Du Bois and American Amnesia

With February being declared and celebrated as the African-American Month in this country, it is only apt that we need to reflect upon the history a bit and evaluate for ourselves where we are up until now, and if this actually tantamount to celebration.

A couple of years ago, on my journey to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, I did a small survey of the personalities, events and processes that are given due recognition and the tones attached to them. Specific to my interest was the reception to the most brilliant African-American by any yardstick: William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.

Since a couple of weeks now, I have been again approaching few students to get an idea of what they know of Du Bois and how they came to know of it. The students I interacted with came from different races, they studied various subjects and are well-educated in American schools.

The findings are predictable: there is an official version of telling history. We know it when we have the flawed historical account of Columbus (that he was a great sailor who discovered America!) or of Helen Keller (that she was a blind girl who lived the American Dream of demonstrating how anyone can do anything if one sets her mind at it). In case of Du Bois, it is no different at all. So the acclaimed Museum or the educated youths have the official history: that Du Bois was a great African American leader (some also hesitatingly add, “Pan-African” leader who founded NAACP and edited The Crisis).

What the official version never gets into is the roots. In case of Columbus, the history books don’t tell us that he was a greedy, inhuman oppressor who took pleasure in leading the murder trials and silencing thousands of indigenous peoples who had discovered America long before he even chanced upon it. In case of Helen Keller, the history books don’t tell us about her life spent amidst trade unions, calling for socialist revolution and standing up for the working class, and actually challenging American Dream by saying that it’s not an individual’s talent, but the overarching socio-political structure that creates standards of living.

Likewise, what most scholars today do not mention, let alone describe, is Du Bois’ firm rejection of the American capitalism (including the Black Capitalism) and how very emphatically he has proposed alternatives to the same. Most young people are clearly not aware of his political standpoints. And the text book biographies, when I was going through, never mentioned Du Bois’ politics either.

As though to celebrate him as a Black success in America, the extractions applied relate to his undeniable founding of an organization that encouraged people of every color and races to join force. That sounded to the mainstream historians as one cause of celebration that might have dawned upon the man in his American dream. Indeed, one book taught at the graduate level in the universities declares that Du Bois was in fact recipient of privileged education because of absence of racism in his school! (It conveniently misses out the discriminations he faced in Fisk University.) The books also take much pleasure in describing in detail the differences he had with Booker T Washington. The texts are full of grander narrative of a biographical sketch which is at its best, little informative, and in its worst, plain misleadingly boring.

Du Bois’ lifelong quest to improve the lot of humankind through active resistance to war-discrimination-capitalistic greed, to educate majority of people of their own shared histories of oppression by minority rulers, to enlighten us of our abject ignorance of social complexities, to encourage the pursuit of scientific outlook at understanding historical inequalities have all been omitted.

Omitted from essential readings are his indictment under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (where due to lack of evidence, he was subsequently released)! Omitted are refusals of the US Govt to grant him his passport when he was abroad, and so omitted are how he and his wife renounced the citizenships and became citizens of Ghana. After all, to create a legend, to put him on postage stamp (30 years after his death) demands that certain pages of his life be publicly censored. Unfortunately, the leaves of his life that have been trampled over contain the essence of all that he stood for. For social justice everywhere. None of the students I talked to could even guess that Du Bois had anything to do with the Left. And for them, and also because today marks his birthday, I reproduce the letter he wrote to CPUSA justifying why he must choose his side. His dreams may have been unfinished. But the reminders sure buzz:

The letter appeared in “The Worker” on Nov. 26, 1961:

“On the first day of October, 1961, I am applying for admission to membership in the Communist Party of the United States. I have been long and slow in coming to this conclusion, but at last my mind is settled.

In college I heard the name Karl Marx, but read none of his works, nor heard them explained. At the University of Berlin, I heard much of those thinkers who had definitively answered the theories of Marx, but again, we did not study what Marx himself had said. Nevertheless, I attended the meetings of the Socialist Party and considered myself a Socialist.

