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ArundhatiRoy,AnuradhaGhandy,and'RomanticMarxism'

byBernardD'Mello
ThisisthefulltextoftheintroductoryremarksmadebytheauthorattheFourthAnuradha
GhandyMemorialLecturedeliveredbyArundhatiRoyon20thJanuary2012atStXavier's
College,Mumbai.
Iwokeupthismorningtothechirpingsoundsoftheswallows.ArundhatiRoyseemstohavebroughtin
thoselovebirdsthatcomeintoMumbaiatthistimeoftheyearfromthecoldenvironsoftheNorth.The
livelyspiritofAnuradhaGhandy(Anu,asshewasfondlyknown)isallaroundusthatpictureofhers
remindsmeofoneofmyfavouriteBobDylansongs,"ForeverYoung".WehaveherewithusAnu's
mothercomradeKumudShanbag.ParentsabidingbyHinduismusuallygivetheirdaughtersawayat
thetimeofmarriageinaritualcalledkanyadaan.ComradesKumudandGaneshShanbag,rationaland
progressive,brokewiththishumiliatingtraditiontheyraisedtheirdaughterAnu(Janaki)todecidewhat
shewantedtodowithherlifeandshejoinedtheRevolution(Kranti).Onemightcallwhatshedid
krantidaan,though,Ithink,daan(donate)isnottherightwordforit.TheKrantikariAdivasiMahila
Sanghatan(KAMS)isjustifiablyproudofAnu(Janaki).Notlongago,whenArundhatiRoywas
walkingwiththesecomrades,theyproudlyshowedheraphotographofAnuthattheywerecarrying
she'sdressedinfatigues,anolivegreencapwithastaronit,rifleslungoverhershoulders,andsmiling,
asalways.
Anucamealongway,fromtheHamilSabha(thegeneralstudentbody)ofElphinstoneCollegeinthe
firsthalfof1970stotheByramgadhareainoldBastarinthelatterhalfof1990s.Forher,dalit,adivasi
andwomen'sliberation1werepartofthefightfor"newdemocracy"indeed,forhertheywerea
prerequisiteforanykindofdemocracy.JustasAnuwasshapingthispolicyofthePartythe
CommunistPartyofIndia(MarxistLeninist)(People'sWar)inthe1990s,ArundhatiRoycreateda
charactercalledVeluthainTheGodofSmallThings(1997).Veluthacamefromadalit,attachedlabour
household.ButdespitehisoriginsVeluthacamefromthewretchedofthewretchedoftheIndianearth
hebecameanaccomplishedcarpenterandmechanic,indispensibletosemifeudalcapital'sprofit
registerinthesmalltownofAyemenem.RahelandEstha,Ammu'schildren,establishedaclosebondof
friendshipwithhim.Ammuwasattractedtohim,fellinlovewithhimhewasapassionatelover,he
lovedherlikenooneelsecouldeverhavelovedher.
Veluthaismyheroforme,heistheclassicIndianproletarian.Despitetheexploitationandthe
oppression,Veluthadidwhathedidwithdevotionhekeptthecreativityandimaginationinhimalive.
Forhim,likeitisforhiscreator,ingenuityandworkbecameone.Thischaracterisationtellsus
somethingaboutArundhatiRoy,Velutha'smaker.IntheconceptionofVelutha,Isaw,veryearlyon,
signsofaromanticismcloselylinkedtorevolutioninArundhatiRoyasawriter.Thatsubversiveintent
wastherefromtheverybeginning.FromTheGodofSmallThingstoBrokenRepublic,ArundhatiRoyis
throughandthrougharomantic,anticapitalistwriter.Thereisabasicstructureoffeelingsinher
writingsthattouchesmyheart.
Idon'tknowifshewillagreewithme,butI'dliketobelievethatArundhatiRoyhasembraced'Romantic
Marxism'.Iknowtheideologicalcensorswouldbefrowningatmeforthem,therecanneverbe
anythinglike'RomanticMarxism'"comradeBernard,youcannotmixromanticismwithMarxism".I
differandinthisIamwithEPThompson.And,withMarxoftheEconomicandPhilosophical
Manuscriptsof1844(1959)2andhispassionatedenunciationofcapitalisminCapital,VolumeIwith
alanguageandimagerythatmakesthereaderrealizetheneedforKranti.Marxdid,afterall,also
hitchedromanticismwithhisexpositionofthestructure,thesocialrelationsandlogicoftheinner
workingsofthecapitalistsystem.Atitscore,'RomanticMarxism'bringstogetherMarx'sthesisof

