India has become the epicentre of the second wave of COVID-19 with over 3.46 lakh fresh cases as of 11.15 pm on April 23, 2021 (the highest-ever single-day spike in coronavirus infections in the world) along with around 3000 deaths per day. Information on the appearance of mutant variations of Covid in Europe and Africa had been there in mid-2020, and its likely spread to Asian countries was already predicted. And when the second wave of Covid actually started in Europe towards the last quarter of 2020, all the governments there have taken precautions including closing down of borders. But Modi govt, as usual, took a criminal negligence to this information and no preparation was done to meet the impending challenge. Through obscurantist and megalomaniac practices such as ‘switching of lights’ and ‘banging vessels’ followed by the superimposition of the most stringent and most prolonged coercive lockdown in gross disregard of the livelihood and sustenance of hundreds of millions of poor people including migrant workers, and without doing anything towards strengthening the healthcare system, during the first phase of Covid itself, Modi regime has exposed its incapacity and inefficiency in dealing with the pandemic. At the same time, using Covid as a cover, neoliberal, corporate-saffron fascist policies are pursued with intensified vigour.
Today, the Covid surge in India comes at a time when countries like US are reportedly witnessing first signs of recovery from the year-long crisis. While re-imposition of virus management measures such as containment zones, night curfews, job-losses and reverse migration of workers and dampening impact on economic activity along with total failure of administration are there in the second wave too, what is striking now is the nation-wide vaccination drive that accompanies the Covid surge. India being a leading traditional vaccine producer, Modi using his atmanirbhar plank till now was claiming it as self-reliant in Covid vaccine too, and Modi has been encouraging vaccine and oxygen exports much larger than what was mandated by international commitments. Meanwhile, both Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech were respectively giving Covishield and Covaxin at Rs.150 to the government which the latter was distributing free of cost through state governments and at Rs.250 (including Rs.100 as service charge /hospital user fee) through private hospitals. This remained the situation even as states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Kerala were struggling to get vaccine doses supposed to combat COVID-19, along with the shipping out of large stocks of vaccines to foreign destinations for attracting global focus on the image-conscious Modi. It was only when vaccine shortage became acute and public pressure mounted that Modi govt. came forward with a revised Covid Vaccine Policy on April 19.
The revised policy, in the guise liberalising the availability of vaccines, has completely overhauled the existing procurement of vaccines from the two private players, viz., Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Henceforth (from May1 onward), their supply will be divided into two baskets: 50 per cent for the Centre, and 50 per cent for the open market through which state governments, private hospitals, and industries that have facilities to administer the vaccine, will be able to procure doses directly from manufacturers. Revealingly, after this strategy was announced by Modi, it was immediately followed by the Serum Institute of India (SII) on April 21 announcing the revised prices for its vaccine — Rs 400 per dose to state govts, and Rs 600 per dose to hospitals (Bharat Biotech and Dr Reddy’s which will distribute the Russian Sputnik V shot have not made an announcement so far). Adar Poonawalla CEO of SII has openly declared about his interest in supplying vaccine specifically to private hospitals rather than to state govts, since it is not mandatory to sell through them as per the new policy. Further, based on the new policy, foreign pharma giants will be free to directly sell their vaccines in the open market at prices decided by them!
Thus, in conformity with its far-right, pro-corporate orientation, by compelling the state governments and hospitals to procure vaccine at prices determined by corporate pharma companies, Modi regime has deregulated the Covid vaccine production, pricing marketing and distribution in India leading to the opening up of new avenues of black marketing, hoarding and exclusion of the vast majority poor and weaker sections from vaccination altogether. Its immediate outcome is a collapse of state finances too. Observers have already pointed out that with the possible entry of middlemen into the scene, the price of a dose of vaccine in the open market controlled by vaccine mafia may immediately go up to Rs.1000. Though there are a number of public sector vaccine companies which are capable of producing Covid vaccine, Modi has confined them to the production of traditional vaccines only in which corporate pharma companies have little interest. Along with the announcement of revised vaccine policy, Modi has offered an advance of Rs. 3000 crore to SII and Rs. 1500 crore to Bharat Biotech, which if allotted to well-established public sector vaccine companies like Haffkine, Central Research Institute, Pasture Institute, BCG Vaccine Laboratory, HBL Integrated Vaccine Complex , etc. would have yielded enough vaccines affordable to common people. But a regime bent on demolishing public sector cannot do that. Chapter XVI of the Indian Patents Act empowers the govt to intervene in emergency situations and revoke the patent right granted to a company if it is reluctant to make the invention available to the public at affordable prices. Obviously, a corporate-bootlicking regime cannot resort to such Compulsory Licensing provisions of the Indian Patents Act for bringing the private players under social control.
