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.


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.]

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

Pothik Ghosh


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.


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.


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


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.

Dalit Modernity and Kabir’s Pursuit of the Concrete

Martand Pragalbha

Synopsis: This essay attempts to constellate the figure of Kabir as a militant of truth – truth of the event – and as a pioneer of the philosophy of praxis. It seeks to grasp the full import of Kabir as अनल, which is interpreted as the dialectical image of Kabir himself. The essay reads Kabir’s poetic and political discourses – particularly their two key integral figures of sat guru and Nirgun Ram – through a historicising manoeuvre that envisions them as iterations of that truth. This historicising move by the author, in the process of submitting Kabir’s two discursive figures of sat guru and Nirgun Ram to an exacting hermeneutic, consists in dialectically separating truth – which is the historicity of singularity or nonidentity a la the historicity of emerging in and as its own time, or the historicity of taking-place – from its hypostasis and the metaphysics of presence qua the principle of qualitative equalization and mediation the latter generates. 

The author, in order to effect the dialectical separation of the truth of the event from its hypostasis, reveals the latter through a critique of two theoretical-discursive articulations that strive to assimilate Kabir’s evental truth to its hypostasis expressed by two variations of the same historico-logical formation, only to criticise a third manoeuvre of presenting Kabir as an experientialist thinker of difference. The theoretical discourse of the first variation is that of Purushottam Agarwal’s that seeks to establish Kabir as the founder of indigenous modernity underpinned and animated by the development of mercantile capital. Here the form that embodies the principle of qualitative equalization and mediation/adjudication – which is the metaphysics of presence generated by the hypostatic arrest of Kabir’s truth qua historicity of nonidentity, and which makes this indigenous modernity historically possible – is money. 

The theoretical discourse of the second variation is Dr Dharamvir’s. This seeks to envision Kabir as the godhead of an alternative Dalit religiosity of Kabirpanth that informs and orientates a radically juridical politics of Dalit protest that culminates in the Ambedkarite project. In this case, the hypostatization of Kabir’s Nirgun Ram – which is a figuration of truth qua the historicity of nonidentity, or, alternately, Kabir’s sahaj –into a metaphysical principle is embodied in the form of sagun Ram, Kabir being its incarnation.

This third manoeuvre is the reading of Kabir by Milind Wakankar. The author takes issue with Wakankar’s insistence that Kabir’s way is the way of heresy. The author informs us that this heretical mode, which Wakankar affirms, is, according to the latter, constitutive of the moment of pre-history of religion/s. Wakankar, the author informs us, explicates the pre-historic moment of religion/s as the news of god’s coming that he distinguishes from the actual coming of god as the ontological foundation of organised religion/s and history. According to the author, the latter is, in Wakankar’s scheme, the lapse and hypostatization of the former. This, the author tells us, is what enables Wakankar to think and articulate the former as an evanescent moment of break in organized religion/s and its history, and which, therefore, leads him to designate such moments as being prior to and/or outside of history and its mode of organized religiosity, thus rendering such moments heretical. 

The author contends that in Wakankar’s conception heresy, and/or pre-history of religion, is no more than difference as experience. As a result, Wakankar’s conception of pre-history, or the outside of history, is, the author argues, no more than history as the phenomenal registration of the interiorised experience of difference. This, according to the author, is what enables Wakankar to distinguish what he calls pre-history of religion – or the moment of heresy — from history as the phenomenal specification of the metaphysical principle of equalisation and mediation. And it is precisely for this reason, the author argues, that Wakankar’s conception of pre-history of religion, or the moment of heresy, can be likened to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s conception of History-2 as history that is prior to or outside of History-1, which is the history of capital. It is precisely on this point the author disputes the validity of such phenomenological conceptions of alternative history, including Wakankar’s pre-history. His contention is that since difference-as-experience is always interiorized, difference does not institute its own historicity. As a result, Wakankar’s conception of heresy as difference-as-experience does not constitute an overcoming of, or a radical break with, the historical as the realisation of the metaphysical principle of mediation. It is this that enables the author to argue that Wakankar’s phenomenological reading of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy, which is constitutive of pre-history of religion, is theoretically inadequate and does not do complete justice to Kabir as a poet, and thinker of politics. It is through this critique of Wakankar’s heretical Kabir that the author clarifies more fully what he insists is the conception of the truth of the event in its articulation in Kabir’s poetry and his political discourse – particularly in the discursive figure of Nirgun Ram

For, the truth of the event as historicity of nonidentity – which is radically distinct from Wakankar’s heresy as the experience of difference accessible only to phenomenological reduction – is, for the author, nothing less than the real movement constitutive of abolition of the prevailing state of affairs. It is by contending and demonstrating this through a historicizing hermeneutic of the figure of Nirgun Ram in Kabir’s discourse that the author is able to show how Kabir, contrary to a certain dominant view, is not a thinker of negation. Instead, he is a thinker of a radically new order of affirmation, wherein it is the real movement of ceaseless negation of all that exists which as that movement is in itself the affirmation. It is in this sense the author sees Kabir as a figure of fidelity to the truth of the event – that truth being nothing else but the praxicality and future-directedness of proletarian-revolutionary militancy. The author argues that Wakankar’s explication of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy is derived by the latter from his critique of Hazariprasad Dwivedi’s Kabir as a figuration of the search for a second or an other tradition. Through this critique of Dwivedi’s Kabir Wakankar, the author argues, establishes Kabir’s heretical way as the way of eschewing tradition qua the experience of difference from the totalising ambit of tradition. Against this reading of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy – which is the way of difference-as-experience as supposedly the way of eschewing of tradition as such – the author, pace Benjamin, counter-poses his reading of Kabir’s way as the way of active reclamation of tradition against its conformist reception. Against Wakankar’s reading of Kabir’s way as the way of heresy – which is the way of difference-as-experience – the author mobilizes Benjamin’s A Theologico-Political Treatise and Theses on Philosophy of History to read Kabir’s way as the messianic way of now-time. And this, he demonstrates here, to be the way of fidelity to the truth of the event as historicity of nonidentity or the interruption the flow of homogeneous time of history as its own historicity.

दलित आधुनिकता और कबीर की सहज साधना पर कुछ विचार

मार्तण्ड प्रगल्भ

कबीर की साधना, उनकी कविता और कबीर के सामाजिक व्यक्तित्व को लेकर हाल फ़िलहाल में जो आलोचनाएँ आई हैं, उनमें दो तरह की प्रवृत्तियां प्रमुख हैं- एक कबीर को दलित आधुनिकता के इतिहास से जोड़ती है, दूसरा कबीर में देशज आधुनिकता की तलाश करती है। पहली प्रवृत्ति में डा. धर्मवीर और मिलिंद वाकणकर जैसे दलित निम्नवर्गीय लेखन से जुड़े आलोचक हैं दूसरी ओर पुरुषोत्तम अग्रवाल जैसे आलोचक हैं जहाँ कबीर ‘आरंभिक आधुनिकता’ की ‘देशज सार्वभौमिकता’ के अग्रदूत हैं। पहली धारा दलित आधुनिकता की परंपरा की तलाश करती है जबकि दूसरी पूँजी के विकास की ‘देशी परंपरा’ की तलाश करती है। कहना न होगा कि इन दोनों प्रवृत्तियों के लिए द्विवेदी जी के कबीर मुख्य प्रस्थान बिंदु हैं। डा. धर्मवीर ने द्विवेदी जी के ‘कबीर’ को नितांत ब्राह्मणवादी पाठ माना है और कबीर को हिन्दू परंपरा में शामिल करने की साजिश के रूप में उस किताब की व्याख्या की है। हिन्दू धर्म की विधर्मी धारा के रूप में दलित विद्रोही परंपरा के आदि पुरुष कबीर डा. धर्मवीर के अनुसार एक नए धर्म के संस्थापक थे और दलितों के भविष्य धर्म के देवता। दूसरी ओर मिलिंद वाकणकर कबीर को दलित अपधर्मी (हेरेसी) परंपरा से जोड़ते हैं लेकिन उनके यहाँ यह परंपरा धर्म या थियोलोजी की नहीं है। वह इसे ‘धर्म पूर्व’ की परंपरा कहते हैं। सामान्यतः ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के इतिहास की प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा के बनने के ठीक पहले की यह परंपरा ‘ईश्वर के जन्म’ के बदले उसके ‘आने की खबर’ की परंपरा है। कबीर एक ऐसी सामाजिकता के प्रश्न को केंद्र में लाते हैं जो ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की सामाजिकता में विरूपित और इस प्रकार शोषक परंपरा में शामिल होने के ठीक पहले की स्वाभाविक दलित-सामाजिकता की परंपरा है। वाकणकर के अनुसार कबीर की घटना ने इस परंपरा को ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ का मुहावरा प्रदान किया है। वाकणकर की आलोचना के केंद्र में भी मुख्यतः हजारी प्रसाद द्विवेदी हैं। इस प्रकार कम से कम तीन कबीर दिखाई दे रहे हैं- देशी ‘बनिया’ संवेदना का अग्रदूत कबीर, दलित ईश्वर कबीर और दलितों, आदिवासियों तथा मुस्लिम अल्पसंख्यकों के जीवन की दैनंदिन हिंसा के भीतर कबीर के आने की खबर वाले कबीर!

वाकणकर ने द्विवेदी और धर्मवीर दोनों के मतों की आलोचना की है। हम यहाँ वाकणकर की आलोचना का प्रयास करेंगे। परन्तु उससे पहले कबीर के बारे में कुछ सामान्य विशिष्टताओं का रेखांकन जरूरी है। वाकणकर की आलोचना के लिए यह रेखांकन सन्दर्भ की तरह ही है। कबीर की विलक्षण ऐतिहासिक स्थिति का निरूपण द्विवेदी जी के यहाँ किया गया था, यह हम जानते हैं। द्विवेदी जी ने यह भी देखा था कि कबीर में स्वीकार नहीं अस्वीकार महत्वपूर्ण है। एक लिहाज से द्विवेदी जी ने कबीर की छवि निषेधधर्मी वैयक्तिक विद्रोही की गढ़ी थी। पर क्या कबीर में स्वीकार है ही नहीं ? दूसरी ओर जिस सामान्य होने को द्विवेदी जी ने ‘सूर साहित्य’ में सूर, कबीर और तुलसी तीनों की अनोखी विशेषता बताई थी उस सामान्य की अवधारणा ‘कबीर’ में क्या केवल अस्वीकार के रूप में स्पष्ट हुई थी? वहां कबीर का भीषण अस्वीकार संभव हुआ था स्वाभाविक को वाणी देकर। कबीर की वाणी में द्विवेदी जी ने निम्नवर्गीय जीवन के स्वतःस्फूर्त विद्रोह में छिपे अस्वीकार की शब्द साधना देखी थी। अस्वीकार की यह ‘सबद साधना’ अपने मूल में भागवत् की ‘समाधि भाषा’ की शास्त्रीय साधना नहीं थी, बल्कि राहुल सांकृत्यायन और हजारीप्रसाद द्विवेदी दोनों के लिए यह बौद्ध सिद्धों की ‘संधा भाषा’ की परंपरा थी जो स्वयं ज्ञान और करुणा के बीच बढ़ती दूरी के कारण मठों और विहारों से विद्रोह करने वालों की भाषा थी। द्विवेदी जी अपने कल्पनात्मक रूपकों (उपन्यासों) के भीतर लोक स्वभाव की दो समानांतर धाराओं के ‘वैष्णव रूपांतरण’ को भक्ति आन्दोलन की एकात्मकता के रूप में व्याख्यायित करते हैं। परन्तु निर्गुण-सगुण कवियों की संवेदना के बीच अलंघ्य दूरी का भान उन्हें हमेशा होता रहा। मृदु और उग्र विरोध का अंतर्विरोध द्विवेदी जी ने वैयक्तिक और सामाजिक के अंतर के रूप में हल करने की कोशिश की। अपनी सामाजिक अवस्थिति के कारण सूरदास में वैसी उग्रता नहीं संभव थी जैसी कबीर में या कभी-कभी तुलसी में दिखाई देती है। सूरदास के भोगे हुए यथार्थ में अस्वीकार का वह साहस संभव नहीं था जो कबीर का स्वभाव था और तुलसी की घृणा। सूर, कबीर और तुलसी के सामाजिक आधारों को स्पष्ट करते हुए द्विवेदी जी ने लिखा कि ‘… वे (सूरदास) कबीरदास की तरह ऐसे समाज से नहीं आये थे जो पद पद पर लांछित और अपमानित होता था और जहाँ का गृहस्थ जीवन विलासिता का जीवन था, मिथ्याचार और फरेब का जीवन था और ‘यौवन-मद, जन-मद, धन-मद, विध-मद भारी का जीवन था। इसलिए इस समाज से वैराग्य ग्रहण करना उनका मत था। वे तुलसीदास की भांति दृढ़चेता सेना नायक नहीं थे जो समाज की कुरीतियों से कुशलतापूर्वक बाहर निकलकर उसपर गोलाबारी आरम्भ कर दें।”[1] सूरदास के लिए वैराग्य उनका अपना मत था- उनका अपना चुनाव था। अकारण नहीं कि सूर का ‘घिघियाना’ उनके अन्दर छिपे पापबोध या ग्लानिबोध का ही फल था। तुलसीदास के अन्दर यह ग्लानिबोध नहीं था। रामभक्ति की ओर उनकी यह प्रवृत्ति किसी गुरु के ज्ञान से नहीं स्वयं पत्नी के प्रभाव से हुई थी ऐसी किम्वदंती है। आखिर लोकमानस में तुलसी की यह छवि क्यों है ? तुलसीदास ब्राह्मणों की पतनशील प्रवृत्ति के उच्चतम विकास थे। ‘ब्राह्मण समाज में अछूत’ होकर भी जाति व्यवस्था के संरक्षक होने के लिए एक असीम आत्मविश्वास की जरूरत थी। जाति व्यवस्था के भीतर एक अव्यस्था के कारण ब्राह्मणों की स्थिति भी लगातार बिगड़ती जा रही थी। पद-पद पर लांछित कबीर को भी होना पड़ा था और तुलसी को भी। पर तुलसी के लिए यह नितांत वैयक्तिक था। संपूर्ण ब्राह्मण समाज के साथ ऐसी स्थिति नहीं थी। तुलसी समाज के विघटन को जाति व्यवथा के विघटन के रूप में ही देखते थे। उन्होंने इस विघटन को रोकने के लिए ‘सेनानायक’ की आत्म-भूमिका स्वीकार की थी। सूर की तरह ही कवित्व प्रतिभा तुलसी में अकूत थी और कहना न होगा कि वे शास्त्रज्ञ पंडित भी थे। परन्तु तुलसी जिस समाज से आये थे उस समाज की आत्मा में अव्यवस्था से भय था, ग्लानिबोध नहीं। इसलिए उनके यहाँ निम्नवर्गीय संतों के प्रति एक भयानक रोष मिलता है। उनके प्रति वह कभी करुण नहीं हैं। सूर की तरह वह विलासिता वाले गार्हस्थ जीवन से नहीं आये थे बल्कि दयनीय होते जाते ब्राह्मण गार्हस्थ जीवन से उनक संबंध था। कबीर का गार्हस्थ जीवन कामगारों का गार्हस्थ जीवन था। इस दलित निम्नवर्गीय गार्हस्थ जीवन में कठोर श्रम भी था और पद-पद पर लांछना और अपमान भी। इसलिए द्विवेदी जी को कबीर के ‘वैयक्तिक विद्रोह’ में निम्नवर्गीय स्वभाव का दर्शन हुआ। यह निम्नवर्गीय जीवन में निरंतर बने रहने वाले आभाव का वैयक्तिक रूपांतरण था। कबीर द्विवेदी जी के लिए अभाव के खिलाफ भाव जगत के विद्रोही स्वभाव के प्रतिनिधि थे। इस अर्थ में कबीर के अस्वीकार के साहस के अन्दर द्विवेदी जी संपूर्ण समाज व्यवस्था के भीतर जो कुछ भी सड़-गल गया है या फिर समाज के भीतर का वह मूल असत्य जिसपर समाज की पूरी भित्ति बनी है, उसके अस्वीकार का प्रतिनिधित्व देखते हैं। अकारण नहीं कि द्विवेदी जी कबीर की कविताओं की व्याख्या में रवीन्द्रनाथ की कविताओं को उद्धृत करते हैं। कहना न होगा कि रवीन्द्रनाथ की कविताओं में भी यह ‘अभाव’ प्रमुख था। इस आभाव का जीवन में चरम निदर्शन मृत्यु थी। और कबीर इसी मृत्यु पर विजय की ‘सहज साधना’ के कवि थे। मृत्यु पर विजय को द्विवेदी जी अभाव के अस्वीकार के रूप में देखते हैं। पर क्या कबीर सचमुच व्यष्टिवादी थे जैसा कि द्विवेदी जी कहते हैं और समष्टि-वृत्ति उनके चित्त का स्वाभाविक धर्म नहीं था? उनके यहाँ सार्वजनीनता का क्या अर्थ है?

कबीर ने लोक और वेद दोनों का विरोध किया था। लोक कहने से कबीर का आशय उन मान्यताओं, व्यवहारों से था जिसमें ब्रह्माण्ड की पूर्णता का ज्ञान नहीं था। और कई बार यह जादू टोन से लेकर रहस्यमयी साधनाओं और अंधविश्वासों का लोक था। आम तौर पर वर्णाश्रम की पूर्णता को ब्रह्माण्ड की पूर्णता से जोड़ने का काम वेद करते थे। दूसरे शब्दों में वेद ‘दार्शनिक-सृष्टि-विषयक’ शास्त्रों के सहारे जीवन जीने वाला समुदाय था। हम कह सकते हैं कि यह विवेकवान बौद्धिकों का समुदाय था। परन्तु वर्णाश्रम बाह्य योगियों के यहाँ भी, शाक्तों के यहाँ भी, ब्रह्माण्ड विषयक या सृष्टि विषयक एक समग्र कल्पना थी। इसलिए वहां भी वेद और लोक का विभाजन था। सरल शब्दों में कहें तो वेद दर्शन था और लोक व्यवहार। वर्णाश्रम और आचार-भ्रष्ट दोनों जगह लोक और वेद थे। लोक व्यवहार विधि-निषेधों के भीतर था। ये विधि-निषेध वर्णाश्रम के भी थे और रहस्यमयी साधनाओं, टोनों-टोटकों और अंधविश्वासों के भी। कबीर अपने समय की इन दोनों परंपराओं की आलोचना करते हैं और उन्हें अस्वीकार करते हैं, इतना तो स्पष्ट है। कबीर वर्णाश्रम की किसी भी रीति-नीति के खिलाफ थे। जाति को नहीं मानते थे। उनके लिए विधि-निषेधों का कोई भी प्रचलित रूप स्वीकार्य नहीं था। दर्शन की किसी भी पुरानी संकल्पना को स्वीकार करने को वह तैयार न थे। वह सृष्टि की सारी प्रचलित व्याख्याओं को नकारते थे और इस प्रकार उनके व्याख्याताओं की आलोचना के लिए हमेशा तैयार दिखते थे। इस अर्थ में कबीर नितांत दर्शन विरोधी थे। धर्म- दर्शनों चाहे वह इस्लाम का हो या हिन्दू, कबीर के लिए महत्वपूर्ण नहीं था। नाभादास ने भक्तमाल में लिखा था “कबीर कानी राखी नहीं वर्णाश्रम षट्दरसनी’। बाह्याचारों का संपूर्ण खंडन-मंडन वह करते ही थे। अवतारवाद और नियतिवाद के घोर विरोधी थे। आकस्मिक चमत्कारों वाले यौगिक देह साधना के बदले वह सत्यान्वेषण की सहज प्रक्रिया की साधना करने पर जोर देते थे। उनके यहाँ निर्गुण राम के प्रति अटूट आस्था दरअस्ल सच के प्रति अटूट आस्था थी। इस आस्था पर आधारित कबीर की साधना के तीन क्षण हैं- पहला गुरु के कारण सत्य के साक्षात्कार का क्षण या ज्ञानोदय का क्षण। कबीर के लिए ‘गुरु’ इसी क्षण का सामान्य नाम (जेनेरिक नेम) है। यह पहला क्षण ‘सहज संयोग’ का क्षण है। कबीर लिखते हैं-

पीछे लगा जाई था, लोक वेद के साथि.
आगै थैं सतगुरु मिल्या, दीपक दीया हाथी ||११||
(कबीर ग्रंथावली, गुरुदेव कौ अंग)

साधना का दूसरा क्षण है प्रेम का क्षण। यहाँ साधक खुद प्रेम का विषयी हो जाता है। तीसरा क्षण ‘बेहद्दी’ का क्षण है- आत्माराम होने का क्षण है। कबीर कहते हैं कि यह सत्य साधना बहुत सांद्र और गंभीर प्रक्रिया है जिसके दौरान लोगों को मतों (ओपिनियन) के जंजाल में नहीं पड़ना चाहिए। अपनी आस्था पर दृढ़ बने रहना चाहिए। आस्था के प्रति आस्था बनाये रखना ही प्रेम की साधना है। मुल्ला, मौलवी, पंडितों, योगियों, शाक्तों, वैष्णवों आदि मतों- आचारों- विचारों की आलोचना करते हैं जब कबीर, तो मतों में उलझते नहीं। वरन् अपनी एक स्पष्ट धारणा सामने रख सारे मतों की निरर्थकता स्पष्ट करते चलते हैं। अन्य संतों की तरह ही राज्यसत्ता से उन्हें कोई लेना-देना नहीं था। ‘संतन को कहाँ सीकरी सो काम’ की भावना के अनुरूप राज्यसत्ता से एक स्पष्ट दूरी का लक्ष्य ही कबीर की कविताओं में हम पाते हैं। कबीर की साधना से बनते चलने वाले समाज की धारणा में कोई रामराज्य नहीं है। राज्य की यूटोपिया से दूर कबीर की यूटोपिया केवल प्रेम का नियम जानती है। परन्तु वह सूर का गोलोक भी नहीं है। कबीर की यह साधना कविता या शब्द की साधना भी थी। दोनों की प्रक्रिया एक थी। वे दोनों साथ-साथ चलते थे। पर एक के बिना दूसरा असंभव था। सद्गुरु प्रेम और सबद दोनों की साधना के लिए ज्ञान का दीपक देता है। वह सबद का तीर भी मारता है और प्रेम की व्याकुलता भी पैदा करता है।

सतगुरु साँचा सूरिवाँ, सबद जु बाह्या एक|
लागत ही मैं मिली गया, पड़या कलेजै छेक ||७||
(कबीर ग्रंथावली, गुरुदेव कौ अंग) और
पासा पकड़या प्रेम का, सारी किया सरीर |
सतगुरु दावा बताईया, खेलै दास कबीर ||३२||
(कबीर ग्रंथावली, गुरुदेव कौ अंग)

यह प्रेम की बाजी है जो खेलने वाले को लूट भी सकती है और उसको उबार भी सकती है। जुए के इस खेल में आस्था को छोड़कर और कोई सहारा नहीं। कबीर के यहाँ यह गुरु सच्चा शूर है। आधुनिक अर्थों में कहें तो वह साधना पथ का सिपाही या मिलिटेंट है। गुरु नाम की मूर्ति में एक सच्चे शूर की छवि अन्तस्थ है। इस प्रकार कबीर की साधना एक सांस्कृतिक रूपांतरण की प्रक्रिया भी है। यह सतगुरु के संगठन की प्रक्रिया भी है।

कबीर की कविता में आगा पीछा खोजना बहुत मुश्किल है। कबीर की कविता सतगुरु की कविता है, सतगुरु होने की सबद साधना की कविता है। अपनी पिछली साधनाओं का उल्लेख कबीर के यहाँ नहीं मिलता। अग्रवाल जी ने केवल इतना संकेत पाया है कि आरंभिक दिनों में कबीर शाक्त साधना में उलझे थे और जिसकी तिक्तता उनके कई पदों में अभिव्यक्त हुई है, बस इतना ही। किम्वदंती है कि काशी के गंगा घाट पर रामानंद से उन्हें रामनाम मिला था। देशी भाषा स्रोतों में इस घटना की सर्वस्वीकृति से यह बात तो तय है कि इस घटना का कबीर के सन्दर्भ में कोई न कोई साधनात्मक महत्त्व रहा होगा। बहुत संभव है कि यह किम्वदंती खुद कबीर ने ही प्रचारित की हो। कबीर की कविता में हम व्यक्तित्वान्तरित कबीर से ही मिलते हैं। व्यक्तित्वान्तरित कबीर का उस ‘रामानंदी घटना’ के प्रति आस्था थी, इस किम्वदंती का सार यही प्रकट होता है। सतगुरु से संयोग की आरंभिक घटना के रूप में कबीर उसी ‘रामानंदी घटना’ का सामान्यीकरण करते प्रतीत होते हैं। सतगुरु से साक्षात्कार और रामनाम से साक्षात्कार एक दूसरे के रूपक हैं। कबीर जो बार बार ‘निर्गुण राम निर्गुण राम’ जपने की सलाह देते हैं, वह उसी आरंभिक साक्षात्कार के सुमिरन के लिए। आस्था सुमिरन कराती है और सुमिरन से आस्था को बल मिलता है। यह आस्था ‘रामनाम के मर्म’ की आस्था है। कबीर के ऐतिहासिक जीवन का पता देने वाले वस्तुगत स्रोत बहुत कम हैं। भक्तमाल की परंपरा में तथा मठों के साहित्य में कबीर का जो परिचय हमें मिलता है वह कबीर की लोक छवि है। कबीर के नाम से प्रचलित पदों में कबीर को ढूंढने का प्रयास कई विद्वानों ने किया है। प्रायः श्यामसुन्दर दास की कबीर ग्रंथावली में संकलित कबीर की रचनाओं को विद्वान उनकी संवेदना के सबसे नजदीक मानते हैं। विद्वान आलोचक प्रो. पुरुषोत्तम अग्रवाल ने भी वैज्ञानिक पाठ निर्धारण के द्वारा कबीर की कविताओं का प्रामाणिक संपादन किया है। उन्होंने सांप्रदायिक कबीर के आवरण को हटाकर कबीर की मूल संवेदना तक पहुँचने की कोशिश की है। इस प्रयास में वह कई बार कबीर के ‘नएपन’ को बनियों के नए सामाजिक वर्ग की संवेदना के रूप में व्याख्यायित करने लगते हैं। कबीर की संवेदना में निहित वह द्वंद्व क्या था जिसने सांस्कृतिक- सामाजिक जीवन में संगठित हस्तक्षेप की जरूरत को संबोधित किया था? कबीर की कविता में आने वाले सतगुरु, सूर, सती,संत, भक्त, साधौ ये सब कौन थे? और कबीर अपनी कविता में बार-बार ऐसा क्या कहते थे कि शुक्ल जी से लेकर वाकणकर तक सभी को नया पंथ, नया धर्म या किसी नई सामाजिकता की अपील उसमें दिखाई पड़ती है। इस द्वंद्व के निराकरण के लिए ही अग्रवाल जी ने ‘धर्मेत्तर अध्यात्म’ की प्रस्तावना भी की है। कबीर की समकालीन प्रसिद्धि से शायद ही किसी को इंकार हो। ऐसा प्रतीत होता है कि कबीर अपने जीवन के अंतिम वर्षों तक आते आते काफी प्रसिद्ध हो गए थे। यह जीवन काल थोड़ा ज्यादा लम्बा भी हो सकता है क्योंकि कबीर की आयु के बारे में किम्वदंतियां बहुत हैं और वह वृद्ध या बूढ़े के रूप में लोकस्वीकृत रहे हैं। ‘आदिग्रंथ’ में कबीर के सबसे पुराने पद संकलित हैं और केवल इसी उदाहरण के आधार पर हम देख सकते हैं कि बूढ़े कबीर की स्वीकृति और सामाजिक – धार्मिक संगठनों के लिए उनका कितना महत्त्व था। इससे उनकी कविता में अन्तर्निहित एक संगठनात्मक शक्ति का पता चलता है।

उनकी हर कविता सामान्य जीवन और संवेदना में हस्तक्षेप की तरह है। वह कभी एकदम सपाटबयानी है तो कभी रूपक। उदेशात्मकता कविता की सपाटबयानी है जहाँ वह सीधे दखलअंदाजी करती है। यह सपाटबयानी इतना ‘रसभंग’ करती है कि शुक्ल जी जैसे आलोचकों को वे ‘कटु उक्तियाँ’ प्रतीत होती हैं। कबीर की अपार व्यंग्य क्षमता को भी लगभग सभी आलोचक स्वीकार करते हैं। कबीर की इस व्यंग्य क्षमता की ओर इशारा भी द्विवेदी जी ने ही किया था। साधना पथ के सहयात्रियों जैसे शाक्तों, वैष्णवों और योगियों को जब वे संबोधित करते हैं तब उनका व्यंग्य सबसे मुखर होता है। लोगों के बीच कबीर के पदों की स्वीकृति कितनी आत्मीय थी इसका पता कबीर की भाषा के विविधवर्णी रूपों में दिखता है जिसे शुक्ल सधुक्कड़ी भाषा मानकर संतोष पाते थे और द्विवेदी जी को कबीर ‘भाषा के डिक्टेटर’ प्रतीत होते थे। लोगों के बीच कबीर के पदों का सामूहिक गान और पाठ धीरे धीरे एक नए तरह की सामाजिकता की प्रस्तावना भी कर रहा था और इसी क्रम में शायद मठों के बनने की प्रक्रिया भी शुरू हो गयी थी। यह असंभव नहीं कि कई छोटे छोटे कबीरमार्गी सामूहिक संगठनों के निर्माण में ही किसी समय जाकर बड़े मठों का अस्तित्व संभव हुआ हो। मठ बनने की प्रक्रिया के कुछ न कुछ सामाजिक निहितार्थ अवश्य थे। कबीर के द्वारा प्रस्तावित इस नई जीवन दृष्टि को सामाजिक संबंधों की नई व्यवस्था के लिए प्रभुत्वशाली सामाजिक विरोध का सामना जरूर करना पड़ा होगा। आश्चर्यजनक रूप से द्विवेदी जी ने इसका संकेत किया था कि कबीर पंथियों को मठ बनाने पर मजबूर करने वाली प्रबल शक्ति स्वयं तुलसीदास की कविता थी। तुलसीदास की कविता का इसमें कितना योगदान था यह पता करना तो असंभव है लेकिन स्वयं सामाजिक व्यवस्था के भीतर श्रेणीगत संबंधों द्वारा बनने वाले शक्ति संबंधों के बीच या दूसरे शब्दों में वर्णाश्रम की जाति व्यवस्था के बीच कबीर की नवीन जीवन दृष्टि स्वीकार्य नहीं हो सकती थी। कबीर की कविता में प्रस्तावित सार्वजनीनता और तथाकथित’ देशज आधुनिकता’ के भीतर विकसित होती ‘व्यपारिक पूँजी’ की सार्वजनीनता की धारणा के बीच आसमान जमीन का भेद है। देशज आधुनिकता की जिस सार्वजनीनता के बारे में अग्रवाल जी बात करते हैं वह वस्तुतः पैसे के रूप में विकसित होती अमूर्त सार्वभौमिकता है। जिस प्रक्रिया में व्यापारिक पूँजी के विस्तार के भीतर से पूँजी का आरंभिक परिपथ ‘माल-पैसा-माल’ से बदलता हुआ ‘पैसा-माल-पैसा (अतिरिक्त)’ हो जाता है, उसी क्रम में पैसा भी सार्वभौमिक समानता के ठोस भ्रम में बदलता जाता है। पैसे की इसी सार्वभौमिकता को पुरुषोत्तम अग्रवाल ‘फेयरप्ले’ की सार्वभौमिकता कहते हैं और कबीर की सार्वभौमिकता को इसी में अंतर्भुक्त करने का प्रयास करते हैं। क्या धनी धर्मदास या और भी अन्यों ने जिन कबीरमठों को बनाया उसमें कबीर की विचारधारा के रूप में इसी पैसे की विचारधारा को प्रचारित किया गया? मठों के खिलाफ कबीर को खोजते खोजते इस प्रकार अग्रवाल जी ‘मठाधीश कबीर’ को ही खोज निकालते हैं! देशज आधुनिकता की यह भी एक विडंबना है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो पैसे की अमूर्त समानता को आगे रखकर कबीर की सार्वभौमिकता को समझने की कोशिश वैसी ही है जैसे व्यापारिक पूँजी के साथ उभरे नए-नए वणिक वर्ग ने अपनी सार्वभौमिकता को समझने के लिए कबीर को समझने की कोशिश की थी। कबीर का निर्गुण राम पैसा नहीं है।

पंथी साहित्य के भीतर धीरे-धीरे कबीर अवतार बनते गए। पंथी साहित्य में चमत्कारों की प्रमुखता बढ़ती गयी। इन पंथी साहित्य के चमत्कार कबीर के ‘अचंभों’ की तरह नहीं थे। ये चमत्कार वैसे चमत्कार थे जिसकी आलोचना कबीर आजीवन करते रहे। पंथी साहित्य में चमत्कार ‘अतिमानव’ के चमत्कार हैं। इन्हीं चमत्कारिक छवियों में कबीर भगवान् हैं। द्विवेदी जी के लिए भी कबीर ‘नरसिंह अवतार’ ही थे। ‘भक्त प्रह्लाद’ की कबीरपंथियों में स्वीकृति का इतिहास डेविड लॉरेंजन ने भी लिखा है। कबीर की किम्वदंतियों से जुड़ा एक सबसे लोकप्रिय चमत्कार उनके पार्थिव शरीर का फूलों में बदल जाना है। कबीर की पंथी छवियों में दुरूह प्रतीकात्मकता, भ्रामक बिम्ब और वैष्णव भगवानों की भूमिका बढ़ती गयी थी। कबीर की पहचानों का काफी घालमेल किया गया था। खुद कबीर को सगुण राम मान लिया गया था। जबकि कबीर के यहाँ राम का कोई चरित नहीं है। केवल राम के नाम के प्रति आस्था है। इसके अलावा उन्हें राम से कुछ लेना देना नहीं, कुछ भी नहीं। कबीर अवतारवाद का संपूर्ण निषेध करते हैं. जबकि पंथी साहित्यों में कबीर अपवाद होकर पूज्य हो जाते हैं, जहाँ उनकी कविताएँ साधना की प्रक्रिया को बनाने के बदले अपवाद होकर जड़ हो जाती हैं। अपवाद होकर अपनी ऊर्जा खो देती हैं। चिंतन या विचार की आतंरिक प्रक्रिया का लोप खुद कबीर से ही विश्वासघात होता है। यह आतंरिक पतन जल्द ही बाहरी पतन के रूप में प्रकट होता है। नए धर्म प्रवर्तक या पंथ निर्माता के रूप में कबीर की छवि की यही ट्रेजेडी है।

साधना के संबंध में कबीर के सामने पहले से दो तरह के विमर्श थे जिसे हम लोक विमर्श और वेद विमर्श कह सकते हैं। वेद विमर्श दार्शनिक पूर्णता का विमर्श था और लोक विमर्श विधि-निषेध और अपवादों का विमर्श था। कबीर कहते हैं कि इन दोनों में कहीं से भी शुरू करें, मुक्ति संभव नहीं है। लोक और वेद विमर्श को हम इस प्रकार समझ सकते हैं। लोक जिसमें शामिल हैं वर्णाश्रम के विधि-निषेध, इस्लाम के विधि-निषेध, इन विधि-निषेधों के एजेंट, वर्णाश्रम की आलोचना करने वाले योगियों, नाथपंथियों, शाक्तों और वैष्णवों का अपना विधि-निषेध; चमत्कार, काया साधना और प्रतीक पूजा आदि। वेद अर्थात् शास्त्र, दर्शन आदि की पूर्णता का विमर्श। लोक विमर्श का आधार वेद विमर्श ही था। ये दोनों ही एक दूसरे के पूरक थे। दोनों ही मानते थे कि मुक्ति प्रकृति में पहले से मौजूद है। या तो पूर्णता पर महारथ हासिल कर लें, ज्ञान के सहारे मुक्ति पा लें या फिर वर्णाश्रम के विधि-निषेधों का पालन करें। इसके अलावा चमत्कारों, देह साधना, कुण्डलिनी जागरण के अपवादों में मुक्ति पा लें। लोक में मुक्ति विधि-निषेधों या चमत्कारों के सहारे संभव थी, वेद में ब्रह्माण्ड के ज्ञान के सहारे। इन दोनों से अलग तीसरा विमर्श कबीर का था जो न वेद की पूर्णता को मानता था और न लोक के विधि-निषेधों को। कबीर के यहाँ ही एक चौथा विमर्श भी आकर ग्रहण करता है। यह था चमत्कार और रहस्यमयी उलटबासियों वाला विमर्श। अचम्भा कबीर को स्वीकृत तो था लेकिन उसे लोक विमर्श जैसा मानना हमारी भूल होगी। कबीर का विमर्श विधि-निषेधों वाले हदों और बेहद की पूर्णता दोनों से परे ‘अगाध मत’ का विमर्श था। कबीर के यहाँ सार्वजनीनता की घोषणा इसी हद और बेहद दोनों में व्याप्त शून्यता के स्वीकार के साथ होती है।

कबीर जब योगियों, शाक्तों या वैष्णवों की आलोचना करते हैं तो वह वस्तुतः वर्णाश्रम के आलोचकों की आलोचना कर रहे होते हैं। यह दुहरी आलोचना ज्ञान की दुहरी आलोचना थी। कबीर के यहाँ पांडे, मौलवी और ब्राह्मणों की आलोचना बड़े बेपरवा अंदाज़ से की गयी है। कबीर ने उन्हें जो भर-भर कर डांट पिलायी है, जो करारा व्यंग्य किया है, सबसे सामान्य तर्कों से ही इन्हें जो दर्पण दिखाया है, वह संभव होता है कबीर के द्वारा ज्ञान की दुहरी आलोचना पद्धति से। लोक और वेद दोनों विमर्शों की निःसारिता कबीर लगातार दिखाते चलते हैं। सारे विधि-निषेधों के मूल में छिपी अतार्किकता को उद्घाटित करते हैं। परन्तु ये वह कबीर हैं जो अपनी शबद साधना के द्वारा व्यक्तित्वान्तरित कवि और सद्गुरु हैं। इसलिए कबीर के अस्वीकार के साहस के पीछे एक ‘स्वीकार’ छिपा है जो आमतौर पर उनके व्यक्तित्व की विशिष्टता में छुपा रह जाता है। कबीर का विमर्श संभव होता है एक साधना प्रक्रिया के भीतर। कबीर की आस्था उस ‘रामानंदी घटना’ में थी जहाँ से उन्हें ‘राम का नाम’ मिला था। गुरु का सामान्य क्षण वह क्षण था जहाँ मुक्ति की तलाश में भटकते व्यक्ति को एक ऐसा अनुभव होता है जो उसकी भटकन को एक नाम दे देता है। व्यक्ति के अपने समूर्ण भावात्मक और ज्ञानात्मक जगत को प्रभावित करने वाली इस घटना का पूरा अर्थ इस साधना की प्रक्रिया में ही मिलता है। साधक के लिए इस क्षण से एक नयी सत्यान्वेषण की प्रक्रिया शुरू हो जाती है। यह घटना कोई अलौकिक या चमत्कारिक घटना इस अर्थ में नहीं थी कि वह संभावना के रूप में स्वयं परिस्थितियों के भीतर ही थी। ‘सहज संयोग’ कबीर के लिए अलौकिक का वास्तविक निषेध था। कविता की रचनाप्रक्रिया के लिहाज से इसे हम सौन्दर्यानुभूति का प्रथम क्षण कह सकते हैं। इन्हीं अर्थों में ‘गुरु’ कोई ऐसा प्रसंग या ऐसी घटना थी जहाँ से एक नई रचना प्रक्रिया या काव्य प्रक्रिया की शुरुआत होती है। कवि कबीर के लिए यह घटना ‘निर्गुण राम’ के रूप में केवल एक ‘नाम’ मात्र है जबकि उनकी हर कविता उस ‘निर्गुण राम’ को बनाती है। यहाँ अभिव्यक्ति पूर्ण न हो पाने का दुख भी है। इस अर्थ में काव्य वेदना भी है। निर्गुण और राम के इस एकीभूत द्वंद्व ‘निर्गुण राम’ की वास्तविकता खुद कबीर की कविता है। पर यह काव्य-विवेक बिना जीवन-विवेक के संभव नहीं था। इसलिए कबीर की साधना दुहरी थी। या कहना चाहिए कि कविता की साधना और जीवन की साधना दोनों प्रक्रिया भी एकीभूत द्वंद्व की ही प्रक्रिया थी। एक नया ‘घर’ बनाने की पीड़ा उनके जीवन-विवेक की पीड़ा थी। यह नया घर क्या था ? यही कबीर के लिए नई सार्वजनीन सामूहिकता का प्रश्न था। इस घर में विधि-निषेधों का कोई नियम नहीं था, पर उसका अपना नियम था। यह नियम प्रेम का था। और इस घर में प्रवेश आसान नहीं था ‘कबीरा यह घर प्रेम का खाला का घर नाहीं’। प्रेम के इस घर का सदस्य होना कोई सहज काम नहीं है। इसलिए कबीर कहते हैं ‘सहज सहज सब कहै सहज न चीन्हें कोय’। राम का नाम तो सब लेते हैं, सब जानते हैं कि राम दशरथ का बेटा है लेकिन मर्म कोई नहीं जानता। कबीर की सारी कविताओं में नाम के प्रति अदम्य आस्था सदा एकरस है। शब्द साधना की शक्ति जीवन साधना की शक्ति थी और जीवन साधना की शक्ति शब्द साधना की। नामवर जी ने ‘कबीर का सच’ नामक अपने लेख में कबीर को अनल पक्षी के रूपक में देखने की कोशिश की है जहाँ इस घर का मतलब बहुत कुछ स्पष्ट तरीके से उभरकर कर सामने आता है। बहेलिया जो विधि-निषेधों के डर से अनल पक्षी को मारने जाता है वह खुद अनल पक्षी में व्यक्तित्वान्तरित हो जाता है। यह अनल पक्षी अपनी राख से स्वयं जिंदा होने वाले फीनिक्स पक्षी के मिथक जैसा ही है।

कबीर न तो ‘रामानंदी घटना’ के भौतिक साक्षी हैं और न ही उनकी आस्था केवल स्मृति मात्र। वर्णाश्रम में छिपी हिंसा के लिए हमें किसी इतिहासकार के साक्ष्य की जरूरत नहीं है। वहां वह कबीर के यहाँ और अभी हमारे भीतर जीवित है, इसलिए किसी इतिहासवादी चेतना और अर्थ की अभिभावक किन्हीं स्मृतियों को राजनीति का स्थानापन्न घोषित नहीं किया जा सकता। वह ‘रामानंदी घटना’ (द्विवेदी रामानंद को आकाशधर्मा गुरु कहकर इसकी प्रकृति का कुछ आभास देते हैं) कबीर के लिए संभव और असंभव के बीच नए संबंध लेकर आयी थी। सामाजिक संबंधों के पूर्ण रूपांतरण की असंभव प्रतीत होती संभाव्यता को लेकर। कबीर के यहाँ यह मृत्यु पर संभावित विजय की तरह ही थी। कबीर की मरजीवा विशिष्टता को लेकर। कबीर अगर मर कर भी जिंदा रहने का दावा करते हैं तो इन्हीं अर्थों में- ‘हम न मरिहैं, मरिहैं संसारा; हमको मिला जियावनहारा’। कबीर को भागवत्, शांडिल्य भक्ति सूत्रों या नारदीय भक्ति की परंपरा का सर्वोच्च प्रतिनिधि घोषित करना संभव नहीं। ‘रामानंदी घटना’ के प्रति आस्था रखते हुए कबीर के अलावा और भी कई संत कवि हुए परन्तु कबीर की रचनाओं का एक विशिष्ट महत्त्व तो है ही।

कबीर की उक्तियों में कम चमत्कार नहीं मिलता। योगियों की साधना के रूपकों को कबीर बखूबी इस्तेमाल कर ले जाते हैं। गगनमंडल में विहार करने और जीभ उलटकर कुंडलिनी जागरण करने का अर्थ भी कई बार समझाने की कोशिश करते हैं। उलटबासियों में प्रचलित अर्थों और रूढ़ हो गयी सौन्दर्याभिरुचियों को कबीर जोर से धक्का भी देते हैं। पर कबीर को किसी चमत्कारिक अलौकिक चीज में विश्वास नहीं है और न ही वे खुद को भविष्यवक्ता ही साबित करना चाहते हैं। कबीर सहज होकर ही सबल हैं। वे बुद्ध की तरह खुद को ‘भगवान्’ घोषित नहीं करते और न ही देवत्व उन्हें स्वीकार था। वह राम की आस्था से बंधे ‘कुतिया’ भी थे और ‘पाछे पाछे हरि फिरे कहत कबीर कबीर’ भी। असाधारणत्व का उनका दावा ‘सहज’ में ही है। केवल मृत्यु के सामने उन्होंने अपने असाधारणत्व की घोषणा की – मरजीवा होने का उनका असाधारणत्व।

कबीर के चौथे विमर्श में वह ‘अकथ कहानी’ है जिसे कहना मुश्किल है। यही गूंगे का गुड़ है जिसे अभिव्यक्त करने में कभी कभी कबीर साधनात्मक रूपकों से लेकर मौन तक की बात करते हैं। यह गूंगे का गुड़ कोई चमत्कारिक अनुभव नहीं है। यह प्रेम की अकथ कहानी है। इस अकथनीय के द्वारा कबीर अपनी आस्था के लिए कभी समर्थन हासिल करना नहीं चाहते। कबीर की निर्गुण राम के प्रति आस्था उनकी ‘अकथ कहानी’ की आनुभविक अद्वितीयता के कारण सही और न्यायसंगत मानने की जरूरत नहीं है। अगर ऐसा किया जाता है तो फिर से हम ‘आकस्मिकता’ या अपवाद के दूसरे विमर्श में ही कबीर को निःशेष कर देंगे। इससे सत्य की सार्वजनीनता और सर्वसंबोधन का उसका गुण रहस्यात्मक साधना में बदल जाएगा। यह चौथा विमर्श मूक संपूरक की तरह अन्य के आनुभविक संसार में बना रहने वाला विमर्श है। कबीर ‘अविगत, अनुपम, अकाल ’ को चमत्कारिक या गुह्य बनाकर अपनी सहज साधना नहीं करते। इसलिए शुक्ल जी जिसे शुद्ध अन्तः प्रज्ञा कहते हैं वह कबीर के लिए ‘गूंगे का गुड़’ के रूप में चौथा विमर्श है और वह इलहामी नहीं है। उनकी कविता योगियों के साधनात्मक रहस्यवाद या फिर सूफियों के हिस्टिरिक प्रेमोन्माद की कविता नहीं है। यह आलोचना का रहस्यवाद है जहाँ वह खुद को अकथनीयता के प्रतीकों और चिह्नों या चमत्कारों के सहारे कबीर को परिभाषित करने की कोशिश करता है। मिलिंद वाकणकर कुछ ऐसा ही प्रयास करते हैं। यह भी विडम्बना है कि जो शुक्ल जी के लिए कबीर का सबसे बड़ा दुर्गुण था वह वाकणकर के लिए उनकी सबसे बड़ी विशेषता बन गया।

