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Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time
April 4, 2012 tags: CPI(M) 20th Congress, louis althusser, primitive accumulation, twenty-first century socialism by Aditya Nigam The French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, who perhaps reflected most on the question of ‘ideology’, once wrote that “ideology moves, but with an immobile motion that keeps it where it is”. Althusser did not make any claim about the truth or falsity of ideology. At a certain level, ideology undoubtedly refers to something that is real or true. What interested Althusser instead, was the relationship of ‘ideology’ to what he called ‘science’ – namely, that critical activity, which continuously works to take knowledge forward. Science, according to him, always lived by focusing on that which it did not know; ideology on the other hand, was that which remained with the obviousness of the already-known. Every new question that a science poses is effectively subsumed by ideology to give us something that we already knew. That is why science, he believed, was always pursued, beseiged and occupied by ideology and had to continuously struggle to free itself from its grasp in order to live. The CPI(M)’s ‘Draft Resolution on Some Ideological Issues’ prepared by the party for discussion and adoption at the party’s 20th Congress that began in Kozhikode today, is truly an ideological document in Althusser’s sense. It claims to move with the times and update the party thought apparatus but in reality, moves in order to stay where it is. It works to relentlessly re-present all the difficult questions of our times as if they were already known to the founders of something called ‘Marxism-Leninism’. There are three sets of transformations that form the backdrop against which the document makes its appearance. Two of these are openly acknowledged and positioned upfront in the document itself. The first has to do with the ongoing crisis of capitalism in the West, which has by all counts already reached an unprecedented level. As usually happens, such moments of crisis become opportunities for celebration amongst communists who see in them a vindication of ‘Marxism-Leninism’. So does the CPI(M)’s document, quite predictably. The idea, very simply, is that capitalism’s crisis is seen by default as a vindication of the creed of ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Never mind the non-sequitor involved here. Just as not-A does not imply B,

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lies in the fact that unlike in Lenin’s time. This section. this was also what made it most vulnerable to the people whose lives thus became entangled with capital. 2 of 13 07-Apr-12 3:27 PM . It is this traumatic event that becomes the occasion of the long and somewhat agonized reflections on what socialism might mean in the twenty-first century. according to them. does not imply that ‘Marxism-Leninism’ stands vindicated – except in the manichean world that the Left in most of the globe inhabits. One only has to have lived in this world in the past two decades or so to realize that ‘credit’ in all its forms – and derivative lives – transformed the everyday lived experience of capitalism. The second set of issues has to do with the new waves of mass struggles that shook the world from sometime towards the end of 2010 and continued right through 2011 – and in fact continue to do so in 2012. It is difficult to miss the resonance of Singur or Nandigram here in this reference to forcible expropriation. Beginning with the ‘Arab Spring’. In a very interesting way. 11). For it is the humiliating defeat of the 34 year old Left Front rule in West Bengal that is at issue here. however. accumulation takes place in two ways”: “through the normal dynamics of capital expansion” and through “primitive accumulation” and “forcible expropriation” (p. Capital in the late twentieth century was populist capital that enlisted the support of large numbers of people by selling them a dream. It remains silent because it cannot be uttered. Thus for example. Paradoxically. Simply regurgitating old slogans about imperialism do not help us understand anything about the way in which capital was able to insinuate itself in people’s everyday lives as desire. therefore. None of these even register in the minds of the drafters of the document who still aspire to play a vanguard role. is that because ‘West Bengal’ remains such a silence in the document and cannot. There is not much that is insightful in the analyses of the crisis – save assertions about how correct Lenin was about the nature of finance capital. in fact.. This was what gave late twentieth century capitalism its magic. it does not take an economist for one to realize that something like the credit card and the expansion of the capital market have changed the relation of ordinary middle class people to capital/ism. Expectedly. Attempting to understand this late twentieth and twenty-first century finance capital through Lenin’s writings appears a trifle farcical. What is really interesting. In some fashion they hold the formal domain of politics responsible for the hijacking of popular will and point towards the desire for something like a post-party democracy. the effects of its trauma keep appearing in unexpected places.Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time « Kafila the Arab Spring went on to inspire mass movements against corporate capital all across the Western world. lingers on this theme of ‘forcible expropriation’ and tells us that “it has become an important feature of contemporary capitalism” (p. in a section entitled ‘The Working of Imperialism in the Era of Globalization’ we suddenly read that “all through the history of capitalism. finance capital today operates at the ‘international’ rather than national level. little realizing that ‘the masses’ are rejecting vanguards. the document completely overlooks what is new and symptomatic of our times: the fact that virtually all these movements have burst forth from outside the domain of party politics – many of them explicitly positioning themselves against formal politics. After all. 10). the fact that capitalism is in one of its most serious crises. be addressed upfront. In discussing these contemporary waves of mass struggles. nowhere do we find even a passing acknowledgement of the fact that it was its own government that was executing this capitalist imperative. The document’s formulations regarding the crisis of capitalism and those relating to the mass struggles are quite predictable. That finance capital today is an altogether different beast from what it was in Lenin’s time. to say the least. the struggles soon spread to different parts across the world. mortgages and derivatives is quite astounding. The third transformation forms the silent. The only real difference. seems to have completely escaped the drafters of the document. unstated background of the ruminations in the document. The cavalier fashion in which the document treats issues of credit.. which was more immediately concerned with the question of politics and democracy rather than with the financial crisis. That and that alone could give rise to a slogan like ‘We are the 99 percent”. right and left.

if it is a feature of contemporary capitalism. Did not Marx say that socialism could only be built when capitalist development had taken place everywhere? Unfortunately. They cannot even be blamed for not even being aware of that episode in Marx’s life. one is struck by the fact that issues like these do not even begin to touch the thinking of these so-called vanguard/s. 20). The CPI(M). that the slogan of ‘socialism in the twenty-first century’ that the draft resolution keeps repeating like a the Latin American Left seeks to distance itself from the very same productivist imagination of twentieth century capitalism that the former insists on defending in the name of Lenin and Stalin. the ‘socialist revolution’ took place in ‘backward countries’. [A shorter version of this article was published easlier in Bangla in the newspaper Ekdin] 1 Like this: Be the first to like this post. is simply lifted by the CPI(M) from the wave of new thinking in the resurgent Latin American Left. neither the difficult question of caste and its continued life in contemporaryIndia. what else? Marx had also. If there is any doubt about that. Left watch. After all. Reading the document. it must be borne in mind that all socialist revolutions…took place in relatively backward capitalist countries” (p. Unlike the CPI(M) that is in denial and refuses to even accept that there is something seriously wrong with the vision it espouses. want have its cake and eat it too. And do we still need to point out why communists in power in ‘backward countries’ must take the same route of forcible expropriation of the peasantry? To better capitalism at its own game. Politics. There was a time when we were told that this happened and could only happen. from China to West Bengal. it seems . we can leave this question here for the moment. Not surprisingly. the drafters wished after all. life would have been much simpler! That is why. from → Capitalism. Almost as if.. for instance. It was kosher then to say that Marx was wrong in expecting the revolution to take place in countries of advanced capitalism. if only in passing. So was Marx right? Or Lenin? Perhaps both. thanks to Lenin’s genius. the document goes on to argue that socialism in the twenty-first century “must establish its superiority over capitalism in achieving higher levels of productivity and productive forces…” (p. The point actually is that this presents for most communists of the CPI(M) type. 20). After all. implementing it with such vigour? The answer lies in another ideological truism. for example. Debates. how is it that we find Marxist governments.Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time « Kafila http://kafila. It also needs to be noted. however. This is said now with a bit of regret. That is how the CPI(M) seeks to resolve this difficult question.. so successfully has Leninist-Stalinist orthodoxy erased that chapter from authorized history. Clearly. unadulterated story of capitalist development (the classic form. the document gives no indication of either the way sections of the Latin American Left have reinvented themselves and re-imagined their project by putting the indigenous peoples. For its part. all the CPI(M) has to offer us is a rehash of twentieth century state-socialism – which it does quite explicitly. there was no imperialism in his time – and that is something only Lenin could see – he who lived in the era of imperialism. if only Marx had been right. nor the vexed issue of climate change figure as ‘ideological’ issues worthy of discussion for the party. one only has to look at the place that the document accords to questions of caste or the impending ecological disaster. a real conundrum. told us that the story of enclosures (‘classical primitive accumulation’) was the true. after all. at the centre of their concerns. in his words). That the later Marx (the Marx of say early 1870s to his death in 1883) actually revised all this thoroughly and was increasingly coming to altogether different conclusions can hardly be of any import to the drafters of the resolution. Theory 3 of 13 07-Apr-12 3:27 PM . In itself a debatable proposition. Consider this: “Despite the unprecedented…advances made by socialism in the 20th century.

