SOCIAL ACTION TODAY:
SEARCH FOR A PERSPECTIVE

(A NOTE FOR DISCUSSION)

Prepared by INSAF
presented by Rajan Singh

The decade of the seventies, particularly in its latter part — the years after the repeal of the Internal Emergency (197501977) — was a period of high euphoria for the social action groups in India. The period was emotionally and intellectually charged, highly politicised and characterised by heightened mass activity in all spheres and sectors. The toilers, both rural and urban, launched numerous struggles: the intelligentsia showed unprecedented social and political awareness during this period. A large number of the social actions groups — at least the most vocal among them — saw themselves, in that period, as ‘political entities’. They attempted to develop a new understanding of social action and to define and sharply articulate their own perspectives. A relevant social and political perspective was necessarily, so it has seemed, an agenda for the radical transformation of the society, based on the direct actions of the toiling masses of the country. There was, obviously, no uniformity in the perspective; there were, in fact, wide divergence. The urge for social transformation was, however, common to all the articulate groups. The euphoria also generated many debates. The most significant amongst these was, perhaps the one on non-party political processes and formations. The action groups saw the political system and parties as in the throws of a crisis. They saw the prevalent political process itself as essentially anti-people and anti-democratic. They, hence, envisaged a new, radically-different form of activity that was participatory, placed the people in the centre of the institutions, including the political parties and yet was essentially political since it dealt with the questions of power and the processes of decision-making. They saw themselves — the non-party political formations — as being important actors in the creation and consolidation of this new process.

This was not a mere delusion.

The political parties, national or regional, were undergoing many transformations through splits, dissolutions, mergers and reconstitutions. They had not, however, become marginalized or defunct. They continued to enunciate the agenda and to influence the political atmosphere. They were, however, no longer the sole arbiters of the people’s will and aspirations. Mass struggles and agitations took place outside the fold of the parties. People’s organisations and movements which resembled — in their origin, styles and functioning, organisational structures and perspectives — the action groups rather than the ‘mass fronts’ of the political parties, were by and large the organisational expressions of the restlessness of the people in that period. The struggles were, in the main, outside the control of the political parties. Moreover, in terms of perspective, the new thinking had moved beyond that of the traditional left parties. [The right wing parties were not relevant to these groups except in a negative manner. The social action groups had attempted to define themselves in relation to the left parties and this definition necessarily included a clear demarcation, distinction and differentiation from the left parties.]

The issues of gender, caste, identity, environment, human and democratic rights, as well as culture now became central to the perspective, often in competition with and sometimes in place of class as a category. The questions of organisation structures and styles of functioning, particularly internal democracy, non-hierarchical arrangements were considered crucial. [The contribution of the autonomous women’s groups and movement/s was stellar and path-breaking in this context. A little later the environmental movement played a similar role]

The contribution of the social action groups are well-known. They lent a voice to some neglected and voiceless sections of the society. They focused attention on issues which had been largely ignored. They brought into the mainstream of development a number of totally marginalized sections of the society. The concept of the (universal) revolutionary agency and vanguard had led to a neglect, by the traditional left parties, of certain sections of the society that were not considered to be strategically important. A number of issues were seen, by the traditional left thought, as irresolvable within the existing framework (or even as vestiges of an earlier era) and were relegated to the distant post-revolutionary future; even a struggle around these was not considered essential or relevant. The social action groups drew attention to the hardships faced by such groups and caused by such issues. The social action groups did not nurse constituencies, maintain vote banks or create stable mass bases and were, hence, able to tackle certain issues more effectively than the parliamentary political establishment.

A major limitation of the social action groups was that there were not able to develop a comprehensive new social thought. The logic of the aspirations, perceptions and actions of the social action groups required new theoretical formulation/s that could provide an accurate analysis of the objective situation, reveal the laws of motion of the contemporary society, and provide an ideological framework that could not only link together the various concerns but also provide broad guidelines for action and at the same time furnish a framework for new social and ethical principles and values.

