“….But Anuradha was different”
(This is the forward of Anuradha Ghandy’s book ‘Scripting the Change’ written by Arundhati Roy. Book my be purchased from here— Editor)
That is what everyone who knew Anuradha Ghandy says. That is what almost everyone whose life she touched thinks.
She died in a Mumbai hospital on the morning of 12 April 2008, of malaria. She had probably picked it up in the jungles of Jharkhand where she had been teaching study classes to a group of Adivasi women. In this great democracy of ours, Anuradha Ghandy was what is known as a ‘Maoist terrorist,’ liable to be arrested, or, more likely, shot in a fake ‘encounter,’ like hundreds of her colleagues have been. When this terrorist got high fever and went to a hospital to have her blood tested, she left a false name and a dud phone number with the doctor who was treating her. So he could not get through to her to tell her that the tests showed that she had the potentially fatal malaria falciparum. Anuradha’s organs began to fail, one by one. By the time she was admitted to the hospital on 11 April, it was too late. And so, in this entirely unnecessary way, we lost her.
She was 54 years old when she died, and had spent more than 30 years of her life, most of them underground, as a committed revolutionary.
I never had the good fortune of meeting Anuradha Ghandy, but when I attended the memorial service after she died I could tell that she was, above all, a woman who was not just greatly admired, but one who had been deeply loved. I was a little puzzled at the constant references that people who knew her made to her ‘sacrifices.’ Presumably, by this, they meant that she had sacrificed the comfort and security of a middle-class life, for radical politics. To me, however, Anuradha Ghandy comes across as someone who happily traded in tedium and banality to follow her dream. She was no saint or missionary. She lived an exhilarating life that was hard, but fulfilling.
The young Anuradha, like so many others of her generation, was inspired by the Naxalite uprising in West Bengal. As a student in Elphinstone College, she was deeply affected by the famine that stalked rural Maharashtra in the 1970s. It was working with the victims of desperate hunger that set her thinking and pitch-forked her into her journey into militant politics. She began her working life as a lecturer in Wilson College in Mumbai, but by 1982 she shifted to Nagpur. Over the next few years, she worked in Nagpur, Chandrapur, Amravati, Jabalpur and Yavatmal, organizing the poorest of the poor — construction workers, coal-mine workers — and deepening her understanding of the Dalit movement. In the late 1990s, even though she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she went to Bastar and lived in the Dandakaranya forest with the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) for three years. Here, she worked to strengthen and expand the extraordinary women’s organization, perhaps the biggest feminist organization in the country — the Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (KAMS) that has more than 90,000 members. The KAMS is probably one of India’s best kept secrets. Anuradha always said that the most fulfilling years of her life were these years that she spent with the People’s War (now CPI-Maoist) guerillas in Dandakaranya. When I visited the area almost two years after Anuradha’s death, I shared her awe and excitement about the KAMS and had to re-think some of my own easy assumptions about women and armed struggle. In an Foreword essay in this collection, writing under the pseudonym Avanti, Anuradha says:
As we approach March 8, early in the dawn of this new century remarkable developments are taking place on the women’s front in India. Deep in the forests and plains of central India, in the backward villages of Andhra Pradesh and up in the hills among the tribals in the state, in the forests and plains of Bihar and Jharkhand women are getting organized actively to break the shackles of feudal patriarchy and make the New Democratic Revolution. It is a women’s liberation movement of peasant women in rural India, a part of the people’s war being waged by the oppressed peasantry under revolutionary leadership. For the past few years thousands of women are gathering in hundreds of villages to celebrate 8 March. Women are gathering together to march through the streets of a small town like Narayanpur to oppose the Miss World beauty contest, they are marching with their children through the tehsil towns and market villages in backward Bastar to demand proper schooling for their children. They are blocking roads to protest against rape cases, and confronting the police to demand that the sale of liquor be banned. And hundreds of young women are becoming guerrilla fighters in the army of the oppressed, throwing off the shackles of their traditional life of drudgery. Dressed in fatigues, a red star on their olive green caps, a rifle on their shoulders, these young women brimming with the confidence that the fight against patriarchy is integrally linked to the fight against the ruling classes of this semi-feudal, semi-colonial India, are equipping themselves with the military knowledge to take on the third largest army of the exploiters. This is a social and political awakening among the poorest of the poor women in rural India. It is a scenario that has emerged far from the unseeing eyes of the bourgeois media, far from the flash and glitter of TV cameras. They are the signs of a transformation coming into the lives of the rural poor as they participate in the great struggle for revolution.
