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Aditya Nigam on Wed, 24 Dec 2003 17:38:34 +0100 (CET)


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Dear Administrator,
I am pasting an article along with this mail for your consideration - for
circulation in your list. The article addresses a controversy over the
forthcoming WSF 2004 to be held in Mumbai in January. This piece is
basically a response to a sectarian, self-styled Maoist group which has
issued a document critiquing the WSF process and calling upon people to
join their alternative event. I hope the participants of the counter
globalization movement will find it of some interest.
sincerely
Aditya Nigam


THE OLD LEFT IN A NEW WORLD: 
The Mumbai 'Resistance'?


Aditya Nigam

The time has come to put a certain Marxism alongside other religious
eschatologies - forever awaiting their millennium, always in search of the
enemy within. Reading through the document produced by the "Mumbai
Resistance 2004"(MR 2004), one cannot help simultaneously feeling both fear
and relief: fear at the sight of these hundreds of little Stalins crawling
out of the woodwork, and sheer relief that they will never be able to rule
over us ever again. That is probably one important difference between them
and the fascists of the religious Right of various hues.

The Mumbai Resistance-2004 is a motley combination of various sects of the
Far Left, mainly Indian, who have decided to put up an alternative show in
Mumbai, alongside the forthcoming World Social Forum (WSF). The main
organizers of this event are the self-styled Maoists of the Peoples' War
Group of the CPI(ML). 

If there is one constant theme that runs through the document of the MR
2004, it is the fear of "pollution" and the quest for "purity" - that
ultimate theological device that lies at the root of all campaigns of
extermination and genocide. If it is the "purity of Islam/ Christianity/
Hindutva" or the "purity of the Aryan race" which animates the fascists of
different shades, it is the "purity of the line", the campaign against
so-called "capitalist roaders" that lies at the root of different forms of
Stalinist terrorism. Every movement against the bourgeois or imperialist
order is always already tainted by the presence of the agents or agent
provocateurs of the bourgeoisie - they must be weeded out at all costs.
This is the mind-set that lies behind the most brutal experiments of
"Left-wing" social engineering of the twentieth century. We can only thank
our stars that these forces today are not powerful enough to "weed out"
anybody and must therefore reconcile themselves to simply splitting every
movement that comes their way. By way of record, let it be stated that they
have split every common citizens' initiative in India, driven by this
frenzied desire for 'clarity of the line'.

The Mumbai Resistance is an emerging formation of such 'revolutionaries',
setting itself against the World Social Forum (WSF) that has emerged in the
last four years as the major platform of the movement against corporate
globalization. The whole scenario is classic. These 'revolutionaries' lay
buried under the debris of twentieth-century socialist empires, like
viruses in inhospitable climes. Viruses are known to 'survive' in such
conditions for thousands of years and come alive only in the bodies of
living creatures - once they find a hospitable terrain to operate. With
their utopias smashed, their fantastic claims of a new socialist world of
freedom exposed for what they were - prison-houses of terror - they had
been forced to retreat. For the last decade and a half they had been pushed
back into the narrow platforms of their small sects and in-house journals
and publications, where they railed against all and sundry. With Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe gone and China and Vietnam taking the 'capitalist
road', spurned by the very 'masses' in whose name they sought to speak,
these 'revolutionaries' had disappeared from public consciousness. It was
only once the slogan "Another World is Possible", raised at the WSF some
years ago, started catching the imagination of a growing public across the
globe that it became possible, once more, for them to start crawling out
and attach themselves to the living body of this movement.