It is necessary to add immediately that significant contributions were indeed made. A critique of the political process and system was developed; politics was sought to be redefined; the models and even the very paradigms of development were questioned; gender equity was emphasised in all spheres of life; the immediacy of caste justice was stressed; centrality was accorded to the environmental questions; plurality of opinions and actions found theoretical legitimacy; the role of autonomous cultural identities was recognised.

It is also necessary to recognise that in the then prevalent ideological climate (some variety or the other of) socialism was generally expected to perform these tasks. The contributions, by and large, were also expected from outside the sphere of social action. The theoretical task and responsibility was, hence, not recognised as crucial one.

The contributions that were made came from individuals, activists-scholars and/or scholar-activists related to the social action groups. These contributions were, however, by and large, fragmentary. The movements and groups themselves did not precipitate a comprehensive theory. This has to be viewed as a lacuna and limitation since there was no argued out opposition to theoretical systematisation and totalisation. There was, in fact, repeated discussion of a holistic view.

The intellectually most sophisticated stream was represented by the autonomous women’s movement/s. This too did not successfully formulate an overarching theoretical position despite the rich, diverse and plentiful writings or indirectly generated by it.

The situation remains essentially the same today. It is, in fact, far more complex. In the late ‘70s and ‘80s, socialism provided the broad framework for social transformation. Specific organisations may have shown various degrees of ossification or fossilisation but the stream as such was opulent with theoretical debates and formations. The dramatic disintegration of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the entire Soviet bloc, the dilution of anti-imperialist/anti-capitalist formations and practices by hitherto bitter opponents of those forces and the triumphalism of global market capitalism furnish a radically altered environment. It creates unprecedented ideological confusion. The confusion becomes particularly dangerous in India in the face of the threat posed by the twin forces of globalization and communalism. The search for a new social perspective, thus, does not remain merely an abstract ideological or theoretical requirement. It acquires practical immediacy.

The urgency is highlighted by the state of the social action groups themselves. They have been active in various fields and have repeatedly raised crucial issues. People’s organisations and movements today are more numerous, wide-spread, well-known and effective. They have acquired greater visibility and legitimacy. They have earned national and international official and public recognition and support. The social action, nevertheless, remains discrete, separated if not isolated, issue and sector-based. It is disunited and fragmentary. It points out various anomalies of the system and suggests correctives but remains partial. There is no essential strand to link up the various movements. The alliances that come up between various groups and movements are essentially temporary, partial, single and issue-based, without commonality of perspective. The social action groups and people’s organisations do not pose a challenge to the system. They do not posit an alternative world view. They are unable to represent the society in its entirety. A large number of them perceive these limitations which also manifest as a confusion over the issues to be picked up and raised. The relative inability of the groups and movements to counter the challenges posed by globalization and communalism is also well-recognised.

The search for a new social thought and perspective, hence, becomes imperative and critical today.

Not only has the euphoria of the late ‘70s evaporated but it has also been replaced by a deep sense of unease. There may be tremendous work on specific issues, some of it even successful and yet the issues are never exhausted. The problems do not seem to disappear but only change in particulars and forms. The situation of the very people who have been helped at a great cost does not seem to improve significantly. The conditions seem to deteriorate and yet the people seem unwilling to act. The number of new recruits to the field of social action seems to have declined. The battle for minds — against consumerism engendered by globalization and hatred spawned by communalism — also seems to be dubiously poised. Achievements brought about by years of hard work seem to get wiped off by frenzied waves over ‘false’ issues. Unity among organisations that basically have similar points of view seems like a distant dream. The organisations themselves become prone to professional, managerial, bureaucratic, alienated, hierarchies. Social action seems to attract fair amount of attention but does not generate real solidarity or support from the intelligentsia. The cherished goals and values themselves seem to be eclipsed. Even when ideological pronouncements of intent are sharp and radical there seems to be a difficulty in the translation of these into action. There seems to be a push towards the paths of least resistance and essentially peripheral activities. Insensitivity and numbness that border on cynical ennui create even greater unease. Even the conflicts do not seem to be very sharp. There is occasional brutal repression but largely a marginalisation and ignorance. The system seems to exhibit a confidence that dismisses dissents and challenges as peripheral, manageable, capable of co-optation and denunciation. The search is fuelled by these subjective perceptions and dilemmas as well as the objective difficulties.

