Over a century ago, a 25-year-old trade-union leader in Italy made an earnest appeal to the workers. He asked them to reject bourgeois newspapers, to boycott them. He reminded every worker that, “he must always, always, always remember that the bourgeois newspaper (whatever its hue) is an instrument of struggle motivated by ideas and interests that are contrary to his. Everything that is published is influenced by one idea: that of serving the dominant class, and which is ineluctably translated into a fact: that of combating the laboring class.” 10 years later, Mussolini had him imprisoned. He died 11 years after that. Today, for most university graduates, Antonio Gramsci is a philosopher. A sharp mind that carved a window into the workings of the state and civil society through prison walls while deliberately obfuscating his writing to pass Fascist censorship, Gramsci’s influence expanded much beyond the initial audience of the working class in Italy or even Europe. Yet, what remains of his appeal to the workers? Today, are we able to identify the instruments of struggle that serve the dominant class let alone combat it?
A lifetime or more before Gramsci’s appeal to the workers, another 25-year-old academic turned journalist wrote to a fellow German activist about the prevailing conditions of the world and delved into the eternally significant question of “where to?” from here. He said, “philosophers have left the keys to all riddles in their desks, and the stupid, uninitiated world had only to wait around for the roasted pigeons of absolute science to fly into its open mouth. Philosophy has now become secularized and the most striking proof of this can be seen in the way that philosophical consciousness has joined battle not only outwardly, but inwardly too. If we have no business with the construction of the future or with organizing it for all time, there can still be no doubt about the task confronting us at present: the ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be.” In 1843, this young man, had a modest goal of critically understanding the struggles and wishes of the age. By 1845, Karl Marx had a clearer idea when he said, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” When Europe was churning in 1848, he had developed a method of making sense of the world through the science of historical and dialectical materialism. Along with Engels, Marx armed us with the ability to identify the instruments of struggle that serve the dominant class, the bourgeoisie, and to fight it at every turn. The Manifesto drew a sharp line on the ground. In the age of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” That is, class analysis for class struggle.
What is class analysis?
The Marxist method of historical and dialectical materialism is a way of making sense of the world and of transforming it. It is a study of social life, its structures and its history. Recognizing the inter-weave of social structures and its roots in time and space, this method breaches the walls of idealism and metaphysics, develops a scientific method to know the world by confronting the prevailing contradictions in society and then dares to change it through revolution.
Today, there is a class of people for whom another class of people are disposable commodities. The struggle between these two classes defines most of human history. Those in power maintain and further their control over resources and wealth. Marx found that, “it is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers – a relation always corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity – which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state.”. When crises intensifies, those enslaved by this power struggle to overthrow it. Class struggle, ever intensifying in times of crisis, when given political direction has and does turn into class war. When this political direction emerges from a proletarian perspective and organizes itself, it is a threat to the status-quo. In 1848, Marx and Engels urged the modern working class to recognize their strength as a class. And armed with this class consciousness, take on the ruling class, the bourgeoisie. For, if the world is in a state of constant development and the old gives way to the new, and there are no systems that cannot be changed, when slow quantitative changes turning into rapid and abrupt qualitative changes is the law of development, revolutions are inevitable. The investigation of the concrete conditions in society is essential for organizing and leading this change. In the two decades leading up to the revolution in Russia, Lenin argued for a concrete analysis of concrete conditions with the ultimate aim of analyzing to determine the methods by which the struggle should be conducted. The importance of this investigation of social, economic, political and cultural contexts has been felt across the world, at the barricades as well as in academia.
The method arms us with the ability to interpret complex questions that have up till now been treated as purely economic or political considerations. By revealing its material basis, these conceptions become both intelligible and mutable. In this period of imperialism and world-wide crisis of finance capital, when inequality reigns, when the antagonisms between the classes is creating conditions for revolutionary change, our ability to correctly read the moment and identify the method of intervention is vital.
How are our days numbered?