Ironically, in many developed capitalist countries including the US where healthcare is highly privatised, people are vaccinated for free and the regimes there are reluctant to deregulate the vaccine industry. In view of the second wave of Covid, many companies there have announced distribution of vaccine “on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.” On the other hand, with Modi’s deregulation of Covid vaccine business, the Indian private pharma giant SII is going to gobble up 2.5 to 3 times the profit since May 1. Thus, with its new Covid vaccine policy, Modi regime has unfolded itself as the most reactionary and anti-people one in the world. By allowing vaccine mafia to reap super-profits amid the pandemic that ravages the whole country and transforming it into a ‘hell’, Modi regime has become a ‘merchant of death’. In this context, we appeal to all to come forward upholding the universally accepted right to free vaccination as people’s fundamental right to live. The political task at this juncture is to build up a broad unity against this regime that has left people to the mercy of corporate vaccine mafia.
CPI (ML) Red Star
24th April 2021
As Polls Start in W. Bengal, BJP’s Campaign Turns Openly Anti-Muslim!
History will not pardon CPI(M) and Congress leaders if their splitting of anti-BJP votes and fielding IFS to divide Muslim votes lead to BJP’s victory!
The BJP’s candidate’s speeches in Nandigram – the epi-centre of the fight for the West Bengal assembly – has come to be centered around words like Bengal will be turned in to ‘Pakistan’, ‘begum’ and ‘Eid’ in what is turning out to be a campaign targeted at communal polarization. While speaking at a public meeting in Nandigram where Mamta is contesting, her opponent and former TMC man, Suvendu on March 29 said, “If begum comes back to power, the state will turn into a mini Pakistan.” ‘Begum’ refers to TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and appears to be a reference to her closeness to the Muslim electorate. BJP’s making all-out attacks on Muslims who constitute 30 % of the voters for polarizing the 70% ‘Hindus’ in its favor through rabid attacks on Muslims. Or, RSS/BJP has reduced all politics to Jai Sri Ram slogan, all campaign to spread hate against Muslims, threatening to throw two crores of them out. In such a situation, the No Vote to BJP, Defeat BJP campaign by the revolutionary left forces is absolutely correct.
But, the CPI(M) and Congress leaders, in spite of their very poor performance in 2019 Lok Sabha elections have joined with the IFS, an Islamic fundamentalist organization and have fielded candidates to all seats, even when the main fight is between BJP and TMC, and any division of votes will only help BJP to win and turn in to another Gujarat or UP. It will create havoc in the state.
Even in a seat like Bhangar, where the biggest struggle against TMC government took place which was supported by all non BJP, non-TMC parties, though com. Mirza Hussain, a leader of this movement is the CPI(ML) Red Star candidate, the only left candidate, CPI(M)- Congress alliance with the Islamic ISF has fielded a ISF leader who is trying to divide the Muslim votes through fundamentalist propaganda and supported by CPI(M) and Congress. This is a very negative, reactionary attitude. Like in all other states, in Bengal also, the revolutionary left forces have fielded only very few candidates where they have some mass base, and is actively waging an energetic campaign to defeat BJP.
We appeal to all left masses of Bengal to recognize the reactionary attitude of CPI(M) who as Dimitrov pointed out about the role of social democracy in last century, is serving as apologists of neo-fascism. Let us join hands to give a crushing blow to CPI(M)-Congress-ISF alliance and defeat BJP overwhelmingly in order to save Bengal from RSS’ Hindurashtra tyranny.
CPI (ML) Red Star
30th March 2021
Hallo old friend and comrade SRP, warm greetings.
For your information some points. Today Hindu carries an interview of your general secretary Yechury that cpim will have no truck with communal forces. In Kerala you say Muslim League is communal. But you have relationship with INL and SDPI. Though you may not accept understanding with RSS as it's leaders claim. In TN League is a prominent part of DMK led front. In Assam Congress led front in which you are also there, Muslim organisations have good presence. In Bengal you have alliance with newly formed Indian secular front which is outrightly communal. During Bhangar movement CPI-M top leaders also had supported it as it was the only struggle which challenged TMC. In last Lok Sabha elections we had supported your candidature Bikash Ranjan Bhatacharya for jadavpur seat as he had helped us with court cases. Only there, your candidate got deposit back. Then your Bengal leaders had openly said that in assembly election they will support Red Star candidate in Bhangar. But what you are doing now? Supporting the ISF candidate who is campaigning only communally against Red Star candidate. Don't you think that when you claim to profess big things, at least you should practice it also.
Dear Comrades! Today we are commemorating Comrade Engels at a critical juncture. The world, the entire humanity, is now entered in what is called the anthropocene epoch. That means the planet’s ecosystem is in an unsustainable situation and commemoration of Engels and his great works assumes paramount significance in this context. We know that as co-author of Marx, Engels had published many works jointly with Marx. However, in pursuance of the relevance of our present discussion, let me confine to the importance of Engels as the leading Marxist theoretician and pioneer in applying dialectical materialism not only to political economy and history but even to nature, science and society.
