by Sumanta Banerjee. An EPW article republished in Sanhati
The official bibliography on causes of popular discontent in India and ways to tackle it has been expanding at as impressive a rate as discontent itself. Our government can boast of a staggering collection of statistical data, reports of investigations, research papers, recommendations, among other things, that by its sheer size can absolutely bowl over any archivist.
Amongst the major institutions, the Planning Commission can claim to be the most reliable repository of comprehensive information of such a nature – and also a helpless witness to the government’s unpardonable apathy to its important proposals for remedying the situation all these years. Further, the commission’s role has been reduced from the position of a steering to that of a merely indicative nature by the present generation of policymakers, who prefer to leave planning to the magnates of the market economy, instead of the state. Yet, the government’s need for hard statistical facts and figures, and understanding of what is happening at the ground level (apart from the feedback provided by its intelligence agencies), makes it dependent on the intellectual resources of the still extant Planning Commission.
It thus periodically sets up expert groups which review the state of poverty, collect, verify, and collate facts, arrange and then make deductions from them to prepare reports. As a result, we are lucky enough to get, at regular intervals, immense information that lay bare the grassroots reality – some confirming what we had always known, some revealing hitherto unknown, even worse, cases of atrocities on the poor. Along with such information, these reports also end up with the usual obligatory list of remedial measures – which may sound repetitive, but cannot be wished away since they had remained unimplemented all these years.
The latest exercise in this direction is the report of an expert group set up by the Planning Commission entitled Development Challenges in Extremist Affected Areas, dated March 2008.
It is an important document, which while meticulously arranging the latest facts and figures, rigorously examines the causes of the continuing economic exploitation and social discrimination in the adivasi and dalit-inhabited areas even after 60 years of independence. It is significant that this particular expert group was set up by the government in May 2006, in the background of increasing Naxalite activities in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa.
The group consisted of a variety of people ranging from veteran ex-bureaucrats (like D Bandyopadhya who chaired it, and is well known for his implementing the Operation Barga land reform measure in West Bengal, and S R Sankaran who heads the Hyderabad-based Committee of Concerned Citizens which had been trying to bring the Andhra Pradesh government and the Maoist rebels to the negotiating table) to retired police officers like Prakash Singh, ex-director general of police, Uttar Pradesh and Ajit Doval, former director of the Intelligence Bureau. From the other end of the spectrum, we have well known activists and academics like K Balagopal of the human rights movement and Sukhadeo Thorat, chairman of the University Grants Commission among others.
That a mixed bag of this nature, consisting of experts from different disciplines with differing opinions, could prepare a consensus report on several contentious issues and come up with a unanimously agreed set of recommendations, suggests that all is not lost.
Activists struggling for a change in the prevailing bleak socio-political situation, can make use of the report to educate the otherwise indifferent and passive middle classes about the basic issues of economic equity and social justice, which are fast disappearing in the urban public mind.
Dalits, Adivasis and Naxalites
Although the terms of reference did not specifically mention Naxalites (or Maoists), the group’s brief was to identify causes of unrest and discontent in areas affected by “widespread displacement, forest issues, insecure tenancies and others forms of exploitation like usury, land alienation and imperfect market conditions…”. Clearly, such areas fall in the above-mentioned five states – and significantly enough, the group organised field visits in these areas to observe the situation at first hand, on the basis of which it has come out with stark revelations that expose the culpability of the state in denying the poor their basic rights, the treachery of a corrupt bureaucracy to implement the laws, and its complicity with a trigger-happy police to suppress popular protest.
All these explain, as the report states in unambiguous terms, why the victims of such official crimes support the “extremists” – the term used for Maoists. Maintaining that “the main support for the Naxalite movement comes from dalits and adivasis”, the group concentrated on these two sections (termed as scheduled castes and scheduled tribes respectively in official parlance) which comprise about one-fourth of India’s population, the majority living in rural areas.
Apart from the high levels of poverty, the dalits suffer from various types of disadvantages like limited employment opportunities, political marginalisation, low education, social discrimination, and human rights violation. As for the adivasi population, besides remaining backward in all aspects of human development including education, health, nutrition, etc, they have been steadily losing their traditional tribal rights and command over resources. The report points out in this connection the administration’s failure to implement the protective regulations in scheduled areas, which has resulted in land alienation, forced eviction from land, dependence of the tribals on moneylenders – made worse often by “violence by the state functionaries”.
All these facts as described in the report may not come as a surprise to those who have followed the findings of earlier publications like the National Commission on scheduled castes and scheduled tribes; the government of India Report of the Expert Group on Prevention of Alienation of Tribal Land and Its Restoration (2004), as well as the various reports by civil rights groups. But the present report stands out from them in several respects. It explains the causes and success of the Naxalite movement in a particular territorial stretch by locating it in the macroeconomic scene today.
Incidentally, every dalit and adivasi poor in India have not joined the Naxalite movement. There are many states with pockets of high proportion of adivasis and dalits but little Naxalite influence, as in Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The report quite rightly points out that “poverty does create deprivation but other factors like denial of justice, human dignity, cause alienation resulting in the conviction that relief can be had outside the system by breaking the current order asunder”. It adds that for such a violent upheaval to happen, there is the likelihood of the “spread of awareness and consciousness”. And this is where, as the report suggests, the Maoists have played a significant role by stepping into the craters of dalit and adivasi deprivation in the five states, and organising the deprived for their rights.
Its authors situate the Naxalite movement in the historical context of the “development paradigm pursued since independence”, which they assert, has “aggravated the prevailing discontent among marginalised sections of society”. While explaining the current surge in Naxalite activities, they slam the neoliberal “directional shift in government policies towards modernisation and mechanisation, export orientation, diversification to produce for the market, withdrawal of various subsidy regimes and exposure to global trade” as “an important factor in hurting the poor in several ways”.
Following this conceptual approach, they look at the Maoist movement in a way that is different from the prevalent official attitude which primarily blames the Naxalites for the violence. Instead, the present report lays stress on the “structural violence which is implicit in the social and economic system” and which in the opinion of its authors prompts the radical groups to justify their own violent acts. At the same time, the authors distance themselves from the Naxalites, who “are engaged in a violent fight against the state for overpowering and overthrowing it”, and who, they feel “exploit the situation for their own political gain by giving the affected persons some semblance of relief or response. Thereby they tend to legitimise in the eyes of the masses their own legal or even illegal activities.” Yet, the authors of the report have to admit that the Naxalites have indeed carried out certain socio-economic reforms in their areas of control.
Naxalites as a Surrogate State
From the investigation carried out by the Planning Commission group of experts in the Naxalite areas, it appears that the Maoists are actually carrying out the reforms that the executive ought to have implemented, and are replacing the judiciary and the police in ensuring law and order for the poor and the oppressed. Take for instance their findings relating to land redistribution. In Bihar, the government had taken under its possession land which had been declared as beyond the ceiling that a landlord can own. The government, the report states, “has the power to distribute such land to the poor, but has failed to do so”. On the other hand, “the Naxalite movement has succeeded in helping the landless to occupy a substantial extent of government land whether for homesteads or for cultivation”.
Similarly, in the forest areas of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Orissa and Jharkhand, the Naxalites have led the adivasis to occupy forest lands that they should have enjoyed in the normal course of things under their traditionally recognised rights, but which were denied by government officials through forest settlement proceedings that have “taken place behind the back and over the head of the adivasi forest dwellers”. While the government remained indifferent to the need for paying minimum wages to the adivasi tendu leaf gatherers in Andhra Pradesh, the Naxalites by launching a movement have secured increases in the rate of payment for the picking. The practice of forced labour (‘begari’) in the same state, under which the toiling castes had to provide free labour to the upper castes – and which should have been abolished by the government under Articles 14 to 17 of the Constitution – was done away with due to a “major upsurge led by the Naxalites in the late 1970s and early 1980s of the last century…”. Commenting on the “peoples courts” set up by the Naxalites in their areas of control, the report observes that “disputes are resolved in a rough and ready manner, and generally in the interest of the weaker party”.