II.

It would, perhaps, be best to begin with an attempt to understand the objective situation in which the search is conducted. It not only shapes the search but its comprehension is one of the objectives of the search. The reasons of the above listed symptoms are to be sought in this comprehension. Further, the situation is quite complex and perhaps difficult to really understand. The attempt, nevertheless, can not be avoided or even postponed.

The Economy

The economy today is shaped by the ‘new economic policy’ inaugurated formally in 1991 by the present government soon after it assumed power. The context then was of an acute shortage of foreign exchange reserves which threatened a balance of payments crisis and prompted the government to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund which in its turn insisted that India embark upon a Structural Adjustment Programme if it desired to avail of a loan facility. The Structural Adjustment Programme basically consisted of a package of policies that sought to bring about globalisation., liberalisation and privatisation of the economy along with an abandonment of all protectionist measures, reduction in subsidies and curtailment of governmental expenditures. The immediate crisis was soon resolved. [Many experts had insisted that ‘the crisis’ was more apparent than real and temporary at most. They had averred that India had been stampeded into the adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme.] The dire dependence on IMF loans was, at least partially, done away with. The policy package initiated under the aegis of SAP was, however, continued as a new policy for ‘economic reforms’ and growth. Trends already visible for a decade or so had indicated the desire for such a policy on the part of the Indian propertied classes themselves. The conditionalities of the IMF probably provided the final impetus for their enactment. Structural adjustment is today championed as a policy for the developing world by not only the multilateral financial institutions but by the entire developed world. It is a prescription to modify the economies of the developing nations to effect their efficient insertion into the world economic system and markets to that a new international economic order can come into existence.

No other economic policy had, perhaps, received as much publicity as the ‘new economic policy’ since both the government and the Opposition publicised it widely. Its features, claimed advantages and predicted deleterious impacts on the toiling masses were made known to the people through propaganda campaigns. The period of five years has been long enough for the implications to become evident. It is now known that poverty, particularly urban poverty, has increased significantly in these years. The number of landless in the countryside have also increased. Unemployment has gone up as new jobs have not been created and some of those who were already employed have lost their jobs through closures or retrenchments caused by modernisation and rationalisation. The availability of cheaper food grains has declined. The curtailment of the public distribution system has severely affected the food security of particularly the rural poor. The smaller farmer as well as the petty entrepreneur has been affected by the withdrawal of subsidies, increase in the costs of inputs and unfair competition. The access of the poor to social services and benefits like health care, education and housing has declined even further. Steep increase in prices of critical commodities like food grains, edible oils, fuels and medicines has made like yet harder for the toiling masses. Malnutrition and deficiency-related diseases are rampant as are communicable diseases of all sorts.

This has occurred while foreign investment has increased, share markets have been buoyant, expensive luxury consumer goods have become available and television channels have boomed.

Thus, while the poor find their survival threatened, the upper crust finds its cherished dreams of a cushy life in a consumerist paradise near realisation.

The society is sundered by inequality as never before. It is totally polarised. Disparity is glaring, rampant and intense.

This state of affairs was, of course, expected by all. The defenders of the new policies see these effects as transitory effects of a transition. The critics of the policies see the results as inevitable, permanent and structural distortions.

The situation is painful but does not perplex the social activists. The puzzling aspect has been the absence of mass agitations in the face of this assault. The movements organised by the opposition parties, trade unions, other mass organisations and social action groups against the new economic policies have not gone beyond symbolic protests that have been essentially ineffective. They have by now petered out into propaganda and awareness campaigns, if that. There have not been any spontaneous upsurges, however chaotic, against the pressing problems. The government has generally not felt very concerned by the voiced opposition to the policies. It did not even need to resort to any repression to crush the protest action except in stray circumstances wherein the protesters turned violent. The plight of the poor has not evoked any sympathetic response from the intelligentsia which seems to be numb and insensitive to any real issues. The poor, the toilers, the underprivileged find less and less space in all considerations and discourses. The atmosphere is generally one of apathy, insensitivity and narrow self-interest stirred only occasionally by sensational but transient issues bordering on the scandalous and dramatic slogans.

