The Global Commons Today — Issues and Challenges

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Keynote Address presented (slides are here) the International Conference on the Global Commons, organised by Department of Politics and International Relations, Pondicherry University and the Faculty of Law, Social and Political Sciences, University of Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris-Cite. Thanks to Prof. Mohanan for the invitation.

I don’t have a written talk. And I have also taken some slides from Tejal Kanitkar’s Manthan presentation for my use here  for making a different, though quite related, argument.

 

 

Facing up to Hindutva — Can a Left-Congress Alliance be the Key?

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Many commentators, in the mainstream and social media, have been urging the Left to indicate clearly its willingness to align with the Congress in the parliamentary elections due next year. . Several of them, who have harping on the theme for some months now, turned harshly critical when the CPI(M), following its central committee meeting, announced on January 21, 2018 that it was against electoral tie-ups in any form with the Congress. A substantial part of such commentary emerges from sections who believe that the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019 is of such over-riding importance that all other political considerations should be put aside. Alongside such a view, many of them also drive the critique of BJP to ever shriller heights with increasingly extreme characterisations. Any attempt to inject some sobriety or realism into such assessments is met with the charge that the depth of the danger is being downplayed, suggesting panic rather than a serious assessment of a way forward.

Any serious assessment must obviously begin from the acknowledgement of the basic and obvious point that the CPI(M) has always made – that the roots of the rise of Hindutva in its current form lay in substantial measure in the nature of Congress rule and in particular the UPA governments of 2004 to 2014. And, as the CPI(M) further argues, given the hold that Hindutva has obtained on Indian society as a whole, across various spheres of national life, mere electoral defeat, is hardly the key to halting its advance. Without mass mobilisation on issues that affect the people and without convincing a substantial section of the inability of Hindutva to meet their aspirations, without a mass movement for secular and democratic advance, banking on electoral arithmetic alone is likely to be of little use and indeeed diversionary. It is also clear that such mobilisation cannot have unity with the Congress party as its basis, when the alienation of the people at large from it has formed the very basis of the rise of Hindutva.

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Climate Action and the North–South Divide: An Assessment of COP23

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Abstract:

At COP23 in Bonn, notwithstanding the United States’ announcement of its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the developed countries remained united in diluting or reneging on their commitments to developing countries, particularly on the issues of finance, and loss and damage. In a concerted pushback, the latter obtained a few important procedural gains, including bringing back to the negotiations the issue of equityin the implementation ofthe agreement.

Published in Economic and Political Weekly, 23rd Dec., 2017, vol. 52, Issue no. 51.

 

Following the general celebration that attended the signing of the Paris Agreement, the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Marrakech in November 2016 was already something of a let-down, coinciding with the election of Donald Trump, the arch proponent of climate inaction, to the presidency ofthe United States (US). A year later, with the expected announcement of the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement having come true, COP23 (Bonn, Germany, 6–17 November 2017) began with two interrelated issues being of keen interest. One was what the attitude of the US would be in the negotiations, since, by the terms of the Paris Agreement, it would be three years before their withdrawal would take effect. The second was the progress that would be made towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement under the circumstances and who would be, as the global media would have it, the “climate leader” in the event of the withdrawal of the US.

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Historical Notes — Left Parties’ Statement of 16 May, 1998 on the Pokhran test

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Press Statement

The Left Parties — CPI(M), CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc — met on 16 May, 1998 and have issued the following joint statement.

The Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has made a public  declaration that the BJP led government has decided to go ahead with making and induction of nuclear weapons. He has also claimed that India is now a nuclear weapons state. This major policy declaration is fraught with serious consequences. The Left parties are of the categorical opinion that making of nuclear bombs and weaponry at this juncture is unwarranted and contrary to the interests of the country. There is no direct\ nuclear threat posed by any country against India which necessitates such a step. The BJP-led government has taken this drastic decision on its own without even caring to discuss with the national political parties. The Prime Minister is now promising to call a meeting of opposition leaders on the eve of the budget session of Parliament after making the BJP’s own policy a fait accompli.

The contempt shown by the Vajpayee government in not taking the people of the country into confidence while hastening to write to President Clinton has been exposed by the entire text of the Prime Minister’s letter being published in the United States. This letter has sought to mollify the United States by citing the threat to India from China as the main factor. It is short- sighted and against India’s national interests to revive aconfrontation with China after the decade-long progress in normalisation and improvement of relations between the two countries. By adopting this unilateral policy, the Vajpayee governmenthas seriously harmed the improvement in relations with our neighbouring countries which was being built up over the years and carried forward by the previous United Front government. As a result of the reckless nuclear policy, there will be a harmful nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan with diversion of scarce resources for a costly and futile build up of nuclear weapons. This will not benefit the Indian people whohave more serious problems about their livelihood to deal with.