While drawing our attention to these positive effects of the Naxalite movement, the authors of the report also come out against the high level of violence that its cadres indulge in, and from a bourgeois democratic liberal viewpoint assert: “…no state could agree to a situation of seizure of power through violence when the Constitution provides for change of government through electoral process.”
But their findings also reveal how despite change of government, successive rulers who get elected use and misuse laws to suppress the poor and the disadvantaged. There is a design behind this continuity. The rulers, irrespective of party affiliations, are lackadaisical and sloppy in implementing pro-poor legal measures. But the moment the Maoists try to enforce those measures they are quick to use against them with extreme efficiency another set of laws – the draconian laws that have been enacted over the years (e g, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; Chhattisgarh Public Security Act; Andhra Pradesh (Suppression of Disturbances) Act, etc). As the authors of the report rightly observe, Naxalite attempts to redistribute land have been “defeated by the state’s determined opposition to letting lawless means succeed, even for the beneficial purpose of giving land to the landless”.
In order to put an end to this anomalous state of affairs where the law enforcement agencies breach the laws while the lawless “extremists” enforce them, the authors of the report have recommended among other things modifications to some laws (e g, the Land Acquisition Act), effective implementation of protective laws in favour of the dalits and adivasis, better coordination between different programmes (e g, Backward Region Grant Fund and National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme), and extension of panchayati raj to the scheduled areas.
Asserting that the Naxalite movement has to be “recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis”, they warn the government against resorting to “security-centric” measures like setting up vigilante groups such as Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh. Instead, they have called for “an ameliorative approach with emphasis on a negotiated solution”, and urged the government for a resumption of the peace talks with the Naxalites which was initiated in October 2004, but broke down in January 2005.
Their proposal should be welcomed by all. But the authors should have gone into the causes of the failure of the past talks. To recapitulate, the government of Andhra Pradesh sat with the then People’s War Group (now merged into Communist Party of India-Maoist) in October 2004, and agreed to a ceasefire till December 16 that year, and promised to consider in the meantime the Naxalites’ main demand for distribution of land among the landless. But when the then Congress government failed to keep that promise, the Naxalites stepped in to forcibly distribute the land. The government retaliated immediately by sending its police which gunned down Naxalite cadres in the forests of Warangal, West Godavari and other districts in January 2005. (Yet another example of the state’s abdication of responsibility for helping the landless, followed by its active intervention to oppose whenever the Naxalite try to carry out that responsibility.) At that time, the Naxalites came out with a public statement blaming the state police for violating the norms of the October truce, and withdrew from the talks.
Future of a Negotiated Settlement
Given this background, if there is to be another round of talks, both the Maoists and the Indian state have to be circumspect, balancing their respective long-term objectives with their immediate goals. The Maoists may have to shelve their maximalist aim of seizure of power for the time being, and negotiate with the state in the humanitarian interest of the thousands of poor and innocent families who have been caught in the crossfire between the police and the Naxalites.
As for the Indian state, let us be frank.
In quite a large swathe of inaccessible territory, the state’s writ does not run, and the Naxalites have been able to establish a parallel and alternative order that has largely benefited the poor – especially the dalits and adivasis (as acknowledged by the present report, despite reservations about their violent methods). In any future talks therefore, the state should recognise this reality and legitimise the positive Naxalite contribution to the implementation of the pro-poor laws – which the state had failed to carry out. In other words, the government should negotiate a settlement that allows the Naxalites to run their administration in their pockets of control – on the lines of the settlement arrived at with the Naga rebels of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) who have not given up their arms and run a parallel government in parts of Nagaland.
Referring to the Indian government’s conciliatory approach to such insurrectionary groups, the authors of the report raise the legitimate question: “Why a different approach to the Naxals?” “The answer”, as Bob Dylan sang, “ ‘is blowin’ in the wind”. continue reading
Saturday, 31 May 2008
by Sumanta Banerjee. An EPW article republished in Sanhati
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
Abahlali baseMjondolo Statement on the Xenophobic Attacks in Johannesburg
There is only one human race.
Our struggle and every real struggle is to put the human being at the centre of society, starting with the worst off.
An action can be illegal. A person cannot be illegal. A person is a person where ever they may find themselves.
If you live in a settlement you are from that settlement and you are a neighbour and a comrade in that settlement.
We condemn the attacks, the beatings, rape and murder, in Johannesburg on people born in other countries. We will fight left and right to ensure that this does not happen here in KwaZulu-Natal.
We have been warning for years that the anger of the poor can go in many directions. That warning, like our warnings about the rats and the fires and the lack of toilets, the human dumping grounds called relocation sites, the new concentration camps called transit camps and corrupt, cruel, violent and racist police, has gone unheeded.
Let us be clear. Neither poverty nor oppression justify one poor person turning on another. A poor man who turns on his wife or a poor family that turn on their neighbours must be opposed, stopped and brought to justice. But the reason why this happens in Alex and not Sandton is because people in Alex are suffering and scared for the future of their lives. They are living under the kind of stress that can damage a person. The perpetrators of these attacks must be held responsible but the people who have crowded the poor onto tiny bits of land, threatened their hold on that land with evictions and forced removals, treated them all like criminals, exploited them, repressed their struggles, pushed up the price of food and built too few houses, that are too small and too far away and then corruptly sold them must also be held responsible.
There are other truths that also need to be faced up to.
We need to be clear that the Department of Home Affairs does not treat refugees or migrants as human beings. Our members who were born in other countries tell us terrible stories about very long queues that lead only to more queues and then to disrespect, cruelty and corruption. They tell us terrible stories about police who demand bribes, tear up their papers, steal their money and send them to Lindela – a place that is even worse than a transit camp. A place that is not fit for a human being. We know that you can even be sent to Lindela if you were born in South Africa but you look ‘too dark’ to the police or you come from Giyani and so you don’t know the word for elbow in isiZulu.
We need to be clear that in every relocation all the people without ID books are left homeless. This affects some people born in South Africa but it mostly affects people born in other countries.
We need to be clear that many politicians, and the police and the media, talk about ‘illegal immigrants’ as if they are all criminals. We know the damage that this does and the pain that this causes. We are also spoken about as if we are all criminals when in fact we suffer the most from crime because we have no gates or guards to protect our homes.
We need to be clear about the role of the South African government and South African companies in other countries. We need to be clear about NEPAD. We all know what Anglo-American is doing in the Congo and what our government is doing in Zimbabwe. They must also be held responsible.
We all know that South Africans were welcomed in Zimbabwe and in Zambia, even as far away as England, when they were fleeing the oppression of apartheid. In our own movement we have people who were in exile. We must welcome those who are fleeing oppression now. This obligation is doubled by the fact that our government and big companies here are supporting oppression in other countries.
People say that people born in other countries are selling mandrax. Oppose mandrax and its sellers but don’t lie to yourself and say that people born in South African do not also sell mandrax or that our police do not take money from mandrax sellers. Fight for a police service that serves the people. Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies.
People say that people born in other countries are amagundane (rats, meaning scabs). Oppose amagundane but don’t lie to yourself and say that people born in South Africa are not also amagundane. People also say that people born in other countries are willing to work for very little money bringing everyone’s wages down. But we know that people are desperate and struggling to survive everywhere. Fight for strong unions that cover all sectors, even informal work. Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies.
