Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Draft Manifesto of New Socialist Initiative [Part - I]

History is always full of surprises. Rare, however, are the periods when its long course prepares to take a big turn. Such turns are dreaded by some and awaited by many. Those who dread them would like to imagine history as having arrived at an endless plateau where a big change in its course is no longer possible. There are no other roads to be taken. Those who have waited for the big change, on the other hand, have so passionately desired it and fought so hard to turn every twist into a big turn that, exhausted by the struggles and preoccupied with the strategies of yesterday, they often fail to recognize today’s tasks and tomorrow’s potentials. It is invariably under such conditions that future is freshly envisioned, strategies are redesigned and new forces appear to help history take the next big turn.

Humanity stands at the threshold of such a period. The long course of capitalism has lasted for half a millennium. For more than two centuries it has been the dominant system on the planet. And yet, it is only now that capitalist relations have been able to penetrate every nook and corner of the world. It is only now that the entire globe has been turned into an unhindered playground of capital. Capitalism for the first time stands face to face with itself. No longer can it arrogate to itself the mission of modernizing the natives and civilizing the barbarians. The natives have sprung their own capitalists and have already become participants in the capitalist world order. Barbarians of today are mostly the capitalist rulers themselves who brook no resistance to their designs of creating a new imperial order and spare no ruthlessness in making capitalism entrenched everywhere. No longer can capitalism blame other systems for the miseries, exploitations, oppressions and unfreedoms under which much of humanity continues to suffer.

