Karl Marx’s Discovery of the Law of Life

Marx, and to a lesser extent Engels, provided not merely a philosophy of the world and how to change it, but also a philosophy of life and how to live it.

The influence of Karl Marx and his ideas was a matter of course for many of us who grew up in the 20th century. How they affected us was a matter of degree, but the influence itself was inescapable. After all, even a character as insignificant and ordinary as the one in Robert Walser’s novel, The Assistant, has a brush with the ideas of socialism.

IMG-0957My earliest recollection of this influence, which went almost unnoticed, goes back to class 6, when I had to transcribe a page in English as part of my homework during the summer vacations. I picked up a book that had been lying around the house. It happened to be the biography of Karl Marx by E. Stepanova, which my father had received as a prize in school in the late fifties.

I slogged through the transcription with little interest, intrigued by unfamiliar words, such as proletariat, plebian, capitalism and socialism, understanding very little. These words came back to me in class 10, when I read the NCERT books by Arjun Dev that referred to Marx and the Russian Revolution. In a couple of years, I was to begin a journey that isn’t quite finished. Continue reading “Karl Marx’s Discovery of the Law of Life”


Bipan Chandra: The Historian of Modern India

Bipan Chandra
Bipan Chandra (27 May 1928 – 30 August 2014)

It is natural for Bipan Chandra who died last week on August 30, to be best remembered as the author the NCERT text book “Modern India”, but his work as a historian went far beyond that.

His PhD thesis, later published as “The Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India: Economic Policies of Indian National Leadership, 1880-1905”, as well as “The Rise of Communalism in Modern India” and “India’s Struggle for Independence” provided new vistas for research and understanding of modern Indian history.

The latter two works were particularly significant and hotly debated. “The Rise of Communalism in Modern India” was the first work dedicated to the study of communalism, and “India’ Struggle for Independence” used Antonio Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution and counter hegemony to understand India’s struggle for Independence. Continue reading “Bipan Chandra: The Historian of Modern India”

Eric Hobsbawm: An Uncommon Life

Eric Hobswam (1917- 01 October 2012) is no more.

I first read Hobsbawm’s three volume work on the 19th century in the early nineties, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Those were the years of intellectual disarray- and the first piecing realization was that my history of humankind started from Marx, I knew little of even extant socialist traditions, not to mention the Enlightenment and Renaissance. Hobsbawm’s writings, particularly his 3 volume trilogy  formed the anchor around which I got introduced to 19th century history and also the history of socialism.

It was the late Mohit Sen who introduced me to Hobsbawm’s works. He had been a student of Eric Hobsbawm in the 1940s Cambridge and he recounted a number of anecdotes about him that made me feel closer to Hobsbawm- his ability to rattle off statistics even when he was just about 30, his lectures that were attended by students from all over the university and his letters to Mohit Sen over the decades.

Both went on to recount those years in their respective biographies, though Mohit must have felt very crestfallen on discovering that Hobsbawm had not even mentioned his name on his otherwise long recollection with Indian students, while Mohit  spent considerable ink on his former teacher.

Continue reading “Eric Hobsbawm: An Uncommon Life”

Why Capitalism has, and survives crisis

Benjamin Kunkle has a fine review of David Harvey‘s recent book the Enigma of Capital, in which he also broadly reviews related literature by classical Marxist authors, including John Bellamy Foster’s Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on Earth.

LRB · Benjamin Kunkel · How Much Is Too Much?

The trouble is already there to see. Imagine an economy consisting of a single firm which has bought means of production and labour power for a total of $100, in order to produce a mass of commodities it intends to sell for $110, i.e. at a profit of 10 per cent. The problem is that the firm’s suppliers of constant and variable capital are also its only potential customers. Even if the would-be buyers pool their funds, they have only their $100 to spend, and no more. Production of the total supply of commodities exceeds the monetarily effective demand in the system. As Harvey explains in The Limits to Capital, effective demand ‘is at any one point equal to C+V, whereas the value of the total output is C+V+S. Under conditions of equilibrium, this still leaves us with the problem of where the demand for S, the surplus value produced but not yet realised through exchange, comes from.’ An extra $10 in value must be found somewhere, to be exchanged with the firm if it is to realise its desired profit.

