Archive for the ‘Pustaka Teori’ Category

Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy

By Francis Fukuyama

Against Identity Politics -- Francis Fukuyana Pic 1

Against Identity Politics — Francis Fukuyama

Beginning a few decades ago, world politics started to experience a dramatic transformation. From the early 1970s to the first decade of this century, the number of electoral democracies increased from about 35 to more than 110. Over the same period, the world’s output of goods and services quadrupled, and growth extended to virtually every region of the world. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty plummeted, dropping from 42 percent of the global population in 1993 to 18 percent in 2008.

But not everyone benefited from these changes. In many countries, and particularly in developed democracies, economic inequality increased dramatically, as the benefits of growth flowed primarily to the wealthy and well-educated. The increasing volume of goods, money, and people moving from one place to another brought disruptive changes. In developing countries, villagers who previously had no electricity suddenly found themselves living in large cities, watching TV, and connecting to the Internet on their mobile phones. Huge new middle classes arose in China and India—but the work they did replaced the work that had been done by older middle classes in the developed world. Manufacturing moved steadily from the United States and Europe to East Asia and other regions with low labor costs. At the same time, men were being displaced by women in a labor market increasingly dominated by service industries, and low-skilled workers found themselves replaced by smart machines.

Ultimately, these changes slowed the movement toward an increasingly open and liberal world order, which began to falter and soon reversed. The final blows were the global financial crisis of 2007–8 and the euro crisis that began in 2009. In both cases, policies crafted by elites produced huge recessions, high unemployment, and falling incomes for millions of ordinary workers. Since the United States and the EU were the leading exemplars of liberal democracy, these crises damaged the reputation of that system as a whole.

Indeed, in recent years, the number of democracies has fallen, and democracy has retreated in virtually all regions of the world. At the same time, many authoritarian countries, led by China and Russia, have become much more assertive. Some countries that had seemed to be successful liberal democracies during the 1990s—including Hungary, Poland, Thailand, and Turkey—have slid backward toward authoritarianism. The Arab revolts of 2010–11 disrupted dictatorships throughout the Middle East but yielded little in terms of democratization: in their wake, despotic regimes held on to power, and civil wars racked Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. More surprising and perhaps even more significant was the success of populist nationalism in elections held in 2016 by two of the world’s most durable liberal democracies: the United Kingdom, where voters chose to leave the EU, and the United States, where Donald Trump scored a shocking electoral upset in the race for president.

All these developments relate in some way to the economic and technological shifts of globalization. But they are also rooted in a different phenomenon: the rise of identity politics. For the most part, twentieth-century politics was defined by economic issues. On the left, politics centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. Now, in many democracies, the left focuses less on creating broad economic equality and more on promoting the interests of a wide variety of marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, and LGBT people. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion.

Identity politics has become a master concept that explains much of what is going on in global affairs.

This shift overturns a long tradition, dating back at least as far as Karl Marx, of viewing political struggles as a reflection of economic conflicts. But important as material self-interest is, human beings are motivated by other things as well, forces that better explain the present day. All over the world, political leaders have mobilized followers around the idea that their dignity has been affronted and must be restored.

Of course, in authoritarian countries, such appeals are old hat. Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked about the “tragedy” of the Soviet Union’s collapse and has excoriated the United States and Europe for taking advantage of Russia’s weakness during the 1990s to expand NATO. Chinese President Xi Jinping alludes to his country’s “century of humiliation,” a period of foreign domination that began in 1839.

But resentment over indignities has become a powerful force in democratic countries, too. The Black Lives Matter movement sprang from a series of well-publicized police killings of African Americans and forced the rest of the world to pay attention to the victims of police brutality. On college campuses and in offices around the United States, women seethed over a seeming epidemic of sexual harassment and assault and concluded that their male peers simply did not see them as equals. The rights of transgender people, who had previously not been widely recognized as distinct targets of discrimination, became a cause célèbre. And many of those who voted for Trump yearned for a better time in the past, when they believed their place in their own society had been more secure.

Again and again, groups have come to believe that their identities—whether national, religious, ethnic, sexual, gender, or otherwise—are not receiving adequate recognition. Identity politics is no longer a minor phenomenon, playing out only in the rarified confines of university campuses or providing a backdrop to low-stakes skirmishes in “culture wars” promoted by the mass media. Instead, identity politics has become a master concept that explains much of what is going on in global affairs.

That leaves modern liberal democracies facing an important challenge. Globalization has brought rapid economic and social change and made these societies far more diverse, creating demands for recognition on the part of groups that were once invisible to mainstream society. These demands have led to a backlash among other groups, which are feeling a loss of status and a sense of displacement. Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities, threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole. This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure. Unless such liberal democracies can work their way back to more universal understandings of human dignity, they will doom themselves—and the world—to continuing conflict.


Most economists assume that human beings are motivated by the desire for material resources or goods. This conception of human behavior has deep roots in Western political thought and forms the basis of most contemporary social science. But it leaves out a factor that classical philosophers realized was crucially important: the craving for dignity. Socrates believed that such a need formed an integral “third part” of the human soul, one that coexisted with a “desiring part” and a “calculating part.” In Plato’s Republic, he termed this the thymos, which English translations render poorly as “spirit.”

In politics, thymos is expressed in two forms. The first is what I call “megalothymia”: a desire to be recognized as superior. Pre-democratic societies rested on hierarchies, and their belief in the inherent superiority of a certain class of people—nobles, aristocrats, royals—was fundamental to social order. The problem with megalothymia is that for every person recognized as superior, far more people are seen as inferior and receive no public recognition of their human worth. A powerful feeling of resentment arises when one is disrespected. And an equally powerful feeling—what I call “isothymia”—makes people want to be seen as just as good as everyone else.

The rise of modern democracy is the story of isothymia’s triumph over megalothymia: societies that recognized the rights of only a small number of elites were replaced by ones that recognized everyone as inherently equal. During the twentieth century, societies stratified by class began to acknowledge the rights of ordinary people, and nations that had been colonized sought independence. The great struggles in U.S. political history over slavery and segregation, workers’ rights, and women’s equality were driven by demands that the political system expand the circle of individuals it recognized as full human beings.

But in liberal democracies, equality under the law does not result in economic or social equality. Discrimination continues to exist against a wide variety of groups, and market economies produce large inequalities of outcome. Despite their overall wealth, the United States and other developed countries have seen income inequality increase dramatically over the past 30 years. Significant parts of their populations have suffered from stagnant incomes, and certain segments of society have experienced downward social mobility.

Perceived threats to one’s economic status may help explain the rise of populist nationalism in the United States and elsewhere. The American working class, defined as people with a high school education or less, has not been doing well in recent decades. This is reflected not just in stagnant or declining incomes and job losses but in social breakdown, as well. For African Americans, this process began in the 1970s, decades after the Great Migration, when blacks moved to such cities as Chicago, Detroit, and New York, where many of them found employment in the meatpacking, steel, or auto industry. As these sectors declined and men began to lose jobs through deindustrialization, a series of social ills followed, including rising crime rates, a crack cocaine epidemic, and a deterioration of family life, which helped transmit poverty from one generation to the next.

Over the past decade, a similar kind of social decline has spread to the white working class. An opioid epidemic has hollowed out white, rural working-class communities all over the United States; in 2016, heavy drug use led to more than 60,000 overdose deaths, about twice the number of deaths from traffic accidents each year in the country. Life expectancy for white American men fell between 2013 and 2014, a highly unusual occurrence in a developed country. And the proportion of white working-class children growing up in single-parent families rose from 22 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2017.

REUTERS/Whitney Curtis A protester stands on a “blue lives matter” flag in St. Louis, Missouri, September 2017.

But perhaps one of the great drivers of the new nationalism that sent Trump to the White House (and drove the United Kingdom to vote to leave the EU) has been the perception of invisibility. The resentful citizens fearing the loss of their middle-class status point an accusatory finger upward to the elites, who they believe do not see them, but also downward toward the poor, who they feel are unfairly favored. Economic distress is often perceived by individuals more as a loss of identity than as a loss of resources. Hard work should confer dignity on an individual. But many white working-class Americans feel that their dignity is not recognized and that the government gives undue advantages to people who are not willing to play by the rules.

This link between income and status helps explain why nationalist or religiously conservative appeals have proved more effective than traditional left-wing ones based on economic class. Nationalists tell the disaffected that they have always been core members of a great nation and that foreigners, immigrants, and elites have been conspiring to hold them down. “Your country is no longer your own,” they say, “and you are not respected in your own land.” The religious right tells a similar story: “You are a member of a great community of believers that has been betrayed by nonbelievers; this betrayal has led to your impoverishment and is a crime against God.”

The prevalence of such narratives is why immigration has become such a contentious issue in so many countries. Like trade, immigration boosts overall GDP, but it does not benefit all groups within a society. Almost always, ethnic majorities view it as a threat to their cultural identity, especially when cross-border flows of people are as massive as they have been in recent decades.

Yet anger over immigration alone cannot explain why the nationalist right has in recent years captured voters who used to support parties of the left, in both the United States and Europe. The rightward drift also reflects the failure of contemporary left-leaning parties to speak to people whose relative status has fallen as a result of globalization and technological change. In past eras, progressives appealed to a shared experience of exploitation and resentment of rich capitalists: “Workers of the world, unite!” In the United States, working-class voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party from the New Deal, in the 1930s, up until the rise of Ronald Reagan, in the 1980s. And European social democracy was built on a foundation of trade unionism and working-class solidarity.

But during the era of globalization, most left-wing parties shifted their strategy. Rather than build solidarity around large collectivities such as the working class or the economically exploited, they began to focus on ever-smaller groups that found themselves marginalized in specific and unique ways. The principle of universal and equal recognition mutated into calls for special recognition. Over time, this phenomenon migrated from the left to the right.


In the 1960s, powerful new social movements emerged across the world’s developed liberal democracies. Civil rights activists in the United States demanded that the country fulfill the promise of equality made in the Declaration of Independence and written into the U.S. Constitution after the Civil War. This was soon followed by the feminist movement, which similarly sought equal treatment for women, a cause that both stimulated and was shaped by a massive influx of women into the labor market. A parallel social revolution shattered traditional norms regarding sexuality and the family, and the environmental movement reshaped attitudes toward nature. Subsequent years would see new movements promoting the rights of the disabled, Native Americans, immigrants, gay men and women, and, eventually, transgender people. But even when laws changed to provide more opportunities and stronger legal protections to the marginalized, groups continued to differ from one another in their behavior, performance, wealth, traditions, and customs; bias and bigotry remained commonplace among individuals; and minorities continued to cope with the burdens of discrimination, prejudice, disrespect, and invisibility.

This presented each marginalized group with a choice: it could demand that society treat its members the same way it treated the members of dominant groups, or it could assert a separate identity for its members and demand respect for them as different from the mainstream society. Over time, the latter strategy tended to win out: the early civil rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded that American society treat black people the way it treated white people. By the end of the 1960s, however, groups such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam emerged and argued that black people had their own traditions and consciousness; in their view, black people needed to take pride in themselves for who they were and not heed what the broader society wanted them to be. The authentic inner selves of black Americans were not the same as those of white people, they argued; they were shaped by the unique experience of growing up black in a hostile society dominated by whites. That experience was defined by violence, racism, and denigration and could not be appreciated by people who grew up in different circumstances.

Multiculturalism has become a vision of a society fragmented into many small groups with distinct experiences.

These themes have been taken up in today’s Black Lives Matter movement, which began with demands for justice for individual victims of police violence but soon broadened into an effort to make people more aware of the nature of day-to-day existence for black Americans. Writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have connected contemporary police violence against African Americans to the long history of slavery and lynching. In the view of Coates and others, this history constitutes part of an unbridgeable gulf of understanding between blacks and whites.

A similar evolution occurred within the feminist movement. The demands of the mainstream movement were focused on equal treatment for women in employment, education, the courts, and so on. But from the beginning, an important strand of feminist thought proposed that the consciousness and life experiences of women were fundamentally different from those of men and that the movement’s aim should not be to simply facilitate women’s behaving and thinking like men.

Other movements soon seized on the importance of lived experience to their struggles. Marginalized groups increasingly demanded not only that laws and institutions treat them as equal to dominant groups but also that the broader society recognize and even celebrate the intrinsic differences that set them apart. The term “multiculturalism”—originally merely referring to a quality of diverse societies—became a label for a political program that valued each separate culture and each lived experience equally, at times by drawing special attention to those that had been invisible or undervalued in the past. This kind of multiculturalism at first was about large cultural groups, such as French-speaking Canadians, or Muslim immigrants, or African Americans. But soon it became a vision of a society fragmented into many small groups with distinct experiences, as well as groups defined by the intersection of different forms of discrimination, such as women of color, whose lives could not be understood through the lens of either race or gender alone.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A man protesting the cancelation of Ann Coulter’s speech at the University of California in Berkeley, California, April 2017.

The left began to embrace multiculturalism just as it was becoming harder to craft policies that would bring about large-scale socio-economic change. By the 1980s, progressive groups throughout the developed world were facing an existential crisis. The far left had been defined for the first half of the century by the ideals of revolutionary Marxism and its vision of radical egalitarianism. The social democratic left had a different agenda: it accepted liberal democracy but sought to expand the welfare state to cover more people with more social protections. But both Marxists and social democrats hoped to increase socioeconomic equality through the use of state power, by expanding access to social services to all citizens and by redistributing wealth.

As the twentieth century drew to a close, the limits of this strategy became clear. Marxists had to confront the fact that communist societies in China and the Soviet Union had turned into grotesque and oppressive dictatorships. At the same time, the working class in most industrialized democracies had grown richer and had begun to merge with the middle class. Communist revolution and the abolition of private property fell off the agenda. The social democratic left also reached a dead end when its goal of an ever-expanding welfare state bumped into the reality of fiscal constraints during the turbulent 1970s. Governments responded by printing money, leading to inflation and financial crises. Redistributive programs were creating perverse incentives that discouraged work, savings, and entrepreneurship, which in turn shrank the overall economic pie. Inequality remained deeply entrenched, despite ambitious efforts to eradicate it, such as U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives. With China’s shift toward a market economy after 1978 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Marxist left largely fell apart, and the social democrats were left to make their peace with capitalism.

The left’s diminished ambitions for large-scale socioeconomic reform converged with its embrace of identity politics and multiculturalism in the final decades of the twentieth century. The left continued to be defined by its passion for equality—by isothymia—but its agenda shifted from the earlier emphasis on the working class to the demands of an ever-widening circle of marginalized minorities. Many activists came to see the old working class and their trade unions as a privileged stratum that demonstrated little sympathy for the plight of immigrants and racial minorities. They sought to expand the rights of a growing list of groups rather than improve the economic conditions of individuals. In the process, the old working class was left behind.


The left’s embrace of identity politics was both understandable and necessary. The lived experiences of distinct identity groups differ, and they often need to be addressed in ways specific to those groups. Outsiders often fail to perceive the harm they are doing by their actions, as many men realized in the wake of the #MeToo movement’s revelations regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. Identity politics aims to change culture and behavior in ways that have real material benefits for many people.

By turning a spotlight on narrower experiences of injustice, identity politics has brought about welcome changes in cultural norms and has produced concrete public policies that have helped many people. The Black Lives Matter movement has made police departments across the United States much more conscious of the way they treat minorities, even though police abuse still persists. The #MeToo movement has broadened popular understanding of sexual assault and has opened an important discussion of the inadequacies of existing criminal law in dealing with it. Its most important consequence is probably the change it has already wrought in the way that women and men interact in workplaces.

So there is nothing wrong with identity politics as such; it is a natural and inevitable response to injustice. But the tendency of identity politics to focus on cultural issues has diverted energy and attention away from serious thinking on the part of progressives about how to reverse the 30-year trend in most liberal democracies toward greater socioeconomic inequality. It is easier to argue over cultural issues than it is to change policies, easier to include female and minority authors in college curricula than to increase the incomes and expand the opportunities of women and minorities outside the ivory tower. What is more, many of the constituencies that have been the focus of recent campaigns driven by identity politics, such as female executives in Silicon Valley and female Hollywood stars, are near the top of the income distribution. Helping them achieve greater equality is a good thing, but it will do little to address the glaring disparities between the top one percent of earners and everyone else.

Today’s left-wing identity politics also diverts attention from larger groups whose serious problems have been ignored. Until recently, activists on the left had little to say about the burgeoning opioid crisis or the fate of children growing up in impoverished single-parent families in the rural United States. And the Democrats have put forward no ambitious strategies to deal with the potentially immense job losses that will accompany advancing automation or the income disparities that technology may bring to all Americans.

Moreover, the left’s identity politics poses a threat to free speech and to the kind of rational discourse needed to sustain a democracy. Liberal democracies are committed to protecting the right to say virtually anything in a marketplace of ideas, particularly in the political sphere. But the preoccupation with identity has clashed with the need for civic discourse. The focus on lived experience by identity groups prioritizes the emotional world of the inner self over the rational examination of issues in the outside world and privileges sincerely held opinions over a process of reasoned deliberation that may force one to abandon prior opinions. The fact that an assertion is offensive to someone’s sense of self-worth is often seen as grounds for silencing or disparaging the individual who made it.

A reliance on identity politics also has weaknesses as a political strategy. The current dysfunction and decay of the U.S. political system are related to extreme and ever-growing polarization, which has made routine governing an exercise in brinkmanship. Most of the blame for this belongs to the right. As the political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have argued, the Republican Party has moved much more rapidly toward its far-right wing than the Democratic Party has moved in the opposite direction. But both parties have moved away from the center. Left-wing activists focused on identity issues are seldom representative of the electorate as a whole; indeed, their concerns often alienate mainstream voters.

But perhaps the worst thing about identity politics as currently practiced by the left is that it has stimulated the rise of identity politics on the right. This is due in no small part to the left’s embrace of political correctness, a social norm that prohibits people from publicly expressing their beliefs or opinions without fearing moral opprobrium. Every society has certain views that run counter to its foundational ideas of legitimacy and therefore are off-limits in public discourse. But the constant discovery of new identities and the shifting grounds for acceptable speech are hard to follow. In a society highly attuned to group dignity, new boundaries lines keep appearing, and previously acceptable ways of talking or expressing oneself become offensive. Today, for example, merely using the words “he” or “she” in certain contexts might be interpreted as a sign of insensitivity to intersex or transgender people. But such utterances threaten no fundamental democratic principles; rather, they challenge the dignity of a particular group and denote a lack of awareness of or sympathy for that group’s struggles.

In reality, only a relatively small number of writers, artists, students, and intellectuals on the left espouse the most extreme forms of political correctness. But those instances are picked up by the conservative media, which use them to tar the left as a whole. This may explain one of the extraordinary aspects of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which was Trump’s popularity among a core group of supporters despite behavior that, in an earlier era, would have doomed a presidential bid. During the campaign, Trump mocked a journalist’s physical disabilities, characterized Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and was heard on a recording bragging that he had groped women. Those statements were less transgressions against political correctness than transgressions against basic decency, and many of Trump’s supporters did not necessarily approve of them or of other outrageous comments that Trump made. But at a time when many Americans believe that public speech is excessively policed, Trump’s supporters like that he is not intimidated by the pressure to avoid giving offense. In an era shaped by political correctness, Trump represents a kind of authenticity that many Americans admire: he may be malicious, bigoted, and unpresidential, but at least he says what he thinks.

And yet Trump’s rise did not reflect a conservative rejection of identity politics; in fact, it reflected the right’s embrace of identity politics. Many of Trump’s white working-class supporters feel that they have been disregarded by elites. People living in rural areas, who are the backbone of populist movements not just in the United States but also in many European countries, often believe that their values are threatened by cosmopolitan, urban elites. And although they are members of a dominant ethnic group, many members of the white working class see themselves as victimized and marginalized. Such sentiments have paved the way for the emergence of a right-wing identity politics that, at its most extreme, takes the form of explicitly racist white nationalism.

Trump has directly contributed to this process. His transformation from real estate mogul and reality-television star to political contender took off after he became the most famous promoter of the racist “birther” conspiracy theory, which cast doubt on Barack Obama’s eligibility to serve as president. As a candidate, he was evasive when asked about the fact that the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had endorsed him, and he complained that a U.S. federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University was treating him “unfairly” because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. After a violent gathering of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017—where a white nationalist killed a counterprotester—Trump averred that there were “very fine people on both sides.” And he has spent a lot of time singling out black athletes and celebrities for criticism and has been happy to exploit anger over the removal of statues honoring Confederate leaders.

Thanks to Trump, white nationalism has moved from the fringes to something resembling the mainstream. Its proponents complain that although it is politically acceptable to talk about black rights, or women’s rights, or gay rights, it is not possible to advocate the rights of white Americans without being branded a racist. The practitioners of identity politics on the left would argue that the right’s assertions of identity are illegitimate and cannot be placed on the same moral plane as those of minorities, women, and other marginalized groups, since they reflect the perspective of a historically privileged community. That is clearly true. Conservatives greatly exaggerate the extent to which minority groups receive advantages, just as they exaggerate the extent to which political correctness muzzles free speech. The reality for many marginalized groups remains unchanged: African Americans continue to be subjected to police violence; women are still assaulted and harassed.

What is notable, however, is how the right has adopted language and framing from the left: the idea that whites are being victimized, that their situation and suffering are invisible to the rest of society, and that the social and political structures responsible for this situation—especially the media and the political establishment—need to be smashed. Across the ideological spectrum, identity politics is the lens through which most social issues are now seen.

