Tapas Ray on Fri, 24 Aug 2007 16:20:06 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> the west shifts to the left?

As one whose home is in Calcutta (Kolkata), I can only wonder why
Negri should place this city on a new axis challenging the existing
hegemony, as Alex seems to suggest he does. I have been unable to find
the interview, and this response is based solely on Alex's post.

First, the economic aspect. The state of West Bengal, of which
Calcutta is the administrative capital, lags behind some other states
of India (not to speak of the global north) in many areas of human
development, and is struggling to industrialise. It does have a
significant, largely export-oriented information technology industry,
but even this is smaller than what some other Indian cities possess.

But then maybe this city *can* be placed on a global economic axis
... the hegemonic one, not a counter-hegemonic one. More on this in a

Meanwhile, on a more geopolitical view of things, any claim about
Calcutta's place on an axis challenging "empire" seems untenable.
True, a leftwing coalition led by India's largest communist party,
CPI(M), has been ruling the state of West Bengal from Calcutta since
1977. True, in recent weeks this party has been threatening to
withdraw support from its ally, the Indian National Congress (INC) -
which runs the federal government in Delhi - if it does not refrain
from operationalising a civilian nuclear deal with the USA that is
seen as being detrimental to China's interests.

But many people in this part of the world believe these are mere
histrionics, the object being (a) to convince its followers that it
retains some vestiges of its old leftism, and (b) to put pressure on
the INC and the federal government in order to extract concessions
for its state government in Calcutta (West Bengal). The latest news
(today) is that the CPI(M) is *not* pulling out of the alliance yet,
even though the federal government stands firm in its commitment to
the US.

Now back to the economic aspect. As I mentioned above, Calcutta is
a major producer of information technology and ITES (IT enabled
services) products (such as back office operations) for the global
north, supplying cheap labour for these industries. As such, it can
be seen as shoring up the bottomlines of Northern companies. More
sinister, perhaps, is the manner in which manufacturing industries are
being invited into the state, through the by-now-infamous mechanism of
SEZs (special economic zones).

Not only do these SEZs potentially displace hundreds of thousands
of people from their land, but are in essence militarised spaces,
within whose boundaries the normal democratic laws of India will stand
suspended. While criticising SEZs on the national level, the CPI(M)
has been trying to promote them within West Bengal - which it rules
itself. A large number of people have dies in the Nandigram area - 14
in a single incident of police firing in mid-March - over the CPI(M)'s
attempt to push through an SEZ (promoted by an Indonesian group known
to have aided and abetted the slaughter of communists in its own
country) in the face of villagers' opposition.

SEZs being the militarised outposts of corporate north, as well as
those who engage profitably with it, it is easy to see that the
"leftists" of Calcutta are trying hard to place this city on the
global economic axis - the hegemonic one.

The latest news is that the "leftist" government is thinking
of not using the term "SEZ" to refer to the project earlier
planned for Nandigram and now being shifted a few kilometres on
account of popular resistance. If this means a lower level of
regimentation/militarisation, the people of Nandigram will have
succeeded in shifting Calcutta just a little away from the axis of
global hegemony, though not place it on the counter-hegemonic axis as
Negri seems to be wishing for.


Alex Foti wrote:

> In an interview in La Paz published today, Toni Negri
> stated in an interview that geopolitical multilateralism
> is now a reality and that the economic axis of empire no
> longer runs on newyork-washington-hollywood but on the
> brasilia-bruxelles-calcutta(kolkata) parallel. The first part of the
> statement is undoubtedly true, but what about the second part: don't
> you find it weird to juxtapose Brazil, Europe and India?

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