The French thinker Louis Althusser in his famous essay on ideological state apparatuses, includes trade unions (and presumably professional associations too) in his illustrative list of such ideological state apparatuses. Both Trade Unions (TUs) and Professional Associations (PAs) are usually considered politically active bodies that are alert and resistant to any misuse or abuse of state or corporate power. Althusser’s characterisation of them as ideological state apparatuses is therefore rather counter-intuitive to this perception. This piece is my attempt to understand why he did so, and an elaboration of the implications of that understanding.

TUs and PAs are two of the most common forms of institutional organisation in ‘civil-society’, i.e., outside the government. The basis of organisation in both cases is occupational – that is, membership is decided on the basis of the kind and place of work of the members. That said, there are several important differences between the two kinds of organizations, some relating to their legal status (which I am not competent to comment on) and others related to their respective functions and functioning – which is my focus of attention in this paper (and as an active member of the teachers’ association at my workplace, I can claim some familiarity, if not competence, in this regard).

One of the basic differences in function, between a trade union body and a professional association, is that the objective of the latter is supposed to be the advancement of the profession itself, while that of the former is the protection of the wages, rights and liberties of its members. This is not surprising, given the differences in their respective constituencies, roles and functions in the larger political economy. This and other differences, however, belie a very important aspect in which they are identical, which is that both work on the principle of ‘collective bargaining’. Let us briefly examine these bodies and the differences between them first, before we explore the implications of their common principle of functioning.

Trade Unions

Most TUs are constituted of working-class – i.e., blue-collar – workers; they may or may not be skilled workers, but they usually have some form of continuity and contractual protection in their employment. That any contractual protection is provided at all, in fact, is often only because the kind of work they perform may require some continuity; the contract is therefore as much (often, more) for the employers’ benefit as the workers’, in its details. Further, this work is often manual, though it as often requires some basic educational qualifications to facilitate localized training, usually specific to their sector or industry. The specificity of their skill-sets does not usually give these workers many occupational choices; they are therefore heavily dependent on the employment provided by the same sector/industry that trains them. Furthermore, the scope for upward mobility is also limited by these constraints, regardless of how well they perform at work.

The vast majority of such workers are also wholly dependent on their wages for their, and their families’, living; they have little to no assets that they can fall back on, in the absence of employment. This also means that they have little bargaining power, in relation to their employers. This is why their employers (who do have the assets, or capital, with which to bargain) can – and almost always, do – set the terms of employment more-or-less entirely in their own favour. Their capacity to exploit their workers’ dependence on them, is bound only by whatever protection is afforded the latter by the law – and that too, if the workers can afford to seek legal remedies. TUs therefore emerged as an alternative mode of redress, that sought to counter this imbalance in power through the strength of the collective – i.e., through ‘collective bargaining’. That is, workers organised into unions precisely in order to protect the few benefits and protections they had, and – when necessary – demand more.

So, even if, as individuals, workers are more dependent on their employer than the other way around, the employer also depends on the workers as a collective, to perform the tasks they are employed for, from which the employer stands to profit. TUs sought to redress the power imbalance by leveraging this dependency. Needless to say, workers without such continuity and contractual protection in their employment – e.g., labour in the unorganised sector, constituted of daily wagers, migrant labour, seasonal workers, domestic helps, etc. – have little to no protection in real terms, either in legal or unionised ways.

TUs were born in the early days of industrial capitalism in Europe, roughly in the late eighteenth century, and grew in strength through the nineteenth century. At a time when there were no legal remedies available (these began to take shape only in the late nineteenth century), and even later, the only recourse the workers had was their ability to withhold their labour-power, and hence to interfere with the production process itself, in order to enforce their claims. Doing so in large numbers meant organized, collective and cooperative action like refusal to work, or “strikes”. Thus, for unions to be effective, numerical strength was, and still remains, a crucial element: in large numbers, even mildly disruptive activities like picketing, rallies or demonstrations (dharnas) could function as a threat of a full strike, and could ensure satisfactory results without actually resorting to a strike itself.

