The Pandemic and the state

Part 5: : After a long hiatus,
Revolution on the horizon: Ora Bhoy Peyeche, Comrade

Arup Kumar Baisya

Before the corona pandemic started taking its toll, even before it had become a serious issue for the WHO to issue its advisories, this author wrote in an article that in the event of any economic meltdown for any internal or external shock, the global working class is going to raise their head once again post-Soviet collapse and subsequent collapse of ‘really existing socialism’ after a long period of hiatus. It was not wishful thinking but one of the possible futuristic outcomes which were ingrained in the past as present. One should not preempt the desire to be socialist as a Marxist preconceived motion. The inchoate desire for a change beyond capitalism does not automatically land us in the domain of Marxism. Marx himself became socialist before being a Marxist. So, the point of departure is not Marxism, it is the appraisal of the here and now with a deep insight to transform oneself to transform the society. It is not the philosophy of praxis with philosophy in the mind and practice in the body, it is not such a duality, it is rather a philosophy from praxis and praxis from philosophy and that is what Marxism is all about.

The race and the caste
When the tyranny of the abstraction where the humans become the object of the capitalist relation of production is challenged by the humans as subject overcoming the subject-object dualism, Marxism comes to the fore to renew and reconstruct itself. The determinism of Marxists’ braggadocio and their catechism gave legitimacy to whatever new phenomena that confront the observer as post-Marxist or post-modernist. The insightful new observations of the here and now does not make Marxism redundant, but Marxism shows us the path to transform oneself to transform the society for the free development of all the capacities and senses of the human being, the free and many-sided activity of every individual. When practicing politics lose sight of the connection between working-class struggle and the struggle for human emancipation in general, it either becomes a routine mundane affair or lifeless intellectual exercise. The revolution for Marx is not an event but a process for human freedom and emancipates the world from the alien power of capital. The process cannot have set rules, parallelism is scarcely relevant. But the parallelism, if not meticulously judged, always becomes a trap for unconscious minds. Thus, one gets inclined to equate the black racism in the United States with Casteism in India. The racism in America developed with capitalism and slave trade for money-economy and became the part and parcel of the capitalist mode of production of the United States, whereas Casteism emerged as a feudal relation of production and transformed itself to be accommodated within the hegemonic control of capital under combined and uneven development model.

From Occupy Wall Street to Black Life Matters
The George Floyd’s murder acted as a spark to burn the prairie fire. According to some astute observers, the protest of the American people is not only the reminiscent of the Anti-imperialist emancipation of the sixties against the Vietnam War but also this time, the intensity and the penetration of the movement has surpassed the sixties. The renewed vigour and people’s movement necessitate revisiting Marx’s conception of the proletariat as the emancipator, the universal, and the revolutionary class. Ellen Meiksins Wood said, “Class struggle is the nucleus of Marxism. This is so in two inseparable senses: it is the class struggle that for Marxism explains the dynamic of history, and it is the abolition of classes, the obverse or end product of class struggle, that is the ultimate objective of the revolutionary process”. The abolition of class culminates into the emancipation of the world from the alien power of capital for complete freedom of humanity and humans as individuals.

“The black life matters” is a metaphor to delineate racism as a systemic characteristic of the social relation of production of the United States of America, the global citadel of capitalism. The Occupy Wall Street movement that was started in September 2011 is still vivid in the minds of the average American. The participants in the Occupy Wall Street protest occupied the space designed and constructed by the private capital and the occupiers turned it into space for public gatherings, as their structures for discussion and governance, for medical care and sacred space for music, dance, and art. The cross-section of people participated in debate and discussion until a consensus was reached. A new kind of democratic exercise was enacted partially stepping out of the market and the state and exhilarating liberatory democratic space were termed as the “Temporary Autonomous Zones” by anarchist writer Hakim Bey. Such was the daily practice of Occupy Wall Street paralleled in more than a thousand cities around the world. 

