marked in how the gender question manifests itself among workers. More than half the participants in events such those witnessed in Bengaluru (Apr 2016), Udyog Vihar (Feb 2015), Okhla Industrial Area (Feb 2013), etc. were, firstly, women, and secondly, migrants. Both these identities are considered, in hegemonic discourses as well as in dominant counter-hegemonic discourses, as socially weak and vulnerable. In this context, look at this about the workers’ sit-in at ASTI electronics:

“from the 4th November, 60 male and 250 female workers began a continuous sit-in outside the factory…” (FMS, Dec 2014)

Or from JNS & Jay Ushin (Sec 3, IMT Manesar):

“Women wage-workers from all over Gurgaon, Jhajjar, Rewari, Pataudiin packed buses. Many also walk down to work daily from Manesar, Kasan, Khoh, Naharpur. Like on other days, on 10th February too – a Monday – women workers coming by buses and on foot gathered outside the factories at 8:45 am. Entry into both factories is through one gate alone and duty begins at 9 am. However, on 10th February, the gathered women workers refused to enter the factories. For about two whole hours they stood outside the factory gate and discussed promises by the Haryana Chief Minister to raise the minimum wage to Rs. 8100. The police arrived. In buses, senior staff members accompany the women workers to keep an eye, and so the women don’t talk as freely. Despite all this, the company didn’t have a clue when on 10th February more that 2000 women workers acted collectively. JNS Instruments is a strong partnership between Nippon Seiki, Japan and J P Minda from India. Autometers for Honda, Bajaj, Hero, Suzuki, Yamaha two-wheelers and Maruti Suzuki and Honda cars are manufactured here. Jay Ushin is a joint-venture between Ushin Ltd., Japan and J P Minda. It manufactures car-keys and automatic-locksets. JNS annually produces goods worth about Rs. 5 billion, while Jay Ushin produces goods worth Rs. 6 billion annually. Male wage-workers working in these factories work for two shifts of 12 hours each. Shifts change every 15 days, whereupon workers from the first shift work 16 hours straight. The factories run 24 hours a day, every day of the month. The only holiday is 26th January (National Republic Day). Overtime rates are below single-rate: Rs. 22/h for male and Rs. 23/h for female workers. Those directly employed on the company rolls are given their salaries directly in their bank accounts, they number 500-600; their role is to get work done by the contract workers, and they boss around inside the factories. Men and women contract workers are hired through eight to twelve contractors.

Workers are told about their wages around the 9th of every month, but they are only paid around the 20th . Workers who have quit are made to jump hoops for a long time to get their dues, women workers often enter arguments at gates, swear at the management, even pick up their shoes to thrash somebody when they come to collect their dues.” (FMS, March 2014)

Clearly, new kinds of relationships are taking shape between the men and women who share factory spaces, who stop work together, pelt stones together, share neighborhoods. As more households become multiple-earning, what becomes of the gender hierarchies within households that are part of the “social factory” that the authors point to? If we return to some scenes from the Maruti Suzuki de-occupation in this light (of which our authors inform us that workers, being tied to local villages, “sought succor” outside “their autonomous self,”

“It has been observed that important questions dealing with life, time, relations, representation, articulation and factory life were brought to the fore by the deoccupations of June and October 2011. In the words of a worker:

‘Inside the Maruti Suzuki factory, 7-14 October was the best of times. No tension of work. No agonizing about the hours entry and exit. No stress over catching a bus. No fretting about what to cook. No sweating over whether dinner has to be eaten at 7 or at 9 pm. No anguish over what day or date it is. We talked a lot with each other about things that were personal. During those seven days we drew closer to each other than we have ever been before.’

In the same vein, when the issue of 30 workers being bought-over by the management made the rounds at the end of October, a worker said:

‘Earlier we used to pass on the issues to the president, general secretary, department coordinator — they weres supposed to tell us what to do. But now every worker answers for himself. On every issue, every one gives his opinion. The atmosphere has changed.’”(An Account of Workers’ Activities)

Exceptionalizing the norm

1. “There have also been attempts to invent and improvise methods of organizing workers in these changed conditions, where the organized sector is supposedly being increasingly fragmented, with lean production or just-in-time production becoming the norm, and shop floors becoming increasingly redundant as a site of both production and mobilization. Even where the shop floor continues to be important, as in the automobile sector, the worker is now a mere appendage of the machine and has to tune their self to the iron rhythm of the robot. The ideal worker, it seems, is one who can transform into one of the cogs of the huge machine… transforming the shopfloor into a site of precarity”

In the above quote, the authors have merged multiple claims in a rather complicated unity: one claim is that due to production techniques now in motion, workers’ have become bootstrapped in acting at the site of production; then there is the claim that the shop-floor’s importance today remains only in the automobile sector, which, too, highlights the “hapless” existence of the worker. And in order to challenge this, there “have been attempts” to improvise methods, which are obviously not the methods “improvised” by workers, since they are “a mere appendage of the machine.”

This view would prevent us from understanding a large number of workers’ activities vis-à-vis the factory today. Let us look at some instances:

“Sebros Auto (Sec-5, IMT Manesar): Due to the breaking of a die-part of the die-casting machine, while being paid wages on 11th July, they were deducting Rs. 3000 from the salaries of the pressure die-casting workers. Workers refused to take wages, and 9 machines in the department were shut…” (FMS, Sep 2014)

“At Munjal Kiriyu… all workers stopped production on 18.11.13 in favor of three trainees who were removed. After production was stalled for 25 days, the union and the management made an agreement with elusive traps involving provisions for dismissal and discharge.” (FMS, Feb 2015)

“JNS Instruments (Sec-3, IMT Manesar): Line leader, in a school-like fashion, orders a worker to stand in place for 10-20 minutes. What shame in standing so? Gets some relief from work. Older workers disclose to new ones how to deal with supervisors and line leaders. Girls from two lines got together to beat up a line leader. The supervisor had to come to secure release.” (FMS, Apr 2015)

And so on. An interesting trend seen in garments factories is product rejection. Pants manufactured in Indo-British Garments had legs of different sizes; 13,000 pants returned to the factory, without anybody getting a whiff of how this happened (FMS, Sep 2014). Similar rejections were produced by workers at Modelama and Precision Prints. Workers of the two factories of Wearwell in Okhla Industrial Area kept machines shut for several days over non-payment of wages, and stayed in de-occupied factories in September 2014 (FMS, Oct 2014). And there are numerous instances of workers having clashes at the factory site; in many cases, such as Udyog Vihar (Feb, 2015) and Orient Craft, Manesar (Oct, 2015) for example, these happened in the middle of a shift. One then looks at garments workers’ activities in Bengaluru in April, 2016, and more recently in Bangladesh in December 2016. Further off, one recalls collective fainting by garments workers in Cambodia, and so on.

2. “this unruly, often militant, population working in extremely uncertain conditions. Every other day we hear news of workers murdering a factory official, workers raiding a company or plant office, or the sudden disappearance of a worker, or a laborer in a precarious work condition committing suicide.”

This “unruly, often militant” worker, for the authors, is a by-product of “unorganized” “precarity” that is at the same time a liability for everyone from the state to the management; s/he contributes nothing to the “struggle.” This upstart, in all manifestations of this syndrome, is capable only of sporadic acts, bordering on a pathology. Even when in a group, their acts have nothing to do with the pace of factory production, or to causing hindrance in the same. It is to “govern” this “unorganized subject without producing a subject called the organized worker” that is the task of regulation as well as organization. We shall leave this claim to find its corner to die.

3. The Struggle of Forms?

The authors of the article submit their analysis, broadly outlined and discussed above, to a rigmarole of forms from the world history of the left, and to its more localized Indian counterpart: from the party, to the union, to the autonomous organizational form (as epitomized by the Italian theorists of workers’ movements). They find that “Every instance of worker-led resistance has shown strong marks of autonomy, a swell of consciousness on the ground, and a large degree of spontaneity. At the same time, every uprising of workers has demonstrated features of strategic leadership, effective organization, wide social networks, and a strong transformational desire.” Apart from the fact that their discussion of the wage-worker today leaves no scope for workers’ autonomous activities to be understood in any meaningful sense, and that their notions about organization and autonomy provide no clarity about how the two mesh together, we find that workers’ activities elude any attempts to fit them in such grids. Sometimes this rejection is immediate, as during an ongoing gathering or a sit-in where existing organizations of various hues often arrive; this is also because the results of deciding in favor or against a form are immediate. But in a large measure, this is also because the temporary worker, knowing that s/he is outside the scope of the legal, sidesteps all such regulation.

Conclusion

In “normalizing” or conceiving the image of the wage-worker today from the lens of organizations of bygone times, an inversion takes place: the worker appears weak, a mere “cog in the machine.” This inversion is only achieved by emphasizing the most irrelevant aspects of the workers’ being and doing, and by circumscribing their regular frictions with the production process, and how they learn and act upon the same. Hence, the fact that theories and theoreticians frequently lag behind the practice of the working class is reconfirmed.

[The translations from the originally Hindi reports have been made available due to the participation of a number of friends.]

Forthcoming: Paramita Ghosh’s IN A FUTURE APRIL – A Novel (Radical Notes 9, Aakar Books)

It is a year before Plebiscite and the two provinces of The Lambda – The City and The Frontier – separated from each other by a gate can talk of little else. Governed by the Fairlanders, Lambda may soon be free. The City is home to the old elite. The Frontier is a land denuded of trees, the pit of factories. The old elite are cobbled into a party, the Dongs. The Partisans urge fellow workers among school teachers, field hands, newspapermen to join the strike breaking out at the factories. At the meetings, it is also decided to rethink a new culture of politics and work, before deciding whether they are ready for freedom.

At a time when Mir, the leader of the Partisans, is still unsure about an alternative to an independent nation-state, the news that a Partisan contingent is meeting the Fairlanders raises questions among his supporters. Is Mir giving in or breaking new ground? What is the value of taking a pause during a struggle? Is their final bloody manoeuvre a failure, a success, or both; or can their resistance be seen in other terms? In a Future April is a political allegory that tries to grapple with the many meanings of love, freedom, friendship, camaraderie, commitment and betrayal in the undecidable time of the Revolution.

Paramita Ghosh is a Delhi-based journalist. She grew up in Calcutta and began her career with The Statesman. She writes on culture and politics for Hindustan Times.

FOREWORD

“An operation carried out in the written language” – Italo Calvino

This foreword is not an apologia. It is not an attempt to provide justifications for publishing a work of fiction in a series of booklets and books that belong to the essayistic genre of critical theory and/or political analysis. The readers can themselves determine whether or not this novel, or other creative works that we intend to publish in the near future, fit into the dynamic politics of this series. Nevertheless, the question remains whether these literary-creative engagements replicate what political essays do, whether they provide insights that these essays cannot even think through.

We are not formalists who study the specificities of forms in order to see them as their own justification. In fact, there is no such formal autonomy. If you find one, rest assured it is the poverty of form that the essence generates and productivises to generate illusions of such autonomy.

“Essence must appear or shine forth. The essence is thus not behind or beyond the appearance; instead, by virtue of the fact that it is the essence that exists concretely, concrete existence is appearance.” (Hegel:197) We consider the identification and study of the practice of form very crucial to access specific levels of reality – the structural dynamics that appear through this form.

A literary work accesses aspects of reality that only a literary form can reveal. Not very long ago, Italo Calvino approached a literary work “as an operation carried out in the written language.” Literature involves “several levels of reality” and it is the awareness of the distinction between these levels that makes a literary work possible. Calvino further elaborates: “In a work of literature, various levels of reality may meet while remaining distinct and separate, or else they may melt and mingle and knit together, achieving a harmony among their contradictions or else forming an explosive mixture.”(Calvino:101)

Hence, a literary work emerges as a methodological operation demythologising Reality into levels of reality. It is through this operation that we access these specific levels. As Spinoza’s “extension” and Marx’s “sensuous activity”, literary practice is intrinsic to those levels of reality of which it is an awareness. Calvino, however, cautions against the tendency to overgeneralise, to forget the form’s immanence to its own levels of reality – in the case of literature, these levels are part of the “written world”. Calvino while “distinguishing the various levels of reality within the work of art considered as a world of its own”, and, therefore, avoiding the sirens of historicism, is emphatic in considering “the work as a product, in its relation to the outside world in the age when it was created and the age when we received it”. In fact, this historicisation is what is termed as self-awareness – when literary works “turn around on themselves, look at themselves in the act of coming into being, and become aware of the materials they are made of”. (Calvino: 103)

Almost a century ago, Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs had expressed very eloquently the dialectical problematic of form and content in literature and its historicity. He understood a literary genre as intrinsic to an “age”. “The novel is the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given, in which the immanence of meaning in life has become a problem, yet which still thinks in terms of totality.” (Lukacs: 56) The novel is born in an epoch characterised by the separation of labour from labour-power. In such circumstances, the totality cannot be accessed in its immediacy because forms of labour are dualised: the concrete becomes discrete, and gets individuated and differentiated from its meaning in totality. In other words, the concrete is rendered an undifferentiated mass of particular appearances. Thus we need “the force of abstraction” to access and to reproduce the totality in thought.

The “form-giving intention” (or, what Marx in Grundrisse, of which Lukacs must have not been aware of at the time of writing this work, termed “living, form-giving, fire”) of a novelist reconstructs or systematises the totality abstractly. The totality is not immediately and organically accessed, rather it emerges in the creation of the novel through “abstract systematisation” that exposes and distances from the conventionality of “concrete life”, the “objective world”. It emerges in the process of a critique of this concrete, objective life and world, revealing “the interiority of the subjective” world, the “political unconscious”.

The living labour of a novelist creates totality in a “socially symbolic act”.(Jameson) It is a critical operation that in its Utopianism creates a crisis for subsumption – providing a glimpse of real totality beyond the swamps of false totality – of capital and state (the conventionality and its everydayness).

“To see the world in a grain of sand” – William Blake

Till recently a slice of reality was considered sufficient to grasp the truth of reality – to see the universe in a grain of sand. This Blakean radical vision originally was a reminder of metaphysical holism, that was losing its grip in the nineteenth century. It was restricted to those who saw the future as a doom or a dawn – the judgement day or a world revolution. You could make out the total sense of a particularity.

The processes of “infinite regression of quibbling and calculating” (Badiou: 40) – a continuous discretising and recombining, the so-called “creative destruction”, was effectuated by the generalised commodity economy and industrialism, which led to the perpetuation of analytics, analytical philosophies and positivism. Eventually, the Blakean vision was reduced “to see the world of a grain of sand,” so that the elements of these grains could be identified, discretised and recombined – isn’t this what production is all about?

But still you could imagine a universe of many universes – a meta was still there but as an aggregate of atomic individualities or as a forced universality. Hence, national revolutions, national socialisms, Socialism in one country, national development – however, the vision of national liberation still had an international tenor as it grasped liberation in terms of “liberation from”. The collective dream that politics embodied was condensed in the possibility to empower the dethroned subjectivity, bypass the developmental pains and still catch up or even divert.

But as the economy got more and more integrated, the humanity and sociality were further analysed and discretised – to be invested in the social factory. It is the digital recombining of anything and everything as mere numbers. As the world increasingly became a global village, we were transformed into villagers – “formed by simple accretion, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” (Marx) As we were increasingly reduced, and reduced to sameness, we militantly asserted our difference. The postmodern assertion of relativities was nothing but the other side of modernist absolutism. They mutually energised one another. We assert our differences, and in an instant they are equalised, accumulated and turned into gold – and we are reduced to “packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers.”(Bifo: 95)

In A Future April is a novel about revolutions in this age – but being of this age, it is truly a “monstrous abbreviation” of all times, even of those revolutionary periods which were inaugurated exactly a century ago. All revolutionaries of those times were aware of the elements of passive counter-revolution in these revolutions, but the passage to the decline was always considered a struggle. Revolution and its systemic subsumption could still be compositionally, spatially and temporally differentiated. But today in late-st capitalism they both are the same. If this is a novel about precariats and cognitarians as vanguards, it is also about vanguards as precariats and cognitarians. But was this not true for all revolutions? In A Future April narrates and operates the stories of revolutions to abbreviate them into the pregnant dialectic of hope and dismay.

Pratyush Chandra,
Radical Notes
November 23, 2016

References:

Alain Badiou (2005) “Philosophy and Desire.” Infinite Thought. Trans. and ed. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens. New York: Continuum. 29-42

Franco “Bifo” Berardi (2009) The Soul at Work. Trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia. Semiotext(e). Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Italo Calvino (1997) “Levels of Reality in Literature.” The Literature Machine. Trans. Patrick Creagh. London: Vintage Books. 101-121.

GWF Hegel (2010) Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline Part I: Science of Logic. Trans. and ed. by Klaus Brinkmann and Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Georg Lukacs (1971) The Theory of the Novel. Trans. Anna Bostock. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Karl Marx ([1852] 2002) “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” (Trans. Terrell Carver) Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire: (Post)modern Interpretations. Ed. Mark Cowling and James Martin. London: Pluto Press. 19-109

Homecoming to Nostalgia: The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

Cyrus Bina

“In a time of universal deceit,
Telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
– George Orwell

When the entire arsenal of impulsive and aggressive foreign policy is deployed in absolute desperation and without accomplishment by a declining power unaware of its imminent demise, first it resorts to self-aggrandisement and spectacle, and then suddenly and viciously turns on itself through self-flagellation and serious self-mutilation. This is a classic pretext that trumps the assorted reasons for the demise of Hilary Clinton and thus the bafflement of the US political establishment and its coattail in the established media. This should concisely spell out the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, his populism, and his success in leasing the plush real estate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. To be sure, “We make America great again” is the alter ego of America’s demise since the collapse of the Pax Americana (1945-1979). Recognition of this very transformation is in itself a radical act.

The moment of truth has finally arrived. The slogan of “Make America Great Again” is now at the centre stage. The members of the wrecking crew in Donald Trump’s proposed cabinet are now waiting for their Senate confirmation to get to work. Donald J. Trump is now the president of the United States. And all three branches of government are in the hands of one party – a party that since Reagan’s presidency has seemingly been reduced to an apologetic bunch in retrograde politics suspended in history. The party that once took pride in being the party of Lincoln is simply taken over by a known-unknown outsider; George Soros went on to call him an “imposter.” Trump’s message though has been consistently the same: “Make America Great Again.” This “Again,” at the same time, conveys an acknowledgement of the glorious past, not-so-glorious present, and the possibility time-travel presumably to the pre-Civil Rights’ period on the domestic side and hegemony, leadership and respect (i.e., the era of Pax Americana, 1945-1979) on the foreign policy side.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom and despite his rhetoric, Donald Trump’s presidency does not seem to correspond with American isolationism. Trump’s vision is rather more in tune with the reversal of time that supposedly transports America to the 1950s, an era in which a Junior Senator from Wisconsin’s witch hunts were in full swing. And a foreign policy that unilaterally engaged in coups after coups against democratically elected government abroad with little cost – known as America’s Golden Age – under the umbrella of the now defunct of Pax Americana (1945-1979). Under the Trump administration, some even are horrified – for a good reason – by an idea that he may take us all the way back to the pre-Civil War period in race, gender, and social relations. The irony here suggests parallels with George Orwell’s “1984” in 2017 America.

The other party is not so innocent either. Democrats did not only tolerate the notorious war crimes by the Bush-Cheney administration in Iraq and Afghanistan; they nonetheless come in full circle with their own bloody misadventures in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, to name a few, while they did some good with respect to Cuba and Iran. Overall, though, the Obama administration inherited and thus contributed to what the Bush-Cheney administration has wrought as a paranoiac state/surveillance state in America. On the foreign policy front, particularly in Libya (and the bloody overthrow of Col. Gaddafi), Hilary Clinton’s hand is bloody. On the toppling of the Libyan government and the murder of Gaddafi, Secretary Clinton bragged: “We came, we saw, he died.” The catch here is that the Obama administration had already promised the Russians at the UN Security Council that if they agreed to vote for the “no fly zone” in Libya (or abstain), it would refrain from overthrowing Gaddafi. With Clinton’s Julius Caesar-like enthusiasm, the Obama administration broke its promise. As is well known, President Obama also recently expressed his regrets for the involvement in Libya. As for the pointless involvement in the coup, against Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, the share of Secretary Clinton (via Victoria Nuland’s direct involvement) is not miniscule either.

Again, as is well documented, this initial step eventually led to the ouster of Yanukovych and the chaos that brought the ultra-right takeover of the government through the infamous referendum in Crimea, which then paved the way for the Russian invasion. Clinton Democrats utterly miscalculated the outcome of that election by betting on the wrong horse. The ignored the fact that the country (both the left and the right) is gasping for change by any means necessary. Clinton Democrats ignored the deep cleavage in income inequality combined with profound political polarisation. They arrogantly resorted to the habitual course of action by attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders – a seemingly viable candidate that might have defeated Donald Trump if he had not been subjected to unfair, immoral, and indeed illegal shenanigans in the primaries. Thanks to WikiLeaks for revealing these very true heart-wrenching stories perpetrated by the Clinton camp and the Democratic Party that is presently on the teeter of disintegration. That is why those who care about the truth – and cause-and-effect in this matter – believe that Democrats’ cruel pomposity and crude self-assurance tossed their viable candidate under the proverbial bus. In the end, the “basket of deplorables” statement by frustrated Hilary was the one that finally broke the camel’s back.

The inauguration of Donald J. Trump is over and he is officially the 45th president of the United States. The factors that have led to his seemingly successful campaign toward his presidency are numerous, varied, and multidimensional, and historians will debate them for year and decades to come. Nevertheless, it is clear that the spectre of change is in the air and that the sizeable majorities on the right and on the left are challenging the status quo. The Pax Americana had collapsed in the late1970s, but aftereffects of its fall are still around with respect to both domestic and foreign arenas. The fact is that there is no hint of American exceptionalism in all this. The changes that transpired in the last few decades have taken us beyond the Pax Americana and beyond American exceptionalism. The United States is now as ordinary as any other nation in the new global polity in the making.

On the foreign policy side, the United States is not what it used to be, yet the forces of regression, and reaction, are insisting on being “Great Again.” On the domestic side, the fissure of deep economic inequality, political polarisation, pernicious politics, blatant racism and “white supremacy,” bashing women, Islamophobia, and other social ailments are now overtly pronounced. This election has torn the veil of political correctness and peeled off nearly all opacities that are gingerly left underneath race relations in America. Donald Trump is the sui generis messenger and now, as president, the message of divided America. And in this manner, the whole nation is naked before our eyes. This nation (and by implication the US government) is not exceptional; it is not pre-ordained for hegemony; it is not predisposed for the leadership of global polity in the making. There is a limit to what the United States can or cannot do with respect to domestic as well as foreign policy.