There is an oft-repeated allegation that Marxism’s concern was only with economy and not environment and ecology and that it was oblivious of the destructive impact of capital accumulation on nature. As such, postmodernists, post-Marxists and even neo-Marxists together with liberals and NGO theorists are working overtime to put the stamp of technological optimism, materialistic determinism, etc. on Marxism. But this is a baseless allegation. From the very beginning, the concern of both Marx and Engels was not only on the exploitation of workers but also on the plunder of nature by capital. For instance, in Capital Volume I, Marx has clearly pointed out how the two sources of human existence, i.e., labour and nature (soil) are made unsustainable or destroyed by the onslaught of capital.
In fact, Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England published in 1845 had taken up this issue in a detailed manner. In this classic work, Engels while explaining capital‘s brutal exploitation of workers under the factory system, had brilliantly explained the horrendous environmental and epidemiological conditions imposed by Industrial Revolution. Engels in his book has beautifully explained how capital accumulation is associated with periodic epidemics, toxic contamination, pollution, and all around devastation of the working class including poor nutrition and high mortality rate arising from high levels of environmental and ecological destruction as capitalism advanced. That is, the idea of Engels that capitalism has always been connected with ecological destruction and plunder of nature was not casual but inalienable to Marxism from the very beginning. And Engels could be seen carrying forward this perception in his 1878 book Anti-Duhring too.
Of course, after the death of Marx in 1883, Engels had to edit and complete Capital Vol. II and Capital Vol. III (respectively published in 1885 and 1894) along with organising and publishing the uncompleted notes of Marx as Theories of Surplus Value also known as the Fourth Volume of Capital. Engels had to take up this huge task while performing his critical role as the foremost authority, theoretician and propagandist of Marxism including his task of organising the working class till his death in 1895.
Therefore, Engels did not get enough time to concentrate on the book Dialectics of Nature which he started to write in 1872. Even though he worked on it for 10 years, that is up to 1882, it remained an unfinished work, and after the death of Marx, Engels had little time to concentrate on it. Hence before his death, Engels entrusted the manuscripts of Dialectics of Nature to Bernstein who was not interested in publishing it. However, in 1924, Bernstein handed it over to Einstein who could grasp the importance of the book. As suggested by Einstein, it was Riazanov who first brought out a rudimentary form in 1927 and a final form appeared in 1935, and ultimately, the full fledged edition of Dialectics of Nature with JBS Haldane’s Preface was published in 1939. According to Haldane, who admired Engels‘ application of dialectics to physical and natural sciences, had Engles’ method of thinking which no environmentalist at that time could even think been known earlier, the transformation of ideas in science would have been smoother and beneficial both for scientists and activists.
Of course, mechanical materialists and positivists have alleged that Engels in Dialectics of Nature had emphasised on materialist conception of nature instead of history and have criticised Engels for, what they said, not taking dialectical materialism in the proper perspective. Such a criticism is far-fetched since, as Haldane pointed out, while exposing the destructive dimensions of unhindered encroachment on nature, in Dialectics of Nature Engels himself had highlighted the interrelationship among science, nature, society and development from a dialectical-historical perspective. For, drawing lessons of the so called development ranging from ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece and Asia Minor and Middle Ages to Colonialism, Engels vividly explained how human intrusion in to nature and destruction of forests that reached its zenith in the irreparable damages to tropical forests in Africa and Asia had destroyed the very basis of human existence. Underlying in this analysis is a dialectical link between oppression and exploitation on the one hand and destruction of nature on the other. Of particular relevance in this context is Engels’ reference to the so called primitive accumulation that Marx explained in Capital and the environmental degradation associated with it.
Though Dialectics of Nature was published after Lenin, the Marxist perspective on development that called for a harmony with nature had been there in Lenin’s agenda from the very beginning. As a reflection of this approach, vast tracts of protected land called Zapovedniks were kept forever wild as acknowledge-ment of environmental protection, and Lenin himself signed this into a law in 1921 to put the same on legal footing. This trend continued such that even when Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s, it had 330000 square kilometres of Zapovedniks. And in the industrialisation debate of the 1920s, though this perspective on ecology was there, a one-side emphasis on development and theme of Catching up with the West slowly got prominence followed by the entry of American experts and Fordist methods of factory organisation in to Soviet Union in the 1930s. After the 1970s, the so called modernistic conceptualisation that development is an absolute principle got official acceptance in China too.
