Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Niha Masih: 33 years on, wounds of anti-Sikh riots victims haven’t healed

The camera is turned on and a mic clipped. “Attar Kaur hoon main” (I am Attar Kaur),” says the woman. She then narrates her story, exactly the way she has done year after year. The voice of the 65-year-old sounds tired but the tears are fresh. As she wraps up her interview to a Chandigarh-based Punjabi channel, Kaur says, “Har saal November mein media wale aate hain, aankhein ro-ro ke dukh jaati hain, mudda utha hai, phir saal bhar chutti. (Every November mediapersons come calling; my eyes hurt from all the crying. The issue is raised for a few days and then forgotten for the rest of the year).” It’s that time of the year again.

October 31 marks 33 years of anti-Sikh carnage that started hours after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards. Large mobs killed around 3,000 Sikhs, most of them men. Delhi saw the worst of the violence that swept many parts of India. In 2012, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) told a sessions court in Delhi that the then Congress government, its leaders like Sajjan Kumar and the Delhi Police had backed the massacre of Sikhs. Kumar was later exonerated by a court. Kaur’s neighbourhood of Trilokpuri in east Delhi saw the worst carnage.

The Broken Middle (my article on the 30th anniversary of 1984)

She was chopping cauliflower for pulao when she heard the news about Gandhi’s assassination. “We were sad to hear of it as we were Congress voters,” she recalls. But, that counted little for the mob that came the next morning. Her husband, Kirpal Singh, a strapping young businessman who owned several shops, rushed to the local gurdwara on hearing that some relatives had been attacked. She didn’t even have the time to tell him to keep safe. She was busy rounding up her seven children, some of whom were playing with friends, and her mother-in-law as rioters took over the neighbourhood. Her eldest child, a son, was 12 and the youngest a month-old girl.

In her cramped three-room flat in Tilak Vihar’s Widow Colony in west Delhi, Kaur wipes tears with her white dupatta, “Bhed bakriyon ki tarah maar daala sab aadmiyon ko…zinda jala kar. (The men were slaughtered like animals… they were burnt alive).” Her Muslim neighbours took away her two older sons, chopped their hair, an article of faith for the Sikhs, and hid them in metal trunks.
But the mob found the eldest one and beat him with sticks, an assault that would scar him for life. When the rioters left, a neighbour told Kaur that her husband had been killed, burnt alive — nothing left for her to mourn over.

Along with her husband, Kaur lost 11 members of her extended family that day. The same evening she fled with her children and mother-in-law, as charred remains piled up in Trilokpuri’s narrow bylanes. They sought refuge three kilometres away in Chilla, then an uninhabited area. She doesn’t remember if she or the children ate anything for the next two days. On November 3, they made their way to the Farsh Bazar relief camp, where there were hundreds like them. After a month and a half of living in tents, the riot-hit families were moved to Tilak Vihar by the government. 

It was a huge change. They were used to a comfortable life, which her husband had worked very hard for, but now they had nothing to start with. Before the riots, theirs was the only family to have a video-cassette player in the neighbourhood. “I lost everything that day. I left the house with nothing but the clothes on our back,” she says. In her early 30s and without a formal education, Kaur found a job stitching night dresses at a factory in Naraina. It paid Rs 1,000 a month. The local gurdwara contributed another Rs 250 and her mother-in-law sold vegetables to run the household.


“My neighbours still make fun of how scared I used to be in those early days. I used to count my children every night. One day, one of my sons was missing and I came out crying on the streets, only to realise he had gone off to the neighbours,” she says... read more:
http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/33-years-on-wounds-of-anti-sikh-riots-victims-haven-t-healed/story-cNdTXWtKQ8D6Y3vtpX32TJ.html

Also see
The Abolition of truth - (on the 'parivar's celebration of Gandhis murder)
सत्य की हत्या

Book review: How Facebook and Google are leading us to a ‘world without mind’. By Sushil Aaron

“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” -Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, now executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc.

humans are outsourcing thinking to machines... algorithms are relieving humans of the burden of choosing and thereby eroding free will itself.

Big tech firms like Facebook, Google and Amazon have become indispensable presences in our lives. We are addicted to these platforms as they steer us to unseen news, gossip, products and entertain-ment. We check our mobiles through the day, attempting to skate over micro-moments of anxiety and boredom through the endorphins that clicks and ‘likes’ generate. We are experiencing a civilizational transition and thinkers in various disciplines are grappling with the significance of the moment.

Among them is Franklin Foer, a former editor of the New Republic, who offers a fascinating look at how Big Tech is reshaping humanity, democracy and world culture at large in his new book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. His argument is straightforward – data is indeed the new oil, big tech firms are harvesting our personal data in granular detail; they build user profiles to provide us services we seek and push targeted advertising alongside. More crucially their (secret) algorithms decide what we see and do not see; they are constantly curating the knowledge we are exposed to, they determine “the news we read, the goods we buy, the path we travel, the friends we invite into our circle.” Our thought-life is, to a significant extent, being shepherded by machines.

This plays out in several ways. Producers of content, like newspapers and magazines, are dependent on these platforms for distribution of their material but users have little control on what appears on their feed. Facebook users ordinarily go through a fraction of what they expect to see because its algorithms prioritise the material. Google, likewise, classifies knowledge and imposes order, as Foer says, on the bewildering mass of material and tailors our engagement with journalistic and academic material. The thing about algorithms is that while they scan data for patterns, they can be also mani-pulated to serve specific purposes – to reflect “the minds of its creators, the motives of its trainers”. Amazon “steers you to the sort of books that you’ve seen before” while “Netflix directs users to the unfamiliar”, because “obscure fare” is cheaper for the company to stream rather than blockbuster films. Google can “suppress pornography” and “not…anti-Semitic conspiracists”, its search results privilege recent articles rather than older ones. 

Facebook’s ability to influence people is increasingly well-known; it has run experiments to see if emotions are contagious, it has “bragged about” increasing voter turnout and organ donations “by subtly amping up the social pressure that compel virtuous behaviour.” The impact of political ads on Facebook placed by Russia-based entities during the US presidential election is now being unravelled. The Trump campaign used Facebook effectively while Barack Obama’s reportedly drew on Google Analytics during the 2012 election.

