The Pandemic and the state

Part 8: The history of time is not cast in stone

Arup Kumar Baisya

Control for Super-profit
There is a big debate on how capitalist social relations of production came into existence. There are diverse opinions on this question. But I am inclined to go with the proposition that around five/six hundred years ago capitalist law of value started in a remote corner of Europe fundamentally from within the old social relation of production -- the external factors like ancient or international trade had its impacts on it. What were the new characteristics that marked the new social relation of production for a qualitative change of space-time? Firstly, but not primarily, the production for use value and only for consumption was changed to the production for exchange value or consumption through the exchange of commodities. Every exchange of commodities for use meant extraction of a part of the value as profit for a certain small section of people. Secondly, but primarily, the power of doing work within the living human being was transformed into a commodity for exchange, for selling and buying. This new commodity which resides within the living body of human being can only be utilized only for the transformation of the wealth of nature’s gifts into commodities for exchange by expropriating or looting nature. The utilization of nature’s wealth and its transformation into commodities are dependent on the advance buying of the labour-power and its utilization. Nature and labour thus metabolically segregated and both become the source of profiteering. The diverse and complex chain of exchanges of production, distribution, and consumption now operates globally after a prolonged period of circulation of capital, -- and this is what we now call neoliberalism. This global chain and the extraction of profit or super-profits from every point of exchange cannot be controlled by states which have limited boundaries for operation and control mechanism in place, -- and state-powers have to be subservient to the oligopolists who impose their diverse control mechanism for super-profit.

States in the forefront
The virus, the most primitive first life on the earth, gets intermittently activated fundamentally due to the above-mentioned metabolic rift between the labour and nature which are unabatedly expropriated and plundered. In a metaphorical sense, both labour and nature are prone to take revenge. The rapid spread of the Coronavirus and the imposition of lockdown in large parts of the world suddenly disrupted the production and the global value chain. This enabled the state to come to the forefront to save lives and to save the economy. Now how the future of the social and natural world will unveil itself primarily depends on how the states play their roles. Based on the specific social reality, the balance of forces, and the past legacy, different states have responded differently. Germany has a large state sector and welfare schemes for the workers in place, and Germany has extended the welfare measure to protect its economy from going bankrupt. Spain has nationalized its health sector for arresting the siphoning-off of money from Government exchequer for insurance payment for private profiteering. On the contrary, India’s employment and wealth-generating scheme MGNREG was stopped due to lack of Government funding before the Pandemic though it is restarted now with limited scope. The Indian people faced a drastic demonetization measure. The large portion of money commodity in the hands of common masses for enabling them to exchange for the commodities of daily livelihood was suddenly obliterated. Most of the economists are now advocating direct cash transfer in the hands of the people to raise consumption demand and to save lives. 

The demand for nationalization of the health sector has been raised from diverse quarters. There is numerous other demand on workers’ and peasants’ rights, minimum wages, civil rights and justice and against privatization of Government property. All these demands are important for a people’s movement under the leadership of workers’ and for such mass movement to emerge, the emancipation of workers as an organized class is the precondition.

Capital Vs. Labour
The decrease of wage through replacement of minimum wage by floor wage or through increasing the daily labour-hour by coercive means of obliterating certain commodities from the list of consumption of workers and by denigrating the standard of life of the workers will be counterproductive. The part of the wages which was hitherto taken out of the pockets of the workers as rent for dwelling houses by the landlord capitalist is a super-profits extracted from labour through different means and this must be stopped forthwith with free housing accommodation.

If the capitalists find ways and means to reduce the cost of capital by avoiding the expenditure to be incurred for transportation with assured facilities for combining the machines and materials i.e. dead labour with living labour of the migrants for restarting of the production process, the migrant workers who have already been disillusioned of the fascist project of imaginary new India will not mentally accept it. The union must take stock of the mental status of the migrants and rapidly unionised them to build physical subjective force which was hitherto used by the fascist for their evil design. The unions must come out of the tokenism and must utilise this advantageous situation for them despite the existence of an advantageous situation of the excessive reserve army of labour for the capitalist, because it is not the ideal situation for capitalists too due to disruption of the production process itself wherefrom super-profits is extracted during the existence of reserve army of labour within a threshold, -- beyond a threshold far away from production site is also a crisis for capitalist for lack of consumption-demand and increase of cost of capital. But the workers are also vulnerable because they live their lives on wages.

