Taibbi published a new article today, this one about the collusion of major banks in rigging the LIBOR and ICAP rates. The details of the actual collusion are written about with great clarity and, just according to formula, Matt inserts a number of anecdotes and side-quips about the absurdity these criminal cliques on Wall Street. It’s a familiar ritual at this point, one that even many Marxists appreciate: Here is a respected journalist who consistently publishes articles critical of Wall Street in a mainstream outlet.
But here I think we need to ask ourselves, to what ends does this Taibbi-style critique of financial capitalism serve? This moralistic anti-capitalism has a very curious and I think detrimental effect. By highlighting and pointing out the most obvious and particular corruptions of capitalism (rate fixing, insider trading, fraud, etc.), the outrage of the audience is directed towards individuals and certain crimes. And when this becomes “the norm” for reporting on “capitalist criminality” what is obscured is the very criminality of capitalism itself. It is more radicalizing to uncover the everyday, often invisible barbarity of the system than to gush over its most egregious crimes. The appearance of “sin” or deviation from the “social norm” is in fact just a momentary revelation of the even more putrid and disturbing machinations of a system that was born out of criminality (primitive accumulation) and has in its DNA the normalization of theft (surplus value).
“Why doesn’t the SEC do its job?!” “Where’s Obama?!” “The regulators are asleep at the wheel!” “How could they let this happen!” “No one could have seen the housing crash coming!” These are all statements made by people who don’t understand capitalism. The regulators were never meant to do their job because they’re staffed by former lobbyists and bankers. They only give a shit when they fuck over other capitalists. Obama is nowhere to be found because he sold out before he even set foot in the Senate. And actually, many capitalists and hedge fund managers did know about the housing bubble and chose to stay silent while making huge profits as people lost their livelihoods and homes. The political difference between questions like “Why doesn’t the SEC do its job?” and “Why does this system exist to benefit a few at the expense of many?” is serious and is the core difference between reformism and revolutionary politics.
The omission of the revolutionary question “Why this system?” is meant to frame the acceptable range of action and choices. It is quite ironic when liberals like Matt Yglesias praise Bangladesh for exercising its “choice” to have lax workplace safety laws in favor of higher-paying jobs (by the way Matt, the connection between workplace safety and pay isn’t actually real [one of the most dangerous and lowest paying jobs in America is hotel housekeeping]) when the real, fundamental choice is between capitalism and socialism. “Choice” for people like Yglesias is the false choice between higher pay with the added risk of the factory collapsing on you, and slightly lower pay and a factory not collapsing on you (but maybe still catching fire Triangle Shirtwaist style). The inconceivable possibility of organizing to demand safety and fair wages, let alone to put an end to this barbarism once and for all is so out of mind for Yglesias and his readers that the omission isn’t even shocking to anyone besides uhhh, me I guess? The same can largely be said about Taibbi, although I would never lump Taibbi in the same category as a neoliberal sell-out like Yglesias.
All I’m saying is this kind of reporting and analysis has direct political consequences for the readers. So in Conclusion: Communists are the real champions of choice and liberty, everyone else is a hypocrite and/or needs to Read a Marx.
Drones are in the headlines lately. The liberal reformist wing of the ruling faction has been forced (yes, forced) into considering the contradiction in its own behavior the past four years. With a “liberal” President in office, the most vocal opposition to this deadly weapon in the state’s arsenal of international terror has been effectively silenced. What the capitalist media calls “partisan politics” essentially means that the faction which once sought to gain from denouncing the now liberal application of drone strikes has found itself in a quandary it cannot excuse itself of: their leader Obama has not only expanded the use of the program, but codified it in a legal framework that would ensure all future representatives of the ruling factions will have a reliable, flexible basis to assassinate anyone, anywhere for any reason.
What we find in this unique situation is a truly revealing glimpse at the nature of bourgeois politics and its inherent alienation, its fundamental rejection and repulsion of mass democracy…. and it’s manufacturing and molding of mass opinion. Not only has public opinion reversed itself from opposition to outright support for the simple fact that the form and appearance of the program has changed (from Republican to Democratic leadership), but the material reality is that the program has expanded and grown more terrifying. Despite this, the hegemonic space of liberal reformism has ensured that reactionary politics has a safe zone. What has been revealed by this saga is that anti-war liberals are not acting out of any principled stance, but vicariously through the reformist wing of the ruling faction. Their stance follows remarkably in lock-step with this liberal hegemony, whose powers of cooptation I have warned against before. That power has grown enormously, and the silencing effect of Obama’s reactionary politics amongst his former “anti-war” supporters is a stunning, if not all surprising, confirmation of that fact.
This form of politics is not politics as such, it is politics through another. Politics experienced through the eyes of Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes or Wolf Blitzer is not politics. Their job in the hegemonic space is to affirm the coordinates of acceptable action. Assassination programs are not reprehensible or out of bounds in this mode of thinking- they are acceptable when molded, reformed and made digestible. Obama is a tenderizer. He takes what is undeniably shit and makes it edible for mass consumption, and his employees are there to market it. “Politics” in this sense is an object which the purveyors of acceptable, safe, liberal reformism pass their manufactured opinions through. The fetish-object is wholly controlled, shaped and manipulated through traditional media and becomes a sort of semi-holy signifier of what is and is not allowed.
Yet the drone program does something even more profound. It breaks even the most sophisticated attempts at marketing, justifying, explaining, qualifying and reasoning away the obvious terror of unrelenting and unbounded sanctioning of state violence. The state has signaled to the populace that it is the judge, jury and executioner of every one of its citizens and it will never stop watching you. It has established the reality, in letter, that it is above all control and all restraint. And even the talking heads of liberal hegemony have had to admit – not because of any significant pressure from the Left – that there may be something wrong here. That maybe, this is going too far. Maybe, if they could shake the amnesia of the last four years, they could remember a time when this expansion of lethal authority would be denounced without hesitation. But that is all background noise at this point, because to turn back from their owners in the Democratic party would be to commit a sin greater than any innocent children being torn to shreds half away around the world in the name of preserving freedom. No, offending the liberal wing of the ruling faction would be simply too dangerous.
And there is something seductive about the Drone. Anti-war protests against the Vietnam War had very little to do with the innocent victims of imperialism. On the contrary, these liberals were concerned about their first-world selves getting shifted into the war machine and shot to pieces in some jungle. Or seeing it happen to their friends or family. Caskets coming home with American flags draped over them is what fueled that protest movement, not napalm bombs and village massacres. Drones don’t need funerals, they just bomb them. Not only that, they’re high-tech and efficient. Any drone strike can be marketed as a victory because the people on the receiving end have never been tried or convicted. To the liberal still operating in hegemonic space, this is the win-win that everyone can feel good about. Until the images of dead children start popping up in their facebook feeds.