As such, by the 1970s when the collapse of welfare capitalism coupled with mounting environmental problems pushed imperialism into a an irreversible global crisis, even official agencies like the UN and a whole set of NGOs were forced to come forward putting forward certain reformist propositions for the environmental question along with neoliberal prescriptions. However, on account of the ideological political setbacks suffered by the International Communist Movement, in spite of the Marxist contributions of Engels in this regard, the Left could not take up the required task in the proper perspective. On the other hand, together with unhindered financial speculation which is the major form of neoliberal accumulation, unhindered plunder of nature also became a major avenue of super-profit by corporate capital. And with the turn of the 21st century, as I have mentioned in the beginning, this has now driven humankind to an ecological catastrophe quite characteristic of an anthropocene epoch which is manifested in the frequent emergence of zoonotic viruses, the latest being COVID-19.
In this critical situation, it is indeed heart-warming that Engels works pertaining to science, nature and society are getting more attention from both Marxists and different sections of well-meaning people the world over. The ecological consequences of capital accumulation under colonialism that Engels unravelled especially in Dialectics of Nature under colonialism in the 19th century have grown further and become horrific now. Thus together with the commodification of labour, neoliberal corporatisation has now accomplished a commodification of nature too. Therefore, in conformity with the positions already laid down by Marx and Engels, the working class and oppressed people today have to strive for a de-commodification of both labour and nature.
Under today‘s profit-led development paradigm, the sustenance of humankind is at stake on account of the onslaught of capital both on labour and on nature. It is from this perspective that CPI (ML) Red Star in its Party Program has incorporated the contradiction between capital and nature and ranged it along with the other major contradictions including that between capital and labour. Therefore, along with the resolution of the other major contradictions, resolving the contradiction between capital and nature has also become the task of communist revolutionaries and the International Communist Movement as a whole. With these words, let me conclude, comrades.
Thank you. Revolutionary Greetings to All.
(Presentation by Comrade PJ James)
Understanding the way in which contemporary capitalism—which Samir Amin insightfully characterized as the era of generalized monopolies—organizes productive forces is crucial to grasping both the forms of domination defining imperialism today and the profound metamorphoses that monopoly capital has undergone during the last three decades.
The concept of general intellect, put forward by Karl Marx, is a useful starting point for the exploration of the organization of productive forces. Let us take the example of one of the most “advanced” innovation systems today: Silicon Valley’s Imperial System. Our analysis seeks not only to reveal the profound contradictions of capitalist modernity, but also to highlight the significant transmutation that today’s monopoly capital is undergoing. Far from acting as a driving force for the development of social productive forces, it has become a parasitic entity with an essentially rentier and speculative function. Underlying this is an institutional framework that favors the private appropriation and the concentration of the products of general intellect.
Capital, General Intellect, and the Development of Productive Forces
Capitalism is characterized by the separation of the direct producers from their means of production and subsistence. This separation broke violently into the embryonic phase of capitalist development with the process that Marx referred to as “so-called primitive accumulation” (more correctly translated as “so-called primary accumulation”). It is not just a foundational process, external or alien to the dynamics of capitalism, but one that reproduces itself over time and is accentuated through new and increasingly sophisticated mechanisms with the advent of neoliberal policies, so much so that David Harvey proposed the category “accumulation by dispossession” in his book The New Imperialism to refer to this incessant phenomenon.
Importantly, the primal separation of the direct producer that Marx describes in chapters 14 and 15 of the first volume of Capital is only formal. In the early stages of industrial capitalism, even if the direct producers did not own the means of production—which they considered foreign property and an external force of domination—they maintained some control over their working tools in the production process. Thus, the separation was not wholly complete until the appearance of large-scale industry in the second half of the twentieth century, which radically changed the situation. The production of machines by machines—that is, the use of an integrated machinery system, as a totality of mechanical processes distributed in different phases moved by a common motor—gave way to a complete separation between workers and their tools. This brought the optimal conditions for a second and deeper dispossession, relegating labor to a subordinated role in the production process and converting the worker into an appendage of a machine. It is worth mentioning, however, that the use of this metaphor by Marx does not mean that the direct producer is unable to eventually contribute to the attainment of an improvement or a technological innovation. There are several historical examples that account for this possibility.
Nevertheless, in terms of the theory of value, there is a general movement toward the predominance of dead labor, objectified in the machine, over living labor—in other words, the prevalence of relative surplus value in the dynamics of capitalist accumulation. The emergence of machinery and large-scale industry meant that capital managed to create its own technical mode of production as the foundation of what Marx conceives in the unpublished sixth chapter of Capital, volume 1, as the real subsumption of labor under capital; in other words, the “specific capitalist mode of production.” As Marx wrote, “the historical significance of capitalist production first emerges here in striking fashion (and specifically), precisely through the transformation of the direct production process itself, and the development of the social productive powers of labour.”
