Learning the ABC of Marxism

[A popular introduction prepared for Party schools. From Liberation, June 1990.]

For the last 7 or 8 years the Party CC has been making efforts to cultivate the habit of study in the Party and turn the system of Party schools into an integral part of the Party body. Selected batches of cadres were enrolled in central Party schools and state and other Party committees too conducted schools at their respective levels. It was expected that all these measures will not only raise the level of knowledge and understanding of the entire Party, but shall make study a regular habit as well. How far has this aim been achieved? Everyone shall perhaps agree that the degree of success has been quite low. A few comrades have continued with studies, more due to their own inclination and the rest have gone back to their old status.

Now there are certain fundamentals of Marxism, ABC of Marxism and if you don’t know them you are liable to be put into the category of illiterate Marxists. I think the number of such people is quite large in our Party. Among those who may be called literates, again the majority has hardly crossed primary standards. The majority of our senior leaders and cadres too cannot claim to have entered the university of Marxist education.

This is a very sorry state of affairs and shows that a good majority of our comrades are either working blindly or working according to their whims. If you work blindly, i.e., faithfully memorising the slogans and implementing to the letter the instructions coming from the top, you run the risk of missing their spirit and you may never develop a creative practice. And if you work according to your whims, you are sure to go against the Party’s ideas, plans and line. Both the situations are equally harmful for the Party and people’s interests.

Now, I find some people quite happy as their main field of activity is the front organisation and they feel here they don’t need to study Marxism. Barring a few exceptions I don’t think front leaders and cadres nowadays pay any attention to studying Marxism. The level of many has even gone down and this is one important reason for the recent emergence of non-revolutionary practices on the part of a section of its leaders and cadres. These comrades failed to understand that the entire concept, programme and tactics of this front is derived from nothing else but Marxism-Leninism, from its concrete application to our concrete conditions. To succeed in its mission, the most advanced and revolutionary class must appear as the leader of the whole society. Communists must have to compete with and ultimately replace the bourgeoisie from its coveted position of natural leader of the society. United front, whatever form it takes at any particular juncture, is precisely the medium through which a Communist Party achieves this goal. Therefore, strategy and tactics of the united front i.e., the ability to transform the aims and slogans of the most advanced class into those of all the classes of the people, is the most crucial aspect of Marxist theory and practice. Communists who constitute the nucleus and backbone of the front organisation cannot acquire this ability if they remain illiterate Marxists.

A large number of new forces have been joining the front and the Party organisation. They are not only illiterate in the Marxist sense, many coming from CPI, CPI(M) etc. have even got a negative education.

The other day I met a comrade who had packed all his baggage including two bagloads of books and was all set to leave the Party — in his words, taking an indefinite leave from the Party, for the sake of study. This comrade — a young, promising and good practical worker — was very disgusted as he felt that there was no proper atmosphere for pursuing studies in the Party. He also felt that the Party was encouraging blind practice and as a host of complex questions remain theoretically unresolved, the present successes may prove illusory and in the long run we will run into a solid wall.

I tried to argue with him and persuade him to remain within the Party. He was an intelligent fellow and had already prepared his counter-arguments in anticipation of whatever logic other people were going to putforth. Hence I failed in my persuasion, and moreover, my rate of success in persuading comrades to refrain from deserting the Party has always been very poor. Anyway, that is another story.

Undoubtedly, the basic position of this comrade is wrong. His ambition is to develop as an academician and not as a Party theoretician.

By no means do I want to belittle the all-important role played by academicians, and truly speaking, without the useful research work undertaken by them, without the conflict of ideas, which invariably takes shape first in the realm of academics, it is virtually impossible to build upon the revolutionary theory. Still, academicians have their own limitations — their conclusions lack clarity or thrust and are often confusing and wrong. It remains for revolutionary theoreticians and political leaders of the proletariat to formulate the course of action. The bourgeoisie can afford a division between theoreticians and ‘practicians’, but for the proletariat, its leaders have been Marx, Lenin, Mao etc., the philosophers, economists and political leaders all combined into one.

In our Party history we have witnessed individuals and groups who made a mechanical division between theory and practice. In their opinion, first there should be a long period of study to derive a ‘correct’ political line and then the period of ‘correct’ practice would begin. Well, history has proved that all these people could reach nowhere after years and years of study; instead they ended up with more confusion than they had at the beginning. Revolutionary theory could only be advanced by those who remained in the thick of practice and learned from their mistakes and failures. Does it mean that everything that the comrade said was wrong and deserves only condemnation? I don’t think so. In my opinion he was quite right when he said that a lot of complex questions are crying out for theoretical solutions and if they are not urgently taken up we may in the long run crash against a solid wall. He did touch a sensitive nerve of ours when he pointed out the lack of proper atmosphere for studies.

