Monday, October 12, 2020

A short course on Indian Communism

A short course on Indian Communism, 1920-1947 taught by Vijay Prashad

Class 1

Russia and India- Gandhi
Why I am an atheist- Bhagat Singh
Castes, Classes, and Parties in Modern Political Development- EMS Namboodiripad
History of the Communist Movement in India (LeftWord Books)- Chapter 1

Class notes:
Internationalism or Extinction- Noam Chomsky
For many people in Africa or South America, the prospect of extinction doesn't begin on 06-Aug-1945 (Hiroshima Day)
"Barbarism vs Socialism" -Rosa Luxemberg
Extinction is not just about Nuclear winter. It is about inter-generational hunger and lack of opportunities to develop.

Communism is the part of dialectic of human history
The Jail Notebook- Bhagat Singh

Today's agenda- Indian Radicalism before Communism
Communism in India doesn't come from outside. It comes from the context of Indian history itself.
Indian struggles predate Communist Movement by a hundred years.
The British were terrified about these agitators coming from Moscow.
How the British reshaped Social life in India and created new class structures.
There have been movements against the wretchedness of caste since hundreds of years. Eg: Buddhism (Ajeevikas)
There is scholarship that argues that Imperialism destroyed India and things might have been different. But India didn't need the British to be wretched.

Irfan Habib's books- Tulika books

"Some argue that pre-British India was dynamic. I argue that it was involuted." -VP
Caste is the main disciplinary instrument to draw more and more surplus from labour. There was no incentive to improve technologically.
When the Mughals come in, there is a break from the places they come from. The same is true for many rulers who come in. This is important.
When the Mongols went to Europe, they were not able to maintain their supply chains. It was not possible technologically. That's why their empires couldn't expand beyond a certain size. The same is true for Mughals. But by the time the British come, technology is improved for them to be able to stay linked.
Until the British, invaders who came ended up settling in.
Christianity came to South Asia before it came to Europe (St. Thomas dies near Nungambakam)
The settlers remain- This becomes very important for the Economic life of a society

When the Portuguese came in (and most trade was in luxury goods), the rulers ignored them because most revenue came from owning land and not from trade.
The English don't arrive as a force of the British Empire. They come as a Joint Stock Company. This, we see, is the beginning of Capitalism.
Indian Economic life was fairly static.
Note to self: Must read Dalrymple's Anarchy
Joint Stock Companies are a very clever way of raising capital and sharing risks. That's what the share market is.
"Approach of Dalrymple's White Mughals is so romantic, so unnecessary. Even if they lived in Calcutta, even if they enjoyed Hindustani music, the structure of what they were doing was to take wealth from India and take it elsewhere"
Dalrymple's argument is that the British were part of India until 1857. That maybe true socially or culturally but not true economically. They were already leeching.

The problem with Colonialism wasn't that they were English. The problem was that a structure of exploitation was created. They were no more exotic than the Persians or anyone else.
The EIC became land revenue collectors in Bengal.
In India nobody drank tea till the 19th century. It started because the English started dumping it from the Chinese. And they were paying it by the Silver and Gold mined from South America. The Chinese wanted bullion because they refused to trade with any other commodity. The English didn't like that, so they did two things: 1. They started selling Sea Slugs (and so colonised Fiji) 2. And Opium (and forced (?) them to be addicted).
The Forbes family, among others, made their money from the Opium trade. "These old money families smell of Opium".

Perpetual Motion Machine of profit.
Imperialism- Take money from the working people of a place and move it to a different place where people didn't work for that money

Utsa Patnaik- From 1765 till 1938, the British took out 45 trillion dollars.
Marx's Capital- There is a tendency to substitute labour by machine

  • EIC were able to do it without changing the structure because caste was already in place Eg: Even today one million people manually clean sewers (and this is usually along caste lines)
  • Abundance of labour, cheapness of labour Eg: Till today many Indian households have manual labour clean their homes
  • Lack of economic incentive to invest in improvement of social relations
  • This form of Imperialism is like Finance Capital. It is extremely short-term

The railroad was constructed to move goods to ports. It was not done to improve the lives of people.
Social relations of production.

-Commodification of Labour-No other option than to sell labour to Capitalist

  • Free from Bondage
  • Free to Starve

Wage theft is built into the system

-Brutalisation of Labour

1757 is the Diwani in Bengal- Right to collect land revenue

1770- Catastrophic famine in Bengal. 1/3rd of the population dies.
Till 1943 famine in Bengal, they come one after the other.
These famines were not happening prior to the imperial conquest.
The commodification of land- Revenue was not in kind, it was in cash. Commercialisation of Agriculture- If you can't pay, either you're kicked out of the land or have to turn to the money-lender.