Continue reading “Why Capitalism has, and survives crisis”

Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography by Francis Wheen

Marx’s Das Capital: A Biography by Francis Wheen (2008, Manjul Publications, India, Rs. 195)

Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx, published in 2001, was probably the first one to be published after the collapse of the Soviet Union and ‘existing socialism’ in Eastern Europe. He has now written a ‘biography’ of Marx’s magnum opus Das Kapital. Wheen’s central point is that Capital needs to be seen, above all, as a work of art.

Although Das Kapital is usually categorized as a work of economics, Karl Marx turned to the study of political economy only after many years of spadework in philosophy and literature. It is these intellectual foundations of underpin the project, and it is his personal experience of alienation that gives such intensity to the analysis of an economic system which estranges people from one another and from the world that they inhabit- a world in which humans are  enslaved by the monstrous power of inanimate capital and commodities. (page 7)

Continue reading “Marx’s Das Kapital: A Biography by Francis Wheen”

Populism as Legitimate Class Politics

“As philosophy finds in the proletariat its material weapons, so the proletariat finds in philosophy its intellectual weapons, and as soon as the lightning of thought has struck deep into the virgin soil of the people, the emancipation of the Germans into men will be completed […] The head of its emancipation is philosophy; its heart is the Proletariat. Philosophy cannot realize itself without transcending the Proletariat, the Proletariat cannot transcend itself without realizing philosophy”. [Karl Marx, ‘Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction’]

In his latest post David Harvey explains the current financial crisis and touches upon a number of points. Given its sweep, it is not possible for me to summarize it here, and it is best if you can read the whole post in its entirety.

The only point that I want to make is that the question that he raises about class politics and the leading role ascribed to the industrial working class aka the proletariat. This is because Harvey addresses a question that has befuddled me for over a decade and a half. A classical Marxist position has been the leading role of the proletariat in socializing the means of production and therefore the social surplus (profits) that accrue. The proletariat, whether in the industrialized world or its nascent cousin elsewhere has not taken a leading or even a participant role in anti- capitalist struggles. Lenin explained the absence of a revolutionary proletariat in the West due to the emergence of a ‘labour aristocracy’.

Continue reading “Populism as Legitimate Class Politics”

Charles Darwin and Materialism

(12th Feb 2009 marks the 200th birth anniversary of Charles Darwin)

Reading about Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in school did not ruffle any feathers in our young minds. After all, once explained, the whole story about evolution made common sense. It was much later when reading Marx and Engels, especially Engels’ little classic The Part Played by Labour in the transition From Ape to Man, that one began to realize the great significance of the work of this British  naturalist. The oft quoted ‘fact’ of Marx wanting to dedicate his magnum opus, Das Capital to Darwin added another layer of awe for him. Unfortunately, this ‘fact’ was little more than a myth, as  Francis Wheen’s biography of Marx published in 2000 proved.

Continue reading “Charles Darwin and Materialism”

150 Years of the Grundrisse

The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the clan. Only in the eighteenth century, in ‘civil society’, do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations.(Source)

The Grundrisse was the last of the trilogy of Marx’s mature works- the other two being Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy and Das Capital– to be published. Indeed, these notebooks were published one hundred years after they were written, leading Marcello Musto to comment that the work was published after ‘one hundred of years of solitude’. It is a tribute to Marx’s genius that he wrote this huge tome as a means of clarification of his own thoughts and as a preparation for his magnum opus, Das Capital, though some of its thoughts went into Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy as well. He did not intend it for publication.
Continue reading “150 Years of the Grundrisse”

Reading Capital with David Harvey

Listening to David Harvey’s lectures on Capital Vol 1 not only gave me a feeling that I was re- reading Capital but also provided a refreshing enthusiasm that I had experienced when first reading the tome. Though the first three chapters are considered to be somewhat intimidating, these three chapters are also the most interesting ones. As Harvery points out, Marx follows different literary techniques in different parts of the book, and the first three are marked not only by philosophical flamboyance but also literary flourishes with copious references to Shakespeare , Schiller and Balzac (the latter, like Harvey, I read much after reading Capital).

