Friday, January 23, 2009

Germany, 1933 / Gujarat, 2009

the Triumph of Positivism

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page


“what matters today is to preserve and disseminate freedom rather than to accelerate . . . the advance towards the administered world”

(Adorno & Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment)


Just the other day, at the “Vibrant Gujarat” conclave in Ahmedabad, two of India’s leading industrialists, Anil Ambani and Mittal, speculated from public platform what a radiantly developed country India could become were Narendra Modi to be made the “next leader of India” (read Prime Minister).

At which memories of a similar conjuncture in the Germany of 1933 came rather rushingly to the fore.

Jackson J. Spielvogel tells us how Hitler “knew that to fulfill his foreign policy goals he needed the technological skills of the industrialists and capitalist industry itself.”

Thus he was to appoint Reichsbank Schacht as the new president of the Reischbank, “staunch defender of capitalism, which certainly reassured business and industrial leaders about Hitler’s economic direction. Fortunately for Hitler, Schacht was also an astute financier willing to use his many talents to benefit the Nazis” (Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History, Prentice Hall, 1988).

Sure enough, the Krupp family and a bevy of other industrialists were drafted to set Germany on the autobahn course, leading eventually within a year to a massive attention to rearming the Reich, and everything that followed, as Jews came to be seen to constitute the sinister fifth column of the Bolsheviks, threatening to capture the German economy and the state.


In our own Gujarat, it is not so much foreign policy that Modi has in mind as the domestic ascendance of a Fascist pattern of development that might in course of time yield him the position of the chief CEO of the country.

And, although such thinking has come to permeate the whole Indian state, what makes Gujarat stand out for the captains of industry is the social ground that Modi has prepared since the pogrom of 2002.

Briefly, a graveyard of peace where Modi’s administration faces no opposition from any quarter—other political parties, labour organizations, tribals, what-have-you; and where the least voice of dissent from within his own party, the BJP, is put down with no-nonsense repression. Add to that a totalitarian control over investigative agencies, state apparatus, and large sections of the judicial apparatus—the sort of objective conditions that have led the Supreme Court of India repeatedly to intervene in their maladroit operations and to refer both the investigation and juridical determination of cases related especially to the Muslim Gujaratis to agencies outside the state, or to special task forces directly under its own aegis.

As to the media, Gujarat is one place where the most puissant of them can be put into the doghouse: for example, when recently the Times of India did an expose on the Police Commissioner of Ahmedabad, charges of sedition—no less—were slapped on the those who ran the local edition of the newspaper.

State agencies like the Collectorate of Police, the Charity Commissioner, not to speak of party fascios, are used to terrorise individuals and groups who show the gumption to work on behalf of the poor, the minorities, or the other marginalized sections. Not to speak of the intimidation meted out with full state support to artists, film-makers, other cultural practitioners whose work is seen to transgress or question the preferences of a traditional, high-caste Hindu order of things.

Modi’s satraps routinely take recourse to the argument that having won elections, Modi has proved his legitimacy—an argument that is denied to the repeated and impressive victories scored by the Left in West Bengal, Lalu Prasad in Bihar, Shiela Dixit in Delhi, and so on, victories that have not had the underpinnings of a fascicised, majoritarian produce of hate to propel them. Yet the world knows that Modi’s electoral victories have resulted from a Hitlerite polarization of the majority Hindus against, not the Jews but the Muslims?

Nowhere in India, for these reasons, does the road to “development” and profit-maximisation seem as smooth to the industrialists as it does in Gujarat. As to the living indices of common Gujaratis, and of the relegated sections and victims of communal pogroms especially, how are they material to the story of “vibrant Gujarat”?


Adorno and Horkheimer, seeking in 1944 to understand what could explain the transmogrification of Europe from Enlightenment reason to Fascism, were to theorise how a “tireless self-destruction of enlightenment hypocritically celebrated by implacable fascists and implemented by pliable experts in humanity” had taken place—a process calculated to to turn “thought into commodity” and “language into a celebration of the commodity.”

Indeed, in a whole section devoted to the media. A&H were to show brilliantly, long before Marshall McLulan, how that decline of Enlightenment humanism into reified class interest was to turn the message into the substance, thus scoring a mythical and fraudulent triumph of “communicative reason” to which such votaries of that reason as Habermas have remained cruelly oblivious.

Given that the Indian bourgeoisie that supported the anti-colonial freedom movement, far from producing any European-Enlightenment moment of opposition, not to speak of sustained opposition, to the social/mythical weltanshuuang of the old feudal classes, simply incorporated the past into both their own lives and into the political manipulations of the anti-colonial movement, the Gujarat variety of fascism could the more easily marry instrumentalist positivism with social stasis and rootedness.

