Corruption and Class Discontent: The Contours of Bourgeois Political Forms and State-Formation -Maya John
Early this year a relatively unknown 74-year old Gandhian, Kisan Baburao Hazare (also known as Anna Hazare), shot to fame for raising a campaign against corruption. For days on end, Anna Hazare haunted our television sets, and details of his campaign greeted us every morning in almost all newspapers. Perhaps some of the readers of this article were avid supporters of the crusade he led, and perhaps some were vocal or even silent critics. However, now that the high point of the campaign has passed and tempers and anxieties have ebbed, a calm and composed assessment of anti-corruption campaigns may be pursued. This paper is one such endeavour to sum up and assess the contours of the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. A special focus of the paper is on the process, whereby anti-corruption campaigns conflate the discontent of exploited and oppressed classes with the interests of the economically dominant class, i.e. the class of capitalists. This subsumption or conflation of differing class discontent is intrinsic to anti-corruption campaigns and it is this process which provides such campaigns their distinctive nature. It is argued here that the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign corresponds with the interests of international as well as Indian capitalists. For the capitalist class an “efficient” and “incorrupt” administration has become a necessity to sustain on-the-ground implementation of pro-capitalist policies and laws. This demand by the capitalist class for a strong state has emerged in the context of growing mass discontent among India’s poor, as well a large section of India’s middle class (1), against brutal capitalist appropriation of public resources. In a well-formulated political manoeuvre, Indian and international capitalist lobbies have hand-picked and promoted NGO leaders in a bid to use them as authoritative pressure groups whom the state is compelled to consult in the process of policy formation and implementation. These selected leaders have been superimposed on the masses, as a result of which the discontent of the masses has been conveniently misdirected towards the capitalist understanding of corruption, and hence, towards a bourgeois resolution of the problem.
Hijacking mass discontent, anti-corruption struggles like Anna Hazare’s campaign work towards restoring faith in the given bourgeois political structure, i.e. by projecting that a “pure” and “incorrupt” form of such a structure is even possible. Overshadowed by the anti-corruption rhetoric is the fact that the intrinsic nature of the bourgeois political system is to preserve capitalist exploitation and oppression of other classes. Precisely because anti-corruption crusades are devoid of an understanding of exploitation they are campaigns that exist under bourgeois hegemony. However, movements that are hegemonised by the bourgeoisie still manage to hitch mass discontent to the wagon of capital. The paper explains this disturbing trend in terms of the particular form in which the bourgeois political system has evolved. This form has allowed the bourgeois state to control many mass upheavals by coopting certain class forces and individuals within mass movements. Such cooption is often pursued by selecting and placing leaders in a privileged position vis-à-vis the masses, thereby, providing them a tangible stake in bourgeois democracy. Cooption is also made possible by misdirecting the petty bourgeois discontent, which exists in mass movements, towards an oligarchic tendency integral to bourgeois democracy.
The (Dis)content of Anti-Corruption Campaigns – A Class Analysis
Judging from the Campaign’s propaganda, corruption was portrayed as a generalised problem experienced by all (the working class, the middle class and capitalists), and hence, uniting all. In other words, a strong notion of equivalence in discontent was the driving force of the Campaign. In reality, this carefully thought-out political manoeuvre to establish such equivalence sought to conceal and sideline the major contradictions between the interests of the different participants. Let us examine how the anti-corruption rhetoric is shaped by the needs of the capitalist class, and how it simultaneously obscures class antagonisms.
A bulk of support for anti-corruption campaigns and initiatives comes from capitalists, business entrepreneurs and the likes. Without a doubt, for corporate firms and capitalists the major concern is to prevent corrupt practices like bribery from jeopardising the prospects of individual capitalist firms in the competition for contracts, natural resources, etc. Furthermore, each capitalist who resorts to bribery is also confronted by the contradiction that comes with corruption, i.e. its value-enhancing effects and its value-reducing effects. Corruption, also identified in bourgeois terminology as “rent”, is a portion of surplus value that can enhance value creation by winning for the individual capitalist greater access to market procurements, tenders, credit, licenses, and facilities like irrigation and subsidised electricity to capitalist farms and manufacturing units. In addition to these, corruption also facilitates the transfer of public assets and natural resources to an individual capitalist firm. However, a potential risk is that bureaucrats and politicians fail to deliver after receiving bribes since corrupt agreements are usually legally unenforceable. Corruption also initiates value-reducing effects for other individual capitalists in the field, especially when it is monopolistic capitalist houses that resort to such practices. The profitable gain of one capitalist house cuts significantly into the profits of competitors. In the case of big capitalist houses with monopolistic tendencies, illegally procured advantage by them is particularly troubling for smaller competitors and other big capitalist firms.
Eventually the capitalist class as a whole emerges as a united force against corruption because of the loss entailed by other capitalists in the process of corrupt dealings. Meanwhile, individual capitalists continue to face a prisoner’s dilemma: while it is agreed that all may profit from transparent procurement and good/honest code of conduct, it is still appealing to be the only one to deviate from such behaviour, and hence, to procure maximum profit. It is this dilemma and the desire to rise above it that is articulated in the collective mood of the capitalist class. This collective mood is highly critical of corruption and is expressed in the anti-corruption focus of national and international bodies like ASSOCHAM, FICCI, WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. It is also endorsed by governments across the world. For example, in October 1995, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, presented a CIA report to the US Congress, claiming that between 1994 and 1995 the US lost 36 billion dollars worth of business deals due to bribery and corruption.(2) The report urged the US Government to pressurise trading partners into a joint initiative to “level the playing field for all competitors”. Undoubtedly, the desire to level the playing field was the key intention behind the 1997 agreement signed by ministers of the 29 constituting nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).(3) According to this agreement, the 29 OECD member-nations were to enact laws by April 1998 to check bribery. In addition to corporate bodies and governments, even research institutes on management development as well as business consultancies are popularising corruption theories based on capitalist concerns. One such research project devised a Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (1996), which was based solely on the subjective evaluation of business entrepreneurs!
What is evident in such agreements, government reports, publications and initiatives of international bodies such as the IMF, World Bank, UNDP, etc., is the capitalist solution to the problem of corruption. For the capitalist class the solution to corruption lies in the introduction of anti-corruption legislation, and more importantly, in the replacement of discretionary (government) control over prices, production, distribution, etc., with the market mechanism. To elucidate, capitalists posit that further liberalisation of the economy, i.e. free play of market forces, will reduce bureaucratic power and rent-seeking behaviour of public officials. The influence of this “solution” has spread far and wide with powerful international bodies like the World Bank, IMF, etc. actively promoting the case for liberalisation in their conferences and summits (4), and making it one of the preconditions for loans they provide to “developing countries”. The pressure from capitalist lobbies in this regard is immense, which is why we find governments increasingly push for further liberalisation. Our own country’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, addressed the Planning Commission during the height of Team Anna’s campaign, i.e. on August 20, 2011, in which he linked the question of combating corruption to the need for second-generation reforms, namely, tax reforms, reforms in the insurance and banking sector, enhanced FDI in retail, etc. Interestingly, Anna Hazare was completely silent when the prime minister spoke of second-generation reforms as a solution to corruption. It seems that on this point both of them think alike.
