Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy New Delhi

I just finished reading Arundhati Roy's Broken Republic: Three Essays (Hamish Hamilton / Penguin, 2011), about the uprisings in India's forests against government-corporate depredations. The highest-profile rebels are led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and though Roy discusses other groups, the Maoists are her focus in this new book. In the second essay she recounts a time she spent "Walking with the Comrades" in the forests, and it's a moving piece of work.

Of course Roy has come under attack for her sympathetic account of the Maoists and the poor farmers they are trying to organize. I trust her more than her critics, though, because she is critical of the Maoists, though not as critical as she is of state terror against the poor. Her sarcasm against respectable Indians can be withering (page 69):
Baba Amte, the well-known Gandhian, had opened his ashram and leprosy hospital in Warora in 1975. The Ramakrishna Mission and the Gayatri Samaj had been opening village schools in the remote forests of Abujhmad. In north Bastar, Baba Bihari Das had started an aggressive drive to 'bring tribals back into the Hindu folk', which involved a campaign to denigrate tribal culture, induce self-hatred, and introduce Hinduism's great gift -- caste.
(This reminds me of a friend many years ago who'd just watched Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth on PBS and told me how wonderful it was. Among the things she'd learned was that Judeo-Christianity was the only religion that was used as a means of social control. What about Hinduism? I asked her -- you know, the caste system? She hadn't thought of that. But it's easy to romanticize oppressive systems if you don't have to live under them.)

The important thing is that Roy asks the right questions, which must be answered by not only the Maoists but by other Indian Communist Parties, and by anyone else who says they want to help all Indians, not just the 100 Indian billionaires (210-211). (Compare the quotations from Raymond Williams in these posts.)
But let's take a brief look at the star attraction in the mining belt -- the several trillion dollars' worth of bauxite. There is no environmentally sustainable way of mining bauxite and processing it into aluminium. It's a highly toxic process that most Western countries have exported out of their own environments. To produce one tonne of aluminium, you need about six tonnes of bauxite, more than a thousand tonnes of water and a massive amount of electricity. For that amount of captive water and electricity, you need big dams, which, as we know, come with their own cycle of cataclysmic destruction. Last of all -- the big question -- what is the aluminium for? Where is it going? Aluminium is a principal ingredient in the weapons industry -- for other countries' weapons industries. Given this, what would a sane, 'sustainable' mining policy be? Suppose for the sake of argument, the CPI (Maoist) were given control of the so-called Red Corridor, the tribal homeland -- with its riches of uranium, bauxite, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble -- how would it go about the business of policy making and governance? Would it mine minerals to put on the market in order to create revenue, build infrastructure and expand its operations? Or would it mine only enough to meet people's basic needs? How would it define 'basic needs'? For instance, would nuclear weapons be a 'basic need' in a Maoist nation state?
Over the years I've asked questions like these to various politicos, all of whom brushed them aside impatiently, which probably means they don't want to think about them, or to admit that they've already thought about them, and see no problem with running the poor off their land to permit industrial development. This is a mindset shared by private-sector capitalists and public-sector capitalists alike, though "private-sector" is a misnomer since Western anti-communist capitalism still leans heavily on the state for support, defense, and subsidy. Roy is aware of this, for she immediately points to the record of industrialized societies on both sides of the ideological divide. For the nominally socialist countries no less than the 'capitalist' ones,
the ability to consume has become the yardstick by which progress is measured. For this kind of 'progress', you need industry. To feed the industry, you need a steady supply of raw material. For that you need mines, dams, domination, colonies, war. Old powers are waning, new ones rising ... [212].
Except that there's nothing new about this process. For Marx (as Roy acknowledges earlier in the book), revolution would come out of the smokestacks of factories; the reason why the Soviet Union rejected Maoism as an "infantile leftist disorder" was that Mao thought revolution could arise in a country of peasants, with no industrial base to speak of. Once that revolution succeeded, however, the industrial base followed in the Great Leap Forward, with great human cost. But industrial capitalism always exacts a great human cost, in the West, in the East, and what's now called the Global South.

That's important to remember, because apologists for the West have pointed to the human costs of Stalin's and Mao's "modernization" of their respective countries; the resultant debate rather resembles the Creationist / Evolutionist debates, in which sides assume that between them they cover all possible positions. Creationists assume that if they can find crucial flaws in Darwinism, Creationism will be the only option remaining. It isn't; but it also doesn't follow that if Creationism is false, Darwinism as it's now construed must be true. There are always other alternatives. Likewise, Capitalists assume that if Socialism fails, Capitalism is vindicated. Looking at the world today, it's hard to take that claim seriously.