A structure of inherited prejudices and organized corporate religion have, thus, been brought to buttress commodified reason rather than thwart its virulently benumbing operations.

A & H were to point out that “if enlightenment does not assimilate reflection in this repressive moment, it seals its own fate,” as “motorized history” furthers the “oblivious instrumentalization of science.”

And, with uncanny pertinence to the contemporary Indian situation: “in the mysterious willingness of the technologically educated masses to fall under the spell of any despotism, in its self-destructive affinity to nationalist paranoia. . . the weakness of contemporary theoretical understanding is evident.”

This decline of the Enlightenment into an unreflective and despotic positivism ensures that “the flood of precise information and brand new amusements make people smarter and more stupid atonce.” Brilliant formulation if ever there was one.

Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944,1947,1969,2002, the last in Edmund Jephcott’s excellent translation) was thus intended as a “critique of enlightenment…to prepare a positive (rather than “positivist”) concept of enlightenment which liberates it from entanglement in blind domination.”

Put another way, this project was to liberate the enlightenment from the extensions it was to find in the work of Kant, Sade, and Nietzsche—all of that leading to Fascism and Nazism.

In our own case, the event in Gujarat suggests the long road still to be taken first to arrive at the Enlightenment moment, and then to disabuse that moment of its instrumentalist, anti-democratic hegemony, both tasks ominously coterminous rather than sequential. And all that almost exclusively the onus of a weak organized Left and civil society organizations that often find both the state and the classes that kow-tow to it in concerted antagonism.


Imagine that even as India’s leading industrialists think it mouth=wateringly desirable that Modi be set-up as the Prime Minister (by which term they intend really the CEO of the state reconceived as a Corporation), here are some facts about common life in Gujarat:

–one of the lowest gender ratios in demography in terms of females to males;

–one of the highest rates of female infanticide;

–girls raped by teachers for better grades, and in govt., hostels;

–boys mysteriously murdered in religious ashrams;

–vigilante violence against young people wishing to cohabit or marry across communities or castes, all duly ignored by state agencies;

–a “freedom of religion” law that infact punishes change of religion;

–denial of ordinary civic rights to Muslims who are denied both trade rights and housing in up-market areas dominated by Hindus;

–organised lying about developmental indices: e.g concealment of the fact that it is one of the most indebted states in the country; that industrialists are attracted by government subsidies given to them; that no more than some 23% of MOUs signed with them since 2003 are actually in the pipeline; that the waters of the Narmada still do not reach the most needy regions of the state; that thousands have been displaced from the banks of the Sabarmati river to make way for the Sabarmati River Front Development Project; that fisher folk find themselves ruthlessly dispossessed without alternative recourse;

–that Dalits continue to live in inhuman conditions;

–that massive numbers of children remain enslaved in the labour force;

–that official school text books continue to be full of distortions of history and other myths and inaccuracies;

–that in contrast to a national average of 66%, only some 59% of rural children can read;

–that right-wing Hindutva groups may put up bill-boards anywhere proclaiming “Hindu Rashtra”;

And so on.

(see “Vibrant” Gujarat: Lies, Half-Truths and Illusions, The Gujarat Reality Today,” by Fr.Cedric Prakash, Director of Prashant, Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Yet none of this figures in the calculations of the big-wigs who celebrate “vibrant” Gujarat.


True to this pattern of cutting-edge technological development nestling next to areas of abysmal social darkeness are neighbourhoods like Noida and Gurgaon in the National Capital Region.

These are areas that have some of the highest crime rates in the country, such as include daylight abductions, rapes, robberies, road-rage killings, honour killings of young women—and men—who dare defy the traditions laid down by caste groups and panchayats, and other forms of violence engendered by a culture of new affluence married to the prejudices of a feudal world-order.

A pattern entirely to the convenience of investors and industrialists who wish for great leaps in technological development but think any application of the scientific ways of thinking about social and cultural issues first a nuisance and then a potential threat to the flow of their operations.

As Marx had foreseen, the bourgeoisie may have, in Europe especially, made ruthless use of science in dethroning the regressive weltanshuuang of the feudal classes, but once in power, the last thing they desired was to see science carried further forward to scrutinize the weltanshuuang of their own class.

From about the end of the eighteenth century, science had to have but one use: the exploitation and mastering of natural resources for the ploughing of surpluses at whatever social cost. And the chief source of surplus being wage labour.

Gujarat under the Narendra Modi dispensation offers just about the most perfect scenario for so doing. It also boasts one of the lowest rates of wage labour!

What fitter candidate for India’s Prime Ministership?


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