(Excerpts from a talk by Prof Randhir Singh at a seminar on ‘The Present Political Situation and the Challenges of Strengthening the Left’, at Gandhi Peace Foundation, on the occasion of the Vinod Mishra Memorial Meeting, 18 December 2003.)
I have been associated with the Indian revolutionary wave since 1938-39, and it is an association as a militant, not as a scholar or intellectual. I have done teaching, too, I have tried to live as a militant not as an intellectual.
The problems our country faces today are even more serious than the ones we faced before independence. But I have felt for some time now that we do not discuss those problems in the perspective in which they should be discussed.
I had begun to feel that perhaps I’m a dinosaur with outdated ideas, and that at my age perhaps it was time I retired. In fact, I initially refused a speaking engagement on these grounds. But in the meantime I came across a conversation between two intellectuals of a Leftist persuasion: German Nobel Laureate Günter Grass and renowned sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who recently passed away. I found some things in their conversation useful to understand what’s happening today. Grass observed that what is peddled today as “progress” and neo-liberalism is actually a regression to nineteenth century capitalism. (“What is peddled today as neo-liberalism is a return to the methods of the Manchester liberalism of the nineteenth century.” – Grass in the Conversation between Günter Grass and Pierre Bourdieu, July 3, 2000 – Ed/). They observed that this regression was being equated with progress so successfully that we who oppose it are branded as dinosaurs I felt then that if these people – and other ‘dinosaur’ friends of mine like Paul Sweezy, Harry Magdoff – are still at it, I too should start speaking.
The Strategic Perspective
Whenever you do revolutionary work, you start from ‘here’, from the present situation. If you think you can ignore your immediate surroundings because you’ve set out to do revolution, you can’t. If you’re at University, if you are an employee, a worker, a peasant, wherever you are, you start work from there.
However, there are many who do activism. Gandhians do very good work in many places. If we are a Marxist party, there must be something that distinguishes our work, sets it apart.
In other words, if I speak of a fundamental weakness of the Left as a whole in India, I think I would begin by saying that since India’s independence, all politics in India has been on the terrain of bourgeois politics.
For the past decade, India’s radical politics is caught in the secular-communal trap. If Hindutva has emerged so strongly in the same decade that secularism has been discussed the most, surely we must ask why this is the case. If we don’t ask this question, we will keep saying we should fight communalism, we should form fronts, but we will not be able to check its rise.
You don’t even have to be a Marxist to realize the importance of understanding the material basis for ideas. Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher who mooted the idea of the ‘survival of the fittest,’ said that ideas spread when there is a social material basis for them. Spencer said “Ideas wholly foreign to (the) social state cannot be evolved, and if introduced from without, cannot get accepted - or, if accepted, die out when the temporary phase of feeling which caused their acceptance, ends.” So we have to ask what is the social state in India; there is unemployment, the impact of neoliberal economic policies, a bad situation. Look at the excellent studies of Gujarat by Jan Breman and others, that tell us that Muslim and Dalit workers used to fight together in the textile strikes, and today Dalits are killing Muslims – there must be some explanation for this. If you think you can resist communalism without changing the social material basis, without making it part of the larger battle – tactical questions such as whether or not to ally with the Congress are very important questions, but they should not become strategic questions. The strategic questions relate to what is the alternative you are offering.
Freedom From Globalisation Was Essence of the Freedom Struggle
Those of you who have grey hairs may recall that when we fought for India’s freedom, we were globalised, we were part of the global market. And we were against it, not because we were ruled by white people, but because of the structural logic of imperialism, which meant wealth in England, poverty in India. So we wanted to get out of that globalization so that we could build something for the people of our country. Getting out of globalization was, then, the essence of the freedom struggle. Today, the parties that are in a hurry to get India globalised, do not even care to remember this fact.
(The BJP fellows of course never had anything to do with the freedom struggle, they had opposed it, Mr Vajpayee had even been an informer; the Congress people too have forgotten. But let us leave this aside.)
So, we won freedom to get free from globalisation, to be self reliant. And this has important lessons for us today, when we consider the impact of globalization policies. As Marxists we say capitalism has a logic, imperialism has a logic. Recall the Brazilian general who reportedly said “the economy’s doing fine, it’s just the people that aren’t.” So, you’ll keep reading about ‘5%, 7%, 10% growth’, capitalism is a very growth productive system. Even the capitalism of the third world can be and is productive. But disproportionate distribution is part of the capitalist structural logic: there are rich and poor people, rich and poor countries, this is not just the result of wrong policies, it is a part of that structural logic.
The Nehruvian National Project
So we wanted to exit from globalization, we formed a national project. The Nehruvian national project, in my opinion, was theirs not ours, but I will not elaborate on this subject now. But it resulted, according to me, in a Government-supported, state-supported, India-specific capitalism. Leaders have a role in historical processes, but structures have their own logic. We need to understand India’s freedom not only in terms of what happened in 1947 but in terms of what did not happen. India did not undergo a social revolution. India did not undergo an economic revolution. There was no revolutionary change in India’s state structure. There was a transfer of power from foreign rulers. Nehru may say he wants to create socialism, but the structure will ensure that nothing but capitalism is created.
Gandhi wanted peasants’ rule in India, the rule of the poor, he had great love for the people of India. (But, as I say, it was a paternal love: the kind that thinks that if you give the loved wards any freedom, they will take the wrong path, so they need a loving hand to control them.) But who came to the top in India – the peasants, or Birla?
