ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Towards a Revival of Revolutionary Ideas

Scripting the Change: Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy edited by Anand Teltumbde and Shoma Sen, foreword by Arundhati Roy (Delhi: Daanish Books), 2011; xxiv + 456, Rs 350.

Towards a Revival of Revolutionary Ideas

Hiren Gohain

t is a daunting undertaking for a reader with negligible personal experience of class struggle at the grassroots level to review the selected writings of a dedicated communist leader who not only commented thoughtfully and incisively on theoretical issues crucial for Marxists in India, but also accomplished such feats as organising fi ve thousand construction workers of Khaparkheda thermal power plant near Nagpur and leading them in a strike that lasted three months in the face of the clout of giant construction companies and brutal police repression. This selection includes not only discussions at length of specifi c features of Indian society that complicate class struggle and attempts by Indian Marxists to address them, but also concrete and insightful analyses of various struggles and incidents of class conflicts. The task is a privilege and heavy responsibility.

One however wishes that the editors had read the proofs of the last 50 pages or so more carefully and corrected such obvious slips of the pen as “James Stewart Mill” (p 157) that trip up the reader. Otherwise it is a selection that shows the wide variety of the author’s interests and experience.

Agreement and Disagreement

Let me however at the outset indicate certain basic points of agreement and disagreement with Ghandy’s approach to the issues discussed. First, I agree entirely with the author of these essays that parliamentary politics has been of little help of lasting worth in addressing the basic problems of the working masses of the country, and there is a very great danger of fascist mobilisation out of disillusionment. Hence the urgent need for alternative non-utopian strategies that do not lead to momentary palliatives or slow demoralisation. That itself demands a trenchant critique of earlier theories of Indian society and state that have failed

review article

Scripting the Change: Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy edited by Anand Teltumbde and Shoma Sen, foreword by Arundhati Roy

(Delhi: Daanish Books), 2011; xxiv + 456, Rs 350.

to yield an appropriate line for the struggle of the oppressed and resisting masses.

But while I am impressed by the consistency and clarity of Ghandy’s stand that at this moment all such struggles are potentially part of a broad revolutionary movement to establish radical democracy in the country, I cannot believe that militancy can or need be maintained at its peak in all the phases of the struggle. Neither can the term “revolutionary” serve as a maid of all work in contexts that actually require more patient enquiry and innovative thought.

At the peril of being dubbed a counterrevolutionary I also find it diffi cult to believe that except in a very broad sense the “line” laid down by Mao Zedong more than 80 years ago out of his study of Chinese (and global) political and s ocial conditions can apply to presentday India where things have developed far beyond rudimentary comprador capitalism, where feudalism has been able to adjust to capitalist penetration and formal democracy with greater ease under state patronage, where there could not be any question of powerful warlords defying the central government and ruling over vast stretches of the country for decades. The repressive machinery representing the interests of imperialists, comprador capitalists and feudal elements having acquired wider reach and greater technological clout, the electronic media busy corrupting the minds of the people with non-stop dissemination of all kinds of crap and confusing them, most non-governmental organisations standing guard over those interests, election-time over decades turning into seasons of freebies and casual employment, the revolution is not only going to be a long haul, but will defi nitely require accomplishment of much harder and more complex tasks.

It is a pity that a close and perceptive review of Naxalbari finds no place in this selection. While Naxalbari certainly made a decisive break with explicit or implicit collaboration with bourgeois parliamentary politics, looking back one could hardly claim for it a path-breaking role like Lenin’s April Theses and Mao’s Hunan Report in their respective contexts. For enlightenment I had ventured into the hot-house-like atmosphere of the debate among Naxalites on Charu Majumdar’s legacy, with claims and counter-claims based solely on quotations without any objective assessment of historical contexts, and had come out exhausted but not a whit wiser.