Empires never look back at the ruins left in the wake of their victories, nor do they weigh how much of a burden they have themselves become for their subjects and for history. Capitalism sounds triumphant today. It does not judge itself by what it has done and what it is doing to humanity. It does not judge itself by the great contradiction that resides at the very root of its being, nor by the endemic turbulence and the recurrent crises that arise there from. It judges itself by how it has fared against other systems and what it has done to other systems. Not only has it prevailed over the older systems under which it was born—invariably by destroying them but also by co-opting and incorporating many of their elements and structures—it has also withstood the challenge of a variety of socialist systems that arose during the twentieth century. It would like to present this as the moment of its final victory. It would like to raise the slogan—There Is No Alternative!
The question, however, is not how capitalism judges itself. The real question is: how is humanity going to judge capitalism. The victory of capitalism over other systems that have existed so far is no longer the issue. The real issue is: can it do anything about the fundamental contradiction at the root of its own being; can it face the new system that will arise from that very contradiction—a system that will arise from its own belly! Empires successful against external threats have often crumbled under their own weight. Systems successful against other systems are never successful against themselves. They are never able to prevent themselves from creating their own gravediggers.
Revolutionary leaders of the working class realized all this long ago. There is nothing new in such arguments and assertions. What is new is the situation itself—a situation in which deeds and consequences of capitalism are everywhere on display. Everywhere capital harnesses productive powers and creative potentials of the working people to create immense wealth but keeps a large majority of them under conditions of oppressive poverty and perpetual insecurity. Those who find work must work hard for a pittance because there are many who haven’t found work and are ready to work for even less. Working class is pitted against itself. Even the few, who do specialized and higher jobs, draw large salaries and do not look upon themselves as workers, are faced with the same ruthless logic of capital. They must work longer and harder than ever to keep themselves in their positions. As incomes go up, the quality of life goes down. Human potential remains unrealized. Large part of it is excluded from the productive and creative processes, and the part that is deployed is fed into the profit maximizing machinery. Capital’s thirst for profits and hence for all kinds of resources is insatiable. Not only does it play havoc with the human potential, it is playing havoc with the planet itself. On top of it all, many of the old forms of inequalities, exclusions and oppressions continue. They have been articulated into the capitalist relations. Capitalism is their new protector, the new provider of conditions for their reproduction. Who else, then, is to blame? Capitalism must come face to face with the consequences of its own existence. It must account for the crimes against humanity that flow out of its own logic.
The toilers and the oppressed all over the world have fought long and hard against capitalism. They have scored many victories and have suffered many defeats. All this has happened under very complex conditions. Often the battle lines were not clearly drawn. Or, multiply drawn battle lines intersected each other. The fight against capital was already on agenda a century ago, but a large part of humanity had still to fight against feudal systems, against monarchs and tyrants, against colonial masters. Many had to fight to bring capitalism to their lands and to remove barriers to capitalist development—barriers erected by capitalism itself as imperialist countries had colonized much of the non-western world. Even the proletarian revolutions of the previous century took place in countries where capitalism was not yet the reigning system. These revolutions did inflict decisive defeats on imperialism. They inaugurated the heroic task of building socialism in societies that had not yet gone through capitalist development. They became sources of inspiration for the toilers and the oppressed all over the world. But they faced great—ultimately insurmountable—difficulties in building socialism. They rescued those societies from the deep crises they were in, but could not put them securely on the high road to socialism. Reality lagged behind the plans and the dreams of the working class.
Now, for the first time in history, battle lines are clearly drawn between labour and capital. Revolutions of tomorrow will be the first revolutions directly against capital inside capitalist countries. Socialism of tomorrow will arise, for the first time, from conditions where pressure builds up within the capitalist system—when the capitalist integument of productive forces is burst asunder.
