Monday, May 27, 2024

April Theses: On Democracy, Anti-caste politics, and Marxisms in India

Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi

The uncertain glory of an April day,

Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,

And by and by a cloud takes all away! — Shakespeare

There is the April of the poets who spoke of “mixing memory and desire”; colours below and the grey above; the freedom which awaits to be taken and, even before it comes within grasp, taken away; and of the risk of petrifying into pure un-freedom when even the “stones are crooned to sleep”.

And there is the April of revolutionaries for whom it is the month of “transition” from an opening of political freedom to the possibility of determining an egalitarian future. Such an opening of freedom always risks its capture by—to use the phrase of Lenin—the “enemies of democracy”. April is the season of elections in India, almost ceremonially. We must then outline eleven of theses on democracy, the present elections, ceremonial society, caste, and what in general (at great risk) is called “Marxist” discourses and politics. That is, the time has come to outline a materialist politics of equality and freedom in India, without the burden of the Savarna Marxism of a century.

We should be clear about the order of imminence for India in this election. The fact that such orders of imminence are neither divined nor destined is the insight of Marxist theory. The experience of imminence—what may befall us—is given through our collective responsible practice of reason. This insight follows the Marxist theory of matter:

  1. In the texts of Marx, matter is asserted to be all those things and events—atoms, the movement of galaxies, soil, computers, bombs—that are theoretically discoverable as relations. That is, matter is first of all relations among things, events, people.
  2. The discovered relations can be transformed through the work of the people. These transformations of relations is the principle of the different epochs of our species. The practice of reason can create either un-freedoms or freedoms. Therefore, everything that we think, write, and do is subject to politics— subject to our responsibility to each other, and to those who will come after us.
  3. There is nothing outside of this theoretical and practical faculty of reason. What is posited to be outside—ghosts, spectres, and divinities—is collectively called superstitions. 

In Marx’s discourse, we are responsible for every change at every moment for the reason that work can create new epochs of the human animal. After Hegel and Marx, reason is no longer the faculty of an ideally isolated single subject. Rather, reason is the faculty, that is power, shared and exercised together for which we each of us bear responsibility. For example, if we make the transition from petroleum-based engines to batteries, the residual effects of batteries will still be our responsibility. Politics as the fight for freedom is inseparable from philosophy as the creation of freedoms.

Then, we should think responsibly and sincerely about what the order of imminence is for this election season of India which is unlike any other elections, given the domestic and global conditions.

  1. Identity politics must be defeated in this election. The politics of India under modern conditions had been nothing other than the identity politics of the upper castes. Savarna identity politics ensured that the cultural and social identity of the upper castes of all religions was projected as national identity and as the question of national identity. It was enforced as the matter to be conserved by the Indian Union eventually. In other words, “let us face the truth squarely. In politics that is always the best and the only correct attitude”.
  2. Savarna identity politics was temporarily displaced by the anti-caste consciousness which preceded and followed the Mandal commission recommendations and their implementation. The lower caste people’s assertion of freedom and equality—which continues to develop beneath the public sphere—is the first ever moment against identity politics in the subcontinent. The present lumpen Brahminical politics of brutal illiteracy is the retrogressive response to the era of the break with Savarna identity politics. It is deploying all the resources of the state and of the mafia famiglia of the RSS to prevent the “consciousness and organisation” of the lower caste majority. This process is continuous with the era of the Congress party, and other upper caste parties, which criminalised lower caste political assertions and organisations. Today, unironically, the upper caste politicians and public writers use “identity politics” as a pejorative to stigmatise the anti-caste movements in India. This tendency is continuous with global politics where, “white identity” politics was universalised and any challenge to it was termed pejoratively “identity politics”.
  3. Much of the texts of Marx are inadequate for the economic realities and politics of our era, especially in India. The transformations of technical systems which are becoming progressively autonomous from human beings, and the ongoing development of a new system of total war (effects of which we see in Ukraine and Palestine) are only some of the factors which warn us not to look in The Capital for answers to every significant event in the present, the way evangelists read the Bible. Evangelical Marxism may be the worst enemy of the Marxist opening to politics.
  4. According to Marxist theory, the control of the future is essential in ensuring profit. This control is exercised by making sure that the workers return to their positions in the factory on time day after day; that there is no shortage of raw materials and their transport; and that there are no legislations by the people which create uncertainty for the capitalist. Capitalism is invested in ensuring the reproduction of the very conditions of production, including the poverty of the worker. This insight is one of the foundations of class theory in Marxism—The economic system determines the social system. Class is the division of people in society according to their positions in the production system. The worker must remain poor and the bourgeois must always own the conditions of production. However, it is also in the interest of capitalism that the worker rises to be a consumer, and hence each long cycle of capitalism changes the social organisation. In India, Caste determines capitalism. First, there is the “inseparable connection” that exists between power of wealth and the caste order. That is, there is no Dalit billionaire equivalent of Ambani, Adani, Narayana Murthy, or Thirukkurungudi Vengaram Sundram Iyengar. Second, the actual relation between upper castes and the lower castes had been historically invariant through millennia of the apartheid system of caste.
  5. The Caste system is founded on calypsology. Calypsology is characterised by systems where there is no distinction between means and ends. A system which conceives the means of ensuring its faithful reproduction as its very end is calypsological. The caste system reproduces the societies of inherited inequalities by means of the control of women’s freedoms, the control of the exercise of reason of all its members, and through miscegenation rules; the preservation of these means of controls is the only end of the caste system. Caste creates ceremonial societies. As Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had observed:

“Hindu society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be all and end all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot.”