This process originated during the second half of the First Industrial Revolution and deepened during the Second Industrial Revolution (1870–1914), where science and technology appear as engines of production, forcing development as the so-called first globalization was occurring. Since then, the growth of capital has been directly associated with the development of production forces and the consequent expansion of surplus value, mainly in the form of relative surplus value. At the same time, this is marked by the continuous increase in the organic composition of capital (the relation between capital invested in the means of production and that invested in the labor force), where “the scale of production is not determined according to given needs but rather the reverse: the number of products is determined by the constantly increasing scale of production, which is prescribed by the mode of production itself.” This inherent contradiction in the specifically capitalist mode of production is related, in turn, to (1) the trend of concentration and centralization of capital that accompanies accumulation dynamics and (2) the concomitant tendency toward absolute impoverishment of the working class, in what Marx conceives as the general law of capitalist accumulation:
The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labor, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital also develop the labor power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases, therefore, with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labor army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse proportion to its torment of labor. Finally, the greater the growth of the misery within the working class and the industrial reserve army, the greater the official pauperism.
The trend toward the complete separation of the worker from the means of production is consolidated into what Victor Figueroa described as follows:
The factory offers us the image of a production center that does not demand workers’ awareness or knowledge of the production process.… As if the factory, being itself the result of the productive application of knowledge, demanded for the knowledge to be developed outside and, therefore, independently to the workers it houses, where immediate labor is presumably a mere executor of the progress forged separately by science.
In Labor and Monopoly Capital, Harry Braverman described this fissure as an essential part of the scientific and technological revolution that detached the subjective and objective content of the labor process.
The unity of thought and action, conception and execution, hand and mind, which capitalism threatened from its beginning, is now attacked by a systemic dissolution employing all the resources of science and various engineering disciplines based upon it. The subjective factor of the labor process is removed to a place among its inanimate objective factors. To the materials and instruments of production are added a “labor force,” another “factor of production,” and the process is henceforth carried on by management as the sole subjective element.… This displacement of labor as the subjective element of the process, and its subordination as an objective element in a productive process now conducted by management, is an ideal realized by capital.
In the face of these circumstances, derived from the technical and social division of labor inherent to the specifically capitalist mode of production, it is worth asking ourselves: In what way does capital, beyond the immediate work that is deployed in the factory, organize the development of the productive forces? What kinds of workers, universities, and research centers participate in this process? What is the role of the state and other institutions? What role do accumulated social knowledge, basic and applied science play? What types of intangible and tangible products are generated? What are the mechanisms and mediations involved in the transformation of scientific and technological work to productive forces? What kind of profit enters the scene and how does it affect the dynamics of social surplus value distribution, concentration, and centralization of capital?
Although Marx does not explicitly address this issue in Capital except in marginal footnotes, in the Grundrisse’s “Fragment on Machines,” he coined the category of general intellect and made some considerations, in the form of notes, that provide important clues to help us understand the subject.
Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and have been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real-life process.
From this, we can infer that fixed capital, or constant capital, is condensed into past material and immaterial labor (dead labor). Consequently, accumulated social knowledge is objectified in the means of production and becomes an immediate force of production. In other words, general intellect is a collective and social intelligence created by accumulated knowledge and techniques. This radical transformation of the workforce and the incorporation of science, communication and language within the productive forces has redefined the entire phenomenology of labor and the entire global horizon of production. General intellect means that the general form of human intelligence becomes a productive force in the sphere of global social labor and capitalist valorization. The power of science and technology are put to work.… With the concept of general intellect, Marx refers to science and consciousness in general, that is, the knowledge on which social productivity depends.
With the advent of the capitalist mode of production, a new and particularly significant division was created between what could be called immediate labor and scientific-technological labor. While the former unfolds in the factory, the latter is carried out separately and under different, although complementary, forms of organization, with both converging in the critical function for capitalist development: the increase of surplus value. If immediate labor is actually subsumed by capital, scientific and technological labor can only be, at best, formally subsumed, becoming what Figueroa calls a workshop of technological progress to distinguish it from the way immediate labor in the factory is organized. However, the way general intellect is structured, in its quest to accelerate the development of productive forces, acquires increasingly sophisticated and complex modalities, as in the paradigmatic case of the Silicon Valley Imperial Innovation System.
The growing importance of immaterial work in the production process does not imply a “crisis” of the law of value, as suggested by Antonio Negri. Rather, it implies that an increasing proportion of the social surplus value and the social surplus fund captured by capital and the state is redistributed toward activities aimed at promoting the development of productive forces. In other words, immediate labor and scientific-technological labor interweave dialectically to broaden the scope of capital valorization through the deepening of exploitation. In this sense, under the prism of the theory of value, the general intellect contributes to increasing the organic composition of capital with a powerful leitmotif: the appropriation of extraordinary profits, that is, profits greater than the average profit, commonly conceived as technological rents. In this aspect, the Ecuadorian-Mexican philosopher Bolívar Echeverría specifies that there are two poles of monopoly property to which the group of capitalist owners must acknowledge rights in the process of determining the average profit. Based on the most productive resources and provisions of nature, land ownership defends its traditional right to convert the global fund of extraordinary profit into payment for that domain, in other words, into ground rent. The only property that is capable of challenging this right throughout modern history and has indefinitely imposed its own, is the more or less lasting domain over a technical innovation of means of production. This property forces the conversion of an increasing part of extraordinary profit into a payment for its dominion, in other words, into a “technological rent.”