Neither, I regret to say, can I share the author’s unqualified enthusiasm for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution under Mao’s leadership. Here and there, to be sure, there had been mature application of its basic ideas, releasing creative energies of the working people for productive innovations and social reforms. But as it snowballed, it turned into a vast, regimented, highly emotive ritual which aroused destructive mass hysteria among young people, which, in turn, provoked an equally massive reaction, with ultimately devastating results for the working masses. It is futile to insist that the reaction had been the handiwork of a mere handful of super-subtle conspirators. The parrot-like drill is highlighted by the fact that in a country of hundreds of millions, only 13 operas were allowed to be performed as “safe” for the people! Centuries-old feudal mental habits of the entire society were sought to be wiped out overnight by insults and injuries heaped on reputed elderly academics and writers by hordes of hysterical

Economic & Political Weekly

may 5, 2012 vol xlvii no 18


Red Guards. There was an outright d enial of the course of history and the dialectical nature of progress, and of the need for critical assimilation of tradition. (Needless to add, both positive and negative lessons ought to be drawn from this great upheaval by left historians.)

This is not to minimise the compelling power and significance of this collection of essays. A positive and inspiring feature of these essays is that unlike the dry, scholastic and jargonised prose so common in Indian leftist tracts and writings, Anuradha Ghandy’s Scripting the Change is a book where for the most part sustained rigour of logic is animated by passionate commitment and theoretical disputes are relieved of their sense of barrenness by a vision of radical authentic democracy.

It is now more than evident that the Marxism as propounded by the founders and their eminent successors could hardly have foreseen the specifi c forms that concentration of capital and their political regimes have assumed today, though the general trajectory was predicted correctly. The unexpected novelties and qualitative changes that have occurred in the environment of different countries and regions, economic, cultural and social, under the general rubric of imperialism, feudalism and tribalism, require painstaking study to adapt, modify and apply familiar Marxist concepts. (For example the Soviet model of national development did not succeed in Afghanistan despite the massive fi re-power of the Red Army though it is true certain positive steps were taken by the government in Kabul from above.) This is a book where we find such a bold and energetic initiative, rich in experience and resolute in spirit. It bears the mark of a sincere, and practice-oriented attention to both the historical heritage (and burden) of Indian society and the major bourgeois intellectual and ideological currents that have emerged in contemporary discourse about society and the state, in the face of an acute consciousness of looming crisis in the given socio-political order.

Caste and Feudal Relations

Caste had been brushed aside by the orthodox Indian communists (until they were jolted into some sense by the tidal outbursts of dalit anger in the 1970s) as a decadent social relic destined to fade away with social progress. Such a view neglected the way feudal production-relations in the country remained enmeshed in caste, and the dangerous and devious ways in which it is propped up by the state, not to speak of its subversive impact on revolutionary activities. Even present-day parliamentary politics is so dominated by caste that parties that originally recognised its role have struck a corrupt bargain with it. The left has ignored the task of tenaciously dealing with it and finding appropriate solutions to the problems it poses. This is tricky business as it demands the recognition of its character as a long-standing historical formation amenable to change without slackening efforts to fight the oppressions and discriminations it daily imposes on the lower castes. Caste in India is organic to the feudal relations that imperialism has deliberately allowed to survive and supported. A lot of academic research on caste seems to deal with it as an ineradicable given feature of Indian life.

Anuradha Ghandy’s two essays, “Caste Question in India” and “The Caste Question Returns”, are illuminating and fairly decisive interventions on the debate on caste from the point of view of historical materialism. Though she depends on Kosambi, R S Sharma and others for inputs, she constructs the argument with lapidary clarity. There might be minor quibbles on details. For example, no one in Assam has heard of a tribe called “Bhar” having ruled there for six centuries! (p 24) And while it is true that Kshatriyas in alliance with brahmin lawgivers kept down lower castes by force (pp 23, 29), Kosambi has warned us not to underestimate the pernicious opiate role of religion in this suppression. Again, granted that the system became rigid with the consolidation of feudalism (in the sense appropriate for India), its institutions and customs were not conjured out of thin air, but had been transformations of tribal ritual. For example, the yajna, originally a tribal ritual for common good, became a ritual for confi rming the social pre-eminence of brahmin priests and kshatriya rulers, following the emergence of monarchy. As more

may 5, 2012

and more tribes were assimilated to brahminism (“Sanskritised”), ethnic rules of endogamy and exogamy were used to advantage by brahmin lawgivers through smritis to raise barriers to unity among the exploited and oppressed communities, who, in turn, found such barriers “natural”.