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts An immigration activist during a rally to protest the Trump Administration’s immigration policy outside the Department of Justice in Washington, June 2018.


Societies need to protect marginalized and excluded groups, but they also need to achieve common goals through deliberation and consensus. The shift in the agendas of both the left and the right toward the protection of narrow group identities ultimately threatens that process. The remedy is not to abandon the idea of identity, which is central to the way that modern people think about themselves and their surrounding societies; it is to define larger and more integrative national identities that take into account the de facto diversity of liberal democratic societies.

Human societies cannot get away from identity or identity politics. Identity is a “powerful moral idea,” in the philosopher Charles Taylor’s phrase, built on the universal human characteristic of thymos. This moral idea tells people that they have authentic inner selves that are not being recognized and suggests that external society may be false and repressive. It focuses people’s natural demand for recognition of their dignity and provides language for expressing the resentments that arise when such recognition is not forthcoming.

It would be neither possible nor desirable for such demands for dignity to disappear. Liberal democracy is built on the rights of individuals to enjoy an equal degree of choice and agency in determining their collective political lives. But many people are not satisfied with equal recognition as generic human beings. In some sense, this is a condition of modern life. Modernization means constant change and disruption and the opening up of choices that did not exist before. This is by and large a good thing: over generations, millions of people have fled traditional communities that did not offer them choices in favor of communities that did. But the freedom and degree of choice that exist in a modern liberal society can also leave people unhappy and disconnected from their fellow human beings. They find themselves nostalgic for the community and structured life they think they have lost, or that their ancestors supposedly possessed. The authentic identities they are seeking are ones that bind them to other people. People who feel this way can be seduced by leaders who tell them that they have been betrayed and disrespected by existing power structures and that they are members of important communities whose greatness will again be recognized.

The nature of modern identity, however, is to be changeable. Some individuals may persuade themselves that their identity is based on their biology and is outside their control. But citizens of modern societies have multiple identities, ones that are shaped by social interactions. People have identities defined by their race, gender, workplace, education, affinities, and nation. And although the logic of identity politics is to divide societies into small, self-regarding groups, it is also possible to create identities that are broader and more integrative. One does not have to deny the lived experiences of individuals to recognize that they can also share values and aspirations with much broader circles of citizens. Lived experience, in other words, can become just plain experience—something that connects individuals to people unlike themselves, rather than setting them apart. So although no democracy is immune from identity politics in the modern world, all of them can steer it back to broader forms of mutual respect.

The first and most obvious place to start is by countering the specific abuses that lead to group victimhood and marginalization, such as police violence against minorities and sexual harassment. No critique of identity politics should imply that these are not real and urgent problems that require concrete solutions. But the United States and other liberal democracies have to go further than that. Governments and civil society groups must focus on integrating smaller groups into larger wholes. Democracies need to promote what political scientists call “creedal national identities,” which are built not around shared personal characteristics, lived experiences, historical ties, or religious convictions but rather around core values and beliefs. The idea is to encourage citizens to identify with their countries’ foundational ideals and use public policies to deliberately assimilate newcomers.

Combating the pernicious influence of identity politics will prove quite difficult in Europe. In recent decades, the European left has supported a form of multiculturalism that minimizes the importance of integrating newcomers into creedal national cultures. Under the banner of antiracism, left-wing European parties have downplayed evidence that multiculturalism has acted as an obstacle to assimilation. The new populist right in Europe, for its part, looks back nostalgically at fading national cultures that were based on ethnicity or religion and flourished in societies that were largely free of immigrants.

The fight against identity politics in Europe must start with changes to citizenship laws. Such an agenda is beyond the capability of the EU, whose 28 member states zealously defend their national prerogatives and stand ready to veto any significant reforms or changes. Any action that takes place will therefore have to happen, for better or worse, on the level of individual countries. To stop privileging some ethnic groups over others, EU member states with citizenship laws based on jus sanguinis—“the right of blood,” which confers citizenship according to the ethnicity of parents—should adopt new laws based on jus soli, “the right of the soil,” which confers citizenship on anyone born in the territory of the country. But European states should also impose stringent requirements on the naturalization of new citizens, something the United States has done for many years. In the United States, in addition to having to prove continuous residency in the country for five years, new citizens are expected to be able to read, write, and speak basic English; have an understanding of U.S. history and government; be of good moral character (that is, have no criminal record); and demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution by swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States. European countries should expect the same from their new citizens.

In addition to changing the formal requirements for citizenship, European countries need to shift away from conceptions of national identity based on ethnicity. Nearly 20 years ago, a German academic of Syrian origin named Bassam Tibi proposed making Leitkultur (leading culture) the basis for a new German national identity. He defined Leitkultur as a belief in equality and democratic values firmly grounded in the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment. Yet leftist academics and politicians attacked his proposal for suggesting that such values were superior to other cultural values; in doing so, the German left gave unwitting comfort to Islamists and far-right nationalists, who have little use for Enlightenment ideals. But Germany and other major European countries desperately need something like Tibi’s Leitkultur: a normative change that would permit Germans of Turkish heritage to speak of themselves as German, Swedes of African heritage to speak of themselves as Swedish, and so on. This is beginning to happen, but too slowly. Europeans have created a remarkable civilization of which they should be proud, one that can encompass people from other cultures even as it remains aware of its own distinctiveness.

Compared with Europe, the United States has been far more welcoming of immigrants, in part because it developed a creedal national identity early in its history. As the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset pointed out, a U.S. citizen can be accused of being “un-American” in a way that a Danish citizen could not be described as being “un-Danish” or a Japanese citizen could not be charged with being “un-Japanese.” Americanism constitutes a set of beliefs and a way of life, not an ethnicity.

Today, the American creedal national identity, which emerged in the wake of the Civil War, must be revived and defended against attacks from both the left and the right. On the right, white nationalists would like to replace the creedal national identity with one based on race, ethnicity, and religion. On the left, the champions of identity politics have sought to undermine the legitimacy of the American national story by emphasizing victimization, insinuating in some cases that racism, gender discrimination, and other forms of systematic exclusion are in the country’s DNA. Such flaws have been and continue to be features of American society, and they must be confronted. But progressives should also tell a different version of U.S. history, one focused on how an ever-broadening circle of people have overcome barriers to achieve recognition of their dignity.

Although the United States has benefited from diversity, it cannot build its national identity on diversity. A workable creedal national identity has to offer substantive ideas, such as constitutionalism, the rule of law, and human equality. Americans respect those ideas; the country is justified in withholding citizenship from those who reject them.


Once a country has defined a proper creedal national identity that is open to the de facto diversity of modern societies, the nature of controversies over immigration will inevitably change. In both the United States and Europe, that debate is currently polarized. The right seeks to cut off immigration altogether and would like to send immigrants back to their countries of origin; the left asserts a virtually unlimited obligation on the part of liberal democracies to accept all immigrants. These are both untenable positions. The real debate should instead be about the best strategies for assimilating immigrants into a country’s creedal national identity. Well-assimilated immigrants bring a healthy diversity to any society; poorly assimilated immigrants are a drag on the state and in some cases constitute security threats.

European governments pay lip service to the need for better assimilation but fail to follow through. Many European countries have put in place policies that actively impede integration. Under the Dutch system of “pillarization,” for example, children are educated in separate Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and secular systems. Receiving an education in a state-supported school without ever having to deal with people outside one’s own religion is not likely to foster rapid assimilation.

In France, the situation is somewhat different. The French concept of republican citizenship, like its U.S. counterpart, is creedal, built around the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. France’s 1905 law on laïcité, or secularism, formally separates church and state and makes impossible the kinds of publicly funded religious schools that operate in the Netherlands. But France has other big problems. First, regardless of what French law says, widespread discrimination holds back the country’s immigrants. Second, the French economy has been underperforming for years, with unemployment rates that are twice those of neighboring Germany. For young immigrants in France, the unemployment rate is close to 35 percent, compared with 25 percent for French youth as a whole. France should help integrate its immigrants by making it easier for them to find jobs, primarily by liberalizing the labor market. Finally, the idea of French national identity and French culture has come under attack as Islamophobic; in contemporary France, the very concept of assimilation is not politically acceptable to many on the left. This is a shame, since it allows the nativists and extremists of the far-right National Front to position themselves as the true defenders of the republican ideal of universal citizenship.

In the United States, an assimilation agenda would begin with public education. The teaching of basic civics has been in decline for decades, not just for immigrants but also for native-born Americans. Public schools should also move away from the bilingual and multilingual programs that have become popular in recent decades. (New York City’s public school system offers instruction in more than a dozen different languages.) Such programs have been marketed as ways to speed the acquisition of English by nonnative speakers, but the empirical evidence on whether they work is mixed; indeed, they may in fact delay the process of learning English.

The American creedal national identity would also be strengthened by a universal requirement for national service, which would underline the idea that U.S. citizenship demands commitment and sacrifice. A citizen could perform such service either by enlisting in the military or by working in a civilian role, such as teaching in schools or working on publicly funded environmental conservation projects similar to those created by the New Deal. If such national service were correctly structured, it would force young people to work together with others from very different social classes, regions, races, and ethnicities, just as military service does. And like all forms of shared sacrifice, it would integrate newcomers into the national culture. National service would serve as a contemporary form of classical republicanism, a form of democracy that encouraged virtue and public-spiritedness rather than simply leaving citizens alone to pursue their private lives.


In both the United States and Europe, a policy agenda focused on assimilation would have to tackle the issue of immigration levels. Assimilation into a dominant culture becomes much harder as the numbers of immigrants rise relative to the native population. As immigrant communities reach a certain scale, they tend to become self-sufficient and no longer need connections to groups outside themselves. They can overwhelm public services and strain the capacity of schools and other public institutions to care for them. Immigrants will likely have a positive net effect on public finances in the long run—but only if they get jobs and become tax-paying citizens or lawful residents. Large numbers of newcomers can also weaken support among native-born citizens for generous welfare benefits, a factor in both the U.S. and the European immigration debates.

Liberal democracies benefit greatly from immigration, both economically and culturally. But they also unquestionably have the right to control their own borders. All people have a basic human right to citizenship. But that does not mean they have the right to citizenship in any particular country beyond the one in which they or their parents were born. International law does not, moreover, challenge the right of states to control their borders or to set criteria for citizenship.

The EU needs to be able to control its external borders better than it does, which in practice means giving countries such as Greece and Italy more funding and stronger legal authority to regulate the flow of immigrants. The EU agency charged with doing this, Frontex, is understaffed and underfunded and lacks strong political support from the very member states most concerned with keeping immigrants out. The system of free internal movement within the EU will not be politically sustainable unless the problem of Europe’s external borders is solved.

In the United States, the chief problem is the inconsistent enforcement of immigration laws. Doing little to prevent millions of people from entering and staying in the country unlawfully and then engaging in sporadic and seemingly arbitrary bouts of deportation—which were a feature of Obama’s time in office—is hardly a sustainable long-term policy. But Trump’s pledge to “build a wall” on the Mexican border is little more than nativistic posturing: a huge proportion of illegal immigrants enter the United States legally and simply remain in the country after their visas expire. What is needed is a better system of sanctioning companies and people who hire illegal immigrants, which would require a national identification system that could help employers figure out who can legally work for them. Such a system has not been established because too many employers benefit from the cheap labor that illegal immigrants provide. Moreover, many on the left and the right oppose a national identification system owing to their suspicion of government overreach.

Compared with Europe, the United States has been far more welcoming of immigrants, in part because it developed a creedal national identity early in its history.

As a result, the United States now hosts a population of around 11 million illegal immigrants. The vast majority of them have been in the country for years and are doing useful work, raising families, and otherwise behaving as law-abiding citizens. A small number of them commit criminal acts, just as a small number of native-born Americans commit crimes. But the idea that all illegal immigrants are criminals because they violated U.S. law to enter or stay in the country is ridiculous, just as it is ridiculous to think that the United States could ever force all of them to leave the country and return to their countries of origin.

The outlines of a basic bargain on immigration reform have existed for some time. The federal government would undertake serious enforcement measures to control the country’s borders and would also create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants without criminal records. Such a bargain might receive the support of a majority of U.S. voters, but hard-core immigration opponents are dead set against any form of “amnesty,” and pro-immigrant groups are opposed to stricter enforcement.

Public policies that focus on the successful assimilation of foreigners might help break this logjam by taking the wind out of the sails of the current populist upsurge in both the United States and Europe. The groups vociferously opposing immigration are coalitions of people with different concerns. Hard-core nativists are driven by racism and bigotry; little can be done to change their minds. But others have more legitimate concerns about the speed of social change driven by mass immigration and worry about the capacity of existing institutions to accommodate this change. A policy focus on assimilation might ease their concerns and peel them away from the bigots.

Identity politics thrives whenever the poor and the marginalized are invisible to their compatriots. Resentment over lost status starts with real economic distress, and one way of muting the resentment is to mitigate concerns over jobs, incomes, and security. In the United States, much of the left stopped thinking several decades ago about ambitious social policies that might help remedy the underlying conditions of the poor. It was easier to talk about respect and dignity than to come up with potentially costly plans that would concretely reduce inequality. A major exception to this trend was Obama, whose Affordable Care Act was a milestone in U.S. social policy. The ACA’s opponents tried to frame it as an identity issue, insinuating that the policy was designed by a black president to help his black constituents. But the ACA was in fact a national policy designed to help less well-off Americans regardless of their race or identity. Many of the law’s beneficiaries include rural whites in the South who have nonetheless been persuaded to vote for Republican politicians vowing to repeal the ACA.

Identity politics has made the crafting of such ambitious policies more difficult. Although fights over economic policy produced sharp divisions early in the twentieth century, many democracies found that those with opposing economic visions could often split the difference and compromise. Identity issues, by contrast, are harder to reconcile: either you recognize me or you don’t. Resentment over lost dignity or invisibility often has economic roots, but fights over identity frequently distract from policy ideas that could help. As a result, it has been harder to create broad coalitions to fight for redistribution: members of the working class who also belong to higher-status identity groups (such as whites in the United States) tend to resist making common cause with those below them, and vice versa.

The Democratic Party, in particular, has a major choice to make. It can continue to try to win elections by doubling down on the mobilization of the identity groups that today supply its most fervent activists: African Americans, Hispanics, professional women, the LGBT community, and so on. Or the party could try to win back some of the white working-class voters who constituted a critical part of Democratic coalitions from the New Deal through the Great Society but who have defected to the Republican Party in recent elections. The former strategy might allow it to win elections, but it is a poor formula for governing the country. The Republican Party is becoming the party of white people, and the Democratic Party is becoming the party of minorities. Should that process continue much further, identity will have fully displaced economic ideology as the central cleavage of U.S. politics, which would be an unhealthy outcome for American democracy.


Fears about the future are often best expressed through fiction, particularly science fiction that tries to imagine future worlds based on new kinds of technology. In the first half of the twentieth century, many of those forward-looking fears centered on big, centralized, bureaucratic tyrannies that snuffed out individuality and privacy: think of George Orwell’s 1984. But the nature of imagined dystopias began to change in the later decades of the century, and one particular strand spoke to the anxieties raised by identity politics. So-called cyberpunk authors such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Bruce Sterling saw a future dominated not by centralized dictatorships but by uncontrolled social fragmentation facilitated by the Internet.

Stephenson’s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, posited a ubiquitous virtual “Metaverse” in which individuals could adopt avatars and change their identities at will. In the novel, the United States has broken down into “Burbclaves,” suburban subdivisions catering to narrow identities, such as New South Africa (for the racists, with their Confederate flags) and Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong (for Chinese immigrants). Passports and visas are required to travel from one neighborhood to another. The CIA has been privatized, and the aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise has become a floating home for refugees. The authority of the federal government has shrunk to encompass only the land on which federal buildings are located.

Our present world is simultaneously moving toward the opposing dystopias of hypercentralization and endless fragmentation. China, for instance, is building a massive dictatorship in which the government collects highly specific personal data on the daily transactions of every citizen. On the other hand, other parts of the world are seeing the breakdown of centralized institutions, the emergence of failed states, increasing polarization, and a growing lack of consensus over common ends. Social media and the Internet have facilitated the emergence of self-contained communities, walled off not by physical barriers but by shared identities.

The good thing about dystopian fiction is that it almost never comes true. Imagining how current trends will play out in an ever more exaggerated fashion serves as a useful warning: 1984 became a potent symbol of a totalitarian future that people wanted to avoid; the book helped inoculate societies against authoritarianism. Likewise, people today can imagine their countries as better places that support increasing diversity yet that also embrace a vision for how diversity can serve common ends and support liberal democracy rather than undermine it.

People will never stop thinking about themselves and their societies in identity terms. But people’s identities are neither fixed nor necessarily given by birth. Identity can be used to divide, but it can also be used to unify. That, in the end, will be the remedy for the populist politics of the present.

Get the best of Foreign Affairs delivered to you every day.

Published by the Council on Foreign Relations

The Magazine

©2018 Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. All Rights Reserved.





Why Marxism is on the rise again

Karl marx

Capitalism is in crisis across the globe – but what on earth is the alternative? Well, what about the musings of a certain 19th-century German philosopher? Yes, Karl Marx is going mainstream – and goodness knows where it will end

A public-sector worker striking in east London last year.
A public-sector worker striking in east London last year.
A public-sector worker striking in east London last year. Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features

Stuart Jeffries

The Guardian, London, Wednesday 4 July 2012 20.00 BST
Last modified on Wednesday 21 May 2014 05.11 BST

Class conflict once seemed so straightforward. Marx and Engels wrote in the second best-selling book of all time, The Communist Manifesto: “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” (The best-selling book of all time, incidentally, is the Bible – it only feels like it’s 50 Shades of Grey.)

Today, 164 years after Marx and Engels wrote about grave-diggers, the truth is almost the exact opposite. The proletariat, far from burying capitalism, are keeping it on life support. Overworked, underpaid workers ostensibly liberated by the largest socialist revolution in history (China’s) are driven to the brink of suicide to keep those in the west playing with their iPads. Chinese money bankrolls an otherwise bankrupt America.

The irony is scarcely wasted on leading Marxist thinkers. “The domination of capitalism globally depends today on the existence of a Chinese Communist party that gives de-localised capitalist enterprises cheap labour to lower prices and deprive workers of the rights of self-organisation,” says Jacques Rancière, the French marxist thinker and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris VIII. “Happily, it is possible to hope for a world less absurd and more just than today’s.”

That hope, perhaps, explains another improbable truth of our economically catastrophic times – the revival in interest in Marx and Marxist thought. Sales of Das Kapital, Marx’s masterpiece of political economy, have soared ever since 2008, as have those of The Communist Manifesto and the Grundrisse (or, to give it its English title, Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy). Their sales rose as British workers bailed out the banks to keep the degraded system going and the snouts of the rich firmly in their troughs while the rest of us struggle in debt, job insecurity or worse. There’s even a Chinese theatre director called He Nian who capitalised on Das Kapital’s renaissance to create an all-singing, all-dancing musical.

And in perhaps the most lovely reversal of the luxuriantly bearded revolutionary theorist’s fortunes, Karl Marx was recently chosen from a list of 10 contenders to appear on a new issue of MasterCard by customers of German bank Sparkasse in Chemnitz. In communist East Germany from 1953 to 1990, Chemnitz was known as Karl Marx Stadt. Clearly, more than two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former East Germany hasn’t airbrushed its Marxist past. In 2008, Reuters reports, a survey of east Germans found 52% believed the free-market economy was “unsuitable” and 43% said they wanted socialism back. Karl Marx may be dead and buried in Highgate cemetery, but he’s alive and well among credit-hungry Germans. Would Marx have appreciated the irony of his image being deployed on a card to get Germans deeper in debt? You’d think.

Later this week in London, several thousand people will attend Marxism 2012, a five-day festival organised by the Socialist Workers’ Party. It’s an annual event, but what strikes organiser Joseph Choonara is how, in recent years, many more of its attendees are young. “The revival of interest in Marxism, especially for young people comes because it provides tools for analysing capitalism, and especially capitalist crises such as the one we’re in now,” Choonara says.

There has been a glut of books trumpeting Marxism’s relevance. English literature professor Terry Eagleton last year published a book called Why Marx Was Right. French Maoist philosopher Alain Badiou published a little red book called The Communist Hypothesis with a red star on the cover (very Mao, very now) in which he rallied the faithful to usher in the third era of the communist idea (the previous two having gone from the establishment of the French Republic in 1792 to the massacre of the Paris communards in 1871, and from 1917 to the collapse of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1976). Isn’t this all a delusion?

Aren’t Marx’s venerable ideas as useful to us as the hand loom would be to shoring up Apple’s reputation for innovation? Isn’t the dream of socialist revolution and communist society an irrelevance in 2012? After all, I suggest to Rancière, the bourgeoisie has failed to produce its own gravediggers. Rancière refuses to be downbeat: “The bourgeoisie has learned to make the exploited pay for its crisis and to use them to disarm its adversaries. But we must not reverse the idea of historical necessity and conclude that the current situation is eternal. The gravediggers are still here, in the form of workers in precarious conditions like the over-exploited workers of factories in the far east. And today’s popular movements – Greece or elsewhere – also indicate that there’s a new will not to let our governments and our bankers inflict their crisis on the people.”

