Sunday, 31 March 2013

Fascism: Essays on Europe and India Edited by Jairus Banaji

The victory of fascism in Europe between the wars was an incalculable human catastrophe. This collection of essays contains the first-ever English translation of Arthur Rosenberg’s fascinating analysis of the emergence of fascism in Europe, as well as a short introduction to the essay that explains its significance, and then four contributions that extend the framework to India – dealing in turn with Savarkar and the politics of the Hindu Mahasabha (Srinivasan), communalism as the Indian version of fascism and its roots in the majoritarian ideologies of the nation-state (Simeon), and the fascism of the Sangh Parivar as this had emerged by the early ’90s when concerted communal mobilisations unleashed a spate of violence, foreshadowing the even more horrific events of 2002 (Sumit Sarkar). Unlike most left-wing theories of fascism, Rosenberg’s work made the mass base of fascism central to its political success.

But what does it mean for fascism to have a “mass base”? And how does it construct one? The concluding chapter explores the notion of “passive complicity”, using ideas developed by Jean-Paul Sartre in his major work Critique of Dialectical Reason, and then turns to a characterisation of the Extreme Right in India by looking at the strategies at work in the subversion of Indian democracy.

Part One – Arthur Rosenberg on fascism
  1. Jairus Banaji: Fascism as a mass-movement: Translator’s introduction
  2. Arthur Rosenberg: Fascism as a mass-movement
Part Two – The growth of fascism in India
  1. Kannan Srinivasan: A subaltern fascism?
  2. Sumit Sarkar: The fascism of the Sangh Parivar
  3. Dilip Simeon: The law of killing: A brief history of Indian fascism
  4. Jairus Banaji: Trajectories of fascism: Extreme-right movements in India and elsewhere

Interpreting fascism, one fascist at a time - May 19, 2013 - Javed Anand

In the past two decades or so, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the sangh parivar as a whole and its ideological affiliates have frequently been dubbed as “fascist forces”. Protagonists of Hindutva denounce the claim as “malicious canard”. Citing the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, they argue that the real enemy of Indian democracy is the Congress Party. To the untutored mind, the “fascist” charge might appear perplexing if not unconvincing. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh, were duly elected to power by voters in several states and even at the Centre. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi has received a popular mandate thrice over. Where is the fascist takeover?Well, Hitler, too, assumed power through the democratic process. And once in power, he lost no time in dismantling democracy for a Nazi takeover.

For the contributors to Fascism: Essays on Europe and India, however, the fascist danger in India today is more real than ever before. And the essays “are an attempt to situate Indian communalism in the wider frame of fascist political cultures and their role in creating/ consolidating a mass base for the extreme Right”. In a radical departure from the traditional left-wing, Marxist understanding of the phenomenon, presented here is an altogether different picture of European fascism, a scary picture that far too closely resembles communalism in India and the subcontinent.
The key that unlocks the door to the totalitarian utopia is a 1934 booklet, Fascism as a Mass Movement, written by German communist Arthur Rosenberg, translated and published for the first time by Jairus Banaji, editor of the book. Unlike hundreds of other books on the subject, “Rosenberg’s essay is about the origins and growth of fascism, not fascism in power”. More importantly, unlike most left-wing attempts to determine the “class character” of fascism, Rosenberg’s analysis focuses on how the key to its success in Europe lay in its appeal across classes, attracting the “most diverse social strata”.

Here is Rosenberg in a gist. Hitler or Mussolini did not conjure up ideas in their heads. Fascist ideas “were fairly widespread throughout Europe even before the (First World) War and exerted a strong influence on the masses”. “Authoritarian conservatism” across Europe promoted a “demagogic nationalism” that was ultra-patriotic and racist, targeting minorities to build a mass base. Hitler’s evil genius lay in his novel tactic of nurturing and deploying storm-troopers with the connivance of the state. With a virulent nationalist ideology, cadres (storm-troopers) and a complicit state apparatus in place, all that was needed to unleash a pogrom or genocide was “manufacturing the rage of the masses”. Of course, not everyone needed to engage directly in violence; a “widespread receptivity to mass murder”, an all-class coalition between “genocidal consensus”, “passive complicity” and “moral indifference” were sufficient.

Fast forward to India today. Replace demagogic nationalism with militant Hindutva, race with religion, Jews with Muslims, storm-troopers with Bajrang Dal et al, retain state connivance, identify causes to incite mass rage - Ram Janmabhoomi movement, kar sevaks killed in a fire in a train compartment, “ISI-aided jihadi terrorism” - and what do we get?

Having dug deep into archival material, Kannan Srinivasan’s essay, “A subaltern fascism”, recounts in frightening detail how, inspired by European fascism, leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha, such as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Balkrishna Shivram Moonje, set about their “Hinduise all politics and militarise Hindudom” agenda in the 1930s and ’40s with single-minded devotion. Their target: Muslims, not the British rulers. Moonje, incidentally, was the brain behind the founding of the RSS and was mentor of the first RSS chief, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. If you want to understand the real agenda of Hindutva, look at the full picture: the inter-locking of the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS, BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and their numerous offshoots, argues Srinivasan.

Sumit Sarkar’s essay, “The fascism of the Sangh Parivar”, first published by the Economic and Political Weekly (January 30, 1993) in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the countrywide communal violence it triggered, resonates with much of Rosenberg’s Fascism as a Mass Movement written six decades earlier (though not accessible until now to the English-speaking).