On my return to America, I taught and studied for sixteen years. I explored the theory of Socialism and studied the organized social life of American Negroes; but still I neither read or heard much of Marxism. Then I came to New York as a official of the new NAACP and editor of the Crisis Magazine. The NAACP was capitalist oriented and expected support from rich philanthropists.

But it had a strong Socialist element in its leadership in persons like Mary Ovington, William English Walling and Charles Edward Russell. Following their advice, I joined the Socialist Party in 1911. I knew then nothing of practical socialist politics and in the campaign of 1912, I found myself unwilling to vote the Socialist ticket, but advised Negroes to vote for Wilson. This was contrary to Socialist Party rules and consequently I resigned from the Socialist Party.

For the next twenty years I tried to develop a political way of life for myself and my people. I attacked the Democrats and Republicans for monopoly and disenfranchisement of Negroes; I attacked the Socialists for trying to segregate Southern Negro members; I praised the racial attitudes of the Communists, but opposed their tactics in the case of the Scottsboro boys and their advocacy of a Negro state. At the same time I began to study Karl Marx and the Communists; I read Das Kapital and other Communist literature; I hailed the Russian Revolution of 1917, but was puzzled at the contradictory news from Russia.

Finally in 1926, I began a new effort; I visited Communist lands. I went to the Soviet Union in 1926, 1936, 1949, and 1959; I saw the nation develop. I visited East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. I spent ten weeks in China, traveling all over the land. Then this summer, I rested a month in Romania.

I was early convinced that Socialism was an excellent way of life, but I thought it might be reached by various methods. For Russia, I was convinced she had chosen the only path open to her at the time. I saw Scandinavia choosing a different method, half-way between Socialism and Capitalism. In the United States I saw Consumers Cooperation as a path from Capitalism to Socialism, while England, France, and Germany developed in the same direction in their own way. After the depression and the Second World War, I was disillusioned. The Progressive movement in the United States failed. The Cold War started. Capitalism called Communism a crime.

Today I have reached a firm conclusion:

Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.

Communism–the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute–it has and will make mistakes, but today it marches triumphantly on in education and science, in home and food, with increased freedom of thought and deliverance from dogma. In the end Communism will triumph. I want to help bring that day.

The path of the American Communist Party is clear: It will provide the United States with a real Third Party and thus restore democracy to this land. It will call for:

1. Public ownership of natural resources and of all capital.
2. Public control of transportation and communications.
3. Abolition of poverty and limitation of personal income.
4. No exploitation of labor.
5. Social medicine, with hospitalization and care of the old.
6. Free education for all.
7. Training for jobs and jobs for all.
8. Discipline for growth and reform.
9. Freedom under law.
10. No dogmatic religion.

These aims are not crimes. They are practiced increasingly over the world. No nation can call itself free which does not allow its citizens to work for these ends.”


Malcolm Vindicated, Yet Again

It was a perfect tribute to Malcolm X. The country almost forgot to recollect or celebrate him on the day he was assassinated 41 years ago. It was perfect because he would have loved it this way.

He would not have loved to be idolized, by the system of exploitation he gave up his life struggling against. Neither would he have liked to be converted into a heritage site or a street name or a public controversial holiday. He would not have liked to be eulogized by the presidents nor discussed over in a relaxed talk show. He would not have wanted us to remember his face on the postage stamp nor to have him imprinted on colorful tees that could be worn in rallies.

In every way, the silence of betrayal that spirals the country’s knee-jerking responses to his death anniversary was the befitting tribute to Malcolm X. The betrayal is deafening at the point when God is being called upon every so often to bless America, as though the destiny of this good country were being authored by the people who inhabit it. Malcolm would have greatly differed today as he differed back in 1964 (April 3, in Cleveland, Ohio; “The Ballot or the Bullet”) :

“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.”

