International Conference on Marxism and Contemporary South Asia: Issues and Relevance

International Conference on Marxism and Contemporary South Asia: Issues and Relevance

11-12 November 2016, New Delhi

(Organised by Department of Sociology, South Asian University and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Berlin)

(Register @ <marxistschool2014@gmail.com> by 10th November to participate)


Abstracts

The Agrarian Question in the Web of Life

Agha Haroon Akram-Lodhi

Contemporary analysis of the political economy of farming adopts a perspective on the agrarian question, which Kautsky posed when he asked: “whether, and how, capital is seizing hold of agriculture, revolutionising it, making old forms of production and property untenable and creating the necessity for new ones”. Political ecology situates these economic, social and political processes within the environment within which an agrarian question is situated. This paper will draw upon Marx to adopt a different approach, which does not distinguish between the two, because, as Jason Moore has convincingly demonstrated, capitalism produces and is produced by nature. Thus, what contemporary political economy understands as the agrarian question should be approached as being about the historically-constituted and contemporarily-realised terms and conditions governing the ways in which capital, which is transformed by nature in rural areas, in turn transforms nature in rural areas, in order to extract the unpaid ecological and human surpluses that sustain capitalist development.

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Producer Co-operatives and Radical Democratic Possibilities in Post-war Jaffna

Ahilan Kadirgamar

Marx recognised the importance of producer co-operatives in the inaugural address of The First International in 1864 but was critical and wary of state aid to producer co-operatives in theCritique of the Gotha Programme in 1875. Marx’s analysis of producer co-operatives was related to the historical and political context as well as theoretical concerns about producer co-operatives and their relationship to emancipatory politics. This paper through an exploration of the history of co-operatives in Jaffna–which are known in South Asia for their extensive reach and innovative structures – engages the possibilities and limitations of co-operative production. It also traces the impact of the civil war and the post-war challenges facing co-operatives in Jaffna. Trade unions in Jaffna were historically weak due to the lack of an industrial production base, and independent organising of workers have centred on co-operatives; the centrality of fisheries and agriculture to the Jaffna economy has also added to this emphasis on co-operatives over that of trade unions. Theco-operatives were also better able to survive the disruption of industrial production during the war, the legacy of militarisation and repression of the left, which devastatedthe small trade union base. With repression of independent organising during the war years and the immediate post-war years, the survival of the co-operatives and their continuing extensive structures gain significance. However, the political limitations of co-operatives – includingthe lack of militancy and protests – andtheir calls for state support despite over regulation by the state, raises question about their political possibilities. On the other hand, the weakening of co-operatives weredue to tremendous loss of assets and crippling leadership due to the war and migration, and as with most social institutions in post-war Jaffna, co-operatives find reconstruction difficult without external support. Next, productive relations in the co-operatives in Jaffna are not onlyshaped by class relations but also caste structure; which poses new challenges for Marxist analysis of co-operatives in South Asia. In the context of the post-war conjuncture and accelerating neoliberal global integration, this paperengages Marx’s theorisation ofproducer co-operatives in relation toa political economy of labour, toanalysethe radical democratic possibilities of producerco-operatives in Jaffna.

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Connecting the new and the old ‘labour’ struggles: Marxism, social reproduction and concrete utopia

Ana Cecilia Dinerstein

My presentation starts with a general discussion of what I consider a problem for Marxism as a theory of struggle today, that is the forms of capitalist work and the struggles derived from it. A plural subject of labour is in the making and begs for theoretical and empirical recognition. I will discuss the importance of social reproduction for an understanding of ‘labour struggles’ in the present; second, I contend that ‘utopia’ has returned in a subtler form, as ‘concrete utopia’. Rather than being abstract, led by the political party and expected to take place in the future, utopia today is a praxis oriented activity that anticipates a better future in the present (Dinerstein, 2015; 2016). The concrete nature of utopia does not refer to its viability (c.f. Wright 2013) but to its inextricable connection with struggles for social reproduction. I draw on the extended notion of social reproduction developed by ‘Social reproduction feminisms’ (Ferguson, 2016). SRFs have advanced an expanded version of reproduction beyond procreation and domestic work in order to develop an understanding of social reproduction that stresses the wider reproduction of the workforce outside the home (Vogel, 2014). SR is a broad term that designates the area of production of life and how it is held and plays. When we talk about the SR think society as a whole, and reproduction as a reproduction of the whole. By connecting concrete utopia and social reproduction, I will explore the idea that concrete utopias are the outcome of struggles for, against and beyond capitalist forms of social reproduction; that is, they are formed and developed as part of the struggles surrounding the conditions required for labour-power (LIFE) to exist and reproduce (Ferguson and McNally, 2015) amidst the present worldwide ‘crisis of social reproduction’ (Zechner & Hansen, n/d; Federici & Sitrin, 2016). As such, they both bear and challenge the fundamental capitalist contradiction: that we LIVE in a society where we need to work in order to LIVE.