What, perhaps, would generate the most excitement even in sympathetic quarters is the essay by Dilip Simeon titled, “The Law of Killing: A brief history of Indian fascism”. Locating his analysis of developments in the subcontinent on a wider canvas, Simeon writes, “In an era of nation-states (following the dissolution of four major multi-national empires after the end of World War I), fascism has emerged as an immanent tendency - not always successful - of so-called nation-building projects.” For him, “the nation-state denoted the disastrous marriage of territorial space and ethnic community”. Simeon argues that the very creation of nation-state assumes the existence of a homogenous majority to which the nation-state “naturally” belongs and which is left to deal with the “minority problem”. Transfer of population, ethnic cleansing?

Partitioned ostensibly to deal with the minority problem, we are now landed with multiplying the minority problem thrice over: in India, in Pakistan and in Bangladesh. Simeon rightly argues that the fascist threat is as real in each of the partitioned countries: if it’s Hindutva in India, it’s “Islamofascists” on both sides of its border. Not to recognise this, he argues, is tantamount to addressing the communal question within a communal vocabulary.

In his concluding essay, “Trajectories of Fascism”, Banaji finds something particularly ominous in the growing clamour for Modi as the next Prime Minister: “The RSS always seemed to discourage a leadership cult but this seems to be changing now... for the first time this political sector has found a figurehead around whom to build a Fuhrer cult”.

Is a fascist takeover of India inevitable? Not necessarily. “The distinctive feature of India’s fascism is that it has had to grow in a society where the mass of the population remains committed to democracy and no agenda for the overthrow of democracy can ever be affirmed overtly in those terms,” Banaji observes. Besides, while the “spinelessness of the judiciary... played a major part in the success of German fascism... luckily we still have a Supreme Court that is beyond the direct reach of regimes immersed in criminality, even if its Special Investigation Team (probing the 2002 crimes in Gujarat) can be subverted”. 

If you value democracy, read this book.

James Gilligan on Shame, Guilt and Violence

Shame, Guilt, and Violence / James Gilligan
During the past 35 years I have used prisons and prison mental hospitals as "laboratories" in which to investigate the causes and prevention of the various forms of violence and the relationships between these forms and to what I will call (with a nod to William James) "the varieties of moral experience." In the course of that work, I have been struck by the frequency with which I received the same answer when I asked prisoners, or mental patients, why they assaulted or even killed someone. Time after time, they would reply "because he disrespected me" or "he disrespected my visitor [or wife, mother, sister, girl-friend, daughter, etc.]." In fact, they used that phrase so often that they abbreviated it into the slang phrase, "He dis'ed me."

Whenever people use a word so often that they abbreviate it, it is clearly central to their moral and emotional vocabulary. But even when they did not abbreviate it, references to the desire for respect as the motive for violence kept recurring. For example, I used to think that people committed armed robberies in order to get money; and indeed, that is the superficial explanation that they would often prefer to give, to themselves and to us. But when I actually sat down and spoke at length with men who had repeatedly committed such crimes, I would start to hear comments like "I never got so much respect before in my life as I did when I pointed a gun at some dude's face."

On one occasion, the officers in a prison had become involved in a running battle with a prisoner in which he would assault them and they would punish him. The more they punished him the more violent he became, and the more violent he became the more they punished him. They placed him in solitary confinement, deprived him of even the last few privileges and possessions a prison inmate has; there was no further punishment to which they could subject him without becoming subject to punishment themselves, and yet he continued to assault them whenever they opened his door. At that point they gave up and asked me to see if I could help them understand what was going on so they could extricate themselves from a situation that was only harming both parties to the conflict. (Incidentally, one can observe this same mutually self-defeating vicious cycle on a national and international scale and throughout history, both in this country and elsewhere, as in Chechnya, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq; and historically, as in the punitive peace settlement following the First World War that strengthened the revanchist political movements that culminated in the Second World War to choose just a few among many possible examples).

When I saw this prisoner I asked him, "What do you want so badly that you are willing to give up everything else in order to get it?" It seemed to me that this was exactly what he was doing. In response, this man, who was usually so inarticulate that it was difficult to get a clear answer to any question, astonished me by standing up tall, looking me in the eye, and replying with perfect clarity and a kind of simple eloquence: "Pride. Dignity. Self-esteem." And then, speaking more in his usual manner, he added "And I'll kill every motherfucker in that cell block if I have to in order to get it." He went on to describe how the officers were, he felt, attempting to strip away his last shred of dignity and Self-esteem by disrespecting him, and said, "I still have my pride and I won't let them take that away from me. If you ain't got pride, you got nothin'." He made it clear to me that he would die before he would humble himself to the officers by submitting to their demands.. Read more:

Also see: 
James Gilligan Interview: Working with Violent Offenders in Prison Settings
'...I had been taught up to that point that the kinds of people who wind up in prison are totally untreatable—they have no motivation to examine themselves, no motivation for introspection. They wouldn't tell you the truth. They would try to manipulate you by lying to you so that you could help them get an early release date, and on and on.

I was taught all of this and believed it. Then I went into the prisons and discovered that almost everything I had been taught was wrong. And I discovered that it was the most moving experience I had ever had in psychiatry, because I was face to face with the deepest human tragedies on a daily basis. And I mean not just the tragedies these criminals had inflicted on their victims, but also the tragedies they themselves had been victims of in the course of their lives.

