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This chapter studies closely Marx’s use of notions of people, class and multitude in his historical writings. How does revolution produce its subject? To begin with, labour is the objective condition for the reproduction of capital, yet labour is the revolutionary subject. These two meanings of labour stand at the heart of the postcolonial condition, their engagement trapped in a deadlock. Likewise, under the postcolonial condition the promise of an emergence of a revolutionary form of subjectivity can never be shown as a natural attribute of a phenomenon, but always an attribute of a condition: a conjuncture of circumstances when class struggles transform into mass struggles. It is thus a condition showing promise but no guarantee. The chapter discusses the term “multitude” from this angle, and draws attention to the problematic of people; why people have become the most important concept of politics in the postcolonial condition, how to understand the category of people, how to make sense of the overwhelming phenomenon called populism, and how to analyse the over-determination of classes and masses in politics. Radical transformation of society depends on a resolution of these questions.
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For instance, Asok Sen, “The Frontiers of the Prison Notebooks”, Economic and Political Weekly, 23 (5), 30 January 1988, pp. PE 31–PE 36; Sudipta Kaviraj, “A Critique of the Passive Revolution,” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XXXIII, no. 45–47, 1988; pp. 2429–2444; The exception to this passive understanding among the Indian Marxists was perhaps Ajit Roy, who frontally brought in the question of classes and class conflicts while discussing the independence of 1947; see, “‘Revolution by Consent’: Indian Case Study” Economic and Political Weekly, Volume 17 (46–47), 13–20 November 1982, pp. 1876–1874.
Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 (1850)— https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/class-struggles-france/ (accessed on 21 March 2016); Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851–52) in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works (MECW), Volume 11 (New York: International Publishers, 1979)— https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/18th-Brumaire.pdf (accessed on 21 March 2016); Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (1870–1871)— https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ (accessed on 21 March 2016).
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1850/class-struggles-france/ch01.htm (accessed on 1 June 2016).
Here Marx also repeatedly invokes the disparity of the past and the present, dead and living, unprepared present and a revolutionary future, stymied condition and the process of the blocked condition being suddenly opened up by a knife. It is a phantasmagoria. Therefore, “And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle-cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language.” The class is thus always facing the spectral presence of the people appearing as past, images of the society in which the working class is living, and trying as one “who has learnt a new language to translate it back to his mother tongue.”— The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte in Karl Marx, Frederick Engels Collected Works (MECW), Volume 11, pp. 103–105; Class struggle will be thus always caught in two modalities, two temporalities—the relation between class and the people being one of the crucial registers of these two modalities and two temporalities.
J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975).
Marx’s concern with the nation and the international in view of the class struggles he was studying was clear from his Secret Diplomatic History of the Nineteenth Century (also known as Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 19th Century), 1856–57 (Rome: Editora Griffo, n.d.).
This is also true with regard to the moment of republican constitution of India (1946–50).
Chapter 10 discusses this point in detail.
Marx wrote, “Hence the highest development of productive power together with the greatest expansion of existing wealth will coincide with depreciation of capital, degradation of the labourer, and a most straitened exhaustion of his vital powers…”— Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), 1857–58, trans. Martin Nicolaus (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), pp. 676–677.
Etienne Balibar has written, “This is in the end the aporia, or in any case the difficulty, of the politics of the rights of man: the risky putting into the balance of the power that makes and unmakes constitutional orders through the invention of new rights, or the extension of rights, at the limits of democracy.” in E. Balibar in Masses, Classes, and Ideas, trans. Trans. James Swenson, Chapter 9, “What is a Politics of the Rights of Man?” (London: Routledge, 1994, pp. 205–226), p. 224.
Michel Foucault, Security, Territory Population, Lectures at the College de France, 1977–1978, ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
V.I. Lenin, What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats (1894) in Lenin Collected Works, Volume 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), pp. 129–332.
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, authorised English edition 1887 (London: Panther edition, 1969), Chapter 2, “The Great Towns” (pp. 57–93), pp. 57–58.
Benedict (or Baruch) Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise, 1669, Chapter 7, p. 71— http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/assets/pdfs/spinoza1669.pdf (accessed on 2 January 2016).
Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude for an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson (New York: Semiotext(e). 2004).
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_The_Civil_War_in_France.pdf (accessed on 3 June 2015).
Antonio Gramsci wrote, “A common error in historico-political analysis consists in an inability to find the correct relation between what is organic and what is conjunctural. This leads to presenting causes as immediately operative which in fact only operate indirectly, or to asserting that the immediate causes are the only effective ones. In the first case there is an excess of ‘economism’ or doctrinaire pedantry, in the second an excess of ‘ideologism’. In the first case there is an overestimation of mechanical causes, in the second exaggeration of the voluntarist and individual element.”— Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, eds. & trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (London: Elecbook, 1999), p. 401; one has to note further that the conjunctural appears and accelerates in the time of a crisis..—p. 400; Marx had written of such a situation—France in 1848.
V.I. Lenin, “Theses on the National Question” (1913) in Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), pp. 243–251.
Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 299.
“the moment of hegemony and consent as a necessary form of the concrete historical bloc”, Ibid., p. 209.
The Civil War in France, “The Second Address”— https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_The_Civil_War_in_France.pdf (accessed on 2 June 2016).
The Civil War in France, Introduction by Frederick Engels, 1891— https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_The_Civil_War_in_France.pdf (accessed on 2 June 2016).
In the midst of his discussion on the division of labour, Marx alluded to “the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa, which presents man as a mere fragment of his own body”—Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1990), Chapter 14, “The Division of labour and Manufacturer”, pp. 481–82.
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (London: Penguin, 2004), p. 103.
Ibid., p. 106.
Ibid., p. 162, also p. 330.
Ibid., p. 86.
A Grammar of the Multitude, Chapter 6— https://libcom.org/library/6-ten-theses-multitude-post-fordist-capitalism-day-four (accessed on 6 June 2016).
Mao Tse Tung, “Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society”, March 1926, Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung, Volume 1— https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_1.htm (accessed on 3 June 2016); Apart from the fact that Mao placed the question of classes in the framework of determining friends and foes of revolution, therefore never proposing any non-class theme of people, one has note the way he used the word “people”. He used the word 15 times, never in the sense of people as a composite category. He used it mostly in the sense of “persons”, and in the sense of people belonging to certain class. Indeed, it will be a worthwhile effort to see how the concept of people evolved over the years in Mao’s writings.
Mao Tse Tung, “On Policy”, 25 December 1940, Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung, Volume 2 (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1967), pp. 441–49.
Mao Tse Tung, “The Question of Independence and Initiative within the United Front”, 5 November 1938, Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung, Volume 2— https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-2/mswv2_11.htm (accessed on 3 June 2015).
Colonial history in the twentieth century witnessed many forms of agrarian populism, often in militant form. With the rise of the kulak economy and commercialisation of agriculture, agrarian populism came to be dominated by rich peasants and owner farmers driven by issues of remunerative prices of cash crops, abolition of land ceilings, greater supply of inputs at cheap rates and so on. See, D.N. Dhangare, Populism and Power: Farmers’ Movement in Western India, 1980–2014 (London: Routledge, 2016). Industrial populism has often taken the form of a belief and strategy of building workers’ cooperatives to own factories and workshops, and trying to make them market-viable. Yet in times of recession and attacks on workers by capitalists this has been one of the main defences of workers. This shows once again the double nature of lower-class populism and populist strategies based on the aspirations of the lower classes.
For a reflection on the evolution of the working class on a global scale, Ingo Schmidt, “The Downward March of Labour Halted? The Crisis of Neo-liberal Capitalism and the Remaking of Working Classes”, Working USA: The Journal of Labour and Society, 17 (1), March 2014, pp. 1–22; also available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1743-4580) (accessed on 5 September 2015).
The new situation in case of labour is brought out clearly in the global overview by Christien Van Den Anker and Ilse Van Liempt (eds.), Human Rights and Migration: Trafficking for Forced Labour (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012); see also Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parrenas (eds.), Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010); also, Samita Sen, “Engaging with the Idea of Transit Labour”, in Samita Sen, Byasdeb Dasgupta, Babu P. Remesh, and Moulehsri Vyas, Situating Transit Labour, CRG research paper series Policies and Practices, 43, 2012.
