I had a conversation the other evening that made me happily feel as if I was listening to my first lecture on globalisation in the early 90s. Late into the night, the very erudite Ramesh Babu, the president of the Bank Employees Federation of India, talked about the need to return to the grand narratives of class struggles against capitalism and imperialism.
Quoting Prabhat Patnaik’s essay ‘Whatever Happened to Imperialism‘ he said the ‘I’ word has almost disappeared from Indian scholarship.
Ramesh uncle, from a classical Marxist tradition, challenged my arguments on how these narratives have coopted or ignored issues of faith, caste, gender, sexual minorities etc. One cannot be an exclusive environmentalist, he said, without considering the corporate imperialist forces that influence environmental issues. I voiced my disagreements, especially how the Left, in true statist fashion is killing emerging marginalized voices.
Nevertheless, he has a point. The trickledown effect of post colonial and subaltern studies, could have made it easy (thought i dont think its a bad thing) for India’s apolitical candle-light-vigil class to gather for short-term micro struggles that do not necessarily hurt salaries or guilt-trip. Because, in one way or the other, we have become big or petty beneficiaries of multinational capitalism. I think its like the way almost every Malayalee, cutting across religion, class and caste, has a certain affection for the Indian army because they have benefitted from the ‘Canteen’ through a neighbor or relative. The ‘Military Item’ has been a great leveller, network builder, and the father-in-law maintainer.
Corporate America/India therefore has become an undeniable part of us; very gently, root-canalling out the once painful concern for struggles which we proudly found comradeship with. This concern is today replaced by an emotional, dangerously commonsensical, guilt-free but short-lived camradrie with micro movements. Let me reiterate that I am thinking out loud from a position of struggles: we need to continue the fight agaisnt rape and our patriarchal mindset, the voices against nuclear power stations and big dams cannot die.
Yet, even when I angrily Facebook on the Delhi Rape, I find a certain comfort in capitalist projects, like in, not wanting to disrupt the familiarity I have with a Macbook. The college student in me who thought drinking Coke was shameful, today shares Coca Cola’s happiness campaign videos online. While continuing the critique of grand Marxist projects, being cautious of leftist coopting of small voices, and not necessarily worrying of CIA agents masquerading as umbrella repairmen, it is still possible to appreciate and be inspired by Red (with or without the sickle).