As communists, with a class analysis of society, we don’t need to play these games. Our hearts and our minds are clear because our eyes and our best analysis show us that these are the machinations of executive class power, concentrated in the state. We can reveal the layers of deception because we have no loyalties to appease or sensitivities to sugar up. Yet it is our greatest failure that the liberal hegemonic machine has been able to, so soon after the great Iraq War protests (let alone Occupy), reverse the inroads we have made against this beast. We will never be able to stop this machine until every fake anti-war liberal is shown their true face. We must reveal fake allies before we smash real enemies. That is the hardest and most important step.
I should preface this by saying I’m by no means and expert and this is just a general overview of a very complex situation. There are so many dimensions to this struggle that I couldn’t even begin to cover them all at once. The Naxalite uprising touches on issues as diverse as race, sex, class, land rights, the future of the environment, the long history of Adivasi resistance, the formation of the Indian state and the realities of 21st century capitalist development. We often ask ourselves: what will the next great revolutionary moment look like and how will a modern capitalist state react to it? And that is what is happening, right now in India. That said, we shouldn’t forget that these are real people with real, complex motivations and attempts to reduce them to some “revolutionary subjectivity” are patronizing if not a bit dehumanizing. Still, I think it’s worth having a discussion about how this conflict is developing. Hopefully people with more knowledge will be able to contribute what they know.
Note: I’ll be importing a lot of stuff from the paper I wrote so if the writing style looks academic…. that’s because it is. It’ll be obvious when I’m interjecting though.
First, I think we should get an idea of what exactly the Indian state is and what it isn’t.
The so-called “Red Corridor”:
The Indian economy is the world’s tenth-largest by nominal GDP and third-largest by purchasing power parity(PPP). Following market-based economic reforms in 1991, India became one of the fastest-growing major economies; it is considered a newly industrialised country. However, it continues to face the challenges of poverty, illiteracy, corruption, and inadequate public healthcare. A nuclear weapons state and a regional power, it has the third-largest standing army in the world and ranks tenth in military expenditure among nations. India is a federalconstitutional republic governed under a parliamentary system consisting of 28 states and 7 union territories. It is one of the five BRICS nations.
The primary base of support for the Naxalites are the Adivasis, a general term used for “scheduled tribes” and “indigenous peoples”. It is important to understand that the Adivasis are not a homogenous social group (Bijoy 2008, 1756). This category accounts for 635 distinct communities (out of 5,653 total), 577 of which are considered scheduled tribes. These tribes make up 8.32% of the total population (84.23 million people), dispersed across 23 of India’s 28 states and union territories; a geographic area of about 15% of the country’s territory. Population sizes within this category vary between different groups, with the Gonds numbering over 5 million and the Great Andamanese only 18 (Bijoy 2008, 1756). The regions with the largest Adivasi populations are in central and northeast India, precisely where Naxalites exert the most influence. States with the most active Naxalite presence in central India are Andhra Pradesh where 6.59% of the total population are Adivasi, 26.30% in Jharkhand, 31.76% in Chhattisgarh, 22.13% in Orissa, 20.27% in Madhya Pradesh and 5.50% in West Bengal (Bijoy 2008, 1757).
Kennedy & King (2011) demonstrates that the Adivasis are even lower in the Indian social order than the “untouchables” which are themselves at the bottom of the Indian caste system. The following table offers a picture of their abysmal health situation:
(Kennedy & King 2011, 1640) Other indicators of socioeconomic standing point to a similar picture of deprivation. Guha notes, for example, that
the literacy rate of adivasis is, at 23.8 per cent, considerably lower than that of the dalits [untouchables], which stands at 30.1 per cent. As many as 62.5 per cent of adivasi children who enter school dropout before they matriculate; whereas this happens only with 49.4 per cent of dalit children. While a shocking 41.5 per cent of dalits live under the official poverty line, the proportion of adivasis who do so is even higher – 49.5 per cent. (Guha 2007, 3306)
Guha (2007) argues that, although these scheduled tribes are internally diverse, they share many of the same economic, social, cultural and political characteristics and relations to the broader Indian society that distinguish them (p. 3306). It is, for example, possible to draw distinctions between the Adivasis and the Naga who live in India’s northeast corner and northwestern Burma. The Naga, who themselves experienced the blunt end of British colonialism and Indian neocolonialism (as will be demonstrated later), are still relatively better positioned to take advantage of the education system and have been “largely exempt from the trauma caused by dispossession; till recently, their location in a corner of the country has inhibited dam builders and mine owners from venturing near them” (Guha 2007, 3305-06).
The issue of dispossession, in addition socioeconomic deprivation, has also been a major rallying point for Adivasis and the Maoist groups that seek to recruit from them. It is impossible to talk about the Adivasis and not also talk about the land- much of Adivasi culture, religion and history is tied into their relationship with land. Within the states and regions that the scheduled tribes are found, they are mostly found in the hills and wooded areas surrounded by villages and highways. Closeness to the vast natural resources that permeate the region was for a time the dominant means of subsistence and livelihood for the Adivasis. Means of subsistence, however, has had to give way to India’s capitalist development in the form of forestry, dams, and mines (Guha 2007, 3306). This history, grounded in the land and forests, has been in direct conflict with external forces since the pre-colonial era and has continued in its post-independence neocolonial form. The list of conflicts that arose and continue today based on land issues between the state and Adivasis is remarkable:
Beginning with the revolt of the Pahariya in Bihar in 1778, the Kolis of Maharashtra (1784-1785), the Tamar of Chota Nagpur in present-day Jharkhand (1789, 1794-1795, 1801), the Chuari Movement in Bihar (1795-1800), the Koyas in Andhra Pradesh (1803, 1862, 1879, 1880, 1822), the tribal revolts in Chotanagpur (1807-1808, 1811, 1817, 1820), the Bhils in Western India (1809-1828, 1846, 1857- 1858), the Kols in Chotangpur (1818, 1831-1832), the Singphos in Assam (1825, 1828, 1843, 1849, 1869), the Mishmis in Arunachal Pradesh (1827, 1855), the tribals of Assam (1828), the Khasis of Assam (1829), the Mundas of Jharkhand (1820, 1832, 1867, 1889), the Kherwar uprising in Jharkhand (1832-1823), the Lushais of Assam (1834-1841, 1842, 1850, 1860, 1871-1872, 1892), the Daflas of Assam (1835, 1872-1873), the Naiks of Gujarat (1838, 1868), the Khampti in Assam (1839- 1843), the Gonds of Bastar in Chattisgarh (1842), the Kondhs in Orissa (1850), the North Kachari hills of Assam (1854), the Santals in Jharkhand (1855, 1869-1870), the Naikdas in Gujarat (1858), the Syntengs of the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya (1860- 1862), the Phulaguri uprising in Assam (1861), the Juangs in Orissa (1861), the Sentinel Islanders in the Andaman Islands (1867, 1883), the Raig-mels of Assam (1868-1869), the Nagas of Nagaland (1879, 1932, 1963-1971), the Bastar tribal uprising (1811), the Tana Bhagat rebellion in Bihar (1913, 1914, 1920, 1921), the Gond and Kolam revolt in Andhra Pradesh (1941), the Koraput revolt in Orissa (1942), revolts against the Japanese occupation army by the tribes of the Andaman Islands (1942-1945), the Mizo revolt in Mizoram (1966-1971), the Warli revolt of Maharashtra (1956-1958), the Naxalbari in West Bengal (1967-1971), and so on, the resistance continued into the contemporary times in various forms. (Bijoy 2008, 1758)
Exact measures of land-loss are hard to determine, however there are some key indicators. From 1961 to 2001 the number of cultivators has decreased from 68.18% to 45% in the tribal districts and the number of agricultural laborers increased from 19.71% to 37%, indicating a “steady loss of land” (Bijoy 2008, 1762). The Indian state response to this land crisis has been a history of broken promises, ulterior motives and a general inability to control the rapid consumption of land and resources that accompanies economic development. Even where the state has made seemingly genuine attempts at recognizing the land rights of Adivasis, the enforcement mechanisms end up toothless or worse- used as a pretext for mass evictions. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) first acknowledged the land rights of Adivasis in 2004 during the “forest case” of the Supreme Court (Bijoy 2008, 1762). However, it has been the MoEF itself that have initiated some of the most violent evictions in the name of conservation, such as that outlined in a circular issued May 3, 2002 and carried out over several years:
Between May 2002 and March 2004 alone, evictions were carried out from 152,400.110 hectares (Lok Sabha Starred Question No. 284, dated August 16, 2004). About 300,000 forest dwellers were evicted from their habitat and deprived of their livelihood during this period. Their houses were burnt, crops and food were destroyed, women were raped, and men were shot at and killed. Hundreds of villages were set on fire or demolished, which led to clashes and deaths in police firings. (Bijoy 2008, 1764)
These atrocities are not isolated instances, and mass evictions, killings and almost indiscriminate violence on behalf of the state have been recorded on a regular basis in recent years (Bijoy 2008). When the original inhabitants are removed, the industrial development that replaces them is often accompanied by mass pollution, resource depletion and other externalities, and India is no exception:
With 60% of Haiti’s bauxite mined between 1957 and 1980, the island’s environment was left ravaged, its finances and politics in tatters. In Surinam, denuded of most of its mountains and forests by this hunger for bauxite, it led to what is remembered as the “aluminium war”, and ended in 1980, with an army coup. (Kak 2010, 4)
It would be obvious to say, given this information, that the Adivasis, like so many indigenous populations in the developing world, are extremely oppressed, economically exploited and diametrically opposed (generally) to the objectives of globalized capitalist development. Seeing companies come in from around the world and literally murder and destroy their way into land that is not theirs, taking resources that are not theirs, and making millions from it all is an easy way to compound the grievances the people have had since the pre-colonial era. And when it became obvious that even the most established of organized left opposition could not garner modest concessions, a violent and radical break was bound to happen.
In the late 1960′s a major split occurred within the established Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] between those who argued that participation in the political process was necessary and a more radical wing that argued for taking up armed struggle against the state. The latter group broke with CPI(M) to create the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(M-L)] and adopted their official program in 1970 (Banerjee 2006, 3159). The CPI(M-L), within the People’s War Group (PWG), began working with comrades in the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) who had themselves begun fighting in West Bengal. It was not until 2004 that these various groups joined to form today’s Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI(Maoist)], advocating a very similar program to that of the CPI(M-L) in the 1970′s (Banerjee 2006, 3159). There remains, however, significant differences between the CPI(Maoist) program and that of the CPI(M), with the former rejecting parliamentary participation and the latter embracing it:
That its abbreviation (CPI(M)) mimicked that of a party that had fought and won elections under the Indian Constitution was surely not accidental. We are the real inheritors of the legacy of revolutionary Marxism, the new party was saying, whereas the power-holders in Kerala and West Bengal are merely a bunch of bourgeois reformists. (Guha 2007, 3310)
The very existence of the CPI(Maoist) program suggests significant discontent among the Adivasis and other supporters with the performance of the CPI(M). Whether this discontent is based on ideological differences (reformism versus radicalism) or material factors (lack of concessions earned by CPI(M) from the state, poor organizing, etc.) is a different but serious question. Either way, the key support base of the Naxalite movement determined that their interests were not being met, first by the state, and second by the established CPI(M), which was for a time the main link between the disaffected masses and the state.
Let’s look at a brief summary of the CPI(Maoist) program:
The CPI (Maoist) has reaffirmed the programmatic line of the Naxalites of 1970, committing to a “people’s war” (referring back to Mao) for seizure of power, and the establishment of a people’s democratic state. The proposed program of the party, however, once the new people’s democratic state is established, is one with which “a large chunk of the Indian political class should have nothing to quarrel about.” The party proposes to redistribute land to poor peasants and landless labourers according to the slogan “land to the tillers”; to ensure the land rights of women; to ensure that facilities for agricultural development are available; to regulate working conditions and to ensure that wages are adequate and equal between the sexes; to guarantee the right to work and “improved living conditions for the people”; and “to take special measures to proceed towards the elimination of regional inequalities.” (Harriss 2011, 318)
In addition, the Maoists have stated an interest in fighting against the Indian state’s efforts to set up “Special Economic Zones” (areas of low-taxation and regulation used to attract foreign direct investment from multinational corporations) in tribal areas, reflecting a broader incorporation of development issues that affect Adivasis (Harriss 2011, 318). This evolution in the party’s program reflects the changing dynamics of Indian economic development, one that is moving away from landlordism and into a more capitalist mode of production (a key criticism of the CPI(M) program has been its inability to address issues beyond land reform and landlordism).
The success of the Maoists have been both a result of their organizing ability and the utter failure of the state to provide even basic service:
As a senior forest official was recently constrained to admit: “In the absence of any government support and the apathetic attitude of the forest management departments towards the livelihood of forest-dependent communities, the Naxalites have found fertile ground to proliferate…” (Guha 2007, 3309)
Even most bourgeois commentators have been unable to deny that the grievances are real and the Maoists are the only game in town addressing them:
The trope of grievance is not irrelevant or misapplied in this case, as indeed the Planning Commission of the Government of India has recognized in its analysis (see note 2). The accounts given by Bhatia and Kunnath or by Balagopal also recall Ranajit Guha’s celebrated thesis on Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency, in which he argued that “the general form of insurgency … had its roots in the relationship of dominance and subordination characteristic of Indian society for a very long period,” and against which there was always posed “the counter tradition of defiance and revolt.” Such defiance and revolt against dominance and subordination are shown in the Maoist insurgency, which is now deeply imbricated in the fabric of society in large parts of central and eastern India and will not easily be crushed, as the Naxalite movement seems to have been in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Harriss 2011, 326)
How has the state responded to the Naxalite insurgency? It would follow from the conclusions above that the appropriate response for the Indian state would be to find ways of addressing the long-standing grievances of the Adivasis which make up the support base of the Naxalites. Economic development programs, a radical overhaul of the healthcare system, recognition (in law and in practice) of indigenous land rights, political inclusion in the democratic system, and a reorganization of local state authority would go a long way to begin solving these issues. Similarly, an attempt to reign in corrupt officials would help cut off current and potential sources of rebel financing. The US Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency lists the “need to obtain financial resources”, “internal divisions” and “inconsistencies in the mobilization message” among a number of key insurgent vulnerabilities (US Army 2006, 1-17). An effective state response would exploit these vulnerabilities where they are present. The manual also states that “COIN [counterinsurgency] is a combination of offensive, defensive, and stability operations” and within the general category of ‘stability operations’ is listed “Civil Security,” “Civil Control,” “Essential Services,” “Governance,” and “Economic and Infrastructure Development” (US Army 2006, 1-19).