Complexities, for sure, would not go away and new ones are bound to appear. Battle lines may be clearly drawn between labour and capital but enormous complexities reside on both the sides of the line. Labour is fragmented both by the capitalist division of labour and by the age-old divisions of race, caste, gender, ethnicities, nationalities and histories. The spread of capital, on the other hand, is highly uneven across the globe despite the recent spurt in globalization. Imperialism has changed its modus operandi to suite the changed conditions of the postcolonial world. Emergent capital from the newly independent countries is getting fused with the advanced capital of imperialism and the bourgeoisie from the so-called third world are enthusiastically joining the world capitalist system, formally as equal members but actually as junior partners. And yet, despite globalization, nation-state remains the most important and the most strategic element in the new political structure of the world. It remains the most effective instrument for exercising the bourgeois rule and protecting its legitimacy. Boundaries of the nation-states are increasingly non-existent for capital as it criss-crosses them at will. In contrast, labour remains sequestered behind many walls, tied up in many chains. Capitalists of the world, despite their fierce competition with each other, seem to have united; workers of the world are segregated, fragmented and disunited.
Revolutions change the big picture by resolving the central contradictions of an era. But they can do so only by gathering forces that can sweep across manifold boundaries and divides. Every revolution must have simplicity in its grand strategy, but it must be able to find its way through the immense complexities on ground. This remains the great challenge of today. Furthermore, revolutions never repeat themselves; they can never be copied or imitated. Strategies of past revolutions can never be redeployed as such in future revolutions. Those who claim to lead the working class must rise to the occasion. They must reformulate programmes and redesign strategies that can inspire the oppressed and the exploited and harness their courage and wisdom for the coming revolutions. They must re-envision socialism—a socialism that would not only bring liberation to the ‘wretched of the earth’ but it would also unleash the creative powers of the ‘workers of the world’.
Future is never a destiny. It has to be built on the platform provided by history and it has to be redeemed by those whose labour and whose sacrifices have gone into building this platform. This task has come, fully and finally, on the shoulders of the working class. Workers must claim the world because only they can build a real future for the world.
A World of the Workers
But where are the workers? Don’t we all live in a world of bankers, executives, entertainers and tycoons fused with and surrounded by the ever growing ‘middle classes’? If this postmodern capitalist paradise is in turn surrounded by the sprawling slum-proletariat, that does not take away the novelty and the centrality of the paradise. And if, on the global scale, the metropolises of the empire of capital are still surrounded by the sprawling third world, if the metropolitan citizenry is still outnumbered by vast populations of peasants and forest-dwellers, artisans and coolies, that does not take away the novelty and the centrality of the new world order. Everywhere the center is expanding and the peripheries are in a flux. They are being reshaped in the image of the center. They are growing their own centers and demarcating their own peripheries. First world is being presented as the future for the third world. In any case, since when did the peasants and the forest-dwellers, artisans and the coolies, the slum-proletariat and the servants in the household, become models of a working class? Have they not always been the ‘wretched of the earth’? They had their chances in the previous century when they made their revolutions and tried their versions of socialism. Now their future lies with the new empire of capital. This empire will open the gates of its center selectively for their future generations and co-opt them as the new ‘middle classes’. Such is the shape of things under the new dispensation of capitalism—capitalists and the ‘middle classes’ living in the center and the ‘wretched of the earth’ waiting at the gates for entry passes. End of history has arrived. The working class has disappeared!
These may be the claims of the ideologues and scribes labouring in the service of capital. But that is not all. Similar views afflict even those who have fought for worker’s interests, dreamed about a socialist future and endeavored to make this future a reality, but whose faith in such a future seems to have lapsed with the demise of the 20th century socialism. Those who were only too sure of the imminent demise of capitalism have suddenly become completely unsure of themselves.
Just as the capitalist class is a product of capitalism, the working class too is a product of capitalism. The overall division of labour imposed on the society by capitalism is primarily responsible for the internal structure of the working class. If capitalism undergoes internal restructuring, as it has especially during the latter half of the 20th century, then the overall division of labour too is bound to change. The working class may then look very different from what it did in the 19th century Europe. The 21st century working class cannot be anticipated in the image of the 19th century industrial proletariat who had nothing to lose but its chains and who had a world to win.
The social division of labour imposed by capitalism has always been complex and many-layered, but it has never been as complex and as many-layered as it is today. In spite of the turbulent history and the recurrent crises and in spite of the formidable challenges presented by workers’ movements and socialism during the 20th century, capital’s insatiable drive to accumulate and expand has continued unabated. In fact, in the course of overcoming these crises and challenges, it has found new ways, established new structures and adopted new practices, as it has moved on to capture the globe and take all aspect of human life under its fold. This has added to its complexity and dynamism. More than ever before capitalism is a global system with a global division of labour, and more than ever before it has taken under its fold all aspects of human life instituting a complex division of labour even at the local levels.