Foer argues that the capacity of Big Tech firms to act as gatekeepers of knowledge and actively influence peoples’ views gives these firms “tremendous cultural power”. People are increasingly accessing worlds of knowledge primarily through Facebook, Google and Amazon and this leads Foer to conclude that humans are outsourcing thinking to machines, that algorithms are relieving humans of the burden of choosing and thereby eroding free will itself. One of the problems with this situation is that Big Tech platforms are agnostic about quality and are not particularly interested in elevating people’s sensibilities…. Read more
http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/how-facebook-and-google-are-leading-us-to-a-world-without-mind/story-UYGUA7iRc3SD9DDQPc3MfN.html

see also
Franklin Foer : Putin’s Puppet


Saudis on the move? By Javed Anand

Has the Saudi monarchy gained enlightenment overnight? Is that why it is unleashing a religio-cultural revolution in the desert kingdom? Or are we witnessing the spectacle of a state-sponsored mirage? Judging by the headline-grabbing royal decrees and pronouncements in the last 30 days, it appears the Saudis are at last on the move. But a closer look suggests that what we are seeing is not quite what we are likely to get.

On September 26, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issues a royal firman granting Saudi women the license to drive beginning June next. What follows barely three weeks later — October 17 — is breath-taking. A royal order announces the formation of a global body of elite Islamic scholars to vet the entire Hadith corpus (purported sayings of Prophet Mohammed) in order to “eliminate fake and extremist texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders and terrorist acts which have no place in Islam, the religion of peace”. A statement from the Saudi ministry of culture and information describes the decree as an “unprecedented initiative”. It is unprecedented no doubt, considering how over-sensitive the Muslim clergy is to any talk of picking and choosing from what are believed to be authentic (sahih) collections of the sayings of the Prophet.

Hold your breath again as the crown prince, heir to the Saudi throne, takes over from the king. Even as the world chews on the implications of the royal decree concerning the vetting of Hadith collections, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman makes a grand declaration-cum-confession at an investment conference in Riyadh. Admitting that his country has “not been normal” in the last 30 years, he promises to “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, open to the world and all religions.” What’s more, “We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas; we will destroy them today”.

For a world plagued by extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam, what could be better news than this? But within hours of the declaration of grand intent, Prince Mohammed gives the game away.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sheldon Wolin and 'Inverted Totalitarianism'. By Chris Hedges

Sheldon Wolin, our most important contemporary political theorist, died Oct. 21 at the age of 93. In his books “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” and “Politics and Vision,” a massive survey of Western political thought that his former student Cornel West calls “magisterial,” Wolin lays bare the realities of our bankrupt democracy, the causes behind the decline of American empire and the rise of a new and terrifying configuration of corporate power he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”


Wendy Brown, a political science professor at UC Berkeley and another former student of Wolin’s, said in an email to me: “Resisting the monopolies on left theory by Marxism and on democratic theory by liberalism, Wolin developed a distinctive — even distinctively American — analysis of the political present and of radical democratic possibilities. He was especially prescient in theorizing the heavy statism forging what we now call neoliberalism, and in revealing the novel fusions of economic with political power that he took to be poisoning democracy at its root.”

Wolin throughout his scholarship charted the devolution of American democracy and in his last book, “Democracy Incorporated,” details our peculiar form of corporate totalitarianism. “One cannot point to any national institution[s] that can accurately be described as democratic,” he writes in that book, “surely not in the highly managed, money-saturated elections, the lobby-infested Congress, the imperial presidency, the class-biased judicial and penal system, or, least of all, the media.”

Inverted totalitarianism is different from classical forms of totalitarianism. It does not find its expression in a demagogue or charismatic leader but in the faceless anonymity of the corporate state. Our inverted totalitarianism pays outward fealty to the facade of electoral politics, the Constitution, civil liberties, freedom of the press, the independence of the judiciary, and the iconography, traditions and language of American patriotism, but it has effectively seized all of the mechanisms of power to render the citizen impotent.

 “Unlike the Nazis, who made life uncertain for the wealthy and privileged while providing social programs for the working class and poor, inverted totalitarianism exploits the poor, reducing or weakening health programs and social services, regimenting mass education for an insecure workforce threatened by the importation of low-wage workers,” Wolin writes. “Employment in a high-tech, volatile, and globalized economy is normally as precarious as during an old-fashioned depression. The result is that citizenship, or what remains of it, is practiced amidst a continuing state of worry. Hobbes had it right: when citizens are insecure and at the same time driven by competitive aspirations, they yearn for political stability rather than civic engagement, protection rather than political involvement.”

Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin said when we met at his home in Salem, Ore., in 2014 to film a nearly three-hour interview, constantly “projects power upwards.” It is “the antithesis of constitutional power.” It is designed to create instability to keep a citizenry off balance and passive. He writes, “Downsizing, reorganization, bubbles bursting, unions busted, quickly outdated skills, and transfer of jobs abroad create not just fear but an economy of fear, a system of control whose power feeds on uncertainty, yet a system that, according to its analysts, is eminently rational.”

Inverted totalitarianism also “perpetuates politics all the time,” Wolin said when we spoke, “but a politics that is not political.” The endless and extravagant election cycles, he said, are an example of politics without politics. “Instead of participating in power,” he writes, “the virtual citizen is invited to have ‘opinions’: measurable responses to questions predesigned to elicit them.”.. read more:





Talk at your own peril, warns Abhinav Chandrachud in Republic of Rhetoric

Be silent. Even before Salman Rushdie declared India to be in the grip of a "cultural emergency"; before the culture of bhakt vitriol became a social phenomenon; before the Supreme Court asked the Law Commission of India to propose a penalty for hate speech; before 2016 turned out to be the year of sedition and 2017 that of defamation-free speech was under threat in India.

That fascinating, tangled backstory of our right to speak freely is what scholar, author and advocate of the Bombay High Court, Abhinav Chandrachud, unravels in Republic of Rhetoric: Free Speech and the Constitution of India. He digs deep into legal, political and historical records, uses anecdotes to show how the law played out in practice and in policy, from the British period to the present, and hammers home the point that India is still waiting for a radical legal transformation, one that would unshackle its laws-especially, the legal limits of speech-from the colonial past.