(Annihilation of Caste in BAWS Vol. 1, p. 51)
  • The calypsology of caste determines capital and capitalism in India. Capital is at the very same moment a) the accumulated wealth and advantages of social transactions, b) land, c) the apartheid of caste that divides labour from this capital, and d) the exclusive right maintained by the upper castes to control knowledge without which there can be no technological production function in capitalist systems. In this sense, from the point of view of the upper castes, the caste order itself is the heritable capital, to which we erroneously gave the modest name “social capital”. In that sense, Savarna capitalist is first the comptroller of the caste order and only then a manager in the sense of the theory of the firm.
  • Anyone interested in realistic anti-capitalist politics in India should be able to see that the real anti-capitalism is in the project of annihilation of caste. Any Marxist discourse which is not mendacious—“the less self-deception there is, the better for the people” and worthy of its name should serve anti-caste politics.
  • Among the currents which are attempting to terrify the people today, the most serious is that of alarmism and apocalyptic discourses. Apocalyptic discourses in their interesting instances are an acknowledgment of the inability to think or to open intuitions, beyond a certain limit. For that reason, they have been the discourses of the former elites of all epochs who watched the passing away of the conditions in which they could entertain their idylls. For example, Agamben lamenting the loss of the idyllic a priori of the scholarii in Italy, while suppressing the fact that it was an era of extreme inequalities. Or, in India those who are nostalgic for the idyllic a priori of the UPA era, which saw the anti-lower caste, “anti-terrorism” and anti-Adivasi legislations introduced, and combined with AADHAR, later to be enhanced and utilised by the ruling party of today. That was certainly an era when the upper caste elites could dole out pity (in reality, contempt) for the majority lower caste people while feeling secure in the perches of power and prestige. Through names such as “Kali Yuga” or the end of the world, the ancient upper caste epics showed alarm and despair at the possibility of caste mixtures and the possibility of political power shifting into the hands of the lower caste people. Today, every upper caste writer who speaks apocalyptically – it’s all over, this is the end, we are done for – invokes the same meaning of Kali yuga and its dread of “mixtures”. Instead of apocalyptic thinking, we should discover the emancipatory powers of this new era of tekhnē and technology.
  • This election is the most important one in Indian history. It is the election where we vote by showing our democratic commitment to retain democratic conditions. The economy is a whale on the shore. The young poor among all castes are terrified before the uncertain future this present jobless economy will bring before us. The lower castes of all religions, including Islam and Christianity, are aware that a greater danger awaits in the near future. Educational institutions are rushing to level with the saffron morons. Media has destroyed journalism except for a few venues. There is a greater danger emerging from the servility to and entanglement in (the deteriorating state of) America’s interests, which, as history warns us, can only result in calamity. Voting to create another government which can be the means to create a better democracy is critical.
  • There are some good manifestos one can see in the opposition parties, especially the Congress which, it would appear, is developing an anti-caste tendency. What the lower caste majority should demand of the political parties in opposition is not just the promise to deliver wealth distribution, but also a concrete plan for land distribution. Environmental concerns should be made precise and be linked to the actual living conditions of the people of each region. The relation between the displacement of people for mining in Chhattisgarh and the air quality of Delhi should be made explicit, which is where a theory of the political field in India is necessary, something we had initiated implicitly elsewhere. Our concern should also be placed in the act of transfer of power at the end of elections. The fearful actions of the ruling party which is putting opposition leaders in jail and freezing the campaign finances of the opposing parties is showing that it is not capable of accepting the results of a free and fair election. The people of India should remain vigilant during and after the elections to secure democracy.
  • The human animal is never “useless”, not even in the Sartrean sense of “man is a useless passion”. In India people, are born for particular uses, poetically described by Rohith Vemula as “my birth is my fatal accident”. But the goal of politics is to free the human animal from being a thing of use for someone else or being a mere means. When philosophers discuss the “uselessness” of the human animal, what hides beneath is the comparison between god as an un-limited and self-originating being—intuitivus originarius— and man as a limited being derived from god who will always be poorer of the power of god—intuitivus derivativus. Instead, the human animal is characterised by a different passion, passion to not be a mere means, but to be an end in itself, and even to see in the stone put to sleep by the crooning wind an end in itself. This passion is manifest only in politics where everyone and everything must arise in equality and raise new worlds again and again, mocking at the fables of gods.

Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi are philosophers based on the Subcontinent. They are the authors of Indian Philosophy, India Revolution: On Caste and Politics (2024)


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