Revolutionary Marxism and Young India

Dare to Dream, Dare to Fight, Dare to Win

( The Party Central Committee has given a call for inducting more students and young people into the Party. In this backdrop, we reproduce below the text of a talk delivered by Comrade Arindam Sen to a group of students at Patna University on 29 July, which we hope may be useful to initiate a discussion with young people regarding revolutionary Marxism. Ed. )


We are meeting at a time when students and the youth in India find themselves faced with a very challenging situation. Only recently we have seen the divisive forces creating a rift within the student community on the question of reservations in institutions of higher education. While supporting reservation as a limited reform, the more advanced sections of students have raised a higher slogan: oppose privatisation and commercialisation of education, give us right to work. This is a slogan that can unify students and the youth cutting across caste, class and religious lines. In less than three weeks from now, the AISA and RYA are going to stage a demonstration in Delhi on this slogan. We trust each one of you present here will participate in that campaign to make it a grand success. But I also believe you understand that one demonstration, or two, three, four demonstrations, even militant ones, will not suffice to achieve your demands. For these demands go straight against the very essence of the neo-liberal credo being religiously followed by all governments in India . To change that, broader struggles are needed.

Let me elaborate.

Neo-liberalism demands that there should be absolutely no obstacle in the free flow of capital in its search for profit, that no sector health, education or whatever should be too sacrosanct to be kept out of profit-making. Hence privatisation of education is considered as necessary and lucrative as privatisation of public sector industries. And when capital directly dominates education, it is but natural that it should try to extract as much money as possible from the objects of its exploitation, i.e., the student community, just as industrialists try to fleece workers to the maximum extent possible. So fee-hike and other measures of commercialisation are natural corollaries of privatisation. It also follows that capital will be invested in the most profitable areas like technical, medical and management education while basic education for poor and middle-class students continue to be neglected. Thus privatisation, commercialisation and elitisation of education are no more than specific manifestations or applications of neo-liberal economics in one particular sector. When you declare war against these manifestations, you're actually declaring war against neo-liberalism itself. You aren't merely asking for a change in education policy, you aren't just demanding something from the education minister. You're actually asking the whole ruling class to change its basic policy orientation.

This is even truer for your demand of right to work. Even at the height of 'welfare state' policies the Indian bourgeoisie and its state refused to recognise this right; no question of their easily accepting it in these days of job cuts, shrinkage of the public sector, indiscriminate mechanisation and jobless growth. In fact all these fundamental policy planks of the government will have to be discarded if right to work is to be recognised and implemented. Obviously this requires a big fight, a protracted struggle.

And this big fight can certainly be won by students and the youth, provided they enlist the support of other fighters against neo-liberalism. Other fighters include, for one, the agrarian workers who are struggling for the proper implementation of NREGA, for its extension to all districts of the country, for removal of its many defects and such other issues. Then there are workers and employees fighting for job security, trade union rights etc. and against casualisation, privatisation and other anti-labour policies. If you join them in their struggles, surely they will reciprocate. Out of the separate and relatively narrow rivulets of resistance against neo-liberal policies will then emerge a broad, mighty river of movement, powerful enough to compel the government change tack. In other words, your struggle for a just, egalitarian and enlightened education policy can be victorious only in conjunction with, and never in isolation from, other struggles of the working people against a common target. Divided we fail, united we win. This was what I meant when I spoke of a broader and protracted struggle.

But unification of different streams is easier said than done. To achieve this you need a competent organisation armed with a grand vision, a scientific outlook/ideology and a great resolve. That organisation is the communist party. That vision/ideology is Marxism.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disturbing developments in China , how does one see Marxism as all correct? Is it not blind faith? You see, a theory is applied in building a new society for several decades, apparently with much success, and then everything breaks down does this not prove that the theory itself was wrong?

Such questions, rather viewpoints, are very systematically propagated by anti-Marxists. Many well-meaning progressive and democratic people also share such doubts, and they have valid reasons for that. Now, what is our answer?

