From One Wall to Another: Marx’s Spectre Looms Large

First a look at some headlines past few days:

Twenty million jobs will disappear by the end of next year as a result of the impact of the financial crisis on the global economy, a United Nations agency said on Monday. (source)

With capitalism in crisis, Karl Marx has become fashionable again in the West. Das Kapital, his seminal work, is set to become a best-seller in Europe.
(source)

An even more curious bit of evidence: a recent poll of East Germans by a major magazine found that 52 percent had lost all confidence in the free market economy while 43 percent would support a return to a socialist economy. (source)

Capitalism as we used to know it is on its deathbed. And those who predicted that the old brand, the unfettered, American-promoted system, was a danger to the world, are being vindicated.They include Karl Marx, whose thinking on banks seems oddly contemporary these days. (source)

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It was in the aftermath of the fall of ‘existing socialism’ symbolized by the fall of the Berlin wall, that the French philosopher Derrida wrote his book Specters of Marx. This was his manner of acknowledging the great power of the German who was written off as his statues and pictures were dismantled all over Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union.

Such positions were rare, however, and there has been a great diminishing of those who have continued to acknowledge the influence of Karl Marx and his theories. One of the early forebodings was the dramatic lack of interest in the thoughts of Marx and in Left politics in general among students. In some countries like China and India, a new generation that had witnessed only the fall of socialism and were enamored of the immense possibilities that a new wave of capitalism had opened up for them, swerved to the right. Those left out of the limited progress turned towards identity politics, which, carried to its logical extreme, is self- defeating.
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A selection of Chilean poet Marjorie Agosin’s poems at the The International Literary Quarterly.
The Disappeared

The disappeared
took their voices with them
their voices with which they sang
The International
their tongues and languages

We became accustomed to not hearing them
while we searched for them
perhaps secretly
we dreamt that some day
they would be waiting for us at the corner café
or in the schoolyard
as if nothing had happened
because it was a bad dream in some
short story by Borges

With them we also lost the transparency
of objects
the illusion of every day
that it was always the present the moment
the transparency of objects

And so we grew accustomed to filling ourselves with absence
to a gray silence on our cracked faces
to forgetting their voices
to really believing that perhaps not one of them existed
that these disappeared
were not real

And so we too disappeared from history
we shriveled up
the sky also smaller
we no longer searched for anyone
we did not question anyone
we grew silent in order to die or perhaps to live in miniature
and one day like them
we also disappeared
except that
we were aware
we dressed in mourning
we joined forces with fear
little by little indifference defeated us too

We expected nothing else
except occasionally thinking yes,
perhaps they would again appear in that corner café
or in that instant of the sun when summer is a
ceremony of delight.

Link via RSB

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Jacues Rupnik on why 1968 needs to be remembered not so much for the Parisian student revolt as for The Prague Spring. 1968: The year of two springs

The French Left rejected the market and capitalism at the same time as, in Prague, Ota Sik was putting forward a “third way” between eastern state socialism and western capitalism.

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Scientist DP Sen writes on the problems of the communist movement.

A middle class leadership for a working class movement is a contradictory arrangement and cannot continue forever. The above two classes have different class interests, more so in a developing country….In China, the middle class leadership has allowed capitalism in the name of development. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and also a Polit-Burean member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist , proclaims every alternate day, so to say, that they are practising capitalism. If so, why the name: Communist Party of India-Marxist?

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Rembrandt – Philosopher in Meditation

Initially what I saw in the painting is the man, presumably the philosopher in the center of the painting, under the staircases that seem to represent both the cascading movement of the mind as well as the transience of time- the philosopher is situated in a particular position in time and is thus also limited by it. He basks in the glow, as it were, of enlightenment within those confines.

As one looks closely at the painting, one can also see a woman, and there is another source of light. The source of light comes not from the skies or the external world, but from the hearth. Unlike the man, the woman is not sitting placidly and reflecting or basking in the light, but is in the act of keeping the fire, the source of the illumination going.

There is not one, but two philosophers in the painting. Or perhaps there is indeed only one. And it’s not the one seated next to the window.

Link via Flowerville

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European Left, Blogging Soviet life, Borges, Savi Savarkar, Discount Books

Former left wing dissident, Boris Kagarlitsky, assesses the changes in the European Left over the last two decades.
A decade ago, the triumph of liberalism in Europe was so overwhelming that even parties that traced their political lineage to the early 20th-century revolutionary working class movement did not to speak openly about the radical transformation of society. Communist parties closed down or hastily reinvented themselves as Social Democrats, while Social Democratic parties became liberal parties.

In the same newspaper, Victor Sonkin, writes on the nostalgic blogging of the Soviet years.

The sub genre of literature blogs seem especially interesting. One blog consists of short memoirs of not very distant times, which are now becoming increasingly “retro.” Before reading the website I thought that most mundane details of everyday life escaped attention, were forgotten and eventually lost. How, for example, did one pay the fare for a Moscow streetcar in 1979?

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A biographical sketch of Luis Jorge Borges at The Garden of Forking Paths.
“Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses, and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face.”

As a bonus, the article also gives the correct pronunciation of Borges’ name!