What is important to note about this perception that liberalisation is the solution to corruption is the exact context in which it has developed. In India today, a combination of native and foreign capital controls the economy. These capitalists have control over several key natural resources (land, oil and gas reserves, mines, water bodies, etc.) and are in the process of continuously acquiring more of such resources. To enable this process, the capitalist class has ensured that the state creates policies to restrict government control on the economy, thereby, allowing for greater appropriation of public resources by private companies. State policies have been influenced in this manner through several channels. To begin with international bodies such as the World Bank and IMF have pumped in loans and aid in return for certain structural change in the country’s policy-making. In addition to this, several countries representing interests of monopoly houses have consciously extended diplomatic support, military assistance and collaborated with Indian capital through various trade agreements, with the express purpose of transforming state policies in favour of liberalisation of the Indian economy. Due to the pressure from native and international capital, state policies have been geared towards privatisation, denationalisation, elimination of subsidies and budget austerity, which is characterised by the structural adjustment program (SAP), i.e. reduced state expenditure on the social sector.
Needless to say, at such a conjuncture where laws facilitating primitive accumulation are already in place, and where individuals/companies have gained access to these resources, the need then emerges for capitalists to create a level playing field among themselves. In other words, once the big bribe has been paid in the form of loans, aid, etc. to pave the way for policies supporting private appropriation of public resources, the need to further bribe so as to gain access to such resources becomes untenable in capitalist rationale. Furthermore, there now emerges for the capitalist class the necessity of a legal system that enforces laws of contract, inheritance, etc., and basically, guarantees protection of capitalist wealth whether it is gained illegally or legally. It is through this very same legal system that a definition of corruption is imposed on society, which is based directly on the capitalist perception. First, the capitalist perception identifies the use of public office for public gain as uneconomic, and a process that should be restricted. Secondly, this perception restricts the meaning of corruption to the practice of using public office for private gain. Thus, because the legal definition of corruption (5) is based on this capitalist perception it ends up legitimising privatization, denationalisation, as well as places the onus of corrupt activities entirely on public officials/bureaucrats while absolving capitalists of indulging in the same.
In sharp contrast to this legal (bourgeois) definition of corruption is the perception of the working class whose understanding of the term is based on discontent arising from problems that have immediate impact on their subsistence. The concern with inflation, for example, is heavily couched in the perception that the government is consciously allowing companies to cheat people by hiking prices of essential commodities in the interest of minting profits. Indeed, through skewed export policies, revised Mandi Acts, and laws permitting forward trading as well as the entry of big companies in retail trade, the government has gradually allowed private companies tremendous control over distribution, and hence, the legal right to hoard. Evidently, from the working class perspective, hoarding and consequently even the policy framework that allows for this practice is a form of corruption. However, their perception regarding price rise is not recognised as corruption by bourgeois law, which by its very logic legitimises the control of private companies in the retail trade. As a result, we find that the working class perception does not jell with the legal definition of corruption.
Another important part of what can be identified as corruption from the working class perspective is unemployment and the violation of “protective” labour legislation. For the working class, corruption is not a phenomenon that can be restricted to the immoral act of using public office for private profit. For them corruption also includes nepotism. This is understandable considering that the pressure to seek favours for employment does not stem from the “lack of suitable” qualifications in workers, but from the process of privatisation that generates fewer jobs. For example, private companies displace and dispossess thousands of poor peasants and adivasis in their bid to gain access to resource-rich lands. These adivasis and poor peasants are dispossessed by private companies that shamelessly claim to offer them jobs in their production units. The ground reality shows that an insignificant number of jobs are created, whereas the number of adivasis and POOR peasants displaced is markedly higher. Clearly, in the interest of private appropriation of resources, companies snatch people’s livelihoods in the garb of bringing “development and employment” to an area. Furthermore, these very same private companies consciously create unemployment by compelling fewer people to put in longer hours, and hence, to do more work. Majority of India’s employed population works for these private companies, which extract 12 to 14 hours of work, and also exploit their employees by violating several fundamental labour laws such as those pertaining to minimum wages, overtime compensation, the right to unionise, etc. None of these illegal practices were or are the concern of Team Anna, as is evident in Arvind Kejriwal’s admiration for the Delhi Metro. Interestingly, the same Delhi Metro is currently one of the chief violators of labour laws (6) in the country! Thus, it is evident that in the process of generating fewer jobs and defying labour laws, private companies brutally over-exploit the workforce they employ. The violation of labour laws by capitalists constitutes corruption from the working class perspective. In contrast, the capitalist class perceives labour laws as “favouring” workers, and hence, believes that circumvention of these “biased” laws is legitimate action and not corruption. It is in the interest of capitalists to transcend the condition in which they have to bypass labour laws, and it is with this sense of their interest that the capitalist class is pushing for the dismantling of labour laws altogether.
A similar contradiction between the working class and capitalist understanding of corruption is visible in the case of slum demolition, and the clamp-down on street hawkers. In both cases the impoverished working class pays bribes to local officials so as to prevent crackdowns on their homes, sources of livelihood, etc. Of course, for the working class this compulsion to bribe officials in return for the right to inhabit the city and to earn is a source of great discontent. Ironically, even builders and big retail companies are vocal critics of bribes extracted by land development officials and municipal officers of the government. On the surface, there may appear to be equivalence in discontent and understanding of corruption. However, no such equivalence exists. This is because the working class articulates a discontent that stems from being denied the right to inhabit the city. In contrast, builders and retail giants articulate a discontent that stems from their concern with the circumvention of slum clearance and anti-hawking laws. What is important to note, therefore, is that capitalists have a direct interest in discrediting bribery since it helps dispossessed groups to gain access to local organs of the state, and thereby, to be in a position to evade laws constituted in the interests of private capital. In this context, it is all the more necessary for the working class to fight against legislations like slum clearance acts, amended rent regulation laws that favour landlords, municipal acts that crackdown on hawking, etc. In other words, for the working class, the struggle against laws that create objective conditions for their oppression logically comes before any anti-corruption struggle. Likewise, the interest of the working class lies in struggles to prevent privatisation of the social sector, rather than in anti-corruption campaigns that do not perceive this privatisation as corruption. Let us examine how.
It is a fact that because the state is dismantling many of its production units (via a gradual process of privatisation) due to pressure from corporate bodies, it has very limited capital to invest in the social sector. With the withdrawal of the state, private companies – which are in constant search for newer and newer avenues of investment and profit-generation – have stepped into the field of education, health, etc. As a result, education and health policies driven by ideas of profit-generation have become norms of the day. This privatisation of the social sector has facilitated the collapse of government-subsidised health and educational institutions. On one hand, government schools and hospitals are limited in number, are understaffed and are run without proper infrastructure and facilities; and on the other, private schools, colleges and hospitals have sprung up, offering essential “social” services for considerable amounts of money. Clearly, it is only if you have the money now that you will receive better education or treatment. Needless to say, from the working-class perspective this rampant practice of ‘pay more for better education/treatment’ amounts to a bribe. For them as well as for a significant section of the middle class, the existence of profit-minting private schools and hospitals is as much corruption as the use of public office for private profit.
The instances discussed above show that a deep contradiction exists between the working class and capitalists on the question of corruption. First, the legal definition reduces corruption to bribery, embezzlement, black money, etc., thereby, excluding many practices, which the working class considers as corruption. Precisely because the legal definition is devoid of an understanding of exploitation, the legal perspective on corruption becomes redundant for the working class and other oppressed classes. Secondly, one of the key reasons why capitalists extend support to anti-corruption campaigns is to curb petty “corruptions” that the labouring masses use to circumvent pro-capitalist laws. Understandably then, rather than focusing on corruption, all those who are exploited or oppressed by the capitalist class stand to gain much more by fighting against laws that legitimise capitalist exploitation in the first place. Instead of becoming the fighting force of anti-corruption campaigns, the working class and other oppressed classes need to consider transcending the legal understanding of this practice.