Therefore, “making America great again” is inevitably subject to such boundaries. The United States is a declining power and the election of Donald Trump is a hint of such a decline in both domestic and foreign affairs. We are just beginning to grapple with the aftereffects of the loss of the American century and the painful consequence of the denial of the fall of the Pax Americana since the 1980s. On the foreign policy side, the setbacks have so far been unequivocal. It may take some time to digest the truth of the shrinkage of the middle class and the disguised class warfare in the form of overt racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry in the name of nationalism and patriotism. We need to fasten our proverbial seatbelts for a long, rough, turbulent, yet indefatigable ride on, in Robert Frost’s apt vision, “the road not taken” in these unflattering and uncertain times.

Cyrus Bina is Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota (Morris Campus). His latest book is A Prelude in the Foundation of Political Economy: Oil, War, and Global Polity (2013). An earlier version of this article was an address to a rally organised by students at the Morris campus of University of Minnesota during the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017.

Demonetisation: Maturing Capitalism?

Pratyush Chandra

“…it is not a question of the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms that result from the natural laws of capitalist production. It is a question of these laws themselves, of these tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” – Karl Marx (1)

“We do not think or plan in piecemeal, but in full-scale design. It is just that we are revealing our cards gradually…” – Narendra Modi (2)

The left-liberal intelligentsia in India is clearly in a quite precarious state, if it finds ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s criticism of demonetisation as the most competent response to the Modi Government’s move. The daily peddling by left social media activists of the criticisms that mainstream economists are making of demonetisation is a symptom of the Indian left’s lost confidence (if it ever had any). Even those who have come up with more erudite responses are lost in the grammar of the move — its immediate performance and effects — and have concluded that demonetisation is poor, bad and ignorant economics. Coming from a chaiwala, what else can it be!!!

In our view, Modinomics is a legitimate successor to Manmohanomics — it is a continuity entrenched in the dynamic needs of capitalist accumulation. Post 1990, India has seen governments of all colours, but the coherence of the Indian state has rarely faltered on the economic front. The rulers with all their electoral compulsions have succeeded in maintaining, if not accelerating, the neoliberal regime. However, this does not mean the political shade is merely external and cosmetic — politics in an electoral democracy is all about reshuffling social anxieties and interests in a manner that allows the state system to self-reproduce.(3)


Financial Expropriation and the Emergence of a Debtfare State

Demonetisation is a misnomer. It is not an attack on money by demonetising economies. Rather, it is a spectacular yet momentary unravelling and strengthening of the adamantine chain around so-called economic independence and growth in capitalism. In fact, it is a heightened expansion of money as financial and political-economic control. It is an effort to assess and consolidate the expanse of economic activities and transactions and thwart any possibility of parallel economic regimes. Delegitimising particular denominations of currency becomes a means to reclaim those activities, and reassert money as a universal measure of value, not as a means to autonomise particular levels of economy, by treating it as a mere facilitator of exchange or a means of hoarding. Money creates boundaries only to expand and cross them. Money measures the immeasurable, it equalises the most unequal. It institutes hidden connections between phenomena quite remote from one another — the vertical control however is revealed only at particular junctures of economic development through the action of state. In our opinion, demonetisation is an assertion of the universality of “universal equivalence”, i.e., money. This means consolidation of the linkages between layers of social relationships in the economy — strengthening of the neoliberal concentration and centralisation of capital.

There are two chief processes that define the neoliberal regime of capitalist accumulation, and demonetisation is remarkably connected with both of them. These processes are financialisation and informalisation, which in the present heat of the demonetisation debate, have been popularly dubbed as cashlessness and black/parallel economy respectively.

Financialisation has three main features. First, non-financial corporations increasingly financialise themselves, relying on retained profits and open financial markets for investments, rather than on banks. Even their wage bill “is frequently financed through the issuing of commercial paper in open markets.” Second, there is a restructuring of the banking operations by re-orienting them towards mediating “in open markets to earn fees, commissions and profits from trading”, on the one hand, and towards individuals/households “to obtain profits from lending but also from handling savings and financial assets”, on the other. With the active help of state through legislative measures and encouragement, the banks mobilise personal savings for peddling in stock markets.(4)

Lastly, and most importantly, in recent years “the personal revenue of workers and households across social classes” has been increasingly financialised. On the one hand, this specifically signifies that there has been a substantial increase in personal and household debts for various life needs – consumption, housing, health, education, etc. On the other hand, it shows there has been an expansion in the range of financial asset holdings — for medical and life insurance, pension and old-age benefits, various short- and long-term money market investments, etc. This relates obviously to a withdrawal of state-supported public provisions in the form of subsidies and direct benefits, and hence their privatisation. So, we find a tremendous increase in the involvement of banking and other financial institutions in mediating household consumption, while they have obtained a full freedom to channel “household savings to financial markets, thus extracting financial profits”.

Profiteering through financial transactions between banks and households has a predatory character. Profit here is not raised in the sphere of production, but through “the systematic extraction of financial profits out of the revenue of workers and other social layers”. This is what has been termed as “financial expropriation”. (5)

The current demonetisation move is nothing less than a full-scale financial expropriation in operation. The move has in one go forced small and big cash hoarders run to line up in the queue to reveal and officialise their savings. The government is not allowing these savers to exchange and repossess the whole amount of their savings in cash. This is not simply due to any unpreparedness or erratic behaviour on the part of the Indian state and Reserve Bank of India, as many have alleged. In fact, it is a remarkable move to institutionalise a financialised relationship between the banks and households. Of course, it is too early to judge if demonetisation has really succeeded in altering “nation’s conduct”. But its motive is pretty clear, as finance minister Arun Jaitley has time and again pronounced: “This one decision that has ensured that a lot of money has come into the banking system, a lot of informal savings have become formal now, and therefore, the tendency to invest these more formal savings in instruments that you keep an eye on is also increasing.” Demonetisation is a kind of encouragement to “ordinary citizens to channelise their savings into the market which indirectly would then contribute to the process of national development rather than be blocked only in dead assets”.(6)

Demonetisation is clearing the ground for a systematisation of “cannibalistic capitalism” in India by proliferating secondary forms of exploitation which are not directly linked to production but are financial mechanisms to expropriate. The Indian economy is massively based upon underemployed and under-waged surplus population that constitute the unorganised and informal labour relations. This makes it a very fertile ground for cannibalism that marked the US economy, which was based on the proliferation of various financial mechanisms of expropriation — nay, a financial inclusion of the hitherto excluded. In fact, we see in this move of demonetising specific denominations of the currency an emergence of the debtfare state.

Susan Soederberg defines a debtfare state as one that “legitimates, normalizes, depoliticizes and mediates the tensions emerging from cannibalistic capitalism”. It deregulates finance and provides legal machinery to protect and strengthen banks, thus facilitating an intensification and expansion of “forms of predatory practices.” The debtfare state enhances “the social power of money by legally and morally permitting credit card issuers (banks) to generate enormous amounts of income from uncapped interest rates and by continually extending plastic money to those who fall within Marx’s category of the surplus population: the partially employed (underemployed) or wholly unemployed”. The impact on the labour regime is also significant as “surplus workers” are subjected “to the disciplinary requirements of the market, such as compelling them to find and accept any form of work to continue to be “trustworthy” creditors”.(7)

Demonetisation in 2016 might mark a drastic emergence of a full-scale debtfare state by financially including the massive community of unbanked individuals and households through mobile, e-payment and plastic money. However, this has not happened suddenly. The insistence of the subsequent governments to profile Indian citizens through a unique identification system called AADHAAR and linking it with their everyday economic activities, despite the Indian judiciary pronouncing such moves illegitimate, was already an indication towards building a panopticon, which will make everybody useful and watched under the system. The banking and tax institutions had already started utilising this data. With demonetisation, now that the banks have acquired a full command over the finance of Indian households, a grand system of financial discipline and punishment can be effectively generated. With the proliferation of plastic and mobile/e-connections, our consumption and activities will be regulated, and we will pay for our own regulation.

This connects to the second aspect of neoliberalism, i.e. the process of informalisation, or the generalisation of informality destroying its sectoral and transitional character.


Informalisation and Consolidation

“With the junking of the old high-value currency, the parallel economy has become part of the formal system” – Arun Jaitley (8)

Everybody is talking about the impact of demonetisation on the informal sector, which is heavily dependent on cash transactions. But there is scarcely any analysis that shows how it is shaping the location of informality in the whole economy. Is it an end of informality — of the exploitation of cheap labour? Certainly not. It is an increase in the real subsumption of informality — it is a revelation that sectoral dualism sustained through segmented economies, if not fully illusory, is merely at the levels of appearance and form. The indirect exploitation of surplus population as cheap labour by capitalist firms by accepting the relative autonomy or sectoralisation of informality perhaps needs regimentation today to further expand capital accumulation. Through the so-called demonetization move, capital is arguably seeking to consolidate itself by vertically integrating the horizontalised relationship between formal and informal. It exposes the vulnerabilities of particular capitals seeking to hide their localised parallel levels accounted for in the official bookkeeping only as leakages in the system.

Managing money circulation is about networking and facilitating economic activities and transactions — production and circulation. The left-liberal intelligentsia, including many “Marxists”, are only talking about the impact of demonetisation as immediately experienced. At best, they are prognosticating a dampening of activities and demands, which will have adverse effects on growth. They are only remotely touching on the policy’s essential connection with the changing contours of the regime of accumulation. Leftists are right in noting the impact of demonetisation on the informal sector, but they have been unable to account for how it is shaping the regime in which informalisation is central.

It has been frequently noted, and quite rightly, that under neoliberalism the economy moves towards informalisation. The formal sector and employment are not growing, while informality is increasingly being embedded in the supply chains of the economy. That is why the informalisation of work processes is considered among the chief characteristics of the neoliberal economy.

As the informal sector has always thrived on surplus population exploited as cheap labour, “hiring-and-firing” is the norm there. What the pre-neoliberal phase had done was to secure an organised labour force that through its demand stability could sustain the domestic market. In many regions, however, a vast rural and urban informal sector was allowed to develop to reproduce surplus population. But the economic planning was avowedly geared towards formalisation. This vast surplus of labour and an increase in the organic composition of capital led to a crisis of the prolonged interregnum of planned capitalism, and a decline in the profitability rate. Technological transformations found the stable workforce in the so-called formal sector over-skilled and a hindrance to further accumulation. The formal sector was increasingly considered to be exclusionary unable to accommodate the growing surplus population allowing over-exploitative hidden economies to flourish. This led to an ascendancy of neoliberal market fundamentalism, which essentially attacked the formal-informal duality by legitimising informality. The aim was to take advantage of overpopulated living labour and utilise technological innovations that made skills redundant and required equi-skilled cogs in the wheel. Through initial structural adjustment programmes these surplus population-based informal sectors were linked with the formal corporate structures in the supply chain. In this scenario, instruments like the time-tested putting-out system, which capitalised and destroyed the old guild system, started becoming handy once again. It was through these instruments that cheap labour arrangements and regimes that existed locally were subsumed to avoid costlier and inflexible labour regimes that pre-neoliberal planning had generated.

However, despite the obvious hierarchical relationship between transnational corporate structures and local industrial set-ups that mobilised surplus labour, this relationship remained externalised becoming barriers to capitalist consolidation — concentration and centralisation of capital. Local laws that were promulgated to stabilise the labour force in the earlier regime became hurdles for capital mobility and accumulation in labour surplus economies. It was to avoid these hurdles that smaller and informal units were networked, but informalisation now has to be internalised and these units must be incorporated to survive intense competition. The parcellised production and distribution is not permanently beneficial. Also needed is “the concentration of already formed capitals, the destruction of their individual independence, the expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, the transformation of many small capitals into a few large ones”.(9)

Banking and finance that institutionalise the power of money facilitate the concentration and centralisation of capital today by regimenting individual capitals — big and small — and compel them to submit to the general needs of capitalist accumulation. The multiple layers of industrial forms — formal and informal — generate clogs in the real-time mobility of financialised capital. The informal set-up provides many smaller units with legal and trans-legal comparative advantages allowing them a kind of relative autonomy from legitimate competition. Being based on cash transactions they become autonomous from the institutionalised finance and public credit, while fully utilising the currency issued by these institutions. It was only through monetary and banking reforms that these economies could be contained within the structure.

We would do well to remember that one of the major battles capital has had to wage time and again is that of labour reforms. At the present juncture, especially in countries like India, numerous legal “number filters” have been imposed that grant smaller industrial units a freedom to disregard minimal labour standards, which bigger units have to at least legally maintain. Only by coordinating with these smaller units and utilising a labour contractual system the corporate sector could evade the imposition and draw the benefits. There has been a continuous demand to remove these filters, so that the benefits that the informal sector has — to openly exploit surplus population as cheap labour — could be generalised. Only through such generalisation can the processes of concentration and centralisation become effective.

Of course, the formal sector incorporated informal entities and relationships to evade the hazards of regulation. The way cheap labour-power was bought and exploited in the informal sector was an object of envy and is the benchmark for the formal sector entities to model the labour regime and demand for deregulation from the state. The state and the formal industrial regime have been long trying to achieve this. Despite being able to utilise informality to their advantage, the formal sector has been subject to humiliating bargaining tactics of smaller entities in the informal sector. The diverse local industrial regimes in which these entities function create difficulties for formal and bigger players in the value chains. Moreover, the ancillary interests are able to effectively compete with the corporate interests on the basis of their lower technical capabilities and cheap labour, thus leading to difficulties in the consolidation and centralisation of capital.

As labour reforms become more conflictual, with increasing defensive struggles of workers in the formal sector, monetary policies like demonetisation go a long way in regimenting “informal” and “small” capitalist interests. The wages of the unbanked population whom these entities have over exploited are all paid in cash. Demonetisation attempts to mobilise the advantages of these entities, which will now be totally subservient to formal processes. It is self-evident that any monetary tactic that affects cash flows would have an immediate effect on the cash-based informal economy. Amartya Sen is correct when he says, “At one stroke the move declares all Indians — indeed all holders of Indian currency — as possibly crooks, unless they can establish they are not.” (10) However, it is not totally wrong to say that a large section of this economy is always black as transactions and contracts there are not formally accounted for, and a substantial portion of income generated remains untaxed. But does this mean demonetisation will lead towards formality?

The notion of (in)formality is loaded with all kinds of connotations. And it is pretty confusing when we dichotomise formal and informal. In the production and distribution networks that define today’s economy we find this dichotomy resolved very efficiently. If legal systems tend to dampen flexible transactional and contractual relationships, informality (beyond the regulated formal relationships) seeps in to transcend rigidity. As a system, the formal-informal relationships constitute enormous value chains. However, if we discretise these relationships, it is not difficult to find clear examples of dichotomies in them, which actually define an intense competitive regime within the value chains — intra- and inter-sectoral competition. The entities in the informal zones of the value chain compete among themselves and also with entities in the formal zone.

Through demonetisation a process of verticalisation has been effectuated and the formal nodes would now act as concentration and centralisation of informal advantages. The state acting on behalf of capital in general is disciplining the devious and particularising nature of informality. Neoliberalism is a project to look after the general needs of capital in today’s conjuncture. Demonetisation is a decisive step in that direction.


Conclusion: Vulnerabilities

“…the magnitude of the global economic crisis at times is not felt in India because of strong (parallel) economy of black money.” – Akhilesh Yadav (11)

Post-2007-08, countries throughout the globe have been struggling to set their respective houses in order. That the so-called parallel cash-based economies in India cushioned the impact of the global crisis at the national level, acting as clogs that minimised the strains of the impact, is a strange truth. However, in order to sustain a higher growth these economies with their particularities will have to be incorporated into the formal system, and their comparative advantages annulled through their generalisation. What we see today is the neoliberal urge to mainstream and generalise informality and make it a ground for systematic capital accumulation, with concentration and centralisation as its vehicle. Hence, it is in this regard that the moves like demonetisation become effective instruments. But this would destroy the clogging effects of local and parallel economies. Hence, it would eventually minimise their ability to cushion against global vulnerabilities.


Notes and References

(1) Karl Marx, “Preface to the First German Edition,” Capital I, Collected Works, Volume 35, Progress Publishers, Moscow, p. 9.

(2) “Indira Gandhi lacked courage to demonetise, we are paying for it: Modi to his party MPs”, Indian Express (Dec 17, 2016).

(3) The political institutional ascendancy of rightwing jingoistic assertions is not any return to protectionism, rather it mobilises and productivises the general precarity to restrengthen neoliberalisation. By a reactionary generalisation of fear and terror that the mobility of capital and its crisis creates, it helps the system to reconsolidate its base against any radical statism and revolutionary anti-statism. The phenomena of Modi, Brexit, Le Pen and Trump will actually help in the final dismantling of the vestiges of older protectionist labour regimes in the name of making local economies and labour markets competitive, so that capital finds the locality docile for investment.

(4) Costas Lapavitsas (2013), “The financialization of capitalism: ‘Profiting without producing’”, City, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp 792–805.

(5) Ibid.

(6) “Demonetisation is changing nation’s conduct: Jaitley“, The Hindu (Dec 24, 2016).

(7) Susan Soederberg (2013)The US Debtfare State and the Credit Card Industry: Forging Spaces of Dispossession, Antipode Vol. 45 No. 2, pp 493–512.

(8) “Digital payments will help lower fiscal deficit: Arun Jaitley”, LiveMint (Dec 25, 2016).

(9) Karl Marx, op cit, p. 621.

(10) “Interview: Demonetisation move declares all Indians as possible crooks, unless they can establish otherwise, says Amartya Sen”, Indian Express (Nov 26 2016).

(11) “Black money helped Indian economy during global recession: Akhilesh Yadav”, Indian Express (Nov 15 2016).

Marx’s critique of political economy and the problem of revolutionary subjectivity

Pothik Ghosh

Introduction

Let us begin with an axiomatic assertion: the strategic insolvency of the Indian communist left in all its various strains and stripes is an outcome of the subsumed Leninist form of its political practice. Insofar as effects go, this coopted Leninist form of political practice has, ironically enough, put these so-called communist left groups on the same page as the non-Leninist and/or post-Marxist communitarian leftists, and the radical democrats of this country. It has ensured the various parties, organisations and groupuscules that comprise the Indian communist left – together with their non-Leninist and/or post-Marxist allies-in-practice – do no more than indulge in spectacular display of empty optimism and vulgar romanticism that, for all practical purposes, make for a politics of system-reinforcing reformism.

We, at Radical Notes, have been trying to develop a critique of such politics in order to articulate a conception of revolutionary generalisation that is quite distinct from what such Leninism has to offer. It is also arguably more plausible with regard to our own conjuncture. In developing this critique vis-à-vis various concrete instances of such political practices and programmatic statements in the Leninist form, we have also sought to pose a modality of militant political practice that is meant to instance our conception of revolutionary generalisation. This modality of practice is distinct from that of the so-called communist left organisations – to say nothing of the practices of non-Leninists, post-Marxists, and anti-Marxist radical democrats.

The theoretical basis of this endeavour of ours, admittedly nascent, is the approach Marx elaborates while developing his critique of political economy, particularly in Capital. In that context, we find in Moishe Postone’s “reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory” an indispensable and kindered theoretical resource. Postone’s principal contribution lies in his having demonstrated that Marx’s critique of political economy is not, contrary to what different types of “traditional Marxism” would have us believe, a critique of capital from the standpoint of labour. Rather, such a critique of capital is, as Postone rigorously contends, a critique of labour itself as it exists in capital as a historically determinate mode and form of production and socialisation respectively.

Postone, through his attentive reading of Marx’s Capital, has shown how the traditional Marxist approach of critique of capital from the standpoint of labour serves to merely alter the form of distribution of value in order to democratise such distribution. It can, he contends, do nothing to unravel and overcome the mode of production of value that founds this form of distribution, which is essentially inegalitarian and undemocratic. Political practices informed and underpinned by “traditional Marxism”, in fact, enable capital qua the mode of production of value to reproduce itself through its expansion. Therefore, only those political practices that are orientated by critique of capital as critique of labour can overcome and negate capital as the mode of production of value.

On this point Postone’s argument resonates with our own critique of Leninism of the communist left in India. In our bid to develop this critique we have discerned the theoretical approach implicit in such Leninist practice, whether their various practitioners explicitly acknowledge it or not, to be that of critique of capital from the standpoint of labour.

Critique of capital from the standpoint of labour; or critique of labour?

In this essay, one hopes to offer a glimpse of how this cardinal theoretical insight of Marx’s critique of political economy enables us to grasp such Leninism as basically restorative, if not outright reactionary. More importantly, one hopes to demonstrate how our conception of a different form of revolutionary subjectivity — and, concomitantly, a different modality of militant political practice – is derived from this insight, particularly as it obtains in the conceptually central first chapter (‘Commodity’) of Capital, Volume I.

What is the implication of our insistence, together with Postone, that a truly radical critique of capital can only be a critique of labour in the specificity of its historical existence in capitalism? Postone writes (2003, pp.4-5):

“My reading of Marx’s critical theory focuses on his conception of labor to social life, which is generally considered to lie at the core of his theory. I argue that the meaning of the category of labor in his mature works is different from what traditionally has been assumed: it is historically specific rather than transhistorical. In Marx’s mature critique, the notion that labor constitutes the social world and is the source of all wealth does not refer to society in general, but to capitalist, or modern society alone. Moreover, and this is crucial, Marx’s analysis does not refer to labor as it is generally and transhistorically conceived—a goal-directed social activity that mediates between humans and nature, creating specific products in order to satisfy determinate human needs—but to a peculiar role that labor plays in capitalist society alone. …the historically specific character of this labor is intrinsically related to the form of social interdependence characteristic of capitalist society. It constitutes a historically specific, quasi-objective form of social mediation that, within the framework of Marx’s analysis, serves as the ultimate social ground of modernity’s basic features.”

Labour as it exists in capital has a historically specific character that distinguishes it from forms of labour in societies before capital came into being. This historical specificity of labour, Marx demonstrates in Capital, is characterised by the specific mode in which it is organised, mobilised and functionalised as labour. This historically determinate mode of functionalising labour is characterised by the creation of private or individuated labouring subjects that so exist only to be concomitantly socialised through the exchange of the products of their respective labour. Such socialisation, therefore, rests on the presupposition of value or human labour in the abstract as the qualitative equalisation of different qualities. Marx writes (1986, pp. 77-78):

“As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other…. In other words, the labour of the individual asserts itself as part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear, not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things.”

