I went to a screening of ‘5 broken cameras’ put on at Delhi University by a group of politically engaged students. The film was intense, disturbing and in many ways problematic. In the background, probably at that very hour, rockets were being fired into Palestine and footsoldiers were on the ground, raiding homes. Meanwhile, the prevailing allegiance in India is with Israel, a country with which it has deep political, economic and military ties. The exchange of strategies and tactics, the use of shared training grounds, the exchange of weapons is also a part of the Indian nation’s war on some of its most marginalised people and their struggles of resistance. When the film came to an end the room was silent. Everyone was just sat staring blankly, affectively disturbed, unable to do anything but let the images, the story and the horror gradually sink in. Eventually the silence was broken – it seemed premature – by a question: “Does anyone want to share a reflection?” An answer came, raising questions of violence and non-violence and the question of Hamas. The usual polarised positioning ensued, with details of the first and second intifada being used to bolster arguments. Unresolved disagreement: perhaps this conversation should be continued at another time. Eventually new questions: What can we do? Pressure the Indian state? Spread the truth? Sure. But has anyone seen what is going on in India? Has anyone observed the reconfiguration of power? How do we situate the question of solidarity in the context of a globalised capitalism that is in crisis and a producer of multiple crises? How do we negotiate the almost seamless chasm between discourse and deed that characterises the media-sphere of the state-capitalist nexus? When the whole capitalist-state apparatus speaks of ending poverty and yet is set on fast-tracking the wholesale plunder of the country’s resources, the destruction of its ecosystems and the further marginalisation and impoverishment of its people, what does one do?
There is a thesis that the capitalism has reached or is close to reaching rock bottom. It has penetrated to the places with the cheapest labour force and the most remote and inaccessible resources. It has nowhere left to fly to when confronted with obstacles – striking workers, laws, protesting indigenous people, militarised revolutionary groups. This leaves it with little option but to mobilise what could be called brute force: the deployment of its agents: the army, the police and the mafia – groups who physically violate those who resist: killing, torturing, massacring – even burning down entire villages. Meanwhile it wages a superbly orchestrated war of soft power – through control of the media, through gaming the legal system, through bribery, through PR agencies expert in glossing over the filth that lies under the carpet, through the mobilisation of networks of confluent interest (investors, politicians, industrialists, etc.), and through fuelling communal tensions, fragmenting resistance and so on. In India this can be witnessed across the country, as hundreds of striking workers get thrown in jail on false charges of killing a manager after violence was insighted by hired goons or others get brutally beaten and hospitalised for refusing to work over violation of labour laws. Elsewhere, adivasis and landless people – often backed more or less directly by any number of left political organisations, social movements or activist networks – struggle against displacement due to mega-mines, refineries, sea-ports, mega-dams, nuclear power stations, special tourism zones and thousand kilometre long industrial corridors. Ah. Development. Progress.
The minerals and extractives sector. Aside from humans – from labourers, from bureaucrats, the countless types of possessed or enslaved souls – isn’t this the primary fuel of capitalism? Capitalism cannot function without the exploitation of natural resources – it is inherent in its logic and most certainly dictated by its technological regime. Our global economy is based on this. It is the bauxite, sitting in the hills of Niyamgiri in Odisha – or in Brazil, or wherever – that will be used to create the weapons that pointlessly shred so many lives apart, as if they were worthless. True, if there is resistance in Niyamgiri then bauxite could just as well come from somewhere else. But today, most likely the resistance is mounting there too, in other places. In this situation, capital will be driven by two main things: (1) where is the resistance weakest; (2) where can the resistance be squashed for the lowest costs. After all, the loans that have been taken for developing the mines in Niyamgiri must be repaid to the investors – mostly banks based in the UK, elsewhere in Europe or in North America/Canada. These loans add up to billions, if not trillions, of dollars and they have been given for the extraction of minerals worth multiples of this. And so, we are really witnessing the final showdown in many ways. A relentless capitalism, mindlessly – algorithmically – plugging away, enacting a banal and monotonously simple calculus of profit for which everything is expendable. This means that we know, with crystal clarity, what is coming – what must come – so long as the machine is left intact.
Some might argue that there is another route: a separation from global capital, perhaps a national revolution if you will. But how can this proceed without ushering in an arms race? Witnessing the history of wars in the Middle East, for example, these last 15 years or so (the number of years I have been following unfolding events there – however partially), the emergence of new modes of warfare – from the perpetual surveillance and racism of the war on terror or the closer-to-home reality of the NSA to the second-order management of political instability in zones of perpetual conflict and the mainstreaming of drones – and the total opacity and illegality of military interventions – there is no chance of ‘being left alone’. We have seen Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other uprsisings in the region getting sabotaged, thwarted, co-opted, or ruthlessly crushed. The notion that the revolutionary impulse can spread unpredictably and uncontrollably – like wildfire – is not lost on those who are able to pull the strings on the world stage. No resistance that goes beyond the cosmetic or superficial display of ‘democratic expression’ can be tolerated. Repression is a daily reality and fills the media channels of those who care to know.
Stengers writes – or I inherit from her – the idea that the only thing that can change a system such as capitalism, with its obstinate logics, its hired eyes and ears and its filthy, deceitful mouth capable only of manipulation, spouting platitudes or hurling infernal alternatives at people – is the creation of an event that confounds it, that creates a situation that it can neither ignore nor dispel. Such events function as a rupture in the smooth operations of capital (keeping in mind that war and destruction are part of this smotohness). Of course, confronted with a multi-faced capitalism, it is the multiplication of simultaneous – if not loosely coordinated – ruptures that amplifies the crisis. We know well that we can locate strategic points in the networks that sustain the smooth functioning of capital: major production units, power sources, extractive industries, supply lines and trade/communication routes to name some of the most prominent. This is one domain of resistance against capital. But the battle is a delicate one because resistance invokes the full wrath of the state-corporate nexus and its totally disproportionate military might. So, in the meanwhile, the work must turn to propaganda, or counter-propaganda, to the courts, the media, party politics, scientists, parliaments – to all the nodes in the network that might disrupt the very flows that capitalism depends on.
But India shakes us here. The new regime is hell-bent on weakening laws designed to guarantee workers certain basic rights or to protect the environment from total destruction – and of course it has a coterie of globalised financial and corporate giants drooling over it, salivating at the prospect of a massive and totally expendable work-force and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of resources packed under the soil or in the seas all gauranteed through a servile police force equipped with riot gear, water cannons, rubber coated bullets and, if that’s not enough, countless massess in the (para-military) Central Reserve Police Force or – why not – the army itself. Of course, plenty of work can be carried out under the radar through hired goons. The sites of so many existing and prospective mines, dams, etc., are in areas where the greater part of the population live with minimal material consumption. This is the result of both their cultures and traditions on the one hand and their long history of relations with states of varying degrees of hostility toward them. As their marginalisation and expropriation intensifies and their young are educated – if at all – in schools that alienate them from their cultural contexts and turn them into servants – the phenomenon known as poverty creeps in and soon a good number of people can be bought for relatively little. These people work as goons – sometimes from outside, sometimes from within – sometimes mobilised along communal lines, sometimes paid, sometimes given free reign to take whatever they can, a share of the spoils. And it doesn’t take many goons to cause a great deal of damage, to weaken morale, to silence someone outspoken, to kill someone, to set traps for activists and stage events that make them look crinimal in the public eye, to do ecological damage that will take a lifetime or more to repair. This is the story that repeats itself across the land. It is a story that shrivels life in its wake, that gropes for the meaning it destroys and produces the meaning and the bodies that will one day rise up to destroy it in turn.