Today the crowd that styles itself as the 'MR-2004' tries to lay claim to
the "militant traditions set in the anti-globalization and anti-war
movements that assumed a new intensity after Seattle" (MR 2004, p.3). It
seeks to present itself as the forum of "organized resistance against
imperialist globalization and imperialist wars", as opposed to the WSF,
which according to the MR merely "believes that it is a time for
'reflective thinking and debate' - debate that never moves in the direction
of reaching a conclusion to guide the movement towards action"(Ibid. p.
10). Communist parties, said good old Stalin, are not debating societies;
they are the vanguards of the revolution. All debate must be 'clinched' - a
typically Stalinist term - so that our revolutionaries can "guide the
movement". A chill runs down the spine as one reads the document: The task
at hand is "how to correctly identify the enemy and distinguish real
friends from those who only posture as being against globalization" (p. 8,
emphasis added). For here the WSF, it says, is so designed as to camouflage
the crucial issues, thus defusing the struggle against globalization"
(p.9). And presumably it is the 'real revolutionaries' who will decide who
is 'genuinely' against globalization. However, one must not miss the
tragi-comic element here: these self-styled vanguards, rejected by the very
'people' on whose behalf they speak (the working class, the peasantry etc),
nevertheless continue to live in the fantastic worlds of their own making.
It is only in this world that they are vanguards. A friend once told us of
a saying in Telegu which goes something like this: a dog walking between
the two wheels of a bullock cart is often overcome by the delusion that the
bullock cart is actually moving because of it!

According to the MR, the "Another World is Possible" is too amorphous an
idea. As against this, they want to present a "concretely defined
alternative socio-economic structure" and there is only one such
alternative: "a self-reliant economy, moving towards a genuine socialist
order" (pp. 3-4). No attempt is ever made to explain what on earth this
"genuine socialist order" is! Much like a theological belief in
deliverance, Qayamat or Sat-yuga, this is an article of faith. How can you
debate an article of faith! No more bogus and meaningless debates, the
document lays down. You must move towards action. So "Another World is
Possible", we are told, is amorphous and "Socialism" is crystal clear. In
the absence of any explication of this 'socialism' we can only assume that
it will be another rehash of twentieth century authoritarian statist
models. And if that be the case, please let us ordinary mortals live in
this amorphous world.

The MR claim of being a real forum of resistance, as opposed to the
debating club that is the WSF, is a suspect claim given the fact that its
main proponents have no strength or mass following worthy of conducting any
serious resistance. Small theological sects do not offer any resistance. At
best they can create some noise. The Peoples' War Group of the CPI(ML) that
leads this effort is best known for occasional terroristic attacks on
innocent targets - bus loads of the very poor they claim to represent,
peasants who refuse to follow their "line" and vote in elections. In this
last decade, they have not been able to organize one single big act of mass
resistance to either globalization or to Hindutva fascism. Whatever
resistance there has been in India has come from a range of initiatives of
ordinary citizens, suspiciously similar to those who support the WSF. But
this dubious claim of being the "real" resistance apart, the document
betrays a total lack of understanding of the counter-globalization
movement, even though it has the temerity to suggest that it alone has the
vision to lead it. This suggestion is implicit in the claim that they alone
have the true diagnosis and the true alternative - as well as in the claim
that they want to "help" the movement find the truly revolutionary
direction (Ibid. p. 15). Let us just take two instances of this political
illiteracy of the drafters of the MR document, regarding the
counter-globalization movement.