What I found was that the most violent among them, and many of those who weren't even at the highest level of violence, had been subjected to a level of child abuse that was beyond the scale of anything I had even thought of applying that term to. As I said earlier, the most violent people were really the survivors of lethal violence, either of their own attempted murders at the hands of one of their parents, or the actual murders of close family members who were often killed by other family members right in front of their eyes'

James Gilligan is the author of Violence: Reflections on Our Deadliest Epidemic
This book is a tour de force. The author - a respected forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist - proposes that we approach violence and its prevention in a naturalistic, non-moralistic way, “as a problem of public health and preventative medicine, thinking of violence as a symptom of life-threatening (and often lethal) pathology, which like all forms of illness, has an aetiology or cause, a pathogen”. Elsewhere, Gilligan (2000) has written,
“A consensus on the causes and prevention of violence has been emerging over the past few decades among investigators of this subject from virtually every branch of the behavioural sciences. All specialities, independent of each other, have identified a pathogen that seems to be a necessary but not sufficient cause of violent behaviour, just as specifically as exposure to the tubercle bacillus is necessary but not sufficient for the development of tuberculosis. The difference is that in the case of violence the pathogen is an emotion, not a microbe - namely, the experience of overwhelming shame and humiliation. And just as people's vulnerability to tuberculosis is influenced by the state of their body's defence mechanisms, so their vulnerability to violence is influenced by the state of their psychological defence mechanisms”.
Disarmingly, but convincingly, Gilligan argues that it is really quite clear thatwe can prevent violence and clear, too, how we can do so, if we are sufficiently motivated. He cites compellingly the accepted data of the enormous differences in individual and collective violence in different societies around the world. His especial target is his own country, the USA, which is massively more violent than any other democracy and every other economically developed nation (its prison population is over 2 million - nearly 1% of the population), and just happens to be by far the singular dominant nation of the world in economic and material terms. He quotes Currie (1985): “we have the level of criminal violence we do because we have arranged our social and economic life (as we have)...the brutality and violence of American life are a signal that there are profound social costs to maintain these arrangements”. We have decided that we prefer this to a far less violent alternative.
Central to Gilligan's radical thesis is that violence springs from psychopathological roots of hidden shame and that our societal systems of response are iterative in causing further shame and shaming - thus creating a circle of causation. This is an important, and I believe, considerable claim, which is especially significant at a time of moralism and righteousness. There are huge clinical and pragmatic consequences. Experience of shame is antithetical to thought and breeds crude defensive reactions, such as ‘ macho’ attitudes and even violence, it is related phenomenologically to paranoia. ‘Guilt’, on the other hand, is often the secret that demands to be spoken (hence, confession and psychotherapy)...

Energy and equity

Ivan Illich's Energy & Equity shows how large-scale energy systems entail inequality, unfreedom, and loss of human dignity. 

Aaron Peters and Tony Curzon Price, in their important exchange about workfare, both seem to accept a basically techno-utopian view of the future of hyper-automation. But this view ignores two crucial factors which make the fundamental picture much less rosy: the environmental constraint and global-scale immiseration on a global scale. Ivan Illich's ‘Energy & Equity’ (1973) is still the right place to start to understand the nexus involved.
To start with the last of these: the future scenario Keynes described in 1920 - in which increasing productivity make economics essentially disappear as a constraint in our lives has - contrary to what Peters and Curzon Price imply - only very partially been realised. One need only look at the sheer scale of global and intra-national inequality. Immiseration is widespread (and arguably increasing growing), at least partly because, since Keynes wrote, there has been a massive the global population has increased almost four-fold and there has been the emergence of an energy-environmental crisis of the first order (both of which Keynes did not envisage).
Bearing this in mind the fundamental problem we face in my opinion is therefore not primarily - as Keynes would have it – and accepted by Peters and Curzon Price - about the need to effect a transition towards greater leisure activity; nor is it primarily about the distribution of abundant social goods consequent on automated hyper-production (although this perspective is probably closer to the truth).
Instead I would argue that the material basis of the scenario described by Aaron Peters is unstable in relation to three primary factors – the systems’ energy requirements, environmental consequences and social impacts. Aaron and Tony clearly recognise the last mentioned of these problems and both investigate the capacity of workfare to address this source of instability. In so doing, Aaron very insightfully analyses the changing nature of work (including the so-called ‘cybernetic hypothesis), the growth of surplus labour (and even surplus population) under late capitalism, and the wider ‘crisis of the society of work’ as he refers to it. Tony, in his last paragraph, correctly notes “the conditions for this [i.e. hyper-automated] economy seem to be ones of very great inequality ... [and] global plutocracy”. Both seem to see a basic citizen’s income in return for workfare as a necessary and, in the case of Peters, potentially a progressive response, although Tony notes the severe constraints on the potential generosity of workfare payments within a capitalist system.
Although both writers therefore seem acutely aware of the potential adverse social impacts of increasing automation, neither appears to explicitly, or perhaps even implicitly, acknowledge and consider the potential constraints and impacts of the other two sources of instability identified, and the connections between all three. Indeed, both Aaron and Tony appear to treat increased automation – hyper-automation – as an inevitable fact of life unrelated to and unaffected by the issue of energy and its impacts - and also – apparently – immune to political control. Instead both their visions see hyper-automation as providing the basis for reduced labour time/increased leisure in society in general and, to some extent, funding a basic citizen’s income in return for workfare.
To me this is a decidedly second best solution – and furthermore one which is not sustainable in the longer-term. One needs to understand however that energy - cheap, high quantity energy - has been key to creating this our whole industrial social system and keeping it going. In principle, while we have a host of strong motives, including climate change, environmental pollution, energy resource wars, and rising commodity prices, to wean ourselves off our current high energy (primarily) fossil fuel ‘drug’, unfortunately we also at the moment have stronger and deeply embedded motives not to: myths of social progress, scientific and technological development, consumerism, status, domination, luxury, and greed.
The relationship between energy and social relationships and politics was very presciently and insightfully analysed by Ivan Illich in ‘Energy & Equity’ (1973). Illich argued that high energy consumption is inversely correlated with equity and inevitably degrades social relations and human freedoms.. Read more:

All dissidents now: Russia's protests and the mirror of history

The rising profile of political prisoners, 'Stalinist'-style justice for protest figures, Brezhnevite stagnation and revolutionary romanticism has been met with a wave of interest in past dissident experiences.’

