Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Whither Marxism?

Recently I have participated in a few debates on the walls of people on Facebook on the relevance of Marxist programmes of action in the present context. Especially those adopted by the armed Maoist movement in India which I categorised as being obsolete and so prompted angry responses. While the Marxist analysis of the problems and contradictions of Capitalism remains relevant the prescriptions for action to overthrow it may not be so. I have written about this in my book Recovering the Lost Tongue at length. I thought I would lift some of that and rework it for a post in this blog.
Marxism, of which Maoism was a Chinese variant, lost the battle for the domination of the world to the capitalists in the early years after the Russian Revolution of 1917 itself. Immediately after the revolution, the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) led by Lenin still had to contend with the white counter revolutionary challenge sponsored by the western capitalist nations. So it had perforce to implement a "military communism" of hard rationing supervised by a bureaucratic state apparatus so as to be able to produce the weapons and armour necessary to win the civil war and maintain the supply chain to the cities and towns. The Bolsheviks had eagerly hoped that the Communists who had some mass following in Germany would sooner or later bring about a proletarian revolution in that industrially more advanced country and so provide material and moral support thereafter to the precariously poised Russian revolution.
However, these hopes were dashed as the ill planned and ill timed Spartacist uprising of the German Communist Party was ruthlessly crushed in 1919. The situation in Germany in 1918 was somewhat similar to the one that had prevailed in Russia prior to the revolution there. The Kaiser's rule had been ended and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) had instituted bourgeois democratic rule in the form of the Weimar Republic. A group of militant communists led by Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg had earlier separated from the SPD over its policy of supporting the German war against Russia and had formed the Spartacus League naming themselves after the slave Spartacus who had mobilised the slaves in rebellion against the Roman Empire in the first century BCE. They later renamed it as the German Communist Party (KPD) in 1919 after joining the Comintern, the international communist forum, following the Russian revolution. A majority section of the KPD wanted to seize state power through an armed uprising in the same way as the Bolsheviks had done in Russia. Liebknecht and Luxemburg argued against this, as did Lenin saying that the German SPD was much more organised than the Russian Socialists, theMensheviks, had been and the German state was not in a state of collapse like the Russian state was in 1917 and so it would be difficult to get the armed forces to mutiny and come out in support of the revolution as they had done in Russia. These warnings were not heeded and the German revolution was launched by the KPD in 1919 only to be brutally suppressed ending in the execution of all its leaders and workers including Liebnecht and Luxemburg. Thus the German masses were left without any seasoned radical communist leadership during the crisis years that followed after World War I ended and Germany was burdened with paying exorbitant war reparations that crippled its economy. Consequently this premature uprising meant that instead of a Communist revolution taking place in the state of collapse that ensued in the late nineteen twenties in Germany, the Nazis under Hitler came to power. This put paid to the hopes of a more broad-based communist capture of state power in the advanced capitalist countries leaving the Russian communists to fend for themselves.
So by the time the Russian Communists overcame the white counter-revolution by 1920 through their own devices, the nascent industrial sector in the largely agrarian and feudal economy of Russia was close to dissolution. The biggest problem therefore was how to revive industrial production in particular and the economy in general and "catch up" with the western industrialised capitalist nations. This is when the Bolsheviks decided to put socialist ideas on hold and instead adopt capitalist management techniques in the factories to revive production and also allow market forces to play so that the vast middle peasantry of kulaks could be included in the process of rebuilding the economy through the continued exploitation of the landless serfs who were converted into badly paid wage labourers. The anarchists who were in control of a large number of the workers' soviets and trade unions argued that the responsibility for the organisation of production in factories should be that of the freely elected workers' soviets and trade unions and this policy should be followed in the rural areas also. They argued that the workers had borne much hardship during the fight to overcome the counter-revolution and they should now reap the benefits instead of being subjected to more deprivation. Instead, they pointed out, bourgeois elements, which had no sympathy with the revolution had infiltrated the factory management, the bureaucracy and even the party during the earlier phase of military communism and were sabotaging the revolution. Dissatisfied by their living and working conditions the workers and peasants began to go on strikes in February 1921 demanding a more open democratic dispensation.