If someone were to read Capital, I would now, with the benefit of hindsight recommend that one read it along with Shakespeare, Balzac and Hegel- not necessarily in that order. Again, as Harvery points out, it might be a better idea if one reads some works by Hegel before getting on to Capital– if only because it makes reading Marx much simpler. Similarly, for anyone reading the Communist Manifesto, I’d recommend reading it along with Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education and maybe even Lajos Zilahy’s Hungarian novel set in a similar period- A Century in Scarlet.
Continue reading “Reading Capital with David Harvey”

Why Marx supported Free Trade

It is always fruitful to “go back to Marx”. While reading this speech that the old man made when he was quite young (in 1848) I could not but admire the clarity with which he grasps and articulates the essence of the matter at hand. At the end of his speech, he proclaims that he supports free trade… though from a different point of view than the “free traders”. His reference to the criticism that those opposed to free trade is as contemporary as it can be when any criticism of globalization is accused of supporting Nehruvian “socialism” and not as an exercise in identifying the contradictions inherent in the new phase of capitalism.

Do not imagine, gentlemen, that in criticizing freedom of trade we have the least intention of defending the system of protection.

One may declare oneself an enemy of the constitutional regime without declaring oneself a friend of the ancient regime.

Similar is his take on other aspects that are nowadays packaged in only slightly more sophisticated jargon of management gurus (I am reminded of phrases like “core competency”- according to which some countries are “naturally” suited for back office work and others for manufacturing)

For instance, we are told that free trade would create an international division of labor, and thereby give to each country the production which is most in harmony with its natural advantage.

Further down the speech is appropriately targeted as those who see globalization as a mere opening up to the world and not a phenomenon driven by capitalism (Amartya Sen in his book The Argumentative Indian is a case in point).

To call cosmopolitan exploitation universal brotherhood is an idea that could only be engendered in the brain of the bourgeoisie.

A longer quote from Marx’s speech on the question of free trade (1848)
Continue reading “Why Marx supported Free Trade”

160 years later- this book still has a lot to say

This little book was first published 160 years ago on 21st February 1848.

The world has not stopped listening to it ever since.

Thanks to Marxists Internet archives, you can actually now listen to the audio.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2
Chapter 3 & 4

Watch an animated version of the book.

Related Post: Re- reading the Communist Manifesto

Kosambi Festival of Ideas

Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi (1907- 1966) embodied the quintessential Indian Renaissance man that came into its own in the immediate years after independence.

He was a polyglot- an accomplished mathematician and a self- trained historian. He was well trained in Sanskrit and had a very good knowledge of Buddhism acquired from his father, a noted Buddhist scholar of his times. Educated in the United States, he returned to India not only to make contributions to mathematics but, above all, lay the basis of the current historiography of ancient India.

His orientation was firmly Marxist, and his works are a very good example of how the Marxist method can be used to give surprisingly innovative results. Many of his formulations have been proven incorrect by subsequent researches, but anyone reading his works even today cannot be but impressed not only by the wide scholarship and fascinating field work that he carried out, but also illuminating insights.

His deeply humanistic streak that still inspires many to read his works is best reflected in his own words.

“The subtle mystic philosophies, torturous religions, ornate literature, monuments teeming with intricate sculpture and delicate music of India all derive from the same historical process that produced the famished apathy of the villager, senseless opportunism and termite greed of the ‘cultured’ strata, sullen, uncoordinated discontent among the workers, general demoralization, misery, squalor and degrading superstition. The one is the result of the other, one is the expression of the other…it is necessary to understand that history is not a sequence of haphazard events but is made by human beings in the satisfaction of daily needs.”

The DD Kosambi Festivals of Ideas being celebrated in Goa right now was inaugurated by Vice President MH Ansari on 5th February. P Sainath delivered a lecture on the 6th and Romila Thapar, who can easily be considered his most deserving succesor (along possibly with RS Sharma), had a talk yesterday. The events are being covered at the DD Kosambi blog. A news video there covers the speeches of Vice President Ansari and Dr. Meera Kosambi, DD Kosambi’s sociologist daughter.
For anyone who at any time has bathed in that suffusing glow of enlightenment when reading any of Kosambi’s works, reading and watching (the video) of the tributes to him, would be both nostalgic and re- assuring.

(A short biographical note appears here, as well as some of his other writings.)

Listen to this post

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Antonio Gramsci and India

(on the 70th death anniversary of Antonio Gramsci, who died on April 27, 1937 in Mussolini’s prison)

Antonio Gramsci’s position in history of ideas cannot be underestimated. Given its overarching strength and universalist ambitions, it is very difficult to be original from within the Marxist framework- something that Gramsci managed to do in his short life. Despite the spread of Marxist ideas in India and his own reputation as a great Marxist theoretician, Antonio Gramsci has remained relatively distant in India.

