Saturday, May 14, 2016

Demystifying Delusion and Unveiling the Crypt

Satyaki Roy

A book review of The Indian Economy in Transition: Globalization, Capitalism and Development, Anjan Chakraborty Anup Dhar Byasdeb Dasgupta, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi pp. 422.

Indian economy is at crossroads. The post-reform changes, the history of the present has to be explained by theory. Changes in policy and their impacts are accompanied by something that has not changed.  The unchanged is often lost, hidden and buried under the spectacle of capitalist development. The unchanged is the story of exploitation, original accumulation and the intractable 'constitutive outside' of the circuit camp of global capital. This is where the noise remains and perturbs the serenity of capitalist development. The present book is primarily about theorizing the change, defining and problematizing transition and its crisis and the evolving tension between two signposts of contemporary change, 'neoliberal globalisation' and 'inclusive development'. It draws from post-deconstructive Marxism in the tradition of Resnick and Wolff explaining realities from a class focused approach, realities as de-centered and differentiated without any essentialist core and telos. It takes off from Gibson Graham rejecting capital-centrism but goes beyond that in explaining how capital becomes hegemonic within coexisting and overdetermining disaggregated heterogeneous class processes. This is different from the Gramscian notion of hegemony rather the idea evolves from post Lacanian psychoanalyses defining hegemony as 'spectral' and capitalism as 'delusional cosmology'. This delusion is symbolic making the world appear capital-centric. The book is about demystifying this delusion and at the same time unveiling the concrete of the 'other', the dark 'other' that has not been co-opted hitherto by global capital. The agenda as the authors say is to explore 'what contemporary India can mean to Marxist's today as also what sense can contemporary Marxist's make of India today'.
The Dialectics and the Concrete

The pretext seems to be curving out a Marxist perspective out of the concrete of the non-West, India being its theatre, its entry point. The narrative is meant to locate the capital-labour contradiction in a complex, overdetermined space. It also talks about perceptions of delusion that makes capital far more emphatic and hegemonic. The delusional cosmology, the totalizing Leviathan like presence clouds the 'crypt'. The crypt is defined as the 'topographical arrangement made to keep (conserve-hidden) the living dead'. The crypt is 'alive in action and dead in language'. This 'irreal' understanding of capitalism, the dream like delusion silences the crypt and the current text is to read the reality as a conflict between the delusion and the crypt. The dialectics however is not framed in a 'self-other' binary structure such that the other can only speak in the language of the hegemonic and hence the dependent other is co-opted. Rather there are foregrounded and foreclosed signifiers. The fore grounded other is the assimilated other, it is the lacking other which the authors call the Third World. The Third World is assimilated in the circuit camp of global capital, this is the 'victim third'. On the other hand there is the other 'other' which is the larger part which is the foreclosed 'other', the dark other with which global capital and its camp is trying to negotiate and intrude. This is the 'evil Third' which is defined as World of the Third; the other which is hysterical, irrational and archaic. The delusion seems to include the Third World and the crypt remains unchanged in the World of the Third.

The World of the third is the 'constitutive outside' that has no exchange with the global capital. It is the other which is expunged from the discourse as if it does not exist at all. It is the space of ‘informality’ extremely heterogeneous in terms of class processes but the persistence of the 'abnormal' demands attention to policymakers who gaze at the dark from the high balcony of global capital and get disturbed by the shrill noise of the uncivilized and the nonnegotiable. Policy debates around poverty, SEZ, home sector are discussed in this context. The notion of 'original accumulation' is revisited. It adheres the non-temporal version of 'primitive' accumulation what Marx actually talked about and argues that this accumulation occurs not only through wholesale forcible dispossession of property rights. The non-classical mode may be a deliberate process of privatizing resources that makes existing forms of livelihood simply insane and unviable.

The book demystifies the delusional cloud and familiarizes the concretes of neo-liberalism as the rise of the 'enterprise economy'. This is Foucault in the Birth of Biopolitics explaining how neo-liberalism is different from liberalism, how the state is far more active in the 'social' instead of being confined to the economic. How the neoliberal state defines the 'conduct of conduct' and articulates the art of governance through capillaries of power. It is this architecture of power that the authors demystify in the context of neoliberal policies. It is also the rise of the homoeconomicus, the redefining of the human being as an enterprise confronting capital with differing entitlements of human capital. It is only about facilitating competition, dismantling barriers of entry while maintaining silence about the eternal barriers that perpetuate inequalities. The book discusses the recent policy changes in regard to industry, investment, pension, education and health in this Foucauldian light. In other words how the exclusion works via inclusion in the post-colonial present.

In course of delineating the structure of articulation of the circuit-camp of global capital  with the Third World as well as with the World of the Third the analyses problematizes 'need' that is neither required to produce surplus nor creates conditions for the fundamental class process to take place. It separates the space of need from the space of class process and also distinguishes production surplus from social surplus. And therefore conveys a politics of class struggle over the distribution of surplus as distinct from although not independent of the development struggle over distribution of the social surplus. It also distinguishes inclusive growth from inclusive development and explains how logic of neoliberalism is smuggled into the World of the Third through microfinance and various instruments of insurance. The authors locate the current transition crisis of the Indian economy as not being able to replicate the wiping out of the informal segment the way it happened in China and South Korea where the growth of the economy and the growth of the labour force was managed to be sequenced in a particular time frame. And therefore it seems as if it is about to take a turn towards erasing the discourse of 'inclusive development' altogether.