It is not surprising, then, that the industrial proletariat as it emerged in the 19th century Europe has failed to become the majority even in the metropolitan centers of global capitalism. It would be naïve to expect that, despite the tremendous increase in productivity and accumulation as witnessed in the 20th century, capital would confine itself to the traditional sectors of industrial production and drown itself in the overproduction of material goods. Enhanced productivity, as well as the global system of accumulation with profits and super-profits flowing in from the far corners of the world, has enabled it to deploy a large portion of the productive powers of labour into new sectors that provide an enormous range of services. Advent of the so-called welfare state in the advanced capitalist countries has been an integral part of this process and, in turn, has greatly contributed to this internal restructuring of capitalism. Typically, in a mature capitalist economy in today’s world, the so-called service sector contributes two-thirds of the GDP and an equal proportion of the labour force finds employment in this sector. Not only has such a sectoral restructuring of capital helped it soften its structural limits that would have otherwise devastated it completely, it has also changed the appearance and the configuration of the working class. There exist manifold divisions within the working class, segmenting and fragmenting it according to occupation, income, status, skill, education, and varied conceptions of self-worth and of solidarity with others. A large part of the working class in modern capitalist societies does not even consider itself to be a part of the working class. All those who sell their labour power and depend primarily on their wages and salaries, whether for bare survival or for a comfortable standard of life, form a vast majority of the entire population in all such societies. And yet it appears as though the working class is disappearing.
If the actual course of capitalism has belied many of the classical expectations in the case of the metropolitan centers, things have not been fundamentally different in the peripheries of the global capital. Here too history has deviated in many ways from the classically expected trajectories. At first there were expectations that capitalism would lead to a rapid industrialization of the agrarian societies. A large portion of the peasantry would be displaced from agriculture and turned into industrial proletariat. Those who would remain in agriculture would be polarized into capitalist farmers and agrarian wage labourers. If there was a barrier obstructing such a course of history, it was imperialism itself—the highest stage of capitalism that operated largely through the international system of colonialism. As imperialism itself was obstructing capitalist development in the colonized world, the indigenous bourgeoisie of such societies were willing to participate, often in the lead role, in the anti-colonial national liberation struggles.
Colonialism has departed from the stage of history and there has been a rapid, although highly uneven, development of capitalism in the postcolonial third world. Imperialism has changed its modus operandi. It has now entered into partnership with the third world bourgeoisie, bringing in capital and adopting primarily economic means and mechanisms for sharing in the profits and the accumulation generated in these economies. But, despite all this, even the most rapidly industrializing societies of the third world have not measured up to the expectations of a massive class polarization and the emergence of a large industrial proletariat. Agriculture still contributes a fairly large, although diminishing, share in the GDP. More importantly, a much larger portion of the labour force remains engaged with agriculture. There is migration of labour out of the agrarian sector, but it isn’t rapid enough for bringing about a speedy class polarization within the agricultural sector. In most cases, the agrarian sector in the third world remains, by and large, dominated by small peasant economies.
This phenomenon is linked with the global division of labour imposed by today’s imperialism. While, in most cases, there is little doubt about capitalist development within the agrarian sectors of the third world economies, peasantry is not going to disappear any time soon from these societies. The kind of industrialization that would have brought about such a change is not possible in a third world that remains integrated into the present global division of labour. The degree and the nature of possible industrialization are severely constrained by the global nature of capitalism and by the attendant division of labour.
So, the peasantry stays, but it does so in a radically different class position and assumes a fundamentally different character. Agriculture is fully integrated into the capitalist mode of production and its products assume the character of commodities just like any of the industrial products. Wage labour makes its appearance on a large scale, but even if this were not the case, the capitalist nature of this sector would still be unmistakable. Peasants depending on family labour are nevertheless integrated into the capitalist mode. By and large, they have been turned into petty commodity producers.
