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Rethinking Radical Politics

Krishna Swamy Dara

By Ajay Gudavarthy
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 262, Rs. 695.00


Social movements and the politics surrounding them is a major concern for political science scholars all around the globe. While sociologists are largely concerned with giving accurate descriptions and providing explanations for the success or failure of social movements, political scientists go a bit further into debating the normative and strategic goals and motives of these movements. One of the important arenas for these socio-political movements is the realm of civil society that they attempt to capture. Political philosophers have over the last two centuries stressed the importance of civil society in order to bring about a desirable social change. This concept has increasingly come to prominence in recent years particularly in the writings of the liberal-Left as a realm that needs to be invigorated to strengthen democracy and to limit state power.   However, the radical Left tradition, particularly Antonio Gramsci, has shown us that civil society itself is deeply caught in power networks that largely limit the potential for this aspect of society to play a very positive role in limiting state power and articulating citizens’ grievances. The book under review, as the title suggests, is yet another critique of the concept and realm of civil society in India. The author attempts to go beyond the stale debates regarding the role of civil society and urges us to rethink radical politics that does not give the uncritical significance and hope that the liberal Left has given the sphere of civil society. He desires to write an obituary to the concept itself.   The author argues that scholars engaged with civil society debates are conceptually mistaken when they see the ambiguities that exist in civil society as open ended. Rather he urges us to see these ambiguities as constitutive of reproduction of power relations within and between society, state and the market. The civil rights movement in its zeal to oppose the state undermined the internal hierarchies with the assumption that they naturally will die out. This turned out to be a big failure and these hierarchies have only been reproduced in civil society. Political movements, he writes, ‘from representing and contesting aspects of civil society came to be the civil society’. This phenomenon the author calls ‘the logic of circularity’. He writes, ‘Civil society, wherein apparent movement towards more democratic practices and ideals, the power relations, instead of being displaced, in fact get reproduced and consolidated.’ Scholars dealing with the ...

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