वाकणकर कहते हैं कि कबीर से आज के दलित आन्दोलन को दो चीजें उपहार में मिली हैं। एक चमत्कार और दूसरी हिंसा। वाकणकर कबीर के नाम के सहारे लगातार बनते रहने वाली कविताओं का सामाजिक इतिहास लिखने का प्रयास करते हैं। ‘कहत कबीर’ किस प्रकार कबीर से अपना रिश्ता प्रकट करने वाली एक टेकनीक बन गयी थी और मठों के भीतर या बाहर भी लगातार दलित सामूहिकता को संगठित करती रही थी, उसे समझने की कोशिश। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो मठों के भीतर कबीरपंथियों में और दलित आन्दोलन में काम करने वाली धार्मिक भावनाओं की राजनीतिक परीक्षा के उद्देश्य से यह पुस्तक लिखी गयी है। वाकणकर ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की प्रभुत्वशाली इतिहासदृष्टि या कहें कि वैष्णव कबीर के रूप में कबीर को देखने की इतिहासदृष्टि की उल्टी धारा में जाकर यह देखने का प्रयास करते हैं कि ऐतिहासिक धर्मों में कबीर का एप्रोप्रिएशन या पुनर्प्रस्तुति के ठीक पहले वह क्या था जिसने किसी दलित को इतना सशक्त बनाया कि वह ‘कहत कबीर’ के नाम से अपनी कविता करता है। वाकणकर वर्तमान सभी धर्मों को ऐतिहासिक धर्म ही मानते हैं। कबीर के सहारे वह इन ऐतिहासिक धर्मों का एक प्राक् इतिहास लिखने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं जहाँ ईश्वर के जन्म से पहले अर्थात् ऐतिहासिक धर्म बनने के ठीक पहले ‘ईश्वर के आने की ख़बर’ में छुपी चमत्कार की तात्कालिकता एक निम्नवर्गीय सामूहिकता को संगठित कर लेती है। वाकणकर दलित आन्दोलन की अम्बेडकरवादी धारा की आलोचना करते हैं। और इस धारा की दो प्रवृत्तियां हैं। एक प्रवृत्ति दलित धर्म की तलाश करती है जो कभी बौद्ध धर्म में तो कभी कबीर धर्म में प्रकट होती है। दूसरी ओर कैसे दलित आन्दोलनों के अन्दर से उभरी प्रतिनिधित्व या रिप्रेजेंटेशन की राजनीति वस्तुतः चुनावी जोड़ तोड़ की राजनीति में बदल जाती है। वाकणकर के अनुसार ऐतिहासिक धर्मों का इतिहास जिन घटनाओं के इर्द गिर्द शुरू होता है, उस घटना को संभव करने वाली निम्नवर्गीय चेतना के भीतर जो एक स्वतः स्फूर्त क्षमता होती है, वह उन्हीं को दमित करके आगे बढ़ता है। वह धर्मों का एक संपूर्ण इतिहास है जबकि विधर्मी या अपधर्मी परंपरा के इतिहास को कभी भी ऐतिहासिक धर्म की पूर्णता के मॉडल में देखना संभव नहीं है। भक्ति को धार्मिक विचारधारा कहने से हम केवल प्रभुत्वशाली वैष्णव धारा का ही इतिहास समझ सकते हैं। परन्तु जिस ‘घटना’ के आलोक में वैष्णव धर्म लोकप्रिय धार्मिक विचारधारा में रूपांतरित होता है अर्थात् निम्नवर्गीय दलित सामूहिकता की जिस विधर्मी परंपरा में नया क्षण कबीर लेकर आते हैं, उस धुंधले क्षण का इतिहास वाकणकर लिखने की कोशिश करते हैं। मूल कवि और उसके अनुयायी दलित कवि अर्थात् ‘हस्ताक्षर’ और ‘प्रतिहस्ताक्षर’ के द्वारा कबीर कैसे नया सन्दर्भ ग्रहण करते चलते हैं, उसका इतिहास। दूसरे शब्दों में, मूल कवि के प्रति सच्ची श्रद्धा और कृतज्ञतावश जब कोई दलित कवि अपनी कविता पर कबीर की मुहर लगाता है तो लगभग वही कर रहा होता है जिसे हम ‘भक्ति’ कहते हैं। पर वाकणकर इसे ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की तरह नहीं मानते जहाँ कबीर भगवान् हो जाते हैं। डा. धर्मवीर के ‘कबीर भगवान्’ और ‘दलित धर्म’ की चर्चा के सन्दर्भ में वाकणकर उसी प्रक्रिया का दुहराव देखते हैं। दलित अपधर्मी परंपरा वस्तुतः जब ‘दलित सशक्तिकरण’ के रूप में पुनर्प्रस्तुत होती है तो वह प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा ही हो जाती है। डा. धर्मवीर के भीतर जो अपधर्मी, निम्नवर्गीय स्वाभाविकता है, उसे तो वाकणकर स्वीकार करते हैं परंतु ऐतिहासिक धर्म के मॉडल से बाहर न निकल पाने की आलोचना भी करते हैं। इसलिए वाकणकर के अनुसार डा. धर्मवीर द्विवेदी जी के ‘ब्राह्मणवादी’ मॉडल की आलोचना करते हुए भी ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा में ही अंतर्भुक्त हो गए। ठीक उसी तरह, जब दलित आन्दोलन आंबेडकरवादी इतिहासदृष्टि में अंतर्भुक्त हो जाता है तो आन्दोलन में अन्तर्निहित दलित सामूहिकता या ‘दलित, मुस्लिम, आदिवासी’ सामूहिकता का प्रश्न प्रतिनिधिमूलक राजनीति में विकृत होकर स्वयं प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा बन जाती है। वाकणकर कहते है कि ‘दलित, आदिवासी, मुस्लिम’ जीवन में रोजमर्रा की हिंसा और मृत्यु की अनवरत उपस्थिति ने उनकी स्मृतियों में सामाजिकता की एक पूर्णतः भिन्न छवि संजोये रखी है। यह किसी आन्दोलन की आकस्मिकता के बीच अचानक से पुनर्संयोजित होकर आन्दोलन के सामाजिक चरित्र का निर्माण करती है। दिक्कत उसको प्रतिनिधित्व देने वाली प्रक्रिया में आती है जहाँ पहले से ही प्रभुत्वशाली धार्मिक या राष्ट्रीय या कोई अन्य विचारधारा एप्रोप्रिएशन के लिए तैयार है। इस प्रक्रिया को वाकणकर ‘राजनीतिक समाज’ (पोलिटिकल सोसाइटी) के निर्माण की प्रक्रिया कहते हैं। ‘नागरिक समाज’ की मध्यस्थता के चलते दलित समुदायों और राज्य के बीच सीधा राजनीतिक संवाद नहीं बन पाता है। उनका कहना है कि पार्था चटर्जी आदि के द्वारा प्रस्तावित इस ‘’राजनीतिक समाज’ के लिए जरूरी है कि दलित आन्दोलन को इस प्राक् इतिहास में अन्तर्निहित सम्भावना की ओर लगातार ध्यान दिलाते रहा जाये।

वाकणकर कहते हैं कि यह कहना महज ढिठाई होगी कि भक्ति के इतिहास को इस नए इतिहास से बदल दिया जा सकता है। वस्तुतः यह केवल उसका पूरक हो सकता है। पूरक अतिरेक के अर्थ में। कबीर आदि संतों की शब्दावली देशी भाषाओं में लिखे गए मार्गी या उच्च परंपरा के ही हैं। अर्थात् शास्त्रीय या अभिजन धर्मों की संकल्पनाओं वाली शब्दावली है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो, ‘ईश्वर के आने की खबर’ अवतारवादी उच्च परंपरा की शास्त्रीय शब्दावली में ही प्रस्तुत विधर्मी परंपरा है। इसलिए एक तरह से सब कुछ समावित और गहरे अर्थों में समस्यामूलक ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के भीतर ही है पर उसकी सीमा पर स्थित यह विधर्मी अतिरेक हमारे अपने सिद्धांतों की सीमा को स्पष्ट करती है और वाकणकर की कोशिश इसके विश्लेषण में ही है। वाकणकर के अनुसार कबीर के लिए ‘निर्गुण राम’ सगुण होने के पहले की अच्छाई का चिह्न है।[2] इस आधार पर विधर्मी परंपरा के भीतर कबीर का महत्वपूर्ण क्षण जिसे वाकणकर ‘ब्रेक थ्रू’ कहते हैं, भावात्मक धर्म के रूप में भक्ति की समझदारी का भी नया क्षण है। अमूर्तन की इस कोशिश के बारे में वे लिखते हैं, “यह कहा जा सकता है कि धर्मद्रोह यहाँ पूरी तरीके से तैयार था कि वह अतीत में विचारों के परंपरा-पूर्व रूपों में अन्तर्निहित मूलगामी अनुभववाद की धारणा को अपनी यह बात कहने के लिए पलट देता- लेकिन इस बिंदु के साथ यह खुद को भी बहुत अमूर्त कर लेता है, नाटकीय तरीके से, कुछ क्षण के लिए भावात्मक पूजा की उच्च परंपरा से।”[3] विधर्मी परंपरा के भीतर कबीर का यह क्षण भावात्मिका धर्म के रूप में भक्ति को या भाव भक्ति को अमूर्त समझता है। परन्तु इस अमूर्तता को बताने के क्रम में उनका मूलगामी अनुभववाद स्वयं नाटकीय तरीके से अमूर्त हो जाता है। वाकणकर इसी बिंदु पर निम्नवर्गीय चित्तवृत्ति (वाकणकर इसे माइंडसेट या माइंड इंप्रिंट कहते हैं) में अन्तर्निहित एक विशिष्ट संदेहवाद (एस्केप्टीसिज्म) का पता पाते हैं। कहने का अर्थ यह चित्तवृत्ति भावभक्ति की परंपरा में शामिल परंपरा-पूर्व जो विधर्मी मूल अनुभववाद है, उसको स्वीकार करते हुए कह सकते हैं कि भक्ति की परंपरा को स्वीकार करता है, लेकिन ऐन इसी मौके पर परंपरावाद से अपने को तोड़कर अलग भी कर लेता है। दूसरे शब्दों में, ऐतिहासिक धर्म के रूप में भावभक्ति की उत्तर-परंपरा जिस पूर्व-परंपरा का परंपरावादी रूपांतरण था उसके भीतर निहित प्रबल अनुभववाद को तो यह स्वीकार करता है, लेकिन वैष्णव धर्म की उत्तर-परंपरा को ठीक उसी समय अस्वीकार भी कर देता है। ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि परंपरा के पूर्व और उत्तर पक्षों के बीच रिश्ते को लेकर वाकणकर यहाँ द्विवेदी जी से किंचिंत भिन्न दृष्टि प्रकट कर रहे हैं। वाकणकर परंपरा के पूर्व-पक्ष की एकांतिकता के आकस्मिक नाटकीय क्षणों को जब पकड़ने की कोशिश करते हैं तब वह लगभग द्विवेदी जी की तरह ही परंपरा को देख रहे होते हैं।इसी अर्थ में “कबीरदास की वाणी वह लता है जो योग के क्षेत्र में भक्ति का बीज पड़ने से अंकुरित हुई थी। उन दिनों उत्तर के हठयोगियों और दक्षिण के भक्तों में मौलिक अंतर था। एक टूट जाता था पर झुकता न था, दूसरा झुक जाता था पर टूटता न था।”[4]

मध्यकालीन संवेदनाओं का चरित्र और आधुनिकता की हमारी संवेदना में भिन्नता और दुहराव को वाकणकर व्याख्यायित करना चाहते है। ‘मध्यकालीन बोध का स्वरूप’ समझने के क्रम में द्विवेदी जी भी उस मध्यकाल को समझना चाहते थे जिसके गर्भ से हमारी आधुनिक संवेदनाओं का निर्माण हुआ है। जिस अर्थ में मुक्तिबोध को कबीर आदि संत कवि ज्यादा आधुनिक लगते हैं, उसी अर्थ में। कबीर आदि की संवेदना और आधुनिकता की हमारी संवेदना में भिन्नता को वाकणकर इस दलित चित्तवृत्ति के सहारे समझने की कोशिश भी करते हैं। उनके अनुसार दलित आंदोलनों में छिपी यह दलित चित्तवृत्ति आधुनिकता की परंपरा से अर्थात् ज्ञानोदय की परंपरा से अपनी प्रेरणा नहीं लेती। यह प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा है। इसीलिए यह चित्तवृत्ति अतीत से चली आती पूर्व परंपरा या प्राक् इतिहास में अन्तर्निहित संवेदना से अपनी प्रेरणा पाती है। कबीर के यहाँ ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ प्राक् इतिहास में अन्तर्निहित एक कोमलता (टेंडरनेस) के सहारे बनने वाली सामूहिकता की संवेदना है और उसकी स्मृति है। यह संवेदना मृत्यु शोकगीत की संवेदना है। द्विवेदी जी के कबीर वाकणकर के लिए केवल व्यक्तिगत रूमानियत के कवि हैं। जबकि दलित चित्तवृत्ति का अपधर्मी स्वरूप न केवल अतीत को पुनर्परिभाषित करता है बल्कि ऐसा करते हुए वह अतीत को परंपरा का चिह्न न बनाकर आधुनिक या आधुनिक-पूर्व के प्राक् इतिहास के रूप में परिभाषित करता है और इस प्रकार यह ‘भाषा सत्ता और ईश्वर’ के संबंधों की व्याख्या के लिए एक नए दार्शनिक आधार की मांग भी करता है।

कहना न होगा कि इसके लिये नया दार्शनिक आधार दरअस्ल ‘इतिहास-२’ का दर्शन है। ‘इतिहास-२’ का यह दर्शन ‘निम्नवर्गीय प्रसंगों’ के विद्वान् दीपेश चक्रवर्ती के द्वारा तैयार करने की कोशिश की गयी है। ‘इतिहास-२’ उस परंपरा को पहचानने की बात करता है जो पूँजी के द्वारा निर्मित इतिहास से पहले और उससे बाहर है और उसका चरित्र एकान्तिक है। यह इतिहास पूँजी का पूर्व इतिहास नहीं है। वाकणकर पूँजी या आधुनिकता के प्राक् इतिहास के रूप में एक ऐसे ही इतिहास-२ की बात कर रहे हैं जो ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के उदय के ऐन पहले की विधर्मी परंपरा है और उसकी एकांतिकता में ही दलित चित्तवृत्ति या दलित आधुनिकता की संवेदना के सूत्र मौजूद हैं। धर्म का दूसरा इतिहास मूलतः धर्म के उदय के ठीक पहले धर्म की जरूरत की परंपरा है जो धर्म के खिलाफ या विधर्मी चेतना की सामाजिकता को अपने अन्दर लिए रहता है। यह संवेदना उनके प्रबल अनुभववाद में ठोस रूप से अभिव्यक्त होती है। मृत्यु शोकगीत की संवेदना दलित चित्तवृत्ति की एकान्तिक संवेदना है। इसलिए कबीर आदि संत कवि की संवेदना मूलतः दलित संवेदना है। इसलिए उनके अनुसार ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ कबीर के द्वारा ‘केवल और केवल दलितों’ को दिया गया उपहार है। कबीर का निर्गुण राम मूलतः इस प्रबल अनुभववाद की संवेदना का नाटकीय अमूर्तन है। इस अमूर्तन को दलित चित्तवृत्ति के भीतर प्रभुत्वशाली सामाजिक व्यवस्था द्वारा की जाने वाली हिंसा और उससे उपजे मृत्यु शोकगीत के चमत्कार से बनने वाली सामूहिकता इन दोनों के साथ देखा जाना चाहिए।

इस चित्तवृत्ति के बाहर से कबीर को देखने पर मसलन, जैसा कि द्विवेदी जी देखते हैं, हम केवल प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा पर इसकी निर्भरता ही लक्षित कर पाते हैं। जबकि दलित चित्तवृत्ति के भीतर से देखने पर इस ‘मौलिक संदेहवाद’ का मूलगामी स्वरूप स्पष्ट होता है और जो पूरी पुरानी परंपरा को ही प्रश्नविद्ध कर देता है। इस प्रकार वाकणकर कहते हैं कि अनुभववाद के मूलगामी रूपों की सहायता से ही परंपरागत धारणाओं और सैद्धांतिक लक्ष्यों को ठेलकर उनकी आतंरिक सीमायें स्पष्ट की जा सकती हैं। ‘विश्व इतिहास की सीमा’ पर जाकर कुछ समय पहले रणजीत गुहा भी ऐसी ही एक परंपरा उपनिषदों और रवीन्द्रनाथ की साहित्यिक रचनाओं में ढूंढने की कोशिश कर रहे थे।[5] इस प्रयास का महत्त्व वाकणकर संकल्पना या धारणा या सिद्धांत निर्माण के ठीक पहले की वस्तुमत्ता के आग्रह में देखते हैं। यहाँ अतीत में जाना किसी खो गए अतीत की भावना नहीं प्रकट करता। यहाँ हम अतीत में कुछ पाने के लिए जाते हैं। नई दलित चेतना कबीर के पास जाती है तो इसलिए कि विधर्मी परंपरा के भीतर से प्रचलित धारणाओं और सिद्धांतों की सीमा पहचान सके और मूलगामी अनुभववाद में छिपी नई संभावनाओं का पता पा सके। वह अतीत में केवल इसलिए नहीं जाता कि उसे विधर्मी परंपरा का कोई नया सिद्धांत गढ़ना है। निम्न जातियों के समुदाय का भगवान् जो कि कबीर के राम के रूप में सामने आता है वह “वास्तव में उत्पत्तिमूलक (पूर्णता) प्राचुर्य या बाहुल्य का ठोस ईश्वर है, पूरे का पूरा (होलनेस ऑफ़ द होल) देवता है। यह केवल भावात्मक धर्म या भक्ति के दृष्टिकोण से देखने पर ही छुपा हुआ मालूम होता है। और यही कारण है कि हमें देवत्व की परिभाषा स्वयं इस उत्पत्तिमूलक संदेहवाद की तरह करना चाहिए जो ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के उदय के पूर्व के देवत्व के विचार की तरफ लौटना चाहता है”।[6] इस प्रकार वाकणकर ‘देवत्व’ की एक ऐसी ही आदिम धारणा की ओर लौटने वाली दलित चित्तवृत्ति का इतिहास लिखना चाहते हैं। वह वस्तुतः ‘प्रतिस्मृति’ (काउन्टर मेमोरी) का इतिहास है। कोशिश वस्तुतः वही है जिसे बेंजामिन इतिहास को उलटे रंदे से छीलकर निकालना कहते थे। पर यहाँ यह ठीक बेंजामिन के प्रयासों की तरह नहीं है।

बेंजामिन के यहाँ ‘ईश्वर के आने की खबर’ वाकणकर के अर्थों में विधर्मी परंपरा नहीं थी। वहां मसीहाई देवत्व की संकल्पना और इतिहासवाद की आलोचना ऐतिहासिक धर्मों के पूर्ण और वास्तविक निषेध में है। वहां एक परम शुरुआत की केन्द्रीयता है। बेंजामिन लिखते हैं “केवल मसीहा स्वयं सभी इतिहास का निष्पादन करता है, इस अर्थ में कि वही अकेले मसीहाई (मेसियानिक) से अपने संबंधों का उद्धार, समापन और निर्माण करता है। यही कारण है कि कुछ भी ऐतिहासिक अपने बल पर किसी मसीहाई से संबंध नहीं जोड़ सकता। इसलिए ईश्वर का राज्य ऐतिहासिक गतिकी का कोई उद्देश्य (टिलोस) नहीं है; इसे लक्ष्य नहीं रखा जा सकता। इतिहास के दृष्टिकोण से यह लक्ष्य नहीं अंत है।”[7] मसीहाई देवत्व और इतिहासवाद के संबंध को आगे चलकर बेंजामिन ने अपनी थीसिस ‘ऑन द फिलोसोफी ऑफ़ हिस्ट्री’ में और भी स्पष्ट करते हुए लिखा “अतीत के ऐतिहासिक निरूपण का मतलब यह नहीं है कि इसे ‘जैसा यह वास्तव में था’ उसकी तरह पहचाना जाये। इसका मतलब है संकट के किसी क्षण में कौंधने वाली किसी स्मृति का विनियोजन। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद अतीत का वह बिंब (इमेज) पाना चाहता है जो ऐतिहासिक कर्त्ता के सामने आशातीत रूप से प्रकट हो, संकट के किसी क्षण में। संकट परंपरा की अंतर्वस्तु और उसके उत्तराधिकारियों दोनों को भयभीत करता है। दोनों के लिए वह एक ही है : शासक वर्गों का हथियार बन जाने का संकट। हर दौर को अनिवार्यतः नया संघर्ष करना होता है ताकि परंपरा को पुष्टिवाद (कांफोर्मिज्म) से दूर किया जाये जो इसे लील जाने के लिए काम करता रहता है। मसीहा केवल उद्धारक के रूप में नहीं आता; वह प्रति-ईसा (एंटीक्राइस्ट) के ऊपर विजेता की तरह आता है। केवल वही इतिहासकार अतीत में आशा की चिंगारी भड़काने के सक्षम है जो दृढ़ता से स्वीकार करता है कि अगर दुश्मन जीतता है तो यहाँ तक कि मृतक भी सुरक्षित नहीं है। और यह दुश्मन अभी तक पराजित नहीं हुआ है।”[8] (थीसिस VI)।

बेंजामिन के लिए परंपरा का मतलब है शोषितों की परंपरा। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो बेंजामिन के लिए इतिहास और परंपरा का प्रश्न अनिवार्यतः मजदूर वर्ग के रूप में ऐतिहासिक कर्ता के संगठन या ‘मसीहाई’ संगठन का प्रश्न था। इस परंपरा के लिए संकट का समय क्या है? और संकट के समय ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद क्या पाना चाहता है? संकट का समय वह समय है जहाँ शोषितों की परंपरा की अंतर्वस्तु और उसके वारिस दोनों के सामने शोषकों का हथियार बन जाने की संभावना स्पष्ट हो जाती है। कैसे मजदूर वर्ग की परंपरा और उसकी इतिहासदृष्टि मजदूर वर्ग के खिलाफ शोषकों का हथियार बन जाती है, इसकी आलोचना करते हुए बेंजामिन सामाजिक जनवाद की प्रवृत्ति की आलोचना कर रहे थे। मजदूर वर्ग की राजनीति के भीतर से ही फासिज्म की प्रवृत्ति का उभार एक ऐसी परिघटना थी जिसके सामने क्रान्तिकारी मार्क्सवाद की चेतना वर्तमान में ठिठक गयी थी। बेंजामिन इस ठिठकी हुई चेतना के भीतर इतिहास और परंपरा का एक द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब पाना चाहते हैं। क्ली की पेंटिंग ‘नोवस एंजलस’ के फरिश्ते को बेंजामिन इतिहास के फ़रिश्ते के रूप में प्रस्तुत करते हैं। यह पेंटिंग बेंजामिन के द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब का एक उदाहरण है। पेंटिंग में एक फ़रिश्ता है जिसकी आँखें किसी चीज को घूर रही हैं, उसका मुंह खुला है, उसके डैने फैले हैं। उसका मुख अतीत की तरफ है, जहाँ हम घटनाओं की एक श्रृंखला देखते हैं, वह फ़रिश्ता किसी एक विध्वंस/कैटास्ट्राफ़ को देखता है। कैटास्ट्राफ़ के साथ अतीत का मलबा लगातार उसके पैरों के सामने जमा होता जा रहा है। मलबे का यह ढेर आसमान इतना ऊँचा होता जा रहा है। वह फ़रिश्ता रूककर अतीत के मुर्दों को जगाना चाहता है और अतीत को फिर से पूरा खड़ा करना चाहता है। वह अतीत का पुनर्निर्माण करना चाहता है, पर एक आंधी स्वर्ग से चल रही है जो उसके डैनों में उलझ गयी है। उसके डैने फैले हैं और वह उन्हें बंद नहीं कर पा रहा। फ़रिश्ते की पीठ के पीछे भविष्य है जिस ओर यह आंधी उसे ठेले लिए जा रही है। बेंजामिन कहते हैं कि यह आंधी ही ‘प्रगति’ (प्रोग्रेस) है।

इतिहास का यह फ़रिश्ता सद्यःकाल (नाउ टाइम) या अभी से भरे समय में खड़ा है। अतीत में अन्य घटनाएँ भी कैटास्ट्राफ़ हैं पर वह अकेले एक कैटास्ट्राफ़ को देखता है। यह कैटास्ट्राफ़ अतीत में ही नहीं है ऐन इस वक़्त भी है। फ़रिश्ते की आँख उसे ही घूर रही है। यह ऐतिहासिक काल है और यह फ़रिश्ता स्वयं मसीहा नहीं हो सकता। बेंजामिन के लिए यह सद्यःकाल ऐतिहासिक काल और मसीहाई काल की असमरूपता (एसिमेट्री) को धारण करता है। अतीत का विध्वंस लगातार जारी है। फ़रिश्ते के सामने संकट है कि वह न तो ठहरकर अतीत को जिंदा कर पा रहा है और न ही स्वर्ग से चलने वाली आंधी से खुद को बचा पा रहा है। वह खाली समांगी समय (एम्प्टी होमोजेनस टाइम) में या प्रगति की ओर उन्मुख होकर आंधी के साथ उड़ नहीं सकता। इतिहास इसी सद्यःकाल से भरे समय में है।

बेंजामिन के इस सद्यःकाल को और करीब से समझने की कोशिश करते हैं। यह सद्यःकाल वर्ग संघर्ष की जगह है। शोषितों की परंपरा और शोषकों की परंपरा का निर्धारण इसी सद्यःकाल के संघर्ष पर निर्भर है। यह दो इतिहासदृष्टियों के संघर्ष से बनता हुआ सद्यःकाल का इतिहास है। परंपरागत इतिहासदृष्टि इतिहास को वह जैसा था वैसा प्राप्त करना चाहती है। इस प्रक्रिया में इतिहास एक बंद, समांगी, एक रेखीय, निश्चित अर्थों से युक्त, घटनओं का क्रमबद्ध और अनवरत गतिशील इतिहास होता है जिसका परिणाम आज के विजेताओं को इतिहास में उनकी विजयी जगह सुस्थिर करता है। यह विजेताओं की पूर्वनिर्धारित इतिहासदृष्टि है। यहाँ इतिहास प्रगति के अनुक्रम की एक बंद निरंतरता है जो आज पूंजी के नियंत्रण के रूप में हमारी आँखों के सामने है। यह इतिहास में पराजितों के बारे में सोचना नहीं चाहता क्योंकि ‘जो वास्तव में हुआ’ उसकी निरंतरता पाने के लिए पराजितों को पुनः पराजित करना जरूरी है। जहाँ परंपरागत इतिहास अतीत की महिमाशाली सांस्कृतिक समृद्धि और महान् उपलब्धियों का एक ‘सकारात्मक इतिहास’ लिखता है, वहीं एक ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी ‘एक सचेत तटस्थता के साथ उसे देखने की कोशिश करता है’। बेंजामिन अपनी सातवीं थीसिस में लिखते हैं कि ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी किसी भी सांस्कृतिक उपलब्धि के बारे में चिंतन करते हुए यह स्पष्ट देखता है कि उस महान् उपलब्धि के मूल में भयानक बर्बरता छिपी है। वह चिंतन में उस भयावहता को झेले बिना उन महान् उपलब्धियों के बारे में सोच भी नहीं सकता। ये महान् सांस्कृतिक उपलब्धियां केवल कुछ तेज दिमाग और महान् प्रतिभाशाली व्यक्तियों के प्रयास से ही नहीं बल्कि उनके समकालीनों के अनजाने श्रम से भी बनी है। “सभ्यता का कोई भी दस्तावेज ऐसा नहीं जो एक ही साथ बर्बरता का भी दस्तावेज न हो”। (थीसिस VII) जो पराजित हो गए, जिन्हें इतिहास के पन्नों से मिटा दिया गया उनकी परंपरा ने अभी भी मुक्ति के लिए अपना अतीत खुला छोड़ रखा है। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद उस अतीत का विनियोजन चाहता है जो अपनी पराजय और अपने नाश में भी भविष्य का कोई न कोई आयाम छुपाये रखता है। “अतीत अपने साथ ऐसा काल मापक लिए रहता है जिससे वह उद्धार का सन्दर्भ पाता है… पुरानी पीढ़ियों और नई पीढ़ी के बीच एक गुप्त समझौता होता है। हमारा संसार में आना प्रत्याशित था।” (थीसिस II) पुरानी पीढ़ियों के प्रयासों में छुपे भविष्य का आयाम या भविष्य का नक्शा हमारी पीढ़ी के क्रान्तिकारी प्रयासों का भवितव्य भी है जो दुहराव के माध्यम से अतीत का पूर्वप्रभाव से उद्धार करता है। यह क्रान्तिकारी प्रयास अभी इसी समय जब हम इतिहास लिख रहे हैं तब भी हो रहा है।

मार्क्स अपनी ‘लुई बोनापार्ट की अठारहवीं ब्रूमेर’ में इतिहास के दुहराव को नोटिस करते हुए उस दुहराव में हीगेलीय द्वंद्वात्मकता की आलोचना करते हैं। मार्क्स इस दुहराव के दो आयामों की चर्चा करते हैं। ‘पहले त्रासदी के रूप में, फिर प्रहसन के रूप में’। यह प्रहसन इतिहास के रंगमंच पर तब स्पष्ट होता है जब हम अपने आसपास की चीजों को बदलने की कोशिश में होते हैं। मार्क्स लिखते हैं, “मानवजन अपना इतिहास स्वयं बनाते हैं, पर अपने मनचाहे ढंग से नहीं। वे उसे अपनी मनचाही परिस्थितियों में नहीं, अपितु ऐसी परिस्थितियों में बनाते हैं जो उन्हें अतीत से प्राप्त और अतीत द्वारा संप्रेषित होती हैं और जिनका उन्हें सीधे सीधे सामना करना पड़ता है। सभी मृत पीढ़ियों की परंपरा जीवित मानव के मष्तिष्क पर एक दुःस्वप्न के समान सवार रहती है। और ठीक ऐसे समय, जब ऐसा लगता है कि वे अपने को तथा अपने इर्द-गिर्द की सभी चीजों को क्रान्तिकारी रूप से बदल रहे हैं और किसी ऐसी वस्तु का सृजन कर रहे हैं जिसका आज तक अस्तित्व न था, क्रान्तिकारी संकट के ठीक ऐसे अवसरों पर वे अतीत के प्रेतों को अपनी सेवा के लिए उत्कंठापूर्वक बुलावा दे बैठते हैं और उनसे अतीत के नाम, अतीत के रणनाद और अतीत के परिधान मांगते हैं ताकि विश्व इतिहास की नवीन रंगभूमि को इस चिरप्रतिष्ठापित वेश में और इस मंगनी की भाषा में सजाकर पेश करें।”[9] अतीत के दुःस्वप्नों से भरा सद्यःकाल या क्रान्तिकारी संकट का काल अतीत में छुपे अपने क्रान्तिकारी प्रयास के भविष्य को पाने की कोशिश में भविष्य के बदले अतीत के प्रेतों को अपनी सेवा के लिए बुला लेता है। क्रांतिकारी व्यवहारों में अन्तर्निहित इस अंतर्विरोध को लक्ष्य करते हुए बेंजामिन ने लिखा, “इतिहास निर्माण का विषय है जिसका निर्माणस्थल समांगी, खाली समय नहीं बल्कि सद्यःकाल से भरा समय है। इस तरह रॉबसपियरे के लिए प्राचीन रोम सद्यःकाल से भरा अतीत था, वह अतीत जिसे उसने इतिहास के नैरन्तर्य से फोड़कर निकाला था। फ़्रांस की क्रांति ने खुद को रोम का पुनरावतार मान लिया। इसने रोम को ऐसे उद्धृत किया जैसे फैशन किसी परिधान के पुराने तरीकों को उद्धृत करता है। फैशन की नाक प्रासंगिकता को तुरंत सूंघ लेती है, बिना इस बात की परवाह किये हुए कि लम्बे अतीत के झुरमुट में कहाँ उसने अपनी नाक घुसेड़ दी है। यह अतीत में शेर की छलांग की तरह है। परंतु जिस रणक्षेत्र में यह छलांग ली जाती है वहां केवल शासक वर्ग की आज्ञा चलती है। यही छलांग जब इतिहास की उन्मुक्त वायु में भरा जाता है तो यह द्वंद्वात्मक छलांग होती है जिसे मार्क्स क्रांति की तरह समझते हैं।” (थीसिस XIV) मार्क्स के लिए यह द्वंद्वात्मक छलांग सद्यःकाल में भविष्य का हस्तक्षेप है। पूंजीवादी क्रांति अपनी नवीन अंतर्वस्तु के लिए अतीत में जो छलांग भरती है वहाँ अतीत के प्रेत आकर उसका गौरवगान करते हैं। इस क्रांति के रहनुमाओं को स्वयं के लिए विगत इतिहास की स्मृतियाँ चाहिये थीं। मार्क्स लिखते हैं, “उन्नीसवीं शताब्दी की सामाजिक क्रांति अतीत से नहीं बल्कि भविष्य से ही प्रेरणा प्राप्त कर सकती है। वह उस समय तक अपना समारंभ नहीं कर सकती जबतक अतीत संबंधी अपने सभी मूढ़ विश्वासों को दूर न कर ले। पहले की क्रांतियों को खुद अपनी अंतर्वस्तु के संबंध में अपने को मदहोश करने के लिए विगत विश्व इतिहास की स्मृतियों की आवश्यकता पड़ती थी।उन्नीसवीं शताब्दी की क्रांति के लिए जरूरी है कि अपनी अंतर्वस्तु प्राप्त करने के लिए जो बीत गया है उसे भुला दें। पहली क्रांतियों के नारे उनकी अंतर्वस्तु से आगे निकल गए थे; यहाँ अंतर्वस्तु नारों से आगे निकल जाती है।”[10] ध्यान देना चाहिए कि बीत गए स्मृतियों को भुलाने का अर्थ स्मृतियों का निषेध नहीं बल्कि अतीत की स्मृतियों में मृत को भुलाना है स्मृतियों में छुपे भविष्य को भुलाना नहीं क्योंकि विजेताओं के इतिहास में मृत भी खतरे से बाहर नहीं हैं।

इतिहास की विकासवादी व्याख्या और ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद के बीच आधारभूत असमरूपता इसी ‘छलांग’ की असमरूपता है। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद के लिए वर्तमान कोई संक्रमण नहीं बल्कि ‘एक ठिठका हुआ काल’ है। यह वही काल है जब वह इतिहास लिख रहा है। बाद में इसे ही रोलां बार्थ ‘जीरो डिग्री में लेखन’ की संज्ञा देते हैं। जहाँ विचारों का प्रवाह चलते चलते अचानक रुक जाता है – एक ऐसे विन्यास में जो तनावयुक्त प्रसवधर्मी विन्यास है। यह “उस विन्यास को एक झटका देता है जिससे वह मोनाड के रूप में एकीभूत (क्रिस्टलाइज) होता है। एक ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी किसी ऐतिहासिक विषय के पास तभी जाता है जब वह उससे एक मोनाड के रूप में टकराता है। इस संरचना में वह घटनाओं के मसीहाई अंत का चिह्न पहचानता है या दूसरी तरह कहें तो दमित अतीत के लिए संघर्ष में एक क्रांतिकारी संयोग पहचान लेता है।” (थीसिस XVII) इस ठोस आकार ग्रहण में, गति के सांद्र मोनाड में वह अतीत का विनियोजन करता है। अतीत का यही बिम्ब संकट के समय ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी पाना चाहता है। क्रांति की पराजय का खतरा या दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो शासक वर्गों की विजय के लिए हथियार बन जाने का खतरा अतीत को भी खतरे में डाल देता है। क्योंकि ठीक ऐसे समय जब लगता है कि हम अपने को तथा अपने इर्द गिर्द की वस्तुओं को बदल रहे हैं, हम किसी क्रांतिकारी संकट के बीच में हैं तभी हम अतीत की असफलता के सांद्र मौकों को भी दुहराते होते हैं। संकट हमें दुहराव की ओर खींच लेता है। इसी दुहराव में पुरानी क्रांतियों कि असफलताओं का अतीत भी साथ साथ लगा होता है। अतः दुहराव क्रांति के भग्नावशेषों की परंपरा के दुहराव का खतरनाक भय भी लिए होता है। इस ठिठके समय के भीतर अपने समय की सच्चाइयों में अतीत के समय की ऊर्जा भरी होती है। वर्तमान और अतीत के रिश्ते के लिए समय की सीधी रेखा के साथ लगे काल के किसी तीर की जरूरत नहीं होती। जिज़ेक इस संबंध को एक ‘तात्कालिक निर्देशात्मक शार्ट सर्किट’ कहता है। [11] उसके अनुसार यह मोनाड क्रम भंग का क्षण है जहाँ काल की रेखीय गति रुक जाती है, द्रवीभूत हो जाती है और यहीं दमित अतीत की प्रतिध्वनियाँ सुनाई देती हैं। इस घनीभूत समय में अतीत के प्रेत अचानक आकर हमारी भाषा और विचारों में पैठ जाते हैं। इस अर्थ में यह शुद्ध दुहराव है जहाँ इतिहास के शवसाधक की आत्मा में असफल क्रांतियों की प्रतिध्वनियाँ गूंजती हैं, आंदोलित होती हैं। ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी इस भयानक प्रतिध्वनियों से इस अर्थ में तटस्थ नहीं होता कि वह इससे बाहर है। इस क्षण में उसकी एक तल्लीन तटस्थता है। वह स्वयं मोनाड का हिस्सा है और क्रान्तिकारी प्रयासों में रहते हुए भी क्रांति के भग्नावशेष की भयावहता को भी देखता है। बेंजामिन यहाँ मृत्युशोक और शहादत दोनों ही भावनाओं की सीमा की तरफ इशारा कर रहे हैं।

आर्केड्स प्रोजेक्ट में बेंजामिन ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद की इस असमरूप द्वंद्वात्मकता को और भी स्पष्ट करते हुए लिखते हैं : “ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद को इतिहास के भीतर के महाकाव्यात्मक तत्त्व को अवश्य ही छोड़ देना चाहिए। वह अनवरत इतिहास के रैकरण के भीतर से किसी युग को फोड़कर निकाल लेता है लेकिन इस युग की समांगता का विध्वंस भी करता है। भग्नावशेषों के साथ या वर्तमान के साथ इसे छिन्न-भिन्न कर देता है।” (‘कोवोल्युट एन’, द आर्केड प्रोजेक्ट) यहाँ वर्तमान केवल प्रगति की विचारधारा के खंडहर के रूप में नहीं है। यह क्रांति का भी भग्नावशेष है। कई विद्वान इसमें स्टालिन की एक छाया भी देखते हैं।परंतु यह केवल प्रथम दृष्टया दिखने वाला भ्रम है। बेंजामिन के यहाँ ‘निर्णय के आखिरी दिन’ के पहले समूचा इतिहास अपने प्रत्येक क्षण के साथ कभी भी प्रकट नहीं हो सकता। “वास्तव में केवल उद्धृत (रिडीम्ड) मानवता ही अतीत की संपूर्णता की गारंटी कर सकता है- कहने का अर्थ यह कि केवल उद्धृत मानवता के लिए उसका अतीत प्रत्येक क्षण में उल्लेख्य है।”(थीसिस III) इस तरह वर्तमान में किये गए प्रयासों का पूरा अर्थ केवल निर्णय के दिन ही स्पष्ट हो सकता है। क्रांतिकारी हिंसा की इस व्याख्या के सहारे मार्ले पोंटी ने स्टालिन की राजनीति का बचाव किया था। उसके अनुसार स्टालिन की राजहिंसा के शिकार या पीड़ित यद्यपि निर्दोष थे लेकिन आगे आने वाली सामाजिक प्रगति उनको न्यायसंगत ठहराएगी! मार्ले पोंटी के लिए यह आखिरी दिन विजेता की इतिहासदृष्टि है। जबकि ज़िज़ेक ध्यान दिलाता है कि बेंजामिन के लिए निर्णय का अंतिम दिन ऐतिहासिक विकास के अंतिम चरण के रूप में एक सर्वोच्च अच्छाई या कम्युनिज्म की ओर गति नहीं है। बेंजामिन के अनुसार ऐतिहासिक विजयों की श्रृंखला को संभव बनाने के लिए जिन्होंने मूल्य चुकाए हैं, जो अपने उद्देश्यों में असफल हो गए हैं, जिन्होंने इतिहास के अध्याय पर छिन्न-भिन्न और इधर-उधर, हाशिए पर अपने चिह्न छोड़ रखे हैं, जिनके कार्यों का कोई अर्थ वहां नहीं है, ‘निर्णय का अंतिम दिन’ उनकी ही दृष्टि से देखा जा सकता है। यहाँ क्रांति अनवरत इतिहास का हिस्सा नहीं है बल्कि उसका क्रम भंग है जहाँ विजेताओं के पिछले इतिहास के ‘टेक्सचर’ का उच्छेद कर दिया जाता है। अब तक ना पाई गयी अभिव्यक्तियों का पूरा महत्त्व या उसका उद्धार क्रांति की सफलता में है। ‘निर्णय का अंतिम दिन’ इस अर्थ में एक रचनात्मक क्रिया है।

‘निर्णय का अंतिम दिन’ की इस रचनात्मक क्रिया को दृष्टि से हटाकर अगर हम उसकी आकस्मिकता को ही दुहराव का सार बना देंगे तो फिर से एक बार हम प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा के हाथों में हथियार बन जाएंगे। बेंजामिन के यहाँ दुहराव के रूप में क्रांति को किसी नैतिकता में या किसी सार में रिड्यूस नहीं किया जा सकता। वाकणकर दुहराव में ‘भविष्य’ को या क्रान्तिकारी कर्म को या ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी प्रयास को ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के तत्काल में स्थिर करना चाहते हैं। और इसके व्याख्याता के रूप में वाकणकर के अन्दर का इतिहासकार निम्नवर्गों की आन्दोलान्त्मक सहभागिता के लिए विधर्मी परंपरा में कबीर आदि संतों का योगदान दिखाने की कोशिश करता है। ‘मूलगामी अनुभववाद’ को ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के अमूर्तन के सहारे व्याख्यायित करता है। जबकि बेंजामिन के लिए ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ रचनात्मक कर्म के रूप में अंतिम दिन का प्रभाव मात्र है। मसीहाई काल की अवधारणा में ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ केवल मृत्यु के शोकगीत की तरह नहीं बल्कि एक किस्म के आनंद की तरह भी है। “दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो ख़ुशी का विचार उद्धार के विचार के साथ अवियोज्य रूप में जुड़ा रहता है। ठीक यही बात अतीत के साथ भी है जो कि इतिहास का विषय है। अतीत अपने साथ एक गुप्त अभिसूचक लिए रहता है जिसके द्वारा यह उद्धार के लिए निर्दिष्ट होता है।” (थीसिस II) इस गुप्त ख़ुशी को बेंजामिन एक ‘कमजोर मसीहाई शक्ति’ के रूप में देखते हैं। इस शक्ति पर अतीत का दावा होता है और ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी जानता है कि इस दावे का निपटारा आसान नहीं है।

वाकणकर के अनुसार निम्नवर्गीयता को पुनर्परिभाषित करने में कबीर आदि संतों की एक क्रांतिकारी भूमिका हो सकती है। मृत्यु शोकगीत में अन्तर्निहित ‘सदाशयता और प्यार’ (टेंडरनेस एंड केयर) के सहारे ज्योतिष्मान एक पूरा सामाजिक विस्तार अपने वास्तविक अर्थों में ‘निम्नवर्गीय’ होता है।[12] मृत्यु शोकगीत एक एकान्तिक मृत्यु की एकान्तिक साधना है। यह ‘एकान्तिक मृत्यु’ दलितों के मूलगामी अनुभववाद का प्रकाश है। एकांतिक शोकगीत की यह परंपरा प्रभुत्वशाली धर्मों के उदय के पहले से चली आ रही है। कबीर को यह परंपरा कापालिकों की साधना से मिली थी और स्वयं कापालिकों को तंत्र आदि की आदिम परंपरा से यह प्राप्त हुआ था। डेविड लौरेंजन के कापालिकों के अध्ययन से प्रेरित वाकणकर को जर्मन ‘बरोक’ का भारतीय संस्करण मृत्यु के इर्द गिर्द बुनी मिथकीय चेतना में मिल गया। उनके अनुसार, आधुनिक संवेदना इस आदिम संवेदना को ठीक से ग्रहण नहीं कर पाती क्योंकि यहाँ आधुनिकता जिस एकान्तिक चेतना को व्यक्त करती है, वह प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा है। वाकणकर राष्ट्रवाद को एक ऐसी ही प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा कहते हैं। उनके अनुसार द्विवेदी जी दूसरी परंपरा की खोज में जिस अन्य की ओर उन्मुख थे वह स्वयं राष्ट्रवाद की प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा थी। दलित चेतना या जिसे वाकणकर दलित चित्तवृत्ति कहना पसंद करते हैं उसमें अन्तर्निहित हिंसा और मृत्यु और भय की व्यवस्था के खिलाफ जो कि ऐतिहासिक धर्मों की या राष्ट्रवाद की या किसी अन्य वैश्विक इतिहास की विचारधारा की एकान्तिकता है या जिसे इतिहास -१ कहते हैं उसके पूरक के रूप में यह दूसरी एकांतिकता है जिसे हम इतिहास-२ कह सकते हैं। साथ ही मृत्यु की एकांतिकता और उसकी शोकगीत की परंपरा में निहित एक भिन्न किस्म की सामाजिकता का मॉडल भी है। संतों का मॉडल यही मॉडल है। कबीर आदि का यह मॉडल एक नई राजनीति की प्रस्तावना कैसे करता है, उसके बारे में वाकणकर कहते हैं: “एक एकांतिक मृत्यु, और उस मृत्यु के लिए एकान्तिक शोक का तरीका अगर यह दलित प्राचीन अतीत का सार है, तो हमारे लिए यह संभव है कि हम अतीत के इस एकांतिक अनुभव का संबंध नई राजनीति में दलित वैयक्तिकता की चुनौती से जोड़ सकते हैं। ‘फिलोसोफी ऑफ़ राईट’ में हीगेल के द्वारा पुनर्परिभाषित उदार राजनीतिक सिद्धांतों की शब्दावली में हम कह सकते हैं कि यह एकांतिक अनुभव आधुनिक व्यक्ति से पहले का है।”[13] राज्य और राजनीति, या राज्यसत्ता और व्यक्तिसत्ता के संबंधों की हीगेलीय व्याख्या और पार्था चटर्जी द्वारा ‘राजनीतिक समाज की अवधारणा’ में उसकी पुनर्व्याख्या का एक पूरक दृष्टिकोण वाकणकर सामने रखते हैं। यह व्यक्ति की अमूर्त अवधारणा और आदर्श का वह क्षेत्र है जहाँ वैयक्तिक या पारिवारिक से लेकर ‘नागरिक समाज’ तक की सारी नैतिक पूर्व धारणाएं जो अंततः राज्य के नैतिक जीवन में पर्यवसित होती है, उसकी पूरी गति रुक जाती है। हीगेल के अनुसार राज्य की इस द्वंद्वात्मकता के भीतर राजनीति का क्षेत्र है। राजनीति के इसी क्षितिज को सामने रखकर वाकणकर कहना चाहते हैं कि इसी अर्थ में सद्यःकाल के इतिहासकार के लिए द्वंद्वात्मकता ठिठक जाती है। इस प्रकार दलित चित्तवृत्ति की एकांतिकता या एकांतिक मृत्यु का यह शोकगीत दलितों के राजनीतिक जीवन में प्रवेश के पहले है। मूलगामी अनुभववाद की यह परंपरा केवल इतिहास के किसी काल खंड में ही राजनीति के पहले नहीं बल्कि अभी से भरे समय में भी है। क्योंकि उनके अनुसार, यह प्राथमिकता केवल कालिक नहीं बल्कि तार्किक भी है। इस प्रकार वाकणकर के कबीर दलित राजनीति से पहले के कबीर हैं, किसी राजनीतिक हस्तक्षेप के पहले के कबीर। शुद्ध अनुभववाद की यह एकांतिकता दलितों को आदिमकाल से चली आ रही परंपरा से मिली है- जो कापालिकों के द्वारा, कबीर के द्वारा और कबीर के नाम से ‘कहत कबीर’ कहने वालों के द्वारा आधुनिक दलित चित्तवृत्ति को हस्तान्तरित होती आई है। इस प्रकार व्यक्ति और राज्य के संबंधों के पहले की ‘वैयक्तिकता’ ही दलित आधुनिकता है जो एक चिरंतन मृत्युगीत की तरह उनके हृदय में झंकृत होती आई है। लेकिन वाकणकर ध्यान दिलाते हैं कि यह किसी ‘क्रम भंग’ की प्रतीक्षा नहीं है, इसके भीतर किसी अतीत की असफल क्रांति का इंतजार नहीं है जो अभी पूर्ण होगी। ‘क्रम भंग’ का यह विचार धर्म दर्शन का विचार है जबकि दलित चित्तवृत्ति में किसी भी हिंसात्मक क्रांति का विचार नहीं है। अनादि काल से चली आ रही दलित कोमलता तथा सदाशयता के दुहराव को ही यह बताता है।[14] यह अंतिम रूपांतरण की धारणा को अपने साथ लिए है, वाकणकर लिखते हैं “इस अर्थ में अगर देखा जाए तो कापालिकों के द्वारा उद्घाटित मृत्यु शोकगीत की यह परंपरा राजनीतिक समाज की सहस्त्राब्दी संपूरक (मिलेनियल सप्लीमेंट) है। इस मृत्यु शोकगीत की क्रिया में उस आदिम झलक की शुद्धता है जहाँ चमत्कार और हिंसा क्षणिक रूप से एक साथ आकर दीप्त होती है और इसलिए यह दलित कर्ता या दलित विषयी के लिए सदा नवीन होते रहने वाली भूमि है। यह परम आत्म समर्पण भक्त का भगवान् के प्रति आत्मसमर्पण से पहले है।”[15]

चमत्कार और हिंसा की क्षणिक दीप्ती में एक ऐसी शुद्धता का अनुसंधान वाकणकर करते हैं जो विश्व में हिंसा के आतंरिक कायांतरण के द्वारा एक आभामय, दयालु और प्यार भरे भविष्य को छुपाये है। इस बात से इनकार करना असंभव है कि दैनंदिन जीवन की हिंसा निम्नवर्गीय जीवन में स्वाभाविक रूप से विद्यमान है। यह हिंसा शासकों की हिंसा है, राज्यसत्ता की हिंसा है, विधि-निषेधों की हिंसा है, जाति व्यवस्था के शक्ति-संबंधों की हिंसा है। इस हिंसा की परंपरा के खिलाफ कबीर की परंपरा क्या कापालिकों की शोकगीत की परंपरा मात्र है या उसमें कुछ जोड़ती भी है? क्या कबीर उस एकान्तिक शोकगीत की आदिम निरंतरता में केवल रूपगत परिवर्तन करते हैं ? क्या कबीर आदि संतों का दुःख या कबीर के पदों में जो सामूहिक बोध है उसके पीछे क्या उसी ‘मृत्यु के शोकगीत’ की एकांतिक धुन है ? कबीर के दुःख की चर्चा न करते हुए फ़िलहाल हम एकांतिक मृत्यु की ‘हाय हाय’ के बारे में खुद कबीर क्या कहते थे उसे देखते चलते हैं।

रोवणहारे भी मुए, मुए जलांवणहार |
हा हा करते ते मुए कासनि करौं पुकार ||४८||
(काल कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

मृत्यु के शोकगीत के धुन की आलोचना यहाँ इसमें छिपे अनुभव सच की आलोचना नहीं है, बल्कि इस हाय हाय की निरर्थकता की घोषणा है और ‘कासनि करौं पुकार’ की वेदना भी है। रोने वाले भी मर गए, जलाने वाले भी और मरणोपरांत सहानुभूति जताने वाले भी मर गए। कबीर इसकी निरंतरता को रोकने वाले को पुकारने निकले थे लेकिन देखते हैं कि मृत्यु के बाद जो सच्चे हृदय से रोने वाले थे वे भी काल के गाल में समा गए। कबीर उस एकान्तिक मृत्यु और उसके शोकगीत को बार बार पैदा करने वाले लोक- वेद के संपूर्ण विमर्श को बदलने की साधना में थे। इसलिए कबीर का निर्गुण मृत्यु शोकगीत की परंपरा का व्यक्तित्वांतरण भी है। कबीर के लिए मृत्यु कोई घटना नहीं थी। कबीर के इस निर्गुण पक्ष को प्रेमचंद की कहानी ‘कफ़न’ से बेहतर कौन व्यक्त कर सकता है!