The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. But, as Chandrachud points out, the four exceptions to free speech under the British Indian legal system-sedition (and hate speech), obscenity, contempt of court and defamation-continue virtually unchanged today. In fact, in some instances they have become even more draconian.

Unlike in the British era, today a police officer can arrest anyone accused of sedition even without a warrant; "prior restraints" are routinely applied against the film and entertainment industry by the Censor Board; restraints on the press in independent India, on and off, resemble those imposed in colonial India; scandalising the court and contempt of court regulations, designed to ensure fair trial so that judges are not prejudiced by prior publicity, continue even at a time when information is freely available on the internet (US courts permit reporting even after a defendant has been charged); although defamation is no longer a crime in the UK, in India it continues to be so; and, of course, foreigners do not enjoy freedom of speech in India.

"Insults to national honour are not tolerated here and religious sentiments can be hurt far too easily," writes Chandrachud. Government servants have very limited rights to free speech. In fact, he points out how some high courts expect lawyers elevated to the bench to delete their Facebook accounts. And then there are the systemic problems: for instance, the right to free speech offers protection only when the state impinges on your freedom. What if a vigilante group targets you? Nothing, the law has no power.


One can put any gloss on our rights, but the truth is a scary reality that Chandrachud weaves with painstaking precision. In these dangerous times, when hate speech is centrestage and one can be put behind bars, or worse, for printing a wrong map of India, not standing for the national anthem in a theatre, liking a Facebook post, cheering for a rival cricket team, drawing cartoons of politicians or refusing to chant a slogan-it's time to face up to the laws we have inherited, created and adopted. The only quibble: one wishes the author had explored more the cases in which the higher courts in India have over the years stood up for our right to free speech.



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hridayesh Joshi - Death of a killer lake

Standing almost 4,000 metres above sea level on top of the Chorabari glacier, we look down at the remains of a lake. The memories of the havoc caused by the now-dried lake are hard to erase.

Photo by Hridayesh Joshi
On the morning of June 17, 2013, Chorabari lake breached its banks, bringing a massive flash flood -complete with debris and boulders – down the slope to the temple town of Kedarnath. It almost wiped away the town and then roared down the Mandakini – one of the main tributaries of the Ganga – and killed thousands in Uttarakhand. Many are still missing and several bodies are still being discovered in the higher reaches of the Himalayas.

A thin thread of water trickles down the middle of the lake bed and drains out through the broken embankments. The lake where the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed – leading to its official name Gandhi Sarovar – is now a collection of mud and sand. Until it burst its banks, Chorabari was one of 14 lakes spread over the Mandakini river basin, all above 3,700 metres. At a height of 3,960 metres, Chorabari lake was almost two kilometres upstream of Kedarnath.

The lake had originally formed from meltwater at the snout of the Chorabari glacier, but due to climate change, the glacier had retreated more than 200 metres, leaving a moraine of broken debris through which little water could flow from the glacier to the lake. Since the start of the century, if not before, the lake’s water has come from snow melt and rain.As a result, the 250 metres long and 150 metres wide lake – with a depth of 15-20 metres – had very different volumes of water at different times of the year.

Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Ecology (WIHE) has a monitoring camp at Chorabari glacier. The scientists at the camp had found that the accumulating water was adding 2-4 metres to the depth of the lake every year. The greatest increase was of five metres in 2010, when they took measurements in October that year... read more:
https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/10/16/death-of-a-killer-lake/


Friday, October 13, 2017

Jairus Banaji - Revolution Destroyed

As the Left celebrates the centenary of the Russian Revolution this month, it is important to learn lessons from its tragic fate.

The Russian Revolution is a startling paradox. It was a revolution largely based on the working class, the first workers’ revolution in history, creating a state that was not a workers’ state. This searing paradox would clinch the fate of the radical left for the rest of the twentieth century, since the chief outcome of the revolution (the regime known as ‘Stalinism’) would exert a preponderant influence on radical sectors of the left in countries like India no less than in Europe, and crucially affect the course of major political events internationally, most notably, Hitler’s unimpeded rise to power at the end of the twenties and the tragic fate of the Spanish Revolution a few years later.

As Don Filtzer showed in his seminal book Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialization, by the 1930s the working class in the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a collective force, and the sole basis on which a strong opposition might have emerged was therefore preempted. Even more tragically, ‘with Stalin socialism came to mean something altogether different from [its] revolutionary vision, as socialism became identified with top-heavy, centralized bureaucracy, government attempts to control every aspect of social and individual life, a repressive and brutal police apparatus, scarcity, and general economic mismanagement’. The key issue thrown up by the revolution, then, is how this came about or how this was allowed to happen.

The Bolsheviks had seized power in October 1917 by garnering the support of Russian workers because they were seen as endorsing the slogan of workers’ control of production and because of the support they extended to the Factory Committees that mushroomed from the middle of 1917. As the most detailed study of those committees suggests, ‘There is no doubt that the notion of workers’ control of production was very popular at the grass roots, and it was the willingness of the Bolsheviks to support this demand which was a crucial reason for their growing appeal’ (S. A. Smith, Red Petrograd, p. 165). Already by June, factory committees were widespread throughout the bigger establishments, where they were dominated by ‘skilled, experienced, relatively well-paid workers’. 

Yet within a few weeks of the Revolution the Bolsheviks were demanding the subordination of the factory committees. The first Congress of Trade Unions held in January 1918 ‘voted to transform the Factory Committees into union organs’ (Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control, p. 32). By March that year, Lenin ‘made the first of a series of appeals to return to one-man management’ (Smith, Red Petrograd, p. 241). A year later, when the eighth party congress declared portentously, ‘the trade unions must achieve a de facto concentration in their hands of the whole administration of the whole national economy considered as a single economic unit’, the factory committees had ceased to matter entirely. 

With a brutal civil war dominating most of 1919 and 1920 and massive supply shortages throughout the country, Trotsky was arguing for the ‘militarisation of labour’, that is, for the unabashed exercise of compulsion in industry and other economic sectors, and for the subordination of the unions to the state. Although this was never officially endorsed, by 1920 industrial workers in post-revolutionary Russia were again subject to what one historian called ‘the familiar forms of capitalist industrial organisation’, as if the clock had moved full circle.