Malcolm would have hated us to glorify him in this age of war-mongers and indifferent citizens voting the same military-industrial complex back to power time and again. He would have opined similarly as he did back in 1963, while speaking in New York City:

“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”

Malcolm would have chided us for our naiveties. For the misplaced faith of the collective whole on reactionary forces. For mistaking hunger-for-power as democracy. For lack of conviction as successful personality. Just as he never minced his words while criticizing the most beloved president this country has seen, back on the Valentine’s Day of 1965:

“John F. Kennedy also saw that it was necessary for a new approach among the American Negroes. And during his entire term in office, he specialized in how to psycho the American Negro. Now, a lot of you all don’t like my saying that, but I wouldn’t ever take a stand on that if I didn’t know what I was talking about. And I don’t — by living in this kind of society, pretty much around them — and you know what I mean when I say “them” — I learned to study them. You can think that they mean you some good ofttimes, but if you look at it a little closer you’ll see that they don’t mean you any good. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some of them who mean good. But it does mean that most of them don’t mean good.

Kennedy’s new approach was pretending to go along with us in our struggle for civil rights and different other forms of rights. But I remember the expose that Look magazine did on Meredith’s situation in Mississippi. Look magazine did an expose showing that Robert Kennedy and Governor Wallace — not Governor Wallace, Governor Barnett — had made a deal, wherein the attorney general was going to come down and try and force Meredith into school, and Barnett was going to stand at the door, you know, and say, ‘No, you can’t come in.’ He was going to get in anyway. But it was all arranged in advance. And then Barnett was supposed to keep the support of the white racists, because that’s who he was holding up, and Kennedy would keep the support of the Negroes, because that’s who he’d be holding up. That’s — it was a cut-and-dried deal. And it’s not a secret; it was written, they write about it. But if that’s a deal and that’s a deal, how many other deals do you think go down? What you think is on the level is crookeder, brothers and sisters, than a pretzel, which is most crooked.”

Malcolm would have ridiculed the deep fascination of our present times with the minority celebrities, the well-meaning billionaires, the filthy rich colored sports and music successes. If he would not have brought the analogies of field and house slaves, he would have perhaps talked about tokenism, just as he did four decades back:

“I would like to point out that the approach that was used by the administration right on up until today — see, even the present generation — was designed skillfully to make it appear that they were trying to solve the problem when they actually weren’t. They would deal with the conditions, but never the cause. They only gave us tokenism. Tokenism benefits only a few. It never benefits the masses, and the masses are the ones who have the problem, not the few. That one who benefits from tokenism, he doesn’t want to be around us anyway — that’s why he picks up on the token.”

Or he would have really felt sad witnessing the current false pride among most of us, because we identify our entity and bask in glory, with the miniscule minority of us, assuming that since the ‘few’ among us made it, the onus lies on all of us to emulate (to pick up the tokens frantically and join the system unquestionably). He would have become infuriated at the repetition of the “dream” (which according to him, led to nothing other than the Black people marching from one dead president’s statue to another dead president’s statue) He would have felt exactly the way he did the year he was killed when he was 39:

“Whenever you see a Negro bragging about “he’s the only one in his neighborhood,” he’s bragging. He’s telling you in essence, “I’m surrounded by white folks,” you know. “I love them, and they love me.” Oh yes. And on his job “I’m the only one on my job.” I’ve been listening to that stuff all my life, and the generation that’s coming up, they’re not going to be saying that. The generation that’s coming up, everybody is going to look like an Uncle Tom to them. And you and I have to learn that in time, so that we don’t pose that image when our people, when our young generation come up and begin to look at us.

The masses of our people still have bad housing, bad schooling, and inferior jobs, jobs that don’t compensate with sufficient salary for them to carry on their life in this world. So that the problem for the masses has gone absolutely unsolved. The only ones for whom it has been solved are people like Whitney Young, who’s supposed to be placed in the cabinet, so the rumors say. He’ll be one of the first Black cabinet men. And that answers where he’s at. And others who have been given jobs — Carl Rowan, who was put over the USIA, who is very skillfully trying to make Africans think that the problem of Black men in this country is all solved.”

You know, the problem of the Black people in this country is still not solved. And therefore, you reside in our minds, brother, and your words reverberate.

Why Schaefer must be Schaefer?