Nehru said “the key to the solution of India’s problems lies in socialism,” and he added, that he meant socialism not in a “vague humanitarian way but in a scientific, economic sense.” He spoke of the “terrible costs of not changing the existing order.” This was the Nehru on whom there was some impact of Marxism. Once in power he hesitated even to do land reforms. And he underwent a shift, a possibly unconscious shift, and began to say that the answer to the problems of India lies in “science and technology” – the same abhorrent notion that our President keeps peddling nowadays about technology. Technology cannot make a social revolution! You are claiming for science a power that it does not have!
So the national project resulted in India-specific capitalist development. There are two nations in India – and I am not alone in saying so – KN Raj, Sukhamoy Chakravarty, VKRV Rao said so, many politicians said so, Rajni Kothari too talked of rich and poor, of uneven development.
Marx once wrote that secondary diseases are more difficult to cure and ravage the body more than the original ones. India’s specific kind of capitalism relate to these secondary diseases, including corruption, black money and the like.
The Nehruvian national project began to face crises in the 1960s, and finally collapsed in the 1990s. A symptom of this collapse is the television programme on 50th anniversary of India’s Independence, in which many eminent personalities would give their ‘love messages’ to India, ending by saying ‘Vande Mataram’ – but this would be followed by the caption ‘Sponsored by Colgate’! If even your patriotism is sponsored by Colgate, what more needs to be said?! In Parliament a resolution was passed and there was a stirring call to launch India’s second struggle for freedom! But what on earth happened to the first one, of fifty years ago?! A Gujarat Minister said “Now we begin the struggle for economic freedom.” What were you doing for fifty years then?
Manmohan Singh said when he ‘reformed’ the economy, “Nation has been living beyond its means.” I had asked back then, how fifty per cent of India’s people who do not get two square meals a day, can be said to live beyond their means? Even the 25-30% people who have enough to live comfortably, do not have much left for luxuries. Who is it who are spending beyond their means?
Nationalism is not invoked by BJP alone, Congress too has done it. Problems were created in Kashmir, in Punjab, in the economy, but then in the name of ‘nation’ all this was forgotten. And the role of the Left too in this matter has been tragic: in the name of nationalism they lined up behind bourgeois politics. Even if you want to save the nation, your orientation would have to be distinct.
Anyway after the failure of the Nehruvian national project, the rulers began a new project: that of globalization. Earlier they would talk of self-reliant growth; now they openly assert that growth will be with the help of Foreign Direct Investment and multinationals. Earlier there was state-supported capitalism, now there is a bid to privatise everything.
A Socialist Alternative
But what alternative does the Left have to offer in answer? You may have many criticisms of globalization – you have to explain to youth who ask you for answers, what is your goal and strategy, your alternative.
Marcuse said that a system’s success is when it makes alternatives unthinkable. In the world, after the Soviet collapse, it was said ‘there is no alternative’. Soviet Russia was not socialist in my opinion, but more on that elsewhere. But with its collapse capitalism was triumphant all over the globe, as was the ‘TINA’ thinking. But what I now notice is that the people in the West are seeing capitalism naked for the first time – in its 19th century form, not in the guise of welfare capitalism. And struggles and discussion (about alternatives to capitalism) have begun there. Such a discussion is yet to begin here in our country. We on the Left don’t give this central focus because we feel ourselves to be defeated. We think socialism was defeated in Russia – socialism was not defeated there.
The fight against communalism also must be fought as part of the struggle to forge an alternate path. I used to say that we must fight the Khalistanis in Punjab as part of the struggle against the dispensation in Delhi. In those days, I was not afraid of being killed by Khalistanis; I was afraid that if I was killed, it would be said that “Prof Randhir Singh laid down his life for the unity and integrity of the country.” Why should I die for that?! Rajiv Gandhi or Narasimha Rao may die for that, not I. (laughter)
Socialism is the alternative to capitalism – as long as there is capitalism there will be the struggle for socialism. I once met Manmohan Singh, he came up to me, and said “Randhir, all those figures about Russia’s progress were lies, now the archives are telling something different.” I replied, “But Manmohan I am a socialist not because of the Soviet Union but because of capitalism!” Socialism is negation of capitalism. The World Social Forum says ‘Another World Is Possible’ in which all human needs will be met – but I ask them, what is the name of such a world? We should assert boldly that we are socialists – our day to day struggles are fought in that larger perspective.
[translated from Hindi]
Respecting his last wishes, Prof. Randhir Singh’s ashes were immersed in the waters of the River Sutlej near the Samadhi site of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev at Husseiniwala, on the Indo-Pak border on 7 February.
At 7 AM on 7 February the two daughters of Randhir Singh, along with the daughters of revolutionary thinker and playwright (late) Gursharan Singh, Dr. Atul Sood, Prof. Jagmohan Singh along with activists from revolutionary and democratic streams started with the urn containing the ashes from late Gursharan Singh’s home in Chandigarh and proceeded towards Ferozepur. On the way at various places—Samrala, Ludhiana (Punjabi Bhawan), Mandi Bhulopur, Jagraon, Ajitwal, Moga and Ferozepur Cantt—many revolutionary organizations, people’s organizations, youth organizations, writers, intellectuals, and common people stopped the convoy and paid tribute to Prof. Randhir Singh with flowers and slogans of Lal Salam and Long Live Marxism-Leninism. The convoy included Comrades Sukhdarshan Natt and Ruldu Singh from CPI(ML) Liberation, AIPWA leader Jasbir Kaur, peasant activists Balkarn Singh Kaka and Balkarn Lara. At Ferozepur the convoy was given hospitality by Punjabi poet Harmeet Vidyarthi and his fellow writers.
After paying respects at the Samadhi of the great revolutionary martyrs and freedom fighters the convoy immersed Prof. Randhir Singh’s ashes in the waters of the River Sutlej flowing from India towards Pakistan.