The only significant challenge to all of this, the group known as the Workers’ Opposition, which emerged at the end of 1920 to espouse a vision of an economy run jointly by the unions and factory committees in a sort of articulated system of management, came closest (among the Bolsheviks) to the revolutionary aspirations of 1917 but was met with sharp reprisals by the party leadership, causing widespread disillusionment among more class-conscious workers (many of them part of the Metalworkers’ Union) and effectively ending an earlier tradition of inner-party democracy. When ‘factions’ were banned at the tenth party congress in March 1921, the Workers’ Opposition was almost alone in opposing the ban publicly.


Suspended in a social void for lack of any organised expression of the autonomous power of the workers such as the factory committees, the Party ‘now exercised absolute power and was outside the control of any social force whatsoever’. This was the situation Kollontai would presciently denounce early in 1921. What it entailed increasingly over the 1920s was a ‘dictatorship of the Party over the proletariat’. .. read more:
https://sabrangindia.in/article/revolution-destroyed-jairus


Virtual anxiety: The disturbing new reality of life online. By Olivia Sudjic

The internet promised transcendence of the physical, but has developed into a no man's land where incomprehension, lack of ethics and insufficient regulation meet. This lawlessness at once part of its appeal and its central problem.

Currently, those who benefit most from the internet are those who run it, and Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg may soon run for president of the United States. His intimate understanding of the digital fabric of our daily lives, not to mention his contribution to the way the last election went, means he'd likely win. Anyone who still thinks internet culture is superficial can wake up now. After all, what's so superficial about Facebook? It is deeply human to look to others, compare and copy. But to gratify natural drives to the extent social media enables is the same as binge-eating fast food because it is natural to be hungry.

I think of King Midas, and how everything he touched turned to gold. Do we want to be that app-happy? To live with the illusion of mastery over our environment and others, while becoming a prisoner of this power? To live without limits to our greed and selfishness, without personal boundaries, without control over one's selfhood and personal data is, to me, a scary place.

The idea that the internet's mission is still about connection, making our experience of the world seamless, persists in the names of the digital companies breaking down the divide between two words to make a new one. Social media still professes to support an enhanced empathy for others and a more porous, better-networked self. While this may have been the case for some (arguably people who would have been nice to strangers anyway), there are plenty of racist, sexist, xenophobic, transphobic homophobes coming out of the woodwork every day for whom Instagram has apparently done the opposite. Well, that's life, you might say. And yes, it is: Real life and digital life can no longer be considered separate.

I read a description from the early days of the internet likening a chat room to a room full of people talking to each other while facing the wall. That early dream of anonymity is over. The further our IP address shadows us, the faster our images -- via Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Snapchat and Periscope -- proliferate, the more our corner of the Internet becomes Plato's allegory of the cave. We grow used to distortion and normalize what once seemed strange. We do not feel the need to leave our cave. Increasingly, it will not occur to us to do so. 

And so we are corralled into groups whose ways of thinking and points of reference mirror our own, and we encounter fewer and fewer instances when we are forced to confront this. The rest of the time, we're in the dark, in a delusional kind of unity… read more:


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Cannot Accept Hindutva Because I Am a Hindu. By NAYANTARA SAHGAL

NB:Thank you Nayantara. Genuine followers of every faith can learn from what you have written DS
The other day, an acquaintance of mine asked me why I was opposing Hindutva. What did I have against it? I told her why. I said I opposed it for two reasons. One reason is personal and the other is political. Let me begin with the personal. I cannot accept Hindutva because I am a Hindu. By this I don’t mean only that I was born a Hindu, but that I am a believer. My religion is important to me. I draw daily strength and sustenance from it. It is central to my life and thought, and to my behaviour toward believers of other faiths, for Sanatan Dharma teaches that the world is our family. To millions of Indians, of whatever faith, religion matters. And all truly religious people know that God has no chosen people. We are all equal in the eyes of the creator.

So it is unbearable to watch my religion being transformed into what it was never meant to be by people who call themselves Hindus but practise a brutal, militant creed of their own that drives them to lynch defenceless innocent Indians, pump bullets into those who question their creed, and enter a train armed with knives to stab to death a fifteen-year-old boy who is returning to his village after his Eid shopping in Delhi. Unbelievably, this vengeance pursues some of its victims beyond the grave. What else are we to make of the news that the grieving families of Mohammed Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan are now being made the guilty parties instead of the criminals who killed them, while the killers roam free to commit other hate crimes. Jesus Christ, in agony on the cross to which he was nailed, could pray: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” But the Hindus among us cannot utter a similar prayer because those who kill and maim and terrify in the name of Hinduism know exactly what they are doing and take pride in doing it. Such things have happened in all countries and centuries when religious fanaticism or racism has been allowed to go unchecked, and more especially when a ruling ideology gives free rein to fanaticism.

Then there is the political reason. Hindutva is a political invention that has re-defined Hinduism for its political purpose, which is to declare India a Hindu rashtra.

Prem Panicker - Modi's Unwillingness To Listen To Criticism Has Knocked The Halo Off His Head

The crowds that thronged Delhi to celebrate Narendra Modi’s swearing-in breathed that purified air through the Modi mask that had during the election cycle been elevated to a fashion statement. And in response to Modi’s triumphant speech, they responded to his call of "Achhe Din" with chants of "aa gaye", in a symphonic chorus of sycophantic adoration. The crowds responded to Modi's call of ‘Achhe Din’ with chants of ‘aa gaye’. Those were heady days. The air was perfumed with faith – "the substance,” says Hebrews 11:1, “of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A nation saturated with a carefully constructed narrative of UPA non-performance, endemic corruption, and policy paralysis had found faith in the mythological "Gujarat Model"; it now sought evidence of turbocharged performance in the headlines.
On May 28, 2014, Modi talked tough to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Also on May 28, the Modi Cabinet in its first formal act constituted a Special Investigation Team to bring back the black money stashed abroad. On June 5, he shook up the bureaucracy, told them their leisurely golf games were a thing of the past, and said they should clean up their offices and their act. His tough love energised the bureaucrats, we learned. The decisions flowed thick and fast; the contrast with the paralytic UPA2 could not have been starker. June 10: Poverty was to be eliminated. June 11: The Supreme Court was asked to take a quick decision on the question of MPs with criminal back-grounds. July 30: Through a “lab to land” policy, steps were taken to increase agricultural output, producing “more crop per drop”. August 7: FDI in defence and railways was increased. August 20: A new irrigation scheme was announced. August 28: Every citizen was to get a bank account.