This is not to say that there has been no influence of Gramsci. In fact, both India and Gramsci have influenced each other.

Much before India reached out to Antonio Gramsci after his writings became available in English translations in the late 1960s (though it was reviewed by Bhabhani Sen soon after it came out in 1957), Gramsci had reached India in the 1930s- indeed his key theoretical contribution to the theorization of revolutionary advance was illustrated with the strategy of the Indian freedom struggle.

While imprisoned in Mussolini’s prisons during the fascist purge of communists in Italy, he saw Mahatma Gandhi’s strategy of alternating active political movement and withdrawal as what he termed as the ‘war of movement’ and ‘war of position.’

The Indian communist leadership in the 1930s, under the awe of the ‘living Lenin’- Stalin, at that time had characterized the Indian freedom struggle as a bourgeois movement. But then, it will be incorrect to wholly blame Stalin for this. Much before he became a key figure within the CPSU, the brilliant, but mistaken, Indian revolutionary MN Roy had characterized the Indian struggle for freedom as a bourgeois one, something that Rajni Palme Dutt would make a central tenet in his book India Today, for a long time the Bible of Indian communists.

It turned out that both MN Roy, and much of the Indian communist leadership, excluding, but only to a certain extent, P.C. Joshi (who despite his rather inclusive and sympathetic look at the Indian freedom struggle, was an admirer of Stalin), were mistaken. In terms of a theoretical understanding, neither the CPI, nor the CPM, to speak nothing of the blatantly mistaken Maoists, have made any attempt to learn from Antonio Gramsci’s writings of the 1930s. The only attempt from within the establishment Left was made by the former CPI theoretician, the late Mohit Sen, who had incorporated Gramsci’s theoretical concepts in his understanding of the Indian Revolution, in the book published under that name in 1970.

Even Mohit Sen treated him from within Leninist glasses, writing a tract called the Leninism of Gramsci. Whether Gramsci went beyond Leninism or not may be a conclusive debate as yet, what is certain is that Gramsci’s concepts of hegemony, and the need to build organic intellectuals are more pertinent than Lenin’s (contrast Lenin’s ideas about the ‘professional revolutionaries with that of Gramsci’s ‘organic intellectuals’.) A reading from his essay on the Intellectuals from Selections from The Prison Notebooks confirms how closer he is to contemporary capitalist society:

Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields. The capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organisers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc. It should be noted that the entrepreneur himself represents a higher level of social elaboration, already characterised by a certain directive [dirigente]and technical (i.e. intellectual) capacity: he must have a certain technical capacity, not only in the limited sphere of his activity and initiative but in other spheres as well, at least in those which are closest to economic production. He must be an organiser of masses of men; he must be an organiser of the “confidence” of investors in his business, of the customers for his product, etc. (Link)

He fundamentally changed the understanding of the base- superstructure as envisaged in the binary model outlined by Marx in his The Critique of Political Economy that remained popular because of its great conceptual breakthrough and the simplicity of the concept. He rescued the Marx of The Eighteenth Brumaire from the mechanistic reductionism in the former work.

Economy and ideology. The claim (presented as an essential postulate of historical materialism) that every fluctuation of politics and ideology can be presented and expounded as an immediate expression of the structure, must be contested in theory as primitive infantilism, and combated in practice with the authentic testimony of Marx, the author of concrete political and historical works. Particularly important from this point of view are The Eighteenth Brumaire and the writings on the Eastern Question, but also other writings (Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, The Civil War in France and lesser works). An analysis of these works allows one to establish better the Marxist historical methodology, integrating, illuminating and interpreting the theoretical affirmations scattered throughout his works.(Link )

Above all, Gramsci remains relevant because he tried to explain the nature of political power (much before the meaning of power was investigated, somewhat tangentially by Michel Foucault and Derrida), from the perspective of what he called the ‘subaltern’ perspective. The usage of the word ‘subaltern itself is interesting- it establishes a historical relationship between various, otherwise disparate classes. The short lived Indian school of historiography initiated by Ranajit Guha- the subaltern school of historians took off from Gramsci’s concept of the subaltern, employing it almost interchangeably and therefore restrictively with the ‘peasant.’