Marx’s insistence here is that exchange, which necessarily presupposes valorisation in order to be its expression, is the only form of socialisation possible when private and individuated labouring subjects are in play. He, however, completes the dialectic between relations of production (relations between different labouring subjects) and relations of exchange (relations between different products produced by different labouring subjects) when he clearly indicates how exchange-mediated socialisation presuppose the existence of individuated or atomised labouring subjects. While explicating “the riddle presented by money” by way of explicating “the riddle presented by commodities”, Marx writes (1986, p.96):

“In the form of society now under consideration, the behaviour of men in the social process of production is purely atomic. Hence their relations to each other in production assume a material character independent of their control and conscious individual action. These facts manifest themselves at first by products as a general rule taking the form of commodity.”

As a matter of fact, only in this mode of functionalising labour through creation of individuated or atomic labouring subjects is qualitative equalisation of different qualities achieved. More precisely, valorisation — which is reduction of different useful and concrete labours into human labour in the abstract – is what socialises those differences by rendering them quantitatively comparable, and thus exchangeable, with one another. Hence, this mode of constituting and functionalising labour through individuation or atomisation of labouring subjects – which are socialisable only through the mediation of exchange of their products – is the actuality of valorisation. Thence the importance of Marx’s inference (1986, p. 77):

“The Fetishism of commodities has its origin…in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them.”

The impersonal power of capital: Value versus value-form, or how the juridical masks the economic

Clearly, fetishism of commodities, which is naturalisation of the abstraction of qualitatively different products in their concrete materiality into qualitatively equal things, is an inescapable outcome of the socio-historically specific character of labour that comes into being through the mode of individuation of labouring subjects. It ought to be clarified here that this historically determinate mode of existence and functioning of labour amounts to the abstraction of qualitatively different useful concrete labours into qualitatively equalisable human labour. This abstraction of concrete labour logically precedes the abstraction of qualitatively different products (use-values) into mutually commensurable commodities. In other words, human labour in the abstract is the substance of capital qua modernity as a historically determinate form of socialisation. Postone observes (2003, p.6)

“…Marx’s theory proposes that what uniquely characterizes capitalism is precisely that its basic social relations are constituted by labor and, hence, ultimately are of a fundamentally different sort than those that characterize noncapitalist societies. Though his critical analysis of capitalism does include a critique of exploitation, social inequality, and class domination, it goes beyond this: it seeks to elucidate the very fabric of social relations in modern society, and the abstract form of social domination intrinsic to them, by means of a theory that grounds their social constitution in determinate, structured forms of practice.”

What is this “abstract form of social domination”? One of the clearest demonstrations of the same is arguably found in Marx’s explication of the money-form. He writes (1986, p.93):

“The act of exchange gives to the commodity converted into money, not its value, but its specific value-form. By confounding these two distinct things some writers have been led to hold that the value of gold and silver is imaginary.”

What will at a given moment function as the money-form – or the formal embodiment of value qua universal equivalence – is a matter of historical convention decided through interpersonal consent at that particular moment. But that does not, therefore, mean value qua universal equivalence, and the necessity of its formal embodiment, are contingent on universal consent of mankind achieved through interpersonal intercourse among free human subjects. Rather, value as congelation of human labour in the abstract — which is the substance of qualitative equivalence of different qualities – is an impersonal and abstract power that necessitates the search, through mutual consent of free human/personal subjects, the historically conventional form of embodiment of itself as universal equivalence.

But ideological folly is the lifeblood of capital. Let us belabour the point a bit more to get a better grip on what that folly is. It is about different historically conventional kinds of money-form concealing the fact that the impersonal power of universal equivalence is their condition of necessity precisely by virtue of being its expressions. What really happens is this: the historically particular type of the general form of value — universal equivalence in its most adequate form – passes off for the logic of that form. In other words, the logic, which is value qua universal equivalence, is confounded with its particular form. As a result, the logic of the money-form is grasped as a function of interpersonal consent that actually does no more than historically institute the type of the money-form, or general form of value, which is an impersonal necessity. Marx writes (1986, p.95):

“What appears to happen is, not that gold becomes money, in consequence of all other commodities expressing their values in it, but, on the contrary, that all other commodities universally express their values in gold, because it is money. The intermediate steps of the process vanish in the result and leave no trace behind.”

At a more general level of juridical relations, Marx demonstrates a slightly different variation of the same dialectic: personal freedom concealing the necessity of the impersonal and the abstract precisely in expressing it. He writes (1986, p.88):

“In order that…objects may enter into relation with each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves in relation to one another, as persons whose will resides in those objects, and must behave in such a way that each does not appropriate the commodity of the other, and part with his own, except by means of an act done by mutual consent. They must, therefore, mutually recognise in each other the rights of private proprietors. The juridical relation, which thus expresses itself in a contract, whether such contract be part of a developed legal system or not, is a relation between two wills, and is but the reflex of the real economic relation between the two. It is this economic relation that determines the subject-matter comprised in each such juridical act.” (Emphasis added.)

Juridical terms – or terms of contract — are decided through conscious deliberation among persons or personified subjects. But the logic of juridicality that necessitates such interpersonal intercourse for setting up and/or modifying the terms of contract, or juridical relations, is the determinate mode of constitution of labour through its subjective individuation.

In other words, the terms of contract or juridicality can be set, and changed, through mutual consent of conscious human/humanised subjects precisely because the logic of juridicality is an inescapable necessity due to the historically determinate mode of existence of individuated labouring subjects. Clearly, the contractual – or juridical – relation between free human wills is meant to be the operationalisation of exchange of commodities. That, in turn, is necessitated by the historically determinate mode of existence of individuated labour.

In such circumstances, self-legislating subjects continuing as themselves by way of repeatedly realising their personal/personified freedoms through changing the juridical terms of their mutual relations, amounts to the reconstitution of that impersonal and abstract iron-cage. It would, therefore, not be inaccurate to insist that modernity as the intercourse of free-willed, self-legislating human/humanised subjects is the ideological form of capital. The abstract and impersonal domination of the historically determinate mode of subjectively individuated labour is accomplished by free human subjects precisely because the latter express that impersonal necessity in the form of freedom of personal/human subjects.

Marx says as much about modernity – the Enlightenment to be precise — while demonstrating how the logic of money, which is the most adequate general form of value, is confounded with a particular kind of that general form fixed through mutual consent of personal/human subjects. He writes (1990, pp.185-186):

“The fact that money can, in certain functions, be replaced by mere symbols of itself, gave rise to another mistaken notion, that it is itself a mere symbol, since, as value, it is only the material shell of the human labour expended on it. But if it is declared that the social characteristics assumed by material objects, or the material characteristics assumed by the social determinations of labour on the basis of a definite mode of production, are mere symbols, then it is also declared, at the same time, that these characteristics are the arbitrary product of human reflection. This was the kind of explanation favoured by the eighteenth century: in this way the Enlightenment endeavoured, at least temporarily, to remove the appearance of strangeness from the mysterious shapes assumed by human relations whose origins they were unable to decipher.” (Emphasis added.)

Marx’s exposition in Capital reveals this abstract character of domination even further. He demonstrates how the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour through its subjective individuation – and the forms of practice structured by such a mode – has exploitation, or extraction of surplus-value, as its inseparable dimension. The socialisation of those individuated labouring subjects through exchange of products (commodities) created by them implies the partitioning of the total labour time that has gone into the production of a particular commodity into that which is consumed by the producer himself for his own social reproduction, and that which is alienated in exchange in the form of a surplus of the commodity in question. What we see here is exploitation as an integral dimension of an impersonal structure of abstract and quasi-objective socialisation, insofar as that structure is constitutive of alienation of surplus labour time and socially necessary labour time. Marx underscores this quasi-objective nature of capital when he writes (1986, pp.78-79):

“…when we bring the products of our labour into relations with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it. Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic.”

The short point of all this elaboration is that capital as a fact of exploitation cannot be got rid of unless capital as the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour through constitution of individuated labouring subjects is abolished. In the latter’s negation, which is abolition of labour in its historical specificity, lies the former’s disappearance. Marx writes (1986, p.84):

“The life-process of society, which is based on the process of production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan….”

So, unless politics is an endeavour to abolish the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour by way of putting in place a plan that seeks to realise free association of direct producers, there can be no decisive break with capital. Only a plan that seeks to realise free association of direct producers will, in replacing and thus abolishing the historically determinate mode of atomised labouring subjects, tend to preclude socialisation through the mediation of exchange of products produced by such labour.

All other kinds of political exertions that seek to expand personal freedoms only reproduce the logic of juridical relations by expanding its ambit. Such exertions concomitantly reproduce, through expansion, the historically determinate mode of existence of atomised labouring subjects that impersonally necessitates the logic of juridical relations and the subjectivity of free personhood. In other words, such political manoeuvres, in seeking to expand the freedom of personal/personified subjects, reproduce the mode of distribution of value by seeking to democratise such distribution.

As a result, such politics, in tending to purportedly increase the freedom of personal subjects, serves to perpetuate and expand the historically determinate mode of existence and functioning of individuated labouring subjects, and thus reproduces the mode of production of value that necessitates the question of its distribution among various personal/personified subjects. Clearly, politics that seeks to expand the freedoms of personal/personified subjects is no more than a quest for increasing democracy within the horizon of impersonal and abstract domination that, therefore, renders such democracy, and its expansion, foundationally and constitutively undemocratic.

This does not, however, mean the experience of (relative) lack of freedom in a particular juridical relation is a figment of the imagination, and the struggle against that lack pointless. The point is, instead, to grasp such lack of freedom in terms of the necessity of the juridical logic of interpersonal relations that is impersonally imposed by the historically specific mode of existence of individuated labouring subjects. Only then will struggles against such lack of freedom be able to envisage themselves, not as exertions to change the juridical terms of interpersonal relations, but as tactically instantiated strategic manoeuvres to abolish the logic of juridical relations constitutive of personal/personified subjects. In other words, such struggles need to envisage themselves in a manner that seeks the abolition of the historically specific mode of existence of individuated labour that impersonally necessitates the logic of juridicalised relations.

The theory implicit in a politics that seeks to expand the freedoms of personal/personified subjects by merely changing the juridical terms of relations among those subjects is, quite evidently, critique of capital from the standpoint of labour. It is not the actuality of critique of capital as critique of labour in its historically specific existence within capitalism.

“Traditional Marxism”: subjective individuation and the folly of classical political economy

This is the salience of Marx’s critical theory. Failure to grasp this leads to the error of “traditional Marxism”: grasping and deploying Marx’s critique of political economy as a critique of capital from the standpoint of labour. Political practices that have implicit in them this theoretical approach make for, if at all, a politics of continuous democratisation of distribution of value. However, what such politics actually yields is continuous recomposition of juridical and exchange relations by way of repeatedly changing their contractual terms. This, as we have seen above, preserves the mode of production of value by reproducing it through expansion and intensification (expansion as intensification) of its subsumptive remit.

Marx quite clearly anticipates this problem of “traditional Marxism” when he writes (1986, p.80):

“The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is…a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.”

Such “discovery”, or knowledge, of value as the secret of the determination of its magnitude by labour-time – a secret that is hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative value-forms of commodities — is doubtless a theoretical critique of value. But to the extent it is not a critique of value in terms of the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation of labour – precisely that which makes possible the individuated subject that discovers this secret – it is a mystified critique of value. It is, therefore, unsuccessful as a total critique of capital.

As a result, such knowledge in its immediate and direct translation into practice will not result in a radical break with capital. That is because it will not alter the mode in which the magnitude of value is determined by labour-time. In fact, practice in such a form will actually reproduce that mode by expanding the remit of the form of distribution of value the former necessitates. The translation of this knowledge into practice in an immediate and directly correspondent manner would imply the subject of such practice is the unproblematised individuated subject of knowledge. That, in turn, would mean the subject through its practice of overcoming value as the essence, qua labour-time, of relative value-forms, instantiates its individuated mode of existence.

Not surprisingly, such subjective practices of overcoming the rule of value, by way of overcoming it in its phenomenal expressions – which hide it precisely in expressing it as the universal denomination of its different magnitudes – reproduce value and its rule. For, when such subjectively individuated practices seek to overcome the rule of value they perpetuate their specific mode of existence, which is the mode of determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time. In other words, such practices are instantiations of the actuality of the rule of value qua congelation of human labour in the abstract.

If we attend carefully to Marx’s exposition in Capital, we shall see how this folly of “traditional Marxism” – critique of capital from the standpoint of labour – is nothing but the theoretical folly of classical political economy registered as so-called anti-capitalist political practice. Marx writes (1986, pp.84-85):

“Political Economy has indeed analysed, however, incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value. These formulae, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulae appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by Nature as productive labour itself….”

What would have happened if classical political economists had asked this question? In addition to coming up with the crucial conception of value — which Ricardo, for example, articulates when he reveals that commodity qua exchangeable-value is embodied human labour, which is its essence –, they would have also grasped how this is necessitated by a specific mode of subjective individuation of labour that is historically instituted. Marx writes (1986, p.85):

“It is one of the chief failings of classical political economy that it has never succeeded, by means of analysis of commodities and in particular, of their value, in discovering that form under which value becomes exchange-value. Even Adam Smith and Ricardo, the best representatives of the school, treat the form of value as a thing of no importance, as having no connexion with the inherent nature of commodities…. The value-form of the product of labour is not only the most abstract, but is also the most universal form, taken by the product in bourgeois production, and stamps that production as a particular species of social production, and thereby gives it its special historical character. If then we treat this mode of production as one eternally fixed by Nature for every state of society, we necessarily overlook that which is the differentia specifica of the value-form, and consequently of the commodity-form, and of its further developments, money-form, capital-form, & c….” (Emphasis added.)

The “inherent nature of commodities” that necessitates the specificity of the “form under which value becomes exchange-value” is the historically determinate mode of production. It is the mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation. It is this historically determinate mode of production that ensures both labour and its products acquire a “two-fold character” – concrete labour and human labour in the abstract, and use-value and exchange-value respectively.

It is important, therefore, to attend carefully to the historical peculiarity of the value-form – the form under which value becomes exchange-value – as the embodiment of the two-fold nature of social labour and its products. This is crucial because only that will reveal the historical specificity of labour in capitalism. That is, it will reveal the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

That Ricardo, according to Marx (1986. p.84), paid “so little attention to the two-fold character of the labour which has a two-fold embodiment” is because he did not grasp the mode of determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time in spite of having grasped value qua labour-time as the secret hidden by its expression, which is the form of the commodity. That, if one is faithful to Marx’s exposition in Capital, ought to be discerned, and designated, as the vulgar economic element in Ricardo, and other classical political economists.

Science as knowledge, praxis as science

This folly of classical political economy – and by extension “traditional Marxism” – becomes even more evident when Marx criticises the “vulgar economists” for the absurdity of their “Trinity Formula”: capital—interest, land—rent and labour—wages. He finds the formula to be absurd, vulgar and unscientific because it affirms the naturalisation of immediate appearances of the abstraction of use-values that is wrought by the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through subjective individuation. Marx writes (1986, p.817):

“Vulgar economy actually does no more than interpret, systematise and defend in doctrinaire fashion the conceptions of the agents of bourgeois production who are entrapped in bourgeois production relations. It should not astonish us, then, that vulgar economy feels particularly at home in the estranged outward appearances of economic relations in which these prima facie absurd and perfect contradictions appear and that these relations seem the more self-evident the more their internal relationships are concealed from it…. But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided….” (Emphasis added.)

This indicates for Marx a radical critique of capital must necessarily be a critique of the human subjective form (and its individuated mode) of consciousness – whether such consciousness be the experience of immediate appearances (as in vulgar economy) or knowledge qua discovery of the hidden essence of such appearances (as in classical political economy).

One tends to read this criticism of the so-called Trinity Formula as Marx’s anticipation of the objection that there is an unresolved problem of transformation of value into price in his theory of critique of political economy. What is it about Marx’s theorising that prompts this mistaken objection? For the purposes of our discussion it should, for now, suffice to come up with one example from Capital, Volume III, to indicate what prompts such a charge. Marx, after a considered and rigorous explication of cost-price, value, profit and surplus-value, writes (1986, p.37):

“The fundamental law of capitalist competition, which political economy had not hitherto grasped, the law which regulates the general rate of profit and the so-called prices of production determined by it, rests…on this difference between the value and the cost-price of commodities, and on the resulting possibility of selling a commodity at a profit under its value.”

Postone’s critical engagement with Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk’s objection that there is a transformation problem in Marx is, in this context, illuminating. He writes (2003, pp.133-134):

“In Capital Marx tries to solve this problem by showing that those phenomena (such as prices, profits and rents) that contradict the validity of what he had postulated as the fundamental determinations of the social formation (value and capital) are actually expressions of these determinations—to show, in other words, that the former both express and veil the latter. In this sense, the relation between what the categories of value and price grasp is presented by Marx as a relation between an essence and its form of appearance. One peculiarity of capitalist society, which makes its analysis so difficult, is that this society has an essence, objectified as value, which is veiled by its form of appearance.”

At this point, it would perhaps be best to get the truth from, as it were, the horse’s mouth. The failure to grasp this veiling of value by price leads to a serious theoretical error. Marx’s vituperative assertion ensures his exposition has not a trace of ambiguity on that count. He writes (1986, p. 39):

“The thoughtless conception that the cost-price of a commodity constitutes its actual value, and that surplus-value springs from selling the product above its value, so that commodities would be sold at their value if their selling price were to equal their cost-price, i.e., if it were to equal the price of the consumed means of production plus wages, has been heralded to the world as a newly discovered secret of socialism by Proudhon with his customary quasi-scientific chicanery.”

In that context, the rest of Postone’s argument on this point becomes extremely pertinent (2003, pp.134-135):

“The divergence of prices from value should, then, be understood as integral to, rather than as a logical contradiction within, Marx’s analysis: his intention is not to formulate a price theory but to show how value induces a level of appearance that disguises it. In Volume 3 of Capital, Marx derives empirical categories such as cost price and profit from the categories of value and surplus value, and shows how the former appear to contradict the latter. Thus, in Volume 1, for example, he maintains that surplus value is created by labour alone; in Volume 3, however, he shows the specificity of value as a form of wealth, and the specificity of the labour that constitutes it, are veiled.”

Following Postone on this point, we need to realise that Marx does not merely critique the vulgar economists’ assertion that price in its empiricality is a denial of its essence — which is value qua labour-time. He also critiques classical political economists for contending that value, which they have discovered as the essence of price hidden by it, is approximated by the latter. Postone writes (2003, pp.135-136):

“…Marx also seeks to indicate that theories of political economy as well as everyday ‘ordinary consciousness’ remains bound to the level of appearances, that the objects of investigation of political economy are the mystified forms of appearance of value and capital.”

We can, therefore, claim that for Marx there is, in the final analysis, not really much of a difference between price being grasped as its own empirical knowledge and thus as the denial of value (a la the vulgar economists); and price being grasped as the knowledge of appearance of value, which is therefore grasped as the hidden essence of price (as in classical political economy). That is, of course, as long as the latter does not explicitly reveal how the mode of constitution of labour through its subjective individuation, which is the actuality of value and its rule, is precisely that which effectuates this dialectical relation of essence and appearance.

Such a revelation would, however, amount to displacing the ground of scientificity from knowledge or knowing, as a structure and form, to praxis. When classical political economy grasps price as that which hides its essence qua value in being its expression, it indicates the determinate mode of functionalising labour through subjective individuation as the necessary condition of this value-price dialectic. This means the knowing subject as the instantiation of its individuated mode of existence is precisely the source of the hiddenness of value qua essence that it discovers under the empirically given price as the former’s appearance.

Insofar as value is the logic that renders price the empiric that conceals value by virtue of being its expression, the knowledge of this dialectical logic by way of discovering in price the hidden ness of its essence qua value is science as critique of price qua critique of value. But in classical political economy this science rests on knowledge and its individuated subject. It is, therefore, not a critique of the mode of subjective individuation of labour as the integral condition of the value-price dialectic. Hence, such a critique of value is incomplete and mystified. As a theory of value, it reveals the limit of its own scientificity. It is this limit of the scienificity of classical political economy that Marx demonstrates by way of its immanent critique in order to have that scientificity reconstruct itself by being displaced on to the ground of praxis. Jindrich Zeleny’s contention is, in this context, extremely pertinent (1980, p. 187):

“…the beginnings of the ontopraxeological supersession of traditional philosophy, as sketched in the Theses on Feurbach and The German Ideology, presuppose a critical perspective on political economy and a grasp of the connection between bourgeois forms of individual and social life – and metaphysics.”

Marx’s critique of political economy, we have already seen, demonstrates that capital is fundamentally the historically determinate mode of constitution of labour through its subjective individuation. This ensures such labour is socialisable only through the mediation of exchange of the products produced by such labour, which presupposes value as the abstract substance of universal qualitative equivalence. In that sense, “a critical perspective on political economy” implies “a grasp of the connection between bourgeois forms of individual and social life – and metaphysics”. And to the extent praxis is conceived by Marx, while articulating his critique of Feurbach’s “contemplative materialism”, as practice qua its own immanent theory of abolition of the mode of subjective individuation that structures it as practice by compelling it to forget, as it were, its own immanence, it presupposes critique of political economy.

Hence Zeleny (1980, p. 187):

“…the critique of bourgeois political economy…made possible for Marx a deep, critical view of Hegelian philosophy as completion of traditional metaphysics and a break with the whole of traditional ‘ideological’ philosophy (in particular, Young Hegelians and Feurbachian anthropology).”

Clearly, the problem of limited scientificity of classical political economy is, in another register, also the problem of Hegel’s dialectic. Here we ought to underscore the fact that it is the same symmetrically inverted relationship between classical political economy and “traditional Marxism” – something we have sought to indicate above – that exists between Hegel’s dialectic and Feurbach’s dialectical anthropology. We will attempt to demonstrate that here in order to show how “traditional Marxism” as a politics of critique of capital from the standpoint of labour, is nothing but Feurbachian dialectical anthropology at work. Dialectical anthropology in practice amounts to social democratic progressivism. At best, and in its most radicalised form, it yields no more than the militant reformist politics of seizure of state-power, which often tends to get programmatically codified as the be-all and end-all of revolutionism.