The Occupy Wall Street movement shifted the focus of mainstream political discourse of austerity to cut social services and welfare measure, the tax cut for the riches, quantitative easing to bail out the corporate, borrowing heavily to fund the wars to the income inequality and burden of consumer debt. The massive protest against inequality brought a form of direct democracy with individual autonomy to the fore. While upholding a new sense of people’s power through consensual solidarity and bypassing the organizational and party hierarchy, it could successfully challenge the dominant capitalist discourse propounded by the republicans and the tea party movement. The practicing revolutionary left has a lot to learn from such democratic channelization of people’s anger against the system. But the capitalist system could subdue this popular uprising as the question of democratic participation was not judged from the perspective of the agency for which democracy is primordial for the transformation of the system. The Obama administration, through the FBI and Homeland Security working with local police, escalated their tactics, sending infiltrators into the movement to create divisions and throw the movement off course. It entrapped participants in crimes with serious consequences and used the media to create opposition. The seizure of power by the agency of change for the transcendence of capitalism cannot be achieved without the political organization of the agent. This hierarchical political organization of the agent of change is apparently antithetical to the concept of democracy, but when conceptualized as a Marxist proposition of seizure of power by the proletarian class for the end of the existence of class, it becomes a project for extension and deepening of democracy to the highest level where democracy becomes redundant with withering away of class. Such withering away of the class is the process of withering away of the state. The participatory democracy that the Occupy Wall Street movement upheld becomes part of the revolutionary praxis. This Occupy Wall Street movement erupted in the backdrop of a deepening global economic crisis post subprime shock. The Pandemic and lockdown shock gave birth to another movement which is metaphorically termed as “Black Life Matters”.

The breadth of the uprising is astounding with antiracism protests in all 50 states and more than 500 cities plus more than 13,500 arrests in 43 cities. There were larger numbers of protesters in the streets including cities and towns of all sizes. In Washington, DC, where the crowds were multi-racial and crossed all ages, people were united in their opposition to racism and police abuse and their calls for systemic change. Few reports suggest that this time there is some participation of organized revolutionary Marxist forces within this movement. Marxism which has not lost sight of the connection between working-class struggle and the struggle for human emancipation in general can only be the guide for a systemic change for the transcendence of capitalism. The “Black lives matter” movement is fundamentally an anti-systemic and anti-capitalist movement which cannot be victorious without settling the issue of the agent of radical change. The depth of the movement has brought the question of revolution in the agenda once again after a long hiatus. The active participation of the working class irrespective of their colour has set a revolutionary dimension to the movement. This huge working-class participation has primarily been motivated by the two recent developments, one internal and other external to the capitalist system. Globalization is inherent in capitalism. But the phase of neoliberal globalization linked with the restructuring of the production process and the shifting of the industries to the developing countries for labour arbitrage caused certain changes in the labour markets of both metropolitan centers and the peripheries. The increase of the reserve army of labour in the peripheries also creates downward pressure on the wages of the centers due to the homogenization of productivity of labour to a certain extent. The US economy was reeling under the pressure of the increasing unemployment rate even during the pre-pandemic period. COVID-19 has altered experiences of work and time and the state. When millions are put in that position, the networks of credits that fund production are thrown into turmoil. Capitalists make investment decisions drawn by the promise of future value, so today’s loss of production without a guarantee about when it might resume means havoc long into the future. For today’s multinational corporations, which care little about the use-values they sell provided they generate exchange value, the real economic impact of the disruption of supply chains is their effect on value chains. The US president was fretting between saving the economy and saving lives with his personal interest in facing the election and his business empire, but so far miserably failed in both front. George Floyd's death gave a spark and rekindled the revolutionary spirit of the working class intermingled within an undefined mass of people who appeared before us as black and white. That terrified the ruling dispensation.