Teodor Shanin (ed.), Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and the “Peripheries of Capitalism” (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983); for a critique of Shanin, Jim Heartfield, “The Late Marx, Lenin, and the Russian Road” (n.d.)— http://www.marxmail.org/archives/july98/shanin.htm (accessed on 25 May 2016); on this see also, Kevin B. Anderson, “Marx’s Late Writings on Russia Re-examined”, Theory/Practice: News and Letters, November 2007; also on the thesis of peasant economy, Aleksandr Chayanov, The Theory of Peasant Economy (University of Wisconsin Press, 1986).
Lenin’s response to populism is discussed in Chapter 10.
On this, Usta Patnaik (ed.), Agrarian Relations and Accumulation: The Mode of Production Debate in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991); see also in this connection, Utsa Patnaik and Sam Moyo, The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era: Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry (Cape Town: Pambazuka Press, 2011).
Peter Custers, “Rethinking Marxism: The Manufacturing Phase in Europe”, Frontier Autumn Number, 48 (14–17), October 11–November 7, 2015— http://frontierweekly.com/articles/vol-48/48-14-17/48-14-17-Rethinking%20Marxism.html (accessed on 18 October 2015).
On right-wing populism in Europe, G.M. Tamas, “The Mystery of Populism Finally Unveiled”, Open Democracy, 24 February 2017— https://www.opendemocracy.net/wfd/can-europe-make-it/g-m-tam-s/mystery-of-populism-finally-unveiled (accessed on 2 May 2017).
On the crisis in the 1970s, R. Samaddar, The Crisis of 1974 and the Rank and File in the Indian Railway Strike (Delhi: Primus, forthcoming).
On the contentious politics of the time and popular protests, Ranabir Samaddar, “Prescribed, Tolerated, and Forbidden Forms of Claim Making” in Pradip Kumar Bose and Samir Kumar Das (eds.), Social Justice and Enlightenment: West Bengal, Volume 1 (pp. 153–179) of State of Justice in India: Issues of Social Justice, ed. Ranabir Samaddar (New Delhi: Sage, 2009).
On this my reading of populist movements and politics in the postcolonial world veers away from Ernesto Laclau’s reading in On Populist Reason (2005) as well as his and Chantal Mouffe’s thesis on radical democracy, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (1985). See Dan Hancox, “Why Ernesto Laclau is the Intellectual Figurehead for Syriza and Podemos”, 9 February 2015— http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/09/ernesto-laclau-intellectual-figurehead-syriza-podemos (accessed on 1 July 2015).
Therefore Ernesto Laclau in On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005) could never analyse the “people” as a material category or even state analytically what he thought of the term “people” except that it was a linguistic product (hence away from the shadowy notion of class, a term absent from the book); see particularly Chapter 4, “The ‘People’ and the Discursive Production of Emptiness”, pp. 68–128. Class struggle appears only eight times in the book. He wrote, “So we can say that progress in understanding populism requires as a sine qua non, rescuing it from a marginal position within the discourse of the social sciences—the latter having confined it to the realm of the non-thinkable, to being the simple opposite of political forms dignified with the status of a full rationality.” (p. 19) Populism is thus to Laclau a question of reason/unreason to be debated by social sciences; it has nothing or less to do with class and people, class/people, and their relation.
Review of Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason by Jon Beasley-Murray, Contemporary Political Theory, 2006, 5 (pp. 362–367), p. 363.
Thomas Lemke, “Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique”, Paper presented at the Rethinking Marxism Conference, University of Amherst (MA), September 21–24, 2000— http://www.thomaslemkeweb.de/publikationen/Foucault,%20Governmentality,%20and%20Critique%20IV-2.pdf (accessed on 11 June 2016).
I am alluding to the lines with which the late Richard Rorty ended Consequences of Pragmatism (University of Minnesota Press, 1982)— http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/index.htm (accessed on 17 March 2016).
Etienne Balibar has made famous the concept, “equaliberty”. See his, Equaliberty: Political Essays (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).
- The Problematic of People
- Chapter 8
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