Some Marxist friends face these charges rather adamantly, trying to say that reverses were caused by imperialist machinations and the theory itself is perfect, although there have been mistakes in implementation. Some others become apologetic, saying that perhaps something was really wrong in the beginning itself, that we must think anew and so on.

I think both approaches the adamant and the apologetic are wrong. We must soberly analyse the whole experience of post-revolutionary societies in the light of basic principles of Marxism and draw true conclusions. This is of course a vast subject; here we can only make some general remarks.

Apart from mistakes in practice, the theory of socialist/new-democratic construction is yet to attain a more or less complete or final shape. I don't see why we should hesitate to admit this. Theories in social sciences emerge and develop in completely different conditions and absolutely different ways compared to those in natural sciences. Therefore, yardsticks to measure their success must also be totally different. The Marxist theory of revolution was never applied in ideal situations akin to controlled laboratory conditions. In a laboratory the scientists and their assistants freely choose their time of experimentations and then proceed only after full preparations and strictly according to a preconceived plan. They are not disturbed by outside occurrences. What happens in the case of Marxism?

In theory socialism, being a higher form of economic and political organisation of society compared to capitalism, with a correspondingly higher level of culture, was to be built first in the most developed capitalist countries. That too not in a single country, but simultaneously in a number of such countries. But in real life things went a very different way. Owing to a convergence of peculiar national and international circumstances (ravages of the first world war, collapse of Tsardom, failure of bourgeois parties in Russia to offer a democratic alternative and many others) the world-wide chain of imperialism broke at its weakest link in Russia . In that country arose a perfect revolutionary crisis, with the rulers totally unable to rule in the old way and the ruled demanding an immediate revolutionary transformation. Bolsheviks were thus sort of forced to take power, although they did not even think of it ten months before October 1917. Marxist pedants and Trotskyists opposed him tooth and nail, but the great dialectician Lenin led the party to discard the dead letter of Marxism and uphold its living spirit. Born in such circumstances, the world's first socialist state existed for more than seven decades, but distortions gradually crept in while facing the challenges and problems of defending the Soviet Union in the face of serious external and also internal threats, and the accumulated distortions led first to the derailment of the Soviet project and eventually to the disintegration of the whole Soviet model.

Next to Russia the other countries where proletarian revolutions took place were also backward ones. This was not a matter of subjective choice on the part of communist parties, but of uneven development of class struggle in different countries. The socio-economic backwardness gave rise to very many problems everywhere. Lenin had introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP) to overcome this, now the Chinese comrades have introduced what they call "market Socialism". NEP had its share of unhealthy effects, but they were kept under control because NEP itself was withdrawn after a short time. In China the problems are far more serious and we are very anxious about it, but in terms of economic development the achievements are also remarkable. There are other experiments in other countries, and the debate goes on.

So you see, comrades, building a post-revolutionary society is a task that proceeds in an uncharted and zigzag way. You don't have a map in your hand, though you have a compass in Marxism, and you are exploring your way forward in a scarcely known territory. Detours and setbacks are not only to be expected, they are rules of the game here. The question is, were the founders and builders of Marxist theory conscious of this? Is Marxist theory itself so mature as to recognise these setbacks?

Yes it is. In German Ideology Marx and Engels recognised the possibility of communism arising as a temporary "local event", whereas true communism "is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples 'all at once' and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them." Lenin said that the proletariat in Russia just started the work of building socialism, which could be completed only by the united effort of the proletarians of all countries, at least of major European countries. As we know now, the grand united initiative never materialised, and the good beginning in Russia could not be carried to consummation. After Lenin, Mao Zedong made the famous remark that the struggle between capitalism and socialism will be very protracted and who will win is not settled yet. This statement he made in opposing the cocksure assertion of the Khrushchev revisionist clique that Soviet socialism will soon mature into complete communism and that with Soviet aid socialism will be accomplished in most parts of the world by peaceful parliamentary means.

