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Death of Democracy

An Inevitable Possibility under Capitalism

Rajan Gurukkal (rgurukkal@gmail.com) is a historian and social scientist, and is vice chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council.

What happens to democracy when capitalism becomes global? Capitalist expansion and democratisation are popularly represented by the magical term “development.” However, the unbridled development
of capitalism is invariably based on the over-exploitation of natural resources, and the consequent impoverishment of tribal people, expansion of the middle class and transformation of the nation into a crony capitalist state. The latest phase of capitalism, namely techno-capitalism—with its corporate system of organisation and highly centralised top-heavy administration, or “corporatocracy”—signifies the measured death of democracy.

Democracy has always been considered a goal which is a long way off, ever since the onset of differentiated economy and stratified society. Throughout history, we tookoligarchy for democracy and always believed that bourgeois democracy could be transformed into real democracy through constitutional reforms. One liberal political scientist even contemplated the globalisation of Western liberal democracy and the subsequent “end of history”1 as imminent (Fukuyama 1992). Expectedly, a total rebuttal of the end of history thesis came, with reference to the reawakening of history under the revolutionary force of the people (Badiou 2012). Hope for a people’s resurgence in the form of survival struggles does make sense, and it may be reasonable to
dream of the European lower middle class resuscitating their revolutionary democratic values and passions of 1789 or 1848. However, few expect the North American elites to endorse a renewed call for liberty and equality, as in 1776.

Capitalism and Democracy

Capitalism denotes the means, forces and relations of production, facilitating transformation of money into capital, through industrial production and profit-maximising exchange. Capitalist development means the enhanced accumulation of capital (Marx 1867). Its juridico–political devices were manifested in the post-feudal polities of constitutional monarchy and patriarchy. Colonisation of the new world was an early landmark of capitalist development. It was after the American war of independence in 1776 and the birth of the United States (US), that thepatriarchal juridico–political system was transformed into bourgeois democracy. Since then, capitalist development has depended upon the democratic state, run by the bourgeoisie. The rise of a new Europe following the French Revolution of 1789 tended to democratise beyond the middle class, but the middle-class alliance with the bourgeoisie sabotaged this process, substituting it with an absolutist state under Napoleon Bonaparte. Capitalism developed through competitive colonisation, often turning state power into imperialism, by waging wars globally.Anti-colonial struggles and the constitution of liberal democratic nation states as well as dictatorships emerged in Asia, where capitalism developed in alliance with both.

Nevertheless, capitalists were constrained to fight dictatorships for economic reasons, while they tried to retain bourgeois democracy, also called liberal democracy—guaranteeing in its rhetoric, the freedom of the press and speech, and the right of habeas corpus—for ensuring a laissez-faire state. Both,people’s democracy and the free market, are part of the rhetoric of capitalism, for its inexorably hidden “real” has never been anything short of oligarchy and monopoly. Capitalistsinstigated anti-communist bourgeois democratic struggles, promoted liberal democratic states, and put up a sustainedresistance against communism. However, communist revolutions gave birth to socialist dictatorships in Russia first, and subsequently, in China, where capitalism was yet to develop. In due course, capitalism developed even in communist countries by transforming socialism into state capitalism. In spite of the contrasts between state capitalism and transnational capitalism, capitalism has continued its inevitable development into global capitalism. Under it, perhaps the only relatively appreciable democratic state since the world wars might be the Nordic model in the Scandinavian countries. However, their social democracy based on privatised Keynesianism has proven 
unsustainable, demanding enhanced collectiveresponsibility (Crouch 2009; Castells et al 2017).2

The fate of democracy under capitalist development has never been a topic of serious debate, despite the fact that Karl Marx’s theory of capitalism, as applied by Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1999) to state power, had brought about the thesis of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism.3 Rosa Luxemburg found imperialism to be a theoretical inevitability in the process of development of the capitalist mode of production, through global-level capital export and extension of accumulation under monopoly capital (Luxemburg 1913; Wolfe 2001). Under capitalism, the life of democracy is positioned as “being-toward-death,” in reference to what Martin Heidegger said about human death: an inevitable and imminent possibility, which everybody ignores.