Capitalism has never been able to do without petty commodity producers. They have survived, even if in small numbers, in the most developed economies. The difference here is that a large chunk of the labour force in the third world would remain confined, at least in the foreseeable future, to this category. This is how the local division of labour gets determined, at least in part, by the global division of labour. Apart from the peasantry, this category is further embellished by the large number of artisans, petty shopkeepers and so on, so characteristic of the third world societies. Petty commodity producers in a capitalist economy stand in the objective class position of the working class. They are exploited by the entire system and the surplus they generate is taken away from them through an intricate network of markets and exchanges.
While the countryside of the third world looks markedly different from the countryside of the first world, the newly emergent urban centers of the third world have already begun to resemble the metropolitan centers of the first world. Proportionately speaking, the share of agriculture, or more generally of the so-called primary sector, is ten times more in the third world production than the corresponding share in the first world. But this has not prevented the service sector from becoming the largest sector in most of the larger third world economies. Capitalist development in today’s third world does not depend as much on the classical forms of industrialization as it did in the 19th century Europe. Instead it is following the road taken by the contemporary examples of advanced capitalism. This has obvious impact on the social division of labour emerging within the third world. Peasants and other petty commodity producers still form the single largest component of the working force, but the number of workers finding employment in the informal sectors is growing at a fast pace. Peasants and artisans are more likely to give way to these informal sector workers than to the industrial proletariat. Overall, a relatively smaller number of workers will be engaged in production of material goods. Many more will be engaged in selling those goods, and an even larger number will be deployed in providing various kinds of services. It would not be very wise to wait for the industrial proletariat to become a large majority of the working people. Such a time may never come.
Capitalism, thus, has survived by restructuring itself and by changing its modus operandi. It imposes a complex division of labour on the world it rules and on the social life it colonizes. This division of labour segments and fragments the working class and changes its appearance. Capitalism succeeds by creating and intensifying manifold contradictions among the people. Workers do all the work of the world, but they do not all work and live in similar conditions. Not all even appear as workers. The variegated conditions of material life influence differently the structure of consciousness of the different sections. Workers work and live as workers, but not all consider themselves to be workers. Overall, the basis for the workers of the world to unite recedes from the surface and goes deeper into the subterranean levels of social reality.
Surface phenomena often arise out of the deeper layers of reality. They are part of the reality but rarely do they determine the fundamental nature of reality. Today’s world is a capitalist world. Necessarily, therefore, it remains a world of the working class. This class does not appear in the image of the 19th century industrial proletariat, but objectively it occupies the same class position. Different sections of workers are located differently in the complex and elaborate division of labour, but they are all located similarly in relation to the capitalist class. The material conditions of their life may be widely different, but they all produce surplus for the owners and controllers of capital. Some of them may share in the surplus appropriated from workers at the lower ladders in the division of labour, but much more surplus created by their own labour is taken away from them.
Proletarian revolutions of the last century happened in societies where life conditions of the oppressed and the exploited were uniformly unbearable. Simple slogans, such as “Bread and Peace” or “Land to the Tiller”, were enough to bring about a revolutionary unity among the people. Such uniformity of life conditions does not exist under contemporary capitalism. Unity of all the exploited and the oppressed is no longer possible simply on the basis of the conditions of life and work. One will have to go to the deeper layers of the capitalist system to find the basis for revolutionary unity. Under today’s capitalism such a unity can be established only on the basis of the fact that all sections of the working class, with all the differences in their work, skill, income, identity and culture, produce surplus that is taken away from them by the owners of capital.
The surface phenomena arising out of capitalism may foretell the complexity of the coming revolutions and the challenges confronting them, but the fundamental nature of capitalism has not changed. Workers produce the world, but the world does not belong to them. Dependent on wages and salaries for their survival, they continue as “wage slaves” of capital. They create all the wealth but it flows to those who are entitled by the rules of capital to appropriate it. Despite all changes in their life conditions, the workers of the world even today have nothing to lose. They still have a world to win.