Protestors at the Conservative conference last year.
Protestors at the Conservative conference last year.
Protestors at the Conservative conference last year. Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features/KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features

That, at least, is the perspective of a seventysomething Marxist professor. What about younger people of a Marxist temper? I ask Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal, a 22 year-old English and drama student at Goldsmiths College, London, who has just finished her BA course in English and Drama, why she considers Marxist thought still relevant. “The point is that younger people weren’t around when Thatcher was in power or when Marxism was associated with the Soviet Union,” she says. “We tend to see it more as a way of understanding what we’re going through now. Think of what’s happening in Egypt. When Mubarak fell it was so inspiring. It broke so many stereotypes – democracy wasn’t supposed to be something that people would fight for in the Muslim world. It vindicates revolution as a process, not as an event. So there was a revolution in Egypt, and a counter-revolution and a counter-counter revolution. What we learned from it was the importance of organisation.”

This, surely is the key to understanding Marxism’s renaissance in the west: for younger people, it is untainted by association with Stalinist gulags. For younger people too, Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalism in his 1992 book The End of History – in which capitalism seemed incontrovertible, its overthrow impossible to imagine – exercises less of a choke-hold on their imaginations than it does on those of their elders.

Blackwell-Pal will be speaking Thursday on Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution at the Marxism festival. “It’s going to be the first time I’ll have spoken on Marxism,” she says nervously. But what’s the point thinking about Guevara and Castro in this day and age? Surely violent socialist revolution is irrelevant to workers’ struggles today? “Not at all!” she replies. “What’s happening in Britain is quite interesting. We have a very, very weak government mired in in-fighting. I think if we can really organise we can oust them.” Could Britain have its Tahrir Square, its equivalent to Castro’s 26th of July Movement? Let a young woman dream. After last year’s riots and today with most of Britain alienated from the rich men in its government’s cabinet, only a fool would rule it out.

For a different perspective I catch up with Owen Jones, 27-year-old poster boy of the new left and author of the bestselling politics book of 2011, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class. He’s on the train to Brighton to address the Unite conference. “There isn’t going to be a bloody revolution in Britain, but there is hope for a society by working people and for working people,” he counsels.

Indeed, he says, in the 1860s the later Marx imagined such a post-capitalist society as being won by means other than violent revolution. “He did look at expanding the suffrage and other peaceful means of achieving socialist society. Today not even the Trotskyist left call for armed revolution. The radical left would say that the break with capitalism could only be achieved by democracy and organisation of working people to establish and hold on to that just society against forces that would destroy it.”

Jones recalls that his father, a Militant supporter in the 1970s, held to the entryist idea of ensuring the election of a Labour government and then organising working people to make sure that government delivered. “I think that’s the model,” he says. How very un-New Labour. That said, after we talk, Jones texts me to make it clear he’s not a Militant supporter or Trotskyist. Rather, he wants a Labour government in power that will pursue a radical political programme. He has in mind the words of Labour’s February 1974 election manifesto which expressed the intention to “Bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families”. Let a young man dream.

What’s striking about Jones’s literary success is that it’s premised on the revival of interest in class politics, that foundation stone of Marx and Engels’s analysis of industrial society. “If I had written it four years earlier it would have been dismissed as a 1960s concept of class,” says Jones. “But class is back in our reality because the economic crisis affects people in different ways and because the Coalition mantra that ‘We’re all in this together’ is offensive and ludicrous. It’s impossible to argue now as was argued in the 1990s that we’re all middle class. This government’s reforms are class-based. VAT rises affect working people disproportionately, for instance.

“It’s an open class war,” he says. “Working-class people are going to be worse off in 2016 than they were at the start of the century. But you’re accused of being a class warrior if you stand up for 30% of the population who suffers this way.”

This chimes with something Rancière told me. The professor argued that “one thing about Marxist thought that remains solid is class struggle. The disappearance of our factories, that’s to say de-industrialisation of our countries and the outsourcing of industrial work to the countries where labour is less expensive and more docile, what else is this other than an act in the class struggle by the ruling bourgeoisie?”

There’s another reason why Marxism has something to teach us as we struggle through economic depression, other than its analysis of class struggle. It is in its analysis of economic crisis. In his formidable new tome Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, Slavoj Žižek tries to apply Marxist thought on economic crises to what we’re enduring right now. Žižek considers the fundamental class antagonism to be between “use value” and “exchange value”.

What’s the difference between the two? Each commodity has a use value, he explains, measured by its usefulness in satisfying needs and wants. The exchange value of a commodity, by contrast, is traditionally measured by the amount of labour that goes into making it. Under current capitalism, Žižek argues, exchange value becomes autonomous. “It is transformed into a spectre of self-propelling capital which uses the productive capacities and needs of actual people only as its temporary disposable embodiment. Marx derived his notion of economic crisis from this very gap: a crisis occurs when reality catches up with the illusory self-generating mirage of money begetting more money – this speculative madness cannot go on indefinitely, it has to explode in even more serious crises. The ultimate root of the crisis for Marx is the gap between use and exchange value: the logic of exchange-value follows its own path, its own made dance, irrespective of the real needs of real people.”

In such uneasy times, who better to read than the greatest catastrophist theoriser of human history, Karl Marx? And yet the renaissance of interest in Marxism has been pigeonholed as an apologia for Stalinist totalitarianism. In a recent blog on “the new communism” for the journal World Affairs, Alan Johnson, professor of democratic theory and practice at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, wrote: “A worldview recently the source of immense suffering and misery, and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism, is mounting a comeback; a new form of leftwing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity but aspires to political power.

“The New Communism matters not because of its intellectual merits but because it may yet influence layers of young Europeans in the context of an exhausted social democracy, austerity and a self-loathing intellectual culture,” wrote Johnson. “Tempting as it is, we can’t afford to just shake our heads and pass on by.”

That’s the fear: that these nasty old left farts such as Žižek, Badiou, Rancière and Eagleton will corrupt the minds of innocent youth. But does reading Marx and Engels’s critique of capitalism mean that you thereby take on a worldview responsible for more deaths than the Nazis? Surely there is no straight line from The Communist Manifesto to the gulags, and no reason why young lefties need uncritically to adopt Badiou at his most chilling. In his introduction to a new edition of The Communist Manifesto, Professor Eric Hobsbawm suggests that Marx was right to argue that the “contradictions of a market system based on no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’, a system of exploitation and of ‘endless accumulation’ can never be overcome: that at some point in a series of transformations and restructurings the development of this essentially destabilising system will lead to a state of affairs that can no longer be described as capitalism”.

That is post-capitalist society as dreamed of by Marxists. But what would it be like? “It is extremely unlikely that such a ‘post-capitalist society’ would respond to the traditional models of socialism and still less to the ‘really existing’ socialisms of the Soviet era,” argues Hobsbawm, adding that it will, however, necessarily involve a shift from private appropriation to social management on a global scale. “What forms it might take and how far it would embody the humanist values of Marx’s and Engels’s communism, would depend on the political action through which this change came about.”

This is surely Marxism at its most liberating, suggesting that our futures depend on us and our readiness for struggle. Or as Marx and Engels put it at the end of The Communist Manifesto: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Marxism 2012, University College and Friends Meeting House, London, 5-9 July. Further information:



Oleh Abdillah Toha
Gonjang ganjing pilkada belakangan ini membuka kembali mata kita terhadap berbagai ulah politisi dan partai politik di daerah. Ada yang bermain halus untuk menjegal lawannya dengan membiarkan lawan maju sebagai calon tunggal. Ada yang kasar bak hewan bertaring yang mengancam dengan memobilisasi masa menyerang kantor KPUD dan aparat penegak hukum yang tidak menuruti kehendaknya.

Di Jakarta kiprah politisinya lain lagi. Setelah agak reda menyerang posisi pemerintah terus menerus sebagai kelanjutan persaingan pilpres, sekarang mereka punya mainan baru. Belum lama ini, setelah menyampaikan pidato APBN, presiden Jokowi di fait accompli untuk menandatangani prasasti mega proyek multi-year gedung-gedung baru DPR RI senilai 2.7 triliun rupiah. Pembiayaan rencananya diambil dari dana optimalisasi yang seharusnya digunakan untuk kesejahteraan rakyat. Untung Jokowi sigap dan menolak karena memang belum pernah dibahas sebelumnya dengan pemerintah.

Sejak kembalinya demokrasi di persada nusantara ini ketika reformasi digulirkan pada 1998, sampai sekarang kita masih terus berharap ada perbaikan kualitas partai dan anggota DPR yang tak kunjung mewujud. Partai, dengan sedikit pengecualian, pada umumnya masih diisi oleh kelompok yang belum sepenuhnya merepresentasikan kepentingan khalayak. Ada kelompok pencari kerja dan penghasilan, ada kelompok politisi profesional yang dari dulu tidak pernah punya kerja lain selain jadi politisi, ada kelompok pengusaha yang berkepentingan melindungi usahanya, ada kelompok berbendera agama yang kerap tak menghadirkan akhlak agamawan, dan kelompok-kelompok kecil lain yang tidak jelas asal usul dan tujuannya. Kelas negarawan dalam tubuh partai-partai kita sangat langka dan hanya sekali-sekali muncul ke permukaan tetapi tenggelam dan kalah bersaing dalam menyuarakan kepentingan nasional kita.

Politisi dan Negarawan.
Secara umum, politisi adalah pencari kekuasaan melalui mandat rakyat, sedangkan negarawan adalah mereka yang tergugah bergerak dalam arena politik demi ideologi dan prinsip-prinsip yang diyakininya. Para pendiri bangsa ini pada dasarnya politisi negarawan yang bersedia menahan sakit dan bahkan mengorbankan jiwanya demi mencapai apa yang dicita-citakan untuk bangsanya.

Harus diakui bahwa bukan hanya di negeri ini, di negara manapun sering terasa sesak dengan jumlah politisi sedangkan negarawan itu langka. Seseorang pernah menggambarkan banyaknya politisi dan langkanya negarawan bak makanan yang berlebih kalori tetapi kurang nutrisi.

Politisi dan negarawan keduanya bermanuver dalam arena politik tetapi gerak negarawan lebih dibatasi oleh pertimbangan moralitas dibanding politisi. Negarawan menyampaikan pesan-pesannya kepada publik dari hati sanubarinya karena dia percaya kepada apa yang disampaikan, sedang politisi seringkali harus menyampaikan pesan kelompok yang dia sendiri terkadang tidak meyakininya.

Politisi dan negarawan sama-sama harus memiliki kemampuan komunikasi yang efektif guna menjelaskan kebijakan negara yang kompleks kepada publik. Namun yang memisahkan mereka adalah motif dan kepentingannya. Politisi lebih tertarik kepada kepentingan partai, pribadi, kelompok, atau penguasa, sedang negarawan memusatkan perhatiannya kepada kepentingan bangsa.

Politisi lebih cenderung kepada tindakan yang segera dapat dilihat hasilnya sedang negarawan bersedia menghadapi risiko dengan mengambil keputusan tidak populer yang hasilnya hanya dapat dipetik dalam jangka panjang.Teolog dan pengarang Amerika abad 19 James Freeman Clarke mengatakan: ” Politisi memikirkan pemilu mendatang sedang negarawan memikirkan generasi mendatang”. Bagi politisi, yang penting adalah bagaimana mencapai tujuan dengan cara apapun, sedang bagi negarawan tujuan dan cara mencapainya sama-sama penting.

Politisi dapat muncul mendadak dari sudut-sudut yang tak diperkirakan sebelumnya karena berhasil merayu pemilih di daerah pemilihannya dengan janji-janji surgawi, sedang negarawan biasanya figur terhormat di masyarakat dalam usia yang lebih matang dan sudah banyak makan asam garam kehidupan sehingga membuatnya lebih arif dalam pandangannya tentang berbagai sisi kehidupan.

Demokrasi memang tidak sempurna, meski belum ditemukan sistem yang lebih baik. Dalam demokrasi, politisi mau tidak mau harus melihat kemana arah angin berhembus. Dari waktu ke waktu mengukur apa yang diinginkan konstituen. Negarawan juga tidak bisa lepas dari pertimbangan aspirasi publik tetapi umumnya mereka tidak sangat bergantung kepadanya seperti politisi. Negarawan bisa berpandangan bahwa apa yang diinginkan publik tidak selalu baik untuk publik. Terburuk adalah politisi yang bukan negarawan tetapi juga bukan politisi yang diharapkan dalam sebuah sistem demokrasi. Inilah tipe politisi yang banyak kita jumpai saat ini, yakni politisi yang mendengarkan dirinya sendiri dan kelompoknya.

Rekrutmen Politik
Partai politik hidup karena pendukung dan anggotanya. Memilih dan mendukung partai politik ditentukan oleh kesamaan ideologi dan adanya keyakinan bahwa aspirasinya akan tersalurkan. Karena menimbang ideologi atau aspirasi partai tidak mudah, kebanyakan simpatisan partai akan melihat siapa-siapa yang duduk mewakili partai sebagai anggota legislatif, eksekutif, pengurus dan pimpinan. Bila ia buruh atau nelayan, ia akan melihat apakah partai berisi orang-orang yang dianggap mewakili mereka. Begitu pula bila ia pengusaha dan seterusnya. Partai berbasis agama akan dipercaya bila tokoh-tokohnya mewakili agama yang dianut. Partai inklusif tidak bisa hanya menuliskan inklusivitasnya pada lembaran platformnya tetapi baru dapat diterima masyarakat luas yang menjadi sasarannya bila tokoh-tokohnya benar-benar mencerminkan aneka ragam etnis, agama, dan keyakinan.

Partai tidak bisa lagi meremehkan kecerdasan kontituennya. Publik sekarang sudah jauh lebih jeli dan dapat memilah siapa yang berkarakter negarawan dan siapa yang dianggap sebagai politisi petualang. Politik dinasti yang mengandalkan konstituen primordial tidak akan bisa bertahan lama. Karenanya proses rekrutmen partai tidak boleh disepelekan. Figur publik yang berpotensi negarawan hanya akan tertarik kepada partai yang menawarkan keleluasaan dengan platform yang progresif dan berwawasan masa depan. Nilai partai di mata publik akan meningkat sebanding dengan jumlah tokoh-tokohnya yang berkarakter kenegarawanan. Hal ini sudah dibuktikan dalam berbagai pemilihan kepala daerah di berbagai tempat belakangan ini.

Selama beberapa tahun terakhir ini ketika publik kecewa terhadap ulah politisi dan partai politik, partai yang mampu dengan cepat mereformasi dirinya dan menguubah haluannya menjadi partai yang benar-benar lebih bersifat kenegarawanan pada saatnya akan meraih keberhasilan dan dukungan luas masyarakat. Sisanya adalah partai-partai yang masih bisa menjaga kelangsungan hidupnya karena dukungan dana kuat atau selama mereka masih dapat menutupi kepalsuannya di mata publik.

