Thursday, January 26, 2012

Petty Intellectuals and Gramsci

Jose Antoin

Reading Antonio Gramsci’s work demands extra care from the reader. There are two major reasons for that. 1. Gramsci avoided using some specific words to evade censorship. (For example he uses the word ‘strata’ to denote ‘class’.) 2. Most of his works are fragmentary in nature. This leaves much room for reinterpretation and misinterpretation. He generally discusses the ‘functional aspects’ of the ‘state’ rather than ‘systematically defining’ it. Only in few places he concretely defines ‘state’.

Now coming to the discussion on the statement of SLDF titled ‘An appeal to the Tamil community and its Civil and Political Representatives’ (on Deepam TV), one hears Nirmala asking Tu. Senan to read Antonio Gramsci to know about the structure of the ‘state’. Tu. Senan asked her the reason for directing the appeal to the Tamil civil society. Through her statement she implies that the Tamils do have state power in Gramscian sense. Senan did not have time to answer her as the discussion came to an end after her grotesque misinterpretations.

According to Gramsci, state is not only sustained by the ‘political class’; but also by the ‘civil society’. So, it is necessary for the proletariat (oppressed) to attain ‘cultural hegemony’ to overthrow the capitalist society (oppressors). In the Sri Lankan scenario the ‘racial contradiction’ is the prominent issue. Here ‘oppressive’ Sinhala state is sustained by the ‘Singalese civil society’ through its ‘consent’. And the ‘oppressed’ Tamils are marginalized in the political sphere. Tamils did attain cultural hegemony for the formation of an independent state; but so far they have failed to achieve their goal. Tamils don’t have equal constitutional rights. They are politically and /or economically dispossessed and at the end of Eelam War 4 lost whatever (de facto) state power they had. The Sinhala forces forcefully occupy their lands. Many have become refugees in their own land. Their cultural tradition is trampled down by the oppressors. In such a situation how can they enjoy state power? Without state power, what they can do for the aggrieved Muslim community? After all the Sinhala state is not even ready to negotiate about the devolution of police and land power to the Tamils. No, Tamils do not enjoy ‘state power’ in Gramscian sense. Then why do they direct the appeal to the Tamil civil society and its civil and political representatives? Senan says their intention is not genuine. Nirmala answers ‘it is a lie’? It is non answer. She can’t answer. So she just jumps from one issue to another which is irrelevant to the questions raised.

Nirmala tells that the ‘appeal’ should be accepted on its face value. Thus she wants us to isolate the ‘appeal’ from the major political issues confronting the ‘whole’ Tamil community. No, we can’t accept it on its face value. We all know it is a divisionary act; an act which will divide Tamils and Muslims; an act the racist Sinhala government itself would love to employ. The British used the same divide and rule policy in India. Just as the Justice Party which wanted to perpetuate the British rule in India, these vested interests want to perpetuate the Sinhala rule in Eelam. Like SLDF the Justice Party tried to portray certain issues in isolation and the British supported them to the hilt. In Nirmala’s view Sinhala racism can not be countered by Tamil nationalism. She does not offer any alternative. But she vouches for the ‘appeal’ which narrows down the focus. Now we get the real picture. Their intention is suspect. They just want to ease out the Sri Lankan government at a time when the international pressure is mounting to investigate war crimes and settle the Tamil issue.

It is time we expose these petty intellectuals and their petty politicking.


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