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.

Women on march in support of Chitralekha in Payyanur

Thanks CK Vishwanath for sending this. From: bharadwaj reshma

To:; feminists kerala ; green youth

Sent: Mon, 8 March, 2010 12:10:38 AM

Subject: [GreenYouth] Vahana pracharana jadha

Hi Friends

On March 9th and 10th, two day 'vahana pracharana jadha' by women supporting Chitralekha will go around Payyanur and nearby areas. We hope to open up dialogue with local people about the politics of this incident and gather support for Chitralekha's resistance.

jadha will highlight slogans:

Stop slander campaign against Chitralekha

Ensure a job atmoshphere where she can engage in her job with dignity and without fear

Accept women's right to choose their job.

Rekha Raj (Panchami Dalit Women's Collective), K.Ajitha (Anweshi), Ammini (Adivasi Vikasa Samithi), Praveena(Panchami Dalit Women's Collective), Jaseela, Beena Appu (Sahayatrika), Deepa V.N (Sahayatrika), V.P Suhara (Nisa), Sulochana(Kerala Sthreevedi), Reshma Bharadwaj(Sahayatrika), Amala (Kerala Sthreevedi) - will be participating in the jadha. I am listing jadha route below.

Cheers, come to any(if not all of these) points and join us. And if you know any others at these places please inform them.


Sthree vahana jadha

Route and time


09.30 AM: Karivalloor

10.15 AM: Onakkunnu Junction

11.00 AM: Samimukku

11.45 AM: Mathil

12.20 PM: Chooral

01.10 PM: Aravanchal

2.30 PM: Peringom

3.30 PM: Kankol

4.15 PM: Kothaimukku

5 PM: Perumba (near KSRTC)

6 PM: Edattu


9.30 AM: Ezhilode

10.15 AM: Pilathara

11 AM: Pariyaram (in front of medical college)

12 PM: Pazhayangadi

12.45 PM: Mandooru

1.30 PM: Kunjimangalam

2.45 PM: Kunnaru

3.30 PM: Ramanthali

4.15 PM: Kotti railway gate

6 PM: Payyanoor (old bus stand)

ZIZEK ON Avatar, Naxalism and Fantacy

James Cameron's Avatar tells the story of a disabled ex-marine, sent from earth to infiltrate a race of blue-skinned aboriginal people on a distant planet and persuade them to let his employer mine their homeland for natural resources. Through a complex biological manipulation, the hero's mind gains control of his "avatar", in the body of a young aborigine.

These aborigines are deeply spiritual and live in harmony with nature (they can plug a cable that sticks out of their body into horses and trees to communicate with them). Predictably, the marine falls in love with a beautiful aboriginal princess and joins the aborigines in battle, helping them to throw out the human invaders and saving their planet. At the film's end, the hero transposes his soul from his damaged human body to his aboriginal avatar, thus becoming one of them.

Given the 3-D hyperreality of the film, with its combination of real actors and animated digital corrections, Avatar should be compared to films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) or The Matrix (1999). In each, the hero is caught between our ordinary reality and an imagined universe - of cartoons in Roger Rabbit, of digital reality in The Matrix, or of the digitally enhanced everyday reality of the planet in Avatar. What one should thus bear in mind is that, although Avatar's narrative is supposed to take place in one and the same "real" reality, we are dealing - at the level of the underlying symbolic economy - with two realities: the ordinary world of imperialist colonialism on the one hand, and a fantasy world, populated by aborigines who live in an incestuous link with nature, on the other. (The latter should not be confused with the miserable reality of actual exploited peoples.) The end of the film should be read as the hero fully migrating from reality into the fantasy world - as if, in The Matrix, Neo were to decide to immerse himself again fully in the matrix.

This does not mean, however, that we should reject Avatar on behalf of a more "authentic" acceptance of the real world. If we subtract fantasy from reality, then reality itself loses its consistency and disintegrates. To choose between "either accepting reality or choosing fantasy" is wrong: if we really want to change or escape our social reality, the first thing to do is change our fantasies that make us fit this reality. Because the hero of Avatar doesn't do this, his subjective position is what Jacques Lacan, with regard to de Sade, called le dupe de son fantasme.

This is why it is interesting to imagine a sequel to Avatar in which, after a couple of years (or, rather, months) of bliss, the hero starts to feel a weird discontent and to miss the corrupted human universe. The source of this discontent is not only that every reality, no matter how perfect it is, sooner or later disappoints us. Such a perfect fantasy disappoints us precisely because of its perfection: what this perfection signals is that it holds no place for us, the subjects who imagine it.

The utopia imagined in Avatar follows the Hollywood formula for producing a couple - the long tradition of a resigned white hero who has to go among the savages to find a proper sexual partner (just recall Dances With Wolves). In a typical Hollywood product, everything, from the fate of the Knights of the Round Table to asteroids hitting the earth, is transposed into an Oedipal narrative. The ridiculous climax of this procedure of staging great historical events as the background to the formation of a couple is Warren Beatty's Reds (1981), in which Hollywood found a way to rehabilitate the October Revolution, arguably the most traumatic historical event of the 20th century. In Reds, the couple of John Reed and Louise Bryant are in deep emotional crisis; their love is reignited when Louise watches John deliver an impassioned revolutionary speech.