Having said this, should the working class and middle class simply deny or wish away the frustration that stems from “babudom” prevalent in government offices? Of course, there is no point denying the fact that the procedure required for a ration card takes time, or that things work slowly at railway reservation counters. However, the sense of delay should be contextualised. We must consider the fact that the reason for such delay lies in the lack of sufficient office staff to man elaborate government schemes. Similarly, at rail reservation counters the shortage of staff as well as the technicalities involved in ticketing are the main cause of delay. More importantly, the frustration with “babudom” should be connected to the fact that we desire things to be done in the limited time we have in hand. In reality, our interests lie in pushing for greater employment of staff at government offices, as well as the provision for more casual leaves to attend to our own work. Indeed, if we do not engage with the problem of “babudom” in this larger context then our frustrations will continue to be used to undermine the remaining vestiges of the public sector. It is not being argued here that with substantial increase in the number of government staff employed in government offices, the tendency of “babudom” will automatically decline. The need still remains for machinery whereby government offices are monitored by the people themselves. It is only through such control that bureaucracy can be kept in check. Interestingly, despite its tall claims, the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Team Anna offers no such mechanism. Instead, the Lokpal is conceptualised as yet another government office manned by bureaucrats (who will be selected by a few elites), and which will function like an oligarchy.(7) Ultimately, the solution to bureau (office)-cracy (rule) cannot be more bureaucracy. Instead, the solution to bureaucracy lies only in more democracy.
Clearly, the misuse of working-class and middle-class frustration is the key strategy of campaigns such as ‘India Against Corruption’. It is a fact that for a long time now workers, landless labourers, poor peasants and adivasis have been struggling against growing dispossession, displacement, privatisation of the social sector, unemployment and brutal exploitation. However, the understanding of corruption embodied in the law (be it the UPA government’s version or Team Anna’s version of the legislation) is not a summation of these struggles. Instead, the legal understanding of corruption is superimposed on other more radical perspectives on corruption. Furthermore, the anti-corruption campaign imposed a particular form of leadership on the people, i.e. a leadership chosen from among NGOs, funded by bodies such as the World Bank, and aggressively promoted by the corporate media.(8)
Of course, what still remains to be explained at this point is why, despite a contradiction in interests and in the understanding of what constitutes corruption, did the masses rally around the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. The answer to this lies in the Campaign’s concerted efforts to project equivalence in discontent and goals by consciously positing a more flexible definition of corruption on the ground, which would appeal to the masses. For example, the Campaign attracted the support of the masses by playing on popular sentiment relating to problems such as price rise, poverty, etc. Meanwhile, it continued to negotiate with the government using a narrower legalistic definition of the term. Another deliberate strategy of Team Anna, which worked well for mass mobilisation, was to position corruption as the central predicament from which other problems originate. Therefore, an in-depth causal explanation of corruption (which would have pushed the debate towards exploring other definitions of corruption and to engage with other views surrounding the question) was downplayed, and instead, the campaign focused on solution prescription, i.e. a legal mechanism of addressing the issue. This is why the campaign evolved around a legal text, i.e., the Jan Lokpal bill, and was heavily based on the question of who had tabled a more “effective” version, Team Anna, NCPRI, or the government. This approach emphasising formal solutions reflects a tendency to marginalise debate on the question of causes. The fact of the matter is, the more you talk on causes the more do things get articulated in a more precise and uncompromising language. Solution prescription, on the other hand, is characterised by pragmatism and accommodation. After all, the Jan Lokpal bill (posited as the solution for corruption) has not broken ground by defining corruption in any way that is different from the existing Prevention of Corruption Act. It uses given legal norms provided in the Act as the yardstick to distinguish corrupt from non-corrupt acts.
In addition to these efforts, Team Anna consciously tried to project the existence of common interest embedded in “common” culture by resorting to an aggressive nationalistic cultural crusade. Indeed, a discourse pregnant with nationalistic imagery and slogans enabled Team Anna to unite disparate forces on a programme that actually favoured the dominant economic class (a point elucidated below). The slogan “Bharat Mata ki Jai”, for example, forged a symbolic unity between unequal citizens by conveniently projecting them as children of one mother.(9) Furthermore, when teamed with certain developments within the class of the petty bourgeoisie, such nationalistic ideology is known to elicit massive support from the petty-bourgeoisie.
This brings us directly to the question of what shapes middle class participation in social and political movements. The middle class or petty bourgeoisie is situated between two distinctly polarised classes, i.e. the capitalist class on one hand, and the working class on the other. As a class, it oscillates between an affluent position, which brings it closer to the capitalist class, and a position of impoverishment which brings it closer to the working class. This oscillation from one class position to another has created a tendency in the petty bourgeoisie to vacillate on issues, and to be co-opted, very often, by bourgeois ideology. In this context, we find that when it comes to corruption, the petty bourgeoisie identifies an external force, i.e. the political class as the culprit. Meanwhile, it will always project itself as an unwilling participant in corruption who gains little in the process. At such a juncture, the middle class may emerge as one of the most vocal critics of corruption.(10) The upwardly-mobile segment of the petty bourgeoisie is, in particular, a vehement critic for it perceives corruption as a contractual violence. This segment of new rich that has benefitted significantly from liberal reforms is open to the idea of further reform, and hence deeply suspicious of the state. To them almost any form of payment to the government is equivalent to their money being “stolen” by a public office. Of course, in slightly different circumstances, the very same petty bourgeoisie can be extremely silent on the question of corruption.
Because of its oscillating class position, the petty bourgeoisie functions narrow-mindedly. As reality would have it, at many conjunctures the interests of the petty bourgeoisie are in consonance with the interests of the property-owning class which extracts surplus value. At such conjunctures the interests of the property-owning class and petty bourgeoisie are positioned in contradiction to the interests of the labouring classes who generate surplus value. In other words, the fact that it gains at the loss of the working class and other oppressed classes (poor peasantry, dispossessed tribals, etc.) is not a problem for the petty bourgeoisie as it is conditioned, in many cases, to calculate its interests in direct opposition to that of the working class and other oppressed classes. For example, a middle-class youth working as an HR (Human Resources) manager for Maruti Suzuki knows for a fact that his further promotion depends on his skilful strike-breaking and arm-twisting techniques. There is no doubt that he will calculate his own interest and get promoted. Similarly, government employees who enjoy a cushioned existence due to the provision of several exclusive benefits to them by the state are prone to develop an indifferent if not intolerant attitude towards working-class struggles that raise the question of exploitation. As a result, if the middle class stands to gain, it will stand by the law that identifies only certain practices as corrupt and that legalises others. If it stands to lose, it will become a vocal critic. If we draw on the example of private schools, we will find that the middle class vacillates between a position in support of and a position against private-school education. The segment of the middle class that can still afford expensive private tuitions and private schooling will see nothing wrong in the “pay more for a better education” policy of private educational institutions. For the significant section of the middle class that increasingly finds it difficult to pay for private tuitions and schooling, the demands of private educational institutions will gradually come across as corruption and a practice antithetical to education values.