Development Rhetoric

According to Marx’s theory, development means capitalistdevelopment. However, in popular parlance the term “development” is taken to mean all that people aspire for themselves. Its usage cleverly and successfully conceals its real meaning: capitalist growth with underlying implications of “colonialism” and “imperialism.” Another related popular term, “globalisation,” similarly hushes up its actual meaning of capitalistglobalisation, which implies “neo-colonialism” and “neo-imperialism.” Despite the recurrence of recessions, capitalismexpanded through fresh strategies of accumulation, which were able to acquire social legitimacy under the ideological veil of “development.” Development is, therefore, a mischievous term, but one of universal acclaim for something ideal. It means the expansion of capital-, technology-,energy-, and chemical-intensive industrialproduction for globalconsumption, in order to achieve maximisation of profit, high rates of capital accumulation, a current account balance of payment surplus, the lowest capital–output ratio, and the highest per capita consumption rate; are allattributes ofdevelopment (Ruccio 2011). Almost all nations in thenorthern hemisphere are distinguished with these attributes. They jointly constitute the capitalist economic structure thatsubsumes and dominates the economic relations andfunctions of the world.

Broadly speaking, theories of development can be divided into two mutually antagonistic categories, the liberal and the radical. Liberal theories of development are based on thenotions of neo-classical economics, while radical theories are based on the critical political economy and development anthropology. Theories under the first category constitute the core of modern economics, which provides capitalism with its foundational knowledge, allowing for the articulation of neocolonial, neo-liberal and neo-imperialist ideas within the “sugar-coated” rhetoric of development. Some of these are indeed liberal theories—based on pragmatic criticism and upholding democratic values and social ethics—but which function largely as eddies in the capitalist current. Radical theories of development are founded on Marxist epistemology, but with varying levels of praxis intervention, ranging from armed revolution (Marxist–Leninist) and social–democratic collective operation (neo-Marxist), to civil society reformist initiatives. Of all the theories of development justifying the capitalist agenda,Walt Whitman Rostow’s (1960) formulation ranks the foremost. It conceives development in terms of five stages, and accordingly classifies economies as traditional, underdeveloped, developing, developed, or post-industrial. It wasRostow’s work that popularised the term development.

Theoretical Engagements

Several scholars have highlighted the cultural strategies of capitalist expansion, camouflaging imperialist ways of capitalist exploitation and legitimising unequal power relations (Adorno 1991). There is an impressive body of literature by neo-Marxists like Louis Althusser, Etienne Balibar, Fernand Braudel, André Gunder Frank, Immanuel Wallerstein, Walter Rodney, Samir Amin and others, analysing relations of diplomacy, trade agreements, development treaties and technology transfers, which expose the presence of imperialist state power behind the so-called democratic governance of capitalist countries. Their reinterpretations of hardcore Marxist political economy have brought to bear the incompatibility between democracy and capitalism, by demonstrating how capitalist states created and sustained the underdeveloped world (Wallerstein 1976; Frank 1971, 1979; Rodney 1983; Amin 1990, 1997). Neo-Marxists or post-Marxists like Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe,Slavoj Žižek, Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Partha Chatterjee and others, discuss the sad plight of postcolonial democracy against the background of the rising global capitalist neo-imperialism. Their studies provide insights into the politics of caste and ethnicity in postcolonial democracies with crony states, which are at odds with the nation state as well as capitalist development.4 To Partha Chatterjee (1993; 2011), the politics of ethnicity in India, although apparently an essentialist entity, is not a contrast to national democracy. Neo-marxist theoreticians do not believe that democraticnationalist essentialism is opposed to democratic ethnic essentialism, because the essentialism of both is susceptible to slip into authoritarianism and subsequently, fascism (a natural manifestation in advanced capitalist development). This isevident in India where caste and ethnic politics, althoughostensibly championing the subaltern causes, are susceptible to be trapped by the dominant communal essentialism.

