Tag Archives: india

Communist strategy, international coordination, and the pillar of the Gulf monarchies

Around a year ago Angry Workers of the World published an excellent document around the question of a workers’ insurrection, that looks at the matter in a very concrete and material way.

There is a huge amount in the document that can be discussed, but one thing in particular that stood out was this comment about how to tackle questions of international integration (emphasis added):

Maybe because of the generalisation of the ‘proletarian condition’ of being wage dependent and of the generalisation of ‘parliamentary democracy’ across the globe it now seems obsolete to talk about the impact of uneven development. Everything appears at the same time so similar (global village) and so different, once we look into details. The problem is that we clearly see the effect of regional differences on global class struggle, but:

a) we tend to explain these differences geopolitically or out of ‘national economies’ or even ethnically (oil producing nations, BRIC states, Arab Spring);
b) we celebrate a crude pluralism (‘patchwork of free and unfree labour; all sorts of proletarian income etc.);
c) we don’t develop revolutionary strategies of how regional struggles or struggles within certain stages of development relate to others.

That last bit is key.  This question of how struggles in one part of the world affect other parts of the world is a fascinating and important area of study, and something that I personally started thinking about an awful lot during and after writing an analysis of Saudi Arabia and its historical roots in imperialism.  It turned out that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf petro-monarchies have played a major and pivotal role in the functioning of global capitalism, particularly in the restructuring toward neoliberalism after the 1970s, as described in detail in Adam Hanieh’s Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States (2011).  If the left-wing movements in the area had been successful in the ’50s and ’60s, it would have changed the course of world history.

Today the Gulf states’ massive oil resources are tightly integrated with global finance capital, as well as with a regional market of precarious migrant labor.  A resurgence in communist struggle in this area would almost certainly destabilize global markets, and such a resurgence would almost certainly be embedded in either struggles by migrant workers from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/Philippines, or in the struggles of the marginalized Shia populations of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (who have historically been the backbone of leftist movements in the area).

In the case of migrant worker organizing, this would mean that radicals in South Asia and the Philippines have a critical role to play.  Revolutionary organizing among the migrant workers of the Gulf will require deep connections with the homelands, and the establishment of some kind of “home bases” away from the ruthless police states of the Gulf.

The supply lines of the Gulf’s repressive apparatus are also a key target for disruption, and arguably a necessary condition for successful communist resurgence.  Much of this apparatus is underwritten by the Western military-industrial complex and related surveillance and security organizations and companies.  In the modern era, many of these surveillance/security companies are integrated with the tech industry.  This gives another front on which radical tech workers can fight on.

And speaking of the tech industry, we can “close the loop” on the above analysis by looking at how many Indians migrate to the US to work in the tech industry (especially its core nexus in the San Francisco Bay Area), including in and around security firms.  Perhaps a connection can be made between these migrants, and the lower-skilled migrants in the Gulf; after all both categories tend to hail from the southern Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.  The material and social terrain exists here for a triangle of revolutionary class struggle to be developed between south India, the SF Bay Area, and the Persian Gulf.

This is all of course just one thread in the kind of analysis and strategizing needed to develop an international vision for class struggle.

Institutional murders at Uber and University of Hyderabad

In August 2017, a senior engineer at Uber — a 34-year old black man — committed suicide, after months of working under extreme stress.  According to his wife, he was working long hours, had uneasy relations with his boss, was fearful of losing his new job, and was generally suffering extreme stress and anxiety.  The question of racism in the workplace was also raised, given Uber’s repeated controversies around diversity, discrimination, and workplace culture.

In January 2017, a PhD student at University of Hyderabad — a 26-year old Dalit man — committed suicide, shortly after the administration suspended him and several other Dalit students in the aftermath of a lengthy period of controversy and unrest between a Dalit students’ organization and a rival Hindu nationalist students’ organization.  His suicide note sparked a new surge in protests against the caste system and against discriminatory policies, practices, and attitudes at the university.