People say that people born in other countries don’t stand up to struggle and always run away from the police. Oppose cowardice but don’t lie to yourself and say that people born in South Africa are not also cowards. Don’t lie to yourself and pretend that it is the same for someone born here and someone not born here to stand up to the corrupt, violent and racist police. Fight for ID books for your neighbours so that we can all stand together for the rights of the poor. Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies.
People say that people born in other countries are getting houses by corruption. Oppose corruption but don’t lie to yourself and say that people born in South Africa are not also buying houses from the councillors and officials in the housing department. Fight against corruption. Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies.
People say that people born in other countries are more successful in love because they don’t have to send money home to rural areas. Oppose a poverty so bad that it even strangles love. Live for a life outside of money by fighting for an income for everyone. Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies.
People say that there are too many sellers on the streets and that the ones from outside must go. We need to ask ourselves why only a few companies can own so many big shops, why the police harass and steal from street traders and why the traders are being driven out of the cities. The poor man cutting hair and the poor woman selling fruit are not our enemies. Don’t turn your suffering neighbours into enemies.
We all know that if this thing is not stopped a war against the Mozambicans will become a war against all the amaShangaan. A war against the Zimbabweans will become a war against the amaShona that will become a war against the amaVenda. Then people will be asking why the amaXhosa are in Durban, why the Chinese and Pakistanis are here. If this thing is not stopped what will happen to a place like Clare Estate where the people are amaXhosa, amaMpondo, amaZulu and abeSuthu; Indian and African; Muslim, Hindu and Christian; born in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawai, Pakistan, Namibia, the Congo and India?
Yesterday we heard that this thing started in Warwick and in the City centre. We heard that traders had their goods stolen and that people were being checked for their complexion, a man from Ntuzuma was stopped and assaulted or being ‘too black’. Tensions are high in the City centre. Last night people were running in the streets in Umbilo looking for ‘amakwerkwere’. People in the tall flats were shouting down to them saying ‘There are Congolese here, come up!” This thing has started in Durban. We don’t know what will happen tonight.
We will do everything that we can to make sure that it goes no further and that it does not come to the settlements. We have already decided on the following actions:
1. We will resuscitate our relations with the street traders’ organisations and meet to discuss this thing with them and stay in day to day contact with them.
2. We have made contact with refugee organisations and will stay in day to day contact with them. We will invite them to all our meetings and events.
3. We have made contact with senior police officers who we can trust, who are not corrupt and who wish to serve the people. They have given us their cell numbers and have promised to work with us to stop this thing immediately if it starts in Durban. We will ask all our people to watch for this thing and if it happens we’ll be able to contact the police that we can trust immediately. They have promised to come straight away.
4. We will put this threat on the agenda of all of our meetings and events.
5. We will discuss this in every branch and in every settlement in our movement.
6. We will discuss this with our allied movements like the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and the Landless People’s Movement so that we can develop a national strategy.
7. In the coming days our members are travelling to the Northern Cape, the North West, Johannesburg and Cape Town to meet shack dwellers struggling against forced removal, corruption and lack of services. In each of these meetings we will discuss this issue.
8. We are asking all radio stations to make space for us and others to discuss this issue.
9. In the past we have not put our members born in other countries to the front because we were scared that the police would send them to Lindela. From now on we will put our members born in other countries in the front, but not with their full names because we still cannot trust all the police.
10. If the need arises here we will ask all our members to defend and shelter their comrades from other countries.
We hear that the political analysts are saying that the poor must be educated about xenophobia. Always the solution is to ‘educate the poor’. When we get cholera we must be educated about washing our hands when in fact we need clear water. When we get burnt we must be educated about fire when in fact we need electricity. This is just a way of blaming the poor for our suffering. We want land and housing in the cities, we want to go to university, we want water and electricity – we don’t want to be educated to be good at surviving poverty on our own. The solution is not to educate the poor about xenophobia. The solution is to give the poor what they need to survive so that it becomes easier to be welcoming and generous. The solution is to stop the xenophobia at all levels of our society. Arrest the poor man who has become a murderer. But also arrest the corrupt policeman and the corrupt officials in Home Affairs. Close down Lindela and apologise for the suffering it has caused. Give papers to all the people sheltering in the police stations in Johannesburg.
It is time to ask serious questions about why it is that money and rich people can move freely around the world while everywhere the poor must confront razor wire, corrupt and violent police, queues and relocation or deportation. In South Africa some of us are moved out of the cities to rural human dumping grounds called relocation sites while others are moved all the way out of the country. Some of us are taken to transit camps and some of us are taken to Lindela. The destinations might be different but it is the same kind of oppression. Let us all educate ourselves on these questions so that we can all take action.
We want, with humility, to suggest that the people in Jo’burg move beyond making statements condemning these attacks. We suggest, with humility, that now that we are in this terrible crisis we need a living solidarity, a solidarity in action. It is time for each community and family to take in the refugees from this violence. They cannot be left in the police stations where they risk deportation. It is time for the church leaders and the political leaders and the trade union leaders to be with and live with the comrades born in other countries every day until this danger passes. Here in Durban our comrades stand with us when the Land Invasions Unit comes to evict us or the police come to beat us. Even the priests are beaten. Now we must all stand with our comrades when their neighbours come to attack them. If this happens in the settlements here in Durban this is what we must do and what we will do.
We make the following demands to the government of South Africa:
1. Close down Lindela today. Set the people free.
2. Announce, today, that there will be papers for every person sheltering in your police stations.
3. Ban the sale of land in the cities until all the people are housed.
4. Stop all evictions and forced removals immediately.
5. Do not build one more golf course estate until everyone has a house.
6. Support the people of Zimbabwe, not an oppressive government that destroys the homes of the poor and uses rape and torture to control opposition.
7. Arrest all corrupt people working in the police and Home Affairs.
8. Announce, today, a summit between all refugee organisations and the police and Home Affairs to plan how they can be changed radically so that they begin to serve all the people living in South Africa.
For further information or comment please contact:
S’bu Zikode: 0835470474
Zodwa Nsibande: 0828302707
Mnikelo Ndabankulu: 0797450653
Mashumi Figlan: 0795843995
Senzo (surname not given, he has no papers): 031 2691822 continue reading
by Giorgio Agamben, translated by Michael Rocke.
European Graduate School
1. In 1943, in a small jewish periodical, The Menorah Journal, Hannah Arendt published an article titled "We Refugees." In this brief but important essay, after sketching a polemical portrait of Mr. Cohn, the assimilated Jew who had been 150 percent German, 150 percent Viennese, and 150 percent French but finally realizes bitterly that "on ne parvient pas deux fois," Arendt overturns the condition of refugee and person without a country - in which she herself was living - in order to propose this condition as the paradigm of a new historical consciousness. The refugee who has lost all rights, yet stops wanting to be assimilated at any cost to a new national identity so as to contemplate his condition lucidly, receives, in exchange for certain unpopularity, an inestimable advantage: "For him history is no longer a closed book, and politics ceases to be the privilege of the Gentiles. He knows that the banishment of the Jewish people in Europe was followed immediately by that of the majority of the European peoples. Refugees expelled from one country to the next represent the avant-garde of their people."
It is worth reflecting on the sense of this analysis, which today, precisely fifty years later, has not lost any of its currency. Not only does the problem arise with the same urgency, both in Europe and elsewhere, but also, in the context of the inexorable decline of the nation-state and the general corrosion of traditional legal-political categories, the refugee is perhaps the only imaginable figure of the people in our day. At least until the process of the dissolution of the nation-state and its sovereignty has come to an end, the refugee is the sole category in which it is possible today to perceive the forms and limits of a political community to come. Indeed, it may be that if we want to be equal to the absolutely novel tasks that face us, we will have to abandon without misgivings the basic concepts in which we have represented political subjects up to now (man and citizen with their rights, but also the sovereign people, the worker, etc.) and to reconstruct our political philosophy beginning with this unique figure.
