18 December 2015

Marxism and Maskism, Marxists and Maskists, and unbecoming skins

Is it preordained, is it sacred or tragic, that moment when your mask replaces you forever?’

Some posters have a way of standing out and not just because of colour or absence of interfering competition.  I saw one today.  The line was so powerful that even though it is a free ad for whoever put it up, I shall talk about it. 

It was in Sinhala. ‘Maskvaadaya venuwata marxvaadaya’ (Marxism instead of Maskism) was the slogan trying to persuade people to purchase a new bi-monthly magazine called ‘Aurora’.  The line is catchy, the play on words cute and it is a say-all capture. Good stuff.  Got me thinking. 

The implication is that Marxism is somehow ‘real’ whereas other doctrines are not what they make themselves out to be, ‘other’ including other versions of Marxism (since there are more than one), I would imagine.  Good to be assertive in the matter of marketing.  Kudos. 

I would imagine that those involved in this Aurora believe that everyone apart from themselves are engaged in a deliberate or else unwitting process of hoodwinking follower and self both.  Well, I am sure some of these ‘others’ would say the same of others as well, Marxists and non-Marxists and of course those who wish to re-launch the good ship Aurora.  The fact is that masks are conveniences. They are frames of reference that are seen to be more useful than others, more amenable to convincing people than other masks, also available for wear. 

The truth is that the most dominant doctrine from the beginning of time has been Maskvaadaya or Maskism, i.e. doctrine pertaining to the use of masks.  We are a species that has used masks to disguise ourselves, mislead and confuse people, hide blemish, dodge the need to apologize or justify, lie, erase and in the final instance open ourselves to the ultimate slippage, that of tripping over our make-up and losing identity. 

What was most interesting about the line was the arrogance and the self-delusion of assuming that Marxism (ok, the particular variety that the Aurorists subscribe to) is not a mask, that it rebels against Masks, Maskism and Maskists.  It made me think of Marxism and Marxists as such have existed in this island and elsewhere. The biggest error was to think that Marxism was an ‘other’ of Capitalism, which is of course nothing more than a half-truth in terms of desired telos, paradigm of development, species-primacy and economic determinism.  It was just another version of that which was called the dominant ideology of the time.

Marxism was a mask that a lot of people wore, some conscious of what it hid and some quite ignorant about it all.  It allowed people to indulge in the fiction that they were somehow being anti-West (and all that this term connotes) while engage in a fairly old element of the colonial enterprise; bashing things ‘native’ especially culture.  There was a facelessness advocated by Marxists (only ‘class’ being exempt) which naturally inflicted the greatest violence upon majorities, i.e. Sinhalese and Buddhists in Sri Lanka.  It allowed them, at the same time, to champion minority issues, even to the point of legitimating myth and legend and vilifying any assertion of culture or history by the Sinhalese and/or Buddhists as being chauvinistic and/or fundamentalist.  When you call for culture to be taken out of the equation while exempting minority identity and identity politics, you are essentially declaring war on the Sinhalese and Buddhists. 

Marxists played on social inequalities and citizenship anomalies that cut across community-identity and persuaded many to wear its apparently emancipatory mask. For a while.  The personal political trajectories of the most ardent Marxists and the identities that they sought to suppress by the Marxist mask show a decided political project that had nothing to do with class or capitalism, nothing to do with resolving anomalies pertaining to production relations.  That was a Maskism that was quite effective.

It shows that we sometimes wear masks believing they are our own skin or the skin we would like to live in.  It is good to be aware of skins and masks, I think.  It is good to consider the proposition that Marxism is a Maskism and a far more pernicious one than most Maskisms around, especially as it arrived not as detractor but as saviour.  That’s a line from Umberto Eco’s lovely novel, ‘The Name of the Rose’; that the devil arrives in the garb of the emancipator.  Louis Althusser said that ideology resides within.  It is something that we learnt from the Buddha’s life; where Maara launches his final battle with the ascetic Siddhartha by appearing in the image of the ascetic. 

There are masks and masks, Marxists and Maskists, Marxisms and Maskisms.  A bit of self-reflection and the occasional rubbing of skin to see if you are still wearing the one you came with or at least one which you really want to wear and not something someone else has convinced you becomes you more would not harm in these days of masks and maskings. 

Anyway, good luck to the Aurorists, even though they’ve garbed themselves in the anecdotal skins of another people who themselves were duped to wear masks that had little to do with who they were.  

This was first published on December 14, 2010 in the Daily News.