Likewise, when cattle began to be used for agriculture, the patriarchy already emerging in pastoral tribes along with private property was also taken over and turned into a pillar of the social system. But Anuradha Ghandy is on spot in relating caste to the rise and consolidation of class. In addition, she follows Marxist historians like Kosambi and Sharma in holding that after the decline of trade and empire (which was favourable to the rise of heterodoxies like Buddhism and Jainism) and the growth of relatively self-sufficient village economy, division of labour became rigid, hereditary and multitudinous, sanctioned by scriptures and ritual and occasionally enforced by the Raj-danda. The monarchical state of the kshatriyas expanded and proliferated by incorporating more and more tribes as shudras and ati-shudras, as brahmins through land-grants of kings and nobles introduced more advanced techniques of agrarian production supplemented by magic in previously backward areas.

Even foreign invaders (until the advent of Muslims) were turned into neokshatriyas through fake genealogies and the domination of two castes was thus sanctifi ed at the cost of social stagnation. The hierarchical system became inexorable guaranteeing social peace and unhindered surplus extraction, steered by the occasional use of violence by the state. This also led to degradation of many castes along with their professions in social estimation, internalised by many of such communities as destiny or karmaphal. But the general picture presented is correct and illuminating: the explosion of violence against dalits and adivasis since independence by higher castes and the local administration, with the government ignoring and underplaying it, the corporation ruthlessly evicting them from traditional environments where they eked out a precarious livelihood, moneylenders and contractors sucking their blood, and the lower courts

vol xlvii no 18


and lawyers wrapping up justice into knots, most definitely underscore the persistence of Indian feudalism and the “democratic” state’s role in defending it. Its current virulence under the infl uence of upper-caste politics is demonstrated in a report in The Hindu (6 March 2012) that exposed SC/ST students to recurring humiliation and discrimination at national institutes of higher education like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and picking up at random current journals one comes across a report about forcible sterilisation of tribals in a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state keeping them totally in the dark about the real nature of this “treatment” (Outlook, 12 March 2012).

The medieval Bhakti movement was a challenge to the rigidities and indignities of caste, and it was apparently given momentum by rapid urbanisation and expansion of trade and commodity production under the sultanate and early Moghuls. But for reasons which we cannot go into in the present review, brahminism succeeded in defeating this challenge. The intervention of colonial powers at this juncture, and the total lack of foresight and initiative of a decadent feudal state and ruling classes who often entered into alliances with them to defend themselves against popular regional forces prevented the dissolution of feudalism. As Ghandy puts it, imperialism found it convenient and profi t able to maintain an ailing feudalism as a junior ally, which led to further impoverishment, degradation and wretchedness of the lower (working) castes. (It was not only the East India Company, but the Privy Council on many occasions of caste disputes that gravely deliberated on caste status in the 20th century with the help of learned pundits!)

Imperialism and Caste-based Feudalism

Yet the dialectics of imperialism, which was based on expansion and concentration of capital beyond national boundaries, also compelled it to recruit educated assistants for various administrative and technical tasks from an emerging native middle class which it sought to make over in its own image through western education. Ideas such as equality before the law, universal education, the importance of science and reason, civil rights, percolated to the intelligentsia of this class, though the rulers skimpily and rather reluctantly implemented them. The idea was to implant in the minds of the natives an image of the rulers as a superior race of benevolent guardians destined to rule over them until they acquired after centuries necessary qualities for self-rule. Such ideas, though meagre and weak, were enough to generate some social ferment among the middle class culminating in the birth of movements for liberal reform and education such as the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal and Prarthana Sabha in Bombay Presidency, by and large among higher castes. On the other hand, the weak impetus of capitalism in its imperialist role also changed social relations to a little extent and stirred a section of the lower castes into an awareness of their wretchedness and an impulse for liberation.

But the comprador nature of native capital and imperialist support to feudalism necessarily restricted their vision, and they (like Jotiba Phule, B R Ambedkar in Maharashtra and Periyar in south India) sought the support of British rulers against the hated upper castes and religions that the latter promoted. Neither the upper caste elites nor the pioneers of campaign against the caste system from the lower castes could recognise the basically feudal character of the society. Following the transfer of power halfhearted land reforms by the Indian rulers only benefited certain backward castes and offered little succour to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. But it is surely significant that sincere and intelligent leaders of the dalits such as B R Ambedkar continued to pin their hopes on the state and its power to legislate. Anuradha Ghandy underscores the rise of dalit elites who poured out their wrath against the shackles of caste in burning poetry and prose arousing a sense of guilt among the upper caste elites but stopping short of a revolt against feudalism that still persists, and eventually getting sucked into the vortex of bourgeois parliamentary politics.

