Targeting Idiocy

മറ്റുവിഷയങ്ങളെപ്പറ്റി Calicojumbled ഇംഗ്ലീഷ് ബ്ലോഗ് dusty room

27 Feb 2010

E M S Conundrum

E M S Namboodiripad is generally acclaimed as a great Marxist thinker by his devotees as well as his opponents. However, what makes him a Marxist thinker of note, is a very gray area. I haven't seen a single scholar attempting to describe in exact terms what his contributions to Marxist thought actually consist of. On the other hand there is no dearth of tall claims that slip in to vague, generalised and axiomatic statements about his greatness as a Marxist thinker. Pitiably, it is most often the left leaning academics ('left' in the narrow sense of the Indian context, meaning they are mostly pro-CPI(M)) who indulge in such erratic, vague and quibbling generalities that have the advantage of being slippery enough to escape placing.
It is said that one of his major theoretical contributions is the analysis of the pre-capitalist Indian Society. Those who make this claim propose (of course in very vague terms) what is their idea of E M S's view on this question. I am not very sure if E M S really had a consistent notion (in writing) on this subject at any time of his theoretical career.
Reading in this E M S area, I found a very strange utterance he made in 1989 which failed to make sense for me as it is apparently antithetical to his pet theory. The following is a quote from E M S Namboodiripad:
Owing to this inquiry the Marxists-Leninists have been able to reach certain clear-cut conclusions.
Firstly, the Indian system of thought came into being following the dissolution of the class society in ancient India and evolution of the class society in the form of chaturvarnyam and caste domination. (volume 42, p 311, Complete Works in Malayalam, translation is mine, the original is seen in the page scan)

Namboodiripad was answering a question in his regular advice column in Chinta, the party organ of Kerala State Committee. The question was about another Sankara of another age. While the situation looked very familiar (it would be for anyone who read a bit of EMS) the word I underlined (class society) struck me as strange. I felt that it could have been a slip of tongue or an instance of corrupted text. E M S could have had in mind pre-class society because his contrast requires a classless society on the one hand and class-divided society on the other. Besides, the idea he very often expounded about the breaking of the pre-class (maveli) society into class society based on caste division has to be reckoned with.  So, I felt tempted to substitute the first instance of "class society" in the above quote with "classless" or "pre-class society". Unfortunately, I am not an expert in EMS oeuvre and don't find myself confident enough to make that very bold step defying the editors of his Complete Works, E M S scholars and probably E M S himself. In a theoretical career that spanned some sixty years or so of shifting theoretical stances on various questions it would be very adventurous to attempt to place him on one of his pet questions like his formula for the pre-capitalist Indian society. I don't find any way to ascertain the veracity of this assertion in print.
The question arises as this particular assertion goes against the grain of the more popular E M S stuff on this question. Typical of an offhand writer who can dish out popular theories off the cuff, E M S has sickeningly repeated his pet theory of the class evolution in India. Although the theory itself wouldn't outlive a few sentences each time, it is more than clear that the "clear-cut" picture he has on this question (as on any other question) is about a classless society splitting into a class divided society based on caste domination and oppression. So, when he talks of the dissolution of a class society to form another class society based on caste division and domination it raises the question. So, it's E M S's own question.
Whatever my motive I have in posting this question, the question is not mine and for that reason it remains open. That I use it for my own purpose doesn't foreclose it.
The question is important because the idea underpins Namboodiripad's acclaimed contribution of the analysis pre-capitalist Indian society. He called it jati-janmi-naduvazhi medhavitvam ("landlord-upper caste-chieftain-domination" or ജാതി ജന്മി നാടുവാഴി മേധാവിത്വം in CPI(M) lingo).
With the "clear-cut conclusions" that E M S says "Marxist-Leninists" (and for that matter E M S Namboodiripad, too) have been able evolve  on the historical period in question, it should be possible for the E M S experts to answer this question. Those scholars who have lauded E M S's contributions on Indian/Kerala history are bound to answer it unless they have already turned their back on their past of loyalty to EMSsism.
An E M S frenzy (especially among academics and writers) characteristic of the 1990's is not in the air nowadays. Have we started forgetting EMS? The publication of his complete works (sampoorna kritikal) is nearing completion. Eighty odd volumes already published, especially those that put together his advice column pieces in the party organ (they alone make more than a dozen volumes) for the first time, provide rich material to assess his scholarship, stances and intellectual progress. However, these volumes don't even receive not so much as a passing mention in the media! It looks like even the publisher's website give absolutely no information on their largest ever project! Have they already started to sweep it under the carpet? Could it be that those eulogists who got carried away in the then prevailing strong currents have found their bearings again and are ashamed of their show of loyalty lacking pith?
The CPI(M)'s hardcore intellectuals are not quoting E M S as they used to do. A major seminar on E M S held last week in Kozhikode struck me like half-hearted effort with its low-profile participation. Very few noted historians or writers attended it except the most loyal party cronies.
Back to the question at issue. Please don't tell me that this is not serious enough to deserve attention. The predominant single motif of E M S oeuvre is the class question, determining the class of anything and everything. If E M S is on quicksand on this basic question, then he is nowhere near his vaunted achievement in the class analysis of ancient Indian society.

