Sunday, October 31, 2010


29 October 2010

Paper Presented by Prakash Karat on “Victor Kiernan and the Left in India” at the Conference in Honour of Victor Kiernan, Cambridge University October 22, 2010

Victor Kiernan lived in India from 1938 to 1946. It may be true as Eric Hobsbawm has said that “Unexpectedly India drew him away for several years from the major themes on which his reputation will probably rest”.

But his long stay in India was fortunate for us in the Indian subcontinent. Without his being there, there would not have been the first translations of Iqbal and Faiz Ahmad Faiz into English, nor would we have got his essays on “Marx on India” and his perceptive writings on the relationship between British imperialism and its foremost colony.

The seven years that Kiernan spent in India was the entire period of the Second World War, it saw the rise of the nationalist movement to its peak and it was the period when the fledgling Communist Party struck roots in some parts of the country. Within a year of Kiernan’s departure, India became independent and Pakistan was formed.

The late 1930s and the early 40s were significant for the Communist movement in India. Though the Party was founded in 1920 in Tashkent, it actually began functioning in 1934-35 after the release of the Meerut detenue.

Kiernan reached India four years after the Party headquarters began working from Bombay. He struck up a friendship with P.C. Joshi, the General Secretary of the Party.

In that period, just as in the subsequent two decades, the Communists and Left in India struggled to comprehend certain core issues theoretically. Among these issues were:

· the nature of the Indian bourgeoisie;
· its relationship with regard to imperialism (of collusion and collision);
· its relationship with landlordism; and
· the nature of the participation of the Party in a parliamentary democratic set-up and the structure of the Party.

Victor Kiernan had the opportunity to consider and analyse some of these issues given his position as the friend of the Party and also a member of the CPGB.

Kiernan was critical of the Party’s initial stand on the war which it had characterized as an imperialist war and had came out in total opposition to it. The Party was illegalized in 1939. Kiernan felt that the Party leadership had failed to anticipate the looming war against the Soviet Union and the danger posed by fascism.

Later, he was also critical of the stand that the Party took from November 1941 of going to the other extreme and declaring support for the war effort after characterizing the war as a People’s War.

It was a correct decision to come out in solidarity with the worldwide struggle against Nazism and Japanese militarism. The Party while disassociating itself from the 1942 Quit India movement called for the release of the Congress leadership and the formation of a government for national unity. But the Party erred in standing against the 1942 movement. It failed to integrate the international contradiction, i.e. the fight against fascism, with the national contradiction, i.e. the fight for national independence.

The understanding about the Indian bourgeoisie at various periods determined the attitude and the strategy and tactics pursued by the Party towards the Congress party and the national movement led by it.
Marxists at that time, Kiernan included, did not think much of the Indian bourgeoisie. The prevailing view was that in the sea of pre-capitalist relations and feudalism, the hot house growth of a fledgling capitalist class under colonialism did not auger well for a healthy and rapid growth of capitalism.

Kiernan was of the view that “Marx underestimated the invisible barriers, the dead weight of the past, and gave too much credit to capitalism as an irresistible transforming force: in reality, it and after it socialism, has been profoundly affected by local backgrounds.” (Imperialism and its Contradictions, page 62)

Kiernan also cited Nehru, who said soon after independence, that “Indian capitalists were proving `totally inadequate’, they have no vision, no grit, no capacity to do anything big.” Kiernan comments wryly “After another thirty years one of India’s foremost industries is still astrology”

Capitalism in India has proved surprisingly resilient and is rapidly proliferating. The bane of the Indian Left has been the trend to underestimate this class and write it off as no consequence. The varieties of the ultra-Left in India including the current crop of Maoists are symptomatic of this trend.

The other school of thought has actually looked up to the bourgeoisie. There was a Left nationalist trend within the Communist Party before independence. Some of the friends of Victor Kiernan (and some of them were from Cambridge) represented this trend within the Party. They saw the national bourgeoisie and the national movement powered by it as a progressive phenomenon. After independence, when this bourgeoisie began to wield State power, a section of the Left allowed itself to get co-opted and forged an alliance with the “progressive national bourgeoisie”, something that was promoted by the erstwhile Soviet Communist Party.

It took four decades for the Communist Party to recognize the dual character of the Indian bourgeoisie which had its inbuilt conflicts and collusion with imperialist finance capital. The Indian capitalist class has grown enormously under the neo-liberal dispensation. Its potential, which was always under-rated, is being seen in full flow. But as Victor Kiernan pointed out, this is a capitalism which has been profoundly affected by “local background”.