वाकणकर अगर इसे धर्म दर्शन के अन्दर आना मानते हैं, तो यह उनकी सीमा है। और इस सीमा के पीछे हीगेल के यहाँ व्यक्ति और राज्य के संबंधों को लेकर जो असमाधेय द्वंद्व है, उसको मानना अत्युक्ति नहीं होगी। हीगेल के इस पक्ष की आलोचना मार्क्स ने हीगेल के ‘अधिकार दर्शन की आलोचना’ और ‘पवित्र परिवार’ नामक पुस्तक में की है। ‘फेनोमेनोलोजी ऑफ़ स्पिरिट’ में मृत्यु के शोकगीत और शहादत के बीच जो असमाधेय द्वंद्व है उसे बेंजामिन ने अपनी सीमा पर ले जाकर रूपांतरित कर दिया है। वस्तुतः यह रूपांतरण वैसा ही है जैसा मार्क्स के यहाँ हीगेलीय द्वंद्वात्मकता का रूपांतरण असमरूप द्वंद्वात्मकता में हुआ था। हीगेल की किताब में ‘द एथिकल आर्डर’ नामक अध्याय में आये एंटीगोन के प्रसंग में हम इस असमाधेय द्वंद्व को देखते हैं।[16] बेंजामिन ने भी इस असमाधेय द्वंद्व को वहीं से प्राप्त किया था। एंटीगोन सोफोक्लीज की एक त्रासदी का नाम है जिसमें एंटीगोन एक केन्द्रीय चरित्र है। थेब्स के गृहयुद्ध में लड़ते हुए इटियोक्लेस और पोलिनेसियस एक दूसरे को मारकर शहीद हो गये। युद्ध के बाद क्रेयोन राजा बनता है और इटियोक्लेस को शहीद घोषित करते हुए उसका राजकीय रीति से पूर्ण सम्मान के साथ दाह संस्कार का आदेश दिया जाता है। दूसरी ओर पोलिनेसियस को राज्य का शत्रु घोषित किया जाता है और आज्ञा दी जाती है कि उसकी लाश को बिना दाह संस्कार के, बिना दफनाये गिद्धों और कीड़ों के लिए खुले में छोड़ दिया जाये। यह उस समय की सबसे कठोर सजा थी। आज्ञा थी कि पोलिनेसियस के लिए कोई भी मृत्युशोक का प्रदर्शन नहीं करेगा। इन भाइयों की दो बहनें थीं। यह परिवार औडिपस का परिवार था जहाँ पहले से ही किसी ने स्वाभाविक मृत्यु का वरन् नहीं किया था। औडिपस अपने पिता को मारकर खुद माता से शादी करता है, यथार्थ का पता पाते ही अपनी आँखें फोड़ लेता है, माता या पत्नी आत्महत्या कर लेती है और अब उसके दो बेटे युद्ध में एक दूसरे को मार देते हैं। नाटक की शुरुआत में एंटीगोन अपनी बहन इसेमेन के पास आती है और अपने भाई के दाहकर्म के लिए उससे सहायता मांगती है। उसे पता चल गया होता है कि क्रेयोन क्या राजाज्ञा सुनाने वाला है। इसेमेन इस काम में साथ देने से इनकार कर देती है। लोकहित (पब्लिक गुड) के लिए बने कानून का उल्लंघन इसेमेन नहीं करना चाहती। एंटीगोन के इस खतरनाक निर्णय से उसे भय लगता है। उसे एंटीगोन की मृत्यु भी साफ दिखाई देती है, वह कहती है कि हम स्त्रियाँ हैं, कमजोर हैं, असहाय हैं जबकि कानून कठिन है, कठोर है। पहले पिता, फिर माता और उसके बाद दोनों भाई और अब तुम! सत्ता के सामने जाना एक ख़तरनाक काम है। इसेमेन के इस व्यवहार से एंटीगोन क्षुब्ध होती है, वह उसे कहती है कि राज्य का कानून ईश्वर के कानून के सामने तुच्छ है। मृत को फिर से मारना उस शाश्वत कानून के ख़िलाफ़ है, इसलिए अगर मैं अपराध भी करती हूँ तो वह एक पवित्र अपराध होगा। मैं पोलिनेसियस का साथ मृत्यु में भी दूंगी। ये मृत ही हैं, जीवित नहीं जो सबसे लम्बी मांग रखते हैं- हम हमेशा के लिए मर जाते हैं। मैं अपने उस भाई को दफनाउंगी जिसे मैं प्यार करती हूँ, तुम्हारा अपना मत जो हो तुम उसके साथ रहो। पर मैं अपने निर्णय पर अडिग हूँ। इसेमेन कहती है कि हमें इस बात को गुप्त रखना होगा अगर किसी को पता चल गया तो हम निश्चित रूप से मृत्युदंड पाएंगे। यह सुनकर एंटीगोन लगभग बिफर पड़ती है : ‘ओह! जाओ हर किसी को बता दो यह बात और सोचो वे लोग तुमसे कितनी घृणा करेंगे जब उन्हें पता चलेगा कि तुम्हे तो सदा से यह बात मालूम थी’। इसेमेन कहती है कि तुम जो कर रही हो वह असंभव की कोशिश है। एंटीगोन कहती है कि जाओ इसेमेन यहाँ से चली जाओ इससे पहले कि मैं तुमसे घृणा करने लगूं। और मृतक भी तुमसे घृणा करने लगें। अगर मृत्यु खतरा है तो मैं इसे नहीं मानती। क्योंकि यह ऐसी मृत्यु नहीं होगी जिसे मरणोपरांत सम्मान तक न मिल पाए।

दूसरे दृश्य में क्रेयोन राज्य के शत्रुओं और मित्रों की परिभाषा स्थिर करते हुए पोलिनेसियस को राज्य का शत्रु घोषित करता है। कोरस को संबोधित करते हुए वह नागरिक समाज और राज्य के संबंधों की व्याख्या करता है। राजा ही राज्य है और राज्य कहता है कि मेरे प्रति श्रद्धा, कर्तव्य, वफ़ादारी तभी आपको होनी चाहिए जब आपके बीच से परीक्षित होकर ही वह मेरे प्रति हो जाये। मेरी नज़रों में निजी मित्रता को लोककल्याण के ऊपर तरजीह नहीं मिल सकती। मित्रता क्या है यह मुझसे बेहतर कौन जान सकता है पर राज्य की कीमत पर नहीं। ईश्वर साक्षी है कि राज्य पर और उसके नियमों पर अगर खतरा आता है तो मैं उसके लिए कुछ भी कर सकता हूँ। पोलिनेसियस निर्वासन में था और उसने लौटकर विद्रोह का नेतृत्व किया था। कोई व्यक्ति उसकी लाश को छूने की हिम्मत न करे। प्रार्थना के दो शब्द उचारने की जुर्रत न करे। और हाँ, इस आज्ञा के पीछे छुपा विवेक जो हर किसी के सामने स्पष्ट है, उसको बराबर याद रखा जाये। यही मेरा या राज्य का ‘विल’ है। बाकी नागरिक समाज अपना कर्तव्य आप जानता है। लाश के आसपास संतरी रहेंगे जो किसी को भी पास फटकने नही देंगे और आप यानि कि नागरिक समाज यह ध्यान रखे कि कोई भी कानून न तोड़ पाए। कोई मृत्यु का शोक न माना पाए, इसकी चर्चा तक न कर पाए। राज्य के सामने सिर्फ दो ही खतरे हैं, एक पैसा, जो कुछ भी करा सकता है, विवेक को ही भ्रष्ट कर सकता है और दूसरे एनार्किस्ट। इसी समय एक संतरी बहुत घबराया हुआ प्रवेश करता है। उसके मुंह से शब्द नहीं निकल पा रहे थे, वह बहुत भयभीत था। नियमानुसार कहीं दंड का भागी न हो जाये इसलिए अपनी बात कहने से पहले वह अपनी कठिन स्थिति की व्याख्या करना चाहता है। वह ऐसी खबर लेकर आया था जो निश्चित रूप से खबरी को ही दोषी बना देती। वह किसी तरह अपने रुंधे गले से कह पाता है कि पोलिनेसियस की लाश पर ताज़ी धूल दिखाई पड़ी है, किसी ने उसके शव के दाहकर्म की कोशिश की है। यह बुरी खबर संतरी के हिस्से पड़ी थी। क्योंकि यह दुर्भाग्य उसके सर ही आना था। पासा फेंका गया, दुर्भाग्य मेरे हिस्से आ गया और अब मैं यहाँ हूँ। यह काम किसने किया किसी को नहीं मालूम। आसपास कोई नहीं था बस ताजी खुदी मिट्टी शव के ऊपर दिखाई दी।

कोरस ने या नागरिक समाज ने जोर से पूछा कि क्या यह काम देवताओं ने किया। क्रेयान कहता है कि देवता राज्य के निर्णय के साथ हैं वे ऐसा नहीं कर सकते। यह आप नागरिकों का निकृष्ट विचार है कि ईश्वर बुरे व्यक्तियों को सम्मान देना पसंद करता है। यह मात्र एक भला विचार है। दरअस्ल यह काम अराजकों का है जो शुरू से ही राज्य के खिलाफ कानाफूसी करते रहे हैं। राज्य के खिलाफ अभी भी इन्हीं अराजकों ने गठबंधन किया है और अवश्य ही मेरे सिपाहियों को घूस खिलाकर यह काम करवाया है। दुनिया में पैसे से ज्यादा नैतिक रूप से पतित कुछ भी नहीं। संतरी को वह आदेश देता है कि जाओ जिसने तुम्हें नियुक्त किया है उसे पकड़कर मेरे सामने लाओ वर्ना मृत्यु के लिए तैयार रहो। संतरी क्रेयान की अंतरात्मा को जगाने की कोशिश करते हैं। कहते हैं कि महाराज अगर सही न्यायाधीश गलत न्याय करता है तो वह बहुत दुखद होता है। आप सोचकर देखिये क्या यह केवल मेरी आवाज है, आपकी अंतरात्मा की ध्वनि नहीं है? कोरस या नागरिक समाज मनुष्यरूपी अचम्भे का गीत गाता है। मृत्यु के आखिरी पहर में मनुष्य खड़ा नहीं रह सकता। नागरिक समाज कहता है कि “ओ साफ बुद्धि जो किसी भी माप से बाहर है! ओ मनुष्य के भाग्य जो अच्छाई और बुराई दोनों करता है! जब कानून की रखवाली होती है तो कैसे उसका शहर खड़ा होता है। परन्तु जब कानून तोड़े जाते हैं तब उसके शहर का क्या होगा? ऐसा हो कि कभी कोई अराजक कभी मेरे घर में आकर आश्रय न पाए, कभी ऐसा न हो कि कोई कहे कि मेरे विचार उसके विचार हैं।”

इतने में वह संतरी एंटीगोन को लेकर प्रवेश करता है। एंटीगोन को वह तब पकड़ता है जब वह दुबारा शव पर ताजी मिट्टी डाल रही थी। संतरी ने कहा कि एक जोर की आंधी आई, अँधेरा छा गया और जब बहुत देर बाद आंधी रुकी तो यह वहां खड़ी दिखी। जैसे कोई माता पक्षी अपने बच्चे को चुरा लिए जाने पर गहरी-कर्कश और टूटी हुई धुन में एक दो सुर लगाती है वैसे ही खुली लाश के ऊपर अपने हाथों से मिट्टी डालते हुए यह रो रही थी। इसने अपना गुनाह कबूल कर लिया है। क्रेयोन से एंटीगन कहती है कि उसने क़ानून तोड़ा है क्योंकि वह ईश्वर प्रदत्त नहीं है। आपकी राजाज्ञा कठोर थी लेकिन ईश्वर के अलिखित अमर कानूनों के सामने मेरी सारी शक्ति कमज़ोर पड़ गयी। वे क़ानून सदा थे और सदा रहेंगे। वह मनुष्य के निर्णय से परे सदा क्रियमान हैं। मैं तो मरणशील हूँ और आपकी सजा के बगैर भी मेरी मृत्यु निश्चित है। क्या कोई भी जो मेरी तरह अभी अपनी मृत्यु के पहले जिंदा है और उन पापों के साथ जिंदा है जो मेरे ऊपर लगाये गए हैं, मृत्यु को मित्र से कम मानेगा! मेरे लिए यह मृत्यु कतई महत्वपूर्ण नहीं है। लेकिन अगर मैं अपने प्यारे भाई को बिना दफनाये छोड़ देती तब वह मेरे लिए दुःख और पीड़ा होती। लेकिन अब वह मेरे पास नहीं है। क्रेयोन उसे अपने पिता की तरह पागल कहता है। इसका दिमाग दुश्मन के कब्जे में है और अपराध वहां पैठ गया है। अब इसके दिमाग पर अराजकता का राज है। वह क्रेयोन से कहती है कि अगर आप मुझे दंड देते हैं और मेरी हत्या करते हैं तब भी लोग मेरी बड़ाई करेंगे और वे लोग अब भी कर रहे हैं। बात सिर्फ इतनी है कि उनकी ज़ुबान आपके भय से बंद है। मृतक का अनुताप कोई अपराध नहीं है। कोई ग्लानि नहीं है। राजा कहता है कि तुमने अपने दूसरे भाई का, अपने विजेता भाई का और उसकी स्मृतियों का अपमान किया है। जबकि शत्रु मरने के बाद भी शत्रु है। एंटीगन कहती है कि अभी भी सारे मृतकों का सम्मान बाकी है। यह तो प्रकृति है कि प्रेम में लोग शामिल होते हैं घृणा में नहीं। राजा इसेमेन को भी बुलाता है और इस अपराध में सहभागी होने के चलते उसे भी मृत्युदंड सुनाता है। एंटीगन इसेमेन को निरपराध कहती है। इसेमेन इस कार्य के महत्त्व को अब जाकर समझने की बात कहती है। वह दंड का भागी बनने के लिए प्रस्तुत हो जाती है। परन्तु एंटीगन कहती है कि मृत और देवता जानते हैं कि यह काम किसका है। केवल शब्द मित्र नहीं होते। ‘तुम तो हमेशा क्रेयोन के मत के साथ थी। तुम खुद को बचा लो, मैं तुमसे कोई ईर्ष्या नहीं रखूंगी। लोग होंगे जो तुम्हारी प्रशंसा भी करेंगे, मैं उनका भी बुरा नहीं मानूंगी। बल्कि उनका भी सम्मान करुँगी’। इसेमेन कहती है कि हम दोनों तो समान दोषी हैं। ‘नहीं इसेमेन, तुम अभी जिंदा हो और मैं मृत्यु को प्राप्त हूँ’। राजा दोनों की बातों से झल्ला जाता है। इसेमेन कहती है कि ‘राजन! विषाद तो कठोर मस्तिष्क में भी हलचल पैदा करता है, क्या आपके मन में कोई विषाद नहीं है?’ राजा कहता है ‘करता होगा। जब तुम्हारे जैसे लोग अपराधियों और दोषियों से एकजुटता बना लेते हैं तब करता होगा’। राजा का बेटा हैमोन एंटीगन का मंगेतर है। वह आकर राजा को विवेक की दुहाई देता है। वह दूसरों के मतों को सुनने की सलाह देता है। कहता है कि एक व्यक्ति सारी बातों का पता नहीं पा सकता। ‘आपको शायद पता न हो पर अँधेरे में शहर की गलियों में लोग इस लड़की की बातें करते हैं। एक दूसरे के कानों में फुसफुसाते हुए इसके सद्कर्म की दुहाई देते हैं।’ राजा हैमोन को भी अराजकों का समर्थक बताता है। उसे लड़की के प्रेम में अंधा कहता है। हैमोन के सामने ही एंटीगन को पत्थर की मेहराब में चुनवा देने का आदेश देता है। इसेमेन को दंड-मुक्त कर दिया जाता है। एंटीगन अपने किये सारे कामों में अपना विश्वास फिर से प्रकट करती है। कहती है कि उसके सीने में ग्रीक देवी नियोबे की एकान्तिक रूदन महसूस हो रही है। जिस मेहराब में वह दफन होने जा रही है वहां उसे अभिशापित सुहाग सेज की झलक दिखती है। सुहाग की वह सेज जहाँ माता और पुत्र के संयोग की भयावहता खेल रही है। जो चिर अभिशापित है। ‘ओ ओडिपस! पिता और भाई! तुम्हारी शादी मेरी शादी पर कब्र से हमला करती है। यहाँ मैं अपनी ही ज़मीन पर अजनबी हो गयी हूँ। तुम्हारा अभिशाप जन्म भर मेरे साथ लगा-लगा फिरता रहा है’।

एंटीगन के जाने के बाद बूढ़ा टेयरिसियस आता है। वह नबी है। भविष्यवाणी करता है। प्रोफेसी करता है। राजा को चेतावनी देता है कि सारे ग्रह-नक्षत्र रुष्ट हो गए हैं। बड़ी भारी विपत्ति आने वाली है। जितनी ज़ल्दी संभव हो पोलिनेसियस के शव को दफना देना चाहिए। गलतियां तो हर किसी से होती है लेकिन समझदार उसे तुरंत ही सुधार लेता है। पर शुरू में राजा उसे भी भ्रष्ट और पैसों से खरीदा हुआ कहता है। पीढ़ियों से प्रोफेसी करने वालों की यही गति रही है। टेयरिसियस राजा को सावधान करता हुआ कहता है कि ‘एक मृत्यु के पहले कब्र में है और दूसरा मृत होकर भी कब्र से महरूम है यही तुम्हारा सबसे बड़ा अपराध है राजा। वह दिन दूर नहीं जब तुम्हारा घर औरतों और मर्दों के मृत्यु क्रंदन से गूंजेगा, सारा शहर अपने बिना दफनाये संतानों के लिए मातम मनायेगा जिनकी लाशें सड़ने के लिए छोड़ दी गयी हैं। ये मेरे तीर हैं क्रेयोन जो तुम्हारे लिए हैं। क्या तुम इन्हें खरीद सकते हो’। नागरिक समाज बूढ़े टेयरिसियस की बातों में सच्चाई की आवाज़ सुनता है। वह राजा को पश्चाताप के लिए तैयार करता है। पोलिनेसियस की लाश को ज़ल्दी से दफनाने राजा खुद निकल पड़ता है। इसी बीच संदेशवाहक आकर अनहोनी की सूचना देता है। कहता है वे लोग पहले ही मर चुके हैं। जो जिंदा हैं वे अपराधी हैं। एंटीगन फांसी लगा कर आत्महत्या कर लेती है। हैमोन उसके शरीर को बाहों में घेर कर निश्चल खड़ा था जब राजा पोलिनेसियस के शव को दफना कर वहां पहुंचा। क्रेयोन पर वह तलवार से वार करता है पर वह चुक जाती है और खुद हैमोन के शरीर के दो टुकड़े हो जाते हैं। संदेशवाहक से यह सुनकर रानी और हैमोन की माता महल में गायब हो जाती है और वह भी आत्महत्या कर लेती है। क्रेयोन को बूढ़े टेयरिसियस की त्रासद भविष्यवाणी साक्षात दिखती है। अंत में नागरिक समाज कहता है कि जो भी त्रासदी हुई उससे विवेक मिलता है।

राज्य और उसकी नैतिक व्यवस्था के भीतर मृत्युशोक और शहादत का यह अपोरिया एंटीगन के चरित्र में विकसित होता है। कई विद्वानों ने एंटीगन के चरित्र में बेंजामिन की छवि देखी है। राज्य की पूर्णता की त्रासदी दरअस्ल हीगेल के परम की त्रासदी है। बेंजामिन सद्यःकाल में केवल प्रगति की सारी विचारधाराओं का भग्नावशेष नहीं देखते बल्कि खुद क्रान्ति का भग्नावशेष भी देखते हैं। एंटीगन के अस्वीकार में छिपी महात्रासदी हीगेल की ‘ठोस सार्वजनीनता’(कंक्रीट यूनिवर्सल) की सीमा है। हीगेल के यहाँ ठोस के इतिहास की संरचना परम के दुहराव या पुनरुत्पादन की संरचना है। परम के दुहराव या पुनरुत्पादन की द्वंद्वात्मकता को बेंजामिन ने एतिहासिक भौतिकवाद की संरचना में उलट दिया है जहां ठोस केवल द्वंद्वात्मक नहीं है बल्कि वह असमरूप द्वंद्व में बदल जाता है। परम के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में ठोस की त्रासदी वस्तुतः विभिन्न वास्तविक घटनाओं से बनने वाली ठोस की विशिष्टताओं का द्वंद्वात्मक विवेक है और केवल विवेक नहीं वरन् उसकी एकान्तिक भौतिकता भी है। ‘मृत भी खतरे से बाहर नहीं है’ और ‘जो जिंदा हैं वे अपराधी है’। वह एकांतिकता जिसमें विछिन्नता के कारण हीगेल का परम फिर से लौट लौट आता है। उसका पुनरुत्पादन संभव होता है, जो कि ठोस-सार्वजनीनता है। इसलिए बेंजामिन का वर्तमान केवल क्रांति का सद्यःकाल नहीं है या केवल प्रगति की विचारधाराओं का भग्नावशेष नहीं बल्कि स्वयं क्रान्ति का भी भग्नावशेष है। असफल क्रान्ति वस्तुतः हीगेलीय परम के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में स्वयं का भग्नावशेष भी देखती है। क्रान्ति की असफलता वर्तमान को हीगेलीय ठोस-सार्वजनीनता में बदल देती है। हीगेलीय परम का यह उत्पादन और पुनरुत्पादन वस्तुतः क्रांति के बाहर के किसी ऐतिहासिक काल द्वारा क्रांति को स्वयं में समाहित करने से नहीं होता। बल्कि स्वयं क्रान्ति की अपूर्णता के भीतर से हीगेलीय परम उभरता है। क्रान्ति के भग्नावशेष जिसकी अभिव्यक्तियाँ हैं। यह क्रान्ति के भीतर से ही क्रान्ति की संरचनात्मकता के ठीक उलट प्रभाव का पैदा होना है। दूसरे शब्दों में कह सकते हैं कि हीगेलीय पूर्णता एक फैंटेसी है लेकिन वह वास्तविक फैंटेसी है। बेंजामिन दिखाते हैं कि ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी के लिए हीगेल की ‘ठोस-सार्वजनीनता’ की अवधारणा को बिना स्पष्ट रूप से समझे छोड़ना संभव ही नहीं। पूँजी की ऐतिहासिक वास्तविकता के रूप में हीगेलीय ठोस-सार्वजनीनता का वास्तविक निषेध इसके भीतर से ही संभव है। ‘ठोस-सार्वजनीनता’ का प्रश्न बेंजामिन के लिए इसलिए महत्वपूर्ण नहीं है कि वह राज्य या पूँजी के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में सत्य का निदर्शन करता है। बल्कि उसे बेंजामिन क्रान्ति की अधूरी या खो गयी सच्चाई का प्रभाव मानते हैं। इस प्रकार इतिहास का द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब बेंजामिन के सामने हीगेल के परम या ठोस-सार्वजनीनता के रूप में क्रान्ति के अधूरे सच का या उसके भग्नावशेष की वास्तविकता का रूपक बन जाता है। भग्नावशेष या मलबे के भीतर वर्तमान एक बार फिर इतिहासवादी प्रगति के रूप में छिन्न-भिन्न हो बिखर जाता है। इतिहास को उलटे रंदे से छील कर हासिल करना यही है। परम के वास्तविक निषेध के रूप में मार्क्स की ‘सतत क्रांति’ या मार्क्स और एंगेल्स जिसे ‘वास्तविक आन्दोलन के रूप में साम्यवाद’ कहते हैं वह उसकी यानी कि परम की नकारात्मक मौलिकता है। ठिठकी हुई द्वंद्वात्मकता दरअस्ल वास्तविक आन्दोलन है जो हीगेल के परम की द्वंद्वात्मक क्रिया को लगातार विछिन्न करती जाती है। ‘ठिठकी हुई द्वंद्वात्मकता’ मजदूर वर्ग के आन्दोलन का मूलगामी सामान्यीकरण है। इसी में क्रांतिकारी सामूहिकता या विषयता का जन्म होता है।

मार्क्स जिसे ‘तथाकथित आदिम संचय’ कहते हैं वह ऐतिहासिक तथा तार्किक दोनों रूपों में पूँजी के निर्माण का वह क्षण है जहाँ से पूँजी की पूरी व्यवस्था का उत्पादन और पुनरुत्पादन संभव होता है। दूसरे शब्दों में पूँजी का ‘तथाकथित आदिम संचय’ जिसे मार्क्स ‘मूल पाप’ की तरह कहते हैं, वह सभ्यता के भग्नावशेष या उसके मलबे की तरह वर्तमान भी ही। यह क्षण लगातार पूँजी की त्रासदी को पूँजी के पुनरुत्पादन की त्रासदी में बदलता है। पूँजी के लिए सद्यःकाल पूँजी के आदिम संचय का सद्यःकाल है जबकि बेंजामिन की ‘ठिठकी हुई द्वंद्वात्मकता’ इस क्षण की क्रांतिकारी नकारात्मकता है। बेंजामिन अपनी थीसिस में वर्तमान को क्रान्ति के भग्नावशेष के रूप में बार-बार व्याख्यायित करते हैं। क्रान्ति की एकांतिकता जहाँ भंग होकर हीगेलीय पूर्णता में लौट जाती है वहीं अनभिव्यक्तियाँ भी इतिहासवाद की परंपरा में भूला दी जाती हैं। बेंजामिन ब्लांकी या पेरिस कम्यून या स्पार्टाकस लीग का उल्लेख इसी सन्दर्भ में करते हैं। अपनी बारहवीं थीसिस में बेंजामिन लिखते हैं: “ऐतिहासिक ज्ञान का विषय खुद संघर्षशील शोषित वर्ग है। मार्क्स ने इसे अंतिम गुलाम वर्ग कहा है- प्रतिशोधक जो पीढ़ियों से दमित-शोषितों के नाम पर मुक्ति का कार्यभार पूरा करती है। यह विश्वास जो कुछ समय के लिए स्पार्टाकस लीग के भीतर पुनर्जीवित हुई थी, सामाजिक जनवादियों के लिए हमेशा दिक्कततलब रही है। तीन दशकों के भीतर ही इन लोगों ने ब्लांकी का नाम तक मिटा डाला, जबकि उसके नाम से पिछली सदी थरथराती थी। सामाजिक जनवादी मजदूर वर्ग को ऐसे प्रस्तुत करते हैं मानो वह भविष्य की पीढ़ियों का उद्धारक होगा और इस प्रकार उसकी सबसे बड़ी शक्ति से उसे मरहूम कर देते हैं। यह शिक्षा मजदूर वर्ग को इसकी घृणा और इसकी शहादत की भावना को भूल जाने पर मजबूर करती है, क्योंकि यह दोनों भावनाएं अपना पोषण गुलाम पूर्वजों के बिम्ब से करती है ना कि किन्हीं मुक्त पोते-पोतियों के आदर्श से।”(थीसिस XII)

इस तरह बेंजामिन के लिए ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवाद क्रान्ति की एकांतिकता और उसके अतीत के असफल प्रयासों की पूर्ण अभिव्यक्ति के लिए अतीत और वर्तमान का ऐसा असमरूप नक्षत्रपुन्ज है जहां भविष्य का हस्तक्षेप होता है। यह क्रान्ति के भग्नावशेषों में छुपे ‘सक्रिय गिरोहों’ की अब तक न पायी गयी पूर्ण अभिव्यक्ति का वर्तमान है। हीगेलीय परम के पुनरुत्पादन के रूप में पूँजी का पुनरुत्पादन अभी भी उसके सामने है। हर क्रान्ति प्रतिक्रान्ति के भग्नावशेषों के साथ है। वाकणकर मृत्युशोकगीत की एकांतिकता में इस शहादत की भावना को जगह नहीं देते और ऐसा करके वह हिगेलीय परम के पुनरुत्पादन की ट्रेजडी से बच निकलना चाहते हैं। परन्तु इस प्रयास में वह शोषित और दमित वर्गों की घृणा और शहादत की भावनाओं को भुला देना चाहते हैं। स्मृति को राजनीति पर तरजीह देकर वह स्मृति की राजनीति को या मजदूर वर्ग को भुलावे में रखने की राजनीति को तरजीह देते हैं। और ऐसा करते हैं ‘शोकगीत की कोमलता’ के नाम पर। परन्तु ऐसा करते हुए वह जाने अनजाने पूँजी के गतिशील अंतर्विरोध में ही समाहित हो जाते हैं। परन्तु तब क्या शोकगीत की एकांतिकता बेंजामिन के लिए कोई महत्त्व नहीं रखती? बेंजामिन शोकगीत की एकांतिकता में नयी और पुरानी पीढ़ियों का गुप्त समझौता देखते हैं। वह ख़ुशी या कमज़ोर मसीहाई शक्ति का निरंतर भान है जो केवल अनुभवगम्य है। जिसमें ईर्ष्या नहीं है। एकान्तिक शोकगीत और एंटीगन की शहादत को लक्ष्य करते हुए ही बेंजामिन ने लिखा था: “यहाँ तक की मृत भी सुरक्षित नहीं हैं”।

कबीर के यहाँ शूर और सती का प्रतीक शहादत का प्रतीक है। वहां मृत्युशोकगीत मरजीवा अनल पक्षी की साधना में बदल गया है। ऐसा नहीं कि कबीर के निर्गुण में विषाद नहीं है। परन्तु यह विषाद मृत्यु की घटना के कारण नहीं बल्कि निरर्थक मृत्यु के सार्थक बने रह जाने का विषाद है। कबीर ने अतीत के रहस्यमयी रूप को लक्ष्य करते हुए लिखा था:-

कबीरा भेष अतीत का, करतूति करै अपराध|
बाहरि दीसै साध गति, माँहै महा असाध||१||
(असाध कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

अतीत का भेष, उसका रूप,उसका बाना अपराधी का बाना है। बाहर बाहर उसकी गति तो बड़ी साधु लगती है। उसकी गत्यात्मकता आदर्श लगती है। पर भीतर ही भीतर, अन्दर ही अंदर वह महा असाध गति लिए रहती है। बर्बरताओं को लिए चलती है। इसकी आन्तरिकता को साधना बड़ा मुश्किल है। कबीर इस असाध को साधने की कोशिश करते हैं। पर कबीर आधुनिक पूंजीवादी समाज में नहीं थे और न ही कोई ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी थे। पर कबीर के सामने भी अतीत से चली आती मृत्युशोक गीत और शहादत की परंपरा थी। कबीर उसका रूपांतरण करते हैं। उनके सामने भी पूर्णता की फैंटेसी उभरती है। यह फैंटेसी कितनी वास्तविक है यह उनके पदों में दीखता है। यह पूरमपूर मनुष्यता की फैंटेसी है। माया की फैंटेसी के खिलाफ पूर्ण अभिव्यक्ति की फैंटेसी। एकान्तिक सार्वजनीनता की फैंटेसी। और इस फैंटेसी में ही धर्म लौट आता है। कबीर का भग्नावशेष उनके धर्मगुरु में बदल जाने का भग्नावशेष है। कबीरमठ उनके पूरमपूर की धार्मिकता का वास्तविक होना है। पर इसके सहारे हम उनकी वर्तमानता का निर्धारण नहीं कर सकते। महत्वपूर्ण है वह उन्मेष जिसे हम कबीर की एकान्तिक सार्वजनीनता की साधना में देखते हैं। एकांतिकता तभी महत्वपूर्ण है जब हम उसे सार्वजनीनता के कबीरीय क्षण के साथ देखते हैं। इसके बिना वह स्वयं ही प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा में समाहित है।

वाकणकर पूँजी की पूर्णता की फैंटेसी से बाहर ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ से बनने वाली सामाजिकता की खोज करते हैं। परन्तु यह नहीं देख पाते कि मृत्युशोकगीत का एकान्तिक मूल अनुभववाद कैसे एक स्पेक्टेकल में बदल जाता है। स्पेक्टेकल बन कर फिर से पूँजी में समाहित हो जाता है। वाकणकर जिस सामूहिकता को तार्किक और कालिक रूप से पूँजी की राजनीतिक सामाजिक संरचना से पहले का मानते हैं वह अपनी आकस्मिकता के भीतर से ही स्पेक्टेकल में या कहें कि पूँजी की विचारधारा में शामिल हो जाती है। दूसरी ओर ऐतिहासिक भौतिकवादी ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के रैकरण को पहचानना चाहता है। उसकी ठोस पदार्थमयता को पहचानना चाहता है। उसे भविष्य से भी मृत्युशोकगीत की धुनें सुनाई देती हैं। पूँजी और धर्म का निरंतर पुनरुत्पादन कोई बाह्य ऐतिहासिकता नहीं बल्कि वाकणकर के तथाकथित ‘दलित चित्तवृत्ति’ के भीतर से ही संभव होता है। कबीर का वर्तमान चमत्कार और हिंसा के स्पेक्टेकल की वर्तमानता में नहीं है जो कि वस्तुतः विजेताओं के हाथों हथियार बन जाना है। शोषितों के लिए कबीर की सार्वजनीन साधना उसकी वर्तमानता है। अनल पक्षी के रूप में कबीर का द्वंद्वात्मक बिम्ब कुछ ऐसा ही है। यह साधना राज्य से एक स्पष्ट दूरी रखती है। कबीर के मठ उनकी साधना के ध्वंसावशेष हैं। वाकणकर के यहाँ कबीर का चौथा विमर्श ही एकमात्र और सर्वप्रमुख हो जाता है। इस प्रक्रम में कबीर रहस्यात्मक अनुभववाद के पूर्व क्षण में स्थिर कर दिए जाते हैं। चौथे विमर्श की जो मौन पूरकता है या जो काव्यात्मक मौन सहभागिता है उसे सार बना कर प्रस्तुत किया गया है। रामविलास शर्मा मुक्तिबोध की कविताओं में रहस्य और चमत्कार के आनुभविक बिम्बों को उनकी कविता का सार बताते थे और इसी आधार पर उन्हें अस्तित्ववादी और रहस्यवादी घोषित करते थे। वाकणकर भी कुछ ऐसा ही कबीर के लिए करते हैं। पर दोनों की दिशाएँ एकदम विपरीत निष्कर्ष पर पहुँचती है। दूसरी ओर कबीर और मुक्तिबोध दोनों के लिए यह काव्यसाधना का आतंरिक विच्छेद है। वे न पूरी तरह मौन हैं और न ही अपने अनुभव की अद्वितीयता को कविता की आत्मा बनाते हैं। यह आतंरिक विच्छेद उनकी सबद साधना की शक्ति है। यह रचना का आतंरिक नैतिक आयाम है जो मूलतः रहस्यवाद विरोधी है, जहां ये दोनों अपनी आस्था को ‘अकथनीयत’ की अद्वितीयता के द्वारा प्रमाणित करने की कोशिश नहीं करते। यह कल्पनात्मक फैंटेसी और भाषा की ऐतिहासिक-सामाजिक प्रकृति के बीच का रचनात्मक द्वंद्व है। कविता की यह लाचारी किसी छिपी हुई शक्ति के माध्यम से प्रकट नहीं होती बल्कि इसी में उसकी ताकत है। जो लोग कबीर की ‘चमत्कार और हिंसा’ के पक्ष को लेकर सहभागिता या सॉलिडेरिटी का प्रश्न सुलझाने की राय देते हैं वे वस्तुतः आन्दोलन को अनवरत दुहराव और नयेपन के भ्रम में रखना चाहते हैं। चमत्कार और कुछ नहीं सत्य के अतिलौकिक होने का चिह्न बन जाता है। कबीर अपने चौथे विमर्श को कभी भी चिह्नों और प्रतीकों वाले दूसरे विमर्श में थिर नहीं करते। ऐसा करने से कबीर का निर्गुण राम फिर से पारलौकिक हो जाता है। कबीर के यहाँ जो आत्मदैन्य है वह पूर्ण आत्मसमर्पण नहीं बल्कि विषयीगत सीमा का अनवरत बोध है। यह आत्मदैन्य प्रखर आत्मविश्वास से अभिन्न है। कहीं वह स्वयं ‘राम का कूता’ हैं तो कहीं स्वयं हरि कबीर कबीर पुकारते पीछे भागते हैं।

कबीर के यहाँ देह और मन या जीवात्मा के दो आतंरिक पक्ष मिलते हैं। पीछे हमने देखा था कि ‘देह और मन’ पुराने दर्शनों के ‘शरीर और आत्मा’ नहीं हैं। यहाँ जड़ शरीर और शाश्वत आत्मा की संकल्पना नहीं है। देह और मन एक ही विषयी जीवात्मा के भीतर दो विषयगत मार्गों की बुनावट है। मृत्यु देह का विचार है और जीवन मन का विचार है। देह या तन और मन या चेतना एक ही विषयी या जीवात्मा की दो भिन्न गतियाँ हैं। यह वर्णाश्रमी संकल्पना नहीं है। वर्णाश्रम में जीवन की सारी व्यवस्था मृत्यु का पर्याय है। कबीर वहां जीवन को मृत्यु की तरह देखते थे। वहां जीवन नित्य मृत्यु को प्राप्त होने का क्रम था। वर्णाश्रम में जो मृत्यु थी वह कबीर के लिए जीवन का पर्याय थी। संतों के सामने दो अतिवादी मार्ग थे- या तो देह का मार्ग था या फिर मन का। कबीर के ‘निर्गुण राम’ या ‘मरजीवा’ की साधना में यह दोनों अतियां एक दूसरे से बुनी हुई हैं। इस आतंरिक बुनावट में योगियों और वर्णाश्रम पंथियों दोनों के विषयों को अयोग्य घोषित कर दिया गया। यह एक नए यथार्थ का उन्मेष था। यह चिंतन की नई अंतर्वस्तु थी।

कबीर के यहाँ कोई पीड़ित भाव नहीं मिलता। वह कभी पीड़ित भाव के इर्द-गिर्द सॉलिडेरिटी विकसित नहीं करते। पीड़ित भावजन्य आत्मदैन्य उनके स्वभाव में नहीं था। जीवधारी का उपरी तन जो आखिरकार सब कुछ अनुभव करता है, कबीर उसे किसी ‘पवित्रता’ की धारणा से नहीं बांधते थे। देह और मन वैसे ही गुंथे हुए हैं जैसे मृत्यु और जीवन।मृत्यु या काल देह का विचार है जो लगातार मन के एक कोने में प्रश्न स्वरूप बनता रहता है। यह विचार मन के भीतर एक ‘किन्तु’ रूपी प्रश्न है। इसी किन्तु के इर्दगिर्द वह बुनावट है। यही किन्तु ‘संशय’ पैदा करती है। ‘आतमखबर’ इसी संशय को मिटाता है। आतमखबर और जगतखबर का द्वंद्व ही कबीर की नई सार्वजनीनता का आधार है। ‘निर्गुनराम’ के विचार की साधना ‘मरजीवा’ की साधना भी है। काल ईश्वर का नियम है जो मृत्यु के क्षण वास्तविक या पार्थिव होता है। काल की इसी लौकिकता के नाम पर विधि-निषेध जीवन को नियंत्रित करते हैं। इसलिए जीवन की साधना काल से एक होड़ है। मृत्यु में समानता को जीवन में समानता में बदल देना ही कबीर के लिए मरजीवा होना है। यह किसी महामानव की साधना नहीं है। मृतक जब धनुष लिए जी उठता है तो काल अहेरी भाग खड़ा होता है। ‘मृतक उठ्या धनक कर लियै, काल अहेड़ी भागा’। कबीर काल की सद्यः वर्तमान गति को हमेशा देखते हैं और दुखी होते हैं। कबीर का दुःख इस सद्यःवर्तमान का दुःख है।

काल सिरहाने यौं खड़ा, जागि पियारे मिन्त|
राम स्नेही बाहिरा, तु क्यों सोवै निच्यंत||३||
(काल कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रन्थावली)
देखहु यहु तन जरता है|
घड़ी पहर बिलंबौ रे भाई जरता है ||टेक||
काहैं कूँ एता कीया पसारा| यहु तन जरि बरि ह्वैहैं छारा||
नव तन द्वादस लागी आगि| मुगध न चेतै नख सिख जागी||
काम क्रोध घर भरे विकार| आप ही आप जरै संसारा||
कहै कबीर हम मृतक समानां| राम नाम छूटे अभिमाँनाँ||९४||
(राग गौड़ी, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

मन की विषयता बार-बार समझाती है कि ‘यह तन कागद का पुतरा’ है, विनस जाने वाली ‘कागद की गुड़िया’ है। झूठे तन को गर्व का विषय क्यों बनाते हो। ‘फिर भी, किन्तु’ तन का विचार है जो जीवात्मा की दूसरी विषयता की गति है।

तन राखनहारा कौं नाहीं|
तुम सोचि बिचारी देखौ मन माँही||टेक||
जोर कुटुंब अपनौ करि परियौ| मूंड ठोकि ले बाहरि जार्‍यौ||
दगाबाज लूटैं अरु रोवै| जारि गाड़ि षुर षोजहिं षोवै||
कहत कबीर सुनहुं रे लोई| हरि बिन राखनहार न कोई||९५||
(राग गौड़ी, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

पर जो कोई कहे कि कबीर तन और देह को छोड़ कल्पना में मुक्ति की बात कर रहे हैं तो यह भारी भूल है। उनकी साधना लोक से परे की फैंटेसी है ऐसा मानने वालों को कबीर तत्क्षण ही चेतावनी देते हैं। रहस्यात्मक बिम्बों और प्रतीकों वाले विमर्श की आलोचना तुरंत करते हैं:-

मन तू पार उतर कहँ जैहौ |
आगे पंथी पंथ न कोई, कूच-मुकाम न हारा |
नहिं तहँ नीर, नाव नहिं खेवट, ना गुन खैंचन हारा |
धरणी-गगन-कल्प कछु नाहीं, ना कछु वार न पारा |
नहिं तन, नहिं मन, नहीं अपन पौ सुन्न में सुद्ध न पैहौ |
बलीवान होय पैठो घट में, वाहीं ठौरैं होइहो|
बारहि बार बिचार देख मन, अंत कहूँ मत जैहो|
कहैं कबीर सब छाड़ि कलपन, ज्यों के त्यों ठहरौ हौ||४३७||
( कबीर ग्रंथावली, सं. राम किशोर शर्मा.)

यहाँ है शून्यवाद का नकार और वह संभव होता है जीवन के स्वीकार में। इसलिए कबीर मृत्यु की साधना नहीं करते बल्कि जीवन की सार्वजनीनता को स्वीकार करते हैं। यह मृत्यु के परिरक्षण के द्वारा मृत्यु का अस्वीकार नहीं है बल्कि इसको जीवन में भर कर उसका नाश करना है। कबीर के लिए जीवन मृत्योन्मुखता से परिभाषित नहीं है। जीवात्मा का एक हिस्सा अब भी कहता है ‘ना’, वह विचार करके नहीं देखना चाहता, जैसा है वैसा मान कर चलता है। यह निर्गुण राम की आस्था में किन्तु परन्तु का संदेह विनसता नहीं देखता। यह जीवन की एकान्तिक साधना में जाना नहीं चाहता। वह नहीं स्वीकार करता है कि मृत्यु का निषेध विधि-निषेधों का निषेध है। कर्मबंधन और विधि-निषेध जीव के रास्ते में खड़े हैं। इनका यथार्थ ही मृत्यु है। मन ‘राम नाम’ की आस्था लेकर चलता है जिसका यथार्थ जीवन है। सत्य सबका और प्रत्येक का है, इसी अर्थ में वह एक है। सच स्वयं अपवाद है इसलिए सबका और प्रत्येक का हो कर वह सार्वजनीन है और इसीलिए उसका कोई अपवाद नहीं। साईं, हरि, गोपाल, राम, कोई दार्शनिक सर्वोच्च सत्ता नहीं, बल्कि संबोधन की एक व्यवस्था है। वह अपने में भेद नहीं करता। उसका संबोधन भेदों को स्थगित करके ही संभव है। उसकी सर्व संप्रेषणीयता में ही ‘सबद साधना’ है। जब तक वह प्रत्येक का नहीं है तब तक वह एक भी नहीं है। कबीर हर भिन्नता की जगह पर खड़े हो कर सच की सार्वजनीनता कि घोषणा करते है। ‘मृत्यु और जीवन’ के दो विषयीगत रास्ते, भिन्नताओं की दो बहुलताएँ भी हैं। पहली बहुलता वर्णाश्रम के विधि-निषेधों द्वारा स्वीकृत है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो इन बहुलताओं को क़ानूनी स्वीकृति है। वहां उसकी अपनी विशिष्ट पहचान का पहले से निर्धारित सीमांकन है। दूसरे प्रकार की बहुलताएँ अपनी पहली बहुलता के निषेध में विकसित होती है। ये दूसरी बहुलताएँ ही सार्वजनीनता को धारण करने वाली बहुलताएँ हैं। यह अपनी दी गई बहुलताओं के अभाव को दूर करने के क्रम में उसका अतिरेक पैदा करने वाली बहुलताएँ हैं। यह सम्भब ही होता है अपनी दी गयी पहचान के या अपनी अस्मिता के अतिरेक में जाने की प्रक्रिया में। कबीर के शब्दों में कहें तो बेहद होने की प्रक्रिया में बनने वाली बहुलताएँ। हद मरे हुए विधि-निषेध है, ‘हद चले सो मानवा’। लेकिन ‘हद छाड़ि बेहद’ होने की प्रक्रिया में सार्वजनीनता की प्रक्रिया है। कबीर ‘हद बेहद दोनों तजै’, अनहद के क्षण को साधते हैं। अस्मिता और भिन्नता दोनों से परे अनस्मिता की साधना ही अनहद की साधना है। अनहद अनाहत नाद भी है। अनस्मिता या अनहद ही उनका ‘अगाध मत’ है। इस प्रकार हम देखते है कि अनेक होने के दो रूप है- एक विधि-निषेधों के द्वारा प्रदत्त अनेकता, दूसरी सार्वजनीनता की अनेकता। पहले का सूत्र ही है जीवों को ‘पापात्मा’ बताना, हिंसा से नियंत्रण रखना, प्रभुतत्त्व की स्वीकार्यता। इस बहुलता में एकता मृत्यु से बनती है। मनुष्य एक है क्योंकि वो मरणशील है। विधि-निषेध वाली इस सहिष्णु बहुलता के बीच एकता और सार्वजनीनता वस्तुतः मृत्यु की सार्वजनीनता है। मृत्यु की यह सार्वजनीनता ही कबीर को ‘मानवाधिकारवादी’ कबीर साबित करना चाहती है। जबकि कबीर ‘बेहद और मरजीवा’ का सार्वजनीन अधिकार घोषित कर रहे है। वह मनुष्य होने की अनंतता की बात कर रहे हैं। कबीर की साधना ‘मानवाधिकारवादी’ राजनीति को अस्वीकार करके ही शुरू होती है।

‘अनहद’ जीवन की साधना है। यह साधना मनुष्य को ‘लघु-अल्प’ बनाने की साधना के विरोध में है। मृत्यु की सर्वग्रासी अस्मिता के विरोध में। विधि-निषेध इच्छाओं का एक जंगल खड़ा करता है। इन्हीं इच्छाओं के मद में भुला जीव मृत्यु को प्राप्त हो जाता है। इच्छाओं की स्वायत्त गति ही ‘माया’ है। ‘माया’ इच्छाओं का स्वनियंत्रित जीवन है। विधि-निषेधों द्वारा जिन इच्छाओं को दबाया जाता है ‘माया’ उन्हें भी एक स्वनियंत्रित जीवन प्रदान करती है। ये स्वाभाविक इच्छाएं नहीं है बल्कि स्वाभाविक बना दी गयी इच्छाएं है। यह स्वभाव का भ्रम खड़ा करती है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो यह स्वभाव की प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा है। यह शुद्ध दुहराव का भ्रम है। यह अचेतन में विधि-निषेधों की स्वाभाविकता बनकर प्रकट होती है। यह स्वभाव विधि-निषेधों के उल्लंघन के रूप में स्वचालित रहती है। यह उल्लंघन की माया है जो स्वभाव बनकर विषयी को मृत्यु की ओर ले जाती है। यह जन्म जन्मान्तर के दुहराव को, उसके चक्र को बिलकुल स्वाभाविक और स्वचालित बना देती है। यह स्वाभाविक स्वतःस्फूर्तता भी कर्म बंधन में शामिल हो जाती है। इस अर्थ में इच्छा माया का ही अचेतन है। यहाँ विधि-निषेध स्वयं इच्छा की वस्तु बन जाते हैं। जिसका निषेध करना है वही कामना की वस्तु हो जाती है और फिर कामना भी विषयी के माध्यम से उल्लंघन के रूप में जीवित रहती है। स्वभाव भी पापबोध बन जाता है। कबीर जानते थे कि माया कैसी ठगिनी है। ‘वैधी’ और ‘रागानुगा’ दोनों ही रूपों में वैष्णवों की भक्ति उल्लंघन को विधि-निषेधों में समाहित कर लेती है। जिसे द्विवेदी जी ‘पति-भाव’ की साधना कहते हैं या जो ‘राधा-भाव’ की साधना है वह इसी माया के द्वारा नियंत्रित जीवन पाना है।

वैष्णव प्रेम काम की स्वाभाविकता का माया जनित जीवन है। कबीर की प्रेम साधना माया का विध्वंस करने वाली साधना है। इसलिए कबीर का प्रेम बहुत कठिन है। प्रेम यहाँ सत्यानुसंधान का जीवन है। यह सच का आनन्द है। सच की साधना में कबीर अपनी प्रक्रिया का नाम ही प्रेम देते हैं। नामवर जी ने ठीक ही कहा है कि कबीर आदि के यहाँ प्रेम ‘इश्क’ की तरह एक नई अवधारणा है जिसे भगवत गीता आदि में वर्णित प्रेम के सहारे समझना मुश्किल है। कहना चाहिए कि इसे शांडिल्य या नारद भक्ति सूत्रों द्वारा समझना भी मुश्किल है। कबीर की प्रेम-भक्ति नारदीय भक्ति मात्र नहीं है। द्विवेदी जी ने ‘कबीर’ के परिशष्ट में जो कुछ पद मौखिक परंपरा के डाले हैं, उसमें एक पद है:-

नारद, प्यार सो अंतर नाहीं |
प्यार जागै तौही जागूँ प्यार सोवै तब सोऊँ ||
जो कोई मेरे प्यर दुखावै जड़ा-मूल सों खोऊँ||
जहाँ मेरा प्यार जस गावै तहाँ करौं मैं बासा||
प्यार चले आगे उठ धाऊँ मोहि प्यार की आसा||
बेहद तीरथ प्यार के चरननि कोटि भक्त समाय||
कहैं कबीर प्रेम की महिमा प्यार देत बुझाय||
(२-१११, कबीर वाणी)

