It’s permanent revolution

Law does not matter, form does not matter. There will be constant mobilisation

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: November 26, 2016 12:01 am
Demonetisation,demonetisation economy, demonetisation effects, cash, cashless economy, cashless, demonetisation debates, narendra modi, modi, Pmmodi, BJP,NDA, RS 500 notes ban, Rs 1,000 notes ban, currency demonetisation, Banks, old notes, exchange of notes, india news, indian express news The government has stepped on the escalator of seemingly radical disruption; it can only now continue on that path. (File Photo)

Just as a matter of pure political analysis, it has to be said that we are now entering the politics of “permanent revolution.” Gambling on demonetisation commits the government, one way or the other, to come up with new and radical moves with increasing frequency. If demonetisation fails, the government will have to come up with something equally radical to make up for this loss. If by some chance demonetisation is considered a partial success, it will whet the appetite for more gambling. Either way, expect new googlies from the government with increasing frequency, whether it is on expenditure or the taxation side or institutional reform proposals. The government has stepped on the escalator of seemingly radical disruption; it can only now continue on that path. Whether it is for good or for ill, we shall see.

These disruptions will have more than passing association with the language of permanent revolution. For Marx, permanent revolution was the thought that the working class pursues its interest without compromise. Except now the state will wear the mantle of a discourse where it will present itself above compromise. And the only way to establish this is disruption, often for the sake of it. This permanent revolution of the state will also have a Trotskyist feel to it. For Trotsky, permanent revolution was about force feeding history. It was about how one could create a socialist revolution where conditions for it did not pre-exist. Similarly, the nature of proposals: Cashless economy, for instance, will be about force feeding the march of history. The whole point of this form of politics is to immobilise those pedantic social questions about whether the preconditions exist for success.

Like all revolutionary talk, this doctrine will have nothing but contempt for all bourgeois institutional forms. The fact that there is no governing legislative or statutory provision for rationing money (as opposed to demonetisation of particular series), will not give anyone pause. There is no ordinance, no declaration of a financial emergency. That the RBI’s credibility has been severely decimated will not matter much. It should be truly alarming that a secretary to the government of India, by fiat, can stand up every morning and issue more than a hundred and fifty directives regarding your own money. In the history of independent India, we have not seen this arbitrary a use of state power when it comes to the sanctity of money. The promise on your note “I promise to pay the bearer a sum of X rupees” did not say “only if you keep it in a bank account or only if you withdraw a certain amount a day or spend it in a certain way or in the case of marriage withdrawals give it only to people who you can prove do not have a bank account.” Whatever your substantive moves on demonetisation, the fact that you have rationing without accountability, seems not to bother us. It is not an infringement of liberty or exercise of mad discretion. In the age of permanent revolution, law does not matter, form does not matter. Even the sovereign’s breaking of a promise does not matter; after all, if a sovereign promises, he can also withdraw the promise.

Like permanent revolution, there will be constant switch and bait. So, very subtly, the discourse from government is now shifting from unearthing black money to the fantasy of a cashless economy. The language of permanent revolution works by a constant mobilisation. First, it is mobilisation against anti-nationals. Then we had a new move: A seeming revolution in our Pakistan policy, a claim to a new form of surgical strikes. Never mind the fact that it has done nothing to diminish cross-border shelling and killing of both military personnel and civilians. But the revolution moves on to the next big act of total mobilisation. And there will be more to come. The opposition will be foolish to assume that we are now in an era of conventional politics, whether in form or substance. In fact, one of the challenges of permanent revolution is that combating it by the standard repertoire of arguments — the preconditions do not exist, the law might not permit it — comes across as nothing but an apology for the status quo. That is the magical alchemy that permanent revolution produces.

There will be a new moral language: Permanent revolution is always Janus-faced about the virtues of the people. On the one hand, the people can overcome the absence of initial conditions for a revolution. On the other hand, those who don’t will be enemies of the revolution, and therefore inherently suspect. We cannot decide whether the act of lining up in queues is an act of civic commitment on the part of citizens, or does it reflect widespread complicity and cheating. The revolution started out by declaring the people as virtuous; government directives then ended up declaring them cheats. Permanent revolution begins by appealing to virtue, it ends up using state power.

