Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rajinder Chaudhary and Deepak Dholakia's Responses and Sunil's Rejoinder.

Dear Sunil Bhai,
Please find pasted below my feedback to your thoughtful responce.
Socialism of new century: Some Comments on Response
            It goes without saying that your response has clarified many points, and at many places done it beautifully as well as sharply, e.g., on the issue of decentralization and security, reference to Iraq clinches the issue. Similarly, endorsing/accepting limited private ownership of the means of production while rejecting corporate ownership is an innovative and interesting formulation. Following your example, here I would not elaborate on points of agreement except when I have something to add to your argument. Mostly, I would focus on few remaining points of differences/points that still need to be worked on. This, of course, should not obscure the fact that basically I share your formulation. I more or less follow sequence of your response.
1.                  One of your crucial formulations is: “Government can not be pro-people and pro-corporate at the same time.” It implies you are taking government as a unitary, homogenous being akin to an individual. Even modern theories of firm do not look at firms as individuals with single objective function but rather treat these as coalition of various interest groups with multiple objectives. In fact  even individuals have multiple and conflicting goals. Modern state can not certainly be looked at as an individual being with single well defined objective. It has multiple players and moreover they all have with multiple goals. To argue that some players and some goals may be dominant and others peripheral, is one thing, but to look at modern State as a monolith with a single goal is another matter all together.
            This is not just an academic point; it has crucial implications in terms of how we relate to government/state structures as well as our action plan for social change. One formulation, if state is viewed to be that of the other, sets the goal of its destruction, no government policy or law can be any good for mass of people and can only confuse people; but if we view state as an agency of, however deformed/inadequately democratic, of society, then terms of our engagement with the state change. We oppose certain policies, even certain structures of state/governance and we may do it vigorously, shaking certain dominant sections controlling it, but we do not oppose every step of the government. Any further breakdown of law and order machinery, or school system for that matter, even when we know that it protects the interests of ‘others’ more than ‘ours’, hurts ‘us’. Rioting, curfew, mass cheating in examinations, out right corruption in appointments, hurt us further, and may be more than it hurts ‘ruling classes’. Moreover, we can not ipso facto rule out seeking ‘partial’ changes, what matters is how significant is that ‘partial’ change or of the two or more alternatives available which one is more far reaching as well as feasible. We need to get out of Reform or Revolution dichotomy.
2.               Relatedly, there can be situations when we are faced with binary, either or choices but that is not always the case. We may vote a party and yet oppose some of its policies and similarly, we may vote against a party and yet may support it in some ways. We can not help doing it; life is like that. Pigeon holing may serve a purpose some times but not always.
            Similarly, we need not do away with villages, even from dalit and gender perspective. Villages (as also family structures) can also be transformed. In general, a priory, we neither need to retain nor many others and discard some others.
3.                  Your emphasis on not only seeking alternative structures and alternative technologies, but also seeking alternatives values etc, is well taken. But it must not give the impression that these alternative values have to be all ‘new’ values. Some of the existing values, albeit minority values may just need to brought to prominence.
4.                  It is often noted, and you also do it, that ‘no one can go back in time’. This is off course literally obvious but it should not be interpreted to mean that some elements of past can not be recreated. Fashions often resurface! So can some past practices and structures if they can serve our purpose. You do note that not every thing modern is good and not every thing old is bad. I just want to add that we can even go back to some of the old things; let us not rule it out a priory.
5.                  To your response to Vipin Mahajan, I would like to add that we need to critically evaluate “high standards of living with modern amenities” and we have to do it in a democratic and participatory manner. Some of the ‘modern amenities’ may be/are doing more harm than good. And to your well rounded response to the claim that ‘knowledge is freely available on internet’, I would like to add that while internet may have added to free availability of  knowledge, yet this freely available knowledge does not enable one to become a Doctor or a scientist etc.
6.                  Your argument about need to organize the ‘unorganised sector’ is well taken but one must not loose sight of the fact that today in spite of all talk of labour aristocracy, there are large number of people in  the ‘organized sector’ who are working under pathetic conditions; even working conditions in multinational companies with lucrative packages, leave a lot to be desired. How many well paid executives have an eight hour working day and enough time for them selves?
7.                  Relatedly, there may be crucial issues of democratic rights of ‘non-poor’/non-marginalised sections, that need to be taken up. Let us not simply ignore the huge section lying between starving poor and super rich/upper class.
8.                  To your argument about decentralization, I would add that decentralisation has to go hand in hand with, actually is a part of, democratisation. Simple decentralisation of authority without democratisation of functioning will not serve much purpose. Decentralisation is sought as a part of deepening of democratisation not just by itself. Moreover, decentralisation does not necessarily imply separation, breakdown of society. Siblings can separate and yet be emotionally, physically close!
9.                  One often comes across anti- ‘funded NGOs’ stance amongst those working for social change. As some of the so-called forces working for social change can be doing more harm then good, or ‘forces working for social change’ can some times be undemocratic in their functioning, so can some of the funded NGOs, on the other hand, be contributing to the process of change. Let us take it on case by case basis on the merit of individual NGOs rather than take a generic stance against funded NGOs. Moreover, how does one deal with ‘partially funded’ organizations? Even forces of change seek funds, if not institutional then individual funds, and all of these funds do not come from collection of 5-10 rupees from marginalized sections. Let us neither be oblivious to sources of funding nor club all funding, even foreign funding under one rubric.
10.              We often come across arguments which implicitly imply  that the current development path is leading to absolute pauperization/deterioration for  majority of the population. This may not be true. In spite of all the shortcomings of post-independence development paradigm, quality of life for vast majority may have improved. In fact a recent study of Kerala by an organization critical of New Economic Policy regime shows that over this period  economic well being of large sections has improved. This does not rule out absolute pauperization of some sections/areas but it may not be true of vast majority. Ignoring this distinction makes our critique and consequent strategy implausible.
11.              Lastly, I may add that some of our criticism of Trade Unions or even Communist parties is rooted in the fact that they did not critique content of development or technology developed under Capitalism; their/Marx’s critique was only in terms of relations of production. Communism was all set to provide to all what capitalism was providing to only few! Kind of critique of content of development that Gandhi did, and what you are suggesting, if accepted, then many shortcomings in functioning of trade unions, and one might add even in communist parties, may be taken care of. We need to underline this critique of content of development, of “high standards of living with modern amenities”. This is perhaps the crucial shift that is needed and it can bring many different strands together.
            Any way, thanks for initiating the current exchange. Thanks are also due to all the other contributors.
Dear Rajinder Bhai,
            I must thank you for your quick, but detailed, comments on my response. It shows that you have been really seriously applying your mind to these issues.
            I have following to say on your comments (in the same order):