Moreover, the oscillating class position of the petty bourgeoisie generates a tendency for this class to be easily drawn to Fascist-nationalistic ideology. The petty bourgeoisie’s support for fascist-nationalistic ideology is an expression of their hostility towards, both, big capital, which threatens to pauperise them and the proletariat whose class position they are increasingly compelled to inhabit. Considering that a significant portion of India’s petty bourgeoisie is beginning to feel the pressure of persistent liberalisation, the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign with its highly nationalistic overtones quickly became an outlet for venting petty bourgeois frustrations. Realising this Team Anna bombarded their Campaign with nationalistic imagery. In fact, deliberate references and analogies to India’s Freedom struggle were continuously drawn to the extent that Anna was projected as independent India’s “Mahatma” and the movement itself as India’s “second freedom” struggle. When criticised for using many conservative and reactionary nationalistic images/slogans, the Campaign deftly responded by putting up images of Bhagat Singh at its central protest venues and resorting to slogans like ‘Inqilab Zindabaad’. Of course, every time ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ was sloganeered, the slogan ‘Inqilab Zindabaad’ lost its meaning.
What we can conclude from the immediate discussion above is that, due to its contradictory class position, the middle class cannot be the fighting force in any movement that seeks to eradicate corruption in its totality. The tendency for this class to be coopted by bourgeois ideology is immense, and it is precisely for this reason that the bourgeoisie keeps the middle class as its key fighting force in movements it seeks to hegemonise.
Bourgeois Solutions to Mass Discontent
Coopting the middle class/petty bourgeoisie and positioning them in a non-antagonistic relation to the dominant economic class is just one of the ways in which the bourgeois ruling elites blunt challenges that seek to displace the dominant class’s control on the state. The economically dominant class, i.e. the capitalist class, reproduces its power even in conjunctures where opposition to it has led to growth of representatives from subordinate classes in the parliamentary structure. How have the ruling elite managed the rigorous instrumentalisation of the bourgeois state as a weapon of capitalist class interest, despite allowing the subordinate classes the right to vote and representation? Of course, the bourgeois state mediates between the capitalist class and dominated classes, as well as between conflicting competitive interests of the different sections within the capitalist class, in formally universalistic terms, clearly expressed in the motto: “Equality before the law”. However, since this mediation takes place in a social web woven by the relations of production dominated by the capitalist class, this formally universalistic intervention tends to reproduce the power of the capitalist class as a whole.
Many have identified the role of bribery, nepotism, etc. as the means through which the power of the capitalist class is reproduced by the bourgeois state. It is, indeed, a fact that bribes and inter-personal relations between capitalists and state leaders play a significant role in ensuring representation of the dominant economic class’ interests in the state apparatus. Scam after scam as well audits of bourgeois parties’ accounts reveal a lot about how political leaders are bought over by capitalist enterprises. Similarly, the tendency of businessmen to become politicians (and vice versa), as well as the tendency of businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians to share the same class position (11), provide the dominant economic class a firm footing in the representative form of politics as it exists today. An equally important role is played by bourgeois ideology that informs bureaucrats and politicians of what is right and wrong, what is possible, etc., and hence determines their conception of the legitimacy of capitalist interests.
Having said that, it is important to highlight the fact that if the aforementioned means are overemphasised then the more formidable and intricate forms of bourgeois intervention in the state are unnecessarily overshadowed. In fact, an overemphasis on bribery has wrongly led dissenting voices in society to believe that a clamp-down on corrupt practices will lead to autonomy of the state from control of the capitalist class. Unfortunately, many such dissenting voices fail to identify the intrinsically bourgeois form of the state. In reality, bribery and corrupt practices within given state apparatuses like Parliament are often expressions of the competition between individual capitalists. Even if such practices are removed, Parliament and other state apparatuses will continue to embody the common class interests of the capitalist class. This is because the particular form in which the bourgeois state exists, allows the state remarkable powers to integrate opposition voices and pacify movements.
The more sophisticated and intricate forms of bourgeois intervention that instrumentalise the state as a weapon of capitalist class interest are actually reflected in the integrative powers of the bourgeois state. The bourgeois state integrates outstanding individuals/notables, both from the dominant economic class as well as the dominated classes, in a process that can perhaps be described as the “natural selection” of leaders. In moments of political crisis (i.e. when radical movements are on the rise), the state prioritises the integration of notables from the subordinate/dominated classes. Typically, these notables are lawyers, ex-bureaucrats, heads of voluntary organisations, leaders of trade unions, intellectuals, etc., who consciously project a non-elite aura about themselves. There are two important aspects to this integration process, namely, (i) the severance of links between the masses and their leaders in the process of integration, and (ii) the transferring of the task of ensuring continued political domination of capital from Parliament to the upper levels of the state administration, and to ‘policy-planning groups’ that are heavily influenced by private lobbies of the capitalist class.
The severance of links between the masses and the leaders and sympathetic intellectuals of mass movements is a creation of the total structure and modalities of the state. This severance plays itself out in cooption of leaders and intellectuals of mass movements—a process which converts them from being representatives of the masses to “ideal/pure” representatives who go beyond “particular interests” and hence embody “universal interest”. In other words, in the process of negotiation, nomination to policy-formation committees and even elections, the leaders of mass movements learn to speak the language of reform. Indeed, the bourgeois democratic structures (Parliament, etc.) and modalities (negotiation, elections, constitution of “expert” committees/commissions, etc.) allow the masses the space to be heard only through representatives. By putting the leaders before the masses, bourgeois democracy then essentialises the masses-leader distinction, and creates the objective condition for leaders/representatives to decide on behalf of the masses. Being in the privileged position to decide on behalf of the masses, representatives then develop a tangible stake in this form of politics. They are able to actively exercise this privileged position precisely because the modalities of bourgeois democracy work towards sustaining them in this position. In addition to this, the privileged position of representatives is nurtured by a strong tendency in petty bourgeois participants of mass movements to be led from above by an “ideal”, “virtuous” representative whose “unwavering neutrality” will negotiate between conflicting interests of the petty bourgeoisie.
To elucidate how “civil society” groups, acting as an interface between the state and the masses, are ultimately reduced to instruments of state control over the masses, rather than instruments which mass movements can use to break bourgeois rule, let us examine certain intricacies of (bourgeois) state administration. It is important to note that the bourgeois state apparatus is divided into an executive and legislature that stand independently of each other. As a result, the executive enjoys vast powers to integrate dissenting voices, as well as incorporate bourgeois class interests through the constitution of unelected yet official ‘policy-planning groups’ that propose/recommend legislation etc. to various branches of the state apparatus. The selection to these high-powered ‘policy-planning groups’ inculcates both a competitive spirit among notables riding the waves of mass movements, as well as conformity with ruling ideology. By winning themselves a position in these coveted “think-tank” bodies, these notables become imposed leaders/representatives of the masses rather than leaders with an organic link to the masses. Another dominant trend within bourgeois state administration is the formation of policy-planning committees/commissions that are directly constitutive of capitalists and corporate lobbyists. Their recommendations have tremendous say in the policies implemented by various state departments.(12)
Having delineated some of the important mechanisms through which the bourgeois ruling elites blunt challenges that seek to displace their control on the state, let us turn to Team Anna’s campaign and see how it fits into this given scheme of bourgeois politics. First, Team Anna’s April campaign evolved around a struggle of notables who were competing for the coveted position on a joint committee that would be constituted through an executive order of the state. This is well reflected in the Campaign’s pamphlets, especially the first pamphlet, where the demand for the formation of such a committee was formally stated. Recollection of events will also show that Team Anna was quick to respond to the UPA government’s call for a joint committee, consisting of an equal number of representatives from the government and from Team Anna. This is why, in a matter of four days (!), Team Anna was willingly present at the negotiating table. Later in July when negotiations stagnated, it was because Team Anna increasingly felt their recommended version of the Lokpal Bill was losing ground to other competing versions, namely the government and NCPRI’s versions. Thus, concealed behind the spectacle of “challenging” the given political structure, were Team Anna’s conscious efforts to reinforce the bourgeois representative form of politics. Team Anna stood not for ‘power to the people’, but for greater “participatory governance” that is based on providing hand-picked notables, a privileged consultative status — a manoeuvre that fits well with the particular form in which bourgeois democracy exists.