Kiernan had commented in his book “Imperialism and its Contradictions” about the progress of capitalism in India. He had said, “In addition, there have been remarkable increases in both agricultural and industrial production. India has not fundamentally broken with its own social order, however, and still faces problems seemingly insoluble within the existing framework.” (Page 134)

There is a need to study the capitalist class in India. A Marxian analysis of the Indian bourgeoisie needs to be comprehensive and updated. I hope some of the scholars present here today and others would undertake such studies.

This brings us to how both in theory and practice, class structure in India is influenced by and integrated with structures of hierarchy, discrimination and oppression that are particular to Indian society reflected for instance, in caste, tribe and gender oppression and in the exclusion of whole geographical regions from freedom and development.

The bulk of the support for the Communist Party even today comes from the movement areas (or outcrops of movement areas) where mainly in the 1941 to 1948 period the Communists succeeded in bringing together and leading the two main historical currents of people’s struggles. The struggle against the colonial power and the struggle of the rural masses for freedom from exploitation. Thus where the Communists brought the anti-imperialist and anti-landlord movements together and gave leadership to this united struggle, they gained mass support. Tebhaga (Bengal), North Malabar (Kerala), tribal struggle (Tripura) and the Telangana struggle were such instances.

Kiernan was a friend and supporter of the Communist Party. But he did not refrain from critical analysis and noting the weaknesses prevalent at that time. Being a frequent visitor to the Party headquarter in Bombay, Kiernan bemoaned the lack of interest in theory among the leaders and cadres of the Party. They all were business-like and practical. Kiernan noted that this was probably a reaction to the endless, aimless philosophical discussions and political gossip indulged in by coffee house going intellectuals.

Kiernan notes that, “In eight years, I never once heard any point of theory seriously discussed”. While this may have been partially true with regard to the atmosphere in the Party headquarters, there were shoots of theory and practice springing up where the Party was engaged in organizing the workers and peasants. In Kerala, for instance, EMS Namboodiripad had already written his seminal piece on the Nationality Question in Kerala and applied the method of historical materialism to the development of Kerala society. However, there is a deficiency considering the fact that the Communist movement in India is one of the few places where it has a mass base and millions of adherents. The Communists are leading governments in three states which has a combined population of around 120 million people. The Communists have gained valuable experience working in a parliamentary system. They have sought to theorise this experience and set out a perspective of working in a multi-party system under socialism.

Later, Kiernan himself wrote to me to say that he was probably in retrospect too harsh on the Communist Party of those times. He admired the dedication and the sacrifices made by the Communist leaders and cadres of that generation. The 1940s was the period when the Communists worked among the people, organized struggles and made immense sacrifices. Many of them spent years in jail including the British Communist Ben Bradley (whose name was mentioned in the earlier session) who was imprisoned alongwith other Communist leaders in the Meerut conspiracy case.


The Communists are continuing the struggle for land reforms which is essential for the elimination of rural poverty. In this sense, the Communists are pursuing the agenda of the 1940s when the struggle for land was taken up. The removal of exploitative land relations requires not just the fight against landlordism but the caste, social and gender oppression embedded in the system.

The neo-liberal capitalism has intensified exploitation and resulted in sharp inequalities. According to the latest report in Forbes magazine, there are 69 billionaires in dollar terms in 2010 in India compared to 52 in 2009. This is one-third more. The rate of growth of billionaires is increasing. There are some forms of primitive accumulation of capital going on. The Left is fighting against the neo-liberal economic policies and is advocating alternative policies.

The Left is striving to unite people by countering communal politics and identity politics based on caste.

The advent of neo-liberal policies were accompanied by a shift in India’s foreign policy. The ruling classes in India have forged a strategic alliance with the United States of America. This has its impact on domestic policies too. As against this growing dependence on America, the Left parties are working for a independent foreign policy which will truly serve the interests of the country.

I had brought out a volume of the writings of Victor Kiernan on India on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Next year, we in the sub-continent in India and Pakistan are going to observe the birth centenary of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, one of the greatest poets of the sub-continent in the 20th century. On this occasion, we should be able to bring out Kiernan’s translation of the poems of Faiz which is not in print today. There are also his articles and interviews about Faiz which should all be compiled. This will be a way to bring the work of Victor Kiernan, a genuine friend of India, to a new generation in the sub-continent.