This is how, my friends, the theory of building socialism developed in close connection with practice, and continues to do so through failures as well as successes. It is in the sense that I said it is yet to reach a complete shape. Rather than being apologetic, we should admire and uphold this flexibility, shouldn't we?

In spite of this resilience, there are many who think that Marxism is not relevant for our times because it is too doctrinaire. A few days ago I was having a wide-ranging discussion with a young friend of mine. He is intelligent, well-read and thoroughly progressive. At one point he said, "I find Marxism rather orthodox, rigid, and inflexible. I have high regards for Marxism and for genuine Marxists like your party, but I cannot accept your theory as the last word. In reply I said that his comments reminded me of a passage I was reading the other day. Then I read out that passage to him from my diary:

"We do not set ourselves up against the world in doctrinaire fashion with a new principle: Here is the truth! Here you must kneel! We do not seek to anticipate the new world dogmatically, but rather to discover it in the criticism of the old.... It is not our task to build up the future in advance and to settle all problems for all times; our task is ruthless criticism of everything that exists, ruthless in the sense that criticism will not shrink either from its own conclusions or from conflict with the powers that be..."

"This is exactly what I stand for", exclaimed the young man, "a critical mind, a dynamic thought process, no formulas".

"And this is exactly what Marx wrote", I quipped. Of course, I added, for Marx "the weapon of criticism" always included "criticism by weapons", because he was a philosopher who believed that it was not enough to explain the world, the point was "to change it". Then I told him this is how genuine Marxists think and act. For us, Marxism is not some received orthodoxy, some set of ready-made, immutable formulas. We sincerely believe in and try to act upon Mao's teaching that "Marxism-Leninism has in no way exhausted truth, but ceaselessly opens up roads to the knowledge of truth in course of practice."

Yes friends, this is our approach to Marxism and to our own responsibility. We have to construct our own approach-roads to genuine knowledge by the sweat of our brow, by our creative labour. This requires both practical work among the masses and theoretical research by dedicated women and men organised as the communist party. It is through this theory-practice dialogue, through continuous creative practice and consistent theoretical work, that the relevance of Marxism has to be constantly rediscovered and reaffirmed in different contexts.

The actual history of Marxism also bears this out. The theory of Marxism arose from the most advanced theoretical currents of the contemporary world: classical German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism. But this was only in the first instance. Since then, over the past 150 years and more, Marxism has been applied in different countries at different times in different ways. In the process it has picked up, experimented with, debated over, modified, and accepted and rejected many a political concept, movemental technique, organizational form, etc. This is how 19th century Marxism has developed into Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought of the 20th century, and today, in the ongoing process, it rests on us, the present generations, to reinforce and re-establish Marxism's relevance as a vibrant, youthful, ever-expanding worldview, as a guide to revolutionary action. In this work students and the youth have a great role to play. And this is only to be expected. As Lenin eloquently expressed it,

"Is it not natural that youth should predominate in our party? We are the party of the future and the future belongs to the youth. We are a party of innovators and it is always the youth that most eagerly follow the innovators. We are a party that is waging a self-sacrificing struggle against the old rottenness and the youth is always the first to undertake a self-sacrificing struggle."

We all know that it is as revolutionary students and youth that Marx and Engels, Lenin and Mao, CM and VM, Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar embraced Marxism. Some of them lived to leave behind great achievements in theory and practice, some embraced martyrdom rather too soon. But each one of them has left us one great message campus movements and student politics are only a beginning, the culmination or consummation must be the communist movement. If you agree with me on this, then I would appeal to you all: intensify your agitation and strengthen your mass organisations, but at the same time expand your horizons. Get involved in communist party activities. And in time, do join the communist party. I know many of you have already joined; my appeal goes out to those within and without this common room of Patna college who have not yet. You need revolutionary Marxism to discover and uncover the fire latent in you. Perhaps even more, revolutionary Marxism needs you, my young friends, to renew and recharge itself. Let the advanced detachments of young India unfurl the great banner of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought to march forward as torchbearers of new India , revolutionary India .

Inquilab Zindabad!