In celebration of New Year 2012 and as a New Year's gift to political prisoners past and present, the radical art group Voina [Rn. War] set a police detention van on fire in Saint Petersburg. In an effort to resurrect a spirit of resistance against continuing state oppression, Voina dedicated its action to dissident writers who died in prison camps during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as to Sergey Magnitsky. The past year has seen an influx of historical images into Russian political and cultural life. Although they were present before, the protests have reinvigorated a range of historical symbols as opposition groups, their supporters and their opponents attempt to gain purchase on the situation at hand. Rightly or wrongly, for a range of different groups and individuals, the struggle of dissidents against Soviet power has become a historical source of experience, understanding and symbolism for contemporary protest. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as tempers cool and the screws tighten, New Year 2013 has seen a different kind of activity. The need for compassion, sincerity and ethical behaviour was evident on Novopushkinsky Square as people wrote to prisoners held in connection with the Bolotnaya protests, Pussy Riot and other opposition cases. The rising profile of political prisoners, 'Stalinist'-style justice for protest figures, Brezhnevite stagnation & revolutionary romanticism has been met with a wave of interest in past dissident experiences. 

December of our discontent 

The initial burst of activity in December 2011 on Bolotnaya Square and then Sakharov Avenue provided instant symbols to galvanise protest. For the demonstrators, the move out on to the public square to protest against the false elections and the Putin administration paralleled the 1825 Decembrist revoltagainst the accession of Nicholas I. The use of the term 'Decembrist' as justification and identification for those involved echoes a strong tradition of dissident interest in that ill-fated group of nobles. If the 'Decembrist' tag made the thirst for revolt clear, then the mass protests on Sakharov Avenue lent liberals a sense of destiny: demands for democracy made a symbolic return to their spiritual home in the form of human rights activist and nuclear physicist,Andrei Sakharov. In January 2012, the lament over the absence of the figure of Sakharov from public life was resumed. Later, in August 2012, Sakharov's statue in Saint Petersburg became a focal point for protesting the charges against those arrested during the violence on Bolotnaya Square in May: photographs, flowers, and candles were laid at the foot of the 'father' of modern Russian democracy. 
Moulded into a key part of Russian culture over the past 180 years, the Decembrists were important for 1960s intellectuals as practical and symbolic models of resistance. This took many forms, including the 1975 demonstration on Leningrad’s Senate Square in honour of the 150th anniversary of the revolt, which named the Decembrists as the 'First Dissidents of Russia.' One of the most famous incarnations was the 1968 verse 'Petersburg Romance' by the guitar-poet and playwright Alexander Galich. This song focuses on the inner torment of the conspirators before they went out on to Senate Square:
Our era is testing us.
Can you go out on the square?
Do you dare go out on the square
At the agreed time?
Written a few days after Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Galich's verse came to evoke parallels between the Decembrists' move on to the square and the demonstration against the Soviet invasion by eight protesters on Red Square in Moscow. Galich's poem has since become a classic of Sixties bard [singer-songwriter] poetry, but it gained a fresh relevance as the Russian authorities continued to pressurise the opposition and their supporters while Putin resumed power for a third term. Its public performance[in Russian] by poetry-lovers in May 2012 in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg demonstrates the relevance of poetry for spreading a sense of common cause and feeling among the critically minded. 

Dissent past and present

Public poetry and dissent have something of a common history. Soon after the addition of a monument to the poet himself in 1958, Mayakovsky Square in Moscow became a hotbed of poetry-reading for rebellious youths.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Book review: The Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence

Kevin B. Anderson and Russell Rockwell, eds, The Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence, 1954-1978: Dialogues on Hegel, Marx and Critical Theory2012

Reviewed by Ben Watson

Raya Dunayevskaya died in 1987 aged 77, but her ideas remain alive and to-be-lived-by today, a permanent reproach to thought’s accommodation to an intolerable present. Dunayevskaya inspired and inspires a special enthusiasm, evidenced here by the meticulousness of the editing: no passing reference to text or event is left without a footnote. The scholarly apparatus is not there to obscure the original writing, but to make sure no prior knowledge – of history, of politics, of ‘isms’ – is taken for granted. The result is that, in its footnoted entirety, the book becomes an ideal introduction to the agonistic drama of twentieth-century life and politics: global conflicts are pursued right down to the minutiae which make and break friendships. This is entirely in the spirit of Dunayevskaya, the revolutionary activist who believed that Detroit auto-workers fighting speedups and mechanization on the shop floor were better equipped to understand world history than professional intellectuals.