It is interesting to recall that one of the reasons that Gramsci came up with new nomenclature was because of the restrictions that he faced while writing in a fascist jail- anything that was ‘evidently Marxist’ could not have passed through the jail censorship.

Much later, in the mid- 1980s, Bipan Chandra and some of his associates employed Antonio Gramsci’s concepts to understand the Indian struggle for freedom and concluded that the Indian struggle for freedom was a revolution. This understanding remains fundamentally at variance with that of the mainstream communist Left, that still does not recognize the changed nature of political power in the backdrop of the establishment of popular democracy. It is, for them, still ‘bourgeois’ democracy, as if ‘proletarian democracy’ is a qualitatively different category.

This is not the place to go in why that is so- it sufficient is to mention that even the mainstream Left makes no pretense at theoretically advancing their understanding of India- categories like proletariat and what constitutes the revolutionary class(es) in the age of post- industrial capitalism. Among other works, Manuel Castells’ rather revisionist work The Rise of the Network Society (a work of ‘Hegelian dimensions’ nonetheless) and Anthony Giddens’ The Third Way remain un- debated.

It is among the Indian academics that Gramsci has proved to be more popular. Shashi Joshi and Bhagwan Josh, in their seminal study of the CPI, in the first two volumes of Struggle for Hegemony in India employed Gramsci’s path breaking work to indicate that the original intent of the Workers’ and Peasants Party which became part of the CPI (and to which P.C. Joshi also traced his political roots) was closer to the conclusions of Gramsci than those of the MN Roy/ Comintern line.

His death at the age of 46 was premature, and brutal coming as it did at the end of 10 years of solitary confinement.

On the evening of November 8, 1926, Gramsci was arrested in Rome and, in accordance with a series of “Exceptional Laws” enacted by the fascist-dominated Italian legislature, committed to solitary confinement at the Regina Coeli prison. This began a ten-year odyssey, marked by almost constant physical and psychic pain as a result of a prison experience that culminated, on April 27, 1937, in his death from a cerebral hemorrhage. No doubt the stroke that killed him was but the final outcome of years and years of illnesses that were never properly treated in prison.(Link )


A brief overview of the treatment of Gramsci’s ideas in India by Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta.

Writings of Antonio Gramsci at Marxists.org archives

International Socialist has an issue devoted to Antonio Gramsci (link via Histomatist )

A google search reveals an article Reading Gramsci in the time of Hindutva by Imtiaz Aijaz Ahmed. I haven’t read it though and could not find the online version either.

On a more personal side of his life, read this article from Guardian about the touching letters to his son and wife.

Image acknowledgement

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The Left, Caste and Dalits: A Troubled Relationship

(This post appeared at Jack Stephen’s blog, The Mustard Seed. My thanks to Jack for having invited me for writing the post).

The Indian Left has had a troubled association with the caste question.

The major reason, in case of the Left has been the over arching importance that Marxism has attached to class and class conciousness. This has been true of the Marxist Left which includes the original and later CPI, the CPM and even most of the Maoist formations. The socialist parties, specially under Ram Manohar Lohia and to a lesser extent Acharya Narendra Dev acknowledged the issue of caste since the fifties though from the backward caste, and not a Dalit perspective.

This post, however, focuses on the relationship between the Marxist Left and Dalit politics.

The class based approach of the Marxist Left gave little importance to caste, and even saw it as an impediment for growth of class consciousness. It’s mass fronts consisted of the trade unions, the peasant associations, landless agricultural workers. Outside these class based fronts were those for women, students and the cultural wing (the famous Indian People’s Theater Association).

No scope was seen for a Dalit or any other caste based association. In fact, when the DS4 of Kanshi Ram began to grow in the 1980s, it was seen, even by those cadres in the existing communist parties who came from a Dalit background, as reactionary and dangerous- since these threatened to break the unity of the class based fronts along casteist lines. At no time, till the Mandal Commission forced it to take a firm stand, did the Indian Left see centrality of the caste question in India.

Within the CPI and the CPM, the leadership has been, even till recently, primarily drawn from the Brahmins or the local dominant castes, with very few exceptions. Neither have these parties made any conscious attempt to bring cadre from the Dalit strata into leadership positions. Instead, they have recreated in their internal structures the imbalances of society.