But this revolutionary women’s movement has not emerged overnight, and nor has it emerged spontaneously merely from propaganda. The women’s movement has grown with the growth of armed struggle. Contrary to general opinion, the launching of armed struggle in the early 1980s by the communist revolutionary forces in various parts of the country, the militant struggle against feudal oppression gave the confidence to peasant women to participate in struggles in large numbers and then to stand up and fight for their rights. Women who constitute the most oppressed among the oppressed, poor peasant and landless peasant women, who have lacked not only an identity and voice but also a name, have become activists for the women’s organizations in their villages and guerrilla fighters. Thus with the spread and growth of the armed struggle the women’s mobilization and women’s organization have also grown, leading to the emergence of this revolutionary women’s movement, one of the strongest and most powerful women’s movements in the country today. But it is unrecognized and ignored, a ploy of the ruling classes that will try to suppress any news and acknowledgement as long as it can.
Her obvious enthusiasm for the women’s movement in Dandakaranya did not blind her to the problems that women comrades faced within the revolutionary movement. At the time of her death, that is what she was working on — how to purge the Maoist Party of the vestiges of continuing discrimination against women and the various shades of patriarchy that stubbornly persisted among those male comrades who called themselves revolutionary. In the time I spent with the PLGA in Bastar, many comrades remembered her with such touching affection. Comrade Janaki was the name they knew her by. They had a worn photograph of her, in fatigues and her huge trademark glasses, standing in the forest, beaming, with a rifle slung over her shoulder.
She’s gone now — Anu, Avanti, Janaki. And she’s left her comrades with a sense of loss they may never get over. She has left behind this sheaf of paper, these writings, notes and essays. And I have been given the task of introducing them to a wider audience.
It has been hard to work out how to read these writings. Clearly, they were not written with a view to be published as a collection. At first reading they could seem somewhat basic, often repetitive, a little didactic. But a second and third reading made me see them differently. I see them now as Anuradha’s notes to herself. Their sketchy, uneven quality, the fact that some of her assertions explode off the page like hand-grenades, makes them that much more personal. Reading through them you catch glimpses of the mind of someone who could have been a serious scholar or academic but was overtaken by her conscience and found it impossible to sit back and merely theorize about the terrible injustices she saw around her. These writings reveal a person who is doing all she can to link theory and practice, action and thought. Having decided to do something real and urgent for the country she lived in, and the people she lived amongst, in these writings, Anuradha tries to tell us (and herself) why she became a Marxist-Leninist and not a liberal activist, or a radical feminist, or an eco-feminist or an Ambedkarite. To do this, she takes us on a basic guided tour of a history of these movements, with quick thumb-nail analyses of various ideologies, ticking off their advantages and drawbacks like a teacher correcting an examination paper with a thick fluorescent marker. The insights and observations sometimes lapse into easy sloganeering, but often they are profound and occasionally they’re epiphanic — and could only have come from someone who has a razor sharp political mind and knows her subject intimately, from observation and experience, not merely from history and sociology textbooks.
Perhaps Anuradha Ghandy’s greatest contribution, in her writing, as well as the politics she practiced, is her work on gender and on Dalit issues. She is sharply critical of the orthodox Marxist interpretation of caste (‘caste is class’) as being somewhat intellectually lazy. She points out that her own party has made mistakes in the past in not being able to understand the caste issue properly. She critiques the Dalit movement for turning into an identity struggle, reformist not revolutionary, futile in its search for justice within an intrinsically unjust social system. She believes that without dismantling patriarchy and the caste-system, brick, by painful brick, there can be no New Democratic Revolution.
In her writings on caste and gender, Anuradha Ghandy shows us a mind and an attitude that is unafraid of nuance, unafraid of engaging with dogma, unafraid of telling it like it is — to her comrades as well as to the system that she fought against all her life. What a woman she was.
The life of Comrade Naveen Babu exemplifies the transformation of a student into a revolutionary. Starting his journey on the revolutionary path from JNU in late 1980s, Naveen embraced the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Within a decade he was working among the oppressed adivasis of Eastern Ghats, and laid down his life for the revolution on 18 February 2000 at Darakonda in Visakhapatnam during a battle with the fascist Andhra Pradesh Police.