It is then obvious that the descriptions of the provisions of the economic policies, their implementations and operations, their impacts upon the various sections of the society can provide rich and vital empirical details but do not lead to an adequate comprehension of the situation. That task can be accomplished only if the processes underlying the apparent manifestations are revealed in their entire complexity. The attempt here is only to highlight a few features that have a direct bearing on social action.

The Indian economy often presents a complicated, baffling, even paradoxical picture. Characteristics of advanced capitalism coexist with elements of backward production processes including sectors of subsistence activity.

The specific local pictures, hence, vary to a great extent. The issues and conflicts in different areas also differ from each other. This creates a push towards the localism of the social action groups which are usually confined to a particular, limited area. It also leads at times, to their neglect of the larger picture and even an impatience with national analyses.

The complicated mix and the wide variations are a historical legacy of inherited from the colonial past. Prior to the colonial period Indian capital was mostly mercantile and usurious. Manufacture was principally artisan. Trade was essentially local. Agriculture was generally for subsistence. Accumulation was coercive and often for conspicuous consumption or for more or less local military adventurism. Modern capitalism developed in India under the aegis of the colonial power. It remained, hence, essentially limited to specific sectors and geographical areas. This was a not a picture of mere regional or sectoral variations in the pace of development of capitalism. A large number of economically active persons remains within spheres of essentially subsistence production with rather tenuous relations with the markets. The picture did change after independence but the pace of change was uneven and quite slow.

The transformations has been quite significant and relatively speedy over the past two decades. The current developments under the new economic policy have imparted an unprecedented intensity and rapidity to the transformations.

Every sector and activity is now aggressively subsumed by capitalism. The penetration of markets is all pervasive, total and extreme. Commodity production is generalised quite directly and without exceptions. Subsistence production, artisanal manufacture, local independent markets are all squeezed out, rendered obsolete and non-viable. The capitalism which is penetrating the remotest corners today is the capitalism of the last decade of the 20th century. It is significantly different from the earlier versions of capitalism which appear most frequently in the available analyses of capitalist development and penetration. The capital, technology, production process, labour utilisation, distribution, marketing and consumption of the product have become in this phase truly transnational. This also makes adherence to some of the popular earlier categories obsolete. The control of nation states over this capital is limited. Independence of economy and development, leave alone autonomy, is already becoming a redundant category within the framework of capital. As business houses in every country enter into collaborations — financial, technological, managerial or marketing — with business corporations with ‘head quarters’ in other parts of the world the term ‘national capital’ acquires a mere geographical connotation and becomes an indicator of only a historical, accidental occurrence. It becomes a part and parcel of the global capital, even if a subsidiary or junior one. This is particularly true in countries like India which has an industrial and economic potential and are expected to acquire a reasonably speedy growth in the foreseeable future.

The subsumption of all economic sectors and activities in India today is not thus by any capital but by this globalised capital. The penetration is not by national markets but essentially world markets. This fact has serious implications for the changes in the economic activity that would come about due to capitalisation. The pattern and quantum of investment, the method of utilisation of capital, the inputs, the technology, the process of production, the nature of utilisation of labour power, the product mix, the methods of value enhancement, the choice of markets and marketing strategies are no longer dependent, even in agriculture, on local individual choices but are determined by the global market forces directly and indirectly.

