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Gramsci Is Dead But Resurrected

Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements by Richard J F Day;

BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 13, 200825Aitihasikata (1941), where, speaking of himself in the third person, he said:In his own field of creativity Rabindranath has been entirely alone and tied to no public by history…. The bizarre game of political change was being played out there, of course, but the light that glittered on the foliage of coconut palms was not a statist in-put owing to the British government… The creator gathers some of the material for his creation from historical narratives and some from his social environment. But the materi-al by itself does not make him a creator. It is only by putting it to use that he expresses himself as the creator…. There is no doubt that the rural scenes surveyed by the poet in those days were affected by the conflicts of political history. However, thanks to his crea-tivity, what came to be reflected…was not the image of a feudal order nor indeed any political order at all but th[e] history of the weal and woe of human life…1Here, Rabindranath was responding to materialist and Marxist critics of the turbulent 1930s in Calcutta who accused him again and again of abnegating his duties to history. Speaking here interchange-ably of his poetry in books such asKatha O Kahini or short stories in the collections known asGalpaguchha, Rabindranath arti-culatesa defence that Ranajit Guha likens to the concept of “facticity” in Heidegger. How such a defence plays out in the con-text of an overtly political novel such as Ghare Baire could have been productively explored in a volume that leaves little room for the gap between the ambiguities of literary intention and expression. If criticism may be defined as “the pro-fessionalising or institutionalising of the urge to talk or write in response to an act of reading or seeing”, then, as J Hillis Miller has recently argued, “such talking or writing…is not without its dangers”. “If you could see to the end”, he continues, “you would not need to write the essay, but since you do not know where you are going you may fall into an unforeseenpit or enter a blind alley, an aporia, a blank wall, in the act of writing as feeling your way blindly.”2 There are very few such moments, however, inTowards Freedom, where the essays have been conceptualised with political goodwill and purity of intention; their very foresight, however, precludes the productivity that results from “the act of writing as feeling your way blindly”. That is a road not taken.Email: rosinka@rediffmail.comNotes1Ranajit Guha’s translation in Ranajit Guha, History at the Limit of World-History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), 96-99.2 J Hillis Miller, ‘What Do Stories about Pictures Want?’,Critical Inquiry 34, suppl (Winter 2008), s61.Gramsci Is Dead But Resurrected Arun Kumar Patnaik“How close to us are some of the dead, how dead are so many who live” – Wolf Biermann – John Keane (1988: 31)Of late, several intellectuals, com-ing under Foucault’s spell, have declared that Gramsci is dead. Richard Day’s book under review is one such example. Day argues that Gramsci’s idea of hegemony is irrelevant today in view of newer social movements that do not aim “to counter” the state power in order “to seize” it; they believe in a com-munity’s direct action and also, they be-lieve in creating alternatives here and now. Partha Chatterjee’s recent publica-tion inEPW (2008: 53-62) is another ex-ample. Chatterjee argues how Gramsci’s concept of common sense is ineffective in view of governmental interventions in subaltern lives where Foucault’s govern-mentality is more applicable. I beg to dif-fer with them at least partially. Gramsci’s SignificanceEven though there are elements in Gramsci which must be declared dead (Iam no Gramsci fanatic), there are still elements in his theory which have tremendous bearing on our times. To be sure, his theory of hegemony that, echoing Lenin, talks about the primacy of the political must be revised in the light of new and newer socialmovements which talk about the primacy of the social today. His adherence to the concept of the proletarian dictator-ship must be rethought. For, the idea of seizure of the State power by the prole-tariat is not even a daydream today and moreover, is fraught with possibilitiesof political opportunism instrumentalism: try to abolish the State by means of the State. But even when we think that some of the classical ideas of Gramsci are out-dated, ironically his ideas on each of these dead issues are a little more complex than thepresent book proposes. In his theory of the primacy of the political, he tried to bridge with the idea of the primacyofthe social. In his talk of the proletarian dictatorship in the State power, he tried to bridge with the autonomy of the factory councils in civil society. While assertingthat socialism must mean the witheringaway of the State, he countered his Leninist comrades that socialism must aim to reconstruct bourgeois civil society rather than try to abolish it altogether. Thus, even when his ideas are really dated, some of his insights present in these very dead ideas come alive. More-over, where his ideas are live and kick-ing, there are no contemporary parallels. Every other post-war intellectual inter-ested in praxis unmediated by Gramscian philosophy falls into rationalist or romantic trappings. First, let us do a content review. Richard Day argues that newer social movements believe in “do it yourself”. These are es-sentially direct action currents in activism today. Hegemony is not their orientation. Rather they believe in non-hegemonic action. This means that they donot intend to counter the State power or capitalist power in order to redefine them and create alternatives in a remote future. They rather try to create alternatives to such powers through community action here and now. And they do so in five dif-ferent ways: (1) Dropping out of existing institutions; for example, the squatters movement in inner-city “black areas” of Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movementsby Richard J F Day; Orient Blackswan, Hyderabad, 2008 (reprint from Pluto Press, 2005); pp 254, Rs 320.
