Following the scrapping of the 118D of the Police Act by the SC, the LDF government led by CPI(M) introduced an amendment aimed to address the threat to private life due to cyber attacks in the state. The amendment reads: “Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”
This amendment is seen as a major threat to the right to free expression and opinion and is feared to be used by the state against individuals and groups which are critical of the state.
The government in its defense pointed at the increasing instances of ” false campaigns questioning personal freedom and dignity enshrined in the constitution.” The CM pointed out that: “Women and transgender persons have been attacked mercilessly. Family relations have been affected and victims driven to suicide. People, including media heads, had demanded that there should be laws against it.”
The Amendment was directly against the CPI(M) and left parties’ critique of similar laws at the Central level and as such is facing opposition within the party and the allies within the LDF. The Kerala Police Act 2011 itself was coming from the previous LDF government led by V S Achuthanthan and the UDF government whose Home Minister was Ramesh Chennithala. One of the provisions of the Act, 118D had provision for “punishment with imprisonment for a term. which may extend to three years with a fine not exceeding ten thousand rupees or with both” for causing “annoyance to any person in an indecent manner by statements· or verbal or comments or telephone calls or calls of any type or by chasing or sending messages or mails by any means.” This provision was itself in line with the struck down Section 66A in the IT Act 2000. The new 118A attempted to avoid the SC criticism of 66A by skillfully navigating the wordings in the Act.
While this is the background of 118A, it becomes imperative for working class politics to look into a class analysis of the Act such that contributions towards developing revolutionary theory can be initiated.
Towards a class analysis of 118A
It is true that people of all walks are under cyber attack. Especially women and transgenders. If we ascribe the noblest reason for the passage of this Amendment by the government, there can be a defense of the government decision. In fact many have argued that striking down 118D was not a coherent move by the SC. Cyberbullying is and can be very dangerous and as of now the police seems to have no tool to deal with this rising threat.
At the same time we know that what the government and state machinery aim to do with this law. Police will be powerful and that seems to be one of the most important reason for the Home Ministries across the country to resort to such laws.
We have in fact seen a lot of analysis that looks into the merits and dangers of the amendment. This piece is not to contribute to those discourses that aims to productivise these contentious positions. Rather this piece is to dwell into the political economy of the Amendment so that a Marxist class analysis of the amendment can be undertaken to invite discussions along this line.
A class analysis of the Amendment is not an easy task, but is the necessity for the working class to self-emancipate and this is ground from which this piece arises.
State and government
We tend to equate the actions of the government to that of the CM and a handful of bureaucrats. What we miss here is the discourse of State and being blind to the state form and correspondingly miss the forest for the trees. What we see as actions of a particular CM or a government is in fact the actions of the state. If the state could not get the government to do its bidding, it will get rid of the CM and the government. And if so, what is the state? Is state the government, the bureaucracy, the judiciary or a combination of all these institutions? While state appears in these institutional form, state is essentially what the term literally means viz. state of affairs. And thus state is the social relation that we share with each other as individuated citizen subject under the historically specific socio-economic formation that is capitalism. And by socio economic formation, we mean the particular social and technical composition of the labor force that constitute the particular societal form that we live in. Each of us has a place in the technical composition of capital. And the technical class composition, informed by the social composition which is historically determined with respect various cultures, is the logic of capital that is imposed on to us as a rational system of ordering the social totality. But following Marx and Adorno we know that this rationality is fundamentally irrational. The Keynesian consensus and the organised labor resistance that we witnessed during the Planned phase of capitalist expansion was from the perspective of capital. It was not aimed at abolition of the historically specific form of labor in capitalism. Rather the base from which the institutional communist parties of India arose was by agreeing to this consensus, though labor in its concrete struggle was aimed at precisely negating this organisation. Whenever labor was militant and couldn’t be contained within organised form, a challenge was posed to the communist parties about its very form and its relation to capital. The institutional communist parties with its organisation aimed at capturing state power through elections so as to change it, and the left-wing communist parties aimed to overthrow the Indian state through armed rebellion do not seem to dwell into the question of state as social relation and what a Leninist theory of state would look like in neo-liberalism. From the actions of the CPI(M) government since the 1990s, from people’s planning to self-financing colleges to fake-encounters to open corruption to business take-over of party decisions to the present police-state norm, it is clear that CPI(M) has been working as the arm of the state to implement its policies lest the political class composition – signaling how labor organises against capitalist technical composition – disrupt the very organisation of the state and its institutions. We must, following Holloway and the Open Marxist positions, resist from the bad theorisation that gives state a sense of relative autonomy which the CPI(M) has been proposing to us through its various front workers. They say that CPI(M) has been trying hard to help the people, and in some areas successfully so irrespective of the neo-liberal onslaught. Like the case of the floods, Nippah or through social security measures. But as this blog has been arguing, it is not the state or a government that helped us. It is we, the multitude that acted as a communist subject that saved us. The government and the party has been instrumentalising this collective action so that the socio-technical divisions divisions through which capital recomposes can continue unhindered. The government is the manager of the state. And the party is the manager of the government now. Imagine the situation in which the ‘communists’ are in. They have to fight hard to manage the socio-technical division of labor so that capitalist accumulation can continue with heightened violence.