Essentially, the manual argues that building state capacity is central to combating the insurgency and establishing legitimacy, which they describe as the “main objective”:
Legitimate governance is inherently stable; the societal support it engenders allows it to adequately manage the internal problems, change, and conflict that affect individual and collective well-being. Conversely, governance that is not legitimate is inherently unstable; as soon as the state’s coercive power is disrupted, the populace ceases to obey it. Thus legitimate governments tend to be resilient and exercise better governance; illegitimate ones tend to be fragile and poorly administered. (US Army 2006, 1-21)
In order for the Indian state to truly defeat the Maoist insurgency, therefore, the state must reassert its legitimacy in areas where it has been lost. This would be especially relevant with regards to the state’s relationship with the Adivasis.
The actual response of the Indian state on these lines has been mixed. One local example may provide a key insight into strategies that may be repeated throughout the country. In West Bengal, in areas particularly affected by Maoist influence like Naxalbari, the local government has initiated reform programs such as the “comprehensive area development program” (CADP). CADP is designed to provide small farmers with supply inputs and credits for the development of agriculture, a program that has turned many poor peasants into mid-level landowners (Banerjee 2006, 3161). Reforms in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh and Ganjam in Orissa sought to alleviate debt burdens for the rural poor – the net effect of these programs has been to create divisions within the Naxalite support base, eroding their ability to effectively recruit and maintain active membership (Banerjee 2006, 3161). There have, however, been some issues with this strategy. The reforms were in many ways partial and half-way measures that did not reach the majority of the rural poor. Although those that did benefit from the programs found themselves in an advantageous economic and political position, they often abused that privilege by exploiting a new class of rural poor that arose from the program’s neglect and dislocation of others:
Thus a new generation of landless people is emerging in the countryside. Although still less in number than in 1967 (the year of the Naxalbari uprising),t heir ranks are likely to be swelled by the addition of those whose lands are being bought over for the construction of development projects that the West Bengal government is planning on a large scale. (Banerjee 2006, 3161)
A few points can be gleaned from this example. First, it is apparent that the creation of new divisions among the rebel support base act as a wedge that disrupts further recruitment and frustrates the cohesion of the movement. This has practical short-term relevance, especially for areas that are most under control by the Naxalites. Second, however, this strategy does not have the same long-term appeal for the state. It is just as likely that these efforts will end up creating a new class of disaffected rural poor masses that can be turned against the reform agenda. A more concrete, long-term strategy would require the sustained presence of the local government acting broadly in scope and remaining sensitive to the dislocation and dispossession of those adversely affected by economic development.
And therein lies the contradiction. The neoliberal economic model that India and all other developing states like it rely on is not one that is capable of handling both the currently existing problems of inequality and dispossession as well as the new problems that will arise from it. Liberalism, as Zizek says, necessarily undermines itself and we see that no more clearly than in India.
Other attempts by local governments have been far less effective, and even counterproductive. In the case of Chhattisgarh, the local security forces (known as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)) act as the main counterinsurgency force. First, there is the issue of manpower:
As of early 2008, there were 2,000 CRPF personnel engaged in Chhattisgarh counterterrorist operations, with 80% of this force deployed for passive defense measures such as protecting Salwa Judum camps, government installations, and political VIPs who travel in the region. (Miklian 2009, 443)
In order to make up for this shortfall, the CRPF hires “Special Police Officers” (SPOs) which are police jobs given to locals that are less expensive and may have local tactical knowledge. The CRPF, on the other hand, views the SPOs as “expendable and replenishable,” often putting them at the front lines as scouts (Miklian 2009. 443). This has created a new series of grievances among locals, with many former SPOs turning against the CRPF.
This process was used mainly to lay the groundwork for the development of Salwa Judum, a paramilitary counterinsurgency force. Salwa Judum was, ironically, designed by a former CPI(M-L) politician, Mahendra Karma, who was removed from the party in 1981 (Miklian 2009, 446). The goal of this paramilitary is to expand existing vigilante groups in Naxal controlled areas by recruiting from victims of Naxalite violence. Unfortunately, in practice, Salwa Judum has been used as a proxy for local security forces to carry out heinous acts of indiscriminate violence on the local population (Miklian 2009, 448). This has had the perverse effect of legitimizing the Naxalites and in some ways, and providing cover for Salwa Judum’s supporters to continue land grabs and the dispossession of locals:
Many military strategists, politicians, and Indian citizens are asking the question ‘Why isn’t Salwa Judum working?’, but Salwa Judum is in many ways a complete success, operating exactly as its founders intended as a land and power grab masquerading as local uprising. Its creation enriched its leadership both financially and politically, obfuscated the true nature of the conflict, and enabled corporations to exploit the veil of violence to achieve otherwise difficult objectives. Rural villagers are the primary losers, as their land has been expropriated, their civil rights trampled, and their livelihoods ruined from a preventable conflict. (Miklian 2009, 456)
This strategy is creating a dangerous precedent in other Indian states where Naxalites have some control, as is the case with paramilitaries like “Sendra” in Jharkhand and the Village Defense Committees (VDCs) in Maharashtra (Miklian 2009, 457). The danger here is that local officials and industrial interests will see the benefit of amplifying the conflict and using the resulting violence as justification for further dispossession of Adivasis, creating a new cycle of violence.
Reliance on poorly trained paramilitaries, death-squads and mercenaries saw limited success elsewhere, particularly in Latin America. Usually these cases ended up with total scorched tactics, mass murder and outright genocide. State terrorism is effective up to a point- it has the side-effect of legitimizing the opposition. It is still an open question as to how far the Indian state will push this tactic and it is known they are receiving a ton of support from the West in this regard. But we know how well they’re doing in Afghanistan, so….
As it currently stands the conflict is sort of at a stand still. Finding reliable and accurate current information about what is happening is very hard so its tough to say exactly where the battle lines stand currently (as if there are actually battle lines ). Nevertheless I think we should use this thread to keep up with whats happening. I’m particularly interested in finding out more about the different leftist organizations and radical groups in India and what their relation to the struggle is.