However, almost all TU activity and organisation are carried out on the expectation – indeed, the prerequisite – of unity. That is, for TUs to be effective, numerical strength must be accompanied by consensus, cooperation and unity of action, as near total as possible. Without this – e.g., if there are breakaway factions of workers who refuse to participate in the union action – the TU as well as the legitimacy of its stand gets compromised, and in multiple ways. Firstly, most obviously, the extent to which the production process is adversely affected increases with the number of workers participating in the TU action; hence, breakaway factions reduce the impact of the TU action stalling the production process. Secondly, the non-cooperative factions often work as a persistent adverse influence on the cooperative factions, sometimes even steadily weaning away the participants in the TU action, thereby further weakening it. Thirdly, the very presence, the existence itself, of the breakaway faction stands as living proof that the TU is not representative, its demands not unanimous, and therefore possibly not valid and/or legitimate. This is something that TUs share with Professional Associations, at which we will now take a quick look.

Professional Associations

Historically, PAs emerged a little later than TUs, and possibly as a response to the growth of the latter, at least in the UK. In contrast to TUs, they are constituted mainly of white-collar workers, possessing higher educational qualifications, possibly more specialised knowledge, and/or more complex levels of skill-training. They thus have more options and opportunities in the labour-market, and usually also receive significantly higher wages, than their blue-collar counterparts. For instance, they can either sequentially or simultaneously work in different kinds of jobs requiring roughly the same kind of skill-sets – e.g., as a receptionist, an online tutor, a teacher, a software programmer. These may or may not be contractually engaged: meaning there is an unorganised sector of white-collar workers too, the size of which is as difficult to guage as that of the blue-collar workers.

This kind of job-diversity and informality of employment is more commonly found at the lower levels of the hierarchies of white-collar work. It decreases steadily, as one moves up the hierarchy, because it is less and less possible as the jobs get more complex, requiring more specialized knowledge and training; and/or if they entail more and more legal, administrative and/or financial responsibility. Often, the wage differentials in this hierarchy of white-collar workers are determined precisely by those who gain increasing control and responsibility (especially financial) – a possibility that is always available (at least theoretically) to all white-collar workers. But rarely, if ever, do even the highest ranking blue-collar workers in any given industry ever earn as much as even the lowest rungs of white-collar workers in that industry.

One very significant reason for this wage-gap between blue- and white-collar workers is that the work of the latter is seen as more intellectual than physical, and consequently and more importantly, perceived to entail greater responsibility, because entailing greater decision-making power. In fact, most blue-collar workers are generally seen as having little to no decision-making power in the kind of work they are given to do – in this case, for good reason. The training in the very narrow set of skills, tailored for the specific tasks they are hired to do, means that they actually have to encounter fewer, if any, choices of action, and hence little, if any, decision-making. However, whether this should be the basis of deciding wages or not – rather than on the basis of say, the physical effort involved, or the consequentiality of making that effort (say, the ratio of effort made (or not) to the consequences of that effort (or the absence of it), or the workers’ material needs – is another question altogether.

The difference in wages between blue- and white-collar workers is also often perceived as a return on the personal investment by the latter (or his/her family), in his/her education and training. This allows the latter to have

  • a more diverse choice of employment options;
  • the wherewithal with which to take on tasks with supposedly greater and greater complexity and/or administrative and/or financial responsibility. At the same time,
  • it also allows the latter to put a price (in the form of still higher wages) on his/her responsibility.

Thus, if Point (a) explains the difference in wages between blue- and white-collar workers, then Points (b) and (c) explain how differences in wages exist and can be calibrated amongst white-collar workers themselves. As capitalism itself becomes more and more complex and layered, on the one hand, the factors in (b) and (c) become more and more significant as drivers of wages and wage inequality within the class of white-collar workers; while on the other, the increasing diversification of white-collar jobs, especially in the service sector, allows (a) to remain a strong reason for the wage inequality between blue- and white-collar workers.

The increasing complexity, specialisation and consequentiality of functions and tasks amongst white-collar workers is a major factor leading to the formation of professions and professional associations. Professions are specialisations by definition: I cannot think of any generalist profession or PA. The knowledge they profess is specialised, and itself the reason for the emergence of ‘professional’ courses in higher education (as opposed to the ‘generalist’ courses of liberal education, on the one hand; and the ‘vocational’ courses of skill-enhancement training, on the other). Professional experience is accumulated – and priced as wages – in terms of length of practice within, as well as of unwavering attachment to, a profession. The duty of all professionals, as well as PAs, is supposedly to advance the profession – not so much in terms of the knowledge in and of the profession, as in terms of the centrality, or more precisely, the consequentiality, of the profession to the larger political economy. In other words, professionals and PAs are expected to advance the individual value of their respective professions, by advancing its significance and consequentiality to that political economy.

