Leftists must educate people on the politics behind the bomb

[Excerpts from the speech delivered at a seminar held on 4 August 1998 in Siliguri. From Liberation, September 1998.]

The Pokhran blast has provided the necessary impetus for a new phase of the anti-nuke movement and has enhanced the observance of Hiroshima Day. It has also provided a new fillip to all struggles aimed at total destruction of all nuclear arsenals on this planet. In the realm of anti-nuke movement we encounter a pacifist variety that opposes all atom bombs and all kinds of war. We do sincerely share their struggle. But we also need to understand the politics behind the bomb.

The blast in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 was not so much for forcing Japan to surrender as it was for declaring the violent arrival of US into world politics, particularly Asia. This cruel experiment with Hiroshima was designed for realising this sinister US-ploy. And today we know what that has meant for us. So it is as important, if not more, to understand the politics behind bombs as the destructive potential of the bomb.

Today there is a lot of hype about the scientific expertise and technological finesse behind the production of the bomb. But the inventor of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, rated his achievement as moderate at best. He, along with many other scientists, raised voices against nuclear stockpiling and Einstein too had time and again expressed his agony. Einstein proposed a global kind of government, a supra-judicial body to somehow combat the nuclear threat.

In the history of development of arms, discovery of a strike weapon has always been closely followed by discovery of a befitting defence mechanism. What is special about nuclear weapons is that here the question of defence or deterrence does not arise. The only deterrence to an atom bomb is another atom bomb. That is why Hiroshima had sparked off a chain reaction with more and more countries taking the nuclear path.

The US today has a stock of seven lakh bombs and spends 35 billion dollars every year (or 96 million dollars a day) in maintaining the nuclear establishment there. The total amount spent by US in its nuclear programme in the last half century is around 5.5 trillion dollars. It is not easy to get a clear idea from this astronomical figure, even in our imagination. If you convert this amount into one-dollar notes and go on sticking them in series, it will produce a chain extending up to the moon and back!

The US is an imperialist country and draws a huge surplus through colonial and neo-colonial exploitation from all over the world and hence can bear this amount without many problems. But in the case of USSR (till 1989) which did not enjoy any such advantage, it was becoming gradually impossible to afford such a huge expenditure. And what we have seen is that the huge nuclear stock that they piled up to safeguard socialism from imperialist attacks ultimately proved to be counterproductive and did play a crucial role in dismantling the socialist system itself. It became impossible for a socialist state in the long run to satisfy the voracious need of the nuclear establishment. And in their attempt to do this, they perilously neglected the priority sectors of industry leading to a total distortion of the economy and ultimately to a defeat of socialism.

Back home, conducting nuclear tests was the first major step taken by the BJP government after it assumed office. It had certain motives and compulsions behind the decision.

So far as the immediate motives of the BJP are concerned, they have utterly failed to capitalise on this. They wanted to create nationalist frenzy inside the country, they wanted to threaten Pakistan and thus establish India’s supremacy over South Asia. Mao once called the atom bomb a paper tiger. I don’t know about the other bombs but in the case of India’s atom bomb his prophecy has indeed come true. They failed to rake up national chauvinism this time. On the contrary, they have faced waves of protest against it. So far, the term national chauvinism was found in the lexicon of the communists alone, more particularly in the lexicon of the CPI(ML). Even other left parties had stopped using this language for some time now. They used to join the bourgeois chorus on Kashmir against Pakistan. It is for the first time that large sections of the intelligentsia have written in newspapers against Advani’s provocative anti-Pak statements. There have been protests even in the parliament against the government’s chauvinism. Vajpayee too was found to be defensive in the parliament on such occasions. All these show that they failed to create a consensus, which they had expected to do. The VHP also had to beat a retreat from their programmes like the construction of Shaktipeeth etc. And after Pakistan blasted its bombs (one more than India did), cold water was poured on BJP’s total gameplan. BJP calculatedly cultivated an anti-China sentiment in the pre- and post-blast period in order to draw support from the US. But to its dismay, China and US issued a joint statement against the Indian blasts and India has been badly cornered in international politics. A few days back I saw the German Foreign Minister’s caustic remark about India and Pakistan commenting that these two countries which can’t supply food and drinking water to their own people and move from door to door with a begging bowl, are producing atom bombs. They thought that bombs would enhance their image but the opposite has happened. They are being mocked at everywhere.

The BJP has a good influence over middle class people. But while campaigning against bombs we have noticed a change. People themselves are now raising some pertinent questions like whether we can survive with a continuous belligerence towards our neighbours. They are holding the blasts responsible for unprecedented price rise, and the popularity curve of the BJP is declining fast. It is in this sense I said that the BJP’s immediate aims have not been realised and they are on the defensive.

But nuclear tests have a long-term aim and implication, which we must understand in its proper context. Their long-term aim is militarisation of the Indian economy. Now the Chairperson of the Atomic Energy Commission, R.Chidambaram says that India has to build up a military-industrial complex. Once it is built up it will be the new strategy for not only defence but for economic development too. They have already started taking steps in this direction. This is the path treaded by America and Israel; this has to be India’s path too! When Indian industry is mired in recession the industrialists want to make their way to the defence industry and thus enhance industrial growth! This is the saddest part of the whole scheme. This means a huge chunk of the budget will be drained for militarisation, links between private capital and defence will grow closer and as a by-product civil life will be the worst hit. Betterment of civil society will no longer be the priority of the state; and the priority will be shifted to the industrial-military complex: industry for the army, industry for arms. This nexus among military bureaucrats, scientific bureaucrats and private capital — a new class nexus will strive to give Indian industry and economy a totally new direction.