alienationwithhistheoryofvalueandweldsthesewiththebasicstructureoffeelingsthatsucha
consciousnessevokes.
Letmenowsayafewwordsaboutthetopicoftoday'slecture"Capitalism:AGhostStory".Capitalis
notaworkofMarx'simaginationsoalso,andI'msure,Arundhatihasarealstorytotell,andit'sgoingto
beapassionatedenunciationofreallyexistingcapitalism.Ifweweretolookatcapitalismfroma
romanticMarxistperspective,wewouldsee,aboveall,thetotaldominationofexchangevalue,the"cold
calculationofpriceandprofit...overthewholesocialfabric...thedeathofimaginationandromance,
...thepurely'utilitarian'...relationofhumanbeingstooneanother,andtonature".3Whatshouldbe
reciprocityinhumanrelationsloveforlove,intimacyforintimacy,trustfortrust,asitwaswithAmmu
andVeluthahasbeenreplaced,incapitalism,bytheexchangeofmoneyforcommodities:
accumulationandpossessionisallthatmatterstoday.Indeed,beauty,nowdefinedbycapital,hasalso
beencommoditisednothingremainsunsulliedbycapitalism,itslogic,anditsbasicstructureoffeelings.
Humanbeingshavebeenturnedintowretchedbeingsphysically,psychologicallyandspiritually
dehumanised.
We,theAnuradhaGhandyMemorialCommitteemembers,areoldfashionedMarxists.Wecontinueto
insistthatwealthcomesfromtheexploitationofhumanlabourandnature.ToquoteMarxand,keeping
inmindtheimportanceheassignstoecology,includecapital's"sucking"ofnaturetoo:4
Capitalisdeadlabour[andoutofplaynature]thatvampirelikeonlylivesbysuckingliving
labour[andextantnature],andlivesthemore,themorelabour[andnature]itsucks.
Valuethenisnothingbutcongealedlabouranddefunctnatureincarnateincommodities.And,inthe
contemporaryworldcapitalistsystem,wewitnesstherealsubsumptionoflabour,nature,andeven
democraticallyelectedgovernmentstofinance.Yes,thebondmarketsthefundsandfinancial
institutionsthatbuygovernmentbonds,notthepeoplewhoelectedthegovernmentsareabletovery
significantlyinfluencepublicpolicy,foritistheywhospecifytheconditionsunderwhichtheywillbuy
thosegovernments'bonds.Indeed,themainfocusofcorporationstodayisfinancial,andhere,with
quarterlyreportingonamarktomarketbasis,shorttermnetworthisallthatseemstomatter.Addto
thisstockoptionsbasedremunerationofthosewhomanagethehugefinancialportfolios,monetary
policydesignedforthebenefitofhighfinance,andrisinglabourproductivityalongsidestagnantreal
wages,andtheresultis"traumatizedworkers","indebtedconsumers",and"manicdepressivesavers"5
highonProzacandViagrawhichkeepPfizer'scashregisterringing."Humanity"hasbecome"an
appendageoftheassetmarkets",myfriendJanToporowskiwrites.6WeareremindedofwhatPaul
SweezyandHarryMagdoff(theneditorsofMonthlyReview)wroteintheaftermathofthe1987stock
marketcrashintheUSanditseemsappropriatetoparaphrasetheirwordstoapplytothepresent:"The
mess"theworldsystemisinflows"fromcapitalism'sruthlesspursuitofunlimitedwealthbyanyandall
availablemeans,whetherornotthesehaveanythingtodowithsatisfyingtheneedsofrealhuman
beings."7Indeed,capitalismwhichhasmetamorphosedintoalifethreateningdiseasehasbecomea
threattohumanityandotherformsoflife.Theonlyremedy"isatrulyrevolutionaryreconstructionof
thewholesocioeconomicsystem".8
But,thefailuresoftherevolutionsofthe20thcenturystareusintheface.IhavetakenmoretimethanI
hadintendedto,andlestIbecomeabarrierbetweenthestarspeakerandyou,Ineedtoquicklywindup.
Letmethennotmincewordsrevolutionisaboutexpropriatingtheexpropriators,and"forceisthe
midwifeofeveryoldsocietypregnantwithanewone".9But,andmoreimportantly,revolutionisalso
about"humanemancipation".Ithastocreateasocialistsensitivity,asocialistconsciousnesssoformsof
violencecrueltyandbrutalitywhichnegatetheveryendofrevolutionmustneverbeapartofthe