These days the newspapers sheepishly warn us of an impending recession. Shrinkflation, supply-chain collapses, soaring gas-prices, crude-oil shortage scares and ‘great resignations’ are everywhere. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) is feverishly organizing media out-reach events to convince the world that the growing assertion of the US Dollar over other currencies, that is overt American protectionism, is normal. The free-market is still free, we are told. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the urban petit-bourgeoisie believed this as the costs were borne by the most under-developed, marginalized and neglected people of the world. But today, the astute among the petit-bourgeoisie can smell the stink as their savings are shrinking. From the Paris Commune, the Revolution of 1848, the First Imperialist World War, the Russian Revolution, the Second Imperialist World War and the Chinese Revolution of 1948, the revolutionary wheel is turning and over the last several decades appeared to be turning away. The global cycles of financial crisis from the 70s have reminded us that we are inching ever closer to yet another crisis of global proportions. Just before revolution in Russia, Lenin tipped us off in 1916 when he said, “The fact that imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism is manifested first of all in the tendency to decay, which is characteristic of every monopoly under the system of private ownership of the means of production.” Yet, as in the case of Marx, Lenin and Gramsci, we still find many who are resigned to the inevitability of the dominance of the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, the forces in control at any given time – from Le Pen, Erdogan, Bolsonaro to Modi. These ‘strongmen’ appear unshakable. The crisis appears insurmountable. The prognosis: terminal.
The post-pandemic world is scarred. The exodus of migrants was followed by floating bodies in the rivers. The cycles of indebtedness have grown into gaping, gargantuan goliaths. Deprived of livelihood and a dignified life in the cities, the caravans of toiling masses made their way to the villages. Here, the tentacles of indebtedness have entered every home claiming for its own the able-bodied and resigned. Meanwhile, the pandemic brought super-profits for some. Adani’s personal wealth is charted by dedicated wealth aggregators and agencies, a public perception game with ‘nationalist’ interests. Even as his own indebtedness is hailed as prudent investment of capital while others reluctantly dither, protests against his acquisitions are uniting environmentalists globally. While the catch-all for current global environmental crisis is “green”, it is being done while green-lighting large-scale land acquisition. Just hours ahead of the Finance Minister’s Budget Session speech this year, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) approved Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) scheme to acquire the Sarguja Rail Corridor, effectively facilitating the transport of coal exploited in the mines of Central India to reach the Adani ports and exit the country to more profitable shores. In a programme organized by the state government and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has invited industry to invest in the state boasting of clearing lakhs of acres of land now available at cheap rates and also wiping out hooliganism through bulldozer action. Rendering lakhs of people homeless, their land barren and turning them into cheap labour for Industry, the ‘development’ goals of the political rulers across the country serve imperialism and its comprador agents. With mounting objections to these ‘development’ goals, the people of this country are organizing themselves to fight this onslaught.
The declining participation of women in the workforce is alarming economists, policy experts on the boards of imperialist agencies and bourgeois intellectuals of all shades. Losing 40 lakh women from the workforce since the opening up of the economy in the early 90s, that is, the precipitous and persistent decline since 1987 is hard to explain away. Impact assessment studies are being funded and promotional material being prepared to induce women, particularly rural women, to return. Mechanization, changing demography, and education are being put forward as possible reasons. There is a flat refusal to see the monster in the face and call it out – the melding of imperialist interests, their lackeys and feudal landlords in maintaining control over land and labour. The structural impact of keeping women out of the workforce has much deeper, more insidious consequences. While pushing for contractualization de jure, Industry has built an enormous pool of cheap labour that de facto serves its interests. Reeling under increasing costs and inadequate earnings, the intensification of crisis is pushing lakhs towards worse working conditions, precarious jobs and gig-work. Families living in cramped accommodations in the crevices of SMART cities, working multiple jobs, perpetually threatened with eviction and demolitions now form the immense mass of working people of the cities.
The distinction between the toiling people and the much-hailed enterprising minority is unabashedly marked by caste. The self-styled meritorious rising to the top, starting unicorn start-ups and engaging in the fields of edu-tech, pharmaceuticals and service-based industries are exclusively upper caste. Those attempting to get past the Brahmanical screen find themselves facing a series of finer and finer sieves. Just in case anyone had other ideas, the Brahmanical Hindutva mobs are on the ready with lynchings, demolitions and bulldozers. It is now a morbid truism to say the religious minorities in this country are facing much, much worse.
