Monday, February 27, 2012

Capitalism’s Real Gravediggers

Beware the ‘Gush-Up Gospel’ Behind India’s Billionaires

This is a recording of a speech made by Arundhati Roy as a part of the 4th series of lecture under the Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Trust Lecture that was delivered on the 20th of January, 2012 at Xaviers college, Mumbai.

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamount Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “pay your respects to our new ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I’d read about this, the most expensive dwelling ever built, the 27 floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the 600 servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn – a soaring wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches, bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, “trickle down” had not worked.

But “gush-up” has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2bn, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to a quarter of gross domestic product.

The word on the street (and in The New York Times) is, or at least was, that the Ambanis were not living in Antilla. Perhaps they are there now, but people still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, vastu and feng shui. I think it’s all Marx’s fault. Capitalism, he said, “ ... has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.

In India, the 300m of us who belong to the new, post-“reforms” middle class – the market – live side by side with the ghosts of 250,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800m who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than 50 cents a day.

Mr Ambani is personally worth more than $20bn. He has a controlling majority stake in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of Rs2.41tn ($47bn) and an array of global business interests. RIL has a 95 per cent stake in Infotel, which a few weeks ago bought a major share in a media group that runs television news and entertainment channels. Infotel owns the only national 4G broadband licence. He also has a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations, some family-owned, some not, that run India. Some of the others are Tata, Jindal, Vedanta, Mittal, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilt across Europe, central Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s largest private-sector power companies.

Since the cross-ownership of businesses is not restricted by the “gush-up gospel” rules, the more you have, the more you can have. Meanwhile, scandal after scandal has exposed, in painful detail, how corporations buy politicians, judges, bureaucrats and media houses, hollowing out democracy, retaining only its rituals. Huge reserves of bauxite, iron ore, oil and natural gas worth trillions of dollars were sold to corporations for a pittance, defying even the twisted logic of the free market. Cartels of corrupt politicians and corporations have colluded to underestimate the quantity of reserves, and the actual market value of public assets, leading to the siphoning off of billions of dollars of public money. Then there’s the land grab – the forced displacement of communities, of millions of people whose lands are being appropriated by the state and handed to private enterprise. (The concept of inviolability of private property rarely applies to the property of the poor.) Mass revolts have broken out, many of them armed. The government has indicated that it will deploy the army to quell them.

Corporations have their own sly strategy to deal with dissent. With a minuscule percentage of their profits they run hospitals, educational institutes and trusts, which in turn fund NGOs, academics, journalists, artists, film-makers, literary festivals and even protest movements. It is a way of using charity to lure opinion-makers into their sphere of influence. Of infiltrating normality, colonising ordinariness, so that challenging them seems as absurd (or as esoteric) as challenging “reality” itself. From here, it’s a quick, easy step to “there is no alternative”.

The Tatas run two of the largest charitable trusts in India. (They donated $50m to that needy institution the Harvard Business School.) The Jindals, with a major stake in mining, metals and power, run the Jindal Global Law School, and will soon open the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. Financed by profits from the software giant Infosys, the New India Foundation gives prizes and fellowships to social scientists.

Having worked out how to manage the government, the opposition, the courts, the media and liberal opinion, what remains to be dealt with is the growing unrest, the threat of “people power”. How do you domesticate it? How do you turn protesters into pets? How do you vacuum up people’s fury and redirect it into blind alleys? The largely middle-class, overtly nationalist anti-corruption movement in India led by Anna Hazare is a good example. A round-the-clock, corporate-sponsored media campaign proclaimed it to be “the voice of the people”. It called for a law that undermined even the remaining dregs of democracy. Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement, it did not breathe a word against privatisation, corporate monopolies or economic “reforms”. Its principal media backers successfully turned the spotlight away from huge corporate corruption scandals and used the public mauling of politicians to call for the further withdrawal of discretionary powers from government, for more reforms and more privatisation.

After two decades of these “reforms” and of phenomenal but jobless growth, India has more malnourished children than anywhere else in the world, and more poor people in eight of its states than 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa put together. And now the international financial crisis is closing in. The growth rate has plummeted to 6.9 per cent. Foreign investment is pulling out.