Abdillah Toha
Saturday, August 29, 2015 2:45 AM


Sistem ekonomi kapitalisme telah mengajarkan bahwa pertumbuhan ekonomi hanya akan terwujud jika semua pelaku ekonomi terfokus pada akumulasi kapital (modal).
Mereka lalu menciptakan sebuah mesin “penyedot uang” yang dikenal dengan lembaga perbankan. Oleh lembaga ini, sisa-sisa uang di sektor rumah tangga yang tidak digunakan untuk konsumsi akan “disedot”.
Lalu siapakah yang akan memanfaatkan uang di bank tersebut? Tentu mereka yang mampu memenuhi ketentuan pinjaman (kredit) dari bank, yaitu: fix return dan agunan. Konsekuensinya, hanya pengusaha besar dan sehat sajalah yang akan mampu memenuhi ketentuan ini. Siapakah mereka itu? Mereka itu tidak lain adalah kaum kapitalis, yang sudah mempunyai perusahaan yang besar, untuk menjadi lebih besar lagi.
Nah, apakah adanya lembaga perbankan ini sudah cukup? Bagi kaum kapitalis tentu tidak ada kata cukup. Mereka ingin terus membesar. Dengan cara apa?
Yaitu dengan pasar modal. Dengan pasar ini, para pengusaha cukup mencetak kertas-kertas saham untuk dijual kepada masyarakat dengan iming-iming akan diberi deviden.
Siapakah yang memanfaatkan keberadaan pasar modal ini? Dengan persyaratan untuk menjadi emiten dan penilaian investor yang sangat ketat, lagi-lagi hanya perusahaan besar dan sehat saja yang akan dapat menjual sahamnya di pasar modal ini.
Siapa mereka itu? Kaum kapitalis juga, yang sudah mempunyai perusahaan besar, untuk menjadi lebih besar lagi. Adanya tambahan pasar modal ini, apakah sudah cukup? Bagi kaum kapitalis tentu tidak ada kata cukup. Mereka ingin terus membesar. Dengan cara apa lagi?
Cara selanjutnya yaitu dengan “memakan perusahaan kecil”. Bagaimana caranya? Menurut teori Karl Marx, dalam pasar persaingan bebas, ada hukum akumulasi kapital (the law of capital accumulations), yaitu perusahaan besar akan “memakan” perusahaan kecil. Contohnya, jika di suatu wilayah banyak terdapat toko kelontong yang kecil, maka cukup dibangun sebuah mal yang besar. Dengan itu toko-toko itu akan tutup dengan sendirinya.
Dengan apa perusahaan besar melakukan ekspansinya? Tentu dengan didukung oleh dua lembaga sebelumnya, yaitu perbankan dan pasar modal.
Agar perusahaan kapitalis dapat lebih besar lagi, mereka harus mampu memenangkan persaingan pasar. Persaingan pasar hanya dapat dimenangkan oleh mereka yang dapat menjual produk-produknya dengan harga yang paling murah. Bagaimana caranya?
Caranya adalah dengan mengusai sumber-sumber bahan baku seperti: pertambangan, bahan mineral, kehutanan, minyak bumi, gas, batubara, air, dsb. Lantas, dengan cara apa perusahaan besar dapat menguasai bahan baku tersebut? Lagi-lagi, tentu saja dengan dukungan permodalan dari dua lembaganya, yaitu perbankan dan pasar modal.
Jika perusahaan kapitalis ingin lebih besar lagi, maka cara berikutnya adalah dengan “mencaplok” perusahaan milik negara (BUMN).
Kita sudah memahami bahwa perusahaan negara umumnya menguasai sektor-sektor publik yang sangat strategis, seperti: sektor telekomunikasi, transportasi, pelabuhan, keuangan, pendidikan, kesehatan, pertambangan, kehutanan, energi, dsb. Bisnis di sektor yang strategis tentu merupakan bisnis yang sangat menjanjikan, karena hampir tidak mungkin rugi. Lantas bagaimana caranya?
Caranya adalah dengan mendorong munculnya Undang-Undang Privatisasi BUMN. Dengan adanya jaminan dari UU ini, perusahaan kapitalis dapat dengan leluasa “mencaplok” satu per satu BUMN tersebut. Tentu tetap dengan dukungan permodalan dari dua lembaganya, yaitu perbankan dan pasar modal.
Jika dengan cara ini kaum kapitalis sudah mulai bersinggungan dengan UU, maka sepak terjangnya tentu akan mulai banyak menemukan hambatan. Bagaimana cara mengatasinya?
Caranya ternyata sangat mudah, yaitu dengan masuk ke sektor kekuasaan itu sendiri. Kaum kapitalis harus menjadi penguasa, sekaligus tetap sebagai pengusaha.
Untuk menjadi penguasa tentu membutuhkan modal yang besar, sebab biaya kampanye itu tidak murah. Bagi kaum kapitalis hal itu tentu tidak menjadi masalah, sebab permodalannya tetap akan didukung oleh dua lembaga sebelumnya, yaitu perbankan dan pasar modal.
Jika kaum kapitalis sudah melewati cara-cara ini, maka hegemoni (pengaruh) ekonomi di tingkat nasional hampir sepenuhnya terwujud. Hampir tidak ada problem yang berarti untuk dapat mengalahkan kekuatan hegemoni ini. Namun, apakah masalah dari kaum kapitalis sudah selesai sampai di sini?
Tentu saja belum. Ternyata hegemoni ekonomi di tingkat nasional saja belumlah cukup. Mereka justru akan menghadapi problem baru. Apa problemnya?
Problemnya adalah terjadinya ekses produksi. Bagi perusahaan besar, yang produksinya terus membesar, jika produknya hanya dipasarkan di dalam negeri saja, tentu semakin lama akan semakin kehabisan konsumen. Lantas, kemana mereka harus memasarkan kelebihan produksinya? Dari sinilah akan muncul cara-cara berikutnya, yaitu dengan melakukan hegemoni di tingkat dunia.
Caranya adalah dengan membuka pasar di negara-negara miskin dan berkembang yang padat penduduknya. Teknisnya adalah dengan menciptakan organisasi perdagangan dunia (WTO), yang mau tunduk pada ketentuan perjanjian perdagangan bebas dunia (GATT), sehingga semua negara anggotanya akan mau membuka pasarnya tanpa halangan tarif bea masuk, maupun ketentuan kuota impornya (bebas proteksi).
Dengan adanya WTO dan GATT tersebut, kaum kapitalis dunia akan dengan leluasa dapat memasarkan kelebihan produknya di negara-negara “jajahan”-nya.
Untuk mewujudkan ekspansinya ini, perusahaan kapitalis dunia tentu akan tetap didukung dengan permodalan dari dua lembaga andalannya, yaitu perbankan dan pasar modal.
Jika kapitalis dunia ingin lebih besar lagi, maka caranya tidak hanya cukup dengan mengekspor kelebihan produksinya. Mereka harus membuka perusahaannya di negara-negara yang menjadi obyek ekspornya. Yaitu dengan membuka Multi National Coorporations (MNC) atau perusahaan lintas negara, di negara-negara sasarannya.
Dengan membuka langsung perusahaan di negara tempat pemasarannya, mereka akan mampu menjual produknya dengan harga yang jauh lebih murah. Strategi ini juga sekaligus dapat menangkal kemungkinan munculnya industri-industri lokal yang berpotensi menjadi pesaingnya.
Untuk mewujudkan ekspansinya ini, perusahaan kapitalis dunia tentu akan tetap didukung dengan permodalan dari dua lembaganya, yaitu perbankan dan pasar modal.
Apakah dengan membuka MNC sudah cukup? Jawabnya tentu saja belum. Masih ada peluang untuk menjadi semakin besar lagi. Caranya? Yaitu dengan menguasai sumber-sumber bahan baku yang ada di negara tersebut.
Untuk melancarkan jalannya ini, kapitalis dunia harus mampu mendikte lahirnya berbagai UU yang mampu menjamin agar perusahaan asing dapat menguasai sepenuhnya sumber bahan baku tersebut.
Contoh yang terjadi di Indonesia adalah lahirnya UU Penanaman Modal Asing (PMA), yang memberikan jaminan bagi perusahaan asing untuk menguasai lahan di Indonesia sampai 95 tahun lamanya (itu pun masih bisa diperpanjang lagi). Contoh UU lain, yang akan menjamin kebebasan bagi perusahaan asing untuk mengeruk kekayaan SDA Indonesia adalah: UU Minerba, UU Migas, UU Sumber Daya Air, dsb.
Menguasai SDA saja tentu belum cukup bagi kapitalis dunia. Mereka ingin lebih dari itu. Dengan cara apa? Yaitu dengan menjadikan harga bahan baku lokal menjadi semakin murah. Teknisnya adalah dengan menjatuhkan nilai kurs mata uang lokalnya.
Untuk mewujudkan keinginannya ini, prasyarat yang dibutuhkan adalah pemberlakuan sistem kurs mengambang bebas bagi mata uang lokal tersebut. Jika nilai kurs mata uang lokal tidak boleh ditetapkan oleh pemerintah, lantas lembaga apa yang akan berperan dalam penentuan nilai kurs tersebut?
Jawabannya adalah dengan Pasar Valuta Asing (valas). Jika negara tersebut sudah membuka Pasar Valasnya, maka kapitalis dunia akan lebih leluasa untuk “mempermainkan” nilai kurs mata uang lokal, sesuai dengan kehendaknya. Jika nilai kurs mata uang lokal sudah jatuh, maka harga bahan-bahan baku lokal dijamin akan menjadi murah, kalau dibeli dengan mata uang mereka.
Jika ingin lebih besar lagi, ternyata masih ada cara selanjutnya. Cara selanjutnya adalah dengan menjadikan upah tenaga kerja lokal bisa menjadi semakin murah. Bagaimana caranya? Yaitu dengan melakukan proses liberalisasi pendidikan di negara tersebut. Teknisnya adalah dengan melakukan intervesi terhadap UU Pendidikan Nasionalnya.
Jika penyelenggaraan pendidikan sudah diliberalisasi, berarti pemerintah sudah tidak bertanggung jawab untuk memberikan subsidi bagi pendidikannya. Hal ini tentu akan menyebabkan biaya pendidikan akan semakin mahal, khususnya untuk pendidikan di perguruan tinggi. Akibatnya, banyak pemuda yang tidak mampu melanjutkan studinya di perguruan tinggi.
Keadaan ini akan dimanfaatkan dengan mendorong dibukanya Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan (SMK) sebanyak-banyaknya. Dengan sekolah ini tentu diharapkan akan banyak melahirkan anak didik yang sangat terampil, penurut, sekaligus mau digaji rendah. Hal ini tentu lebih menguntungkan, jika dibanding dengan mempekerjakan sarjana. Sarjana biasanya tidak terampil, terlalu banyak bicara dan maunya digaji tinggi.
Sebagaimana telah diuraikan di atas, cara-cara hegemoni kapitalis dunia di negara lain ternyata banyak mengunakan intervesi UU. Hal ini tentu tidak mudah dilakukan, kecuali harus dilengkapi dengan cara yang lain lagi. Nah, cara inilah yang akan menjamin proses intervensi UU akan dapat berjalan dengan mulus. Bagaimana caranya?
Caranya adalah dengan menempatkan penguasa boneka. Penguasa yang terpilih di negara tersebut harus mau tunduk dan patuh terhadap keinginan dari kaum kapitalis dunia. Bagaimana strateginya?
Strateginya adalah dengan memberikan berbagai sarana bagi mereka yang mau menjadi boneka. Sarana tersebut, mulai dari bantuan dana kampanye, publikasi media, manipulasi lembaga survey, hingga intervesi pada sistem perhitungan suara pada Komisi Pemilihan Umumnya.
Nah, apakah ini sudah cukup? Tentu saja belum cukup. Mereka tetap saja akan menghadapi problem yang baru. Apa problemnya?
Jika hegemoni kaum kapitalis terhadap negara-negara tertentu sudah sukses, maka akan memunculkan problem baru. Problemnya adalah “mati”-nya negara jajahan tersebut. Bagi sebuah negara yang telah sukses dihegemoni, maka rakyat di negara tersebut akan semakin miskin dan melarat. Keadaan ini tentu akan menjadi ancaman bagi kaum kapitalis itu sendiri. Mengapa?
Jika penduduk suatu negeri itu jatuh miskin, maka hal itu akan menjadi problem pemasaran bagi produk-produk mereka. Siapa yang harus membeli produk mereka jika rakyatnya miskin semua? Di sinilah diperlukan cara berikutnya.
Agar rakyat negara miskin tetap memiliki daya beli, maka kaum kapitalis dunia perlu mengembangkan Non Government Organizations (NGO) atau LSM. Tujuan pendirian NGO ini adalah untuk melakukan pengembangan masyarakat (community development), yaitu pemberian pendampingan pada masyarakat agar bisa mengembangkan industri-industri level rumahan (home industry), seperti kerajinan tradisionil maupun industri kreatif lainnya. Masyarakat harus tetap berproduksi (walaupun skala kecil), agar tetap memiliki penghasilan.
Agar operasi NGO ini tetap eksis di tengah masyarakat, maka diperlukan dukungan dana yang tidak sedikit. Kaum kapitalis dunia akan senantiasa men-support sepenuhnya kegiatan NGO ini. Jika proses pendampingan masyarakat ini berhasil, maka kaum kapitalis dunia akan memiliki tiga keuntungan sekaligus, yaitu: masyarakat akan tetap memiliki daya beli, akan memutus peran pemerintah dan yang terpenting adalah, negara jajahannya tidak akan menjadi negara industri besar untuk selamanya.
Sampai di titik ini kapitalisme dunia tentu akan mencapai tingkat kejayaan yang nyaris “sempurna”. Apakah kaum kapitalis sudah tidak memiliki hambatan lagi? Jawabnya ternyata masih ada. Apa itu? Ancaman krisis ekonomi. Sejarah panjang telah membuktikan bahwa ekonomi kapitalisme ternyata menjadi pelanggan yang setia terhadap terjadinya krisis ini.
Namun demikian, bukan berarti mereka tidak memiliki solusi untuk mengatasinya. Mereka masih memiliki jurus pamungkasnya. Apa itu?
Ternyata sangat sederhana. Kaum kapitalis cukup “memaksa” pemerintah untuk memberikan talangan (bailout) atau stimulus ekonomi. Dananya berasal dari mana? Tentu akan diambil dari Anggaran Pendapatan dan Belanja Negara (APBN).
Sebagaimana kita pahami bahwa sumber pendapatan negara adalah berasal dari pajak rakyat. Dengan demikian, jika terjadi krisis ekonomi, siapa yang harus menanggung bebannya. Jawabnya adalah: rakyat, melalui pembayaran pajak yang akan terus dinaikkan besarannya, maupun jenis-jenisnya.
Bagaimana hasil akhir dari semua ini? Kaum kapitalis akan tetap jaya dan rakyat selamanya akan tetap menderita. Dimanapun negaranya, nasib rakyat akan tetap sama. Itulah produk dari hegemoni kapitalisme dunia. [Dwi Condro Triyono, Ph.D]
in:, 29 Agustus 2015, 09:30 AM


New Left Review 94, July-August 2015

Could you tell us about your family background, and how you came to study the conditions of labour in the Third World?
I was born in Amsterdam in 1936. My father was a postman; my mother was a maid until she married. On both sides, their families had been bargees for generations, working the waterways of Holland. My father, born in 1895, was the youngest of fifteen children, though nine of them had died in infancy—infant-mortality levels were high for bargees; hygiene was poor and medical care hard to get. The Breman family originally came from the north-west corner of Overijssel, bordering on Friesland, an area abounding in water. My grandfather had been a self-employed barge owner but moved into waged employment with a shipping company when he got older, shuttling a steam barge between Amsterdam and Utrecht, with the whole family on board. As a result, my father was able to go to school—to two schools, in fact, as the vessel was loaded and unloaded during the day, and sailed at night. When they reached Utrecht in the morning, my father would go to school there; the same when they reached Amsterdam the next day. When he finished primary school—workers’ education went no further—he got two certificates.
My mother’s upbringing was much harder. Her father had a traditional sailing barge, a tjalk, that carried mainly agricultural cargo, building materials—gravel and sand—or peat, which was used for domestic fuel. Her family came from southern Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands; though bargees led a footloose existence, they did belong somewhere. Lolkje was one of fourteen children, though again, not all came of age. Life on the barge was one of abject poverty. If the wind was blowing the wrong way the sail would be lowered and the barge towed along; if there was no money to rent a horse, the bargee and his wife and children had to shoulder the ropes themselves. When the waterways froze during severe winters, traffic came to a halt; no cargo meant no income until the ice melted. Food was scarce and had to be shared; clothes were passed down from child to child. The only schooling Lolkje got was when the barge was requisitioned by the government for food storage, during the First World War; she spent part of a year in fourth grade and learned to read and write a little, though her classmates were way ahead of her.
When she was eleven, she was sent ashore to work; an older sister who’d already gone ashore helped her find a job as a maid. She had to struggle with loneliness and—brought up speaking Friesian—with the standard Dutch spoken in Amsterdam. Housework was quite unfamiliar to her, as it was all so different to life on board the barge. On her days off she would go to the locks on the city’s outskirts and ask passing bargees if they had seen her parents, and to greet them for her next time they met. Things improved when she and an older sister managed to rent a room together; they earned a living working at home, sewing and mending clothes. Then they’d go out—‘looking for a beau!’, as she told me. They were handsome girls. She met my father on a bridge, in 1923, when she was just seventeen; it must have helped that they could speak Friesian together. They were married within a few months, after getting permission from her parents. Willem was already working for the postal service. When he came ashore he’d tried to get an electrician’s apprenticeship, but then he was called up for the duration of the First World War—even though the Netherlands stayed neutral, there was a general mobilization—and by 1918 he was too old to be an apprentice. With the Great Depression his pay was cut, though he was lucky to keep his job. I grew up in a small, first-floor apartment on the Vrolikstraat. Some of my earliest memories were of the German occupation. Food was scarce, and the municipality opened soup kitchens in working-class neighbourhoods. I was sent there with a pan, to queue up for soup or cabbage. Fuel was even harder to come by than food. We would go looking for coal scraps near the shunting yard.



What do you recall of the political atmosphere under the Nazis?


When war broke out, my oldest sister was seeing a butcher’s son, but ended the relationship because his family supported the NSB, the Dutch National Socialist Movement. The difference between good and bad was clear, and defined the distinction between collaboration and resistance. But there was an intentionally shadowy area around the dividing line. Choosing one side or the other too explicitly was risky. The authorities were now from beyond our borders and sabotaging their instructions might be met with appreciation by ‘good’ compatriots, rather than reproach for being disloyal, as would have been the case in the pre-war period. In one sense there was a continuation of the regime of adversity, deficiency and insecurity that had characterized the lives of the masses in the working-class neighbourhoods. But there was also a widely shared view that, under foreign domination, the gap could be seen, even more than previously, as a stark contrast between ‘us’ and ‘them’. While ‘they’ meant the German occupiers, the ‘us’ had more the sense of ‘our kind of people’, rather than the Dutch population as a whole. There was a lot that had to be kept secret from the enemy. We were hiding my sister’s new boyfriend, who’d been called up to go and work in Germany. During the razzias, when the Germans closed off the neighbourhood and sent patrols through the streets to search houses at random—for Jews, draftees, members of the underground resistance—he would hide in a secret space behind the fake back wall of a cupboard, stuffed with clothes and junk. He was never caught and made a good living, distilling illegal liquor in our kitchen and selling it on the black market.

What about school?


It was almost by chance that I got put on track for higher education. Most of my early classmates were shunted off to elementary technical school. I was left-handed and would get rapped on the knuckles with a ruler by the teacher if I used the ‘wrong’ hand to write—so handwriting, an important element in the curriculum, was not my strong point. But a teacher suggested a vocational test, which opened the door to advanced elementary school; there I discovered that I enjoyed learning and started doing well. I was one of a handful of students there who scraped through the exam into higher secondary education, while the rest went on to start their working lives. A vital experience for me, it turned out, was going with my father on rainy days to the Colonial Museum, quite near our flat. There you could watch wayang dancing and listen to gamelan music. I first became acquainted with tropical Indonesian landscapes by pressing my eye to the small holes in the peep boxes, to see how rice was grown on sawahs or what a Javanese bazaar looked like; you could press buttons on a large-scale model of a plantation to light up storehouses, workplaces and coolie lines. It was a different world, complete with the smell of cloves, cinnamon and other spices, laid out in an aromatic cabinet. I used to go the Children’s Library at the Museum to leaf through magazines and read stories about native life in the far-off colony.
There was some tension around my going to university, as my teachers proposed. This was a path that lay far beyond the horizons of my own milieu and it met with little approval. My sisters accused me of being selfish, saying that my mother was the victim of my refusal to go out and earn a living—she was still working as a cleaning lady, partly to pay for my upkeep. I felt guilty about it and promised that, whatever happened, I would pay my own way. The Post Office was offering scholarships for their employees’ children, so I applied—this was in the summer of 1955. I was interviewed by a panel of officials who asked me my motives for wanting to study; apparently it was the first time that the son of a postman had applied for a scholarship. My application was turned down, not because of my ability, but because the officials thought that such a radical move up the social ladder would lead to estrangement from my family. So when I started at the University of Amsterdam I had to support myself by working evening shifts before finally getting a state scholarship.


And what did you study?


Social sciences. It was a new faculty that had only been in existence for a few years, pioneered by prominent left-wing scholars; both the staff and students were recruited from a wider social pool than most other disciplines. I knew from the start that I would be interested in studying labour issues. My great good luck was to be taught by Wim Wertheim, branded as a Marxist and author of Indonesian Society in Transition. He had been a colonial civil servant in the Dutch East Indies and, when appointed to a chair in the Law School in Batavia, he met young Indonesian scholars and students who were, of course, nationalists, and talked to them about their views. Together with all the Dutch he was interned under Japanese occupation in the Second World War and when he came out, he sided with the independence movement. He was hated for that in the Netherlands. Indonesian independence was a huge issue in Dutch politics for long after 1949. I became his research assistant.


What were your own politics at this time?


I was a leftist; my stance was anti-colonial and in favour of working-class emancipation, but it was not party-based. You could say I was a heimatlose Linke. I was critical of development studies, and of the Third Worldism which became so popular in the 1960s and 70s. I fully shared Wertheim’s scepticism concerning the gospel of developmentalism during the Cold War epoch. [1]
I was planning to do research in Indonesia—I had done the background research and prepared myself for language training. But in 1961, when I was due to go, a political dispute erupted between the two countries over Irian Jaya, which the Netherlands were still holding on to. By chance the Indian sociologist M. N. Srinivas met Wertheim at a conference and said, ‘Why don’t you send him to us?’ And so I went to India—and in those days that meant ‘village India’: 85 per cent of the population was rural, mostly living in villages of between 500 and 1,500 souls. In the ensuing decades, though, I continued to study the control of land and labour in West Java in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as doing fieldwork in India, and contextualizing my findings there in a historical framework. As soon as I’d completed the first round of village fieldwork, I applied to the India Office Library to do archival research, to understand how the present experience had emerged from past generations’ realities, in the two villages where I was doing my research. So with these two tracks of Asian labour studies, Indian and Indonesian, it was impossible not to take a comparative approach.

When you set out for India in 1962, did you know any of the Indian languages?


Yes, I had done a course in Gujarati at SOAS, taught by Miss Lambert, an Irish Presbyterian. While I was there I read all the available literature on Indian village field work—Adrian Mayer, Fred Bailey, David Pocock and, of course, the work of Indian scholars who were part of the freedom movement. And I had further language training when I got to India. I spent a month or so in Baroda, reading settlement and census reports and all the material on British India in the university library—there was a lot. There I came across the issue of bonded labour, which gave me a sense of what to be looking out for. The two villages I studied first, Chikhligam and Gandevigam, were in southern Gujarat, a few hundred miles north of Bombay. I’ve been returning there for over fifty years now, tracking how things have changed.


What were your first impressions?


I had some experience of hardship in European conditions, but the poverty in rural Gujarat came as a shock. The village space was starkly divided by caste. The Anavil Brahmin landowners lived in the village centre, usually in two-storey brick houses. The tribal Halpati caste of agricultural labourers, a much larger population, lived in self-built mud huts on the outskirts, without tap water or sanitation. They were known as Dublas, a very rough, derogatory word. A generation earlier they had been bonded labour: living close by, at the landowners’ beck and call to work the fields—handling the plough, or hal, is considered defiling for the higher castes, so it’s menial work that low-ranking castes or tribals are supposed to perform for them—and receiving at least a minimal degree of security and a semblance of patronage in return: a meal on the days they worked, a grain ration during the slack season and loans to see them through household crises such as ill health. Their wives did domestic work for the landowners, and likewise got some left-over food or perhaps cast-off clothing in return. The children too: the cowherd boy, the govalio.After Independence bonded labour was abolished: officially there were no more halis, only free day labourers; the Dublas were moved out of sight, to the edge of the village. But the attitudes were deeply marked: the offensiveness of the Anavils—they would say, ‘The Dublas used to be our devoted servants, but now no longer honour their superiors’—and the evasiveness of the Halpatis, who felt they were worse treated than their parents had been during the era of ‘patronage’.

What were the origins of the bonded-labour regime, and how was it ended?



The conventional view, propounded both by the Indian National Congress and by the Marxists, was that pre-colonial village India had been a harmonious, self-regulated community, in which peasant, artisan and serving castes had enjoyed relations of reciprocal collaboration. Colonial rule was held responsible for destroying the social and economic fabric, creating a layer of landless labourers; and also for undermining the village subsistence economy by imposing a cash land tax. With the monetization of the economy and the stagnation of agriculture, peasants were forced to sell their land, swelling the ranks of the landless. It’s true, of course, that British rule saw growing indebtedness and the subdivision of land. But already in the early nineteenth century, between a quarter and a third of the agricultural population in these regions was landless. I thought it highly doubtful that the halis, of tribal origin, had once been landed peasants; rather, it’s more likely that caste Hindus from the plains penetrated the adivasi regions and imposed sedentary agriculture. Land ownership underlay the relations of dependence and permanent, hereditary attachment for bonded servants, the halis. Bondage is also structured by lack of employment choice—the weak seeking security and protection from the landlord.
But hali bondage wasn’t just economic, it was structured by broader inter-caste relationships, sanctioning the status of jajmans, those who received goods and services, and kamins, who provided them. [2] The Gandhian plea for a return to a formerly idyllic village harmony and democracy through the panchayat system was based on a myth that was itself a colonial construction. The nationalists were wont to portray the village as a kind of fortress against colonial rule, where people lived in blissful interdependence with each other. I thought that was total nonsense; it was denying the inequality of the village and the various classes in it. The British themselves helped to institutionalize the village community, as a cheap form of government. They didn’t have to pay for the way authority was administered there. The community’s division of power was backed up by the colonial rulers.


So to what extent had bonded labour disappeared?


The hali system was eroded slowly, by capitalism and monetization. As late as the early sixties, some wages were still being paid in kind: the labourers were given rations of food in a bamboo container; it was cheap, because they had grown the food themselves. But with marketized crops, that changed. And the personal bond was broken—although debt bondage is still extremely widespread. Even then, many Dublas would go to work in the brick kilns outside Bombay from November to May each year, taking their whole family with them—desperately hard work and dreadful conditions—because they’d been trapped into working off their debt.


After fifteen years of Congress government, what improvements had there been in terms of social security and economic development at the point when you first arrived in India?


Not much. In the fifties, after the very modest Congress Tenancy Act, land was supposed to revert to some extent to the tillers. In these villages the lower-caste Kolis lost their land, but the Anavils kept theirs, with average holdings of 10–20 acres, including most of the richest soil. These weren’t zamindar landowners—huge, latifundia-style holdings, as you have in Pakistan, Bengal or Tamil Nadu. But they were substantial farmers, dominant in terms of economic holdings but also in political power and in the caste hierarchy. They ran the local Credit Cooperative and the panchayats, the village councils. The Dublas had numerical strength but no real political power. In theory there was a universal right to education, but the states didn’t implement it; the village schools were still the preserve of the upper-caste children; the young Dublas were mostly illiterate. But the two villages had quite distinct characters. Chikhligam was more isolated; though it was not far from the main Bombay–Ahmedabad highway, there was no electricity or running water. The crops depended on the rains, so labour was seasonal. Gandevigam, on the banks of the Ambika river, had irrigation facilities and better soil; the crops were more varied and cultivated throughout the year.