During the protests in Hyderabad, the idea of “institutional murder” was raised — the argument that these kinds of suicides cannot be looked at as merely individuals “lapsing” into suicide, but as the consequence of oppressive and alienating systems that deteriorate the mental health of individuals of marginalized backgrounds at a disproportionate rate.

This framework of institutional murder could be brought back to understand the case of the suicide of the Uber engineer.  As a comrade put it recently, it is striking that this man felt like there was no escaping his situation other than to kill himself, despite seemingly being extremely intelligent and hard-working, with access to many alternative jobs and career prospects.  The combination of alienation, racism, over-work, and a culture saturated with yuppie ambition, makes for a hell of a prison, where death slowly becomes preferably to failure.

Blurred musical lines in South Asian religions

South Asia has seen more than its share of horrific religious violence, whether it was the mass displacement and mass killings of Partition in 1947, or the genocide during Bangladesh’s 19671 war of liberation, or the pogroms of the 1980s in India, or the communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat or of 2013 in Uttar Pradesh.

But present in this backdrop of religious divisions are cultural and musical traditions that blur the lines that have been imposed between Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, etc.  Take, for example, the musical collective of Riyaaz Qawwali, based in Texas, whose work fuses the musical and philosophical tenets of the various South Asian religions via the medium of Qawwali, a traditional form of Sufi Muslim devotional music.  Here is a video of them singing a Hindu bhajan from 15th-century Gujarat in Qawwali style.

This kind of syncretism isn’t just present in the diaspora — it is present in the homeland too.  Indeed, this style of inter-communal tradition is precisely the target of far-right extremist groups like Islamic State who abhor the notion of religious harmony, diversity, and heterogeneity.  The recent attack in the Sindh province of Pakistan, which killed over 70 people and injured hundreds, was an attack on a shrine whose popularity and meaning transcended religion and culture:

Religious devotees at the shrine of this 12th century saint cannot be compartmentalized into categories through which ISIS sees the world. To his devotees, he is not a Muslim or a Shia saint. He is a peer, who cannot be constrained by confines of religious boundaries. To the Sindhi Hindus, forming the largest religious minority in [Pakistan], he is their peer as much as he peer for Muslims. Some might label him to be a Sindhi saint, but songs of his praises are sung at the Sufi shrines in Punjab as well. In the summers at the time of his urs celebration special trains are booked to bring his Punjabi devotees into the heartland of Sindh.

There is perhaps no other shrine in the country that captures the essence of religious syncretism like the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. In his courtyard, it feels as if the riots of Partition never happened, as if Sindhi Hindus were never forced to abandon their land, as if Christian settlements in Punjab had never been burned after alleged cases of blasphemy. The courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar represents a different world, a world that once existed but has slowly disappeared outside its confines. That’s why this courtyard represents such a threat. It defies all narratives, of exclusive nationalism and religious identities. It maybe just a few thousand people but a powerful narrative. The attack is not on the shrine but on this worldview which does not divide humanity into simplistic separate categories.

Anti-imperialist techno-science in India and China

I’ve gotten a short blog piece published in Hyphen, an Asian American magazine/blog, titled “The Subversive Roots of Asian Scientists and Engineers”.  It takes a look at the way nationalist anti-imperialist movements in India and China through the early and mid 1900s consistently merged with domestic engagement with science and technology, and the way this influenced education policy after the 1940s — laying the groundwork for creating a large mass of educated and skilled scientists and engineers who could migrate to higher-waged jobs in the US.  The underlying theme of the post is to look at the model minority stereotype from a more historical and global perspective, as well as in a way that reinforces radical leftist politics.

In light of this history, those who talk about how minorities need to stop talking about racism, and simply emulate Asian success, are asking for an irreconcilable contradiction.  “Asian success” is rooted in a history of political militancy and anti-racism, that put scientific and technological development and education at the center of their strategies, and which required major victories against imperial subjugation to fully play out.  If Black and Latinx people are to “follow” the example of Asians, then the first step would be a re-affirmation of ongoing liberation struggles against white supremacy and US imperialism.