A curiousity is evident here, that requires a minor digression: with blue-collar work, the question of the consequentiality of the work they do never arises, not because it is inconsequential, but because it is the most consequential work. It is the work that creates the product that is then launched into the world of the market by an army of white-collar workers. Without that, there would be no product and no work for the white-collars. White-collar workers have to prove the consequentiality of themselves and their profession in and to the market, through the ways in which they can maximise profit on the product produced by blue-collar work. That is, white-collar workers have to ‘produce’ themselves as the best means of profit-making to the employer. This is done usually by either presenting themselves as exploitable – e.g., by using their skills to make profits for the employer, of which they themselves will get little; or as capable of exploitation – e.g., by offering their skill as supervisors, managers, administrative executives of various kinds, etc.; or both. Not only do they turn themselves into marketable products in this way (which is admittedly true of blue-collar workers as well) but, in the process, they also continuously strive to convince themselves and the world at large about their own consequentiality – what one might unkindly call their “self-importance” (which blue-collar workers rarely do). Arguably, it is at least partly because the entire discourse of consequentiality has revolved around white-collar work, that the more fundamental consequentiality of blue-collar work goes unrecognised and unacknowledged. This is also arguably one of the reasons why TUs focus so persistently on the issue of exploitation; PAs, in contrast, while alert to cases of exploitation, tend to engage as earnestly with other issues – for instance, with public or administrative policy that pertains to the profession; or with promoting the profession and its members in ‘civil society’ and/or the media.

To return now to the main discussion: the members of PAs are expected to help each other, and the PA, attain the goal of appearing consequential, because they are all expected to benefit from that. But they are not obliged to do so. This is important, especially when PAs function like TUs – as they often do – to protect themselves, their members or the profession as a whole from harm, whether at the hands of the state, the employer or circumstances (usually the vagaries of the market). At such times, the expectations of PAs from their members are identical to those of TUs: that their members will cooperate and collaborate in solidarity with each other, to lend their numerical strength and perhaps their resources, to participate in the demands and action-programmes of the PA.

Their sense of obligation to do so, however, is less than that of TU members, and usually to be found in inverse proportion to the individual member’s institutional, social and financial stakes. Meaning that, as white-collar workers advance up the professional hierarchies, their stakes in upholding those hierarchies and their layers of exclusivity, as well as in their upward trajectories in them, increase correspondingly. It is important to note that the dynamics of both PAs and TUs sustain because they are structures of collaboration and mutual support; but in the case of PAs, the exclusivity of the hierarchy stands in sharp contrast, even opposition, to these structures of collaboration and support. This is why it is quite common to see members of PAs become more and more invested in that hierarchy as they rise in it – more and more interested in personal advancement, and even in using and manipulating the PA itself towards that personal end – rather than in the advancement of the profession as a whole. And this is also perhaps why it is quite common to see higher levels of disunity in PAs than in TUs.

With TU members, the sense of obligation to stay united is greater also because it is more a compulsion than an obligation: they rarely have a choice. In fact, this paucity of choice may be considered a definitive trait of the blue-collar working class (and classes “lower” still), standing in stark contrast to the greater opportunities and choices available to the white-collar constituents of the PAs. The relative shortage of opportunities for blue-collar workers is reinforced by the fact of fewer, less distinct hierarchical layers amongst themselves. This means, firstly, that the income differentials between them tend to be much less; secondly, that consequently, even if they rise up the ranks, there is little opportunity for any surplus wealth to be saved; this in turn means that, thirdly, their financial dependence on their wages is more intense and persistent, sometimes for generations, than it is for white-collar workers; but, fourthly, and consequently, it also allows for greater mutual empathy, and hence for stronger, more lasting forms of solidarity.

In contrast, white-collar workers, whether for reasons of inherited wealth, or multiple sources of employment and income, or income on returns from investments, almost always have a surplus of wealth, and hence are rarely entirely dependent on their particular jobs financially. This is especially true as we move up the hierarchy. The quantum and availability of this surplus may vary widely, especially across the hierarchy; but its sheer existence gives white-collar workers a greater degree of autonomy in relation to their employer(s), as well as to their fellow workers – i.e., their mutual dependence is much less than is the case with blue-collar workers. An important factor here is that, for the same possible reasons of inherited wealth etc., white-collar workers are often closer, in economic terms, to the employer than to the blue-collar workers. Employers therefore tend to enjoy closer social relations with their white-collar employees, than with their blue-collar ones. This inevitably impacts adversely on the social relations between white-collar and blue-collar workers; the latter are effectively isolated from, and marginalised by, the resultant tacit consensus between the employers and the white-collar workers – the condition Gramsci called ‘hegemonic’. This is why, generally speaking, any protest or dissent by the blue-collars – or even by other white-collars – usually finds little interest and less sympathy amongst white-collar workers in general.