What difference did Independence make?


Independence actually solidified the power of the landowners. They became more dominant than they had been before. Universal suffrage was a very important and courageous step, given the entrenched system of social and economic inequality. But political democracy never became operational at the village level. There the power remained as it had been, so the panchayat was the preserve of the dominant caste, as it is still today. In fact, devolution of governance to village level has hardened the hegemony of the upper-caste landowners. In Gandevigam, for instance, the nominal village head, the sarpanch, is now a Halpati woman, as a result of positive discrimination for tribal castes, in areas where they are a majority of the population. But she can neither read nor write. Both here and in Bardoligam, another village I’ve got to know well, the tribal sarpanch is really just a puppet for the vice-sarpanch, who is an Anavil Brahmin in Gandevigam and a Kanbi Patidar in Bardoligam—the latter well-known for his brutal treatment of Halpatis who come to him with complaints; one of them died from his beatings.
The moment Independence came, everyone was eligible to cast his or her vote. But the ballot box was basically captured at the local level by the dominant castes. They were still the main employers and they wanted to see to it that the votes would go to the candidates they supported. Before Independence, Mahatma Gandhi had started a social movement—he was from Gujarat, and had ashrams all around. But the Gandhian activists—‘constructive workers’, they were called—never insisted on higher wages or better conditions of employment. The idea was that this would happen after Independence; before then, the dominant castes should be allowed to rule, as they had done before. The Congress constructive workers endeavoured to Hinduize the tribal people, to civilize the underdogs; they did not act as a trade union. They thought that when the tribals were left alone, they would drink a lot of liquor, which they distil themselves, and eat meat—vices that for a Gandhian should not be tolerated, of course. So they tried to Hinduize them, and the tribals gave in to that, to a certain extent. This was a huge vote bank for Congress.


What about the Muslim population?


There was a Muslim population—segregated, living in their own quarters. But there were also Muslim landlords. It’s not that they were always at the bottom of the pile. Some were big landowners, and they had halis, too.

And were they Muslims, the halis?

No, they were tribals, though they were looked down upon because they served Muslims. To return to the patronage function: if you were the farm servant of a big man, you also gloried in some of his power and prominence.
In Patronage and Exploitation, you describe very vividly the caste contempt of the Brahmins for the halis, and a real answering hatred from below.
Absolutely. I remember standing with a landowner on his paddy fields and he said, ‘I could grow summer paddy here’—generally paddy is grown during the monsoon and harvested at Diwali, but with irrigation you can grow a crop between February and June—‘but I won’t, because then I would be giving employment to the labourers and I don’t want to do that.’ More than inequality, there was class hatred. You still find it now. A couple of years ago I interviewed a high-level bureaucrat about his opposition to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. He said: ‘These people can’t work. Genetically they are inferior, they have defects.’ He added that it was understandable: from generation to generation, they had lived in starvation: ‘They are weak; it’s a weak race.’ That kind of social-Darwinist jargon. There is resistance at village level, but the repression is very brutal. I wrote up the story of one agricultural labourer, Manu, who was a bit assertive, and was killed—not just killed, but tortured and viciously murdered by the landowners, just because he did not toe the line. This was in a nearby village, and there was a big strike there; it’s not that there is a silent acceptance of the situation. But it had no repercussions for the agricultural workers in my village; they didn’t join the strike. There are many quarrels, many conflicts, many strikes. But they are localized and spontaneous—they erupt for a short while only. Congress only ever steps in to pacify the situation; the ‘constructive workers’ would immediately rush to the spot to try to calm things down.


How did things change in the seventies and eighties?


Through to the mid-seventies, very little. The Green Revolution, strongly pushed by the Ford Foundation, brought more fertilizers and pesticides as well as more mechanized equipment, but it mainly benefited the large farmers. It actually widened the gap between the landowners and the labourers—and between the two villages. But it also intensified the problem of surplus agricultural labour.

So the Green Revolution was one of the causes of the agrarian crisis?


Yes, but I wouldn’t give it too much weight. The underlying patterns of labour relations were much more important. For example, when it came to the sugar cane harvest, the main landowners preferred to bring in Maharashtrian labourers, under a gang-master; there was plenty of labour on the spot, but they hated having anything to do with the Halpatis, once the personal ties were loosened. Agricultural wages actually fell between 1963 and 1971, partly as the result of using outside labour, while the agricultural labour force was increasing, through population growth and falling mortality. The birth-control campaign created quite a bit of tension, being aimed at the lower castes—they were given 80 rupees for a sterilization. Another development that intensified the agrarian crisis was dispossession, but this again operated through social relations. From about this time, the children of the landowners were no longer interested in agriculture; they wanted to get out of the village and they had a head start, because they had better education, more money and a fund of social capital that provided connectivity to the world outside the village. Quite a few have gone to Britain or the US, as Non-Resident Indians—they are now Modi followers in their new country. The accumulation process has changed; they invest elsewhere, it is no longer focused on agriculture. But they have hung on to their land, which is still in the hands of the dominant caste. You also see a process of dispossession at the lower end of the scale, where smallholdings have become so diminished by division and inheritance that there’s no point in splitting them further. The barely landed become land-poor, and then, because of indebtedness, the land-poor tend to become landless.
In the late seventies and early eighties there did seem to be some real if modest improvements. There were more non-agrarian opportunities, mainly due to a big infrastructural build-out in Gujarat, which was quite labour intensive; a small forward section of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes was incorporated into an expanding public sector through positive-discrimination programmes. More people had bicycles, which freed them up and meant they could travel farther looking for work. But in the nineties, with Singh’s turn to neoliberalism, much of this disappeared. What was left was a new regime of footloose labour, which had been slowly emerging since the seventies.

What does this involve?


It is characterized firstly by circulatory labour migration, rather than a one-way departure to the city. It can be intra-rural—a jobber may recruit a gang of labourers for a harvest or a brick kiln hundreds of miles away, in another state. Or they may be recruited to work on an urban construction site, but they can’t afford city living costs once the job comes to an end—they can never get a secure footing, so they drift back to the countryside, but there’s no longer any work for them there. These are labour regimes that blur the distinction between rural and urban: the role of the workers in the rural economy is downsized, but they have no settled place in the city either.

This is a feature of the regime of informality?


The idea of the informal economy is probably unavoidable, but in my view it raises as many questions as it answers. For a start, it’s usually defined as an urban phenomenon. The seminal article was Keith Hart’s 1971 study of Ghana, when he noted down all the types of livelihood to be found in the streets of Accra: food and drink vendors, stall-holders, porters, shoe-shine boys, navvies, scavengers, petty thieves, pimps, etc. Then the ILO commissioned anthropologists’ studies of Dakar, Abidjan, Calcutta, Jakarta, São Paulo—the informal ‘sector’ came to be seen as a feature of Third World cities. But the rural economy shares many ‘informal’ features, and there’s a complex interaction between the two. Then there’s a notion that the informal economy is characterized by self-employment, which again partly goes back to Hart, though it’s been most widely promulgated by Hernando de Soto and the World Bank: so many ‘micro-entrepreneurs’, who just need a boost from micro-finance to become full-blown mini-capitalists. But that sort of ‘own-account’ work is usually just a disguised form of wage labour. Street vendors get their wares early in the morning on credit or commission from a wholesaler or middleman, and return the unsold remainder in the evening, when they find out how much they’ve ‘earned’. Homeworkers get their materials from middlemen, who then collect the finished products and pay a minimal rate.
Another myth is that the informal sector is an infinitely expandable safety net—that it can absorb any amount of labour. In fact, little is known about unemployment and underemployment among the footloose workforce. But there are limits to how many can enter it, if a city is already flooded with construction workers, street-based artisans and vendors, scavengers, beggars, porters. Newcomers can’t just establish themselves without difficulty on street corners; there are structures, hierarchies of control, with slumlords and gangs patrolling the landscape of informal business. There are indications that Indian employment in the total economy, formal and informal, has been stagnant since around 2004, though the population has been expanding. I found in 2011 that both intra-rural and rural-urban migration was slowing down, as seasonal migrants were crowded out of the job markets they knew. [3]
We need to understand the total fabric of the economy, comprising both formal and informal segments. The formal features would be large-scale, capital-intensive operations, with advanced technology, modern management structures, a complex labour hierarchy, government regulation and taxation. The informal activity is characterized by low capital intensity, low productivity, quick returns, little skill formation, the exploitation of family labour and property, a small, poor clientele—and, most importantly, cheap labour. But the two interpenetrate. There are formal enclaves within the rural economy—a paper mill, a sugar mill, some sort of agro-industrial complex—that make use of informal labour for processing the harvested commodities—grass, sugar cane—or for construction and road-building. A vast number of workers are employed in informal conditions within the formal economy, through outsourcing and subcontracting. ‘Informality’ here is simply a way to cheapen the price of labour, to reduce it to a pure commodity, with no provisions for security or sustainable working conditions, let alone for protection against adversity. You buy labour but only for as long as you need it; then you get rid of it again. That is very much the way of the informal economy. Another important reason why the informal economy is so popular among the employers and owners of capital—not to mention the IMF and World Bank—is because it makes collective action very difficult: the workforce is floating, so it’s very hard to organize. If you sell your labour power standing in the morning market for the day, how can you engage in collective action with those around you, with your competitors?

How have the cities been affected by these labour processes?


I’ve witnessed two complementary developments in western Gujarat. The first relates to the closure of the textile mills in Ahmedabad, with some 125,000 formally employed industrial workers thrown into the informal economy. The second is the rise of Surat, one of the fastest growing cities in India—a boom created by tax breaks, black money, ‘easy’ labour laws and the like. Its population tripled in the 1970s and 80s, and it’s doubled again since the 90s, to 4.5 million. It’s a mixture of luxurious skyscrapers and jerry-built industrial workshops—the noise is deafening—mixed with slums and workers’ dormitories. The workers are almost all migrants, from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh; young males, aged 15–25, living far from home, paid piece-work wages for diamond cutting or working in the textile power looms, and fired if their productivity falls when they are 40 to 45 years old. They work 12-hour shifts in miserable conditions, living in crowded sheds—the day shift go to sleep in beds still warm from the bodies of their mates on the night shift. It’s like a vast labour transit camp. Such a skewed age and gender balance makes for a heavily macho environment: a lot of violence, heavy drinking and hetero- and homosexual harassment; any woman is a target for rape, but boys are, too. There was an orgy of anti-Muslim violence here in 1992, after the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Most of the hunters came from the hordes of labour migrants. The survivors identified them: Kathiawadi diamond cutters, Uttar Pradesh bhaiyas, Oriya malis, who operate the power looms. They live in dehumanized conditions.


How does the deindustrialization of Ahmedabad fit into this pattern? There seems to be little research on the rustbelts of the developing world.


The closure of the Ahmedabad composite textile mills was a longer-term process. The Gujarati mill owners were basically merchants rather than industrialists. They didn’t invest in the mills, they just took the profits and started using them for land speculation, while the machinery had become obsolete; some of it went back to the nineteenth century. The whole workforce was heavily communalized. The higher castes were at the end of the production line. The scheduled castes were in the blowing room, where there was a high incidence of lung disease, pneumoconiosis. The trade union was communalized as well: there was a union for the blowing room, a union for the weavers, who were intermediate castes—Patels, but also Muslims. The Muslims had their own trade union, which was more militant. I began research there in the late 90s, meeting activists, many of them Dalits, in the locality where they were housed. I was in the mill area when the pogrom happened in 2002—urban carnage on a greater scale than I’d ever witnessed before, mainly because the state apparatus, government agencies as well as the ruling party, condoned and even facilitated the killings
Many commentators have pointed to the growth of the Hindutva movement as the cause of anti-Muslim violence, and this was certainly crucial. The Sangh Parivar organizations have broadened their base over the past few decades by mobilizing low and intermediate castes in their activities. The price these previously denigrated layers have to pay for inclusion in the Hindutva fold is to demonstrate their antagonism to their Muslim neighbours. But this explanation also has to be contextualized within the changing political economy of Gujarat. The factories of Ahmedabad had started to close their gates in the 1980s. The former mill workers in Ahmedabad had been pauperized, driven into casual labour from which they earned a pittance, and forced to bring their family dependents, even young children, into the labour process. It was certainly no coincidence that the orgy of violence in the city reached its peak in former mill districts. When communal tensions had flared up in the past, the Majoor Mahajan Sangh—a Gandhian trade union, formed in the 1920s—had tried to contain the violence. Now the union, having lost nine-tenths of its membership, was helpless. I went to see the general secretary in his office; he was 88 years old, and in poor health. He told me with anguish how he had tried to contact the police commissioner and local politicians, before realizing that they were determined to let the pogrom take its course.
Traditionally the mill workers had lived in crowded quarters around the mills and along the river. In recent years their bastis were demolished and they were dumped on the outskirts, in ready-built slum apartment blocks. This was not just poverty, but pauperization, because the tie between work and residence has been broken. In the old inner-city slums, work was nearby. In the informal economy, most people have to be instantly available—it’s a beck-and-call relationship, just like that of landowners and Halpatis in the village; if you’re not on hand, you don’t get the employment. The women used to work as domestic servants in middle-class houses near the slums. Where they live now is 18 kilometres away from those neighbourhoods and they don’t dare go out, because it is too costly—the price of transport—and too risky, if it means leaving young girls behind. The municipality of Ahmedabad has built hundreds of these apartment blocks, crammed together on what was empty land, with no other facilities. Each apartment has two rooms, based on the myth of the two-child nuclear family, but in reality they house around seven people. Home-based work is impossible there—there’s no room to store any goods.

How are they surviving?


Barely. They get work for one or two days and then nothing. There are all kinds of underhand transactions, things you are not allowed to do, which are never covered in economic statistics because what is illegal cannot be put on official record. But they are suffering. The lack of work means going hungry, not paying the rent and other bills, so not getting electricity and, in general, being cut off from mainstream society. This is the next step in immiseration. They’ve been dumped on the outskirts of the city, just as the halis were dumped on the edge of the village. The formal term for this would be pauperization, as defined by the English Poor Laws—it cropped up in France in the early nineteenth century, but Tocqueville says it is of English vintage. Paupers are those who have no steady means of livelihood at all. Pauperism is the kind of debility which you cannot survive without outside support. The shame about the study of poverty in India is that it’s largely done by economists, who are only interested in fixing a line, a number, and discussing how many can get above it. But poverty involves social relationships, between you and others in society. [4]

How representative is Gujarat, or the Hindu Cowbelt in general, given the violence of communal and caste relations there?

It is not representative. You cannot generalize about all of India just by looking at Gujarat. In Kerala, for instance, conditions are more advanced, but not because the caste system is less vicious there—it is vicious in the south. But the social struggle arose earlier in South India, both in Tamil Nadu and in Kerala. There have been fewer and also less sustained social struggles like that in most parts of the north, and certainly not in Gujarat. So while I would not say that Gujarat exemplifies India, I would also say that it is not so exceptional; you will find some of the same patterns in much of the Subcontinent, and pauperism is a widespread phenomenon in today’s globalized economy.
What is the explanation for the greater degree of social struggles in the south of India?
That is very difficult to say. There were some great leaders, but great men are also produced; there is a system that produces them. It is very paradoxical, because there may have been more exploitation in the South, and that triggered off the social movement much earlier on, with the anti-Brahmin movement, starting at the end of the nineteenth century. There are higher literacy levels there, but they are also the product of social struggle. Travelling round Kerala in the 1970s and 1980s, I met agricultural labourers who had read Lenin and would quote him, very aptly. It was very impressive.

The Kerala Communist Party was quite salient within Indian communism as a whole, from early on. But that raises the question again—why was that?


Exactly. There is more agency, more resilience from below in the South than there is in the North. This is true of Tamil Nadu and also to a certain extent of Andhra. Consequently, politics got a more populist bent in these states. It tapers off; it is less prevalent in Maharashtra, or in Karnataka or Odisha, for that matter.
And in Bengal?
Babus dominated there. The Communist Party in West Bengal did not do much for the labouring poor. The fight against the coming of the Tata Company, which would lead to the dispossession of the small peasantry, was justified. Many of the local-level CP frontmen were not radical or leftist, they had their own parochial interests; they exploited the people, took away their land and sought bribes for distributing state-provided favours. The plight of Muslims in Bengal is terrible. The CP did nothing for them, or for agricultural labour. Wages are much lower in Bengal than they are in Kerala. I am much more impressed by the social struggle in Kerala and Tamil Nadu than by the one in Bengal where the cadre of the leftist party got lumpenized. It is of longer standing, and it has touched more people than in Bengal. The first time I went to Kerala was in 1971: you turned a corner of the street and there was a demonstration, shouting and claiming rights. That scene in Kerala was totally absent in Gujarat.
But in Bengal you could have seen that in the 1970s; there was a massive labour presence.
Yes, but it was mainly in the city, whereas in Kerala it was rural, too. Also the urban–rural dichotomy is much less pronounced in Kerala than it is in Bengal. I remember that from that first trip to Kerala, seeing village libraries where the agricultural labourers sat down. I saw a woman on the threshold of her hut reading a newspaper. That was fascinating.

What about the Maoist insurgency in the tribal areas?


I don’t know if it is Maoist. I doubt that that is where the revolution will begin. There are more tribes living in the plains under high-caste domination, out of the forest and the hills. They are like the Dublas, somewhat Hinduized, but now thrown back on their own separate low-caste identity. There are many more such people, not only in the countryside but also in the city. And I have seen no impact of Maoism there.

As you’ve said, at the same time as researching labour regimes in India, you were also studying Indonesia. How would you compare the Dutch and British colonial regimes?


The first difference was that the Dutch went to Java to get commodities from the colony to bring to the world market—first spices and other high-value commodities, then sugar cane, indigo, tobacco and, above all, coffee. That system was more ruthless. The British basically wanted India to buy the industrial goods Britain was producing—Lancashire textiles, of course, but also crockery, metalware and other low-priced durable commodities. It is not that the British or their administrators were better people than the Dutch were; they simply had different objectives. They didn’t alter the Indian social system much because they had no interest in doing so. By contrast, the Dutch imposed a harsh labour regime for the cultivation of Javanese cash crops for the world market. The peasantry was kept captive in order to produce at low cost for the world market—they hardly got any wages—while the profits for the Dutch East India Company (at first) and then the Dutch state were very high. So the principles of colonial administration, the objectives, were different, and so was the impact of the different colonial mode of production. It was closer to what the British did in the Caribbean, and plantation slavery was part of that.
Coffee was introduced from India in the late seventeenth century, when the Dutch colonists were still largely confined to harbour enclaves along the north Javanese coast and were operating through the myriad native aristocracy, whom they selectively elevated into ‘princes’ and regents. As European demand grew in the eighteenth century, the Dutch East India Company imposed a trade monopoly and began demanding the use of coerced peasant labour, mobilized by village headmen, to work the coffee plantations in the Priangan highlands of West Java and transport the beans to its warehouses, closer to the coast. The system was continued by the Dutch state in the nineteenth century. During the two-month harvest, entire populations, including the elderly, would be driven up to the mountain plantations, in what was known as ‘the round-up’. Between 1830 and 1870 the model was generalized across much of Java in what was known as the ‘cultivation system’, the cultuurstelsel—competing on world commodity markets with the slave plantations of the New World.
The Dutch colonial authorities portrayed the forced labour regime in the Priangan highlands as a continuation of traditional Javanese corvée levies, to which the peasants uncomplainingly consented, and as raising their living standards by introducing them to regular and disciplined work, in place of their habitual ‘idleness’. Not true: they were paid a pittance, and only when the coffee beans had been delivered—the peasant economy remained barely monetized. [5] The continual resistance—land-flight, sabotage, strikes, conflicts with local headmen, confrontations with colonial officials—demonstrated the extent to which the labour regime had been imposed by force. By 1870, the system was reproducing a land-poor to landless mass which was only able to do coolie work; it was a straightforward outcome of colonial rule. They were then recruited to the plantations that were being established in the outer provinces—in Sumatra and Kalimantan, for instance. Again there was sustained resistance, including burning down the drying sheds on the Sumatran tobacco plantations, where the indentured labour regimes for Chinese and Javanese coolies alike were particularly brutal. From 1871, colonial policy switched to encouraging private capital investment, much of it British, but also Dutch and German. The colonial state declared ownership of all uncultivated land, which it leased on favourable terms to foreign capital. Land pressure started to swell the ranks of the proletarianized underclass—footloose coolie labour, confined to the bottom of the new economic order, qualified only for low-level employment like land clearance for setting up private estates or road-building, irrigating canals and other public works.
The persistence to this day of some of these colonial patterns of control of land and labour can be very striking. For example, on the Javanese coastal plain the Dutch colonists imposed the compulsory cession of land to the sugar mills in the early nineteenth century. For three years a village would have to cede most of its land and the peasants would be forced to plant and cultivate sugar cane, under plantation conditions. After the three-year period was up the land would be returned, and sugar cane production would shift on to other fields and villages. The same pattern persisted after the opening up to foreign capital in 1871: there was no longer a legal compulsion, but the sugar mills still sequestered a huge proportion of agricultural land through their hold over the village administrations. That carried on after Independence in 1949, with official pressure still operating in their favour.

What about the Sukarno government—was there no land reform in the early 1960s?