It is worth noting that Echeverría brackets the notion of technological rent, associating it with ground rent—or surplus associated with the ownership of a monopolizable good that does not derive from incorporated labor during the production process. Under the new forms of general intellect organization, monopoly capital appropriates profit through the acquisition of patents, without implying investments in the promotion and development of the productive forces, behaving in this sense as a rentier agent.
Unlike immediate labor, the subordination of scientific and technological labor to capital is extremely complex, especially because the value that the scientific and technological labor force incorporates into the production process is not immediately objectified; it is the product and result of social knowledge expressed in the market once new commodities, new production processes, and new ways of organizing and increasing labor productivity are concretized. Pablo Míguez refers to this phenomenon not as “a simple subordination to capital, but an independent relation to labor time imposed by capital, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish working time from production time or leisure time.”
From the theory of value perspective, the process of valorization of scientific and technological labor is materialized in the production and circulation sphere, but in the distribution sphere of valorized capital, that social surplus value, mediated by intellectual property, is issued in the form of a rent. In this sense, it is important to emphasize the fundamental role held by states in the distribution of social surplus to promote basic and applied science, supporting public and private universities, as well as research centers. The state also contributes to creating institutions and policies that allow for the private appropriation of rent to come out of the general intellect. These institutions become crucial to the dynamics of accumulation and uneven development characterizing contemporary capitalism and imperialism.
The transformation of the general intellect into an immediate productive force, materialized in new commodities and new ways of organizing the labor process, requires the mediation of patents and a patenting system. In the capitalist mode of production, the creation of intellectual property through patents or patenting systems acquires a strategic importance in relation to the control and orientation of productive forces. This becomes a key element both for the private appropriation of products that emanate from the general intellect, and for the organization of innovation systems. In this sense, national and international patent legislations constitute a mechanism that enables the privatization and commodification of common goods, hindering potentially beneficial innovations for society.
For example, The legal mechanisms for the private appropriation of scientific-technological labor, with the patent as a nodal part in the restructuring of innovation systems, becomes a basic piece for the withholding of extraordinary profits made possible through global corporate regulation in tune with the imperial State policies.… Hence, international law functions as a core piece of private control of scientific-technological labor through a series of intellectual property and international trade regulatory agreements.
Following this idea, Míguez argues that, in the context of contemporary capitalism, “intellectual property is reinforced as it is the only mechanism that allows for the private appropriation of increasingly social knowledge in its incessant quest to valorize capital.”
The development of the productive forces in contemporary capitalism—and the course followed by the general intellect—cannot be understood separately from the contemporary domination of monopoly capital. This hegemonic fraction of capital—ubiquitous in contemporary capitalism—finds its raison d’être in the appropriation of extraordinary profits and technological rents through monopoly prices, among other processes. According to Marx, monopoly appropriation of profit through prices refers to prices that rise above the cost of production and the average profit together, enabling monopoly capital to appropriate a relatively greater portion of social surplus value than the one that would correspond to conditions of free competition.
Another fundamental feature of monopoly capital, as a sine qua non condition for obtaining profits, is its need to maintain lasting advantages over other possible participants in a particular branch or branches where it operates. Such advantages can be natural or artificial, depending on the combination of forms of surplus profit, which, in turn, configure particular monopolistic practices. One of these forms is related to capitalism’s revolutionary development of productive forces, as envisioned by Marx: technological change. In this regard, Joseph A. Schumpeter—far from intending to identify his vision of technological change with that proposed by Marx in Capital—sets forth the existence of a positive relationship between innovation and monopoly power, arguing that competition through innovation or “creative destruction” is the most effective means of acquiring advantages over potential competitors. Furthermore, Schumpeter argues that innovation is both a means of achieving monopoly profit and a method of maintaining it.
It should be noted, however, that in the Marxist conception, there is no mechanical or direct identification of technological change with a positive vision of progress. On the contrary, being governed by the law of value and the necessity of capital to broaden accumulation, technological change does not escape the contradictions of capitalist modernity, which, as Echeverría emphasizes, “leads itself, structurally, by the way in which the process of reproduction of social wealth is organized…to the destruction of the social subject and the destruction of nature where this social subject affirms itself.”