In fact, amongst white-collar workers, grievances, rights, claims, demands, etc., are usually articulated to and negotiated with the employer through this complex interweave of work and social relations, and often on a one-to-one basis – especially with demands and grievances relating to personal advancement, rather than to the profession as a whole. While rights and claims tend to be more generalised issues, which can be, and are, addressed by PAs, they are much less involved in negotiating the demands and grievances of individual workers than TUs. The exceptions are either when those demands and grievances are also of a general kind that affect all white-collar workers (of an organisation, but sometimes of an entire sector), and therefore require the intervention of the PA; or if the worker in question specifically calls for intervention and mediation by the PA. For the same reason, white-collar workers tend not to resort to strikes or agitations (unlike blue-collar unions), even when they operate in the collective form of the PA. Instead, they adopt tactics like conflict-resolution, or “peaceful/ non-violent demonstrations” (a phrase I will return to shortly), before escalating to mass casual leave, or other forms of protest like working to rule, before even considering ‘strike’ as a means to pressurise and then negotiate terms with their employers. An additional, perhaps equally important factor in this reluctance is the social pressure to “not behave like blue-collar workers”, by striking.

The Politics of ‘Collective Bargaining’

Clearly then, the objectives as well as methods of working of TUs and PAs are quite different. Nevertheless, despite these differences, they are both forms of collective bargaining, and I believe that as such, they are losing their efficacy in meeting their respective objectives. Meaning that ‘collective bargaining’ itself, as a form of political action, is gradually losing its transformative power, even its promise, for several reasons:

  • As the wealth inequality between the employer and the workers increases, the latter’s capacity to survive without wages during strikes, gradually decreases. At the same time, the former’s capacity to outlast the striking workers during the period of no work, increases.
  • Capitalism is constantly getting more complex – from agricultural to mercantile to industrial to finance to digital (and more) capitalisms. Combinations of some or all of these are often found co-existing in the same society, at the same time in the history of capitalisms, operating in different sectors of the same economy, but always articulating together. The more the varieties of capitalism, the more complex this articulation between them becomes. The capitalist can invest in, and source capital (and not just the financial kind) from, different sectors of the economy, further enhancing the lasting power of the capitalist-employer.
  • Increasing automation has started replacing workers in many industries, especially in the more highly industrialised countries, not only because it eliminates the employer’s labour-dependency; but often also because the production process itself can function with (and sometimes even requires) mechanical, rather than human (read ‘decision-making’), capability. While this maybe almost self-evident in the case of blue-collar work, it is true of many kinds of white-collar work as well, which are increasingly getting computerised.
  • With increasing embourgeoisement, the individual members (whether of TUs or PAs) gain more and more stakes in their own lives, and consequently, have more and more to lose, if the income that built that embourgeoisement ceases – i.e., if wages are deducted for periods of non-cooperation, non-production, strike. The social cohesion of these classes (white-collar in PAs and blue-collar in TUs) had earlier been based on the common sense of deprivation respective to each class; as these deprivations get ameliorated, the tendency to put individuals’ self-interest above the social affiliations between them, intensifies, and the body’s (whether TU or PA) unity and solidarity start disintegrating.
  • A significant contributor to this disintegration is the formation of cliques within the TU or PA, often based on formally acknowledged political-ideological affinities, and as often on informal affinities of caste, race, gender, sexuality, religion, region, language, etc. The apparent paradox here is that, despite the overtly evident presence of such extraneous considerations to the working of TUs and PAs, they continue to focus on local transformation, rather than involving in the transformation of the larger social collective – ‘Society’ at large. However, it is probably more accurate to state that the presence of such extraneous considerations is precisely to ensure that the concern of TUs and PAs remains local (a point I will elaborate shortly).
  • More specifically, lateral solidarities give way to vertically defined affinities. We had noted earlier the greater economic affinity between any given layer of the hierarchy and the one immediately above it allowing for greater social affinities to take shape. Here, we add that these are often in the form of an implicit (though sometimes explicit) patron-client relation; and that they increasingly take shape in such a way as to override lateral affinities – the higher we go up the hierarchy, the more it is so.
  • Whether this gradual weakening of lateral solidarities is the reason for the persistence and power of the doctrine of individualism; or the other way around – i.e., that the gradually increasing power of the doctrine of individualism led to the weakening of lateral solidarities – these are really two sides of the gradual decrease in value of the same capitalist coin, viz., ‘collective bargaining’.
  • As more and more workers are pushed by these factors into the unorganised sector, the nature and kind of employment they get often does not allow them to unionise in any sustainable way – so ‘collective bargaining’ itself increasingly cannot happen.
  • Most significantly, and fundamentally, if ‘collective bargaining’ is to be seen as a transformative power, then it is a profoundly flawed concept, theoretically and politically. Theoretically, the ‘collective’ is an exclusive one, i.e., it is constituted exclusively of the members of the union or association – which means ‘collective bargaining’ is not designed for the transformation of the larger collective of ‘Society’, but only for the transformation of (the circumstances of) the immediate collective of its members. Politically, ‘bargaining’ is a form of compromise, often with aspects of an auction to it; it is less about transformation than about preserving the status quo. Even when the collective wins its demands, as long as it remains in the position of the have-nots who have to ask the haves to give them something, in return for something, it remains locked in an unchanged and unchanging hierarchical dynamic. One could even argue that this persistent hierarchical dynamic feeds the formation of the vertical affiliations we had noted above, and aids the weakening of lateral ones.