On September 17, Modi sought his mother’s blessings on his birthday. September 20: Modi batted for Indian Muslims and spoke of the injustice done to them. October 11: Each MP was told to adopt a village. October 23: Modi spent Diwali with the troops in Siachen. October 26: In three quick meetings, defence projects worth a total of Rs 1,20,000 crore were cleared. November 22: Modi spoke of his affection for the people of Kashmir and promised to restore democracy and humanity to the region. November 30: The police force became SMART.

Monday, October 9, 2017

'BEING A REFUGEE IS A HUMAN CONDITION': Katie Kilkenny interviews Ai Weiwei

Non-stop self-documentation has long been both a statement and a safeguard for Ai, who is an outspoken critic of his native China. It was his opposition to the regime- recording his monitored, heated confrontations, and even physical abuse at the hands of Chinese authorities - that helped Ai achieve international fame. It was also his opposition that inspired his Chinese supporters to meet with him in person, despite close monitoring by the Xi administration. Ai will later Instagram my picture (#nofilter), just as he will Instagram the photos of other journalists visiting him that day. It's all part of his daily routine for documenting his life on Instagram and Twitter for his cumulative 700,000 followers—in between major exhibitions, public performances, and documentary releases.

We're here to discuss Ai's latest major release, and one of his most ambitious, the documentary 
Human Flow. Many may be most familiar with Ai's works about China - his 1995 performance piece in which he dropped a Han Dynasty urn, or his 2009 installation of 9,000 children's backpacks, commemorating those who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake due to poor school construction. 
Human Flow, in theaters today in New York, represents something of a departure from his more famous pieces, focusing instead on the global refugee crisis

The crisis has been a frequent subject of Ai's work after he became a refugee himself in 2015: In 2016, he covered Berlin's Konzerthaus venue in a curtain of 14,000 life vests discarded on the Greek island of Lesbos, a popular entry point for refugees to Europe, and filled the New York Gallery Deitch Projects on Wooster Street with cast-off clothing from a refugee camp in Greece. Last March, 
he installed a 200-foot sculpture of an inflatable boat occupied by hundreds of refugees in the National Gallery of Prague, among other projects.

Human Flow documents the lives and travels of refugees in over 23 countries, including Afghanistan, France, Kenya, and Turkey. It combines drone photography documenting the immense scale of camps and ongoing human migrations with intimate on-the ground storytelling in which Ai meets with, asks questions of, and occasionally comforts and jokes with displaced peoples.The ultimate goal, Ai tells me, is to challenge stigmas surrounding refugees, helping to create a new, universally understood definition for their status. Ai believes that, only by viewing refugees not as migrants, but rather as displaced persons, will the world arrive at a more compassionate policy for welcoming them. On Sunday we talked about the advantages of documentary, the challenges of production, and Ai's message for President Donald Trump.

Over the last few years, the refugee crisis has been the subject of your installations, sculpture, and public performances. Why do you return to the crisis again and again?
Well, my work not only focuses on the refugee crisis. I've also done many works relating to freedom of speech, human rights—especially while I was in China—and also about justice and judicial practices. But certainly refugees have attracted my attention for the past three years. Before I got my passport in China we already started to do research.

Why it attracted my attention is because it's getting overwhelmingly large-scale, and I have a strong curiosity to know what the story is and what is behind it. I didn't have the opportunity when my passport was [denied to me by] the authorities. Once I [finally got the passport], I started to be involved.


Tell me a little bit about how this documentary began to takes shape... read more
https://psmag.com/social-justice/an-interview-with-ai-weiwei

As Germany and Spain prove, history – with all its wounds – is not over. By Natalie Nougayrède

History is back in Europe. The Catalan referendum and the German election illustrate this spectacularly. The scale of the far-right vote in what was once East Germany and Catalonia’s apparent march towards independence may look like they happened on separate planets – to be sure, they are fuelled by different political beliefs – but they both have to do with pent-up frustrations. Citizens who feel that they have been insulted have gone to the ballot box, and in some cases taken to the streets, to protest. In both situations there is a vivid historical backdrop, with memories of Europe’s 20th-century nightmares playing an important role: in Catalonia, the fight against fascism and Franco; in the east of Germany, the experiences of Nazism and Soviet communism.

In Leipzig and the nearby small town of Grimma, I was told about how citizens felt their self-esteem had been trampled on. German reunification has not led to a shared sense of community. Rather, it’s compared to colonisation: “westerners” took over everything – regional administrations, courts, education and the economy. Everything about life in the Communist state – the way people dressed, what they ate, what they learned in school, how they decorated their homes, what they watched on TV – became an object of scorn and ridicule. It’s not that life isn’t better now: of course it is. There is freedom. And living standards have improved immensely. But many eastern Germans feel their identity has somehow been negated, as if they were being asked to forget about it.

Speaking with Catalan friends in recent days, I heard similar qualms: “We were waiting for a sign that our voice would be heard, but as the years passed nothing was changing” … “Our cultural difference isn’t being acknowledged as it should be”: these were common sentiments, even from people not altogether enthusiastic about breaking away from Spain. Identity isn’t just about power, rights and institutions. Former East Germans aren’t asking for secession, nor a special status. Catalonia is deeply divided on the question of independence. Nor can identity be boiled down to purely economic factors – wages, income, jobs, social class. It’s true that regions covering the former East Germany have higher unemployment (7.1%) than western ones (5.1%), but the malaise reflected in the east German far-right vote went beyond material circumstances. Catalonia’s economy has thrived in recent decades – that hasn’t prevented protests.

A generation has passed since German reunification, in 1990; and Spain joined the European club in 1986. It’s hard to exaggerate the benefits. Anyone who visits Leipzig, with its beautifully restored facades and the amazing modern architecture of its university, will struggle to spot traces of the bleakness and poverty that once characterised eastern Europe.