The responsibility of the leftists is to expose this class reality besides opposing the blasts. They must unite with all and sundry in opposing the bomb, but the responsibility of educating people about this politics, this long-term aim of the BJP government, rests with the leftist forces alone. They must work hard to unite the anti-nuke movement on this basis.

Panchamarhi, Chennai and ...Calcutta

[From Liberation, October 1998.]

Two weeks back, while commenting on the Panchamarhi Conclave of the Congress(I) we had written in ML Update, "The official Left, in particular, had pinned much of its hopes on the expected review of the economic policy in the conclave. They were eagerly awaiting some positive signals from Panchamarhi on this score in order to sell their line of close cooperation with the Congress(I). This was particularly important in the context of the forthcoming party congresses of both the CPI and the CPI(M) where a stiff resistance is expected against hobnobbing with the Congress(I)." And also that "Left leaders, however, felt cheated, since, barring some old cliches like ‘Garibi Hatao’ and ritual reiteration of Socialist pattern etc., Manmohanamics held full sway in the economic resolutions."

Now when the CPI’s Chennai congress is over, we hear this from the horse’s mouth. The Hindustan Times, dated September 19, quotes Mr.Bardhan as saying that "there were expectations from the Congress(I) that its Panchamarhi session would do a reappraisal of its policies. ...(But) the core issue of economic policy was not adequately attended to". However, this concern for economic policy is more for appearences rather than a major point of divergence between the official Left and the Congress(I). After all, the Common Minimum Program of the UF government had hardly come up with a different economic program. The moot point is that after the collapse of the UF experiment a new phase of collaboration between the Congress(I) and the official Left has indeed begun. The pace has, of course, slowed down because of inadequate gestures from Panchmarhi and the resultant inability of the leadership to sell its line of active collaboration with Congress(I). In the face of active resistance by a good number of delegates who opposed this policy of ‘manoeuvring at the top’ and insisted that there is no substitute to the hard work, the Chennai Congress had to restrict itself to the outside support to Congress(I) instead of any general alliance or a common secular front.

CPI(M) leadership, too, is moving along similar lines. Comrade Jyoti Basu is too enthusiastic about moving closer to the Congress(I) but, learning from the experience of CPI’s congress and expecting even greater resistance from its ranks in Calcutta the party leadership has started treading cautiously. Jyoti Basu absented himself in CPI(M)’s recently held rally at Delhi on the pretext of illness and Surjeet chose the occasion to come down on the Congress(I) as well. Well, in view of the lacklustre response from the rank and file and deep divisionss within the leadership itself, and, moreover due to Congress(I)’s own lack of enthusiasm to go the whole hog with the Left, both the CPI and CPI(M) leaders have decided to move slowly. But the essential message is clear. The rhetoric of the third front has been dumped unceremoniously and an era of closer cooperation with the Congress(I) has begun.

The wheel, thus, has turned a full circle. One remembers that just two years back the same left leaders were talking so big even on accepting support from the Congress(I) for the UF government. Then they defined Congress(I) support as one out of compulsion. Indrajeet Gupta even challenged the Congress(I) to withdraw support and then face the music. However when the threat of withdrawal of support did come, the UF meekly responded by sacrificing Deve Gowda. When the threat was repeated they showed the bravery of sacrificing the government rather than dismissing the two DMK ministers, a bravery they deeply repent now. The resultant mid-term elections brought the BJP to power, rejuvenated the Congress(I) and dealt a deathblow to the UF. The politics got polarised between the BJP and Congress(I) and the much-cherished concept of third front, the so-called transitory step towards the people’s democratic front etc., got a drubbing. The same DMK for whose sake the heroic sacrifice was made has come up with the novel idea of differentiating between the BJP government and the BJP as party. The same Mr.Indrajeet Gupta, in his inaugural speech at Chennai, advocated backing the Congress(I) in its bid for power as the ‘Left is weak’.

Congress(I) understands this dilemma of the Left and therefore gave a green signal to it in Panchamarhi without, however, diluting the thrust of its economic policy. At the same time it tried to distance itself with the Laloo-Mulayam duo. Apart from the concern to rebuild the party in its erstwhile strongholds of UP and Bihar and to win back its traditional upper caste and minority support, the move was cleverly aimed at removing any buffer between itself and the BJP.

Signals are thus clear. The opportunist Left is inexorably moving towards Congress(I) and in a sense this is the formalisation of their long-standing overt and covert relationship with the Congress(I). The anarchist Left on the other hand is aligning itself with the rich farmers’ lobby under its pet banner of non-politicalism on the pretext of saving the Indian agriculture from the onslaught of WTO regime.

The agenda for rebuilding the third front on a revolutionary democratic basis should be taken up by the forces of the revolutionary Left. There are enough social and political forces that will respond to this call in the changing political situation. Even in the CPI congress, the overwhelming sentiment was in favour of building a broader left alliance, which the leadership tried to derail by confining it within the ambit of so-called communist unity with the CPI(M). Erstwhile socialist forces are in a disarray after the Samata joined the BJP bandwagon and so are innumerable other forces that are all eagerly waiting for a fresh bid to rejuvenate the whole concept of the third front. We have already renewed our appeal for a left confederation and the ongoing campaign, "oust saffron, save the nation", must be transformed into a positive campaign for a Third Front.