But if we are to take the anti-caste struggles of dalits seriously, in spite of their collaborationist attitude, why should we not concede the positive if limited role of the upper caste elite in our social and political history? The typical Naxalite attitude to the pioneers of nationalist awakening among the middle class is to express disgust and disdain at their contributions. Anuradha Ghandy is more restrained, but she also blames them for not seeing feudalism as a mortal enemy of the people. Granted that they had the gumption to speak for the whole nation, while exempting feudal elements that sat on the bent backs of the working people, they also helped spread the ideas of equal social and political rights. (Consider especially the role of Congress socialists up to a point in history.) Anuradha Ghandy rightly points out that the anti-caste campaign of dalits was often in content a struggle against upper-caste moneylenders and landlords, but fails to mention the limitation that its form and ideology imposed on it. Actually, as she says, the rise of a dalit middle class, however small, increased the stress on identity and diluted the sense of underlying socio-economic oppression. Subsequently, this development encouraged discursive analysts like Gyanendra Pandey to concentrate on suppressed identity as the existential trauma of dalits. The situation has led to splits in the movement of depressed classes, pitting dalits against Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and triggering raucous skirmishes among them, and eventually placing the various governments in power in a position to strike deals with the fractured leadership by offering the bait of reservation. The Mandal and anti-Mandal agitations further confused and divided large numbers of the educated middle classes, blurring the sense of the large picture.

Towards Annihilation of Caste

Anuradha Ghandy’s way out of this labyrinth is that while revolutionaries must put annihilation of caste on their agenda, the oppressed castes must also be made to realise that this is impossible without an uncompromising fi ght against the three enemies of the Indian people – i mperialism, feudalism and the comprador bourgeoisie (p 62). She believes the poorer sections of upper castes and the

Economic & Political Weekly

may 5, 2012 vol xlvii no 18


members of the oppressed castes must unite in an agrarian revolution that will give land to the tillers and power to l ocal people’s committees. All caste institutions, caste ideologies and practices must be fought with a clear demand for radical democracy (pp 72-79). While correct as a whole it does not address the quandary that dalit movements are eventually facing by putting the state run by “the three enemies of the Indian people” on the seat of the arbitrator. Such aspirations, however deluded, cannot be brushed aside so easily, and there is no scope for armed struggle here. Her own 29 prescriptions for this phase of the struggle include support to such demands as right of entry to temples, real (rather than formal) equality in employment, reservation in educational institutions and jobs. Of course such demands can conceivably be realised by militant agitations forcing the state to concede them. But bourgeois parliamentary methods with dilatory rules can dampen such movements and also find time and scope to instigate the poor of upper castes against lower castes in general!

The quandary compels the author to make a highly significant concession in another important essay “The Caste Question Returns”:

It is true that the communists must be the foremost fighters for democracy and democratic revolution... but they need not be, and are not, the only fighters for democratic change (p 83).

She also warns:

Today, many of the present-day leaders of the dalit movement go on a tirade against communists but see no harm in associating with such caste-ridden parties as the Congress-I and the BJP (p 81).

There is therefore no way in which we can bypass the class nature of the present dalit leadership and their consequent opportunism. Identity politics fuelled by dogmatic academic research and celebrations of separate culture also obstruct class solidarity and strengthen the influence of ruling class politics. The author virtually admits as much by condemning the situation as a “quagmire of sectarianism” (p 91). But she does not address the problem of uniting the exploited poor of upper castes and the masses of the doubly burdened lower castes. It is also difficult to accept her position that in the transitional period the revisionists among the left are also to be strictly ostracised, in view of her admission that the ranks of those fi ghting for democracy are much broader than the revolutionary left. At least at the grassroots level a certain level of tolerance and mutual understanding has to be arrived at with due caution. She agrees that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] in theory accepts feudalism as an obstacle to social change (p 85), but condemns its mechanical approach to it in practice as more a question of superstructure than of the base, thus allowing the ruling classes to play a vicious caste p olitics. This is not correct, for “semi-feudalism” cannot be a matter of superstructure alone. But she is right on spot insofar as parliamentary tactics prevent the CPI(M) from taking on the problem seriously.