The Road Ahead
“There are no straight roads in the world; we must be prepared to follow a road which twists and turns and not try to get things on the cheap. It must not be imagined that one fine morning all reactionaries will go down on their knees of their own accord. In a word, while the prospects are bright, the road has twists and turns. There are still many difficulties ahead that we must not overlook. By uniting with the entire people in a common effort, we can certainly overcome all difficulties and win victory.” – Mao Tse-Tung, ‘On the Chungking Negotiations’, October 17, 1945
Revolutions are never peaceful or clothed in bourgeois decency. The oppressed of the world organize themselves when they have little to lose but their ways of living. The struggle against imperialist loot of resources in Odisha against POSCO and Jindal, against Adani in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala and now the Deucha Panchami Coal Mine in West Bengal, the people are organizing and leading protracted struggles on the ground. The struggle against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Registry of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) in 2019-20 marked a clear path of sustained resistance. The struggle against the anti-people Farm Laws, armed with the experiences of struggles that came before, dug its heel and surrounded the capital militantly for a year. With every such instance of people coming together, organizing and leading struggles, the people are arming themselves with newly forged instruments of struggle against the bourgeois forces. With every set-back, the people of this country are learning invaluable lessons on sacrifice on the path to victory. These sacrifices do not come easy. They remain embedded in our memory for years to come.
And then there is one man, who did not live to see his twenty-fifth year, secretly hanged by the colonial state for daring to pose an ideological threat to its existence. And yet, is remembered by an unusually large cross-section of people in North India to this day, both for his spirit of sacrifice and as a symbol of youthful fervor amidst a sea of quiet capitulation or groaning complacency. A revolutionary, a man indelibly linked to the iconic slogan Inquilab Zindabad! In 1929, Bhagat Singh, reflecting on human nature, its foibles and ability to transform prevailing conditions, said, “The people generally get accustomed to the established order of things and begin to tremble at the very idea of change. It is this lethargic spirit that needs to be replaced by the revolutionary spirit. Otherwise degeneration gains the upper hand and the whole humanity is led astray by the reactionary forces. Such a state of affairs leads to stagnation and paralysis in human progress.” He showed us that a hang-noose cannot kill an idea. Neither can it extinguish the simmering rage within us. People’s movements have shown us new ways of seeing the world, equipped us with new vocabularies of freedom. It impels us to act. Then, where do we place ourselves in history? Marx sets us square when he says the brave warriors in the path of revolution will muster new strength from each defeat. Courage increases to the extent to which we swim in the stream of history. Let us make that history.
by Nalini Rai
- Gramsci, Antonio, ‘Newspapers and the Workers’, Avanti!, December 22, 1916.
- Marx, Karl, ‘Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge’, Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher, 1844.
- Marx, Karl, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, Appendix to Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1888.
- Marx, Karl, Das Kapital, Volume III, Part VI, Chapter 47: Genesis of Capitalist Ground Rent.
- Lenin, V.I., ‘Imperialism and the Split in Socialism’, Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata, No. 2, 1916. September 8 2022.
- Times of India, ‘CreditSights finds errors in debt report on India’s Adani Group Firm. August 25th 2022.
- Times of India, ‘Protests Against Vizhinjam Port: Adani Group Moves HC for Police Protection’; August 26th 2022.
- Hindustan Times, ‘HP Apple Growers Protest Outside Adani Stores’; ‘February 7 2022.
- The Wire, ‘Jharkhand Villagers Protest Adani’s New Coal Venture, Refuse to Allow Land Acquisition Surveys’, April 11 2022.
- Down to Earth, ‘Environmentalists Protest Chhattisgarh Green Signal to Mining Projects in Hasdeo Aranya,’ December 8 2018.
- NDTV, “Stop Adani Trends for Sri Lanka Project, Protests Planned Tomorrow,” . June 15 2022.
- The Guardian, ‘Adani: Thousands Protest Across Australia Against Carmichael Mine’. January 31st 2022.
- Business Standard, ‘NCLT approves APSEZ composite scheme to acquire Sarguja Rail Corridor’. January 31st 2022.
- Business Standard, ‘NCLT approves APSEZ composite scheme to acquire Sarguja Rail Corridor’. October 21st 2022.
- Outlook, ‘Invest in MP, You Won’t Face Any Trouble As Anti-Social Elements Now Fear Bulldozer Action: Chouhan Tells Industry’. March 12 2021.
- Bloomberg, ‘How Big Tech is Importing India’s Caste Legacy to Silicon Valley’.
- Singh, Bhagat and BK Dutt, ‘On the Slogan ‘Long Live Revolution’’, The Tribune, December 24th, 1929.
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