Anyway, here’s some cool links:
If you haven’t read “Walking with the Comrades” you better read it right now: http://www.outlookin…e.aspx?264738-0
Here’s an Indian land rights activist and David Harvey talking about the struggle, capitalism, geography, etc: CLICK HERE
Land-grab, Law and Capitalism in India discussed by Medha Patkar and David Harvey, land speculation versus industrial production. Renowned Indian social activist, Medha Patkar is founder convenor of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), founding member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA; Save the Narmada Campaign), awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1991 and served as a commissioner for the World Commission on Dams between 1998-2001. David Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). A social theorist of international standing, he is widely known for his critique of global capitalism and neoliberal development.
Land has become a key issue for both neoliberal capitalism and for people’s movements. Land Acquisition Act of 1894 is used to take over land of indigenous and rural peoples today in the name of the common good. India has had 55 million people displaced by large dams.
A related talk on primitive accumulation and capitalist development:
Finally, here’s a full list of sources I used for the paper I wrote. Some of them are better than others, but maybe someone will find them interesting:
Banerjee, Sumanta. “Beyond Naxalbari.” Economic & Political Weekly 41.29 (2006): 3159- 163. JSTOR. Economic and Political Weekly, 22 July 2006.
Bijoy, C.R. “Forest Rights Struggle: The Adivasis Now Await a Settlement.”American Behavioral Scientist 5112 (2008): 1755-773. Aug. 2008.
Collier, Paul, and Anke Hoeffler. “Greed and Grievance in Civil War.”Oxford University Press (2004): 563-95.
Collier, Paul, Anke Hoeffler, and Dominic Rohner. “Beyond Greed and Grievance: Feasibility and Civil War.”University of Oxford (2006): 1-29.
Fearon, James D. “Primary Commodity Exports and Civil War.”Journal of Conflict Resolution 49.4 (2005): 483-507.
Guha, Ramachandra. “Adivasis, Naxalites and Indian Democracy.” Economic & Political Weekly 42.32 (2007): 3305-312. JSTOR. Economic and Political Weekly, 11 Aug. 2007.
Harriss, John. “What Is Going on in India’s “red Corridor”? Questions about India’s Maoist Insurgency.” Pacific Affairs 84.2 (2011): 309-27. Pacific Affairs, June 2011.
Kak, Sanjay. “The Bauxite Mountains of Orissa.”Economic & Political Weekly (2010): 1-6. Economic and Political Weekly, 22 Sept. 2010.
Kennedy, Jonathan J., and Lawrence P. King. “Understanding the Conviction of Binayak Sen: Neocolonialism, Political Violence and the Political Economy of Health in the Central Indian Tribal Belt.” Social Science & Medicine(2011): 1639-642. Elsevier Ltd., 2011.
Miklian, Jason. “The Purification Hunt: the Salwa Judum Counterinsurgency in Chhattisgarh, India.”Dialectical Anthropology (2009): 441-59. 27 Oct. 2009.
Reynal-Querol, Marta. “Ethnicity, Political Systems, and Civil Wars.”Journal of Conflict Resolution (2002): 29-54.
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When I was still in middle school, just years after the 9/11 attacks, my entire worldview was shattered by a single, flashily edited and presented video on “what really happened that day”. It was one part of a slew of similar videos that came out after the attacks calling into question the ‘official story’. Up until this point in my life, I hadn’t really paid any attention to politics but something about these videos, what I later learned were termed “conspiracy theories”, attracted me and got my attention. Imagine, a relatively non-social but still highly imaginative teen who’s still trying to figure out his place in the world – what more could I want than to find out The Truth about world events that all the other suckers (classmates, relatives, friends, etc.) couldn’t see? Besides, conspiracy theories are fun and exciting and the answers are relatively simple and easy to fantasize about: Conspiracy politics seemed to be an answer, for myself personally and for what I saw as a world that was difficult to explain yet fundamentally screwed up.
And I was all over it: from the Loose Change videos, to Alex Jones (before InfoWars became huge – I was a conspiracy theory hipster) and what I later considered to be the more “hard conspiracy theory” stuff like Michael Ruppert and including the more libertarian strand of central banking conspiracy. In fact, looking at the evolution of my interests, it’s clear that I became more and more concerned with theories that dealt with documentary “evidence”. Ruppert, who authored books like “Crossing the Rubicon”, offered to me what was the most concrete evidence for 9/11 being an “inside job”, citing things like the Northwoods documents as precedent and Peak Oil as the major geopolitical motivation behind the false flag attack.
Today, as someone who has “grown out” of conspiracy theory politics, I can look back and laugh at some of the stuff I was watching and reading. It of course never occurred to me at the time that the US government didn’t need to pull off an elaborate media theatrical like 9/11 to convince Americans (of all people) to go to war in the Middle East. It didn’t occur to me at the time that actually world events were not consistent, not reducible to one faction hiding in the shadows and pulling the strings- that actually, the world was full of contradictions and arbitrary violence and terror- that, in reality, ideology and class struggle is the driver of political forces and capitalism is the power structure that is the basis of our society.
It would be easy to brush all of this personal history aside, but for some reason I keep seeing variants of conspiracy theory politics cropping up again: on social media, or in references in music, or even real life conversation. Anyone who listens to independent Hip-Hop has undoubtedly heard the references in artists like Immortal Technique, Ill Bill or Diabolic.
It has become apparent to me (and others on the left) that this kind of politics hasn’t gone away, even though I may have left it behind. Rather, it has persisted and even strengthened as a popular form of what I would consider to be counter-hegemonic politics. But why take any of this stuff seriously? I think it would be arrogant and even stupid to ignore such an influential current in politics, if not simply because the people who buy into this ideology are (for better or worse) thinking and acting outside of the bounds of what is considered mainstream discourse. In fact, I consider it an indication of the failure of Marxism to reach popular appeal that conspiracy theory politics have become so much bigger. Not addressing it would be ceding lost territory in the ideological struggle.
For many people, this kind of politics is the summation of politics itself, and constitutes a large basis of their world-view. Indeed, as one young writer puts it, Illuminati theory and conspiracy politics is the leading political discourse in many poor and working-class communities:
It served as proof that I wasn’t crazy, that shit was fucked up, and that it wasn’t my fault that I was poor, and at the bottom of the pecking order. I felt I needed this proof due to the fact that I was constantly bombarded, as many oppressed people are, with the idea that I was poor because of something I did. My family and I weren’t good enough, smart enough and didn’t work hard enough to be successful in this society.
I write this piece because in many leftist circles when I bring up the Illuminati theory I get a lot of eye rolling and laughter, but I don’t think that this is the way to approach the topic. We need to be realistic about the fact that this ideology holds weight within a lot of oppressed communities and since building towards revolution cannot happen unless oppressed communities are leading; then in order to make this happen we must organize in these communities and we will thus come across individuals who believe in the Illuminati. If we roll our eyes, laugh and write people off as stupid we will get nowhere.