THE Maoist leadership has claimed that it had nothing to do with the Jnaneshwari Express accident that killed 150 persons. Let us take their word for it. But this also means that those who caused the sabotage, while nominally belonging to the ranks of the Maoists, were acting on their own. Nobody commits such a heinous crime against innocent people, unless the person is psychologically distanced from the victims, ie, unless the victims are perceived as belonging to “the other”, an amorphous mass against whom one is supposedly antagonistically arrayed. And it was not one or two individuals who were involved in the crime, but a whole organised group. We are in short in the presence of “identity politics” of the most violent kind. Underneath the veneer of “Maoism” we are witnessing a particularly vicious form of “identity politics.”

This is not necessarily to suggest that the Maoist leadership, in a conscious fashion, is merely promoting “identity politics”. As Marxists we must be totally opposed to the perspective of the Maoists, who, if ever successful, will, in a conscious fashion, foist upon this country a one-Party dictatorship that is the very anti-thesis of socialism (no matter how unavoidable it might have been in history) and that, in the Indian society in particular, which apotheosizes inequality, negates the only revolutionary gain the people have ever achieved, viz. one-person-one-vote; but let us deliberately refrain from accusing the Maoist leadership of conceptually privileging identity over class politics. Nor should identity politics of all hues be anathema for us. For super-oppressed groups like the tribal population, not taking cognizance of “identity” makes a mockery of all politics. All class politics must also reckon with their “identity”.

But while class politics can have room for reckoning with “identity”, there is no route from identity politics to class politics. The idea “let us start organising the tribal people and then we shall move on to organising workers and peasants” can never work. At that point of transition, if not much earlier, there will be an inevitable rupture between the militant advocates of identity politics and those who wish to merge it into class politics. In the case of the Maoists, the sabotage of Jnaneshwari Express is a portent of this rupture.

Some may question the fundamental distinction that we have drawn between “class politics” and “identity politics”. They would argue that since “class” too is a form of “identity” (we talk after all of “class identity”), there is no distinction between “class politics” and “identity politics”, that class politics only holds one particular form of identity, viz. “class identity”, to be more important than other identities, but does not entail any qualitative difference in the form of politics that is followed.

This position however is wrong. “Class politics” holds one form of particular “identity” more important than others for a very specific reason, namely that the entire ensemble of institutions underlying class society, in the present case capitalism, gives it a direction of movement which reproduces the underlying class relations , that class is not just one particular way, among a host of possible ways, of classifying or categorising the population; it is part of an understanding of systemic dynamics in a way that no other categorisation by identity is. Class in short stands apart from all other identities.

This is also why “class identity” is over-riding: since class relations are spontaneously, ie, in a self-propelled manner, reproduced through this dynamics, since the class society has immanent tendencies that produce wealth at pole and destitution at the other, a necessary condition for liberation for anyone who is part of class society, no matter what other identity that person has, is liberation from class exploitation, through a change in the institutional structure that underlies it.


It follows then that class politics is concerned with a change in institutions. While identity politics holds that “exploitation” of one social group by another can be overcome by changing their relative power, and hence talks exclusively of “us-versus-them”, with the aim of making “us” more powerful compared to “them” (or making “us” acquire the power that “they” have), as the solution to “exploitation”, “class politics” aims to bring about a fundamental change in institutions, especially those institutions which are summarised under the term “relations of production”.

The enemy according to class politics is not a particular group of persons (though in the concrete conditions of struggle a particular group of persons is invariably targeted, as in a war), but a set of relations of production. The distinction between power or force as the source of “exploitation”, whence follows identity politics, and the underlying relations of production as the source of “exploitation”, whence follows class politics, was made by Friedrich Engels in Anti-Duhring. This distinction is crucial, and it follows from this distinction that class politics alone can be system-transcending in a manner that identity politics can never be.

It also follows that class politics can be inclusive precisely because it does not see the conflict in terms of one social group versus another, while identity politics is exclusionary because it believes the opposite. This is the reason why a transition from identity politics to class politics is not possible, without identity politics obliterating itself; and while some practitioners of identity politics may wish to make such a transition, others will oppose it with an even more virulent and exclusionary assertion of identity politics, outflanking them through their apparently greater militancy that makes an even stronger appeal to the group’s identity.