जो कोई मेरे प्यार को कष्ट देगा, उसके रास्ते में बाधा डालेगा, मुझसे दूर करने की कोशिश करेगा, दुनिया के जंजालों में फाँसेगा, अलग-अलग पंथों में भटकाएगा, ऊंच-नीच का बाज़ार चलाएगा, बाह्याचार में उलझायेगा, फिर चाहे वह ब्राह्मण हो या वैष्णव, शाक्त हो या वैरागी, योगी हो या अवधू, हिन्दू हो या तुरक, काजी हो या पंडित, उसे मैं जड़ मूल से वंचित कर देता हूँ। नारद! प्रेम में अंतर नहीं होता, भेद नहीं होता। प्रेम की महिमा सिर्फ प्रेम की साधना में ही समझ आती है। प्रेम आगे आगे चलता है, वही आशा है। प्रेम के बिना साधना संभव नहीं। ‘राम नाम’ में आस्था तो साधना की शुरुआत है, प्रेम उसकी भीषणता में है, उसकी कष्ट साधना में है। यहाँ भेद नहीं चल सकता अंतर नहीं चल सकता क्योंकि यह भेद की हदों को छोड़ने की प्रक्रिया ही है। प्रेम ही धैर्य,आशा और आनन्द है। प्रेम के बिना साधना संभव ही नहीं है। यह स्वयं सार्वजनीन होने की प्रक्रिया है। प्रेम साधना की लगन है, उसकी धुन है, उसकी प्रक्रिया में अन्तर्निहित आशा की तरह है। यह प्रेम सहकर्मी का प्रेम है। यह सच के दो पथिकों, दो साधकों, दो सहकर्मियों द्वारा बनने वाली सार्वजनीनता की वास्तविकता है। यह ‘बेहद’ की प्रक्रिया का वास्तविक होना है। इस अर्थ में प्रेम बेहद होने की प्रक्रिया का अपना आतंरिक नियम है। यह आस्था के जीत जाने का विश्वास है- भविष्य में नहीं बल्कि अभी इसी प्रक्रिया के दौरान। प्रेम का घर बेहद का घर है। कबीर के पास उसका नक्शा है और प्रेम की लगन है। और कबीर कहते हैं:-

कबीरा निज घर प्रेम का, मारग अगम अगाध |
सीस उतारि पग तलि धरै, तब निकटि प्रेम का स्वाद||३९||
(सूरातन कौ अंग, कबीर ग्रंथावली)

कबीर आदि संतों के स्वतःस्फूर्त अनुभववाद को जब नामवर सिंह ‘अनुभवसम्मत विवेकवाद’ कहते हैं तो वह एक बार फिर कबीर आदि संतों को विवेकवाद की प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा में समाहित नहीं कर रहे होते। नामवर जी द्वारा ग्राम्शी के सबाल्टर्न चेतना के साथ संतों के अनुभववाद की तुलना द्रष्टव्य है। ऐतिहासिक रूप से भी और तात्विक रूप से भी। ग्राम्शी मजदूरवर्ग की चेतना और व्यवहार के दर्शन को समझने के क्रम में लोकप्रिय धार्मिक आन्दोलनों के इतिहास को खंगाल रहे थे। ग्राम्शी सबाल्टर्न या निम्नवर्गों की खंडित विश्व-दृष्टि को ‘सामान्य-बोध’ कहते हैं। अपनी जेल नोटबुक में वह इसी सामान्य-बोध और धर्म, दर्शन और विज्ञान की अंतर्क्रियाओं के बारे में विस्तार से चर्चा करते हैं। दर्शन जहाँ एक संपूर्ण बौद्धिक व्यवस्था है वहीं सामान्य-बोध खंडित विश्वदृष्टि वाला होता है। इस खंडित विश्वदृष्टि का ही एक अवयव धर्म भी होता है। धर्म और सामान्य-बोध दोनों ग्राम्शी के लिए समूहवाचक संज्ञा हैं। ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रिया के भीतर कई तरह के सामान्य-बोध एक साथ काम करते होते हैं जो स्वयं इतिहास के उत्पाद होते हैं। धर्म और सामान्य-बोध कोई संपूर्ण बौद्धिक व्यवस्था नहीं बना पाते। किसी की व्यक्तिगत चेतना में ये दोनों मिलकर कोई एकता बनाने में अक्षम हैं। जहाँ ऐसी एकता दिखाई देती है वहां मानना चाहिए कि कोई सर्वसत्तावादी शक्ति काम कर रही है। धर्म वस्तुतः विश्वास की एकता है जहाँ विश्व के बारे में किसी दृष्टि और उस दृष्टि पर आधारित किसी व्यवस्था की एकता बनती है। इसी तरह समाज में कई प्रकार की दार्शनिक व्यवस्थाएं मौजूद होती हैं और यह किसी व्यक्ति पर निर्भर करता है कि वह किसे अपनी बौद्धिक व्यवस्था के अनुरूप पाकर उसका चुनाव करता है। ग्राम्शी पूछते हैं कि आखिर यह चुनाव संभव कैसे होता है? इसी के साथ एक दूसरा प्रश्न भी जुड़ा है। आखिर वैचारिक व्यवस्था और जीवन व्यवहार के बीच एक अंतर्विरोध क्यों पैदा हो जाता है? ग्राम्शी कहते हैं “और अगर सारी क्रियाएं राजनीतिक हैं तो फिर क्या यह नहीं कहा जा सकता कि किसी व्यक्ति का वास्तविक दर्शन अपनी संपूर्णता में उसकी राजनीतिक क्रियाओं में ही अन्तर्निहित है?”[17] दूसरे शब्दों में जब मार्क्स कहते थे कि अगर किसी व्यक्ति को जानना हो तो उसकी बातों पर न जाकर यह देखना चाहिए कि वह क्या करता है तो उसका अर्थ लगभग यही था।

विचार और क्रिया का अंतर्विरोध दरअस्ल दो भिन्न विश्वदृष्टियों की सह-उपस्थिति है। एक विश्वदृष्टि विचार की है, दूसरी क्रिया की। ग्राम्शी कहते हैं कि जीवन में इन दोनों का विरोध केवल व्यक्ति की आत्मप्रवंचना के चलते नहीं होता। यह एक बड़ी सामाजिक और ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रिया में अन्तर्निहित विरोध की अभिव्यक्ति है। जब जनता का काफी बड़ा हिस्सा इस आंतरिक अंतर्विरोध में हो तब यह मानना चाहिये कि जनता की कोई अपनी नवीन जीवन दृष्टि है जो अभी अपनी भ्रूणावस्था में ही है। ‘समाज में क्रियाशील मनुष्य’ (एक्टिव मैन-इन-द-मास) जिन व्यावहारिक क्रियाओं में रत होता है उनके बारे में कोई साफ़ सैद्धांतिक चेतना उसके पास नहीं होती। व्यावहारिक क्रियाओं में रत मनुष्य अपने आस-पास की दुनिया को बदलता हुआ खुद को भी बदलता जाता है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “ उसकी सैद्धांतिक समझदारी ऐतिहासिक रूप से उसके क्रिया-कलापों से भिन्न हो सकती है। कोई संभवतः कह ही सकता है कि उसकी दो सैद्धांतिक चेतनाएं (या एक अंतर्विरोधी चेतना) होती है: एक जो उसके क्रियाकलापों में अन्तर्निहित होती है और प्रकारांतर से उसे वास्तविक दुनिया के व्यावहारिक रूपांतरण में रत अपने सभी साथी कामगारों से एक करती है; और एक जिसे वह अतीत से बिना किसी आलोचना के ग्रहण करता है और जो सतही रूप से व्यक्त और मुखर होती है।”[18] साथी कामगारों के साथ एकता की अन्तर्निहित चेतना उनकी दैनंदिन क्रियाओं में ही शामिल है। मार्क्स के ‘थीसिस ऑन फायरबाख’ के पहले थीसिस के सन्दर्भ में ही इसे समझना चाहिए जहां मनुष्य की वास्तविक संवेदनशील क्रियाओं की वस्तुनिष्ठता की बात मार्क्स करते हैं। यह कान्टीय पूर्वनिर्धारित कोटि नहीं है। अन्तर्निहित चेतना और सतही चेतना का अंतर्विरोध दो भिन्न सामाजिक समूहों की विरोधी स्थितियों की ही अभिव्यक्ति है। दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो वर्ग-संघर्ष की दो विरोधी दृष्टियाँ हैं। व्यापक जन समूह वाली सबाल्टर्न जनता की अन्तर्निहित विश्वदृष्टि जो अभी भ्रूणावस्था में ही है वह कामगारों की विश्वदृष्टि है। अतीत से प्राप्त विचारधाराएँ जो बिना किसी आलोचना के सबाल्टर्न जनता की चेतना में काम करती है वह विजेताओं की विचारधारा है। ‘सामान्य समय’ में अर्थात् रोज़मर्रा के अपने सामान्य रूटीन कामों को करते वक़्त कामगार अपनी क्रियाओं को प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा के चश्मे से ही देखता है। ऐसा इसलिए होता है क्योंकि यह विशाल जनता स्वतंत्र या स्वायत्त न होकर ‘अधीनता या मातहती’ में काम करती है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “इस प्रकार इस सामाजिक समूह [व्यापक जन समूहवाला एक सबाल्टर्न समूह] की इस दुनिया के बारे में अपनी धारणा होती है, चाहे वह बीज रूप में ही हो; एक धारणा जो अपने को कर्म में अभिव्यक्त करती है, लेकिन सामयिक रूप से और कभी कभी ही, एक कौंध बन कर- जब वह समूह एक आवयविक पूर्णता से कार्य करता है। लेकिन इसी समूह की एक और धारणा होती है जो उनकी अपनी नहीं होती और अधीनस्थता या बौद्धिक अधीनता के कारण दूसरे समूह से उधार ली गयी होती है; और यह मुखर रूप से इसी धारणा को स्वीकार करता है और खुद मानता है कि वह इसी का अनुकरण करता है, क्योंकि ‘सामान्य-समय’ में वह इसी के अनुसार काम करता है- अर्थात् जब इनका आचरण स्वतंत्र या स्वायत्त न होकर अधीनता या मातहती (सब्मिसिव एंड सबोर्डिनेट) में होता है”[19]

‘सामान्य-समय’ के विपरीत ‘संकट का समय’ इतिहास में क्रांतिकारी संभावनाओं का समय है। सामान्य-समय प्रभुत्वशाली वर्गों की मातहती और अधीनस्थता का समय है, जहां यह वर्ग सुनिश्चित करता है कि कामगारों या सबाल्टर्न समूह वाली जनता की अन्तर्निहित चेतना एक आवयविक पूर्णता न हासिल कर पाए। कामगारों के काम पर नियंत्रण रखने वाला समय। काम पर नियंत्रण और प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधारा का आत्मसातीकरण एक साथ चलते रहने वाली प्रक्रिया है। मौखिक और सतही चेतना किसी ख़ास सामाजिक समूह की एकता भी सुनिश्चित करती है। वह नैतिक आचार-व्यवहार के नियमों को प्रभावित करती है और कई अलग-अलग तरीकों से चेतना की अंतर्विरोधी स्थिति पर काबू पाने में समर्थ होती है। जीवन व्यवहार के लगभग प्रत्येक पक्ष पर इसका प्रभाव रहता है। इसके चलते अंतर्विरोधी चेतना को किसी भी स्वायत्त गतिविधि, निर्णय या चुनाव की स्वतंत्रता नहीं रहती और धीरे-धीरे वह स्वयं अपनी मातहत स्थिति को स्वीकार कर लेती है। ऐसी स्थिति में एक ‘नैतिक और राजनीतिक निष्क्रियता’ कायम हो जाती है। और किसी विश्वदृष्टि की आलोचना और चुनाव दोनों एक राजनीतिक प्रश्न बन जाता है। (ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि ग्राम्शी के यहाँ ‘व्यवहार के दर्शन’ के रूप में मार्क्सवाद दर्शन और इतिहास को राजनीति से अलग करके देखने का विरोधी है।[20]) सामान्य-बोध के अन्दर ही उसके एक हिस्से के बतौर व्यक्ति में एक ‘साधु-बोध’ (गुड सेन्स) भी होता है। ग्राम्शी के यहाँ साधु-बोध की यह अवधारणा बहुत महत्वपूर्ण है जिस पर कई बार यथेष्ट ध्यान नहीं दिया जाता।

सामान्य-बोध के भीतर कामगारों की स्वाभाविक आवयविक चेतना जो संकट-काल में एक ‘कौंध’ बन कर अभिव्यक्त होती है वह कामगार के रूप में उनकी स्वतःस्फूर्तता है। यह स्वतःस्फूर्तता अनिवार्यतः प्रभुत्वशाली वर्गों की भौतिक और विचारधारात्मक एकता को चुनौती देती है और अन्तर्निहित विश्वदृष्टि के रूप में एक नई सामाजिकता की कल्पना भी लिए रहती है। लेनिन भी मजदूरों के स्वतःस्फूर्त आन्दोलन के भीतर सामाजवाद के वास्तविक स्वप्न को इन्हीं अर्थों में देखते थे। परन्तु यह स्वतःस्फूर्तता नयी विश्वदृष्टि की झलक दिखाने के बाद पुनः प्रभुत्वशाली विचारधाराओं की व्यवस्था में अंतर्भुक्त हो जाती है। अपने आवयविक सिद्धांत के अपूर्ण विकास के चलते ऐसा होता है। (दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो यह स्वतःस्फूर्तता पूँजी की अंतर्विरोधी गत्यात्मकता को पुनर्संगठित और इस प्रकार नवीन करती चलती है।) हम कह सकते हैं कि काम में अंतर्निहित स्वाभाविक विश्वदृष्टि का क्रांतिकारी सामान्यीकरण संभव नहीं हो पाता और वह दुबारा नए रूपों में प्रभुत्वशाली दृष्टि में पुनर्संयोजित हो जाती है। काम में अन्तर्निहित विश्वदृष्टि फिर सतही दृष्टि में बदल जाती है। संकट के समय कौंध बन कर जो संभावना या विकल्प सामने आता है वह वापस मातहती और अधीनस्थता में लौट जाता है। ग्राम्शी के लिए राजनीति के रूप में दर्शन की जगह ऐन इसी मौके पर महत्वपूर्ण हो जाती है। सामान्य-बोध से अलग लेकिन उसी के एक हिस्से के रूप में साधु-बोध सबाल्टर्न चेतना का वह तत्त्व है जो दर्शन या विवेक की ओर उन्मुख होता है। यह सचेत सक्रियता की ओर झुकी चेतना होती है जो अपने व्यवहार और क्रियाओं की यांत्रिकता से संतुष्ट नहीं होती। यह साधु-बोध “आवश्यकता की धारणा के सहारे जो किसी की अपनी क्रियाओं को एक चेतस दिशा देती है, पाशविक और आरंभिक भावावेगों पर विजय पाने”[21] की प्रवृत्ति है। यह सामान्य-बोध में रहने वाला एक ‘स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक’ (हेल्दी न्यूक्लियस) है। सामान्य-बोध के भीतर रहने वाला यह स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक स्वाभाविक रूप से दर्शन की ओर झुका होता है और जिसे निरंतर अपनी क्रियाओं के विवेक या जीवन विवेक की तलाश होती है। सामान्य बोध के अन्दर स्थित इसी स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक के सहारे ग्राम्शी दर्शन का पूर्ण इहलौकीकरण संभव देखते हैं[22]। इस साधु-बोध के भीतर विज्ञान और दूसरे लोकप्रिय दर्शनों के बीच भेद करना बहुत मुश्किल है। लोकप्रिय दर्शन का अर्थ है ‘विचारों और मतों का खंडित संग्रह’ मात्र होना। इसलिए साधु-बोध वस्तुतः सामान्य-बोध के भीतर स्थित एक आलोचकीय प्रवृत्ति है। यह साधु-बोध अपने आसपास की दुनिया में, कला में, क़ानून में, आर्थिक क्रियाओं में या फिर अपनी संपूर्ण वैयक्तिक और सामाजिक ज़िन्दगी में व्यक्त विश्वदृष्टियों की ओर उन्मुख होता है। कोई धर्म, कोई विश्वास या कोई सांस्कृतिक आन्दोलन जीवन की हर क्रियाविधि के भीतर किसी न किसी विशेष जीवन दृष्टि या दर्शन का पुनरुत्पादन करता है। ऐसी स्थिति में धर्म या कोई और विचारधारा कोशिश करती है कि एक ‘समूचे सामाजिक ब्लाक’ की विचारधारामक एकता परिरक्षित रहे। इस सामाजिक ब्लाक को वह विचारधारा अपने सीमेंट और गारे से जोड़े रखना चाहती है। धर्मों की ताकत इसी में निहित है कि वो कैसे अपने आस्थावानों के सामाजिक ब्लाक को बनाये रख पाता है। वे अपने सामाजिक ब्लाक को बनाये रखने वाली शिक्षाओं की एकता कायम रखने पर बहुत जोर देते हैं ताकि बौद्धिकों का उच्च स्तर साधारण निम्नवर्गों से अलग होकर टूट न जाए।

हजारीप्रसाद द्विवेदी हजारवीं शताब्दी के अनन्तर भारतीय सांस्कृतिक इतिहास में होने वाले परिवर्तनों की दो अंतर्विरोधी धाराओं का उल्लेख करते हैं। स्वतःस्फूर्त और जड़शास्त्रीय धारा। लोक व्यवहार के भीतर स्वतःस्फूर्तता को द्विवेदी जी भावजगत का विद्रोह कहते हैं। दूसरी ओर शास्त्रीय विधि-निषेधों वाली एक जब्दी हुई मनोवृत्ति का ज़िक्र करते हैं। इस्लाम के ‘प्र-भाव’ वाली शब्दावली के बावजूद हमने देखा था कि उनके लिए इस्लाम एक ‘अभूतपूर्व घटना’ थी। भिन्न सांस्कृतिक परिवेश के भीतर लोक की स्वतःस्फूर्तता का विलक्षण रूपांतरण द्विवेदी जी के लिए संत-मत था। संकट का पता द्विवेदी जी को पुराने शास्त्रों की पुनर्व्याख्या के प्रयासों में दिखता है जहां विधि-निषेधों की कठोरता बढ़ती जा रही थी और एक पूरा ‘टीका युग’ समन्वय के प्रयास में जुट गया था। यह शास्त्रीयता का संकट था। ‘आस्थावान’ जन समूह के भीतर से पैदा होने वाले इस संकट से निपटने के लिए धार्मिक विचारधाराएँ शास्त्रों की पुनर्व्याख्या में जुटी थी ताकि बौद्धिकों और आस्थावानों के बीच बढ़ते अंतर्विरोध को पाटा जा सके। शिष्ट साहित्य में इस अंतर्विरोध की पहचान मिलने की संभावना कम जानकर ही द्विवेदी जी प्राकृत और अपभ्रंश के लोक साहित्य की ओर मुड़ते हैं। दूसरी ओर धर्ममतों और अनगिन साधना पद्धतियों का एक जंगल खड़ा था, उसमें भी वह प्रवेश करते हैं। अनगिन सम्प्रदायों में लोग अपनी अलग अस्मिता पाने की कोशिश कर रहे थे। ग्राम्शी अलग पहचान पाने की इस कोशिश को महत्वपूर्ण मानते हैं। जिस सामाजिक ब्लाक को धार्मिक विचारधाराएँ बनाए रखना चाहती थी उसमें दरार पड़ जाती है। आलोचकीय दृष्टि वाला साधु-बोध विरुद्ध गतिवाले राजनीतिक हेजेमनी के संघर्ष की ओर प्रवृत्त हो जाती है। ग्राम्शी के अनुसार यह संघर्ष पहले नैतिक रूपों में और फिर ‘प्रोपर राजनीति’ में बदल जाती है। यथार्थ के प्रति स्वयं की दृष्टि को ज्यादा स्पष्ट करते रहने के कारण ही ‘भावजगत’ का विद्रोह राजनीतिक होता जाता है। द्विवेदी जी की कल्पनात्मक फैंटेसीयों में यह ‘राष्ट्र’ और उसके माध्यम से ‘लोककल्याण’ की मानवतावादी राजनीति में बदलता दिखाया गया है। धर्ममतों में यह वैष्णवता की लोकप्रिय विचारधारा थी। द्विवेदी जी कबीर में इस वैष्णव राजनीति की सीमा भी देखते थे।

द्विवेदी जी की विशेषता भावजगत के विद्रोह की राजनीतिक प्रक्रिया दिखाने में है। यह एक रोमैंटिक प्रवृत्ति है। भक्ति का वैष्णव आदर्श उनके लिए मूलतः एक रोमैंटिक आदर्श था। इसी रूमानियत के ‘क्रांतिकारी’ विलक्षण पक्ष को वह कबीर में मूर्तिमान देखते थे। यहाँ उनके आदर्श से ज्यादा महत्वपूर्ण हमारे लिए उस विरुद्धगामी प्रभुत्व की राजनीतिक प्रक्रिया की पहचान है जो फिर से प्रभुत्व की नयी व्यवस्था गढ़ती है। धर्म के संकट को लोकप्रिय वैष्णवता कैसे दूर करती है और आस्थावानों का सामाजिक ब्लाक फिर नए सीमेंट गारे से एक हो जाता है।

लोकप्रिय वैष्णवता की राजनीति और संतों की राजनीति में इस विरुद्ध गतिशीलता की दो परिणतियाँ है। इस विरुद्ध गतिशीलता की सामान्य प्रक्रिया के बारे में ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “ किसी विशेष प्रभुत्वशाली ताकत का हिस्सा होने की चेतना (या कहिए राजनीतिक चेतना) वह पहला चरण है जहाँ से वह धीरे धीरे ज्यादा प्रगतिशील आत्म चेतस् स्थिति की ओर बढ़ता जाता है जहाँ सिद्धांत और व्यवहार एक हो जाते हैं। इसलिए सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता कोई यांत्रिक तथ्य का सवाल नहीं है, बल्कि ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रियाओं का हिस्सा है, जिसका सबसे प्रारम्भिक और आरंभिक चरण पृथक् होने के बोध में पाया जाता है, स्वतंत्रता की एक स्वाभाविक (इंस्टिंक्टिव) भावना में जो आगे चलकर दुनिया के बारे में एक अकेली और समंजित धारणा के लिए वास्तविक स्वत्व (रियल पसेसन) के स्तर तक पहुँच जाती है।”[23] अलग या भिन्न होने के बोध में, स्वतंत्रता की एक स्वाभाविक भावना की पहचान और उसका समंजन के लिए प्रयास, द्विवेदी जी के सारे औपन्यासिक रूपकों की अंतरात्मा है।

सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की बढ़ती दूरी के प्रति स्वाभाविक विद्रोह के रूप में सिद्धों की परंपरा पर राहुल जी ने भी ध्यान दिया है। सरहपाद जैसे सिद्धों का नालंदा विश्वविद्यालय के प्रति विद्रोह और फिर से सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता का प्रयास यह बताता है कि उस समय के संस्थानिक बौद्धिकों की दूरी जन साधारण से कितनी बढ़ गयी थी। संस्थानों को भी आतंरिक विच्छेद के भय से गुजरना पड़ रहा था। कबीर आदि संतों की परंपरा में दोनों विद्वान् सिद्धों के योगदान को नोट करते हैं और इनके यहाँ सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता के नए प्रयास को इनकी साधना और इनके मत में पहचानने की कोशिश करते हैं। सिद्धों या संतों को अपने समय के सामान्य-बोध की आलोचना करनी पड़ी थी। यह आलोचना उन्होंने सामान्य-बोध की जगह पर ही खड़े होकर की थी। जनसमूह के सामान्य-बोध में जो साधु-बोध का ‘स्वस्थ-केन्द्रक’ था, ये संत उसे संबोधित करते थे। शास्त्रीय जड़ता के खिलाफ इनकी आलोचना मुख्यतः विधि-निषेधों की निर्थकता दिखा कर की गयी है। कबीर आदि संतों ने सामान्य-बोध की जगह से सामान्य-बोध की आलोचना करते हुए लोगों को विश्वास दिलाने की कोशिश की कि कोई भी ‘ज्ञानी’ हो सकता है। या ग्राम्शी के शब्दों में कहें तो “हर कोई दार्शनिक” है, इसे स्पष्ट करने के लिए ही आरम्भ में सामान्य-बोध की जगह से ही ऐसी आलोचना आवश्यक है।[24] आरम्भ में यह प्रक्रिया व्यक्ति केन्द्रित ही होती है। अलग-अलग व्यक्ति ही इसे अपने स्तर पर आरम्भ करते हैं। कह सकते हैं कि यह आरम्भ में वैयक्तिक साधना के रूप में विकसित होती है। ऐसी स्थिति में प्रभुत्वशाली संस्था या धर्म मत या शास्त्रों के सामने ‘सहज’ या ग्राम्शी जिसे ‘सिम्पल’[25] कहते हैं उसका संकट पैदा हो जाता है। ऐसी स्थिति में प्रभुत्वशाली परंपरा कोशिश करती है कि बौद्धिकों पर कठोर नियंत्रण बनाये रखा जाए, ताकि वे अपनी सीमा का अतिक्रमण न करने पायें। इस अतिक्रमण से अखंडता में पड़ी दरार विस्फोटक और विनाशकारी हो सकती है। दूसरी ओर यह भी संभव नहीं कि ‘सहज’ को ही बौद्धिक घोषित कर इस दरार को पाट दें। कबीर के सामने ‘सहजिया’ सम्प्रदाय ऐसा ही प्रयास था। दूसरी ओर योगमार्ग ‘सहज’ को रहस्यमय बनाने की साधना कर रहा था। ऐसे ही समय प्रभुत्वशाली धर्म मत को बचाने के लिए लोकप्रिय धार्मिक विचारधारा के रूप में वैष्णव भक्ति रूप ग्रहण करती है। कबीर आदि के लिए सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता इस वैष्णव भक्ति के एंटीथीसिस के रूप में विकसित हो रही थी। सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की एकता का कबीरी मार्ग हलांकि नए वैष्णव लोकप्रिय आन्दोलन के साथ-साथ ही बनता है पर हम कह सकते हैं कि इनका एंटीथीसिस थीसिस से पहले है।

कबीर आदि संत ‘सहज’ को उनके आरंभिक दार्शनिक ‘सामान्य-बोध’ के स्तर पर ही नहीं छोड़ते। वह ‘सहज’ को एक उच्च जीवन-विवेक बनाने की साधना करते हैं। ये सहज और बौद्धिक के बीच एकता इसलिए नहीं बना रहे थे कि विवेकवान क्रियाओं की साधना का एक घेरा बना कर अलग पंथ निकाल लें और जनता के बीच ‘सहज’ के नाम पर एक क्षीण एकता बनी रहे। वो चाहते थे कि एक ‘नैतिक और बौद्धिक ब्लाक’ बनाया जाये, ताकि जनता का बौद्धिक विकास संभव हो न कि केवल बौद्धिकों के छोटे से हिस्से का आतंक कायम हो। कबीर की सहज साधना को इसी अर्थ में समझना समीचीन जान पड़ता है। कबीर के शब्दों में कहें तो ‘सहज’ की पहचान इसी अर्थ में कठिन साधना की पहचान थी। ज्ञान के हाथी पर कबीर इसी सहज का दुलीचा डाल कर चढ़ने कहते थे। निम्नवर्गीय सामाजिक समूहों के ठोस ब्लाक के निर्माण के प्रयास के कारण संतों की साधना वैष्णव प्रभुत्व की विरोधी प्रक्रिया थी। इस अर्थ में यह न केवल व्यवहार का नया दर्शन बनाने की कोशिश कर रहे थे वरन् दर्शन का नया व्यवहार भी सामने रख रहे थे। दोनों ही अर्थों में यह दर्शन और व्यवहार की पुरानी सारी परंपराओं के साथ-साथ वैष्णव भक्ति के रूप में सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की नई प्रभुत्वशाली धारा की आलोचना भी कर रहे थे। सामान्य-बोध की यथार्थ दृष्टि की आलोचना के क्रम में संतों ने एक नई यथार्थ दृष्टि का उन्मेष किया था। यह यथार्थ की आलोचकीय दृष्टि थी।

ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं कि आलोचकीय आत्मचेतस् प्रयासों द्वारा राजनीतिक और ऐतिहासिक रूप से बौद्धिकों का एक अभिजात्य (elite)[26] भी निर्मित होता जाता है। यहाँ ‘अभिजात्य’ शब्द को उसके प्रतिक्रियावादी अर्थ में नहीं प्रयोग किया गया है। यह ग्राम्शी के यहाँ हिरावल के अर्थ में प्रयुक्त हुआ है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं : “कोई मानव जनसमूह व्यापक अर्थों में खुद को संगठित किये बिना खुद को ‘पृथक्’ नहीं कर सकता, अपनी जगह पर स्वतंत्र नहीं हो सकता; और कोई संगठन बिना संगठनकर्ता या नेतृत्व के यानी बिना बौद्धिकों के संभव नहीं; दूसरे शब्दों में कहें तो सिद्धांत या व्यवहार के सम्बन्ध (नेक्सस) के सैद्धांतिक पक्ष का पृथक् जनसमूह जो विचारों की अवधारणात्मक या दार्शनिक व्याख्या में ‘प्रवीण’ हो उसके वास्तविक अस्तित्व के बिना।”[27]

इस प्रकार सहज साधना कवि-बौद्धिकों के रूप में संतों के लिए एक द्वंद्वात्मक रचना प्रक्रिया थी। बौद्धिकों और जनता के बीच बनते रहने वाली सहज साधना। मठों के निर्माण की आवश्यकता को इसके दीर्घकालीन ऐतिहासिक प्रक्रिया के रूप में ही समझना चाहिए। कबीर आदि संत इस प्रक्रिया को बनाने वाले और खुद उससे बनने वाले थे। इस प्रक्रिया में लगातार उन क्षणों की पुनरावृत्ति होती रहती है जहाँ जनता और बौद्धिकों के बीच की दूरी बढ़ने लगती है। इस संबंध के पतन से यह धारणा घर करने लगती है कि सिद्धांत अनावश्यक, गैर ज़रूरी और महज व्यवहार का पूरक है। वह व्यवहार के अधीन है। सिद्धांत और व्यवहार को न केवल भिन्न माना जाने लगता है वरन् उन्हें अलगाकर दो भिन्न अवयवों में तोड़ दिया जाता है। व्यवहार रूढ़ियों के पालन में बंद कर दिया जाता है। इस यांत्रिकता की बार-बार पुनरावृत्ति का मतलब है “कि कोई अपेक्षाकृत आदिम ऐतिहासिक अवस्था से गुजर रहा है।”[28] सिद्धांत और व्यवहार की इस विलगता के बीच ही कबीर आदि के प्रयासों पर प्रभुत्व की वैष्णव दृष्टि का प्रवेश होता जाता है। दूसरी ओर उनके व्यवहार के सिद्धांत में अन्तर्निहित समानता के आदर्श के साथ नए उभरते वणिक समुदाय की संवेदना और पैसे के व्यावहारिक सिद्धांत और दर्शन का घालमेल करने की कोशिशें होने लगती है। कबीर निर्गुण राम के सगुण वैष्णव अवतार बन जाते हैं और मठों को बनियों का संरक्षण मिलने लगता है। यहाँ ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि यांत्रिक, निर्धारणवादी या भाग्यवादी अवयवों का सबल होना व्यवहार के दर्शनों की आन्तरिकता रही है। ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं कि किसी सामाजिक श्रेणी के “सबाल्टर्न” चरित्र की यह आवश्यक और इतिहास सम्मत विशेषता रही है।[29]

कबीर आदि संतों का अनुभवसम्मत विवेकवाद ‘सिद्धांत और व्यवहार’ की एकता के प्रयास में है। इसलिए प्रश्न केवल ऐतिहासिक दृष्टि का नहीं बल्कि तात्विक दृष्टि का भी है। ग्राम्शी कहते हैं कि यांत्रिक विश्वदृष्टि ही निम्नवर्गों का धर्म हो जाता है। कबीर आदि संत इन अर्थों में ही धर्म बनने के पहले के सिद्धांतकार हैं और इसी अर्थ में ठेठ राजनीतिक भी हैं। यांत्रिक दुहराव की प्रक्रिया दरअस्ल इतिहास की आदिमता की ओर लौटना है। व्यवहार के दर्शन के आरंभिक बौद्धिकों के रूप में कबीर आदि संत राजनीतिक अर्थों में ही प्राक्-धार्मिक हैं न कि वाकणकर के अर्थों में। कबीर के यहाँ काम की एकता की कौंध वह आधारभूमि है जिसे वह ‘निर्गुण राम’ कहते हैं। काम का विभाजन उनके गुणों के आधार पर नहीं हो सकता। वह निर्गुण हो कर भी विश्व को लगातार नए-नए रूपों में सृजित करता रहता है। विश्व को बदलता रहता है। निर्गुण सर्जना की वैश्विकता प्रभुत्व की विचारधारा द्वारा थोपे गए सारे भेद परक प्रवर्गों को चुनौती देती है। कबीर की ‘आँखिन देखि’ का ‘अनभै सच’ काम की यही सार्वजनीनता है। आरंभिक आधुनिकता के भीतर विकसित होती कबीर की साधना, ‘व्यवहार के दर्शन’ की आरंभिक साधना है- सहज साधना है।


[1] हजारी प्रसाद द्विवेदी ग्रंथावली, खंड ४, पृष्ट १८२-८३
[2] मिलिंद वाकणकर, सबॉलटर्निटी एंड रिलिजन : द प्रीहिस्ट्री ऑफ़ दलित एम्पावरमेंट इन साउथ एशिया, पृष्ठ २९, रूटलेज, ओक्सो-२०१०
[3] वही
[4] हजारी प्रसाद द्विवेदी ग्रंथावली- ४, पृष्ठ ३१६
[5] देखें, रणजीत गुहा, हिस्ट्री एट दि लिमिट ऑफ़ वर्ल्ड हिस्ट्री, कोलंबिया यूनिवर्सिटी प्रेस, न्यूयॉर्क-२००२.
[6] वाकणकर, पृष्ठ ३०
[7] देखें, वाल्टर बेंजामिन, थियोलोजिको- पॉलिटिकल फ्रेग्मेंट्स, http://platypus1917.org/wp-content/…
[8] वाल्टर बेंजामिन, सिलेक्टेड राईटिंग्स वॉल्यूम ४, पृष्ठ ३९१, (सं) हॉवर्ड इलेंड और माइकल डब्ल्यू. जेनिंग्स, हॉर्वर्ड यूनिवर्सिटी प्रेस, २००६ (आगे बेंजामिन की थीसिस की संख्या का उल्लेख उद्धरण के साथ कर दिया जाएगा)
[9] कार्ल मार्क्स फ्रेडरिक एंगेल्स, संकलित रचनाएँ, खंड १ भाग २, पृष्ठ १३०, अनु. और संपा. सुरेन्द्र कुमार, प्रगति प्रकाशन, मोस्को, १९७८
[10] वही, पृष्ठ १३३
[11] स्लावो ज़िज़ेक, द सबलाइम ऑब्जेक्ट ऑफ़ आइडियोलॉजी, पृष्ठ १४०, नवान्या, नई दिल्ली, १९८९
[12] वाकणकर, पृष्ठ २३
[13] वही, पृष्ठ २३
[14] वाकणकर, पृष्ठ २४
[15] वही.
[16] देखें, हीगेल, फेनोमेनोलोजी ऑफ़ स्पिरिट, (अनुवाद ए.वी. मिलर) पृष्ठ २६१-२८४ विशेष रूप से, मोतीलाल बनारसीदास, दिल्ली १९९८
[17] अंतोनियो ग्राम्शी, सेलेक्सन्स फ्रॉम द प्रिज़न नोटबुक्स. पृष्ट- ३२६. (सं. और अनु.) क़ुइन्तिन होअरे और ज्योफ्रे नोवेल स्मिथ. ओरिएंट ब्लैकस्वान, दिल्ली- १९९६.
[18] वही, पृष्ठ- ३२७.
[19] वही.
[20] इतिहास और दर्शन के सम्बन्धों को ग्राम्शी इन शब्दों में रखते हैं:- “From our point of view, studying the history and the logic of the various philosophers’ philosophies is not enough. At least as a methodological guide-line, attention should be drawn to the other parts of the history of philosophy; to the conceptions of the world held by the great masses, to those of the most restricted ruling (or intellectual) groups, and finally to the links between these various cultural complexes and the philosophy of the philosophers. The philosophy of an age is not the philosophy of this or that philosopher, of this or that group of intellectuals, of this or that broad section of the popular masses. It is a process of combination of all these elements, which culminates in an overall trend, in which the culmination becomes a norm of collective action and becomes concrete and complete (integral) “history”. The philosophy of an historical epoch is, therefore, nothing other than the “history” of that epoch itself, nothing other than the mass of variations that the leading group has succeeded in imposing on preceding reality. History and philosophy are in this sense indivisible: they form a bloc. But the philosophical elements proper can be “distinguished”, on all their various levels: as philosophers’ philosophy and the conceptions of the leading groups (philosophical culture) and as the religions of the great masses. And it can be seen how, at each of these levels, we are dealing with different forms of ideological “combination”. (पृष्ठ- ३४४-३४५.)
[21] वही, पृष्ठ-३२८.
[22] दर्शन, सामान्य-बोध और साधु-बोध के सम्बन्धों और स्पष्ट करते हुए ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं: “Every social stratum has its own ‘common sense’ and its own ‘good sense’, which are basically the most widespread conception of life and of man. Every philosophical current leaves behind a sedimentation of ‘common sense’: this is the document of its historical effectiveness. Common sense is not something rigid and immobile, but is continually transforming itself, enriching itself with scientific ideas and with philosophical opinions which have entered ordinary life. ‘Common sense’ is the folklore of philosophy, and is always half-way between folklore properly speaking and the philosophy, science, and economics of the specialists. Common sense creates the folklore of the future, that is as a relatively rigid phase of popular knowledge at a given place and time.” (पृष्ठ-३३६, जोर मेरा)
[23] वही, पृष्ठ-३३३.
[24] ग्राम्शी लिखते हैं:- “First of all, therefore, it must be a criticism of “common sense”, basing itself initially, however, on common sense in order to demonstrate that “everyone” is a philosopher and that it is not a question of introducing from scratch a scientific form of thought into everyone’s individual life, but of renovating and making “critical” an already existing activity. It must then be a criticism of the philosophy of the intellectuals out of which the history of philosophy developed and which, in so far as it is a phenomenon of individuals (in fact it develops essentially in the activity of single particularly gifted individuals) can be considered as marking the “high points” of the progress made by common sense, or at least the common sense of the more educated strata of society but through them also of the people.” पृष्ठ- ३३०-३३१.
[25] “The relation between common sense and the upper level of philosophy is assured by “politics”, just as it is politics that assures the relationship between the Catholicism of the intellectuals and that of the simple. There are, however, fundamental differences between the two cases. That the Church has to face up to a problem of the “simple” means precisely that there has been a split in the community of the faithful.” पृष्ठ- ३३१.
[26] ‘elite’ शब्द पर टिप्पणी करते हुए संपादक ने नोट किया है:- “élite.” As is made clear later in the text, Gramsci uses this word (in French in the original) in a sense very different from that of the reactionary post-Pareto theorists of “political élites”. The élite in Gramsci is the revolutionary vanguard of a social class in constant contact with its political and intellectual base. (पृष्ठ- ३३४, पाद टिप्पणी-१८.)
[27] वही, पृष्ठ-३३४.
[28] वही. पृष्ठ-३३५.
[29] “It should be noted how the deterministic, fatalistic and mechanistic element has been a direct ideological “aroma” emanating from the philosophy of praxis, rather like religion or drugs (in their stupefying effect). It has been made necessary and justified historically by the “subaltern”character of certain social strata.” पृष्ठ-३३६.

Zombie Apocalypse and How Not to End Capitalism

Paresh Chandra

Introduction: Zombies beyond Zizek (and Jameson)

The following statement, often quoted, and attributed at times to Slavoj Zizek and at others to Fredric Jameson, sums up a persuasive theorization of the ubiquity of the apocalypse theme in contemporary popular culture: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.”(1) The desire to go beyond the condition of capitalism hits a limit and is unable to envision an outside. The circuits of capital are so large and complicated and capital moves with such velocity that the mind boggles, unable to stabilize images; it is difficult to form a cognitive map of this totality (Jameson); sensibility is saturated, the imagination’s limits already reached (Berardi). In trying to reach beyond capital, the mind extends beyond itself and the world.

There is undeniably much to be gained by mining into this statement. But while it has the beauty of simplicity, it also suffers from simplicity’s inevitable partiality. Is not the impossibility of imagining an end to capital itself a brilliant ideological effect? In which case, should we not look upon the failed fantasy of capitalism’s end also as the wish fulfilling fiction of its continued reproduction/expansion? The Jamesonian lesson is that utopia (or, as in this case, dystopia) and ideology always exist together, verso and recto. So the project, really, is to think the text in opposite directions at the same time, see it as a disjunctive synthesis of the desire to see an end to capitalism and the one to see it reborn. Although this essay attempts such fork-tongued speech, because it addresses an imbalance in past theorization (marked by the popularity of the statement we began by quoting), it too lays more emphasis one side of the dialectic.(2)

There are two arguments this essay seeks to make, one explicit and the other implied. First, it argues that the principal lesson of the zombie apocalypse is that disaster is not simply an undesired, though inevitable outcome of capitalist development, but the remedy meant to save capitalism from collapse. Global destruction is the next logical step in the history of capitalist development and capitalism actively desires such destruction. Hence we have the paradoxical if obvious truth, that the narrative of such destruction (the apocalypse film/comic book/TV series) is essentially not about death and destruction, but survival.

This observation, notwithstanding its banality, is key. What is the nature of survival? Under what conditions will humanity survive? This survival is a return, in many ways to a state of nature from where history can begin all over again. It returns us to a basic contradiction that takes two distinct forms at two separate levels of abstraction, class struggle, and the struggle between nature and human production, and which culminates in the restoration/reproduction of capital. Should the world end then, capitalism will survive with the few survivors. In the absence of capitalist structuration reality will be disordered, a dark age of violence and naked force etc., an age that may eventually yield to a new history of capitalist becoming.

The second argument, implicit, is the real excuse for the writing of this essay. It is that while this idea – that destruction is the logical next step of capitalist development – can only be stated and examined using concepts borrowed from theory (Marx’s idea of General Intellect for example), it is clearly discernible only in the kind of texts we seek to explore. In other words the zombie apocalypse has an important lesson for radical theory, a lesson that may not be learnt anywhere else.

Primitive Accumulation and War

Thinking back to the Black Death, what surfaces is not just disorder and violence. Or rather, disorder did not limit itself to violence as its only form. Silvia Federici, in Caliban and the Witch, speaks of radical heretic tendencies in the European peasantry that had transformed that apocalyptic moment into a genuine crisis of feudalism (which was also, by instituting a likely foreclosure of the possibility of capital’s emergence, a crisis of capitalism). Federici is able to perform the difficult task of looking beyond history’s narrative of necessity, to a moment of possibility, to recover it as a moment in which the history of class struggle could have ended. History that has formed us, has been one in which the crisis of feudalism was the transition to capitalism. That was the extent of society’s recomposition. Class struggle continued to be, though in an altered condition.

The apocalypse narrative in popular culture today seems to take cue from this history of continuity, and refuses to brush it against its grain (in Federici’s style). Though according to the formulation (it is easier to imagine…) with which we began this essay, the apocalypse film/comic book/TV series tries to trace desire’s line of flight, the possibility of subtraction from capitalism, we cannot overlook the fact that but these are primarily narratives of its inevitable folding back into capitalism. (In that these narratives are quite like the kind of historiography that reads the crisis of feudalism, the heretic revolt, as the originary moment of capitalism, as primitive accumulation.) They are fantasies of capitalist refoundation. Example: In the graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Rises a Russian nuke disables all electronics, and blocks out the sun (taking out Superman’s energy source). Gotham is in disarray, riots, and criminals on a free rein. Batman mobilizes a bunch of lunatics and criminals, rides out on horseback, cowboy style, to take control of the situation. With the social and the scientific technologies that enable social control without the use of force having been rendered temporarily dysfunctional, the law needs to make use of the vigilante, who emerges to supplement the law, making use of primitive technologies of power.

In an essay published in 2008 in the New Left Review, later republished as a chapter in Distant Reading Franco Moretti had tried to forge a connection between war and narratives of adventure. Adventure, to rephrase Moretti (3), is the motif that dramatizes and mythologizes moments of exception, in which the law suspends itself to protect itself (and we know that capitalism recomposes itself and expands when it is threatened; like a shark, to survive, it has to keep moving); one symbol through which we understand these moments is the outlaw fashioned to protect the law (Batman). The outlaw signals a moment of breakdown but also the law’s recomposition. It is accepted wisdom now that capital preserves primitive accumulation; it is a path capitalism returns to when the accumulation of relative surplus value slows down and the market founders; direct but guaranteed accumulation remains a fantasy that is occasionally realized. To primitive accumulation we add war: two inseparable but not altogether indistinct methods that emerge every once in a while to preserve capitalism. Capitalism on the offensive, war, is at the same time capital on the defensive. Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” made some observations that are of interest in context of this discussion. Responding to Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, Benjamin writes

If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production…(4)

Capital, while it constantly expands its productive capacities, is also threatened by the possibility of plenty, of too much productive power. Benjamin argues that war is capital’s deployment of this plenty in an enterprise that allows capitalist relations to sustain. There is scholarship that has tried to demonstrate the relation between war, the consequent mobilization of the industry and the resuscitation of the market depressed by crisis.(5) It has been argued, for example, that the Bush II’s wars as much about reigniting industry as they were about oil. It is destruction that has pumped fuel into slowing circuits of capital.

There is still more to the apocalypse text though. Destruction is much more comprehensive and invariably of a permanent nature. In fact, it is insofar as destruction is irreversible that we can speak of a new kind of apocalypse that has increasingly begun to occupy contemporary popular culture. Destruction is not marginal; it does not just limit itself to one city, or the borders of a nation, or a foreign land. It is the generalized nature of the event that forces us beyond the primitive accumulation/war thesis, though we do not disavow it entirely; it certainly suggests a direction.

General Intellect, the Social Factory, and Revolution

In an extract from the Grundrisse, usually referred to as the “Fragment on Machine,” Marx speaks of the development of technology within capitalism and the possible advent of an automaton or organism, with whose arrival it will no longer be “the distinct individual entities of the productive workers that are useful for capitalist production, nor even their ‘work’ in a conventional sense of the word, but the whole ensemble of sciences, languages, knowledges, activities, and skills that circulate through society that Marx seeks to describe with the terms general intellect (706), social brain (694), and social individual (705).”(6)

Living labor is the determinant of surplus value and this process of automation reduces living labor “quantitatively, to a smaller proportion, and qualitatively, as an, of course, indispensable but subordinate moment, compared to general scientific labour, technological application of natural sciences, on one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination [Gliederung] in total production on the other side”.(7) In this then capital, the “moving contradiction,” drives itself to its own dissolution.

[In this situation it is] the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labor time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself…[Now] labor time ceases and must cease to be [the] measure of [wealth], and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labor of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labor of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis…(8)

Marx goes on to speak of the expansion of free time and the possibilities that open for the free development of human creativity outside the arbitrary limits set by capital. It is a strangely utopic view of technology, a view that has been difficult to endorse in light of the lessons of the 20th century; the extent to which relations of production are immanent to the forces of production became starkly visible in the consequences of Lenin’s introduction of Taylorist production in the Soviet Union. In any case, what Marx notes is that as productivity becomes independent of the imposition of work, the capitalist valuation of life in terms of hours of labor extracted becomes superfluous. This coding of life and human production comes under threat as new possibilities based on free time become conceivable. In other words, technology, capital’s response to every cycle of the working class’s struggle, and the most important tool with which capital recomposes work and the working class, becomes a serious obstacle for its continued and expanded reproduction.

As the role of living labor decreases, a parallel process of socialization of work is also underway. Marx speaks of a “dialectical inversion,” where this “most powerful instrument for reducing labour time…becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole life-time of the worker and his family into labour time at capital’s disposal for its own valorization”. This was a thesis that Mario Tronti developed to argue that “At the highest level of capitalist development social relations become moments of the relations of production, and the whole society becomes an articulation of production. In short, all of society lives as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination over all of society.”(9) The development of General Intellect has been accompanied by the emergence of the “socialized worker,” and of the “social factory” where capitalism reaches a stage of unprecedented totality, tapping into every source that everyday life can muster. This totalization is, however, another sign that the final throw of the capitalist dice comes closer. Technology continues to advance and capitalism already seems to have no outside left.(10) With no new territories and the return of the specter of moribundity in what form will the primitive return? With technology now based on microelectronics, with the expansion of the world’s nuclear armory, war too is a changed prospect. Destruction has become harder to localize. Weapons become more precise, but their circulation less restricted. What now?

Revolution. A fantasy appears, naked, in a none too sophisticated TV series baldly titled Revolution. It is 2027, fifteen years after “The Blackout” that caused the permanent disabling of electricity! All devices stop; lights, computers, vehicles, machines. In one blow all technologies of production and control are disabled. In these fifteen years people have tried to adapt to this new situation of low productivity, lack of centralization and political instability. Militias run the only governments. The problem of technology has been resolved by a quasi-magical event. The absurdity of the event is the most obvious sign of desire at work. This event is not primitive accumulation or war, but the desire that produces them is also the one that produces this event.

Apocalypse and the Resuscitation of Popular Culture

The zombie apocalypse narrative usually begins with a mutant virus, perhaps an experiment gone awry, or an out of control biological weapon. The biological weapon that attacks everybody without discriminating is but a sign that capital’s wars no longer limit themselves to the borders and to other nations. (In a sense they never have limited themselves in that fashion: war abroad, austerity measures and displacement of peoples within the borders.) But with each crisis capital expands further, productivity increases, with each recurrence capital’s war generalizes itself more and leaves fewer avenues of life untouched, more people affected.

