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.

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Emergence of Social Reading

National Book Critics Circle: Adventures in E-Reading: Guest Post from Martin Riker – Critical Mass Blog

A different but related issue is the apparent movement of reading itself from a primarily solitary to a largely social activity, a change that is not inherent in the new technologies but one that the internet and e-books certainly facilitates. I do think it’s true that the historical moment we live in is experiencing a major shift in intellectual production and distribution on par with the invention of the printing press, but the technology is not the most important element of that shift. More than technological changes, more even than changes in how we write, I think the possibility of fundamental changes in how we read is the biggest issue on the table. And here I’m more conservative, because I feel strongly that the gradual loss of the contemplative space of solitary reading—if it ever comes to that, and whether or not the e-book plays some role in it—would be an enormous loss to the experience of being human.

A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

Continue reading “A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links”


A very comprehensive essay on The Dreyfus Affair that split French opinion in the 1890s- 1900s.  (wikipedia link) and which in literature is most remembered for the references it finds in Proust’s works. I found the following observation to be quite insightful though it is tangential to the topic.

In any modernized country, the backward-looking party will always tend toward resentment and grievance. The key is to keep the conservatives feeling that they are an alternative party of modernity. (This was Disraeli’s great achievement, as it was, much later, de Gaulle’s.) When the conservative party comes to see itself as unfairly marginalized, it becomes a party of pure reaction…

Githa Hariharan has a fine column in The Telegraph where she writes about the ‘kitsch in everyday life‘:
Continue reading “Links…”

Reading, of late

Of late, I have been reading the way I like to-  a handful of books at the same time. Some of these are:

The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar Edited by Valerian Rodrigues (OUP)
Behenji by Ajoy Bose (Penguin)
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx (one of my old favourite works)

I was also lucky to meet an old comrade, Dr Harjinder Singh Laltu few weeks back, and read his delightful collection of Hindi short stories, Ghugni

A few selected articles from online reading:
Why many Ambedkar statues in India?
Chavez’s gift to Obama: seems Chavez gifted him Lenin’s What is to be done?
How Chavez snubbed Mario Vargas llosa
Aren’t OBC women also women? at Kafila

Finally, if you not following that excellent blog India Chronicles, you are missing something !


Dr Chamal Lal has a collection of some of the favourite Urdu couplets of Bhagat Singh, including a picture of the original in the young revolutionary’s own handwriting (right). Dr Lal reproduces the couplets in the nagari script as well.

achcha hai dil ke saath rahe paasbaan-e-akl
lekin kabhi- kabhi ise tanha bhi chod de

auron ka payam aur mera payam aur hai
ishk ke dard- mandon ka tarz e kalaam aur hai

akl kya cheez hai aik waza ki pabandi hai
dil ko muddat hui is kaid se azad kiya

Dr Manzur Ejaz, writing a series on People’s History of the Punjab, on the life and work of Shiekh Farid, considered to be the first poet of the Punjabi language.
Continue reading “Links”

Gaza Links

Sam provides a quick summary of events leading to the invasion of Gaza Strip by Israel:

Far more ominous is the suppression of information that directly affects the present conflict:

1. The ceasefire of the last 6 months was based on Israeli promises of lifting the crippling economic seige imposed since 2006, when Hamas won the elections.

Tony Kamron interviews Avrum Burg, former speaker of the Israeli legislature who takes a refreshing, introspective and long term view of what Israel has come to be:

I have very low expectations of new thinking and insight emerging from the mainstream Israeli and Jewish establishment. Their role is to maintain the status quo. Israel is bereft of forward thinking. We are experts at managing the crisis rather than finding alternatives to the crisis. In Israel you have many tanks, but not many think tanks. One of the reasons I left the Israeli politics was my growing feeling that Israel became a very efficient kingdom, but with no prophecy. Where is it going?

(link via Ve Balaji)
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Book Links

There has been a hiatus on this blog as far as books are concerned. Part of the reason is the great financial crisis that has engulfed the world capitalist system, a phenomenon that vindicated my youthful reading of Marx and communist thinkers and has consequently occupied most of the space here. Another is that immersed in another project, I have been relatively away from reading. The only book that I have been able to spend some time on is Ivan Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons’ (correct translation: ‘Fathers and Children’). This time it is not so much as an unabashed reader, but as one trying to understand the narrative structure of the novel. Probably a short post on some of the key observations will follow. As of now, here are a few book related links to stuff I have been surfing.


Iceland is in the news for the wrong reasons- for the country’s total economic collapse. But Iceland is also the home to a very rich Nordic tradition in story telling, and the most famous name that comes to mind is that of Halldor Laxess, who wrote 51 novels in his lifetime, very few of them available in English. This is a review of one of his recently translated novels- the Great Weaver from Kashmir.
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Ghalib in the 21st Century and other links

Amit Basole has a fascinating series of posts analyzing Mirza Ghalib’s couplets where he not so much dissects them as use them as a starting point to pose contemporary questions, on the question of faith, for example, and what it means to be human.