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks would have none of this, however, as it constituted a challenge to the authority of the Bolshevik party and the tight control over the government, that it had developed in the course of the civil war. They advanced the need for maintaining party unity as an excuse for clamping down on the burgeoning open debates and the formation of factions representing alternative viewpoints so as to maintain their monopoly of power. Thus, arguing speciously that the proletariat in Russia was not advanced enough to be able to control the economy and government on its own and so needed the party to guide it, Lenin came down hard on the anarchist opposition. Punitive action was begun against the striking workers in Petrograd and Moscow. As things came to a head the naval unit stationed at the port of Kronstadt near Petrograd, which happened to be aligned with the anarchists came out in support of the workers' demands. This unit had earlier played a crucial role in the victory of the Bolsheviks in the revolution of 1917. They were the professionally trained core of the final military assault on the seat of bourgeois power, the Winter Palace in Petrograd and so commanded immense respect among the working masses. The situation worsened as workers and peasants all over the country joined the workers in Petrograd and Moscow in demonstrations protesting against the bureaucratic and military control of the economy and polity. The Bolshevik government resorted to police and military repression to suppress this opposition. The sailors of Kronstadt mutinied against the Bolshevik government demanding an end to centralised party control of the economy and greater freedom of decision for the workers and peasants. So the Red Army in full force under the command of Trotsky was sent in to deal with them on March 7th 1921. After putting up a brave fight for ten days those anarchist sailors were massacred to the last man. It was given out by the Bolsheviks that these sailors were counter-revolutionary agents bent on sabotaging the proletarian revolution.
Thus, the decade of the nineteen twenties proved to be the crucial juncture in human history at which the direction of its future in favour of centralised industrial development along with the accompanying militarism was finally sealed. Earlier in the eighteenth century when capitalist industrial development had established itself, its foremost ideologue, the classical political economist Adam Smith had come up with the theory that if all persons, rich and poor, worked for their individual gain then by an "invisible hand" an economy would develop that would be for the good of all and there was no need for any government intervention. This concept was later extended by the neo-classical economists to the functioning of the market and it was averred that such an invisible hand mechanism would automatically adjust the pulls and pushes of demand and supply to reach an equilibrium that would be beneficial to all. In reality, however, the invisible hand worked negatively because the rich in greedily pursuing their own gain deprived the poor from doing so. There have never been free markets and consumers making free choices in them. From the beginning the rich capitalists of the industrialising countries forced their governments first to sequester their own markets against external competition and also to subsidise much of the expenditure in setting up the transport and financial infrastructure that is the bedrock on which capitalist development takes place apart from giving them the control of scarce natural resources either free or in exchange for small royalties. Simultaneously the capitalists used the governments to prevent labour from organising and demanding a greater share of the output. And all the while the natural resources, people and the markets of the colonies of these industrialising nations were forcefully exploited.
Consequently, an era ensued in which there was a free for all among the European nations and their independent settler states like the United States of America, for the spoils of the rest of the world in which for the first time " in human history ...... the principle of gain (was) elevated to the organising principle of economic life " as the philosopher Karl Polanyi has noted. The governments of these countries actively promoted this kind of monopolistic industrial development through provision of vast subsidies from state funds to develop the necessary infrastructure. As had been predicted by Marx this led to both internal problems of a collapse of demand within these imperialist economies as well as the collapse of the international system of trade and increasing inter-imperialist rivalry ending in war. The snapping of the world capitalist system at its weakest link in Russia in 1917 followed this. The success of the Russian revolution and the tenacity of the Soviet Union acted as a slap in the face of this orgy of the capitalists and prompted greater intervention by the governments of the imperialist countries to rein in the indiscriminate profit mongering of its capitalists and take on greater responsibility for the welfare and employment of the labouring classes and so prop up sagging demand.
Lenin had in the months of August and September 1917, just before the revolution, written extensively on the probable post revolutionary political and economic dispensation. He had approvingly concurred with the views of Marx and Engels that the bourgeois state apparatus would have to be "smashed" and in its place a new state apparatus manned by the workers would have to be put in place that would suppress the bourgeois elements and work for the further emancipation of the workers and other oppressed masses by putting in place a system of production and distribution organised by the toilers themselves. However, in practice these noble ideas were shelved and a highly centralised bureaucratic state was put in place staffed by many of the old bourgeois elements. Once the West sponsored white counter-revolution had been contained the urge to "catch up with the West" in industrial development led to the adoption of the New Economic Policy from 1921 onwards involving the forced extraction of huge surpluses from the toiling masses and the free play of market forces to ramp up industrial and agricultural production. Simultaneously the management of the economy and the government was given over to a bureaucracy staffed more and more by bourgeois elements. Though state control was re-imposed again in 1929 there was always a mixture of planning and market, the latter both open and black. So considerable material and ideological corruption and confusion in the actual economy and society  came into existence in the Soviet Union. 