It you agree with the above-mentioned assessment of the state of affairs in the Party, you will readily welcome the Party Central Committee’s plan to launch a mass literacy campaign for educating the entire Party membership in the ABC of Marxism.

To proceed. One question that may be asked, and quite legitimately too, is while socialism is facing a crisis worldwide and questions are being asked about the relevance of Marxism itself, won’t your emphasis on studying Marxist fundamentals reinforce orthodoxy?

Well, the crisis of socialism in general and the East European developments in particular demand a comprehensive analysis from all possible angles — changes in the world balance of forces, powerful socio-economic factors operating in Europe as a whole, the role of Soviet perestroika, the wrongs committed by the communist parties etc. etc.

But I think all this still does not touch the most fundamental reason of all. After the setbacks suffered by communists in East Europe, many expected a swing in favour of socialists, the exponents of ‘socialism with democratic principles’ as against ‘dictatorship’, who had been historical rivals of communists in Europe. That has not come and all efforts of erstwhile communists to reform and reorganise themselves as social democrats failed to retrieve the situation. Ascendancy of centre-right political combinations, the increasing role of the Church, and direct calls to go back to capitalism are all that is happening in East Europe. In concrete reality, therefore, socialism with all its varieties in different East European countries has failed and the democratic revolution, people’s democracies, the rule of the proletariat have only paved the way for the return of capitalism and the political rule of the bourgeoisie. Only the materialist conception of history, propounded in Marxist fundamentals, can provide a solution to this puzzle. Marx had said, "If the proletariat destroys the political rule of the bourgeoisie, that will only be a temporary victory, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in 1794, so long as in the course of history, in its ‘movement’, the matured conditions are not yet created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and thus the definitive overthrow of bourgeois political rule. The reign of terror in France, could only serve, therefore, to clear away from the soil of France, through its powerful blows, the remnants of feudalism. The anxious and considerate bourgeoisie would never have completed this task in decades. The bloody action of the people thus only prepared the way for it. Similarly, the collapse of the absolute monarchy would have been temporary, had not the economic conditions for the rule of the bourgeois class already ripened. Men do not build themselves a new world out of the fruits of the earth, as vulgar superstition believes, but out of the historical accomplishments of their declining civilisation. They must, in the course of their development, begin by themselves producing the material conditions of a new society, and no effort of mind or will can free them from this destiny". (Die Moralisierende Kritik... 1847). Moreover, the host of analyses appearing in liberal bourgeois and Marxist media have so vulgarised Marxism that refreshing the Marxist fundamentals has become our imperative need. For example, I had been reading an analytical article on East European developments in Economic and Political Weekly written by an academician — a regular contributor. He eventually drew the conclusion that communists there failed to understand the strong impact of religion on people’s minds and failed to properly utilise it. Continuing, he went on to praise Gandhi’s methods of making popular use of religion in the independence struggle and advised communists to learn a lesson or two.

Because of a fragmented and shortcut study of Marxism many people think that Marx failed to understand the important role of religion and just dismissed it as the ‘opium of the people’. In fact, Marx presented a very comprehensive view of religion. Let me quote from him,

"Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral affection, its solemn complement, its general basis of consolation and justification.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Marx-Engels Correspondence)

Had any materialist in the entire history of materialist thought ever presented such a comprehensive view on religion? Petty-bourgeois revolutionaries in their fashionable approach simply dismiss religion. Recently, I read a poem in Janmat where the meaning of religion is explained in the crudest possible terms and I think it will get a lot of claps from many of our comrades. You may enjoy that liberty in poetry but it’s harmful if translated in theory.