‘Kicked down a dirty staircase’ in 1928 for daring to suggest to some Young Communists that they should perhaps read some Trotsky before condemn­ing him, Dunayevskaya refused to be intimidated. A skilled typist, she wrote to Trotsky in Mexico offering her services as a secretary. He accepted. This role gave her the best Marxist teacher on the planet, a prestigious place in international politics, and a pistol. But Dunayevskaya outgrew Trotsky. In his 1933-35 Notebooks, Trotsky wrote: ‘Lenin created the apparatus. The apparatus created Stalin.’ Yet he never awoke to the completeness of Stalin’s counter­revolution. Working with C.L.R. James, Dunayevskaya concluded that Russia was state-capitalist. The manner in which Russia waged World War II was exactly like Nazi Germany and the Allies: conquest of territory via armed bodies of men organized to prevent political consciousness. In 1943 and 1944, both the US State Department and the Soviet embassy in Washington strove to prevent the publication of Dunayevskaya’s translation of an article in a Soviet publication (Under the Banner of Marxism) which argued that the law of value still applied under ‘socialism’, along with a commentary in which she stated:
Foreign observers who have carefully followed the development of the Soviet economy have long noted that the Soviet Union employs almost every device conventionally associated with capitalism. Soviet trusts, cartels and combines, as well as the individual enterprises within them, are regulated according to strict principles of cost accounting … Essential to the operation of Soviet industry are such devices as banks, secured credit, interest, bonds, bills, notes, insurance, and so on.
Dunayevskaya was blowing a whistle on the entire coming spectacle of postwar politics, the ‘struggle’ between the Free World and Communism. In fact, as Philip K. Dick showed in The Penultimate Truth (1964) and Charles Levinson in Vodka-Cola (1979), the Cold War was the perfect environment for exploitation of workforces in both East and West, and Dunayevskaya is scathing about intellectuals who took sides: ‘since our state-capitalist age has the two nuclear giants fighting to the end, it compels those intellectuals who do not wish to base their theory on what the proletariat does, thinks, says, to attach themselves to one or the other pole.’ The same thing, of course, has happened to many intellectuals with shaky (or non-existent) Marxism during the War on Terror.

Dunayevskaya fought tooth and nail against the prejudice (Stalinist and academic) that Hegel and Marx were ‘too difficult’ for workers to understand. In her obituary of Herbert Marcuse, she wrote that ‘far from the proletariat having become one-dimensional, what the intellectual proves when he does not see proletarian revolt, is thathis thought is one-dimensional’. Her understanding of Marx wasnon-pareil. A letter of 11 October 1957, where she explains to Marcuse how social developments in the American Civil War influenced the writing of Capital, is a stunning splice of political economy, historical analysis and scholarship. Both Marcuse and Fromm, members of the famously erudite Frankfurt School, used her to source quotations in Marx. But mere displays of intellect repelled her. Dunayevskaya believed that philosophy – that is, truth – was thesine qua non of political activism. She dived into Hegel, not in order to prove she could juggle concepts, but because she was convinced that if you didn’t grasp his dialectic, you’d make mistakes (in Stalin’s case, mistakes with atrocious results). The notion of philosophy as a set of random ‘moves’ in a timeless void – turns on the dance floor – is binned: there are clear steps in the advance of thought, and if you miss these, you fall.

She didn’t read German. She read her Marx in Russian (she emigrated from the Ukraine to the United States as a child) and her Hegel in English. Her readings of Hegel are nevertheless incredibly excited and vivid. Compared to run-of-the-mill Hegel scholarship, it is as if someone had slapped a Marvel super-hero comic down on top of some mouldering leather-bound volumes. In 1974 at the Hegel Society of America, her paper ‘Hegel’s Absolutes as New Beginnings’
almost got a standing ovation; they were falling asleep over their own learned theses, and here I was not only dealing with dialectics of liberation – Hegel as well as Marx tho the former was, by his own design, limited to thought – but ranging in critique of all modern works from ‘their’ Maurer to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics which [is] so erudite they didn’t quite dare attack until they found I was merciless in critique.
Dunayevskaya rages against Adorno for abandoning Hegel’s ‘negation of the negation’ (which in Capital is concretized as the proletariat), dismissing his proposal that Auschwitz represents absolute negativity as a ‘vulgar reduction’. It is hard to summarize Dunayevskaya because she is always driving at the same point, the moment of human liberation when official bourgeois society (and its official opposition), with its pretexts and lies and corruption and humbug, collapses like a house of cards... Read more:

Friday, 29 March 2013

In Chhattisgarh, tribal women retract rape charges

In December 2012, six tribal women had come forward to lodge formal complaints of gang rape against Special Police Officers (SPO).. amidst allegations of hundreds of rapes in south Chhattisgarh between 2005 and 2009. With some of them withdrawing their statements now, many are asking if this was yet another instance of miscarriage of justice — one in which the State actively connived.
Of the six tribal women of Shamsetti village in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh who in 2009 gave statements in court that they had been gang-raped by Salwa Judum functionaries, three have now withdrawn their charges. Three key witnesses — family members of the women — have also retracted their statements. Some lawyers in Dantewada familiar with the case say that the women are withdrawing due to “severe pressure” from several quarters. Many Salwa Judum members have now been inducted into the regular police force as constables.
The lawyers say that the remaining victims and witnesses may appear in court soon and retract their statements. “It is difficult to say whether their complaints were made under pressure or the withdrawal. But the way they are turning hostile it is a matter of time before the accused, who are on bail, are set free,” said Mamta Sharma, the chief public prosecutor at Dantewada court, who is defending the women.
“Clearly there is severe pressure on these women, else why would they retract their statements?” a lawyer said on condition of anonymity. Sudha Bharadwaj, the lawyer who represented the Shamsetti women in the Konta court where the statements were recorded, said the women and their relatives recorded their statements through a translator in 2009. “The magistrate did not record any unusual demeanour on their part. Surprisingly, in these cases the accused were granted bail even prior to withdrawal, meaning prosecution did not seriously oppose bail and no departmental enquiry, not that I know of, was carried out against the accused, who are State employees,” she said.
In December 2012, The Hindu reported about six tribal women who had come forward to lodge formal complaints of gang rape against Special Police Officers (SPO) of the now defunct anti-Maoist vigilante force Salwa Judum, amidst allegations of hundreds of rapes in the conflict-ridden south Chhattisgarh between 2005 and 2009. With some of them withdrawing their statements now, many in Dantewada, Chattisgarh, are asking if this was yet another instance of miscarriage of justice — one in which the State actively connived.
In the first week of February 2013, Mira and Sanika (names changed) retracted their statements in front of the sessions judge of Dantewada, A. K. Beck. According to their statements given in June 2009 before the judicial magistrate of Konta, Amrit Kerketta, both women, along with four others, had described how they were gang-raped in 2006 by seven SPOs of Sukma district. However, in their latest statements, copies of which are with The Hindu, Mira and Sanika stated that “nothing ever happened” to them. Mira said, “I never went to the police station to complain. I never submitted any complaint letter in the Konta court or made any statement in any court.”
The legal fraternity in Dantewads is questioning the validity of the retractions. “Are we to assume that the magistrate in Konta recorded false statements? Or that the women are faking statements now,” asked a lawyer. An investigation by The Hindu revealed that one of the accused, Kwashi Mangalram, was picking up the complainants and witnesses from Shamsetti and bringing them to the court. Mr. Mangalram denied the accusation and said he was not pressurising the women. An SPO-turned-peon in Dornapal School, he said, “I am inspired by Communist thought, you can check with CPI leaders. I am against such actions [rape].”
Last Saturday, at the Dantewada court, another complainant, Era (name changed), retracted her statement. When asked by the court if she knew one of the accused, Madkam Kama, a constable from Erabore, the young Muria Gond girl took a cursory look at him and denied having seen him before hurrying away. However, Era had accused Kama of rape four years ago in court. On Saturday, she denied having made a statement in 2009.
While Era was retracting her statements inside the court, four of the main accused, Kiche Nanda, Biddu Raja, Markam Kama, Kwashi Mangalram — all former SPOs — were seated on a bench outside. Nanda, who headed the dreaded Nanda group at the peak of the Salwa Judum movement, denied his involvement in the gang rape when he spoke to this correspondent in December. Markam Kama, another accused, also refuted the charges against him and said: “I am seeing this girl [Era] for the first time.”
Minor girls studying in the State-run Ashrams meant to provide education and boarding facilities for poor tribals in Chhattisgarh are being sexually assaulted, pushed into prostitution by their own teachers. Girls face violence and sexual abuse and admit on camera that they were raped and abused by hostel officials. In January 2013, medical tests confirmed 11 girls were sexually abused at Jhaliamari Kanya Ashram.The ashram came under scanner after death of a 12-year-old in 2012. The Official cause of the 12-year-old girl's death was given as jaundice. However, on a hidden camera the government hospital doctor admitted the girl underwent a pregnancy test.
Meanwhile, a 17-year-old girl alleged that she was being forced into sex racket by her own hostel warden Anita Thakur. After public outrage the police filed an FIR and arrested Anita. In 2006, Chief Minister Raman Singh announced the Aadarsh Ashram and Chatravas Yojna - opening 2600 hostels to house and educate children from Tribal and other backward classes. The central government poured several crores into the project. But in January 2013, medical tests confirmed that 11 girls at the Jhaliamari Kanya Ashram had been sexually abused. Singh said, "I have ordered that a fast track court in the district decides on this case." The Jhaliamari Ashram came under the scanner after the death of a 12-year-old in August 2012. Eight people were arrested - including a teacher, security guard and hostel warden at the ashram. Swastha Adhikari, Narharpur DOC, Dr Prashant Singh had said, "Water had accumulated in her stomach and she died of jaundice and severe anemia." On hidden camera, the same doctor admitted the girl was given a pregnancy test but did not test positive. Her family admits receiving threats to stay silent. The mother of the 12-year-old who survived the abuse said, "He used to drink and come, he sexually assaulted my daughter, what he did to my child was wrong."

Books reviewed: Afghanistan: The Way to Peace

A basic question raised by these books is what the Afghan experience of the past decade can tell us about the United States and its Western allies when they “go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” 

..Central to the problem is the number of forces and persons involved. A short and by no means exhaustive list of these includes, on the anti-Taliban side: the US government and military (which of course have their own serious differences); the Karzai presidency and clan, and their immediate allies; non-Pashtun warlords and other leaders opposed to the Taliban; and Westernized Afghan officials and NGOfigures in Kabul.
Among the armed opposition, the list includes the Taliban under Mullah Omar (which also has potentially serious internal divisions); the Haqqani network; the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; the remnants of al-Qaeda in the region; the Pakistani Taliban; and anti-Indian terrorist groups based in Pakistan, some now in rebellion against the Pakistani state, others still allied to it. Then there are the other nations involved: Pakistan, and above all the Pakistani military and military intelligence service, India, Iran, China, and Russia.
Each of these distrusts all the others, including, not least, their own ostensible allies. By the same token, all fear any peace negotiations in which they are not included. 

Afghanistan from the Cold War Through the War on Terror
by Barnett R. Rubin   
Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics, and Religion
edited by Peter Bergen with Katherine Tiedemann                                             
Reviewed by Anatol Lieven

