A Resistance Against the Assault on Thought: A Lesson for the Left

Development Vs Hindutva

Before the last general elections, two supposedly contrasting images of Mr. Modi was projected by the media: Modi, the development man and Modi, the Hindutva crusader. It was argued that he won the elections because the former dominated the latter. There was, therefore, a dichotomy created in the minds of even the most liberal of the intellectuals between these two images of Mr. Modi. Many of them have argued that the second image dominates or comes to the fore when the first does not deliver. I would like to first dispel this notion of two ‘contrasting’ images because that lies at the core of blunting any resistance to the assault on thought that is being forced upon in India today.

It is easier to explain how these two images of Mr. Modi go together by looking at his pet project, Make in India. This model is premised on India gaining, at the cost of its competitors, a share in the international market. This can only happen if the costs of production in India are made relatively cheaper than its international counterparts like China. This can be done in many ways, some of which India is targeting: suppressing real wages and/or increasing the productivity of labour (labour market reforms); making natural resources available at throw away prices (land acquisition bill etc). So, even if such a growth were delivered, it will invariably be exclusivist as it is premised on tilting the distribution of income and wealth against the working people of the country.

Such a development by encroachment of resources from the working people by its very definition creates fertile political grounds for a discourse of ‘us vs them’ which has a transformative potential, the best example of which was the 99% (working people) vs 1% (ruling elite) slogan of the Occupy movement in the US. But what is transformative for the working people, for the same reason, is disruptive for the ruling elite. Therefore, the latter looks for an alternative category of ‘us vs them’ based on religion, caste, colour,race, country, which can be employed to divide the working people and rule. The creation of a Hindutva crusader is essential for such a development man.

While these two images go together, from time to time one of them might dominate the other, for e.g., the Hindutva crusader becomes more dominant especially if the development man does not deliver. And it seems to be the case not just for the first two years of his term but for the rest as well especially since the international markets remain elusive as the global crisis continues unabated. Such a possibility increases the need of the State, which cannot even hide behind a facade of ‘national’ performance, to nip the transformative discourse in the bud. Hence, the assault becomes even more pronounced. This is what is happening today in India.

With the lack of a facade of high growth, a false symbol of pride needs to be resurrected, which in this case is jingoism parading as nationalism. Such jingoism never ends well. In history it has either ended in fascism or a war or both and the scary thing is that both are possible in the case of India. If this situation continues, which is what it is headed towards, for getting a second term, this government can even orchestrate a war against its neighbours. Such a political discourse might get further strengthened if the politics in the US moves even more to the Right with a Donald Trump coming to power against odds. So that the political discourse is not set on these lines, it is imperative on the progressive minded people to challenge this ‘us vs them’ with our own ‘us vs them’.

From ‘Lal Salaam’ to ‘Jai Bhim Lal Salaam’

Their‘us vs them’ can only countered with our‘us vs them’ when we get over some of our ideological baggages, one of which is giving primacy to a self-declared principal contradiction based on just the issues of class. There are many contradictions in the political system we live in, as they have existed earlier, and the need of the hour is to give them all equal primacy because no one contradiction with its solution necessarily solves the others. Let’s take the case of caste or gender or religious or other identity based contradictions. Would they disappear or even get muted if the class contradiction is resolved? Many erstwhile socialist countries are a living testimony to the fact that this was not necessarily the case. In fact by making such an argument about a principal vs non-principal contradiction, we undermine the transformative possibilities that our‘us vs them’ might throw up.

If the ‘them’ can be aptly captured in various combinations of an image of a brahmin upper class male, the ‘us’ should surely be a combination of a dalit, an OBC, a non-Hindu, a female and the working class and not them segregated along these categories. And I think it’s primarily a theoretical lacuna because all political praxis after all flows from a particular theoretical construct. Let the political opposition both in theory and praxis be a genuine and an organic combination of these theoretical constructs which has the potential of producing a powerful resistance. I saw this with my own experience in JNU. The slogan of lal salam of our days has been transformed into ‘Jai Bhim lal salam’, which has a huge potential for the progressive movement in general.