Antonio Negri and Hardt (2000) argue that imperialism under advanced capitalism is not manifesting within the nation state as one would expect. Global capitalism has been fast bypassing and undermining the state system. A new global imperialism—run by international institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the World TradeOrganization (WTO)—has already outdated state-driven imperialism. Ever since the open withdrawal of the state from most sectors of people’s welfare, there has been a steady intensification of privatisation of public assets, impairing nationaleconomic sovereignty. What some heads of state in the grown-up capitalist countries exhibit is not national imperialism per se, but a mere reflection of the capitalist global power.

Development Anthropology

Development anthropology, an offshoot of neo-Marxist theory of capitalist development, focuses primarily on the micro-level processes under the influence of postmodern and post-structural perspectives. They owe their pattern of thinking to Michel Foucault (1972) and Jean-François Lyotard (1979). It isFoucault’s discourse analysis—which helps understand how a text of the power–knowledge combine works on its subjects—upon which development anthropologists have depended for their interpretations. According to Foucault, a discourse transforms people into its subjects and acts as the de facto influence on their minds and bodies. Postmodern anthropologists perceive capitalist development as a discourse that fundamentally transforms the mindset of people, and makes them subjects, uncritically accepting the meanings, measures and truth claims rendered plausible by the “development discourse.”

Development anthropologists like James Ferguson andArturo Escobar have criticised the neoclassical and neo-liberal perception of development as an extension of Rostow’s theory (Ferguson 1990, 2006; Escobar 1984, 2011). Applying Foucault’s concept, they conceive development as an epochal discourse that has transformed most people into its subjects through production and dissemination of necessary knowledge, that is, new meanings, ideas, relations and processes of development as truth. This construction of knowledge, technically calledobjectification, results in the creation of the appropriate mentality for accepting new truths about the subjects themselves. Accordingly, nations with discursively engendered development subjects, uncritically accept their status exactly as construed by the development discourse. Since World War II, the criteria of the development discourse, which included several extra-economic factors like food habits, architecture of dwellings, costumes and other cultural practices made them uncritically accept their status as poor countries (Rahnema 1988; Maxwell 2003). As a result, many consider themselves underdeveloped, and hence at the mercy of the developed countries for evolving strategies of development. These countries, after signing various treaties and agreements with developed countries, have been awaiting development. A variety of neocolonial/neo-imperialistic strategies in the form of development treaties for technology transfer, financial support, soft loans and big debts for industrial growth and export maximisation, have trapped the underdeveloped and developing nations.

A recent estimate of Global Financial Integrity (GFI) and the Centre for Applied Research at the Norwegian School of Economics (2015) shows that the net drain from the global South since 1980 adds up to $16.3 trillion. In fact, of this net outflow, since 1980, developing countries have transferred $4.2 trillion to the developed countries by way of interest payments on debt (Hickel 2017; World Bank and International Debt Statistics nd). This has been the consequence of the high debt service trap, systematically made more inescapable by the developed countries using strategies of trade reforms, technological sophistication, free imports, reduction of import tariffs, privatisation, free capital flow, full convertibility of national currency and so on, all encouraged as “solutions” to the crisis in the underdeveloped world.

Underdeveloped and developing nations are in debt traps, and the myriad pressures that the market-friendly cultureexerts often leads to increasing suicide rates. Over five lakh farmers are reported to have committed suicide during the five years of liberalisation and structural adjustment since 1995 (Shiva and Jalees 2009). There is a commendable body of literature on suicide mortality illustrating the plight of indebted farmers and weavers of India in the wake of the unpredictable market conditions. Articles published in this journal itself are many. Financial globalisation—that facilitated the flight of American and European capital to developing countries through the liberalisation of the capital market—has led to a series of effects such as privatisation, free trade, foreign investment growth, hegemony of global organisations, mounting debt,intensifying competition, strengthening of new market pressures, heightening of political, cultural, social and economic insecurity, etc. Also, the often sudden and arbitrary withdrawal of foreign capital investment pushes the host nation into trouble. Decline of the public sphere is another consequentdisaster (Habermas 1989).

It is now being increasingly recognised that development, as demonstrated by the capitalist economy, will never be universalised, because of the growing theoretical awareness of its exploitative relationship of imbalance, which has been inevitably structured by the dominance of the developed countries. Countries subject to this exploitation are slowly coming to terms with the reality that their “development” through transnational capital aids and technology transfer was mere myth and propaganda (Rahnema 1988).