Once again, let’s stop making the individual an issue. Let’s not become patrons of decency by crying foul at one old politician.

Maryland Comptroller 84-year old William Donald Schaefer did ogle at a 24-yr old female aide to Governor Ehrlich. He even called her back at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works Meeting and asked her to walk again in front of everyone so that he could watch her. And the entire country now is being fed with the video for endless times.

Going by the way the video is playing into the headlines of television channels, it appears that the whole of America is shocked. Clearly highlighting the moral standards of a capitalistic hypocritical fiber, Schaefer has become the safest bet. He is eliciting reactions like “what a shame!” to “how can this be?”

A channel like Fox has gone on exhibiting the video to public on the streets and telecasting their responses. No one is feeling any sense of déjà vu. The entire country is shown to be appalled. All the while, making Elizabeth Krum a familiar face for everyone, producing a mordant series of reproduction of the scene where a bunch of old white men are making lewd gesture in a public meeting that’s funded with money that we taxpayers pay every fortnight, the media are turning into a derisive leaf of being loath accomplice in the crime. The media say, “we are shocked beyond belief: Let’s watch it one more time”.

When I was watching this clip being discussed as the main headline everywhere in the country, even as the seasoned journalists were scratching their beards to wonder how did this happen, even as the seasoned legislators were saying it was most unfortunate, as the seasoned feminists were saying actions must be taken against Schaefer and the general beat of the moment was that his romance with the voters may now be over, I was wondering where is the news.

Just like the media being necrophilous is not something new, rich, powerful capitalists at higher seats of privilege transforming the alive into the unalive is no news. William Donald Schaefer, who is one of the most seasoned politicians in the national capital territory of Washington DC-Maryland-Virginia area has served in public office since 1955 including as a mayor, councilman and finally as Governor of Maryland. As twice elected to the office of Comptroller of the state, Schaefer has won peoples’ trust in this country in rejuvenated manner.

Despite being what he has been all the times. Indeed he was in news for his attitudes which are of supposedly bigger repercussions. In May 2004, after his interaction with a McDonald employee, he opined that the immigrants are liabilities. “I don’t want to adjust to another language. This is the United States. I think they ought to adjust to us.”

It is the same man who since years now has been ignorant of the federal privacy laws which prohibit an individual’s medical records. Being at the helm of affairs of fiscal sector, being in charge of collecting more than $13 billion dollars per year as state and local tax revenues, which also covers health sector, here is a man who has said people with HIV/AIDS are “bad people”. Two years back, at yet another Board of Public Works meeting he called for a public registry listing HIV-positive individuals! Schaefer said, “As far as I’m concerned, people who have AIDS are a danger. They’re a danger to spread AIDS. People should be able to know who has AIDS. It costs an awful lot of money to treat them.” And this reelected representative of our people gave us a slice of his wisdom: “They bring it on themselves, they don’t get it by sitting on the toilet seat. … A person who gives AIDS, who spreads AIDS, they’re bad people.”

Wow! Again, this should not surprise us. I mean, if there needed to have been an authentic demand for this man to withdraw, this need not be on the ground that he was ogling at a young female. He should have been culled with more serious charges.

We know that a system exists in our democracy that allows people like this to get away with anything they have to say. Come on, without any pretensions, we know the human rights issues in the US are in shambles. Domestic violences against women are on increase. Sensitivity towards the LGBT community is abysmal. Respect for women and concern for children can be reflected through the unabashed show of commodified women and violent video games. One that does not let women rule the country nor children to organize as communities.

The question is, do we have a system in place which can effectively challenge these? A system that can challenge the status quo. As to why since 1851, the year the comptroller’s office was founded, all of the comptrollers have been old white men? We know well that the people who control the finances are the most powerful. The question is why all of them have to be men.

The question is under the circumstances, what happens to the governor of the state? Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.’s aide was clearly harassed as we all noticed on the television screen. Will he bear responsibility and condemn Schaefer? Ha! Did he do it when Schaefer bad-mouthed immigrants who were not well versed with English? Well here is what Ehrlich said: “Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk, that some folks are teaching in our college campuses and other places, you run into a problem….There is no such thing as a multicultural society that can sustain itself, in my view, and I think history teaches us this lesson.”

