[Interview by Kalpana Wilson of South Asia Solidarity Group taken in March 1994.]
Can you explain how you see the current so-called crisis of socialism which has followed the collapse of the Soviet Union?
I essentially think that socialism itself is not a complete or stable system. Socialism is meant to be a transitory system, between capitalism and communism. So it is a very specific phenomenon. It does have certain features of communism — the society which is to be established — and it retains certain features of capitalism in the sense that what Marx calls ‘the principle of distribution’ remains essentially the same — to each according to his work. For example, in a socialist system, say there is a factory which is supposed to be representing ownership by people. A worker there, on the one hand, has the feeling that he is part of the people, so in a sense he is the owner of the factory as well. On the other hand, because he receives according to his work, he feels that he is a wage worker. So this duality operates in the worker’s consciousness.
As far ownership is concerned, on the one hand, it is ownership by the whole people; on the other hand, this ownership is managed through state ownership, (because the state still exists in a socialist society) and exercised through officials appointed by the state. So the ownership aspect also has a duality and is liable to degenerate into bureaucracy. This duality of both workers and ownership is characteristic of the transitory society.
There is also the fact that we have been experimenting with socialism in backward countries, not advanced capitalist countries. Productive forces are backward and you cannot establish any higher system of ownership immediately. Different kinds of ownership exist: ownership by the whole people, ownership by the collective, small private enterprises... only gradually can you move to another stage. Commodity relationships, money, all this not only continue but it has a role to play because capitalism has not exhausted itself. A lot of exchange is really commodity exchange, market exchange. For example, exchange between enterprises owned by the people and enterprises which are collectives — enterprises at different stages — is essentially commodity exchange. Because of this particularity of socialist society and especially of socialism in backward countries, socialism has both possibilities — it can advance towards communism or it can slide back towards capitalism.
Originally the conception had been that a socialist society will be established and after some time it will go over to communism. But later there were theoretical developments in Marxism, Lenin started saying that this transition will take a long time, and then in China Mao said that it’s still not settled whether capitalism or socialism will win, it may take hundreds of years. This change came about because of the particular conditions under which socialism had to be built. And formulations started appearing about the existence of class contradictions, class struggles in socialist society, whereas the original proponents of Marxism had envisaged socialism as a classless society. So I feel that Marx’s original thesis only gives a general outline, because his whole conception was based on the analysis of a capitalist society, and that too in abstraction, the perfect capitalist society. In concrete terms even a very highly developed capitalist society doesn’t conform to Marx’s ideal standards. So you can’t even say that the study of capitalism is complete because capitalism is still present and it has evolved very fast, it has not run its course. And more importantly, the study of socialism and the economic laws of socialism is still at a very primitive, primary stage. Because of all this I believe that Marxism, for its retrieval now, requires what in popular terms I call a new Das Kapital. The time is ripe for that. The basics are there, they will continue to operate, but the study of capitalism remains uncompleted. Even when Lenin studied monopoly capitalism, he too had the conception that this monopoly capitalism was the last stage of capitalism and it was moribund and would collapse. But you can see that monopoly capitalism has taken new forms and continues. So new studies are needed. Then there is the [need for a] study of the economic laws of socialism, with the experience of 75 years in Russia and later China... so I feel Marxism needs a work comparable to Capital, particularly because all the experiments with building socialism are going on in the backward countries — in China, Vietnam and so on. If socialism as a transitory society has to continue for hundreds of years, that means you can’t see commodities, money and markets just as a liability, and start taking steps to overcome them. Rather, even in a socialist society they may require development, they may require a particular utilisation for advancing the cause of socialism itself. It’s not something which has to be just dispensed with or a necessary evil which you have to go through. Planning is supposed to be a socialistic phenomenon and we saw that capitalist society used planning to check the anarchy of production with which capitalism is associated. So similarly, communists will have to think about how to utilise commodities, money and markets to build socialism in a positive way.
There is one more point that Marx made when he said that socialism was a transitory system: he said that proletarian dictatorship was an absolute necessity. So I feel that in case where proletarian dictatorship is weakened, the chance of that transitory system slipping back to capitalism is obvious. For example if we look at the Soviet Union we find that before its collapse, the economic model was more or less a traditional socialist one. All belonged to the state sector; privatisation and foreign capital were virtually absent. But they started losing proletarian dictatorship from Krushchev’s period itself, and from there we find that somewhere the gateway to capitalism was opened. In contrast I feel that Mao studied this danger of socialism going back to capitalism, the potential for reversal which the Russians denied was possible.