This is not to deny the fact that they have also been relatively less susceptible to casteism, and many among their cadre continue to be within these parties because of the relative absence of casteism within these parties in comparison with others. This is especially so where Dalit movement has been weak or non- existent.

In comparison with some other countries, the Indian communists’ participation and acceptance of parliamentary politics has been long and unquestionable. However the stress of political action also blunted the social and mass based actions that these parties should have been involved in.

This came out very clearly when, after the CPI(M) Congress in 1998, in reply to a question as to why the Left had failed to strike roots in Uttar Pradesh, the then party General Secretary H.S. Surjeet explained the reasons thus:

“There has been no social reform movement in the state”.

This surely is a case of putting the cart before the horse, since for those on left of the political spectrum, reforms are only a part of a much more comprehensive radical agenda. The task of the left is to carry out changes that go beyond reforms and not wait for others to carry out the job. Surjeet’s words raise an existential question for the CPI(M).

Another reason of this dichotomy between the Left and the Dalit movement has been that Dr. Ambedkar, by far the most towering leader of the Dalit movement if not its only one till the rise of Kanshi Ram, had been an opponent of Marxism. His focus remained the social upliftment of the Dalits and as a politician his sensibilities honed in English liberalism restricted his view. W.N. Kuber puts it thus:

In 1937, (Ambedkar) founded the Independent Labour Party, for sometime joined hands with the communists in the labor field but did not take consistent attitude and fight class battles. Though his community was downtrodden and landless and mostly wage- earners, still he could not make them class- conscious, because of the weakness in his inherent thinking. After the Poona Pact he tried to lead the working class, but failed and left the field forever, and chose to become the leader of his community.

(source: Ambedkar: A Critical Study by W.N. Kuber, 1973. Page 304)

His insistence on Buddhism as an alternative to Marxism also did not help to build bridges.

Buddhistic countries that have gone over to communism do not understand what communism is. Communism of the Russian type aims at bringing it about by a bloody revolution. The Buddhist communism brings it about by a bloodless revolution. The South East Asians should give a political form to Buddha’s teaching…. Poverty cannot be an excuse for sacrificing human freedom.

(Source: Ambedkar, Life and Mission, page 487, quoted in Kuber).

To the over arching importance that Dr. Ambedkar gave to conversion as a salvation for the Dalits (then called the Depressed Classes), the scholarly CPI leader Hiren Mukerjee commented:

But merely by changing one’s religion, one cannot bring a solution, particularly to the kind of problem that we have in our country. That is why I say the conversion to Buddhism was a gesture, a moral gesture, with certain conceptual connotations of its own. Buddhism is a magnificent religion, but somehow it was eased out of India. If by some miracle, Buddhism is brought back again, well and good. But things do not happen in real life like that.

(source: Hiren Mukerjee: Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Extirpation of Untouchability, page 46, quoted in Kuber)

If the Left parties are more sensitive to the caste question in recent years, it is because of the battle lines that were drawn in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission and also because of the political base that caste based parties, especially the Bahujan Samaj Party have been to create for themselves. While these made a dent in the following of all existing parties, the ones specially impacted were the Congress and the Left.

The second reason is the recognition of near absolute identity of the Dalits as one of the more oppressed sections in the country. Earlier observers, even among the most radicals ones, disdained this. Groomed in the modernist, Nehruvian framework in the backdrop of global appeal of Marxism, the caste factor was pushed under the carpet. It was even seen as an obstacle in establishing class-consciousness.

This has now changed, and rightly so. The communists and the Dalit movement share a complementary role. While the Dalit movement has articulated the social and political aspirations of the oppressed community, it has lacked a firm economic program, with the result that once power is gained (in Uttar Pradesh, for example), the lack of a class based theoretical perspective restricts it to either parliamentary politics or the perspective, often narrow, of a single leader. A Marxist understanding and placing the Dalit movement within a larger national and world wide struggle for emancipation complements this social and political approach.

It is not that this has not been attempted, it was there during the brief existence of the Dalit Panthers Movement in the 1970s before its disintegration. It was also there in the approach of Sharad Patil who broke away from the CPM to form the Satyashodak Communist Party in Maharastra in the 1980s.

Given the ossification in the dominant Left, however, this dialogue will have to be initiated by the cadre of the Dalit movement and independent Marxists.