2. The first appearance of refugees as a mass phenomenon occurred at the end of World War I, when the collapse of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, and the new order created by the peace treaties, profoundly upset the demographic and territorial structure of Central and Eastern Europe. In just a short time, a million and a half White Russians, seven hundred thousand Armenians, five hundred thousand Bulgarians, a million Greeks, and hundreds of thousands of Germans, Hungarians, and Romanians left their countries and moved elsewhere. To these masses in motion should be added the explosive situation determined by the fact that in the new states created by the peace treaties on the model of the nation-state (for example, in Yugoslavia and in Czechoslovakia), some 30 percent of the populations comprised minorities that had to be protected through a series of international treaties (the so-called Minority Treaties), which very often remained a dead letter. A few years later, the racial laws in Germany and the Civil War in Spain disseminated a new and substantial contingent of refugees throughout Europe.
We are accustomed to distinguishing between stateless persons and refugees, but this distinction, now as then, is not as simple as it might at first glance appear. From the beginning, many refugees who technically were not stateless preferred to become so rather than to return to their homeland (this is the case of Polish and Romanian Jews who were in France or Germany at the end of the war, or today of victims of political persecution as well as of those for whom returning to their homeland would mean the impossibility of survival). On the other hand, the Russian, Armenian and Hungarian refugees were promptly denationalized by the new Soviet or Turkish governments, etc. It is important to note that starting with the period of World War I, many European states began to introduce laws which permitted their own citizens to be denaturalized and denationalized. The first was France, in 1915, with regard to naturalized citizens of "enemy" origins; in 1922 the example was followed by Belgium, which revoked the naturalization of citizens who had committed "anti-national" acts during the war; in 1926 the Fascist regime in Italy passed a similar law concerning citizens who had shown themselves to be "unworthy of Italian citizenship"; in 1933 it was Austria's turn, and so forth, until in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws divided German citizens into full citizens and citizens without political rights. These laws - and the mass statelessness that resulted - mark a decisive turning point in the life of the modern nation-state and its definitive emancipation from the naive notions of "people" and "citizen."
This is not the place to review the history of the various international commissions through which the states, the League of Nations, and later, the United Nations stempted to deal with the problem of refugees - from the Nansen Bureau for Russian and Armenian refugees (1921), to the High Commission for Refugees from Germany (1936), the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees (1938), and the International Refugee Organization of the United Nations (1946), up to the present High Commission for Refugees (1951) - whose activity, according to its statute, has only a "humanitarian and social," not political, character. The basic point is that every time refugees no longer represent individual cases but rather a mass phenomenon (as happened between the two wars, and has happened again now), both these organizations and the single states have proven, despite the solemn evocations of the inalienable rights of man, to be absolutely incapable not only of resolving the problem but also simply of dealing with it adequately. In this way the entire ques- tion was transferred into the hands of the police and of humanitarian organizations.
3. The reasons for this impotence lie not only in the selfishness and blindness of bureaucratic machines, but in the basic notions themselves that regulate the inscription of the native (that is, of life) in the legal order of the nation-state. Hannah Arendt titled chapter 5 of her book Imperialism, dedicated to the problem of refugees, "The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man." This formulation - which inextricably links the fates of the rights of man and the modern national state, such that the end of the latter necessarily implies the obsolescence of the former - should be taken seriously. The paradox here is that precisely the figure that should have incarnated the rights of man par excellence, the refugee, constitutes instead the radical crisis of this concept. "The concept of the Rights of man," Arendt writes, "based on the supposed existence of a human being as such, collapsed in ruins as soon as those who professed it found themselves for the first time before men who had truly lost every other specific quality and connection except for the mere fact of being humans." In the nation-state system, the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man prove to be completely unprotected at the very moment it is no longer possible to characterize them as rights of the citizens of a state. This is implicit, if one thinks about it, in the ambiguity of the very title of the Declaration of 1789, Declaration des droits de I'homme et du citoyen, in which it is unclear whether the two terms name two realities, or whether instead they form a hendiadys, in which the second term is, in reality, already contained in the first.
That there is no autonomous space within the political order of the nation-state for something like the pure man in himself is evident at least in the fact that, even in the best of cases, the status of the refugee is always considered a temporary condition that should lead either to naturalization or to repatriation. A permanent status of man in himself is inconceivable for the law of the nation-state.
4. It is time to stop looking at the Declarations of Rights from 1789 to the present as if they were proclamations of eternal, metajuridical values that bind legislators to respect them, and to consider them instead according to their real function in the modern state. In fact, the Rights of Man represent above all the original figure of the inscription of bare natural life in the legal-political order of the nation-state. That bare life (the human creature) which in the ancien regime belonged to God, and in the classical world was clearly distinct (as zoe) from political life (bios), now takes center stage in the state's concerns and becomes, so to speak, its terrestrial foundation. Nation-state means a state that makes nativity or birth (that is, of the bare human life) the foundation of its own sovereignty. This is the (not even very obscure) sense of the first three articles of the Declaration of 1789: only because it wrote the native element into the core of any political association (arts. 1 and 2) could it firmly tie (in art. 3) the principle of sovereignty to the nation (in accordance with its etymon, natio originally meant simply "birth"). The fiction implicit here is that birth immediately becomes nation, such that there can be no distinction between the two moments. Rights, that is, are attributable to man only in the degree to which he is the immediately vanishing presupposition (indeed, he must never appear simply as man) of the citizen.
5. If in the system of the nation-state the refugee represents such a disquieting element, it is above all because by breaking up the identity between man and citizen, between nativity and nationality, the refugee throws into crisis the original fiction of sovereignty. Single exceptions to this principle have always existed, of course; the novelty of our era, which threatens the very foundations of the nation-state, is that growing portions of humanity can no longer be represented within it. For this reason - that is, inasmuch as the refugee unhinges the old trinity of state/nation/territory - this apparently marginal figure deserves rather to be considered the central figure of our political history. It would be well not to forget that the first camps in Europe were built as places to control refugees, and that the progression - internment camps, concentration camps, extermination camps - represents a perfectly real filiation. One of the few rules the Nazis faithfully observed in the course of the "final solution" was that only after the Jews and gypsies were completely denationalized (even of that second-class citizenship that belonged to them after the Nuremberg laws) could they be sent to the extermination camps. When the rights of man are no longer the rights of the citizen, then he is truly sacred, in the sense that this term had in archaic Roman law: destined to die.
6. It is necessary resolutely to separate the concept of the refugee from that of the "Rights of man," and to cease considering the right of asylum (which in any case is being drastically restricted in the legislation of the European states) as the conceptual category in which the phenomenon should be impressed (a glance at the recent Test sul diritto d'asilo by A. Heller shows that today this can lead only to nauseating confusion). The refugee should be considered for what he is, that is, nothing less than a border concept that radically calls into question the principles of the nation-state and, at the same time, helps clear the field for a no-longer-delayable renewal of categories. In the meantime, the phenomenon of so-called illegal immigration into the countries of the European Community has assumed (and will increasingly assume in coming years, with a foreseen 20 million immigrants from the countries of central Europe) features and proportions such as to fully justify this revolution in perspective. What the industrialized states are faced with today is a permanently resident mass of noncitizens, who neither can be nor want to be naturalized or repatriated. Often these noncitizens have a nationality of origin, but inasmuch as they prefer not to make use of their state's protection they are, like refugees, "stateless de facto" For these noncitizen residents, T. Hammar created the neologism denizens, which has the merit of showing that the concept citizen is no longer adequate to describe the sociopolitical reality of modern states. On the other hand, citizens of the advanced industrialized states (both in the United States and in Europe) manifest, by their growing desertion of the codified instances of political participation, an evident tendency to transform themselves into denizens, into conformity with the well-known principle that substantial assimilation in the presence of formal differences exasperates hatred and intolerance, xenophobic reactions and defensive mobilizations will increase.