Quarantine (2008) (there is a sequel too, Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011)) begins in a chemical weapons lab. 28 Days Later (from 2002, the sequel: 28 Weeks Later (2007)) begins in a research lab with the “Rage virus”. The virus in I am Legend (2007) too is born in medical experimentation. Resident Evil, which began as a video game in 1996, developed into a six film series about an outbreak of the “T-virus,” product of genetic experimentation by the Umbrella Corporation. The virus transforms its first victims, researchers at the Umbrella Corporation research facility (The Hive) into zombies and spreads out from here.(11)

The cause of the outbreak, while it may offer interesting interpretative possibilities, is of limited significance overall. The important thing is that the event that generates the plot occurs. Furthermore, unlike say a work of detective fiction, the plot is not moved by a desire for discovery of first cause, it does not lead back to its origin, but moves forward towards survival and reconstruction.

After the basic premise is put into place, after the meta-plot has been generated, a large number of themes and subplots that have populated popular culture over the last century and have been stretched to exhaustion begin to find fertile ground. The meta-plot is always one of survival. It traces the shape existence takes in this world and becomes the source of multiple experiences whose hollowing out the twentieth century has mourned too often. It appears as if for a humanity whose sensibility is utterly saturated (an idea that appears in Bifo Berardi’s Soul at Work, which we will discuss later) a break like this is necessary for it to be able to experience emotions that ordinarily are seen to be central to life.

In A Friend for the End of the World (2012), for example, it is the end of the world that makes love and friendship possible, and through a typically crude reversal, it is this love that makes the end of the world inconsequential. The return of rom-com humanism is signaled even better by Warm Bodies (2013), in which zombies return to life and are reaccepted by human society after the real bad zombies (Bonies) are taken care of; to be able to recognize that bodies are getting warmer a person in love is needed. Slant magazine’s comment about the film typifies what we speak of: “The ubiquity of Shakespeare’s original template allows Warm Bodies some leeway in terms of believability, where otherwise it sometimes strains against its own logic. But the film’s persistent charm encourages us to look past a few festering surface wounds and see the human heart beating inside, which is really what love is all about.”(12)

I am Legend (2007) sees the return of heroism and sacrifice, and affirmation of relationships (man and woman, man and dog). How does The Walking Dead (which debuted in 2010) fill up its seasons? The continuity of generations (Rick’s children); love and marriage (Glenn and Maggie; Sasha and Bob) wisdom (Herschel); human resourcefulness and the will to survive; more generally the power of human relations to revive society and meaning. The plot moves through a series of encounters, a series of false promises, failed socialities (the Governor and his settlement at Woodbury in Season 3, Terminus in Season 4, the Hospital and the Church in Season 5). The group contains a small number of core members and a loose circle of shifting members (characters die with each encounter, and new ones join in). The constant shifting, moving, creates the desire for stability, which is found momentarily at the Prison.(13) The safety of walls and the possibility of growing food, a settled life defines this brief period. Like in Resident Evil, violence and gore are significant features of The Walking Dead too, but the latter forages on to other sources to extend the plot. (The Resident Evil video games increasingly limit themselves to shooting and weapons upgrade.) The excess of violence, and the instability of these lives allow the show to make intermittent periods of slowness (farming, conversations, mourning, caring etc.) desirable and good entertainment for the audience.

In other words, it is destruction of capitalist reality (as we know it) that becomes the basis of the refounding of the myths of capitalist common sense. One of the key ways in which the crisis of capitalism manifests itself is the evident hollowing out of its myths – like the crisis of the myth of individuality or that of nationalism (in Europe) after WWI; hard work does not guarantee success; success does not get love; saving no longer guarantees a comfortable old age; education no longer gets jobs. Capital’s revival, at least in this case, is indicated first in the revival of key myths (mentioned in preceding passages), reinvigorated by the apocalypse, bestowed with new substance by the metaplot of survival and human ingenuity.

Killing Donna Haraway’s Cyborg

A state of nature then, a state without a state – this is the condition in which man struggles for survival. Capitalism has removed the obstacle it seemed to have created in its own path in what Marx identified as General Intellect; centuries of accumulated human labor, mental and physical, washed away.

We do not know, even now, what this tendency towards the formation of General Intellect could produce, and whether capitalism’s final crisis will ever arrive and what will be humanity after capitalism and work. Althusser, while exploring man’s alienation from nature as an essential aspect of society based on work, tries to think beyond this fundamental duality to only indicate that it is “a totality that has not achieved its concept”.(14) Concepts to think this totality appear by and by.

For example, Donna Haraway in her “Cyborg Manifesto,” theorizing in a manner that bears affinity to the Marx of “Fragment on Machine,” argues that “Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology.”(15) She imagines a posthuman that would show “a way out of the maze of dualitys in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves”.(16) What saves this image from indeterminacy is the concept of the cyborg. The cyborg is a hybrid, part machine part human – a “cybernetic organism”. It is an “illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism.”(17) Yet its lack of innocence does not scare Haraway. The cyborg that may have emerged as the culmination of the history of capitalism, (think of this history as the narrative recounted in The Dialectic of Enlightenment) as a kind of final product, could deliver us of this history. The history of man’s struggle against nature and of man’s exploitation of the environment seems to deliver the concept we needed to think beyond the contradiction that shapes this history. A new posthuman possibility is visible in the cyborg, an indication of something beyond the human-nature duality.

As we have seen already, fundamental to the post-apocalyptic reality is the removal of technology (whether we call it Cyborg or General Intellect).(18) The metanarrative of survival, scarcity and struggle against the non-human once more designates the human-nature/non-human duality as the shaper of history, the guarantor of meaning in history. To the extent that zombies become a part of the malignant landscape, an aspect of the background against which various subplots unfold, they participate in this dualist narrative. The human other will define itself by way of distinction from the zombie. In Season 5 of The Walking Dead the need to assert “we are not them” is strong; the confusion of boundaries between human and zombie is intolerable and those in whom this confusion appears have to be neutralized (even if it is a child – Lizzie). “The productive labor that post-apocalyptic survivors are forced into…works not only as a way to protect bodily integrity, but as a way to distinguish themselves from the simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar zombie horde, who are neither self-aware nor self-conscious.”(19) The dualities that Marx (in “Fragment on Machine”) and Haraway desired to escape are firmly reestablished and capitalism has begun its renewal through self-destruction.

Marc Foster’s 2013 zombie film World War Z, in addition to receiving good reviews grossed over $540 million against a production budget of $190 million; commercially, easily the most successful zombie film. The basic plot is familiar – a viral epidemic breaks out in a number of cities; it kills quickly and the dead become zombies, who by biting others spread the virus. The interesting, if not entirely novel twist the film introduces comes when Gerry, played by Brad Pitt, notices that the zombies tend to overlook the weak (diseased or old). He suggests this possibility to a group of scientists who find the idea tenable. The hypothesis is proved when on infecting himself with various disease causing microbes Gerry effectively becomes invisible to zombies. This gives the human race a chance for survival.

In an atmosphere unfit for the reproduction of the human body, the only way to sustain it is to weaken the body. In order to reproduce ourselves we must become sick. But the diseases we introduce into the body in order to escape the undefeatable enemy are diseases that we have the ability to cure. The virus does not attack the weakened human body. This weakened body can destroy the virus and those infected by it, subsequently curing itself and ensuring the survival of the species. In a much too obvious way, what we have here is an allegory for the strategy of survival that capitalism develops. In order to survive and to continue to reproduce itself capitalism will fantasize its own destruction. Much like the human body in World War Z, capitalism will sicken itself in order to survive.(20)

What is a Zombie? (I)

The zombie is not really the main thing in post-apocalyptic zombie texts. The chief problem is the disorder that is caused due to zombies; it is the collapse of technologies of production and power that produces the event proper. Once disorder has set in, zombies are just there making the survival game more complicated.

Yet zombies cannot mean nothing! The dead-living-undead sequence is too seductive to ignore when speaking in the context of capitalism. But one has to admit that there are no easy analogies to be made, structural correspondences to be traced. Dead labor, finally, refers to machines, to technology, not to people. The living in a zombie apocalypse text are the providers of labor. There is no meaning to be ascribed to the zombie in this fashion, not even the metaphorical kind that Marx projected onto the vampire. Where do we go from here? Scholarship has over the years offered interpretations.

It begins with observing that “the mythological origins of the zombie are rooted in Haitian vodou (known popularly as “voodoo”) religion, which combined West African and Lower Congo beliefs in spirits, nzambi or zombé, that could become caught between worlds, trapped in a container, as liminal beings that were neither living nor dead. Zombification was understood to be a reversible state of hypnosis, under the control of a vodou practitioner who could work with spells or potions to make the living appear as dead, a form of mind control under direction by the zombie master.”(21) It is obvious that despite these origins the zombie synthesizes many other images constitutive of contemporary social life. The idea of a zombie controlled by a master sustains in the way in which the image enters American popular culture. First it is the slave controlled by the slave master, then later the industrial worker. “This view of the living dead, which entered the American culture industry in the 1930s and 1940s, carried a critical charge: the notion that capitalist society zombifies workers, reducing them to interchangeable beasts of burden, mere bodies for the expenditure of labor-time.”(22)

Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is by most accounts considered the inaugurator of the genre, as we know it now. It brought the zombie to the center of the American landscape; it also removed the zombie master, making the creature autonomous. Romero’s 1978 film Dawn of the Dead places the zombie in the mall: the consumer’s mindlessness, infecting and producing more consumers, consumers roaming around the mall aimlessly, purely out of habit. The emphasis in all these interpretations is clearly that the post-apocalyptic world is not a possible future but an accentuated reflection of the present. Other readings are added, most of them sensible, grounded in some aspect of capitalist reality: the zombie as the hidden truth of neoliberal capitalism, the sweatshop worker hidden behind the smooth circuits of the supply chain, representative of the real conditions behind the reflective glass exterior of the postmodern factory.(23)

Offering an interesting formulation Aalya Ahmad writes, “the zombie apocalypse stops the machine, but the machine’s effects clearly linger on in the survivors”. One can think of Charlie Chaplin, still twitching and jerking, making his way away from the conveyor belt in Modern Times. Yet this image can be as misleading as it is alluring. It pushes us to imagine the body dominated by a mechanical rhythm alien to it. While this conception remains useful in describing a large portion of the capitalist imposition of work even today, it does not address a key mutation that has emerged in the last few decades, which is also the period which has seen the emergence of the cultural phenomena we are discussing. A glance at this mutation, to my mind, goes a long way in adding precision to our understanding of the zombie.

What is a Zombie? (II)

The zombie, while it may suggest a mechanical, machine like existence with its jerky gait, is actually a creature of appetite. Which is to say that it is not simply the body that has been conquered by an alien rhythm (leaving the mind free), the mind too has been subjugated; in fact the conquest of the mind is primary. The zombie is still subject to a master, but the master is invisible, not human. It is this aspect of the zombie image that me must explore in the light of this mutation in the nature of work that comes along with microelectronics. (We should keep in mind that it is microelectronics that makes General Intellect and the Cyborg, thinkable, determinate concepts today.)

Tracing capital’s response to the politics of “refusal of work” that defined the 1960s and 1970s, Bifo Berardi, in his book Soul at Work, also explores the implications of the coming of microelectronics. In distancing himself from the language of desire and its flows that is proposed by Deleuze and Guatarri in Anti-Oedipus, Berardi argues that it is desire itself that semiocapitalism (a term Berardi uses to describe capitalism today) taps; the proletariat realizes, or tries to realize her desires within this new capitalism and brings her soul to work. In response to the worker’s refusal of work that alienates desire, capital has recomposed itself to feed off this desire.

Earlier, leisure was the site for self-realization; now an injunction is in place that pushes the worker to realize herself in work. This new worker, working under the condition of semiocapitalism, trying to realize herself in work, exhausts herself without finding fulfillment. Realization in the fluid and ever expanding networks of semiocapitalism is an impossible ask; the world of simulation, finance and deregulation begins by precluding an encounter with the real, how then real-ization? Even as he speaks the Freudian language of a “libidinal economy”, Berardi touches upon the concerns of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Man has no being without objective being, which is man’s externalization of himself in the object of labor – this externalization leaves an objectively discernible trace, which is recognized by the other etc.(24) This externalization is impossible in the simulated world of semiocapitalism, ever expanding and so, unrepresentable, incomprehensible to the human mind. The individual constantly falls short, puts in more effort and falls short again. The validation that was available to the artisan from the community is also unobtainable for this creature because her ability to form community is destroyed with the saturation of sensibility that such work causes. In the end she is exhausted, depressed etc.

Berardi goes on to speak of “a morphogenetic modeling of the living operated by the habitat with which it is required to interact [biopower]”.(25) As it feeds off it, semiocapitalism also shapes desire; it models the soul. Alongside the mindless consumer, a mind (full) worker is created – the cognitariat. Referring back to Marx’s distinction between formal and real subsumption in the “Unpublished Sixth Chapter” of Capital Berardi offers an interesting paraphrase worth quoting here.

Formal subsumption is based on the juridical subjugation of the laborers, on the formal disciplining of the bodies. Real subsumption means instead that the workers’ lifetimes have been captured by the capital flow, and the souls have been pervaded by techno-linguistic chains.(26)

We had touched upon capitalism’s swallowing up of all outsides in our discussion of General Intellect. The outside subsumed on this occasion is the worker’s soul. There is no boss breathing down the worker’s neck; the worker largely supervises herself, encourages herself (maybe she reads something from the self-help section). In her work she seeks to fulfill herself, and nothing visible structures her desires or shapes her will. While there is an injunction to find satisfaction in work, it is impossible to discern where the injunction comes from. Desire, already structured to find satisfaction in capital’s circuits takes over the person, transforming the body into little more than an interface (hands on the keyboard, eyes on the screen). What takes over the self is experienced as an aspect of the self, that nevertheless comes from the outside, something external which can never quite be comprehended as that (how can I fathom that my own desire is not my own?).

We tend to think of power in relation to the sublimity of the infinite, facing which imagination and reason both fail. But what of the infinitesimal? Nano technology, the microchip and an infinity of points through which power flows. Man is no longer the measure of all things, Berardi observes. The order of determinations is incomprehensible to the human mind, and this crisis of cognitive mapping comes with semiocapitalism, which is characterized by both infinite (the ever expanding circuits of capital) and the infinitesimal (microelectronics). Berardi speaks of Ingmar Bergman’s 1977 film The Serpent’s Egg that may be read as an attempt to represent this condition. According to Berardi the film redefines historicity as “a psychological and linguistic process” and in the process makes way toward a redefinition of alienation as a “material, chemical, or rather neuro-chemical mutation.” The social body is slowly poisoned by the Nazis, who use a toxic gas to deprive it of its will. “The metaphor of psychological submission that we find in this movie is pertinent far beyond the example of German Nazism: it can characterize other processes of collective mental pollution, such as consumerism, television commercials, the production of aggressive behaviors, religious fundamentalisms and competitive conformisms”.(27) This poisoning of the social body and its transformation into an “amorphous mass” is a useful figure for the modeling of the soul we have been speaking of. The virus that causes the zombie apocalypse can be thought of as a logical development from here.

The virus is an efficient device for representing the invisible force that controls the self as if it were internal to it. It is the organic infinitesimal, the only form possible after the network (electricity, technology, General Intellect) dies. The age old fear of epidemic and contagion, of plague, combines with the modern fear of biological weapons to deliver a perfect device, a near-perfect figure for how capital works now, representing its effects, when the machine is dead.

The cognitariat is pushed to breaking point in order to realize itself within capital’s network and underneath the promise of nourishment, the soul is poisoned, robbed of its capacity to feel, commune, robbed of its connection to the body, to sensibility. The only extension this soul possesses exists within capital’s network. Once this network is removed, once this machine is switched off what we have is uncontrollable, meaningless desire without end; a thing driven by desire but without the means to pursue or even comprehend it. A hunger that is never satiated; the body is never nourished because its demands have long been forgotten by the mind. The zombie, seemingly all body no soul, is by way of a fantastic reversal the form that the bodiless soul (the cognitariat robbed of sensibility) takes in the post-apocalyptic world.(28) The zombie bites and struggles and eats so the virus can spread itself; eating does not nourish this body. This is certainly a good image for the industrial worker who loses his body to capitalist work in the hours he spends in the factory; but it is even more appropriate for the cognitive worker who loses his mind entirely.

Conclusion: Zombie contra Cyborg

The cyborg was Donna Haraway’s way of thinking beyond the human-nature binary because it made a future of hybridity thinkable. The idealist-capitalist desire to successively subsume every aspect of nature into its logic of unending expansion suggests a second direction for history. Though, as this paper too has belabored, the thought of this end is terrifying for capital, for arrival would mean the end of expansion, end of movement and so the end. The zombie is a third possibility – the duality seems to end, but this vision of posthumanity is that of humanity’s decay into nature.

The zombies may overrun humanity, and humanity’s struggle to survive against them will reproduce the original duality and perhaps, capitalism. The image of nature consuming society to end duality mirrors the more familiar one of capital subsuming nature. In the light of the fact that the virus is invariably the product of human tampering, and of our own reading of the virus as a kind of organic metaphor for semiocapitalism, or its effects, this mirroring suggests a displaced connection. What finally is the result of this war that nature wages against human sociality but the reestablishing of the duality it evidently strives to end, and in that the resetting of history to zero, and the frightful prospect of its repetition from Odysseus to Fascism and the culture industry? Some speak of the eco-zombie, the greened zombie, “the zombie reimagined as an avenger that refuses to accept environmental destruction and ultimately rids the earth of humans”.(29) But nature’s avenger zombie merely plays a part in the prospective narrative of capitalism’s regeneration.

Lets go over the argument once: capitalism has a tendency to go into crisis every once in a while. It comes out of each crisis by recomposing itself, and the working class, whose struggles push it into crisis. This recomposition happens primarily through technological advancement, but goes hand in hand with primitive accumulation, which is capitalism’s way of subsuming new territories. Over the last two hundred years it has managed to subsume increasingly large portions of the globe and technology has expanded by leaps and bounds (microelectronics being the most recent and by far the largest leap). The increase in technology (in Marx’s terms, the increase in the organic composition of capital) means that the proportion of living labor going into production decreases and with which decreases the surplus. To make up for this capital plugs in to more and more realms of life, formerly only formally subsumed, they are now really subsumed. We reach a point where expansion becomes impossible, as does the realization of surplus. War and primitive accumulation are now ever present to prop up this late capitalism but they become less effective each moment. It is now, the zombie apocalypse teaches us, that capitalism begins to fantasize destruction, self-destruction; an odd fantasy for a system which is reputedly the only one that exists solely for production. Not quite so odd for one that cannot exist without continuously expanding production. The process of expansion can begin again once the ground has been cleared.

It is capitalism’s relentless expansion that has led us to a moment that its interests can no longer be comprehended in terms of CEOs, owners, boards, or even nations. Its interests are as simple as ever, but no individuals represent them. We find no policy makers speaking of the need for destruction, nor CEO’s dreaming of zombie hordes. Capitalism’s interests have far transcended those of individuals (even those who are apportioned humongous shares of value). But what cannot be articulated in other discourses, we argue, can still be discerned in popular cultural production. The apocalypse narrative, especially the zombie apocalypse has a lesson, a political lesson that is hard to learn any other place.

So then, what if disaster is not an undesired, though inevitable outcome of capitalist development, but the prescription that will save capitalism from collapse? Perhaps it is by destroying the products of human labor that it has historically subsumed into its logic and by reestablishing man’s struggle with nature, by reestablishing that is, the binary Donna Haraway thinks the cyborg might help us transcend, that capital will sustain its hold over human history and nature alike. What if the apocalypse is produced, an incomplete one, just so that capitalist history can continue? How does this lesson affect discourses that anti-capitalists tendencies deploy in their criticism of capitalism?

The possibility of ecological disaster is ever on our minds now, and leftists, both liberal and radical, increasingly appeal to this fear in their criticism of capitalism. Ecological crisis is a key weapon in the arsenal of the anti-capitalist today. We have come to bemoan the fact that we had been oh so anthropocentric in basing our criticism of capital on the question of exploitation. (Indeed the zombie apocalypse has been read as a critique of what Naomi’s Klein calls “disaster capitalism”(30)). In her new book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein argues that “There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules.”(31) (This argument is part of a larger tendency to attack not capitalism, but its most recent moment: for example, it is argued ever so often that it is neoliberalism that is destroying education and health services, it is this late capitalism that is enforcing austerity measures everywhere. What is implied in all these discourses is that a capitalism with slightly different rules (say the old welfarist capitalism) is better and we must struggle to defend its remaining vestiges, if possible go back to nationalizing things.)

The idea of persuading capitalism to change its rule so that it may avert ecological catastrophe, or any catastrophe begins to seem silly if catastrophe is what capitalism seeks. Once more, the lesson that the zombie apocalypse teaches us is that capitalism has us fooled into thinking that it cares to save the environment if only a way could be found to keep profit making green. The point is not that there can be no green capitalism (although that too is true), but that it wants to not be green. In the process of fooling us into thinking that it cares, it manages to make more profit as we amuse ourselves to death, watching/reading this moral tale, deceiving ourselves into thinking that we have learnt its lesson.


(1) Both Slavoj Zizek and Fredric Jameson seem fond of quoting this statement, although nobody ever reveals whom it was who made it for the first time. For Jameson it is always “somebody” who once said it.

(2) As much as this essay is a reaction to utopic readings of the apocalypse theme, it also assumes them in a more affirmative manner, insofar its attempt to throw out the bathwater dirty with ideology, would be risky without those prior theorizations ascertaining the safety of the baby.

(3) Franco Moretti, “The Novel: History and Theory,” in Distant Reading (London: Verso, 2013), 177.

(4) Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), 242.

(5) See Andre Gunder Frank, “Third World War: A Political Economy of the Gulf War and New World Order.” (http://rrojasdatabank.info/agfrank/gulf_war.html; accessed on June 25, 2015).

(6) Nicholas Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 81.

(7) Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1993), 700.

(8) Ibid., 705.

(9) Mario Tronti cited in Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics, 72.

(10) One must acknowledge Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis’s criticism of this position. They argue that lags remain central to capitalist development: there is segmentation within the working class in terms of the use of higher and lower technology, capitalism spreads both development and underdevelopment, and “capitalist subsumption of all forms of production does not require the extension of the level of science and technology achieved at any particular point of capitalist development to all workers contributing to the accumulation process”. (Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis, “Notes on the Edu-Factory and Cognitive Capitalism,” Towards a Global Autonomous University (New York: Autonomedia, 2009). They are completely correct. But we are only interested in the tendency towards totalization, and increasing pace at which capitalism is subsuming its outside. As this process accelerates, the fear of arrival begins to loom. There may always be lags and counter-tendencies, but that does not undermine the force of the tendency we here choose to emphasize.

(11) A major theme that the series also deploys in plot construction is that of the evils of monopoly. The Umbrella Corporation has no competition, no detractors. Concentration (and centralization) is another aspect of the history of capitalist development. Capitalism demonstrates its self-contradictory character in this case too by battling centralization through its conscience keeper that is the civil society, and by using laws dictating fair competition. Indeed, the Resident Evil films’ short circuiting of capitalism and monopoly makes the criticism of the two indistinguishable; actually of course they are not the same: the critique of monopoly tries to save capitalism, while a radical critique of capitalism seeks its destruction.

(12) Richard Larson, “Warm Bodies”, Slant. Accessed on Mach 6, 2015. http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/warm-bodies.

(13) The groups tries a democratic mode of self-governance, different from the earlier episodes where they decided to follow Rick as their leader, accepting that this was the form best suited for the swiftness with which the group needed to respond when threatened. Democracy collapses with the Prison, and for the next few seasons, the group returns to its “state of exception” state-form.

(14) Roland Boer, “The Ecclesiastical Eloquence of Louis Althusser,” in Marxism and Theology: Criticism of Heaven (Leiden and Boston: Brill), 157.

(15) Donna Haraway. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (New York: Routledge, 1991), 181.

(16) Ibid., 181.

(17) Ibid., 151.

(18) In the context of this discussion see Alicia Kozcma, “The post-apocalyptic renunciation of technology in The Walking Dead”, in Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means (London: Lexington Books, 2013) ed. Murali Balaji, 151. Kozma makes an interesting case, especially through her reading of the initial scenes after Rick wakes up in the hospital in Season 1 (Thinking Dead 151). She argues that the show renounces technology and moves towards the constitution of a parahumanity. Her argument is based on the notion of a choice between technology (which the show renounces) and human ingenuity (which it foregrounds). It is important here to reiterate Adorno and Horkheimer’s argument, and observe that this binary collapses if we see technology being rooted in precisely this notion of ingenuity of humanity struggling with nature.

(19) Alicia Kozcma, “The post-apocalyptic renunciation of technology in The Walking Dead”, in Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means (London: Lexington Books, 2013) ed. Murali Balaji, 153.

(20) Another revealing analogy: In an essay from 1937, called “Constructions in Analysis” Freud draws an interesting comparison between the constructions that appear in analysis and those that appear in psychosis.

The delusions of patients appear to me to be the equivalents of the constructions which we build up in the course of an analytic treatment – attempts at explanation and cure, though it is true that these, under the conditions of a psychosis, can do no more than replace the fragment of reality that is being disavowed in the present by another fragment that had already been disavowed in the remote past. (p. 204, After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis)

The desire for subtraction from the symbolic order is visible in the analysand’s constructions. The constructions of analysis do not “reduce the analysand’s linguistic production to the mechanical insistence of the signifying chain…the aim of construction would not be to resignify these nodes [of non-sense] but to re-constellate them in order to attenuate the subject’s alienation in the symbolic order.” (p. 206, ibid) What is key is that in the rejuvenation of the traumatized ego, the traumatizing situation that the ego cannot transcend is replaced by one that had already been transcended “in the remote past”. In the psychotic-analyst couple we have a useful miniaturization of the contradiction (more technology-less technology; concentration-competition) that we have been tracing in capitalism as well as the coherence it (re)produces repeatedly without resolving the contradiction.

(21) Zara Zimbaro, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” Censored 2015 (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2014), 272.

(22) Ibid., 272.

(23) Most of these readings can be found summarized in Zara Zimbardo’s chapter in Censored 2015.

(24) It would seem inconsistent to speak of ‘recognition’ in the same breath as Anti-Oedipus. But this inconsistency, if it exists, is rooted in Berardi’s work. The other way of thinking about it is that the break from Anti-Oedipus we mention, returns Berardi to a mode of theorizing in which this Hegelian-Marxian-Freudian category becomes productive again.

(25) Bifo Berardi, Soul at Work (MA: The MIT Press, 2009), 172.

(26) Ibid., 173.

(27) Ibid., 97.

(28) “The zombie is different from other monsters because the body is resurrected and retained: only consciousness is permanently lost. Like the vampire and the werewolf, the zombie threatens with its material form. Whereas the vampire and even the intangible ghost retain their mental faculties, and the werewolf may become irrational, bestial only part of time, only the zombie has completely lost its mind, becoming a blank—animate, but wholly devoid of consciousness.” (A Zombie Manifesto, p. 89)

Later on in the essay: “In Haitian folklore, from which all zombies are derived, the word zombie meant not just “a body without a soul” but also “a soul without a body.” (A Zombie Manifesto, p. 97)

(29) Zimbardo, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” 286.

(30) Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007).

(31) Naomi Klein, quoted in Rob Nixon, “Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything,” The New York Times, accessed on March 5, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/09/books/review/naomi-klein-this-changes-everything-review.html?_r=0.

Lessons from Jhandewalan and JNU: XIII Theses on Annihilation of Caste and Abolition of Classes

Pothik Ghosh

“It is a pity that caste even today has its defenders. The defences are many. It is defended on the ground that the caste system is but another name for division of labour and if division of labour is a necessary feature of every civilized society then it is argued that there is nothing wrong in the caste system. Now the first thing to be urged against this view is that caste system is not merely division of labour. It is also a division of labourers. – B.R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste

“Marxism can develop only through struggle, and not only is this true of the past and the present, it is necessarily true of the future as well. What is correct invariably develops in the course of struggle with what is wrong. The true, the good and the beautiful always exist by contrast with the false, the evil and the ugly, and grow in struggle with the latter. As soon as a wrong thing is rejected and a particular truth accepted by mankind, new truths begin their struggle with new errors. Such struggles will never end. This is the law of development of truth and, naturally, of Marxism as well.” – Mao Zedong, ‘On “Let A Hundred Flowers Blossom, Let A Hundred Schools of Thought Contend” And “Long-Term Coexistence and Mutual Supervision’ (Five Essays on Philosophy)

“If we really need to go back to the classics, then let us say Lenin + Luxemburg, within a different horizon, not one of a continuity of struggle from democracy to socialism, but rather the horizon of the assertion and persistence of the communist need of the masses that is continuously ruptured on the capitalist side and constantly reproposed on the workers’ side.” – Antonio Negri, ‘Workers’ Party Against Work’ (Books for Burning)


Here are a couple of questions that every Indian radical worth his (or her) salt must now squarely and sincerely confront. Is it his lot now, in this second decade of the twenty-first century, to passively contemplate various struggles against oppression being mercilessly thrashed around and beaten to a pulp? Can such struggles, and their radical protagonists, do no better than turn their unmitigated physical brutalisation and political defeat into spectacles of sorry victimhood, and wait for the collective liberal conscience of the Indian nation to be moved enough for it to toss those struggles a few scraps of legalistic relief?

These questions are doubtless inconvenient and irksome for radicals currently immersed in a misplaced sense of victory and valour. They certainly do tend to poop the self-congratulatory party our spectacle-addled leftists and left-liberals have been busy hosting for a while now. Nevertheless, those questions have become particularly pressing after the Delhi police, acting in concert with reactionary lynch-mobs, unleashed an unsparing physical assault on university students demonstrating against casteist discrimination, while demanding justice for Rohit Vemula, outside the Delhi RSS office in Jhandewalan on January 30. And now, in the wake of a concerted counter-revolutionary offensive that was jump-started at JNU, our radicals simply have no other option than to seriously grapple with those questions.

Now is perhaps the right time for them to begin considering how their sundry protest-demonstrations can turn into forms of effective urban resistance. Something that will ensure the repressive state apparatuses and the counter-revolutionary goon-squads get as good as they give.

Our radicals need to think how slogan-shouting can cease to be the raising of demands and, instead, become a call for direct political action. However, this, contrary to first appearances, is not a plea for reactive violence. It is, instead, meant to be a proposal for developing a strategy that will enable the concrete articulation of direct transformative action.


A protracted period of hard work is required to put such a strategy in place. This cannot happen until and unless the concrete social spaces (or spatio-temporalities) – like, for example, the university – from which such protest-demonstrations emanate, and which are themselves internally segmented and hierarchised, are rendered sites of internal struggle.

Such internal struggles are needed not so that those social spaces function better as democratic islands – that is, function more efficiently as the (differentially) inclusive spaces they have always been. Rather, such struggles are needed so that the spaces in question are reorganised in a manner that they are internally de-segmented. All politics of so-called democratisation that seek to render social spaces more inclusive do no more than reproduce the logic of differential inclusion by recomposing that logic merely at the level of its concrete socio-historical forms or appearances. Until now, such types of politics have achieved that by mainstreaming social identities and forces by intensifying segmentation – i.e., by internally segmenting them.

Clearly, such politics of progressive democratisation does no more than enhance the democracy of negotiating better the terms of one’s systemic enslavement and domination. As opposed to such politics of so-called democratisation, the politics being proposed here is that of struggles for a complete functionalisation of social division of labour, and its constitutive hierarchy.

Socio-technical division of labour – or technical composition of social labour – is the constitutive basis of the internally segmented nature, and the attendant undemocratic and exclusivist culture, of all extant social spaces. There is absolutely no doubt that struggles need to target this undemocratic culture in order to destroy it. But the destruction of this culture, by way of its radical transformation, needs to be envisaged in a fashion that it articulates the destruction of the objective, material basis of that culture – the latter being a phenomenal manifestation of the former. In other words, struggles against undemocratic culture must target it as a mediation of its objective, material basis – which is social division of labour. This basis has to be negated in, as and through an affirmation of complete functionalisation of division of labour in its various concrete forms.

This would, to reiterate our point, negate social division of labour in its caste-like operation, and the logic of value-relationality that animates it. Among other things, this is the only way in which the radical-republican Ambedkarite project of annihilation of caste can be prised free from its bourgeois intsrumentalisation to be rendered an indispensable and integral moment of the revolutionary programme of abolition (not equality) of classes in the concrete specificity of the Indian subcontinent.

But what exactly would this proposed functionalisation of division of labour amount to? This would mean the elimination of individuated and fixed work-roles by rendering them rotational, fluid and thoroughly dynamic. That would ensure the hierarchy among different moments of the overall labour process – the social-industrial process – becomes dynamic and functional too. Among other things, this would also ensure the unleashing of technological potential in a manner that people doing certain kinds of degrading work such as manual scavenging are liberated from it.

Now, class struggle-induced development of capitalism through a progressive increase in the organic composition of capital has, as Marx had predicted in Capital, Volume I (‘Machinery and Modern Industry), already brought us close to realising the complete functionalisation of division of labour. The unstoppable rise in same-skilling due to functional simplification of the labour process on account of growing technologisation of production has ensured that.

But precisely because the production process is still orientated to enable and realise capital accumulation through exchange, it continues to be structured to enable extraction of surplus-value. As a result, the growing functionalisation of division of labour is registered, experienced and lived as unprecedented economic and social precarity, even as that precarity itself is continually segmented and differentially distributed. Not for nothing does Italian Marxist Paolo Virno characterise this conjuncture of capitalist development as “the communism of capital”.

In such circumstances, the only way forward would be to accentuate and organise the functional simplification of the labour process in a manner that various work-roles tend to become more and more dynamic, and thus less and less individuated and fixed, even as exchange-relations among different sites of production are simultaneously sought to be abolished. That would be a movement in the direction of complete functionalisation of division of labour, which is the only way for us to overcome “the communism of capital” and the abject levels of precarity and suffering it entails.


At this point, we would do well to flesh out the theoretical contours of a political strategy that strives to accomplish that. Let us begin by exploring in some detail the relationship between social division of labour and segmentation of social labour. Social division of labour has been the organising principle of all social formations, capitalism included. That is the reason why all such social formations have been class-divided societies.

Social division of labour is actually “division of labourers”. It is the principle of segmentation in operation. Ambedkar had demonstrated that while dealing with the problem of caste and its annihilation.

What needs to be properly grasped, however, is the crucial distinction between the functionality of social division of labour in socio-economic formations of yore and its functionality in capitalism. In pre-capitalist societies, social division of labour functioned purely as the arbitrariness and irrationality of power-relations that are intrinsic to such a division. In capitalism, the rationality of objectification, which is the mutual commensurability of different things – and thus exchange-relationality as its social-phenomenal realisation – mobilises and structures the social division of labour and the irrationality of power-relations intrinsic to it.

This does not imply that in capitalism the arbitrariness of power-relations, inherent in the operation of social division of labour, disappears. All it means is the rationality of objectification and thingification – which is manifest through exchange-relations as the law of value – validates the irrationality and arbitrariness of power-relations. This is accomplished by mobilising it in a way that the irrationality of power becomes integral to the rationality of value even as it retains its intrinsic irrationality and arbitrariness.

Not for nothing did Marx characterise capital as a “living contradiction”. Capital, as should be amply evident now, is constitutively an irrationalised rationality. So, insofar as social division of labour in capitalism is concerned, its functionality gets structured by exchange-relations to be their condition of necessity. Consequently, the functionality of social division of labour is structured to be the extraction of surplus labour time (or surplus-value). Its structural functionality is no longer what it used to be in various pre-capitalist epochs: simply the extraction of surplus use-values and surplus (concrete) labour.

This is precisely the reason why the division of labourers, which social division of labour unmistakably articulates in all socio-economic formations, functions in capitalism – even in concrete situations where such division of labour and labourers is not ostensibly mediated by the sphere of exchange – as the integral systemic digit of transfer of value from some segments of social labour to others. Therefore, it also functions as the systemic digit of extraction of value from social labour by social capital.

Social division of labour, insofar as it is the function through which the structure of value-relations institutes and organises itself, becomes the basis for generalisation of division of labourers, or segmentation of social labour.

What does this generalisation of segmentation of social labour – with its basis in the functioning of socio-technical division of labour – imply? Clearly, segmentation of social labour not only exists in, as and through concrete forms of socio-technical division of labour; it often exists even within the same work-function where there is no such division of labour possible.

In other words, not only does socio-technical division of labour in capitalism directly and immediately amount to segmentation of social labour, it also generates an overall culture of segmentation. Social labour is often hierarchically divided across various relational axes where there is no such socio-technical division of labour at work in an immediate sense.

In capitalism, social division of labour not only functions directly as division of labourers, it is also the overall condition for segmentation of social labour. An example of segmentation of social labour without the direct functioning of socio-technical division of labour – albeit certainly under its condition – is the division among permanent, contract and temporary workers within the same work-function or labour-process.


But the most apposite example that demonstrates segmentation of social labour both with and without its socio-technical division is the functionality of the caste system in its animation by capital’s value-relational logic. The appropriateness of this example stems from the fact that the context of this discussion happens to be that of caste-based oppression of Dalits – together, of course, with the oppression of nationalities such as Kashmiris – and struggles against it.

Not only does the caste system as social division of labour – thanks to it being a functional system of caste-occupation correlation – segment social labour, the culture it generates also serves to segment, or hierarchically divide, lower-caste and upper-caste labourers engaged in the same work-function. For instance, the caste-system in its functioning not only hierarchically divides the sweeper or the cobbler from the university student or teacher, but its culture also hierarchically segments lower-caste students (or teachers) of a particular discipline in a particular university from upper-caste ones in the same discipline and in the same university. This latter kind of segmental relationship, and the struggle it engenders, cannot be grasped in terms of it merely being the superstructure generated by the economic base of caste as social division of labour.

Of course, caste as a system of caste-occupation correlation has been rendered a key constituent of capitalist social division of labour in the historical specificity of the Indian subcontinent. It is, without doubt, a necessary condition for the existence of the culture that segments, or hierarchically divides, lower-caste labourers from the upper-caste ones within same work-functions. That said, the cultural struggle engendered by this kind of segmental relationship within the same work-function or labour-process is relatively autonomous of its economic basis in caste-based socio-technical division of labour. Which is to say, this culturally-articulated segmental relation, and the specific kind of struggle it engenders, is merely conditioned by the caste-based economy of socio-technical division of labour. It, therefore, has an autonomy all its own.

The relative autonomy of such culturally-articulated segmental relations between labourers engaged in same work-functions means that such cultural relations of hierarchy must also be grasped as economic relations of production in their own right. (It must be mentioned here that caste is only one of the indices, together with religion/ community, gender, sexuality and oppressed nationality, of such culturally-articulated economic relations of segmentation. In fact, the occupation and colonisation of Kashmir by India, together with the concomitant ideology of Indian nationalism in its ethno-racial and communal articulations in the Indian mainland, serves to regiment social labour by being constitutive of segmentation of social labour in its subcontinental specificity.)


The question, however, is how does one grasp a culturally-articulated relation of hierarchy in economic and productive terms. Marxists could, for one, attempt to do that by engaging rigorously with Ambedkar’s critique of socialism in Annihilation of Caste. Ambedkar had forcefully insisted that the conceptual centrality of property relations in socialist analysis was responsible for the paradigmatic blindness of Indian socialists to the problem of caste.

That problem was, as Ambedkar saw it, primarily one of social recognition and dignity, and only secondarily that of property relations as and where it manifest itself along the axis of caste relations. What Ambedkar was arguing is that caste-based discrimination and casteist atrocities, and the concomitant absence of dignity in caste relations, is not necessarily and directly correspondent to the level of tangible property or economic wealth one holds. The examples with which he substantiated his argument are all logically foolproof. In fact, his contention is also borne out by our example here of caste-based culturally-articulated segmentation of labourers engaged in the same work-function.

Clearly, it is the burden of Marxists to adequately address the issue raised by Ambedkar by re-conceptualising property relations. They should be able to show how property relations are not to be grasped merely in terms of possession of tangible wealth, but primarily in terms of one’s relational and relative control over conditions of production and/or reproduction. Tangible means of production or property being, in such circumstances, merely a socio-historically specifying subset of conditions of production.

It is only through such a reconceptualisation of property relations that one will be able to rearticulate the question of social recognition and dignity – raised so pertinently by Ambedkar from the Dalit location within the overall composition of social labour – as a question of psychologically-articulated labour for social reproduction, or production of labour-power (the abstract capacity for living labour). Such a re-conceptualisation of property relations is something that Marx, particularly the Marx of Capital and Theories of Surplus Value, arguably enables by virtue of having made his theory of value-relations the conceptual bedrock of property relations and/or social relations of commodity production.

Clearly, property relations as social relations constitutive of degrees of control (or lack of control) over conditions of production basically amounts to social relations constitutive of degrees of control over one’s labour-time. Marx’s value-theoretic analysis of property relations as social relations of production reveals precisely that – for, value is the ratio of surplus labour-time to socially necessary labour-time.

Now, in such circumstances, what would it mean for Marxists to rearticulate Ambedkar’s conception of caste as a system of relations constitutive primarily of hierarchisation of social recognition and dignity, in terms of psychologically-articulated labour for production of labour-power? The differential distribution of social dignity – more precisely, the differential distribution of social indignity – which is constitutive of a culturally-articulated segmental relation between lower-caste and upper-caste labourers engaged in the same work-function, amounts to a relative intensification of psychologically-articulated labour for production of labour-power for the lower-caste labourers in relation to their upper-caste counterparts.

In other words, lower-caste labourers in having to perform the additional psychological labour of grappling with the relative lack of social dignity, experience a relative intensification of labour-time for social reproduction – which is the time for production of labour-power – vis-à-vis their upper-caste colleagues.

This insight is the result of an encounter between Marxism as a theoretical approach of revolutionary class politics and Ambedkarism as a radical-republican epistemological project of annihilation of caste. It is particularly significant now in this neoliberal conjuncture of affective capital. Most importantly, it helps us grasp and rearticulate Dalit Bahujan struggles against various forms of denial of affirmative action – qua reservation in jobs and educational institutions – as a determinate index of struggle against segmentation of social labour, which is wrought through caste-based discrimination and/or oppression in the concrete specificity of the so-called systems of modern employment and education.

More accurately, such struggles against caste-based discrimination and/or oppression ought to be grasped and rearticulated as struggles for social wage specific to a particular kind and form of segmentation of social labour. Once we do that, we will see that such anti-caste struggles, not unlike all other struggles against various other forms of differentiation based on wages and/or social wages, tend to be determinate struggles against the logic of segmentation of social labour.

It must be stated here that in its moment of being a determinate struggle overcoming the logic of segmentation of social labour in its concrete specification, such an anti-caste struggle, like all other determinate struggles against segmentation, is singularity as a monad of its own universalisability. So, unless a struggle, which tends to determinately negate the logic of segmentation of social labour, is able to generalise that which it instantiates in its determinateness, it will tend to inevitably reproduce the logic of segmentation of social labour. That is because in its failure to generalise that which it determinately instantiates it effects the recomposition of socio-historical form of segmentation or value-relationality.

Clearly, struggles generated by various forms of segmentation of social labour are, with regard to their respective specificities, articulations of determinate destruction-recomposition of social labour in its constitutively segmental existence. Hence, struggles against denial of social wage through casteist discrimination and oppression – not unlike struggles against various other forms and types of wage-based and/or social wage-based differentiation – are, at once, the instantiation of the tendency of revolution and the mediation of the counter-tendency of juridical reform.

In that context, radical sections of the Dalit Bahujan movement, together with radical sections from within the largely non-Dalitised subcontinental Left, would do well to engage with various politico-ideological forms generated by the larger Dalit project of social emancipation by way of grasping those forms as a dialectic of the positive and the negative. That is, those forms, which are respective experiences of oppression and subalternisation rendered as articulations of resistance, ought to be grasped as a dialectic of determinate instantiation of the politics of de-segmentation, and the inhibition of such politics by its hypostasis into an ideology of recomposition.

It must be clarified here that such a politico-ideological form would, in its moment of being the tendency of recomposition, become constitutive of the internal division of the oppressed social group into sub-groups that are, in relation to one another, oppressor and oppressed. Meanwhile, the original relationship of domination of the overall Dalit segment of social labour by its non-Dalit segment would also stand reproduced. A good example of that is the socio-economic differentiation – often concomitant with segmentation based on “sanskritisation” and other forms of cultural modernisation – between educated, professionalised sections of Dalit Bahujans and the not-so-fortunate Dalit ‘underclass’, even as the former find themselves hierarchically separated out from their non-Dalit compatriots through culturally-articulated socio-economic processes.

It ought to be mentioned here that the non-Dalit segments of social labour, in the meantime, too keep undergoing internal differentiation along various other socio-economic axes that are either directly based on socio-technical division of labour or indirectly conditioned by it.


We must, at this point, realise that there is a crucial condition to be fulfilled if the proposed dialectical engagement with politico-ideological forms generated by various Dalit-Bahujan struggles is to be theoretically comprehensive and politically productive. The suggested dialectical engagement with politico-ideological forms constitutive of various Dalit Bahujan struggles for social emancipation should enable the radical sections from within the largely non-Dalitised Left to recognise that the various ideological forms of their own Marxism too are as much a dialectic of determinate instantiation of the politics of de-segmentation and its limit, as the politico-ideological forms of various Dalit Bahujan struggles.

Only then will those non-Dalitised radicals realise that the organisations and groups to which they belong now function as ideological state apparatuses constitutive of the perpetuation of segmentation of social labour; and not only along the axis of caste. Clearly, there is no point in demonstrating the reformist moment of Dalit Bahujan politico-ideological forms unless one is able to simultaneously reveal the reformist and petty-bourgeois identitarian moment of the ‘Marxist’ politico-ideological forms of the non-Dalitised Left. In theoretical terms, it would amount to an abject abuse of dialectics if one were to be ‘dialectical’ with regard to the former while choosing not to train that dialectical gun at the latter.

Politically, this would, of course, imply that sizeable sections of the non-Dalitised Left continue with their preponderant propensity to instrumentally mobilise Dalit struggles and Dalit social locations, all in the name of building an inter-caste unity of proletarians. That, needless to say, would amount to an intensified and accelerated perpetuation of the value-relational logic of segmentation of social labour precisely in the process of building a movement that is supposedly committed to the destruction of the law of value.

Of course, it is only by engaging in a comprehensive dialectical criticism that radical sections from within the Dalit Bahujan movement can overcome the reformist politics of progressive democratization, which thwarts the potential for revolutionary generalisation of abolition of classes inherent in its project of annihilation of caste. On the other hand, it is only such dialectical criticism that will likely enable the non-Dalitised subcontinental Left – certain sections of it at any rate – to break out of the double-bind it is currently caught in with regard to Dalit Bahujan struggles for social emancipation.


On that score, the Indian – or the subcontinental – Left can be broadly divided into two categories. First, there are those sections of the non-Dalitised Left, which even as they recognise the specificity of caste-based oppression, deny the various Dalit politico-ideological forms their relative autonomy and their moments of radical validity. These non-Dalitised Leftists reject, out of hand, those forms as so many articulations of reformism and petty-bourgeois identity politics without any dialectical-critical engagement with them. Their contention being that oppressed social groups such as Dalit Bahujans – or Muslims for that matter – ought to hitch their respective socio-political destinies to the cart of an abstractly articulated programme of working-class politics. Here class is envisaged as a sociologised category, a master-identity as it were, which is embodied by this or that party-like organisation, and which is meant to subsume all struggles against different forms and kinds of subalternisation and oppression into a larger single movement to capture state-power.

These party-Leftists tend to insist that only after such a ‘united’ working-class movement has taken state-power can their so-called party of the proletarians go about the business of putting an end to different kinds and forms of oppression and subalternisation by way of exercising the state-power so captured. Such a ‘party of the working class’, it must be reiterated here, strives to institute itself by uniting various sections and segments of the working people by having them submerge their relatively autonomous and determinate politico-ideological articulations against the logic of segmentation into that single movement for capturing state-power.

What is clearly missed by such a strategic approach of premature universalisation is the fact that this party-like organisation – which strives to forge such a unity in order to build a movement for capturing state-power – becomes the embodiment of an algebra of measure. It is, therefore, an adjudicatory form, vis-à-vis different segments of social labour. As a result, it functions as a form of instrumentalist politics, which is, therefore, rendered an interpellated and interpellating apparatus that tends to preserve and reproduce the value-relational logic of segmentation of social labour along various relational-identitarian axes, including that of caste.

Consequently, it tends to be the embodied form of preservation and reproduction of the capitalist state-form constitutive of the segmental grammar of value-relations while purportedly struggling against it. The inadequacy, or absence, of representation of oppressed social groups such as Dalits, Muslims, women and so on in important leadership positions of such party-like organisations is a symptom of the dangerously fallacious political strategy constitutive of such organisations. Our point here is, however, not to figure out how such Left organisations can become more comprehensively representative. Not at all! The point is, instead, to reconceptualise the mode of revolutionary-proletarian organisation of social labour in a manner that the problem of representation is precluded.

Such reconceptualisation can take place only as an integral and indispensable moment of rethinking and re-envisaging the strategic mode of revolutionary generalisation with regard to various anti-oppression struggles. It must be reiterated here that such struggles are determinate and thus monadic instantiations of the politics of de-segmentation. What such a reconceptualisation of the mode of revolutionary-proletarian organisation of social labour requires is one engage with every such struggle, and its concomitant politico-ideological form, as an asymmetrical dialectic. This would be an asymmetrical dialectic between self-activity of a particular segment of social labour determinately instantiating the self-organisation of the class in its collectivity, and simultaneously the limit of such self-organisation.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. We shall discuss what is arguably the most appropriate and politically productive form of revolutionary-proletarian organisation while attempting later to describe and explicate in some detail the correct strategic mode of revolutionary generalisation. For now, let us focus on the second category of non-Dalitised subcontinental Leftists, and particularly and mostly non-party Left-liberals.

The strategic approach of these sections of the non-Dalitised Left and Left-liberals, which also includes in their ranks some libertarians and self-styled anarchists, is underpinned either by the rights-based discourse of progressive democratisation, or by one of the several poststructuralist discourses of difference. In terms of socio-political effects, the strategies that emanate from this second camp of non-Dalitised Leftists and Left-liberals – regardless of whether those strategies are theoretically orientated by the discourse of rights and essential human freedom, or a poststructuralist discourse of difference – are similar. That is to say, the socio-political effects produced by those strategies, regardless of their respectively distinct theoretical and philosophical accents, are reformist. And this shows that the strategic orientation of their politics, especially with regard to the Dalit question, is instrumentalist.