The question appears in Malayalam here.
അച്ചുപിഴച്ചതോ ഇ എം എസിനു പിഴച്ചതോ?


  1. Rajan Gurukkal1 March 2010 at 07:09

    For the past few months I have been doing a Project on the writings of EMS with a view to assessing his contributions in the process of interpreting Marx's theory in the context of issues relating to India. I am only half way with the Project. It is too early to say anything categorically. However, my present understanding has been that EMS's interest in Marx's theory was not epistemological and therefore, he had, to my knowledge, never encountered Marxism just for the sake of theory. His primary interest was Party Praxis and all his interpretations, as he himself admitted, were for politicising working class and building up the Party. To my knowledge, his was praxis intervention and not theory production. Why postulate a theoretical career then ?
    I do not think that the issue raised by you is seminal to Marx's theory for Marx himself was non-specific and tentative about the features of pre-capitalist formations. All that he sustained is his theory of transformation. The instance that you have raised has more relevance to historiography than to theory. Jati Janmi Naduvazhi vyavastha is historiographically significant. Wasn't it his rational sense of history and a good grasp of Marx's theory that prompted EMS to formulate JJNV ? Unlike many Marxist historians he abstained from the typological reduction of feudalism. It was not the AMP hypothesis of Marx that could have dissuaded him, for JJNV formulation hardly subscribes to AMP. To me the underlying Marxist theoretical insights of EMS's formulation are of historiographical importance, not theoretical. I think it is not in the characterisation of the features of pre-class or class but about the theorisation of the underlying dynamic that one should problematise.
    Any way I would like to know more about your studies if any, for they might help my project.
    Rajan Gurukkal

  2. It is very good to see an academic address a question posted by a layman. I am pleasantly surprised that a scholar like you are engaged in an academic study of EMS in this day.
    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to understand your comment wholly. From your use of the word "epistemological" to your utterance that "it is the theorisation of the underlying dynamic or preclass and class [societies] that one should problematise" I had difficulty in following. However, the most important point that I missed and which I would request you for a bit clearer explanation of, is the Jati Janmi Naduvazhi vyavastha you are referring to. What do you mean by that? I have seen him rejecting wholly or partly this idea in favour of the conventional three phased pre-capitalist social formation in a number of his essays (a few of them from Social Scientist) of 1970's.

    I took EMS, Vakkum Samoohavum and re-read your essay. The essay which is made up mostly of free-wheeling abstract statements, has only one tangible point in it and that is the very question of pre-capitalist Kerala society. Apparently you seem to suggest that it is an area where EMS's formulation or theorisation is on solid grounds.
    However, that's exactly where I failed absolutely to gain a footing leading to my posing the question.
    Does EMS offer a consistent stance on this question in his myriad of writings? Does it stand the test of time all through his writing career?
    The confusion is further confounded by statements like this:
    ഇത് (JJNV)എന്നു തുടങ്ങിയെന്ന് എനിക്ക് അറിഞ്ഞുകൂടാ. അതിനെ സംബന്ധിച്ച് ഞാന്‍ എന്റെ ആദ്യ ഗ്രന്ഥത്തില്‍ ചിലതൊക്കെ പറഞ്ഞിരുന്നു. അത് ഞാന്‍ പിന്നീട് തിരുത്തി. അതു തിരുത്തിയതു മുഴുവന്‍ ശരിയാണെന്ന് ഇപ്പോഴും അഭിപ്രായമില്ല. എന്നല്ല ശാസ്ത്രം പുരോഗമിച്ചുകൊണ്ടിരിക്കുകയാണ്. ഇ എം എസ്, തിരഞ്ഞെടുത്ത പ്രസംഗങ്ങള്‍, ഡി സി ബുക്സ്, 1996,222.
    Can you please throw a bit more light on Jati Janmi Naduvazhi vyavastha?
    As for AMP, any EMS collection of representative works from various periods is sure to throw up unsettling discrepancies on this subject (even the literary article collection is no exception).
    If you could please sign in when you comment people will find it more authentic.
    I hope you would say something more in explanation of JJNV.

  3. Dr. Gurukkal doesn't think that the issue I raised "is seminal to Marxism". EMS, however, thought the question of pre-capitalist social formation was close to life and took on critics who brushed away the question as abstract theoretical exercise irrelevant to real problems.