(This post owes much to Raghbir Singh, with whom I’ve had numerous discussions on the topic. He had first “warned” me about the “threat” from DS4 way back in 1987. Needless to say, we have both substantially revised our understanding since then.)

A New Blog for DD Kosambi

I had set up a site on the Indian historian D.D. Kosambi many years back, perhaps in the late nineties, as a tribute to a man who has contributed so much to applying the dialectical method in investigating ancient Indian history. In my student days, it was very inspiring to read his books starting with The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India in Historical Outline. Over the years I have received a number of emails on the site which only indicates the interest that still exists in Kosambi.

A lot more material is now available on the internet about D.D. Kosambi than when I started out. My initial project was to scan and make available on the internet works by the number of Marxists that have contributed to our understanding of India and its history. For various reasons, the original project never beyond putting up some of his works online.

Only a few months back, I was amazed to find that Arvind Gupta has made available all the significant works by Kosambi on the internet. It lessens my feeling of guilt at not having completed my initial project.

Since his death in 1966, many of Kosambi’s formulations have been disapproved. Still, his works retain their significance for their pioneering efforts and rigour that has laid the foundations of modern Indian historiography.

His quintessentially humanistic streak that still inspires many to read his works is best reflected in his own words.

“The subtle mystic philosophies, torturous religions, ornate literature, monuments teeming with intricate sculpture and delicate music of India all derive from the same historical process that produced the famished apathy of the villager, senseless opportunism and termite greed of the ‘cultured’ strata, sullen, uncoordinated discontent among the workers, general demoralization, misery, squalor and degrading superstition. The one is the result of the other, one is the expression of the other…it is necessary to understand that history is not a sequence of haphazard events but is made by human beings in the satisfaction of daily needs.”

This blog will serve the purpose of collecting links to internet resources on Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi and his works. There is a Wikipedia entry on Kosambi now, and has a number of useful links, this blog will supplement the Wiki entry and link to a wider range of information on the internet.

The new blog is here.

Why the Left lost the battle of Globalization

Perry Anderson in an interview by Harry Keisler (see video)

Harry Keisler: One of the concerns in your Elberg Lecture is that internationalism, which we’ve talked about as being a guiding theme in the way you’ve looked at problems, is now the perspective of international capitalism. Whereas the opposition, the protests, tend not to have the same capacity to think and act globally.

Perry Anderson: For the century between, shall we say, the 1840s and the 1940s, the capacity to transcend one’s own national limitations and national interests for a much wider set of interests, and to translate this transcendence into actually organized actions, belonged on the whole to the labor movement and to the left. The capacity didn’t belong to businessmen, capitalists, and so on. Since the 1950s, that has very dramatically changed. We have seen in the postwar order a higher degree of coordination, the ability to make a more than national viewpoint on the interests of the system, for the interest of the system, on the part of the privileged. Whereas, those who are less privileged are more and more confined to a local region and at best a national framework of action, and that’s partly to do with the destruction in some of the traditions of the Communist International, and the withering away of many of the traditions of the alternative Socialist International as well.

Globalization and the Lumpenproletariat

Gabor Steingart on the changing nature of the European lumpenproletariat.

Rather, what stand out are the symptoms of intellectual neglect. The poor of today watch television for half the day. These days, television producers even refer to what they call “Underclass TV.” The new proletariat eats a lot of fatty foods and he enjoys smoking and drinking — a lot. About 8 percent of Germans consume 40 percent of all the alcohol sold in the country. While he may be a family man, his families are often broken. And on Election Day, he casts a protest vote for the extreme left or right wing party, sometimes switching quickly from one to the other.

But the main thing that sets the modern poor apart from the industrial age pauper is a sheer lack of interest in education. Today’s proletariat has little education and no interest in obtaining more. Back in the early days of industrialization, the poor joined worker associations that often doubled as educational associations. The modern member of the underclass, by contrast, has completely shunned personal betterment.