The appropriation of extraordinary monopoly profits produced by means of intellectual property is accompanied in contemporary capitalism by a profound restructuring of this hegemonic fraction of capital, through a process of hyper-monopolization, where three additional forms of profit appropriation stand out:
- The formation of monopoly capital global networks, commonly known as global value chains, through the geographic expansion of corporate power by transferring parts of production, commercial, and financial service to peripheral countries in search of cheap labor. Basically, it is a new nomadism in the global production system based on the enormous wage differentials that persist between the Global North and the Global South (the global labor arbitrage). This restructuring strategy has deeply modified the global geography of production to the degree that just over 70 percent of industrial employment is currently located in peripheral or emerging economies.
- The predominance of financial capital over other factions of capital. In the absence of profitable investments in the productive sphere due to the over-accumulation crisis triggered in the late 1970s, capital began moving toward financial speculation, creating strong distortions in the sphere of social surplus value distribution through the financialization of the capitalist class, which has led to an explosion of fictitious capital—financial assets without a counterpart in material production.
- The proliferation of extractivism by monopolizing and controlling land and subsoil by monopoly capital. In addition to accentuating the dynamics of accumulation by dispossession, the growing global demand for natural resources and energy has led to an unprecedented privatization of biodiversity, natural resources, and communal goods benefiting mega-mining and agribusiness. This implies the appropriation of huge extraordinary profits in the form of ground rent (unproduced surplus value) that translates into greater ecosystem depredation, pollution, famine, and disease with severe environmental implications, including global warming and worsening extreme climatic events that jeopardize the symbiosis between human society and nature.
The predominance and metamorphosis of monopoly capital under the neoliberal aegis has brought about far-reaching transformations in the organization of production and the labor process. These transformations are integral to the global capitalist system’s geography, leading to a fall of the welfare state, an increase in social inequalities, and the emergence of a new international division of labor, where the labor force becomes the main export commodity. This, in turn, gives way to new and extreme forms of unequal exchange and transfer of surplus from the periphery to the core economies of the system. In this context, the irruption of the technoscience revolution has generated new ways of promoting scientific and technological creativity, of organizing the general intellect on a global scale and of appropriating its products.
(Monthly Review, March 2021)
A Lesser-Known event from the annals of the Indian revolutionary movement is the “invitation” that was sent to Bhagat Singh by the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. This invite could not reach Singh, so historians can only speculate on what might have happened if it had been received and accepted. There is no doubt that had it all gone as planned, it had the potential to change the course of our freedom struggle.
The person who connected Bhagat Singh and Stalin was Shaukat Usmani, one of the founding members of the emigre Communist Party of India established in Tashkent in 1920. Usmani was sent to India by MN Roy to establish contact with the Indian nationalists. He came in contact with the revolutionaries through Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, the famous editor of the Hindi daily, Pratap, which was published from Kanpur in 1920s.
Bhagat Singh worked as a sub-editor at Pratap. He even reviewed Usmani’s political-cum-travel memoir, Peshawar to Moscow: Leaves from An Indian Muhajireen’s Diary, for the newspaper. Even though Usmani was associated with the communist movement, he maintained active contact with the armed revolutionaries and updated the Comintern about their activities.
In 1928, when Usmani was about to leave for the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, he invited Bhagat Singh and his close associate, Bejoy Kumar Sinha, to come with him to the Soviet Union. Usmani wrote about this incident, “Now I don’t exactly remember when I first met Sardar Bhagat Singh. Either I met him in Lahore or in Kanpur…At that time [the Hindustan Republican Association] HRA was being transformed into HSRA [Hindustan Socialist Republican Association] and it was decided that the new organisation would work in cooperation with the Communist International…I was informed that before they drop armed actions by individuals they would organise some important actions which were already in their list… I told Bejoy Babu (Bejoy Kumar Sinha), ‘Come on, let’s go to Moscow.’ Personally, I believed that Bhagat Singh and Bejoy Sinha’s presence in Moscow would have meant active armed assistance from the Soviet Union.”
Along with Singh, Bejoy Kumar Sinha was in charge of international relations of the HSRA. He confirms this invitation by Usmani in his book, New Man in the Soviet Union. He writes, “Shaukat Usmani, who as representative of the Communist Party of India, was about to leave for Moscow to take part in the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, asked me and my associates to come along with him to the Soviet Union as representatives of the revolutionary movement. I discussed his invitation with Bhagat Singh and we decided that it was not the right time. We decided that we will go to Moscow once we had executed our plans.”
That Usmani had invited Bhagat Singh and Sinha to visit the Soviet Union as representatives of the HSRA is also confirmed by a stalwart of the Indian communist movement, Muzzafar Ahmad. In his autobiography, Myself and the Communist Party of India, Ahmad mentions Usmani and Sinha’s meeting. He also says that Sinha gave Usmani Rs. 200 to undertake the proposed journey, while Usmani assured him of financial help from the Soviet Union.