In my opinion, for all it is worth, it will be better if overground fronts are properly built up to work for the party without blind “revolutionary” tactics but with dedication, patience and discipline. It seems that in West Bengal the “Police Santras Birodhi Andolan Committee” was formed only after police excesses reached a peak. Such front organisations, not directly controlled by the party but with mature workers with a truly democratic outlook, may serve as an ideal platform for all genuine democrats and widen the influence of democratic ideas and values. Issue-based joint action (e g, corruption, illegal violation of civil rights, lumpen hooliganism of ruling-class agents) can rescue dalits from identity-sectarianism, inspire class solidarity and strengthen the party’s links with the people. This will help keep alive something like “social conscience” among middle-class academics and artists. Of course there must be strict prohibition against tinkering with electoral politics. There will be bad eggs in the basket, but it is not unexpected.

The Woman Question

Women’s problems and issues are the next major area of the author’s concern, and their relevance for a struggle for

may 5, 2012

true democracy is more than evident. One of the most impressive articles in the selection is an erudite and magisterial essay “Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement” (pp 145-209). The author exposes the theoretical weaknesses and confusions in feminist movements originating largely in the advanced capitalist countries and argues convincingly that without a proper understanding of the role of feudalism and capitalism in the oppression of and discrimination against women these dangers to true democracy cannot be overcome. She also suggests that patriarchy is no class-neutral institution, but had been adapted by both feudalism and capitalism by virtue of their basically oppressive and exploitative character. Failure to acknowledge it had led feminists astray into all kinds of eccentric utopianism and compromises, including downright reactionary ideas.

There is no question of ignoring the revolutionary and profoundly illuminating impact of feminism on the democratic revolutionary movements. Patriarchy has been a constituent of all kinds of class rule, and it has deprived women of their deserved role in leading such movements, considerably weakening them (p 147). Further, struggle against it has promoted some progress in emancipation of women from domestic slavery and some expansion in women’s social and political rights and role (pp 147ff). The initial intensity (not without some fanaticism) of this movement soon catapulted it towards a leftist direction. “But after 1975 there was a shift. Systemic analysis (of capitalism and of the entire social structure) was replaced or recast as cultural feminism”, which was based on the “assumption that men and women are basically different” (p 153). Eventually there emerged schools of feminist thought that centred around biology of reproduction as the sole basis of theory and advocated total separation of women from men, oblivious of the historical development of patriarchy in class societies. Certain schools gave up working for changes in material conditions of social life and confi ned themselves to analysis of “representations” and “symbols” (pp 158-172). The author

vol xlvii no 18


asserts forcefully that concentration on patriarchy as a separate system could only have a negative impact on revolutionary democracy as a movement (p 190). She also points out that eco-feminism which idealises nature and assimilates patriarchy to domination of nature by man mystifies the human-nature metabolism while postmodernism favours an anarchist attitude to organisation in the struggle of the masses against a highly organised capitalist system and its state (pp 180-99).

Coming to contemporary India she reveals how different political parties have been using the woman question in their own ways. The participation of large numbers of women in the demolition of the Babri Masjid and in some anti-Muslim pogroms opened the eyes of liberal feminists to the stark fact that “the sisterhood of women cannot form the basis of women’s movement for democracy (p 202). Certain liberal leaders of the women’s movement oppose such reactionary politics and also aim at forming a democratic society through mass movements. But since they oppose the use of force under any circumstance as a means of overthrowing class rule, their movement is fated to reach a plateau and slowly lose momentum. Signifi cantly, this isolates them from militant mass movements in different parts of India.

Anuradha Ghandy deals in detail with the contribution of Gail Omvedt who has studied not only the woman question in the Indian context but also the mass movements of dalits and other oppressed classes in some depth (pp 203ff). Of course it may be said in passing that if communist orthodoxy in India is much too influenced by the feudal ambience of society in their neglect of such problems (there was some attempt to rectify this in the 1956 Congress at Palghat), Gail Omvedt’s American background may also have inclined her unconsciously towards pluralism. But radical democrats owe many insights to her pioneering work. Having studied the works of Sharad Joshi, Sharad Patil and Vandana Shiva, she came to the conclusion that “traditional” communists had erred in concentrating on economic causes like the production of surplus and rise of private property, and in failing to see that oppression of women had begun long before the rise of private property, with the rise of the first states around 3000 BC in west Asia. Patriarchy in her opinion was a product of violence. Apparently, Omvedt had depended on research by Gerda Lerner in her categorical assertion.