Allies I: Classical political economy and Hegel

For now, however, let us turn to Hegel’s conception of the dialectic as the totalising movement of realisation of the self-knowing spirit. In Hegel, the dialectic is grasped as the movement of overcoming of that which is given in terms of the former’s realisation – i.e. movement constitutive of moments of overcoming of that which is historically given in order to produce new moments of givenness. Hegel grasps the dialectic in this manner because he thinks the movement of history as an individuated subject of knowledge – an individual subject caught up in that movement as an inhabitant of one of its constitutive historical moments. As a consequence, Hegel imputes his knowledge of the movement-as-realisation acquired by him as an individuated subject to the movement itself, thereby rendering the latter a self-conscious, egoistic subject of totalisation a la the spirit.

But precisely for that reason he is unable to grasp the fact that the subjectivity of practices constitutive of the movement-as-realisation is structured by the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation. That is, historical movement is a process of realisation not because it knows itself thus, but because this supposed self-knowledge or self-consciousness of the movement is the outcome of this movement being, in reality, a process of its own punctuated realisation. This reality of the form of the movement is necessitated by the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation that structures the practices constitutive of the movement in a manner that the latter is such a reality. Postone writes (2003, p.76):

“Marx, by suggesting that what Hegel sought to conceptualize with his concept of Geist should be understood in terms of the social relations expressed by the category of capital, implies that the social relations that characterize capitalism have a peculiar, dialectical, and historical character…. He also suggests that those relations constitute the social basis for Hegel’s conception itself…”

From this one ought to infer that capital is a totalising subject. But to the extent that capital, as a system of social relations constitutive of value as the abstract substance of universal equivalence, is generated, and re-generated spontaneously on account of the subjectivity of practices being structured by a historically determinate mode of individuation, it is a totalising subject that is ego-less and blind [1]. Postone writes (2003, p.77):

“As the Subject, capital is a remarkable ‘subject.’ Whereas Hegel’s Subject is transhistorical and knowing, in Marx’s analysis it is historically determinate and blind. Capital, as a structure constituted by determinate forms of practice, may in turn be constitutive of forms of social practice and subjectivity; yet, as the Subject, it has no ego. It is self-reflexive and, as a social form, may induce self-consciousness, but unlike Hegel’s Geist it does not possess self-consciousness….”

Hegel’s error lies precisely in attributing consciousness and self-knowledge to this ego-less and blindly totalising historical subject. That, to reiterate what we have earlier observed, is because he imputes the knowledge of the movemental system – or the structured movement — he has acquired as an individuated subject to that system itself. As a result, he is unable to grasp how the individuated structuring of his knowing subjectivity is, as a subjectivity of practice, precisely that which spontaneously generates this totalising movemental system rendering it, thereby, a blindly toalising subject.

However, to the extent that capital as a system of social relations is a totalising subject, it does, indeed, incarnate the principle of abstraction, which is Hegel’s spirit, in value as the abstract substance of social mediation. The only difference between the two is while Hegel’s spirit is a self-conscious substance that is subject precisely through such self-knowledge, value as the constitutive substance of capital as a totalising subject has no such self-consciousness and is spontaneously generated on account of the historically specific mode of functionalising labour. Postone writes (2003, p.75):

“Marx…explicitly characterizes capital as the self-moving substance which is Subject. In so doing, Marx suggests that a historical Subject in the Hegelian sense does indeed exist in capitalism….”

But Marx understands that self-moving substance, which is, therefore, subject, differently from Hegel. Postone emphasises that when he writes (2003, p. 75):

“…Marx analyzes it in terms of the structure of social relations constituted by forms of objectifying practice and grasped by the category of capital (and, hence, value). His analysis suggests that the social relations that characterize capitalism are of a very peculiar sort—they possess the attributes that Hegel accorded the Geist. It is in this sense then, that a historical Subject as conceived by Hegel exists in capitalism.”

Be that as it may, the historical movement is, for Hegel, an unfolding process of its own realisation, and is thus totalising, precisely because it knows itself thus as the self-conscious spirit. This is the basis of his project of philosophy as the increasingly closer approximation of the self-knowing, self-realising spirit to its historical appearances. The latter in instancing the self-realisation of the former hide it by causing it to withdraw from its own realisation in those appearances. Let us, at this point, attend to the famous last lines of ‘Absolute Knowing’, the concluding chapter of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1998, p.493):

“The goal, Absolute Knowing, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit, has for its path the recollection of the Spirits as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their realm. Their preservation, regarded from the side of their free existence appearing from in the form of contingency, is History; but regarded from the side of their [philosophically] comprehended organization, it is the Science of Knowing in the sphere of appearance: the two together, comprehended History, form alike the inwardizing and the Calvary of absolute Spirit, the actuality, truth and certainty of his throne, without which he would be lifeless and alone….”

The Hegelian project of philosophy is, in other words, all about historical movement being moments of its own realisation so that it can, as the self-knowing spirit in its unfolding, realise itself fully as its own knowledge in a historical appearance that knows itself as its essence and thus concludes the process of unfolding by being transparently one with the essence. This transparent oneness of the historical appearance with its essence lies in the former being the embodiment of the latter as its own self-knowledge.

This is hardly any different from the project of classical political economy that discovers value qua labour-time as the hidden essence of value-form in order to grasp and demonstrate the latter as an approximation of the former.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Marx, should, on this count, also critique Hegel. Through this critique, Marx seeks to demonstrate that the abstraction of movement as a constant historical process of its own punctuated realisation, even as it must necessarily be intellectually grasped, is not itself the outcome of intellectual abstraction. He writes (1993, p.101):

“…Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being….”

This critique of Hegel by Marx lays bare the fact that Hegel conflates and confounds the intellectual abstraction, through which he, as an individuated knowing subject, grasps historical movement as a process of its punctuated realisation. It also reveals how the movement is really abstracted thus due to the historically specific mode of subjective individuation that structures practices constitutive of the movement.

In such circumstances, Marx’s critique of capital, insofar as it is a demonstration of how capital as a blindly totalising subject is necessitated, and re-necessitated, by the determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation, is a critique of totalisation. In fact, the aforementioned demonstration by Marx reveals nothing else but the actuality of value qua labour-time, which as the abstract social substance of universal equivalence is the basis of totalisation. Postone writes (2003, p.79):

“Marx’s categorial determination of capital as the historical Subject, however, indicates that the totality has become the object of his critique. …social totality, in Marx’s analysis, is an essential feature of the capitalist formation and an expression of alienation. The capitalist social formation, according to Marx, is unique inasmuch as it is constituted by a qualitatively homogeneous social ‘substance’; hence, it exists as a social totality.”

Postone then draws from this an extremely crucial inference (2003, p.79):

“Marx’s assertion that capital…is the total Subject clearly implies that the historical negation of capitalism would not involve the realization, but the abolition, of the totality. It follows that the contradiction driving the unfolding of this totality also must be conceived very differently—it presumably drives the totality not toward its full realization but toward the possibility of its historical abolition. That is, the contradiction expresses the temporal finiteness of the totality by pointing beyond it.”

Dialectical anthropology and social democracy: A close kinship

However, it is precisely this that both Feurbach’s dialectical anthropology and social democratic progressivism fail to come to terms with. Feurbach’s anthropologised theory of the dialectic inverts Hegel’s spiritualist conception of the same. Against the latter’s theory of the dialectic as a self-knowing historical movement of realisation, the former’s conception of the dialectic is about grasping and envisioning the historical movement in terms of the constantly punctuated process of overcoming of that which is constantly realised in that punctuation. The result: Hegel’s conception of the dialectic as the historical movement of the self-knowing spirit is opposed by Feurbach’s (human) subjects whose practices are constitutive moments of the historical movement as an alternative totality of overcoming of the totality of realisation.

As a matter of fact, it is precisely on account of this inverted conception of the dialectic that Feurbach inevitably thinks the various subjective moments constitutive of the historical movement in terms of the totality of humanity as an identical subject-object overcoming that which is realised.

What we have, therefore, is the totality of Hegel’s self-knowing spirit and Feurbach’s alternative totality of humanity, as an alternatively self-enclosed subject-object, trying to surpass one another. Theoretically, this implies the triumph of the principle of totality – and the abstract substance of universal equivalence that totality presupposes –, regardless of whichever theory triumphs in practice. Practically, it amounts to even less: merely accelerating the reproduction of a given social totality, only in order to preserve it and its constitutive principle of universal equivalence.

This ensures the Feurbachian critique of Hegel’s spiritualised conception of the dialectic remains a mystified critique. Feurbach, in merely inverting the object of his critique, inhabits the same subjectively individuated structure of knowledge as Hegel. The only so-called difference between the two being that while the former construes that subjectivity, and its constitutive mode of individuation, as a form of knowledgeable practice; the latter grasps and envisions it primarily as a form of knowing or knowledge only to impute it to the movement as its self-consciousness. Clearly, the human subjective form – and its constitutive mode of individuation – operates as the unproblematised locus of knowledge and/or practice as much in Feurbachian/Left-Hegelian dialectical anthropology as in Hegel’s spiritualised dialectic.

This means the dialectical-anthropological critique of Hegel is, not unlike Hegel, unable to grasp the fact that the historical movement is structured as a process of realising itself in new moments of givenness by the historically determinate mode of subjective individuation. As a result, a practice that implies the theory of dialectical anthropology ends up envisioning itself as the overcoming of the totalising historical movement, even as the effect of such practice is continued perpetuation of historical movement as a structured process of totalisation. This is because practice as the moment of overcoming of that which is given is, in dialectical anthropology, already always orientated by contemplativeness. Marx’s critique of Feurbach’s “contemplative materialism”, which as that critique seeks to found the materiality of practice, clearly indicates that [2].

Hence, practices that imply the theory of dialectical anthropology are identical to practices of social-democratic progressivism. The politics of social democratic progressivism – the Bernsteinian movement is everything, the goal is nothing – is all about the continuous movement of overcoming given juridical terms, or the terms of distribution of value, in order to keep setting up new, supposedly more democratic, terms of juridicality or distribution [3]. As a result, such a movement posits itself as an identical subject-object, quite similar to the Feurbachian human subject-object, as the totality of the process of overcoming value as realised and expressed in the different value-forms constitutive of the totalising process of valorisation. In this way, social-democratic progressivism – just like dialectical anthropology – seeks to practically articulate a critique of value through the individuated subjective form, whose constitutive mode is the actuality of production of value.

Not surprisingly, such a practical critique is constrained to envisage itself as a sequentially continuous process of overcoming value hidden by its various value-forms precisely because such a practice grasps the latter as approximations of the former. The democratisation of distribution of value, and the concomitant expanded reproduction of the mode of production of value that necessitates the form of distribution, is the effect.

In the case of avowed social democracy it would, however, be more accurate to state this critique conversely: social democracy as a political practice of continuous democratisation of the juridical terms of distribution and/or exchange posits itself as a sequentially continuous process of overcoming of value. In so doing it implies a theory that demonstrates the discovery of value qua labour-time as the hidden essence of value-forms, without, however, being able to grasp how value as the logic of this essence-appearance dialectic is actualised and necessitated by the historically specific mode of subjectively individuated labour. The theory of value implied by social-democratic progressivism is, we ought to say at the risk of being overly repetitive, that of classical political economy.

‘Revolution’ in “traditional Marxism”: A proposal for alternative totalisation

What such social-democratic progressivism also implies – much like Feurbachian dialectical anthropology – is the conception of an alternative totality overcoming capital that the latter as an already given totality thwarts. It is precisely this theoretical implication that tends to be explicitly articulated by “traditional Marxism” in its envisioning of the practice of revolutionary politics. Against the evolutionism – even accelerated evolutionism – of social-democratic politics of continuous overcoming of value as phenomenally manifest by its various value-forms, the traditional Marxist conception of revolution is all about the emancipation of this alternative totality from the totality of capital in one fell stroke.

In other words, such a conception of politics envisages revolution as a practice to replace a given state-form — a particular formal embodiment of universal equivalence constitutive of a particular composition of social mediation — with another particular formal embodiment of universal equivalence. The latter being the identical subject-object of the proletariat as a state-form. In this traditional Marxist conception, revolutionary politics is, therefore, primarily about thinking strategy in terms of seizure of state-power. The assumption being that one will then democratise its operation – which is the quantitatively hierarchising social operation of the abstract substance of qualitative equalisation and mediation in its formal embodiment – in a manner that it withers away together with the abstract substance it embodies.

It is hardly about strategising in the here and now of everyday contradictions between capital and labour – or more pertinently, between different segments of social labour – of how to leap into communism as the real movement of free association of direct producers. This would be the process of self-abolition of labour in the specificity of its historical existence within capitalism as the latter’s source. It would, therefore, also concomitantly be the practice constitutive of the withering away of the state. At this point, Postone’s critique of Lukacs’ conception of the proletariat as materialisation of the Hegelian geist into an identical subject-object becomes particularly relevant. He writes (2003, p.73):

“His materialist appropriation of Hegel is such that he analyzes society as a totality, constituted by labor traditionally understood. This totality, according to Lukacs, is veiled by the fragmented and particularistic character of bourgeois social relations, and will be realized openly in socialism. The totality, then, provides the standpoint of his critical analysis of capitalist society. Relatedly, Lukacs identifies the proletariat in ‘materialized’ Hegelian terms as the identical subject-object of the historical process, as the historical Subject, constituting the social world and itself through its labor. By overthrowing the capitalist order, this historical Subject would realize itself.”

To think revolution in terms of the emancipation of an alternative totality – which is proletariat as an identical subject-object – from the totality of capital implies that the principle of totality, or, more pertinently, the rule of the abstract substance of universal equivalence, is not abolished. Rather, all that will happen in such a ‘revolution’, if at all it takes place, is, as we have observed above, one type of formal embodiment of that substance (proletariat as the totalising, humanised, and thus identical, subject-object as the general form of the substance of qualitative equalisation and social mediation) suddenly replacing another type of that general form (money-form, a particular type of state-form and so on). Such traditional Marxist revolutionism then is a more radicalised version of social democracy; not a break from it. This, therefore, also compels us to claim that such ‘revolutionism’ is politicism, which is the obverse of social-democratic economism it deigns to criticise and reject.

All said and done, such ‘revolutionism’ is basically about throwing capital, in one of its historical compositions, out of the front door only to bring it back in a discursively different form through the rear window. Our communist left organisations, thanks to their outdated Leninist conception of politics as party-building for capturing state-power, imply precisely this traditional Marxist conception of revolutionary politics. It does not matter that some among them uphold the party, instead of the proletariat, as the subjective form that will effectuate revolution by uniting various sections and segments of the struggling masses by way of mediating among them. Structurally speaking, these partyists, not unlike those who uphold the proletarian subject-object as revolutionary subjectivity, affirm the principle of mediation and alternative totalisation.

We would, however, do well to hold on to the proletariat as a term of revolutionary subjectivity, if only to load it with an entirely different conceptual valence. But before we make that theoretical move we need to see how this (Lukacsian) conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object poses an additional set of problems for thinking revolutionary strategy in the south Asian context. South Asia, we know, is socio-economically characterised by an unusually large sector of labour practices and relations that are, in the immediacy of their historical appearances of custom-centric caste-, community- and gender-based labour, unproductive and/or suffer from various degrees of unwaged-ness or unfreedom.

The sociologisation the conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object entails means only those social groups that are directly engaged in productive labour – labour that is immediately valorised in exchangeable commodities –, and which is also properly waged in the traditional Marxist sense, can comprise the proletariat as a political subjectivity for overcoming capitalism.

That has led some of our communist left groups to pose a stagiest, ‘democratic-revolutionary’ conception and practice of politics. These groups make a stagiest demarcation between labouring sites that are apparently unproductive, and which, therefore, constitute moments of democratic politics of recognition and subsumption by the realm of labour that is directly productive; and labouring sites that are immediately productive, and which politically constitute moments of overcoming such subsumption. These Leninists tend to think that politics has to be about bringing this so-called pre-modern outside within the pale of modernity qua capital so that one can then have the right conditions for forging the much-needed working-class unity to transcend and negate capitalism.

Such a conception of politics has, in practice, meant an endless deferral of the revolutionary politics of overcoming and abolishing capital. The so-called democratic-revolutionary process of subsumption of ‘unproductive’, and/or unwaged/unfree labour into the realm of productive labour goes on endlessly. Meanwhile, the politics of overcoming capital at the so-called proletarian sites has taken on the character of an equally endless process of democratisation of distribution of value, a la social democracy.

There are, of course, those other communist left organisations that seek to mediate between the struggles of social groups engaged in unproductive and/or unwaged labour in an immediate sense, and the struggles of the productively labouring proletariat so that the former can be subsumed by the latter, thereby producing a larger movement to supposedly overcome capitalism. And then there are the post-Marxists, who grasp this so-called outside of capital as that which the latter non-subsumptively commands in order to sustain itself. This particular conception of the outside of capital enables these post-Marxists to theorise politics in terms of the resistance of sites of so-called unproductive labour to the non-subsumptive command of capital so that those sites can exist in the (communitarian) autonomy of their perpetual difference. [4]

Allies II: The outside and unproductive labour – traditional Marxism and post-Marxism

However, when it comes to concrete practice, none of the three tendencies identified above are too far away from one another. Leninism, in its two different programmatic articulations, and post-Marxism produce the same juridical effect in the realm of the political. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that they often turn out to be such staunch allies-in-practice, their ‘fundamental’ differences in theory notwithstanding. In this context, it would perhaps be useful to make a detour by analysing apparently unproductive and/or unfree labour from the vantage-point of Marx’s critique of political economy. This, in order to demonstrate the fallacy of all theories that, one way or another, seek to mark out the sites of so-called unproductive and/or unfree labour as the outside of capital.

Let us begin with Marx’s conceptions of productive and unproductive labour in his Theories of Surplus Value, Part I. While critically engaging with Adam Smith’s conceptions of the same, Marx writes (1978, p.156):

“Only labour which produces capital is productive labour. Commodities or money become capital, however, through being exchanged directly for labour-power, and exchanged only in order to be replaced by more labour than they themselves contain. For the use-value of labour-power to the capitalist as a capitalist does not consist in its actual use-value, in the usefulness of this particular concrete labour – that it is spinning labour, weaving labour, and so on. He is as little concerned with this as with the use-value of the product of this labour as such, since for the capitalist the product is a commodity (even before its first metamorphosis), not an article of consumption. What interests him in the commodity is that it has more exchange-value than he paid for it; and therefore the use-value of the labour is, for him, that he gets back a greater quantity of labour-time than he has paid out in the form of wages.”

Marx then goes on to further explicate his conceptions of productive and unproductive labour (1978, p.160):

“…this distinction between productive and unproductive labour has nothing to do either with the particular specialty of the labour or with the particular use-value in which this special labour is incorporated. In the one case, the labour is exchanged with capital, in the other with revenue. In the one case the labour is transformed into capital, and creates a profit for the capitalist; in the other case it is an expenditure, one of the articles in which revenue is consumed. For example, the workman employed by a piano maker is a productive labourer. His labour not only replaces the wages that he consumes, but is the product, the piano, the commodity which the piano maker sells, there is a surplus-value over and above the value of the wages. But assume on the contrary that I buy all the materials required for a piano (or for all it matters the labourer himself may possess them), and that instead of buying the piano in a shop I have it made for me in my house. The workman who makes the piano is now an unproductive labourer, because his labour is exchanged directly against my revenue.”

Now the so-called outside of capital is constituted by a range of practices of unproductive labour as defined by Marx in the passage above. There are, undeniably, a whole range of labouring activities (including heavily gendered care work in the domain of social reproduction), which yield products that are not directly valorised by being exchanged for profit, but consumed immediately. As a result, the domain of production constitutive of such labouring activities involves no extraction of (surplus) value – or (surplus) labour time. What is involved, as far as such unproductive labour is concerned, is extraction of surplus labour for immediate consumption. The forms through which such extraction of surplus labour – as opposed to extraction of surplus labour time – is operationalised are, more often than not, extra-economic or semi-extra-economic. That is perhaps why such forms can, at times, come across as pre- or non-capitalist at the level of their discursive appearances.

If one were to confine oneself strictly and purely to this level, one would be correct in observing that capital as a value-relational structure of social relations of production institutes socio-economic transactions with an outside of unproductive labour by way of extra-economic or semi-extra-economic command. Such unproductive labouring activities can be easily construed as the outside of capital because the products they yield are not value-embodying commodities in an immediate sense, and such labouring activities are, for that reason, not integrated into the value-equational horizon of production relations.

However, from the standpoint of Marx’s critique of political economy, such an analysis would be incomplete and patently unrigorous. To analyse such a situation more rigorously and accurately, one must attempt to grasp and reveal the concretely precise functionality that this immediate appearance of unproductive labour – labour producing use-values for immediate consumption – has with regard to the value-relational horizon of capital and its productive labour. Here we would do well to attend to what Marx says (1978, p.167):

“The whole world of “commodities” can be divided into two great parts. First, labour-power, second, commodities as distinct from labour-power itself. As to the purchase of such services as those which train labour-power, maintain or modify it, etc., in a word, give it a specialised form or even only maintain it – thus for example the schoolmaster’s service, in so far as it is ‘industrially necessary’ or useful; the doctor’s service, in so far as he maintains health and so conserves the source of all values, labour-power itself – these are services which yield in return ‘a vendible commodity…’, namely labour-power itself, into whose costs of production or reproduction these services enter.”

He further clarifies (1978, pp.167-168):

“…the labour of the doctor and the schoolmaster does not directly create the fund out of which they are paid, although their labours enter into the production costs of the fund which creates all values whatsoever—namely, the production costs of labour-power.”

Seen in this context, labour-practices that are unproductive in their immediate appearance emerge as productive in terms of their re-articulation and re-functionalisation, thanks to the causality of the structure within which they get situated precisely by virtue of producing only use-values for immediate consumption. These use-values, in being immediately consumed, yield the “vendible commodity” of labour-power, which, according to Marx, is “the source of all values”. In such circumstances, unproductive labour, which produces use-values for immediate consumption, are, according to Marx, “services” that enter into the “costs of production and reproduction” of the vendible commodity of labour-power. So, in the final analysis, such labour is productive.

Value is, first and foremost, about politically instituting an equalising measure or rationality. (The political in this case being the historical founding and re-founding of the determinate mode of constituting labour through creation of individuated or atomised labouring subjects.) Only then does value emerge as a calculable magnitude. Marx, we have seen, demonstrates this with great acuity in Capital. In that context, we would do well to follow the train of Marx’s aforementioned argument from Theories of Surplus Value, and seek to grasp labour that is apparently unproductive – often unfree – as being integral to the capitalist value-chain of social labour. It is only then we will be able to see how the mostly unwaged and/or partially waged, custom-based extra-economic domain of unproductive work demonstrates value in and as the irrational (political) founding of itself as a rationality (economy). This will, in turn, arguably help illuminate how the instituting and operation of wage-labour, even in its own so-called free domain, has slavery-like conditions as its inseparable constitutivity.