The BJP has rushed into this adventurist policy with the political motive of rousing feelings of chauvinism and jingoism in order to cover up its own political difficulties of running a rickety coalition and its failure to address the serious problems facing the country. While condemning the sanctions imposed by the USA and some other countries, the Left parties strongly oppose the other policy track adopted of further opening up and wooing foreign multinationals in all sectors of the economy. This anti-national policy will only add to the burdens suffered bythe people. The Left parties demand that the BJP-led governmentimmediately stop the talk of nuclear weaponisation. It must take steps to restore the process of improvement of relations with our neighbours and rely upon the sound policy India has been pursuing of working for nuclear disarmament while safeguarding India’s security interests by not signing any discriminatory treaties like the NPT and the CTBT.

The meeting was attended by Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A. B.Bardhan, D.D. Shastri, Sushil Bhattacharya, Abani Roy, PrakashKarat, J. Chittaranjan, S. Ramachandran Pillai and Devarajan.

WHAT GIVES WITH LEFTWORD BOOKS? DOES IT HAVE A NEW AGENDA?

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What’s on your mind asks Facebook, but my problem is — whats on the mind of Leftword Books?

The Leftword Books site carries the blurb of a proposed book, as noted on the web page http://mayday.leftword.com/…/letter-to-our-leftword-commun…/ :

“Red October: the Russian Revolution and the Communist Horizon, ed. Vijay Prashad. The book collects essays that reflect not only on the Revolution, but on the Soviet Union and its fall, as well as on the necessity of the Communist Horizon for the present. Historians Irfan Habib and Amar Farooqui take up the task of bringing to life the Revolution and its impact on the anti-colonial struggles. Essays by BT Ranadive, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury – written between 1987 and 1991 – explore in real time the collapse of the USSR and offer very honest and thoughtful criticisms of its tragic fall. Finally, Prabhat Patnaik, Jodi Dean, Prabir Purkayastha and Shahrzad Mojab close the volume with fine essays on the imperative of the Communist Horizon.”

What is remarkable about this collection is that Com. BTR, and the past and current Gen. Secys. of the Party (the CPM), are to be represented by essays written between 1987 and 1991, while the present and the future vision of communism is to be represented by essays around the theme of “Communist Horizon”. It turns out that Communist Horizon is also the title of a book by Jodi Dean, listed among the authors, who is a political scientist from some liberal arts college in Eastern US. Unheard of as a Marxist authority or poltical leader (outside the narrow realms of US academia perhaps), it defeats me why the theme of her work forms part title of a volume that includes BTR, Irfan Saab, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury.

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Utopian Rhetoric on Global Warming

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Book Review: Vijay Parshad (ed.), “Will the flower slip through the asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change,” Leftword Books, New Delhi, 2017.

P:ublished in the Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 52, Issue No 20, 20 May, 2017.

Amidst the increasing outpouring of literature on global warming and what the world should do about it, there is very little that is written from the perspective of enquiring into the relationship between capital and global warming. This is obviously not the same as writing on the economic or socio-economic dimensions of the problem or even writing that is passed off under subject headings such as the “political economy of climate change” or “politics of climate change.” To write about capital and global warming is clearly to adopt a viewpoint that sees capitalism as the essence of the global political, social and economic order, evoking clearly a critical Marxist view of how capitalism structures the relationship between human society and Nature. Expectedly the literature from this viewpoint on global warming is very sparse. Which is why this book will undoubtedly arouse the expectations of many who come across the title.

This slim volume counts among its more well-known contributors Naomi Klein, John Bellamy Foster and Amitava Ghosh, alongside others from various parts of the world. The main contribution is the essay by Naomi Klein, with a number of short comments on this by the others, and an introduction by Vijay Parshad. Klein’s essay is in fact her Edward Said lecture of 2016, available widely on the internet. Apart from this none of the comments appear to convey anything novel or particularly insightful that has not been published before, a possibility that is in any case curtailed by the format of brief comments. The volume as a result is not particularly attractive to those who are fully engaged with the issue of global warming, nor, given the brevity of contributions, particularly useful to those who would like to know more of the subject under discussion. Whatever may have been the original intent, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling of a public relations exercise for Naomi Klein and her brand of “Left” rhetoric on the issue of global warming. It is this last point that should perhaps engage us more seriously.

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Environmentalism: Utopian and Scientific

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While many nineteenth century thinkers, revolutionary leaders and working class movements had a vision of a just society, Karl Marx and his comrade, Friedrich Engels, writing more than a hundred and fifty years ago, underlined how the ideal of socialism could be realised only through a scientific study of the current economic order of society, namely capitalism, and its contradictions. And precisely in the study of these contradictions would the “necessity” of socialism, and the means of its realisation, be established (as surely as the contradictions of the pre-capitalist era had marked the “necessity” of the rise of capitalism), taking it beyond the mere utopian desires or dreams that had until then marked the vision of a society free from exploitation.

A great majority of working people across the world today recognize that any view of a better, more just and equitable society, must also include the vision of an environmentally viable and sustainable one. And more particularly, for the politically conscious working class, the contemporary view of a socialist future most definitely includes a balanced, non-exploitative relationship between human society and Nature. A hundred and fifty years on from the appearance in print of Marx’s Capital, his path-breaking study of capitalism and its contradictions, there can be no other way that humanity can face its environmental crisis, except by tracing the same kind of scientific path that led to a scientific view of socialism. And such a scientific view cannot but begin with the insights of Marx himself.

