Monday, March 8, 2010

Reply to a comrade who thinks Dalit Marxism is reactionery

There are many things true in your post. We can identify a single or a combination of more than one mode of production as ‘dominant’ in any given system at any given time. Such mode of production is either in decline or being ascendant. And, Marxists are supposed to locate this thing and form their strategy most suitable to it. All of it is perfectly alright. Dalit Marxism doesn’t say or imply or find any difficulty in making the best of this point — one of the most fundamental political insights of Marx.
As you know, this point is as political as economic, though, strictly speaking, such distinction is meaningless beyond a point in Dalit Marxist analysis just as in any Marxist analysis. I am not clear what do you mean by “specificity or uniformity of labor form or labor process,” There has never been a uniformity of labor form or even labor processes either in pre-capitalist or capitalist or even in the post-capitalist economies.
In fact, one of the principle attractions Marx had for the communist ideal is its ability to free human beings from the monotony or unlovable nature of labor performed under conditions of exploitation or compulsions external or internal and retain or elevate it to what he thought it surely was: an expression of the essence of humans. Marx imagined a world, and argued that such a thing was possible, in which you write poetry in the evening and fish in the afternoon and repair machinery in the night and do all of it out of your own free will and a sense of responsibility for the society. Some of the principle evils in the capitalist economy and society Marx locates, and also of course, in other forms of society, is the division of labor of a kind that fragments the vision of the worker.
But there is something common to all forms of labor, which he called abstract labor. Not that there could be any labor whatsoever which could be ‘abstract.’ But at one level it is a simple analytical devise we need to use to grasp the commonalities of all forms of labor, the products of which could be exchanged. But at a much fundamental level the very process of exchange is what makes this bizarre process of abstraction not just mental but something that happens in the objective reality. Well, you know how difficult it is to talk about this ‘objective process of abstraction’ the inexorable exchange advanced levels of capitalism involves. But, the point is, at no point, labor is abstract in any simple sense.
And, as you should know, one fundamental feature of Hindu society is, it doesn’t allow for any straight forward exchange between the products of labor of different kinds. For example, it insists that certain forms of labor, like manual scavenging, is open only to dalits. Very often, it says not only that only dalits can do it but also that dalits have to do it.
If one bothers to look up from their study of debates among the European and U.S. Marxists about the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe and bother to see what is happening to Dalits, I think s/he may accept that after all capitalism is not uniform, nor are its forms of labor. Probably, the ‘nuance’ you have in mind doesn’t allow for any such negligible distinctions between the labor of, say, an employee of Treasury and a manual scavenger on contract for the last 15 years or an MPhil student back home in summer holidays who was forced to carry the dead animal from the backyard of a small peasant.
If this MPhil student fails to appreciate the essential commonality of all labor from the postal workers of Deutsche Post and Satyam Employees threatened with cut down on perks and his own work to clear the corpses of his upper-caste village mates, we might still blame him for being a ‘subjective empiricist’ (whose knowledge is derived solely from his own experience) missing the larger picture. But, can we say anything against him if insists that there is no UNIFORMITY of different forms of labor and there is no possibility of exchange in the first place if there is such a state of affairs. He has every right to further mock us that except God, who supposed to have created everything and run all of them and provides customer care without even any pretence of multi-tasking, nobody could imagine the ‘uniformity of labor.’
Unfortunately, you description of Marxism as something which tells us that there is only one kind of working class is simply not true. If you are tribal in Africa or India, it is most likely that you will be raped routinely and lucky if you are not killed and you are either driven out of your land first to be able to be robbed of your land or first be relieved of your land and then driven out of it and then further exploited when you go and seek work somewhere else. I did not read much of Das Capital, but one chapter from it, on ‘Primitive Accumulation,’ describes similar process in the making of Capitalism, rubbishing the myth which said frugality and hard work of the capitalists provided them with capital. Probably, Marx was being deviant here from the Party line( though I suspect he was the only lucky Marxist to have escaped it while not formulating it) or failed to foresee the dangers of noting such variations that could divide proletarian unity and let himself to be played into the hands of business class.
“Dalit does not embody any uniform labor process in India.” “Dalits may represent a subjugated labour but…” I am not sure what could these assertions possibly mean. If you mean to say that all Dalits don’t belong to a single class, you are absolutely right. They don’t. It is no news to anybody that caste and class, despite all their overlapping, intersecting and resembling each other, are in some crucial ways, simply, different things.
While an individual can move upwards of his class of origin or fall out of one, such is not possible for any Individual from her caste. Some castes as collectivities could move upwards or downwards over longer periods of time but individually it is not possible. Here, you are introducing this Hindu principle of caste into understanding class and class struggle. If you and me, definitely no longer belong to working class, could join working class struggles, why can’t the dalits from other classes join the struggle of working class(which includes those denied work) for emancipation? If you say that intellectuals can transcend their class by studying Marxism and ‘declassifying’ themselves, why do you think that the very small section among the dalits who are no longer in the working class can’t do so?
 It is also surprising that you think the labor of dalits MAY REPRESENT subjugated labor (or, did you mean Dalits as a subjugated labor force?). Marxism, for all I know, shows all labor, including the one for which workers struggle to get, is subjugated without exception. You are unwilling even to give that status to the labor of Dalits. What prevents you from acknowledging the labor of dalits to be subjugated? At a different level, one is surprised that you think Dalits should embody a uniform labor process in India. You seem to think the fault with the category of Dalit, if not the Dalits themselves, is its incapacity to embody uniform labor process. It is like blaming your mail for its inability to give me a single cigarette when I read it. How can, and why should, a political category embody a ‘labor process’? Isn’t it somewhat similar to the joke about the inability of a poetry anthology to make a set of boot laces?
Since you are a comrade from Mars, let me introduce this peculiarity in one of the planetary systems far away from your abode: we have here something called Earth revolving around sun on which is a country called India which houses nearly twenty percent of humanity of which more than twenty percent are Dalits. Most of us have no option to choose which work we can do. Not just individually but also as a collective. Moreover, many of us, like rest of the non-dalits, cannot hope to get any work at all.
“By introducing such sweeping category like 'Dalit' which does not embody the uniform labour form or labour process in India and also has no legitimate reference to the theoretical nuances of Marxism, you ultimately intend to distort Marxism and in the process pay to the interest of corporate class in India.”
Now, you relent and give some promotion to the category of dalit. It is now “sweeping.” A moment ago it was divisive and distorting the essential unity of this entity called the working class. But, each and every category is much bigger than any of its constituent elements or particularities whose abstraction it is. And, naturally, it is more specific and concrete than even bigger category. “Dalit journalists” is a bigger category than “Dalit Women Journalists” while being smaller than “Dalit professionals” which in turn is smaller than “Dalit employees.” The point is, if a category is both inclusive and exclusive enough to serve the concrete task for action or analysis, frequently for the both. I want you to throw some light on that aspect.
Comrade, there are many more things. I shall respond to them later. Meanwhile, waiting for your response, so that we can sharpen our formulations further, and naturally, together.