The operation of wage-labour – or so-called free labour – is meant to realise a transaction between buyers (capitalists) and sellers (workers) of the vendible commodity of labour-power. Marx writes (1986, p.165):

“…labour-power can appear upon the market as a commodity, only if, and so far as, its possessor, the individual whose labour-power it is, offers it for sale, or sells it, as a commodity. In order that he may be able to do this, he must have it at his disposal, must be the untrammelled owner of his capacity for labour, i.e., of his person. He and the owner of money meet in the market, and deal with each other as on the basis of equal rights, with this difference alone, that one is buyer, the other seller; both, therefore, equal in the eyes of the law. The continuance of this relation demands that the owner of the labour-power should sell it only for a definite period, for if he were to sell it rump and stump, once for all, he would be selling himself from a free man into a slave, from an owner of a commodity into a commodity. He must constantly look upon his labour-power as his own property, his own commodity, and this he can only do by placing it at the disposal of the buyer temporarily, for a definite period of time. By this means alone can he avoid renouncing his rights of ownership over it.”

Clearly, being a wage-labourer is all about being the owner of the commodity of labour-power that one sells only for a definite period and not once for all. For, if the wage-labourer were to do the latter he/she would cease to be the owner of commodity and become a commodity himself/herself. That is, he/she would end up “renouncing his rights of ownership over his commodity” and be turned from a free man/woman into a slave. And yet, the founding and operationalisation of wage-labour is constitutive of partitioning of total labour-time expended in production into socially necessary labour-time (expressed in wages) and surplus labour-time (expressed in profit). The latter is the unwaged portion of labour-power expended, and over whose extraction the wage-labourer as the owner of his/her commodity of labour-power has no control during the definite and temporary period for which he/she chooses to place his/her commodity or property at the disposal of the buyer.

Therefore, even as wage-labour is the system of selling the commodity of labour-power by its owner only for a definite period, it is concomitantly also about the wage-labourer having no control over himself/herself as the capacity of expending living labour during that definite or temporary period. This means a wage-labourer in being himself/herself is also a slave for precisely the definite period that he/she puts his/her commodity of labour-power at the disposal of its buyer. In other words, a wage-labourer in being himself/herself by freely choosing to sell his/her commodity of labour-power only for a definite period renounces ownership over his/her own person to become a commodity in that temporary period.

Hence, it is not merely about various degrees, and thus forms, of unwaged labour functioning within a social form of labour that is free. Rather, it is about such unfreedom and slavery being a constitutively necessary condition for the existence of wage-labour. The imposition of industrial discipline at sites of modern waged work – often as an indiscernible or barely discernible dimension of regimes and systems of waged free labour — is empirical evidence of this co-constitutivity of unfree (unwaged) and free (waged) labour. This existence of unwaged labour as a necessarily constitutive moment of wage-labour demonstrates how every moment of economic accumulation – even the most liberal — has the extra-economic moment of primitive accumulation as its indispensable constitutivity.

Wage-labour is, of course, not slavery in the sense of classical chattel slavery. Yet, it would not be inaccurate to insist that it is a peculiar and historically specific form of slavery that is attenuated precisely because its slavery-like effects are obscured. The freedom that wage-labour amounts to is nothing but the integral and necessary condition of such slavery. This freedom, which exists only to ensure the continuance of slavery, gives this slavery its specific historical form, which is, in the final analysis, indispensable for capital. Marx points that out while describing how the bourgeoisie of post-revolutionary France instituted a law “which, by means of State compulsion, confined the struggle between capital and labour within limits comfortable for capital…”. He writes (1986, pp. 692-693):

“ ‘Granting,’ says Chapelier, the reporter of the Select Committee on this law, ‘that wages ought to be higher than they are, … that they ought to be high enough for him that receives them, to be free from that state of absolute dependence due to the want of the necessaries of life, and which is almost that of slavery,’ yet the workers must not be allowed to come to any understanding about their own interests , nor to act in common and thereby lessen their ‘absolute dependence, which is almost that of slavery;’ because, forsooth, in doing this they injure ‘the freedom of their cidevant masters, the present entrepreneurs,’….”

In light of the above discussion, it would be inaccurate to talk in terms of an outside of capital. It would be no less erroneous to talk in terms of noncapitalist relations within capitalism.

What such conceptions of outside of capital also fail to account for is how labour-practices, which are apparently unproductive, fulfil yet another productive structural-functionality over and above the one demonstrated earlier. People, who apparently do unproductive labour in order to only reproduce themselves, constitute the “relative surplus population” or the “industrial reserve army” (Marx, 1986, pp. 589-600). This reserve army of labour works to regiment the productively employed labour-power and increases the latter’s productivity, thereby leading to a concomitant increase in the extraction of surplus value and capital accumulation. In the ultimate analysis, this renders the apparently unproductive, self-reproducing labour of the unemployed and underemployed systemically productive.

The labour that is unproductive in an immediate sense must be grasped in terms of how its unproductive functionality is productively articulated by the structured totality of social labour within which it is constitutively situated. That is precisely what Marx does while explicating his concept of the “industrial reserve army”. He writes (1986, pp. 595-596):

“If the means of production, as they increase in extent and effective power, become to a less extent means of employment of labourers, this state of things is again modified by the fact that in proportion as the productiveness of labour increases, capital increases its supply of labour more quickly than its demand for labourers. The over-work of the employed part of the working-class swells the ranks of the reserve, whilst conversely the greater pressure that the latter by its competition exerts on the former, forces these to submit to over-work and to subjugation under the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working-class to enforced idleness by the over-work of the other part, and the converse, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army on a scale corresponding with the advance of social accumulation.”

This Marxian conception of relative surplus population has become even more significant in this neoliberal conjuncture. The kind of precarity we are currently confronted with is on account of the acceleration in the production of relative surplus population – which, as we have seen, exists to be productively mobilised as a regimenting force vis-à-vis the sphere of labour that is directly productive. This is thanks to the hitherto unforeseen increase in the organic composition of capital (c/v). This increase has resulted in rapid diminution of the quantity of productively-employed living labour due to a significant diminution of socially necessary labour time it has effected. It has also led to unprecedented levels of same-skilling across the entire spectrum of social labour. What we have, consequently, is an accelerated movement of individuals and social groups back and forth between the realms of the surplus population and so-called productive labour. Thus is born the footloose and precarious mass-worker, its ranks ceaselessly burgeoning with an ever-increasing rapidity. This mass-worker is clearly as much a part of the apparently unproductive reserve army of labour as he/she is productively employed in the creation of value.

The post-Marxist thesis of there being a vast outside of capital that capital as a value-relational horizon non-subsumptively commands in order to reproduce itself is even more difficult to sustain in the face of the rise of mass-worker, and its characteristically precarious and indeterminate positionality. Also, the post-Marxists seem to be blissfully unaware of the fact that the politics they theorise serves to reproduce the relative surplus population – and its segmented economy of reproduction — in its productive internality to the domain of directly productive labour. In fact, all political practices that assume — whether explicitly or otherwise — an outside of capital have now become ever more complicit in reproducing capital, and its so-called outside.

For an immanent critique of totality

The specificity of this neoliberal conjunctural moment of unprecedented precarity has ensured that neither the Lukacsian conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object nor the Leninist conception of the party as a mediating form of actualising ‘revolution’ has a shred of feasibility left. That is the reason why the second type of Leninist groups is, in practice, condemned to be no different from the first type, which, in turn, is hardly distinguishable from the communitarian post-Marxists.

In such circumstances, a radical critique of capital must be an immanent critique of totality. The question, therefore, is what will be the mode and form of the subjectivity that will be the actualisation of this immanent critique? Also, how does one envision this subjectivity? The way to go is to arguably turn towards re-conceptualising the proletariat, no longer as an identical subject-object and a sociologised group, but as a subjective mode and form of revolution (or communism) as a radically new order of the universal: the universalisability of non-totality, or universal-singularity.

We now know, thanks to Marx’s demonstration, that capital is a blindly totalising historical subject, which is nevertheless self-reflexive. In other words, the historical subject that is capital has a two-fold character: it is totalising and yet it is self-reflexive about its totalising nature. In fact, its self-reflexivity is precisely what enables it to constitute and reconstitute itself as that social system, or blind historical subject, of totalisation. Let us state the same in Hegelian terms: capital is a substance of universal qualitative equivalence that becomes subject by realising itself, even as it withdraws from such realisation as its negativity. In Marx, this structured dynamic of capital and its constitutive – and thus immanent – negativity is demonstrated by the two-fold nature of labour and the two-fold character of the product of such labour.

One of the clearest statements on this two-fold nature can be found right at the beginning of Capital, Volume I. There Marx tells us that (1986, p. 44) use-values in becoming a reality “…by use or consumption” are, in capitalism, “the material depositories of exchange-values”. He then immediately makes the following claim, almost in the same breath (1986, p. 44): “As use-values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange-values they are merely different quantities and consequently do not contain an atom of use-value.” (Emphasis added.)

This means exchange-values as the appearances of a qualitatively equalisable denomination in its different magnitudes presuppose that denomination, which is value as the abstract substance of qualitative equalisation of different qualities. This is the first negation qua abstraction of the materially concrete qualitative difference into qualitative equivalence, wherein commodities as expressions of different quantities of the same denomination contain not “an atom of use-value”. Yet, without use-value, which becomes a reality by use or consumption, no exchange-value – and thus value as the essence that exchange-value expresses – is possible. The former is the indispensable material depository of the latter.

Hence, the existence of commodity qua value-form is also a negation of the first negation. We can now see the commodity qua value-form, thanks to its two-fold nature, is a living contradiction. This is most clearly captured, for instance, when Marx while explicating the two poles, relative and equivalent, of the elementary form of value writes (1986, p.55):

“It is not possible to express the value of linen in linen. 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is no expression of value. On the contrary, such an equation merely says that 20 yards of linen are nothing else than 20 yards of linen, a definite quantity of the use-value linen. The value of the linen can therefore be expressed only relatively – i.e., in some other commodity. The relative form of the value of the linen pre-supposes, therefore, the presence of some other commodity…under the form of an equivalent.”

This two-fold nature of commodity qua value-form implies a two-fold (or bipolar) nature of labour. Marx writes (1986, p.53):

“On the one hand all labour is, speaking physiologically, an expenditure of human labour-power, and in its character of identical abstract human labour, it creates and forms the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labour is the expenditure of human labour-power in a special form and with a definite aim, and in this, its character of concrete useful labour, it produces use-values.”

It means that living labour in its concreteness – and the materially concrete use-value it produces in its expenditure – in tending to overcome systemic totality or social mediation, which is the system of abstract human labour, is condemned, on account of its own spontaneity, to fall into abstraction. This, we have earlier observed, is because the two-fold character is imposed on social labour and its products by the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

Hence, concrete labour and use-value, as the immanent negativity of value qua human labour in the abstract and its value-form, will not cease being constitutive of its own abstraction as long as it does not articulate itself in terms of overcoming and replacing the historically specific mode of mobilising labour through subjective individuation.

In this context, we would do well to articulate the living contradiction that is capital thus: use-value and its useful concrete labour is the immanent or constitutive negativity of exchange-value and human labour in the abstract. For, concrete labour in being reduced to abstract human labour is negated, even as the former negates the latter because without concrete labour there will not be anything to abstract from. In political terms, this means the moment of overcoming of the historically determinate form of quasi-objective social mediation, in its concrete instancing, is immanent in that historical form of social mediation or totality and is thus its constitutive negativity.

That, in turn, implies the actuality of critique of capital, which is praxis, has to be envisioned in terms of generalising its immanent negativity in a manner that it sustains itself as that negativity by preempting its capture and punctuation by the force-field of the totality, or the quasi-objective form of social mediation. Only that would amount to the complete negation of capital as a totalising subject. The affirmative side of such generalisation of negativity would be the free association of direct producers, which would be the real movement as the process that is the replacement of the historically determinate mode of mobilising labour through subjective individuation.

When Marx demonstrates how capital as a totalising historical subject is constituted by the negativity immanent in it, his purpose is to arguably show how capital as a totalising system is internally split so that this internal split – this negativity of capital immanent in it – can be leveraged in a manner that it generalises itself on its own terms to be the unraveling of the totality that is capital. His intention is not to show, as the rigorous exposition in Capital often causes many to misunderstand, how this totality is programmed to perpetuate itself in its exitlessness. This becomes plainly evident if we move away, for a moment, from the rigours of Capital to the relatively looser exposition that Marx affords in his famous ‘Fragment on Machines’. There he writes (1993, p. 706):

“Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum while it posits labour time on the other side, as a sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.”

The accelerationist tenor of Marx’s discourse here is not meant to be taken literally. This passage from Marx is, by no means, a political proposal to accelerate capital so that it can through its own acceleration unravel itself. Marx’s discursive accelerationism here is, instead, a metaphor for a formalising manoeuvre that amounts to gathering or concentrating various moments of overcoming of the historically determinate form of social mediation in its respectively diverse concrete instancing of labour-capital contradiction. These empirically concrete moments of instancing of social mediation as the contradiction between labour and capital have, discursively speaking, the appearances of various kinds of oppression and subalternisation, and the equally different kinds of struggle against them. Insofar as this move of concentrating those diverse moments of overcoming is a formalising manoeuvre, what it yields is the formal ontology, or constellation, of revolution qua communism as its own generalisation – which is the universalisability of non-totality, or universal-singularity.

To think this formal ontology of universal-singularity as its subjective dimension is to think this formal ontology as the proletariat. But here one must quickly add a note of caution. Insofar as this ontology is formal, its actuality cannot, and should not, be theorised and conceived in terms of a naïve ontologisation of repetition with a difference, which is the hallmark of a certain strain of difference-thinking within the larger Marxist project of revolutionary politics.

The actuality of this formal ontology of revolution and its generalisation would amount to conducting different struggles against different kinds of oppression and subalternisation in a manner that those struggles tend to enforce free association of direct producers at their respectively specific sites by way of reorganising the specific social relations constitutive of those sites, even as such enforcement unfolds into yet another new level of struggle beyond a particular site in question. This process in its infinitely uninterrupted and seamless unfolding – struggle as articulation of freely associated direct labour and freely associated direct labour as the articulation of struggle — would be the actuality of the formal ontology constitutive of concentration of various moments of overcoming of the historically determinate form of social mediation. In other words, this would be the actuality of diverse struggles constellating with one another to be rendered the generalisation of revolution qua universalisability of non-totality. [5]

Such an actuality of the formal ontology in question, however, implies this formal ontology as its own thought is embodied in a form of subjectivity. To think the form of this subjective embodiment – and the modality of practice that gives this form its singular character – we would do well to take recourse to Althusser’s “process without a subject” as a term to articulate this conception of formal ontology of revolutionary generalisation. But before we do that we need to realise this term, in Althusser, articulates a conception that is somewhat naively ontological. For, it is only through a process of critiquing this conception of Althusser’s that we will be able to retrieve the term “process without a subject” to articulate our conception of revolutionary generalisation as a formal ontology. All this, so that we can arrive at “subjectivity without a subject” as the form of thought of this formal ontology of revolutionary generalisation.

Allies III: Althusser, Lukacs and “process without a subject”

Let us see how Althusser articulates his conception of “process without a subject” (1971, pp. 121-122):

“…for anyone who ‘knows’ how to read Hegel’s Logic as a materialist, a process without a subject is precisely what can be found in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea. Jean Hyppolite decisively proved that Hegel’s conception of history had absolutely nothing to do with any anthropology. The proof: History is the Spirit, it is the last moment of the alienation of a process which ‘begins’ with Logic, continues with Nature and ends with the Spirit, the Spirit, i.e. what can be presented in the form of ‘History’. For Hegel, quite to the contrary of the erroneous view of Kojeve and the young Lukacs, and of others since them, who are almost ashamed of the Dialectics of Nature, the dialectic is by no means peculiar to History, which means that History does not contain anywhere in itself, in any subject, its own origin. The Marxist tradition was quite correct to return to the thesis of the Dialectics of Nature, which has the polemical meaning that history is a process without a subject, that the dialectic at work in history is not the work of any Subject whatsoever, whether Absolute (God) or merely human, but that the origin of history is always already thrust back before history, and therefore that there is neither a philosophical origin nor a philosophical subject to History. Now what matters to us here is that Nature itself is not, in Hegel’s eyes, its own origin; it is itself the result of a process of alienation which does not begin with it: i.e. of a process whose origin is elsewhere – in Logic.

“This is where the question becomes really fascinating. For it is clear that Lenin swept aside in one sentence the absurd idea that Nature was a product of the alienation of Logic, and yet he says that the Chapter on the Absolute Idea is quasi-materialist.”

Althusser upholds Lenin’s characterisation of Hegel’s Absolute Idea as “quasi-materialist”. He writes (1971, pp. 122-121):

“…when we examine closely the ‘nature’ of this Subject which is supposed to be Absolute, precisely in the Chapter on the Absolute Idea, we find that it is the origin negated as an origin. This can be seen at two points in particular.

Firstly, at the beginning of the Logic, which negates what it begins with from the very beginning, by immediately negating being in nothingness, which can only mean one thing: the origin must simultaneously be affirmed and negated, hence the subject must be negated from the moment that it is posited.

Secondly, in Hegel’s famous thesis that the Absolute Idea is simply the absolute method, the method which, as it is nothing but the very movement of the process, is merely the idea of the process as the only Absolute.

“Lenin applies his materialist reading to this double thesis of Hegel’s. And that is why he is so fascinated by the Absolute Idea. He thus lays bare and refines this notion, too, retaining the Absolute, but rejecting the Idea, which amounts to saying that Lenin takes from Hegel the following proposition: there is only one thing in the world which is absolute, and that is the method or the concept of the process, itself absolute. And as Hegel himself suggested by the beginning of Logic, being = nothingness, and by the very place of Logic, origin negated as origin, Subject negated as Subject, Lenin finds in it a confirmation of the fact that it is absolutely essential (as he had learnt simply from a thorough-going reading of Capital) to suppress every origin and every subject, and to say: what is absolute is the process without a subject, both in reality and in scientific knowledge.”

The theoretical move Althusser makes here is, from a materialist point of view, eminently honourable. He strives to demonstrate, through his Lenin-inspired materialist, and thus critical, reading of Hegel, that history has no origin or philosophical subject. His contention here is the origin – and/or philosophical subject – of history is nothing but the institutionalisation of the effect produced by nature, in and as its impersonally spontaneous process of unfolding, which on account of such institutionalisation is rendered history. But in making this move he ends up upholding a transhistorical conception of the dialectic – a transhistorical conception of the labour and process of such unfolding – by grasping nature as the realm of the dialectic. In this he is avowedly faithful to the transhistorical Engelsian “dialectics of nature” that is arguably quite distinct from Marx’s conception of “natural history”. Marx writes (1986, p.21):

“My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.”

Clearly, nature is, in this conception, not something transhistorical, but arguably the immanent, and constitutive, negativity of the historical, which is the process of unfolding structured as a dialectic. [6] In this light, Postone’s criticism of Althusser, though quite harsh in its tone, is accurate. He writes (2003, p.77):

“Louis Althusser’s position in this regard can be considered the one-sided opposite to that of Lukacs. Whereas Lukacs subjectivistically identified Hegel’s Geist with the proletariat, Althusser claimed that Marx owed to Hegel the idea that history is a process without subject. In other words, Althusser transhistorically hypostaized as History, in an objectivistic way, that which Marx analyzed in Capital as a historically specific, constituted structure of social relations. Neither Lukacs’s nor Althusser’s position is able to grasp the category of capital adequately.”

Althusser, in rendering the dialectic transhistorical, fails to grasp the fact that it is a structured process and practice of its own unfolding, which is necessitated by the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation. This compels him to grasp the fetishised or ideologised commodity-form, which is the basic unit of capital, not as what it literally and really is, but as the symptomatic mark, or metaphor, of its own displacement and inexistence. In other words, he grasps the fetish or ideology that is the commodity-form as a symptomatic mark, or metaphor, of “process without a subject”. This is because “process without a subject” is, in his conception, naively ontological. Alfred Sohn-Rethel indicates that when he writes (1978, p. 20):

“Althusser believes that Capital is the answer to a question implied but not formulated by Marx. Althusser defeats the purpose of his search for this question by insisting ‘que la production de la connaissance… constitute un processus qui se passé tout entier dans le pensee. He understands Marx on the commodity abstraction metaphorically, whereas it should be taken literally and its epistemological implications pursued so as to grasp how Marx’s method turns Hegel’s dialectic ‘right side up’. The unproclaimed theme of Capital and of the commodity analysis is in fact the real abstraction uncovered there.”

Althusser’s symptomatic, or metaphorical, conception of commodity abstraction implies that, for him, it is not a problem of real abstraction but that of an intellectual one. As far as he is concerned, living labour in its concreteness does not get abstracted into and as the commodity-form because such labour is functionalised through a historical mode of subjective individuation. According to Althusser, it is, instead, the imposition of an individuated subjecthood on labouring bodies (qua labour-power) by the externality of capitalist social relations that leads to commodity abstraction. This externality of capitalist social relations, if one were to faithfully follow his symptomatic conception of ideology, is that which compels labouring bodies qua labour-power to grasp the symptomatic mark of “process without a subject” – which is the process of displacement of commodity abstraction — as a commodity-form, and thus envisage themselves as its individuated labouring subjects.

Hence, Althusser’s conception of interpellation is not about labouring bodies spontaneously producing the abstraction of human subjecthood — and the concomitant web of capitalist social relations — on account of the impersonal power of the historically specific mode of their mobilisation.

Althusser is undoubtedly a committed materialist. He is concerted and unrelenting in his critique of the abstract human subject and the ideological programme of philosophy of consciousness constitutive of such a subject. It must, however, be admitted this critique of his remains incomplete on account of his failure to focus on the condition that necessitates the abstract human subject and the various ideological philosophies of consciousness. This condition, as we have repeatedly observed, is the mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

The crux of the first chapter of Capital, Volume I, is critique of the human subject in terms of critique of the mode of individuation, which inescapably produces that subject as a real abstraction. That is the theoretical bedrock of Marx’s rigorously materialist anti-humanism in Capital. It enables Marx to grasp, as we have earlier observed, how both experience qua consciousness, and knowledge are structures of relationship with the world that instantiate the mode of subjective individuation. Althusser’s failure on that count lies at the root of his incomplete critique of abstraction of the human.