Identities, Inequalities, Oppressions

Being a worker is not a full account of the person who is a worker. Just as being a capitalist is not a full account of the person who is a capitalist. All societies in history so far have been class societies, but there has never been a society that existed linearly along the class axis alone. As a social being every person stands at the intersection of multiple axes that are needed to map social reality in all its dimensions. As a social being every person carries multiple identities.
Social identities invariably have material foundations. Even in the instances where they appear to arise largely in the social and cultural imaginations, or present themselves merely as superstructural features, they grow their roots in the material social reality. Arising nebulously from solid foundations they also participate in constituting those solid foundations. Not only do they form bases for a whole range of inequalities, oppressions, discriminations and exclusions—in themselves a large part of the material social reality—they also become articulated into the mode of production and offer added strength to the system of exploitation.
At the same time, social identities are historical entities. Even the ones that seem to persist through epochs and millennia and across many modes of production are far from being eternal and unchanging. Embroiled as they are in the entire social dynamics it can hardly be otherwise. Their meanings and roles necessarily change in the course of history. Many among the old ones go out of existence; many fresh ones arise and become a part of the social reality.
Social identities invariably give rise to corresponding categories of social relations and in turn they come to be defined by those social relations. Identities are determined not only by how the bearers of those identities perceive themselves. They are also determined by how others perceive and recognize them. Identity and recognition are fundamentally intertwined, and misrecognition, in this context, is often at the root of many of the deeply entrenched social injustices and oppressions.
Gender, caste, race, ethnicity, nationality and religious identity are among the major examples of social identities that form bases for inequalities, oppressions, exploitations, discriminations and exclusions. Equality, justice, and freedom from oppressions and exploitations, are basic needs and intensely desired goals of all those who suffer on account of their social identities. They have been burning issues in all phases and eras of history, and they will continue to be so as long as these undesirable phenomena continue to afflict the human civilization.
Identity-based inequalities, oppressions and exploitations were, and still are, an integral part of the social order in the pre-modern societies. They enjoyed social sanction and, invariably, they were divinely ordained. Modern societies brought the question of human equality explicitly on the social agenda. The social as well as the divine sanctions perpetuating inequalities were challenged and ideologically defeated. However, modern societies have, by and large and in most cases, failed to turn formal equality into substantive equality. Inequalities based on gender, caste, race, religion, and so on not only continue in most societies, they have gained, in many instances, fresh vitality and new reinforcements.
The reasons behind this failure are many. Firstly, it shows that the phenomena of identity-based social inequalities are deeply entrenched as well as surprisingly dynamic. Not only do they continue to draw nourishments from old roots, they also strike new roots in the changed conditions. Secondly, modernity has existed and evolved under the aegis of capitalism. Capitalism, on the other hand, loses no opportunity of incorporating into its own social structure those parts of the pre-modern social relations that can serve its interests. The times of raising revolutionary slogans such as “liberty, equality, fraternity” are long past. After defeating the old order capitalism sits cosily with the remnants of the old order. Thirdly, numerous axes of social identities criss-cross each other. In each case a given axis may identify oppressors and exploiters standing across the line from the oppressed and the exploited, but overall there does not exist a single great divide that puts all the oppressed and the exploited on one side in solidarity with each other and there is no single identity that can be assigned to all the oppressors and exploiters. All put together this makes the struggle against identity-based oppressions and exploitations that much more complex.
The phenomenon of social identities cannot be reduced to economic, political or class roots. One cannot expect, therefore, that a resolution of the class contradictions will automatically, or eventually, lead to resolution of all social contradictions. Issues of social contradictions must be taken up in their own right. A historically progressive resolution of class contradictions may facilitate an emancipatory resolution of the social contradictions, but it cannot by itself ensure such a resolution. Indeed a historically progressive resolution of class contradictions would necessarily require class solidarity among those who are the exploited class but are divided among multiple social identities. Such solidarity can be expected only if sustained progress is made towards emancipatory resolutions of identity-based social contradictions.
At the same time, any movement for an emancipatory resolution of a social contradiction cannot keep itself aloof from the class question. If being a worker is not a full account of the person who is a worker, nor is being a woman a full account of the person who is a woman. So is the case with a Dalit or with any member of any group or community that is socially oppressed. No one can escape the consequences of living in a class society. No one can abdicate the responsibility of envisioning and building a future free from class exploitation. No one, therefore, can ignore the task of fighting for a historically progressive resolution of class contradictions.
Identities are an integral part of social life. But inequalities, injustices, oppressions and exploitations based on identities do not have to be a part of social life. All these must be eliminated, even if not all identities can be eliminated. There are identities whose raison d’etre is perpetuation of some form of identity-based inequality and injustice. Such identities may be undesirable in themselves and they need to be dissolved altogether. But a society so homogeneous and uniform that it is devoid of all social identities cannot be imagined. Social and cultural diversity will remain an integral part of human civilization even after societies become free from exploitation and oppression. Indeed more so. In such societies fresh identities may arise more spontaneously to add further richness to healthy diversity. Equality of those who are culturally and socially different is a precondition for further flowering of cultural richness and diversity. In a social sense and in the social domain, different must be equals. The quest for social equality is a historical necessity not only because we are all humans, it is also because we are all different.
[Continued in next post]


अशोक कुमार पाण्डेय said...

Long Live the Revolution

Anonymous said...

One feedback..

Though good thoughts, it still stays on the level of theories. I suggest IF your idea is to reach the masses then some kind of demystification is necessary.

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