7. Before the extermination camps are reopened in Europe (which is already starting to happen), nation-states must find the courage to call into question the very principle of the inscription of nativity and the trinity of state/nation/territory which is based on it. It is sufficient here to suggest one possible direction. As is well known, one of the options considered for the problem of Jerusalem is that it become the capital, contemporaneously and without territorial divisions, of two different states. The paradoxical condition of reciprocal extraterritoriality (or, better, aterritoriality) that this would imply could be generalized as a model of new international relations. Instead of two national states separated by uncertain and threatening boundaries, one could imagine two political communities dwelling in the same region and in exodus one into the other, divided from each other by a series of reciprocal extraterritorialities, in which the guiding concept would no longer be the ius of the citizen, but rather the refugium of the individual. In a similar sense, we could look to Europe not as an impossible "Europe of nations," whose catastrophic results can already be perceived in the short term, but as an aterritorial or extraterritorial space in which all the residents of the European states (citizens and noncitizens) would be in a position of exodus or refuge, and the status of European would mean the citizen's being-in-exodus (obviously also immobile). The European space would thus represent an unbridgeable gap between birth and nation, in which the old concept of people (which, as is well known, is always a minority) could again find a political sense by decisively opposing the concept of nation (which until now has unduly usurped it).
This space would not coincide with any homogeneous national territory, nor with their topographical sum, but would act on these territories, making holes in them and dividing them topologically like in a Leiden jar or in a Moebius strip, where exterior and interior are indeterminate. In this new space, the European cities, entering into a relationship of reciprocal extraterritoriality, would rediscover their ancient vocation as cities of the world. Today, in a sort of no-man's-land between Lebanon and Israel, there are four hundred and twenty-five Palestinians who were expelled by the state of Israel. According to Hannah Arendt's suggestion, these men constitute "the avant-garde of their people." But this does not necessarily or only mean that they might form the original nucleus of a future national state, which would probably resolve the Palestinian problem just as inadequately as Israel has resolved the Jewish question. Rather, the no-man's-land where they have found refuge has retroacted on the territory of the state of Israel, making holes in it and altering it in such a way that the image of that snow-covered hill has become more an internal part of that territory than any other region of Heretz Israel. It is only in a land where the spaces of states will have been perforated and topologically deformed, and the citizen will have learned to acknowledge the refugee that he himself is, that man's political survival today is imaginable. continue reading
Sunday, 18 May 2008
by the Sramik Sangram Committee, published in Sanhati 18 May 2008
A fugitive criminal is ruling roost in Nandigram, directing a huge armed force of party cadres. A police officer waves and gives a beaming smile to the criminal while passing by in his jeep — a picture familiar in today’s ‘peaceful’ Nandigram. A group of socially established intellectuals were prohibited from proceeding towards Nandigram on the basis of Government’s directive a day before the Panchayat polls. If this is the treatment meted out to the people belonging to the higher ranks of social hierarchy, one can easily imagine the tremendous threatening, intimidating and terrorized situation in which the toiling masses of Nandigram are striving to live. You have to work for CPIM, participate in their party processions and if you defy, you will be confined in your home with broken limbs. If one dares to raise a voice of protest, houses will be set to fire, the protesting people will simply ‘disappear’.
There seems to be no other way with both the police and the administration not merely being silent observers but party to this mayhem organized by CPIM. The women are pleading desperately to the central army and the CRPF officers for protection. What a picture of Nandigram are we witnessing! Today’s Nandigram is indeed terrorized by the nexus of CPIM, police and administration. What we witnessed during the Panchayat elections is just a continuation of the terror unleashed since last November. Even the CRPF officers have not been spared from the threats by CPIM leaders. The continuous description of terror, beatings, violence, rapes .…wails, screams and groans — is this the only picture that characterize Nandigram?
No, the above picture is just one aspect of Nandigram. Nandigram signifies protests; it signifies spontaneous resistance by the peasantry. Nandigram stands as a symbol of resistive struggle against the attack of the ruling class. One has to remember that Nandigram is not merely represented by the incident of 14th of March, 2007. The real Nandigram revealed itself when a small procession of 40-50 people with a martyr’s dead body turned spontaneously into a 40-45 thousand odd peoples’ spontaneous protest rally on the 16th of March that drove out the perpetrators of violence, the party vandals from Sonachura and gained control over the village. The CPIM thugs who are on the carnage today had to flee to save themselves; the police were forced to escape and take shelter in the confines of school premises. The government was forced to bow down in the wake of this united resistance by thousands of land labourers and peasants. Where has that Nandigram disappeared?
Has that Nandigram been completely vanquished by the terror of CPIM? No, Nandigram is struggle and resistance personified — it can never die. The struggle continues to live within the fighting people, amidst the workers, peasants and toiling masses. Yet a question looms — why did such a situation evolve?
It has to be understood that the fighting mass of Nandigram failed to retain their power of united resistance within their control. The struggling people started losing their power and ability out of their own volition, from the moment they started submitting themselves in the hands of the parties. Perhaps they were under the illusion that it would be possible to re-exert themselves through the power of the parties in the forthcoming Panchayat elections. This marks the reason for their failure, the reason for backtracking — not exposed earlier but has become clear in this phase of ongoing bloody violence. However, this is not the end, this cannot be the end. People of Nandigram will definitely take lessons from history to revive and restore their unity and struggle.
Friends, CPIM has compelled us to chose between parties — either you are on ‘our’ side or ‘theirs’ which simply means that either you belong to CPIM or to the Trinamul. Are we such powerless, inanimate pawns in the hands of the stinking representatives of the ruling class? No, not at all. CPIM, Trinamul, Congress and the various other horses of the same stable do not represent West Bengal. Within this
West Bengal an embryo of a new West Bengal, a new India is gradually emerging from the struggle of the workers, peasants and the toiling masses. A West Bengal of workers and peasants is burgeoning from the fights that are striving to establish an
independent and autonomous struggle and organisation by completely detaching from the clutches of the established old parties. The ruling class and CPIM are scared of this spontaneous resistance by the workers and peasants and that is why they are determined to bulldoze these struggles. This explains the continued violence in Nandigram.
Raise your voice of protest against the terror unleashed by the CPIM in connivance with the police and administration. However, it is just not enough to protest against the terror, murders, rapes and inhuman torture. One has to stand for the new socio-political awakening, extend active support towards the emerging struggle and organization of workers and peasants. You will have to be an architect in building your own organization, in your factories or farmlands. Gather strength to fight against each and every onslaught of the ruling class; build up the power to resist. And this is how you can give a fitting reply to the onslaught of violence in Nandigram.
Sramik Sangram Committee continue reading
Monday, 12 May 2008
by Mabogo Percy More
We the living shoulder the historical responsibility of ensuring that the deeds and words of the dead should not fade into oblivion unnoticed. Since the dead (ancestors) will always be there, confronting us directly or far off on the horizons of our being, our duty requires that we accept this responsibility with a clear consciousness. The death of Aimé Césaire - the Martiniquean poet, politician and revolutionary - last week calls on us to carry out the responsibility that we owe the dead.
That Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness exponents were influenced by the Black Power Movement of the Unites States of American comprising of luminous figures such as Kwame Toure (aka Stockely Carmichael) Elridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, James Cone, Huey Percy Newton, Bobby Seale, etc., is a fact. However, what is normally ignored is that comparative to the African-American influence was another equally strong influence from the Caribbean Islands, Martinique, to be precise.