That his critique of the abstract human subject, and the attendant ideology of cogito and consciousness, is partial is borne out by the fact that the standpoint of his critique is science qua knowing/knowledge. Sohn-Rethel’s critical remarks on Althusser emphasise that. They serve to emphasise the French philosopher’s failure to grasp the fact that the structure of knowing – regardless of the scientificity of knowledge vis-à-vis the ideological form of consciousness of immediate experience — is, in the final analysis, also an instantiation of the mode of subjective individuation.

There is, of course, no doubt that Althusser’s conception of “history as process without a subject” constitutes a serious attempt to radically break with, among others, Lukacs’ Left-Hegelian and subjectivist conception of the proletariat as an identical subject-object. However, the objectivism, and thus naïve ontologisation, such a conception involves ensures that Althusser’s science, which is supposed to enable the desubjectivation of humanly subjectivated labouring bodies must enter their respective subject-positions as objective knowledge from the outside in order to enable the desubjectivation of those labouring bodies. This, as we shall soon see, amounts to the restoration of the logic of social mediation, albeit in a form discursively different from the one that such desubjectivation is meant to overcome. So, when it comes to politics, Althusser’s objectivist scientificity turns out to be no more than Lukacsian subjectivism in reverse.

The subjectivist approach to politics that Althusser’s conception of “process without a subject” implies – something the philosopher seems to embrace — is, indeed, quite ironical, given that he is utterly uncompromising in his anti-Hegelianism. What compounds this irony is the fact that Althusser’s theorisation of ideology and interpellation draws upon psychoanalysis — which in its Lacanian articulation demonstrates the relation between the unconscious and consciousness in terms of a rigorous internal dialectic. Why that is so is, however, beyond the scope of this essay.

Althusser’s theorising of ideology – which is another register of theorising commodity abstraction – as primarily a problem of intellection has political consequences not very different from those of “traditional Marxism”. According to Althusser, the commodity-form is a symptomatic mark of its own displacement and inexistence, which is not grasped thus by the labouring bodies that produce them due to the imposition of abstract human subjecthood on those bodies by an extrenalised web of capitalist social relations. Since this results in the perpetuation of a socio-economic order of commodity abstraction, it follows the only way to overcome this order is to have a form that confers (scientific) knowledge to the labouring bodies about their activities and practices. This would, pace Althusser, desubjectivate those labouring bodies. And that, in turn, would enable those bodies, in the process of being desubjectivated, to overcome the externalised web of capitalist social relations.

This, not surprisingly, results in Althusser persisting with the Leninist party-form. The Leninist party, in Althusser’s reckoning, is the embodied form that is meant to confer scientific knowledge to the labouring bodies so that they are desubjectivated. This, so that those desubjectivated labouring bodies in knowing the truth of their practices seek to practically actualise that truth and, thereby, transcend capitalism.

The problem, however, is that the Leninist party-form, in carrying out this task of bringing scientific knowledge to the labouring subjects, ends up mediating among them. Except that now, thanks to the way it is envisaged in Althusser’s theorising, the Leninist party-form adopts an apparently more democratic and thus entryist modality vis-à-vis diverse subject-positions constitutive of social labour. That, once again, amounts to one particular form of social mediation and totalisation being replaced by another. In effect, this is reconstitution of capital as the actualisation of the abstract substance of universal qualitative equalisation while appearing to transcend it. Evidently, the distance between Lukacs and his strategic conception of proletariat as an identical subject-object, and Althusser with his conception of the ‘democratised’and entryist Leninist party is not as much as the latter imagined.

Revolutionary generalisation: Formal ontology and “subjectivity without a subject”

The question, however, is, can we still hold on, as suggested earlier, to Althusser’s “process without a subject” in a way that it is displaced from being the terminological articulation of a conception of naïve ontologisation to be the articulation of a formalising manoeuvre that enables us to come up with revolutionary generalisation– or universal-singularity – as a formal ontology. Alain Badiou arguably carries out precisely such an operation when he writes (2005, p. 65):

“Overdetermination puts the possible on the agenda, whereas the economic place (objectivity) is that of well-ordered stability, and the statist place (ideological subjectivity) makes individuals ‘function’. Overdetermination is in truth the political place. And it must indeed be that overdetermination belongs to the subjective realm (choice, partisanship, militancy), even though it knows no subject-effect (such effects are statist), nor does it verify, or construct, any object (such objects only exist in the field of science).”

In Badiou’s re-articulation, overdetermination clearly ceases to be the scientific and thus objective conception of “process without a subject” and is rendered the thinking of this objectivity of process without a subject in and as its own subjective and thus political moment. This is clearly implied by the assertion that “overdetermination is in truth the political place”. That Badiou should make such a theoretical move is not surprising. He writes (2005, p. 63):

“If ‘object’, taken in the general sense, is an ideological notion (correlated with the inexistence of the subject), in another sense ‘object’ (this time correlated, in the absence of any subject, with ‘objectivity’) designates the very kernel of scientific practice. Science is a process without a subject but with objects, and objectivity is its specific norm. To distinguish politics from science is first to recognise that politics…has no object and does not submit to the norm of objectivity….”

But what does this move of thinking overdetermination as the political place – that is, thinking the objectivity of process without a subject in a manner that it is displaced to become thinkable in and as its own subjective dimension – amount to? First, it means one completely moves away from the naively ontological conception of overdetermination as process without a subject – which is what it is in Althusser’s thinking of it as science and objectivity – to thinking it as a formal ontology. This formal ontology is arguably the one yielded by our formalising manoeuvre of concentrating the diverse moments of overcoming of the historically determinate form of social mediation in its equally diverse concrete instances. Those moments of overcoming grasped in their concentration – that is, overcoming grasped in and as its own moment – is, what Badiou would term, the truth of overdetermination as “the political place”. Secondly, it concomitantly amounts to thinking the formal ontology in its subjective form. What that form would be is indicated by Badiou when he contends (2005, p. 60):

“…Althusser posits that only the ‘militants of the revolutionary class struggle’ really grasp the thought of the process in relations. Therefore, a genuine thought of process is possessed by those engaged in political practice.”

Hence, to think the moments of the practices of overcoming as their own thought is to theorise the grasping of the “thought of the process in relations”. In other words, it is to think overdetermination qua the formal ontology of revolution as a subjective dimension and thus as its own subjective form. And insofar as such practices of overcoming of the determinate form of social mediation in its concrete instances are, in and as those moments of overcoming, not the abstraction of place but taking-place as the excess of the abstraction of place, grasping them as their own thought is to grasp and articulate them in the mode of “subjectivity without a subject or object”. Badiou writes (2005, pp. 65-66):

“How should ‘subjectivity’ without a subject or object be understood here? It is a process of homogeneous thought in the material form of militancy, one not determined through (scientific) objectivity, nor captive to the (ideological) subject-effect. At the place of overdetermination…, this process balances over into the possible, and does so in accordance with a partisanship, a prescription, that nothing guarantees, neither in the objective order of the economy nor in the statist order of the subject, but which nonetheless is capable of tracing a real trajectory in the situation.”

What is this partisanship, or prescription, that is guaranteed “in neither the objective order of the economy nor in the statist order of the subject”? To grasp overdetermination as the political place, we now know, is to grasp it as its own thought, and thereby formalise it in its subjective order. This is nothing else but the grasping of the negativity immanent in capital as its own thought. In other words, it is to think such negativity, immanent in the totality that is capital, as the formalising of its own generalisation as that negativity.

This is something that amounts to envisioning the immanent negativity in a manner that precludes its mobilisation and capture by capital as a system of guarantee of the objective order of economy and/or the statist order of the subject. The “real trajectory” it traces “in the situation” would, in such circumstances, be the process of unravelling of the totalisation of capital – i.e. when such formalising is actualised. This unravelling of the totalisation that is capital would be the real movement of free association of direct producers precisely because it would, in being a movement of freely associating direct labour, constitute the abolition of the historically determinate mode of functionalising labour through its subjective individuation.

Clearly, the guaranteeless partisanship or prescription in question is the actuality of immanent negativity as the formalising of its own generalisation as that negativity. This is militancy. To the extent such militancy is the material form of embodiment of the mode of subjectivity without a subject or object, it can instantiate itself only in the immanence of political practices constitutive of diverse struggles and their respective subject-positions. After all, the mode of subjectivity without a subject is the formalising of the moment of negativity as its own thought. And considering this moment of negativity is immanent, the form of its subjective embodiment must necessarily instantiate itself immanently. This is the actuality of “really grasp(ing) the thought of the process in relations”.

Inquiry as militancy: notes for a post-party organisation

Hence, a militant as the embodiment of the mode of subjectivity without a subject can instantiate himself/herself as his/her militancy only in the immanence of discursively diverse struggles and their respective subject-positions. This clearly implies that militancy, contrary to what contemporary purveyors of the Leninist party-form would have us believe, is not about embodied forms of ‘scientific’ knowledge seeking entry into empirically diverse struggles from their outside so that they can then mediate among their different subject-positions to inevitably bind them into a new type of statist form of totality and social mediation in order to supplant the already given type of such a historical form. Rather, the modality of militant practice that would instantiate subjectivity without a subject is all about militants inhabiting diverse junctures of struggles as members of those empirically varied practices and their respective milieux, even as they demonstrate, through an ongoing process of investigation and self-inquiry, the limit those practices will constantly run into on account of the discursive specificity of their locations. This is arguably the actuality of the “ontopraxeological” mode that Zeleny discerns in Marx.

Such an inquest-based demonstration of the limits of a struggle amounts to a non-voluntarist practice of militant interventionism. It is militant interventionism because it seeks to induce the diverse struggles to prefigure the overcoming of their respective limits by constellating with one another. It is, at once, non-voluntarist because the modality of this subjective intervention is such that its embodiment does not tend to become the mediating form that would unite diverse struggles by substituting for the self-initiative of their respective milieux.

In other words, the self-inquiry-based intervention of the militant inhabitants of those diverse struggles seek to induce the respective milieux of those struggles to synchronise their respective self-activities in a manner that they emerge as a self-organising process of social labour in and as its own abolition. It is this Badiou affirms when he insists that “a genuine thought of process is possessed by those engaged in political practice”.

The organisation generated by the mutual interactivity of militants — in the process of thrashing out, clarifying and fine-tuning the principles of inquiry and self-inquiry in the light of the specificity of their respective experiences — has a rather loose form. This loose form of organisation of militants is a post-party form precisely because the militants in question belong to no pre-given party or organisation that they would want to institute as the form of mediation among the different subject-positions comprising diverse moments of struggle.

Clearly, this proposed modality of non-voluntarist militant practice and the post-party form of organisation it generates – which are instantiations of the mode of subjectivity without a subject –, tend to entirely preclude the problem of mediation and representation. In this way, the conception of subjectivity without a subject poses a modality of revolutionary generalisation that is radically distinct from the substitutionist and instrumentalist modality of ‘revolutionary’ organisation that dogs the Leninist party-form – now more than ever.


Notes:

1. Engels famously writes in The Holy Family (2010, p.116): “History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.” This indicates that even Young Marx, who collaborated with Engels on The Holy Family, has a conception of ego-less and blind subjectivity of totalisation qua history. However, it ought to be pointed out that history, as this blind and ego-less subject of totalisation, is grasped by this Marx before Capital in terms of the activity of making of history by “real, living man”, which renders the subject self-reflexive. It is only after the conception of two-fold character of labour and two-fold character of the commodity-form displaces man as the conceptual centre of his theorising in Capital that we are able to grasp the moment of making of history as internally split between itself and the moment of overcoming of history. In Young Marx, whose dialectic is anthropologistic, there are only two moments – the moment of making of history and the moment of history (made). In the dialectic of Mature Marx – particularly the Marx of Capital – there are not two but three moments – the moment of history, the moment of making of history and the moment of overcoming of history. Hence, while alienation is conceived by Young Marx as estrangement of the human essence from itself, Mature Marx conceptualises it as a social structure of abstraction. This, among other things, is a clear indication that the structure of the dialectic is radically altered in Mature Marx to be rendered fully and rigorously materialist. From the standpoint of Mature Marx’s materialist dialectic one can retrospectively read Hegel’s conception of the dialectic – which is constitutive of the moment of realisation of the essence, and the moment of the process of realisation as the simultaneity of realising of the essence and its withdrawing from itself as the negativity of such realising – as (unreflexively) materialist. Not for nothing does Badiou assert (2009, pp. 3-4):

“The dialectic, inasmuch as it is the law of being, is necessarily materialist. If Hegel touched upon it, he must have been a materialist. His other side will be that of an idealist-dialectic, in a single word, which has nothing real about it, not even in the register of an inverted symbolic indication….
“So, at the heart of the Hegelian dialectic we must disentangle two processes, two concepts of movement, and not just one proper view of becoming that would have been corrupted by a subjective system of knowing. Thus:
“a) A dialectical matrix covered by the term of alienation; the idea of a simple term which unfolds itself in its becoming-other, in order to come back to itself as an achieved concept.
“b) A dialectical matrix whose operator is scission, and whose theme is that there is no unity that is not split. There is not the least bit of return into itself, nor any connection between the final and the inaugural….”

On this point, we would do well to attend to the following assertion of Macherey’s (2011, pp. 212-213):

“…we must put aside (as absolutely devoid of philosophical interest) the idea that all dialectics are idealist in themselves or reactive; for a historical materialism of thought the expression ‘all dialectics’ is completely without meaning. The real question is, what is the limit that separates an idealist dialectic from a materialist one? Under what conditions can a dialectic become materialist?”

2. Marx writes in his 9th thesis on Feurbach (1976, p. 617): “The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.” But what is this “contemplative materialism”, and how does one understand the materiality of practice – i.e. “comprehend the sensuousness as practical activity”? The answer to that is clearly given by Marx when he writes in thesis 1 (1976, p. 615): “Feurbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from conceptual objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. In Das Wesen des Christenthums, he therefore regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and defined only in its dirty-Jewish form of appearance. Hence he does not grasp the significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, activity.”

3. We must take care to distinguish Marx’s conception (in The German Ideology) of communism as “the real movement which abolishes the present state of things” from Eduard Bernstein’s social-democratic progressivism of “the movement is everything the goal is nothing”. The two are fundamentally distinct and radically antagonistic. Communism as the real movement is, itself, a goal to be leapt to. As the free association of direct producers, communism is the accomplishment of the goal of the (real) movement in its uninterruptedness, which suspends the never-ending continuity of the punctuated movement conceptualised and affirmed by Bernsteinian social democracy.

4. Some proponents of post-Marxism will likely find this a crudely vulgar account of their theory of the outside of capital. And, at one level, they would be right. In the theorisations of the more sophisticated among the post-Marxists, this outside of capital has no historico-discursive fixity and is, therefore, not a communitarianised identity. It is, instead, the remainder of capital like the Real of Lacanian psychoanalysis. It is, to be more accurate, the remainder as the hauntological outside of presence and its metaphysics, a la Derrida. This outside is instantiated by various historico-discursive sites only in their respective moments of militation. The outside of capital is, therefore, the moment of difference-in-itself as withdrawal from its subsumption, or abstraction through qualitative equalisation. But insofar as Marx’s critique of political economy is concerned, there is no exchange-value as expression of value (qualitative equivalence) without use-value (difference), which is the former’s material depository, even as value/exchange-value in being qualitative equivalence is the negation of use-value qua difference. Hence, difference or use-value must assert itself as the negation of its negation qua value/exchange-value, only so that the latter can be sustained. This is the secret of capital as “living contradiction” – or, as the bipolar nature of labour and the two-fold character of its embodiment – that Marx reveals in Capital. That is precisely why difference, in being its own presentation, is condemned to fall into abstraction, and thus withdraw from such abstraction as its negativity, precisely in order to sustain that dynamic of abstraction as qualitative equalisation.

In such circumstances, difference qua remainder of capital is not the noncapitalist outside of capital. Rather, difference as that remainder, which is yet-to-be-subsumed living labour in its concrete usefulness, is the negativity of capital that is immanent in it and constitutive of it. In such circumstances, revolutionary strategy can be envisaged only through this conception of immanent negativity of capital by way of thinking its generalisation so that it emerges as the affirmation of its own negative terms, and thus emancipated from its condition of being the immanence of capital, by virtue of being the extenuation of the capitalist totality. However, the post-Marxist thinking of revolutionary strategy in terms of working with the hauntological outside of capital is an illusory one-sidedness that mistakenly affirms the subjective dimension constitutive of capitalist acceleration as revolutionary politics. The post-Marxist strategy of grasping praxis, and the real movement, as accentuation of the outside of capital qua the accelerating withdrawal of difference from its subsumption is nothing but the interpellated subjective reactivity constitutive of the acceleration of capital as a dynamic of subsumption, and its treadmill principle. The post-Marxist conception of the ‘real movement’ as repetition with a difference does not institute the duration and historicity of difference. All it accomplishes is the infinite seriality of lines of flight – which is the infinite seriality of evanescent moments of difference-in-itself. This is arguably nothing but the interpellated subjective side of the historicity of capital qua infinite totalisation in its acceleration. It is precisely on account of this that, in the final analysis, the post-Marxist conception of outside of capital as the ground of revolutionary subject is, in effect, no more than the dynamic of persisting in communitarian difference, and its resistance, vis-à-vis the so-called non-subsumptive command of capital. Of course, it will take much more than this short note, which will have to suffice for now, to engage with the post-Marxist position in its full complexity.

5. Lest this proposal be mistaken for some new-fangled variant of anarchism, or Proudhonist ethical socialism a la commonisation, we would do well to dwell a little more on this conception of seamlessly infinite process of struggle as articulation of freely associated direct labour and freely associated direct labour as the articulation of struggle. It simply means that specific struggles against oppression and subalternisation should, in their here and now, seek to abolish the social division of labour – and the segmentation it entails — by completely functionalising the division of labour constitutive of their respective sites by rendering the various work-roles more and more dynamic, and thus less and less atomised; even as such functionalisation of the division of labour in being effectuated simultaneously articulates its diverse constitutive struggles as the abolition of the mediation of exchange among the different individuated sites of production.

6. Marx’s conception of “natural history” enables us to envision nature as nonidentity – nonidentity-as-process. But this, we need to immediately assert, is quite distinct from Althusser’s conception of “history as process without a subject”. Nature as nonidentity is no more than a formal ontology that articulates emancipation of humanity from the abstraction of the human condition. The theoretical move that yields this formal ontology is constitutive of grasping the historically determinate mode, which necessitates the dialectic, in the process of thinking its extenuation.

REFERENCES

Althusser, Louis, ‘Lenin Before Hegel (April 1969)’. In Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays, tr. Ben Brewster (Monthly Review Press, New York, 1971)

Badiou, Alain, Metapolitics, tr. Jason Barker (Verso, London, New York, 2005)

Badiou, Alain, Theory of the Subject, tr. Bruno Bosteels (Continuum, London, 2009)

Engels, Frederick, ‘Absolute Criticism’s Second Campaign, a) Hinrichs No. 2. “Criticism” and “Feurbach”. Condemnation of Philosophy’. In The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 2010)

Hegel, G.W.F., Phenomenology of Spirit, tr. A.V. Miller (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, New Delhi, 1998)

Macherey, Pierre, Hegel or Spinoza, tr. Susan M. Ruddick (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London, 2011)

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume I, tr. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Frederick Engels (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986)

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume I, tr. Ben Fowkes (Penguin Books, London, 1990)

Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume III, ed. Frederick Engels (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986)

Marx, Karl, Grundrisse, tr. Martin Nicolaus (Penguin Books, London, 1993)

Marx, Karl, Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, tr. Emile Burns, ed. S. Ryazanskaya (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978)

Marx, Karl, ‘Theses on Feurbach [Original Version]’. In The German Ideology by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976)

Postone, Moishe, Time, Labor, And Social Domination: A reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003)

Sohn-Rethel, Alfred, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (The Macmillan Press, London, 1978)

Zeleny, Jindrich, Logic of Marx, translated and edited by Terrell Carver (Rowman and Littlefield, New Jersey, 1980)

Three Theses on the End of the Poem

Aditya Bahl

“The relation to the new is modelled on a child at the piano searching for a chord never previously heard. This chord, however, was always there; the possible combinations are limited and actually everything that can be played on it is implicitly given in the keyboard. The new is the longing for the new, not the new itself: That is what everything new suffers from.” —T.W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

“Languages are imperfect in that although there are many, the supreme one is lacking: thinking is to write without accessories, or whispering, but since the immortal word is still tacit, the diversity of tongues on the earth keeps everyone from uttering the word which would be otherwise in one unique rendering, truth itself in its substance . . . Only, we must realize, poetry would not exist; philosophically, verse makes up for what languages lack, completely superior as it is.” —Stéphane Mallarmé, Crisis in Poetry

PROBLEMATIC :

In The End of the Poem Giorgio Agamben argues that the principle which founds poetry is the difference between metrical segmentation and syntactical segmentation, what he calls the non-coincidence of sound and sense. But, as he is quick to clarify, these are no two separate movements at work, rather there is one poetic line which measures and is itself measured by these two movements. It is as if language’s movement towards sense were being traversed by sound, while the simultaneous movement towards music were being traversed by sense (41). With each of these movements being in an asymptotic rapport with the other, this quasi-dialectical tension tries, on the one hand, to “split sound from sense,” while on the other, it tries to make them coincide (36). Poetry, thus, stays alive in and as what Valery articulates as “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense” (109). But just when one thought that for all this the poem is, indeed, potentially infinite, one finds that the poem, without a word of it, has already ended! Unlike that of Mallarme’s siren, the corpse of the poem invariably washes up on the inaccessible shores of lalangue.

Since the final verse cannot be enjambed anymore, the poem, in ending, renders impossible the very founding opposition between sound and sense. What, therefore, really perturbs the philosopher is that the poem should, time and again, be always-already precipitating its own perdition— without ever giving it a thought! What could be exemplified by the end of the poem if not a failure to think, or why else would the poem inhere in its eschatological stasis to such an irrational extent that it ends up contravening the very principle which founds it? It is for this reason that Agamben regards the end of the poem as “a genuine crise de vers in which the poem’s very identity is at stake” (113). Or why else must the poem manifest by way of a serialized self-surpassing, as warrantied by the difference between sound and sense, and insist, even proudly so, on asseverating this difference till the very end, when this difference is precisely what renders the poem as a katechon forever defering the messianic parousia?