This particular section of non-Dalitised Leftists seeks to recognise the autonomy of various politico-ideological expressions of Dalit struggles to either bring them within a larger aggregative space of unity of struggles against different forms of oppression; or to mobilise the coordinated acceleration of difference those struggles are. In either case, the systemically-articulated objective relations of segmentation among those various social locations of oppression are obscured and left untouched. In such circumstances, the swiftness with which this second category of non-Dalitised Leftists recognise the autonomy of various politico-ideological forms of Dalit struggles has more than an air of instrumentalist bad-faith about it.

The imaginary at work, as far as both categories of non-Dalitised Leftists are concerned, is a redistributionist, statist one. Not surprisingly, both types of non-Dalitised Indian Leftists suffer from an incurable state-fetishism, which makes them, in the final analysis, nationalist. It must be stated here that the two categories of the largely non-Dalitised Left are, notwithstanding the apparent differences in their tactical-programmatic articulations, two sides of the same coin.


In the light of our discussion so far, we ought to unambiguously assert that struggles against brahminism as a form of caste-based social domination are struggles that determinately instantiate the destruction of segmentation of social labour. In other words, they in their respective particularities militate against the concrete mediation of the value-relational logic of segmentation that a particular form of social oppression maintains and operationalises. In such circumstances, struggles against culturally-articulated caste-based economic segmentation between lower-caste and upper-caste labourers engaged in the same work-function militate against the value-relational logic of economic segmentation in its concrete specification.

It also tends to concomitantly challenge the culture or ideology of casteism/brahminism, which is generated by caste-based articulation of the capitalist economy of socio-technical division of labour, and which, in turn, tends to reinforce that economy. Clearly, such struggles are indispensably integral to the destruction of the economy of caste-based socio-technical division of labour and the capitalist mode of production that animates it now. Such caste-based social division of labour is a constituent historical moment of the capitalist mode of production as socio-technical division of labour along various axes of both caste-based and non-caste forms of social relations.

Hence, struggles against culturally-articulated caste-based segmentation of labourers engaged in the same work-function constitute the necessary condition for the destruction of the capitalist mode of production. That is so because those struggles challenge the capitalist logic of segmentation and value-relationality in their concrete mediation by those culturally-articulated casteist economic relations. They also tend to ensure the culture of segmentation, which reinforces and legitimises the economy of caste-based social division of labour, is undermined. However, the economy of caste-based social division of labour, and the capitalist mode of production within which it stands rearticulated, is what generates such culture, and thus culturally-articulated economic relations of segmentation, in the first place. As a result, to privilege the waging of struggles against the culture of segmentation, and culturally-articulated casteist economic relations, over struggles against the destruction of the caste-based economy of socio-technical division of labour, and the capitalist mode of production, would be self-defeating.

The culture of segmentation, and culturally-articulated economic segmentations, cannot be decisively destroyed without negating the economy of caste-based socio-technical division of labour and the capitalist mode of production as a whole. In that context, an effective strategy will be one that is constitutive of the dialectical simultaneity of struggles against the culture of segmentation, which reinforces the economy of caste-based social division of labour and the capitalist mode of production; struggles against the caste-based economy of social division of labour, which generates and maintains that culture; and struggles against the capitalist mode of production, which is the constitutive value-relational logic of both caste-based and non-caste forms of socio-technical division of labour.

It must be reiterated here that the brahminical caste-system in its immediate discursive functioning is as much a culturally-articulated economic and social relationship of power and oppression now in capitalism as it was in pre-capitalist social formations in this part of the world. But while in pre-capitalism it accomplished the extraction of surplus labour, in capitalism the same functionality of power and oppression accomplishes transfer and extraction of surplus labour-time. This renders caste-based relations of power and oppression a key constituent of the differentially-inclusive totality of social relations of commodity production in all their caste and non-caste variety.

This is the actuality of capital, or the law of value, as a value-chain. In other words, brahminism – and the caste relations it manifests in its operation as both economy and culture – is a specification of capital in the concrete context of the some of the key sectors of socio-economic life on the Indian subcontinent. Hence, caste-based economic relations, and their constitutive ideology and habitus of brahminism, is a discursive specification of capital. In such circumstances, anti-brahminical struggles engendered by caste relations are as much moments of militation against the caste system as they are determinate moments of struggle against capital.

Now capital is not a stock or an entity external to caste that has to be destroyed for caste to be annihilated. Rather, capital is, as we have seen above, a differentially-inclusive mode of organising social relations to transfer and extract surplus labour-time. In other words, it is a differentially-inclusive force-field – or conjuncture – of various types of social relations of doing and appropriating labour. These social relations in their totalised articulation are tantamount to the production and extraction of surplus-value and surplus labour-time respectively.

It is in this context that one needs to appreciate the importance of the aforementioned strategy of dialectically-articulated simultaneity of the three types of struggles. Different forms of each of those three types of struggles – struggles against the culture of caste and culturally-articulated casteist socio-economic segmentation; struggles against caste-based social division of labour; and struggles against non-caste forms of socio-technical division of labour – are all equally necessary conditions for the total negation of capital.

But none of these struggles, by themselves, constitute the sufficient condition to accomplish that. The sufficient condition for the total negation of capital would be the dialectically-articulated simultaneity of all different forms of each of those three types of struggles. It is in this sense that various types and forms of struggle against segmentation of social labour are characterised as being relatively autonomous. That is to say the various forms of each of those three types of struggles must be mutually synchronised for them to be rendered the sufficient condition for the total negation of capital.

Without such mutual synchronisation – which Alain Badiou would describe as the mutual partaking of generic singularities – each of those three types of struggles in their isolated articulation would end up undermining themselves as the necessary condition for the abolition of capital that they are in their respective moments of emerging. In fact, those struggles in their isolated operation lead to the recomposition of capital as a force-field of differentially-inclusive social relations.


It must, however, be clearly stated here that the mutual synchronisation of these three types of struggles is not simply their aggregation. It is not coordination among them in their respectively isolated operation either. Such synchronisation is, instead, the constellating of those different types and forms of struggle with one another.

To rigorously and fundamentally distinguish between aggregation and constellation one needs to understand that every juncture of struggle against a particular kind of oppression, and the form of segmentation that such oppression secures, is in a mutually segmented relation with every other phenomenal and/or typological juncture of struggle. That is precisely how the character or mode of capital as the force-field of differentially-inclusive social relations is that of a conjuncture – the unity or contemporaneity of different and thus non-contemporaneous spatio-temporal junctures of oppression and struggle. This clearly indicates the unity of all such struggles shall be more than ephemeral and pragmatic only when such unity is, in turn, forged through struggles to abolish the segmental relations among those junctures of struggles.

The strategic articulation of this perpetual dynamic of struggle in unity and unity in struggle is what the constellating of those various junctures of struggle amounts to. Such a constellational strategy will be nothing but the uninterrupted process of complete functionalisation of division of labour as the struggle to abolish both its socio-technical structuring and the culture of segmentation such structuring concomitantly generates. This is the unrelenting process of production of politics in radical antagonism to the relentless process of the politics of production. This is the process of technical composition of social labour being rendered its political composition in antagonism to the process of political composition of social labour being technically recomposed.

It is, therefore, logically and strategically fallacious to talk of deferring the struggle for annihilation of caste till the struggle for abolition of capital is accomplished. By the same token, one cannot talk of holding in abeyance the question of total negation of capital until caste is annihilated by way of full democratisation of caste-based social relations. As a matter of fact, the programme for complete democratisation of caste relations will be a reality only through the abolition of classes. So, the two seemingly contradictory political positions above are actually historicist mirror-images of one another.

Annihilation of caste is an indispensable historical moment of the revolutionary politics for abolition of classes, even as the abolition of classes is the necessary condition for the annihilation of caste. What is being strategically proposed here is the dialectically-articulated simultaneity of cultural, social and political revolutions. More precisely, this strategic proposal is for the short-circuiting of struggles for democratisation with the movement for communism.

That would be the uninterrupted simultaneity of struggles for democratisation as tactically determinate instantiations of the real movement of communism, thereby rendering that real movement actual as the process of uninterruptedly simultaneous articulations of the former.


We would, at this point, do well to clarify that the position we are staking out here is neither ‘classist’ nor intersectionalist. We do not think the working class is another closed sociology or identity that needs to either subordinate and subsume the struggles of other oppressed identities within its own larger struggle; or, figure out and forge points of intersection with them. If anything, the theoretical position that underpins our strategic proposal is sedimentalist.

For us, class is the sedimental logic of every identity or socio-historical group, which renders each one of them an internally divided and asymmetrically dialectical terrain of two antagonistic tendencies – capital as real abstraction, and the singularity that is its determinate overcoming. It is this that renders every struggle against oppression, and the socio-historical group constitutive of such a struggle, relatively autonomous.

This sedimentalist approach to the twinned problems of capital and class is, without doubt, theoretically indebted to the concept of “overdetermination” as developed and explicated by Althusser. But unlike Althusser, the political strategy we seek to infer from this concept of overdetermination is not entryism.

An entryist strategy would return us, once again, to the party-state conception and modality of organisation, wherein an external party-form seeks to unite various relatively autonomous struggles by entering their respective specificities in order to be the generalisation of the determinate overcoming of capital that each of those struggles autonomously instantiate in and as their respective emerging. In seeking to accomplish this unity-as-generalisation, the external party-form tends to necessarily regulate, in a state-like fashion, the contradictions among those relatively autonomous struggles. Clearly, this strategy of entryism, thanks to the party-state modality that is integral to it, ends up reproducing the capitalist logic of instrumentalisation and subalternisation precisely in the moment of fighting against it.

The strategic approach we have sought to propose above, and which is inferred from the Althusserian concept of overdetermination, is arguably a left-communist one. This strategic approach, to summarise it here, consists of affirming the relative autonomy of every struggle against oppression in a manner that one envisages revolutionary generalisation as the constellated synchronisation of those struggles. Such a left-communist strategic approach arguably articulates an anti-substitutionist, and even a post-party, form and modality of organising politics. The post-party organisation is a form of loose organisation of militants generated by their mutual coordination. The modality of this mutual coordination is Bakhtin’s dialogical agon.

These militants belong to no external or pre-given party-form. They inhabit diverse junctures of struggle so that they can engage in a continuously ongoing process of inquiry to demonstrate to those struggles their respective limits. All this so that those struggles, and the self-activity that animates each one of them, can envisage themselves in a manner that they prefigure the overcoming of their respective limits by seeking to constellate with one another in order to emerge as a self-organising process of social labour in and as its own abolition. This would be the generalisation of destruction of segmentation by virtue of being the generalised affirmation of de-segmentation.

Clearly, the loose, post-party form of organisation is generated by the coordinated mode of mutual interactivity of militants for thrashing out, clarifying and fine-tuning the principles of inquiry and self-inquiry in the light of the specificity of their respective experiences. As we have indicated earlier, this post-party form and mode of revolutionary organisation tends to entirely preclude the problem of representation, which invariably dogs the party-form, and its substitutionist and instrumentalist modality, of revolutionary organisation.


Let us now try and give our discussion here a more concrete focus by turning our attention to the specific spatio-temporality of the university. Such a focus is significant because the discussion here is framed by movements of university students against different forms of oppression – which, therefore, gives this discussion its immediate context. Besides, the significance of such a focus also lies in the modern university being the key constitutive facilitator of socio-technical division of labour along the hierarchised axis of mental and manual labour. This is reflected not only in the hierarchy internal to the university system but also between the university system as a whole and the world outside it.

Clearly, university-based higher education is an ideological apparatus of the capitalist system to segment labour-power, and thereby internally divide and hierarchise social labour. It is, therefore, also a factory that produces the commodities of knowledge and labour-power.

For a movement that erupts from within a university to generalise itself as the abolition of the hierarchised separation between itself and the world outside, it should constitute itself in the process of abolishing that logic of segmentation between mental and manual work as manifest within the university itself.

In the final analysis, the space of the university and the space of the world outside it will have to constellate with one another by way of overcoming their segmental division along the axis of mental and manual labour. Only then will the politics against the counter-revolutionary project be able to generalise and strengthen itself as the revolutionary violence of the constellational real movement. But given the immediate context of university students demonstrating in protest against the institutional congealments of the counter-revolutionary project, we would be quite justified in insisting that abolition of the hierarchised division of mental and manual work begin from within the university itself.

The undemocratic cultural separation and division between Dalit Bahujan and non-Dalit students – or, for that matter, between students along other identitarian axes of community, gender, gender in caste, caste in gender, gender in community, community in gender and so on – has to be fought against. But struggles against those versions and variants of undemocratic culture – which are constitutive of the field of separation of mental from manual work, and division of social labour – can be accomplished only when those struggles are coterminus with battles to reorganise the university space in a fashion that the hierarchical social distribution of labour among and within teachers, students and other workers of the university (mess workers, cleaning and maintenance staff and so on) tends towards being completely functionalised. Only this will render the university the ground from which revolutionary generalisation, as the constellation of the university space with spaces outside it, can be effectively envisaged.


The short point of all this analysis is that unless such politics of de-segmentation of social spaces becomes the generative basis of collective demonstrations of anger and discontent that emanate from such spaces to spill out of them, such demand-raising demonstrations will lapse into mere radical bargaining and lobby politics. This, needless to say, will give the political-economic regime an opportunity to overcome its crisis. The militant energy that is registered in such protest-demonstrations will, in the absence of a concretely articulated politics of de-segmentation within the university itself, inevitably end up being exhausted by their discursive appearances.

There is a very definite reason for that. As long as concrete political actions to reorganise social spaces into sites of de-segmentation are not envisaged, the protest-demonstrations emanating from those spaces will not really and effectively be the expressions of collective rage they purport to be. In the absence of concrete political actions to reorganise those social spaces in order to de-segment them, such forms of protest-demonstrations emanating from those spaces will objectively, and finally even subjectively, amount to instrumentalised mobilisation of the concerns and discontent of some (subordinate) segments by the politics of disaffection of some other (relatively and relationally dominant) segments.

As a result, the constellational cohesiveness that is necessary for such protest-demonstrations to swiftly morph into effective formations of revolutionary action will obviously be lacking. The trust-deficit among various sections and segments of a particular social space, on account of that space continuing to exist in its constitutive segmentation, and the instrumentalism of ‘collective’ politics emanating from it, will ensure that.

The ‘collectivity’ of this politics of unity of struggles, manifest by such protest demonstrations, will, at best, be a pragmatic alliance, and thus an ineffectual, short-lived one. In fact, the reluctance demonstrated by such ‘radical’ politics of democratisation and inclusiveness to recognise the contradictions internal to the social space from which it stems, and its concomitant failure to concretely resolve them by abolishing the segmentations in which those contradictions inhere, makes the situation even worse.

The trust-deficit among segments constitutive of a social space is further accentuated by the instrumentalist politics expressed in forms of protest-demonstrations on account of those forms not being organic extensions of concrete political actions to completely de-segment the space in question. This, in turn, enables the counter-revolutionary political forces to further leverage those conflicts and contradictions among segments constitutive of an apparently homogeneous social space to either instrumentally neutralise, or mobilise and deploy some of those subordinate segments in a fascist manoeuvre against some other segments, thereby serving to strengthen the dictatorship of neoliberal capital.

In fact, it is precisely the practice of such subjectively substitutionist and objectively instrumentalist politics by various kinds of progressive political forces that has cleared the ground for the ascendancy of this political regime of neoliberal dictatorship in the first place.


This dictatorship of neoliberal capital – precisely the situation we are currently confronted with – is far more insidious than Fascism as a political regime. It tends to articulate the regimentation of the capitalist anarchy of differential distribution of insecurity across the entire spectrum of social labour by way of being the agency and enabler of differentially distributed capacities of social oppression. It is the guarantor of rights, no longer as differential distribution of positive entitlements, but as differential distribution of negative determinations. It is the fascisation of entire society – what is often called “the generalised state of exception” – and which therefore renders Fascism as a political regime redundant.

This dictatorship of neoliberal capital is a situation of fascism without fascists. In that sense, it is a post-fascist socio-political order. Unless this is properly grasped and rigorously made sense of, our everyday political practice against the counter-revolutionary project in its conjunctural specification will objectively, and at times even subjectively, continue to be in the service of precisely that which it seeks to triumph over.

When concrete political actions to reorganise a social space in order to entirely de-segment it becomes the basis for forms of political movement emanating from such a space against a counter-revolutionary state-formation, such forms acquire inestimable resources of revolutionary militancy. And that is not all. The politics integral to such forms of constellational collectivity also tend to ensure that contradictions internal to the social base of a counter-revolutionary project get further sharpened leading to the implosion of that project.

All those who aspire to institute the duration of revolutionary democracy would do well to recognise the futility of the strategic approach of fighting the current dispensation as if it were a Fascist political regime. This is a strategic approach that is currently dominant across the entire spectrum of Left and Left-liberal politics in India. This so-called anti-fascist approach seeks to counter-pose a popular frontist, homogenising unity of struggles against the counter-revolutionary bloc that it designates as the bloc of Fascism, and which it therefore sees as being homogeneous and internally cohesive.

The problem with this strategic approach – a problem that has become particularly acute in this late-capitalist conjuncture of heightened precarity – is the following: its objectively instrumentalist character becomes so accentuated that it dissipates the political energy of struggles against the counter-revolutionary advance even as the counter-revolutionary political project is able to strengthen itself by leveraging the deepening of contradictions and conflicts inevitably wrought by such instrumentalist politics of so-called anti-fascist unity.

Such a strategy is instrumentalist because in envisaging the building of a cohesive and homogeneous anti-fascist bloc – which is thoroughly informed by the principle of unity of different struggles – it seeks to aggregate various disaffected segments of society by papering over the contradictions among their various discontents. As a result, such a strategy of ‘anti-fascism’ fails to emphasise the signal importance of envisaging a politics that would target the institutional congealments of the counter-revolutionary project by necessarily basing its attack on struggles that recognise various segments within that bloc of so-called anti-fascist unity in order to abolish them.

The strategy of building a homogenised ‘anti-fascist’ unity further deepens the contradictions within that unity and leaves the ground open for the counter-revolutionary forces to instrumentally mobilise and deploy them for entirely restorative ends. Such counter-revolutionary mobilisation, needless to say, is constitutive of further deepening the segmentation of social labour, and intensification of the process of differentiated distribution of insecurity, subalternisation and oppression.

Reviving Pan-Africanism: Or, communism as the only viable anti-colonialism of our times

Cécile Winter

Returning to the Ancestors

Not for nothing did they want African unity and, to begin with, big states. Not for nothing were they all prevented from achieving those goals.

The country called “Centrafrique”, or “The Central African Republic”, is in agony. Barthélemy Boganda, who ought to have become the country’s first president, did not call what is today the Central African Republic “Centrafrique.” What he understood by that name, rather, was a country comprising what is today the so-called Central African Republic (formerly Ubangi Shari), the Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Chad: all “countries” visited in a single day on January 2, 2014, by the French defence minister; we shall return to this. “If Ubangi Shari had to achieve independence on its own someday,” Boganda wrote, “this would be a catastrophe”. Barthélemy Boganda died in a well-organised helicopter accident in the March of 1959. Once he had been eliminated, the dismemberment of the territories proceeded in accordance with the wishes of France.

Why is it that history – in particular, this history – of the first wave of the African struggle for liberation from the colonial yoke, and for independence, is so carefully erased? These days, the Central African Republic has the honour of appearing in the newspapers, we shall see how. In these articles, the name of Boganda never appears. On the part of the colonial rags that are the French dailies as a whole, this is perfectly normal, you will say. Yes, but what of the ‘radicals’, the progressives, the activists, those ‘outside the system’, the people with a higher degree of consciousness, and so forth? None of that even exists, you will say! Maybe. You will begin to exist once you have learned to put Africa at the centre of your world: this is a thesis we do not hesitate to propose. And, conversely, how can you, dear comrades, who are troubled, and protesting here and there, let yourselves be cut off from yesterday’s history, from that which concerns you above all? How can you let yourselves live only in the present moment?

Let us pick up that thread again: that is our only watchword. Let us pick up the thread of history, there where it was broken. What were the questions? What were the watchwords? How were we defeated? How should we pick up the cause again? Yes, “let us pick up the long debate where we left off. And you may urge your arguments like snouts low over the water: I will leave you no rest and no respite.” [trans. Mary Ann Caws]


But first: before speaking, potentially, internally, to those who would join us, let us pause, for everyone else as well, on the Central African Republic. Let us read the imperialist rags for them. We must know how to read them closely; in other words, how to call them into question. Le Monde, the number one colonial rag, tells us the story of how Michel Djotodia was deposed. He was forced to resign on January 10, 2014, after two days of discussion in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad.

Here’s the story the newspaper tells us in its edition of January 10, 2014. Idriss Deby, the president of Chad, receives Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister of defence, on January 1— in other words, a full month after the deployment of the French Sangaris forces, a month during which Chadian soldiers are patrolling with the French. Idriss Deby wants to depose Djotodia after the latter announces a plan of partition for the north of the Central African Republic. Certain compensations, the article tells us, “have been exchanged with the principal military partner of France”. Le Drian reaffirms his confidence in Idriss Deby, France’s “perfect” military ally in Mali. On January 2, Le Drian goes to Bangui, then to Brazzaville to consult with Sassou N’Guesso, then to Ali Bongo in Gabon, then back to N’Djamena that same evening just as Djotodia is arriving there, summoned by Deby. On January 3, Djotodia’s resignation is announced.

So there you have it: a deal briskly conducted by the two good Franco-Chadian friends, and the story in Le Monde dutifully congratulates itself on it.

But then:

Why wait a month after the arrival of Sangaris to depose Djotodia, while murders and other horrors are piling up? And without a single gesture in the direction of disarming the notorious Seleka? But that isn’t all. The Seleka was formed in August 2012. For months, its commandos, composed especially of Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries, advance toward Bangui, leaving behind them a path strewn with destruction, looting, arson, murder, and rape; none of this in any way troubles France, which, incidentally, has nothing to say about it to its perfect Chadian ally. Djotodia takes power in Bangui in March 2013. Still no complaints. The lootings, the murders, violent acts of all kinds continue; horrors keep piling up. Things are, as far as our Franco-Chadian friends are concerned, still for the best.

So, wasn’t Djotodia our man, as people there believe, in view of the oil recently discovered in the north of the country, and which is coveted by the Chinese, among others? Wasn’t the former president, perfectly corrupt and calamitous, by the way, therefore perfectly suitable for the rest of us, having had the weakness to request comparative studies before the exploitation of the oil-fields? But doesn’t France have a birthright there, which would explain its policy of benign understanding — to say the least — for the notorious Seleka?

Or should we believe that what is happening there is a sudden rise in temperature in a country where Christians (80% of the population) and Muslims had been living side by side without any problem? Is this just a case, as L’Express puts it blandly, of “scenes of ordinary hatred” (sic!)? “Ordinary” strikes us as particularly sickening. Since the seizure of power by the Seleka, one million people have had to flee their homes — this in a country of 4.7 million.

Nonetheless, we indeed read that it is the threat of secession of the country’s north —where the oil is — that frightened Idriss Deby, already grappling with the Darfur business and the secession of neighboring South Sudan. And is there ever an end to the carving up of oil concessions controlled by mercenaries? We also understand that the Djotodia card has so far not been entirely abandoned by the Franco-Chadian accomplices; as his lieutenant has stated, “negotiations are still going on”. Everything depends on what spare parts are available. Otherwise, wouldn’t this stooge have been handed over for punishment to so-called international law? He was allowed to go and settle in Benin, instead.

For a comparison, let us consider the fate that was reserved for Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, at the time of his arrest by the French military in April 2011. He was, indeed, delivered to the famous international court, and has remained imprisoned in The Hague since November 2011. In June 2013, a preliminary hearing took place. Its purpose was not to judge him but to determine whether or not there were, in fact, grounds for a trial. The court ruled the incriminating evidence presented by the prosecutor provided insufficient grounds for a trial. (According to what has been said among the people of Ivory Coast, the prosecution made a film intended to prove the violent acts committed by Gbagbo, but the defence was able to prove that this film was, in fact, a montage filmed in another country that even in this proceeding would have made a bad impression.) The prosecution appealed, but the court confirmed its decision on appeal, and asked the prosecution to provide it, by November 2013, with more substantial evidence that would allow it to rule on the possibility of a trial. The prosecution appealed this decision concerning the time it was granted, and the judges suspended the deadline. The prosecutor therefore, has a free hand to pursue her investigations indefinitely. The imprisonment of Gbagbo, which is supposed to be reviewed every 120 days, has just been confirmed again.

In case you are still puzzled, there has been, in the meantime, an editorial in the newspaper Le Point entitled, ‘The Central African Republic, the Risk of Partition?’. It begins with a photograph captioned: ‘Former Seleka rebels are escorted out of Bangui by Sangaris soldiers’. In the photograph the so-called rebels are clearly displaying their rifles and guns.  In no way are they disarmed. The article seriously considers the risk of secession, in this “hemmed-in, remote region, bordering Chad and the Sudan”. The region, the article continues, is extremely poor but potentially rich. It contains yet-to-be-exploited diamond mines and oilfields. The licence for this was granted to a Chinese company (China National Petroleum Corporation) in 2010 by ex-president François Bozizé. So here we are. This wasn’t just a threat, it was a work in progress. Whence the Selekian emergency.

The article continues: “a partition of the CAR would be too dangerous for Chad”. But, “more than a partition, the ‘risk’ (the quotation marks are mine) in the north of the CAR is the development, with the arrival of the Seleka rebels, of a region increasingly cut off from Bangui — one that would be a vast self-managing ‘black hole’ (their quotation marks this time) in the heart of Africa, adjacent to the Darfur region of the Sudan, in which the rebels from the entire area would be living together. In short, a golden opportunity for all the jihadist groups that are swarming there”.

And a golden opportunity for our oil tycoons too! Not a single state, not even the most embryonic hint of one, to stick its nose into their business. From off-shore to off-shore, we proceed directly from the African “black hole” to the European or American tax haven, without spilling a drop, with everything necessary right there in terms of armed bands to be corrupted, paid, and employed as mercenaries. Exactly as we are now doing in the north of Mali. This is why our soldiers are busy escorting the ex-Selekas armed with their guns.

Of course, the human cost is rather high. We are talking about nothing less than ethnic cleansing. For, up until now in the CAR, Christians and Muslims had been living together. “Muslims form only 15 percent of CAR’s population. A majority in the north of the country, they are now being joined by those people of the CAR, who are fleeing Bangui and the central cities to escape from the massacres by the anti-Balaka Christian militias”. It is, therefore, rather difficult to bring this operation to a successful conclusion; which is why Hollande needs more troops, and he has appealed for help from his European neighbours, etc…, all the while having a bit of trouble explaining what exactly is at stake.

This, then, is the Central African Republic: one million out of 4.7 million people living as refugees.  It’s this: “I went there to see and help my family, who are with thousands of people living in refuge near a church. I have neither been able to meet with them nor to bring them anything. There’s no water, and people talk about epidemics. All I’ve seen is how people I knew have grown emaciated in just a few weeks, since they can no longer go to work and have nothing to eat”. It’s this: “Entire families, including old people, women, and children, have their throats cut in their homes.”  It’s this: “My family took refuge near the airport.  My brother wanted to go see how our house was.  He was killed.” And it’s this: “My aunt sent her son to look for water; there isn’t any in their neighborhood. He was killed on the way.”

The promoters of these massacres, and those responsible for this cataclysm, ought to be looked for in Paris.

Let us stop here on the French side. You will begin to exist once you have learned to put Africa at the centre of your world, we say. Yes, because colonial complicity has been the gangrene of French society for a century now, and has brought it to the state of advanced rottenness, of mental and moral disintegration, of the paralysis and lifelessness that everyone enjoys deploring nowadays. Deploring is one thing; getting out of this state is another. Colonial complicity is the inherent mode of French society’s membership in, and consent to, the imperialist world order. We think, it is the very basis of that passion for ignorance that subjugates this entire society — from the hideouts of the intellectuals to the most distant suburban housing-projects. The disintegration of the French Communist Party and, consequently, the complete disappearance of French workers from the scene was the price of the dishonourable behaviour of this party during the war in Algeria. Since then matters have gone from bad to worse. Speaking of colonialism in the past tense, declaring that one is living in the “post”, turning it into a mere subject for history books — these are signs and symptoms of that profound complicity that feeds the passion for ignorance. The Central African Republic is today, Brazzaville is today, the de facto partition of Mali is today, the repercussions of the destruction of Libya are today.  And so on and so forth. If this is happening, it’s because everyone accepts, everyone goes along with, a situation in which some people can die so that others — we others — can continue in the security of their being. In other words, the motto of a Boganda (“Zo kwé Zo”, “every man is a man”), exactly the same as that of Aristide in Haiti (“tout moun se moun”, every man is a man and everyone belongs to the world) is, indeed, the heart of the matter: complicity consists in going along with the denial, as if self-evident, of this basic assertion, of which we are no longer even obliged to be aware. This, moreover, is precisely the meaning and function of the unspeakable nonsense known as “the humanitarian ideology”.

So what is at stake here is that you, rare potential reader of this text, might decide in yourself, indeed even only for yourself, in your soul and in your consciousness. Yes or no: should French newspapers, and among them in first place the noble Monde, be called “nauseating colonial rags”? Yes or no:  should the celebrated international penal court be called STI, that is, Stinking Tool of Imperialism? Yes or no:  should the word “humanitarian” be systematically bracketed together with the modifier “unspeakable”? Or are these just excesses on the part of the author of this text, whose ardour one understands and even forgives but by which sophisticated people, in the fairness and level-headedness of their judgment, avoid getting carried away?

It is very much our wish that, even without going further, you agree to ask yourselves the question, indeed to do a little investigating on your own side, for yourselves. And if you should ever arrive at the conclusions that we ourselves have reached, we wish that, for yourselves, you might not forget the modifiers above, even when, like everyone and all of us, you read Le Monde or contribute to some humanitarian enterprise. And then we wish that you might even make your feeling known to some of those around you, when the subject is mentioned, etc…. That really isn’t insignificant. There will already be that. One must separate oneself. Separate yourselves.


Having said this, let us pick up the thread, for the inside, from the inside. Let us pick up the thread as activists.

The great ancestors speak of unity and pan-Africanism. Is this just a case of cultural coquettishness, as we can read on the websites of international institutions today? Not at all. The ancestors think that there must be big states, without which there is no way to defeat colonialism. They think that it is necessary to combat, above all, ethnic, territorial, familial, and tribal divisions.

Boganda (see the attached text) wants a true Central African State (that is, what is today the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, and Congo-Brazzaville) as the first step toward the United States of Latin Africa. Lumumba, fights inside the Congolese National Movement against federalism (the CNM will split into two over this question in 1959). He has to deal with the centrifugal tendencies of Joseph Kasa-Vubu’s Abako (in the Bakongo region), but also in the other regions. His struggle is for the unity of the Congo; going against this struggle, the imperialists, as we know, stir up secessionism as soon as independence is proclaimed.

The Union of the Peoples of Cameroon — whose watchword is independence and the reunification of the country — takes the utmost care in all its proceedings and all its committees to mix cadres from the different regions of the country. France, of course, plays one region off against another, especially the north against the south.

Kwame N’krumah, the president of the first independent African state, writes: “Africa must unite.” His goal, too, is the United States of Africa. He attempts a union with the Guinea of Sekou Toure, before being deposed by a coup d’état and having to take refuge in Guinea as a private individual.

Modibo Keita proposes a union with Niger and Senegal, which Senghor’s Senegal opposes. Later, after he has been deposed by a coup d’état, Sekou Toure’s Guinea proposes a union to his successor Moussa Traore, but this time it is Traore who refuses.

Boganda and Lumumba are assassinated. France begins a decade of bloody war to destroy the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon. Nkrumah and Keita are deposed by coups d’état. Later, Amilcar Cabral, commanding the liberation struggle of Guinea Cape Verde, is assassinated, thanks to the stirred-up jealousy between the peoples of Guinea and Cape Verde. As a result, there is no longer a single country, but rather two pieces — Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde — in accordance with the wishes of, above all, behind Portugal, the Americans, in order to keep their military base on Cape Verde.

The first question to decide is this: were the ancestors right or not?

It seems clear to us that the future — our present — has only shown, and shows every day, how right they were. You need big states to oppose imperialism and colonialism. And for that, it is absolutely imperative to be able to overcome the division and ethnicisation that colonialism, for its part, is constantly working to cultivate. “Wanting to create little specks of states in the twentieth century is a retrograde policy…whose result will be the disappearance in short order of these very states and the loss of their independence,” wrote Boganda. Could there be a better description of what we are witnessing today?

Let us put it differently. Weren’t they right, or rather, didn’t they measure how right they were?

What Is Independence, and Do We Want It?

Revolving Door of Independence

Independence was the keyword in the struggle of the great ancestors. Behind this flag, the immense majority of the people followed them. It was time to be done with contempt, with servitude, with frenzied exploitation. Time to refuse the whole ghastly colonial period. To have one’s own country, one’s own flag. Finally, to be master of one’s own house.

However: there were quite a few opponents of independence, particularly among the educated class, the potential cadre. The shortcut that best suited them was to attach themselves to the imperialists and to reap all the rewards of this attachment, and to stay within the local chefferies. (In these countries, where access to education was rigorously forbidden to the people, where only a few could accede to the status of the “middle class”, it is obvious that the said class, dissociated from the people and in the service of the imperialists, is infinitely corrupt and corruptible, and it remains obvious to this day:  the “middle class” is the very node of the well-known “desire for the West”.) On one side, the local potentate and the imperialist service; on the other, the construction of big, truly independent states. On the basis of this watchword, the great ancestors — Nyobe, Lumumba, Nkrumah, Boganda, etc. — launch their appeal, often personally, often impelled by their verbal force alone, to the people, and the people answer them. We thus understand why, despite their different situations, Nkrumah, Nyobe, and Lumumba all issue exactly the same watchword: immediate independence.

But it is the colonialists and the imperialists who jumped at this watchword. Independence? Of course! Right away; we’re giving you the gift of independence right away; we’re even more immediate than you.

In Congo, Lumumba anticipated the formation of the first government in January 1961. At that time, he is dead. Belgium offers independence on June 30, 1960; 10 days later, on July 10, the rich province of Katanga secedes, fomented by the Belgians: troops, planes, Belgian generals descend on it and the country is set ablaze. Between Lumumba’s first trip to Katanga (in January of 1960), in handcuffs and with his face battered, before the Belgians drag him out of prison to sit him down at the Round Table to see if they can corrupt him, and his second trip to Katanga where he will be put to death (January of 1961), only a year has elapsed.

In Cameroon, the masquerade of the independence ceremony takes place in January 1961, while war is raging and supporters of independence are being tortured two streets away. Um Nyobe, the leader of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon, had been assassinated by French troops two years earlier (September 13, 1958), in the forest of the Bassa region in the south of Cameroon; his second in command, Felix Moumié, will be assassinated in Geneva by the French services two years later (on November 3, 1960).

Independence everywhere meant aggravating and accelerating the destruction of the supporters of independence, putting them to death in cases where they hadn’t already been killed. Independence meant the murder of any hope of independence, crowned by the physical death of any potential African leader who proved not to be corruptible. This is where we still are today. This is what we are just beginning to recognise.

We Are Often Ridiculously Naïve

That is a quotation from Mao Zedong. The masses are clear-sighted, whereas we (the leaders) are often ridiculously naïve.

From the perspective of today, one cannot help applying this epithet to the great ancestors, the heroes and giants of the struggle for independence. They were just, they were clear-sighed, they served their peoples, and they were upright and incorruptible. But they proved to be ridiculously naïve, and their naiveté intensified the catastrophe. On the whole, there was still something in them of the tragic greatness of the Indian chiefs of North America who signed treaties believing in their value because they saw the whites as men, although the reverse was not true. These chiefs saw the whites as men who ought, therefore, to behave like men and, they thought, like men of their word. The giants of the African struggles for independence, although they had had time to get to know “the whites”, although they had the horror and brutality of the colonial experience behind them, committed the same error. This suggest the colonial experience was not enough to make them see clearly. In fact, it was thanks to the brutality and horror of that experience that too many things were left out of sight, in the shadows; the motive for the whole business, its driving force, was not so clear.

Fundamentally, we have to consider that the colonial relation as such is also a screen. Whence the element of the imaginary, so important especially in the history of Congo, and which deserves a lengthy study in its own right (from Congo to Fanon to the young girls of Abidjan today who inject themselves with corticosteroids to whiten their skin); whereas the cold monster of capital has neither odour nor colour. And “Piraeus is not a man”. We, therefore, need to rethink colonialism as, at once, instrument and lure, including for its agents themselves.

For sure, at that time the illusion was contingent on its context – the world situation then. The end of the Second World War, and with it the bursting forth of a new era: the weakening of the two great colonial empires, England and France to the benefit of the US, which, not having colonies but wanting to open up new markets for itself, had little difficulty in declaring its support for the end of the colonial system; the existence of the “socialist camp”, the counterpart of American power. All these factors contributed to the sense of an open space, of a possible play among nations capable of recognising new nations, and there were big new nations (like India); and the assembly of the United Nations bringing all of this together in the representation of a space of rational speech, judgment, and law.

They thus believed that they could rely on a space of law and avail themselves of a time for building. Besides, the goal, and already the result, of a mobilisation and a victory over the colonialists, was to go and express oneself in the forum of the United Nations. All this was conducive to the belief that the contradiction was, indeed, between the old, the colonial, and the new, the right to independence, the right of Africa to enter into “the chorus of nations”. To be more precise, all this led to the belief that the contradiction existed in itself, “all things otherwise being equal”. Therefore, Um Nyobe devotes all his energy to arguing precisely and passionately in terms of law; while Lumumba asks “that we merely be permitted to rid ourselves of colonialism (and of imperialism)”, “without jeopardizing Belgian interests”. Fundamentally, this was the idea that the world could recognise “everyone”, its division into two blocs opening up space for a third term — the “third world”, the “non-aligned”, etc. — where it would no longer be obligatory to think in antagonistic terms but where, to the contrary, a time of peace and building was opening up, beyond antagonism. (Hence the care they took to refute the “accusation” of communism, which in effect served to justify the immediate reconstitution of the space in antagonistic terms, those of a fight to the death. You should go on the internet and watch the video of Messmer, a minister of De Gaulle’s and a member of the Académie Française, calmly declaring 30 years later that, yes, his practice of bombing with napalm, of torture, of decapitated heads displayed at the gates of the villages of Cameroon, was entirely justified, since “these weren’t independence fighters, these were revolutionaries”; “independence,” he says, “was us”.)

Independence has, indeed, been recapture and annihilation. The United Nations immediately proves to be the tool of the US, the spearhead of subjection. No time has been allowed for a process of disillusionment and for drawing up lessons of experience. Kwame Nkrumah, who tells us how he took office — in the governor’s palace where yesterday it was all congratulations and the handing-over of power, there is not even a light-bulb in the ceiling, or a chair, or a ream of paper, maybe in the corner a broken chair — understands that a much more terrible war is now declared. He writes his biography, from his school years until the proclamation of independence, then, immediately afterward, ‘Africa Must Unite’, then, immediately after that, ‘On Neo-Colonialism’, a catalogue of the multinational companies that are squeezing the African continent with their tentacles, with their branches and their boards of directors where the same people sit not only in multiple companies but also in the ministries of the “developed” countries. When he writes his final book, Consciencism, he is already in exile: everything must be thought and picked up anew, at a much deeper level, a much more radical one.

Picking Up, Then:  Two Big Mountains, Not Just One

Naivety, therefore, consisted in believing in a contradiction between colonialism and the desire for independence, “all things otherwise being equal”. The illusion was to imagine that the world, as it was, could recognise new states; the actual experience was that of a war aimed at the immediate annihilation of the supporters of independence, in order to safeguard the imperialist stranglehold over the natural riches of Africa against any risk of interruption.

But then, we must, at least, expand (hear?) the lesson: getting to know imperialism…but what is imperialism? Capitalism at its highest stage, none other than the definition given by Lenin in 1916; imperialism, then, cannot do without zones of looting, of free looting, the end of the old colonial system having signified the opening up of looting zones for free competition among imperialists. (This is the reason why the US proved so supportive of the much-celebrated decolonisation process, all the while cooperating so actively in the annihilation of the supporters of independence.).

Consequently, if this is true, there was not and is not a “path of development”. Just as capitalism needs constant access to new “labor-power”, exploitable at low cost, in order to counteract the downward trend of profit rates (and this roughly explains the move toward Asia), so it needs direct access to raw materials; and at its highest, “imperialist” stage, the dismemberment of the world having been completed, competition is all about this access.

We should note that the socialist camp — we could even say the progressive camp as a whole — played an extremely harmful role at the time by propagating the idea, which is to say the illusion, of a “third way”, of an autonomy of so-called national liberation struggles; and we should include as well the Chinese theory of “three worlds”, with the idea of the relative autonomy of the level of the states (independence being assigned to the level of states, etc.). All this implies a topological view of the world, with a “centre” and a “periphery”, the struggles for anti-colonial liberation taking place on the periphery.

The experience has proven that this was wrong, that exactly the opposite was the case. From the point of view of imperialism, in other words of capitalism in its current stage, in other words of the world today, Africa, the site for the looting of raw materials and for the fierce struggle to get the loot, is central. And it has to deal with the beast at its very heart.

A young friend from the Central African Republic tells us everyone there accuses Idriss Deby, but often stops at that point without going as far as Paris. That, according to her, is the case even though everyone knows Paris is the instigator and that what is at stake are the oil and diamonds in the north of the country. She says by way of explanation: “But it’s because we don’t understand what France wants.” What don’t you understand? On the contrary, you have a very clear understanding of everything. Here is her answer: “No, we know we’re still colonised, but then, they should just take their oil and their diamonds, but why kill poor peasants or send them to death? That’s what we don’t understand.”

What is to be understood then is that decolonisation meant the passage from a relatively stable consensus in sharing of the world among imperialists (the result of the wars among them in the preceding period) to a predominance of competition among them, which made Africa into their battlefield, where they are now fighting through African intermediaries. This is why some people are capable of missing the old colonial times, which, although horrible, were endowed with a certain stability, compared to the lawless savagery of imperialism at a more advanced stage — one of greater rottenness, in which the earth of Africa is only a space for brawling among bandits, with the peoples of Africa as pawns in the struggle.

But there is no going back. And imperialism is indeed the outcome of capitalism according to its own internal law.

One must, therefore, figure out how to confront the beast itself. This is why the great majority of Africans, who have had this experience, who have seen and understood this (in itself a source of power, a great step forward, an end to drifting in dubious imaginary battles), are so pessimistic about any possibility or opening, in any case in the short term. There is no independence and there will be none for quite a while; and they are convinced at the same time that the decisive struggle will take place in the long term.

So, in order to achieve clarity on this point, we propose from now on to call colonial anything having to do with the consensus among imperialists that Africa should remain a zone for looting, with concerted action and mutual aid to maintain this situation, and with a western ideological consensus on this point, particularly by means of ad hoc international agencies, while imperialism strictly speaking is the looting itself and the looting-war among the imperialists. And this is what makes Africa a battlefield: the battlefield of intra-imperialist competition and war for access to raw materials.

There is colonialism: the consensus and the agreement among imperialists that Africa should remain a looting zone. A good example would be the following excerpt from Le Monde, France’s number one colonial rag about the Congo (note its striking peroration): “China, the United States, and Europe need the treasures housed in the country’s subsoil; they cannot lose interest in what is happening on its surface.” Only the African continent, in particular the Congo, the object of such tender solicitude, must have no use of the riches of its subsoil.

But colonialism is the envelope and the outer garment of imperialism in action, in other words as the practice of looting and the fierce competitive struggle for the loot. Colonialism and imperialism are therefore inseparable. Colonialism is nothing more than the envelope of ideological consensus of imperialism as such. To take up the anti-colonial struggle in its first period was to go face to face with the beast without having anticipated it or even having known it in advance. In the end, this was the naivety. Today, however, after having had this experience, we would be not naïve but guilty if we did not know how to learn lessons from the past and to think truly about the present.

We said, for “the other continent”:  you will begin to exist once you have learned to put Africa at the centre of your world.

We can now say a bit more about this somewhat paradoxical statement. For of course, the alleged thesis, in the labor-union style, which in the preceding period claimed a “convergence of interests” between the colonised peoples and the poor of the rich countries, has been proved to be a complete failure. Experience has proven that there was no such convergence, and at the time Frantz Fanon very precisely denounced this thesis as the hoax that it was. What we can add is that, in today’s imperialism, not only is there no “convergence of interests”, but the interests in fact diverge radically. With the worsening of the competition for access to raw materials, poverty is increasing in the western imperialist countries and it will keep on increasing. Thwarted in its hunger for external expansion, capitalism can only regress to an older, 19th-century type of configuration, by excluding from the redistribution of what used to be called “crumbs” larger and larger zones of the old metropolitan states. Fewer and fewer crumbs:  that is what we are witnessing today. And this clearly explains the almost unanimous colonial consensus that reigns supreme in a country like France — and which can only get worse in a time of crisis. It also explains the fascist-leaning subjectivity developing all over Europe, which also can only increase as time goes on. Not to see this would not be naivety: it would be pure madness.

No convergence also means no unity negatively constituted around a supposed common enemy. Any supposed negative unity must quickly prove to be an illusion.

Consequently, if you must put Africa at the centre of your world, you must do so from a disinterested point of view. Indeed, it is precisely here, considering what has just been shown, that the touchstone of disinterestedness will lie. Now, any real politics — in other words, really incompatible with the existing capitalist order — is disinterested. For what is at stake is precisely not to submit to rule of private interests, but rather to intervene from another point of view, which we could call the point of view of humanity as a whole, or the point of view of equality, the point of view of the right of everyone to exist: “Every man is a man.”

It is from this point of view that we can say that your relation to Africa serves as a touchstone of your capacity to be free, or to make yourself an effective exception to the existing order.

Let us clarify another point. Serving the interests of capital or serving the interests of humanity:  serving private interests only being a variant of the first term. But this having been said, of course, it is the duty of everyone to survive, in other words to make his or her place in the world as it is, while avoiding as much as possible hurting others in the process. The whole question is thus to know, on the one hand, if one knows it, according to the phrase of Martin Singap, leader of the underground forces of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon in the Bamileke region, quoted in the book Kamerun. “At the end of the terrible summer of 1960”, the underground troops are attacked ferociously, and the chief of staff of the ALNK (the Army for the National Liberation of Kamerun) has ordered the exhausted elderly, women, and children to return to the “secured” villages on the model of the French army in Algeria, for it has become impossible for Singap to keep alive, in the backwoods, thousands of families exposed to bombing and to the general precariousness of the life of the underground. “In a huge meeting of militants organized by the UPC on September 5th, 1960 in Mangui, from 7:30 until midnight, at which no fewer than 1500 people were present, a leader explained Singap’s order to his comrades: ‘all of you are going to return to your native villages…. The enemies of our country will take you for supporters, but it is you who will know who you are. Know who you are. Know, moreover, which is even more important, whether that is all you will do, or whether you will do something “in addition”, something beyond. And it is on this point that we arrive at real politics, that is to say, politics incompatible with the capitalist order; that is to say, communist politics. Politics is already communist insofar as it is “in addition”, insofar as it is, as we used to say, free labour. Communism; in other words, the point of view of “all humanity”, finally depends on the extra half-hour that one can snatch from an already busy day, when one does not participate in the bourgeois world. To understand this thing that looks so simple, but that is not so easy to put into practice, is really to learn the lesson of the past century. With this point, we get to questions of activism, questions of politics.

What Is to Be Done

First, let us agree on the basic theses; if they are true, we must speak them. In other words, affirm them:

As the great ancestors wished, there must be big states. This has become even truer insofar as Africa is more than ever the looting zone of global imperialism and has become the stake in the competition among imperialist groups and the site of their battle. It definitely takes a big state to be able to expropriate a multinational company and to kick out of one’s home the armed gangs in its pay. Big states as a proposal, a watchword, a line to follow, an objective. This means states that completely transcend borders of ethnicity, religion, and nationality in the narrow sense of the term. That will be one of their great virtues, and it is moreover a direction for work that can begin immediately: completely separate political questions from all questions of identity, which, we will posit, come under the heading of free association, adding that states must guarantee this freedom but that the politics that interests us, intervening on questions of general interest and from the point of view of general interest, is indifferent to questions of identity, is diagonal to them, and does not exist on the same register, except in intervening to require states to guarantee the right of free association and even to encourage it in every way possible. (This politics goes completely against the contemporary trends that preach, on the contrary, that politics simply is questions of identity; also against the worn-out discourses along the lines of “everything is political” – discourses by the same people who, not afraid as they are by contradiction, also complain that political organisations victimize their identity. No, politics is about concerning oneself with political questions, and not with the rest. Let us be clear. From the point of view of politics, which needs energetic subjects, the more of “the rest” there is, that is, the more singular identities there are (the more ramified and solid symbolic constructions there are), the better things will be. Imperialism needs individuals who are defeated and exhausted, which is why it makes sure that beginning in their most tender years children are forbidden any possibility of symbolic construction; in so doing, imperialism threatens to destroy any civilisation, and gets busy making good on the threat. For us, exactly the opposite is the case. The more subjects there are, and the more singularities there are, the more humanity there will be and the more chances for humanity there will be. Mobilising around cultures, musics, languages, testimonies, and memories, going to places of worship: this does not contradict the work of political unification, quite the contrary. But it is not at all the same thing. Claiming that it is the same thing, or that one should rule over the other, would be catastrophic.)

Unity, around and through political proposals and watchwords, is an essential theme, and it is a goal for work that is always possible here and now, whatever the scale of this work may be. It requires maintaining that political unification is a process independent of questions of identity and indifferent to them, constructing itself on the basis of its own themes, perhaps in sympathy with questions of identity but in any case at a distance from them.