Marx and Engels on the nature of the lumpenproletariat:

The “dangerous class”, [lumpenproletariat] the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.

and here is a reference to this class in Grundrisse that I found interesting and needs to be kept in mind when looking for the modern lumpenproletariat- since there has been a significant rise in the services sector since Marx’s time- note the interesting reference to the ‘honest’ and ‘working’ lumpenproletariat that stands in marked contrast to his comments on the class elsewhere (in the Manifesto, quoted above, and elsewhere)

The same relation holds for all services which workers exchange directly for the money of other persons, and which are consumed by these persons. This is consumption of revenue, which, as such, always falls within simple circulation; it is not consumption of capital. Since one of the contracting parties does not confront the other as a capitalist, this performance of a service cannot fall under the category of productive labour. From whore to pope, there is a mass of such rabble. But the honest and ‘working’ lumpenproletariat belongs here as well; e.g. the great mob of porters etc. who render service in seaport cities etc. He who represents money in this relation demands the service only for its use value, which immediately vanishes for him; but the porter demands money, and since the party with money is concerned with the commodity and the party with the commodity, with money, it follows that they represent to one another no more than the two sides of simple circulation; goes without saying that the porter, as the party concerned with money, hence directly with the general form of wealth, tries to enrich himself at the expense of his improvised friend, thus injuring the latter’s self-esteem, all the more so because he, a hard calculator, has need of the service not qua capitalist but as a result of his ordinary human frailty.

See also the Wikipedia entry for the term.

Link to Der Spiegel article via Eugene Plawiuk’s Le Revue Gauche.
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Inside the Mind of Mao

(On the eve of the 57th anniversary of the foundation of People’s Republic of China)

Sidney Rittenberg was the only American ever to join the Communist Partyof China, working closely with Mao while translating his works into English.

His interview published in Al Jazeera sheds interesting light on The Great Helmsman who may be dead but whose presence looms large as various groups lay claim to different aspects of Chairman Mao’s thought as it evolved from the days of the Long March to the disastrous Cultural Revolution.

Understanding the mind of Mao is also to understand the reversal of the socialist revolution in China.

Understanding the mind of Mao’s is to also understand the mind of the “Communist” leaders in China today, as they go about building capitalism, in the words of author Wang Anyi, “with the enthusiasm of a proletarian revolution.”

Excerpts from the interview:

SR: I think it was his own ideology in Marxist clothing. Not that he was not a sincere Marxist. But his view of Marxism was to take dialectic materialism and use it to analyse Chinese reality and then develop a Chinese programme.

He had no interest in copying what was done in the Soviet Union or any other country.

In the days before the PRC [People’s Republic of China] it was whether the Chinese revolution would depend on the peasants or urban industrial workers. And the orthodox Soviet line was that Marxism belonged to the proletariat. There was no Marxism in the mountains they used to say. The peasants are backward.

But Mao said when the Party educates the Chinese peasants they could be just as good revolutionaries as anyone else in the world. That was the bedrock of his thinking.

AJ: Mao has been revered across the world. Why, and does he deserve it?

SR: I don’t think he deserves reverence.

I think he deserves acknowledgement as a serious historical leader at a certain period and he needs to be studied, both the good and the bad.

And I think he was not content with seeing China plod along. He wanted to see China advance to a prominent position in the world during his lifetime and I think he became overly ambitious.

He said in 1958 at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward that he would use the strategy and tactics of a people’s war and not use the Soviet way of brick upon brick to build the economy.

This was totally unrealistic and resulted in this huge man made famine.

I think it was what went on inside his head that was the problem. His plans during the Great Leap to catch up with Britain and America met with opposition from almost all his sober-minded colleagues. This awoke the conspirator and narrow envious peasant in him.

Link via Naxalrevolution

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May Day

Link Source: Left I
Source: Vic Lee

Though May Day originated in the USA, it is observed in its incarnation as ‘Labor Day’ in September. Certainly the most exploited of all workers in the USA, the permanent underclass of “illegal aliens”, as they are derisively termed by leading media like the CNN, have revived the tradition of May Day with massive demonstrations in major US cities cities today.And remembering the bomb that went off in Haymarket, Chicago, May 1886:

What is the legacy of Haymarket? Does it still resonate today?Haymarket resonates today more than it has at any other time in recent years. The original Haymarket affair of 1886 was part and parcel of a massive, national May Day rally and strike led, by and large, by America’s immigrant workers. Today, precisely 120 years later, the May 1, 2006 Immigrant General Strike — also known as the “Day without Immigrants” and the “Great American Boycott” — looks set to inherit and reinvigorate the legacy of Haymarket.

Link via Chapati Mystery.

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