Hardly a scheme for developing the underdeveloped, it was rather a strategy for sustaining the development of the developed through a variety of methods, enabling the transformation of national economies into structures of freewheeling capitalism. Nevertheless, many liberalists still believe in Kuznets’ curve and hope for the process of “trickle down” to set in soon (Kuznets 1955; Piketty 2014). They continue to view population growth, inequality, urbanisation, agricultural transformation, education, health, unemployment, etc, in their own merits, and not merely as appendages to an underlying growth model. Development anthropologists preferred to go further by focusing on the marginalised as victims of development. They seek to discuss how the discourse works in everyday development situations and orders social relationships within marginalised local communities (Grillo and Stirrat 1997).

With the growing indifference of the state to problems of drinking water, food, healthcare, education, and public distribution, people have been forced to become market dependent. Corporate capital entered unbridled, into areas of naturalresources and ecosystems of biodiversity, causing dispossession of local people’s age-old subsistence strategies, disruption of culture and local wisdom, and devastation of habitat(Hobsbawm 2007). With agricultural seeds now being made into a patented commodity, farmers are unable to exchange them anymore, while expensive fertilisers have made agriculture costly. Unpredictable markets on occasions of good harvest and frequent crop failures due to unsuitable climatic conditions have made the life of farmers extremely miserable. Farmers’ suicide mortality is too stale a topic of analysis for socialscientists to be inquisitive about, and an issue least topical for politicians to be perturbed. Inequality has become unprecedentedly glaring with the proliferation of billionaires on one side and the phenomenal rise of the impoverished on the other (Piketty 2014). Billionaires come up not only through the software industry, but also through trade in drinking water, a commodity of high-profit trade for corporate houses. Many are deprived of access to drinking water, which has become acontested natural resource almost everywhere. The loss ofnational aid towards food and fuel has made the life of the poor incredibly miserable and they are increasingly being pushed into a struggle for survival.

Nevertheless, the process of capital growth at the cost ofequity is heading for a cul-de-sac. These warnings of the limits to capital growth are by way of ecological non-sustainability, environmental degradation, inescapable entropy and the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system (Rifkin and Howard 1980; Meadows et al 1972; 1993, 2004).

Limits to Growth

Development involving the squandering of natural resources denotes a process of economic domination, which deprives common people of their means of subsistence. Its technology has acquired free access to natural resources, initiating their over-exploitation at an unprecedented intensity. It is a process of shifting control over natural resources from the local power structure to the supralocal, national and international.Nationalisation of natural resources has divested the local community of its livelihood rights over them, and similarlyinternationalisation divests the nation of its sovereign control. World Bank projects of eco-restoration are examples of thisdivestment. Through their funding for securing the livelihoods of forest dwellers, they often deprive the people of their livelihood rights. International financial control of natural resources in the name of biodiversity conservation, ecosystem management or wildlife preservation has implications of deprivation of sovereign power of the nation over its natural wealth. To work for an alternative domain of thinking, which is capable of critiquing and replacing modern development economics, is a decolonising project. Sustainable development discussed widely is not altogether different from the dominant development, for it has not led any developed country to bring down its gross domestic product (GDP). Hence the elements of alternative development are being articulated through a countercultural movement and survival struggles led by the marginalised millions..

This disastrous expansion, covered by the veil of “development”—an enchanting word with wide social consensus—often involves deforestation, denial of forest rights, destruction of habitats, deprivation of livelihood, disruption of culture, contamination of the drinking water sources, acquisition ofrural farm lands, etc. Naturally, the tribal people and poor peasants facing such acute crises have no alternative other than launching unending struggles for survival. Survival is the central objective across the plurality of these struggles that manifest in multiple forms ranging from organised militancy of the Marxist–Leninist revolutionaries, struggles led by environmental activists, joint movements for people’s rights, and spontaneous protest outbreaks by the victims of development. Indeed, the unprompted mass survival struggles generallyacquire the solidarity of the larger society thanks to the advocacy by middle class intellectuals as well as those politiciansrepresenting social concerns.