Sure, his history teaches him different lessons! Publicly advocating supremacist societies which does not tolerate ethnic identities of diverse population, here is a governor, alright.

Baltimore Sun quotes Steven L. Kreseski, Ehrlich’s chief of staff, saying that the governor has spent time thinking about the concept as a congressman. ‘Ehrlich believes that different ethnic groups should embrace American values such as capitalism and the celebration of Thanksgiving.’

Sure, why is it that I am not surprised? How fast, how effortlessly we have moved from issues of Schaefer to issues concerning Ehrlich. Because the issues concern them similarly, because they share the common platform, power and agenda. This is the only truth. There is no news value in this. People deserve the kind of government they elect. And in a god-fearing America, this may be the fate and we are all destiny’s children.

There have been strong critics of the current comptroller. Just like there were critics of McCarthy. Just like there were critics of Clinton. Or there are today critics of Bush. The pressing issue however is not to recognize that there are some odd ones out there who we need to recognize as bad when they target “our own” people. Remember as long as McCarthy was blaming the Soviets for everything, he was a darling. After he harassed a few good men of America, he had to become a ghost. Remember that as long as Clinton was bombing Kosovo and killing civilians in the process, it was fine. When we got the moral yardstick of one white female, the world went upside down.

Regarding our current president, the lesser said the better. War on Iraq is a good thing, American troops dying is a bad thing. Not that President Bush ever said anything different from President Clinton.
It’s just that he has not yet found time from dealing with issues of same-sex marriages, right to abortions and mothers against war. And guess what, he has been reelected too! With all the moral stories and preachings of good over the evil, our good better than theirs, he better be.

Well meaning critics of the comptroller have opposed the way the media have projected Schaefer as acting like his own. Intellectuals have condemned (they said the same thing in 2004 too in this brilliant article) this boys-will-be-boys excuse. The mainline argument is that he has to pay for his attitude. No one wants to buy the cliché that ‘Schaefer will be Schaefer’. After all, we are supposed to be God’s Blessed Land. We are to be upholders of moral standards.

But guess what, I think clichés are words of wisdom at times. And yes, the boys will be boys. Especially, the rich capitalist powerful men will behave like rich capitalist powerful men. Because its not they who are at fault. It’s their system they have carefully structured that’s capable of retaining them no matter what and changing the headlines every flickering moment so that people forget the crimes in the annals of reality TV shows, standardized female bodies, and hopeless comedies of modern times.

Goal-setting for Indian Economy

India’s economy is now fully liberalized. With the retail market open to international competition, the economy that was once predominantly agrarian is now fully capitalistic.

I spoke to few fellow Indian bloggers over the past week and found out that the scene is so euphoric that there seems to be no need to challenge even the mainstream coverage of this issue. After all, the argument goes: more flow of capital eventually helps in more residue of capital.

According to the proponents of this school (which is as varied from purely libertarian school to overtly capitalistic), the rich not only get richer, even the poor get rich. The ‘rich’ poor now own television sets at most homes, and they understand well enough to distinguish the fine products from the rotten. So why deprive human beings from their right to choose? The arguments in favor of the blatant liberalization in India run from philosophical quarter (freedom from the angst) to social (right to aspire) and economic (privilege to own).

Freedom from angst:

I have been brooding over this for a long time now. Very ironically, the market was fully liberalized on January 26 of this year. This piece of news was announced on the 56th year commemoration day of India turning a Republic. The tone that accompanied it was significantly cheerful. Just like the day when former PM Vajpayee waved a victory sign to a surprised Indian people after declaring India as a Nuclear-state (whatever that is).

My well-meaning friends resist that comparison, because unlike the secretive nature of the N-test (when no one had an inkling of it, CIA claims it had no idea either), the liberal nature of Indian markets has been a welcome news in India since 1991, if not before. Some even wonder, what’s the news here? “Didn’t you anticipate this?”