Character of State, Reform or Revolution?

[1 & 2]. Our society is heterogeneous and very much unequal. Therefore, there are always conflicting interests of various groups and classes in it. There are lobbies which try to promote and represent these interests. There is a ruling class also, however you may define it. Lohia, for example, defined ruling class of India by three characteristics: upper caste, upper class and English education. State, or a government, therefore does not function in a vacuum. It does represent certain interests, or a combination or a compromise of certain interests. Its policies and actions are informed and guided by them. You can, therefore, see coherence, a consistency and a direction in them, though there may be some aberrations.  For example, if you analyse the policy changes, changes in laws and various actions of Indian government since 1991, there is a clear tilt towards being corporate-friendly, MNC-friendly and investor-friendly; towards free trade, privatisation, withdrawal of state, market fundamentalism, etc. Change of governments did not make much difference which shows that various mainstream parties in India essentially represent the same ruling class and share same ideology. Hence the attacks on the lives and livelihoods of people in various forms kept growing. Growth of corporate profits is based on the increasing exploitation, displacement and deprivation of people. A government cannot serve both the ends - corporate and people. It has to choose between them. It is in this sense that I said that a government could not be pro-people and pro-corporate at the same time. Yes, government is not an individual, it is a body. It is not a monolith organisation either. But a government has a character, an identity and an ideology (explicit or hidden) which one can see, identify and analyse.
            We, therefore, should look at not a few isolated actions or a few steps of a government, but at the totality of its policies and its acts of omission and commission. We may appreciate or praise a particular act, but it should not blind us in looking at (and judging) the whole.
            For the same season, gradual and partial reforms (reforming a particular law, policy or one aspect of life) will not do. We need a revolution. By revolution, I mean rapid, drastic, radical, all-out and simultaneous changes in all aspects of life. The various parts of the present-day system are all inter-connected and inter-dependent. Overthrowing one or attempting to change one without changing the others will not be successful.