Where to find the strength to construct and impose these big states? Certainly not at the level of the states or of their personnel. On this point, the experience of the great ancestors is definitive; their efforts at this level all failed. But more generally, that is the lesson of the whole twentieth century, which we can sum up in this somewhat crude way:  affairs of state are much too serious to be left in the care of states. [As we know, this was precisely the call issued by Mao Zedong to Chinese youth at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution: “get mixed up in affairs of the state”; which, again, is not so easy. (simple?)]

On this point, then, we can maintain that African consciousness is ahead of the game, in the sense in which “any conscientious African”, as Lenin would have said, knows that nothing is to be done at the level of the state, since at this level the only alternative is corruption or death.

The whole question is to follow through with the consequences of this knowledge.

A first consequence is certainly not to expect anything from any position within state or international institutions. But we must go further. An essential point in situating oneself completely outside the existing corrupt states is to succeed in keeping one’s distance from elections. Elections, as we know, are a means of division and of crushing. The purpose of elections is to involve people in the naming of a subordinate and servile state personnel; at “best,” they announce a period of corruption (for very little, often for a simple t-shirt), of sterile division—since there is nothing really at stake in them—and thus of the paralysis of the peoples. At worst, they open up periods of confrontation that are all the more atrocious for being pointless.

Elections have been a dreadfully pernicious way of attacking the supporters of independence. And experience has shown that it is not easy to escape them. The most striking example, with the most disastrous consequences, is undoubtedly that of the elections organised in 1956 by the French government in Cameroon. Previously, the UPC (the party of Nyobe Moumie), the only serious and truly established party, had been prohibited. It, therefore, could not run its own candidates. What was to be done under these conditions? Accepting these falsified elections and relying on moderate spokespeople (like Soppo Priso), who will immediately play their own game and unburden themselves of the commitments they have made? Or boycotting the elections? It is because it found itself squeezed in this double bind — either submission and the risk of accepting the formation of a phony government, or a boycott which would have meant entering into antagonism — that the UPC, in fact, lost the initiative and found itself committed in spite of itself to a rash and defensive war. Same thing in the Congo, same thing, more recently, with Aristide’s party in Haiti. We can truly say that once real independent forces are constituted, elections are deployed by imperialists as a massive weapon of destruction, allowing them to take back the initiative and to hasten the antagonism according to a time-scheme determined by them.

So then, let us propose to agree on a line that we will call that of indifference to elections. The word “indifference” is essential, and we will take our starting point in proposing the watchword indifference in two registers. First, indifference that does not preclude sympathy toward the process of identification; second, antipathy but above all indifference towards the electoral processes, indifference here being the important point to apply and to win. Let it be understood that we are neither concerned with nor interested in elections. What defines this line is, in fact, an immediate stake, which is to suggest that we not talk about — consequently that we not become divided over — names, but only about contents, proposals, watchwords.

We will claim that this is enough to begin. To begin what? Investigating, working among people, the people. Must we pick up the question of independence where it was left off?  Must our goal be the construction of big states? What do you think of these proposals?  Here objections, stories, examples, enumerations of obstacles — in this case, we propose the discussion on the watchword indifference in its two registers — are going to proliferate. Perhaps they can take written form, that of a tract, which would then be presented for discussion. A meeting could be called. At that point new watchwords will emerge — small ones, intermediate ones, objectives putting this work of unification into action; a small work, certainly, patient, tiny. The initial theses will become increasingly refined, reshaped, ramified, depending upon places, circumstances, the battles that need to be won. The work of ants, invisible, bringing neither rewards nor fame, the work of the “old mole”, except that here the image is less one of digging in order to undermine the edifice than to construct. But construct what? Nothing other than an independence, for we will maintain that independence, as we have seen, is not an affair of state, cannot be entrusted to states. For whom and where, then, if not to the people? What is independence if not a politicised people capable of imposing its decisions? This is why we can say that independence, as the UPC saw and practised it in Cameroon, even without grasping its ultimate political consequences — this is why we must pick up where it left off. Independence is nothing other than “the proceedings”, the process of independence (in Bassa language, Ngaa Kunde: “You will know who you are”).

Thus, as Mao Zedong used to say, to investigate a problem is to solve it. Politics consists of proposing theses and of putting them to work and into discussion, of addressing the problem to be solved. And of continuing. Of beginning, and of continuing. Of following through the process, of holding on to the thread.

Who will do it? Anyone and everyone, can do it. Those who decide to do it.

Certainly, those who have a little more time have a particular responsibility (how are you going to do anything, a comrade used to say, when in the Congo, for example, you have to devote all your time and energy to finding whatever you can to eat today?); particular responsibility falls to those who know how to read, and can read for others; who know how to write and thus how to take notes and write them up; who can travel, etc. In other words, the well-known question of the intellectuals.

We can no longer hope, as Amilcar Cabral used to say, the petit-bourgeoisie will commit suicide as a class in order to put itself in the service of its people and of the peoples. More than ever today, the petit-bourgeoisie, the literate class, constitutes the bulk of the corrupted, the servile personnel.

Responsibility falls to those who are “one and another”: to singular subjects.

When the “mass connection,” the idea of “going to the people”, becomes itself a mass phenomenon, it means that something is going to happen. This is the 19th century Russia or, in a smaller and closer version, the movement of going to work in the factories in France just before 1968. So it is also something that already participates in movement, carrying with it the energy and the ambiguity of what makes movement possible and  interrupts itself in the exhaustion of its contradiction. This was often a beginning without any follow-up, because the predominant fantasy was that of “going there, but nothing after”, because in the last analysis what was really involved was a narcissistic project, because the theme of connection is a theme of movement, at once strong and ambiguous: this is an absolutely necessary theme, a sine qua non for beginning, but it is not a sufficient theme for politics.

The political theme, the militant one, is to begin and to continue, and then it is equality as the experience of the process and of contents. To put it differently, what is available to us today is a method. This method is properly speaking the heritage of Maoism, whose content is in no way reducible to the idea of “mass labor” — that is the requirement and the beginning; it is a method for continuing, in other words for trying out, through the rigour of the investigation and the realisation of its consequences by means of new proposals, new watchwords, new theses, that we can continue. (go on?)

(This text presents itself as a proposal for beginning and for continuing.)

Cécile Winter is a French political activist working in the northern suburb of Paris. The author of various programmatic and interventionist tracts and brochures on workers’ politics, she was a member of the French Maoist group, UCFML (now extinct), and then went on to play a prominent part in L’Organisation Politique. As somebody who continues to be an engaged militant, Africa and its colonisation are some of Winter’s major concerns. A doctor by profession, she hopes to elucidate the notions of life, genericity, conscience and decision in the works of Joseph Conrad.


Rahul Gupta

Distributed as a pamphlet for Radical Notes’ meeting on December 12, 2015 in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

The threat of scrapping the non-NET fellowships brought out many different reactions. (1) Those who plan to start MPhil/PhD programs in the future, of course felt themselves under threat — to fund their future research work, they would likely have to take more money from parents, or find more loans, or more outside jobs… (2) Others joined in solidarity, linking it with their own precarious conditions within and outside the university… (3) But for some, it was above all a case of ‘education under attack’.

Following the first and second reactions, conversations sprang up around the subject of a wage. It was argued that the work done by researchers was, after all, productive, so why should it not be paid for? These conversations represented an attempted political process, which starts by recognising the terms of our exploitation, and moves in the direction of its abolition. They thereby challenged the notion of education as a public good, to be paid for by a socially responsible government. Meanwhile, that notion was defended by the traditional rhetoric of ‘saving’ education from the attack of commodification.

As this week’s mobilisation against the WTO-GATS conference goes ahead, the dominant narrative goes along the lines of defending the university from the excesses of global capital, resisting privatization and preserving it as a public institution. But what really is it that we are being told to preserve? Surely not its autonomy from the market — that ship has sailed. The involvement of the university in the Indian labour market dates back at least to the requirements of the colonial administration under British rule. But as capitalism has developed, the nature of that involvement was such that even before liberalisation of the Indian economy, the university as we know it was specifically associated with secure professions — doctors, scientists, lawyers, professors. Yet things are hardly so secure now, with most graduates ending up in precarious jobs, such as copy-editors, IT engineers, research assistants and temporary teachers.

The university has never been free of the grip of the labour market which, at different times, requires different kinds of workers to be produced in what we can call ‘the university factory’. In this factory, a combination of university workers — students, teachers, karamcharis of various kinds — are all put to work. One product is knowledge, to be sold in the form of conferences, publications, etc. The other product is batch-after-batch of workers who file out of the university and into their places in the labour market. Their position in relation to other workers is the material result of the education they have undertaken in the university factory. It is important to note that education that way has a double character: on the one hand, it is a working condition, imposed on the student from start to finish; on the other, it is a commodity, consumed by the student in order to improve her standing in the labour market. In this sense, the ‘university factory’ is also a ‘university shop’.

It is imperative to rid our protest of any nostalgia for the era of state welfare. After all, what is the real difference, we must ask, between paying for our own education, and having it paid for by the state? For in both cases, as we have argued above, education remains a commodity. But let us examine the changing terms of its exchange.

The era when public funding of higher education was being increased was not an era of state benevolence. Instead, the state was increasing its direct investment in the training of a section of the working class, thereby fixing them at a particular place in the social division of labour. But this was no innocent operation of dividing up the skills to divide up the work. It was also a matter of economic and political segmentation. The training and disciplining of a section of workers (called “students”, “researchers”, “graduates”, “engineers” etc) also meant the fixing of their value as labour-power — i.e. the fixing of the level at which their work would be paid for in their jobs after studying — i.e. their wages.

In other words, capital was investing in universities in order to manage a social and technical division of labour whereby university-educated workers were granted a higher standard of living, in exchange for both their student work and the specialised salaried work they would go on to do after university.

But this was based on a lag between that part of the day in which the worker produced for capital and the part of the day in which he (re)produced himself as a worker. Between his production of commodities in the workplace, and his consumption of commodities at home. Between work and leisure. Today, this separation is fast disappearing, but again this is no accident. The proliferation of more and more machinery and technology, such as the internet, have led to change in nature of production-consumption, intimately tying the two together. The lack of a defined work day due to 24X7 infiltration of technology into our everyday collapses the difference between leisure time and production: workers have found themselves producing more and more surplus for capital, such that their wages are more and more minuscule next to their total productivity. This process has driven the measurement of their value as labour-power into a crisis. In effect, capital has found ways to extract surplus-value even at those moments when labour-power is being (re)produced.

How can we see this in the university? Whereas before, the student/researcher worked for the university in exchange for a grant, now she is being told to pay for the privilege of doing the same work. Capital can no longer settle for long-term gains — the gradual production of graduates as labour-power; it must demand immediate payment for the commodity which the student receives — education. The university factory and the university shop collapse into one another.

Neoliberalism is not simply an ideology that puts profit over people, or which replaces ‘social values’ with market prices. It is capital’s reaction to a crisis in the measurement of the value of labour-power. And yet it is not enough to say that this reaction enriches capital at the expense of the student/researcher. After all, economics find their concentrated expression in politics. The price tag which capital is now attaching to research work is above all a tool of segmentation. The income gap, between the tiny number of JRF scholars, and the rest, will deepen. And simultaneously researchers will be in fiercer competition, among themselves and with other workers, for part-time jobs inside/outside the university.

Capital, as it struggles to keep labour-power tied to the value relation, has been forced to reconfigure the social and technical division of labour, segmenting the working class in new ways. The question at this point is not how to force a retreat back to an older segmentation — this is nothing but the affirmation of received hierarchies. The question is how to turn defense into attack.

When we say that students and researchers are workers, we are not saying that we ‘want’ to be workers. And we are not trying to construct an identity under which all struggles can be united. We begin from the premise that as university workers, all our work is exploited, and in fact exploited differentially. From that perspective, the call to ‘save’ education (or to fight for the rights of one segment of workers to get Rs. 8000, another to get 12000 etc) is nothing more than a call to preserve segmentations and a submission to the law of value.

Why should we become negotiators? Why should we become the agents of neoliberalism, standing up to capital, declaring proudly, “You miscalculated my value. My value is in fact Rs. 8000”?! In contrast to this, the demand for a living wage for all is interesting. By demanding that all the work we do must be paid for — whether ‘skilled’ or ‘unskilled’, whether ‘manual’ or ‘mental’, whether ‘productive’ or ‘reproductive’ — not only are we announcing the inability of capital to fix our value, we are rejecting outright the neoliberal logic of more-and-more segmentations.

The actual breaking of segmentation of course cannot be achieved by one demand. It also cannot simply be performed through democratic processes… general body meetings… consensus-building efforts… The task is to build a process which sharpens antagonisms between all segments (between students, teachers, karamcharis, and within each of these groups too) with the aim of their destruction. This antagonistic process, which we can call a general assembly or council, can only be imagined if we reject the hopeless consensus-building practices we have got so used to.


The Insurrection of Akhtaruzzaman Elias

Pothik Ghosh

The question of politics as far as an artist or a litterateur is concerned is usually posed in terms of what position the artist or the litterateur in question strikes as an individual with regard to the political situation of his day. Those terms often also extend to what such an artist or writer says about politics in his works of art or literature. That is mostly how the question of an artist or a writer’s politics is approached and framed. We could call this the question of literature in politics or politics in literature – the problematic of art/literature about politics, or the problematic of political art. Now that, most certainly, is a valid approach in dealing with the question of art and politics, and their relationship. The attempt here, however, is to engage with the works of Bangladeshi writer Akhtaruzzaman Elias by way of another approach. One that has arguably come down to us from Marx — evident in his engagement with the literature of Classical Hellenic Antiquity – through, primarily, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht. (There have, of course, been others like Adorno and Ernst Bloch, and such Althusserians and post-Althusserians as Pierre Macherey and Jacques Ranciere respectively, not to forget Fredric Jameson, who have adopted one or another variant of this approach in their engagement with art and literature.) This approach seeks to deal with the question of art and politics in terms of what we ought to call ‘the politics of art’.

What does this approach entail? It seeks to deal with art and literature not principally in terms of what artistic or literary works have to say on or about politics, but what is the politics they pose by virtue of being the works of art or literature they are. More precisely, this approach attempts to grasp the politics posed by the aesthetics of the works in question. That is, it tries to grasp the politics of a work of art or literature by figuring out the organisation of space constitutive of that work. This approach attempts to unearth the politics of art in terms of how the question of relationality has been embodied by the text of a work of art or literature, and envisaged in its production. For, it is the logic of relationality that is constitutive of the organisation and structure of space thus giving that structure and organisation a specific character, whether in our so-called real, social life or the life of the world that is a novel, a story, a poem, a painting or a film. It is this character of the structure or organisation of space of a work of art that is its economy, while that which founds this character or economy and/or renders it manifest is its politics.

Politics of Literature And Elias’s Savage Mind

The two approaches of dealing with the question of art and politics delineated above are not mutually exclusive. They are interdependent. However, the stress here, in dealing with the question of politics with regard to Elias’s literature, will fall principally on the latter approach. That is not to say one intends to evade engaging with Elias’s works in terms of the former but one certainly wishes to understand how what Elias says about politics in and through his literary works derives from the politics his literature as such speaks. That is, how it is actually the politics of Elias’s literature which renders what that literature says on or about his contemporary political situation, and on politics in general, complete and effective. It might be a repetition to once again explain and explicate the terms of the approach and concept of politics of literature. But it might not be a bad idea to do so, perhaps at some length, before we begin engaging our determinate object – that is, the literary works of Elias. On that score, Ranciere (2011, pp.3-4) provides us with an apposite conceptual compass:

“The politics of literature is not the same thing as the politics of writers. It does not concern the personal engagements of writers in the social or political struggles of their times. Neither does it concern the way writers represent social structures, political movements or various identities in their books. The expression ‘politics of literature’ implies that literature does politics simply by being literature. It assumes that we don’t need to worry about whether writers should go in for politics or stick to the purity of their art instead, but that this very purity has something to do with politics. It assumes that there is an essential connection between politics as a specific forms of collective practice and literature as a well-defined practice of the art of writing.

“….Politics is the construction of a specific sphere of experience in which certain objects are posited as shared and certain subjects regarded as capable of designating these objects and of arguing about them. But such a construction is not a fixed given resting on an anthropological invariable. The given on which politics rests is always litigious. A celebrated Aristotelian formula declares that men are political beings because they have speech, which allows them to share the just and the unjust, whereas animals only have a voice that expresses pleasure or pain. But the whole issue lies in knowing who is qualified to judge what is deliberative speech and what is expression of displeasure. In a sense, all political activity is a conflict aimed at retracing the perceptible boundaries by means of which political capacity is demonstrated. Plato’s Republic shows at the outset that artisans don’t have the time to do anything other than their work: their occupation, their timetable and their capabilities that adapt them to it prohibit them from acceding to this supplement that political activity constitutes. Now, politics begins precisely when this impossibility is challenged, when those men and women who don’t have the time to do anything other than their work take the time they don’t have to prove that they are indeed speaking beings, participating in a shared world and not furious or suffering animals. This distribution and this redistribution of space and time, place and identity, speech and noise, the visible and the invisible, form what I call the distribution of the perceptible. Political activity reconfigures the distribution of the perceptible. It introduces new objects and subjects onto the common stage. It makes visible what was invisible, it makes audible as speaking beings those who were previously heard only as noisy animals.(1)

“The expression ‘politics of literature’ thereby implies that literature intervenes as literature in this carving up of space and time, the visible and the invisible, speech and noise. It intervenes in the relationship between practices and forms of visibility and modes of saying that carves up one or more common worlds.”

Now the question is: what is the politics of Elias’s literature? It is, we ought to contend, insurrectionary. And that is exactly what this essay intends to demonstrate. To be more accurate, it must be said the politics posed by Elias’s literary aesthetic is insurrectionary. In fact, one should further qualify one’s take on Elias by contending the politics that the aesthetic — or more precisely the aesthetic economy — of his literature renders evident is insurrectionary, as opposed to being merely insurgent.

Before we proceed any further we would do well to clarify what insurrectionary politics is and how exactly is it to be distinguished from what one has chosen to term insurgent politics. Insurrection is generalisation of the emergent logic of a localised moment of insurgency – which is doubtless its constitutive moment – through the overcoming of that localisation into multiple insurgent moments that erupt uninterruptedly and simultaneously.

But how does this politics of insurrection manifest itself in aesthetics, the aesthetics of literature to be precise? Elias’s literature – his two novels [Chilekotar Sepai (Soldier in the Attic) and Khowabnama (Dream Chronicle)] and over two dozen stories – is an apposite instantiation of the same. The organisation of the space of his literature – which is its aesthetic – is constitutive of what Levi-Strauss terms “the savage mind”. It is on account of such constitutivity that the politics of Elias’s literary aesthetic becomes insurrectionary. According to Levi-Strauss (1966, p.245), “The savage mind totalizes” and “it is in (the) intransigent refusal on the part of the savage mind to allow anything human (or even living) to remain alien to it, that the real principle of dialectical reason is to be found”.

The French anthropologist further clarifies the principle of dialectical reason – and thus the savage mind – when he takes issue with Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason to explain and explicate the relationship between analytical reason and dialectical reason. He writes (1966, p.246): “…the opposition between the two sorts of reason (analytical and dialectical) is relative, not absolute. It corresponds to a tension within human thought which may persist indefinitely de facto, but which has no basis de jure. In my view dialectical reason is always constitutive: it is the bridge, forever extended and improved, which analytical reason throws out over an abyss; it is unable to see the further shore but it knows that it is there, even should it be constantly receding. The term dialectical reason thus covers the perpetual efforts analytical reason must make to reform itself if it aspires to account for language, society, and thought; and the distinction between the two forms of reason in my view rests only on the temporary gap separating analytical reason from the understanding of life. Sartre calls analytical reason reason in repose; I call the same reason dialectical when it is roused to action, tensed by its efforts to transcend itself.”

After all, a new analytic of thinking emerges as the subjectivity of an object to critically overcome externalised determination, and the meaning imposed on it through representation by an already existing analytic subjectivity so that the object can free itself from the violence done to it by the latter analytic, which is nothing but the abstraction of its own prior subjectivity. This, in order to assert itself in its concreteness. That is, to affirm itself as its own subject: Badiou’s “subjective-materiality”.(2) (2009, p.-198)

As a result, the unconscious of the analytical mode of reason is to overcome all analytic abstractions, including itself. The savage mind is the generalisation or awakening of this unconscious of analytical reason with the latter self-reflexively grasping itself as the former.

Therefore, the savage mind is activation of dialectical reason, which is analytical reason constantly overcoming itself by grasping its own logic of emerging to actualise 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”. Clearly, the savage mind is constitutive of the process of the self being transfigured into its beyondness. Therefore, as the actuality of the principle of dialectical reason it is de-identitarianising and cannot, therefore, have its locus ontically fixed in a self. Levi-Strauss puts that across quite succinctly when he writes: “I do not regard dialectical reason as something other than analytical reason, upon which the absolute originality of a human order would be based, but as something additional in analytical reason: the necessary condition for it to venture to undertake the resolution of the human into the non-human.”

And insofar as the savage mind is constitutive of the critical overcoming of externalised determination and analytical abstraction, it posits a critique of duality and relationality on one hand and identity principle on the other. The savage mind can, therefore, also be envisaged in terms of affirmation of singularity and non-identity. It could be construed as a figure of the actuality or historicity of singularisation or counter-totalisation of infinitely different space-times. A historicity of singularity as it were.

It must, however, be stated here as an aside that one has absolutely no intention of upholding the methodological structuralism of Levi-Strauss’s anthropology. In horizontalising various historical phenomena into an ethnography of relativised laissez-faire in terms of the universality of the deep structure that, according to the French anthropologist, constitutes them, this structuralism shares a methodological affinity with a kind of ahistorical Kantianism. This problem, it must be stated here in passing, stems from the theoretical level of abstraction being collapsed on to the practical or existentially-lived level of determination. A move that conceptually renders the subjective operation of dialectical thinking directly correspondent to and fully commensurate with the dialectical constitutivity of the structure (structural dialectic) in its objectiveness.

What the argument here takes from Levi-Strauss is basically his conceptualisation of the “savage mind” as a mode of social being animated by, and constitutive of, the operation of dialectical thinking. That not only serves to explicate the singularising and insurrectionary politics of Elias’s literature, it also arguably enables one to find the resources, from within Levi-Strauss’ anthropological discourse itself, to critically break with the twin-crises of structuralism and relativism of his ethnological method and discourse. That becomes possible on account of this conceptualisation of the “savage mind” being premised on the explicit recognition of the dialectic between history and structure (or logic). One that, in Benjamin’s words, enables us to brush history (as in its historical analytic) against its own grain (the dialectical logic of its emerging).

This counter-totalising savage mind, which both singularises infinitely diverse spatio-temporalities and is thus simultaneously also their singularity, is rendered rather explicitly evident in a constellation of different space-times of resistance that Elias constructs in his Chilekotar Sepai (2000, pp.187-188). Those different spatio-temporalities come together in and as the unity of their moments of insurgent, and thus evental, emerging to palpably inhabit, in the eyes of protagonist Osman Gani, a protest march on the streets of Dhaka against Pakistani occupation of East Bengal:

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, demenaour of many of them unfamiliar? Who are they? Does it mean, people from eras long gone by have also joined the procession? Here see, smack in the middle of the procession are short dhoti-clad denizens of Dhaka from the time of Islam Khan’s reign! In fact, those who would, in an even earlier time, travel to Sonargaon and back in boats full of sacks of rice have come too. Inhabitants of Bangla Baajar and Tantibaajar (weavers’ market) have emerged from the frozen heart of the vanished canal to come here? Here are the turbaned soldiers, from the time of Ibrahim Khan’s reign, who were killed in a skirmish with Prince Khusro. Osman gets a start on seeing those who died of hunger in Shaiyasta Khan’s Dhaka of the time of eight-maunds of rice for a taka. They have had nothing to eat for 300 years, — their steps in harmony, they march ahead with their black hair fluttering in the breeze like a wave. People battered by the Mughals, people battered by the Mogs, people battered by the Company’s merchants — could this procession have been this big had everyone not turned up? The Maratha priest has emerged from the dry layers of bricks of the Racecourse Kali Temple to come down here swinging the falchion, Majnu Shah’s fakirs are here too, here go the Muslin weavers throwing and waving their thumb-torn fists in the air, their eternally black bare bodies roast in the sun. Today, the naked, starving, skeletal bodies of weavers who weave taka 4,000- worth jamdanis walk an erect walk. The imams, muezzins, musullis of Babubajar Mosque riddled with bullets by the British are marching ahead, instead of muttering verses from the Quran they roar today, ‘We shall not let it go in vain!’ Here come the soldiers of Lalbagh Fort, mangled by the beastly bites of insatiable desire of Nabab Abdul Gani, Ruplal, Mohinimohon, let loose by the red-faced sahibs. Sepoys of Merrut have torn away the nooses around their necks to come down from the palm trees of Victoria Park, sepoys of Bareilly, sepoys of Swandeep-Sirajganj-Goaland. No dear, even that doesn’t suffice. The mother-worshipping youths of Jugantar and Anushilan in their dhoti and vests are coming, in their midst the two murdered boys of Kaltabajaar can be separately identified. From below the Naarinda bridge comes Somen Chanda, the bloody wave of Dolai canal on his head. There, that is Barkat! His skull has been blown off. That, at first sight, frightens Osman a little but he quickly takes hold of himself. So many people! In the high tide of a new water Dhaka’s past and present are today overflowing and dissolving into one another, today its morning-afternoon-evening-night are forgotten and stand dissolved, today the city is without its east-west-north-south, all the signs that divide and distinguish the seventeenth-eighteenth-nineteenth-twentieth centuries stand erased. Today, the city of Dhaka is fully intent on occupying this limitless time and space. Osman’s heart trembles: how far will he be able to go with this massive deluge? How far? Like a quaking pitcher under the running tap at the mouth of Golok Pal Lane becomes still once it is full to the brim, our Osman Gani’s heart too has gradually become full and complete, by becoming one of the smallest molecules of this uninterrupted tidal surge he is experiencing a warmth in his heart. That is no mean recompense? With his heart full he throws his fist in the air and roars, ‘Will not let it go in vain.’” (My translation.)

Clearly, what the historical-sociological specifications or mediations of those struggles are – that is, their identities – do not seem to matter in this novelistic depiction. At any rate, it is a secondary concern. Instead, what the discourse of the novel seeks to bring to the fore is the universality that each of those struggles in their mediational specificity posit. Each of those struggles in the specificity of being ranged against their respectively particular historical domination posit the unconscious of overcoming the general condition of externalised determination, and thus duality and relationality. It is this singularising unconscious, which can also be called the unconscious of universal-singularity, that is actualised in this passage from Chilekotar Sepai through the construction of this constellation that is accorded the reality of an existentially-lived world or space-time. This constellation is, therefore, nothing but the world of the savage mind – the savage mind in its own space and time.

Insurrection as Popular Culture, or from the Subaltern to the Oppressed

This example – typical of Elias’s literary aesthetic of the savage mind, and thus its insurrectionary politics – is, among other things, the enactment of popular culture. The discourse constitutive of such an aesthetic enables us to discern in it a conception of culture that is the singularising and singular configuration of space-times. It affirms a politics of culture that can, following Raymond Williams, be termed “cultural materialism”. Following his literary aesthetic, we could say that Elias, not unlike Williams, envisages culture as the materiality of life, wherein this materiality of life is not the positivist abstraction of that empirically-lived life. Instead, real materiality of life, for militant-intellectuals like him and Williams, emerges only when the living of life is a mode of struggle and self-critique. This aesthetic seems to suggest that popular culture, as Elias would grasp it, is not the symbolicness or discursivity of forms of subaltern expression that identitarianises culture. Rather, it would, for him, be precisely the expression of an impulse – of course made possible as that expression through the mediation of forms and their historically and sociologically given discursive resources – that tends to overcome the identitarian logic and politics of culture. On the other hand, culture is an embodiment of identitarian logic and politics when it is grasped in terms of its formal stability and discursive abstraction. This latter sort of culture should – following the insurrectionary aesthetic vision embodied in and by the discourse of Elias’s novels and stories – be comprehended as nothing but culture as the logic of representation, identitarianisation and domination. This, for us, is, clearly, culture as a commodity and ideology, and thus culture as capital and the politics of capitalism.

In the Eliasian scheme, which can be discerned from the nature of the writer’s literary aesthetic, popular culture would be the flow and flux beyond the abstraction of forms — which are nevertheless its constitutive moments because they serve to determinately actualise the de-formalising or de-identitarianising flux. It would be the force of the flow that unravels its own formal fetishes, which are tendentially inevitable, to overcome the centripetalising regimentation that compels it to turn into culture as bourgeois domination, and thus also into an embodiment of its politics of hegemony (in a precise Gramscian sense). Thus popular culture would, for Elias, be the expression of the generalisation of the tendency of de-representation, de-identitarianisation and centrifugalisation. Insurrection is nothing but the generalised expression of such a tendency, which in and as that generalisation is the actuality or historicity of non-identity and singularity. Clearly, for Elias, culture is truly popular only when it seeks to instantiate the tendency of the minor.

In the novel Khowabnama, for instance, the actuality of the centrifugalising force in its singularity is broached through the opposition posed by the mediations of the paganised-heretical Islamic discursivities of wandering mendicant and minstrel Cherag Ali’s traditional canon of mythic stories and anonymous Delphic dream-reading riddles, songs, limericks and doggerels to the sociology and discursivities of the culture, with a relatively more orthodox Islamic religious dimension, of the dominant class of rich kulaks such as Sharafat Mandal. The historical sociology of this opposition, more precisely contradistinction, is envisaged in the novel to reveal the unconscious of the heretical cultural discursivity and its concomitant subaltern sociology. And that unconscious of the sociology and discursivity of the subaltern culture, by virtue of it being constituted thus in its bid to overcome the domination and externalised determination by the dominant culture, is to obtain to the condition of singularity. After all, the sociologically relational existence of those two discursivities of culture proves the discursivity and sociology of the subaltern culture has constituted itself as what it is – that is, in its difference from the discursivity and sociology of the dominant culture – to thwart being represented, determined and thus dominated by the latter. By that same token of its constitutive or emergent logic, therefore, it must also overcome itself as that culture of subalternised discursivity and sociology, which renders it an identity precisely and simultaneously in being the difference it is.

The novel in question reveals that unconscious, or incipience, of the heretical-subaltern sociology and discursivity of Cherag Ali’s culture by actualising it, precisely by having that culture-as-difference (or difference-as-identity) overcome and transfigure itself. The constitutivity of mystic-mendicant Cherag Ali’s culture, which is subtractive and singular, is shown in the novel to actualise itself through its unfolding by overcoming, and in the process transfiguring, the discursively specified discourse of Cherag Ali. Such overcoming and transfiguration sustains the actuality of the centrifugalising force in its singularity, which is popular culture, by preventing its hypostatisation into a sociology or artefact of so-called popular culture. And that happens through the reconstitution of the centrifugalising force, which was constitutive of Cherag Ali’s discourse in its moment of emerging, as and in the new songs of social criticism and revolutionary transformation composed and performed by his self-appointed disciple Keramat Ali in the high-noon of the Tebhaga movement. What is at stake here is clearly not the actuality of the two cultural or discursive forms. It is not about the difference registered by the latter form with regard to the former in mutating from it either. What is, instead, at stake, as far as the emphasis of the novel at this point is concerned, is the actuality of the mutation itself. In other words, what is being staked out here through the two discursive, cultural or sociological forms and their difference is the actuality of the simultaneity of difference and the deployment of that difference. The novel demands that we focus here not on the actuality of difference but on the actuality of deployment of difference that the emergence of difference registers.

The break constitutive of the transfiguration of the figure of Cherag Ali into that of Keramat Ali produces, to talk in an Althusserian language, two different forms of “historical individuality” (Balibar; 1999, p. 252). But these two historical individualities, or figures of discourse, are different not merely in terms of the two sociologically different ontic positions, and historical situations, they occupy. Nor, therefore, is the difference between the two limited to the different discursive appearances of their respective discourses: anonymous mythic doggerels on one hand, and avowedly self-composed songs of social transformation on the other. Rather, what sets the two individualities radically apart is the break between their respective modalities of discourse, which marks an epistemological rupture in the qualities of the orientation of their respective subject-positions. Something that makes them inhabitants of not only two different historical situations but two radically different historicities or epochs. It is precisely on account of this difference that the two figures faithfully bear out the Althusserian concept of “historical individuality”.

The novel in having Keramat Ali assert that he is a disciple of Fakir Cherag Ali, even while he explicitly abandons the discursive pattern of the latter’s discourse, makes him into an active subject of his own invention as the singular centrifugalising force by reconstituting it through and as the new discursivity of songs of social transformation. It reveals that Keramat Ali is aware he is reclaiming the singular centrifugalising force, constitutive of the subalternised sociology and discursivity of Cherag Ali’s discourse in its moment of emerging, in precisely abandoning the discursive tradition of that discourse. This, therefore, also implies that, unlike the sociological figure of Cherag Ali, the sociological figure of Keramat Ali is self-reflexive in his awareness of the unconscious of the discursively-specified discourse he produces. The way he has been envisaged in the novel implicitly indicates his awareness of the need to also overcome the discursivity and sociology of his own discourse – which he has produced in the process of overcoming the sociology and discursivity of Cherag Ali’s discourse – in order to maintain his fidelity to the reconstitution of the singularity of the centrifugalising force.

So, while the historicity and sociality constitutive of the sociological figure of Fakir Cherag Ali are respectively that of duality and identity, the historicity and sociality constitutive of the figure of Keramat Ali, which are also the historicity and sociality posited by the novel, go beyond the historical sociology of Keramat Ali to be the historicity and sociality of singularity and non-identity. The former is a figure of anti-capitalism that is constitutive of the epoch of capital. The latter, on the other hand, is a figure of the communist epoch. It must, however, be stated here that precisely because the historicity that Elias’s novel Khowabnama constitutes is singular, do we encounter Cherag Ali not only as the sociological self he is, but also as a figure beyond that sociologically specified, existential self of his. That figure is animated by the character of the spectre of Cherag Ali, who appears after the death/disappearance of his sociologically-specified existential self. This clearly instantiates the radicalisation of the empirically-lived, sociologised finitude of a character such as Cherag Ali by transfiguring his existentially-limited and sociologically-specified present into a perpetually open present by stretching that existentially-lived finitude in its very moment to that of infinite beyondness. The doubling, or tripling, of the figure of Cherag Ali – in and as the characters of existentially-lived Fakir, his spectre and his self-appointed disciple Keramat Ali – symptomatises his finitude in its inhumanly monstrous radicalisation. This savagely insurrectionary spatio-temporality is the novelistic space of Khowabnama, insofar as that novelistic space is constitutive of the inhumanity of such monstrous radicalisation of the existentially-limited human finitude.

The transcending of the self-other binary – by bringing the self and the other into a constellated synchrony of, what Badiou would term, “the singular-multiple” (2010, p.82) by abolishing the dualising relationality among them – is precisely what such doubling (or repetition or twinning) of character-figures accomplishes. Such constellated transcending of that binary is a recurrent motif in Elias’s literature. It is echoed, for instance, by most of his stories that are enactments of the singularising interplay of different, psychotically estranged alterities of otherwise consolidated selves. The devices and registers of subtraction,(3) which are so integral to Elias’s literary discourse, enable the enactment of such singularising interplay of alterities. They are dream [Laalmiya and Bullet in ‘Jaal Sopno, Sopner Jaal’(The Dream-web and Counterfeit Dreams’)]; violently idiosyncratic reverie [Osman in ‘Pratishodh’ (Revenge), Romij Ali in ‘Keetnashoker Kirti’ (The Pesticide Magic)]; eccentric recalcitrance [Mobarok Ali in ‘Apaghat’ (Mishap), psychotic break [Haddi Khijir and Osman Gani in Chilekotar Sepai, Abbas Pagla and Mili in ‘Miliir Haatey Stengun’ (Mili and Her Stengun), Nurul Huda in ‘Raincoat’]; intoxication [Samarjeet in ‘Khonwari’ (The Alcoholic Stupor)]; and schizophrenic meditation on self and history [Ronju in ‘Nirrudesh Jatra’ (The Unknown Journey)].

These examples – and especially Khowabnama – serve to demonstrate that in Elias’s creative prose the practice and discourse of the subalternised and marginal subject-positions are not championed as such in terms of their sociology and discursive abstractions. Rather, they are affirmed in terms of their singular/singularising logic of emerging. This is indicated and indexed by the discursivity and sociology characterising their subaltern/marginal culture in its difference from the identitarianised discursivity and sociology of the dominant culture. Such affirmation is, as the example from Khowabnama demonstrates, integral to the reclamation of the singularity by critically overcoming precisely the identified discursivity and sociology of subaltern culture. This, among other things, implies that for Elias subaltern cultures in the mere finitude of their difference do not denote popular culture. The former do not amount to the latter in its uninterrupted and infinite openness. Subaltern culture as difference instantiates, at best, the repetition of the succession of infinite finitudes, wherein finite freedom as withdrawal from the horizon of infinite totalisation is really no more than subjective illumination that only serves to accelerate, at the objective level, the reproduction of that identitarian horizon of infinite totalisation.

A subalternised culture is objectively coeval with popular culture only in its evental moment or moment of emergent constitutivity. And in that moment the culture in question is neither subaltern nor an identity but precisely the determinate instantiation of the nonidentitarian excess of their ontological structure. This nonidentitarian excess, needless to say, immobilises the metaphysical dynamic of that ontological structure, while simultaneously also interrupting the differentiating flight from it that only serves to return and reproduce that structure.

To grasp the sociologies and discursivities of the cultures of the subalterns and the marginals in such terms is to realise that justice can be done to the popular grain of those cultures only by critically overcoming them in their subalternised/marginalised existence. Grasping and actualising such internal critique posited by those subaltern/marginal cultures due to the fact of their differentiating and differential existence vis-à-vis the identity of dominant culture, is considered indispensable by Gramsci for an effective and meaningful project of Marxist sociology.

Through his criticism of Nikolai Bukharin’sTheory of Historical Materialism: A Manual of Marxist Sociology, which is shown to be lacking on that score, Gramsci (1996, pp.419-420) demonstrates why and how the sociological discursivities of subaltern cultures must be grasped in terms of their own singular constitutivity of emerging, and thus their own internal critique. This they themselves mediately posit as their own unconscious or negativity. He articulates his criticism of Bukharin thus:

“The first mistake of the Popular Manual is that it starts, at least implicitly, from the assumption that the elaboration of an original philosophy of the popular masses is to be opposed to the great systems of traditional philosophy and the religion of the leaders of the clergy – i.e. the conception of the world of the intellectuals and of high culture. In reality these systems are unknown to the multitude and have no direct influence on its way of thinking and acting. This does not mean of course that they are altogether without influence but it is influence of a different kind. These systems influence the popular masses as an external political force, an element of cohesive force exercised by the ruling classes and therefore an element of subordination to an external hegemony. This limits the original thought of the popular masses in a negative direction, without having the positive effect of a vital ferment of interior transformation of what the masses think in an embryonic and chaotic form about the world and life. The principal elements of common sense are provided by religion, and consequently the relationship between common sense and religion is much more intimate than that between common sense and the philosophical systems of intellectuals…. In common sense it is the “realistic”, materialistic elements which are predominant, the immediate product of crude sensation. This is by no means in contradiction with the religious element, far from it. But here these elements are “superstitious” and acritical….”

It, therefore, follows that the sociological specificity of subaltern culture establishes its own specific identity precisely in the moment it tends to differentiate itself from the sociology and discursivity of dominant culture in its identified and identitarianised specificity. The assertion of discursive specificity of a subaltern culture to differentiate itself with regard to the particular identity of a dominant culture is intrinsic to its attempt to obviate its representation and domination by the latter. However, the assertion of such differentiating identity presupposes the condition of duality – for, difference, in order to affirm itself, needs to assert and exist in its discursive particularity with regard to a specific identity from which such assertion is meant to affirmatively distinguish it. And this condition of duality and relationality is constitutive of competition, domination and representation. This condition is the condition of possibility of the mutually interdependent existence of domination and competition. Hence, a particular form of domination cannot be truly abolished without simultaneously abolishing competition and the condition of possibility of their mutually constitutive existence in general. It is precisely for this reason that a subaltern culture, even when it exists as such through the assertion of its difference vis-à-vis the identity of a dominant culture, continues to be dominated, marginalised, and even represented – in terms of the very discursivity it asserts to affirm its specified difference – by the dominant classes and their cultural systems. Clearly, the assertion of a subaltern culture as the index of affirmation of difference vis-à-vis a dominant culture spells the abolition of neither the latter as the specific identity it is nor the relationality of domination it co-founds.

In that context, the attempt by a subalternised people to rid themselves of their subordination by the dominant class through the assertion of their culture – that is, their specified way of life – reveals itself to be governed by the very condition of possibility of domination. For, the assertion of such difference with regard to identity, as we have seen, posits the structure of duality that is this condition of possibility of identitarianisation and domination. In such circumstances, this struggle of the subaltern and the marginalised against their subordination through the assertion of the differentiating specificities objectively amounts to no more than competition, which co-founds domination and is thus simultaneously co-constitutive of duality as their condition of possibility. That is exactly what Gramsci implies when he writes about “the popular masses” and their “original thought” being subordinated “to an external hegemony” of “the great systems of traditional philosophy and the religion of the leaders of the clergy”, even as such “conception of the world of the intellectuals and of high culture…are unknown to the multitude and have no direct influence on its way of thinking and acting”.

What this suggests is that the existence of a way of thinking and culture specific to the subalterns and the marginals (“original thought of the popular masses” in Gramsci’s words) in spite and because of its particular difference, which sets it apart from the specified identity of the thought of the dominant classes by differentiating it from the latter, is still determined or articulated by its structuring logic. Being subjected to such hegemony means that not only does the subordination of the differentiating specificity of subaltern culture by the culture that has identified and established itself as dominant not cease in spite of the affirmation of the former as difference, but also that this difference in being affirmed as such is rendered a subordinate cultural form or identity. The latter itself then turns into a dominant material force with regard to other strata that it simultaneously produces through its own internal differentiation. The production of such strata, through that process of internal differentiation of the ‘original’ subalternity, is coeval with the variation of the discursive resources constitutive of that culture-as-difference-turned-identity so that those strata come to acquire the discursive markers of their respective cultural specificities that also serve to designate their respective social status.

Gramsci (1996, p.420) lays this process bare in this note on Bukharin: “The principal elements of common sense are provided by religion, and consequently the relationship between common sense and religion is much more intimate than that between common sense and the philosophical systems of intellectuals. But even within religion some critical distinctions should be made. Every religion, even Catholicism…, is in reality a multiplicity of distinct and often contradictory religions: there is one Catholicism for the peasants, one for the petits-bourgeois and town workers, one for women, and one for the intellectuals which is itself variegated and disconnected.” Khowabnama further elucidates this process when it shows how Islam, which is the religious-cultural, and eventually also political, expression of the subordinate social status of rich kulaks such as Mandal and his Muslim Leaguer son Abdul Qader, vis-à-vis the upper-caste Hindu absentee landlords and their Congress backers, is itself internally differentiated into a paganised-heretical Islam of landless peasants, poor sharecroppers and fisherfolk. That is so because the relatively more orthodox Islam – which is doubtless a marker of both subordination of kulaks like Mandal by the upper-caste Hindu culture of the absentee landlords, and thus also the competitive struggle of the former against the latter – is, however, in relation to the social stratum of those believers of paganised-heretical Islam, a discursive cultural marker of the material force of domination that is constitutive of such differentiation of the Muslim identity in that part of East Bengal where the novel is set.

There should, however, be no doubt that the orthodox variant of a kulak’s Islam would instrumentalise the heretical Islam of the poor and the landless if the latter fail to grasp the self-critique unconsciously posited by the particularity of their religio-cultural differentiality. A self-critique whose actualisation would lead to that heretical religio-cultural difference overcoming both itself as the identity it becomes in asserting itself as that difference, and thus also the social differentiation and the politics of competition that are its conditions of possibility. It is through such overcoming of itself that a subalternity grasps and transforms itself into a figure of the oppressed as it occurs in Marx. This process of transformation of a subalternity into the Marxian figure of the oppressed, through the critical unraveling and supersession of itself as the identity it becomes in asserting its difference, entails that this identity self-transformatively grasp the domination it experiences in the particularity of its historical situation as the operation of political force as simultaneously both dominance and hegemony. Such an operation of political force tends to repress, distort and decimate singularity. This is the fact of oppression that subalternity conceals and which the figure of the oppressed, constitutive of self-realisation and transfiguration of such subalternity, brings to light.

As a consequence, it envisages its struggle against the historical particularity of the domination it experiences as the universal affirmation of singularity in the very finitude of that historically and sociologically particular domination. It is this that makes such struggle, at once, both world- and self-transforming. Thus the struggle of a dominated people who grasp themselves as the figure of the oppressed is a dialectically articulated struggle that is simultaneously directed both against their domination in its immediate historical particularity, and exploitation and duality, which comprise the mediated generalised condition of possibility of such domination. The figure of the oppressed in its self-realisation and concomitant struggle is, therefore, a figure of the critique of political economy in its actualisation. It is, by that same token, also the figure of revolutionary politics that Marx designates as “class-for-itself”.

But the problem is the bearers of particular and particularised subordinate cultural identities do not experience the specific relationships of domination, which results in them acquiring those identities, as part of a larger, totalising historical-social process. Marx (1986, p.817) says as much while criticising “vulgar economy” for affirming and “feel(ing) particularly at home in the estranged outward appearances of economic relations”. That, according to him, “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”. This impels him to conclude that “all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided”.

Nevertheless, implicit in this otherwise sound formulation of Marx is the fact that the science of general and generalised essence of exploitation is the synthesis of the infinitely open totality of historical experiences of different dominations. In such circumstances, the oppressed in its self-realisation would be the embodied concentration of that science of generalised exploitation into the finiteness of a particular experience of domination. It would be the realisation of the general and generalised infinity of different historically specific experiences in the finitude of that experiential particularity. Clearly, through such self-realisation of the oppressed the Marxist science of revolution fulfils itself by being restored to and dissolved into experience. It is this restoration of science to experience, which accords to science the hallmark of Nietzschean gaiety, that the generality of science and the particularity of experience are short-circuited to be transfigured into the universal-singularity of praxis. Elias seeks to accomplish precisely that in his literature. The constitutive deployment of the affective registers and tropes of psychotic break as subtraction — either as characters or situations, or both – in almost all his novels and stories serve to manifest the critical science of generalised singularity in and as the affectivity of experience. We could call this literary discourse of Elias his gay science.

And the above example from Khowabnama, which reveals precisely that, is no exception to the gay scientificity of his discourse. It attempts to show how the Tebhaga movement, by virtue of being a movement of radical transformation of inegalitarian agrarian production relations, is enabling the margin of margins to grasp this differentially particularised identity of theirs in terms of the unconscious self-critique it posits. The actualisation of such self-critique begins to enable, as the novel demonstrates, the identity of the margin of margins (not in the Derridean deconstructive sense ascribed to it by Ajit Chaudhury but in a literal sense) to overcome and transfigure itself and, therefore, in the same movement also move towards abolishing the stratified and differentiated socio-economic order that is its condition of possibility. But the novel also shows how the retreat and eventual collapse of that movement — thanks to the withdrawal of its Communist leadership for the sake of Hindu-Muslim amity in undivided Bengal and the rest of India — leads to the instrumentalisation of the pagan-heretical Islamic cultural identity of the landless peasants by the relatively more orthodox Islamic identity of the kulaks such as Mandal and his son Qader in the service of the Muslim League demand for the partition of undivided Bengal. An indisputable example of hegemony-reinforcing competitive politics of a subordinate people – Islam being the identity of the common struggle of landless, middle and rich peasants — against the dominant absentee landlords, whose specifying cultural identity is by and large upper-caste Hindu.

Yet, the fact remains that it is precisely such competitive struggle of the subalternised people against the particular form of their subordination by the dominant classes that posits the unconscious will of such competition to overcome itself and its constitutive condition of possibility (duality). This unconscious is posited by virtue of its striving to stop being dominated, and thus represented and identified, in its immediate particularity. That is clearly symptomatised by its exertion to establish its own particular identity – in the process of differentiating itself from the dominant cultural, and thus political, identity as a move to beat the latter’s representative imposition – through the assertion of a specifying discursivity and sociology to affirm its difference. But as long as this unconscious is not grasped for what it is, and generalised – which would lead to the creation of a qualitatively new historical and social actuality; the insurrectionary historicity and sociality of the savage mind – the struggle of the subordinated against the dominant is doomed to remain a struggle against the particular kind of domination the former directly encounters and experiences. This would obviously amount to no more than the assertion of a specific cultural and political identity by the subordinated against the cultural and political identity of the dominant in the particularity of their historical and sociological situation. As a result, it would, precisely in being the struggle that it is against domination, cancel itself out by being the vehicle of the very hegemony of the logic of domination, and its identitarianising and dualising condition of possibility that it is implicitly directed against. It must be said here that this perpetuation of hegemony by the struggle of the subordinated masses against their domination is not on account of the fact that it wages such a struggle – which is clearly inescapable and necessary – but it is so because of how that struggle is waged in its limited particularity.

Gramsci indicates that when he says the “external hegemony” of “the great systems of traditional philosophy and the religion of the leaders of the clergy” to which “the original thought of the popular masses” are subject to “limit” that thought “in a negative direction, without having the positive effect of a vital ferment of interior transformation of what the masses think in an embryonic and chaotic form about the world and life”. Hence, the only way for the subordinated masses to rid their culture and its politics of the hegemony they are subjected to is through their reflexive grasping of the unconscious will of such culture to non-representation, non-identity and singularity. Something that subjection of such culture to hegemony prevents, leading it to simply assert itself as a ‘differential identity’ vis-à-vis the discursively-specified identity of the dominant without simultaneously critiquing its own assertion as that differentiating identity in order to actualise the essential grain – or unconscious — of such an assertion. It is this grasping of its unconscious will to singularity and non-identity by a discursive specificity of subaltern culture that Gramsci terms the “interior transformation of what the masses think in an embryonic and chaotic form about the world and life”.