Can it emerge afresh. after the split in 1967. ever seriously consider anything other than ‘good’ social democracy–if there’s such a thing? An anecdote here: Comrade Jyoti Basu. the then Bengal party Secretary Pramod Dasgupta issued a party letter with a call for transforming CPI(M) into a mass party. Soumitra Ghosh. you better understand that revolution will not come in this country—we can at best be a bourgeois party. Apparently it enjoys being devoured. a good one. despite all its ideological pretensions. the undisputed icon of the CPI(M) in Bengal and perhaps also in India thus advised his young Confidential Assistant(usually a party recruit) in his first year(1967) in the Writers Buildings: “Do you really believe in revolution? Well.. Were things fundamentally different even then? Did the party. He got disillusioned with the 1960s brand of revolution later. crash opportunism–people flocking together looking for quick monetary or other material gains. Reply 2.Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time « Kafila http://kafila. given how the party lived during the 40+ years of its existence. then. Arun permalink April 5. Reply 3. The rot therefore spread unchecked. In 1978. If Marxism can be considered as a theory in Social Science it has to change with new evidences like any other Scientific theory. The ranks kept on swelling ever since then–and most people who came in never heard of a political resolution. who not only short-sold the workers and their struggles but also the factories–literally. but what’s in a few words? The class struggle of CPI(M). ← CPI(M) shelves class struggle in action: Sankar Ray Between Aid Conditionality and Identity Politics – The MSM-Transgender Divide and Normative Cartographies of Gender vs. The point here is that the CPI(M) always wanted to share state power with all the non-revolutionary and reactionary parties. 2012 12:06 PM Aditya. Sexuality: Aniruddha Dutta → 12 Comments leave one → 1. sambukan permalink April 4. went underground. The so-called political line of fostering ‘progressive’ capitalism to usher in socialist revolution is a fable which nobody in the party believed.. if ever. A political party like CPM 4 of 13 07-Apr-12 3:27 PM . North Bengal Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers permalink April 5. let alone reading or believing in one. but that too vanished as a new breed of feudal chieftains took control in rural Bengal in the name of party hegemony. the least those in Bengal. It was rank. from the devil’s belly? Not likely. 2012 11:36 PM It is a Brahmanical stuff …… naturally intellectually impotent …… castrated document…. The militant trade unionism disappeared soon–and the new class of trade union leaders became some of the most corrupt politicians imaginable. 2012 12:05 AM But did CPI(M) ever believe in class struggle? One remembers its initial stints in the Government in West Bengal way back in 1967 and 1969–revolution was on the air then and all the walls abuzz with revolutionary graffiti. The older people in the party who once suffered a lot had by then had either metamorphosed into ministers or were too apathetic(sometimes even terrorised) to speak out. Sankarda is shocked in not finding class struggle in their political resolution. The Indian state has long since gobbled up the mainstream left including CPI(M)–flesh. and ultimately landed in prison. You’ll have to choose between the revolution that won’t ever succeed and us”.org/2012/04/04/life-after-capitalism-a-document-from-another. The CA didn’t listen to these words of wisdom. skin and hoof. good article and I cannot agree with u more. but that’s another story. consisted of anti-feudal land struggles up to a point.