Comrade Naveen (Yalavarthi Naveen Babu) was born in a village in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh in a middle peasant family. He completed his graduation in Hyderabad and joined M A Sociology in Meerut University in 1984. In 1986 he joined the M Phil programme in Sociology in JNU, and after completing his M Phil dissertation in 1988 he enrolled for the PhD (Naveen’s book From Varna to Jati: Political Economy of Caste in Indian Social Formation based on his M Phil dissertation has been published in 2009). Naveen formed the Student’s forum which stood for the exposure of the revisionist Left’s politics of compromise in JNU. In 1986, the Delhi Radical Students Organisation (DRSO) was formed. Soon Naveen became part of the DRSO in 1988. In 1989, when Delhi became the centre for the ‘upper’ caste anti-Mandal mania, the DRSO-led Student’s Solidarity swam against the tide by struggling for reservations for the OBCs. When there were vacillations amongst many in the revolutionary ranks, Naveen stood like a rock, patiently explaining the necessity for DRSO to support reservations, thereby drawing it closer to the oppressed sections.
In 1990, he represented DRSO in the countrywide students’ body, All India Revolutionary Students’ Federation (AIRSF), taking responsibility for editing its student magazine Kalam. Naveen also played a key role in organising an International Seminar on Nationality Struggles which was held in February 1996 in Delhi. The seminar under the auspices of the All India Peoples’ Revolutionary Forum (AIPRF) played a major role in linking the class struggles with the nationality struggles, giving birth to the Coordination Committee of Struggles of Nationalities and Democratic Movements (CCNDM). This effort of Comrade Naveen remains a strong bridge between the revolutionary and nationality movements of South Asia.
Comrade Naveen’s is a life of an exemplary revolutionary and an inspiration for the radical students’ movement of the country. He stood for the unity of words and deeds, theory and practice. He was an intellectual in the tradition of martyrs Christopher Caudwell and David Guest who laid down their lives in the Spanish Civil War or Chaganti Bhaskar Rao martyred in the forests of Srikakulam. Comrade Naveen laid down his life fighting the brutal Indian state for a new society free from all forms of exploitation and oppression. DSU commemorates the martyrdom of Comrade Naveen through this Memorial Lecture and remembers the students and youth of the country whose martyrdom has held high the red flag of the Indian Revolution.
Jan Myrdal, the Swedish author and columnist is a central figure in the world-wide anti-imperialist movement against the Vietnam War. He has penned more than 80 books, among which are Report from a Chinese Village (1963), Confessions of a Disloyal European (1968), The Silk Road (1980) and India Waits (1986). He has written fiction, plays and books on literature, art and politics. Born to Nobel laureate parents Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, Jan moved beyond the vision of his parents stretching the political boundaries of anti-imperialism to new levels. He travelled the length and breadth of the globe seeing various revolutionary and anti-imperialist movements in several continents closely while interacting with their leadership. He is a prominent supporter of the civil liberties movements in various countries, a trenchant critic of US imperialism and Israeli colonial settlements in the Middle East. He has also made a number of feature films and TV documentaries. Two years ago, at the age of 83, Jan Myrdal travelled in the tribal heartland of Bastar and personally interacted with the tribal people and the leadership of CPI (Maoist). His book Red Star Over India is an account of his trip which deftly combines India’s present with its past. The English version the book is released in the Kolkata Book Fair on 28 February 2012.
In ‘Some Notes on the Working Class and the Imperialist Wars’, which is the title of the 1st Comrade Naveen Babu Memorial Lecture, Jan Myrdal revisits the historic role the European working class has played in fighting against the imperialist ruling classes in their countries in the last century and the lessons learnt from the setbacks. He also analyses the new challenges the working class faces in the present epoch of worldwide crisis in the imperialist economy and the growing tide of revolutionary Communist movements in the oppressed countries such as India.
by Bernard D’Mello
This is the full-text of the introductory remarks made by the author at the Fourth Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy on 20th January 2012 at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. The article originally appeared in mrzine.