From this Island two figures stand out: Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon. I mention Césaire first not because he was Fanon’s teacher and mentor and therefore older, but because he, together with Léopold Sedar Senghor who later became the President of Senegal, and Léon Gontran Damas from Guyana, through the Negritude Movement they formed as students in Paris during the early 1930s, were probably the foundational figures and sources of Black Consciousness philosophy and ideology in our country and elsewhere.
Having coined the word “Negritude”, Césaire explained that the movement was not only a resistance to the French politics of assimilation, the attempt to turn a black person into a French with a black skin but more importantly a response to the alienating situation of being-black-in-a-white–antiblack-world
In Césaire’s understanding, therefore, Negritude was not only negatively an intellectual reaction to an alienated black consciousness, a struggle against white racism and its degrading effects but was above all also positively an affirmation of the being of the black person.
Negritude, in his definition, was “a concrete rather than an abstract coming to consciousness” of black people who lived in an atmosphere of rejection and developed not only an inferiority complex but were also ashamed of their blackness. This coming into concrete consciousness in an antiblack world generated one of the most persistent questions among black people: “Who am I”. Half devil or half child as Rudyard Kipling maintained?
What this actually means is that the question of identity becomes a pressing one in an antiblack social context. Thus Negritude also became, fundamentally, a preoccupation with questions of identity and liberation through self consciousness and self-definition. Césaire explained this issue of identity this way: “I have always thought that the black man was searching for his identity. And it has seemed to me that if what we want is to establish this identity, then we must have a concrete consciousness of what we are – that is, of the fact of our lives; that we are black, that we were black and have a history”
In Césaire’s view, racism can neither be transcended by liberal notions of the mere equality of humanity nor by reduction to class consciousness, what is a precondition, however, for any overcoming of racism is the coming to concrete consciousness by Black people.
While Senghor’s Negritude was Africa-centered and much more oriented towards cultural consciousness and a metaphysical element that concentrated on the ontology of the being of the African, Césaire’s Negritude was, by contrast much more existentialist and thus focussed on the consciousness of black people in the context of colonial and racist situations. For him, Negritude was more of a mode of being-black-in-the-world, a consciousness of colour, race and history. In other words, Césaire’s posed the question of black existence through the lens of Negritude.
When asked how the word “Negritude” came about and about their struggle against racism, alienation and dehumanization when they were students in France, Césaire articulated a philosophy whose origins and content reads as if it were a narrative about the origins of SASO and Black Consciousness in Azania three to four decades later: “It was an elementary semantic step; we simply transformed the French adjective for Black… négre, into a noun by adding a suffix, -itude. We adopted the word `négre’ as a term of defiance. It was a defiant name. To some extent it was a reaction of enraged youth. Since there was shame about the word négre, we chose the word négre … we found a violent affirmation in the words négre and négritude.”
The reappropriation of the term black (negro) from its negative connotation to a positive one was articulated in Césaire’s famous epic poem, Return to my Native Land. Damas, a less known third member of the three founders of Negritude, in explaining why the term “Negritude” was coined, echoes Césaire: “The word ‘negritude’…had a very precise meaning in the years 1934-35, namely the fact that the black man was seeking to know himself, that he wanted to become a historical actor and a cultural actor, and not just an object of domination or a consumer of culture… The word ‘negritude’ was coined in the most racism moment of history, and we accepted the word négre as a challenge”
These descriptions of the origin of Negritude as initially a student movement against racism and its effects of alienation, inferiority complex, identity problems, degradation, and unfreedom, together with students’ publications such as La Revue du monde noir (the Review of Black People), Légitime Défense (legitimate Defense), and L’Etudiant noir (The Black Student) bear unmistakably a striking resemblance to the origins and philosophical and ideological orientation of the Black Consciousness movement qua South African Student Organization (SASO) and its various journals such as SASO Newsletter, and Black Viewpoint.
Even though Fanon’s ideas exercised a tremendous influence on the direction and philosophical underpinning of Biko and the Black Consciousness movement, they however gave philosophical substance and content to what Césaire and the Negritude movement had already imparted. Fanon himself later said about Césaire : “ For the fist time a lycée teacher – a man therefore, who was apparently worthy of respect – was seen to announce quite simply to West Indian society ‘that it is fine to and good to be a Negro’” .
Indeed the major lessons Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement acquired from Césaire and Negritude was that a Negritudist has to perform certain functions: First, he or she must educate his or her fellow blacks (conscientize). Second serve as the spokes person of black people, be their voice and never allow white liberals and white leftists to speak on their behalf. Finally, the Negritudist must free black people psychologically and politically.
Césaire’s significance to the thinking of Biko and the Black Consciousness movement, was not only the appropriation of a negative term and its transformation into a positive signification, but also the role he played as a teacher and inspiration to Frantz Fanon and Biko. The latter in his I Write What I Like, for example, invokes the name of Césaire more than three times as an explanatory model for understanding Black Consciousness. Césaire, as Fanon correctly points out, was indeed a man “worthy of respect”!.
We the followers of Césaire in this country are grieving over this man “worthy of respect” who was, so to speak, the unshakable affirmation of black personhood. Someone just dead remains alive. I believe that Césaire still is because it is difficult to say he was. He retains, at the beginning of his absence, a towering presence. The ambiguity of presence in an absence characterizes the death of people who have made an indelible mark in the lives of others. continue reading
by Luka Arsenjuk, Eurozine, 1 March 2007
Jacques Rancière opposes a type of politics that makes decisions on the people, for the people, instead of the people; a politics that holds that in the political order, all sections of the community have been assigned their proper place. "Politics [...] is that activity which turns on equality as its principle", and begins when inequality is challenged. But if the political subject is a subject of a wrong, and politics exists only through the subjectivization of that wrong, how can we avoid a victimological identification of the political subject?
In order to situate Jacques Rancière's thought, which moves within the intersections of philosophy, politics and aesthetics, let us rely on his own words. In an interview with Davide Panagia, Rancière describes his break from the work within the circle around Louis Althusser (Rancière was one of the co-authors of the famous Lire le Capital in 1965) in terms of a shift away from a hermeneutic reading of texts towards a more affirmative view of language. Especially since the events of 1968, Rancière moved away from a critique based on the Sausseurian distinction between la langue and la parole, a distinction between the underlying (unconscious) structures and the cultural, social, political and other texts that are determined by those structures. He has distanced himself from this kind of reading based on suspicion towards an approach that is more affirmative of the surface itself. The surface no longer hides, but becomes a scene on which the creativity and effectiveness of language games and speech acts are demonstrated. Speech acts are thus no longer understood as ideological artefacts or the superstructural effects of some "absent cause", but precisely as acts, as political gestures in themselves, capable of reconfiguring the situation in which they are enunciated.
Rancière based this poetical account of language and speech (poetical in the sense of creation, formation, making happen) on a rereading of Plato's critique of writing (in Phaedro). The written word – the "orphan word" Plato calls it – is always a supplementary element in relation to the communal order. It can liberate itself from a situation in which the roles of the proper addresser and the addressee, as well as the limits of what is sayable, are strictly determined. The written word can be appropriated by anyone. Unlike the individual utterance of the spoken word which is tied to "the logic of the proper", the written word, unexpected and inexhaustible, presents a certain "wandering excess" in relation to the world of carefully distributed roles, tasks and the speech that is understood as properly belonging to the individuals and groups that are seen as performing these roles and tasks within the communal order. This excess of words over the existing distribution of the common that establishes the communal order represents the egalitarian power of language – which Rancière calls literarity – the ability to disturb the existing circuits of words, meanings and places of enunciation. "Humans are political animals," Rancière says, "for two reasons: first, because we have the power to put into circulation more words, "useless" and unnecessary words, words that exceed the function of rigid designation; secondly, because this fundamental ability to proliferate words is unceasingly contested by those who claim to 'speak correctly'."