Secondly, Team Anna’s campaign against corruption elicited support most significantly from the petty bourgeois class, in particular, from the segment that was based in urban areas. This support base also reveals a lot about the bourgeois nature of the campaign. The middles class, as discussed above, is characterised by a contradictory class position. As a consequence, they are often in the objective condition to deny the need of class struggle, and even the existence of classes. Hence, they tend to locate “good” and “bad” people in every class (for example, a good capitalist and a bad capitalist is a typical petty-bourgeois categorisation that is not based on a notion of class but on bourgeois morality). Since the petty bourgeoisie fail to think of themselves as a class, the identification of their interests begets no community feeling. The atomised existence of the petty bourgeoisie makes them identify their interests in individualistic, competitive and moralistic terms.(13) Highly insecure about whether someone from within them can represent their interests, the petty bourgeoisie develop a tendency to search for an organising force outside/above them. The delegation of authority to an outside force, whose interests rise above the “petty” issues of the middle class, is a tendency that ultimately upholds the bourgeois representative form of politics and also paves the way for over-centralisation of the state. This tendency is what played itself out in the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. The petty bourgeoisie saw in Anna a saviour-master — a figurehead who was characterised by innocence/purity, and who was a glorification of rustic, peasant and rural virtues. For the petty bourgeoisie, Anna became an idol on whom all virtues that were lacking in them were transplanted. Needless to say, Anna’s anti-corruption crusade jelled well with the middle-class desire for protection and arbitration by a neutral, incorrupt state, of competitive middle class interests.
Now that the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign has been understood in the context of certain complexities with which bourgeois politics and the bourgeois state function, it is important to note other related reasons for Team Anna’s rise to prominence. One of these reasons pertains to how NGOs have increasingly become an ideal platform from which notables are selected by the bourgeois state and are subsequently used to erode the radical potential of many mass movements.
NGOs & Participatory Governance
It is a well-known fact that the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign was a platform constituted by a number of NGOs. The key members of Team Anna (Kejriwal, Bedi, etc) are leaders of several NGOs, and have at some point or the other also been part of “expert” bodies/committees that are constitutive of “civil society” members, bureaucrats and state ministers. Indeed, most of these “civil society” members are desirous of being part of unelected yet official, high-powered committees and commissions that are formed to recommend policy-making models to the state. The problem with such commissions and committees lies in their promotion of an ensemble of politics in which elected representatives from different political parties are overshadowed by a league of experts/technocrats in the process of policymaking by the state. With privatisation the state has been pushed into a position of greater dependence on private funding and on the growing consultative status of NGOs (a status buttressed by powerful funding agencies and also by many politicians seeking to promote their henchmen). As a result, the tendency of the government to hand-pick “personnel” to manage difficult situations is on the rise, and this is reducing the role of traditional parties in the process of policy-formation. This tendency is in sync with some of the distrust nurtured by the middle class with respect to electoral politics. For the middle class, the sidelining of electoral politics and the search for newer ways to enter the system in order to clean it up have become more “effective” measures. Of course, this is a tendency geared towards elitocracy, i.e. a politics that forever seeks to empower a class of experts/technocrats/guardians above even the elected representatives of the masses.
Let us examine more closely the problematic nature of NGO politics. The first thing to note about NGOs is the fact that their growth parallels the withdrawal of the state from responsibilities which are intrinsic to it. It is important to understand why exactly NGOs ride the wave of privatisation. When they first emerge, most NGOs are little known voluntary organisations that are involved in localised self-help programmes and social work. However, it is from this very pool of voluntary, philanthropic organisations that big financial organisations such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Ford Foundation begin to pick leaders for their flagship “welfare” programmes.(14) These recruits and their NGOs are pampered with generous funding, awards and fully-paid trips to leadership training workshops where they imbibe principles such participatory management and good governance. Hand-picked, felicitated and awarded, NGOs run by such recruits move quickly into the limelight, becoming bodies that coopt many dissidents through elaborate volunteer programmes and campaigns.
The problem with principles such as good governance, participatory management, etc. is that they are intrinsically connected to various measures adopted by the World Bank (15) and IMF to facilitate the free play of market forces in developing countries.(16) The World Bank is well known for the role it played in the liberalisation of India’s economy. It has and continues to structure government policies in India through the structural adjustment program (SAP) — the implementation of which is a necessary rider to the loans it provides developing countries like ours. SAP is characterised by reduced state expenditure on the social sector, which then prepares the ground for private investment (and profit-generation) in this sector. These responsibilities are also sub-let to NGOs (17) that are funded by capitalist houses and organisations. In other words, Kejriwal and Bedi’s NGOs are beneficiaries of a corporate lobby (World Bank) that has spearheaded privatisation of the social sector, as well as crucial state resources. Such are the “hidden” stakes involved in generously giving not just funds but also much-hyped awards to NGO leaders.(18)
Interestingly, these NGOs receive generous funding from the World Bank to raise the issue of corruption and lack of transparency in administration. This pattern of funding seems more than coincidental and is, in reality, indicative of how seriously the World Bank seeks to establish NGOs as stalwarts of good governance that should get consultative status when it comes to government policies. Indeed, its funding has provided staying power to many NGOs like that of Kejriwal’s, and has also provided them the legitimacy to become a party that should be consulted by governments. This is why we see NGO personnel increasingly become part of many flagship project-preparations of the government (projects relating to the drafting legislation like the RTI Act, NREGA (19), the Food Security bill, etc.) as well as part of premier consultative bodies like the National Advisory Council (NAC), which is headed by the ruling UPA-II chairperson, Sonia Gandhi. Clearly then, through their numerous beneficiaries the World Bank and IMF indirectly influence (and stay informed of), policy preparations in the country.
Finally, another problem with NGOs is the fact that they raise issues in complete isolation from the question of class exploitation. Attempts to raise an issue as a question of class exploitation are consciously undercut by NGOs, which project such attempts as “irrational”, “unfeasible” and “unnecessarily agitational”. In the place of revolutionary class politics that pitches the working class against its exploiter, i.e. the capitalist class, NGOs promote a paradigm of politics that seeks to galvanise “people” against the state (sarkar). In other words, NGOs consciously project a loosely defined, external force, better known as “sarkar”, as the enemy of the people, i.e., the aam aadmi – a paradigm of politics that conceals prevailing class differentiation.