Catalonia’s transformation has also been stunning. I have spent many summers in the Pyrenees, regularly crossing into Spain from France. And over the years I have seen roads improved, hotels built, and prosperity spread – a region shedding the drabness left by the Franco years. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics celebrated that success. Yet these accomplishments don’t necessarily translate into people’s minds... read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/07/germany-spain-catalonia-protest-history-20th-century-traumas


Gujarat HC Allows Zakia Jafri to Appeal for New Probe in Modi’s Role in 2002 Riots

 In what appears to be a silver lining in an otherwise adverse judgment for Zakia Jafri, the wife of Congress politician Ehsan Jafri who was killed by a mob in the Gulberg Society massacre in Ahmedabad during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, the Gujarat high court on Thursday allowed her to move the courts to request a fresh investigation into the alleged criminal role of the then chief minister Narendra Modi and 61 others.

Zakia had moved the high court in 2014 against the closure report filed by the Supreme Court-appointed special investigative team (SIT). Zakia had also alleged in her petition that the 2002 riots were part of a larger conspiracy involving Modi and others. The closure report  submitted by the SIT in 2012 at a trial court hearing Zakia’s pleas – had stated that the SIT could not find any “prosecutable” evidence against the accused persons, as a result of which it could not press any charges against Modi and others.

Protesting this, Zakia had appealed to the metropolitan magistrate’s court demanding a fresh probe, but her appeal was dismissed in 2013. The magistrate, B.G. Ganatra, had ruled that since the SIT was monitored by the Supreme Court, he did not have the power to order a fresh investigation. This had forced Zakia to file her petition at the high court, which started final hearings in the case in 2015. On Thursday, the high court upheld the validity of the closure report and dismissed Jafri’s allegation.

However, the high court allowed Zakia to demand a fresh investigation in the case – as sought by her in the petition – and overturned the trial court’s observations, which had ruled out another probe as it thought the SIT was monitored by the Supreme Court. “The trial court has self-limited itself in saying that further investigation, in this case, can’t be ordered. This order of [the] lower court deserves interference. So, the petitioner can raise the issue before the concerned court that is the same magisterial court, the division bench of the high court or the Supreme Court,” Justice Sonia Gokani told the Indian ExpressEffectively, the high court judgment has created an opening for Zakia to seek redressal at a lower court instead of the Supreme Court, which would have been her last stop for appeal.. read more:
https://thewire.in/184802/gujarat-hc-allows-zakia-jafri-appeal-new-probe-modis-role-2002-riots-reopening-debate-sit-report/

Catalonia: A personal response LUKA LISJAK GABRIJELCIC

The attempt by Catalan authorities to hold a referendum on independence was marred by violence on Sunday, 1 October. Several hundred people – including approximately 30 policemen – were hurt in clashes between security forces and citizens attempting to vote in the referendum, which had been denounced as illegal by the Spanish central government.

For the past 18 days, the editor-in-chief of Slovenian Eurozine network partner journal Razpotja, Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič, has been commenting on the events in Catalonia via a series of Facebook posts. Lisjak Gabrijelčič is an intellectual historian of nationalism and a translator from Catalan to Slovenian, and is part of the Catalan Weekend project group, organized and founded by the Òmnium Cultural association, an informal group of scholars and journalists founded in 2015 who regularly visit Catalonia to observe, discuss and critically engage with the process of independence. He was not in Catalonia for the referendum.

Here, in the order they were posted on Facebook, are Lisjak Gabrijelčič’s instant, personal, and sometimes passionate responses to the process that culminated in the clashes on 1 October. They are a contemporaneous record, republished here in the form and style in which they were originally written, lightly edited only to correct spelling and syntax.

Friday, 15 September at 22:12
Constitutional guarantees have been basically suspended in Spain, without any authorization by the parliament. Today, a court shut down a talk by a Catalan MP in Vitoria (Basque Country). Two days ago, a similar order was issued by a judge in Madrid. This time, the police was sent to enforce it.A cultural association was prevented from holding an event in Santa Coloma de Gramenet near Barcelona.


Armed police have raided the headquarters of at least five major Catalan media outlets (El Nacional, El Punt Avui, Vilaweb, Racó Català, Nació Digital). Newspapers face punitive fines for publishing ads regarding the referendum (they can be effectively shut down), and it’s technically a crime to share information regarding the referendum on social media. Writing an article in favour of the referendum is considered illegal if it could be understood as ‘inciting participation’.

The Spanish Post Office has refused to deliver a local newspaper because it included an article in favour of the referendum. The same has happened to the journal of the cultural association Òmnium Cultural. The website Punt.cat, a foundation for the promotion of the Catalan language online, has been shut down by a court order. The foundation claims it has not published any material declared illegal by the state.

100,000 posters related to the referendum have been confiscated by the police, mostly from private companies. At least three people have been arrested for putting them up. There are reports and videos of police searching private vehicles, often without individual warrants, and harassing citizens suspected of carrying or performing ‘illegal propaganda’. At least one citizen was arrested, in the Sant Andreu neighbourhood of Barcelona, for standing up for his constitutional right of free expression. These actions have been met with mass protests… read more:
http://www.eurozine.com/catalonia-a-personal-response/


Blow by blow: the assault on academic freedom in Turkey. By AYSE CAGLAR

Since 2015, the curtailment of academic freedom and the diminishing autonomy of universities in Turkey has attracted attention in the Turkish and international media. As the assaults on academic institutions in Turkey assumed unprecedented dimensions – with massive purges, restrictions and control on academics and universities imposed by the government, especially after the failed coup attempt in July, 2016 – these attacks on and violations of academic freedom have rightly become the subject of numerous reports, communiqués and calls from Turkish and international academics and institutions and human rights organizations. 

The erosion of the universities’ autonomy has been part of the systematic dismantling of democratic institutions in Turkey. This requires analysis in the context of the broader dynamics of the reconfiguration of authoritarian and democratic politics which we also observe in places like Hungary, India and Russia. Here, however, I focus solely on the inner workings and the consequences of these assaults on academic institutions in Turkey, in order to highlight the politics of law in this regime’s authoritarian form of governance.