No doubt the Soviet Union was an improvement over what prevailed in Tsarist Russia before and was different and better in many respects from the western capitalist nations but essentially it too was subservient to the dominant post enlightenment meta-narrative of centralised industrialisation. The main problem in such centralised industrialisation based economic systems is that of the reconciliation of the contradiction between centralised production and decentralised consumption. Though theoretically this problem of synchronisation of supply and demand can be solved precisely through the construction of mathematical models of market economies, or planned economies or a mixture of both, in reality this synchronisation does not take place due to a myriad unpredictable factors which are even less predictable in large mostly planned economies that are under authoritarian rule as compared to large mostly market economies that are under liberal democratic rule because of the lesser flow of crucial economic information in the former. Consequently the crises resulting from the mismatch of supply and demand which plague the capitalist system began to appear in even more virulent form in the socialist economies.
The capitalists also realised that unfettered exploitation of labour and unregulated markets would lead to the collapse of the system through repeated economic crises as predicted by Marx. So labour laws, market regulation, government welfare measures, elections based on adult franchise including women and some decentralisation and devolution of power were all introduced to make the capitalist system much more citizen friendly than it had been earlier. Even though, with the neo-liberal onslaught from the late 1980s there has been a roll back of some of this welfarism, nevertheless even today there is considerable space in the capitalist system for protest and redressal so that the system does not come to the brink of collapse in the developed economies. The situation in the underdeveloped economies is far worse but even there over the years a formal liberal democratic dispensation has spread and has now made its way into the middle Eastern Arab world also. Formal democracy provides opportunities to political activists from the grassroots to exercise power and share in the spoils of capitalist exploitation and this results in a constant attrition of activists from the revolutionary and radical parties to the mainstream political parties through co-option. This is the crucial difference between the time of say Marx and then Lenin and Mao, in that there is now considerable scope for expressing dissent in comparison to their time and also greater possibilities of participating in the power structure of bourgeois society. The capitalist system also uses the NGO sector to co-opt potential threats to its hegemony. Since it is not always possible to draw political activists into political parties, NGOs are used to entice them. After all why should a grassroots political activist endlessly bear the privations and tensions of fighting for justice when there is much to be gained by joining the exploiters and an opportunity is provided to them to do so. All this impedes the formation of a revolutionary class for itself. In fact formal democracy at the grassroots leads to an attrition even from the ranks of the anarchists. When non-violent social movements find it difficult to retain their vanguard it is going to be much more difficult for an armed struggle to do so.
Moreover, at the peak of the capitalist economic crisis in the late nineteen twenties John Logie Baird invented the television. This set the ball rolling for carrying advertising into people's homes and bombing them with audio-visual content urging them to spend not only their present income but also their future earnings for buying goods and services. Capitalism has since ridden a continuously rising wave of consumerism to expand existing markets and open new ones by titillating the baser instincts of humans all over the world and so continued to fuel economic growth without the recurrence of similar massive demand slumps. The medium became the message. 
 At about the same time Antonio Gramsci, while incarcerated in prison by the Italian Fascists, began pondering over the conundrum that the oppressed masses in Germany, Italy and Spain refused to become acolytes of Marxism despite the objective conditions arising from the economic collapse being favourable for such a development and instead preferred to plump either for fascism or a capitalism rejuvenated by state sponsored demand boosting measures. He came to the conclusion that the bourgeoisie exert control over the masses not only overtly through the organs of the state but also covertly through their ideological "hegemony" over "civil society" constituted independently of the state by communitarian, cultural and religious associations. Gramsci stressed the important role of "organic" intellectuals coming up from the oppressed classes who would dispel this mesmerising hegemony of the ruling classes by formulating a liberating ideology of their own that could stand up to the dominant ideology of the latter. However, the scope for this kind of a liberating ideology emerging has been significantly decreased through the influence of television. Television has ensured that it is the sports and film stars selling everything from soap to sanitary napkins and the evangelical preachers of all religious denominations selling divine salvation who have become the gurus of the masses and not the austere radicals, whether communists, anarchists or libertarians, who are making a pitch for a fight against the machinations of neo-colonial capital. These messages, which have been beamed worldwide through satellites, first ensured the tearing down of the iron and bamboo curtains and the collapse of "actually existing socialism". Today the ever widening reach of television is ensuring that the masses mostly remain engaged in song and dance or vicarious enjoyment of sports instead of taking up cudgels against the ruling classes worldwide to end their misery.