Leaders & THEIR Masses: Upholding Bourgeois Democracy
On perusal of the debate surrounding the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, one comes across views that emphasised an anti-systemic aspect to middle-class participation in the movement. Unfortunately, these observations are way off the mark for they belittle the nature of bourgeois hegemony as exercised over the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. Middle-class participation, for one, was deeply influenced by a very typical form of bourgeois politics, i.e. Gandhism. Typically, this form of politics relegates the masses to a position of spectators. Above the spectators looms large the immense powers of an individual leader (such as Gandhi in previous era, and Anna in today’s context). It is to the leader that the masses transfer their political being — (remember, the ‘Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hai, slogan’?). Of course, with the transfer of all powers and the authority to negotiate, to the leader himself/herself, a movement of such nature, leaves little space for the masses to be proactively part of decision-making, strategy-building and strategy-assessment processes. Whilst the masses may indulge in spontaneous actions and articulate certain demands in the process of the movement, their voice and actions are quickly suppressed. In fact, movements such as these are withdrawn precisely at the moment where possibilities of autonomous mass action from below are on the rise. During the colonial period the Non-Cooperation movement, for example, was withdrawn on Gandhi’s insistence at a conjuncture when autonomous mass action from below surfaced as a threat to bourgeois form of politics. This pattern was repeated throughout the national liberation movement.
Interestingly, some observers of the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign have tried to trace autonomous mass action in the campaign by highlighting certain demands that emanated from the middle-class agitators, such as the demand for greater democratisation of the parliamentary system, the demand for electoral reforms, etc. For some observers the radical autonomy of the middle class was also reflected in the fact that it was actively discussing law, and hence, deciding the law’s content. However, this so-called autonomy of the masses is questionable. First, not one self-formulated demand from the masses was incorporated in the Campaign. Secondly, despite many political commentators hailing Anna’s crusade as the awakening of the middle class —an awakening that created an acute political crisis for the Indian state, the prevailing political system was upheld once again by middle class youth who voted during the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) election. Considering the scepticism created by the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, middle-class youth should have boycotted the election en masse, or, voted in candidates from groups other than the mainstream parties. As we all know this did not happen.(20) Of course, the example is not comprehensive. Yet it is indicative of how compromised the participation of the middle-class masses was. The middle-class masses did not actively position themselves in opposition to the status quo, even after being in confrontation mode. Isn’t this why, despite the Campaign making no substantial gains, they melted away with Anna’s call to withdraw the struggle?(21)
If this is so, what do we make of demands for greater democratisation of the parliamentary system, for electoral reforms, etc., that emanated from the Ramlila Maidan? Yes, these demands rode the wave of discontent that stemmed from the masses. Undeniably, the mood surrounding the Campaign was characterised by a deep distrust in the credibility of the government. At that moment the masses seemed to be pointing their fingers at all politicians, at the entire scam-ridden UPA government, and most of all, at the undemocratic process of law-making. They wanted the laws to be made according to their needs and not in accordance with the calculations of the political class. On the face of it, such concerns may come across as an expression of a realm of politics, autonomous of (completely untouched by) Team Anna’s influence. However, on closer examination this evaluation is hard to sustain.
First, as pointed out by others, the anti-corruption ideology was Team Anna’s ploy to reinstate the faith of the masses in the given political system The focus of Team Anna’s approach was to clean up the current political system (embodied in Parliament) rather than replacing it — the logical conclusion of this being that a cleansed (incorrupt, more scrutinised) bourgeois political system is the answer to all concerns raised by the masses. Secondly, the anti-corruption ideology and strategies of Anna’s campaign did not seek to assert the sovereignty of the masses. In every Anna, Kejriwal or Hegde speech, if we read between the lines or simply refer, for that matter, to the Jan Lokpal bill, we find that it is not the people who will reign supreme, i.e. make laws (or, as in the case of the Lokpal, become judges). Far from envisaging a system of direct democracy where laws and policies of the state are decided by the masses, Team Anna’s strategies reflect a conscious effort to delegate such responsibilities to certain “well-informed citizens” (members of “civil society” groups), technocrats, etc. These experts, who are independent of mainstream political groupings, have been projected by Team Anna, as the necessary alternative to humbug politicians. Presumed here, of course, is an “innate incapability” of the masses to do the same. Without doubt, these experts, technocrats, etc. with their pedantic knowledge of existing laws and familiarity with the procedures of law-making, will advocate bourgeois interests by functioning within the ambit of the parliamentary system. The masses, in return, will continue to be distanced from the helm of affairs.
In other words, the demands for electoral and parliamentary reforms encapsulate a desire of the big bourgeoisie and a section of petty bourgeoisie to expand the current ambit of decision/policy-makers to include their direct representatives. Such demands hardly indicate that ‘pure ideals of democracy’ are being expressed. Indeed, such manoeuvres are nothing but repetitions of earlier struggles within the bourgeoisie for greater say in governance. An appropriate example comes to mind, and that is the struggle of the emerging Indian bourgeoisie for a greater stake in colonial governance. Between the late 19th century and early 20th century, the semi-feudal colonial state was time and time again compelled by the emerging Indian bourgeoisie to give it a greater share in the political structure. There was nothing anti-systemic in the Indian National Congress’s demand for Indianisation of administrative services or in its demand for Dominion Status. There was, in fact, an understanding that the British would rule (govern) better if they sub-let their responsibilities of governance to select (bourgeois) representatives/administrators. Hence, right up to the early 20th century there was only talk of changing the content and not the form of the colonial political structure. Eventually the colonial state, which was tied to the interests of British capital as well as that of feudal notables and elites of the colony, came to adjust its political structure due to growing powers of the Indian bourgeoisie. One cannot but help see a parallel in today’s developments. Today too, talk of parliamentary reforms, strong anti-corruption laws, power to the people, etc., has emerged in the context of a massive growth in the resources and wealth of India’s capitalist class. Let us not forget that demands for greater transparency, accountability and adjustment (not transformation) of the parliamentary system are being raised at a particular conjuncture, i.e. when India’s capitalist class is emerging as a big player in the global capitalist economy. For the capitalist class as a whole, an “efficient” and “incorrupt” administration is necessary for on-the-ground implementation of policies and laws that are based on its interests.
To sum up, plans of adjusting and reforming the parliamentary system are far from anti-systemic, and reflect efforts to reinforce the prevailing system. In this context, momentary discussions on law by a section of the middle-class masses should not be overemphasised, especially, when the mass of working class and a significant portion of the middle class continue to be distanced from the process of law-making. How can we celebrate such moments when India’s working class and a large portion of the middle class continue to be pushed into a non-political existence by long working hours, stressful work regimes, etc.? After all, which factory worker, construction worker, school teacher, vegetable vendor, IT professional, etc. has the time to participate in law-making? With the average work hours touching 12 to 14 hours a day, most of the country’s working population is in no position to participate in political decision-making. Their political existence is reduced to voting in a government once in five years. That once their vote is cast the people/voters have no say in policy decisions is a fact reflected most cruelly in their almost complete ignorance of legislation passed and issues debated in Parliament. Ironically, in order to amass support from the masses as well as misguided ‘Left’ individuals/groups that supported the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign, Arvind Kejriwal opined that direct participation of the masses should be pursued through gram sabhas and “town-hall meetings”.(22) While saying so he completely elided the fact as to who would actually have the time to participate, especially when at the local level the economically dependent and caste-oppressed populace is forced to act as a captive population to the “upper”-caste rural elite and capitalist employers. Has Anna Hazare’s campaign really created one objective condition for their participation in the political process?