These are not speculative surmises or logical extensions alone. The facts can already be observed, particularly in the ‘advanced, industrialised’ states of India. The production of ‘coarse grains’ — staple consumable of the toilers — has already declined as land is no longer utilised for such ‘non-prime’ activities. Agriculture already acquires dimensions of corporate activity. Land consolidation takes place with accompanying land alienation. The human power considered surplus for agricultural purposes is no longer accommodated in marginal occupations but is thrown out of the sector altogether. There is a new farmer on the scene. Educated, profit-oriented and profit-motivated, modern in outlook who grows new export-oriented crops in ‘scientific’, even eco-friendly manner to be sold in attractive packages at high prices with the use of sophisticated techniques of advertising and marketing to the product hungry consumerist markets within and outside the countries. His way is not unchallenged as larger corporate entities also enter the field. As a necessary result, the poor and marginal peasant is rendered landless. The family is also left unemployed since the new techniques do not require this human power and are weeding out the excess. This is the principal reason for the increase in urban poverty during the years of the new economic policy. The pauperised, destitute and desperate mass takes up the lowest paid, most insecure, hazardous and back-breaking economic activities in the cities. They remain voiceless, unorganized and defeated for quite some time. The process of winnowing out affects the most untrained and unskilled as far as the new activities are concerned. Women and the lowest castes are the first to fall prey to these processes. A new objective situation is then created for the reinforcement of caste division and reconstitution of patriarchy.

Contemporary capitalism also restructures the economic activity in the country in another manner. It is not a form of capitalism that increases production, increases industrialisation and generates productive employment. It, in fact, does not lead to the expansion of the ‘forces of production’ in the traditional manner. The relationship between the primary (agriculture, fisheries, mining, etc.), secondary (industrial, manufacturing) and tertiary (finance, trade, communication and other services) sectors has already undergone a change in India. It is the trade and services sector which now dominates the economy in terms of investment, rates of growth, contribution to the Gross National Product, increase in employment and utilisation of human power. In terms of accommodation of population, agriculture and related activities in India are still dominant but their economic weight and importance has been on the decline. It is also predicted that in the ‘advanced’ states at least half the population will be urban within the next decade. India is already on a path to shed its image of an agricultural country.

The structure of the industry also undergoes a change. The ownership patterns are different. The technology is of international standards. It is highly capital intensive. The organisation is also different. Except when dictated by the technology, giant factories that house the entire production process under one roof are no longer the norm. The accent is on dispersal and decentralisation. Only a few workers are employed to carry out a specific key process. The remaining production activity is distributed. There is a tendency towards informalisation, ancillarisation, utilisation of contract labour for farming out work.

The collective production process is broken up into numerous small parts. Concentration of workers is not developed. There is an extreme division of labour. There is degradation of skill. The activities are fragmented and isolated from each other. A spurious section of ‘independent entrepreneurs’ is created from amongst the most skilled workers whose work can be branched off and isolated. Within the factory/industry a few highly skilled workers are retained while majority are subjected to repetitive, mindless, monotonous, unskilled work. The working class, in such a situation, is on the decline. It loses its social and political weight. It no longer enjoys a pride in its productive capacities and exercise of skills. Its collective unity is dispersed. It is divided into a small aristocratic section and a mass of powerless wage slaves. The trade unions are devalued and collective bargaining is rendered ineffective. Struggles become more and more difficult. There is a loss of self-respect and extreme alienation. As a class it is rendered weak and incapable of representation of the entire society or leadership of the revolution. The privileged section within it evolves extremely economist, corporatist tendencies. The vast majority finds itself insecure and hence, powerless. There is also a resurgence of primordial loyalties and identities. The traditional working class polities and its notions are also affected. The bases disappear or the interests of the constituency change or the earlier slogans seems irrelevant.

The economy is on a path of change. It has already been mentioned that trade, commerce and financial activities rather than production command most investment, talents and human power. The process and form of accumulation has also changed. The obvious fact is that there is an expansion of speculative activity which leads to a spurious accumulation. Apart from that, it is also seen that with ancillarisation and informalisation of the productive as well as commercial activities there is a plethora of self-employed persons and petty entrepreneurs who in an earlier period would have been direct employees of one corporation or the other. Economic control and power, and accumulation of capital is as centralised as ever, probably more intense than ever, but the form is covert. Accumulation is now dispersed, decentralised, indirect and invisible. Concentrated, centralised capital has shed a number of necessary but subsidiary functions and has farmed them out and has thereby affected a reduction in its liabilities in terms of investments, maintenance, wage and welfare burdens as well as risks.