What follows is the couple's lovemaking, intersected with archetypal scenes from the revolution, some of which reverberate in an all too obvious way with the sex; say, when John penetrates Louise, the camera cuts to a street where a dark crowd of demonstrators envelops and stops a penetrating "phallic" tram - all this against the background of the singing of "The Internationale". When, at the orgasmic climax, Lenin himself appears, addressing a packed hall of delegates, he is more a wise teacher overseeing the couple's love-initiation than a cold revolutionary leader. Even the October Revolution is OK, according to Hollywood, if it serves the reconstitution of a couple.

In a similar way, is Cameron's previous blockbuster, Titanic, really about the catastrophe of the ship hitting the iceberg? One should be

attentive to the precise moment of the catastrophe: it takes place when the young lovers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), immediately after consummating their relationship, return to the ship's deck. Even more crucial is that, on deck, Winslet tells her lover that when the ship reaches New York the next morning, she will leave with him, preferring a life of poverty with her true love to a false, corrupted life among the rich.

At this moment the ship hits the iceberg, in order to prevent what would undoubtedly have been the true catastrophe, namely the couple's life in New York. One can safely guess that soon the misery of everyday life would have destroyed their love. The catastrophe thus occurs in order to save their love, to sustain the illusion that, if it had not happened, they would have lived "happily ever after". A further clue is provided by DiCaprio's final moments. He is freezing in the cold water, dying, while Winslet is safely floating on a large piece of wood. Aware that she is losing him, she cries "I'll never let you go!" - and as she says this, she pushes him away with her hands.

Why? Because he has done his job. Beneath the story of a love affair, Titanic tells another story, that of a spoiled high-society girl with an identity crisis: she is confused, doesn't know what to do with herself, and DiCaprio, much more than just her love partner, is a kind of "vanishing mediator" whose function is to restore her sense of identity and purpose in life. His last words before he disappears into the freezing North Atlantic are not the words of a departing lover, but the message of a preacher, telling her to be honest and faithful to herself.

Cameron's superficial Hollywood Marxism (his crude privileging of the lower classes and caricatural depiction of the cruel egotism of the rich) should not deceive us. Beneath this sympathy for the poor lies a reactionary myth, first fully deployed by Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous. It concerns a young rich person in crisis who gets his (or her) vitality estored through brief intimate contact with the full-blooded life of the poor. What lurks behind the compassion for the poor is their vampiric exploitation.

But today, Hollywood increasingly seems to have abandoned this formula. The film of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons must surely be the first case of a Hollywood adaptation of a popular novel in which there is sex between the hero and the heroine in the book, but not in its film version - in clear contrast to the old tradition of adding a sex scene to a film based on a novel in which there is none. There is nothing liberating about this absence of sex; we are rather dealing with yet more proof of the phenomenon described by Alain Badiou in his Éloge de l'amour - today, in our pragmatic-narcissistic era, the very notion of falling in love, of a passionate attachment to a sexual partner, is considered obsolete and dangerous.

Avatar's fidelity to the old formula of creating a couple, its full trust in fantasy, and its story of a white man marrying the aboriginal princess and becoming king, make it ideologically a rather conservative, old-fashioned film. Its technical brilliance serves to cover up this basic conservatism. It is easy to discover, beneath the politically correct themes (an honest white guy siding with ecologically sound aborigines against the "military-industrial complex" of the imperialist invaders), an array of brutal racist motifs: a paraplegic outcast from earth is good enough to get the hand of abeautiful local princess, and to help the natives win the decisive battle. The film teaches us that the only choice the aborigines have is to be saved by the human beings or to be destroyed by them. In other words, they can choose either to be the victim of imperialist reality, or to play their allotted role in the white man's fantasy.

At the same time as Avatar is making money all around the world (it generated $1bn after less than three weeks of release), something that strangely resembles its plot is taking place. The southern hills of the Indian state of Orissa, inhabited by the Dongria Kondh people, were sold to mining companies that plan to exploit their immense reserves of bauxite (the deposits are considered to be worth at least $4trn). In reaction to this project, a Maoist (Naxalite) armed rebellion exploded.

Arundhati Roy, in Outlook India magazine, writes that the Maoist guerrilla army

is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called independence, have not had access to education, health care or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadres who have lived and worked and fought by their sides for decades. If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have - their land . . . They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated . . . their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.

The Indian prime minister characterised this rebellion as the "single largest internal security threat"; the big media, which present it as extremist resistance to progress, are full of stories about "red terrorism", replacing stories about "Islamist terrorism". No wonder the Indian state is responding with a big military operation against "Maoist strongholds" in the jungles of central India. And it is true that both sides are resorting to great violence in this brutal war, that the "people's justice" of the Maoists is harsh. However, no matter how unpalatable this violence is to our liberal taste, we have no right to condemn it. Why? Because their situation is precisely that of Hegel's rabble: the Naxalite rebels in India are starving tribal people, to whom the minimum of a dignified life is denied.

So where is Cameron's film here? Nowhere: in Orissa, there are no noble princesses waiting for white heroes to seduce them and help their people, just the Maoists organising the starving farmers. The film enables us to practise a typical ideological division: sympathising with the idealised aborigines while rejecting their actual struggle. The same people who enjoy the film and admire its aboriginal rebels would in all probability turn away in horror from the Naxalites, dismissing them as murderous terrorists. The true avatar is thus Avatar itself - the film substituting for reality.

Slavoj Žižek is a philosopher and critic