Religion is an inverted world consciousness, based upon the negation of man’s natural existence and nature’s human existence. Marx said, "Once the essence of man and nature, man as a natural being and nature as a human reality, has become evident in practical life, in senses experienced, the search for an alien being, a being outside man and nature (a search which is an avowal of the unreality of man and nature) becomes impossible in practice. Atheism, as a denial of this unreality, is no longer meaningful, for atheism is a denial of God, and seeks to assert by this denial the existence of man. Socialism no longer requires such a roundabout method; it begins from the theoretical and practical sense perception of man and nature as real existences. It is a positive human self-consciousness, no longer a self-consciousness attained through the negation of religion, just as the real life of a man is positive and no longer attained through the negation of private property (communism). Communism is the phase of negation of the negation, and is consequently, for the next stage of historical developments, a real and necessary factor in the emancipation and rehabilitation of man. Communism is the necessary form and the active principle of the immediate future, but communism is not itself the aim of human development or the final form of human society." (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts)

Dismissing religion and carrying on struggle against it in the negative style of atheists are wrong. Similarly, all talks of making use of it for a modern socialist transformation of society are humbug. East European socialism failed to free people from the uncertainties of life, could not make them conscious as makers of their own destiny and instead degenerated into an oppressive system. This is the essential reason behind the lingering influence and perhaps the revival of the Church.

I don’t say that it’s simply a matter of explaining away the East European developments with the help of fundamental Marxist concepts, and that Marxism itself doesn’t need an enrichment, learning from experiences of all these years. My point is that in the process of historical advance it has often happened that mankind has rediscovered the fundamentals of original revolutionary thought and then improved upon them. I am confident that socialist thought will soon witness a new phase of renaissance and that will surely be based on resurrection of Marxist fundamentals.

When we talk of fundamentals of Marxism it should not be understood as reading a few books and memorising a few principal formulations. Deciding our approach towards study is the most important question, and on that rests success or failure of our whole campaign.

I have often seen that some people have their own ideas on certain questions and they read Marxist literature just to find support for those ideas. Perhaps one can always manage to extract suitable quotes in favour of any idea. We talk of Marxism as our guide to action but in reality we make it tail behind our ideas and actions. I think while studying we should start from the premise that our natural, spontaneous ideas are, in general, petty bourgeois in nature. It has to be so because bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas are the dominant ideas in society and our world outlook, including that of worker comrades, is bound to be deeply influenced by them. While studying Marxism one should study it in contrast to one’s own ideas, and through a process of mental struggle, make a conscious effort to transform one’s own world outlook. Mao said in relation to China, "there are many comrades in the Party who have joined the Party organisationally and not ideologically". I find it even more true in our case. There are many comrades whose bodies are in the Communist Party, whose souls are dedicated to revolution, but whose minds live in the realm of the liberal-bourgeois world of ideas.

I shall illustrate the point by narrating a few examples.

I find many comrades are taken in by bourgeois propaganda and start harbouring illusions about this or that pronouncement of governments on, say, alleviating poverty etc. Liberals go on propagating that it is just a question of will, the political will in carrying out reforms etc.

Let us see how Marxism approaches this question.

Marx said, "The convention had for a moment the courage to order the abolition of pauperism not indeed ‘immediately’,.... but only after entrusting the Committee of Public Safety with the preparation of the necessary plans and proposals .... what was the result of the convention’s ordinance? Only that there was one more ordinance in the world, and that one year later the convention was besieged by starving weavers.

"Yet the convention represented a maximum political energy, power and understanding.

"No government in the world has been able to make regulations concerning pauperism immediately, without first consulting its officials. ... Insofar as states have concerned themselves at all with pauperism, they have remained at the level of administrative and charitable measures or have sunk below this level.

"Can the state act in any other way? The state will never look for the cause of social imperfections in the state and social institutions themselves! ... Where there are political parties, each party finds the source of such evils in the fact that the opposing party, instead of itself is at the helm of state. Even the radical and revolutionary politicians look for the source of the evils not in the nature of the state, but in a particular form of the state which they want to replace by another form.

"The state and the structure of society are not, from the standpoint of politics, two different things. The state is the structure of society. Insofar as the state admits the existence of social evils, it attributes them to natural laws against which no human power can prevail, or to private life which is independent of the state or to the inadequacies of the administration which is subordinate to it. Thus in England poverty is explained by the natural law according to which population always increases beyond the means of subsistence. From another aspect, England explains pauperism as the consequence of the evil dispositions of the poor, just as the king of Prussia explains it by the unchristian disposition of the rich, and as the convention explains it by the sceptical, counter-revolutionary outlook of the property owners. Accordingly, England inflicts penalties on the poor, the king of Prussia admonishes the rich and the convention beheads property owners.

"In the last resort, every state seeks the cause in adventitious or intentional aspects in the administration and therefore looks to a reform of the administration for a redress of these evils. Why? Simply because the administration is the organising activity of the state itself.