The objective of class politics, which aims to be system-transcending, is to polarise society at each moment of time into two camps: “the camp of the people” and the “camp of the enemies of the people” (to use Mao Zedong’s words), with the latter kept as small as possible through political praxis. Class politics therefore is necessarily about forming united fronts, about uniting as many people as possible at any given moment in the “camp of the people”. But identity politics is by nature not system-transcending: it is either reformist (to get more benefits for the identified group), or secessionist (often the case with oppressed groups), or in extreme cases downright fascist (demanding ethnic cleansing). For it to merge into class politics, as we have seen, it must negate itself as identity politics, and while some may be willing to do so, others in the movement will not be. This inevitably leads to ruptures and attempts to garner mass support (within the identified group) through acts of even greater mindless militancy. The recent happenings within the Gorkha movement are instructive in this respect.


This exclusionary nature of identity politics makes most such movements unthreatening from the point of view of imperialism (except of course those directly aimed against imperialism itself, and even in their case it is more a nuisance, even a serious nuisance, than a real threat). Indeed in India recently the central government has made extremely skilful use of political formations based on identity politics to push its neo-liberal agenda.

But the precise course of development of movements based on identity politics does not concern us here. The basic point is that while class politics can and must reckon with certain forms of identity, class politics cannot be approached via identity. (A possible exception is where the two more or less coincide, ie, the classes that must constitute the “camp of the people” have the same identity; but this, which is relevant in the context of national liberation struggles for instance, is not germane here). The fact that let alone moving from one to the other, even the mixing of the two can be problematical is underscored by the experience of the Marxist Co-ordination Committee of AK Roy which had combined for a while with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha; the combination came apart and the subsequent history of the JMM is all too well-known.

Hence even leaving aside questions of whether the Maoist vision of the future society is a desirable one or not (in my view not), and whether even if it were desirable it could be achieved through the mode of struggle adopted by them, which glorifies armed struggle and abjures all forms of political activity possible within the Indian polity, there remains a basic problem: the impossibility of moving to class politics from identity politics.

It may of course be argued that the Maoists never had a choice in the matter. Driven out of Andhra Pradesh they had to regroup wherever they could. The tribal belt of Central India is where they could seek refuge; they had therefore to adjust to its ethos, which pushed them into a tribal identity politics.

But this argument is both irrelevant and erroneous. It is irrelevant because what is under discussion is their present predicament and not how they got to it; and if their predicament is seen as the outcome of the logic of their praxis, then that praxis has to be critiqued from the perspective of this predicament. Above all however this argument is erroneous, because there is always a choice, and a rectification in praxis can always be made.

When the Indian armed forces had marched into the erstwhile Hyderabad state to put an end to the Nizam’s rule, against which the Telengana peasant uprising was being conducted by the Communists, the undivided Communist Party of India could have continued its armed struggle on the basis of the support of the Koya tribesmen. The choice before it was either to call off the struggle and bargain with the government for a defence of the gains of the people from the struggle, or to continue the struggle on the basis of reduced support, confined only to the tribesmen. It chose the former course. One can only be grateful for that choice, for otherwise the most significant national force that exists in India today in defence of democracy, secularism, and modernity and the only consistent bulwark against neo-liberalism and “strategic alliance” with imperialism, would have been absent from the scene, busy chasing a will-o’-the-wisp in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh.

This choice is open to the Maoists today. If they persist in the present praxis their predicament will only worsen. Confronting the Indian State on the basis of the meager social support of the tribal population is bad enough (no matter how much of an advantage the terrain provides); but the fact that this meager social support can not be widened (for that involves the impossible task of moving from identity to class politics), and can only dwindle over time (because of the logic of identity politics which keeps throwing up ever more self-proclaimed “militant” representatives of the identity-group), makes it a tragic denouement. Will the Maoists show the wisdom that the undivided Communist Party had shown at the beginning of the fifties?

Vol. XXXIV, No. 44, October 31, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010


26 October 2010

Prakash Karat, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the following statement:


There have been certain reports of my speech at the Memorial Conference for Victor Kiernan in Cambridge that are inaccurate in parts and misleading. Some agencies have attributed to me that I stated that we committed “a historical blunder” in not recognising the role played by caste in politics and society. It is also alleged that I said that Communists are “stuck in the forties” as far as their theory and practice is concerned.