These points together mean that ‘collective bargaining’, as a supposedly transformational political practice, is not only not transformative of society at large, but is also losing its ability to be transformative even in those sectors where it operates, whether in TUs or PAs. As such, the expectation we had noted at the beginning – that such bodies will function as checks on power, as forums for the articulation and practice of resistance to the abuse of power – is likely to remain an unfulfilled one.

A couple of reservations may be raised here: firstly, the arguments above seem to deny the validity, legitimacy and/or efficacy of building any form of solidarity outside of ‘class’, or the solidarity that comes from common economic interests. This may be perceived especially in the argument in Point (5) above, that informal affinities like caste, race, gender, religion, etc., actually hinder and interrupt the formation of more extensive solidarities. Such a reading, however, is possible only if we forget that we are discussing TUs and PAs, specifically, and the forms of affinity and solidarity that shape unity and integrity in them. The legitimacy of solidarities based on other factors besides ‘class’ is not in question. Rather, such situations call for the careful analysis and comprehension of how such factors can be woven into the building of more extensive solidarities, rather than hinder them. Admittedly, this may not always be possible, especially if the focus of the TU and/or the PA is only on local issues – hence the urgent need for them to be always attentive to the ways in which the larger body-politic impacts on, and is impacted by, their decisions and actions.

Secondly, there is some credibility to the perception that some kinds of lateral affinities and solidarities actually intensify as we go up the hierarchy, rather than weaken, as we have argued above. Thus for instance (it may be argued), the tendency of upper-caste men to close ranks against women (especially lower-caste) workers striving to break the glass ceiling. Here again, the objection is valid in a general sense – but not in the specific context of the discussion of TUs and PAs. In relation to the functioning and objectives of such organisations, such affinities tend to work vertically, and towards personal and individual benefit, rather than laterally, for the benefit of the caste, gender, race, etc., that forms the basis of the affinity laterally. At the same time, it must be clarified that these observations are not rules so much as predilections within an organisation; it is certainly possible that, in specific cases, these affinities can come into play horizontally as well, the higher up the hierarchy we go. But these are more exceptions that prove the rule (such as exist), than constitute the rule themselves.

This said, we need to re-examine, perhaps re-conceptualize, both these bodies. It must be noted that the fault is probably not so much in the bodies themselves, or in their formation. Rather, it lies in the method adopted by such bodies, whether TUs, or PAs. The dominance of the idea of ‘collective bargaining’ as the only legitimate way for TUs and PAs to place their demands, is closely related to the emphasis on being ‘peaceful/ non-violent’. It is clear from this that the tacitly and mutually accepted preconditions for the existence of TUs and PAs are (a) that they will confine themselves to the position of supplicants, or at worst, of have-nots who demand what they don’t have (and nothing more); and (b) that, however just their demands, their methods of demanding must remain non-violent. Through these tacit preconditions, the employer – whether person, company or institution – ensures that the employees remain feeling (and actually remain, relative to the employer) dispossessed. And of course, there is the additional benefit for the employer of knowing that the employees know that, whatever their grievance and however just their cause, they cannot resort to violence.