Oh no, I at best, was not anticipating. At worst, was apprehensive. Because the people that Friedman writes about, or we talk about in the talk shows with celebrities are the people who are always visible on the radar screen of the active world audience. And this miniscule minority of India is represented as the public opinion makers.

The angst of the majority people in India are hardly accounted for. The way with which the farmers, the mill workers, the poor students, the unemployed youths, the debt-ridden ‘middle class’ (what a sardonically thing to celebrate this class every now and then), the blackmailed employees, the downtrodden women and children and the indigenous peoples perceive these hype around liberalized economy of their land is never projected in the media.

But the downside of the private economy that has been able to almost obliterate a governmental responsibility to tend to its people is never played on the channels. Where there was a right wing government in power, there used to be a disinvestment ministry selling off the public undertakings. With the advent of the centrist party, there is a prime minister who loves to flaunt how much he can sell off what remains of it.

Between these self-proclaimed intellectuals (Arun Shourie and Manmohan Singh), there is no scope for the views of the largest labor force. There is hardly any discussion about the angst of the 60% of the labor force which is working in the agriculture sector (only 17% are in industries, and 23% are in service sectors). The talk is about the growth rate of Indian economy (which basically means rich become richer), but there is hardly any talk about the budget deficit at 9% of GDP (which basically means the welfare sector for the poor receives the worst treatment)! There is always the talk about the software engineers and English speaking educated youths India has been churning year after year, but there is scarcely any projection of the innate disinterest of the majority to be technocratic and the loss of culturally rich languages due to sheer atrophy.

Freedom from the angst is definitely happening, but just as it suits the ruling elites of the country, it suits the serving elites quite well. And the comfortable conversation among this small group of people must not be misconstrued as beneficial to the people as a whole.

Right to aspire:

It is said that the aspirations of a country changes with its economy. Naturally so, because the goal-setting takes different shapes. For India and most third-world countries, the goal of most part of the 20th century was to free themselves from colonial rule. Upon hard-earned freedoms, the countries then formed alliances whereby mutual cooperation would bring the next desired results of the planned economies. Sectors were prioritized, peoples’ strengths were assessed and economies were developed at times to cater to unique potentials, and at times to reinforce the existing abilities. For example, there were cooperative societies formed to take stock of agrarian sectors dealing with poultry, milk, and varied crops. To allow vent of industrial potentials, adult education schemes, trade unions, and minimum wage standards were fixed.

At this point it is always crucial to recognize that unlike many European nations which thrived on colonizing different cultures, most Afro-Asian nations never went beyond their territories to commit the loots. This was so, not out of any predisposed prosperity of any country, as often projected by revisionists (some like PM Singh, say India was really a rich country before the invasions…obviously forgetting that only the royals were the rich lot, anyway..), but because the prevailing natural settings provided for all the needs to be met with. The people could sow and reap, could cultivate and exist, and were largely worshippers of nature for this very reason. Of course as an alibi to exploit the lands of the indigenous, European savages declared they had a burden to civilize these people and went on draining all the resources exploiting the native masses.

Fast-forward, and with revolutionary shifts in the ownership of world territories, and with the balance of power for the first time shifting in favor of the oppressed people (than the greedy monarchies or the ruling elites of political democracies) after the successful October Revolution of 1917, most countries aspired to be free from the shackles, of both the imperial rulers and their domestic lords.

In the countries where the agriculture workers led the revolution, the scenario brimmed with progressive plans for the sector of the underprivileged, the uneducated, the farmer-at-large. In the countries like India, where agriculture workers were not allowed to dominate the national scene of struggle, the plans were laid out in favor of the privileged, the educated, the engineer-at-large.

Hence no wonder, every educated family demanded its children to aspire to be educated further (not in the history of slavery, casteism, African peoples or French misadventures), and become doctors or engineers (not because, India has one of the worst industrial infrastructure and medical facility anywhere) so that they can make individual financial progresses (of course doctors and engineers are highest paid in the Indian class society, be they live in the country or abroad).