No. One of the reasons why the 1965 coup and the mass killings of Communist supporters happened was because the PKI had begun agitating for real land reform—or at least for the implementation of the mildly progressive legislation that had been passed in 1960, but sabotaged by the established local notables and landowners. Outside the Sumatran plantation belt and Bali, the main bases for the Communist Peasant League and the People’s Youth were in rural central and eastern Java. In fact, in the villages it was often the schoolmasters, the rank-and-file of trade unions and what the Dutch called ‘semi-intellectuals’ who were PKI and who wanted the land reforms. Under the Suharto regime, farmers were forced to surrender their land as required by the sugar mills, for a set rent—this was under a Presidential decree of 1975. In the 1990s, the two mills that had long dominated a Javanese village where I did my fieldwork were still monopolizing most of the agricultural land, including the fields of the village administrators, who needed the money to ‘win’ the local elections—not just buying votes, but paying off the high-ups. The mills, which had now been privatized again, were still determining which fields should be planted with sugar cane. By this time land pressure was intense; Java is densely populated, with nearly 60 per cent of Indonesia’s total population.


Did this process leave the land exhausted, after years of intensive cultivation?


Java is a volcanic island and the land on the plains is very fertile. Fields that have been growing sugar cane since the 1830s are still productive today. The mountains, where they now grow tea—yes, that has been eroded. Around a third of the village workforce was looking for casual work some 200 miles away, in the greater Jakarta region—Jabotabek, as it’s called—working on building sites, as street traders, as domestic servants or prostitutes. Many tens of thousands of young men and women are sent abroad on a three-year contract. They work as factory hands in Taiwan, South Korea, on plantations, in maintenance work and construction in Malaysia and elsewhere—but particularly in the Gulf countries as domestic servants, drivers, gardeners, security guards and caretakers of elderly people, small children and the handicapped. They constitute a new class of coolie labour, redundant at home but in high—though time-bound—demand elsewhere.


What was the impact of the 1997–98 East Asian crisis in Indonesia?


There’d been a huge build-out in Java in the 1990s; Jabotabek seemed like one vast building site—infrastructure, factories, offices and commercial establishments, residential areas. All of a sudden, it came to a standstill. The day after the rupiah crashed in October 1997 I went to the neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jakarta where the workers from my fieldwork villages lived inpondoks—dormitory-style boarding houses. They were deserted. The food-stall owners told me that all the workers had been dismissed on the spot and told not to come back until further notice. The municipality had issued free one-way tickets on public transport, to get them out of the city and back to their home villages—the authorities didn’t want this mass of unemployed labour on their doorstep. The official line, propagated by the World Bank, was that these labour migrants could go back to being peasants once again, that rural communities offered a social-security net and that the elastic informal economy would absorb them. Those were myths, as I found out when I went back to the localities of my fieldwork. [6] The construction workers, around a third of the village heads of households, were simply hanging around the house, stunned by the dismissal. Around half the peddlers and hawkers had come back; the rest were surviving on severely reduced incomes in the city. Very few of these people could be re-absorbed into the agricultural economy; they had left the village in the first place because they constituted a redundant part of the rural labour force. They had no farming skills—and the farmers preferred real agricultural labour. Nor were they unaffected by the krismon, the monetary crisis: prices of fertilizer, pesticides and seeds went up with the devaluation of the rupiah.
As the crisis deepened—food prices soared in early 1998, as subsidies were cut on IMFinstructions, leading to the political turmoil that brought the overthrow of Suharto in May—the poor turned to whatever survival strategies they could find. First, consuming any small savings and exhausting all possible sources of credit—shopkeepers, moneylenders, kinsmen and neighbours. Then pawning or selling any possessions—earrings and bangles first, followed by bicycles, TV sets, radios, furniture, crockery—and cutting down on food consumption: doing without lauk pauk, the accompaniments to the main dish of rice; skipping a meal altogether. State support was minimal, and mediated through the formal and informal networks of Suharto’s New Order: rice was distributed, supposedly for families below the poverty line, but the process was chaotic and barely announced; the rice was of poor quality and was given mainly to the better-off, who sold it to shopkeepers, who in turn sold it on to the poorest at a profit.

What’s become of those people now?


The whole of Indonesia is basically becoming a plantation. This is one of the differences between India and Indonesia: India is a state power in its own right, whereas Indonesia is just up for grabs. All sorts of foreign interests—first American, now Chinese or Singaporean—have taken over the national wealth, assisted by local compradors. The forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan have largely been burned down. They’re planted with oil palms, in particular, alongside other commercial crops. The people in the villages are not starving—in that sense, the exploitation is less stark and visible than in India—but they’ve been left behind, without anything. The differences were already signalled in the independence movements. Nehru presided over a planning committee from the 1940s; in Indonesia, they had no idea of a design for the future. Sukarno’s concept was that everybody was a peasant; they did not understand the social-class division, which had existed for a very long time in the countryside. So the people below did not get the space and agency they should have had, with Independence. Nor did they in India, of course, for other reasons. In Indonesia, social relations are more polished—more halus, as they say. You don’t offend the other openly and bluntly; you may be cruel but there is a façade of smoothness in interaction—which is very different from India. For this reason it is less painful doing research in Indonesia than in India.

Because of the caste system?


In Java there is no caste system, but there are other terms which make it very clear where you belong—either at the top or down below. The class stratification is very comparable, especially in terms of landholding and dispossession. Colonialism played a major role in cementing social stratification there. But in India, I’m among many friends and colleagues who share the same outlook as me. There are not so many of those in Indonesia.

Recently you’ve extended your research to China. How does the new labour regime there compare with those of India and Indonesia?


What I like in China is the resilience from below: there is more assertion. That is not a product of communism; it was already there. That’s why communism did better in China than in Indonesia or the Subcontinent. There’s a diary entry by a Chinese-speaking Dutch colonial official, who was sent to investigate the Chinese labour force on a plantation in Sumatra, at the beginning of the twentieth century. He describes going into one of the Chinese coolie houses on the plantation, and a Chinese worker commenting, ‘Ha! Here we have another one who has come to hear about what we are up to and why we are not working better.’ It was the hidden script of the class war. You find much more of that in China. I’ve only made three visits there, first in the early 90s, then in 2001–02, and again in 2009–10. I went to Xiamen, in Fujian province, invited by a former student who is now an academic there. I wanted to find out about the migrants who come to the cities. My sense was that this was quite different to the circulatory migration that has taken hold in the Subcontinent and Indonesia. There seemed to be better opportunities for the Chinese workers in the cities. Even though their hukou, their civic registration, was still in their place of origin, they were trying to establish a kind of bridgehead for their children. I wouldn’t have been able to get permission to go into a factory, so I went to the urban villages where they live, on the outskirts of the city. Xiamen has a population of 3 million, 60 per cent of whom are migrants, either from Fujian or from further away. They come to work in the factories or are self-employed in petty trade and hire a room in one of these urban villages.


You say ‘urban villages’, but these are new-built clusters of apartment blocks?


Yes. There aren’t any shanty towns, as in India or South Asia at large. The land of the peasants at the outskirts of the city was nationalized, that is to say municipalized, but they were compensated by being given loans to build mostly one-room apartment blocks, of thirty or forty apartments each, which they rent out to the migrants. They collect much more as rentiers than they ever would have earned as farmers. That is where I did my fieldwork, talking to the workers away from the boss. It is not representative, because a sizeable segment of the labour migrants live in factory dormitories, but most are in the urban villages. I was very struck by their assertiveness; they would speak out, even though they had little reason to trust me. One evening I was having a meal with them outside an eating house, with a group of other customers, and the police came along. They told us to go inside, that it was not proper to eat outside in the street—what is ‘proper’ is very important, of course. So we went inside but the workers were grumbling loudly: ‘We’re always being bothered by these people, there’s too much security around.’ There was far more outspokenness among the working classes than I’ve ever seen in India. Also, those who come to the city are not totally dispossessed. Very often they belong to households with a piece of land—not enough for the whole family, of course; that is why they are migrating—and they have gone to school, frequently to middle school. I didn’t meet young people in the city who were illiterate, like in India, where labourers who can’t read or write are more easily cheated out of their wages and among them there are no children at work. Those differences in social capital give the Chinese workers more of a fall-back position. To that extent, I come back less pessimistic from China than from Java or India.
A great deal has been written recently about the emergence of a new middle class in the developing world—on some accounts, the basis for a vibrant new age of liberal-capitalist democracy in the global South. What’s your view of this?
You do see some people moving up in the informal economy, accruing wealth as petty capitalists; it is quite elastic in that respect. In India, the OBCs—Other Backward Castes—have also benefited socially from that. But the point is that the wealth and profits made above the poverty line, to use that phrase, are being extracted from the people underneath it. That relationship is very important and it is exploitative. For instance, the owner of a brick kiln is a small capitalist and may be quite successful. But as a worksite, his brick kiln will be a terrible place, because of the dust and grime, from the lack of basic amenities, the manuality of it all, with small children and pregnant women shifting the filthy bricks. It is they who are making him a member of the new middle class.
As for a thriving civic democracy, that requires an operational tax system and a degree of commitment to public agency and distributional outlays. But I was told by bankers and industrialists in Surat that 60 per cent of the total money in circulation is black money; that’s now been confirmed in official reports. That isn’t taken into account for the growth rate of the economy; there’s a huge underestimation of turnover and profits made. The basis for taxation could be much wider than it is—much more healthcare, education and social security, allowing much greater dignity and decency, could be financed. We have an incorrect, incomplete notion of how the economy operates, because we rely on official statistics and what is illegal cannot be reported. That informality, or corruption, penetrates all through the economy and the government administration. The official buys his job; that is also the ‘new middle class’. If you are a policeman, standing on the road stopping traffic, or a teacher with a classroom of children, you buy your job: you hand your salary to the police inspector or the school principal and you collect your money from the drivers or from the parents for their children’s tuition.

Has all this increased?


Yes, it’s become institutionalized. It’s not something that you are ashamed of, that you should not do because it’s not part of your job. That has gone. For instance, labour inspection. Some years ago I went around with a labour inspector on his motorbike. We would stop by a field and he would call to labourers working there: ‘Who are you working for? How much are you getting?’ It would be less than the minimum wage. So the labour inspector drove to the farmer’s house, where the farmer would be sitting at home—because farmers don’t farm, they relax—and told him that some of his labourers weren’t getting the minimum wage. Then the farmer would look at me, and the labour inspector would look at me, and I would go outside, and the farmer would pay so he wasn’t prosecuted.
And of course these jobs—teacher, traffic cop, labour inspector—are all in the formal economy.
Quite. Informality goes much further than just employment and labour relations; it has reached and now dominates also the circuits of politics and governance. The upshot of that trend—the sell-out not only of a sizeable public economy but also of public space, agency and institutions—is that capital gets away scot-free instead of being held accountable for the state of labour worldwide, which ranges from vulnerable to miserable.
You’ve criticized a story of a straightforward shift from rural to urban. Nevertheless that has taken place to a certain extent in India. It is now one-third urban, whereas it used to be 15 per cent.
Yes, to that extent. But the point is that much labour migration does not become consolidated as lasting urbanization. There is seasonal migration, which is very important, because a lot of the informal economy is played out in the open air. It stops during monsoon. There are no brick kilns operating, salt-panning comes to a halt. Transport and construction do not quite come to a standstill, but the activity is a fraction of what it is in the busier season. Seasonal migrants to the cities are an important segment of the total footloose workforce, but they don’t become permanent city dwellers; it’s largely a male migration, and they don’t earn enough to be able to settle in the city with a family. When they are worn out due to old age or debilitating illness, they tend to drift back to the village. Mobility in India, but also in Brazil and Africa, is in the lower echelons of the economy—rotation and circulation rather than migration. There is a direct relationship between informality—the lack of a proper job, but being hired off and on—and this type of ongoing mobility.

But China could be an exception?


The strategy of the migrants there seems to be to stay in the city and open the gate for their children. The women in particular say they don’t want to go back. Life in the city is more attractive than in a small town or in a village. Conditions of employment are better, wages are higher. Consumerism among migrants in China is totally different to that in India; and in India it is difficult to escape that relationship with the locality they are coming from. But the key relationship is between informality and circulation; that is why you see less of it in China. Upward mobility seems more attainable in China. Waiters in the eating-houses can dream of opening an eating-house themselves. Employees in barber shops want to open a shop of their own. You see that less in India—or in Indonesia, where those at the bottom stay at the bottom.


In political terms, your work is a standing indictment of the social record produced by nearly half a century of Congress rule—endemic poverty, illiteracy, dispossession, domination. What’s your estimate of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, passed by the Singh government in 2005, under pressure from civil rights activists and intellectuals such as Jean Drèze?



NREGA is supposed to offer the rural unemployed a hundred days’ work a year for a household at the minimum wage, on projects organized by the village panchayats. [7] The worst thing about it, in my view, is the type of work on offer: digging hard earth with blunt shovels, or hammering stones into pieces. It is ‘work of last resort’. There is a straightforward line of descent from the colonial system’s use of public works in times of famine—road construction, land levelling, small-scale irrigation projects. They had a similar model for the unemployed in the Netherlands during the Great Depression: making people who had never done any such work before dig ditches, rather than putting their skills to creative use, for the public good. There is so much useful work that this pauperized proletariat could be doing under NREGA: simple housing construction, sanitation—nearly half the population are forced to defecate in the open air—or care for the elderly and handicapped in the villages, which is a huge problem, or helping out in health provision. Another problem is the assumption that the panchayats operate in an uncomplicated, democratic fashion when they decide on what works to undertake, which is not the case. What actually happens in the panchayat is domination by the established interests. In the Gujarati villages that I know best, the dominant caste won’t have NREGA. They say there are no projects that need doing and that their labourers have enough work to do, which is simply not true. They don’t want NREGA because it means the minimum wage, which is very low, but higher than the going wage rate in Gujarat at the moment. In Kerala, where local wages are higher than the minimum wage—unlike in Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan—NREGA has become a domain of female participation and assertion. A common complaint is the corruption: that the number of people who should be working on a project are simply not there. And those who are often don’t get the full wage, nor do they receive it in time. Moreover, the number of days worked is usually much lower than promised, and the clause stipulating that people should still be paid the regular wage on days when no work is available remains a dead letter. Putting that clause into effect would amount to a form of unemployment benefit, which is deemed politically unacceptable. Certainly a lot of the money spent on public works gets swallowed up by the administrators, but the sums involved are actually quite small, around $5 billion a year, in a country of 1.2 billion people.


Do you think the current BJP government will be different from the last one?


Some of the left reactions to the 2014 elections were ill-founded. The main reason for the success of Modi was the fiasco of Congress. More than that, the kind of policies on offer are not so different. Both Modi and Singh opted for neoliberalism at the expense of labour, not spending money on social care or sectors like health and education. Too much has been made of the progressive posture of Congress and the reactionary image of Modi; the latter is true but not the former. They are both stalwarts of neoliberalism.

You’ve touched on the complicit character of the trade unions, where they exist. Are any forms of collective resistance practicable in these conditions?



When the workers were dismissed from the Ahmedabad factories—and one factory after another, all were dismissed—they lost their trade-union membership, too. When I asked him, the secretary-general of the Majoor Mahajan Sangh replied, ‘It’s simple. If they don’t have a job, why should they be organized?’ I said, ‘They need collective action more now than ever before.’ But the fact was—and this goes also for many trade unions in the West—their membership fees were deducted from their wages at source by the employers and went straight to the trade union. It was a straightforward collusion between the company and the union big shots. The unions weren’t interested in organizing informal labour; no one was going to pay them to do so. But some attempts are made. There’s a young labour activist who organizes workers in the nakas, the early-morning street-corner labour markets which were the sites of my last round of fieldwork in Ahmedabad. If a worker has sold his or her labour power in this way for more than three months, they are entitled to some benefits from funds that the construction employers have to pay the municipality, under a national scheme. The Gujarati government has been raking in the money because there have been a lot of construction projects but not more than a single paisa has ever gone to the workers. They say, ‘How can we check that these workers are standing in the morning market? How can we know they’ve been there for three months?’ So this young man goes to the labour market and gets the signatures of the people there, on a daily basis. Last year there was a march to the government office in the city, submitting a petition for these people to be paid their dues. There is no lack of good people like this. A number of labour activists and NGOs have recently come together to formulate a workers’ charter for employment in the informal economy. There is no dearth of initiatives from below.
But to organize a labour force which is by definition mobile and short-term employed—that is a hell of a job. There are those that say there is no point in organizing anymore on the basis of the work place, which is the very basis of trade unionism; that it should be residential, based on where they live, because that is where they come back to on a regular basis. There’s a tendency to fall back on the weapons of the weak. Migration—circulation—can also be a protest; not to be captured, but to move on. Some of the workers say this openly—for example the labourer interviewed in Aman Sethi’s A Free Man: ‘Don’t let yourself be tied down. Don’t rely on the jobber. Don’t accept the promise that he will pay, if not today, then tomorrow.’ [8] So there is a sense of resistance. The owner of a brick kiln once told me, ‘I don’t understand these people; one day they are there and suddenly, in the night, they are gone’. That was because of a wage dispute. But it’s not that people are totally compliant and have surrendered their autonomy.
I remember when I first arrived in India and was shaken by the poverty, I wrote home and got a letter back from my mother, one of the few she ever sent in her life. She described how as a young girl she’d travelled by barge through the peat-cutters’ colonies in the east of the Netherlands. The cutters lived in huts built from peat, without doors or windows; their children had hair matted with dirt and went around barefoot, without socks or clogs; they were a shy people and avoided contact with outsiders. In a few sentences, she described her memories of that time, adding that people everywhere have to fight to escape such misery. Sometimes the situation of those in the lowest ranks of the labour force seems hopeless—or worse than hopeless. But they do rebel.


[1] Wertheim’s perspective can be found in Evolution and Revolution: The Rising Waves of Emancipation, London 1974.
[2] For a full account, see Patronage and Exploitation: Changing Agrarian Relations in South Gujarat, India, Berkeley 1974.
[3] See At Work in the Informal Economy of India: A Perspective from the Bottom Up, Oxford 2013, p. 42 ff.
[4] See On Pauperism in Present and Past, OUP forthcoming.
[5] See Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market: Profits from an Unfree Work Regime in Colonial Java, Amsterdam 2015.
[6] Good Times and Bad Times in Rural Java: Socio-Economic Dynamics in Two Villages towards the End of the Twentieth Century, Leiden 2002 (co-authored with Gunawan Wiradi).
[7] For more detail, see the essays in The Long Road to Social Security: Assessing the Implementation of National Social Security Initiatives for the Working Poor in India, Oxford 2013 (co-edited with K. P. Kannan).
[8] Sethi, A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi, London 2012.

By the same author:
• A Bogus Concept?
• Life and Death in Annawadi
• The Undercities of Karachi
• Myth of the Global Safety Net
• Slumlands

Opinion » Columnists

Neoliberal American Capitalism Rocks On!

Neoliberal American Capitalism Rocks On!. American Capitalism

But Does Anyone Hear Pope Francis?

by John Stanton

Though not explicitly stated, America’s most powerful instrument of national power is Capitalism. The pistons that power Neoliberal American Capitalism are: Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic, Financial, Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Human Capital/People. The clearest exposition of the instruments of national power on record can be found in the US Army’s 2008 Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare Manual.

No assessment of American political, economic, international, cultural or military strategy/action can be stamped “legitimate” without reference to and understanding of these Olympian tools of power that America’s leaders have at their disposal. Combined they are the elements that form the spear and its tip that is Neoliberal American Capitalism.

Iran’s recent agreement with the Capitalized world would not have been possible without US leadership: That unseen collective of America’s elite (representing all the interests of the instruments of national power) that seems to have finally understood how to calibrate America’s instruments of national power to secure the nation’s own interests and not those of Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Also read: American capitalism gone with a whimper

More importantly, the Iran and Cuba deals represent only a small chunk of viral code in the larger American software program that seeks to undermine Russia’s regional power and China’s global designs. Neoliberal American Capitalism’s addiction for markets and profit, or simply the sport of destabilizing countries, needs a constant fix. Drama aside, the BRICS, and their bank pose an economic and financial threat to American national power.


With Iran (and Cuba) now willingly, and with a sense of urgency, opening their economies and cultures to Neoliberal American Capitalism, President Obama has, at last, a worthy legacy which consigns two of the remnants of American Cold War Capitalism to the grave and alters the geopolitical landscape in America’s favor.

How can one not applaud and give credit to Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry?

And Obama has been gracious in his diplomatic victory. Russia’s role in facilitating the successful Iran agreement was acknowledged as critical despite the Pentagon’s saber rattling (score one for the civil in civil-military relations). According to NBC News, “President Barack Obama telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin …to thank him for his part in the recent nuclear deal with Iran, the White House said. The President thanked President Putin for Russia’s important role in achieving this milestone, the culmination of nearly 20 months of intense negotiations, the White House said in a statement. It added that Obama and Putin agreed to remain in close touch as the Iran deal is implemented and would work together to reduce tensions in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. Russia was one of the six major powers that negotiated the deal reached with Iran on Tuesday in Vienna. The others were the United States, Germany, the European Union, China, Britain and France.”

Powerful forces in the USA/Israel and Iran would have gleefully sent generations of American and Iranian youth to their deaths had President Obama not “gone to the hoop” for an Iran deal. So now

Also read: The rules of American capitalism

it’s time for the knuckle-draggers in Iran, Israel and the USA to cause general nausea by appearing in print and electronic media drunk on the noxious brew that leads them to oppose Iran deal. They will be joined by conspiracy mongers at the ready to yell “False Flag Operation!” “The circus is in town folks! In this ring the presidential contenders. Over in that ring the knuckle-heads and the conspiracy loons.” The mainstream media will keep the circus alive until having run out of angles, it is forced to read sentences backwards.

