Since Indira Gandhi India is officially a socialist Secular state. Not that it ever was, even though Nehru held informal socialist sympathies. Third World was a term that meant non aligned with NATO (First world) or Communism (Second World), and as a leader of the non-aligned movement, leaders such as Nixon were sceptical of India falling to Russia.
I suggest that India’s diversity illustrates what was one of the biggest problems in Socialism. Governments have been forced to sink or swim in the maelstrom of the world market modernist critical culture keeps free imagination alive.As long as they are they are, as Octavio Paz put it “condemned to modernity” we will see the Third World marching to its chaotic drum.
Although during the Emergency Indira Gandhi altered Indias Constitution to describe the nation as Socialist as well as secular, I don’t ever think India truly has been socialist.
It seems social theorists, including Marx, have often called on myth, usually Grecian, as metaphor of their world view. In a land that defies any definitions, perhaps this is why neither Socialism nor Capitalism seem to quiet fit here.
Herbert Marcuse and Hanna Arendt criticised Marx for celebrating the value of labour bur neglecting other aspects of the human spirit – for a lack of moral imagination.
In his Eros and Civilization Mercuse attacks Marx culture hero Prometheus as “a culture hero of toil, productivity, and progress through repression … A trickster and (suffering) rebel … Archetypal hero of the performance principle.”
Marcuse prefers the image of Orpheus, Narcissus or Dionysius who “stand for a different reality … Theirs is the image of joy and fulfilment, a voice that does not command but sings, the deed which is peace and ends the labour of conquest” he said.
Marshall Behrman in his wonderful All that is sold melts into the air – the experience of modernity, admits Marx imagination lacked the joys of peace but qualifies this adding Marx fetish is “the free development of physical and spiritual energies” ; “development of a totality of capabilities in the individual themselves” and “the free development of each will be the free development of all.”
Marx wants to embrace Prometheus and Orpheus says Berman, he says differing with Mercuse.
Mercuse and the Frankfurt school promoted the goal of harmony between man and nature. The problem was it would require an immense amount of Promethean energy to create it. The endless task would turn mankind into Sisyphus cursed to push a boulder to the top of a hill only to see it role down and be forced to return it for eternity!
Hanna Arendt in The Human Condition suggests another idea relevant to my view of India – the problem of Marx is not draconian authoritarianism but that that Marxism lacks a real basis for authority.
“Marx predicted correctly, though with unjustifiable glee, the ‘withering away’ of the public realm under the conditions of the unhampered development of ‘the productive forces of society’.”
Communists find themselves “caught in the fulfilment of needs that nobody can share and which nobody can fully communicate.” The depth of Marx individualism can lead to nihilism.
In a society where the free development of each is the free development of all, what will hold them together?
If they share a common quest for infinite experiential wealth this would be “no true public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open”. It risks a sense of collective futility: “the futility of a life which does not fix or realise itself in in any permanent subject that endures after its labour is past.”
Arnedt doesn’t get closer to solutions but is unclear what right action is supposed to be. She does distinguish the political and day to day production “the cares of the household” which is in her mind devoid of the capacity to create human value. She does rightly note that Marx did not develop a theory of political community this is the problem of modernism nihilistic thrust is unclear of what or who modern man can be, explains Behrman.
Ironically Behrman points out that those who criticise modernity the most need it the most. He suggests Marx is not away out of life’s contradictions but a way back in.
“He knew that we must start where we are: physically naked, stripped of all religious, aesthetic, moral haloes and sentimental veil, thrown back on our own individual will and energy, forced to exploit each other and ourselves in order to survive; and yet, in spite of it all, thrown together by the same forces that pull us apart, dimly aware of all we might be together, ready t outstretch ourselves to grasp new human possibilities, to develop identities and mutual bonds that can help us hold together as the fierce modern air blows hot and cold through us all.”
But I wonder is that completely true? Yes Modern India risks losing some of its charm in the rush to globalise. However, India’s deep religiosity could take it in (atleast) two directions.
Indian life is in many ways sacramental, daily life is elevated by rituals that offer meaning to the mundane. Could this be India’s saving grace? Or will religious nationalism pollute the search for inner meaning and tear the country apart?
I have never been a Marxist, yet suggest Marx idealised society was a gestalt not individuals but the sum of the interconnections between them. The whole was meant to be greater than the sum of its parts.
The focus seemed to be both the surface effects and the internal relations that produce them.
In India there is the conflict of class, especially caste, but we do have an agency greater than our natural needs. We labour for some structure in a changing, contradictory and some fear self destructive modernity. But Marx could have never for seen how Capitalism and labour would mediate new forms of social independence.
In the 19th century, Newtons laws of Thermodynamics were the metaphor of change. Now a protean transformative energy now fuels the world with chaotic quantum speed.
The philosopher von Weber’s metaphor was the power of rational ideas. Yet seems most discourse is illogical. The ‘argumentative Indian’ that Amartya Sen writes of, seems to want to argue for arguments sake. As long as he has a voice he will speak, but forget to listen.
But as Ilya Romanovich Prigogine reminds us that systems become more chaotic and either form new levels of order or collapse. So, It is up to India to decide if her new unleashed energy will create an new world or collapse into chaos.
What Weber succeeds in explaining – and matters for India today – is that the even in a religious society a prophet succeeds when he can articulate rationally his message and systematise the living conditions and forces of his time. Then his charm is seen as genuine.
In the diversity of India who has a clear vision big enough? Markets have delivered prosperity but at a cost of the deep yearning of soul that fires the nation.
Perhaps India needs another Gandhi like figure. What if life becomes an art form or sacrament? Could this be India’s saving grace.