With the concept of Cultural Revolution — the Cultural Revolution was conceived not for tampering with the economic laws of socialism, not for bypassing backward productive forces and building some sort of advanced communist production relations — actually Mao wanted to strengthen proletarian dictatorship. And proletarian dictatorship is another name for broad people’s democracy of 90%. And he this tried to build through the Cultural Revolution: dictatorship over the few and democracy of 90%. And the Cultural Revolution had that emphasis — big character posters, mass enthusiasm etc. Socialist countries like Russia, East European countries…by proletarian dictatorship they understood just the dictatorship. The other part, that means democracy for 90%, this question of socialist democracy was not perceived as an integral part of proletarian dictatorship. So other forces took up the question of democracy. In China also, this question has always been there and Mao’s was the first attempt to generalise this democracy under socialism. Tiananmen again represented the desire for democracy, and I think every ten years, or five years or seven years, we are witnessing some big people’s movement, and if you don’t take it up from within a socialist framework it will be taken up within a bourgeois framework.
Anyway the Cultural Revolution was an experiment with that. It is true that certain petty bourgeois social forces emerged and the whole Cultural Revolution was derailed, and some people started tampering with the basic economic laws of socialism, trying to develop some sort of higher relations. The Party, which has to be the instrument of this, got disorganised. So it ended in failure. But my point is that it raised certain very important questions of socialist democracy. It did create a lot of enthusiasm among masses although it could not be organised properly and that was a problem.
At present in China they are carrying out economic experiments and keeping intact the Communist Party’s leadership — this is something I do appreciate and as an experiment it is worth watching and studying. But the other aspect, the desire for democracy, is also present. China will witness some sort of democratic movement once again. A country cannot just survive on economic statistics. And there I think the lessons of the Cultural Revolution will again be useful, for the sake of reference at least. So this is how I see this whole crisis of socialism or problems of socialism.
Can you elaborate on experimentation with the market in the Indian context, how might the CPI(ML) attempt to carry this out?
You see in China, even during the stage of democratic revolution Mao divided the bourgeoisie into two categories — the compradors and the national bourgeoisie, something for which he was also highly criticised. Comprador bureaucrat capital he named them. They were a target of revolution. Mao experimented on two things: one was the alliance with the peasantry, and in that process he transformed the peasantry into a revolutionary force. This was a new contribution to Marxism, to the strategy of revolution at least. And the other aspect was his alliance with the national bourgeoisie. While building socialism from democratic revolution he saw the transformation of the national bourgeoisie step by step as a long term process. Instead of just expropriating them he tried to utilise them and transform them. And he was condemned for that wasn’t seen as true socialism. But I think in Indian conditions too this question will be of great importance. China’s national bourgeoisie was very weak and not that significant. In India by the time the revolution becomes victorious I think it is quite possible that there will be a split in the bourgeoisie and that we will have to contend with a section which has been transformed into a national bourgeoisie. And that national bourgeoisie will be quite a force in Indian conditions. Even in the alliance with the peasantry, among the middle peasants, or farmers, a big section has emerged who have capitalistic tendencies. On the political front while attempting socialist transformation handling these forces and even utlising them for the sake of socialism — these are particular questions we are facing in India.
Some people say that as the ruling bourgeoisie in India is comprador, and comprador means agents of imperialism, so state power in India rests with imperialism. When the CPI(ML) was being built and its programme was being drafted, in 1969-70, we differed with that. We said this is wrong. We think that Indian state power rests with the Indian bourgeoisie and landlords. That is the whole essence of the transfer of power — it’s not just technical. In class terms they operate within the framework of imperialism but state power rests with them. Those who see imperialism as controlling the Indian state have the formulation that India’s principal contradiction is with imperialism, so they say an anti-imperialist broad front is what is necessary. Well, we do have a basic contradiction with imperialism, but that is in an external sense — the nation vs. imperialism. But internally we don’t see this as the principal contradiction.
Now the question naturally arises — what is the actual character of these compradors? We said that this too has to be looked at in a new way. If you just think of them as agents, very crudely formulated, this is not correct. We said that the Indian bourgeoisie operates as a class, different sections many have links with different countries but there is a common thread. Indian compradors have a single strategy, and they enjoy a degree of relatively independence, which is maintained by utilising the contradictions between different imperialist countries, and having relations with the Soviet Union. This was not independence in an absolute sense, they are not free from imperialist control. But by locating state power in the hands of the comprador bourgeoisie and landlords, and acknowledging their capability for maneuvering or operating some sort of independent position, our Party tried to depart from old formulations, and to conform more with the real situation.