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 13, 200827abolition of the State power. However, newest social movements do not intend so atpresent. A Major AnomalyWhile I submit, the author self-consciously follows an immanent criticism of the above three forms of socialism, he does not follow the same in the case of liberal multiculturalism leading to a major anomaly in his logic of reading (pp 76-90). Even, his reading of classical liberalism is very one-sided and negative (pp 51-54). He launches a vitriolic attack on liberalism, reminding one of Gramsci’s advice that socialism must not be posited as “the other” of liberalism, thus forming a dichotomy. The author does not identify anything positive in classical liberalism or multi-culturalism for the author is wary of any State form just as the neoliberal State,under some situations, may be wary of a community’s direct action. Day offers a critique of liberal multiculturalism that turns overboard. He launches an attack on C Taylor and W Kymlicka and argues rightly that their position on recognition relapses into a very slippery ground. Both claim a privileged field of vision on the basis of which recognition is to be carried. Their notion of dialogue is derived from this position and is thus hegemonic. Thus, Taylor argues, “The demand for recognition tends to hide itself, tends to be presented as something else” (p 78). Here, Taylor is not taking these identities for what they say they really are. He slips into invokinga privileged vision which is in a position of knowing the true intentions ofclaimants.This is a hegemonic moment ofdialogue whereas in non-hegemonic form of dialogue, there is no finalising, totalising or all-knowing position as in Bakhtin. This is simply excellent. However, Day does not assess substantive issues of multiculturalism. If the French-knowing Quebec demand a self-governing unit, should Day advise them not to place such a demand as their discourse tends to be “statist” rather thancommunity-oriented direct action? Should Day advise them to undertake alternatives to the state-form, run food centres, hospitals, schools, gardens, police stations, judiciary and so on rather than wait and see for all these things to happen afterwards? Which community has undertaken all these forms of action directly anywhere in the world without a state-form? Day does not feel obliged to tell his readers and thus he escapes into a logical critique of multiculturalism. Not Logically ConsistentI have more serious difficulties in ac-cepting an uncritical reading of post-structuralism. Day argues that Foucault’s theory of power, Deleuze and Guttari’s concept of the smith, Agamben’s concept of coming communities, share with anar-chism and are thus enabled to interpret newest social movements accurately. There are many others like Negri and Hardt’s concept of multitude and so on. However, a critical reading would have helped Day see how Foucault’spoweris interlocked with classical liberal prob-lematic. A critical reading of Deleuze and Guttari would have helped Day see that their reading of Marx as doctrinaire is deeply flawed and they attack a straw man (p 108). For, Marx is also critical of evaluating people’s movements on the basis of doctrines and axioms rather thanactual principles as outlined by the movements themselves. If Day or Deleuze and Guttari had compared Marx and Bakunin on capitalism, they would have realised how Marx follows a method of immanent criticism of capitalismwhereas Bakunin follows a method of mere anti-capitalism and accuses Marx for “praising” capitalism. The chief problem with Day’s reading, however, is that he is not logically consistent in whatever he does. So also, Day’s reading of Foucault’s theory of power. Day cites Foucault, “I am not say-ingthat all forms of power are unaccept-able but that no power is necessarily acceptable or unacceptable. This is anar-chism.” Just as there is no pure freedom, there is no pure domination. What makes his theory unique and different from classical anarchism is his “disavowal of the possibility of living a life entirely without power relations” (p 137). How is Foucault’s notion of power unrelated to Locke’s liberal epistemology? For Locke, a liberal is the one who holds opinions about truth/knowledge/power with a measure of doubt. No truth is necessarily acceptable or unacceptable. A perfect liberal claim made by Foucault? Maybe it would be embarrassing for Day to think along these lines which are there-fore suppressed by him as well as by Foucault.Day is also uncritical of direct action groups in this volume. For, all direct action groups are not necessarily direct. Rather, several groups, on their own admission, aim “to educate and mobilise public” (p 26). All of these groups claim that they are non-hierarchical and non-vanguard organisations. Herein lies our catch. Once an organisation claims “to educate and mobilise masses”, it shares a vanguard mentality. It may not be necessarily a bad move. But the key point is that such organisations must be aware that they follow a vanguard policy. They must be aware that there are “uneducated public” waiting outside of them for being educat-ed and mobilised. Thus, there is a cultural gap between uneducated public and the education programme of a direct action group. Once such a cultural gap arises between an organisation and public, elitist biases or forms of “scientism” are likely to creep into an organisation. In order to overcome this kind of scientism, an organi-sation must have a policy of its educators being educated by the common public. Who else has enriched our discussion alongtheseslines better than Gramsci? The direct action groups must resurrect Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis. For, his concept of praxis – common sense/religion/philosophy – still remains the most original contribu-tion of a pre-war intellectual to a post-war world – modern or post-modern – marked by the “vanguard” or “non-vanguard” direct action groups. The project of burying deadGramsci by R Day or P Chatterjee, as stated above, will not help us in under-standing the necessity of a two-way edu-cation process involving “the new direct action groups” challenging neoliberalism all over the world. Email: ReferencesChatterjee, Partha (2008): “Economic Transformation and Democracy”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 43, No 16, 19 April, pp 53-62.Keane, John (1988):Democracy and Civil Society (London: Verso), p 253.

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