We can see how conspiracy theory, particularly the Illuminati strand, resonates with people: it gives them reason to believe that it isn’t their fault, that there is an enemy responsible for the oppression they face. In the post-Cold War world where we are led to believe that we live in the “End of History”, in this liberal, post-class, post-racial world, suddenly a hole appears where traditional lines of counter-hegemonic thought existed. And the Illuminati theories came rushing in to fill the gap. Our task as revolutionaries, as the author states, is to confront that reality head-on.
But are the Illuminati followers really wrong? Her answer is interesting:
I come across plenty of young brothers who talk incessantly about the Illuminati. Are they wrong? I don’t think so. The vast majority of young men I build with say that there is a group of men, mostly white and all rich who are running the world. They decide when we go to war and who with, what we see on television and what music and movies we are exposed to. They would call them the Illuminati, I would call them capitalists. They would say that their motivation is the creation of the New World Order, I would say their motivation is money and greed. What we are saying is similar enough that we have a basis from which we can build.
On the one hand, I agree with her that illuminati believers really are talking about something real. There is in fact an entity which is large, powerful and controlled by special interests. But it waves its flag in public and only acts in the shadows when it has to, and the interests are those of global capital, not some secret cult: it is the American Empire. When people talk about the “New World Order” they’re really just talking about the actions of the leading representative of global capitalism, the US state, which has been taking up that responsibility since the end of WWII. You can start to see how easy it is to shift the conversation to concrete subjects of history and politics.
However, that doesn’t mean we should “accept” Illuminati theory as legitimate. It is flatly wrong, even if it points to real symptoms of the capitalist system. Even more importantly, historical materialism shows us that capitalism is contingent, it is merely a transitory stage in history that can and will be overturned. Within Marxism there is a theory of liberation and revolution, where Illuminati theory leaves the working class stranded and helpless, forever at the mercy of the whims of a global elite. To me, this is the most powerful counter-argument to Illuminati theory: being able to prove through historical example that society is driven by class struggle, that ordinary people when organized and united can change their circumstances, and that the power of the capitalist elite rests on a shaky foundation of coercive and non-coercive means. Instead of political fatalism, we have the possibility of liberation.
It is important, I think, to confront conspiracy theory politics on its theoretical grounds rather than deal in specificities. In one line, all 9/11 conspiracy theories can be brushed aside as irrelevant: why would the most powerful government in the world need to risk an elaborate media event like an inside job to justify invading another country, especially in the absence of a strong anti-imperialist left? On purely theoretical grounds, the question of “whether or not the WTC was brought down by explosives” has been demolished (heh) as irrelevant. This line of argument also raises the point that actually, as long as the capitalist state remains legitimate in popular eyes, it does not need to rely on conspiracies or elaborate hoaxes. It can simply openly defy international law, openly ignore its citizens’ protests and openly contradict itself and distort the truth. All of this can be done transparently because so long as the US state (in particular) retains legitimacy in the hegemonic sense, and the material power necessary to project itself, it will do so.
These are largely theoretical critiques of illuminati theory that avoid getting bogged down in the details of conspiracy debate, and I think can be more effective than staring at a grainy photograph or pulling up countless links to debunking websites. To true believers, all sources of dissent are biased. Strong reasoning is much harder to dismiss, especially if it can be backed up by historical evidence. It is important though, to recognize the reality of the symptoms but to redirect the focus of the conversation back to reality and point to the fundamental cause: our fucked up social system. And to indicate how it might be changed.
This isn’t mainly about getting the rebels more weapons; those are already flowing in. It’s not about them; it’s about us — and the amount of influence we’ll have in Syria once the insurgents win.
“We’ve made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime,” Obama told ABC’s Barbara Walters.
The Imperialist Calculus: Divide, Isolate and Manipulate
What is the imperialist calculus here? The political (not yet legal) recognition of the SOC, in tandem with the blacklisting of the al-Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), is an attempt to disentangle what can be seen as two main ideological camps in the Syrian insurgency: 1. A supposedly “moderate” but still sectarian opposition coalition and 2. A radical Islamist Sunni faction centered around the al-Nusra Front. The US sees the first camp as potentially amenable (espousing liberal democratic rhetoric to provide the necessary ideological cover) to its wishes, and the second camp as all too reminiscent of the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) in the struggle against Russian forces in Afghanistan. Knowing the historical outcome of arming and financing the MAK, the West is understandably more resistant to support (openly) rebel factions that can’t be easily manipulated once turned loose. The conspiratorial left will likely see the blacklisting of al-Nusra as an effort at establishing plausible deniability while covert funding continues. I find that theory difficult to sustain, as it presents the illusion of the puppet-master imperial apparatus, omniscient and omnipresent. It also greatly underestimates the autonomy of third-party non-state actors in highly complex social formations like the Syrian opposition.
Rather, I see the calculation as simple and pragmatic: divide the opposition between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” resistance. The legitimate ideology in the eyes of US empire is one that upholds the dictates of bourgeois liberal-democracy. It espouses nationalism while accepting the legitimacy of the global market. So far, the vague statements given by members of the Syrian National Council (the supposed transitional government-in-waiting based out of Turkey) reflect these basic principles- and supposedly these principles and aims are carrying over to the new Syrian Opposition Coalition. At least on paper, the amorphous coalition of opposition forces appears to be one that can at least offer the necessary room for US influence should the regime fall. It will gravitate towards American hegemony.
What are seen as “illegitimate” outcomes to the conflict in the eyes of US empire? Obviously the US cannot be seen as helping back the formation of an Islamist state, if only for its anti-imperialist (yet still reactionary) ideology- hence the attempt at isolating al-Nusra. Yet it is equally obvious that any opposition force with claims to protectionist, ultra-nationalist or socialist tendencies would be likewise isolated and relegated to the “extremist” category. 60+ years of interventions against leftist governments and political forces can attest to that certainty. When President Obama, chief executive of the world’s leading imperialist state, sides with any political formation, it is certain that formation will not be pushing anything resembling a leftist or even progressive political line. Assad’s submission to global market logic, despite his ephemeral “anti-imperialism”, is far more preferable to American hegemony than a new Chavez.
The opposition’s turn to reactionary terror and sectarianism
As I have outlined above, the imperialist calculus makes clear that the nature of the Syrian “revolution” is one that cannot be described as anything less than submissive to American imperial hegemony. We should not be misled by the seemingly progressive democratic rhetoric of the SNC/SOC, just as we are (hopefully) not misled about the mythology surrounding American liberal democracy. Indeed, their rhetoric is certainly not borne out in practice. As’ad AbuKhalil, author of “The Angry Arab” blog has been relentlessly documenting the lies, distortions and acts of terror committed by the FSA and its associated fighting groups. Even a cursory glance at the acts documented by As’ad suggest a fighting force taking on an increasingly sectarian and brutal form. From just this past Wednesday, the same day Obama recognized the SOC:
Armed Syrian groups which has specialized (like the Syrian regime) in war crimes yesterday had a festival of blood in Syria. They attacked an `Alawite village in rural Hamah and killed and injured some 200 people. But they were not done. They then attacked with mortal shells the quarter of Hayy Shaykh Maqsud and killed or injured 13 Kurds of their enemies. Yet, there is no trace of outrage in Western media and Western liberals are still thinking of ways to transmit weapons to those war criminal groups.
