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“Marxism Without Guarantees”

Rethinking Marxism

Arup Kumar Sen

The book [Rethinking Marxism: India from a Class Perspective by Anjan Chakrabarti and Anup Dhar, AAKAR Books, 2023, Price: INR 1495; aakarbooks@gmail. com] under review is a collection of articles/contributions to books/journals, published by the two authors, either individually or with other co-authors, in the 21st century. In the preface, the authors have highlighted the trajectory of their journey: “This book seeks to forge a relationship between India, Marx and Marxism; so as to rethink our relationship with all three.” It is noted in this context: “Class analysis, that was part of a vibrant space and debate of Marxian scholarship till the 1980s in India, seems to have receded to the background, paradoxically when its significance and impact, particularly with the expansion of capitalism, has only deepened and expanded even into the distant recesses of economy and society.”

In the first chapter of the book, the authors focused on “G A Cohen’s rigorous presentation of historical materialism (HM)” and argued: “Two crucial intersecting and reinforcing steps compose HM–one, a theory of society and secondly, a theory of history.” The chapter concluded with a pluralistic reading of Marxism: “Marxism is neither a singular nor a dogmatic field, not to say static. Rather, it is a sophisticated, changing, rich space of contesting and often clashing theories which not only challenge the mainstream discourses but also one another. In the process, it produces a deeper understanding of what this tradition seeks to broadly highlight and pursue.”
The second chapter addressed the concept of class in Marxian theory. After a thorough analysis of class, in their dialogue with ‘classical historical materialism’, the authors have proposed their own seminal argument: “Rather than reducing the explanation of non-class processes (say, caste, gender, race, power, property, etc.), to class process of surplus labour in the order of explanation (hallmark of economic/class determinism), what one has instead is a class-focused theory whereby, even if class is the focus of analysis, both class and non-class processes effect and change one another; each is the cause and effect of the other; none can be reduced to the other.”

There are twenty-one chapters in the book, placed under six sections titled–Beyond Received Marxism; What is the Working Class? Deconstructing Agriculture, Informal Sector and Rural; Rethinking Capitalist Development; State, Nationalism, and Imperialism; Postcapitalist Politics. It is not possible within the limited scope of the present review to do justice to all the chapters incorporated in the book. The following are some of the important arguments/observations offered in the book in different perspectives.

Inexploring the role of labour contractors in a country like India, it is observed: “In countries such as India, we not only come across labour contractors in sectors, such as construction and jute, where they had existed for a long time, but also in the more ‘sophisticated industries’ such as engineering, finance, and IT, where the so-called placement agencies participate in the process of contracting casual labour. It is also not surprising at times to find unions playing the role of labour contractors through their control of the labour supply…” It may be stated in this context that many labour-recruiting companies have come into existence in recent times to supply labour to the big automobile companies in the Delhi NCR.

Post-Covid predicament of the ‘working-class’ has been theorised in the language of Marx in one chapter of the book: “Faced with the pandemic, the Indian state announced a total lockdown… In a matter of days, the workers realised that the city would only be hospitable to them as long as they were a living machine of variable capital supplementing the dead machine of constant capital.” In this context, the authors have made a very important observation: “The return of the urban working class to its rural home, of course, has happened in an extreme distress. However, the return is not just a return to the rural. It is also, in class terms, a return to a form of life in which the landed masses can at least be both performers and appropriators of surplus, actually and potentially… many of the migrants will perhaps once again go back to the cities to look for income and employment; the only difference is that they now will have a new experience of who they are and would perhaps have no illusion regarding where they are migrating to.”

While theorising the Indian State in the context of the ‘new economic map’, the authors argued: “Overall, an interesting point emerges regarding the shape of the Indian state. The changing structure of India’s economic map accompanied by the logic of capitalist expansion has not only produced an ‘economisation of the social’, but also a ‘securitisation of the economic’…The concomitant process of birthing and functioning of global capitalism and neo-liberalism in India is not without, to use Marx, blood and dirt.”

In the light of their theoretical dialogue with Marxism, the authors have formulated their own imagination of ‘postcapitalist praxis’: “With the change in the script of the analytical register through the arrival of new characters, the script of Marxian ethical-politics too must undergo a change.” This reminds one of Stuart Hall, the renowned Marxist thinker, who pleaded for ‘A Marxism without Guarantees’.

The book written by Anjan Chakrabarti and Anup Dhar is an original contribution to Marxian scholarship in the East.

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Vol 56, No. 51, Jun 16 - 22, 2024