These changes have some other effects as well. The links of the various actors with the system become indirect and invisible. It is no longer held responsible for the anomalies and distortions. It also acquires a new legitimacy through the creation of an ‘Indian dream’ and illusions of rags to riches possibilities. Free choice, free will of the players are seen as the motive forces in all operations. The success or failure is attributed to business acumen and ‘rules of the game’. The speculative mentality is generalised with the next throw of the dice proving ever so attractive.

The Polity

The changes in the economy predate the new economic policy but are made most intense and visible by it. These are accompanied also by changes in the political processes within the country. The political changes are gradual, insidious and subtle. They do not, hence, invite attention and discussion than the economic ones except occasional laments about erosion of values, corruption, criminalisation and dwarfishness of leadership at all levels.

The most obvious feature of this situation is a social and political apathy. There is a certain aversion to politics and politicians. The credibility of the politician is at an all time low.

There is also a noticeable absence of organised and sustained movements. No issues seem to generate long term mass interest or support. The popularity of issues seems to last as long as the media build-up over the issues does. Thereafter the interest wanes. This is all the more true in the urban and more ‘advanced’ areas.

There are many reasons for this state of affairs. These are linked to the structural changes in the economy though there is no simple correspondence between the two spheres.

The decline of the collective practices has led to a disruption of some collectives themselves. The most organised and articulate component of collective production, the working class, has lost its social and political influence as well as its ideological clan. Its organisations are weak and its struggles narrow and sectarian.

The new economic ‘Opportunities’ create an extreme and spurious individualism based on cut-throat competition. There is a glorification of practical acumen based on fraud and sharp practices so long as it is successful. The fetishism of accumulation and acquisition along with a narcotised indulgence in consumerism has led to a disappearance of values and norms. Ethics and even legal provisions are not seen to have any sanctity but act only as impediments to be overcome and subverted. The atomisation of the individual and commodification of relationships is so extreme that all notions of public responsibility and involvement has disappeared.

The masses with real grievances are powerless and voiceless. Their existence is so precarious that protest is luxury that they can ill afford. They have no economic weight and no social legitimacy. They are so evenly spread out through repeated displacements, dislocations and dispersal. Thus they do not even have the advantage of geographical or numerical concentration. Only rarely are they in a material position to organise or to struggle. A crucial limiting factor is that they are today left without any allies. Their traditional allies and representatives have lost their own strength and ability to exercise social leadership.

The ‘organised’ sections have, by and large, fallen prey to the lure of the system. They are either in the grip of consumerism or are enchanted by the illusions of the openings in the system. Their grievances are now complaints to be resolved within the framework of the system through consultative bargains.

The organisations in their structures, practices and leaderships reflect this situation. They are alienated from the masses and their upsurges. Popular participation is almost nil. The organisations are hence routinised, trapped in a rut at best professionalised, usually trivialised and indulge in symbolic actions in a ritualistic manner. They are in the grip of institutionalised stagnancy and bureaucratisation. The leadership of such organisations is consultationist, expert in real politic, constitutionalist and malleable. It is susceptible to co-optation. It is not a product of people’s upsurges and mass struggles centred around principles but is in place due to its manipulative and professional skills. It essentially serves as a conduit between the masses and the authorities. Not surprisingly, it is dwarfish and incapable of real social leadership.

‘Social and political activism’ has become a profession. Power is a consumer item, a means of accumulation and acquisition. The ‘activist’ supplies some services to the constituents and is paid in turn with the capacity to wield influence and power. Organisations and bases are hence unstable. The constituents too realise their own strength and rights to denude the leaders of their sanctions and power. The demi-patron leaders are cognisant of this capacity of the people. To perpetuate their own hold they then resort to a terrorisation of the masses through links with criminal elements or through occasional widespread use of violence.