Development Decentralisation

Several countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa introduced decentralisation through constitutional reforms under the World Bank agenda of local-level development. Indian states were encouraged to carry out decentralisation for development through local self-governance. The social misconception of the word development led many people to misunderstand theactual meaning of decentralisation. They took it to meandemocratisation at the grass roots, without knowing that grass-roots democracy is hardly attainable through constitutionally-ordained reforms, which seek only to quicken development administration.

What could, at best, be feasible through constitutionalreforms is administrative decentralisation, without upsetting the local social power relations as exemplified by the People’s Plan initiatives (Isaac 2001; Tharakan and Rawal 2001). Constitutionally engendered decentralisation is not democratisation, for it hardly means anything more than a localisation of class governance, based on the status quo. It is well known that democratisation brings about no social change in the structural sense, so long as it affects no institutional development in local administration that would upset the local power structure (Esman and Uphoff 1984). The state of affairs in several countries shows that the development of institutions—which combine the public, private and membership sector—aiming towards the empowerment of the local poor through better access to power and resources, is at a low ebb. Actually,democratisation should lead to the development of local institutions and organisations, limiting and controlling state actions and private forces (Gran 1983). However, their structural transformative role will be minimal, unless alternative civil organisations and institutions emanate from the grass roots.

In India, democratisation has been occurring through state-induced administrative reform. It is no accident, therefore, that there is no indication of institutional development at the grass roots to ensure better access of the weaker sections tolocal resources and power. The existing level, extent and basis of participation relates to the ongoing national democratic system and its pro-middle class incentives as determined by the power relations of the local society, which are rooted in the dominant class–caste–community–religion nexus. In fact, this precludes institutional development with enough potential to liberate the locality from exploitative macrostructures ofbureaucracy and capitalist markets. It is inevitable to search for political ways and means to transcend this theoretical stalemate. Only praxis strategies of politicisation and empowerment of the marginalised, facilitating people’s struggle against structural contradictions in local power relations, would lead to grass-roots democracy (Gurukkal 2001).

Various factors impede the politicisation and empowerment of the marginalised and the poor. Deprived of critical thought, they remain largely apolitical and susceptible to ideological coercion by the dominant. Caught up in culturally contingent identity traps of ethnicity, caste and religion, many of them are least amenable to politicisation. Therefore, in reality, it is centralised governance structured by the dominance of the upper class, that we call democracy today. The dominated and exploited poor are unaware of the contrast between the reigning democracy and grass-roots democracy. Theoretically, the state machinery (even the truly leftist), being ultimately an upper-class instrument, can hardly empower the downtrodden. Presuming otherwise, is as good as expecting the state to participate in the class war of the poor. Yet, many people still believe that liberal democracy can resolve the problem of class contradiction through legislation.

Crony Capitalist States

Today’s nation states the world over, are largely undemocratic, of course, to varying degrees, while not altogether totalitarian in each case. They are made up of several orders orhierarchies around uneven economies, but are almost entirely structured by the dominance of relations and functions under capitalism, irrespective of the distance between the region and the metropolis (Resnick and Wolff 1981; McDermott 1991). More or less relieved from pre-capitalist socialencumbrances and placed at the mercy of the market with the freedom to buy and sell, the people are now integrated into the hierarchies of bureaucracy attached to state,semi-state and private enterprise. Every enterprise is bureaucratic and hierarchical. This is the unilinear global structure that recurs in any nation state, although with numerousculturallycontingent specificities. With its various organs representing diverse groups, relations and interests insociety, the state seemingly plays the central role of overall coordination, but in effect, only as desired by the middle class, whichconstitutes the government, and as determined bycapitalists, whomaintain ultimate control (Vincent 1987: 34–39;Green 1988: 62–68).

Ever since the open withdrawal of the state from most sectors of people’s welfare, there has been a steady intensification of the privatisation of public assets. This process has been pushing developing nations like India into a solvency crisis, where public sector disinvestment is forging ahead under the pretext of reform, transferring national resources into the hands of a minority. Integrated to the process of decentralisation, local public assets are being privatised in alignment with the national policy. Further, all kinds of anti-social concepts such as “outsourcing,” “downsizing the public sector,” “multiple stakeholders approach,” non-governmental organisations, voluntary agencies, etc, have become sophisticated expressions, exciting no repulsion in the minds of the general public. In countries like India where capitalism grows unbridled, the national political power, although democratically engendered, remains ultimately only a tool in the hands of corporate houses. A crony capitalist state, it allows corporate houses to loot the public and the state revenue by contracting services, for“better efficiency.”