It is important to situate the curtailment of the autonomy of universities within the structural context of higher education in Turkey. Two important characteristics of higher education are important here. First, all these attacks have been taking place within a university system which has already been centralized and hierarchically regulated mainly by the Higher Education Law (HE law) and the Council of Higher Education (CHE), which were established in 1981 after the military coup in 1980. Both the HE law and the CHE had already restricted the autonomy of universities substantially by establishing wide-ranging powers to control and discipline them. Since 2016, the power of the CHE over universities and academic institutions has become even more comprehensive and alarming. 

Second, the HE law of 1981 allowed the establishment of non-profit, privately funded universities in Turkey, sometimes referred to as foundation universities. In 1981 there were only 19 public (state) universities in Turkey. In 2015 there were 109 public and 76 private universities. In Istanbul alone, there were 38 private and 9 public universities in 2015. So we are talking here about a higher education landscape that has been increasingly privatized and commercialized, and in which the number of universities and students has continuously grown thanks to the actions of the government. During the 15 years since the current governing party, the AKP, came to power in 2002, 120 universities have been founded.


However it is important to note the weak boundaries between private and public universities in terms of their organizational and employment autonomy… read more:
http://www.eurozine.com/blow-by-blow-the-assault-on-academic-freedom-in-turkey/


Faced With 100-Crore Defamation Case, Journalist Who Reported On Jay Shah's Business Refuses To Back Down

Journalist Rohini Singh, who investigated into the alleged irregularities in business enterprises run by Jay Amitbhai Shah, BJP President Amit Shah's son, for The Wire, has stood up for herself after being slapped with a defamation case. In a Facebook post, she made her stance clear, explaining that her job as a journalist is to speak to truth to power and she wouldn't desist from it. According to reports, Jay Shah has sued the independent news portal for Rs 100 crores, after the latter ran a story outlining alleged financial irregularities involved in his business transactions.

Based on filings available with the Registrar of Companies, Singh reported that Temple Enterprise Private Ltd, a company of which Jay is director, increased its turnover by a staggering 16,000 times since the BJP-led government at the Centre came to power under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. Jay's father is a close associate of the PM and a leading light of the BJP. From Rs 15,000 in 2014-15 to Rs 80.5 crore in 2015-16, the rise in revenue for Temple Enterprise has been wondrous, bolstered by an unsecured loan of Rs 15.78 crore from Rajesh Khandwala, a relative of Rajya Sabha member Parimal Nathwani, who is also a senior executive at Reliance Industries. The Wire's findings have led to speculations whether such deals were struck between the various parties with the collusion of politicians, business leaders and elected lawmakers.
However, Jay said the report had made "false, derogatory and defamatory imputation against me by creating in the mind of right-thinking people an impression that my business owes its 'success' to my father's political position." According to The Indian Express, he claimed his businesses are "fully legitimate and conducted in a lawful manner on commercial lines" reflected in his tax records and through banking transactions. "I have repaid the loans by cheque on commercial rate of interest and within the time stipulated. I have mortgaged my family property with the cooperative bank to get the credit facilities," he said to quash all the allegations raised against his dealings by Singh.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sreenivas Janyala - His smile and his mother’s tears of joy were worth the effort, says Police

“The boy was crying but as soon as I took him in my arms, he became quiet, looked at me with eyes wide open and a big toothless grin followed. It filled my heart with happiness. The moment may have been captured by camera, but it will remain etched in my mind forever,’’ said Inspector R Sanjay Kumar of Nampally Police Station.

The four-month-old infant was rescued 15 hours after he was kidnapped late on Wednesday night. “The boy’s smile and his mother’s tears of joy were worth the team’s effort. The boy was crying when he was rescued. He kept crying even after he was handed over to his mother. At that time, I took him in my arms, rocked him gently and he stopped crying. Then he looked at me and gave the widest smile I have ever seen,’’ Inspector Sanjay said.

Late on Wednesday night, four-month-old Faizan Khan was kidnapped while he was sleeping beside his mother Humera Begum (21) on the pavement near Himmatram Jewellers in Nampally. Humera, a beggar, woke up at 4.30 am and after searching for her son for sometime went to Nampally police station and lodged a complaint. After scanning CCTV footage in the area, police suspected two persons, later identified as Mohammed Mushtaq (42) and Mohammed Yusuf (25). “We showed their photos in the locality and came to know that Mushtaq was an autorickshaw driver who hung around Nilofer Children’s Hospital and Yusuf was his friend and that they live near Dargah Shah at Agapura. We maintained surveillance in the area,’’ he said.

Officials said Mushtaq and Yusuf had revealed during questioning that Mohammed Ghouse, a relative of Mushtaq, had recently asked him if he and his wife could adopt a baby as they were childless. Ghouse, they said, told Mushtaq that they would like to adopt someone whose parents were too poor to take care of the child. Mushtaq told them that he knew many poor couples who wanted to give away their children for adoption and promised to arrange for a baby. He then allegedly kidnapped Faizan with Yusuf’s help, said the officials.

“But when they reached Ghouse’s house at 5.30 am, he got suspicious and asked who the baby’s parents were. Mushtaq introduced Yusuf as the boy’s uncle, but Ghouse refused to accept the boy, saying he would like to meet the parents and adopt the child only if they were willing. Mushtaq and Yusuf left his home and went to Nilofer Hospital, hoping to find someone to give away the baby. Late on Thursday evening, they returned to the dargah near their home with the infant and the police team waiting there arrested them,’’ inspector Sanjay said. Police are probing if the duo wanted to sell the baby, and if Ghouse was expected to pay them for arranging for the “adoption’’.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Anna Politkovskaya Award shared by Pakistani Activist and Gauri Lankesh

A month after her violent death at the hands of unknown assailants, Lankesh has been posthumously honoured with the Anna Politkovskaya Award, instituted by the Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR) organisation. She is the first Indian journalist to win the prestigious award, reported Hindustan Times. Lankesh, 55, shares the award posthumously with Gulalai Ismail, 31, a human rights and peace activist who lives in Pakistan, and who, like Lankesh, is a fierce critic of Islamic extremism. Ismail has received many death threats for speaking out against the Taliban.

RAW in WAR is a London-based, NGO that supports human rights and victims of war. It established the Anna Politkovskaya Award in 2007 to honour the memory of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in Moscow in 2006 because of her courageous reporting of the second war in Chechnya.