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The Making of Greece as a Colony, Class Warfare and Resistance

Maria Nikolakaki

We are living an advanced stage of Imperialism, which as Lenin said is the most advanced level of capitalism. As anything else, although the means and the goals of imperialism remain the same, its tactics change, through the construction of new tools. One main characteristic of this stage of imperialism is the formation of giant monopolies that are bigger than states themsleves functioning on a global scale. On the other hand, it seems that nearly every industry is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. The explosion of the derivatives’ market to one quadrillion 300 trillion to a global GDP of 70 trillion is also something new to imperialism’s characteristics. Although imperialism has always been about competition between countries, it seems that the constructed tools since the crisis of the 70s till now is giving a dimension of a global hegemony of US imperialism with its allies in support of that. That does not go unquestioned and unchallenged, of course and the formation of BRICS has been seen as an answer to the global hegemonic trend of USA, yet its strength is to be proven. As capitalism has evolved from the early stages of small-scale manufacturing to the current stage of the dominance of finance capital, its arena of expropriation has included from the early colonial/imperial conquests abroad to today’s universal dispossession worldwide, both at home and abroad. We have external and internal colonialism through the expropriation of disposession and primitive accumultation alongside, as David Harvey claims. In any case it is the global working class that suffers the most from imperialism and class warfare. Greece as a country has seen an extraordinary financial attack which is beyond historical record for a European country, and in some cases for any country till now. Its record has been that of a gradual construction of public debt through corruption of politicians through mainly German companies (Siemens, Bosch etc), the buying of armories from Germany, France and US to the point that Greece had been the second highest buyer of NATO for many years, the making of statistics to explode the debt deficit in order to get in the memorandums, the bloating of the deficit from 112% at 2009 to 200% in 2016 through the austerity measures enforcedby IMF, ECB and EU during the memorandum years. All these were means in order to sell its public assets for 99 years, to sell its banks to hedge funds for 2% of their value and to give the tax collection to an «independant» institution controlled by EU and IMF. The result is that Greece is turned into a colony with no national sovereignty, something that was not needed to be achieved through wars. After Greece, other countries from the eurozone like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy followed. The so called PIIGS were brutally attacked through financial tools, although other countries like Belgium and France also are suffering with the only exception of Germany, whose surplus is the sum of other countries’ deficit. After addressing the above, in this paper I will discuss the effects of the crisis on the working class movement in Greece and any kind of social representation. The so-called “left” government in Greece has destroyed the dynamic of social movements and the ways this has been achieved will be discussed. Finally, I will suggest some considerations about the necessary restructuring of the labor movement with regard to its structure and aims. This restructuring is absolutely necessary for a more effective resistance and its role in building for a better future.

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Caste, Fascism and Hindutva in Corporate India: Problems of Left Analysis

Radhika Desai  

The interaction of caste and Hindutva is widely acknowledged but equally widely misunderstood on the left and in the mainstream of Indian politics. This paper begins with an analysis of how they have combined to bring Hindutva to power in a decades-long process that can be traced back to the political contradictions of the Nehruvian development model. It was a process that combined the upper and middle castes and classes to constitute the social coalition of the BJP in many parts of the country and a political coalition of the BJP and middle caste parties in others. It argues, further, that in the electoral coalition that brought Modi to power, the presence of corporate power is dominant and this is destabilizing BJP’s base among middle castes. Corporate power is also the element that forces us to take another look at the question of fascism and its relevance to Hindutva in India.