Capitalism’s real gravediggers, it turns out, are not Marx’s revolutionary proletariat but its own delusional cardinals, who have turned ideology into faith. They seem to have difficulty comprehending reality or grasping the science of climate change, which says, quite simply, that capitalism (including the Chinese variety) is destroying the planet.

“Trickle down” failed. Now “gush-up” is in trouble too. As early stars appear in Mumbai’s darkening sky, guards in crisp linen shirts with crackling walkie-talkies appear outside the forbidding gates of Antilla. The lights blaze on. Perhaps it is time for the ghosts to come out and play.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Arundhati Roy: Foreword to “Scripting the Change: Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy”

“….But Anuradha was different”
–Arundhati Roy

(This is the forward of Anuradha Ghandy’s book ‘Scripting the Change’ written by Arundhati Roy. Book my be purchased from here

That is what everyone who knew Anuradha Ghandy says. That is what almost everyone whose life she touched thinks.
She died in a Mumbai hospital on the morning of 12 April 2008, of malaria. She had probably picked it up in the jungles of Jharkhand where she had been teaching study classes to a group of Adivasi women. In this great democracy of ours, Anuradha Ghandy was what is known as a ‘Maoist terrorist,’ liable to be arrested, or, more likely, shot in a fake ‘encounter,’ like hundreds of her colleagues have been. When this terrorist got high fever and went to a hospital to have her blood tested, she left a false name and a dud phone number with the doctor who was treating her. So he could not get through to her to tell her that the tests showed that she had the potentially fatal malaria falciparum. Anuradha’s organs began to fail, one by one. By the time she was admitted to the hospital on 11 April, it was too late. And so, in this entirely unnecessary way, we lost her.
She was 54 years old when she died, and had spent more than 30 years of her life, most of them underground, as a committed revolutionary.
I never had the good fortune of meeting Anuradha Ghandy, but when I attended the memorial service after she died I could tell that she was, above all, a woman who was not just greatly admired, but one who had been deeply loved. I was a little puzzled at the constant references that people who knew her made to her ‘sacrifices.’ Presumably, by this, they meant that she had sacrificed the comfort and security of a middle-class life, for radical politics. To me, however, Anuradha Ghandy comes across as someone who happily traded in tedium and banality to follow her dream. She was no saint or missionary. She lived an exhilarating life that was hard, but fulfilling.

The young Anuradha, like so many others of her generation, was inspired by the Naxalite uprising in West Bengal. As a student in Elphinstone College, she was deeply affected by the famine that stalked rural Maharashtra in the 1970s. It was working with the victims of desperate hunger that set her thinking and pitch-forked her into her journey into militant politics. She began her working life as a lecturer in Wilson College in Mumbai, but by 1982 she shifted to Nagpur. Over the next few years, she worked in Nagpur, Chandrapur, Amravati, Jabalpur and Yavatmal, organizing the poorest of the poor — construction workers, coal-mine workers — and deepening her understanding of the Dalit movement. In the late 1990s, even though she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she went to Bastar and lived in the Dandakaranya forest with the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) for three years. Here, she worked to strengthen and expand the extraordinary women’s organization, perhaps the biggest feminist organization in the country — the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (KAMS) that has more than 90,000 members. The KAMS is probably one of India’s best kept secrets. Anuradha always said that the most fulfilling years of her life were these years that she spent with the People’s War (now CPI-Maoist) guerillas in Dandakaranya. When I visited the area almost two years after Anuradha’s death, I shared her awe and excitement about the KAMS and had to re-think some of my own easy assumptions about women and armed struggle. In an Foreword essay in this collection, writing under the pseudonym Avanti, Anuradha says:

As we approach March 8, early in the dawn of this new century remarkable developments are taking place on the women’s front in India. Deep in the forests and plains of central India, in the backward villages of Andhra Pradesh and up in the hills among the tribals in the state, in the forests and plains of Bihar and Jharkhand women are getting organized actively to break the shackles of feudal patriarchy and make the New Democratic Revolution. It is a women’s liberation movement of peasant women in rural India, a part of the people’s war being waged by the oppressed peasantry under revolutionary leadership. For the past few years thousands of women are gathering in hundreds of villages to celebrate 8 March. Women are gathering together to march through the streets of a small town like Narayanpur to oppose the Miss World beauty contest, they are marching with their children through the tehsil towns and market villages in backward Bastar to demand proper schooling for their children. They are blocking roads to protest against rape cases, and confronting the police to demand that the sale of liquor be banned. And hundreds of young women are becoming guerrilla fighters in the army of the oppressed, throwing off the shackles of their traditional life of drudgery. Dressed in fatigues, a red star on their olive green caps, a rifle on their shoulders, these young women brimming with the confidence that the fight against patriarchy is integrally linked to the fight against the ruling classes of this semi-feudal, semi-colonial India, are equipping themselves with the military knowledge to take on the third largest army of the exploiters. This is a social and political awakening among the poorest of the poor women in rural India. It is a scenario that has emerged far from the unseeing eyes of the bourgeois media, far from the flash and glitter of TV cameras. They are the signs of a transformation coming into the lives of the rural poor as they participate in the great struggle for revolution.
But this revolutionary women’s movement has not emerged overnight, and nor has it emerged spontaneously merely from propaganda. The women’s movement has grown with the growth of armed struggle. Contrary to general opinion, the launching of armed struggle in the early 1980s by the communist revolutionary forces in various parts of the country, the militant struggle against feudal oppression gave the confidence to peasant women to participate in struggles in large numbers and then to stand up and fight for their rights. Women who constitute the most oppressed among the oppressed, poor peasant and landless peasant women, who have lacked not only an identity and voice but also a name, have become activists for the women’s organizations in their villages and guerrilla fighters. Thus with the spread and growth of the armed struggle the women’s mobilization and women’s organization have also grown, leading to the emergence of this revolutionary women’s movement, one of the strongest and most powerful women’s movements in the country today. But it is unrecognized and ignored, a ploy of the ruling classes that will try to suppress any news and acknowledgement as long as it can.

Her obvious enthusiasm for the women’s movement in Dandakaranya did not blind her to the problems that women comrades faced within the revolutionary movement. At the time of her death, that is what she was working on — how to purge the Maoist Party of the vestiges of continuing discrimination against women and the various shades of patriarchy that stubbornly persisted among those male comrades who called themselves revolutionary. In the time I spent with the PLGA in Bastar, many comrades remembered her with such touching affection. Comrade Janaki was the name they knew her by. They had a worn photograph of her, in fatigues and her huge trademark glasses, standing in the forest, beaming, with a rifle slung over her shoulder.

She’s gone now — Anu, Avanti, Janaki. And she’s left her comrades with a sense of loss they may never get over. She has left behind this sheaf of paper, these writings, notes and essays. And I have been given the task of introducing them to a wider audience.
It has been hard to work out how to read these writings. Clearly, they were not written with a view to be published as a collection. At first reading they could seem somewhat basic, often repetitive, a little didactic. But a second and third reading made me see them differently. I see them now as Anuradha’s notes to herself. Their sketchy, uneven quality, the fact that some of her assertions explode off the page like hand-grenades, makes them that much more personal. Reading through them you catch glimpses of the mind of someone who could have been a serious scholar or academic but was overtaken by her conscience and found it impossible to sit back and merely theorize about the terrible injustices she saw around her. These writings reveal a person who is doing all she can to link theory and practice, action and thought. Having decided to do something real and urgent for the country she lived in, and the people she lived amongst, in these writings, Anuradha tries to tell us (and herself) why she became a Marxist-Leninist and not a liberal activist, or a radical feminist, or an eco-feminist or an Ambedkarite. To do this, she takes us on a basic guided tour of a history of these movements, with quick thumb-nail analyses of various ideologies, ticking off their advantages and drawbacks like a teacher correcting an examination paper with a thick fluorescent marker. The insights and observations sometimes lapse into easy sloganeering, but often they are profound and occasionally they’re epiphanic — and could only have come from someone who has a razor sharp political mind and knows her subject intimately, from observation and experience, not merely from history and sociology textbooks.
Perhaps Anuradha Ghandy’s greatest contribution, in her writing, as well as the politics she practiced, is her work on gender and on Dalit issues. She is sharply critical of the orthodox Marxist interpretation of caste (‘caste is class’) as being somewhat intellectually lazy. She points out that her own party has made mistakes in the past in not being able to understand the caste issue properly. She critiques the Dalit movement for turning into an identity struggle, reformist not revolutionary, futile in its search for justice within an intrinsically unjust social system. She believes that without dismantling patriarchy and the caste-system, brick, by painful brick, there can be no New Democratic Revolution.
In her writings on caste and gender, Anuradha Ghandy shows us a mind and an attitude that is unafraid of nuance, unafraid of engaging with dogma, unafraid of telling it like it is — to her comrades as well as to the system that she fought against all her life. What a woman she was.