Therefore, when the Italian militant and philosopher states that in “common sense it is the “realistic”, materialistic elements which are predominant, the immediate product of crude sensation”, he is effectively arguing that common sense is an analytic of thinking that emerges as the subjectivity of an object to critically overcome externalised determination, and the meaning imposed on it through representation, by an already existing analytic subjectivity. This subjective emerging occurs, as has been observed earlier, for the object to free itself from the violence of abstraction perpetrated on it by an already existing analytic, and assert itself in its concreteness. But precisely because it does not self-reflexively grasp this logic of its own emerging it ends up replacing one analytic abstraction, that of great systems of traditional philosophy and high culture, with another, that of common sense. And that is precisely why, according to him, the elements of common sense “are here ‘superstitious’ and acritical”.

While criticising Croce and Gentile’s understanding of common sense in this note on Bukharin, Gramsci (1996, pp.422-423) characterises the same as “…the naïve philosophy of the people, which revolts against any form of subjectivist idealism, or… (it is) good sense and a contemptuous attitude to the abstruseness, ingenuities and obscurity of certain forms of scientific and philosophical exposition”.

That, however, does not suffice for Gramsci. He knows that common sense – which is the cultural system of thought of the “popular” or subaltern, masses – fails to engage in its own critical overcoming. A self-critique posited as its unconscious, which can be discerned from the discursively indicated fact of it having been constituted in opposition and difference to the traditional philosophy of the leading classes. For him, common sense is the necessary but not sufficient condition of possibility for the emergence of popular culture. He clarifies that by claiming his “methodological” emphasis on “starting from a critique of common sense…(does) not mean that the critique of the systematic philosophies of the intellectuals is to be neglected”. He also adds, “Indeed, because by its very nature it tends towards being a mass philosophy, the philosophy of praxis can only be conceived in a polemical form and in the form of a perpetual struggle.” He then qualifies that by arguing that “none the less the starting point must always be that common sense which is the spontaneous philosophy of the multitude and which has to be made ideologically coherent”. Gramsci clearly demonstrates that something more than sheer common sense is needed for popular culture to be actualised in its full insurrectionary glory. It means that common sense, or whatever other identified and identitarianised forms and sociologies of culture of the subalternised masses there are, must simultaneously seek to critically overcome themselves even as they constitute themselves as those discursively-specified forms in their difference and/or opposition to the identities of cultures that are dominant in relation to them.

The Gramscian Moment in Elias and His Crude Thinking

A similar critical spirit and approach with regard to the sociologies and discursively-specified forms of cultures of the subordinated, the marginals and the subalterns is evident in Elias too. Like the Gramsci we have just encountered, Elias is also not at all concerned with such sociologies and discursivised cultural forms as such and in themselves. He, in striking contrast to many petty-bourgeois radical intellectuals and artists of his modern South Asian and Bengali milieu, is arguably not enamoured of such sociologies and forms of subaltern and marginal cultures. Hence, unlike them, he also does not believe in romanticising such sociologies and forms of marginal and subaltern cultures. He is, instead, interested in those sociologies and discursive forms, and is drawn to them, precisely because they – by virtue of being characteristic of particularisingly ‘differential identities’ of subaltern/marginal cultures vis-à-vis identified cultures of the elite and the dominant – posit their unconscious will to singularity and non-identity by tending to critically unravel, supersede and transfigure themselves as those cultural discursivities and sociologies of marginality and subalternity. Such an approach is not only rendered evident by his literary aesthetic – something that we have already seen through examples from his novels, especially Khowabnama – but is also evident in his theorisation of culture and its politics. In an essay, Elias (2000, pp.12-13) writes:

The community of lower-class working masses has been the home of some of the recent Bangla novels. Some writings have even managed to effectively bring out their misery and deprivation. In poetry, exploitation of the lower classes has been dealt with, and resolutions to participate in the struggle for emancipating them from such exploitation have been declared. Such literary and artistic productions have conscientised many boys from lower-middle-class and middle-class families. They have shed middle-class beliefs and petty aspirations to walk the rough road of leftist politics. But in none of these literary and artistic productions is the culture of the lower classes brought to fruition. Then how can I, in these cases, accord anything more than the prestige of still photographs to the reflections of lower-class life found in them.” (My translation.)

This excerpt is representative of the deep aversion he nurses for the petty-bourgeois radical propensity to valorise sociologies and historical forms of subaltern and marginalised cultures as such. Sociologically and discursively specified forms of culture of the marginal and the subordinated are, for Elias, no more than hypostatised artefacts of popular culture. It is for this reason that he critically designates such cultural forms — which he finds manifest in the representation of the lives of subalternised people in much of contemporary Bangla art and literature — “still photographs of lower-class life”. According to him, such congealed and abstracted moments – still shots — of the life of the popular masses do not manifest and realise popular culture. What he implies here is that the existence of the artefacts of subaltern culture, which are nothing but abstracted and hypostatised moments of popular culture, symptomatises the failure of the singular constitutivity of those artefacts in their moments of emerging (which is thus also their singularising unconscious) to generalise and actualise itself by overcoming and unraveling precisely those artefacts.

The conception of popular culture posed by this Elias essay is one that moves uninterruptedly from localised insurgency to generalised insurrection in the process of preserving and actualising the singular constitutivity of the former in its evental moment of eruption by cancelling the abstracted fetish of the form into which such eruption from social mediation has lapsed precisely in being determinately actualised by it.

This, therefore, means that Elias has no intention of jettisoning those artefacts of discursively-specified practices and discourses of subalternity – which is cultural difference-as-identity. However, he does not consider them significant in themselves either. For him, their only significance is their potential capacity to accomplish precisely what those artefacts of subordinated culture have failed to do on account of their romanticised identitarianised existence. For Elias, the importance of those identitarianised artefacts of subaltern culture lies in the self-historicising and self-critical unconscious they posit by virtue of their specific historical situation and position, which is highlighted through their discursive specificities. And they become, as we have already seen through some examples, indispensable resources of Elias’s literary discourse precisely by actualising their self-historicising, self-critical potential or unconscious. It is on account of such radical functioning of those artefacts and discursive forms of subaltern culture in Elias’s literary discourse as its constituent elements that the discourse is an instantiation of the aesthetic of the savage mind and its politics of insurrection.

This self-historicising, self-critical radical functioning of discursivities and forms of subordinate cultures in Elias’s literary discourse as its indispensable constitutivity is nothing but the singularising mode of “crude thinking” at work. Brecht seeks to propound this mode of thinking — which he calls dialectical as opposed to the undialectical modalities of high philosophical thinking – by affirming such non-conceptual registers of commonsensical mass discourse as adages, proverbs, folklore, fairytales, rhymes and doggerels. He was once supposed to have famously remarked: “Nothing is more important than learning to think crudely. Crude thinking is the thinking of great men.” But what Brecht hails, when he affirms those non-conceptual, commonsensical discourses, is not those discourses in their immediate discursive appearances or identities, but the modality of thinking constitutive of those discourses that their discursive appearances render mediately accessible.

Such discourses emerge in and as the articulation of resistance of non-specialist thinking of the common masses against the abstruse modality of high-philosophical thinking, and its esoterically specialised and thus conceptually systematised discourse that tends to dominate, objectify, identify and identitarianise. The specifying discursive patterns of the former discourse, in indicating its difference with regard to the latter, reveal that. It follows, therefore, that the logical tendency of thinking constitutive of such commonsensical mass discourses in their emerging is de-identitarianising and de-representational. Hence, the modality of thinking constitutive of such common and mass discourses in their crude, non-systematic and non-systemic registers militates against the tendency of representation, discursive abstraction, identitarianisation and domination. To that extent, the mode of crude thinking is also the self-critique its constitutive common, non-systemic discourses posit as the unconscious of their own discursive abstractions. It is this that makes crude thinking — cognate with Levi-Strauss’s savage mind as analytical reason “tensed by its efforts to transcend itself”, or Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis as common sense in autocritique — a dialectical, singularising and singular modality of thought.

Elias, not unlike the crude-thinking Brecht, disdains the high-philosophical modality of thinking, constitutive of conceptually systematised registers of discourse, for its propensity to produce dead abstractions estranged from feelings, emotions and the affectivity of experience. He (2000, pp.14-15) writes:

Man is not merely an ingredient of history. Or, man is not merely an equipment to establish some theory. The working people are makers of history. Their lives cannot be explained and understood in theory….” (My translation.)

And this disregard for high theory, especially the conceptually articulated theoriations of revolution and socialism, figure continually in his literary discourse. Such scorn for the mode of high philosophical thinking arises off and on in both his novels, especially Chilekotar Sepai, and many of his stories, as unsparing statements of ridicule directed at the register of high theory and culture and their mostly upper-middle-class and middle-class social location. Often, this ridiculing of high theory, especially its radical variant, is realised in his literary discourse through ironical descriptions of, or sarcastic comments on, the sociological detail of the lives of its upper-middle-class and middle-class purveyors. In Elias’s accurate estimation, that is a phenomenon symptomatic of the alienation of the culture and idea of radical politics from the experiential affectivity of the subalternised working people. The following excerpt from his (2000, pp.211-212) story ‘Utsob’ (‘Festivity’) makes for a telling example:

When either Muntasir, or Ishtiaq, or Aaharaar come, conversations on socialism in soft dulcet tones ensue even as they play Kanika Bandyopadhyay’s LP. Again, amid all this what sweet pain of loneliness is suffered. And when that happens there is nothing to be done save listening to Duke Ellington for full two hours with the air-conditioner running while the ceiling fan is turned on at its fullest.

And see here! In the dead of night eight-nine dogs are running around – from this end of the alley to that. Aren’t there dogs there? They are there too. There was one, a gentleman, at the wedding reception. What a solemn expression the gentleman had, what physique! With what majesty he stood there mildly wagging his tail. It seemed as if a gentlemanly landlord, just like in a Bangla film, is sitting on his balcony in a deck-chair rocking himself while enjoying the sunset. When you see such dogs a feeling of devotion is bound to be aroused in the soul.” (My translation.)

Such examples seem to suggest that Elias’s politics of discourse is anti-theory. And that he, like most other modern radical petty-bourgeois intellectuals and artists from South Asia, is in the business of degrading and rejecting theory to romanticise and sociologise the life of the common masses in the name of some authenticity of experince. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. If we do a close reading of the essay, which has been cited here in bits and pieces, we will realise the folly of such an inference. The last cited passage itself, when read in its entirety, reveals that. Even as Elias argues that man is “not merely a useful ingredient for the establishment of a theory”, and “that the way of life of the working people cannot be explained with the aid of theory”, he also makes it a point to state that the meaningfulness of art is derived from it being the search for the deep truth of life amid the working people’s way of living and practice of culture. He (2000, p.15) goes on to add:

Only through such a process of inquiry can the truth immanent in theory be revealed. Art and literature is not about proving things, in there inquiry and ideology move together, they are contiguous with one another, it does not do to show one by tearing it away from the other.” (My translation.)

This declarative statement by Elias implies that like a classical crude thinker, he is also equally negatively disposed to the practice of experiences estranging their registers of emotion and feeling from thinking thus becoming hypostatised and reified in their discursivities into discourses and practices – i.e. cultures – of common sense and massified belief.

It also indicates that Elias’s rejection of the modality of high philosophical thinking is certainly not meant to spell a romanticised celebration of discursive abstractions of discourses and practices of the so-called common people dwelling in their massified passivity as popular culture. He is, after all, as averse to theory alienating itself from the consciousness of felt living, as the practice of affectively-experienced living alienating itself from thought to be reduced to custom and belief. The following excerpt from the essay (2000, p.9) in question bears that out:

“…the cultural practice of the lower classes is not witnessing any development, after having reached a particular stage its evolution has virtually come to a halt…. Their practice of culture has, in trying to move from its current stage to a new level, been stumbling.” (My translation.)

What this reveals is that Elias does not consider sociologies and discursivities of the culture of marginals and the subordinated to be popular. For him they were popular culture in their respective moments of insurgent emerging and will once again be so when their insurgent constitutivity or tendency of their emerging is generalised and actualised into the insurrectionary historicity of singularity.

Therefore, his rejection of the culture of high philosophical thinking is meant to be an affirmation of, what can, following Benjamin (1998, pp.159-235), be called the allegorical principle of theory, and its politics. And it is this allegorical principle of theory that Elias enacts as the authorial subject of his literary discourse.

The Literature of Practical Consciousness and Its Allegories of Command

As a writer of creative prose, he faithfully adheres to this allegorical principle of theorising. That is evident in his desire — symptomatised by the operation of his literary discourse – to grasp theories and concepts in and as the affectivity of the respectively different experiences of living them in their formation and thus grasp the singularity in those affects and feelings of experiencing the formation of theoretical discourses in their emerging. This affective living of discourses in their formation is to experience, what Williams calls, their “practical consciousness” (2010, pp.130-131). Such consciousness, Williams (2010, p.131) writes, is “…what is actually being lived, and not only what it is thought is being lived”. What is, however, even more crucial for us is what the British literary thinker (2010, p.131) says by way of further elaboration of that concept: “Yet the actual alternative to the received and produced fixed forms is not silence: not the absence, the unconscious, which bourgeois culture has mythicized. It is a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social and material, but each in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulate and defined exchange. Its relations with the already articulate and defined are then exceptionally complex.”

Clearly then, to experience that affect of living a discourse in and as the moment of its pre-discursive formation and emergence is not to contemplatively grasp it but to grasp the singularity of living it as it is being formed through the affective experience of such living. The singularity thus grasped is — by virtue of its modality of grasping through living the grasped – a command concept and not discursively encoded knowledge. We must call it so because it is a concept that commands us to recommence the practical living of singularity, and affectively experiencing it as such, by overcoming precisely that discourse, whose formation one lived and experienced affectively to cognitively grasp the command of singularity. It must be added here that this singularity, which is cognitively grasped by experiencing the affectivity of living discourses, ideas and practices in their emergent formation, is what Williams (2010, p.132) conceptualises as “structures of feeling”. He (2010, p.132) explains: “The term is difficult, but ‘feeling’ is chosen to emphasize a distinction from more formal concepts of ‘world-view’ or ‘ideology’. It is not only that we must go beyond formally held and systematic beliefs, though of course we have always to include them. It is that we are concerned with meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt, and the relations between these and formal or systematic beliefs are in practice variable (including historically variable), over a range from formal assent with private dissent to the more nuanced interaction between selected and interpreted beliefs and acted and justified experienced.” He (2010, p.132) then goes on to add, “We are talking about characteristic elements of impulse, restraint and tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as feeling and feeling as thought….”

It is, therefore, not surprising that dreaming is one of the principal registers of thinking and theorising history in Elias’s literary discourse. The experience of dreaming, as opposed to the knowledge of dream one acquires after waking up from dream, is one of the key devices of psychotic break constitutive of Elias’s literary discourse. His literary discourse represents the working of this allegorical principle of theorisation through the psychotic disposition of the characters and the organisation of the literary space such dispositions are constitutive of in his novels and stories. Thereby, the discourse itself also becomes a performative demonstration of the allegorical principle of thinking. In being what it represents within itself, Elias’s literature becomes an allegory itself.

In Elias’s literary discourse, dream, not unlike the other registers and devices of psychotic break, is not its discursivised form or identity. Rather, it is the experience of dreaming as subtraction from, or overcoming of, the determination by wakefulness. For, when one dreams one does not know one is dreaming but experiences the dreamworld as the only reality that follows no rule of human wakefulness and normalcy and is completely free of the governance by such rules. Dream gets made sense of and identified as dream only when one wakes up. The cognition of singularity — which this dream experience enables through the end of the affectivity of living it as reality in waking up from it into its identified knowledge – gets posed as a command for reclamation of singularity. It is a command that can be followed only through the generalisation of singularity beyond the existentially-limited discursivity or identity that mediated the pre-wakeful dream-experience into being. This would be the practice of being singular by becoming it and thus also concomitantly living the affective experience of such being and becoming.

Dream experience ends, as we have seen, in wakefulness to inhabit its horizon of duality or binary as a constitutively alienated and subordinated identity. Similarly, experiences of insurgent (or evental) experiences of popular culture end with the beginning of history, or more precisely the historical, to inhabit it as myths. The project articulated by Elias’s literary discourse is to transfigure wakefulness, sanity and history into the singularity posed in cognition by the dreaming-experience, the experience internal to what is identified and seen from its outside as madness, and the pre-mythic insurgent moment of formation of what will eventually become myth. Such experiences are singular because in subtracting from or overcoming the externalised determination of wakefulness, sanity and history, and in concomitantly being their own ground and meaning, they reject duality and relationality. By that same token, they also pose the critical overcoming of their own discursively-specified and/or sociologically-identified mediating forms. Such allegorised actuality of the experiences of dreaming, insanity and popular pre-mythic insurgency would, in being generalised, be constitutive of its own historicity, which is historicity of singularity. Revolution is nothing but this condition and situation of singularty as its own historicity.

Let us now return to Khowabnama as an example of how the device and affective register of dream enables the allegorical articulation of Elias’s literary discourse with regard to history. Let us, for instance, look at how he (1998, p.9) begins the novel:

The place where Tamijer Baap (Tamij’s Father) had planted his feet a little and had been waving his coal-black hands to chase away the ashen-grey clouds by standing erect to look up as much as was possible by stretching the veins of his neck, that place must be carefully considered. Once upon a time when, forget Tamijer Baap, even his father had not yet been born, it would even be a long time before his grandfather Baaghaad Majhi came into the world, one is not even sure whether Baaghaad Majhi’s grandfather or the father of his grandfather had been born or not, and even if he were born he would be merely crawling around on the freshly-laid mud floor of the yet-to-be constructed house whose foundation had just been laid after clearing off the forest. On an evening of one of those days Munshi Barkatullah Shah, in order to be part of Majnu Shah’s entourage of innumerable fakirs headed for the Mahasthan Fort, was headed towards Korotowa when he was killed by a bullet from the gun of Taylor, the chief of the White soldiers, and fell from his horse. The hole the bullet had made in his neck did not ever close. Once he had died, he, with chains around his neck and with his ash-smeared body, climbed on to the top of the pankur tree on the northern head of the Katlahaar marsh, and sat there with a pair of iron tongs, which had a fish engraved on it, in his hands. Ever since, during the day, he is spread out all over the marsh as sunlight within the sunlight, and all through the night he rules the marsh from the top of that pankur tree. Only if a glimpse of his could be caught – that is the hope with which Tamijer Baap waves his hands to chase away the clouds in the sky.” (My translation.)

The ashen-grey clouds that Tamijer Baap tries to chase away are his historical present, which is the eve of the Tebhaga movement, within which lives its past – the defeated Fakir-Sanyasi rebellions of 18th-19th century among others, for instance. This past lives within his historical present as its constitutively subordinated and contradictory identity (or difference-as-identity). This is the past-as-defeat — experienced and lived as myths and beliefs by poor landless peasants and fisherfolk like Tamijer Baap, who are the bearers of this past in the dominant historical present as its difference. And precisely for that reason is this subalternised difference simultaneously also a subordinated identity. Tamijer Baap attempts to chase away those clouds of his historical present because that present obscures the experiencing of its past, when it was its own present, by dominating and identifying the past as past. By chasing away those clouds of his historical present he wants to experience that past when it was its own present. That is, before it became identified as past. He wants to experience and live the past before it became identified as such through its subjection by the historical present. This chasing away of the clouds by Tamijer Baap is, therefore, a gesture to be in an open present, which is a present that does not itself become or produce a past. Following Derrida (1994, pp.xix-xx) we would do well to term this present present without presence.(4)

And since his existential self inhabits the historical present, Taamijer Baap can access past-when-it-was-present through his dreaming self that in subtracting itself from the governance of wakefulness of the reality of the historical present becomes an allegorical figure of its own singularity and thus a command-giving concept to generalise that experience of living the singularity beyond the empirical threshold of that past as it exists in its identified form determined by the historical present in question.(5) What this simply means is that Tamijer Baap is an allegorical figure, whose existence functions as a command for reconstituting the evental experience of insurgency — as lived, for instance, during the Fakir-Sanyasi rebellion against the oppression of British colonialism — in and through the new historically mediating experience of oppressive agrarian production relations of 1940s Bengal. Not unlike Benjamin’s (2003, p.395) Robespierre, who cited Ancient Rome for French Revolution by blasting it out of the linearly hierarchised continuum of history to grasp it simultaneously in its own present and his, Tamijer Baap is envisaged as a similar figure who cites the 18th-19th century Fakir-Sanyasi rebellions against British colonial oppression for the Tebhaga movement in 1940s Bengal. As a matter of fact, he not only cites but is also simultaneously the citation of those rebellions for his own existentially-lived historical present to generalise the evental singularity of those rebellions in their moment of lived emerging. Here is an example (Elias; 1998, p.178) of how Tamijer Baap functions as an allegorical figure of singularity, and thus a command-giving concept for the generalisation of singularity by tearing the historical present asunder:

Tamijer Baap is, however, completely quiet. He looks towards Cherag Ali with the same sleepy eyes, his eyes give Kulsum an eerie feeling, does this man sleep with his eyes open, is he seeing grandfather’s face in his sleep? But sleep gets the better of Kulsum’s fear and prevents it from congealing, is the man smearing Kulsum’s eyes with sleep from where he sits at the other end of the mat? When Cherag Ali starts singing, Kaalaam Majhi says, ‘Hey you, Tamijer Baap, why the hell are you drowsing? Go home’. Yet, the man continues to sit where he is. The way his still eyes are stuck on Cherag Kulsum feels as if that man is seeing her grandfather in a dream. What kind of a man is this man? Unmoved, he sits dreaming amid so many people? Or is it that Kulsum herself is dreaming? That may be so. Otherwise how come iron chains dangle from grandfather’s neck? He gave up wearing those iron chains quite a few years ago, at the behest of the new khadim at the dargahsharif (shrine of a Muslim mystic.) For that matter, how is there a black turban on his head? But if Kulsum is, indeed, dreaming how can she hear the shopkeeper say, ‘Hey Baikuntha, you are here listening to songs? Let Shaha come, he’ll give you a piece of his mind?’, loud and clear.” (My translation.)

This encounter between Kulsum and a psychotic Tamijer Baap is an instance of the past-ised subalternity of the historical present – or the past in its subalternised identity within the historical present – encountering itself as past without presence. That is, it is an encounter between past, as the subalternised identity of and within the historical present, with itself when it was its own present and thus an evental insurgency. This singularising encounter is staged in the novel to depict how that encounter is a command that tends to induce the historical present – as both a dominating identity and a dualising horizon with its metaphysics of presence – to become an open, and thus non-identitarian and singular, present. One that, therefore, will neither itself lapse into nor produce the identity of past. Such a simultaneity of encounter with, living of, command for and transfiguration into the singular time of open present is constitutive of Benjamin’s (2003, p.395) “now-time” of revolution in its allegoricality-becoming-actuality. There is no doubt that the insurrectionary, or revolutionary, actuality can only be allegorical. But precisely because allegory is a command-giving concept — which arises precisely due to and through the punctuation of the actual – for reconstituting or re-commencing the truncated actuality, it stands validated as such only when allegory is itself sought to be practically actualised by overcoming the historical-discursive confines that mediate its experiential cognition. Clearly, allegory and practical actuality of revolution are dialectically bound to each other, and one cannot be itself without the other.

Therefore, the “now-time” of revolution, seen from the vantage point of a historically identified present that is enclosed within the continuum of history, is a spectral temporality. Such a temporality is the space-time constitutive of how things are, for instance, in dream or when one is under the influence of hallucinogens. The dimensions of such a time are inhuman and monstrous. The spectral and ghost-figures that populate Elias’s literary discourse, together with the eerie world they compose, are meant precisely to represent such non-human dimensions of space-time in his literature. For, it is through such representation that the affectivity and experience of living such savage and monstrous dimensions of a space and time animated, as it were, by an insurrectionary mind, can be communicated to be induced.

Clearly, the allegorical mode of theorising is continuing the insurrectionary unfolding of life, when that has stalled at the level of practical living, in the register of discourse, and thereby be a lived command – a Dionysian didacticism of desire, so to speak – for the reconstitution and resumption of the insurrection in the empirical practicality of existential living. It would not be an exaggeration to say that such reclamation of the insurrection involves the radicalisation and transfiguration of that empiricality of historically determinate existential living. Elias wants art to perform that allegorical function with regard to stalled unfolding of insurrection. For him that is the only way art can become meaningful. He (2000, p.5) writes:

Bengali culture and artistic practice today has been transformed into a monotonous and lifeless habit because of its alienation from the large majority of lower-class Bengalis….

What is drummed about as Bengali culture, if that fails to take inspiration from the lives and livelihoods of the majority of the country’s people then it too is bound to become as outlandish and groundless as that which is called degenerate culture.” (My translation.)

Elias’s creative prose, in its fidelity to its constitutive allegorical modality of thinking and discoursing, performs precisely that gay-scientific function of Dionysian didacticism. What such kind of didacticism amounts to is best explicated by Adorno’s (1997, pp.321-322) reflections on Brecht when the philosopher, while critically engaging with the politico-aesthetic positions of the poet-dramatist, sees the role of the latter’s theory inside his creative works. Elias’ literary discourse, especially his two novels, end as open texts that give commands precisely through that fact of being open. And their command is to practically live the singularity those texts have grasped and posed in and through the discursive specifications of the determinate existential finitude of their represented world by going beyond it. That is, have the discursive world they represent – or textually constitute – brush against its own constitutive or formational singular grain.

In Khowabnama, for instance, the fabulistic-spectral figure of Tamij, which climbs into the moon with its bullet-riddled neck after the life of existentially-lived, sociologically-specified and historically-limited character of Tamij has been ended by the paramilitary shooters, is nothing but an allegory. It is, therefore, a figure whose existence is a command to reclaim it as the singular and singularising constitutivity of Tebhaga in its moment of eruption by continuing to live it beyond its discursively-specified historical and existential finitude by stretching that humanly, and thus historically, finite moment to its savage, inhuman, monstrous beyond.


(1) Politics as an abstraction is against drawing up of boundaries of the perceptible, so it is singularity that in challenging certain historically-given boundaries of the perceptible, and posing other boundaries for that is how singularity can actualise itself through the mediation of the specificity of a historical situation, redraw boundaries of the perceptible and yield political situations. Thus the political is never singular, it is instead the historically specific situation that mediates the singularity of politics into actuality even while, in the same movement, limiting it.

(2) To read Levi-Strauss’s conception of the “savage mind”, as a principle of the interminable process of dialectical reason, through the prism of Badiou’s (2009, p.189) “a materialism centred upon a theory of the subject” would take that conception to its radical conclusion by setting it free from its original conceptual matrix of structuralism. Such a reading, arguably, renders the conception of the process of dialectical reason – which in Levi-Strauss is a linear, punctuated and bounded interminability – uninterrupted in its interminability, and thus non-linear and unbounded. The two citations below from Badiou (2009, p.186, p.189) indicate how inflecting Levi-Strauss’s “savage mind” with Badiou’s conception of “subjective materiality” would radicalise the former:

“Materialism stands in internal division to its targets. It is not inexact to see in it a pile of polemical scorn. Its internal makeup is never pacified. Materialism most often disgusts the subtle mind.

“The history of materialism finds the principle of its periodization in its adversary. Making a system out of nothing else than what it seeks to bring down and destroy, puffed up in latent fits of rage, this aim is barely philosophical. It gives colour, in often barbarous inflections, to the impatience of destruction….

“However, this time of offensive subjectivization produces no stability. We see this as early as in the French Revolution, when the anti-Christian excess of the provisory allies, the plebeians of the cities, is broken by Hebert’s execution on the guillotine, whereas the regeneration of spiritualism of the great idealist systems connotes the possibility of a universal concordat. Bourgeois secularism, established through the State, will sometimes be anticlerical, never materialist.”

“Neither God nor Man, in modern idealism, has the function of the organizer of being. The constituent function of language, which excentres every subject-effect, deactivates the materialist operator of the inversion—of the inversion in the sense in which Marx spoke of putting Hegel back on his feet.

“To claim, by a ‘materialist’ inversion, to go from the real to the subject means to fall short of modern dialectical criticism, which separates the two terms—subject and real—so that a third, the symbolic or discourse, comes in to operate as a nodal point without for this reason becoming a centre.

“Barred from the path of a simple inversion and summoned to hold onto the scission in which the subject of idealinguistery comes into being as an effect of the chain, we Marxists find ourselves on the dire road of a procedure of destruction-recomposition.

“To pierce through the adversary’s line of defence requires this heavy ramrod whose idolatrized head bears our subjective emblems.

“That a conceptual black sheep—a materialism centred upon a theory of the subject—is equally necessary for our most pressing political needs…no doubt proves something….”

(3) Subtraction is a concept of politics that comes from Badiou. It is not constitutive of a political move or struggle against power and domination in order to withdraw from or disengage with them. In that, Badiou’s concept of subtraction is quite unlike the conception of withdrawal in Martin Heidegger that is concomitant with his concept of “ontological difference” in particular, and difference-thinking in general. Rather, subtraction is constitutive of the political manoeuvre – or struggle – to break with the horizon constitutive of domination and competition and its dualised and dualising structure, in the process unraveling and destroying it. Subtraction is a conceptual figure of singularity that is the science of revolutionary politics or praxis as ontology.

(4) Derrida’s “Present without presence” is present that does not pose itself in a manner so as to have its existential affirmation as itself produce an identified past of itself. “Present without presence” is present that does not become past and thus has no past. It is not present as a historical identity, something which as that historical identity produces its constitutively contradictory identity of past (as the present that has become absent).

(5) The conception of allegory as command — which is premised here on the asymmetrical dialectic, and thus torsion, between the particularity of the sensuous and affective (“beauty”, “material”, “individual”) on one hand, and the generality of the cognitive (“divine”, “transcendental”, “moral”, “ethical) on the other – is derived from a reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Allegory and Trauerspiel’, the last chapter of his The Origin of German Tragic Drama. It is precisely this asymmetrical dialectic, and the concomitant torsion, that Benjamin reveals to be the defining characteristic of the Baroque allegory when he (2003, p.160) affirmatively explicates the Baroque allegorical principle through his criticism of the classicist, as also the romantic, “symbol” for effacing this dialectical asymmetry between those aspects in order to present them as an organic harmony: “The unity of the material and the transcendental object, which constitutes the paradox of the theological symbol, is distorted into a relationship between appearance and essence. The introduction of this distorted conception of the symbol into aesthetics was a romantic and destructive extravagance which preceded the desolation of modern art criticism. As a symbolic construct, the beautiful is supposed to merge with the divine in an unbroken whole. The idea of the unlimited immanence of the moral world in the world of beauty is derived from the theosophical aesthetics of the romantics. But the foundations of this idea were laid long before. In classicism the tendency to the apotheosis of existence in the individual who is perfect, in more than an ethical sense, is clear enough…. But once the ethical subject has become absorbed in the individual, then no rigorism – not even Kantian rigorism – can save it and preserve its masculine profile. Its heart is lost in the beautiful soul. And the radius of action – no, only the radius of the culture – of the thus perfected beautiful individual is what describes the circle of the ‘symbolic’. In contrast the baroque apotheosis is a dialectical one. It is accomplished in the movement between extremes.”

It must also be stated here as an aside that the principle of baroque allegory bears, in Benjamin’s affirmative exposition of it, a strong conceptual affinity with the conception of philosophy of history that comes from Marx. The latter (dialectical materialism) is, clearly, not an epistemology of history as a presence-at-hand or identitarian existence. Hence, it is also not a code of moral, or conventional, directive to live (or live in) that empirical history as such. Rather, it is a philosophy of the moment of formation or making of history that is logically prior to the moment of history as such. Clearly, the Marxian philosophy of history – or dialectical materialism – is a philosophy that seeks its own realisation in and as the practicality of politics precisely by abolishing itself as the discursivised concept it is. It is “philosophy” only when it is, to cite Badiou’s Althusserian maxim, “under the condition of politics”. Such a philosophy of (more accurately, for) the making of history is, to once again resort to Benjamin, the grain of history against which history must be brushed.


Adorno, Theodor W., Aesthetic Theory, tr. Robert Hullot-Kentor, eds. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedmann (Continuum, London, 1997)

Badiou, Alain, ‘The Indissoluble Salt of Truth’. In Theory of the Subject, tr. Bruno Bosteels (Continuum, London, 2009)

Badiou, Alain, ‘The Black Sheep of Materialism’. In Theory of the Subject, tr. Bruno Bosteels (Continuum, London, 2009)

Badiou, Alain, ‘One, Multiple, Multiplicities’. In Theoretical Writings, edited and translated by Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano (Continuum, London, 2010)

Balibar, Etienne, ‘The Elements of the Structure and their History’. In Reading Capital by Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, tr. Ben Brewster (Verso, London, 1999)

Benjamin, Walter, ‘Allegory and Trauerspiel’. In The Origin of German Tragic Drama, tr. John Osborne (Verso, London, 1998)

Benjamin, Walter, ‘On the Concept of History’. In Selected Writings (Volume 4), tr. Edmund Jephcott and Others, eds. Marcus Bullock, Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006)

Derrida, Jacques, Spectres of Marx, tr. Peggy Kamuf (Routledge, London, 1994)

Elias, Akhtaruzzaman, Chilekotar Sepai [Soldier in the Attic] (The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2000)

Elias, Akhtaruzzaman, Khowabnama [Dream Chronicle] (Naya Udyog, Kolkata, 1998)

Elias, Akhtaruzzaman, Galpa Samagra [Collected Stories] (Naya Udyog, Kolkata, 2000)

Elias, Akhtaruzzaman, Sanskritir Bhanga Setu [The Broken Bridge of Culture: Essays on Literature, Society and Culture] (Naya Udyog, Kolkata, 2000)

Gramsci, Antonio, ‘Problems of Marxism’. In Selections from the Prison Notebooks edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1996)

Levi-Strauss, Claude, ‘History and Dialectic’. In The Savage Mind, (The University of Chicago Press, 1966)

Marx, Karl, ‘The Trinity Formula’. In Capital (Volume III), ed. Frederick Engels (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986)

Ranciere, Jacques, ‘The Politics of Literature’. In The Politics of Literature, tr. Julie Rose (Polity, Cambridge, 2011)

Williams, Raymond, ‘Structures of Feeling’. In Marxism and Literature (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010)



Raymond Williams, Working-Class Struggle and the Jerkiness of History

Paresh Chandra

If there is one thing that no self-respecting Marxist will question it is the idea of revolution – a complete rupture from the past. Complete in two senses: rupture in fundamentals – it is the essence that changes – and a rupture that includes everything; in other words, the essence of everything changes. No part of given reality, no entity, insofar as it is based in this structure, can be preserved. Even if the working class leads the revolution, in destroying the bourgeoisie it also destroys itself; neither the working class, nor the bourgeoisie survive.

Over the course of his long journey Raymond Williams went through a number phases. But even at those moments where politico-pragmatic engagements took him into an engagement – undeniably critical – with the structures of bourgeois democracy, with policy-making etc., he cannot, without a degree of injustice be called “reformist”. An implicit recognition that true transformation is systemic always inflected his arguments. When the social democratic Labour Party is charged of not having done enough, he is arguing that they could have empowered the working class more, and facilitated the development of class-consciousness, and not that social democracy could have brought fundamental change.

And yet it is not hard to espy another strand in Williams’ thought, a strand that does not sit easy with the notion of revolution as total rejection of the current. Owing to his dependence on categories like “community” and “culture” (terms that have had a long history of anti-Marxist use and make Williams’ work very liable to being rallied for all sorts of non/anti-Marxists purposes) it is not hard to make him seem a believer/defender of the “autotelic”. Williams’ younger contemporary, Terry Eagleton, for instance, has lately been bent upon securing a domain of intersubjectivity and Love within the Symbolic Order, as a space where the Imaginary, or that which precedes language and its fallen logic (capitalism, presumably), continues to exist. The category of things that are “(good-)in-themselves” includes art, community, love, friendship etc. For this sort of thinking Raymond Williams is easy fodder. Does he not himself reify the experience of the Welsh village, celebrating the experience of neighbourliness as some sort of atemporal good, a sign of a society not fallen into sin? Does not the notion of a “culture of the working class” also allow for a similar sort of reification? It will be my attempt in this paper to explore how Williams manages to preserve in his work the place of these notions that seem to go against the grain of all that the Marxist idea of revolution entails, generating a sort of productive tension in which instead of necessarily undermining the attempt to bring fundamental change, they come across as possible catalysts.


In his short essay on the idea of Welsh culture (Resources of Hope, 99-105), Williams asserts the uselessness of holding on to the idea of an unchanging culture. Welsh culture is neither a well-preserved “resort” to be visited, nor is it the ever present essence of Welsh existence. Culture is something intrinsically contested; it is, in fact, constituted by contestation, not given, but produced at each moment. Similarly, community too is rooted not only in relations that are given, for instance those of the Welsh village community, but is also reborn in moments of open antagonism and struggle, like during the 1926 General Strike. Williams is aware of the problem of holding on to something as intrinsically good in a world where power defines all relations, even those of love and friendship. It would imply the denial of the structural nature of problems, and hence solutions, while implicitly celebrating a privilege that most do not possess. The antagonistic moment at which we challenge the entire given order, with intent to transform it is essential, and any moment of “goodness” can exist only in struggle. In an essay called “Social significance of 1926” in Resources of Hope (105-122), Williams qualifies his seeming celebration of the Welsh community by drawing attention to the manner in which relations of community got re-activated due to the energy of the strike.

The problem of seeing the Welsh community, or any already existing set of relationships as lying outside the domain of capitalist hegemony resembles another predicament that revolutionary politics faces (in theory and in practice). We know that the initial moment at which the status quo is challenged is always localised; it involves local actors, facing the brunt of power at a local level. Understandably, any possible resolution that emerges directly out of this moment of struggle is also local. Assuming that transformation is always a systemic phenomenon, the moment of local resolution has to be negotiated in such a manner that it does not freeze the movement in its tracks. The only positive result to be gained from this negotiation is the generalisation of the question asked. If one increases the ambit of a question, a localised resolution becomes impossible; this entails the posing of the idea of global transformation in opposition to localised recognition/representation.

Williams discusses these two difficulties faced in the struggle for socialism when he theorises the residual and the emergent in his late work, Marxism and Literature. The Welsh community is what he calls the residual: that which belongs to a bygone era and does not completely kowtow to the logic of the current system. In not fully conforming it generates friction which can then be deployed to question the system. On the other hand, the emergent refers to ideas, values, institutions etc. that emerge when a class struggles against hegemony, when the working class struggles against the hegemony of capital, for instance. Both the residual and the emergent are oppositional at a certain moment of their relation with the dominant, or the hegemonic, but their antagonistic status is always under threat of the possibility of immediate recognition and co-option. As was said earlier, it is the abstract ideal of systemic/global transformation that saves, or tries to save, and has the potential to save the antagonistic nature of the residual and the emergent.

At the same time, the abstract ideal of systemic transformation, inadequate in itself to sustain the energies of a movement, needs the support of local struggles, and a basis in already existing matrices of human relations. In other words, the truly oppositional, or that which seeks to transform the totality of things, does not exist outside of the various moments of the emergent and the residual. This is where “community” in the way Williams uses the term, while speaking of the Welsh countryside, becomes important. Communities are necessarily local, but in this vision, never ends in themselves; moments, rather, that appear and disappear, and offer sustenance to the movement at large (this was more or less the role of the Welsh village community in the general strike, as represented in Williams’ Border Country).


But how does one reach from sustenance of a movement at a local level, to its generalisation? The term that makes itself available immediately is, of course, solidarity. Movements sustained locally, needed to be united to transform society, are truly brought together by bonds of solidarity; these bonds, furthermore, are facilitated and represented by actual, material bodies and organisations. It is through solidarity that localised segments of the working class move beyond localised interests and end the segmentation that divides them. Solidarity is a special feeling of community that, not existing in given reality, is formed between struggling groups and communities. What sustains a movement then, in addition to local relations of community, and the struggle for localised and immediate demands, is this new sense of community. The 1926 General Strike was great precisely because it demonstrated to those who witnessed it that the community that forms between different segments of the working people is indeed capable of keeping a struggle going.

Williams’ father and other working members of the Welsh village community responded to the struggle of the coal miners almost out of impulse. But what makes this response different from an individualised, empathetic response, is 1) its collective nature, and 2) instead of thinking themselves internal to their condition, the so-called ‘empathisers’ felt themselves internal to the struggle of the miners. Moreover, the Welsh village community, with its spontaneous response to the struggle of the miners did not make the 1926 Strike a general strike. More than anything, this happened because of the extended collaboration and camaraderie between trade union bodies representing various sectors of the working class. If local communities sustain movements at a local level, trade unions are bodies for the building of solidarity at a large scale. If at the end the movement collapsed because of the betrayal of the trade union leadership, it only goes to show the significance of the networks that the trade unions created and utilised. Furthermore, this betrayal is nothing but the willingness to accept local resolutions to general issues, and in that the cutting of the roots of solidarity.

Trade unions are bodies, which though they emerge from local experiences of struggle, are actually not limited to the specificity one particular struggle. If transformation has to be systemic, and has to be brought about by a united working class, then the task of forming a fully conscious, united working class is the first true goal to be sought. Trade unions, and like bodies, that synthesise the wisdom of various local working class experiences are essential to the formation of this class (for-itself). Insofar as trade unions contribute to the construction of socialism, by facilitating the transformation of the working-class-in-itself to a working-class-for-itself, they go against the shallow economism that is associated with trade unionism. The 1926 General Strike demonstrated that trade unions could become bodies to facilitate generalisation. Solidarity was built at a national level through the action of these unions. Betrayal took place when the same trade unions accepted a local resolution, and in that sold out the working-class for the interests for a group of workers. Fittingly, one of the main clauses that the “Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act 1927,” which was a response to the 1926 General Strike, introduced, forbade “sympathetic strikes”.


The local moment of a struggle is not always supported by the residual, should there be a residual. Very often the residual is a functional part of the dominant, and has no oppositional value. Despite the problems of his larger thesis, in Rethinking Working Class History, Dipesh Chakrabarty makes an important observation about the Calcutta Jute Mills: individuals belonging to the middle class provided leadership in many struggles of the workers. Because of the lack of bourgeois-democratic structures the symbolic horizon of the workers did not allow for them to take the role of leaders. The oppositional structures that were formed, strangely, were modelled on feudal hierarchies, now formally subsumed by capitalism in order to reproduce itself. In its articulation with the residual, the oppositional took a form that was already co-opted.

Alternatively, it could happen that the oppositional could get accommodated without deriving its form from (as was the case with the Calcutta workers) a co-opted residual. To take an example closer home (in space and in time), workers’ struggles in the industrial belt in Haryana (Gurgaon, Manesar, Dharuhera, Kapashera) often culminate in, and falter at the demand for a union. Evidently, a recognised union is needed for the workers to be able to articulate their real demands; the union, and the demand for it, comes across as a necessary moment of mediation. The problem with this demand, as some have so competently argued (e.g., Maya John), is that this demand forces the movement into a form that systematically destroys internal democracy and channels of communication between leaders and the rank-and-file, which then usually causes the movement to collapse. The demand for a union is obviously not a co-opted piece of residue. It is an institutionalised form of working class wisdom, gained from past experience, and yet its institutionalisation implies that it too is actually co-opted. Of course, even if the demand for a union were met, it would still mean a defeat for the working-class movement, insofar as a local resolution has been achieved and the process of generalisation cut short.

Not only the residual, but even formations that are produced by experiences of the working class, can be accommodated and can lead to the co-option of new moments of oppositional experience. Nothing can be celebrated as a strong, stable bulwark for resistance. At one moment of working-class experience the residual becomes the basis for opposition, and on another leads to co-option. The institutions and tactics that have emerged from the experience of struggle can at a later moment become the cause of accommodation. This should make us think of why Williams’ belaboured the point about seeing society for the process it is, instead of understanding it in terms of reified images.

The usual mistake that one makes in using categories that Williams had constructed so carefully is that we reify them even as we assert that they are meant to ward off reification. In a sense, categories, in being synchronic, make such reification inevitable. Despite this, the point of Williams’ repeated warnings, and his constant quibbling with names, seems to derive from this discomfort with bourgeois forms of knowledge, which rely on categories (formal logic being the model for all such forms), and are hence unable to account for flux. The dominant, the emergent, the residual and the oppositional, are all processual categories (if one can allow for the existence of a such a paradoxical entity). There is no such thing as the emergent. Or rather there is no such thing as the emergent. The moment a thing is a thing, it is no longer emergent, but has emerged. What Williams is trying to get at with the concept of the emergent is what is hidden behind that which has emerged. The only thing he can positively assert is that there is something hidden. That the process exists is the only thing one can say about the process, one can never really represent or know the process itself.


It is at times hard to tell whether Williams’ concern is with how things are, or with how we see them; with the thing-in-itself in a phenomenological sense, or our representations of it. Is he trying to argue that society, as culture, is a process, or is he trying to make sure that we reject our reified categories and understand/represent it as the process it is. As a Marxist, his interests lie not in establishing the nature of reality, as an epistemological exercise, but in transforming it. Understanding reality is part of his project, but only insofar as it is a part of the process of transforming reality. The subject, the object, and importantly the manner in which the subject relates to object, are all important for him.

Reification is not merely a problem of thought. As has been demonstrated, past moments of experience tend to get reified as institutionalized wisdom only to block the path of working-class struggle. Reification in thought, our inability to get beyond concepts to understand the process, accompanies reification in the unfolding of history; capitalism is one such block in the unfolding of this process. History cannot unfold without the destruction of capitalism, and without its destruction the process that we speak of unfolds like the belt of a treadmill, seeming to have moved, only to return after having gathered a bit more dust. Of course movements have happened, and the working class has attacked capitalism, but these barriers to capital have, so far, been accommodated by newer, more generalized forms of capitalism, newer ways of appropriating surplus; despite the resurgence of non-identity, identity has managed to sustain itself.

Representation and recognition lie, as does transformation, in the domain of the subject. So, in confronting these questions, Williams confronts the question of the subject. Reification, as was said above, is a concrete contradiction. The aporia of thought that every recognition is a misrecognition etc., is constituted by and is constitutive of this contradiction. Williams, in asking us to recognize the process, is asking us to recognize what, in effect, does not exist; the process of de-reification, because reification is a fact, not an illusion, cannot be completed in thought. The never-ending search for adequate concepts can never come to a close, because the search for concepts, philosophy itself, begins with the problem of reification. To resolve the problem of philosophy inside philosophy is to leave unquestioned reification as an actually existent fact, which ensures that each philosophical resolution, as each concrete resolution that is partial, becomes reified. Unable to find adequate concepts, or always being conscious of, and made uncomfortable by the inevitable inadequacy of concepts, Williams is invariably pushed into questions of policy and pragmatic engagement.

What Williams is asking us to do is to “struggle on two fronts”, as Mao said in the “Red Book”. Reification in thought is, in the final instant, a produce of reification as an aspect of history. We must battle reification in thought; we must realise that society, as history, is a process, and as we do this, we must also fight reification as a material fact. Figuratively, to fight reification in reality is to fight it outside oneself, to fight it in thought, is to fight reification inside oneself. The working class must struggle against capital as capital, but it must also struggle against labor as capital, because capitalism accommodates working class assertions; it continuously transforms the emergent into the emerged.


Fighting labor as capital, means fighting the embourgeoisment of the working class. This embourgeoisment takes the form of institutionalised wisdom (from past experiences) that often fetters movements. Otherwise, the most obvious case of the embourgeoisment of the working class is social democracy (in English politics, the Labor Party) – the politics of compromise. In Border Country, and in all his accounts of British socialist politics, Williams has always kept a critical stance towards social democracy. The betrayal of the trade unions, their acceptance of compromise when the movement could have gone on, was symptomatic of the politics of social democracy.

Social democracy, though it may take various forms, and may use various vocabularies, is typically the institutionalisation of a moment of working class assertion. The working class fights, and capitalism accommodates the assertion by accepting some localised demands (localised in that they do not transform the system in its fundamentals) – in the English case, this is what Perry Anderson (in English Questions) had called the working class’s incorporation. Over a period of time this corporatism gives birth to the belief that with continuous reform the current system will better itself. Williams seems to have the problems of social democracy in mind when he says,

“Straight incorporation is most directly attempted against the visibly alternative and oppositional class elements: trade unions, working-class political parties, working-class life styles…The process of emergence, in such conditions, is then a constantly repeated, an always renewable move beyond a phase of practical incorporation: usually made much more difficult by the fact that much incorporation looks like recognition, acknowledgement, and thus a form of acceptance.” (Marxism and Literature, 124-25)

Incorporation, more concretely, social democracy, blocks the continuous unfolding of the process. The working-class’s perpetual struggle to destroy capitalism comes to a halt with the belief that the current system is good enough, insofar as it has been able to take into account the needs of the emergent working-class. The feeling that the current system, which was being challenged till now, is good enough, is related to the feeling that it is total (in fact, this too follows from repeated accommodation, i.e. repeated failure of movements to bring fundamental change): there is no possible outside to it, and if any change has to come it has to come through a process of continuous modification from within. Williams’ response to this is:

“…No mode of production and therefore no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human energy, and human intention.” (Emphasis author’s, Marxism and Literature, 125)

The belief that the current moment is the only possible comes from blindness to flux, blindness to the fact that the past was different, and that difference is possible even in the present. This blindness is the product, furthermore, of concrete, identifiable processes of struggle and incorporation. Williams’ call to be aware of the processual logic of history, and to flux, is on the one hand a critical realist call to recognise reality for what it is, and not give in to the amnesia of the incorporated moment – reality is moving, do not let yourself get fooled by the stillness of what you see. On the other, it comes from the recognition that it is necessary to realise that change is possible, and that no matter how all-encompassing the system may seem, it has its blind-spots, its exclusions, for subjects to struggle for change, and not be cowed down into passive acceptance of the given. The struggle against reification in thought accompanies and empowers the struggle against reification in action. And the necessity of this struggle returns us to our earlier discussion of localised resolutions, which really, has been the underlying theme of this essay. It is necessary to fight reification because it is the biggest barrier in the process of generalisation, which is to say, in the process of the formation of a united working-class.

Note: This essay was written in April-May 2012.


Anderson, Perry. English Questions. London: NLB, 1980.

John, Maya. “Workers’ Discontent and Form of Trade Union Politics”. Economic and Political Weekly, (January 7, 2012).

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. London: OUP, 1977.

Williams, Raymond. Resources of Hope: Culture, Democracy and Socialism. London: Verso, 1989.

Bagchi, Amiya. “Working Class Consciousness”. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 25, No. 30 (Jul. 28, 1990), PE54-PE60.