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Revisiting the Marxist Approach to Sex Work

Anuja Agrawal

For several decades now, the debate on sex work/prostitution has been polarized broadly between liberal and radical feminists. The liberal feminists focus upon prostitution as sex work which in its voluntary form should be treated as legitimate. Radical feminists on the other hand see prostitution as a gross instance of sexual violence against women which should be done away with. Although the signs of this polarization giving way to a common ground are not at all obvious, there are many further divisions within these camps and several complex alliances. However, it is worth remembering that not very long ago, feminist positions on the issue of sex work were categorized into three and not two groups: liberal, Marxist and radical. But at some point, the Marxist position was collapsed with radical feminism which now occupies the main space in the contentious debates with the liberal and other allied perspectives on sex work. There is much that can be said about why this has happened. The proposed paper will present a brief overview of the problems with the classical Marxist perspective on sex work alongside a discussion of how the same is undergoing a reworking which is however not yet widely acknowledged. I wish to argue that while the dominant feminist approaches to the prostitution question that occupy much of the discursive space are often one sided and inadequate to theoretically grasp the complexity of the empirical contexts in which sex work takes a material form, a reworked Marxist approach provides a desirable alternative as it is able to accommodate, make sense of and provide a complex understanding of many different empirical facts that get clubbed under the category of sex work/prostitution. This is of much use in the South Asian and Indian contexts as this region exemplifies many different conditions in which sex work occurs and the same can be usefully understood within a Marxist perspective which the proposed paper shall outline. The paper will draw upon my ongoing work on a short monograph on this issue which is trying to trace the major shifts that have occurred in the Marxist understanding of sex work. It will also draw upon some of the insights which are derived from my earlier published work on sex work among the Bedia community in India.

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Marxism and the Women’s Question: Critical Study of the Revolutionary Left Movements Understanding of Gender and Patriarchy

Ashwathi N., Banojyotsna Lahiri, Ufaque Paikar

The idea of class struggle is the defining core of the Marxist theory and method. However, most communist parties, especially the ones in the Indian sub-continent, understand class struggle in an extremely narrow sense as economic struggle. Such faulty understanding of class struggle has clear bearing on various communist parties’ programmes and revolutionary agenda. The mechanical understanding of class struggle is most clearly visible in communist parties’ approach on unequal gender relations and patriarchal oppression. Situating unequal gender relations and patriarchal oppression within the over-all mode of production in Indian Subcontinent, the proposed paper would critique the documented positions and understanding of the revolutionary left in India on these questions. By using documented positions we shall try to show that the revolutionary left’s understanding of gender relations and patriarchy is completely a’historical and reeks of dominant feudal morality when it comes to the questions of intimacy and violence. If social relations are also based on a specific gendered division of labour that are in turn reproduced as much through production as reproduction, can questions of gendered oppression be seen as external to class struggle? The revolutionary left fails to understand that in Indian Subcontinent, patriarchy and caste system are not only constitutive of each other but also internal to class struggle.

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Trajectory of the Maoist Struggle in Nepal

Hari Roka

This article reviews the ideological and organizational ground of ten-year long (1996-2006) Maoist’s people war and its’ compromise with parliamentary parties. It’s political achievement in first Constituent Assembly. I consider why CPN (Maoist) led coalition government (including CPN (UML) and Madheshi Jan-Adhikar Forum) failed and consequently how first Constituent Assembly failed. I pinpoint how both Nepali Marxist/ Maoist parties’ interpretation of Marxism and Leninism and even Maoism. How they distorted -ism while they were in the government. I also point out the neo-liberal transformation generated by non-marxists and rightist political forces its impacts on both Marxists / Maoist rank and file. Further, I will argue about the split of the Marxist/Maoist party and possibility of the collapse of the old edition of Maoist movement in Nepal and possible alternative.

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Reclaiming the Nation and Nationalism: A Marxist Praxis

Krishna Ananth

There is no one Marxist approach to the idea of nation and nationalism in India. This is notwithstanding the many struggles that the communists had launched and participated in the cause of Indian nationalism. But then, they were guided by a Leninist approach to nationalism in that event; it was more of a tactical approach and there is enough evidence to this from the debates in the Second International as well as the Third, particularly the discourse involving M.N.Roy. This, however, is not to convey that nationalism was merely a tactical line and for the communists in India sans conviction. On the contrary, the shaping of the idea since the 1920s and its expression in the Karachi resolution were the culmination of a Marxist praxis on nationalism. It is possible to draw a connection between this and the treatment of the idea of nationalism by German Marxist, Otto Bauer, to whom nationalism was a lot more than mere tactics. Bauer’s conceptualization of the nation and nationalism (expressed in 1924), for reasons that it did not conform to the Stalinist line that reigned over the Marxist world then, got consigned to the bin then and even later. The proposed paper will seek to draw from the core of Bauer’s 1924 text to locate nationalism in the armed as well as the non-violent resistance to the neo-liberal regime’s measures such as privatization of the public space and resources in many parts of the country today. The paper will then seek to argue that such an approach rather than one based on Eric Hobsbawm’s contempt for any nationalism as just bourgeois or that of Benedict Anderson to treat the nation as an imagined community (both of which continue to dominate Marxist’s and their thinking in India) is closer to Marxism. (eom)