The inconsistency which Agamben speaks of is not so much the inconsistency haunting the poem, the fact that it ends, but the crisis is itself a trace of his own failure to formalize the actual problematic. Finding himself trapped in a metaphysical cul de sac of his own design, the philosopher can resolve the problematic only by making a disingenuous reversal, that of abandoning the conundrum itself and attributing it as peculiarly endemic to the very form of poetry, to its inordinate penchant for ostentations, its compulsive obsession, say, with end-rhymes which only goes to keep it from actually thinking the contradiction it cannot seem to ever resolve. And thus, the philosopher abandons, and not for the first time, the sinking ship of the poem, even going so far as to claim that he had never boarded it to begin with, for he was but a mere distant spectator, who, witnessing the shipwreck unfold, could not help but wonder why had the poem even set sail to begin with!

The veritable swoon of the poem’s obstinate persistence is invariably brought to a halt. And yet the poem, except in exceptional circumstances, say, owing to the greatness of a certain poet, never seems to learn! For Agamben, the poem fails in its messianic vocation because it does not sustain the centripetal insistence of the constitutive torsion it is. It cannot because it does not think! Waxing instructive, Agamben ends his text by calling for a philosophizing of the poem, for a poem which, for a change, will think. For only then will the poem, in its newfound vocation, be finally able to know its situation, and, recuperating itself from its contradictory formal character, it will finally be able to will its release from its perennial formal unfreedom.

Abandoning all modes of theorizing which subject poetry to an extrinsic thought, whether it be that of philosophy, or of politics, I shall hereby strive to formalize the problematic of the end of the poem— that of a poem being at once an instantaneous, concrete process and its simultaneous suspension, a finished artefact which can never, it seems, fulfil its own concept— while demonstrating how the seeming antinomy is itself a symptomatic torsion haunting any and every discourse which tries to organize itself as knowledge of the poem, viz. Agamben’s, “philosophy of meter” (2). To this end of formalizing a certain method of the poem, it will be of founding importance to not resolve the conundrum by simply denying the fatal exigency which heretofore seems to found the poem. This is to say that in the course of this exercise, one shall unconditionally refrain from plotting a farcical poststructuralist escape by positing the poem as a nameless dissemination, a perennial disaggregation of itself. For, as Marx had demonstrated, any denial of the grip of necessity shall only go to strengthen the grip. I must now offer the following three theses:

THESIS I:

To avoid the danger of ventriloquizing poetry, let us begin by putting things in a dialectical perspective. This is to say, let us begin by submitting ourselves to the event which circulates by the name of “the end of the poem.” For, contrary to Agamben whose mode of formalization remains subject to a certain phenomenality of the poem’s telos, that is, unlike Agamben who begins in order to then arrive at the end of the poem, it is only in beginning with the “end” that we will, as Lenin would have it, be truly beginning, “beginning,” that is, “from the very beginning.”

It would not be too much to say that the crisis of the poem’s identity is a trace of Agamben’s own failure to decide if the poem is one spilt into two, or whether it is a case of two coming together to make one. He begins with two external poles, that of sound and sense, and only then, in a quasi-dialectical manoeuvre, interiorizes the split, presenting each as mediated by the other, the process of mediation continually unfolding as the poetic line. Thus grasped, the poem exemplifies a case of what Hegel had called an indifferent difference. To posit the antagonism as a differential relation between these two static, positively defined categories, each external to the other, is clearly fallacious, for it assumes a certain transcendental, archimedean point. Needless to point out, but this archimedean point is possibly afforded to Agamben because of his apparently superior vocation, that of being a philosopher. This transcendence, however, must itself be grasped as an error bred by an immanence which does not know that it is split from itself. Thus, it is not that the poem needs to be posited by way of an external opposition between sound and sense which is then interiorized, but rather the poem must be understood as split from itself, or as Hegel writes, “difference in itself is self-related difference; as such it is the negativity of itself, the difference not of another, but of itself from itself” (417-18). It is the minimal, absolute difference between the poem and itself, or to draw an analogy in Lacanese, the minimal difference between a signifier and the place of its inscription, which constitutes the poem. A poem, then, is constituted by and as the split between poetry, insofar as one understands it as the praxis of a certain processual composition, and the poem, insofar as one understands it as the cult of the former’s identity. It is this cut which phenomenally manifests by way of its structural effects, as a line-break in lyric poetry, as a certain montage-quality, though certainly not limited to it alone, in visual poetry, as kire in haiku, as parataxis in prose-poetry, and so on. But to mistake the structural effects of the cut for the cut itself certainly proves fatal, in more ways than one, for the poem.

To this end, it is absolutely imperative that one does not mistake the process qua praxis of composition for the phenomenal unfolding of the poem. For, if one were to begin rationalizing the means of a poetic form in terms of its instantaneous phenomenality, as is the case with Agamben’s fixation with end-rhymes, then one would doubtlessly end up fetishizing the end of the poem (also in the sense of its objective, its goal) as an effect of its telos. For example, in his The Time that Remains, Agamben now begins by asserting that a poem must always end. Or even further, he writes that a poem strains, from the very beginning, towards its end (79). But only now he tries to make a virtue out of this fatal exigency. A poem, he argues, is a machine which transforms the empty homogeneous time into a movement of constellated rhythms, and is thus a “miniature model of messianic time” (82). The poem’s penchant for ostentations is certainly no longer regrettable. But surely nothing can be more despairing than having to affirm the instantaneous ordeal of an impending disaster, having to posit the poem enduring its own finitude, as a messianic construction! Rather than seizing the scission as the constitutive organizing principle of the poem, Agamben remains fixated on the structural effects of the scission, and ends up fetishizing the syntactical composition of the poem as its messianic truth. In other words, instead of formalizing the time of the poem as a remnant, he instead takes the remnant to be “the time that the poem takes to come to an end” (83), thereby abolishing the minimal, but fundamental, difference separating that which takes place from the place where it takes place. Posited as an organizer of content, the poetic form remains caught in the means-ends rationality.

THESIS II:

Lest one end up falling through the poststructuralist trapdoor, it becomes imperative to distinguish our notion of poem qua process— a thought which comes to be constituted as interruption— from what manifests as an uninterrupted militancy against the transcendental signifier, as exemplified by a certain poststructuralist poetics which determinately followed from the linguistic turn of 1960s, and continues to presently proliferate.

Here, I refer to the rather disjunctive trajectories of the otherwise more or less simultaneous emergence of Flarf and Conceptual Poetry, two contemporary movements concerned with the “impoetic”— while the former seeks to demonstrate the excess of language (an excess which was once upon a time understood as poetic) by mining “the circuits of ersatz fame junkspeech, within the anonymized and reshuffled errancies of various machinic protocols (whether it is the Google search algorithm, or a purported human adapting herself to the imperatives of a chat room)” (Clover), the latter is marked by a cold, impoetic cerebrality which, despite the appellative, has nothing to do with “concept” as it came to be developed in the tradition of continental philosophy. Despite the protestations which will follow such a claim, and which should themselves be taken as a sign that our age does covet difference, but only as identity, both movements must be understood as determinately emerging from the so-called American avant-garde of the seventies, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school of poetry. The latter, in mobilizing the disingenuous reversal affirmed, among others, by Derrida— precisely, that the problematic of logos, the split between body and spirit (as also, to draw a homology here, the split between base and superstructure) is derived from the problem of script, to which, in turn, the former seems to lend its own metaphors (Of Grammatology 58)— rendered language as the privileged site of politics. The poetico-political project of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school, as Ron Silliman puts it, is to cure ourselves of “the social aphasia, the increasing transparency of language which took place in English in the last 400 years” by short-circuiting the semiotic loop, thereby drawing the reader’s attention to the intransigent tangibility of the “word” (The New Sentence 10) [1]. But while denouncing, on the one hand, a certain capitalist realism of sorts, say, the entrepreneurial spirit of capital a neo-confessional poet has come to epitomize, the schizophrenic polysemy produced by the poetic experiments of Language- and allied schools only goes so far as to liquidating the impossible-Real of the contradiction— what is, in actu, the dialectics of use and exchange— into a weak structural play of differences. Mistaking capital for its structural effects, this poetics of ecriture, insofar as it has tended to problematize a capitalist-realist mode of representation, what Silliman articulates as the “dream of an art with no medium, of a signified with no signifiers” (14), has proceeded by rendering indifferent the split between the thing and its concept, between the base and the superstructure, and, in turn, reformulating this split, what is a structural manifestation of the capitalist division of labour as the problematic of signifier. While it would certainly be productive to historicize, following Jameson, these seemingly heterogeneous movements by understanding them as constitutive of the cultural dominant of postmodernism, thereby formalizing Silliman & c.’s purported “cure” as the symptom becoming its own disease (and vice-versa), I have here tended to conceptualize, even if only gesturally, the poetics of ecriture as a philosophical category, a particular mode of suturing the poem to a philosophical thinking of difference.

Poststructuralist attempts to preclude any and all symbolic closures are, in actu, a denial (in Freudian terms) of the poem’s actual finitude. For no matter how endless, or end-less, a chain of signifiers a poem-text might generate, it shall always determinately emerge as a finite work. On the one hand, a phenomenal manifestation of this denial finds expression in a disaggregation of the unity we have traditionally come to understand as a poet’s oeuvre [2]. There are several poets who assert that the finitude of a finished artefact at hand, whether a poem or a book, shall itself be surpassed by their next poem, or better still, their next book, and so on, and if a poet were to go to the extent of saying that his entire oeuvre is and shall always be in progress, and that this incompleteness is itself the indiscernible trace of the destruction of logos that his lifelong labour has accomplished, then we shall simply have to say that this monument erected in the honour of what still lacks only goes to exemplify the worst order of the Hegelian bad infinity [3]. On the other hand, this denial comes to constitute the formal imperative internal to such literary works— a compulsive fascination with the endless wealth promised by lalangue, a mode of writing which is itself symptomatic of the failure to dialectically seize a purely formal structure of lack which sustains language as such, as we will discuss below.

Ever insistent on surpassing itself, on precluding its own emergence as a determinate symbolic-totality, the poststructuralist poem-text comes to be retroactively inscribed as the same precisely by what it seeks to differ from. Or to put it otherwise, each differing-away convokes, in the very moment, the place where the signifier comes to lack. Haunted by the lack which continues to place it in its place, the poem-text, determined to de-totalize its impending congealment, strives to militate against the congealment of letter into meaning by surpassing itself yet again. But what this poem-text never seems to learn is that the transcendental signifier is not a privileged, hypostasized category (whether it be, say, economy, or history) it is militating against, but rather, that the former is only a phantom (in-)consistency. In other words, what it does not seem to learn is that that there is no transcendental signifier but for the one that the poem-text itself comes to retroactively inscribe. The post-structuralist automaton compulsively re-enacts the same, propagating endlessly the bad-infinite disavowals of the poem’s inevitable finitude. It is forced to repeat because it fails each time, and it fails each time precisely because it fails to understand its own metaphysical complicity, to recognize its perverse libidinal investment in its own oppression. Needless to say, but this fatal tendency of proclaiming oneself to be the Master is often exemplified by certain aspects of the poetics of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement, as also by the polemics they have been engaged in. Far from being the real force which shall come to destroy metaphysics and its structural logic of places, the militancy of such transgressions must be understood as the punctilious rush of a defendant answering the summons of the Other, the locus of the signifier.

The founding antagonism is not between poetry and the universal law of value which comes to condition poetry’s determinately lapse into a poem. This is to say that poetry does not seek to fight a law which is external to it, that which it can somehow surpass. Rather, what poetry seeks to destroy is extimate to its own being-there, that is, the founding antagonism is between poetry and itself qua an always-already determined artefact. To put it otherwise, it is not that a poem will end, that it will lapse into its own determinate congealment. To assert only this much would be to remain caught up in the phenomenological experience of reading or writing a poem, and to have determined the messianic moment as a not-yet in its vulgar sense, as a present placed in the future. Rather, to put the problematic of the end of the poem in its real and thus revolutionary dialectical perspective, that of the future-anterior, what poetry must demonstrate is that it has always-already ended. And lest it demonstrate the extimacy of the law to itself, the fact that it is always-already interpellated, the poem, contradictory as it may sound, will inevitably go on to become a commodity. But in thus qualifying the dialecticity of this dialectical scission, one should not be given to understand that the poetic act can voluntarily demonstrate its blind-spot, and do that from an archimedean point as it were!

Then, in trying to formulate the truth of this internal exclusion, one could begin by stating the obvious, that the determinately congealed poem has nothing to do whatsoever with the concrete and sensuous activity of writing-as-process. And yet, adhering to the asymmetry we have qualified, the poem, self-alienated as it is, must come to be the only possible trace of the concrete and sensuous activity of writing-as-process. Herein lies the conundrum central to our proposition— how can one posit the finished poem as a trace of the very scission which the determinate emergence of the poem goes to un-represent? And the scission is certainly un-represented, insofar as the transparency of the poem’s language— say, the neo-liberal lyric so aptly captured in the style of Billy Collins, as also by the inventory of The New Yorker, or say, the desire to politicize the verse in a neo-confessional idiom epitomized by the slow and sporadic emergence of the queer, left-leaning poets and communities in our own country— continues to consistently draw attention to its own existence as a unity, as if its maker, instead of being a determinate labourer, was a magician! For, in a world hopelessly mediated by capital, the worst a poet could do was to protest his freedom by touting the illusory immediacy of a voice all his own! Closer home, this poetics of identity only goes to buttress the politics of identity already being practiced by the individuals/communities concerned. Similarly, when a certain poem [4] claims to express solidarity with the working-class, say a poem addressed to the struggles of Maruti workers, it ends up presenting itself as a downright vulgar thematization of labour. Copying out from a statistical encyclopaedia ascertaining the terms of an unjust exchange, the poem, in the name of solidarity, unabashedly inheres in the left-liberal consensus bent on representing, or as Badiou would have it, discerning the working-class, all the while remaining clueless about the phantom which ventriloquizes the poem itself, the truth (contra knowledge) of capital, what manifests, in actu, as the poem’s abject failure to demonstrate how poetry, in situ, is first and foremost itself a praxis of labour.

But lest one think that this conundrum is endemic only to a certain reified poetics of voice, which, in being ventriloquized by capital, provides us with only deceptive equivalents of what we have tried to formalize as poetry, and that this would not be the case with other good poems which are self-reflexive insofar as they tend to draw our attention, say, to the intransigence of language, and so on, it becomes imperative to point out that the problematic— how can the poem attest to its own absent cause, that which remains foreclosed to it— is fundamental to the formal thrust of the poem, and is what lends the poem the possibility of its redemption. This is to say that the dialectics of this redemption qua poem shall come to constitute a simultaneous destruction of both the reified poetics of voice as also of a poetics of ecriture.

THESIS III:

Contrary to Agamben who had sought to posit thought as a corrective to the literary-formal preoccupation of poetry, we will begin by positing that poetry does, indeed, or rather, in deed, think. However, the question which immediately proceeds from such a postulation— what does poetry think, if at all— is only moot, for the poem does not think an other object. This is precisely the founding difference between thought and knowledge as seized upon by Badiou when he writes— “Being does not give itself in the thought of being, for all thinking of being in reality is only the thinking of a thought” (Age of Poets 8). In thinking, the poem does not reflect upon, but offers itself as the act it is. In other words, the truth of the poem does not have a preponderance of the meta. But what is even more important to understand is that this order of the intransitive also forbids what has come to be the defining characteristic of the poem of our times, the one which followed the linguistic turn. Rather than understanding the poem as caught in the gratuitous excess of its own slippage— the arrantly therapeutic line of flight which we discussed in the previous thesis— a poem is what interrupts the endless deferral of meaning by demonstrating the impossible-Real of the antagonism, that which makes all symbolic difference possible. In other words, poetry thinks the scission which engenders it. But in trying to demonstrate the asymmetry of the dialectics which engenders poetry qua poem, poetry cannot voluntarily think the dialecticity of the dialectical scission constituting it. For example, to assume that there exists a self-identical identity of poetry qua process, which only later comes to suffer a certain self-alienation is to be recklessly undialectical. Any poetic act which believes that it can demonstrate the asymmetry we qualified in the previous thesis by simply presenting a concrete and sensuous activity of writing, and this because the activity of writing must logically precede its determinate congealment, only goes to exemplify the worst order of interpellation.

As opposed to such forbidding acts of the self-estranged, the deed of poetry is not performed conscientiously, from a certain archimedian point, but rather, as we have already ascertained, poetry itself comes to be constituted by and as this very scission. In other words, the promise of the un-alienated self, what we can here call the truth of the poem, the notion of the concrete and sensuous activity of writing-as-process, can only be produced retroactively, by way of the poem’s future-anterior directedness. This is the impossibility which poetry qua poem heralds, by way of its future anterior directedness— to already be what it must become.

Before further elaborate, it might prove useful to rearticulate our progress in terms which might seem a bit forced to begin with, if not altogether vulgar. Would it be too much to say that the problematic of the end of the poem is the problematic of the failure to realize the revolution? What I have been straining to get at is that the poem is not to be seen by way of its phenomenal unfolding, as the wasteful remainder of the impossible task it inheres in, that of realizing the future tense. Or to risk putting it otherwise, we fail to realize the revolution not because we fail to envisage and/or attain a utopian what must be, a future state of social egalitarianism, which could then be, as any socialist-statist would have it, empirically determined and verified by strings of socio-economic coefficients. Far from it!

Instead let us try and unravel the problematic by locating it on the local terrain of our own political practice(s). Say, anyone who has pursued a self-inquiry into his/her involvement in the present series of resistances against neoliberal assaults on universities, what eventually culminated in the JNU student-politics’ abject failure to demonstrate a militant solidarity with Kashmir would know the in situ truth of the movement’s failure. The series of resistances failed to emerge as a determinate movement, not because the “fascist forces” (the left-liberals’ favourite distortion of the capital’s neoliberal shifts into a literal and static dogma, the affective cathexis of which, say, the frequent invocation of these magical words at the beginning of every single pamphlet, is only therapeutic) were too strong, and certainly not because the varied “progressive forces” (another equally abominable homogenization of the real contradictions) failed to aggregate and harmoniously flatten their interests to achieve a consensual coming-together against “fascism.” Rather the movement could not be because it failed to demonstrate the future-anterior directedness of its own becoming, that is, it failed to presently perform the revolution that the movement will have been. In other words, the movement could not be because, while prescribing a rupture with the extant circumstance of oppression, the politics of resistance failed to prescribe a rupture with its own identitarianized mode of politicking, that is, it failed to realize that it itself was the determinate instantiation of the very representative parliamentary mode of the nation-state it sought to revolt against.

Politics can only take place if it can demonstrate, in situ, a world equal to the concept it has forged, a concept, in this case, of communism. So, when Tronti quotes Frédéric de Castillon as having said— “As in the case of the terms ‘circle’ or ‘square’, which everyone uses, though only mathematicians have a clear and precise idea of what they really mean; so, too, the word ‘people’ is on everyone’s lips, without them ever getting a clear idea in mind of its real meaning,” what he means is not that the implications of such a word remain unclear because there still aren’t enough people (as if there could ever be such a thing as people!) out in the streets attending protest marches and rallies. Far from a aggregative politics of the count (sankhya-bal, as comrades in JNU are wont to have it), what Tronti here means is that it is a concept of the people as a political subject which is lacking, which is explains, and whose absence is, in turn, explained by the failure to conceptualize the modern university as not only constituted by its own particular regimes conditioning the socio-technical division between mental and manual labour along and across the blocs of caste, class, gender, but also as vehemently reinforcing generalized segmentations functioning at large.

The movement could not be because in positing antagonism by way of an equality that will come to be, the politics of resistance, still caught in capital’s rationality of means-ends, failed to practice equality in actu. Equality can only be practised if the crowd postulates it. In fact, to postulate equality is to already practice it and to practice it is to verify it in the real, as a dynamic collective which comes to demonstrate its own determinate impossibility. So, equality is not a desire for equality, rather it, being in an asymptotic militant rapport with its own future-anterior directedness, must come to presently organize itself so as to determinately demonstrate a fidelity towards what it will have presently been had the present finite-inquiry unfolded in its infinitude. But if politics remains aggregative— wherein a determinate form the organization of the masses takes remains conditioned by a determinate necessity, say that of social inequity— or as Badiou would have it, “bounded” (see Metapolitics 68-78), then politics fails to destroy its own determinate instantiation as work, for it then emerges as determined by the very hierarchical law of value, the very principle of social division of labour that it has come to react against. Instead of forging an unbounded collective we end up witnessing trite spectacles of the crowd as it coagulates into the same parliamentary relation of the party-masses.

There are certainly many who will come to oppose our present analogy, alleging it to be nothing but a vulgar comparison, an organization of a content (poetry) which has nothing whatsoever to do with the form of its organization (revolutionary politics), and further, that such an exercise strives, in the name of a certain logic, to use poetry as an instrumental means to the end of revolutionary politics. What, but, needs to be understood, before one levels such a charge, is that form is not an a priori determination of what comes to present itself. This metaphysical priority is only illusory, for form is always-already shot through by what it forms, the ferment of its most immanent immanence, that is, its content-object, what refutes the totalizing impulses of the thinking subject with a dialectical vengeance. Only tangential to the point we are trying to make, but what then proves to be truly confounding is that it is precisely such a Kantian understanding of aesthetics as a system of a priori forms that underpins even the most sophisticated of antagonistic thought, say Ranciere’s “redistribution of the sensible” in Aesthetics and Politics (see p. 13). Nowhere is the socio-political condition of this metaphysical origin of form more explicitly expressed than in Kant’s philosophical project, insofar as it manifested as an irreconcilable antinomy between attempts to formalize a prior, pure reason and also to testify to its conceptual adequacy to the material existence,

“All crafts, trades and arts have profited from the division of labour; for when each worker sticks to one particular kind of work that needs to be handled differently from all the others, he can do it better and more easily than when one person does everything….Now here’s a question worth asking: Doesn’t pure philosophy in each of its parts require a man who is particularly devoted to that part?… Wouldn’t things be improved for the learned profession as a whole if those ‘independent thinkers’ were warned that they shouldn’t carry on two employments once…because all you get when one person does several of them is bungling?” (Kant 2).