  1. "As you know, this point is as political as economic, though, strictly speaking, such distinction is meaningless beyond a point in Dalit Marxist analysis just as in any Marxist analysis."

    I do not subscribe to your understanding of Marxism here. To say that such points are strictly meaningless beyond a point in Marxist analysis is a crudest distortion of Marxian method. The point may be meaningless for your Dalit Marxist analysis but not for Marxism.

    "I am not clear what do you mean by “specificity or uniformity of labor form or labor process,”

    By highlighting the work of Engels (Principles of Communism) in my post I have made it clear what I mean by labour form specific to each mode of production. To say that you are not clear about my expression only underlines your theoretical ignorance of Marx and Engels.

    "At a different level, one is surprised that you think Dalits should embody a uniform labor process in India."

    This is not true. It is your wrong inference/ interpretation of my writing. My conflict with your use of 'Dalit' prefixing Marxism is fundamentally related to the specificity of labour form associated with each mode of production. The category you are prefixing Marxism does not necessarily embody a specific labour form typical of the capitalist mode of production. To equate 'Dalit' with the form of labour that capitalist production entail in India is a crudest distortion of Marxism/Marxian politics. The category you are prefixing Marxism is totally insufficient and in fact has a regressive impact on the understanding of Marxian theory, method and politics.

    You say that I am a comrade from Mars who is totally alienated from earth (and by extension Indian reality). I believe that you are sunken in the distorted understanding of Indian reality and seem to extend your decayed understanding (spreading the disease) to Marxism too.

    My fundamental conflict with you still remains on the prefixing of 'Dalit' to Marxism.

    Understand that when Marx/Engels theorized the labour form specific to each mode of production, they also implicitly underlined the 'mentality' associated with each labour forms specific to each mode of production. Their theorization of labour has implication for politics as well. Propaganda and mobilization of labour, central to Marxian politics, bases itself on the theorization of labour by Marx/Engels.

    There can be no innocence in your prefixing of 'Dalit' to Marxism albeit a deliberate one aimed at poisoning and distorting the Marxian politics.

    Unless you keep the emotions away and engage in the central theme that I try to explain in my understanding of Marxian method and politics there can be no meaningful consensus between us.

  2. Sir - I agree with your criticism of me on one count. That is the following: "What prevents you from acknowledging the labor of dalits to be subjugated?"
    I should not have used "may represent" which is a error on my part. They in fact represent the subjugated labour in India. I still want you to respond to my criticism.

  3. Thanks again for your response. Sir, but tell me what exactly you think the in your criticism you want me to respond to? Of course, you did say Dalit Marxism is distorting, playing into the hands of business class, corporate class and misses the nuances of Marxism's analysis of labour etc. I am not sure in what exact ways Dalit Marxism does all that because you are yet to tell me why do you think so. All labor is subjugated in all societies except those who afford to labour for fun by virtue of their being beneficieries of a system which allows some exploit the labor of others. So, it is not a great point from my side when I pointed your insenstive remark on labor of dalits - admittedly in a sentimental way - but it was only to point to my growing suspicion that you are driven by certain prejudices you were not clearly expressing. But, it is not fair on my part to make too much of that. Would you mind throwing some more light on what exactly is the point I am missing?