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Creative Construction: Imagining New Pathways of Worker Control

Manas R Bhowmik

Schumpeter’s idea of ‘creative destruction’ had its heyday. Now it’s time to replace it with Marxian deconstruction of it and develop an idea (theoretically & in terms of praxis) of ‘creative construction’. Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction through innovation of new products, new process has not paid much attention to new ways of organizing production. The idea of ‘Creative construction’ focuses on this last aspect i.e. newer and radical ways of organizing production. This paper is an attempt to develop this ideaof creative constructionphilosophically using Marxian framework. The normative and positive aspects of this idea are also analyzed in this paper.In concrete here we are focusing on the issue of worker control through – workers’ cooperatives and workers’ trade union and interactions between two of them. Various strands of literature have been analyzed here. Literature followed are- radical or analytical Marxist literature (Bowles, Gintis, Putterman, Moene, Dow), radical institutionalist literature (Mushtaq Khan, Ostrom), literature on synthesizing firm organization of Marxian and Neo Institutional Economics (Ugo Pagano, Ermanno Tortia), Marxian over determination literature (Wolff, Resnick, Gibson-Graham,Chakrabarti, Dhar, Ruccio), literature on economic democracy (Schweickart), literature on social economy etc. Also situating the entire debate of worker organization, control, cooperatives andlinking this entire debate onwith revolutionary praxis and workers movement- works of Shankar Guha Niyogi (Sangharsh & Nirman) is considered extremely important. This paper attempts to engage with the following questions. How do we re-conceptualize resistance and solidarity in the ever changing forms of capital, workplaces and the idea of work itself? How do we unite the movements and struggles across, with the emergence of nuanced supply chain management? How does the political economy of different domains look like if the labor-capital contradictions are to be resolved? In this paper new pathways of worker control have been discussed. In order to provide a rich empirical scenario various cases globally as well as various Indian cases have been considered based on secondary reports. Also findings from two years of primary field work also are reported here. Issues regarding New Generation Cooperatives, Workers Self Directed Enterprise, and there interaction with workers’ union are analyzed in detail. Detailed empirical analysis is also attempted to identify determining factors of success and failure of these alternative production organization. Using quantitative and qualitative analysisit is attempted to delineate the factors responsible for success and failure of workers’ control. Also the complex interplay between different factors such as- state, union, political parties also is identified here. Complex issues like management practices, external support (from state, union, individuals), leadership and workers’ motivation are found to have important bearing on worker control. With this robust theoretical and empirical understanding in this paper it is attempted to nurture and chalk out new pathways of organizing workers for revolutionary praxis in future.

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Temple as a Site of Protest: The Left’s Engagement with Hindu Identity Politics in Kerala

Nirmala VU

The state of Kerala was known in the national and international academic circles for the victory of Communists in democratic elections since 1957 and the impressive performance of the state in human development. Many scholars have studied Kerala and argued that the hegemony of left in civil society as a reason for most of the progressive and democratic results. But the literature in social sciences regarding Kerala leaves its strong right wing currents in the social political life in darkness for the readers. This paper tries to examine the consolidation of right-wing Hindu religious politics in Kerala against the backdrop of growing political visibility of the Right-wing forces in Kerala politics and their social base of mobilization. BJP made impressive performance in the civic body election (2015) and the State Assembly election (2016). The growth of Hindu right wing parties in Kerala is explained with a reference to certain unexplored dimensions of the politics forming around Hindu temples in the state and the left’s political efforts to check it in various ways. Temples played a historical role in shaping the society of Kerala. Temples were considered as the centers of many social revolutions in Kerala. They traditionally served many purposes for cultural and political legitimation of power. Their role as economic centers of rural caste-ridden economy and temples as catalysts of urbanization have been emphasized by Marxist historians about Kerala. With the advent of state power consolidation in Travancore and Cochin and the colonial modernity under British role during 18th century there was a transformation of temple’s power in the economic and social life. The early 20th century witnessed social reform movements focusing on temple reforms including temple entry agitations at the initiative of progressive and left leaned groupings and organizations. The political agitations around the temples also took a right ward shift since 1970s when the Hindu right wing organizations started a temple liberation movement for freeing them from state control. The temple administration in Kerala’s two erstwhile princely states (Travancore and Cochin) was heavily under the temple management boards known as Devaswom Boards. The transfer of temple administration from devotional Hindu rulers to secular governments after the constitutional democracy was not fully acceptable to the Hindu organizations. The powerful caste organizations were seeing the Hindu Devaswom Boards as an avenue for extending their control over temples through nomination of their representatives in the administrative posts with the help of bargaining with the elected governments and the political parties. While the Governments formed by the Congress was ready to concede to their demands better than the Governments formed by the Communist parties, their demands vis-à-vis temple administration was confined to issues related to caste-based control over the temples. Since the 1980s the Hindu right-wing organizations have been vigorously pursuing Hindu identity politics in Kerala for which the mobilization of people of the religion against state control over temples is very much imperative. This paper would look at the following questions for a detailed analysis: 1. How does the transformation of temples’ role from site of production and ritualistic authority to control a caste ridden society to devotional centers become meaningful to political left and right in Kerala? 2. How the left political parties engage with the idea of ‘wounded Hindu self’ propagated by the Hindu right-wing organizations? 3. How do the Left encounter the Sangh Parivar through engaging in temple administrative reforms from above and below? The prime objective of this paper is to critically examine the efforts of the left in engaging with the identity politics of Hindu religion. It broadly looks at how this engagement is helpful for the parliamentary parties of the left to bring out a cross-religious mobilization of classes for common struggle.

