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An Act of Transgression

A continuation of the discussion on "Leninism as Radical 'Desireology' " (EPW, 24 September 2011). Murzban criticises this author's response for expressing a cold war liberal psychology but he adopts the same psychology in his response and argues that if "you are not with Marx, you are against Marx".


forgets to note that my criticism of Marx

An Act of Transgression

is informed by many developments within communist, socialist and ecological movements after Marx rather than Arun K Patnaik pre-Marx liberalism. But, more impor-

A continuation of the discussion on “Leninism as Radical ‘Desireology’ ” (EPW, 24 September 2011). Murzban criticises this author’s response for expressing a cold war liberal psychology but he adopts the same psychology in his response and argues that if “you are not with Marx, you are against Marx”.

Arun K Patnaik ( teaches at the department of political science, University of Hyderabad.

appreciate Murzban Jal’s rejoinder (“Anti-Marxism as Putrefi ed Theology”, EPW, 3 March 2012) to my response (“A Critique of India’s Political Secularism”, 22 October 2011) to his paper (“Leninism as Radical ‘Desireology’”, 24 September 2011) on two counts, apart from setting a trend of healthy academic debate. First, he criticises me for what I know rather than what I do not know. This is the best part of his critique. Second, I also admire his critique as he has not greeted my response with a conspiracy of silence, usually seen in left-wing circles in India. But Jal accuses me for forgetting so many insights that are in his paper. He forgets to note that I ended my response by appreciating Jal’s attempt to criticise what he metaphorically calls “the monk, Don Juan and the philistine”, in a veiled reference to three forms of Stalinism represented by the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist Liberation) (CPI(ML)) organisations, respectively. Due to a paucity of “discussion space”, I could not develop his ideas further. It remains so, for a potential critique of Indian Stali nism has not been developed by Jal; himself.


I notice he tries to transcend liberal cold war psychology in his rejoinder but returns to it. I will give one illustration to support my argument. He criticises me for carrying the cold war psychology of liberals against Marx, forgetting altogether that I appreciate Marx’s breakthrough for his mode of production perspective, rational dialectical method, praxis-oriented history/theory and sexual division of labour preceding class division of labour, an insight lost to us for long due to our obsession with “the monk or Don Juan or the philistine”. He

Economic & Political Weekly

may 12, 2012 vol xlviI no 19

tantly, he argues as if “you are not with Marx, you are against Marx”. I need not repeat here that I am not with Marx for several reasons. Yet, I would like to reiterate Hal Draper’s argument which has been ignored by Jal: echoing Sweezy, just as comrades dialectically examine non-Marxists, so also non-Marxists should examine Marx’s contributions dialectically. But Draper adds the following: the followers of Marx should adopt a dialectical critique of Marx as well. Thus, instead of transcending cold war liberal psychology which is incidentally Leninist phraseology as well, Jal returns to adopt the same against the critiques of the trio: “the monk, Don Juan and the philistine”. Sudipta Kaviraj elsewhere calls such tendency as transgression rather than transcendence.

Transgression takes place if a critic or an actor (like Bankim’s Kamalakanta, for Kaviraj) intends to transcend an object/subject but returns to it in several forms without even knowing that such a strategy may smack of double standards in theory/practice. Such a transgressive moment is usually devoid of immanent criticism.

For, an author following a transgressive method does not tell us any internal strength or weaknesses of a theory or practice. Jal’s critique does that. He does not tell us if there are any useful insights in my response which Jal may have to absorb and advise comrades to follow the same. That is why, following Kaviraj, I would like to call his critique an act of transgression. He intends to transcend, but fails to do so. His dialectical language is a mere mantra.

Therefore, I think Jal’s paper reinforces a theological spirit among the comrades in India: “Marx is always right”. That is indeed a cause for deep worry as he seems to be an independent minded Marxist. I would not be surprised if our comrades refer to Jal’s rejoinder as an exemplar of my anti-Marxism. Here, he


adopts the dialectical ritual usually followed by the Indian left. In the dialectic reasoning that Jal merely talks, there is no space for anti-Marxism or pro-Marxism phraseology. If you take either/or positions in dialectics, then you use dialectics as a ritual or mantra. Following dialectics, I would like to submit what Hal Draper says: do not reject Marx outright and do not accept Marx blindly. That is what Marx follows in the case of his predecessors, not contemporaries like J S Mill, a point made by Gerry Cohen. We need to adopt the same dialectical stance, while discussing his contributions as well. D D Kosambi made a similar point against Indian Leninism: it has substituted Marx’s method for his formulations and it relies on his formulations as mantra to browbeat enemies (i e, OM which stands for “offi cial Marxists” including independent Marxists like the Royists).

Towards an Expansive State

Last but not least, I would like to avoid a misunderstanding among the readers of EPW. I concede that Jal’s polemic against my idea of expansion of the State is probably warranted as I offer no clarifi cation in my defence. However, I would like to ask a question that Jal conveniently ignores: why in the neo-liberal era, do political movements not talk about “withering away of the state”? Does the old slogan of the communist movement have any potency for a new political movement challenging the neoliberal paradigm? I offer a “Yes answer”, provided we understand the sense of Lenin before Leninism or Gramsci. The state withers away by expanding itself: the state, due to pressure from below, must expand so much that it overcomes/transcends its dual characteristics of both standing apart from and against civil society, as argued by Marx. This may happen, as Gramsci shows, only when the subaltern societies are absorbed within new civil society. For, the old civil society aided by the state excludes the subaltern societies. Also, this may happen when the state too is absorbed or what Gramsci calls the return of the state to the domain within civil society by expanding the latter. As and when the state becomes an expansive state (i e, the state ++), the extreme state (state qua state) withers away. Both domination and separation of the state from civil/subaltern society need to be challenged by movements from below. That is what the new problematic of withering away of the state means. This is not same as the anti-state position which is popular among anarchists/Marxist radicals who would like to abo lish state power abruptly (Bakunin) or gradually (Engels).

For, the new problematic of withering away of the state assumes that the state may still retain its speciality of functions, but it does not stand in separation from civil society in order to dominate civil society on the one hand, and subaltern society on the other. Both Lenin and Gramsci thus expand Marx’s ideas. So I submit that the expansion of the state must be viewed from the point of civil society and subaltern societies rather than from the point of the state itself. This is one of the original contributions (or revisions which Jal may not like to know) of Lenin before Leninism and Gramsci after Leninism. I reject the Leninist phraseology but accept Lenin predating the birth of Leninism for which Lenin himself is partly responsible. No point in simply passing the buck to Stalin and co. But this may involve another round of debate.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIES April 28, 2012 State Policy and the Twelfth Plan through a Gender Lens – J Devika, Mary E John, Kalpana Kannabiran, Sharmila Rege, Samita Sen, Padmini Swaminathan Gendering the Twelfth Plan: A Feminist Perspective – Mridul Eapen, Aasha Kapur Mehta Gender Responsive Budgeting in India: What Has Gone Wrong? – Yamini Mishra, Navanita Sinha Ladlis and Lakshmis: Financial Incentive Schemes for the Girl Child – T V Sekher Addressing Domestic Violence within Healthcare Settings: The Dilaasa Model – Padma Bhate-Deosthali, T K Sundari Ravindran, U Vindhya Beyond Feminine Public Altruism: Women Leaders in Kerala’s Urban Bodies – J Devika, Binitha V Thampi For copies write to: Circulation Manager, Economic and Political Weekly, 320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. email:

may 12, 2012 vol xlviI no 19

Economic & Political Weekly

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