One thing sometimes does lead to another. Our post on Milton and Ghalib has culminated in a partnership with the blog Mehr-i-Niimroz (the noonday sun). Every week or so we will together select a couplet from Ghalib: Mehr-i-Niimroz will provide a translation and commentary; The South Asian Idea will use the couplet to pose questions and start a discussion. The objective will be to explore how much we can learn from Ghalib about the world we live in.

Justice Markanday Katju of the Supreme Court of India explains why Urdu is part of his ancestry and offers a number of insights into the state and fate of the Urdu language in India today.
Continue reading “Ghalib in the 21st Century and other links”

A Murder in Asom and other links

Aruni Kashyap writes on the brutal murder of a local CPI leader by the Asom Police, an incident that by and large went unreported in the media:

Manoj Deka’s brutal murder by Asam police in the name of counter insurgency operation holds multiple shocking implications about current politics in Assam. Manoj Deka was a senior leader of the Communist Party of India, Assam and held the post of the Morigaon district CPI General Secretary. On 1st July 2008 he was stopped by the Assam police while returning home from the market and searched. He showed his bags and let him be checked. This was lead by the Officer in charge Kamal Bora and a PSO Rafikul Hussain.With the pretext of ‘searching’ the commodities bought from the market were poured down on the road and when Deka protested he was insulted, pushed with great force that he hit a nearby electric pole and fainted.

A report in Down To Earth on how one man went against the hybrid grain, and cultivated an indigenous variety of wheat that needs just one or two rounds of irrigation, as compared to six or seven required by hybrid varieties. (link via email from Rahul)

Soji Ram sowed Amrita wheat in the beginning of rabi season last year; it is a contemporary version of the indigenous Malwi strand, over 0.3-hectare (ha) last rabi season. Amrita has been developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) at its Indore wheat research station. Amrita does not need much soil preparation; what it needs is only two rounds of irrigation.

Over at the State of Nature, Girish Mishra writes on globalization’s impact on culture.

The on-going process of globalization lays great stress on technology, which implies two things, namely, “machinery and the mental habits conducive to a dead thinking.” “Examples of such thinking are everywhere. We build mechanical connections between people and we call that the” infrastructure of community. “We convert the natural world into massive data sets, and we call that “ecological understanding.” We send trillion-dollar capital flows streaming daily through the world, seeking nothing more than their own mathematical increase, and we call that ‘social development.’ This is machine thinking.

Did you know?
The first communist Speaker of Indian Parliament Somnath Chaterjee is the son of one of the founders of the Hindu Mahasabha- NC Chaterjee.

Tajmahal Ka Tender

An email alert from those good folks at IPTA, Mumbai announces the staging of the play Tajmahal ka Tender this Sunday. From its description it looks to be an entertaining one, and if you happen to be in Mumbai, might be a good idea to go and watch it over the weekend.

For the IPTA folks who might happen to be reading this post: for those like this blogger who will not be able to make it to Mumbai, much less go and watch the play, would it be too much to ask for a video recording to be available on the internet, at least some snippets?

About the play

Tajmahal Ka Tender is a very interesting portrayal of the present political and bureaucratic setup in India. The writer tries to explore the possibility of Shahjahan coming alive and giving orders to construct the Taj Mahal in today’s day and age. The bureaucratic machinery along with its infamous RED TAPE comes into action and takes the emperor for a long roller-coaster ride. Whether the Tajmahal is finally made or not, is a thing to be seen. The play is full of wit, humour and sarcasm. It provides non-stop laughter and the audience is in rip-roaring splits.

Continue reading “Tajmahal Ka Tender”

Tamil Pulp Fiction

Mukul Kesavan in the Outlook in a superb review of an anthology of Tamil Pulp fiction, wonders why India apparently lacks popular ‘pulp’ fiction.

This has something to do with the narrowness of the social class that reads English for pleasure in India. But even within this sliver, publishers seem to aim their books at the tiny minority that’s willing to be bored witless in the name of art. The idea of fiction as guiltless diversion where the reader turns pages in search of reliable narrative pleasure, doesn’t seem to exist.

This is because all the popular fiction produced in India is published in Indian languages.

Which brings me to this anthology, a riveting collection of stories written by 10 bestselling Tamil writers. They are real professionals who make Stephen King and Barbara Cartland look like amateurs. Indra Soundar Rajan, who is represented here by a splendid story on the theme of reincarnation, has written 500 short novels. If that sounds like fiction manufactured on an industrial scale, wait till you get to Rajesh Kumar, who has published 1,250 novels and 2,000 short stories in 40 years.

Related Posts:

Tamil Dalit Poetry
Rajan Iqbal

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Occasional Links

Ghazala has a wonderful selection of poems about poetry.

thoughts arrive
not while writing
while carrying load on back
while hauling weight over head
while toiling
moon rises and
shimmers on water
water of the heart

thoughts arrive
not while writing

while carrying stone
while hauling load over back
while killing snake in the backyard
while washing a child’s knickers
stones become mountains
maps turn physical
backs turn into turtles
time becomes the earth…


Chitti babu bids farewell to Chingiz Aitmatov, a writer much translated and loved by a generation in India.