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Emergence, Decline and Revision of Marxism within Queer Theory and Praxis: A Critical Analysis

Pushpesh Kumar

The present paper attempts to map the emergence, decline and revival of Marxism in western queer academia and queer movement and the existing Marxist undercurrents however nascent within Indian queer academia as well as activism. Marxist imaginings constituted the core of the Gay Left, a major British journal of the Gay collective during seventies and eighties where non-left renderings were discouraged and substantial commitment to left concerns and issues of class were enunciated. The cold war era experienced expulsion of thousands of gay men and lesbian women from the government jobs in the USA as gay and lesbian were suspected to forge alliances with the communist camp. Homosexuals were demonized as week, particularly susceptible to communist influences who would divulge the secrets of the government to enemy camp. The Cold war homophile Mattachaine Society in the US eventually buckled under immense pressure of cold war anti-communism and broke with communist movement with which it originally has very close ties and began to espouse assimilation (Kevin Flyod 1998). The fall out was a reification of the erotic and development of a minority culture of sexuality erasing the internal material contradictions within and further reification of these lives from issues of political economy, production relations and the historical materialism. This reified minoritized standardization imperative has been compared with the twentieth century moves to standardize railroad track width, time zones, business and manufacturing procedures…as well as to test and regularize intelligence (Jonathan Katz 2004). This process of reification and minoritization was contested in the later decade by the universalistic project of queer theory with an alternative emphasis on less containable homoerotoic, typically represented as irreducible to and even in conflict with identity and in terms of more radical negation of the state and, of the constitutional itself ( Kavin FLyod 1998). Against the minoritising, assimilationist emphasis on winning basic civil rights the queer stood for the rejection of minority terms such as ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ and espoused a more radical opposition to the ‘regime of noraml’. Is queer theory then overcomes this reification by attaining a totality quite akin to the Marxist influenced labour movements? Is this overcoming of reification of erotic disturbs the commodfication of queer life? Why American market then brazenly articulates ’coming out’ through consumer products such as Kalvin Kleins underwear? What are the ways in which the recent reincorporation of Marxim within queer theory addresses these questions? How this debate enters queer discourse in India? Does Marxist revision within queer theory alters the praxis of queer movement in the west and in India? I draw upon the queer movement in Hyderbad to demonstrate the attempts to reorient the movement from a critically Marxist queer perspective.

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Countering ‘Alienation’: Re-reading Subversion in Discursive Practices