Development of Capitalism in Russia- Lenin

It wasn't the British that colonised India. It was Imperialism. It was a dynamic capitalist system that overcame them without destroying them.

Marx in 1853- "British has to do two things in India. Destructive and Regenerative." Later he wrote that they didn't destroy Asiatic society, they just took and put it to their use. The form was in collusion with the wretchedness of caste and patriarchy etc.
Neel Darpan- Play in 1861- Critique of Indigo plantation society

British trade was financed by slave trade and theft.

Max Weber- Capitalism is produced because of Protestant Saving.
VP - "He was dreaming".
Capital comes dripping from the Earth with blood. Primitive Accumulation.

Deccan uprising of 1875- They burnt the house of the moneylender and not the sheriff

Abstract form of capital against concrete form of physical power

1. Zamindari System- Creation of the landlord class. They supplanted institutions of the Mughal state.
2. South India- Thomas Munroe (who had read Riccardo)- Ryotwari system- the state collects tax from the farmer.

Dadabhai Naoroji- "Drain of wealth from India". India was being charged to pay for the bills of Imperialism.

Caste and Class are not identical systems. But there is a very strong correlation.
Ambedar's interrogation of Marxism- including his paper On the origins of Caste- Ambedkar and Communism

Sanyasi and Fakir rebellions- Late 1700s
Peasant uprisings- "Defensive movement" because they don't want to give such high taxes

Tibagha Movement
Santhal Hool- Tribal rebellions: They are against commercialisation
"Restorative struggles"- They want the old way. "We want our kings back". Bahadur Shah Zafar, Jhansi Rani

1800 Vellore Mutiny- issues of animal fat

"It is wrong to call 1857 an Indian mutiny. There was very little rebellion in South India"
Recommendation: Satyajit Ray's Shatranj ke Khilari (based on Premchand's story)
Awadh is the only place where there's mass uprising.
Nepali soldiers were told that if you defeat Lucknow you can take whatever you want. The big prize in Nepal casinos was once called Lucknow Loot.

At this time people like Raja Rammohan Roy were quick to realise and argue that Indian society is weak and the internal weaknesses need to be rectified. Problems of hierarchy, caste and gender. This is where Social reform starts.
The trajectory of the middle class radical. They take interest in Socialist ideas.

You can't have freedom until you have social wealth- Tagore
People like Tagore, Bankim Chandra and other mainstream celebrated thinkers talk about Socialism. But it is indigenous, it doesn't necessarily come from outside.

In 1885 a bunch of fairly heterogeneous people create the Indian National Congress. They are mainly middle-class petitioners asking for more room, more say in their rule.
1905 uprising in Bengal- Swadeshi movement. Its against the partition of Bengal on religious lines by Lord Curzon.
Gandhi says that you need a much bigger project that self-interest; You need patriotism.

A lot of the political ideas associated with Gandhi come to the fore around this time when Tilak is arrested: boycott of goods, Hartal etc.

Gandhi's essential political character was moderation. He understands that Congress was a national platform even though they don't understand power. They think that the British government is a government of reason and not of capital and power.

  • The Congress is useful for its organization and not its political line
  • Students were extraordinarily committed. But they were infatuated by the cult of the bomb. It was classic anarchist. But they bring self-sacrifice and a lack of self-interest
  • There are mass struggles all overThe Gandhian project was about bringing these three things together.
  • You see this in Champaran which then leads to non-cooperation movement.

Problems are many:

  • Gandhi's a serial compromise with the capitalists. He tells the workers that believe in the capitalists. They are guardians of your wealth.
  • He compromises with caste. He has problems with implementation but not the idea of it
  • He also compromises with imperialism to a certain extent. He is reluctant to call for Poorna Swaraj. (Its the Gadar babas who create a party in California in 1913 and call for it)

There was a big gap between between these two which led to the Communist-Socialist intervention.
This is the socio-political milieu in which communists/ socialists enter the fray.

The role of the organizer- You can't build a cadre until you have people working full-time
Deepesh Chakabarty's book on jute workers. "It was shocking to see how disparaging it was to the organizers."
"A soldier is a peasant with a rifle" -Lenin

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