Usmani next went to the Soviet Union in 1928, where he was included in the Presidium of the historic Sixth Congress of the Communist International. This conference began on 17 July 1928 and ended on 1 September 1928. Interestingly, it noted the activities of the HRA while discussing the colonial question. It recognised the rise of the HRA as a response to the failure of bourgeois parties such as the Indian National Congress, which began as a radical petty-bourgeoisie party but as the struggle proceeded, it became the party of the bourgeois reformists.
The Comintern observed, “…movements such as…Gandhism in India…were originally radical petty-bourgeois ideological movements which, however, as a result of their service to the big bourgeoisie, became converted into a bourgeois nationalist-reformist movement. After this, in India…there was again founded a radical wing from among the different petty-bourgeois groups (e.g. the Republican Party…) which stands for a more or less consistent national-revolutionary point of view.”
Unfortunately, as soon as Usmani returned from Moscow, he was arrested in the Meerut Conspiracy Case which began in March 1929. Meanwhile, Bhagat Singh and his comrades had assassinated John Saunders in December 1928 and were on the run. After the Meerut Conspiracy Case began, Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt, on behalf of the HSRA exploded two bombs in the Central Assembly to protest the anti-worker Public Safety and Trade Dispute Bills, and courted arrest.
Remarkably, before the decision to throw bombs in the Central Assembly, HSRA leaders held the view that Bhagat Singh should be sent to the Soviet Union since he was already an absconder in the Lahore Conspiracy Case. It was decided that some other revolutionary would throw the bomb. However, on the insistence of Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh was selected for the task as it was agreed that he could present the party’s point of view before the court and in the press in the best possible way. HSRA members were not aware that Usmani was carrying a message for them from the Soviet Union. Due to his arrest, even the latter was unable to communicate Stalin’s message for Bhagat Singh and the HSRA.
Later, Usmani, in an article in the Hindi journal Nai Zameen, published from New Delhi, wrote that before he was leaving for India, Stalin asked him to convince Bhagat Singh to come to Soviet Union. According to Usmani, Stalin’s words were, “Ask Bhagat Singh to come to Moscow.”
Now the question arises, how did Stalin come to know about Bhagat Singh?
According to Virender Sindhu, niece and biographer of Bhagat Singh, Stalin and the Comintern might have learnt of Bhagat Singh through two Ghadarite revolutionaries, Baba Santokh Singh and Baba Gurmukh Singh, who were working closely with the Communist movement in Punjab. They had even tried to recruit Bhagat Singh to their Kirti group.
However, the interest shown by Stalin in Bhagat Singh and the Indian revolutionary movement might also have been the result of the thesis adopted by the Sixth Congress on the strategy and tactics of the national liberation movements in colonies such as India and China. The Communist International was already aware of the Hindustan Republican Association and considered it as a petit bourgeoisie-led national revolutionary organisation, in contrast to the national-reformists led by the Congress.
The Sixth Congress adopted a very sectarian position on tactics and strategy of anti-imperialist struggle in colonies. This Congress proposed that Communist Parties in colonised countries “should from the very beginning demarcate themselves in the most clear-cut fashion, both politically and organisationally, from all the petty-bourgeois groups and parties”.
However, with respect to the national-revolutionary parties led by the petty-bourgeoisie, the Sixth Congress said that a temporary union or cooperation with them was possible “provided that [the national revolutionary movements was a] genuine revolutionary movement, that it genuinely struggles against the ruling power and that its representatives do not put obstacles in the way of the communists educating and organising in a revolutionary sense the peasants and wide masses of the exploited”.
As Usmani knew about the transition of the HRA into the HSRA and their decision to work for the goals of socialism, it is quite possible that he appraised the executive committee of Communist International on Bhagat Singh and his plans to reorganise the HRA, which might have sparked the interest of Stalin in Singh.
After the arrests of Bhagat Singh and Sinha in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, HSRA decided to send veteran Ghadar Party leader Prithvi Singh Azad to the Soviet Union for ideological and military training but Azad could not go there immediately. So, HSRA chose Surendra Pandey and Yashpal (the future Hindi novelist) in his place. However, the sudden death of its commander-in-chief Chandrashekhar Azad in February 1931 foiled the party’s plans.
Yashpal was also arrested in a few months and eventually Pandey was also put behind bars. After his release, Pandey tried to revive the HSRA in Kanpur and worked in close coordination with the communists. From the courtroom, Bhagat Singh and his comrades also sent a telegram to the Communist International expressing their respect and solidarity on the death anniversary of Lenin on 21 January 1930.
Even though the HSRA members tried to go to the Soviet Union, the journey eluded them. It was only after the withdrawal of the British from India that Bejoy Kumar Sinha was able to make a trip to the Soviet Union.
(www.newsclick.in, 22nd March, Prabal Saran Agarwal and Harshvardhan are PhD scholars at JNU. The views expressed are personal.)