Rachna Chaudhary

This paper is based on a critical reading of the various judgments delivered by the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court of India in Indian Hotel & Restaurant Association &Anr. v. State of Maharashtra &Anr.(also known as Bar Dancers’ case) starting from year 2006. Criminal justice system has always served as an effective tool in controlling or even getting rid of what Chomsky calls ‘superfluous population’. The paper argues that in case of the bar-dancers, their construction along a negative work identity only and as ‘fallen’ women or victims to be rescued and not as citizens/workersfirmly entrenches their alienation from the system which continues to marginalise them and also from the society that the system claims to mainstream them with. The idea of justice then seems a fallacy as their own voices get ‘muted’ in a system that thrives on ‘listening’ only through authorised expertslike lawyers. The bar dancer is thus both the effect of (discursive) power and what Naffine calls the element of its articulation. These ‘dancing’bodies are recuperated in a more materially productive and conformist way by benevolently refashioning their lives in a seemingly domesticated work environment but the terms of this paternalist protection of the liberal state barely move away from the logic of obscenity and the protection of dignity of women. Even though certain essentialist assumptions around these expendable bodies are questioned within the liberal frame of rights in which the adversarial positions around the ban are presented in the court, the reconfigured identity is put back in the domain of the victim versus agent framework debates that are now well known. The problem inherent in the tendency to invoke an internally consistent category of “woman” and the failure to take account of the heterogeneity shores up tokenist claims of reforms. It is hard to locate the ‘speaking’ and ‘animated’ subject that some feminist and critical theorists have claimed to recuperate in the context of sex work/prostitution by focussing on the so called liberating aspects.The paper attempts to bring the focus back on work as identity and issues of livelihood. In that sense, it is also an attempt to align with the larger struggle of ‘expanding the category of (gendered) labour’. The analysis would help in reconceptualising work in the differential context of value-production when the site of work is these dance bars. Judgments as part of the legal archives are not just repositories of historical knowledge, they also contextualize the contemporary and lay down the framework within which the law is to be read, interpreted and implemented. It is thus necessary to critically engage with the working of the law to chart out our future politics.

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Reworking Notions of the ‘Trade Union’ and Organised Labour: Issues of Identity, Ecology and Technology in Imaginations of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha in Central India

Radhika Krishnan

The imaginations and experiences of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) and its founding secretary Shankar Guha Niyogi, as they organized labour in the 1970s and the 1980s in mines and factories in Chhattisgarh in Central India, reveal the possibilities of reinventing labour’s engagement with questions of ecology, technological choice, ethnicity and identity. The CMM emerged as the tangible, organized form of the “local”, indigenous peoples’ encounter and resistance to the industrial and “development” project scripted in a distinctly post-colonial context. In the process of this encounter, existing ideological and academic categories were reshaped and fresh working practices evolved as tribal cultures and working class ideologies informed each other. In choosing a “red and green” framework while responding to new technological and industrial regimes, the CMM’s engagement with capital, class and power hierarchies translated into a deep interrogation of the environmental and technological ramifications of industry. Labour was envisioned not just in the factory and the mines, but equally in the field and the forest, even as technology and the nature of the industrial workplace was sought to be reworked. The foregrounding of ethnicity and identity in articulating resistance resulted in rendering the category of “worker” more complex. This paper attempts to understand the practical, academic, ideological and deeply productive implications of the CMM moment, arguing that even the framework of “social movement unionism” is an inadequate lens through which to view the CMM.

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South Asia after Bangladesh: A critique of the national question

Salimullah Khan

India in 1947, as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad put it in his last testament, India Wins Freedom, ‘gained her freedom but lost her unity’. The scheme that he had framed on the occasion of the Cabinet Mission and which the Mission had largely accepted, he was convinced, ‘was a far better solution from every point of view’. ‘If we had remained steadfast and refused to accept partition,’ claimed Azad, ‘I am confident that a safer and more glorious future could have awaited us.’ Yet there was no alternative to partition at the end of the day. ‘The basis of partition,’ it was said, ‘was enmity between Hindus and Muslims.’ The creation of Pakistan hardly solved the communal question. It instead helped surface other contradictions in Pakistan and perhaps repress some in India. Two Muslim majority areas, in the north-west and north-east respectively, had no point of physical contact and the people in these two areas were ‘completely different from one another in every respect,’ geographic, economic, linguistic, cultural and so on, ‘except in religion’ ‘No one can hope that,’ ventured Azad, ‘East and West Pakistan will compose all their differences and form one nation.’ His prediction came true in almost no time. At the time of Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 India, almost instinctively, identified itself with the Bangladesh cause, but not without trepidations. Leaders of India after 1947, including her founding fathers, saw the preservation of India’s unity as their biggest challenge. Was Bangladesh then also holding up a mirror to India’s national, regional, linguistic and other minorities? The language problem in early post-colonial times, with the Indian constitution recognizing twenty-two major languages, including English and Sanskrit, was probably the most decisive issue. Beginning with the virulent opposition between the cause of Hindi as official language and the apprehension of non-Hindi speakers, it went along on multiple fault lines. Charges of a ‘pro-Hindi’ bias were brought even by representatives in the Official Language Commission from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. In retaliation, champions of Hindi brought pro-English bias. In addition there was also a creeping class-bias in Hindi as ‘official’ (i.e. as an officiating national) language. Hindi protagonists were out to force Sanskrit on the language, replacing popular words with ‘newly manufactured, unwieldy and less familiar ones in the name of the ‘purity’. In places the movement took communal overtones. A second challenge on the language front surfaced up on linguistic reorganization of states. Soon after independence, Telugu and Tamil speaking states, for instance, had to be curved out in response to popular demands. In addition questions of minority languages even within reorganized states remained. According to one count, nearly 18 percent of India’s population overall do not speak the official language of the states where they live as their mother tongue. Among them Urdu is a special case, which ‘was not the official language of any state except the small state of Jammu and Kashmir where the mother tongues were in any case Kashmiri, Dogri and Ladakhi.’ India’s national question cannot exclude the problem of minority nations (or nationalities) in the north-east, Nagaland, Mizoram, Jharkhand and other hotbeds of discontent in the body politic, not to speak of regional disparities or little nationalisms. ‘It is one of the greatest frauds on the people,’ Azad said in indignation, ‘to suggest that religious affinity can unite areas which are geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally different.’ Pakistan has proved that Azad was more or less right. How about India? What holds India together? One may argue that ‘secularism’ is a must but it alone perhaps cannot found a nation that transcends racial, linguistic, economic and political frontiers. This argument was advanced by Ahmad Safa (1943-20-01), a publicist who, participated in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war and since then a leading critic of bourgeois regimes in the country. In my contribution I propose to expose some of his arguments in some detail. This is more urgent as his writings are not widely available to this day. According to Ahmad Safa Bangladesh’s experience, from 1947-1971, has already paved the way to possible solutions to India’s own national question top some extent.