First Time as Tragedy, Second Time as Farce
Needless to say, discontent of the working class and other oppressed classes cannot be addressed by the prevailing political structure. The current form of representative politics, embodied in Parliament (and also seen in most mass movements), has not empowered the working class or middle class to debate state policies and to ratify legislation themselves before they are implemented. In fact, it has absolved the masses of these responsibilities and delegated them to “better-informed” representatives whose “business it is to solely do politics”. The parliamentary structure is, hence, based on a class of representatives who enjoy the exclusive right to define, affect and solve social problems. A political structure that provides such exclusive rights without any form of participation of the people creates the objective condition for such representatives to indulge in a politics that is antithetical to the interests of the masses. Unsurprisingly, this particular form of politics has increasingly become a lucrative business for the specially created class of representatives.
Unfortunately, perpetuation of the aforementioned political structure has been integral to several movements in this country, including that of Anna’s. This is due to the hegemonic control exercised by the bourgeoisie in almost all these movements. After successfully hegemonising the Indian national liberation struggle, India’s bourgeoisie has continued to hijack the discontent of the masses in the interest of its own internal struggles for greater control on the state. Indeed, the period of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s witnessed heightened conflicts between different sections of the Indian bourgeoisie under the aegis of the federal form of state. By this time a rank of regional bourgeoisie had emerged in stiff opposition to the big/All India bourgeoisie. A classic example of this internal struggle within India’s capitalist class is the Jai Prakash Narayan movement, ironically projected as the country’s second freedom struggle. This movement emerged in the context where regional capitalists and the class of rich peasants clashed with the big/All India bourgeoisie in the process of diversifying their capital. The conflict between different sections of the bourgeoisie was the predominant force behind the mass movement that erupted. Rich peasants and the regional capitalists drew on caste ties, as well as hierarchical relations such as those between rich peasants and dependent labourers, to mobilise a mass movement around their particular demand, namely, protection and support of the state for greater capital accumulation and diversification pursued by them.
Intrinsic then to the bourgeois-dominated populist movements is the tendency to use the interests of the masses as a smokescreen for assertion of bourgeois class interests. Every such movement has framed the discourse on social problems keeping in mind the interests of the bourgeoisie. Consequently, the outcome of such movements has been the farcical repetition of the same tragedy, i.e. mass upsurge stemming from class discontent — its hijacking by bourgeois political forces through incorporation of leaders and sympathetic intellectuals into ever-expanding state structures — distancing masses from leaders and gradual displacement of the radical goals of the masses — reducing the movement’s agenda to the quest for an ideal representative and reform — perpetuation of representative form of politics at the cost of direct democracy — therefore, government change, not revolution — followed by cynicism and sense of betrayal among the masses. This cycle will repeat itself till the working class and petty bourgeoisie are able to break the control of bourgeois hegemony on their spontaneous movements, i.e. by realising that their own class interests lie in transcending the politics of reform and in pushing for transformation instead.(23)
Increasingly, the discontent of the masses requires a different form of politics that breaks the vicious cycle of farcical repetitions. Working class organisations preparing for a transformative form of politics need to retrieve earlier experiences of the working class movement so as to popularise formidable achievements in direct democracy. What was central to most of these achievements was the conscious endeavour of the revolutionary forces to gradually reduce the working hours of the people. This measure created the feasibility of political participation by the people, making it in fact a way of life. Furthermore, by devolving legislative powers and other responsibilities of governance to local bodies, active and direct political participation became a rational and desirable practice for the masses. Hence, a transformative form of politics (such as direct democracy) has to be bolstered by returning time to the masses. To go beyond the parliamentary system and return power to the people requires the smashing of capitalism itself. It is only by putting an end to capitalist exploitation and oppression of the working class and petty bourgeoisie that the revolutionary political potential of the masses can be actualised. For this, the working-class movement needs to tap into the discontent of the working class and proletarianised section of the petty bourgeoisie that is imbricated in the anti-corruption ideology. It is through this that claims for greater participatory democracy within capitalism can be exposed as an opportunistic play of words — empty slogans that make our neo-Gandhians (Anna and Kejriwal) appear as radical well-wishers of spontaneous mass movements.
Maya John is a research scholar and political activist based in Delhi University. She is working on the history of labour laws in India.
(1) In this paper the term middle class and petty bourgeoisie will be used interchangeably. This section of people exists in between the two basic classes present in capitalism, i.e. the working class and capitalist class. The middle class is an extremely heterogeneous category consisting of shopkeepers, white-collared, relatively high-salaried employees, self-employed professionals, etc. The common characteristic shared by these heterogeneous elements is the fact that they all share (with the capitalist class) a portion of the surplus value created by the working class.
(2) See The Wall Street Journal, 12 October, 1995. The Strait Times, Singapore, 8 March 1996 raised this amount to 45 million dollars.
(3) See The Times, 28 May, 1997.
(4) See, The State in a Changing World: World Development Report, 1997, OUP; Corruption and Good Governance, Discussion Paper No.3, UNPD, Management, Development and Governance Division, New York; Unproductive Public Expenditure: A Pragmatic Approach to Policy Analysis, IMF Pamphlet Series 48, Washington D.C.
(5) See, The Prevention of Corruption Act (1988), section 2—Definition. Another contentious issue mentioned in section 19 of the Act prescribes initial sanction before investigation. This same contentious section is being retained in Jan Lokpal Bill where prior sanction of the Bench of Lokpal is still prescribed.
(6) See, Mehboob Jeelani, “The Insurgent”, Caravan, September 2011. Jeelani reports Kejriwal’s immense admiration for the Delhi Metro system. In reality, despite being the principal employer, the Delhi Metro does not regulate payments made and work schedules created by contractors to whom it has released tenders for construction, security, maintenance, etc. As a result, most construction workers, security staff and cleaners/housekeeping staff working for the Delhi Metro continue to be denied minimum wages, overtime compensation and an eight-hour work schedule.
(7) According to several estimations, the Lokpal will be one of the biggest government departments, with investigating/prosecuting vigilance officers; appellate grievance officers, support staff for these officers; etc. numbering some 2,19,640 persons or more. Furthermore, with the large spectrum of punitive powers Team Anna wants the Lokpal to have, the elaborate set-up would end up costing the exchequer nothing less than Rs 10,000 crore annually! Overlooking this point, certain organisations such as the CPI(ML) Red Star have come to highlight only certain procedural aspects of the Lokpal, i.e. its unelected nature, as a problem. However, this argument by focusing on procedure over content amounts to a trap. It misguides the working class movement to extend support to this Leviathan. Similarly, Udit Raj, although legitimately arguing in favour of reservation in the Lokpal Office in order to safeguard SC/ST government employees, ended up supporting the same.
(8) The corporate media has increasingly resorted to innovative ways of bringing to the limelight little-known NGOs, philanthropists, etc. through “leadership” hunts. It has also been investing in programmes that promote “charismatic” middle-class educated youth through reality shows that are in the constant search for “talent”. The Times of India, for example, funds the “Lead India” and “Social Impact” campaigns, in which successful and well-educated middle class youth as well as business entrepreneurs are felicitated for “commendable achievements” in their respective fields. This practice helps promote a particular tendency within the middle class, i.e. the tendency to idealise “enigmatic” persons, and to perceive talent as well as leadership as qualities inhabiting only a select few people. Indeed, the middle class often seeks to resolve some of the angst and insecurities that stem from its class position, through this practice of idealising individuals and transplanting all virtues that are lacking in it on to these select few individuals.
(9) This ideology of common national interest uses and reinforces “upper caste” elite notion of “merit” and “efficiency” which is evident in Team Anna’s flirting with anti-reservation and anti-Dalit tirade.