One reason for the persistence of the belief that only non-violent dissent or demands can be treated as legitimate ones, is the willing acceptance of this belief even amongst the dissenters and demanders themselves. And the reason for that, in turn, is the unshakeable, foundational belief of capitalism – viz., the sacrosanctity of private property. This is especially true of PAs, since they are almost always largely constituted of landed people; while the inverse is true of TUs – i.e., TUs are likely to have a large component of landless people. The strength of the belief in the sacrosanctity of private property is seen in the fact that, despite themselves being landless, the blue-collar workers of TUs rarely resort to militancy or violence, to express dissent, or press their demands. This belief is also integral to the formation of vertical affiliations: the promise of private property (interpreted as widely as possible) that such affiliations offer, is enough to overcome the possibilities of lesser but more equally distributed gains, that may be achieved for the entire collective, through lateral alliances and collective action.

The strength of this belief is also seen in the acceptance as a truism, if not as a fact, of the well-known Weberian dictum that the state is defined by its monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. Combine this with Karl Marx’s observation, made so long ago, that the legal system – indeed the entirety of the state (under capitalism) – is designed, in one sense, to protect, sustain and uphold (the belief in) the sacrosanctity of private property. It becomes clear then that this is the basis for a third part of that tacit understanding noted earlier: that even as employees are restrained from resorting to violence, the employer can legitimately do so – specifically, the employer can call on the state to use its repressive mechanisms – police, paramilitary, etc. – to control and contain, if not repress, even non-violent expressions of dissent or demands from the employees. This is especially the case if the employer claims – with or without reason – a threat to property. The converse – that employees can call on the state to control, contain or repress their employers through the state’s legal use of physical force – is almost unthinkable, let alone realisable, precisely because of the strength of this belief.

So What Then? Some Concluding Thoughts

For any TU or PA action to become genuinely successful in the transformation of the circumstances of its members, it must get involved in the transformation of the larger world. For this, these bodies must first get rid of, or overcome, the various factors that erode, and prevent the formation and sustenance of, lateral solidarities. However, factors like racial, caste, gender or religious affinities are deep-rooted, deeply resilient, and may not be rid off so easily. If these bodies are fragmenting into cliques internally, then the difficulty in ridding these is more – it is nearly impossible, even. Almost all political activity within these bodies is heavily determined by inter-clique rivalry and competition for leadership and control of the union as a whole. Attention to the main TU or PA issues – i.e., those requiring progressive transformation for the membership at large – is in turn determined by the dynamics of this rivalry. This is what we had noted earlier as the presence of extraneous forces, paradoxically, ensuring that the focus of the TU or PA will remain local, i.e., confined to the concerns of their membership. In this sense, as forces for transformation, TUs and PAs are ameliorative at best. Their institutional and logistical arrangements, both internally (organisational structure, membership and election protocols, administrative hierarchies, etc) and externally (in relation to other social institutions and the state), are evidently designed to contain and control any articulation of dissent or demand that may be made by these employees, than to facilitate their free articulation.

This is where the tacit preconditions for the existence of TUs and PAs become clearer. TUs and PAs, while appearing to be forums for the articulation of dissent and demands, are actually structurally designed to implicitly ratify and sustain the hierarchical dynamic of the employer-employee relation – what we had earlier referred to as the position of the non-violent supplicant. We had seen also how this in turn is related to belief in the sacrosanctity of private property. It is clear then that for these bodies to become more effectual, they must rid themselves of the belief in the sacrosanctity of private property, and instill in its place the belief in the desirability of commonly owned property. If the members of such bodies can shed the first belief and accept the second one, they can become a truly transformative force – a genuinely revolutionary force.

But I don’t have any reason to believe that this will happen anytime soon – certainly not in my lifetime. So what then? The alternative then must be to build non-institutional, inclusive movements, outside of TUs and PAs, that consistently and persistently link the concerns of these bodies to the larger political economy. By doing so, a beginning can be made towards building a political movement that includes the ranks of these PAs and TUs, but includes many more from outside. Its sole agenda must be to target that foundational myth – the sacrosanctity of private property – and undermine it, and communicate that undermining as widely as it can, even if it does not itself, as a movement, overtly attack actual ‘private properties’. Depending on how well and how widely the undermining of the myth is communicated and disseminated, such attacks may not even happen.

Prem Kumar Vijayan –Hindu College, University of Delhi


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