A very strange idea has spread in the Western media concerning Afghanistan: that the US military is withdrawing from the country next year, and that the present Afghan war has therefore entered into an “endgame.” The use of these phrases reflects a degree of unconscious wishful thinking that amounts to collective self-delusion.
In fact, according a treaty signed by the United States and the Karzai administration, US military bases, aircraft, special forces, and advisers will remain in Afghanistan at least until the treaty expires in 2024. These US forces will be tasked with targeting remaining elements of al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan and Pakistan; but equally importantly, they will be there to prop up the existing Afghan state against overthrow by the Taliban. The advisers will continue to train the Afghan security forces. So whatever happens in Afghanistan after next year, the United States military will be in the middle of it—unless of course it is forced to evacuate in a hurry.
As to the use of the word “endgame,” this might be appropriate if next year, upon the departure of US ground forces, the entire Afghan population, overcome with sorrow at the loss of their beloved allies, rolls over and dies on the spot. The struggle for power in Afghanistan will not “end” and US policymakers should not, as in the past, hop away from a swamp they’ve done much to create.
Two major new books, together with a number of lesser works, are crucial to an understanding of Afghanistan, the flaws of the Western project there, the enemies that we are facing, and therefore of possible future policies. Barnett Rubin, senior adviser to the US special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the first Obama term, has been consistently among the wisest and most sensible of US expert voices on Afghanistan. His book Afghanistan from the Cold War Through the War on Terror is a compilation of his essays and briefing papers over the years, framed by passages looking back at the sweep of Afghan history and the US involvement there since 1979.
Peter Bergen is a former journalist and long-standing commentator and writer on the region now working at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.1 He has edited and introduces Talibanistan, a frequently brilliant collection of essays by different experts on the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including an analysis of the extent to which their past links with al-Qaeda represent an enduring threat to the West, and of how far a peace settlement with them may be possible. Rubin’s and Bergen’s works should be read in conjunction with a fascinatingly detailed new book by Vahid Brown and Don Rassler on the Haqqani network, the insurgent group led by Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, which operates on both sides of the Afghan–Pakistani border. Its title, Fountainhead of Jihad, is the name of a magazine published by the Haqqanis.
Brown and Rassler bring out the deep roots of the Haqqanis in the history and culture of this region, on both sides of the Durand Line, which was drawn up in 1893 by the British to mark the border between India (later Pakistan) and Afghanistan. As far as the locals are concerned it has always been largely theoretical. In the words of Jalaluddin Haqqani himself, “Our tribes are settled on both sides of the Durand line since ages. Our houses are divided on both sides of the border. Both sides are my home.” Brown and Rassler point out that from this point of view, all the US invasion of 2001 managed to do was “force this [Haqqani] nexus a few dozen kilometers east.”
The authors situate the identity and policies of the Haqqanis with respect to three powerful local traditions: first comes an ancient fight for local tribal autonomy against attempts to impose outside state power. This led the Haqqanis in 1999 and 2000 to clash with Taliban attempts to impose their own version of centralized Afghan rule. Next is a history of revolt in the name of Islam, orchestrated by local religious figures. Finally, there is the region’s long-standing role (in the phrase of the anthropologist James C. Scott) as the location for “shatter zones,” remote, usually mountainous areas that have not been fully penetrated and controlled by states, and that serve as refuges for a variety of fugitives and outlaws from elsewhere, who often create in these regions their own new communities. The refuge given to al-Qaeda can be seen as part of this tradition, as well as reflecting ideological affinities and material benefits.
Brown and Rassler see the very close relationship between the Haqqanis and Pakistani military intelligence, dating back to the 1990s, not as the Haqqanis acting as Pakistani agents, but rather as a pragmatic alliance with practical benefits for both sides.. Read more:

See also: Briefing Paper: Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation

Book Review: - Derrida: The Excluded Favorite

Derrida: A Biography, by Benoît Peeters
Reviewed by Emily Eakin 
In May of 1951, at the age of twenty, Jacques Derrida took the entrance exams for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure a second time, having failed, as many students do, in his first attempt the previous year. Fueled by amphetamines after a sleepless week, he choked on the written portion and turned in a blank sheet of paper. The same month, he was awarded a dismal 5 out of 20 on his qualifying exam for a license in philosophy. “The answers are brilliant in the very same way that they are obscure,” the examiner wrote, encapsulating a sentiment about Derrida’s work that has since become a commonplace:
An exercise in virtuosity, with undeniable intelligence, but with no particular relation to the history of philosophy….Can come back when he is prepared to accept the rules and not invent where he needs to be better informed.
Jacques Derrida at the Sorbonne, June, 1979
In America, Derrida, who died in 2004, left as big a mark on humanities departments as any single thinker of the past forty years—according to a recent survey, only works by Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu are cited more often. But in France, the gatekeepers of higher learning regarded him with ambivalence and, to his devastation, kept him at arm’s length for much of his career. According to a new biography by Benoît Peeters, Derrida, a French Jew from Algiers ill-prepared for the intellectual grind and noxious food of Parisian student life, may even have “contemplated” suicide after his first attempt to get into the École Normale. He finally gained admission on his third try, despite a disastrous performance in his orals. Asked to comment on a passage from Diderot’sEncyclopédie, he later recounted:
I decided that this text was a trap…that everything about it, in its form, was ambiguous, implied, convoluted, complicated, suggested, murmured….I deployed all my resources to uncover a range of meanings fanning out from each sentence, each word.
The jurors were unimpressed. “Look, this text is quite simple,” one complained. “You’ve simply made it more complicated and laden with meaning by adding ideas of your own.”
It’s hard to say what’s more remarkable: that the so-called father of deconstruction was already hatching his apostasy while just barely out of his teens, or that the undertaking involved so much suffering. Peeters’ Derrida is a nervous wreck: “a fragile and tormented man,” prone to nausea, insomnia, exhaustion, and despair. By the summer of 1960, after failing to get a promised post as a maître assistant at the Sorbonne and having spent the year teaching in a provincial capital instead, he was on Anafranil, one of the original anti-depressants, which had just appeared on the market. During another bout of the blues, he wrote to a friend from his infirmary bed, “I’m no good for anything except taking the world apart and putting it together again (and I manage the latter less and less frequently).”
That’s not a bad description of deconstruction, an exercise in which unraveling—of meaning and coherence, of the kind of binary logic that tends to populate philosophical texts—is the path to illumination. In Derrida’s reading, Western philosophers’ preoccupation with first principles, a determination to capture reality, truth, “presence,”—what he called in reference to the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl “the thing itself”—was doomed. He traced this impulse in thinkers from Aristotle to Heidegger, famously arguing, for example, that a tendency to favor the immediacy of speech over the remoteness of writing was untenable. (Aristotle’s formulation: “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words.”) Through a series of deft and delicate maneuvers, Derrida sought to show that speech is inextricable from writing, no more or less authentic. The difference between the two depends, as all differences do, on a process of enforced absence or repression: a is a only because it is not b, and thus b is never entirely out of the picture.
With the tenacity of a gumshoe, he haunted texts by Plato, Rousseau, Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Marx, and Hegel, among dozens of others, exposing the ways in which the subjugated or banished half of a crucial pair—inside/outside, man/woman, reason/madness, signifier/signified—continued to plague its partner... Read more:

Vidarbha: Epicentre of suicides

Inside this abyss, Vidarbha is flooded with thousands of tales of tragedy. And the cold-blooded truth is, there is no end to this documentary of death and dying. Farmer suicides are only a symbolic pointer
Akash Bisht/Sadiq Naqvi Pandharkawada, Yavatmal
Advertisements promising massive crop yield dot the entire landscape of Yavatmal district in Maharashtra. Surprisingly private companies are spending gigantic sums on these rosy campaigns. On walls, on huge billboards, on Maharashtra State Transport Corporation buses. The  happy face of a farmer proudly showcasing his cotton yield in these thousands of advertisements makes one wonder if this unhappy twilight zone is indeed the ‘Farmer’s Suicide Epicentre’ of the country. However, like most ad campaigns, they are designed to mislead as these reporters discovered in the small town of Pandharkawada and in the deep interiors of crisis-stricken Vidarbha.
Seed and fertiliser stores line the small market-place of this mofussil town. They also serve as a meeting place for farmers, a sort of  adda away from the village. “I own a good 16 acres of land. Things have gone so bad that I had to sell almost 10 acres in the last five years,” says Badruddin Jeewani, standing next to a fertiliser shop. A relatively big farmer, people call him ‘Badru Seth’. “There is no other way I could sustain my family,” he says. “Cotton doesn’t bring any profits now. If things don’t improve  soon, I will be landless.”
Badru Seth is not the only farmer in distress in this largely agrarian society. District officials explain that almost 80 per cent of people in the region are engaged in agriculture or allied activities. Some till their own land, while others work as labourers on the farms. The entire Vidarbha region has an estimated three million farmers. “I have a sizeable holding of 20 acres. Even then, I am struggling to make ends meet,” says Prem Chavan of Maregaon. “Many farmers are selling their land. An acre of land fetches Rs 1 lakh.”

Anand Teltumbde: The Myth of Good People

The fact is that ‘opened-up’ India is a node in the gigantic network of global capital that does not have any moral qualms about corruption. Can Arvind Kejriwal’s rhetoric arrest this monster? 
One cannot help but admire Arvind Kejriwal. The zest with which he has made the issue of corruption to eclipse all other; the strategy under which he brought in Anna Hazare’s moral authority to bear upon it for mobilising people; the discretion with which he managed the rift with Hazare and his team; the élan with which he plunged into politics; the alacrity with which he covers up his glaring contradictions, and the untiring zeal with which he has been conducting himself may not find easy parallels. It is not easy these days to bring up any issue of collective interest to appeal to discrete individuals pulverized by neoliberal ideological crushers and has sustained it for over a year now is not a mean achievement. Whether one agrees with him or not, he has already made a mark on the political horizon of this country, exposing a crucial aspect of the democracy deficit of the system.
How did he do it? Will he be able to scale up politics now that he has plunged into it? These are some of the questions that pertinently arise in this context. 
India is afflicted by many serious problems such as poverty, galloping inequality, malnutrition, undernourishment, infant mortality, disease, sanitation, drinking water, food, education, farmers’ suicides, increasing criminality, and so on, that are directly hitting four-fifths of its population. None of these, however, could have possibly clicked with Kejriwal’s people. It is indeed a strategic masterstroke to choose corruption as the problem and jan lokpal as its solution.
It is not because corruption is a pervasive problem that hits most the low income groups. It is because corruption is associated with the political class and the State structure, which are tendentiously abhorred by the market-loving middle class in the neoliberal era. If it had been left at that it would not have been as attractive. The balancing magic is done by the simplistic solution proposed in the form of the jan lokpal.
Neoliberalism, characteristically, has quick fixes to any problem. It conceives everything in discrete terms, isolating it from its systemic relations. Naturally, discrete entities will be sans their complexity. When Margaret Thatcher said that there was nothing like a society, that there were only individuals and their problems, she was basically explicating the neoliberal ideology. The problem of an isolated individual is simply reduced to his lack of competitiveness; the solution is that he could strive harder.
The solution of the jan lokpal to the problem of corruption is a similar quick fix solution within the prevailing frame. Thus, Kejriwal had both, the problem as well as solution, both directly appealing to the burgeoning neo-liberal middle classes. Another aspect of the appeal of the issue of corruption is that it is seen as a distortion of the market logic, a blot on ‘Brand India’ in the global market and a serious impediment in making India a ‘superpower’. 

Sanjay Kapoor: The Silence Over Corporate Corruption:

The reason the media does not pay attention to corporate corruption and fraud is simple. Big business owns the media. As government shrinks and the influence of the private sector increases, the influence of the ‘big bad government’ recedes further. “We just do not know how to manage the media,” a senior government functionary said helplessly when tasked with dousing the fire of allegations against the government. Their misery will continue until the government develops the courage to rein in unaccountable corporate houses that believe in bribing everyone to bend the resolve of lawmakers and enforcers to hike their profits. And when that does not work, they get bolder: bankrolling anti-government agitations.