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On a dark winter night, as mists slowly swirled around us, a bearded man and I got talking in the dhaba where we were having a late night dinner. The man turned out to be a painter and took me to see his paintings in his studio in the nearby Sukhrali village, now engulfed within Gurgaon. His paintings were full of angst and we had a long discussion on Hinduism, Dalits, Ambedkar and Marxism. Over a decade after that it makes me very happy to see that Savi Savarkar is getting his due as the most eminent Dalit artist of our age. His paintings were exhibited last week at Ravindra Bhavan, Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi.
A repeated use of red, blue, yellow and black is a striking feature of Sawarkar’s work. Colour activates the surface of the piece, as if there was a fierce struggle between the figure and the surface grounding it. To borrow a phrase from Mikhail Bakhtin, you might even call Sawarkar’s art a “carnival of the grotesque”. He keeps returning to the fact that what we often recognise as normal — whether it is the human body or human ways of thinking — must take into account the grotesquerie that is an everyday experience for many people.(link)

Check out the gallery at his site. The paintings that I saw in his studio were very scathing, the ones at his site look relatively more tempered. One that is etched in my mind specifically is where a dalit man is carrying the village waste (night soil) on two pots hanging at the two ends of a stick, and is spitting into one of them.

The pot that he is spitting into is marked with the swastika and below it reads the word: “Om”.

Link via Subaltern Studies

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A lot of books at a discount sale from Columbia University Press. Most books are at 50% discount, some at even 80%. Quite a few books on Asian (mainly Chinese and Indian) history and literature. Nothing, alas, on Latin American literature, though.
(via email from Philip Leventhal of the Columbia University Press)

Feminist Narratives of Indian Left

Unlike in Russia and China, the communists did not fully triumph in India. They were a small, even fringe, though in many ways radical part of the national struggle for liberation. After independence, especially after their embracing the path of parliamentary politics, they emerged as the biggest opposition to the ruling Congress party, creating a record by having the first elected communist state government in history when they formed the government in 1957 in Kerala and still later perhaps the longest elected state government in West Bengal. Thus, while they did not succeed to the same extent as in Russia or China, they did not fail either, unlike in the West.

This, however, gave a very specific dichotomous character to the Indian communists, whom the historian D.D. Kosambi called the “Official Marxists” or, literally and metaphorically, OM. Thus, they re- created the structures of ruling communists parties in the major citadels, at the same time they also internalized traditional Indian social structures. This part- success also led them to miss the emergence of the New Left and their ideas since they never had to go back and question their basic premises in their wishful thought to continue to pursue their “party- line” even as it swerved from supporting the Congress at one time (in 1975 as well as now) to indirectly supporting the BJP (the CPI and CPM both supported V.P. Singh’s National Front government which was also supported by the BJP.) In other words, they have become totally engrossed in parliamentary politics.With the rise of caste politics since the late 1980s, they have missed the boat completely as their class based analysis had no place for caste. Even today, they are yet to reconcile their theory with caste.

Similarly, the Indian communist Left has remained completely indifferent to the questions raised by feminists. In this very well written narrative from the Naxalite movement of the early 1970s, Krishna Bandhopadhyay recalls how, even a nascent communist outfit without an entrenched bureaucratic structure, patriarchal ideas and practices dominated. Needless to say, the CPI and the CPM are far worse off.

Naxalbari Politics: A Feminist Narrative (pdf!) (alternate source)

Anyway, she would give all the boys ‘chatu’ (barley) in one hand and ash in the other and say, “Go to the corner of the road and scatter the ash in the name of your enemies and the chatu in the name of your friends”. One of my cousins was of my age. Spotting the ash and barley in his hands I would start demanding, “Give it to me, I’ll scatter it for my friends and enemies”. In her east Bengali dialect, pishima would comment, “Where will friends and enemies suddenly appear from for girls? Do you think girls are human beings?”. Everyone would laugh at this, and I found that everybody agreed with her. I would feel very small compared to my brothers. Ashamed and insulted, my eyes would fill with tears and I would cry silently and secretly. Even later in life I would cringe at the discrimination in every aspect of life – be it eating habits, education, freedom of movement. In my own way I protested once in a while, but not a brick on the wall of “don’ts” was affected by it. I always thought that something needed to be done about this.

So many women joined the movement, but on the party’s part there was no actual directive as to what their role was expected to be. Many commented that even in the case of the men, there were no specific directives. For the sake of argument this is perfectly true, but the party leadership was male and can it be denied that their policies would automatically tend to be patriarchal?

The legendary heroine of the Naxalite movement, K. Ajitha, has also pointed out on this earlier.

The women were always in an inferior position in the movement. I was highly disturbed by the loss of opportunities on account of being a woman. The men either showed a protective approach towards women or treated them as a sexual commodity. They considered the support the revolutionaries got from their wives and mothers as their duty. They did not realise that these innocent women had to suffer a lot because of their actions. The police and the authorities constantly harassed them. They also failed to appreciate our intellectual capacities and human feelings. Marriage was prohibited for revolutionaries as the party felt it hinders freedom. Later, however, the party allowed marriages approved by it. If anybody fell in love with those who did not like the party, it acted like a feudal lord.

Incidentally, her auto- biography has been recently published.

Related Post: The Left, Caste and Dalits: A Troubled Relationship