His work was published even in many regional languages of this country, yet his death was not reported in any major English daily in India. He was a great writer. His novels, The Mother Earth, The Cranes Fly Early, Farewell, Gulsary, Jamila and of course, The First Teacher (alternatively called Duishen) are great works.

Incidentally, Aitamatov’s book Duishen can be downloaded from here.


Madhukar Shukla writes on the aftermath of Swades.

Do you remember the fairy-tale like movie “Swades”? about the NRI Mohan Bhargava (played by Shahrukh Khan) who returns to India, accidentally lands up in a remote village (with no electricity, plenty of illiteracy, and backwardness), and uses his engineering and organizing skills to help the villagers build a micro-hydel plant to bring electricity to the village

and the reality starts…

3-1/2 years later, The Bilgaon Project got hit by contemporary India’s development paradigm.


2nd View writes on The Story of Crime and Prisons:

For the last 10 years, more than 20% of the elected representatives in national and state parliaments had criminal charges pending against them. In some cases, the charges were petty and manufactured by political rivals. Reality is, that there are criminals in Indian Parliaments. Some criminals like Shahabuddin were of course, less elected and more manipulated their way into the Parliament.

Typically, India baiters revel in this and Indians are concerned about this. But, not The Indian Voter. He is unwilling to demonize candidates with a criminal record. The Indian Voter seems to definitely ambivalent about the criminal record of some of the candidates.


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Caste, Class and Anti- Imperialism

Joseph D’souza reviews Anti- imperialism and Annihilation of Caste by Anand Telumbde.

Teltumbde is most provocative when he argues that the primary caste contradiction is between Dalits and all non-Dalits or savarnas and not between dwija and not-dwija. He also shows how one can and needs to perform a class analysis to show contradictions between castes. For example he boldly highlights Dalit and OBC class contradictions by showing how the dwija vs. non-dwija categories which place the large population of OBCs as allies of all Dalits, hide the real class contradictions between them. Thus, Teltumbde is not satisfied with opportunistic attempts to put together electoral formations of “bahujan” since these do not represent the “ground reality” of Dalits (218). Nonetheless, he is also careful to argue that each of these legalistic caste categories itself contains a heterogeneous class population.

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Girish Karnad on Vijay Tendulkar

Girish Karnad writes on Vijay Tendulkar, who passed away last month. and his plays. For me, it was Aakrosh, for which he wrote the screenplay, that will remain etched forever with its last scene in which the tribal character played by Om Puri lets out a cry… and one discovers that his tongue has been cut off. Rahul Banerjee’s book Recovering the Lost Tongue, too traces its title to that movie.

When Ghashiram Kotwal first competed for the Maharashtra state awards, its innovative combination of music, choreography and analytical design so baffled the judges that they couldn’t decide whether it was legitimate theatre. Half a century later, it stands unexcelled for the sheer brilliance of its artistry. Anyone who has ever been involved in such an enterprise knows the amount of preliminary discussion, rewriting and revision that such a complex work demands. But amazingly, Ghashiram Kotwal arrived readymade and complete. The production followed the text exactly, playing every detail as Tendulkar wrote it—a tribute to the precision of Tendulkar’s conceptualising.

What makes the play so unique is also its prophetic quality. The plot concerns Nana Phadnavis, the 18th-century ruler of Pune, who tries to create a puppet for his own little games, only to realise that he has given birth to a monster who may swallow him up. The play predicted, with terrifying accuracy, the Indira Gandhi-Sant Bhindranwale dance of death, 11 years in advance of the events. The Shiv Sena, claiming the play vilified a Maratha hero, tried to stop it from being sent abroad.

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Blogging as Medicine

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Scientific American via bookforum

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Re- drawing the Poverty Line

A re- look at the “dollar a day” line for measuring poverty may increase the number of poor below poverty line in China by 300m.

The dollar-a-day definition of global destitution made its debut in the bank’s 1990 World Development Report. It was largely the discovery of Martin Ravallion, a researcher at the bank, and two co-authors, who noticed that the national poverty lines of half-a-dozen developing countries clustered around that amount. In two working papers* published this week, Mr Ravallion and two colleagues, Shaohua Chen and Prem Sangraula, revisit the dollar-a-day line in light of the bank’s new estimates of purchasing power. They also provide a new count of China’s poor.

Thanks to American inflation, $1.08 in 1993 was worth about $1.45 in 2005 money. In principle, the researchers could count the number of people living on less than this amount, converted into local money using the bank’s new PPP rates. But $1.45 a day strikes the authors as a bit high. Rather than update their poverty line, they propose to abandon it. It is time, they say, to return to first principles, repeating the exercise Mr Ravallion performed almost two decades ago, using the better, more abundant data available now.

For practical purposes, policymakers will always care more about their own national poverty lines than the bank’s global standard. The dollar-a-day line is more of a campaigning tool than a guide to policy. And as a slogan, $1.25 just doesn’t have the same ring to it. A better option might be to reset the poverty line at $1 in 2005 PPP, which would line up reasonably well with at least ten countries in the authors’ sample. In adding a quarter to the dollar-a-day poverty line, the researchers may cut its popular appeal by half.

via 3 Quarks Daily)

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


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.


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?


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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