Indeed, as As’ad has thoroughly documented on his blog, the Western press and the liberal “Human Rights” organizations like HRW have ‘robotically‘ repeated and uncritically accepted the claims made by FSA fighters with no independent verification. At the same time, they have systematically ignored and distorted the overwhelming evidence that the FSA has and continues to commit sectarian atrocities (warning for violence):
The film begins by showing two middle-aged men handcuffed together sitting on a settee in a house, surrounded by their captors who sometimes slap and beat them. They are taken outside into the street. A man in a black shirt is manhandled and kicked into lying down with his head on a concrete block. A boy, who looks to be about 11 or 12 years old, cuts at his neck with a machete, but does not quite sever it. Later a man finishes the job and cuts the head off. The second man in a blue shirt is also forced to lie with his head on a block and is beheaded. The heads are brandished in front of the camera and later laid on top of the bodies. The boy smiles as he poses with a rifle beside a headless corpse.
The execution video is very similar to those once made by al-Qa’ida in Iraq to demonstrate their mercilessness towards their enemies. This is scarcely surprising since many of the most experienced al-Nusra fighters boast that they have until recently been fighting the predominantly Shia government of Iraq as part of the local franchise of al-Qa’ida franchise. Their agenda is wholly sectarian, and they have shown greater enthusiasm for slaughtering Shias, often with bombs detonated in the middle of crowds in markets or outside mosques, than for fighting Americans…
I am not a pacifist, but what we’re seeing is not revolutionary violence- it is reactionary terror at its purest, and strikingly similar to the tactics used by SOA-trained death squads in Cold War Latin America: massacres aimed at the civilian support base of the regime, in this case targeted on religious grounds.
Further, the attempt by the US to divide the opposition and isolate the most extreme elements seems to be on shaky ground, for the simple fact that this ‘radical Islamist wing’ appears to be taking center stage:
Even more bizarrely, though so many states now recognise the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, it is unclear if the rebels inside Syria do so. Angry crowds in rebel-held areas of northern Syria on Friday chanted “we are all al-Nusra” as they demonstrated against the US decision.
Al-Nusra is frequently cited as the “most effective” fighting force in the opposition, and that view is shared by the leaders of the rebel forces themselves:
Khatib’s tacit endorsement of Nusra was echoed by many rebel commanders inside Syria and signals a thorny road ahead as U.S. officials attempt to disentangle nationalist or relatively moderate rebel factions from the Islamist extremists who have become perhaps the leading military force in the nearly two-year fight to topple Assad.
What, then, can we gather from the above of the present nature of the Syrian opposition? Perhaps when the demonstrations began early in 2011, the left may have been justified in supporting this democratic movement for the possibility of a leftist element taking the mantle and guiding the opposition towards progressive aims. As it stands now, there appears to be a radical disconnect between the government-in-waiting, its tepid liberal-democratic rhetoric that is almost certainly a guise to elicit foreign backing, and the rebel fighters on the ground who appear to have moved further to the sectarian right. Given that the most influential force in the new government will be the most influential fighting force, and given the reactionary nature of the fighting forces on the ground, it is difficult to imagine the new government being any better than the current. The transitional government will have to compromise with the sectarian right-wing, allowing it to exercise its reactionary sectarianism in the politics of the new government, while neutralizing its anti-imperialist element. And if the imperial calculus is correct, regardless of the domestic form the new government takes, it will still submit to American imperial hegemony.
The North Star, and the Imperialist Left
Does this strike anyone as a situation favorable for the left in Syria? What exactly do people like Pham Binh and others at the “North Star” expect out of this admittedly complex constellation of political forces? More “breathing room” for left organizing, assuming the new government scales back its authoritarian repression? Has that ever been the case in any liberal democratic society? Where is this ephemeral Syrian left now and how will they be made stronger in the outcome of this bleak picture? On these important questions, we find little reassurance. Instead, we see a slew of articles making progressively more bizarre, contradictory and imperialistic claims.
Take Pham’s latest 12/6/12 article. After “debunking” claims that the US is gearing up for an intervention (I disagree with this analysis, but others have already written better counter-arguments), he goes on to argue that the US doesn’t want to see the fall of Assad…. because he hasn’t been tough on Israel and the opposition rebels support Palestine? Setting aside Syria’s long-standing support for Hezbollah, how can he claim the West doesn’t want to see the fall of Assad- when they’re actively funding and arming the rebels? And now politically recognizing as them as the legitimate representative of the people?
Even more explicitly, Pham calls for “outside interference“, likening Assad’s Syria to Nazi Germany:
The U.S. will not be attacking Assad’s military any time soon. The slaughter of the Syrian people will continue unabated without meaningful outside interference. Once again, the Allies have refused to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz — but this time, with the support of Western progressives.
Let’s set aside the gross comparison to Nazi Germany for a moment. “The slaughter of the Syrian people”, the people whom Pham thinks he’s serving, will amplify ten-fold if “meaningful” outside interference is introduced. We have already seen how the rebels are committing atrocities with the weapons they currently have- how will this improve with more weaponry? It will certainly get worse. And I dare ask what lies behind that word “meaningful” in the first place. If we’re talking about direct intervention, well- I don’t know what to say.
What is really going on with this “left imperialism”? This analysis of Syria is symptomatic of the liberalism that has infected OWS and tainted its crude understanding political forces. Analysis should be guided by the material conditions as they presently exist, not in some ideal state. What the North Star and others have done is uncritically accept the liberal Western media narrative- that these are secular democrats fighting against a dictatorship- rather than what is actually happening: a popular movement being (been) hijacked by reactionary forces and supposedly “guided” by a coalition of forces that enjoy the full support of Obama, a clear indication of where they stand in the imperial machine. Dogmatic and idealistic adherence to the “Arab Spring” narrative has submerged any analytical clarity and attention to changes in the social formation of the opposition, despite the evidence and analysis presented by those more tuned into events as they happen.
As’ad puts it quite succinctly in a recent post:
The stance of Middle Eastern and Western Trotskyists is baffling a bit: they are serving as cheerleaders and propagandists for Free Syrian Army and Islamists armed groups. I was wondering to myself: if those Trotskyists were to live under the rule of those folks, they would be beheaded, literally.
This is not a “revolution” for the left in Syria. It is literally anything but that.