Now that the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Indian bourgeoisie is developing closer relations with the West and the IMF/World Bank, the suggestion has come up again that India has lost it political and economic sovereignty, it has more or less turned into a neo-colony, state power is now in the hands of imperialism, and therefore imperialism vs. the Indian nation is the main internal contradiction now, so we should go for the broadest possible united front against it. People have started saying that earlier the Soviet Union had been playing a balancing role, and on the basis of its relations with the Soviet Union Indian could bargain with Western countries, but now that the Soviet Union has gone it can no longer do so. True, with all these changes in the situation and in India’s polices, overall imperialist penetration has really gone deep. But I still think that he Indian bourgeoisie has that relative independence. It is not finished. One can talk of the ‘threat to India’s political sovereignty’, ‘threat to Independence’ for popular mobilisation in a broad anti-imperialist front. But this shouldn’t be taken in a very literal sense. The Soviet Union is gone but there are still contradictions between imperialist countries. So India can try to diversify its relations in a different way. The whole tactic of utilising the contradictions to whatever extent possible still remains. Its relationship with the Soviets was not based on any socialist ideal, it was just a bargaining lever. The may try this with Russia also if they can, and with Japan, Germany etc., because India’s bourgeois economic relations are so diversified, and imperialists also have their contradictions, their crises, their competitions. So maybe this bargaining capacity, this utilisation of contradictions, this relative independence is more restricted now but I don’t think that it has gone. State power remains with the Indian bourgeoisie. It is necessary to grasp this because otherwise the internal contradiction is ignored.
I’ll give you one practical example, say here in Bihar. Now Bihar is a backward state, with a lot of feudalism and struggles over land and so on. So we are taking up land struggles and even the CPI and CPI(M) are also trying to take up these issues. The government here, Laloo Yadav’s Janata Dal government, is not in a position to take up land reforms. It doesn’t have the political will, or the structure. So what are their tactics? All of a sudden they have started talking about ‘Dunkel’ saying Dunkel is a very dangerous thing, it is against peasants etc. In this way they are trying to develop relations with CPI and CPI(M). And CPI and CPI(M) are also not in a position to carry on land struggles to any serious extent. Because when you take up land struggles seriously, then so many tensions, armed confrontations start developing. It’s not easy to solve things just in a legal way. They want to avoid this situation, but they also want to maintain their revolutionary face. Just then Laloo comes up with Dunkel, and he becomes a champion of anti-imperialism! But why is he bringing all this up? The man understands nothing about Dunkel — he just said that Dunkel is a donkey so he had a procession of donkeys and so on! And in Bihar’s context I don’t think that Dunkel will have that much impact because capitalist farming is not that developed. Of course, we are also for taking up this question, and are doing so even in Bihar. But the way they are bringing it up, the whole purpose is to dilute the internal contradiction. And CPI has also started joint activities with the Janata Dal on Dunkel, and has given up the land struggle. This is something we have to be wary of. My point is that while the danger is of course there — and we are trying for a broad front — if you come to the conclusion the India has already turned into a Banana Republic, we have internalised the contradiction with imperialism, internal contradictions are of no importance and we must have all kinds of alliances, and that determines you practice, I don’t think that is correct in our context.
Your were talking of the possible emergence of genuine national bourgeoisie. From where would it emerge? And what would be its contradictions with the rest of the Indian bourgeoisie?
The search for a national bourgeoisie has been a very serious problem for the Indian communist movement. Because form the very beginning under Soviet influence the CPI started saying that now India has a national bourgeoisie which is an anti-imperialist force. Sometimes Nehru was seen as the representative of this force, sometimes some other person. As a result the whole emphasis turned to developing relation with the national bourgeoisie and CPI started saying that they would be playing the leading role. This weakened the communist movement. Our point of view is that instead of carrying out a search beforehand and seeking their representatives, let this question be resolved in course of the struggle. Let us go on with our movements, anti-imperialist movements as well as anti-feudal struggle, and there let us see which forces eventually come up and join hands with us. CPI(ML) has done that from the beginning and essentially I still believe the same thing.
In one sense you may be able to distinguish the national bourgeoisie as the small and medium bourgeoisie: ideologically they don’t have anything national about them, but objectively they may be forced to operate as national because it is not possible for imperialism to satisfy everybody. But if you start searching for political representatives of the national bourgeoisie, you may even come to the conclusion that the RSS is such a representative because of its call for ‘Swadeshi’ and against Dunkel. Even some sections of Bombay businessmen have opposed GATT and Dunkel and the entry of multinationals to India.
But the national bourgeoisie is not something which is just there and you have to search for it and find it. Rather we started from the formulation that they are all compradors and let us see if from among the compradors, in the course of anti-imperialist struggles, a national bourgeoisie emerges. In this sense the national bourgeoisie has to be created.
We started off talking about democracy. In this context what is the practice of the Party and the relationship between the Party and mass organisations?