We can already note that, in Rancière's work, there is a connection between equality, the excessive/supplementary element (in this case the "'useless' and unnecessary words", the literariness of language), and the existence of politics. If we first turn to equality, we find at the beginning of Rancière's great book, Disagreement, the following statement: "politics [...] is that activity which turns on equality as its principle." In order to get a clearer picture of what this seemingly simple statement means, what kind of understanding of politics it sets into place, we must ask ourselves at least two related questions: What kind of equality is Rancière talking about? What is the relationship between politics and equality as the principle of politics?
Equality, which is axiomatically affirmed by Rancière, is the equality of people qua speaking beings. It is an an-archic equality in the sense that it exists through the inability of any political order to count the communal parts and to distribute the shares of the common between them under the harmonious geometrical governance of some arkhe (the principle of Justice, of the Good) without there being a fundamental wrong [le tort] done; a miscount, which is then where the politics begins. It is the "equality of everyone with anyone" which, irreducible to any political order and therefore never instituted as such, has its existence only in the existence of a wrong and through the processing of this wrong, which constitutes politics. It is an equality which presents itself only through a declaration of a wrong committed by the count of community parts – it is thus, an equality which exists through what denies it. However, every declaration of a wrong is possible only if the equality of people is axiomatically assumed.
The existence of a fundamental wrong, a miscount in the count of community parts, is what is scandalous for political philosophy, critiqued heavily by Rancière, whose project since Plato has been to find the proper principle, the arkhe, of politics and thereby deny the existence of this wrong. The existence of a wrong "presents philosophy with the effect of another kind of equality, one that suspends simple arithmetic without setting up any kind of geometry. This equality is simply the equality of anyone with anyone else: in other words, in the final analysis, the absence of arkhe, the sheer contingency of any social order." It is this contingency that the existence of politics makes manifest, says Rancière, and that political philosophy has always sought to domesticate and placate by suturing politics to a certain (extra-political) principle. This takes three forms: archi-politics (Plato; the attempt to tie politics to a communitarian rule, i.e. to subsume politics under the logic of a strict and closed distribution of parts, a social space which is homogenously structured and thus leaves no space for politics to emerge); para-politics (Aristotle; the attempt to reduce political antagonism to mere competition, negotiation, exercise of an agonic procedure, i.e. to draw "the part of those who have no part," which is the subject of politics, into the police order as just one of the many parts); and meta-poltics (Marx; the understanding of political antagonism as a displaced manifestation of "true" antagonism, which is socio-economic, i.e. politics that can only happen with the promise of its self-abolishment, the destruction of the political theatre that is necessary for the direct administration of the socio-economic sphere).
Based on this, we can be more precise regarding Rancière's axiom of equality (perhaps going beyond the authorization of his text). We could say that the fact that the axiom of equality introduces a paradoxical "principle of a lack of any proper principle" of political life, the lack of the arkhe of politics, should not lead us to think that this "principle of a lack of any proper principle of politics" designates a simple absence of any principle whatsoever. While there is a lack of the arkhe of politics, this very lack itself is never lacking. The equation of the axiom/principle of equality with a simple absence of any principle whatsoever actually runs the danger of positing this absence itself as a principle and inaugurating, for example, chaos as the only existing principle of politics – introducing thereby, through the back door, the very logic it is trying to surpass. Against this equation of the axiom of equality with chaos as the only proper principle, we should carefully claim – distinguishing thereby chaos from an-archy – that the axiom of equality does not mean a simple absence of any principle, but stands for the principle which exists, or, perhaps, better, the principle which insists precisely as lacking.
There are consequences to be drawn from all this: equality posed in this way can only be an empty equality, an equality that does not determine a specific social relation in advance. There is no proper model of equality to serve as the ground or the goal of politics – as we have seen, equality is the "principle" which inscribes into the social field the very lack of a proper principle of politics – and because of that it never simply pre-exists politics but must be, in order to have an effect, presupposed and verified by it. Here, we touch upon our second, more complicated question – that of the relationship between politics and equality. Rancière identifies politics, which in his work is synonymous with democracy, with the appearance of the people – the demos. The demos is the political subject with the appearance of which the existing political order (in Rancière's words, the order of the police) is distanced from itself, split into a contentious community. Rancière offers a figure of the people which is opposed to what seem today to be the two dominant modes in which the people appear; and that are both essentially forms of the appearance of the people as absent, as non-appearing: on the one hand, the people identified with the population (ranging from the populations measured and decided on by the surveys of the statist or managerial discourses of various experts all the way to the populations identified with either side within the Manichean scheme of the struggle between the Good and the Evil), and on the other, the people identified with the role of victims (constituted by the fascinated humanitarian gaze). Today politics is subsumed either under some idea of proper governance (capitalist liberal democracy), religion ("the clash of civilizations"), or morality (the nebulous humanitarian care for the distant other). It is mostly performed as deciding over the destiny of the people removed from the domain of the people themselves; making decisions on the people, for the people, instead of the people. Rancière opposes against this an understanding of politics where politics is nothing but the appearance of the people, the construction of a scene on which the people occur as a political subjectivity.
To approach Rancière's concept of politics we should first note that it cannot be understood without its opposite: the order of the police, or, the police. The police signify for Rancière what is commonly, in the journalistic parlance of our times, understood by the term politics. "Politics is generally seen as the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems of legitimizing this distribution. I propose to give this system of distribution and legitimization another name. I propose to call it the police." The logic of the police is therefore to distribute and legitimate. It is the logic of saturation. It is essentially the process which claims that in the given political order all of the community parts have been (ac)counted (for) and that each has been assigned its proper place. In order to determine the parties and to define their share in the common, the police has to be first of all a law regulating the way in which these parts appear, the logic that decides how and what part is visible and identifiable as a part, whether or not its speech will be heard as intelligible, etc. In other words, the police is, first of all the delimitation of the field of the possible experience, the partition of the perceptible, the distribution of the sensible (le partage du sensible), as Rancière calls it.
Rancière thinks politics in the form of an encounter. Politics opposes to the police logic of saturation the logic of the void and the supplementary. While, on the one hand, the police screams how there are only the existing parts of the society and how each of them has been given its due share of the common, politics, on the other hand, claims the opposite, namely, that there is a wrong done in the existing count of the community parts, that there is "a part of those who have no part". It does so, first, through the assumption of the existence of a wrong and, thus, through an axiomatic assumption of equality, and secondly, by constructing a scene in which the existence of a wrong is verified and subjectivized, i.e. through giving name to "the part of those who have no part" (the people, the proletariat), the political subjectivity which is the subject of a wrong. To be precise, it is not that equality as such is necessarily political – for Rancière there are many kinds of equality. It is rather that, for politics to exist, it must assume the existence of equality and organize within the order of the police a scene of an encounter between the logic of this order and the "borrowed" logic of equality.
Politics, which is nothing but the declaration of a wrong, is always an encounter between two heterogeneous worlds: the world of the police and the "improper' world of equality. Or, as Rancière says in a somewhat longer quote: "political activity is always a mode of expression that undoes the perceptible divisions of the police order by implementing a basically heterogeneous assumption, that of a part of those who have no part, an assumption that, at the end of the day, itself demonstrates the sheer contingency of the order, the equality of any speaking being with any other speaking being. Politics occurs where there is a place and a way for two heterogeneous processes to meet. The first is the police process in the sense we have tried to define. The second is the process of equality." (My italics – L.A.)