The rule is obviously a class rule. It too has changed in its form to some extent. It marginalises and represses the dissent of those who are really deprived. It gains legitimacy from the other sections through an illusion of economic advancement, often quick, through speculative activity which facilitates indulgence in a consumerist narcosis. Dissent, it warns these sections, will mean an interruption of acquisition, accumulation and pleasurable consumption.

The capitalist class rules the society a basic concern towards social processes. It is not interested in exercise of social leadership or direction. It is not bothered about social change or reform. It has essentially abdicated its leadership and spokespersonship to maverick elements who bolster the circuses that keep up the illusion of social activism.

The State

Two facts about the state are today well-known. First, it has today limited powers in face of the global capital. No single state is able to regulate transnational capital even in its own nation effectively. Capital almost holds a veto threat of withdrawal from any particular errant nation. Such withdrawal could mean the virtual collapse of the economy as it could be starved of investment, technology and markets. The total globalisation of production, distribution and consumption along with the transnational dispersal of production means that the state cannot even hold out effectively the threat of nationalisation over these enterprises. Sovereignty, including economic, is exercised in a limited if not tokenist manner of insistence upon the partnership to some extent of the indigenous capitalist class in the enterprise and through (negotiated and agreed upon) taxation. The state, in fact, functions as the protector of the operations of the global capital in the particular nation and as a guarantor of its profits.

Second, the state has shed most of its social security and social welfare functions. It also intervenes to a maximum extent in the economic affairs. It serves the role of a mediator in the case of disputes within the propertied classes themselves.

In essence this means that the state functions merely as protector of markets and economic operations. A major aspect of this function of protection is the suppression of opposition to the activities of the global capital. It thus acquires increasingly a character of pure repressive machinery. Thus for the propertied classes, particularly transnational capital, it is non-interventionist, weak and soft. For the toiling masses, however, it is ever regulatory, strong and harsh.

The Culture

The cultural sphere has today acquired extreme importance. It is not sought to be controlled directly by capital for purposes of profit generation as well as for institution of processes of consent formation and legitimisation of the system. It is also important because spaces for action and freedom exist within this sphere to date. Moreover, the spaces are also being utilised to express dissent and to mount an opposition to the system. The sphere of culture has, hence, also become an arena of conflict and contention with the attempt of different forces to gain foot holds and extend spaces.

Traditional culture — practices, expressions and values are under an assault from the forces of globalisation which attempt to create a homogenous mass of globalised consumers in the country. Different, at times contradictory, processes are seen to be at work in this task. A culture industry has come into existence. This precipitates repetitive, non-creative, non-reflective cultural products and practices that in reality produce a quietude, atomisation, narcosis and inertia.

The people are denied opportunity of direct and active participation in cultural practices and events. They are converted into passive spectators and consumers of the cultural happenings. Independent, creative, multifarious expressions are denied legitimacy and existence. Culture is converted into a commodity to be consumed in a conspicuous manner. There is an apparent freedom but subtle regimentation and homogenisation of expressions and practices.

Particularities are sought to be celebrated in a manner that produces isolation, fragmentation and social disintegration.

Culture is specialised as a particular and specific commodity. It is divorced from the material moorings as well as the life practices of the people. This is not a genuine evolution of a cosmopolitan universal culture which cherishes and preserves the accomplishments of all and creates ample space for specificity of practices and expressions but the manufacture of an amorphous product for consumption.

Culture enshrines and celebrates human and social values. The forces of globalisation tend to deprive it of this content and render it into an empty container devoid of all live meaning.

Culture is a function of collectives. Even when the particular expressions are individual they are the products of collective life practices. A threat to collectives is a threat to culture as well.

Communalism

No discussion of Indian reality can be complete without an adequate discussion of the grave threat posed to the society by communalism. Fortunately, this is one area that has received intense theoretical attention. This theoretical discussion has also permeated to activists circles. It is enough here to merely enumerate some insights provided by the experts briefly as reminders.

Communalism is a modern phenomenon. It is essentially a form of conflict to corner resources and opportunities. It is not a product of religiosity or faith. It is a social and political phenomenon of manipulation of religion and religious identity for the sake of organisation and mobilisation of masses for the sake of power.