As far as mass organisations are concerned we thought that they should be more than just party wings. Different mass organisations represent different sections with their own characteristics. For example, a student/youth organisation has it own dynamism, its own way of operating, its own sentiments. If the party makes certain formulations and the organisation is asked to operate within the bounds of that, that may kill the whole vitality, initiative and dynamism of that organisation. Similarly, women’s organisations have particular forms of operating, they face specific forms of oppression and therefore their forms of expression will also be different. Therefore they have to be allowed to operate relatively independently. We felt that the mass organisations of CPI(M) in particular are more like party wings. And that has been the traditional Russian or even Chinese practice. Mass organisations just become paper organisations. They only count in terms of their membership — 40 lakhs, 50 lakhs. There is a lot of interference in their programmes. So this is one thing we have tried to experiment with – giving them a lot of freedom, accepting their particularities or rather encouraging them. This was one thing, and secondly, we also thought that there should be a dialectical relationship where on the one hand the Party leads them and on the other they act as a sort of watchdog on the Party itself. Even when you are not in power certain strains and tendencies like bureaucracy do emerge within the Party.
Now, for example, suppose some Party cadre has misbehaved with a woman, the Party committee has discussed the matter and fearing a reaction has just suppressed the whole thing. The complaint goes to the women’s organisation. They take up the matter and put pressure on the Party that this is wrong. We see this as a good thing because often within the Party system things may not be seen from the women’s point of view. The particular woman concerned may not be in a position to articulate her feelings, to protest the injustice. But if the women’s organisation takes up the case then naturally the Party has to face pressure.
To whatever extent we get some power, for example, in the district council in Karbi Anglong or maybe in the future in some government, we emphasise that peasant associations and other organisations should operate independently and they should put pressure on the officials, on the Party. That is our vision of mass organisations — on the one hand encouraging their independence so they can properly reflect the characteristics of the sections they represent, which will give them vitality and dynamism. The Party should only confine itself to providing leadership and on the other hand the mass organisation should act as a watchdog for the Party.
One of initiatives which has been very striking has been the formation of the Inqilabi Muslim Conference which was one of the first times that the Left in India has been prepared to organise round a religious identity.
We took up this matter because recently the country has been divided on this basis: Hindutva and Muslims as its target. They started saying that Hinduism is more than a religion, it is a socio-cultural category. So they say that Muslims are also a part of Hinduism because they live in India — historically and also culturally. They use the word ‘Mohammediya Hindu’ and say, Muslims can go on living in India if they give up their separate identity and become part of a broad Hindu formation, then we are ready to accept them as Mohammediya Hindus. They also said that Sikha, Jains, Buddhists are also Hindus. Some worship god — one god, ten gods, crores of gods, or no god at all, yet all are Hindus! Hinduism is a broad socio-cultural category in India and all should be a part of it including Muslims. And their willingness to do this is a test of their patriotism and nationalism. So this was the particular attack, the demand that Muslims should give up their particular religious, cultural, and social identity. It was an attack not just on religion but also socially and culturally. Muslims were threatened as a community. Naturally the reaction was on a community basis. Now this Muslim reaction had one fundamentalist element — the counterpart of the BJP. But other Muslims felt that this would not be correct in a country like India where Muslims are a minority and 80-85% of people are Hindus. So in Indian conditions they felt that secularism is better.
It is not that bourgeoisification has occurred among Indian Muslims and from that position they are talking about secularism. Their religious beliefs are against the concept of a secular state. But the concrete Indian conditions encouraged them to go for secularism.
Secondly, Muslims have developed a friendly relationship with the Left. They may be in this or that bourgeois party for the sake of elections but generally a feeling has come up that the Left are genuinely secular. Earlier on sections of Muslims were with the Left, there were progressives, communists. Many important communists were Muslims, and many Muslim workers participated as a class. Then there were progressive intellectuals, many progressive cultural workers. But for the community as a whole this sort of a positive approach to the Left is something new. Earlier sentiments had been very much in favour of Pakistan. But now there is no desire for any further division of the country.
So these were the changes. Muslims were under attack as a community, then they had this support for secularism and a friendly relationship with the Left.
We wanted to consolidate this relationship. But how to give it an organisational form, an institutional shape? That was the whole idea which gave birth to the Inquilabi Muslim Conference. It was necessary to take into account the community aspect and the Inquilabi aspect. The idea behind it was not to strengthen Muslim exclusiveness, rather to articulate Muslim interests against the BJP etc. Importance was attached to organising social change within the Muslim community. So Inquilabi is not Inquilabi against the BJP, but Inquilabi within the community. That is why we placed a lot of emphasis on raising the question of Muslim women’s position. This is a question which has come up from within the community.