The Russian anarchists, Mikhail Bakunin being the foremost among them, had from the time of Marx continually joined issue with the Marxists over their stress on the leadership of a centralised proletarian party in bringing about a revolution, the need for the continuation of the state after the revolution and the primacy of industrial development as opposed to communitarian agriculture. As long as a centralised state exists, they argued, there could never be true democracy and freedom for the masses. A capture of state power by the vanguard party in the absence of a large mass of socially and politically conscious people who could force the vanguard to act in their interest would inevitably lead to a concentration of power in the hands of the former with the possibility of a return to authoritarianism and then capitalism. The dictatorship of the proletariat would turn into a dictatorship of the vanguard party. This is what has happened first in the Soviet Union and then also in China, though in the latter case the Chinese Communist Party had a much wider mass base initially than the Bolsheviks. Thus, the battle for a decentralised, environmentally sustainable and humanly just form of development was lost by the anarchists in that crucial decade of the nineteen twenties. There was a brief attempt by the Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War but that too was unsuccessful in the face of Stalinist support for the more doctrinaire Communists and later both were overwhelmed by the Fascist onslaught. This failure of both Marxism and Anarchism to come up with a practical programme that could get the support of the masses has propelled the human race onto a destructive path whose serious environmental and social consequences are becoming clearer with every passing day. 
 At present the colonisation of the minds of the masses all over the world resulting from the television propelled cultural imperialism of the West has pushed the meta-narrative of capitalist industrial development and its triplets of consumerism and militarism onto the centre stage of the post-modern world and with the dawn of the twenty-first century the repositories of various kinds of post modernist "difference" like the Marxists (they have now become marginal players), Maoists and the anarcho-environmentalists are doomed to acting out peripheral micro-narratives. It is not very difficult to imagine that given the readiness among the masses to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the myths being propagated through television, the chances of the Maoists bringing about a revolution in India are remote indeed. Mao had said that power flows from the barrel of a gun but in today's milieu it flows more readily from the picture tube of a television set! The spring thunder of the Maoists, therefore, holds little promise of an emancipatory drenching for those it is ostensibly fighting for. Instead through their armed actions the Maoists have succeeded in reducing the space for democratic mass action not only for their own mass organisations but also for anarcho-environmentalist ones, which too are regarded by the police to be hand in glove with the Maoists and so are subjected to extra-legal harassment. 
The fact that industrial production processes have been automated so much that it is now possible to have very few regularised permanent workers in factories and farm out most of the work to smaller factories has robbed the working class of the power of the strike action. There are now millions of casual labourers in small groups whom it is very difficult to organise and then form into a conscious "class for itself" that would be able to fight for a revolutionary overthrow. Similar is the situation with landless peasants and marginal farmers. There is no way in which an armed movement can operate openly among the casual labourers and peasants. The net result is that the Maoists are forced to operate in densely forested remote areas which apart from having some natural resources are not very crucial to the Indian State. For a long time the Maoists treated these remote areas as their liberated zones but with time the Indian State and Capitalists felt the need to exploit the resources there and so began attacking these liberated zones in earnest. This has pushed the Maoists on to the backfoot as their overground organisations have all been banned and many leaders have been either killed or arrested. 
There are three other main problems for Marxists in general and Maoists in particular as far as bringing about revolution is concerned. The first is that the Indian State is much more powerful militarily than say the Russian or Chinese States were at the time of the revolutions in those countries. The armed forces and the police forces too are very well cared for by the State and so have no reason to mutiny as they did in those countries. Without the armed forces rank and file mutinying there is no way in which a rag tag band of guerrillas can overthrow the Indian State. Even in Nepal where the State and its armed forces are much weaker than in India the Maoists there after waging a long battle have had to agree to participate in a liberal democracy instead of pushing for a revolutionary overthrow.  Secondly armed struggle requires a huge amount of funds. Traditionally the Marxists have sourced these funds by robbing capitalists. The Bolshevik party in Russia used to be funded by the dacoities and kidnapping carried out by Stalin in the crude oil rich Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan. The Maoists have to extort from contractors, businessman and industrialists who have to operate in their remote strongholds. While this does provide them with some funds, they are nowhere like enough to finance a major attack on the Indian security forces and so all that the Maoists have managed is to carry out guerrilla warfare which will not get them far. Thirdly the compulsions of operating underground force the Maoists to run their areas through summary justice involving the killing of those they consider to be informers. They are constantly on the move so they cannot keep prisoners. Therefore, they have to execute those they consider to be informers or recalcitrants in some way or other. This alienates them from the people and in general their so called liberated zones are actually fear filled ones. 