Here is my entry on the “Why Strike Debt” tumblr:
I originally wrote this is as I was taking notes on David Harvey’s “Limits to Capital”, but I am revisiting it to remind myself of how finance serves as a “necessary evil” to the contradictions of capitalist production. In the same sense, I am trying to formalize in my mind how individual and household debt acts as a “necessary evil” in a world characterized by the privatization of social services (education, health, etc.) and the new precariat. My work with Strike Debt is causing me (and maybe others?) to ask: can we truly fight the domination of debt relations without targeting its central cause – the system of private property?
I’ve been very interested in the concept of fictitious capital as it was formulated by Marx in volume 3 of Capital. As usual, David Harvey offers the best explanation. This is from his “Limits to Capital”:
The stocks of railways, mines, navigation companies, and the like, represent actual capital, namely the capital invested and functioning in such enterprises, or the amount of capital advanced by the stockholders for the purpose of being used as capital in such enterprises.’ (Capital, vol. 3, p. 466) But the title of ownership does not ‘place this capital at one’s disposal’, and the capital itself cannot be withdrawn because the title is only a claim upon a portion of future revenues. The title is a ‘paper duplicate’ of the real capital- the paper duplicate can circulate while the real capital can not. ‘To the extent that the accumulation of this paper expresses the accumulation of railways, mines, steamships, etc., to that extent does It express the extension of the actual reproduction process.’ But as paper duplicates the titles are purely ‘illusory, fictitious forms of capital’. The prices of these titles may then fluctuate according to their own laws ‘quite independently of the movement of the value of the real capital (Capital, vol. 3, pp. 466-77).
Marx acknowledges throughout his work that credit and interest bearing capital functions as a solution to the various barriers of capital circulation. To produce a commodity, get it to market, sell it and then recapitalize the profits takes time and there are many obstacles. Finance capital, by pooling the savings of society (that is, by concentrating and centralizing the social power of money and enacting it for private use) can overcome the issue of how a productive capitalist will get the right amount of money he needs to purchase fixed or variable capital (or finance any number of other operations). Putting money capital into productive use has drawbacks for the financial capitalist. He has to give up the flexibility of the money form for the rigidity of the physical form of capital; buildings, equipment and raw materials can’t be traded at light-speed on a digital market. The longer turnover-time restricts mobility.
To overcome this, the development of the stock market does two things: it provides capitalists with the initial capital they need, and also provides financiers with a paper (or digital) duplicate of the value of that capital which can be traded on a market at light-speed. As Harvey explains, there are some contradictions in this system:
But in one respect these fluctuating prices can reflect something real with respect to the condition of productive capital. We noted in chapter 8 how the value of fixed capital was itself an unstable determination because the initial purchase price, the replacement cost and the rate of production of surplus value all provided different measures of value. From this arose the conception of the value of fixed capital as a perpetually shifting magnitude, affected by the state of competition, technological dynamism and the pace of accumulation itself. To some degree, the variation in stock prices can be viewed as a reflection of the shifting values of the stock of fixed capital itself. Unfortunately, the shifting prices of titles are also shaped by many other forces. Profit, furthermore, is not the only form of revenue in capitalist society. There are, for example, rents and taxes. Marx holds that ‘the form of interest-bearing capital is responsible for the fact that every definite and regular money revenue appears as interest on some capital, whether it arises from some capital or not’ (Capital, vol. 3, p. 464). These revenues can be capitalized at the going rate of interest and titles to them can also be traded on the market. Government debt (the ultimate in fictitious capital as far as Marx was concerned) and land (see chapter 11) have no inherent value, yet they can assume a price: Government bonds are capital only for the buyer, for whom they represent the purchase price, the capital he invested in them. In themselves they are not capital but merely debt claims. If mortgages, they are mere titles on future ground rent. . . . All of these are not real capital: They do not form constituent parts of capital, nor are they values III themselves. (Capital, vol. 3, p. 475)
So the problem is whether the claims to debt or future revenues and the price of those claims reflect or depart from the actual value of the physical capital itself. The degree to which they depart (for failures in the market, speculation, etc.) can hide true devaluations in fixed assets or, as is often the case, revalue the physical capital itself based on the independent market behavior of the claims to capital. The manipulation of futures markets with regards to food and other commodities comes to mind here.
In all such cases, money capital is invested in appropriation. The money capitalist is indifferent (presumably) to the ultimate source of revenue and invests in government debt, mortgages, stocks and shares, commodity futures or whatever, according to rate of return, the security of investment, its liquidity and so on. ‘All connection with the actual expansion process of capital is thus completely lost, and the conception of capital as something with automatic self-expansion properties is thereby strengthened.’ The result, Marx holds, is that interest-bearing ‘is the fountainhead of all manner of insane forms’ in which ‘even in accumulation of debts’ can ‘appear as an accumulation of capital.’ Everything, he says, ‘is doubled and trebled and transformed into a mere phantom of the imagination’. The credit system registers the ‘height of distortion’ to the degree that the accumulation of claims far outruns real production (Capital, vol. 3, pp. 464-72). Marx’s primary purpose in all of this is to disabuse us of the idea that a marketable claim upon some future revenue is a real form of capital. He wishes to alert us to the insanity of a society in which investment in appropriation (rents, government debts, etc.) appears just as important as investment in production.
This last bit seems most important to me. Even in his time, when financial capital was nowhere near as powerful as it is today, Marx could see the tendency of this “solution” for production problems to contradict its intended purpose. If money is the generalized expression of value, representing social power, and that money is used more for purposes of appropriation and speculation rather than productive output (especially in times of crisis when money is pulled from long-term investment) what does that say about the rationality of our economic system? When masses of productive capacity sits idle, side-by-side with the mass of unemployed, and the appropriators of money capital can make more profit specifically by not engaging that money to meet productive social needs, then can we honestly say this is an efficient system? I don’t think so.
Marx insists that in the end only the latter matters – ‘if no real accumulation, i.e. expansion of production and augmentation of the means of production, had taken place, what good would there be from the accumulation of debtor’s money claims on. . . production?’ (Capital, vol. 3, p. 424.) If all money capital invests in appropriation and none in actual production, then capitalism is not long for this world. And when the ‘height of distortion’ is achieved in the credit system, the quality of money as a measure of value is threatened: so much so that in the course of a crisis, as Marx tirelessly points out, the system is forced to seek a more solid monetary basis than the one provided by credit moneys and fictitious capital. With so much insanity built into the credit system, why permit such a state of affairs to continue? When we explore, step by step, the accumulation process and its contradictions, we find that fictitious capital is contained in the very concept of capital itself. Fixed capital formation and circulation is necessary for accumulation. The barrier fixed capital creates to future accumulation (see chapter 8) can be overcome only by way of the credit system in general and by the creation of fictitious forms of capital in particular. By permitting fictitious capital to flourish, the credit system can support the transformation of circulating into fixed capital and meet the increasing pressures that arise as more and more of the total social capital in society begins to circulate in fixed form.
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