I wish to make it clear that these remarks attributed to me are neither correct nor accurate. As far as caste is concerned what I said is as follows: “We should understand both in theory and practice how class structure in India is influenced by and integrated with structures of hierarchy, discrimination and oppression that are particular to Indian society reflected for instance in caste system.” Stating that Communists recognise the role of caste in the socio-economic formations in India is far from saying what has been attributed to me.

Secondly, contrary to saying that Communists are stuck in the forties, what I pointed out was and I quote from my written notes:

“The bulk of the support for the Communist Parety even today comes from the movement areas and outlying region, where mainly in the 1941 to 1948 period the Communists succeeded in bringing together and leading the two main historical currents of people’s struggles -- the struggle against the colonial power and the struggle of the rural masses for freedom from exploitation. Thus where the Communists brought the anti-imperialist and anti-landlord movements together and gave leadership to this united struggle, they gained mass support. Tebhaga (Bengal), North Malabar (Kerala), the tribal struggle (Tripura) the Telengana struggle are some instances.”

I had concluded by saying that the agenda of the forties such as land reforms and struggle for land is still being pursued by the Communists.


Friday, October 22, 2010

BENGAL NEWSLETTER: Maoists' Kill Poor Kisan in Purulia - B Prasant

ON the inglorious run from extending tracks of the lal maati (red clay) area, the ‘Maoists’ have of late been concentrating in and around Purulia, focussing their general kill-and-terrorise tactics on poor farmers and landless labourers. The latest and hapless victim of such assaults is 45-year-old kisan, Santosh Majhi, whose primary ‘crime’ in the eyes of the murderers was that he had chosen to remain from his teenage years a staunch supporter of the CPI (M).

Perhaps his other ‘fault’ was that he had not flinched and run away from the Party ranks even when he was forced to bear witness, trembling with rage not fear, the butchering of his first cousin and CPI (M) worker of the Bersa branch of the Party two weeks ago। The criminals who take the name of the pioneer of the Chinese revolution but in inglorious vain, raided the village Bersa. They robbed the poor of whatever they possessed, molested the women, and left riddled with bullets comrade Haradhan Majhi who had led the villagers in a mode of resistance as a member of the Gendua local committee of the CPI (M). That had not shaken comrade Santosh.

Perhaps the final ‘offence’ committed by comrade Santosh had been that he would throw to the autumn winds the ‘notice’ served by the ‘Maoist’ vandals that he must immediately make a public declaration that he was disassociating himself from his beloved CPI (M). What followed had the hallmarks of ‘Maoist’ cruelty. It was a tragedy of sad proportions.

Comrade Santosh had toiled in the sun throughout the day of October 15, flattening the soft loamy soil that lie just beneath the literate layer, and had then watered the small strip of land that his family tilled. He then proceeds for a well-earned cool dip in a nearby water body at the lonely edge of the village. Death followed him there. Guided by the Trinamuli agents, a quartet of heavily armed ‘Maoist’ killers approached the pond, and shot the comrade several times.

Bravely, comrade Santosh thrashed his way to the edge of the pool from where the killers and their touts had by then fled, and clutched at weeds to pull himself up and over the edge, the water turned crimson behind him, and the villagers who rushed out at the rattling noise made by the automatic rifles, found comrade Santosh lying in a pool of blood, martyr's blood that has not been spilt in vain, the enemy should know.

Elsewhere, Biman Basu, addressing a meeting in Kolkata, underlined the importance of exposing the game-plan of the Trinamulis and their runners in the sectarian left and the reactionary right to disrupt the peace and tranquillity that had become a hallmark of the state with the Left Front pro-people governance. These attempts, the CPI (M) Polit Bureau member declared, were nothing but an attack on democratic norms. These must be resisted by the people with the CPI (M) playing a vanguard rôle.

He also noted the repeated failures of leadership and organisation in the running of one of the largest Railway networks in the world, i.e. Indian Railways. To all appearances, the railway minister was confined to the narrow sectarian outlook that covered the eastern and south-eastern divisions of the railways network. Even here, in eastern and south-eastern railways, there was constant mismanagement and increasing, as witnessed by the repeated failures of even the metro railway in Kolkata. Keeping the stiff accusing finger pointed at the CPI(M) for whatever happened in the running of railways in India would not divert the attention of the knowledgeable public about the crux of the matter – a colossal and crass failure at the top of the ministry. Other CPI(M) leaders who addressed the rally were Rabin Deb and Mohd Nizamuddin.

Vol. XXXIV, No. 43, October 24, 2010



Thursday, October 21, 2010