“Development,” the most misleading term, has conditioned us to accept any “anti-people” scheme as natural and inevitable. It is now not even necessary for the state to hide its instrumental role in the conversion of people’s common property into private assets. Today, the state is openly an agency determined to subsidise capitalism by all means and facilitate its expansion, even at the cost of the livelihoods of the poor (Gurukkal 2012). In the process, state power is itself privatised in the form of the sale of public credits or bidding for the job of recovering government loans, or even tasks of crime investigation. For instance, there are private agencies working as assets reconstruction companies and crime investigation groups in India, to which the state outsources its monopolistic functions of recovering loans and investigating crime. This amounts to privatisation of certain executive and juridical powers of the state.5 Common justifications of the state measures for privatisation of its functions are the lack of concern of the beneficiary public, irresponsibility of public servants, incapability of public sector institutions, bureaucratic inefficiency, bribery and other forms of corruption. All this allows the capitalist minority to loot public revenue in connivance with the state, under the pretext of one development reform or the other. This phase is called crony capitalism, for which there are many instances in India.

The establishment of special economic zones (SEZs) is the most widespread instance of crony capitalism behind the veil ofnational economic development measures. SEZs are a majorinstitutional intervention which subsidise capitalism, and which involve a very heavy loss of national revenue. Various other illegal methods of parting with huge shares of public wealth in favour of monopoly capitalists compound crony capitalism. Despite heavy revenue losses, they enjoy a private space of sovereign control too, a paradox of sovereign power within sovereignty. SEZs thus embody crony capitalism of the worst kind. Another instance is the outsourcing of bank loan recovery to asset reconstruction companies (ARCs). All revenue related transactions within the crony capitalist state are executed at the apex level in secrecy and whatever matter thereof is made public, is invariably couched in the catchy rhetoric of development. In this manner fascism penetrates into bourgeois democracy, by constraining bureaucrats of the crony state, to practise functional autocracy at the expense ofdemocratic procedures.

Latest Phase of Capitalism

The latest phase of capitalism, academically termed technocapitalism and popularly known as the “knowledge economy,” depends on the commoditisation of technology and science as the main source of capital accumulation. It has been presented as a new version of capitalism (Feenberg 1991; Perelman 2004; Suarez-Villa 2009, 2012).6 The production and exchange of new knowledge as the most high-valuecommodity is its main industry. In the process, the new knowledge is alienated from its actual producers, as in the case of any other commodity. Their creativity or innovativeness is commoditised and turned into patents and intellectual property rights (IPRs), which constitute the industry’s precious intangible asset. Profit-maximising transactions of patents and IPRs have made marketable knowledge both a commodity and capital today. It has given rise to a new type of “commodity fetishism” centred on knowledge, as an extension of what Marx originally theorised long ago (Marx 1867).7 Science is constrained to technology, as it is essential for the production of innovative knowledge, capable of securingpatents and IPRs of enormous profit potential in the field of exchange. Today, the huge transactional value that innovative knowledge and related properties generates is almost four-fifth of the total global returns (Suarez-Villa 2012).

Techno-capitalist enterprises are organised into the corporate model, a new form of organisation of the most sophisticated techno-militaristic set-up of monopolistic control over the market (McDermott 1991; Suarez-Villa 2012). With an aim towards the production of innovative knowledge, corporate houses have built huge research establishments the world over, in multiple science–technology hybrid fields of knowledge.8 In these fields, thousands of young experts in theoretical research and micro-engineering are employed by corporate research establishments (Suarez-Villa 2012), whichfunction as powerful techno-military complexes of electronic sophistication. Globally, they have adopted adequate juridical measures for appropriating the creativity of the brilliant minds at their disposal, enhancing the brain-drain in such countries (Suarez-Villa 2012).