We can see now how Rancière avoids identifying political subjectivity with a particular social group or a population, already identifiable within the police order. Politics is the appearance of the singular universal: the property-less part that is supplementary to the existing ac/count of the parts of community and, thereby, from the perspective of the order of the police non-existant. The order of the police consists precisely in the denial of the existence of any such part, in rendering the wrong invisible and therefore non-existent. Since the order of the police, the logic of the management of populations, is precisely the denial of its existence, it is necessary that giving consistency to the part of those who have no part, the property-less part, which is the political subject, involves artifice and that the metaphor of political subjectivization for Rancière is that of a theatre, the logic of a staging, of constructing a scene, which is necessarily anti-statist. Politics could be understood as the encounter between the logic of the state and the logic of the stage. The supplementary part, which has to be staged because it is not any of the particular social groups already identifiable within the police order (it is not one of the statistic categories of the population), appears as the exception that stands for the whole and has the effect of disrupting the existing set of identifications, separating the community parts from the places they occupy, and creating a political community of dissent. That is why, for Rancière, political subjectivization is always also a process of disidentification – a disidentification of parts of society from themselves and from the places they occupy.
Let us take the example of the proletariat, the classical name for the part of those who have no part and therefore stand for the whole of the (capitalist) society. It is not, Rancière claims, that this word, when it appeared in the struggles of the nineteenth century, expressed a really existing working class culture; it is not that it functioned as a representation of a social class, or that it identified the part of the existing population. It rather functioned as a "useless" word, unrecognizable as a valid category from the standpoint of the legal speak of the police order, therefore an artifice, which enabled the declaration of a wrong, the naming of the part of those who have no part and giving the minimal consistency of being to this political subjectivity: "the simple counting of the uncounted, the difference between an inegalitarian distribution of social bodies and the equality of speaking beings." To follow Rancière, the scene of politics is not constituted by an antagonistic encounter between the parts of a population: the working class and the owners, for example. It rather consists in a deployment of the axiom of equality through the artifice of political subjectivity – in this case the specific use of the name of the proletariat. The proletariat names the process in which the working class assumes a distance from itself, where it not only stands for the particular social group, the population of those exploited by the capitalist society, the statistical category of "the worker", but for the capitalist society as such, for the whole of the situation, the absolute equality of everyone with anyone.
The subject of politics measures precisely the distance of any social group from itself. It is the measure of a relationship between a particular social group identifiable within the order of the police (woman as a social category with the expected set of tasks to perform and roles to assume) and the ability of its name to be appropriated by anyone, the ability of its name becoming the inscription of a wrong (women as the subject of political struggle, as the name with which the declaration of a wrong takes place). Politics relies on this distance between the part of the population and the place it occupies; it lives off the difference between the name as a rigid designation of a social entity and a name as an empty word that can stand for the equality of everyone. Consequently, there also can be no privileged political class. And Rancière goes further: not only is there no part of the population that would be inherently political, there is no other object that would be inherently political; politics does not have an object of its own. There is no properly political content. Politics occurs within the order of the police. It shares its objects, its content with and happens against the background of the order of the police. Politics is thus a matter of form. Anything can become political (the strike, the demonstration, the workplace) – if it breaks with the logic of negotiation between the existing social entities, stops being the site of the determination of the proper, and becomes a scene of an encounter between the logic of the police and the axiomatic assumption of equality, a subjectivization of a wrong and the disidentification of the communal parts from themselves. It is clear why, for Rancière, the political subject cannot be identified with the population, or a particular part of a population. The population is always an established sum of parts and it is only possible to conceive of a political subjectivity as a subject of a wrong, the subject of a miscount in the count of the parts of the population, if this subject is not one of the parts. That is why the subjectivization of a wrong can only happen through the addition of a supplementary ("useless", empty) part, the part of those who have no part, to the existing count of the parts of the population. But we have also said that for Rancière the subject of politics is also not a victim. Here certain problems emerge.
If the political subject is a subject of a wrong, if politics exists only through the subjectivization of the wrong, how can we avoid a victimological identification of the political subject with this wrong? If the political subjectivity can exist only insofar as the wrong exists, how can we avoid understanding the wrong as the cause of the subject and, consequently, turning the political subject into a victim? Indeed it would be hard to avoid the victimization of political subjectivity, if we assumed that the wrong simply precedes and determines the existence of the political subject. It would in fact mean the equivalent of finding the arkhe of politics (in this specific case political philosophy would have to establish a victimological arkhe), which, as we have seen, is prohibited by Rancière's conceptualization of the "principle" of equality. But, as also the Slovenian philosopher and translator of Rancière's work, Jelica Sumic-Riha, has noted, things are more complicated. For if politics, which begins with a declaration of a wrong, only happens within the order of the police and if the order of the police is, by definition, the order of the non-existence of a wrong, then the wrong can not simply precede its declaration. The wrong does not simply precede the appearance of the political subject, the subject of a wrong. It follows that with the declaration of the wrong within the order of the police it is not only the political subject that appears, but the wrong itself. The declaration of the wrong is therefore never simply a statement of an already existing fact. Politics is not countering facts with other facts. The existence of a wrong is not a fact. The declaration of a wrong consists rather in the break with the logic of the factual. The declaration of a wrong is strictly impossible, since the existence of the wrong does not precede its declaration. It is nevertheless a declaration that happens. It happens through an enunciation that retroactively changes the conditions of its own possibility. The positing of a political subjectivity through the declaration of a wrong thus involves a kind of an anarchic, free gesture that authorizes itself through a retroactive presupposition of the existence of the conditions of its own possibility. That is why, as Rancière tells us, politics is always in the first place a disagreement about the existence of politics.
*  The reader, interested in a sympathetic yet critical account of Rancière along with other famous dissenting disciples of Louis Althusser (Etienne Balibar and Alain Badiou) and in the context of contemporary political debates (including the work of Ernesto Laclau), might find it worthwhile to read the second chapter ("The Split Universality") of Slavoj Zizek's book, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London and New York: Verso 1999, 125-244.
*  Davide Panagia, "Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Rancière", Diacritics 30, no. 2 (Summer 2000), 115.
*  Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), ix.
*  Ibid. 15.
*  See chapter 4 of Disagreement, entitled "From Archipolitics to Metapolitics".
*  This is also why the police must be differentiated from the classical concept of the "ideological state apparatuses". Rancière draws the distinction in the following way: "I do not, however, identify the police with what is termed the 'state apparatus'. The notion of a state apparatus is in fact bound up with the presupposition of an opposition between State and society in which the state is portrayed as a machine, a 'cold monster' imposing its rigid order on the life of the society. This representation already presupposes a certain 'political philosophy', that is, a certain confusion of politics and the police. The distribution of places and roles that defines a police regime stems as much from the assumed spontaneity of the social relations as from the rigidity of state functions." (Ranciere, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, 29).
*  It is in this sense that the role of aesthetics is crucial for politics. It is one of the greatest achievements of Rancière's to redirect the commonly accepted "Benjaminian" doxa of the inherently fascist character of aesthetization of politics towards an understanding of another, crucial aesthetic dimension of politics (and the political dimension of aesthetics), which, unlike the aesthetization of politics as a unification of the antagonistic social body into an organic whole, is understood precisely as the dimension of the split of the social body from itself, the disruption of the existing distribution of social parts and places, and the reorganization of the sensible world on which it rests.
*  I am relying here on Sumic-Riha's text "The Subject of a Wrong", published in the Slovenian Journal of Philosophy. Jelica Sumic-Riha, "Subjekt Krivice", Filozofski vestnik, 3 (1997). continue reading