means.Now,whilethe"seizureofpower"andthestrategytoachievethisseemtobethecentral
preoccupationofrevolutionaries,weneedtorememberthesewordsofMarxfromTheGermanIdeology
(1932writtenin1846):10
Bothfortheproductiononamassscaleof...communistconsciousness,andforthesuccess
ofthecauseitself,thealterationof[humanbeings]onamassscaleis,necessary,an
alterationwhichcanonlytakeplaceinapracticalmovement,arevolutionthisrevolutionis
necessary,therefore,notonlybecausetherulingclasscannotbeoverthrowninanyother
way,butalsobecausetheclassoverthrowingitcanonlyinarevolutionsucceedinridding
itselfofallthemuckofagesandbecomefittedtofoundsocietyanew.
Rightly,Marxwasmoreconcernedaboutthe"humanemancipation"thatmustcomeaboutintheprocess
ofmakingtherevolution,thekindofemancipationthatmakesofusanewkindof"human"being,a
practicenecessarytofoundasocietythatisegalitarian,cooperative,anddemocratic.
Withthis"brief"(ha,ha!)introduction,mayIinviteArundhatiRoytotakethebaton.

Notes
1ScriptingtheChange:SelectedWritingsofAnuradhaGhandy,editedbyAnandTeltumbdeandShoma
Sen,DaanishBooks,Delhi,2011.
2OneshouldalsomentionMarxandEngels'OntheJewishQuestion(1844)andTheGermanIdeology
(1932,writingcompletedin1846).
3SeeMichaelLowy's"TheRomanticandtheMarxistCritiqueofModernCivilisation",Theoryand
Society,Vol.16,No.6(November1987),p892.
4KarlMarx,Capital,VolumeI(Moscow:ForeignLanguagesPublishingHouse,1954areproduction
ofthefirstEnglisheditionof1887,editedbyFrederickEngels),chapter10,"TheWorkingDay",p233.
5RiccardoBellofioreandJosephHalevi,"MagdoffSweezyandMinskyontheRealSubsumptionof
LabourtoFinance",2010,atcemf.ubourgogne.fr/z
outils/documents/communications%202009/AHE.pdf.
6JanToporowski,"TheWisdomofPropertyandthePoliticsoftheMiddleClasses",MonthlyReview,
Vol.62,Issue4,September2010.
7PaulM.SweezyandHarryMagdoff,TheIrreversibleCrisis(NewYork:MonthlyReviewPress),
1988,p.55.
8Ibid.
9ThisishowMarxputsitinchapter31on"TheGenesisoftheIndustrialCapitalist",inCapital,
VolumeI.
10www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/germanideology/ch01d.htm.
BernardD'Melloisdeputyeditor,Economic&PoliticalWeekly,andamemberoftheCommitteeforthe

ProtectionofDemocraticRights,Mumbai.
URL:mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2012/dmello250112.html

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