Saturday, 29 March 2008

Nandigram and the Fight Against the War in Iraq

by Saroj Giri, Sanhati, December 2007

Is the war in Iraq essentially an ideological subterfuge to keep the capitalist machinery going or is it the capitalist machinery itself? Does limiting one’s struggle to opposing the US invasion of Iraq, and now maybe Iran, amount to the fight to bring down capitalism in the US or can it sometimes mean concentrating only on the symptom of war and letting the actual beast of capitalism survive and flourish? Thus it looks like there is a division between those struggling against the war in Iraq, the ‘global war on terror’, supposedly the real struggle worth its salt, and those struggling against not such highly visible and media-projected symptoms and manifestations of capitalism but fighting it at its very hidden-away but fundamental bases on which it stands, in the factory floor or plant site itself.

Nandigram, as a proposed plant site, stands for such a fight at the very bases of capital. Moreover if in this fight, those supposedly involved in the fight against the war in Iraq are found to be colluding with capitalism on the ground, then we are supposed to overlook this in the larger interests of keeping the left together and not splitting it. Thus when today the success of the struggle against the most capitalist of devices, the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), in India involves a struggle against its most vociferous proponent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), some anti-war activists see this as the weakening of the Left.

It looks like one way in which capitalism reproduces itself is by hierarchising the very struggles against it, according to where in the global order your fight is located. Fighting against the direct policies of the US, of the Bush administration is definitely a high-profile fight with its attendant media attention, with lot of symbolic capital etc. This is however not just a matter of physical location (being in the West, etc). This is a political question since it is in the interests of capital that those supposedly fighting it concentrate precisely on exposing what it has put up as a show, on a lie which it so knows can be easily exposed. There was of course a huge public relations campaign as a build-up to the invasion of Iraq. But the point of this was not to convince the ordinary US citizens and win their support for the war. The point is just the reverse: it was meant to turn attention away from the real war mobilization. Getting hooked on to the war of words, even for the purpose of exposing the lies about the war, while overlooking struggles like in Nandigram, can therefore succumb to the machinations of capitalism.

It is true that without the relentless activism and mobilization of anti-war activists those lies would have remained unexposed and unchallenged. However in exposing them, in proving them as lies, what has been exposed is what anyways was offered, through distracting PR campaigns, to be exposed as big flashpoints. Iraq now, earlier Afghanistan, even earlier, Vietnam, are not decisive battles on which the fate of capitalism depends. We can perhaps understand them as ideological nodal or flash-points that can help to coalesce and strengthen an already existing anti-capitalist struggle but cannot in itself be one in any effective way. And without such a struggle all the speeches, articles, expose etc against the war can, when they are really effective, at best be a public relations disaster for capitalism but nothing more than that: the war in Iraq goes on, in spite of the truth being out, in spite of open public screenings of Fahrenheit 9/11.

If high-profile imperialist actions, produce high-profile anti-imperialist publicity and campaigns, then over a period of time, it seems that this establishes a synergy between them so that now you have a global elite activist circle who are professionals at working in the ideological nodal/flash points of global capitalism. This anti-capitalist elite might then be almost so parasitic upon the barrage of points and counter-points, claims and refutations about the justifications offered for war that they might think that this is where capitalism’s fate is being decided: taking the symptom for the underlying structure, the ego for the id. Isn’t this a fait accompli for capitalism? Isnt this why we should oppose the recent statement by Chomsky, Tariq Ali and others as more than a lapse of judgment on their part?

The point is, you can take a million-people march against war and capitalism in London and not only will the war in Iraq still continue but you cannot, to sound trivial, shut down a single MacDonald joint anywhere in the city. There is a huge difference between airing out views against capitalism, exposing lies about the war in Iraq, proving that WMDs never existed, taking out ‘not in our name’ processions, and, say, actually forcing the management in even one factory to take back retrenched workers – in fact, not a difference but a huge, politically salient step from one to the other. Try the latter and you will see that capitalism is less democratic than what the possibility of demonstrating at Davos suggests. And this is where Nandigram stands out.