So, it's a battle of nerve and expediency. Will the unions understand it and launch a movement for workers' fundamental rights for the empowerment of workers? If they procrastinate and do not go beyond tokenism, capitalists are going to restructure the production process, maybe in new sectors too, to ensure profit and super-profit. How the balance of force redefines itself now depends on what role the unions and political forces play.

Consciousness from above – Necessary Evil
This is the immediate and expedient task of the workers' unions and parties. But the working-class parties should bear in mind that this does not by itself a revolutionary idea. Revolutionary praxis cannot become a reality without a revolutionary idea. But does this talk of a revolutionary idea corroborate the Lenin’s formulations of ‘consciousness from above’? This is misleading because Lenin also emphasized the role of purposive workers like Gramsci’s organic intellectuals. According to Lenin, the workers movement creates purposive workers in great numbers. They learn purposive ways while leading the diverse forms of workers’ movement including the strikes. Lenin wrote, “When all purposive workers become socialists – that is, when they strive towards a liberation (of the whole class) – when they emerge (organizationally) among themselves throughout the whole country in order to spread socialism among the workers, in order to teach the workers all the means of battle against their enemies – when they constitute a socialist worker party, fighting for the liberation of the whole people from the oppression of the Government and liberation of all labourers from the oppression of capital – only then will the worker class completely join itself to the mighty movement of the workers of all countries that unites all workers and lifts up the red banner with the words: ‘Proletarians of all countries unite!” But this idea of purposive workers does not go much beyond Lenin’s formulation of consciousness from above. Lenin’s formulation is very important for building the working-class movement and to build a vibrant revolutionary working-class party. But this bears an inherent risk of hindering the vibrant revolutionary praxis within the garb of class struggle or transformation of the revolutionary party into a static debating club when the working-class movement enters the ebb after a tidal wave. The working-class movement against the domination of Capital and the state must be visualized as a continuous process within which there are occasional leap or quantum jump of consciousness of the class as a whole when the movement reach to a certain stage and the contradiction within the social relation of production sharpens. It moves ahead in the direction of socialist consciousness with more and more empowerment of the working class through the ownership of means of production and control over the state apparatus through its decentralization and abolition of coercive apparatuses. The one-dimensional and deterministic idea of consciousness from above was perhaps the driving force for the Bolsheviks in considering Kornstad's rebellion of the workers fundamentally a counterrevolution to be contained with a heavy hand.

Fulfilling the task of other classes 
The working-class movements, under certain circumstances, fulfill the incomplete task of other classes. Thus through the continuation of this process, the class rises to the occasion of completing the task of human liberation. The revolutionary parties can intervene, modulate, educate to expedite the process of achieving the final goal, but cannot take control of it. But revolutionary parties must have a goal for revolutionary transformation; otherwise, the party itself may become the agent for reformism within a bourgeois rule or involuntarily becomes the agent of revisionism. Marx commented on the French revolution as follows: “In France, the petit-bourgeois does what normally would have to be done by the industrial bourgeoisie, the worker does, what normally would be the duty of the petit-bourgeois. And the task of the workers, who resolve that? This obligation is not discharged in France; it is merely proclaimed in France”. 

Can it be discharged only because there is a party that can instill consciousness from above or a party of purposive workers or organic intellectuals serves this purpose through their campaign of socialism? Socialism means in simpler term justice for all i.e. a journey towards a just society -- and equality for all, a journey towards a communist society. A journey towards a just society begins with an initial question, Cui Bono, who benefits? A journey towards communist society begins with an initial question, who controls? The answer to these questions is visible, determinable, and computable. But whether the immediate future of the social world is socialism? Society will determine its future course of development and in that sense, it is deterministic. But can we compute when and how? The answer is no. But conscious humans can modulate and expedite the process of the future development of society in a certain direction.