(10) The dominant middle class’s reificatory perception of corruption as bribery and embezzlement identifies only a part of the money in circulation, leaving aside the larger amount of money accumulated by over-exploitation of workers. Take the case of the scam surrounding the Commonwealth Games that only highlighted the billions of rupees circulated through bribery, etc., but not the more significant amount of wealth accumulated by capitalists through their over-exploitation of workers during the Games. Likewise, the report on the 2G spectrum scam brought to light how bribes amounting to Rs 2000 crore were passed on to the telecom ministry by different bidders. However, what is more important to note is that companies such as Reliance, Essar, etc. were in such a position to bribe the ministry because they earned much more than what they offered in bribes. So, while bribes to ministers and top bureaucrats amounted to Rs 2,000 crore, the overall profit raked in by companies was a whopping Rs 1 lakh crore! Baba Ramdev not so long ago created a riotous situation by demanding all black money be returned to India. It was his concerted effort to shift the focus to Swiss Banks when the source of the undisclosed wealth (in terms of its generation) lay in India itself. As a result, what is conveniently concealed by the reificatory notion of corruption is the brutal process whereby capitalists exploit workers and displace poor peasants and adivasis so as to attain huge super-profits.
(11) To elucidate, many politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are from wealthy (millionaire) families and undergo the same kind of high-quality education. Many are, in fact, alumni of the same elite institutions and are part of the same social circles.
(12) In India such policy-making committees emerged way back in the late 1930s. For example, the National Planning Committee, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru and consisting of businessmen and “experts” was formed in 1939 in the endeavour to devise a framework for future economic planning. Then in 1942 a six-member committee was formed under the initiative of Tata and Birla. This committee consisting of six most prominent industrialists in the country produced the Bombay Plan, which specified a blueprint for state expenditure. Policy-making committees have emerged as a bigger trend in contemporary times, as is evident from the following pool of recommending bodies: (i) the three-member Investment Commission (2004), which consisted of Ratan Tata (as Chairman), Deepak Parekh (prominent financier and director of many companies) and Ashok Ganguly; (ii) Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister in which the chairman enjoys a rank equivalent to a Cabinet Minister; (iii) National Knowledge Commission (2005) consisting of two prominent corporate leaders, Sam Pitroda and Ashok Ganguly.
(13) For example, shop-keepers/small-scale retailers do not often identify their interests in opposition to big capital whose commodities they sell. Instead, a conflict of interest and competition exists within shop-keepers themselves, since enhanced sales of one means loss of business for another. Similarly, the ‘new rich’ segment of the petty-bourgeoisie does not stand in opposition to big capital (unless unionised in work places, etc.). Instead, they stand in a competitive position vis-à-vis each other for access to limited resources like subsidised education.
(14) See The World Bank’s Partnership with Non-Governmental Organizations, World Bank, Washington DC, 1996. Also see, James Petras, “The Ford Foundation and the CIA: A Documented Case of Philanthropic Collaboration with the Secret Police”, www.rebellionorg/petras/english/ford
(15) See “People’s Participation”, World Bank Discussion Papers No. 183, World Bank, Washington DC, 1992, & “Participatory Development and the World Bank”, World Bank Discussion Papers, Washington DC, 1992, pp.10.
(16) See Aurora, Shashikala, Gayathri, et al, “New Economic Policy, Voluntary Organization and Rural Poor”, Economic and Political Weekly, April 2, 1994.
(17) See Jagdish Bhagwati, “The Design of Indian Development”, & Deepak Lal, “Economic Reforms and Poverty Alleviation” in I.J. Ahluwalia & I.M.D. Little (ed.) India’s Economic Reforms and Development: Essays for Manmohan Singh, OUP: Delhi, 1998.
(18) The following are examples of awards given to prominent individuals in Team Anna: (i) the Ramon Magsaysay Award (funded by the Ford Foundation which is supported by corporate houses like Ford Co., etc.) to RTI “activist” Arvind Kejriwal, (ii) the Ramon Magsaysay Award to “social worker” Kiran Bedi, and (iii) the Jit Gill Prize (funded by the World Bank) to the then relatively obscure local activist, Anna Hazare.
(19) NREGA is based on the theoretical postulation that in underdeveloped economies, capital formation can be “effectively” pursued by drawing on the semi/unemployed rural population. This rural unemployed force is employed in construction work, etc., and is paid wages that merely sustain the bare minimum needs. Thus, the rural unemployed force becomes a cheap source of surplus value. Since schemes such as NREGA are introduced on a large scale, i.e. on a national scale, they help generate considerable capital formation. This development benefits capitalists significantly. For example, roads built under the NREGA scheme enhance the distribution networks of private companies in interior regions of the country. In actual terms, NREGA is a by-product of the Vakil-Brahmanand model of development—a model that features prominently in developmental plans of the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. This model of development stems from earlier theoretical postulations of “liberal” economists like Nurkse and Lewis. See, Ragnar Nurkse, Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries, Oxford: Blackwell, 1953, and Arthur Lewis, “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour”, Manchester School, Vol. 2, May, pp. 129-91. Here it is also worth noting that the RTI Act is restricted to public bodies, as a result of which the inner functioning of private bodies (including NGOs) continues to be concealed from the public eye.
(20) One of the reasons for consistent participation of youth in the student elections held in Delhi lies in the fact that the city houses many “centres of excellence”/central government-run educational institutes. Because of this educational status of the capital city, all mainstream parties very consciously root their politics among the university youth. This year, the middle-class university youth voted in an NSUI candidate (the student wing of the Congress) for the post of president, and candidates from ABVP (the student wing of the BJP) to the remaining posts. Ironically, the NSUI made a comeback this year by winning the post of president. If we look at the voter turnout for this year’s election, it more or less matched last year’s turnout (33% for 2011 and 35% 2010), as well as the overall voter turnout of the past three years.
(21) On August 28, 2011, Anna concluded his fast with a compromise in hand, gaining nothing substantial for the masses. Subhash Kashyap (constitutional expert) and former Lok Sabha Secretary-General in an interview to Frontline (September 23, 2011, pp. 18) magazine opined that the government has conceded nothing, and the biggest achievement of the negotiations is that Anna has broken his fast!
(22) See, Arvind Kejriwal’s interview in Frontline, September 23, 2011. In this interview he continued to emphasise that corruption was not a problem created by corporate houses. He in fact argued that corporate houses were the victims of corruption.
(23) Having said this, what should the organised Left do at conjunctures when movements under bourgeois hegemony, emerge? The answer lies in a form of alliance building in which different sections of workers scattered across different social spaces, are united. The Left would gain most by first strengthening existing movements that embrace expansive hegemony of the working class, and then, positioning these movements in confrontation with bourgeois movements. If such working class movements are lacking (as is the case presently), the Left needs to concentrate on building them. If a strong working-class movement existed at the time of Team Anna’s campaign, it would have raised slogans against capitalist exploitation of various classes. In the process it would have gradually exposed the ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign for its bourgeois content and form, and would have won over workers and a large section of the middle class that were influenced by Anna. Here the fighting force of the movement would have been the working class, and it is the hegemony of the working class that would have been asserted. As a result, rather than an anti-corruption campaign that sought to reinforce the prevailing form of politics (in terms of cleaning up the parliamentary system as opposed to replacing it), a new form of politics would have been the agenda — destroy capitalism and the parliamentary system.