But I think so far, this opposition, at least in its intellectual discourse, seems more like a common minimum programme rather than a genuine amalgamation of ideas flowing from these different strands of thinking, some of which are marxist or subaltern or feminist in nature. A common minimum programme has taken us thus far but no more. With time and engagement, it has the potential of becoming an intersecting unity as opposed to an alliance.The job of the opposition is to creatively engage with these debates and instead of seeing them as fissures in the advance of their respective movements sees them as having a transformative potential even for their own respective agenda. The ruling establishment realises that, so, they want to nip it in the bud, something that became amply clear in JNU earlier and HCU now. It is time that those who stood with JNU should stand with HCU as well if they want this political project to materialise.

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5 Responses to A Resistance Against the Assault on Thought: A Lesson for the Left

  1. Sucharita Sen says:

    Excellent, Rohit. Greatly enjoyed reading this.

  2. Nikhil Narkar says:

    I liked the article and let me state right at the beginning that I agree with much that you have written. The important point where I agree with you is this: the attempt at resolution of class contradiction did not necessarily lead to resolution of other (“secondary”) contradictions in the few socialist countries that existed till around 1990/1 (and even in China). However, this curious “fact” points towards an important element in Marxist theory in general and that is where my uneasiness to do away with the need for a distinction between “primary” and “secondary” contradictions lies. In “The German Ideology”, one of the important points that Marx (and Engels) makes is this: The human condition is that they (have to) work on their surroundings (nature) and by doing so, change not only their surroundings but also themselves. Out of this necessity emerges, at a historical point, a surplus (and the ownership of surplus), which leads to the primary contradiction in the society (class). All the other contradictions emerge as necessary fallout of this primary contradiction, which while remaining linked to the primary contradiction, also carry out their own processes (of oppression: say caste, gender etc). Let us then say that there is no one to one (or directly deterministic) correspondence between these contradictions. In a sense, they retain their relative autonomy.

    Now, if we do away with this distinction, what are we left with in Marxist theory and politics for socialist state? Doesn’t that make struggles for establishing a socialist state void? If (let’s say the answer is yes; and I am NOT saying “you hold this view”) that is the case, the next question has far more importance attached to it than some academic circles are willing to grant it: “How do we understand the emergence of the state and characterize it (the classic Marxist-Leninist view would suggest that the state as an institution emerges out of “surplus” and the need for the managing committee of the surplus”)?

    • rohitazad says:

      Have to prepare two lectures. Will reply later 🙂

    • rohitazad says:

      Hi Nikhil,
      Sorry for a very delayed response. I don’t write that much and hence don’t check my blog often! I had forgotten about this very interesting comment of yours. Apologies for that. Coming to your two questions:

      1. While I think I am a Marxist, my inspiration come from his methodology and not the exact analysis he did of capitalism. Things have changed both in terms of time and space from his time. Any good Marxian analysis should take note of that. I believe his theory provides us with tools to look at exploitation in its barest form. But taking his word to be final will be a travesty to Marx’s own methods of analysis. To give a concrete example, caste has been a tool of exploitation that has survived for ages irrespective of whichever class-based system we were a part of, which itself shows caste system’s resilience. Doesn’t just that fact alone make caste an irreducible category on which exploitation in India can be understood. Every other category of exploitative relationship (except perhaps gender) lives and dies with that particular mode of production (in its own sphere of influence) but caste has just refused to die. I think a true Marxist analysis of India would require caste to be central to its theoretical structure. Unfortunately, it has always played a passive role even though not an unimportant one. But it’s passive nonetheless. It needs to be made active if we want to make any headway.

      2. About the categorisation of the State in terms of its relationship with class, I think we need to rethink the nature of a socialist state too. Not only should it be a state free of class exploitation but also of exploitations based on gender, colour and creed. And I would *not* give primacy to any one of these. They are all *equally* important and that’s why the need for a rethink. And I don’t think such a rethink requires throwing Marxian theory out. Quite the contrary. Marxism provides us with excellent tools to understand each one of these even though Marx himself didn’t focus on them enough.

      I know my views will seem un-Marxist to you but I think that’s the beauty of Marxism that it can interpreted and reinterpreted in myriad ways.

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