unquestionable! Reply 4. China. Russia. Algeria and Latin America. by this time he he had revised the theory of history that came to be associated with his name and with the first edition of Das Kapital. for example. 2012 1:35 PM That the later Marx (the Marx of say early 1870s to his death in 1883) actually revised all this thoroughly and was increasingly coming to altogether different conclusions can hardly be of any import to the drafters of the resolution. he did not write anything significant after that. DId he write any further books on the subject? And was it a disillusionment with his earlier views on communism or something else? Reply Aditya Nigam permalink* April 5.I’ve never heard of this before. This sounds interesting. actually. 2012 10:02 AM Thanks for the detailed reply. The entire episode of these nine years would have been lost to 2012 5:57 PM Rex. This is what is really at stake here. it is not his theory of communism that is at issue here but. Rex permalink April 5. Could that be the reason for the Sino Soviet split in the 50s? As I understand it. He had already begun to feel that that unilinear view of history was unsustainable and that there were societies that really did not have the private property form (and also capitalist development) of the kind that Western Europe had. Mao felt that the Russian model of Communism was not applicable to China or something like that. It was basically in the period after 1872 (till his death) that he undertook a serious study of non-Western societies (also non-capitalist in varying degrees) like Eastern Europe.. had it not been for a Japanese scholar Haruki Wada. India. questioning permalink 5 of 13 07-Apr-12 3:27 PM . It is well-known of course. whether all societies must follow the same historical trajectory. who unearthed it from archival materials in the 1960s. Really. brought some of this material together in a book called The Late Marx and the Russian Road. thanks to the Lenin-Stalin orthodoxy. Un 5. at some level. The theory of communism is premised on the assumption that there is a universal history of human society that is ushered in by capitalism and socialism and communism only build on that. Reply Rex permalink April 6. A book by Teodor Shanin in the early 1980s. the more important question of whether all societies must follow the same historical trajectory.Already. (Future Results of British Rule in India and another follow up piece) were written early in his career as a ‘Marxist’ in the 1850s when his information about India was actually quite sketchy. Unfortunately for many in the Left camp Marxism-Leninism is like a Divine Book. that Marx’s most widely circulated wirititng on India. Indonesia..Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time « Kafila http://kafila.. founded on such theory will also have to change it’s ideological position as Science advances and Society changes.

It has been recently discovered that he strangled his wife(!) apparently during an uncontrollable rage. and finally a few passages of Marx…Starting from a simple turn of phrase.. Excellent reflections on the evolution of Marx’s theorisations and their relevance or irre-levance in the Indian context. environment and invented a new definition of “progress”. the Sophists and the Stoics. Venkatesh Bapat permalink April 5. 2012 11:06 PM Cher Aditya. “order” and “governance”. 2012 2:44 PM Something about Althusser: “In fact. Post-Stalinist rhetoric of our Indian comrades is risible today the least. Mr Pavan K Varma has something to say about the Indian sensibility to revolution or drastic change as it happened in France or in Russia. inspired by the age-old structures that existed already in our I thought I could work out. nothing about Kant. the indigenous cultural ethos and valu orientation. Marx was no exception to this legacy nor Che Guevarra who toiled with missionary zeal to spread “communism” and to bring about “the kingdom”. as you rightly pointed out.Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time « Kafila http://kafila. Long live the revolution! Zindabad! Zindabad! Reply 7. we can imagine other ways. nothing about Aristotle. Ram Sharma permalink April 6. only parrotted what they concocted in the West and later on in China. the Left politics should have taken up long ago the question of caste. Reply 6. Latin America being highly influenced by Catholicism turned out to be a rather fertile terrain for the experimentation with. informationwise. from Western Europe. Regis Debray. other methods. As for the “universality” of Marxism/Communism/Leninism/Stalinism. 2012 9:54 PM Stalin and Mao by themselves accounted for a 100 million deaths. except very few. I obviously had certain intuitive powers…” thats’ from his posthumously published memoir. a bit about Hegel.. Remember Althusser was his professor! In India. etc) to fathom the complexity of Indian society and culture. April 5. it is all derived from the Judeo-Cristian notion of being “called” or “elected” to save the world. mentions sadly that he could not understand his Latin A’can comrades as their reactions to issues and situations were entirely different from his. Inasu/poet-writer/Paris permalink April 5. at least their general drift or direction. As for Althusser. Unfortunately.K. our Leftists. Gandhi was almost vilipended by the then communist party. other ideological combinations to bring about social changes. quite a lot about Plato and Pascal.! Kudos and courage! Reply 8. if not the specific ideas of an author or a book I had not read. Of course. religion. the above phrases quoted from his posthumously published memoir shed enough light. 2012 5:42 AM 6 of 13 07-Apr-12 3:27 PM . in his almost autobiographic novel THE MASKS some 20 years bqack. I…knew little Spinoza. As you said Marx did not have the means (datawise. my philosophical knowledge of texts was rather limited. reason why M.