Perry Anderson’s crash course on India

If you’re looking for an in-depth but accessible crash course on Indian politics, check out Perry Anderson’s trio of essays published in the summer of 2012 in London Review of Books, covering the ideologies and roles of key figures like Gandhi and Nehru, the complex religious politics of South Asia and how they evolved over the course of the independence movement, the centrality of caste, the various postcolonial insurgencies, and so on.

Some of the general arguments I find questionable, particularly the idea that the exit of the British Empire from South Asia was “inevitable”.  But overall, the essays are a fantastic dissection and critique of prevailing tendencies of India’s political elites.  Gandhi is shown to have helped laid the roots of communal violence in the way he infused the anti-imperialist movement with religion, and the Indian National Congress is shown to be a party of mostly upper-caste Hindu elites, whose politicking undermined inter-communal solidarity and class politics.  A spotlight is shone on the protracted and extremely bloody military occupations in Kashmir and Nagaland.  The fractured landscape of caste and religion is dissected, as is the way this fracturing affects prevailing nationalist ideologies, and influences various electoral coalitions.

While not discussed in much depth, Anderson elevated Subhas Chandra Bose, casting him as the only pre-independence nationalist leader of widespread popularity who could have united the subcontinent across religious lines, and someone of much more intellectual prowess than either Gandhi or Nehru — all of which makes it even more tragic that he was ultimately pushed out of INC leadership in the late 1930s, and was killed in a plane crash in the 1940s.

Subhas Chandra Bose, the only leader Congress ever produced who united Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in a common secular struggle, and would have most threatened [Nehru], lay buried in Taiwan: the political landscape of postwar India would not have been the same had he survived.

Here are some of the books that Anderson referenced that I have thrown onto my reading list:

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Lengthy essay on prison labor, mass incarceration, and labor market dynamics
  • Book reviews on the history of Angola, Cuba, and apartheid South Africa
  • Old essay from 2004 on a radical left environmental strategy in southern conservative states, from the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus
  • Reportage on Indian oligarchs and the arms industry
  • Article on the racial advocacy of New York City’s Health Commissioner, and her old ties with the Black Panther Party

A bittersweet independence day

Yesterday was Indian Independence Day, marking a thoroughly complicated event that combined the culmination of a successful and protracted anti-colonial struggle with an explosion of reactionary ethno-religious violence that killed and displaced millions via Partition, and the continuation of a regime dominated by colonial-era domestic elites.

The best example of the latter point is perhaps the Telangana Rebellion, an armed insurgency by communist peasant groups against the Nizam of Hyderabad and local landlords, that started in 1946 and continued unabated through the exit of the British Empire in 1947, up until 1951, when the newly decolonized Indian Army finally quelled the unrest and saved the landlords from being completely expropriated.  It is thus unsurprising that the current communist insurgency in India has deep roots in Telangana.

On a related note, its highly irritating how consistently Western narratives on the Indian Independence Movement erase its militant and revolutionary dimensions, and instead put forward a highly superficial conception of a completely non-violent struggle.  Not that the non-violent media spectacles organized by Gandhi didn’t play an important role; but it is complete nonsense to ignore the role played by militant organizations like Anushilan Samiti, the Ghadar Party, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, and the Indian National Army, or the increasingly violent uprisings that destabilized the British Raj like the aforementioned Telangana Rebellion, as well as the 1942 Quit India Movement and the 1946 Royal Indian Navy Mutiny.  I’ve written about the Quit India Movement here, and argued how it was this violent insurrection that proved to be the major factor in the collapse and retreat of the British Empire from the Indian subcontinent by 1947.

If we’re to be true to the progressive spirit of anti-colonial/anti-imperialist struggle, then let’s make sure that we save this history from liberal white-washing–as well as ensure that the unfinished tasks of the struggle do not remain as such.