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Trade Unions and Working Class Politics under Left Rule: The Case of West Bengal

Subhanil Chowdhry

It can be argued that with capital becoming internationally mobile and relative immobility of labour, the bargaining power of labour vis-à-vis capital must decline. Recent evidence of trade unionism under conditions of liberalisation in India also supports this hypothesis. In this context trade union and working class politics in West Bengal presents an interesting case study, particularly because the state was governed for more than three decades (1977-2011) by a coalition of Left parties which were avowedly pro-working class. The paper starts from an analysis of the current status of trade union movement in the state. It is shown through an analysis of secondary macro-data and primary survey based case studies that there has been a decline in the strength of trade unions in the organized sector in West Bengal, even under left rule. This decline has been brought about by at least 4 sets of factors—a) Preponderance of unorganized, informal workers, b) The situation of industrial decline in the state, c) Changing nature of the government: although on paper, the government has not changed much of the protection given to labour at the executive level, its efforts in protecting the interests of labour has waned, d) Political weight of working class: With the policies of reforms, the voice of organized labour within the general political and social discourse has declined. Through our case studies and secondary data we substantiate all the four points mentioned above. Subsequently, we mainly focus on points (c) and (d) above. The role of the government, particularly during left rule suggests that it favoured capital more than labour thereby tilting the balance in favour of capital to a significant extent. The question is why did a left government take such policies? One of the answers to this puzzle lies in the efforts to industrialize the state, because of which the working class was tamed through controlling the trade union of the ruling party. Secondly, the huge increase in size of the informal workforce and very little union penetration within them, made these workers an easy repository of low wage labour and substantially corroded the strength of the organized trade unions. The inability of the left to articulate the demands of the informal labour not only decreased the strength of the trade union movement in the organized sector but has also given fodder to a new kind of political mobilization around land syndicates, extortion etc in the state, which have become rampant under the TMC rule. The paper thus tries to not only analyse the causes behind the decline of the organized trade unions in West Bengal, but also identifies the fissures within the politics of the working class (including informal sector). The paper tries to theoretically engage with this fissure through an analysis of Marxist classics and contemporary Marxist writings.

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Development, Accumulation and the Specter of ‘Outside’: How can the neo-Subaltern Speak?