There is no democracy in the structure and function of the techno-capitalist enterprises. Forming corporate houses, they have evolved a new form of techno-military industrial organisation based on principles of oligarchy and monopoly. Corporate techno-military imperialism uproots democracy through a variety of sophisticated ways. For instance, by paving the way for the rise of billionaires through the software trade, or through the provision of unbelievably high salaries for experts in certain fields, a group of highly paid transnational bureaucrats—the principal actors in the system—have penetrated into theextant democratic state systems all over the world. They reconstitute the state into a corporatocracy, a government of, for and by corporations, a new type of governance that enmeshes and destroys democracy.

Attempts at Legislating Autocracy

The impairment of democracy, an inevitable consequence of capitalist development, has been progressing in India for the last two decades, and is slowly turning the democratic state into a functional autocracy under corporatocracy. Corporate houses create state power, which efficiently mobilises people’s consent for functional autocracy. This process is made easier by uncritical masses, moved by sentiments of divisiveness, rooted in caste and communalism, which degenerate nationalism into false consciousness. A crony capitalist state, with its economic sovereignty highly impaired, will automatically seek to counterbalance itself with overtly self-aggrandising political sovereignty. Systematic and steady attempts at passinglegislations against democracy have been taking place in the country since the 1990s (Gurukkal 2017). Legislative measures of liberalisation, structural adjustments, public sector disinvestment and commercialisation of services under the pressure of the IMF, World Bank and WTO following the nation’s signing of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), are examples. The process acquired an added aggressiveness in the service sector after the nation’s surrender to the WTO by signing the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) on 1 January 1995.

In education, health and environment, the state, underjuridical obligation began to be enthusiastic about legislating anti-democratic ideas, institutions and practices. GATS required India to adopt legislative reforms, apparently for the country to gain from trade in services, but actually, to benefit thedeveloped world. Accordingly, several reform bills, as part of neo-liberal initiatives for “improving” the country’s highereducation sector, have been proposed, and the Private Universities(Establishment and Regulation) Act, 1995 was the first to get legislated among them. The Foreign Education Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, Prevention of Malpractices Bill and the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010,National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for HigherEducation Institutions Bill, 2010, and Higher Education andResearch (HE&R) Bill, 2011 are other examples. All these bills have been pending legislation due to controversies over their constitutional validity.

Another example of an attempt to legislate centralisation in the higher education sector was the move to replace theUniversity Grants Commission (UGC) along with other national regulatory councils with a single authority. It was the National Knowledge Commission that recommended a special legislation for establishing an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) to set standards and determineeligibility criteria for new institutions. Thus, the NationalCommission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill, 2011 subsuming all democratic regulatory bodies in highereducation—the UGC, the All India Council for TechnicalEducation (AICTE), the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and the Distance Education Council (DEC)—took shape. Due to nationwide opposition of its undemocraticnature, the government withdrew the bill on 24 September 2014. Ever since the withdrawal of the bill, there have beenefforts to reintroduce the bill for a national authority of higher education. The latest incarnation is the draft legislation for the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), prepared as advised by NITI Aayog. The commission will be the solenational authority in the place of the existing democratic regulators such as the UGC and otherstatutory councils.

With a view to enabling hassle-free acquisition of land for the Make in India project, amendments to the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 were proposed in favour of the corporate houses. A de facto solution was sought by appointing a high power committee on environment in 2014. The bureaucratic committee,innocent of ecology and environmental sciences, proposedvirtual nullification of all foundational acts of social and environmental justice viz, Indian Forest Act, 1927; Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (Subramanian 2014). It alsorecommended the constitution of two bureaucratic bodies for environmental management—the National Environment ManagementAuthority (NEMA) and State EnvironmentManagement Authority (SEMA)—sidelining departments of academic expertise. Fortunately, both the houses of Parliament prevented the legislation of this anti-democratic document. However, through the Ecologically Sensitive Areas (ESA) Notification (Reference no 400/WG/2015) on 4 September 2015, thegovernment initiated steps to realise the avowed purpose through a series of amendments to the various acts concerned. This too, has been stalled due to wide public criticism. These are well-known examples of the state’s repeated attempts at legislating autocracy and there could be several others that have not been made public yet.