The levels of aspirations of elite Indians continued to be the same. They produced the elite engineers in the 60’s, and they became elite engineers in the 21st century. The students of humanities, of social sciences, fine arts and regional literature remained in need of constant assistance. If individuals have rights to realize their potentials, Indian youths had lost them since quite some time now. Frustrations, constant peer pressure and looming unemployment in every other sector had been forcing most youths to take up studies that required them to work for others, not to pursue their instincts. Now, they have been normalized into a sense of achievement. Only that they have lost their rights to aspire; it is only their occasion to despair.

Privilege to own:
The biggest myth of modern times is that there is such a thing called a Middle Class. So much so that there are bestsellers being written about the great Indian middle class etc. In every way that can suit the entry of multinational profiteers into a third world country, a sizeable population is being declared as middle class. This class is always seen with much applaud, as one which is the backbone of the economy, as one where people should be proud to be part of. This middle class is educated (sic!), well-informed (sic!) and going places (sic!).

Let’s deconstruct. Liberal economists point out that the middle class is the driving force behind a successful economy. Because they consume. In order to consume, they need to be informed. To get their information, they need to be educated.

Precisely! I could not agree more. In other words, there has indeed been a constant effort at creating a middle class, in India or elsewhere. This is very much needed for the multinational businesses flourish. Up until 50 years back, we knew that there was the class of rulers which were minority (landlords, kings, presidents), and there was the class of subjects (the rest of the people). The prime distinction between the two was the right to own. The former had the privilege to own (they owned palaces, lands and virgins). The latter was the dispossessed, always working hard on the land that was never their own!

Come the great equalizer, the proponents of market economy, the torchbearers of French freedom, of American capitalism, of individual liberty hallmarkers. They not only destroyed the feudal societies that came on the way of market competitions, but they also slowly killed the competitions themselves forming market monopolies. So we had giant supermarkets and retail chains, not confined to any specific lands. The first world flourished with such unadulterated exploitation of the market, clearly creating a consumer class whose only work was to buy things, because they had no resources left to challenge the elite producer class whose only work was to invest money to earn more capital. The European capitalism thus produced the largest class societies the world has ever witnessed. To succeed with this mission, they produced huge amount of propaganda materials, we know today as business management, marketing management, advertisement and public relations etc.

As happens with any propagandist move of necessary illusions, the torchbearers of the utopian dreams converted their political traits (of geographically annexing territories) to economic characteristics (doing business extra-territorially). But for that, the obvious obstacles were the large poor yet progressive people of the colonies who never got tired fighting the political elite class. The only way to win them over, then was to woo them over. For India, it started with declaration of Indian middle class people as the “smartest consumers”.

The reality, as opposed to the myth stated, is however slightly different. The much-touted middle class in India or anywhere else is a hoax. This class in question is actually very much part of the dispossessed class. Heavily into debts, much into speculations, far from their own lands with urbanizations, uneasily suffocated amidst uncertain jobs, chronically ill, nuclear families, living in shacks of filthy apartments and constantly feeding the insurance companies. The so-called middle class in the world is the biggest curse of the 20th century. The largest segmented population in the of this planet creates the biggest profit for the business houses and unfathomable loss for its own aspirations. That’s the class which is said to be privileged to own, where actually all it does is the unenviable task of falling into debts and several obligations to operate with. When the ruling minorities owned palaces, no one challenged them to show proof or credibility of purchase. But this class pays a property tax on everything it consumes. It pays for the competition it imagines to be fair. It pays for any endeavor it takes up, to earn basic standards of living with daily struggles that are unknown to the elites. It then is encouraged to compete with its neighbors and when the competition is saturated with both parties in debt, the monopolists take them over using their principles of fair competition.

Indeed, competition is a sardonic term. In the process of competition, the entities always let go of their own progress. The aim is to win the race, not to develop the self. Just as no race is ever equal, no self is similar. For example, India’s unique self demands that it builds itself, its political leaders recognize that the country’s development does not depend on foreign investment that produces large deficit budgets, but on domestic endeavors to plan the pace of its progress and work towards it alone (this may not be the same needs for another country today). To lose focus on this means to be subservient to interests of the global capitalists who know no country, no nationality, no people: they know only profits, at any costs.