First, while it rightly seeks to make a distinction between what it calls
the militant traditions of the post-Seattle struggles (Genoa, Prague,
Melbourne etc) and the WSF, it completely misses the significance of both.
The WSF, says the document, "is so designed as to camouflage the crucial
issues and thus defuse the struggle against imperialist globalization…" (p.
9). Its complaint is that the WSF "is opposed to any form of effective
organization." We will return to the WSF in a while but for the time being
let us turn our attention to the post-Seattle movement, since the MR claims
to present itself as a "continuation of the militant traditions" (p. 3) of
that movement. Many Left groups in India, including the MR, see in this
movement that living body to which they can latch on and multiply,
heralding a kind of resurgence of the old Stalinist communist movement.
Some of them have even referred to it as signaling in some way, the "return
of Karl Marx". As a matter of fact, Seattle itself was a complex beginning,
where many different shades of those opposed to neo-liberalism were
present: ranging from those demanding that China be kept out of the WTO,
to the big labour unions seeking to protect their jobs and prevent their
relocation to third world sweatshops. It is true that the subsequent
movement has seen the more militantly anticapitalist contingents take the
lead. Nevertheless, something that the MR and the Old Left in general do
not wish to face is the fact that the most militant sections of the
movements comprise precisely those groups whom they have always attacked
(and continue to do so in the MR document), namely the anarchists, the
pacifists, the ecologists, the feminists, the movements of plural
sexualities, the indigenous movements. It is precisely their presence that
makes for the "amorphous character" of the movement. And it is precisely
such movements that some of the revolutionaries of the Old Left in India
have routinely attacked as agents of imperialism and carriers of bourgeois
ideology. In a companion document that is being circulated by the MR,
brought out by an outfit that styles itself as the "Research Unit on
Political Economy"(RUPE), the emergence of all 'non-class' movements such
as these are attributed to the influence of "postmodernism" and dismissed.
Consider the following: "Postmodernism places all struggles on par with
class as just another social category jostling with gender, ethnicity,
nationality and so on…"(The Economics and Politics of the World Social
Forum: Lessons for the Struggle Against 'Globalization',
http://www.rupe-india.org). This pamphlet goes on to critique postmodernism
for "ruling out the possibility of united action by various social sections
on the basis of common objective interests…" and merely talking about
"varying coalitions/ alliances" (all emphasis original). This is not the
place to go into a discussion of "postmodernism" nor indeed to point out
that the document lumps together as "postmodernism", one hundred years of
internal critique of Marxism, on grounds of gender, and race-blindness, for
example. However, it is worthwhile reflecting upon what lies behind this
assertion of the document. Why does it reject coalitions and alliances?
Because these are built upon an implicit equality between different
constituents: there is no vanguard and no commonly defined programme to
which all must submit before becoming a part of the movement. To accord
absolute priority to 'class' is to suggest that all other movements are
inferior. On the other hand, in the new forms of struggle and resistance
that have emerged, it is networks of movements that play a crucial role.
Programmes and visions only emerge in the course of what Marx, describing
the Paris Commune, called the "real movement that had no ideals to realize,
no blueprints to which the world must conform". What is so problematic for
the Stalinist MR proponents and their RUPE allies, is that this character
of the movement leaves no room for a common programme, no room for
self-styled vanguards. Thus the lament: "Naturally, this school of
postmodernism implies that no single political force can represent the
common interests of all sections of the people in a country."(emphasis
added). The MR "revolutionaries" are oblivious of the fact that it is
precisely as a reaction to this kind of vanguardism that new networks of
activist groups and movements have emerged that made Seattle, Melbourne,
Genoa or Prague possible. Anybody who has been even cursorily following the
developments and the debates within the movement knows that these groups
have their own fairly trenchant critiques of some of the more disturbing
tendencies within the WSF and its regional sections like the European
Social Forum (ESF). But their critique is radically different from that of
the MR revolutionaries, for their argument is that it is precisely the
vanguardist ambitions of the Old Left and many other sections like the big
NGOs that is hijacking the WSF process and leading to its increasing
bureaucratization. Their criticisms are directed against the increasingly
hierarchical and top-down character being acquired by the WSF - not against
their "amorphous" and network- based or coalitional character. It is also
worth remembering that while such criticisms are being made, as was also
done for instance in the context of the recently held ESF in Paris, none of
these groups have decided to start their own sectarian platforms. Rather,
they organized their own autonomous space within the ESF - 'not in
competition', nor 'anti-ESF', but in order to "contaminate by association,
the ESF with non-heirarchical practices"(See for instance, Linden Farrer,
"World Forum Movement: Abandon or Contaminate",
http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/wsf/worldforum.htm).  In
India on the other hand, three alternative events by different Maoist sects
have been planned in opposition to the main event. So much for continuity
with the militant traditions of the post Seattle movement!