Nandigram today is a glowing example of actually stalling (so far) the penetration of capital which is unleashed in the vicious form of SEZs. It is, unlike the Iraq war, in no way a global ideological flash-point of capitalism. If there was no such resistance in Nandigram, perhaps we would never even have known of the existence of such a place. And if the CPIM had not carried out its misinformation campaign lot of comrades abroad would not have occasion to know about even this resistance. What was to happen there was part of routine capitalist business of land acquisition and displacement, setting up a plant, hiring workers as wage slaves, starting production, etc – all of this facilitated by the CPIM.

It is to be able to carry out such routine business as usual, without attracting any subversive attention that capitalism needs to mobilize people on the basis of nationalism, war, consumerism etc. It is not just that the so-called Al Qaida threat is used in order to justify the invasion of Iraq; rather the war in Iraq and the patriotism and nationalist feeling it fuels is used in order to perpetuate class collaboration, particularly to keep the lowers classes in the US in place – just so that something like what happened in Nandigram does not erupt. News does not so easily reach us here in India, about Nandigrams in the US – there must be some.

Without breaking the ideologico-political basis of class collaboration, of ruling class mobilization of the lower classes which provides the men and materials for the war, can you ever stop the war? In stalling the setting up of a capitalist enterprise, the resistance in Nandigram put a cog in the wheel of the global capitalist machine. Those who resisted, mostly from the lower classes, refused to collaborate with the representatives of capital (the Indian state, the CPIM and the Indonesian Salim group). The resistance therefore refused the collaboration which tomorrow would have formed the basis of war and today oils everyday capitalism.

The question of war or no war is one of truth and lies, of cover-ups and fabrications, only as a first instance but not beyond that, since it is not that mere getting to ‘know’ the truth and hence the falsity of the war will lead to massive opposition to war. The anti-war campaign can do well to revisit Marx’s critique of the Young Hegelians who “are opposing nothing but phrases to (these) phrases, and they are in no way combating the real existing world when they are combating solely the phrases of this world”. Throwing the bait of phrase-mongering in order to dissuade attention from the real theatre of war and capitalism, was what the rabid war-monger Dick Cheney famously displayed when he spun phrases referring to the known/unknown status of WMDs: known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. If for Cheney, WMDs were known unknowns, the response of anti-war activists cannot just be to say that they are unknown unknowns.

Wars under capitalism are part of unknown knowns, which Cheney forgot to mention: unknown (we do not know from before when, where exactly) but they are known (we know that they necessarily take place at some point). We do not therefore react only when the unknowns become known, that is when a war actually breaks out somewhere but we work with the knowns, that is, in the contradictions of everyday capitalism which always carries the possibility of a war. One such zone of ‘known’ capitalism is Nandigram and here the machine of capitalism was effectively blocked by the resistance (the government at least for the time being was forced to withdraw the proposed plant).

The war in Iraq, indeed any war fuelled by imperialism, can be stopped only by creating not just one, two but hundreds of Nandigrams. The resistance in Nandigram is aware that the fight is not just against that one SEZ coming up there, but is part of a larger fight against imperialism. One of the key organizations thrown up by the resistance in Nandigram is called the Matingini Mahila Samity (Matingini Women’s Committee). Matingini was a woman leader who fought there against the British imperialists. Defending their action of cutting off entry roads to the area during the recent resistance, their pamphlet of 21 Nov, 2007 declares that “earlier we did this in order to fight the British and today we are doing in order to fight imperialism”.

Ignoring the need to nip the capitalist machine wherever it sinks its teeth, not fighting the little-little battles on a day to day basis, outside legal channels, and instead focusing on exposing ‘global capitalism’, engaging in rhetorical denunciations and declarations, pointless media-savvy demonstrations sooner or later leads, in practice, to collaboration with capital, in so many veiled and not so veiled ways. This is, to be not so harsh, the story of the CPIM in India – which is basically New Labour of India. The illusion of New Labour, be it Indian or Western, being part of the Left should be quickly shed off lest we separate the fight against capitalist globalization and its colluders from the fight against the war in Iraq, in the name of keeping the Left united. The CPI(M) government in violently repressing the Nandigram resistance to neo-liberal globalization, is simply the henchman of capital: vanguardist shell, capitalist kernel, as perhaps Marx would have told us.