The Tribune - Spectrum


, September 29, 2002

Punjabi literature
Information-based capitalism more socialistic
Jaspal Singh

NUMERICALLY Punjabi is the 13th largest language of the world and it can safely boast of the best writer-reader ratio. Every month scores of Punjabi books appear on bookstalls, though most of them rot in godowns for want of buyers.

Polemical writing is almost non-existent in Punjabi. However, recently Pritam Singh, a retired IAS officer and a well-known student of Punjabi political economy, came out with a highly polemical book, Vaad-Samvaad (Lokgeet Parkashan, Chandigarh). The topics selected by him are Marxvad di Bhaanj (defeat of Marxism), Adhunikata da Sankalp (concept of modernity) Punjab Sahit ate Pargativad - Vihwin Sadi da antala Parha, Samaj ate Sahit — Ikiwin Sadi wich Rup Rekha (Literature and society-an outline in the 21st century), Parvasi Punjabi Sahit (Immigrant Punjabi literature) and so on. There are a few contemporary writers like Harbhajan Halwarvi, (late) N.K. Joshi, Amerjit Chandan, and Harbhajan Hundal who also participate in this debate.

Pritam Singh holds that Marxist ideas had some relevance before the advent of the Information Age, which now has a total sweep over the entire world, sucking all societies into a globalised economic order. The Marxian concept that the capitalist mode of production leads to concentration of wealth by pauperising the proletariat has not stood the test of time. Marx also predicted that with the passage of time the proletariat would be forced to make a revolution to take over the state power so that the capitalist mode of production is done away with. Marxism, according to the author, failed at the economic front, which led to the disintegration of the Socialist Bloc, causing extreme gloom and frustration in the progressive circles.


In the Information Era the production forces have received an unimaginable quantum jump, producing heaps of wealth that is more evenly distributed among individuals engaged in the production process. Therefore, modern information-based capitalism, according to Pritam Singh, is more socialistic than the oligarchic socialism of the Soviet brand. Such arguments have been put forth by the author to debunk all kinds of progressive strains.

No doubt, Pritam Singh gives a good expose of modernism and problems of the progressive movement in literature, but his ideas about cybernetic capitalism and its global fallout are not tenable when we consider the neo-colonial ravages caused by the present-day market forces.

The second half of the 20th century is known by the rivalry of two superpowers. But the advent of the 21st century has spawned two blocs of a different kind — the powerful and the powerless. The Information Revolution has caused huge concentration of wealth in a dozen or so countries of the world. Pritam Singh himself maintains that one single individual Bill Gates of the Microsoft owns billions of dollars, which is more than the GDP of many nations in the Third World. In fact, now the working class is not the proletariat of the world, it is the scores and scores of pauperised nations.

Pritam Singh’s assumption that Marxism has become irrelevant since it has failed to remove poverty is based on a facile understanding of Marxist ideas. Poverty has never been a point of departure for Karl Marx. Since he was basically a philosopher in the Hegelian tradition, his inquiry starts with dehumanisation of man in the capitalist system. He maintains that people have remained poor in all preceding ages, but they were never as dehumanised and alienated as they are in the present system. Not only the workers are dehumanised because of poverty, the capitalist is also dehumanised because of the brute behaviour of capital, which is usually devoid of any human attributes whatsoever.

The "species essence" of man can be realised only in a just global order. Information or capital, whatever generates wealth, unless it is utilised for the well being of mankind, it is not a human institution. Both information and capital in the present system are behaving in a more brutal way than they ever did in the past, thus lumpenising millions of people in the world.

Pritam Singh holds that intellectual property today is the greatest source of wealth, but one may ask in which direction does it flow and who is getting rich at whose cost? I hope the author will take his look off his fetish, that is, cybernetic heaps of wealth, and review the plight of the "proletarianised" nations of the world that now have landed in a blind alley waiting to be rescued by the "frowning knights" of the world.