Communalism is also a product of the current changes in economy and society. It is an assertion of an essentially spurious though easily accessible identity in the face of forces of homogenisation and cultural deprivation.

Communalism provides intensely emotional though essentially false issues for social mobilisation and action. It operates most easily in environments when struggles on real issues do not take place effectively. An ideological, political and cultural vacuum also aids communal ideologies and forces to take roots and capture spaces.

III.

On the basis of the above discussion of the dilemmas faced by social action groups and of the contemporary reality, the tasks towards the formulation of a perspective for social action can be defined.

The formulation of the perspective is, of course, a collective process which necessarily will pass through many tortuous stages. The attempt here is to sketch the contours of the contents of such a perspective. Needless to say this too is the task of a wide collective. What follows is in the nature of initial suggestions to prompt discussions.

It is necessary to understand contemporary global capitalism in all its features and complexities. The economy, the polity, the society and the culture engendered by it need to be understood clearly. On the basis of this can a general critique of contemporary capitalism be formulated.

The specificity of developments in India, in all their variations, need to be clearly understood. This will also reveal trends that would become manifest in the foreseeable future. Only with this understanding can the emerging issues be adequately grasped and addressed.

This task will be immeasurably enriched if the empirical reality in different parts of the country, as experienced and perceived by the people and activists, is investigated and taken into account.

The situation of the toiling masses, including the industrial working class, needs to be understood clearly. The notion of a universal exclusive revolutionary agency and revolutionary vanguard may be abandoned if need be, but the general role of the toiling people in the country cannot be denied.

The question of caste needs theoretical examination. The main questions in this regard are:

  • Is caste a factor in the organisation of production in India today?

  • Is caste undergoing a reconstitution in the crystallisation of a new division of labour?

  • What is the situation and nature of the Other Backward Castes? Where do they stand in the process of social transformation?

  • Why is the dalit movement so disunited? Why has it abandoned its revolutionary critique of the society — both economic and cultural?

The situation and the specificity of the adivasis are generally well-recognised. The questions of the similarity and unity of the different adivasi groups, however, needs to be examined. The questions of their cultural identity and autonomy also needs further exploration. The issue of their exceptional path of development has also not yet received enough attention. This alone will lead to the formulation of the basis of unity of the adivasi people with other oppressed and toiling sections of the society.

The women’s movement and its theoretical work has generally succeeded in raising the issue of gender sensitivity and gender equity in all aspects of life. Social action will need precise formulations about the nature and forms of patriarchy/ies in India, the changes these undergo and their relationship with contemporary capitalism. An examination of the various strands of feminist theory is also necessary to comprehend the alternatives proposed by them to the social structure, production practices, organisational forms and cultural behaviour.

The concern about environment has now been internalised. It is necessary to work out further the details of the relationship of environmental concerns with other aspects of social action. It is also necessary to take a critical view of the various shades of environmental concerns since some of these show a vulnerability to co-optation, others to a compromise and indulgence with commodity production and yet others towards dangerous formulations.

It will be necessary to understand the phenomenon of communalism in yet greater detail, particularly its hold on certain sections of the society so that a battle for minds can be lodged effectively.

The question of cultural (ethno-linguistic in the main) autonomies and identities needs to be examined. This has a vital bearing on the shape of the society and polity in India. The theory of culture will need to be evolved so that a cultural critique of the existing society can be launched in practice as well as a movement for a cultural revolution be initiated.

Human and democratic rights will have to be defined in concrete and practical terms in our situation. Mechanisms for their protection and extension will also need to be clearly identified. The experience and theory of democracy will have to be studied in great detail so that the dilemmas of democratic polity and the threats to it are understood clearly and mechanisms to overcome these are designed.

At a theoretical level the various contemporary social theories that enjoy prestige and currency at various levels will have to be critically examined.

The fulfilment of these tasks will lead to the formulation of an overarching ideological perspective which links together all the concerns and provides adequate space and justice to all the sections of the society. This will necessarily be combined with a vision of the foreseeable future, the shape of the proposed alternative and the new humane ethical values that are sought.