Third world developing economies need not compete. They just need to cooperate with each other in delving deep into their own unique human resources and strengthen them. In the case under consideration, with optimal development of agriculture, there can be improvement of environment as well as growth of economy. It’s never too late to save the countries from ecological disasters. And it’s never too late to have economic growth at one’s own terms. It’s never too late to look back at history and learn a lesson or two, that colonies were once divided and ruled. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

Being fully liberalized is a truth. But this truth applies to the owning class. They are now free to operate in whichever way. Not to promote competition. Just like in the US, where only four big business houses killed thousands of media outlets and now own every means of mental production, in the republic of India, a handful of business houses have in the past killed all indigenous products and the accruing benefits to the locals. Needless to state, with the retail market open to multinationals, we shall soon see the demise of anything remotely associated with an independent economy.

My well-meaning friends have a last arsenal. It blasts: if market has helped many western economies, why can’t it help India? To that I have just one spontaneous response: Market matters in a country laid down by marketers (or even the black-marketers). Just like race matters in a racist society (and so we need demographics of races), and caste matters in a casteist society (to figure out why some castes in India are still downtrodden), market matters in a market society. For a country like India, where a huge majority of people are still working in the agricultural sector, the economy needs to be recognized as agrarian in nature and every step must be taken to benefit the farmers. Agriculture matters in an agrarian society. The sooner we realize this, the better it is.

Remembering Sahir Ludhianvi I

Sahir Ludhianvi (1922-1980) is the poet who was neither afraid of authority, nor afraid to be outspoken. Neither afraid of going to jail nor to voice against the prison system. Neither afraid of the momentary life, nor of the eternal death. His involvement in the Left politics in the pre-and post-independent India, in organizing the peoples’ theatres, in writing for the peasants, farmers and the factory workers should serve a reminder to the wordsmiths of the present day that there is indeed a tool to choose a side with. But that’s a side between the material and the mystical; between the working class and the owning class; to side with the profit-hungry or the wage-hungry.

To Sahir, just like to Robeson , and to Neruda there was nothing to debate about which side an artist must choose. The question is redundant. The artist cannot afford to establish bonds with the heaven and the promises of spiritualism. The artist must cry with the beloved oppressed peoples all over the world. The choice is clear, as Robeson said: “Every artist, every scientist must decide, now, where he stands. He has no alternative. There are no impartial observers. Through the destruction, in certain countries, of man’s literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of national and racial superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. This struggle invades the former cloistered halls of our universities and all her seats of learning. The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear. The artist elects to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice! I had no alternative!”

In the following attempt to translate a poem by Sahir, I have tried to remind ourselves of our desirable commitments, and a sheer lack of choice. We are not free to make a choice anymore in regards to who we need to lend our support to. As the world is increasingly growing individualistic in the euphoria around capitalistic utopia, we need to recollect our personal experiences in the shared human history of our age, that is stifled with pain, remorse and tears of the majority.

Rajaata pasanda hum, ke tarakqi pasanda hum maim
Isa bahasa ko fizula-o-abasa janata hum maim

Aina-e-havadisa-e-hasti haim mere saira
Jo dekhata raha hum voha kahata raha hum maim

Tarom ki anjumana se mujhe vasata nahim
Insaniyata pe aska bahata raha hum maim

Duniya ne tajurbata-o-havadisa ki sakala mem
Jo kucha mujhe diya hai voha lautata raha hum maim

(by Sahir Ludhianvi)

Am I conservative by outlook, or progressive by orientation
A non-issue this is, its redundancy to me is well known

My words like mirror, the reflections of myriad nature
What I witness is what I recite: sans color nor alter

I do not heed to the conscience of stars and the heaven
On my land of humanity, I have enough to shed tears on

All that I have to return to you, to give back in word
Is what I have gained from my experiences in this world..

(Trans. by Saswat Pattanayak)