Unsettled Tensions

The theory underlying the narrative of change and the rendition of the concrete seems to be having some unevenness and tension. Despite being a commendable exercise of theorizing the post-colonial moment, the comprehension of the dialectics remains unsettled in the discursive space. The implicit characterizing of the crypt as the ‘constitutive outside’ locates exploitation, class and original accumulation only at the outside of global capital and therefore the World of the Third appears to be the only site for collective politics. The theft of labour in the process of expanded reproduction and the continuous alienation of the worker go hand in hand even within the circuit camp of global capital. The dispossession continues here also. The crypt within therefore remains unheard and the delusion that clouds the crypt within the realm of global capital remains unnoticed. This original separation in the conceptual schema unfolds in delineating the need and class processes. The authors further differentiate class struggle over distribution of production surplus from developmental struggle relating to need and redistribution of the social surplus.

True indeed the ‘need’ is different from the notion of ‘necessary’ in Marxian analyses because in the eyes of capital according to Marx the ‘necessary’ is only recognized when it is producing surplus. Otherwise capital does not recognise life of labour as necessary and hence the space of need is actually the space of political struggle. However the stance of individual capital is different from that of interest of the capitalist class as a whole and reproducing the hegemony of the class requires maintaining the future flow of labour. But the ‘necessary’ or the ‘socially necessary’ within the class process is also a moment of self-valorization of labour which is determined by nothing other than class struggle. Therefore differentiating the struggles relating to 'necessary' and 'need' becomes somewhat problematic. The conceptual separation further becomes complicating and superfluous with the rise of what Negri and Tronti calls ‘social factory’. The evolving design of organizing capitalist production increasingly brings the realm of production and reproduction close to each other. Global capital invades every nook and corner of livelihood and infuses every disposable moment into the calculus of profit. The separation exists only in the abstract and as ‘necessary’ comes closer to ‘need’ the developmental struggle essentially dissolves into class struggle.

One can also notice the underlying tension within the discursive space, the movement between theory and the narrative of the concrete, the coming and going seems to be uneven. The theory as if has yet to be dissolved in the narrative of the concrete. The theory says more and the narrative somewhere lags behind. The discussions on transition and the commentary on the policy debates appears to the reader as some familiar critique of the left and the sparks of new conceptual categories illuminate the discursive space only occasionally. This is probably because of the unresolved tension that exists within the framework itself in locating reality in the larger frame of history. The authors denounce historical materialism in the passing. It rejects essentialism and determinism in Marxian analysis. But whatever be the name 'circuit-camp of global capital' captures an ‘abstract social totality’ that characterises reality in concrete time and space. One may not search for ‘immutable laws’ because such laws do not exist and historical materialism is not about straight jacketing history onto structural cages of inevitability. Nonetheless one can hardly present history as tangled but formless record of unrelated incidents. This book also didn't try to do that as well. In other words it shares the tension of locating reality avoiding what Laibman says the 'twin traps of incalculable utopia and unalterable dystopia'. The narration of reality and its analyses as a result does not get absolved from an abstract structure which the theory might have liked to suggest. Hence in many occasions narratives largely converge to what follows from conventional Marxian perspectives.

The unsettled question of transition/transformation is also on the table. The authors however speak in the voice of others and seem to be undecided between big-bang revolution and incremental path of struggle by way of expanding the possibilities of non-capitalist space within capitalism. It apparently rejects the systemic schema of directionality of replacing or overthrowing one ‘ism’ by another ‘ism’. It is committed to its non-essentialist framework and hence maintains adequate restraint in essentialising the state as well. The state however raises its ugly head again and again, the way it plays an instrumental role in instituting the neoliberal ‘conduct of conduct’. But the imagery of transition stops here only. Social transformation seems to be aborted in theory. It does not envisage the possibility of state instituting a ‘conduct of conduct’ of a variety altogether different from the present one. The scope of emancipation as if dies within the sleeves of Foucauldian governance. But the dream remains. The crypt might assume its voice loud enough creating a spectral which could be ‘irreal’ but becomes essential not only to demystify but to destroy the delusional cloud of capitalism. May be revolution is the symbolic of the counter-hegemonic 'delusion' and the dream emerges with adequate restraint in the penultimate chapter ‘In the interminable process of overdetermination and contradiction the narrative of the next phase(s) of the transition of the Indian economy will be written, erased, and written, again and again, till the time when the concept of capitalism itself becomes the issue and the crypt the focus premise the object of the political.'

Foucault, M. 2008 The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-79, London, Plagrave , Macmillan.
Laibman, David 2006 'The End of History? The Problem of Agency and Change in Historical Materialist Theory', Science and Society, 70(2), pp. 180-204.
Negri, Antonio 1991 Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, New York: Autonomedia/Pluto.
Tronti, Mario 2013 'Factory and Society',

Satyaki Roy is with the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development, New Delhi.

This review was published in Economic and Political Weekly, April 9, Vol.51 No.15.


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