    ഇതൊക്കെ പാഴ്വേലയാണെന്നും അമൂര്‍ത്തമായ താത്വികതലത്തിലുള്ള ഈ ചര്‍ച്ചകള്‍ക്ക് ഇന്നത്തെ പ്രായോഗികപ്രശ്നങ്ങളെ സംബന്ധിച്ചിടത്തോളം യാതൊരു പ്രാധാന്യവുമില്ലെന്നും അതുകൊണ്ട് അതവസാനിപ്പിക്കണമെന്നുമാണ് ചിലര്‍ പറയുന്നത്. എന്നാല്‍ യഥാര്‍ഥജീവിതപ്രശ്നത്തെ സംബന്ധിച്ചിടത്തോളം അങ്ങേയറ്റത്തെ ഹ്രസ്വവീക്ഷണത്തോടുകൂടിയ സമീപനമാണിത്. (സഞ്ചിക 75, 299)

  4. Cleaning up my desktop I found this note which was intended as a reply to Dr Gurukkal's note above. Later I withheld it and made a tentative note because I didn't want to drive him away with a harsh note. He hasn't come back after that note and I think it wouldn't be amiss to post it here now after these months.

    If you discount the theoretical part from EMS you are going to be a heretic among the EMS scholars. For my part, I was merely echoing the mainstream view. EMS took it upon himself to explicate Marxism-Leninism and his own theory to the partisans as well as to the world and devoted most of his career to that end. He took the pure brand of Marxism directly from the unadulterated lineage running from Marx to Stalin and disparaged every other man jack who bothered to theorise on Marxism. He thought poorly of those Frankfurt guys or Euro guys and made it clear that those guys' contribution to Marxism was nil. (his discovery of Gramsci or P Govinda Pillai making him discover Gramsci was just a funny episode and nothing serious).
    The point I raised, which you considered was not seminal to Marx's theory, was a question "close to life" for EMS. Not specifically the jati janmi hotchpotch but AMP itself. I have juxtaposed his views from two different periods on this question which shows that E M S was supremely ignorant of what Marxist texts say on the matter, or even worse, he had a gift of unlearning things which he himself propounded(unless he made use of ghostwriting) at some point of time. See here
    Can an academic take seriously somebody who states that Marx used the concept of AMP only in one place and Engels never used it? Is "Party praxis" all about ignorance and opportunism?
    You say, JJNV formulation hardly subscribes to AMP? If EMS uses this theory to describe and subscribe to Marx's view on the static Indian society (static for thousands of years in EMS's own words and with no presence of private property to do loyalty to Marx, mind you!) does that mean he didn't subscribe to AMP? EMS used JJNV to describe and justify Marx's notion of static Indian society as many times as he used it to describe the pre-capitalist social formations of India/Kerala. Anybody care to contend it?
    So, what is JJNV after all?
    I re-read your article that appeared in Gopinathan's Vakkum Samoohavum after you commented here. There is only one tangible point in the whole of that essay and that's about his idea of Indian history. You said there that EMS didn't ascribe AMP or slave society to Kerala. You mention EMS's use of the term JJNV instead of feudalism as a distinct and remarkable approach. There you are! No AMP, no slavery and what remains is feudalism with the specifics EMS attributed to it. Aren't you very close to answering my original question?

    Btw, I noticed that your essays stand apart from other ones in that it takes pains to assert that the errors and contradictions in EMS are immaterial in assessing him. (Dr Gopinathan also asserts something in the same vein) I find this attitude very strange. (contd. in the next entry)

  5. As yet I am not interested in theorising or problematising EMS but only in tidbits based on good old common sense. And my tidbits (gathered from the compilation in sanchikas) have proven it for once and good that some of his great acclaimed contributions simply won't hold water. For example, I have punctured a hole in EMS's literary theories and his acclaimed scholarship in Marxist aesthetics by showing how pathetically ignorant he has been in claiming to have learnt his lessons from "the great Marxist theoretician" Maxim Gorky and a couple of Gorky's unmarxist tirades. See here. And about EMS's "rational sense of history and a good grasp of Marx's theory"? It is going down the drain here. Who cares to salvage it?

  6. HIS Management has become a part and parcel of everyday life, be it at home, in the office or factory and in Government. In all organizations, where a group of human beings assemble for a common purpose irrespective of caste, creed, and religion, management principles come into play through the management of resources, finance and planning, priorities, policies and practice. Management is a systematic way of carrying out activities in any field of human effort. Management need to focus more on leadership skills, e.g., establishing vision and goals, communicating the vision and goals, and guiding others to accomplish them. It also assert that leadership must be more facilitative, participative and empowering in how visions and goals are established and carried out. Some people assert that this really isn't a change in the management functions, rather it's re-emphasizing certain aspects of management.


Google Buzz Public Feed for Calicocentric --