[3 & 4]. I think that we have no disagreement. When I talk about alternative values, I mostly mean alternative to the dominant values of modern civilization. Our past, our tradition and our culture certainly will help us in search of alternative values for creating a new world. But we have to critically evaluate them also. Yes, we can go back to some of the old things. For example, I talked about animal power as a valuable source of energy. Or take organic farming. But when we adopt them today or in future, they will get new forms and new shapes.

[5]        I agree. Your point about the knowledge availability is well taken.

[6&7]. Yes. Workers of organised sector and middle class people are also victims of the modern capitalist civilization. If they are made to see this and struggle against it, that will help in the overall crusade for change.

[8].       I must thank you for pointing out this deep connection between democracy and decentralisation. Like socialism and democracy, these two are also inseparable and incomplete without each-other. Moreover, as you have pointed out, decentralisation will not lead to disintegration of the nation or the society. Rather it will strengthen it by removing domination inherent in centralisation and resultant dissatisfaction.

Role of NGOs in Politics of Change

[9].       My response to this point is related to what I said in point 1 & 2. There may be good or bad NGOs. Some of them may be doing excellent work in their fields which we may appreciate. Their experience may be helpful in the construct of a new world. But if we require a total and radical change in the present-day system, it is a political task and cannot be accomplished through NGOs, especially foreign-funded NGOs. I find following problems with them --
(i)         Generally they have a very limited perspective. They do not want to go beyond their immediate concern.
(ii)        When dependent on external and institutional funding (please mind the two adjectives, which differentiate it from the collection of funds from individual supporters), they tend to be usually guided by the choice of issues, agenda, projects and nature of work which suits the funding agencies most and for which the funding is easily available.
(iii)       Such NGOs are dominated and controlled by those who have the ability to fetch funds for them. Knowing English and manipulative skills become important and necessary qualities for the leadership of such NGOs. Self-confident local leadership from below cannot emerge from them. Local people also develop a different type of attitude towards them.
            There may be some exceptions, but I feel that 90% of the NGOs suffer from these drawbacks.  I am not condemning them. Nor I wish to pass an over-all judgment on them. My only contention is that, as far as the process and politics of change is concerned; they can't play main or a leading role in it.         
            In one sense, they are proving a hindrance. Earlier, many youth full with idealism used to join communist, socialist or Sarvodaya movements and devote substantial time of their lives in a selfless manner bravely facing many hardships. But these days many of them get an easy avenue of NGOs where they get a salary leading an easy and comfortable life as well as they can have a satisfaction of working for the society. But in this process the source of idealist youth for the movements devoted to total transformation of the system is drying up. One gets a doubt whether there was a hidden motive and design behind a sudden flood of funding from rich capitalist countries for last three decades, i.e. to influence, control and divert the forces of change in the poor world.

Improvement or Deterioration of Quality of Life?

[10]      It is difficult to decide exactly about it due to problems in measurement and differences in perspective. But I would like to draw your attention to a few facts -
(i)         Kerala (or Haryana) does not truly represent India. They are on the top of India. Kerala is also full of gulf money.
(ii)        What do you say about the observation of Arjun Sengupta Commission that 77% of Indians are living on less than Rs. 20 a day? It was for the year 2004-05 based on NSS data. With inflation now this might have become Rs. 30 to Rs. 35 a day. Can you imagine what kind of life, with what quality, they must be living? (Rs. 35 includes all expenditures - on food, clothing, housing, education, health, transport, entertainment etc.)
(iii)       Indicators of hunger, malnutrition, infant deaths, maternal deaths etc. show that the progress on these fronts is very unsatisfactory. We are unworthy of being called a civilised nation on these grounds.
(iv)       Even though cash income has increased and some signs of prosperity are omnipresent (modern dress and shoes, mobile handsets, TVs, motorbikes, pucca houses), new deprivations have emerged whose negative impacts (generally not measured or reflected in monetary data) should be taken note of. A few examples are :--
                        Loss of common property resources (forest, grazing land, rivers, ponds, fish etc.); outflow of milk, vegetables, fruits, eggs, mutton etc. from villages depriving rural poor; privatisation and commercialisation of education and health increasing their costs manifold; power and water also becoming expensive; growing displacement and forced migration; growing job insecurity; growing pollution; growing tension and suicides; loss of open spaces and play grounds for children of the families migrating to urban slums; etc.
(v)        Modern development not being sustainable, the gains may be temporary and soon the losses may take over and do a permanent damage for coming generations.
[11].     I broadly agree.
            Thanks again for continuing this dialogue.


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