"The contradiction between the aims and good intentions of the administration on the one hand, and its means and resources on the other, cannot be removed by the state without abolishing itself, for it rests upon this contradiction. The state is founded upon the contradiction between public and private life, between general and particular interests. The administration must, therefore, limit itself to a formal and negative sphere of activity, because its power ceases at the point where civil life and its work begin. In face of the consequences which spring from the unsocial character of the life of civil society, of private property, trade, industry, of the mutual plundering by the different groups in civil society impotence is the natural law of the administration." (Economic Notebooks)

The other day I had a discussion with a comrade who felt that Marx’s concept of division of society into classes, of class struggle, seems unfounded. He argued that Marx talked about proletarian leadership etc. but you see workers appearing most conservative and seeing nothing beyond their economic interests. The comrade is wrong in attributing to Marx the credit of dividing the society into classes and inventing class struggle. Marx himself said, "No credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle of the classes and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes." (Marx to Weydemyer, March 1852)

Marx’s credit lies in discovering the class which would ultimately put an end to all classes including itself. This class is the proletariat, which is the only class objectively placed to accomplish this mission. Marx further said, "If socialist writers attribute this world-historic role to the proletariat, this is not at all... because they regard the proletarians as gods. On the contrary, in the fully developed proletariat, everything human is taken away, even the appearance of humanity. ... It is not a matter of knowing what this or that proletarian or even the proletariat as a whole conceives as its aims at any particular moment. It is a question of knowing what the proletariat is and what it must historically accomplish in accordance with its nature". (The Holy Family)

I found a comrade, whose integrity and sincerity for the Party and revolution is beyond question, to be deeply influenced by the Gorbachevian hypothesis of ‘peaceful and civilised imperialism’. This comrade failed to understand that he belongs to a country which is in the Third World, a country whose main external contradiction as a nation is with imperialism. A theory which advocates mitigating of this contradiction, and advocates toning down the struggle of developing countries against imperialism, is harmful for our national interest. Why is it that communist parties, various popular movements and many a national leader of the Third World have refused to ditto the new thinking of Gorbachev? It’s so because they are the conscious representatives of their national interests. This comrade of ours is taken in by liberal bourgeois propaganda and is not a conscious representative of the contradiction between imperialism and the Indian nation which forms one of the pillars of our Party programme.

I found several comrades who were carried away by the mass character of parties like AGP and Telugu Desam and movements like those of Sharad Joshi and Tikait and even advocated either joining these parties and movements or copying their programmes. They see the masses in their fold and their militant forms and forget all about the class nature and the goal of these parties and movements. It is quite an irony that while left and progressive sections of the people throughout India see a new hope in our movement in Bihar, primarily because it bases itself upon the most oppressed and most revolutionary classes in the countryside, because its mass character and militancy is being consciously directed towards the definite political goal of revolutionary democracy, a section of our own comrades ridicule their own movement and spread illusions about movements led by alien classes which advocate non-party, apolitical anarchism or certain partial economic and political reforms in the system.

Some of these comrades advocated supporting the Janata government and they even wanted us to join it. They got deeply influenced by the democratic pretensions of the Janata government and its emphasis on the rural sector etc. They felt that struggle against feudal remnants etc. could well be accomplished by a Janata Dal variety of government and we just needed to act as a pressure group. This theory could not stop here and, as the next logical step in its advance, questioned our emphasis on the rural poor and their militant mass movements. The theory ended with the negation of the Communist Party itself, and with the advocacy of a loose democratic formation pursuing the peaceful parliamentary path and essentially playing second fiddle to the Janata Dal and the social-democratic Left. They went to the extent of ridiculing the Naxalbari movement and ridiculed the ideas of independent left assertion and revolutionary democracy.

Well, these comrades failed to strictly adhere to the Marxist class approach. A Communist Party in rural areas can only base itself upon the rural poor and strive to win over the middle peasantry. Our stand towards the Janata Dal government etc. should be decided from this class standpoint only. Janata Dal’s social base in the countryside is essentially led by kulaks with whom the rural poor find themselves in sharp contradiction. In fact, this is the major and growing contradiction in rural India. As we base upon the rural poor and primarily champion their interests, our relation with the Janata Dal cannot but be primarily that of struggle. Now it is true that the middle peasantry too is following this kulak lobby, and as such they form the base of parties like Janata Dal. As we have to win over this middle peasantry, and gradually make it shift from the fold of kulaks and turn it into an ally of the rural poor, we have to go in for some sort of interaction with Janata Dal too. This makes our relation with them a complex affair of unity and struggle, where undoubtedly struggle plays the main role. These objective realities at class levels, we have tried to reflect in our political relationship towards Janata Dal, in our approach towards its government. As CPI and CPI(M) deny or belittle the contradiction between the rural poor and the emerging kulak lobby -- as is most glaringly exhibited in their condemnation of our movement as the struggle between workers and ‘peasants’ -- they advocate class peace in the countryside and hobnob with the kulak lobby.

