Over the past two weeks this column has tried to demonstrate the futility, rather danger, of continuing with the Nation and its “ism” as a political community in today’s world. While some readers may even be willing to accept the logic of this secular heresy, the common response would be, what is the alternative? What political community is possible other than the Nation in today’s world? Would it not be a costly political mistake to attempt a destruction of the Nation when there is no alternative?The nation has become so deeply intertwined within left politics that even when the nation and its politics clashes with the very basic tenets of Marxist political practice, left parties find it difficult to dump the nation. A good example of this is the recent opposition to the US-India nuclear deal, which has been stoutly opposed by the communist and other left parties in India. While the opposition to this nuclear deal is welcome, as the Government of India was almost successful in slipping in a watershed foreign policy measure without any significant public debate on its merits, what is unfortunate is that the entire political discourse of the left has been premised on “national interest”.
This will clearly not work. “National interest” is the political expression of the material interests of the class that dominates and controls the nation. Clearly in India it is the big capitalist class and their allies. The growth of the Indian economy over the past six decades of independent nationhood, and especially in the past 17 years of neo-liberal economic reforms, has been premised on a successful integration with the global economy, led by the US. India’s capitalist class today finds itself on the threshold of a global role and is impatient to become part of the global capitalist class, which is busy wooing and welcoming it into its fold. The US-India nuclear deal is merely one step on this path, but a crucial step.
It is not only futile, but unreasonable for the left to argue that India’s “national interest” lies in a strategic distance from the US and “multi-polar” alliances with China and Russia. Indian capital has very little interest in these two post-socialist economies, while the US is crucial for its survival and growth. Therefore, for the Indian state there can only be one “national interest” and that is to enter a strategic alliance with the US. It is not even possible to argue for a strategic alliance with Russia and China in terms of a “people’s national interest” as a counter to the capitalist national interest. The rapacious capitalist path, both domestically and in the international arena, that Russia and China are following, makes it difficult to argue that an alliance with these powers will be any more liberatory, moral or pro-people than the one with the US.
But nuclear energy and weapons are clearly issues that are outside the ambit of “national interest”. The consequences of nuclear energy and weapons transcend any border that human beings may draw and involve the entire planet, all its biotic resources and hundreds of future generations. This fact has so often been reiterated by anti-nuclear campaigners all over the world since the first nuclear explosion in Hiroshima that it hardly needs reiteration. Still let me use this opportunity to list some of the more significant reasons for opposing nuclear energy.
Radioactive materials used in nuclear reactors have a half-life stretching from tens of thousands to millions of years. There is no technology that can keep radioactive waste produced from nuclear reactors from spilling out into the atmosphere for that long. What this implies is, irrespective of howsoever “safely” nuclear waste is kept, one day in the future our nuclear waste is going to poison and kill humans and other biological entities. This is a certainty. The safest of the safe nuclear power is going to create waste that will one day seep out of its concrete and lead containers and kill our children. For this reason alone nuclear energy in any form, civil or military, is the most immoral technology of our times. It is anti-human and has to be opposed without any qualifications. No national interest, energy security, industrialisation – nothing can justify our poisening the future in this manner.
Moreover, uranium, plutonium and thorium are limited resources just like oil and coal, while the claims made by supporters of nuclear energy regarding its reduction of greenhouse gases is also dubious and insignificant, given the curse of radioactive poisoning we are gifting our future generations. In any case, mere increase in energy efficiency promises much greater energy than all nuclear power available.
It is instructive that none of these arguments have been foregrounded in the left opposition to the India-US nuclear deal and find mention, if at all, in passing. It illustrates the manner in which the left has become a prisoner to the politics of nationhood and its pernicious ‘ism’.
Issues like the nuclear deal, or WTO negotiations over pharmaceutical and genetic patents or farm subsidies, provide the ideal platform for the left to break out of the shackles of nation and nationalism. It is not only morally incumbent, but also practical, to premise opposition to nuclear energy and weapons (and thus the US-India nuclear deal) on a political field that transcends nation and nationalism. Similarly, it is eminently possible to build a politics opposing pharmaceutical and bio patents that transcend national affiliations.
These issues not only provide a platform to the left to transcend the boundaries of the nation and sidestep the ideology of nationalism, they also provide ample space to highlight the regressive and reactionary nature of nation/nationalism. As Marxists, we need to realise that history does not provide ready made solutions to our problems, but that solutions emerge from political practice. It is wrong to first seek a working model of a full scale alternative before opposing the present unjust conditions. If that were the requirement, then movements for socialism too would need to be put in the cold storage till a complete alternative is ready at hand. Such a perspective is not only ahistorical but ultimately helps perpetuate the unhappy status quo.
It is in the very political practice that tries to break out of the confines set by the nation and its nationalism that an alternative will emerge. In the core territories of global capital, like Europe and North America, the nation is being transcended through the route of a common market as this process is driven by the economy. For the rest of the world, economic logic will only strengthen the nation and with it the rule of capital and therefore, here the transcendence of the nation and nationalism will perforce have to be a political act of collective will by the people. The left is the best instrument to give concrete shape to this political act of collective will. It is high time the left plays its historic role.
~ ~ ~
This was published in my weekly column in The Post, on 29 August 2007.