Indian Phenomena 
A similar phenomenon happened in India too. The initial triumphalism of the power-that-be was met with the resilience of the migrant workers. If all forms of migrant workers are considered, they constitute almost one-third of the total population. We could identify them because they fought a defensive battle alone by defying the rule of both the market and the state. The market for the exchange of their commodity of labour-power was closed for them, but the market wanted them to wait at the site of their workplace for commodity exchange at an opportune moment. The state in support of the market initially tried to force them to follow suit in the name of disaster management rules of the Pandemic. But the migrants on their own volition created a space in the street beyond the logic of both the state and the market. They proved that life and life alone which contains their labour-power as its integral part is more important than the segregation of labour-power to sell to the market and keep the body for the state to control and dictate. The ruling dispensation which initiated the logic of saving the lives first under pressure from the elite classes, who were the initial victims of the Pandemic, has been caught in doldrums when the migrants started internalizing that logic. The migrant unconsciously defied the logic of both the state and the market. The ruling dispensation is terrified with the thought of a possibility that any conscious effort for popular uprising may jeopardize the ruling class hegemony.

Marxism Revisited
 But from a Marxist point of view, it remains to be answered who is the agent for revolutionary change. Those who consider Marxism as a set rule instead of a process of transition beyond capitalism will be inclined to cite the definition of the communist manifesto which stated, ‘The modern working class – the proletarians’, ‘who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. The proletarians are fundamentally different from other lower classes: ‘Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class.” These proletariats in a Marxist sense are ‘doubly-free ’wage-workers, they are free to sell their labour-power or to die. But the majority of the working class in today’s world is slave-like contract-workers, the service workers, the so-called self-employed workers, the virtual workers, and other such workers. These workers are free to die, but not free to sell their labour-power. They are not the same as the industrial proletariats of Marx’s time. There is no social taboo for doing any kind of work in the American society though there are coercions of various kinds on non-whites for doing certain kinds of works and that makes this society so vibrant that the white workers and the people jump into the fray in the street with ‘Black life Matter’ flag aloft. 

In Indian society, there are social taboos; the division of labour maintains the caste faultlines. The white-black, Hindu-Muslims, Uppercaste-Lowercaste is the time-space where obscurantist forces, be it white supremacist or Brahminical communalist, and the capitalists can live together for the use of the division through faultlines for their own respective benefit, so long as the hegemony of the system is not disturbed. 

But this time, the active revolt of the American workers and the passive revolt of the Indian workers brought a new reality to the surface for the social observers to formulate the strategy for radical change. The black elites in the US and the Dalit elites in India have taken refuse behind the powers-that-be because the traditional hegemonic structure with some reforms from above places them in lucrative high-echelons of the power structure. For any radical change and revolutionary seizure of power, the identification of the uncompromising agent for change is of utmost importance to build a project for systemic change. 

The formulaic version of Marxism ends with the communist manifesto as if it is the Quran and the Bible. Marx did not become a Marxist for discovering any formula or a theory to emulate and chose data to fit into it. Marxism is a process and it teaches us to analyse the here and now and also a moment of history. That’s why Marx could write to Vera Zasulich on the pre-capitalist primitive commune, “the commune is the fulcrum of social regeneration in Russia”, Marx could review and change his position on Asiatic Mode of production.

The Solidarity Matters
The mighty leader of the world superpower built trenches and fences surrounding the citadel of his power center due to the active revolt in the US, and Indian larger than life demi-god at the helm of affairs of powers ordered the American Boeing company to build two super-priced aircraft with all high-technology security apparatuses. When leaders distance themselves from the people to issue sermons and send batons and barrels for the people to follow suit, it is highly logical to conclude that they are scared by the angst and anger of the people and their solidarity. The rulers do not fear the protesting students within the university campuses, but they become apprehensive when the students dare to unite with the broadest masses of workers and peasants, to fight on the front of their struggle. Capitalism may or may not collapse by its own internal mechanisms. Marx did argue for the necessity of this crisis, but capitalism cannot be transcended without the agent and the highest form of popular solidarity for the revolutionary seizure of power. 

Time only tells, "ORA BHOY PEYECHE, COMRADE".  

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Jun 17, 2020

Arup Kumar Baisya

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