Their unconditional support to the Janata Dal government, and to Telugu Desam and DMK governments, is quite compatible with their class approach. In the present objective conditions, generally speaking, the middle peasantry is following the kulak lobby and it rallies behind either centrist political parties or behind its ‘natural leaders’ like Tikait and Sharad Joshi. Thus its turning towards the Left depends upon the intensification of its contradictions with the kulaks. Recent experiences in Bihar show that to an extent we have been able to extend our base among sections of the middle peasantry. Improvements in our policies and approach are definitely needed but the whole process is bound to be slow and along with our direct efforts, we will have to take recourse to united front activities wherever possible with peasant organisations that are springing up here and there. If the Marxist class approach and the ground realities are forgotten, and if a communist just wishes to copy a Tikait or a Sharad Joshi for the sake of a quick and short-cut process, I am afraid he will not only fail in this endeavour, rather in the process, he will also lose his social base among the rural poor. Politically, too, he will end up just as a lackey of the bourgeois and social-democratic parties. A few people who left our Party advocating similar lines have already degenerated to that extent.

All such comrades have failed to develop as conscious representatives of the class interest we champion, and have become victims of deceptive liberal bourgeois and social-democratic propaganda.

Then there was a woman comrade in the Party, very active for the women’s cause. She was quite a promising and sincere comrade whom we expected to develop as a woman leader. But in the realm of ideas half her time was consumed in discussing the problems of freedom of love. She developed an affinity with a petty-bourgeois women’s organisation championing an extreme variety of feminism. We tried to explain to her that all these feminist movements are movements of a tiny minority of women, and, by pitting women against men within the democratic movement, they objectively play a disruptionist role. We pointed out to her that if thousands and thousands of labouring women enthusiastically and actively participate in the mainstream democratic movement led by our Party, this itself is proof enough that the cause of women’s liberation forms an important aspect of the movement and again the movement in turn has a liberating effect on womenfolk. When, in Bihar, women form over thirty percent of a 50,000 strong procession, it goes without saying that the basis of a mass-based women’s movement should be sought from within the broad democratic movement. Of course, you need to investigate how exactly the movement at the grassroots reflects and champions the women’s cause and how it creates a liberating impact on them. You need to investigate and formulate these and develop an autonomous women’s organisation. ‘Autonomy’ itself implies that your independence is relative and must be enjoyed as an integral part of the movement. Extreme feminists instead pit the ‘autonomous women’s movement’ against the broad movement for democracy. We explained it all to the concerned woman comrade, advised her to put aside for a while her firebrand variety of feminism, as it would only bring isolation from the women themselves and rather move to step by step keeping in mind the level of consciousness and state of organisation of women. Isn’t this the common practice of all communists? Isolated from the masses we are doomed and to move along with the masses, to raise their level of consciousness step by step, don’t we adjust with various institutions of society which we, in the final analysis, intend to break? Even participation in election — is it not an adjustment? However, all our explanations failed to create any impact and matters came to such a pass that we had to expel this woman comrade from the Party as her extreme feminist ideas were found to be incompatible with the Communist Party and Marxism-Leninism.

I have discussed the importance of study, emphasised the study of Marxist fundamentals and put forward the correct approach towards study. I have also referred to several examples to show how some honest and sincere practical workers came into conflict with Marxism and the Communist Party because they neglected study and refused to transform their world outlook.

This transformation is a long drawn process and hence study must be a regular affair. Otherwise, as happened with these comrades, wrong ideas go on accumulating till it becomes impossible for one to transform oneself.

As one of my colleagues correctly pointed out, high thinking is always associated with plain living and, I would add, with modesty.

I hope that practical workers who often avoid study on the pretext of pressure of work would learn a lesson or two from these negative teachers. In the present literacy campaign we have tried to adopt a popular approach. Senior Party leaders have prepared a series of popular essays on various topics. And after we get your suggestions and criticisms, the Party Central Committee plans to publish improved versions of these essays as permanent study material.