But from my casual studies in ancient economy I have gathered that there was some kind of private property, including land, there even then, and both Egyptian records and the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi refer to sale and purchase of land. It had some links with the widespread prevalence of slavery and slaves were treated like private and state property, though the capitalist idea of property is certainly the main strand in modern law which rejects slavery. The evidence is somewhat ambiguous as in ancient Egypt an upper-class woman could sell and purchase land and own it by herself, and women did have legal identity as individuals, whereas in Sumer, women had no legal identity and owned no property of their own. The signifi cant fact is that in Egypt women were already kept out of the public sphere and therefore had a somewhat lower social status. While Engels’ pioneering work may be supplemented by findings of latest r esearch, it cannot be claimed emphatically that systematic violence rather than the rise of private property produced patriarchy, which therefore existed in some kind of socio-economic vacuum. Violence cannot be the basis of a system, only its instrument. If it is to be sustained it must have a socio-economic foundation. As Anuradha Ghandy aptly retorts: “The fact of the matter is that Omvedt emphasises the role of violence in the subjugation of women, but she is unable to answer the question that arises from it – violence for what?” (p 207).

No wonder Omvedt has no revolutionary perspective but turns out to be a reformist (p 206). The emphasis on “violence” in the abstract goes along with a vision of a democratic state where equal rights and equal opportunities prevail, irrespective of gender and class. Such is the idealised picture of bourgeois democracy, epitomised by the “American Dream”. No wonder in the early 1990s Omvedt turned into a vocal and embattled advocate of globalisation, which has since heaped untold misery on the working people of India, through enormous concentration of private property at the e xpense of the immiserisation of the people and their loss of control over the remaining “common” property gifted by nature.

Revolution and Women’s Liberation

Anuradha Ghandy’s preferred alternative is a “revolutionary” women’s movement as part of a Marxist mobilisation of the broad masses for the overthrow of the ruling classes (together with their state). She calls it a “Maoist” alternative insofar as its strategic ideas are derived from Mao’s adaptation of Marxism to conditions of semi-feudal, semi-colonial countries. Women’s movements are an integral part of the revolutionary forces, but the strategy not only makes women equal participants with men, but insists that women share leadership of the revolutionary forces with men. A broad historical review shows that in peasant movements and workingclass movements women not only took part with equal ardour alongside men, but showed exemplary courage, heroic stamina, ability to face and overcome risks in such struggles. Such evidence of the capabilities counted for nothing and was allowed to fade from public memory (pp 214ff). It was only during the truly revolutionary uprisings of Telangana, Naxalbari and Srikakulam and the armed struggle of adivasis under revolutionary guidance that women rose to leadership equally with men. Along with the general aim of overthrowing the “three enemies of the Indian people” there must be in the movement specific demands for equal wages, right to take part in modern industrial production and emancipation from patriarchal custom for fulfi lling gender justice (pp 213ff).

Ghandy holds CPI’s change from a revolutionary to a parliamentary line, and later the CPI(M)’s descent into the same morass, responsible for dilution of both mass struggles and women’s movements. The reformist and collaborationist outlook had led to a weakening of popular revolutionary forces and in consequence to a

Economic & Political Weekly

may 5, 2012 vol xlvii no 18


series of demoralising defeats (pp 303-06). The conclusion to the essay “Working Class Women: Making the Invisible Visible” (pp 308-10) formulates specifi c demands, and does not end in empty revolutionary rhetoric.

“Fascism, Fundamentalism and Patriarchy” is another illuminating article where Ghandy exposes sharply and forcefully the links between subjugation of women, religious fundamentalism and fascist reaction. While in developed capitalism fascism need not find a prop in religion, in countries like India where religion still has a significant hold on the people’s mind, it is bound to seek a mass base through religious symbolism. (The decline of capitalism in its monopoly stage usually arouses both revolutionary consciousness and a throwback to religion.) While she lays bare the reactionary tendencies of both the Hindu and Christian fundamentalists, she regrettably fi nds something to praise in Islamic fundamentalism for its stern and stubborn opposition to imperialism. But there is little hope for democracy in it, and Ghandy is underestimating the weight of ideology in such forms of resistance. Actually Islamic fundamentalists hope to restore feudalism, and if left alone, may coexist with imperialism. Nor must we forget imperialism’s role in funding and promoting Islamic fundamentalism as an antidote to communism. I think evidence can be found in an unlikely source, Naipaul’s anti-Islamic reportage, notwithstanding his defence of imperialism. He found the most virulent spokesmen of Islamic fundamentalism in American campuses!