is that homogenization and rigidity is one thing but the inability to think the new (‘life’ – always in a flux). If I is practiced in its already experimented forms. The road to hell. best wishes. are after all a property owning class) would find a place. All this was anathema to the Comintern and Stalin. It may not affect those for whom Marxism is a And of course. and not subjected to modification or even total rejection. Africa (except 7 of 13 07-Apr-12 3:27 PM . is not scientifically examined for its relevance for a particular time and place. I agree. Otherwise. It is very unlikely that Mao would have known of the Late Marx’s intellectual crisis. After a point people even stop expecting that they can get anything from such parties – look at Europe. it would be possible to argue that Marx as well was cognizant that life precedes and must direct theory. badri raina permalink April 6.. or those who do politics in its name while overlooking the objectives. In my opinion. A doctrine which is stagnant. the glad golden tree of life is green” (suitably paraphrased to make it more portable! My point however.. 2012 12:03 PM dear Aditya. Some Comrades advocate revolution. ah my friend. it is another matter that eventually. Nigam. then it can endanger the very people for whom it was originally advanced. is the surest route to irrelevance. initially tuned and implemented in some form in many counties for decades. 2012 8:28 AM Rex. it will be disastrous for India.Life After Capitalism? A Document From Another Time « Kafila http://kafila. who went as Comintern’s emissary to meet him. Marxism has been preached. badri raina Reply 10. This indeed may be. they say. The Sino-Soviet split has something only indirectly to do with the question. many of his notions about how to avoid centralized. but. But I wish even they read this article and introspect. Much of his theorizations about ‘new democracy’ or ‘people’s democracy’ were therefore about different ways of imagining China’s future where even small capitalists (peasants too. it will become a subject of academic interest only on which a few people may be awarded a PhD degree. at the root of many failures that we have been witness to. some want to follow the path of Latin Americas. and indeed any attempt to force such homogenisation in a polity like India must confront disaster. Naturally. if the notion of “objective constraints” were to be interpreted with greater catholicity and imagination than orthodoxy permits. His problem was really borne out of the fact that his feet were very firmly planted on Chinese soil and he knew that no revolution in China would make any sense if the peasantry did not have a central place. With some initial successes. Later. Aditya Nigam permalink* April 7. it has mostly failed in its objectives. Much has been written about all that. “life” never has or ought to have the same resonance for all human beings universally. large-scale industrialization turned out to be quite fanciful and disastrous. Indeed it seems that even Lenin was fond of repeating Goethe’s “All theory is grey. His first conflict therefore started very early – when he once refused to meet our very own MN Roy. this disagreement was to develop into a major disagreement on what socialism in China would be too. Reply 9. Latin America. is paved with the best of intentions! And thanks Badri. my compliments to you. Again. but for what gain? Does a poor in Latin Americas have better life than those in Capitalist Europe or in the US or even in India? Capitalism has been revised and reinvented several times and the same is required for Marxism for its survival as a practical ideology. as you suggest. probably the most thoughtful article in Kafila since I got interested in reading the postings. Mr. if that is warranted by the experience and logic.

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