Reductio ad absurdum
In ordinary ‘common sense’ terms, the law of the excluded middle may be regarded as a self-evident truth: if it is false that something is not true, then that thing is surely true! This law is the basis of the mathematical procedure of ‘reductio ad absurdum’. Godel’s theorem states that the concept of mathematical truth is only partly accessible by the means of formal argument. Why in social science too, we cannot reach to the truth only by using formal argument? Because the initial condition from which its future course of movement is to be ascertained cannot be computable in static coordinates. The observer is placed within the space-time defined by continuously changing coordinates in motion. The coordinates of a particular moment are this moment itself, but at the same time shifting away from this moment. 

It is argued above how Pandemic and Lockdown accelerated the process of bringing the states at the forefront of having control over the production system. The neoliberal logic for the revival of capitalism began losing ground much earlier from its internal dynamics which reached its peak post-Sub-Prime crisis, but the Pandemic and lockdown acted as an external shock of complete disruptions. How the state now acts will determine the future.

The role of the Indian state 
When the Indian state suddenly declared lockdown, the Government directed the owners of factories and service-providers to pay the wages of the workers. But when the capitalists defied the directive and small owners failed to make the payment for lack of cash, the Government remained silent. This led to the exodus of migrants and humanitarian crisis. The state neither ensured payment of full wages and decent livelihood and shelter nor took any punitive action against the willful capitalist defaulter. The workers became disheartened and ventilated their anger through spontaneous sporadic protests, but the established unions failed them by avoiding any nationwide organized protest to support their cause and to compel the state to act in their favour. But their spontaneous protest and their tenacious and arduous journey for return to their residential abode defying the appeal from the Government to stay put at their worksite sends a message to the powers-that-be that they are disillusioned of the project of the Sangh Parivar of the imagined reality of religious nationalism. The State betrayed their cause. But Government packaged their economic plan of action to woo the mental workers and the middle class through monetary measures in the name support to the entrepreneurs and small businesses. All kinds of migrants who constitute almost one-fourth of the Indian population indirectly fought the battle of the middle class and mental workers whom the Government in power strived to isolate from them. The disunity and maintenance of social and mental distance between the mental and manual workers ensure the influence of the capitalist class over the state. Primarily, the role of the organized unions and the value system of casteism to a certain extent helped the Government in power to act in favour of the capitalist in the initial stage of emerging and sharpening contradiction between capital and labour. But this formal argument does not explain everything and set the rule of future development. The retrenchment of permanent labour, job loss, and privatization is going unabated and this is also shifting the coordinates of the space-time for the workers to fight back and rise again with a higher level of consciousness. 

Rule of the game
The capitalists are demanding a bail-out package for them and stringent labour law for reducing wages and the cost of capital. On the contrary, the disillusioned workers are losing faith in the system and expecting a guarantee from the state for their wage and social security. The power-that-be is in a dilemma. The state’s role entirely in favour of the capitalists may lead to anarchy. The anarchic situation which can only be handled by a police state can satisfy the political class in power, but not the capitalist class. The advantages of an economic situation which favoured the Nazi regime to increase the GDP for capitalist profit at the initial phase of the fascist role is not available for the present dispensation at this moment.

In a situation of uncertainties and changing dynamics of balance of forces between capital and labour, one prediction can safely be made that the heroic role of the organized unions and the building of the conscious subjective forces of purposive workers can lead the people’s movement to defeat fascism for socialism. It is to be seen whether the left and revolutionary forces rise to the occasion or fade away within bitter petty skirmishes to leave the space-time for the capitalists and ruling classes to occupy through fetishization of the reality and establishing the hegemony over the state and society once again. The present people’s movement in the US is reminiscent of the people’s movement of the sixties. But the rule of the game in the history of time is not cast in iron.   

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Jul 28, 2020

Arup Kumar Baisya

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