According to a report in The Wire, while announcing Gauri's win, the award committee, in a statement, said, "RAW in WAR honours Gauri Lankesh and her fearless journalism as a strong critic of right-wing Hindu extremism, campaigner for women's rights, fiercely opposed to the caste system, and campaigner for the rights of Dalits. A senior Indian journalist and activist, Gauri just like Anna Politkovskaya before her, was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore on 5th September 2017 in order to silence her voice and her critical reporting and activism."

Addressing a press conference about the award, Lankesh's sister, Kavitha, said that the award does not belong to the family but to "everyone who stood by Gauri". "This award is a morale booster for people who want to write, and fight... It honours what Gauri stood for — that you cannot silence me," Thomson Reuters Foundation quoted Kavitha as saying. Talking about her co-winner, Ismail told Thomson Reuters Foundation that Lankesh's murder had left her numb with grief. "It was heartbreaking that an advocate of democracy, a courageous voice was silenced. This award recognises our common struggle and courage," she said.

RAW in WAR also honoured a Rohingya refugee, 25-year-old Jamalida Begum, who spoke out publicly about the horror of being raped by Myanmar security forces after her husband was shot dead in the village of Pyaung Pyaik in north-western Myanmar.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies / Guardians of the grain. By Chitrangada Choudhury

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday

“If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising.

There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth. The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered.

Notes Ban 'Largest Money-Laundering Scheme Ever': Arun Shourie To NDTV

Arun Shourie, former union minister, was categorical today in blaming the economic slowdown on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shock outlawing of high-denomination notes a year ago. "It was the largest money-laundering scheme ever, conceived and implemented entirely by the government," Mr Shourie told NDTV today. It was an "idiotic jolt" he continued, "everyone who had black converted it into white." The RBI has said that nearly 99 per cent of the banned currency has been returned to banks, which suggests that black or untaxed money was not destroyed by the giant move.

He was quick to add the new national sales tax -- the GST -- to the list of the government's misdeeds, stating that though it was an important reform, it had been poorly implemented. "The rules have been amended seven times within three months," said the former BJP member in support of his claim, adding that what makes it worse is the "event management of the GST -- imagine! A tax reform is being compared to the independence of India" he said about the special midnight session of parliament held to introduce the new tax in July.

Mr Shourie's relentless criticism of the government's economic mismanagement comes days after former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, who was his colleague in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said that the economy is a mess and that it will not recover, despite the government's claims, by the next general election in 2019. The BJP responded by dismissing Mr Sinha and Mr Shourie as frustrated politicians who are avenging their sidelining by the party by publicly dissing its leadership. "This is their Standard Operating Procedure," Mr Shourie said of the BJP's response, adding "they should publish a list in advance of frustrated persons" as a pre-emptive strike against disagreement.


He said major economic policies are being decided in "a sealed echo chamber" of "2.5 persons" whom he listed as "Amit Shah, PM Modi, and an in-house lawyer." His derision of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley echoes that of Mr Sinha, who said the buck stops with Mr Jaitley for the economy plummeting to 5.7 per cent growth in the last quarter, marking a three-year low. Mr Shourie said that he agrees with Mr Sinha's assessment that others in the BJP share their concern over the government's economic policies but are either prevented from or scared to raise questions….
https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/notes-ban-largest-money-laundering-scheme-ever-arun-shourie-to-ndtv-1758161

More posts on demonetisation




Giles Fraser - The truth about capitalism is out as Marx’s magic cap starts to slip

Wasn’t this supposed to be the party conference in which the Tories reminded everyone of the virtues of market capitalism? “Tories need to start explaining the unassailable truth that markets don’t just make us richer, they make us happier too,” urged the former chair of Northern Rock, Matt Ridley, in the Times. “Time for a full-throated Tory defence of enterprise and capitalism,” insisted Simon Heffer in the Telegraph. With Comrade Corbyn riding high, it has been quite some time since economic liberals have so felt so threatened to their ideological core. Next month it will be a hundred years since the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the right have assumed that the argument against communism had been won, and won decisively. But the young are picking up their Karl Marx once again. And just at the point when the right seem to have forgotten their lines.

Viscount Ridley argues that capitalism makes us better people as well as richer. It is a morality driven by enlightened selfishness in which my own interests are only advanced if I look after yours as well. This is supposed to be the moral case for market capitalism: I only get to be extremely rich if you get to be a little bit richer too. This is the economy of the “invisible hand”, powered by greed, where my own desire for ever greater wealth drives ingenious new opportunities for this magical thing called growth, which in turn creates greater wealth for everyone else. 

Yes, capitalism is basically a superstition, a belief in the power of magic. I’m with David Attenborough: “We have a finite environment – the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”

Of course, I am not the first person to argue that capitalism is based on a superstitious belief in the efficacy of magic. Marx’s Kapital, one of the great works of 19th-century atheism, is a genius attempt to disabuse us of this dangerous mystification. Of course, the god in Marx’s sights is not the one of the Bible but one celebrated by the philosophers of Enlightenment rationalism: the god of capital.
In the first chapters of Das Kapital, Marx explains how money makes money – or how, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, “to everyone who has, more shall be given … but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away”. Those with money are able to own the means of production and the labour needed to operate it. Throughout the whole cycle of making things and selling them on, the capitalist creates more money for themselves by getting employees to work longer and longer hours. This extra labour creates surplus value that results in profits for the capitalist.

Profit here is intrinsically exploitative – it does not exist without the extra hours worked by the capitalist’s employees. This is the source of the capitalist’s wealth, and when it is reinvested to capture an even greater share of the means of production and employ more workers, it grows off itself. Thus more and more is owned by fewer and fewer people. And money makes money, as if by magic. But when, with Marx, we begin to understand that money is a way of capturing a social relationship between those who own the means of production – whether factories or apps – and those who work in them or for them, we begin to recognise that capitalism is not magic but exploitative to its core. The magical quality of our faith in money and in economic growth is a deliberate mystification of the social exploitation that the capitalist – understandably – wants to cover up. 

And “we draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters,” as Marx put it in the preface to Das Kapital. All of this becomes more and more obvious as global capital seeks new and ever more ingenious forms of concentration. The generation who learned their politics through the Occupy movement have had the scales fall from their eyes. Since then the 1% has become the 0.1%. And the magic cap is beginning to slip.


see also
Posts on Greece