Conclusions

Marxist theoretical perspectives of capitalist developmentinform that imperialism is the juridico-political outcome ofadvanced capitalism. As capitalism acquires higher dimensions of development, democracy becomes increasinglyimplausible. It is the political economy of capitalist development, and not the idiosyncrasies of individual politicalleaders, that turn the state towards fascism. It is unlikely that the state—already crony capitalist in its structure and function—faces ethical pressure to combine economic growth with social and environmental justice. Whatever hope the magical word “development” sustains in people’s minds, it essentially means capitalist expansion, through over-exploitation of natural resources with the inevitable consequences of marginalisation of tribal peoples, uncontrolled growth of inequalities, transformation of the nation into a cronycapitalist state, and proliferation of billionaires. Among crony capitalist enterprises, SEZs exemplify the most undemocratic of all. They symbolise the capitalists’ de facto control over the country’s economic sovereignty. Corporate houses try to restructure the government by forcing it to be functionally autocratic through bureaucracy, and bylegislating centralisation to substitute democratic procedures. All this puts the state in perfectalignment with the growing global techno-militaristic neo-imperialism andreaffirms the death ofdemocracy; an inevitable possibility under capitalism.

Notes

1 Fukuyama (1992) argued for the legitimacy of the emergence of liberal democracy as a system of government the world over, defeating rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy,fascism, and communism. He further viewed liberal democracy as the culmination of mankind’s ideological evolution, as well as the final form of government, and hence in that sense “the end of history.”

2 “Keynesianism” in this context refers to the system of public demand management, while privatised Keynesianism refers to a situation of unregulated derivatives markets enabled by hugely indebted states. This was proved unsustainable because states caught up in global financial traps left the markets unregulated. People desperately wanted their governments to redistribute wealth, enhance consumption, boost investments, and generate employment. Frustrated by a capricious capitalist economy, people turned to their own alternatives like cooperative enterprises.

3 Although Lenin was reviewing the institutional and functional developments of capitalism against the background of contemporary imperialism, there are numerous insights into the future of capitalism in his analysis of the changes in the last stage—such as the displacement of competition by monopoly—making imperialism inevitable.

4 See Laclau (1973); Laclau and Mouffe (1985); Negri and Hardt (2000); Lenin and Žižek (2002); and Nancy (2007).

5 It is ludicrous for the state to depend upon private companies for recovery of loans or detection of crimes, which demand use of state’s juridical and executive powers. Privatisation of functions and responsibilities involving coercion and juridical powers are susceptible to blackmail, bribery, gang control, mafia formation, etc.

6 Andrew Feenberg was the first to analyse technological development against the perspective of critical theory and characterise the political economy of technology. Although Michael Perelman identifies, defines and characterises the salient features and dynamics of this phase of capitalism as a new version, it is Louis Suarez-Villa who terms it “Techno-capitalism” and theorises it accordingly.

7 “Commodity fetishism” conceived by Marxrelates to the postulation of a commodity as an object with an economic “life of its own,” independent of the volition and initiative of the worker who produced it. According to Marx, it is a clever misrepresentation of the socialrelationships involved in production (the relation between who makes what, who works for whom, the production time for a commodity, etc), the relationships among people (buyer–seller), and economic relationships in trade and market (between the cost and price, and between money and capital). In short, “commodity fetishism” obscures the true economic character of the human relations of production between the worker and the capitalist. Actually, in the economics of markets, there is no relation between the social products—the products of labour—and the commodities appearing as priced objects for exchange involving a series of material relations. It is a strategic concealing of the truth about goods as products by people through relations among them, and instead, their dehumanised presentation as commodities “self-born” in the markets with an altogether different set of consumer relations. Marx calls this “the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production
of commodities.”

8 These fields include genomics with automated methods based on microarray technologies for analysing gene expressions, structural genomics for understanding gene structure through
X-ray crystallography and robotic crystallisation procedures, and protein structure analysis through high field nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, advanced bioengineered molecular processors, nanotech sensors and transmitters, graphene engineering, synthetic bioengineering, bioinformatics, bio-pharmacology, bio-mimetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, holographic interfaces, cloud computing, etc.

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Updated On : 24th Aug, 2018

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