Dhritiman Chakraborty

The present excursus would attempt a re-engagement with the debate that Vivek Chibber and Partha Chatterjee initiated to rethink the fraught relationship between postcolonialism and Marxism in the Indian context. Subaltern Studies (SS) collective in 80s tried to encapsulate the postcolonial difference question in certain templates of ‘time-lags’ in community structures, cultural-religious identity and the subaltern autonomy in relation to colonial modernity. Thus they stumbled upon the question of ‘outside of capital’ to unearth what Ranajit Guha called, “politics of the people” in the wider context of anti-colonial movement in India. Chibber basically intervened at this point by questioning this understanding of ‘politics of the people’ vis a vis the notion of an ‘outside of capital’ in Guha and other members of the group. His submission is that the issue of capital was not adequately understood and thus the entire collective glossed over the mutual functioning of hegemonic and dialectical discourses in structuring and reproducing the subaltern as the ‘Other’. Hence the understanding of ‘Othering’ which is so central to the entire corpus of postcolonial theoretical works was found confounding in positing the ‘difference’ in terms of absolute exteriority to hegemonic formations of what Resnik and Wolf call, ‘capitalocentricity’. This paper would unpack this aspect of postcolonial difference in the contemporary context of predatory growth qua developmentalism, governmentality and the anti-SEZ social movements to argue that notwithstanding Chibber’s proposition that SS fell short of discussing the materiality of subalternization, the notion of ‘Outside’ is extremely pertinent to a class based Marxist deliberation on development and resistance at this current juncture. Therefore the question is how can we rethink a Marxist politics based on production and surplus accumulation to both illuminate and critique the contemporary ‘politics of the people’ in the celebratory semantics of ‘new social movement’ and ‘multitude’? How can this agonistic encounter between Chatterjee and Chibber help us envision this critique of the West induced paradigm of resistance that undermines the postcolonial difference, an ‘Outside’ which is foreclosed in the hegemonic language-ethics-persuasion of Capital? This ‘Outside’ both as a ‘need economy’ and an ‘ethico-counter hegemonic’ position can unleash a new politics of multitude which is neither deterritorialised, nor rhizomatic in Negrian and Deleuzian sense. Rather this calls for a new understanding of immanence and contingency while retaining the question of difference in the disaggregated circuit-of-capital. An ethnographic exploration of the anti-POSCO movement in Jagatsinghpur of Orissa and some secondary works on SEZs in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh would be used to enunciate this theoretical intervention.

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Trajectory of the Left in Bangladesh: Marxism and the new Resistance

Muhammad Anisur Rahman

Left politics in Bangladesh has long history of ups and downs: sacrifices and opportunism, openness and blindness, unities and divisions,successes and failures. In every socio-political urgenciesof the country the left(parties, groups, intelligentsia) played important role. Despite their failure in determining the course of the movement, the left brought many issues in public sphere, disseminated ideas, organized struggles and suffered government repression the most. In the 1940s, the left organized Tebhaga movement in Bengal. The left were the decisive force behind language movement culminated in 1952. During the 1960s, there were huge workers and peasant movements organized by the left that became driving force behind mass uprising that eventually forced military government to fall in Pakistan and that also contributed immensely to build up arms struggles for independence in 1971. In the post-independence Bangladesh, political changes took places very rapidly in the first decade. Despite weakness, the left again initiated and played an important role in anti-autocratic movement in the 1980s. Fall of Soviet Union and global renewed campaign against socialist project hit hard Bangladeshileft, its thinking and activism. A significant portion of the left became inactive, another part joined rightist camp, some began NGO activities. Neo liberal onslaught of global capitalism became hegemonic since 1980s with support from increasingly undemocratic regimes and the new rich. The organized base of the left among peasants and workers were dismantled in the process of neo-liberal development. Privatization of common property, education, health care along withgrabbing of natural resources, rivers, forests and open space became obvious in the course of dominant mode of capital accumulation. Class, gender, ethnic, religious discrimination rises but left party politics could not make any decisive intervention in the fast changing global and national socio-political landscape. However, new forms of organizations and alliances began emerging since early 1990s to fight back repression of workers, women, ethnic-religious minorities and to resist neo liberal economic reforms, to organize public resistance against environmentally disastrous bad deals withbig corporate groups of home and abroad. These forms of alliances have been a new experience for Bangladesh, and its mass support showed its potential to grow. This ‘party plus alliance’ is different from ‘left party alliance’ also qualitatively different from ‘non party alliance’ for social movement or any type of NGOised mobilization. These peoples movements, and corresponding academic discourses could effectively challenge the dominant development paradigm. These alliances also couldcreate a new culture of unity and inclusion of different sections of people, a good number of youth have been the main strength of these alliances. Marxism as a theoretical tool and as the guideline for organizing peoples power has also been gaining attention of these young groups. This article aims to investigatethe accumulation process in a peripheral economy like Bangladesh, the role of the state in globalized capitalism and its corresponding class politics, its impact upon social conflicts. I would like to examine thedynamics of the crisis as well as potential of reemergenceof the left and the material conditions for the relevance of the left agenda, also to bring the question of revising organizational thought and reinventing Marxism in my analysis.

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