You hope to god some of this succeeds. For, permanent revolution, as it fails, is usually followed by war of some kind, the last switch and bait. We are a long way from that. But Marx’s warning may not be inappropriate. In the Holy Family he wrote of Napoleon, “Yet at the same time he still regarded the state as an end in itself and civil life only as a treasurer and his subordinate which must have no will of its own. He perfected the terror by substituting permanent war for permanent revolution. He fed the egoism of the French nation to complete satiety but demanded also the sacrifice of bourgeois business, enjoyments, wealth, etc whenever this was required by the political aim of conquest. If he despotically suppressed the liberalism of bourgeois society — the political idealism of its daily practice — he showed no more consideration for its essential material interests, trade and industry, whenever they conflicted with his political interests. His scorn of industrial hommes d’affaires was the complement to his scorn of ideologists. In his home policy, too, he combated bourgeois society as the opponent of the state which in his own person he still held to be an absolute aim in itself.”

So far we have only gone as far as declaring that the prime minister can even pronounce on what public opinion is, on his own app, by his own methodology. But soon the drumbeat of mobilisation will demand more. Uma Bharti is quoted as saying that Modi is fulfilling Marx’s ideas. Perhaps there’s more truth in that characterisation than we realised.

The writer is president, CPR Delhi and contributing editor, ‘The Indian Express’

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  1. K
    Karavan
    Nov 26, 2016 at 5:08 am
    Where is the law being broken. The author says the promise in every note "I promise to pay the bearer" by RBI is being breached. What obfuscation. The promise is still valid - there is no cap on depositing the notes in your bank accounts. Even earlier there were restrictions on amounts to be deposited without a PAN number, etc. What is your agenda Mr Mehta
    Reply
    1. D
      Dungal
      Nov 26, 2016 at 3:26 pm
      True sir, Congress must have thought they established a corrupt system (leutens Delhi) around corridors of power, it doesn't matter who becomes PM from the other side, he could act like them only to fail soon and give back power to the dynasty.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;But this Man our PM modi has defied that system and nobody can explain that so beautifully as yoult;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If this man is so wrong, why has the credibility of others including former PM has fallen so badly
      Reply
      1. B
        Bushan
        Nov 26, 2016 at 8:44 am
        There is neither revolution nor evolution. It is all authors' illusion. There is only simple correction. First of all we should acknowledge that we have black money and there's a huge parallel economy threatening to overtake the country. The grey market flourishing with unaccounted money should have been eradicated decades back. It took a Prime Minister full 70 years since Independence to put a first foot in this direction. It definitely caused havoc in the life of guilty and innocent alike. But to fight to an epidemic of this magnitude it becomes necessary for everyone to undergo vaccination so that people by and large moves towards a healthy and accountable financial system.
        Reply
        1. M
          Meshow
          Nov 26, 2016 at 10:54 am
          Nice try, but sounds like total intellectual gimmick, in a marxist country you'd be dead already
          Reply
          1. S
            Sri
            Nov 27, 2016 at 3:40 pm
            Thanks for the Prophecy Mr. Prophet Bhanu Mehta
            Reply
            1. S
              SubbuI
              Nov 26, 2016 at 5:52 am
              AS ALLWAYS BHANU MEHTA ARTICLE THIS IS ONE TOO IS WELL WRITTEN WITH LOT OF FACTS AND LOADED WITH EXELLENT OBSERVATIONS. NO WONDER THE BAKHTHS AND PAID TROLLS WILL SWOOP ON METHA AND ABUSE HIM AND B HIM ANTI NATIONALIST.WHAT IS HAPPENING IN NALAYAK DICTATOT NMODI RULE YOUR FREEDOM IS SLOWLY BUT CALCULATIVELY AULT ON PEOPLE FREEDOM SUCH AS WHAT TO EAT. WHAT TO BUY IN FOOD STORES AND WHAT AND HOW TO SPEND YOUR OWN MONEY? ARE WE GOING BACK TO TUGHLAQ AND HITLER ERA?
              Reply
              1. K
                K SHESHU
                Nov 26, 2016 at 2:21 pm
                This may be revolution to some but repulsion to many sufferers who eek out a living on daily wage
                Reply
                1. A
                  ak dev
                  Nov 26, 2016 at 7:10 am
                  as ever. The author doesn't believe that 90% Indians are happy with demonetisation. He can count the negative comments to his post and find out how many agree with him. These lefties don't believe anything other than their own thinking and always blame others. more chillies in their stomachs.
                  Reply
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