With ‘New Democracy’

The range of Ghandy’s passionate interest is not confined to the caste and woman questions but includes everything that has got something to do with the democratic revolution of her vision. She realises that revolution is an all-embracing process, though she does not mention Gramsci, while warning us that the different strands may not have the same ends in view or work at the same tempo. On the other hand if the revolutionary process gets going its eventual culmination in radical democracy is inevitable. Her fugitive essays in journalism bear witness to that. “Cotton ...the Best Flower!...?” is a brilliant specimen where she combines political economy, sociological understanding and history in a typical Marxist synthesis. She deals with issues of environment in “Inchampalli-Bhopalpatnam Revisited” not only by laying bare the corporate-government alliance’s brutal callousness to the lives and livelihood of the common people, but also cautions against the romantic idealisation of the pre-industrial society as a peaceful, serene confl ict-free way of life, reminding us of the hunger,

o ppression and human degradation to which it had subjected the people and rejecting it as a viable alternative to capitalist “development”.

Small magazines, published not by fortune-hunters in the literary wasteland, but by people committed to spreading the message of social transformation, also draw her attention in a brief but substantial essay. Legal questions regarding labour laws and assaults on the dignity and status of women are also studied with intent and concern and the inadequacies, deliberate ambiguities and sheer hypocrisy of measures in the bourgeois regime are analysed with acute common sense in another essay. She also suggests improvements and amendments that are relevant, perhaps for mobilising resistance rather than hoping that the bourgeoisie will really concede them. There are also discussions on the origin and fate of different movements. But I am afraid I do not find in such chronicle of events much more than an irritated rejection of all attempts to evade the revolutionary alternative.

The Indian Revolutionary Path

Finally the reviewer has to face the core question: Is protracted armed struggle the only and correct path of the Indian revolution? As already suggested at the outset, the vast majority of Chinese peasants could not expect relief from any quarter from the ruthless feudal exploitation and they were no strangers to armed revolt. On the other hand, among the majority of Indian peasants dribbles of state charity (however stupendous the plunder by agents of the state and traders and moneylenders) do

may 5, 2012

percolate in from time to time, the parliamentary illusion has entrenched itself, and the tradition of armed revolt is strong only among certain sections. The shudras over a vast extent of land had been deprived of the right to bear arms as early as the Mauryan Empire, and the ceaseless inculcation of the doctrine of ahimsa for centuries by various religious sects has resulted in a fatalist mentality and pacifist culture. Only among castes marginally touched by the brahminical doctrines the martial tradition survives dormant. And the machinations of upper castes and classes are constant and insidious in the countryside. The introduction of the panchayat system in rural areas has spread the politics of corruption into the very bases of Indian society. A firm commitment to armed struggle can be achieved only by painstaking, strenuous and prolonged political and cultural work.

Such a notion finds a ready and fertile seedbed among tribals or semi-tribal castes. Among them there is no customary bar against resort to arms, nor a tradition of non-violence. But tribal traditions, however heroic, have no perspective of far-sighted strategies, meticulous planning, patient implementation and no trained mentality that can bear frustration and setbacks. Further, there is greater danger of spontaneous violent reactions that are unlikely to be of much help in the long run – witness the death sentences imposed by “people’s courts” that raise worries about rash adventurism.

This is where I have to pause, for practice alone can help form fi rm judgment here. From first-hand accounts of Gandhians like Himanshu Kumar about the reckless and lawless police atrocities among helpless tribals (not to speak about the Salwa Judum and the Special Police Officers) that have no sanction in law or civilised administration, in situations where the police are aggressors, this reviewer realises the futility of a dogmatic adherence to non-violence, but the doctrine of protracted war faces many serious obstacles.

Hiren Gohain ( is a distinguished Assamese literary and social critic.

vol xlvii no 18

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top