MORE on the book, Scripting the Change:
Editors: Anand Teltumbde and Shoma Sen
Year: 2012[2011]
Pages: xxiv+480
Publisher: Daanish Books

About the Book

In this great democracy of ours, Anuradha Gandhy was what is known as a ‘Maoist terrorist,’ liable to be arrested, or, more likely, shot in a fake ‘encounter’ like hundreds of her colleagues have been … Reading through [her writings]… you catch glimpses of a mind of someone who could have been a serious scholar or academic who was overtaken by her conscience and found it impossible to sit back and merely theorize about the terrible injustice she saw around her. These writings reveal a person who is doing all she can to link theory and practice, action and thought.
— Arundhati Roy, New Delhi

Anuradha Ghandy’s life and work stands as an example for a generation of Indian revolutionaries. But more than that she has directly contributed to the development of the Indian revolutionary movement in significant ways. Take the caste issue. Anuradha was one of the new generations of revolutionaries that in practical political activity gained and formulated an insight that helped the movement to move forward from the former narrow economism in the perception of caste of the old CPI to a new and broader understanding of the class role of the superstructure. ...her writing contains much more. It is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand the present situation in India.
— Jan Myrdal, Sweden


Foreword: “….But Anuradha was different”    Arundhati Roy (Download PDF)
Remembering Anuradha Ghandy: Friend, Comrade, Moving Spirit

Section 1: Caste

Caste Question in India
The Caste Question Returns
Movements against Caste in Maharashtra
When Maharashtra Burned for Four Days
Dalit Fury Scorches Maharashtra: Gruesome Massacre of Dalits
Mahars as Landholders

Section 2: Women

Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement
The Revolutionary Women’s Movement in India
8 March and the Women’s Movement in India
International Women’s Day: Past and Present
Fascism, Fundamentalism and Patriarchy
Changes in Rape Law: How far will they Help?
Cultural Expression of the Adivasi Women in the Revolutionary Movement
In Conversation with Comrade Janaki
Working Class Women: Making the Invisible Visible
Women Bidi Workers and the Co-operative Movement: A Study of the Struggle in the Bhandara District Bidi Workers’ Co-operative

Section 3: Miscellaneous

A Pyrrhic Victory: Government Take-Over of Empress Mills
Empress Mills: What Misstatements?
Inchampalli-Bhopalapatnam Revisited
Season: Tendupatta; Pimp: The State
Can Revolution be prevented by Blocking the Roads to Kamalapur?
Gagging People’s Culture
People’s Struggles in Bastar
The Bitter Lessons of Khaparkheda
Working Class Anger Erupts
Workers’ Upsurge against Changes in Labour Laws
Prices Make the Poor Poorer
Rape and Murder — ‘Law And Order’ of the Day
A Time to Remember
Brahmin Sub-Inspector Tramples Dalit Flag
Small Magazines: A Significant Expression of the People’s Culture
Deaths in Police Custody in Nagpur
Cotton Flower … the Best Flower! … ?
Practical Socialism: Not Socialism but Pure Fascism

Saturday, February 4, 2012