Second, the MR revolutionaries, still caught in the old world imagination
of national self-reliance and sovereignty, merely read their own
nationalist predilections into the movement. The entire imagination of
these revolutionaries is fixated on the nation-state and their "only true
alternative" is the old autarkic model of the 1960s and 1970s: "It believes
that prosperity and growth in India, as with all other underdeveloped
countries, can be achieved only through a self-reliant economy", with "a
total break from all controls"(p. 4). If such a possibility existed for
some time in the aftermath of the breakup of colonial empires, reiteration
of these models in the present merely betrays a complete ignorance of the
dynamics of contemporary capitalism itself. There are many complex issues
involved here and the nature of present-day capitalism is beyond the scope
of this discussion. But this clearly is a perspective that is far, far
removed from that of the radical counter-globalization movement that they
fraudulently invoke. One of the most striking aspects of this movement is
its extremely fluid and mobile character, powered through the new
communication technologies, such that it is able to move from one location
to another in an almost immaterial form. This movement cannot be fixed to
any territorial location. How far such strategies can be replicated in
countries like India is of course another matter and is something that new
left thinking in countries of the global south will have to address in the
coming years. Interestingly, the only contingents of nationalists in this
movement are to be found in the WSF, rather the movement that the MR claims
to align itself with. Notable among these nationalists, it is well known
are powerful sections within France for instance, who have links with the
Socialist Party and the French Communist Party, as also the labour unions
seeking to defend their own workers' jobs. There is also the powerful
section that advocates the Tobin Tax on financial transactions (ATTAC) and
many others who believe that capitalism can be reined in and the impact of
neo-liberalism contained. The presence of such groups give the process its
distinctive character, even as they pose a threat to its non-heirarchical
character. This is what makes the Forum a highly contested space but a
space nevertheless that makes it possible to take along those who may be
prepared to come at least a part of the way in the struggle. This is of
critical importance today and to insist that those who are not prepared to
come the full way (socialism?), need not come at all, as the MR
revolutionaries would have it is to remain confined to small theological
sects.
On the other hand, the militant counter globalization movement (Seattle
etc), need not be romanticized either. It is well-known that that movement
too has been riven with problems and have been debated, often acrimoniously
among the participants. The resort to violence by some anarchist groups for
instance, has alienated some sections, while relatively low participation
of people of colour in these movements has been underlined by many others.
Neither the post-Seattle movement nor the WSF, therefore, can be treated as
finally emerged forms. They are movements-in-process. What is more
important, the logic of neither of these processes can be simply replicated
in other contexts like those of the global south. That may neither be
possible nor even desirable. Our purpose in pointing to these two broad
areas of MR's representation of these movements is to merely underline the
political sleight of hand involved in invoking the post-Seattle struggles
to critique the WSF.

A word now on the World Social Forum. The problems of the WSF arise not
because it is an open space for deliberation and reflective thinking - but
precisely of its utopian dimension. For it is utopian to believe that "open
non-heirarchical spaces" can exist in a world inhabited by big bureaucratic
parties, big funded NGOs and vanguardist sects. Such spaces are always
susceptible to the machinations of big organizations. There are indeed many
disconcerting trends and tendencies that need to be watched and checked for
once a space like this becomes institutionalized, it cannot do without a
bureaucracy of its own and the need for funds which open it to all kinds of
undesirable influences. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that given certain
inbuilt checks like barring political parties from participating in it,
forbidding of common statements and communiqués etc - precisely the kind of
checks being opposed by the MR - this space cannot be fully hijacked. No
party can therefore determine its content. The idea behind this is simple
but beyond the comprehension of the Old Left: the WSF is precisely an
occasion for making contact, exchanging opinions, learning to know each
other so that movements can break out of their isolation and form alliances
and coalitions. It is emphatically not a forum of organized resistance.
Resistances and struggles continue - at every point where power is
exercised. The WSF merely provides a space for the emergence of new
solidarities for these alone, not vanguardist sects, will become the
vehicles of the politics of a different world of equals.

Aditya Nigam
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
29 Rajpur Road,
Delhi-110054

Tel: 2250 2784 (R), 2394 2199, 2395 1190 (O)

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