The Maoists in India take for their inspiration not the Bolshevik Revolution so much as the Chinese one under the leadership of Mao. The most important first step for the Maoists is to characterise the State because that will determine the programme of action. Classically the theory was that in the advanced capitalist state workers are just wage earners without any property and by virtue of the fact that they are working in concentrated numbers they can if they consciously organise hold up the production process through strikes and if there is a vanguard party of the workers that is also militarily organised and has infiltrated the armed forces rank and file then a revolution can take place. In situations in which the State is not a Capitalist one this becomes problematical. Mao had characterised the Chinese State of the 1930s as being semi-feudal and semi-colonial and worked out a programme of action involving the organisation of the peasants in the countryside after an initial attempt at an urban uprising of workers had failed. Now to say as the Indian Maoists do that the current Indian State is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial one like the Chinese State of the 1930s is to say the least a very obsolete characterisation. Then to go ahead and say that consequently the programme of action should be to organise the peasants in remote tribal areas to engage in an armed struggle to overthrow the Indian State because they are the most revolutionary anti-statist force is nothing short of preposterous. 
Finally, there is the question of what will happen post revolution even if one does take place. If a strongly centralised party does capture power by overthrowing the capitalist dispensation then it is not subsequently going to suddenly give up its years of centralised and undemocratic functioning as a guerrilla unit and become a bottom up decentralised democratic system. That is why there is a need to think about new methods to combat centralisation which also build up practical models for the post revolutionary dispensation. The control of resources at the moment is in the hands of the capitalists and they are doing everything possible to prevent decentralisation of this control because they know that that will mean the end of their hegemony other than the minimal amount that they have themselves allowed through Panchayati Raj to keep the more articulate people at the grassroots happy. So how are the powerless to become powerful is the question that needs to be answered. Marxism has analysed the sources of bourgeois power and the contradictions that it faces very well but it has no answer to the question of how this power can be smashed in the present context where the bourgeois have some very powerful systems in place to prevent the creation of a revolutionary class for itself. Unless a credible plan of action for overcoming capitalism and establishing a more just dispensation is on offer there is little likelihood of a mass movement emerging from the shenanigans of the Maoists or other Marxists who remain stuck in obsolete moulds.
The American anarchist Thoreau once wrote - " If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away". This was a plaintive cry against the homogenising effects of modern industrialisation, which had begun to make themselves felt in the nineteenth century itself. Though, it must be remembered that Thoreaux earned his money by running a mine in which labourers were exploited and so there is a serious breach between what he preached and practiced!!! Things have now become considerably more problematical for maintaining economic, social and cultural diversity in the post-modern era. The possibility of launching a concerted challenge to this all round hegemony of capitalist industrial development has diminished considerably. That is why the widespread limitation of the space for democratic dissent that the peripheral violence of the Maoists is causing is a matter of concern. It brings down the number of drummers beating a different beat from that of the votaries of centralised industrial development. Of even greater concern is the fact that the Maoist cadres are mostly from among the marginalised Dalits and Adivasis and these organic intellectuals who could have made a significant contribution to the fight for a better world are all dying an untimely death or rotting in prison in the wild goose chase after the Indian Revolution.  Lesser and lesser is the proportion of people that are opting out from the destructive march that is being orchestrated by the followers of the meta-narrative of modern industrial development. 
These days mostly it is only those who are affected by some development project or other who are involved in protests against the State and there is a lack of widespread mobilisation on the issue of Capitalist exploitation in general. Like it or not in the current context there is no other alternative but to use the space that is provided in liberal democracies to carry forward the struggle against Capitalism. This has to be done judiciously being fully aware of the many ways in which the Capitalists co-opt those who have the potential for posing a challenge to their hegemony. 


Priya VK Singh said...

May I share extracts on my blog/FB wall? Not many people will read the whole post, fascinating as it is, but will read shorter extracts to do with Maoism.

Rahul Banerjee said...

I have now revised the post considerably and you are free to quote from it as much as you want.

thangam said...

hi i want difference between MARXISM and NAXALISM..both are interlink or not
please replay me

Rahul Banerjee said...

Marxism is the larger ideology of which Maoism is an offshoot. It has largely become obsolete as the conditions similar to those prevailing in the 1930s China when it was practiced do not exist anymore anywhere in the world.