The analogy and language used by Kant must not be understood as a mere turn of phrase, or by way of a certain expedience of metaphor, but rather his call for a pure philosophy must itself be understood as conditioned by the very content, what he calls experience, that it seeks to cleanse itself of. The desideratum of this bourgeois formalism is a cogitative organization of knowledge which, in the name of universalism, is wholly dictated by the socio-political division of labour, to which this antinomy owes its immutability, as also the poverty of its static binaries. The idyllic benevolence of a metaphysical synthesis, insofar as thought affirms and bestows meaning, an infinite plenitude of bounty, upon a reality which is rent with the coercive principles of division, domination and accumulation of capital, remains, in situ, retroactively haunted by what it strives to palliate, namely the socio-technical division between mental and manual labour. And if the recent resurgence in a red Kant can be attributed to anything, then it is the philosopher’s own methodological failure, if not a refusal, to reconcile the antinomy between the empirical and the intelligible, between the phenomenal and the noumenal, that carries within it an incipient promise of reclaiming the problematic of socio-political division of labour from the throes a metaphysical formalism.

The relation between poetry and politics is not that of a causal instrumentality which renders one as subject to the other, which is to say, it is not a relation. What conditions the fraternal compossibility of revolutionary militancy and poetry is that the formal prerogatives of poetry constitute, in situ, the problematic of labour. One is likely given to assent to this statement on two counts— firstly, and especially, if one tends to consider poetry as a mode of production which comes to immanently demonstrate the infrastructural logistics of the social division of labour underpinning it. To recourse to such a mode of thought is not difficult, and so, not only because those on the left naturally tend to view, and rightly so, the socio-economic infrastructure as what, in the last instance, determines art’s existence, but also because one is witness to at least a few concrete historical instances when poetry, and art in general, has come to immanently and singularly destroy the infrastructure which preconditioned art’s emergence. After all, is this not the fundamental import of Mayakovsky’s revolutionary dictum— “Without revolutionary form there can be no revolutionary art”? Contra Aristotle’s Poetics, which must be, indeed, be read as a corrective rejoinder to Plato’s exclusion of the poets, Mayakovsky refused a classificatory accommodation of arts within the polis. His constructivist collaborations are a case in point. He collaborated with Rodchenko for Pro Eto, the poems inspired by Lilya Brik were juxtaposed with photomontages made by Rodchenko, with El Lissitzsky for Dlia Golosa, an astonishing piece of “visual poetry” wherein the dialectic between the typography and the visual image, between the image-as-text and the text-as-image is so thorough that the work obviates any attempt at usurping the letter with meaning, with Rodchenko for making advertisements for state-run agencies using what he called “the enemy’s tool,” and with several others, including his involvement in the Russian cinema of his times. These “constructivist” collaborations must not be understood as an exchange between private individual artists or even styles but rather as a demonstration of poetry as a mode of production, a process which, in its unfolding, destroys the social fact of a division of labour between the “skill” of a writer of poetry as written verse and techniques of the visual artist whose work is deemed fit only for ornamental and decorative purposes, between those who design theatre and movie-sets and those who illustrate mere propagandist posters, between design techniques which might behove only an advertisement but certainly not a piece of art proper, and so on.

Here then, poetry is revolutionary not because it made revolution the subject-matter of its works [5]. Rather poetry, and art in general, came to be a sui generis index to the revolution, insofar as it came to demonstrate the limit of a community’s self-presentation, the collective which we now understand by its Bolshevik name of “Soviets.” This is to say that poetry thought and performed revolutionary politics immanently, as a condition of its own exercise, without ever itself being politics.

To assent, on the second count, would be to effectively fulfil the dialectic of poetry, to complete our movement from a still somewhat external consideration of the infrastructure singularly peculiar to the form of the literary— the latter presenting a veritable constellation of its producers, distributor-publishers and consumers— to questions more internal to literary production. This latter aspect of the literary is nowhere so keenly expressed as in the following formulation of Jameson’s—

“Thus it is a mistake to think, for instance, that the books of Hemingway deal essentially with such things as courage, love, and death; in reality, their deepest subject is simply the writing of a certain type of sentence, the practice of a determinate style” (409).

Keeping in mind this dialectic internal to the literary form, what manifests by way of the asymmetrical dialectic between poetry and poem, let us rearticulate the notion of writing-as-process as work and thereby also return to the problematic of the poem’s finitude, what we had been trying to formulate, before being interposed at some length. The task at hand is not how to continue to stay alive despite the ever-impending apocalypse, that of the end of the poem, what is actually the question which has come to exemplify, more than anything, the linguistic turn in poetry, as should be amply clear from our discussion of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics qua bad infinity in the previous thesis. Rather, the task at hand is how must one understand the poem as ex-sisting as the infinite in finite, how, that is, to subject oneself to the afterlife of the poem, what would, in actu, manifest as the veritable worklessness of the work.

What a poem demonstrates by way of its future-anterior directedness is the truth, that which will come to presently be if a poet’s presently finite inquiry into the poem’s form, supplemented by other poem-demonstrations by the same poet, as also by other poets, and by other artists, philosophers, political militants, and so on, were to unfold infinitely. Before we can elaborate, it is imperative that one understand that this not-yet qua truth, what following Badiou we can call the generic (see esp. Meditation 31, Being and Event), is not a teleological to-be, a present placed in the future, but is rather of the order of the future-anterior. For what the poem strives to demonstrate is not what it will come to be, but what the poem will have presently been had the truth of its extant circumstance completely manifested. Of course, the aleatoric not-yet of poem as a mode of production cannot be predicted, much less assumed, for the poem, as all individual art works, is after all a finite work of art. But even if the poem remains wholly incommensurable to what it must realize and fulfil, the instantaneous ordeal of this infinite truth can certainly be, as Badiou would have it, axiomatically professed.

The axiomatic here bears on a decision directly concerning the ontological question of infinity. And it is only by way of the retroactive effects of this decision that the poem can manifest qua poem. This is to say that the poet-subject surpasses the present finitude of the work insofar as he, instead of assuming an ecstatic-transcendental stance of a seer, comes to decide on whether to affirm or reject infinity, or to put it otherwise, insofar as he comes to take a decision on whether to declare fidelity to the event we understand by the name of “the end of the poem,” or not. Once infinity is affirmed, the poem manifests as nothing but a rigorously formal organization of this decision. The singular ambition which comes to determine the poem in the wake of this decision is solely that of interrupting the endless deferral of meaning and thereby evincing the impossible-Real of the antagonism, the infinite Real which makes all symbolic difference possible in and as language. But how can the poem demonstrate the void when it cannot be directly ascertained, for the void is retroactively produced by the poem’s own symbolic consummation? This impossibility is, in actu, the impossibility of the poem itself, that of its structural blindness.

Let us try and rearticulate the asymmetry of the dialectics at hand by resorting to what Lacan had said of Antigone, precisely that she is between two deaths. The first death is marked by the accomplishment of the poem’s symbolic destiny, the inevitable interpellation of the poem in the symbolic order of signification, what, as Agamben is wont to have it, phenomenally manifests as the impossibility of enjambment in the final verse-sentence. But the poem, insofar as it is seized in the wake of the poet-subject’s decision to affirm infinity, also heralds a second death, that of the very symbolic order, the law of value which always-already comes to govern the poem’s own constitution. But it is not as if the poem could undertake a destruction of the symbolic order while retaining a sovereign identity for itself. This is to say that in a world wholly determined by the law of value, poetry can destroy the law only insofar as it comes to realize that the law is extimate to its own ex-sistence, and thus comes be constituted as a veritable destruction of its own sovereign identity. After all is this not the supreme lesson to be gleaned from Hegel’s returnedness, what he calls the “turning back of force into itself”—

“Force expresses itself. The external expression is a reaction in the sense that it posits the externality as its own moment and thus sublates its having been solicited through an other force” (459).

Poetry organizes itself in the wake of the decision to affirm infinity by evacuating itself of all positive predicates, all forms of thought which come to determine it, whether political, or a la Agamben philosophical. Pace Marx’s use-value [6], poetry comes to constitute a supreme destruction of necessity, what seeks to condition poetry as a relation between a determinate content and a determinate form. The poem declares its absolute singularity by destroying the very vocation it has come to be identified with, the identitarianized all-too-poetic vocation, be it a lyric mode of expressing an interior subjectivity, or be it a consecration of the mystery of Being, or be it a postmodern promulgation of language games. This declaration, however, declares nothing but the void that the poem circumscribes, the void central to its own formal situation.

Is this not, after all, the singular formal ambition of William Carlos Williams’ variable prosody, which, plumbing the impassable gap between description and inscription, renders the poem as an objectal correlate of an objective world it sought to formalize? While the present exercise does not afford us either space or time to undertake concrete readings to discuss in detail the method of Williams’ variable prosody, one could at least gesturally reflect on as to how the poems manifest, despite obvious differences in their ostensibly manifest content, for be it the epic Paterson, or one of his “simpler” poems, say, “As the cat . . . ,” or one of the more iconic poems, say, The Red Wheelbarrow, as a rigorous formal operation which, in interrogating the processual mandate of composition, strives to formalize a new conception of “work.” The operation is an axiomatic demonstration of the truth of his poetry’s formal thrust.

Variable prosody, what can be understood as the variable and discrete groupings of speech sounds accentuated by a deliberate visual emphasis on the line-break, forms the fundamental rhythmic unit of Williams’s conception of poetry. This praxis of composing processually performs an evental evanescence, improvised unit by unit, disrupting and deferring, as it were, its own congealment while simultaneously alluding to its demise because the poem has always already congealed. The poem, by way of a symbolic congealment of the letter as meaning, is certainly a dead object. But, in the present when the poem is no more, what needs to be recovered is not what appears to now be lost, say, a past ontologised qua poem. Such a recovery would merely yield an other poem. Rather, as the axiomatic dictates, what needs to be recovered is the afterlife, the future in its anterior. So, instead of positing the formal thrust of Objectivism as serially precipitating a result-poem qua bad infinite— the quantitative accumulation that the verse sterilely performs line-by-line— the method of Williams’ line-breaks must be understood as evincing a la Hegel the quality of this formal thrust. But lest one is smitten, as one is bound to be, by the sheer hazardous taking-place of the line-breaks, and thereby comes to believe that one could circumvent the determinate necessity governing all formal considerations of techne by simply choosing to break his lines as (s)he pleases— freely as a poet is wont to say— we must assert, even at the risk of reiterating, that quality a la Hegel is not what phenomenally manifests as the aleatoric taking-place of the poem. Rather the poem is the void of a suspended gesture, of which we must say, in a manner now naturally all too Mallarmean, that no throw of a dice can abolish the chance of the poem having taken place. In other words, the truth of the poem, what would be the real worklessness of the work, is the act of the poetic form and not the formal effects produced by the poem, even if it is only the latter which will have come to attest the former. Quality is what manifests when, in having come to be constituted as what thinks its constitutive scission, the poem forces the occupation of the unoccupyable place, that of which Williams had written—

“Save for the little

central hole

of the eye itself

into which

we dare not stare too hard

or we are lost” (Williams 152).

The structural effect of the two deaths is what is at stake throughout in George Oppen’s first book of poems, Discrete Series. The second poem in the series constitutes a single word “White” followed by a full-stop. Is this not the great Malevichian gesture of white on white, the minimal difference which following Mallarme could be articulated as the “cut of white,” separating the letter from its place of inscription? In occupying this minimal difference between what takes place and the place Oppen’s thought reduces the present situation to a radical minimum of a decision, what unfolds as a cut of lightning across the proverbial night of Fordism, the one in which, as the poem goes to reveal, all cars are black (hinting, of course, at the famed T Model).

It is demonstrating the new, as against a new meaning, that Williams, against the Hegelian cunning of the history, actively safeguards the future of the cause. The hole punched in the structure of modernist poetry by Williams’ variable prosody— a mode of formalization which sought to wholly disengage a determinate form from a determinate content— is axiomatically secured in the anterior by an anticipation of new poetic works which will have come to fulfil this void by presenting the original indiscernibility of Williams’ poetics to be the truth of the poetic situation it had emerged in, while simultaneously punching holes in structures local to the law of their own determinate emergence. Amongst the several contemporary poets who are at it, the works, say, of Douglas Piccinnini, Joshua Clover and Graham Foust do strike one’s mind as being veritable formal inquiries into the configuration as it was and as it will shall come to be following the linguistic-turn. But if otherwise the Objectivist “condensery” has historically devolved into a certain free verse, a neo-confessional transparency of those stylists, the ones who, in this hopelessly mediated world, aspire to an immediacy of their own distinct voice, then it is simply because the singular ambition of poetry was mistaken for its structural effects, leading to an endless reification of the latter. The same is also true of the grossly perverse Leftist appropriations of Mayakovsky, Baraka, Lodre, Baldwin, Ristos, and the list is really endless. But what is even worse is that the ones who revolted against a reified poetics of voice have themselves remain fixated on these structural effects, continuing to endlessly propagate the metaphysical edifice they proclaim to be the destroyers of.

It would only be fitting to conclude by briefly discussing the stakes involved in the act of submitting the poem to that axiomatic will which is not the proprietary of the poet-subject. And in contemporary poetics, is not the formalization of this act of the poem qua poem the singular ambition of David Brazil’s poetic vocation, and does his decision, whether to use waste-litters of found paper to type his long poem Economy on, or to present the work titled Kairos as it is, as drafts which, it seems, are yet to be produced, not demonstrate the materialist truth of the Mallarmean cut of the white, the truth being nothing other than use-value?! For, if in A-8 Louis Zukofsky thus poses a question originally posed by Duns Scotus— “Whether it (is) ‘impossible for matter to think?” then Brazil’s poetry can be understood as a reformulation, pace Marx’s use-value, of this very question, a reformulation which can be posited thus— “Whether it is impossible for matter to think itself ?” Rather than understanding the poetic form as an organizer of content, Brazil grasps it as an act. The work in Kairos is marked with several redactions, strikethroughs, some circled words, but also whole passages blacked out, and insertions, all done in hand, and xeroxed copies of the pages presented as they are. But it is imperative that one refrains from fetishizing what appears to be the sensuous concreteness of Brazil’s writing-as-process, as also from commending him for being able to present what a determinate lapse of the process into a finished work obfuscates, that which is, in actu, the arduous and visceral worklessness of the writing-as-process. For any attempt which strives to grasp Brazil’s gestural poetics by way of an unmediated phenomenology shall only go so far as to evoking the kitschy idyll of a poet-hand’s craftsmanship. Pitted in a calculated opposition against mass-production, the superfluous farce of such artisanship, the sensuousness of its roughened materials will be no different from the aesthetic semblance affected by the coarseness of the rind of an organic orange. Instead, one would do well to understand that these (un-)finished drafts, for all the novelty of their discontinuities, indeed constitute as the final work, and that they exist only insofar as they inhere in the symbolic closure of their determinate identity, whether each is seized as a stand-alone entity, or as read collectively under the title The Ordinary. To assert the truth of Brazil’s poetics, we must recourse to the dialectical dexterity demonstrated in the Chapter 1 of Capital vol. 1, and proffer that on the one hand this truth— what takes place, of which there is no proof except the Real which it alters, and which the finite poem only goes to (un-)represent— is irreconcilable with and unsuturable to its self-estranged finitude. But on the other, the inevitable lapse of the former, what manifests as the impossibility of existing as an emancipated unity, immanently carries the possibility of its own redemption. Insofar as the poem succeeds in circumscribing this void central to the production of the poem, the finite poem comes to be the trace of the infinite activity that, in actu, takes place. It is not for nothing that Economy carries, in an almost Brechtian manner, its own theory in its wake. The method of Brazil’s poetry is not a metalinguistic farce which lets the project question, rather therapeutically, its own objectives, and wonder whether it shall succeed or not, and so on. Rather the impossibility of this method, reminiscent of Ponge’s The Making of the Pre, manifests as the desire to open the work to the minimal gap which founds the signifying process. For it is in only in being intransitively opened to that minimal gap which founds the impassable proximity of the taking-place and the place, of writing-as-process and the written, that the finite poem supports the infinity that it seeks to realize. Poetry does indeed perform the Parmenidian dictum— “it is the same thing to think and to be”— but only insofar as thought is what remains when it is foreclosed from its knowledge and being is what remains when it is foreclosed from its presentation.

Notes

1. Even if her study remains arrantly partial, one could, here, refer to Chapter 8 and 9 of Marjorie Perloff’s Differentials for an engaging account of the development of Language movement in America. Outlining the poststructural, and in general, a theoretical impetus of Language- and Language-related poetics, Perloff tends to valorize the poetics of polysemy, of syntactical indirections and deformities, over and against the ethos of an epiphanic transparency as espoused by a certain confessional or neo-confessional mode of poetry, while arguing that the latter suffers from a “referential fallacy,” and that its direct communicability is the hallmark of commodity fetish.

2. Here, I refer to Ron Silliman who, since 1974, has been at work on a poem which spans his entire lifetime, titled, Ketjak. Ketjak is composed of four parts: The Age of Huts (1974-80), Tjanting (1979-81), The Alphabet (1979-2004), and Universe (2005-present). As with The Alphabet, in which each chapter appeared as a separate volume, the poet envisions Universe as a prodigious 360-chapter project.

3. Despite fundamental disagreement with the Althusserian imperative as formulated by Macherey, precisely that a literary work is incapable of truth— the latter being the prerogative of science alone— that, at best, one could think of the literary work as an “analogy of knowledge” and, at worst, as a “caricature of customary ideology” (59), a thesis we have indeed set out to subvert, one must unconditionally assent to the argument that a literary artefact is a determinate work in-sisting in the determinate necessity of its particular formal finitude. In the case of Language- and allied modes of formalizing writing-as-process, one could argue that the stubborn linearity of a “poetics of the incomplete” itself points to a systematic necessity which governs its determinate emergence, and that the aleatoric novelty of its endless discontinuities only derives from its own endless failing, the persisting lapse of its purported infinitude. This alternating determination of the finite and infinite, in which the finite is rendered finite only insofar as it convokes the potential-infinite, and the infinite can be conceived to be so only in reference to the finite is precisely what Hegel terms the “bad infinite”— “This contradiction is present in the very fact that the infinite remains over against the finite, with the result that there are two determinacies. There are two worlds, one infinite and one finite, and in their connection the infinite is only the limit of the finite and thus only a determinate, itself finite infinite.” What, then, escapes the grasp of a procedural poetics a la Ron Silliman is the real infinite which holds writing in its spell, what we can affirm as the quality of this quantitative accumulation, or otherwise as the procedurality of the procedure. As against a structural play of differing-away, we are interested in conceiving poetry as a processual demonstration of the good infinite, the impossible Real which makes all structural difference possible, and what cannot yet be attested-for by the latter. In its bare skeletal form, the antagonism could be posited thus— syntax as a Mallarmean guarantee for intelligibility as against the polysemy espoused by idealinguistery.

4. Here I refer to a poem titled “Maruti Swift” which appeared in The Four Quarters Magazine, Vol. 4 No. 1, an Indian magazine of contemporary poetry and fiction, and is available here (tfqm.org/Akhil%20Katyal.pdf). Needless to say, but the poem is sustained by a wholly staged freedom of improvisation, and what with especially its own Taylorized line-breaks, the formal imperative of this (un-)free verse allegorizes, rather unwittingly, the history of capitalism.

5. One does not, in the least, mean to read Mayakovsky as a formalist— as if there could be such a thing as pure form!— or discount the political content of Mayakosky’s poetry— but,as if there could be such a thing as un-formalized content! Rather, if in this dialectic of form and content the essay has strived to lay more stress on one side, then it is only in order to address the failure of a Marxist readership in ascertaining the “formal” greatness, not only of Mayakovsky, but also other poets who have historically been associated with communism. This failure is a result of dogmatic practices of revisionism so popular in the cadres, whereby the complexity of a literary form is made palatable by eschewing all that requires a concerted labour of reading. And so, an ostensibly manifest “political” content, abstracted from the formal imperative of the work, is conflated with the politics of the writer to produce a reified dead-style a la Baraka, a la Mayakovsky, and so on, a style which is atrociously affected by a number of “people’s poets” on the Left today, the ones whose great anti-capitalist poems have become the formal hallmark of capitalist anti-capitalism. The common political refrain that there aren’t any great poets on the Left anymore does not so much allude to a crisis in poetry, but is symptomatic of a failure to ascertain the truth which is singular and immanent to poetry, and art in general, a truth which is not political.

6. Here I refer to Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 1 where Marx demonstrates the dialecticity of the dialectics at hand by arguing that “not an atom of matter enters into the objectivity of commodities as values” (138), but also by positing, in the same moment, that use-values are the only material bearers of exchange-value (126). The dialecticity of use, demonstrated ever so dexterously by Marx, must be understood as a veritable destruction of the metaphysical stance that all anti-metaphysics maintains, especially when it comes to the problematic of demonstrating the immeasurable, an indeterminate part which exceeds the structure. For, to even hint at the presence of the indiscernible is to effectively present it, and thus rid it of its subversive potential! And yet to not present it would mean to have to inhere in the structure’s right to legislate. In its bare skeletal form, this conundrum is precisely what forms the mainspring of anti-foundational philosophy. As Badiou writes, to seize this asymmetry undialectically ensures that every example of subversion turns, in the very moment of its being-posited, into a counterexample (see Meditation 28, Being and Event), or to put it otherwise, the force of the antagonism devolves into a weak difference of placed identities.

Works Cited:

Agamben, Giorgio. The End of the Poem. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1999. Print.

Agamben, Giorgio. The Time That Remains. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2005. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Handbook of Inaesthetics. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2005. Print.

Badiou, Alain. The Age of the Poets. London: Verso, 2014. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. London: Continuum, 2005. Print.

Badiou, Alain. Metapolitics. London: Verso, 2005. Print.

Clover, Joshua. Generals and Globetrotters. The Claudius App. http://theclaudiusapp.com/1-clover.html. Accesssed: 20th June 2016.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, tr. George Di Giovanni. The Science of Logic. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. Marxism and Form. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1972. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. Selected Poetry and Prose. New York: New Directions, 1982. Print.

Perloff, Marjorie. Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama, 2004. Print.

Silliman, Ron. The New Sentence. New York, NY: Roof, 2003. Print.

Rancière, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Continuum, 2004. Print.

Williams, William Carlos. Pictures from Brueghel. Norfolk, CT: J. Laughlin, 1962. Print.

A collection of the author’s works can be seen here (opon.org/issue4/aditya-bahl/). A chapbook of poems will be published LRL, Textile Series (http://www.textileseries.com/) in early 2017. A chapbook titled this is visual poetry by Aditya Bahl was published in 2013 by a now extinct imprint of Dan Waber.