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The crisis of the Dravidian movement and its ideology — Part II

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Introduction

This is the second of the two-part note on the crisis of the Dravidian movement and its ideology. The view that we set out to elaborate was that the  ideology of the Dravidian movement, which has exercised its hegemony over Tamil society for the last half a century, severely restricts the scope for transformation of the social, political and cultural sphere, especially as its positive elements have receded in significance, and its backward-looking, unscientific or irrational and conservative elements gained the upper hand.  Without confronting Dravidian ideology, in theory and social and political practice, the Left cannot gain a more considerable following in Tamil Nadu persuading working people  to take a radical, transformatory agenda more seriously.

The recent demise of the leader of the AIADMK, Jayalalitha, has been the occassion for the unedifying spectacle of mind-numbing praise of the departed leader, followed by a scramble for power, that had little pretense of being based on political ideals, policies or values. The two  coteries that vied for power, one led by Jayalalithaa’s confidante and back-room fixer, Sasikala, and the other by the ever-obsequious-worm-that-turned O. Panneerselvam, matched each other in their absurd  behaviour, with secrecy and lack of transparency on the one side and wild conspiracy theories emanating from the other. The reality that Jayalalithaa was an accused in a high-profile corruption scandal, with the Supreme Court set to pronounce a verdict shortly, was soft-pedalled in much of the media commentary that followed. And convicted she was, inevitably, a few weeks later, along with Sasikala and some of her relatives, just as the latter was going all-out to ensure her elevation, from the post of the general secretary (sic!) of the party to Chief Minister.

One would have thought that the spectacle of the publicly conducted struggle for power within the AIADMK, the indictment for corruption of its leader, and the absurd behaviour of the DMK during the vote-of-confidence for the government of Palanisamy, the new Chief Minister, would have led to some serious stocktaking of what has become of the Dravidian movement today — a century or so after it began to play an increasingly prominent role in Tamil society and close to a half century of being in political power in the State. Unfortunately there is little sign of such a serious stocktaking and a consequent political churn any time soon.

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Jallikattu – A Movement Facing Backwards (The crisis of the Dravidian movement and its ideology – Part I)

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This is the first of a two-part note on the crisis of the Dravidian movement and its ideology and its manifestation in the contemporary social and political life of Tamil Nadu. We consider two events that have rocked the state recently – the jallikattu protests and the illness and demise of Jayalalitha followed by the rise of Sasikala. Both these events together we argue expose the obscurantist and backward-looking aspects of the Dravidian movement and its ideology, its inability to understand or build in progressive fashion on the material aspects of the development of Tamil society and its inability to provide a way forward to Tamil society at the present time.

The eruption of protest against the Supreme Court ban on jallikattu, certainly caught most people by surprise. For more than a week, large crowds, self-regulated it appeared (though that remains to be verified in greater detail, especially the absence of organisers of established political formations), gathered in many places in Tamil Nadu, vowing not to disperse until their demands were met.

It is also evident that the protests had the tacit blessing of large sections of the political establishment, especially the ruling AIADMK, even if it initially caught them unawares. All of the parties of the Dravidian movement’s establishement, as well as its various offshoots, have a valued support base (to varying degrees) among the middle-caste rural rich, especially in southern Tamil Nadu, who provide the main social basis of the jallikattu phenomenon. All political parties in Tamil Nadu, virtually without exception, have opposed the jallikattu ban over the years. The protests therefore were all about timing and immediate action without any real political opposition being involved.

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Distinguishing Real Anti-Imperialism from Abusive Demagoguery: A Critique of Yohanan Chemarapally on the Philippines in People’s Democracy , June 19, 2016

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Philippines: Strong Man Emerges | Peoples Democracy

Yohanan Chemarapally’s piece on the Phillipines “strongman”, Rodrigo Duterte, is a surprising contribution from a commentator known otherwise for much perceptive writing on foreign policy matters in People’s Democracy. It is shockingly one-sided, downplaying Duterte’s all-out murderous campaign particularly directed at the lumpenproletariat and other sections of the poor in the cities and their slums across the Philippines.  At the same time, the article, while not unaware of this side to Duterte, attempts to whitewash it by references to women’s groups that support him, and other more subtle  references to him as a “grassroots” leader, unfavourably compared to earlier presidents, and so on. However the article, given its provenance, cannot be dismissed lightly and deserves greater, though entirely unfavourable, attention.

At the outset, let me make it clear that my criticism is not meant purely in terms of peace versus violence. Violence can often be a concomitant of social change and can often be perpetrated or condoned by significant sections of the population. In settings of radical social transformation, these can be understood though it is by no means a good thing, as it leaves behind residues of vigilantism or gross violation of the rule of law, even in the post-revolutionary setting. Such violence becomes even more problematic when directed at minority segments of the population itself. Such fratricidal conflict (for that is what these are) is fundamentally anti-democratic in character, and where they do arise (and of course they do in practice) must be combated with energy by the forces of radical transformation. In the Soviet Union, for instance, to give an example from history, such conflict has had long-lasting negative consequences.

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