Guns and Roses

So it has come to pass that Capitalism-the freedom to buy and sell goods, services, souls and the environment-was essentially the foundation upon which was built entryways for Iran and Cuba to become full members of globalized, networked world created largely by the United States after World War II.

What further can be written by the world’s social activists about the ruthlessness of the monster that is Capitalism? Certainly it must always be challenged and critiqued. And no one worth any intellectual salt doesn’t dream of developing an alternative that provides real life-security for all. But the world has to wonder if the human species is capable of creating an economic doctrine, a mystical religion, a science, or a secular philosophy that is not based on Capitalist motives and practice? Is Capitalism-whether American, Chinese, Russian, Brazilian, Turkish, et al, the only viable template for human existence? This is not to praise or bury Capitalism, or proclaim any historical end, but to coldly recognize that at the moment human interests seem best and precariously served by the constant near disasters that Capitalism engenders. And the odd fact is this: No one located at the high, medium or low points of society really knows what’s going on. The human species is a Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde construct which appears to be why Capitalism seems the right fit for whatever personality is in charge.

Perhaps Capitalism is “all we’ve got.” It seems to have not reached its zenith particularly with the USA firmly at the helm of the good ship Capital and regaining speed. And what American–even the most vociferous anti-Capitalist really wants to see her country’s instruments of national power eroded? No American honestly seeks second place just as no Russian, Chinese or Vietnamese chooses, when cornered, to dismiss his own nation’s national interests. Pride and Capitalism are borne of the same substance.

As the kick-ass rock group Guns and Roses once sang, “Where do we go now?”

Scarface Returns to Cuba

The normalization of relations with Cuba was really a classic no-brainer. The US and Cuba have a long history. Thomas Jefferson, commenting in 1820, thought that the absorption of Cuba by the USA would be a “most interesting” addition.

Losing market share and political influence to the emergent BRICS is no laughing matter. With few markets left on the planet to target and exploit, every billion US dollars count. So Cuba’s lousy economic performance can be ignored, and is. According to Reuters, China and Cuba’s trade accounted for $1.4 billion in 2014. Russia TV reports that Russia’s Rosneft energy concern is working with a Cuban oil company to seek out what is believed to be 20 billion barrels of oil of Cuba’s coast. In 2013 Brazil and Cuba’s trade was estimated at $625 million and, more significantly, Brazil is funding and constructing a deep water port at Mariel, Cuba which will be the key port of import/export of goods-and tourists–from Capitalists the world over, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Also read: American imperialism, Lenin, Marx, capitalism and socialism

Established in 1994 the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council described the Cuban market this way: “The “…the Republic of Cuba, 93 miles south of the United States, a nation of 11 million consumers, which would rank it the 7th largest state if the country were a part of the United States…” That’s big money if one can get in on it quick.

Heed the Pope’s Warning

Amidst the wonders and miracles of Neoliberal American Capitalism that proponents never tire of proclaiming, there is the disease of constant crisis that plagues the market. Capitalists, of course, know that people and the ecological system (the planet) are the source of this disease. The brightest Capitalist would sooner cull the population through war and austerity rather than plant capital back into enterprises that create life-security, particularly for the young of this world.

There is only one global leader on this planet who knows this reality and actually has the guts to say it out loud in speeches in front of vast crowds and in quieter places like the Vatican website.

That guy is Pope Francis, the famed Jesuit and former bouncer, who serves as the world’s “warning label” for the dangerous medicine that is Capitalism. He is encouraging young people the world over to “change the system” not unlike Malcolm X did in a speech at the Oxford Union in 1964.

We ignore Pope Francis at our own peril. It is worth reading, again, some excerpts from the pontiff’s concerns about the planet. The Pope’s thoughts match up nicely with those in the Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan.

“Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighborhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature. In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighborhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquility. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.

The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion. Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches.

True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”

John Stanton

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at

– See more at:


China to build new model of capitalism


The crisis in the US is likely to become a significant milestone against the background of current events in world economy. According to German newspaper Die Welt, the volume of securities lending has tripled in the past 6 years.

Vasily Koltashov, Director of the Center for Economic Research at the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements

“China will face a serious problem – this is the main event of the second wave of the economic crisis. The future of global economy will depend on how the Chinese production will be declining. This will be a whole new model of global capitalism. The United States will be standing aside from these events in an attempt to keep control over Europe and the Pacific Rim countries. Yet, the economic events of the United States will not be determining the course of events in China.”


– See more at:


Teori Trah Tidak Dapat Dibenarkan.

“roeslan, in: [GELORA45]”, Friday, 27 March 2015, 2:29
Mari kita ikuti lahirnya Pancasila 1 Juni 1945 citpaan Bung Karno, gagasan tentang Sosialisme Indonesia, gagasan tentang Demokrasi terpimpin, maniofesto Politik, Ekonomi Terpimpin, Trisakti , dll. Bisa dipercaya bahwa semua gagasan dan ide-die revolusioner BK itu lahir dari adanya evolusi kesadaran BK, dalam mengikuti secara langasung gerakan kemerdekaan bangsa Indonesia. Jadi kesadaran Bung sampai mencapai puncaknya kerarah pemikiran revolusioner, yaitu : Kesadaran revolusioner melawan kolonialisme, feodalisme, dan Imperialisme, dimana beliau ikut secara langsung didalamnya, dan mengalami keluar-masuk penjara berkali-kali dimasa penjajah kolonialisme Belanda, pada saat itu. Disamping semuanya itu, BK juga banyak belajar secara tidak langsung (membanca ) buku-buku perjuangan revolusioner, misalnya buku-buku Marx & Engels, Lenenin, Stalin, Mao, dll; sehingga dengan demikian terjadilah evolusi kesadaran (“meme“) BK, hingga melahirkan teori-teori revolusioner yang pada dasarnya menentang adanya sistem penghisapan manusia atas menusia (´´exploitation de nation par nation“) dan (´´exploitation de nation par nation“), sehingga beliau bebas dari penyakit komunistophobi, dan melahirkan ideologi Marhaenisme, yaitu Marxisme yang di Indonesialan. Dari sini jelas bahwa perkembangan kesadaran manusia atau meme itu datangnya melalui proses pengajaran, misalnya dari guru ke murit atau belajar sendiri (otodidakt), dan adanya pengaruh lingkungan; proses yang demikian itu disebut sebagai,proses imitasi, variasi dan seleksi.

Jadi jelaslah kiranya bahwa kesadaran revolusioner BK itu, bukan berasal dari proses keturunan atau trah, atau warisan dari nenek moyang dan orang tua beliau, yang berkembang dan menebar dalam pusat susuan syaraf (otak) beliau, seperti gene yang berkembang biak dan menyebar dengan berpindah dari satu mahluk kemahluk lainnya atau dari satu generasi ke-generasi lainnya, melalui sperma dan telur. Tapi lahirnya kesadaran revolusioner BK itu setapak demi setapak melalui kancah perjuangan yang sengit dalam gerakan revolusioner untuk pembebasan bangsa Indonesia dari penjajahan kolonialisme Belanda.

Para pakar dibidang ilmu pengetahuan Neuroscience juga telah menyadari bahwa otak manusia juga tumbuh sesuai dengan cara evolusi Darwin, yaitu dengan multiplikasi/mutasi dan seleksi. Buku Robet Scott dari Michigan University dengan judul “Discovering“sepenuhnya menganbil alih dari seorang pakar biologi Rchard Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker), yang pertama-tama mengeluarkan gagasan analogi dengan proses evolusi Darwin. Bagi Dawkins, untuk mempelajari evolusi peradaban manusia, harus di mulai dengan membuang konsep gene sebagai satu-satunya penyebab evolusi biologi manusia. Soalnya, menurut Dawkins, evolusi kebudayaan/kesadaran manusia terlalu cepat untuk diterangkan dengan konsep gene. Oleh karena itu, diperlukan konsep baru yaitu “meme” yang merupakan analogi kultural bagi “gene” yang biologis. Istilah “meme“ itu, menurut Dawkins, sengaja dicari agar bersajak dengan kata gene. Jadi meme itu adalah ciptaan manusia, dimana Ilmu Pengetahuansan teknologi dan ilmu sosial politik termasuk didalamnya.
Kesadaran manusia atau katakanlah “meme“ itu berkembamg biak dan menyebar luas, dan berpindah dari satu orang ke-orang lainnya melaui otak satu ke-otak lainnya, melalui proses yang dinamakan imitasi, variasi/mutasi dan seleksi, seperti yang sudah disinggung diatas.
Ini bertari bahwa Soekarnoisme itu bisa menyebar luas dari satu orang keorang lainnya, dan dari satu genersi ke-genersi yang selanjutnya, melalui proses imitasi,variasi/mutasi dan seleksi. Artinya melalui proses belajar, pengajaran dan kontak langsung dengan pergerakan revolusioner, teori Trah, dalam konteks ini tidak dapat dibenarkan, teori Trah secara hakekat justru akan menghalang-halangi atau membendung seseorang untuk memiliki ideplogi Soekarnoisme. Karena Teori Trah berpendapat bahwa hanya keturunan Soekarno-lah yang mampu dan dapat memiliki ideologi Soekarnoisisme; jadi teori Trah dalam konteks ini dapat dikatakan teori reaksioner!!!
Ini bukan berarti bahwa trah Soekarno tidak dapat memilikit ideologi Soekarno-isme. Soekarno-isme adalah milik nasion Indonesia untuk meneruskan Revolusi Agustus 1945 sampai keakar-akarnya. Siapa saja bisa dan mampu memiliki, Soekaroisme, asalkan ia mau dan bersedia melakukan evolusi kesadarannya,yaitu membebaskan dirinya dari penyakit phobi-phobian, misalnya: komunisti-phobi, agama-phobi dan nasional-phobi. Soekarnoisme bukan monopoli trah Soekarno atau pura-putri dan para cucu BK.
Nampaknya dikalangan kader PDIP terdapat kesalahan persepsi dalam menerima dan memahami Soekarnoisme, ini tercermin dalam teori trah yang, yang memandang bahwa hanya putra putri BK lah yang mampu melakukan ideologi Soekrnoisme, gejala ini muncul dengan seruan Kalahkan “Trah Soekarno“, dan mengangkat Jokowi sebagai pimpinan PDIP, karena Jokowi dinilai telah dijiwai oleh Soekarnoisme, pandangan seperti itu adalah pandangan yang sangat keblinger!!!. Padahal trah Soekarno juga bisa memiliki ideologi Soekarno, asal mereka mau terjun dalam perjuangan praktis melawan penghisapan manusia atas manusia, perjuangan untuk menyelesaikan tugas-tugas yang diberikan oleh Revolusi Indonesia, dan ikut berjuang menuju pada suatau masyarakat sosislis Indonesia yang dicita-citakan oleh BK.
Menurur pengamatan saya PDIP belum pernah mengedepankan pandangan Soekarnoisme, yaitu panndangan yang dijiwai oleh Marhaenisme. Sepengetahuan saya politik PDIP di jiwai oleh MANIFESTO NASIONALISME KERAKYATAN; Arinya Nasionalisme-kerakyatan sebagai ideologi utamanya.
Apakah meme-nya Jokowi sudah mencapai tingkatan Soekarnoisme; menurut pengamatan saya belum, untuk mencapai kearah itu Jokowi masih jauh panggang dari api!!! Menurut pengamatan saya Jokowi sekarang ini baru pada tingkatan memanfaatkan ideologi Soekarno-isme, untuk mencari popularitas, pencitraan, dan kedudukan.
Menurut pengamatan saya kesadaran Jokowi dalam berpolitik masih bisa diombang abingkan oleh elemen-elemen orde baru disekelilingnya. Ini tercermin dalam pemerintahannya yang sudah berjalan selama kurang lebih 6 bulan, mencerminlam bahwa kebijakkan Jokowi masih nampak sebagai kebijakan yang mengkuti budaya KKN orde baru. Ini tercermin dalam cranya memilih pembantu-pembantunya. Dalam konteks ini Jokowi belum bisa berpandangan holistis sitem, Jokowi masih nampak bersandar pada orang-orang “pinter“ disekitarnya. Disamping itu kebijakan Jokowi selama ini mencerminkan budaya pencitraan, dengan mengeluarkan wacana-wana, dan membagi-bagi uang untuk pencitraan. Jokowi terbukti bukan seorang yang sataunya kata-kata dan perbuatan, ini sudah menjadi pendapat umum. Oleh karena itu Jokowi tidak bisa dijadikan panutan.
Soekarnoisme menghendaki Nasionalisasi perusahaan-perusahaan asing, tapi Jokowi menghendaki neolibetalisme dengan cara memanggil sebanyak mungkin investor asing untuk mebangung perusahaanya di Indonesia, untuk memanfaatkan buruh murah bangsa Indonesia. Jokowi memilih gengsi dengan cara mengundang sebanyak mungkin investor asing untuk membangaun pelabuan-pelabuan dengan Hightechnologi, yaitu glamor-glaomor teknologi. Jokowi tidak menedepankan Urgensi yang berarti menaikkan derajat kehidupan bangsa sebagai bagian dari SDM, meningkatkan kemampuan pikiran dan kemampuan budaya, menghapus sikap inlander, yang penuh dengan minderwaardigheidscomplex. Jokowi hanya mau membanguan teknologi tidak membangun rakyat, rakyat cukup diberi janji-janji kosong, dan dibagai bagi amplop yang berisi duit RP.100.000. atau mungkin lebih sebagai syarat bagi pemcitraan.
Akhirnya jika Jokowi berhasil merebut kekuasaan dalam PDIP dan menjadi ketum PDIP, bisa dipercaya bahwa PDIP pimpinan Jokowi tidak akan dapat membawa bangsa Indonesia menuju pada masyarakat yang adil dan makmur, yaitu masyarakat sosialis Indonesia, sepeti yang diamanatkan dalam UUU 45 khususnnya Pasal 33 UUD 45. Karena secara hakekat Jokowi belum memahami ideologi Soekarnoisme. Jokwi bukan politikus yang pernah memimpin gerakkan politik, yang memprjuangkan kepentingan rakyat banyak, ia hanyalah seorang ambtenaar (pegawi negeri), yang meloncat menjadi Gupernur kemudian Presiden karena dikatrol oleh bu Maga. Maka dari itu setelah menjadi Presiden terkesan sebagai boneka, yang dimanfaatkan oleh orang-orang “pinter“ disekelilingnya.

Komentar Awind, in: [] , Montag, 23. März 2015 01:50

Menteri2-nya harus melepaskan jabatan di partai politik, masak presidennya boleh jadi ketum suatu partai?

Kalahkan” Trah Soekarno, Jokowi Paling Direkomendasikan Pimpin PDI-P
OPINI | 23 March 2015 | 01:20
Tiga orang dalam trah Soek‎arno menjadi figur paling tidak direkomendasikan untuk memimpin PDI Perjuangan di masa depan. Sebaliknya, Presiden RI Joko Widodo paling dijagokan menjadi ketua umum partai berlambang banteng tersebut. Demikian hasil survei pakar dan opinion leader menyongsong PDI Perjuangan yang dilakukan Poltracking Indonesia baru-baru ini. ‎Dalam survei itu, Poltracking menilai 9 kader PDI-P, yakni Joko Widodo, Pramono Anung, Ganjar Pranowo, Tjahjo Kumolo, Maruarar Sirait, Hasto Kristianto, Megawati Soekarnoputri, Prananda Prabowo, dan Puan Maharani. Ada 10 aspek yang dinilai dari masing-masing tokoh, yakni kompentensi dan kapabilitas, visi dan gagasan, kemampuan memimpin partai, pengalaman dan prestasi memimpin, komunikasi di tingkat elite, kemampuan memimpin pemerintahan, penerimaan oleh publik, komunikasi publik, serta kemampuan memimpin koalisi. JAKARTA,
Analisa Untuk Jokowi
Jokowidodo tampil sebagai kandidat pemimpin dari kalangan diluar trah Soekarno, setelah dua kali sukses secara berurutan berhasil mengemban tugas sebagai Wali Kota Solo dan banyak meraih keberhasilan dalam kepemimpinan Birokrasi tingkat nasional dan Internasional.
Kemudian rakyat memilihnya menjadi Gubernur DKI Jakarta yang diembannya selama 2 tahun, sampai terpilinya Jokowi menjadi Presiden RI ke 7 setelah memenangkan Pemilu Presiden 2014-2019.
Kemunculan Jokowi sebagai kandidat pemimpin Partai berlambang Banteng setidaknya mengkorfimasikan tumbuhnya beberapa harapan dari para pendukung partai yang berasal dari kalangan petani, buruh, nelayan, pedagang, pegawai negeri, angkatan muda, para guru, dosen, dan pengusaha.
Keterpilihannya Jokowi menjadi Pimpinan PDIP, karena dari keberpihakan etnis dan agama Jokowi juga relatif netral tidak terlalu ke timur tidak juga terlalu ke barat, ditengahnyapun tidak mewakili orang Jawa semata.
Dalam struktur partai yang terdiri dari kekuatan orang-orang yang mewakili kelompoknya masing-masing, Islam, Kristen, Katholik, Murba,Nasionalis, Jokowi tidak ada keberpihakan diantara mereka.
Jokowi tetap ada didalam titik tengah keseimbangan, kebersamaan dalam satu perjuangan Partai, walaupun ia adalah seorang muslim yang nasionalis.
Jokowi kebersamaannya dengan PDIP dapat dikatakan relatif baru, akan tetapi gaungnya sebagai pendongkrak suara PDIP di hampir semua wilayah, sangatlah kuat.
Bukan sebagai khayalan, jika publik menilai, kemenangan PDIP karena disokong oleh seluruh pendukungnya Jokowi yang berada di seluruh pelosok negeri.
Disamping sebagai orang baru dalam kancah politik ia juga tidak mempunyai hubungan trah keluarga politik yang berafiliasi dengan Kubu Faksi Partai Nasionalis Indonesia (PNI), Kubu Faksi Partai Kristen Indonesia (Parkindo), Kubu Faksi Partai Murba, Kubu Faksi Partai Katolik Republik Indonesia (PKRI).
Bisa dipastikan dari riwayat orang tuanya, Jokowi semula hanya sebagai simpatisan PNI masa Soekarno, yang dikenal dari kelompok marhaen.
Dilihat dari kesejarahannyan politik orang tuanya, Jokowi juga bukan berasal dari partai Islam manapun atau kelompok politik manapun.
Bukan berasal dari PSI (Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia),Masumi, PPP (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan), PKB (Partai Kebangitan Bangsa), PAN (Partai Amanat Nasional), apalagi PKS (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera), dan bukan pula berasal dari sekte wahabiyah maupun Syiah.
Dalam benak Jokowi dan keluarganya mungkin hanya familier dengan NU (Nahdlatul Ulama), karena dikenal karena adanya tahlil, ziarah kubur, baca Yasinan tiap malam Jum’at.
Oleh sebab itu ada banyak harapan dan kepentingan masyarakat Indonesia secara garis besar, bahwa Jokowidodo pemimpin PDIP yang disuratkan Tuhan.
Karena Jokowi memiliki kelebihan dibanding Megawati, khususnya dalam mengelola konflik para kader ditubuh partainya, Jokowi lebih memiliki sifat “sifat andap asor, wani ngalah luhur wekasane”.
Dalam perkembangan partai politik di Indonesia, posisi Jokowi juga sangat menguntungkan sebagai daya magnet politik, antara lain sebagai tempat berlindung dibawah payung pemerintah, akan tetapi tidak mengikat kepada seseorang masuk dalam keterikatan PDIP, NASDEM, PKB dan lainnya yang tergabung didalam KIH.
Harapan Terhadap kepemimpinan Jokowi juga lahir karena kepribadian Jokowi. Hampir tidak pernah dijumpai Jokowi terlibat langsung konflik dengan tokoh partai manapun juga.
Walaupun di pihak luar mencacinya dengan cacian yang menyakitkan. Tidak ada balasan dari Jokowi. Hal ini mengisyaratkan sesungguhnya Jokowidodo pemimpin yang jujur, dapat dipercaya, tidak terlalu banyak mengobral kata-kata, tidak banyak bicara, bukan seorang figur yang pandai menggelindingkan isue-isue kontroversi, bukan pula pemimpin yang suka menggelindingkan isue-isue murahan.
Masyarakat mengenal sebagai pemimpin yang tidak pendendam pemimpin yang “Ra Po Po”. Sudah banyak yang memprediksi Kepemimpinan Jokowi in sangat layak untuk menggantikan Megawati sebagai Ketua Umum PDIP .
Jokowi kehadirannya di PDIP mewakili banyak harapan besar dari pemberi kesegaran baru dalam partai mampu mengadopsi suara bawah sesuai dengan porsinya dan menerima suara atas sesuai dengan keahliannya.
Jokowi memang bukan Trah Soekarno akan tetapi jiwanya sudah sangat Soekarno , melebihi, Puan Maharani bahkan melebihi Megawati Soekarnoputri.
Kehadiran Jokowi ini bagaikan petunjuk anugrah Tuhan yang akan membayar semua harapan besar kalangan petani, buruh, nelayan, pedagang, pegawai negeri, angkatan muda, para guru, dosen, dan pengusaha, inilah pemimpin yang sebenarnya dan sangat diidamkannya yang bukan trah Soekarno namun membawa semangat dan jiwa Soekarno.
Apa yang di ramaikan orang akan hadirnya pemimpin yang menyejukan dan mengayomi “Berbudi Bowo Leksono”bagaikan juru penyelamat memberi kesegaran baru dalam PDIP dan khususnya kepada masyarakat Indonesia, adalah benar.
Ia tidak membawa kharisma Soekarno , tetapi membawa rohnya Sukarno, terbukti dalam kapabilitas politiknya yang sangat terbatas Jokowi telah mampu menghadapi dinamikan politik yang muncul sejak dirinya menjadi Presiden RI ke 7 .
Secara perlahan tetapi semakin kuat Jokowi dapat menyelesaikan masalah dan kemelut berbagai partai politik memberikan angin perdamaian kepada mereka yang berkonflik . Keberhasilan mendamaikan PPP, GOLKAR yang hampir saja tercerai berai.
Dengan kewaskitaannya Jokowi mampu menjembatani dan memanajemani mereka yang berkonflik . Disamping itu Jokowi mampu meredam dengan damai internal PDIP semula terjadi manuver-manuver melalui pernyataannya yang menohok dirinya, dan akan membahakan Partai dan koalisinya.
Praktis suara yang akan melengserkan dirinya dari suara internal PDIP, praktis tak terdengan lagi. Cara pendekatan historis dan sosial dan budaya dan politis, dari Jokowi inilah yang pada akhirnya PDIP tetap solid, tidak lagi terdengat suara dari kader PDIP yang miring.