The role of the law
Law or juridically is through which the separation of the economic and the political is ensured by the state. Capitalism necessary has to put labor to work and the creative process within capitalism can only be undertaken by labor. But this process is replete with disruption as far as capital is concerned. The abstraction from concrete labor process necessarily demands the presence of equal individuated human subjects as Marx argues in Capital. Juridicality is about this abstraction from concrete practices. There is indeed a sociology of law; about how law is applied in each situation. But this sociology conveniently forgets the basic question regarding abstraction involved in law. How is it that human subjectivities engaged in qualitatively different concrete practices be made commensurable such that mediation or exchange is possible in the first place? Institutional state form is the formal structure that ensures that law and abstraction is ensured.
The concrete practices of labor, like strike or rebellion or violence is a possibility and a necessity for the juridical to recompose itself so that there is no interruption to the production process. At this juncture it is necessary to quote Benjamin’s critique of law and violence: “Law’s interest in the monopoly of violence vis-à-vis individuals is explained not by the intention of preserving legal ends but, rather by the intention of preserving the law itself; that violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law.” The actions of the cyber bullies, it follows from Benjamin and Agamben, is law-making violence which is necessary for the preservation of the law through the action of the state as law-preserving violence. Thus the cyber-bullies and CPI(M) led government are not on the opposite side of law. To think so would be anti-dialectic and against the grain of Marx. Rather they are dialectically related to the social form of the status quo itself. The action of a cyber bully in Kerala invited violent response from some women in the state who were the target of the bullies. The women’s actions were justified by some and condemned by others. While CPI(M) as a party could have different opinion about the incident, for the law such actions cannot be allowed not because of the violence involved but because it directly threatens the law itself. And in the conditions of post-Fordism, civil war of identities has replaced class struggle and the state recomposition occurs through instrumentalising this civil war of identities. But there is always a constant threat that the civil war would threaten the juridicality itself and questions the separation of the economic and the political and move towards a Mass Strike. This is a risk that the law cannot afford to because it can slip into generalisation and be a moment of Messianic violence that breaks through the temporality of the capitalist time.
The task of working class inquiry is not to fall into either of the positions or to dwell into abstract categories. Rather it is to show that the cyber bullies and the government form a single line, against whose logic the working class has to break free from. Cyber bullies exist and reactions to cyber bullies also exist. The state form in its neo-liberal barbaric form recomposes itself through the civil war between identitarian divisions, in our case in the form of the cyber bully and the reaction to cyber bully. We must not fall in this trap. Rather we must ask what would be a critique of cyber bullying entail in the contemporary? How can we pose such a question without asking the very organisation of the cyber space in the first place and the collective control of the commons?
We have to go back to our theoretical basis and as Benjamin proposes, make a distinction between the political general strike of which CPI(M) is an authority and the proletarian general strike which aims to precisely destroy all these agents who claim to represent the working class. Benjamin had warned us that for the partisans of the former namely the moderate socialists, for us CPI(M) and its cadre: “the strengthening of the state power is the basis of their conceptions; in their present organisations the politicians […] are already preparing the ground for a strong centralised and disciplined power that will be impervious to criticism from the opposition, and capable of imposing silence and issuing its mendacious decrees. The political general strike demonstrates how the state will lose none of its strengths […].” Against this position is the proletarian general strike whose sole task is the destruction of the state power. It is against all mediations and representative apparatus. It is about inquiring into the materiality of concrete situations; or concrete analysis of concrete situations as Lenin put forward.
And history has shown us the limits of the former and the repeated defeat of the latter. But the first step towards a revolutionary transformation of sociality is our acceptance that we are a defeated lot. And yet, we adhere to this defeated tradition. And the foundation of this tradition is class analysis.