How does the critique of modernity (as it is found in some of the alternative radical strains in the Enlightenment ranging from seventeenth century dissenters against the newly emerging orthodox elements of modernity to Gandhi in our own country's emerging modernity) square with the ideals of economic and social justice in the broad Leftist tradition owing chiefly to Marx? Pragoti presents a selection of articles from a seminar in Hyderabad in January 2009 on 'Radical Enlightenment and the Socialist Alternative'.
In the various strands of the Radical Enlightenment the principle theme is the question of the crisis: we have the crises of the sciences, of reason, of modernity, etc. But, of course, Murzban Jal points out that in these renderings there is no crisis of capitalism. So it follows for the alternative Enlightenment, since something is indeed rotten in the state of the Enlightenment, the subject of history cannot be a class subject. The theme of the crisis of the sciences is now expressed in the crisis of Marxism. The proletariat cannot be the subject of history. And yet there has to be the subject. The tragic hero of Romanticism comes marching in. What Romanticism wants is not the negation of capitalism, but negation of all reality. The Romantics cannot be the revolutionaries, but only the tragic heros, who like Goethe’s Faust, are dragged to hell. There they take residence like Adorno, waiting for the missing messiah to come.
Mihir Bhattacharya traces the evolution of the Bengali Enlightenment, and the particular shift in the politics of West Bengal from anti-colonialism to Congressism to leftism. He argues that the common idea that ‘formal’ institutions and elite formations alone have thought-out programmes and that people’s thinking and people’s voices are unpremeditated should be dismissed with contempt. Good or bad, useful or futile, progressive or reactionary, people’s collective action invariably proceeds from felt needs of livelihood, freedom and dignity. In this perspective, the doctrine of ‘One Party One Programme’ (often reduced to ‘One Party One Leader’ in the history of left-wing movements) seems dangerous and the vanguard party’s role as the sole depository of revolutionary knowledge looks untenable.
Akeel Bilgrami defends the idea, often dismissed by the high minded liberal orthodoxies, that the deeply conservative religiosity in the heartland of this country may be, in its way, an honourable expression of something very deep which is reacting to something very deep and longstanding described –too summarily and crudely- with terms such as ‘disenchantment’ and ‘instrumental rationality’. The issues of alienation in contemporary democratic politics, indicates the historical depth that is needed to understand the theoretical issues at stake and the analytical clarity we need to protect ourselves from the growing and undemocratic contempt we have ourselves come to feel towards the ordinary people who react to a phenomenon of such historical depth with the only resources that are available to them.