10 Pemahaman Keliru Tentang Feminisme
Dari Virginia Woolf dengan keindahan tulisannya; martir penuntut hak perempuan untuk memilih, Emily Davison; para intelektual seperti Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer dan Naomi Wolf; aktris tanpa cela Emma Watson; sampai para aktivis daring dari Everyday Sexism – feminisme adalah wajah dari banyak perempuan dan laki-laki, yang terwujud dalam pemikiran-pemikiran dan ekspresi berbeda, semuanya dengan tujuan sama untuk membangun kesetaraan untuk perempuan di semua wilayah kehidupan mereka.

10 Pemahaman Keliru Tentang Feminisme
By : Devi Asmarani | Category: Edisi Indonesia.

Sayangnya, masih banyak orang yang keliru memahaminya dan kekeliruan-kekeliruan itu terus disebarkan sampai sekarang.

Berikut adalah 10 kesalahpahaman terbesar mengenai feminisme:
Feminis membenci laki-laki
Ini adalah salah satu kekeliruan paling kuno dan paling melelahkan mengenai feminisme. Feminisme adalah sebuah gerakan dan ideologi yang memperjuangkan kesetaraan bagi perempuan dalam politik, ekonomi, budaya, ruang pribadi dan ruang publik. Feminisme tidak pernah merupakan ideologi kebencian.
Untuk mencapai kesetaraan, feminisme harus melemahkan laki-laki
Mencapai kesetaraan gender memang harus melalui dekonstruksi maskulintas, namun hal ini tidak sama dengan mengebiri laki-laki. Dalam ratusan tahun sejarahnya (bahkan sebelum istilah “feminisme” dilontarkan), gerakan ini telah memupuk tradisi perenungan dalam dan pemikiran kembali konstruksi sosial atas gender maupun dinamika gender. Feminisme seharusnya memperbaiki relasi gender, bukan memperkuat salah satu jenis kelamin dengan mengorbankan yang lain.
Feminisme hanya membantu perempuan ¬
Feminisme tidak hanya membebaskan perempuan, gerakan ini juga membebaskan laki-laki dengan memutus standar-standar yang diberikan masyarakat pada perempuan dan laki-laki. Feminisme adalah tentang mengubah peran-peran gender, norma seksual dan praktik-praktik seksis yang membatasi diri. Laki-laki memiliki kebebasan untuk menjelajah hidup di luar batas-batas kaku maskulinitas tradisional. Feminisme juga mempercayai akses yang sama untuk pendidikan, yang barangkali memungkinkan ibu-ibu Anda mendapatkan gelar universitas dan mendapatkan pekerjaan, sehingga Anda dan saudara-saudara Anda memiliki kesempatan yang lebih baik dalam hidup. Dengan pendidikan, perempuan cenderung memiliki pilihan-pilihan hidup yang lebih baik, menghasilkan keluarga dan masyarakat yang lebih sehat dan berfungsi secara optimal.
Hanya perempuan yang bisa jadi feminis
Feminis berkomitmen untuk mengatasi masalah-masalah sehari-hari seperti kekerasan dalam rumah tangga, pemerkosaan dan kekerasan seksual, ketidaksetaraan penghasilan, obyektifikasi seksual, dan lain-lain. Cara terbaik untuk menanggulangi masalah-masalah ini adalah untuk melibatkan laki-laki, meningkatkan kesadaran para pegawai pria mengenai kepekaan gender, mengajarkan anak laki-laki untuk menghormati anak perempuan, membuat para ayah mau berbagi beban pekerjaan rumah tangga dan lebih terlibat dalam membesarkan anak-anak, dan masih banyak lagi.
Feminis pasti ateis
Memang betul bahwa beberapa agama memiliki perspektif-perspektif patriarkal yang tinggi dan melanggengkan praktik-praktik diskriminatif kuno terhadap perempuan, namun bukan berarti tidak ada ruang untuk perbaikan. Ada banyak pihak yang telah memasukkan interpretasi ramah perempuan ke dalam ajaran-ajaran agama. Di Indonesia kita memiliki ulama feminis dan cendekiawan Muslim ini serta beberapa lainnya. Anda tidak perlu mendepak agama Anda untuk meyakini bahwa perempuan memiliki hak-hak yang sama dengan laki-laki.

6. Feminis tidak percaya pernikahan

Omong kosong. Banyak feminis yang memiliki pernikahan bahagia (salah satunya saya). Selama pernikahan memberikan nilai-nilai pribadi, hukum dan sosial kepada kedua orang di dalamnya, tidak ada alasan untuk menolak lembaga perkawinan. Yang ditolak para feminis ini adalah ketika masyarakat menilai pernikahan sebagai “tempat yang lebih baik” untuk perempuan, memberi hukuman sosial untuk mereka yang tidak menikah atau bercerai, dan ketika pernikahan digunakan sebagai cara mengontrol perempuan. Selain itu, para feminis percaya pernikahan legal harus berlaku bagi semua preferensi seksual dan ekspresi gender (ya, kami percaya pernikahan sesama jenis!).
Feminis sejati tidak menggunakan rias wajah dan beha
Bohong! Feminisme memberikan perempuan pilihan – bukan membatasi – ekspresi pribadi. Tidak bisa lepas dari sepatu hak tinggi? Pakailah. Senang memakai rok mini hitam? Mengapa tidak. Namun mengekspresikan diri dalam ekspresi feminitas tradisional adalah pilihan, bukan kewajiban, dan tidak seharusnya itu mendefinisikan diri Anda. Secara pribadi, saya suka terlihat cantik, tapi saya tidak suka membuang terlalu banyak waktu dan energi untuk melakukannya, jadi saya jarang memakai rias wajah, kecuali pensil alis dan lip-gloss.
Feminisme adalah konsep Barat
Sejujurnya, ini adalah salah satu kritik diri utama dalam gerakan feminis di masa lalu: bahwa feminisme, sebagai gerakan dan ideologi, terlalu Eropa-sentris dan didikte oleh perempuan kelas menengah berkulit putih. Gerakan ini juga dikritik karena kecenderungannya untuk mengabaikan kelas, kasta, agama, bias etnis dan diskriminasi ras yang memperumit ide mengenai gender. Namun feminisme telah ada sejak lama di bagian dunia non-Barat, dari Amerika Selatan, Asia sampai Afrika, meskipun dengan fokus-fokus yang sedikit disesuaikan dengan konteks lokal.
Feminisme belum berubah seiring waktu
Salah! Gelombang pertama feminisme pada abad 19 dan awal abad ke-20 difokuskan pada persamaan hak sipil dan politik, terutama hak perempuan untuk memilih dalam pemilu. Gelombang kedua, yang mulai pada 1960an sampai 1980an, memperluas tujuan-tujuan itu untuk menyertakan isu-isu seksualitas, keluarga, tempat kerja, hak-hak reproduksi dan ketidaksamaan legal lainnya. Feminis-feminis gelombang ketiga mengembangkan debat-debat itu untuk fokus pada ide-ide seperti teori homoseksualitas, penghapusan ekspektasi peran dan stereotip gender. Kesadaran dalam feminisme saat ini – terkadang disebut feminisme gelombang keempat, meski masih diperdebatkan – merengkuh ide “interseksionalitas”, penindasan-penindasan ganda yang saling berkaitan terhadap ras, seks, seksualitas dan kelas. Ini adalah gerakan dan kesadaran yang mengadvokasi orang-orang untuk memberi ruang pada mereka yang termarjinalkan secara politik, ekonomi dan sosial karena gender, preferensi seksual, ras, kelas dan hal-hal lain
Feminisme tidak diperlukan lagi karena perempuan sudah setara dengan laki-laki
Hal ini sangat keliru. Mari ingat-ingat lagi tuntutan gerakan pembebasan perempuan pada 1970an: Empat tuntutan pertama adalah kesetaraan gaji, kesempatan sama atas pendidikan dan pekerjaan, jaminan hak-hak reproduksi, dan penghapusan kekerasan atau pemaksaan seksual tanpa memandang status pernikahannya. Sekarang lihat fakta-fakta hari ini: Menurut laporan dari Organisasi Buruh Sedunia PBB, perempuan di seluruh dunia hanya menerima 77 persen dari besarnya gaji yang dibayarkan untuk laki-laki, angka yang hanya meningkat 3 persen dalam 20 tahun terakhir. Ditambah lagi, banyak lapangan pekerjaan masih tidak ramah untuk ibu, dan posisi-posisi kepemimpinan teratas dalam perusahaan-perusahaan dan pemerintahan masih sangat didominasi oleh laki-laki. Kedua, di banyak negara berkembang termasuk Indonesia, jumlah anak-anak perempuan yang putus sekolah masih lebih tinggi daripada anak laki-laki karena orangtua mereka melihat anak perempuan tidak menguntungkan dilihat dari investasi ekonomi. Keti
ga, meski alat-alat kontrasepsi sekarang tersedia secara luas, banyak negara (termasuk Indonesia) yang masih memperbolehkan pernikahan di bawah umur, yang melanggengkan kekerasan dalam rumah tangga dan kemiskinan. Keempat, budaya pemerkosaan tumbuh subur baik di negara maju maupun berkembang. Di negara-negara seperti Indonesia, hukum dan penegak hukum dalam kasus-kasus kekerasan seksual hampir tidak pernah berpihak pada perempuan.

Selain itu, tradisi mengerikan seperti mutilasi genital perempuan masih dipraktikkan di Afrika dan bahkan di Indonesia. Dan, jangan lupa, meski perempuan akan boleh memilih untuk pertama kalinya dalam pemilu di Arab Saudi tahun ini, mereka masih belum boleh menyetir atau meninggalkan rumah tanpa muhrim laki-laki.

Jadi masih berpikir pekerjaan kita sudah selesai? Pikirkan lagi.

*Tulisan ini diterjemahkan dari artikel “Ten Things You’re Wrong About Feminism”.

**Baca wawancara Devi mengenai salah satu feminis pertama Indonesia, Kartini, dan ikuti @dasmaran di Twitter.

Sumber: “‘’, in: [GELORA45]”, Tuesday, 10 March 2015, 22:49


By Akbar Ganji *

Issue No.1234, 19 February, 2015 18-02-2015 11:21AM ETyaving contributed to the chaos in Iraq and Syria, the United States now has no choice but to work with Iran to end it, writes Akbar Ganji

The bloody carnage by the Islamic State (IS) continues in Iraq, and the United States and its allies are adding to the bloodshed by bombing areas under IS control. We should ask ourselves how this terrible situation has come about.

Two important factors have contributed to the tragedy in Iraq. One is the internal factors within the country itself, while the second is the role that external forces have been playing. Since its birth, Iraq has never been a democratic state, but has been besieged by dictators, corruption, fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic teachings and ethnic and religious strife.

The most important external factor contributing to the present state of affairs in Iraq has been the United States and its policies toward the country. Naturally, the US pursues what it considers to be its national interests, but when it comes to pursuing such interests vis-à-vis Iraq and, more broadly, the Middle East, the US has committed fundamental errors.

From goading Iraq to invade Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, to the crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in the 1990s and up until 2003, when the US invaded and occupied Iraq illegally, US policy towards Iraq has been one disaster after another and has produced a long list of catastrophes, destruction and bloodshed.

At least half a million Iraqi children and young people died as a result of the economic sanctions of the 1990s and hundreds of thousands more have died since 2003. The Pentagon even drew up plans in 2002 to use nuclear weapons against seven countries, including Iraq, “in case of an emergency.”

Why has the US committed such crimes? The answer is that it has always wanted to frighten the Arab states into submission. As former CIA director James Woolsey put it two months after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, “Only fear will re-establish [Arab] respect for the United States,” and the invasion of Iraq was a prime means for creating such fear. In the world of warmongers such as Woolsey, “respect” means submission.

But the most important consequence of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the destruction of its political order, which gave rise to Sunni terrorism through the emergence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), now IS, and effectively partitioned the nation along ethnic and religious lines.

MOWING THE LAWN: According to a strategy referred to as “mowing the lawn,” every few years Israeli forces go into Gaza to destroy Hamas’s infrastructure and its ability to wage war.

Likewise, American forces attack places like Yemen and Pakistan to supposedly root out terrorists using drones and other means. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and counterterrorism adviser to US President Barack Obama, has said, “The problem with a drone is that it’s like your lawn mower. You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back again.”

The same strategy has been used against Iraq over the past 25 years. The US supported a monstrous Iraqi state during its war against Iran, but then it had to contain the country in the 1990s and invade it in 2003. The US-led invasion of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi army and left it unable to fight IS effectively. Had it not been for the help that Iran provided, Baghdad would perhaps have fallen into IS hands last summer.

But it would be naïve to think that the get-tough policy of the US towards Iraq, which began in 1990, was created in a vacuum. What has been happening in Iraq is part of the US strategy for the Middle East and North Africa over the past four decades more generally, and, in particular, the continuation of its policy toward Afghanistan in the 1980s, when it helped the so-called Afghan mujahedin fight the Soviet Union.

A change in policy began during then President Bill Clinton’s administration in the 1990s, after both Iran and Iraq had been exhausted by war and sanctions. In October 1998 the US Congress approved a resolution that made “regime change” in Iraq the official policy of the United States.

Clinton did not get to carry out the new policy, but his successor, George W Bush, did. Even before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Bush was determined to invade Iraq.

Bush lied to the American people about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and a non-existent link between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime and Al-Qaeda, and he attacked and occupied Iraq. The true outcomes of the invasion are as follows.

First, the invasion gave rise to AQI and then to IS. According to a 2011 report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, from 2004 to 2007 the most potent forces fighting the US and its allies, as well as the Iraqi government, were those of AQI. Despite the fact that some of its top leaders, such as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, were killed, the organisation eventually morphed into the present IS.

Second, the invasion effectively partitioned Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. The US cannot claim that it could not have foreseen what would happen in the aftermath of its invasion or what is happening in Iraq now. As early as 1994, then US Vice-president Dick Cheney asked, “Once you have got to Iraq and taken it over and taken down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place?”

He continued, “That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west. Part of eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim, [having] fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire.”

The partition of Iraq further exacerbated the religious and ethnic tensions in the country. Once again, this was foreseen, but ignored. In an op-ed article in May 2006, then US Senator Joseph R. Biden and Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote: “Some will say moving toward strong regionalism would ignite sectarian cleansing. But that’s exactly what is going on already, in ever-bigger waves. Others will argue that it would lead to partition. But a breakup is already underway. As it was in Bosnia, a strong federal system is a viable means to prevent both perils in Iraq.”

Clinton recently said that if the United States had not invaded Iraq, the present situation would not have arisen. So he too has finally recognised what US policy, including that of his own administration, has done to Iraq.

A 2013 report by the Council on Foreign Relations expressed similar views. Although “AQI’s campaign of violence has diminished since the peak years of 2006 and 2007, the group remains a threat to stability in Iraq and the broader Levant,” the report said.

It continued, “Since the complete withdrawal of US forces in late 2011, AQI has accelerated the pace of attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what analysts say is an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-led government of [former Iraqi prime minister] Nuri Al-Maliki.

“Meanwhile, the militant group has expanded its reach into neighbouring Syria, where it has forged ties with Jabhat Al-Nusra, a Sunni militant faction providing tactical support to the insurrection against the Al-Assad regime. In April 2013, the two groups formally merged into the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria.”

The funding for the latter group comes from “the region, including those based in Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia,” but “the bulk of Al-Qaeda’s financing, experts say, comes from internal sources like smuggling, extortion, and other crime,” the report noted.

Yet, after all the destruction and bloodshed that the US-led invasion of Iraq produced, Bush’s only regret is that IS has emerged.

THE ROLE OF US ALLIES: As the US was leaving Iraq in 2011 it was also attacking Libya where AQI fighters were playing a prominent role in fighting former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Then, when the civil war in Syria was transformed into a sectarian Shiite-versus-Sunni war by US allies in the region, the AQI migrated to Syria and began its terrorist war under the name of ISIS and later IS.

In early October 2014, during a discussion with students at Harvard University, Biden said the following: “Our biggest problem was our allies. Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends, and I have a great relationship with [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, whom I just spent a great amount of time with. The Saudis, the Emiratis, etc? What were they doing? They were determined to take down [Bashar Al-] Assad in essentially a proxy Sunni-Shiite war.

“They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Al-Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were [Jabhat] Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and extremist elements of jihadists coming from other parts of the world. If you think I am exaggerating, take a look.

“So, now, what is happening? All of a sudden everybody is awakened because this outfit called ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and Levant], which was Al-Qaeda in Iraq, found space and territory in western, excuse me, eastern Syria, worked with Al-Nusra, who we declared a terrorist group early on, and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.”
Biden’s admission needs no further explanation.
FROM SYRIA TO IRAQ: Given the vast experience that AQI and later IS gained in Libya and Syria, and the new weapons they captured there, it was only natural for IS to return to its birthplace in Iraq. The result has been more bloodshed.

According to a UN report, 8,868 people were killed in Iraq during 2013. In the first ten months of 2014, at least 10,000 people were killed, over 17,500 injured, and 1.8 million displaced, all in the war against IS. The situation has become considerably worse over the last two months as the number of people killed, injured or displaced has been rising dramatically. The net result is that the US military has returned to Iraq with its involvement in the country becoming deeper by the day.

Worse yet, the leader of the Kurdish Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, whose forces have occupied territory in Iraq, has threatened the central government in Baghdad with secession from Iraq, dreaming about a Greater Kurdistan in parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.

In an interview with CNN, Barzani said that Iraq is disintegrating and now is the best time for the Kurds to make their decision regarding independence for Kurdistan.

Barzani also spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to the province about Kurdistan’s independence. Israeli president Shimon Peres has said that Kurdistan’s independence is a “foregone conclusion” and that his country will recognise the new nation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also expressed his support for an independent Kurdistan.

Thus, the seeds that were sown by the US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan have grown and produced fruit everywhere. Apparently, no lessons were learned from the experience of the two wars.

Meanwhile, in an article in the Washington Post last July, Ryan Crocker, former US ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, William Luers, former US ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia, and Thomas Pickering, US undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1997-2000, emphasised that working with Iran is critical to saving Iraq from IS.

They acknowledged that Arab Gulf states, all US allies, have been covertly or overtly aiding Sunni radical groups and had helped in creating a sectarian Sunni-versus-Shiite war. They wrote: “It makes no sense for the West to support a war against Al-Assad as well as a war against the Islamic State. Al-Assad is evil, but in this case he is certainly the lesser evil.”
I agree. If the United States recognises that instability, changing national borders, destruction and millions of dead, injured and displaced in the Middle East are not in its national interests, it must work with Iran. Without Iran, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to defeat IS. Recent polls indicate that 61 per cent of the American people support working with Iran. The US also needs Iran to help end the war in Syria and keep the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan.
Obama’s recent letter to Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei apparently sought to foster cooperation between the two nations. IS and other jihadi groups are security threats against both countries, and thus Iran and the US have common interests in defeating IS.

Finalising a comprehensive agreement between Iran and the United States over Iran’s nuclear programme and cancelling, or at least suspending, US economic sanctions against Iran will create the necessary positive atmosphere for cooperation between the two countries and will open the door on cooperation between them for confronting terrorism.

Israeli and Saudi lobbies and their allies in the US, together with Iranian hardliners, oppose the nuclear agreement, but Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani can overcome their opposition. The agreement will make it possible for the two countries to work together to take steps toward ending the war in Syria by imposing a ceasefire there and holding free elections under United Nations supervision.

The US must set aside its fantasy of training the “moderate” Syrian opposition in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Doing so will indicate only one thing: that the US has once again not learned the necessary lessons. An Iran whose national security is guaranteed, and its regional interests respected, will open the way to ending the war in Syria.

Guaranteeing the territorial integrity of Middle Eastern countries is the necessary condition for defeating terrorism and creating a secure and more stable region. Without security, there can be no democracy.

Democracy and respect for human rights are not, and cannot be, the fruit of invading nations in the Middle East and North Africa. In the same way as the United States criticises Iran’s human rights record, it must do the same with regard to its own allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and the Arab nations of the Gulf.


The writer is an Iranian journalist.