I woke up this morning to the chirping sounds of the swallows. Arundhati Roy seems to have brought in those love-birds that come in to Mumbai at this time of the year from the cold environs of the North. The lively spirit of Anuradha Ghandy (Anu, as she was fondly known) is all around us — that picture of hers reminds me of one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, “Forever Young”. We have here with us Anu’s mother — comrade Kumud Shanbag. Parents abiding by Hinduism usually give their daughters away at the time of marriage in a ritual called kanyadaan. Comrades Kumud and Ganesh Shanbag, rational and progressive, broke with this humiliating tradition; they raised their daughter Anu (Janaki) to decide what she wanted to do with her life and she joined the Revolution (Kranti). One might call what she did kranti-daan, though, I think, daan (donate) is not the right word for it. The Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan (KAMS) is justifiably proud of Anu (Janaki). Not long ago, when Arundhati Roy was walking with these comrades, they proudly showed her a photograph of Anu that they were carrying — she’s dressed in fatigues, an olive green cap with a star on it, rifle slung over her shoulders, and smiling, as always.
Anu came a long way, from the Hamil Sabha (the general student body) of Elphinstone College in the first half of 1970s to the Byramgadh area in old Bastar in the latter half of 1990s. For her, dalit, adivasi and women’s liberation1 were part of the fight for “new democracy” — indeed, for her they were a prerequisite for any kind of democracy. Just as Anu was shaping this policy of the Party — the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (People’s War) — in the 1990s, Arundhati Roy created a character called Velutha in The God of Small Things (1997). Velutha came from a dalit, attached-labour household. But despite his origins — Velutha came from the wretched of the wretched of the Indian earth — he became an accomplished carpenter and mechanic, indispensible to semi-feudal capital’s profit register in the small town of Ayemenem. Rahel and Estha, Ammu’s children, established a close bond of friendship with him. Ammu was attracted to him, fell in love with him — he was a passionate lover, he loved her like no one else could ever have loved her.
Velutha is my hero — for me, he is the classic Indian proletarian. Despite the exploitation and the oppression, Velutha did what he did with devotion — he kept the creativity and imagination in him alive. For him, like it is for his creator, ingenuity and work became one. This characterisation tells us something about Arundhati Roy, Velutha’s maker. In the conception of Velutha, I saw, very early on, signs of a romanticism closely linked to revolution in Arundhati Roy as a writer. That subversive intent was there from the very beginning. From The God of Small Things to Broken Republic, Arundhati Roy is through-and-through a romantic, anti-capitalist writer. There is a basic structure of feelings in her writings that touches my heart.
I don’t know if she will agree with me, but I’d like to believe that Arundhati Roy has embraced ‘Romantic Marxism’. I know the ideological censors would be frowning at me; for them, there can never be anything like ‘Romantic Marxism’; “comrade Bernard, you cannot mix romanticism with Marxism”. I differ and in this I am with E P Thompson. And, with Marx of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1959)2 and his passionate denunciation of capitalism in Capital, Volume-I — with a language and imagery that makes the reader realize the need for Kranti. Marx did, after all, also hitched romanticism with his exposition of the structure, the social relations and logic of the inner workings of the capitalist system. At its core, ‘Romantic Marxism’ brings together Marx’s thesis of alienation with his theory of value and welds these with the basic structure of feelings that such a consciousness evokes.
Let me now say a few words about the topic of today’s lecture — “Capitalism: A Ghost Story”. Capital is not a work of Marx’s imagination; so also, and I’m sure, Arundhati has a real story to tell, and it’s going to be a passionate denunciation of really existing capitalism. If we were to look at capitalism from a romantic Marxist perspective, we would see, above all, the total domination of exchange value, the “cold calculation of price and profit . . . over the whole social fabric . . . the death of imagination and romance, . . . the purely ‘utilitarian’ . . . relation of human beings to one another, and to nature”.3 What should be reciprocity in human relations — love for love, intimacy for intimacy, trust for trust, as it was with Ammu and Velutha — has been replaced, in capitalism, by the exchange of money for commodities: accumulation and possession is all that matters today. Indeed, beauty, now defined by capital, has also been commoditised; nothing remains unsullied by capitalism, its logic, and its basic structure of feelings. Human beings have been turned into wretched beings — physically, psychologically and spiritually dehumanised.
We, the Anuradha Ghandy Memorial Committee members, are old-fashioned Marxists. We continue to insist that wealth comes from the exploitation of human labour and nature. To quote Marx and, keeping in mind the importance he assigns to ecology, include capital’s “sucking” of nature too:4
Capital is dead labour [and out-of-play nature] that vampire-like only lives by sucking living labour [and extant nature], and lives the more, the more labour [and nature] it sucks.
Value then is nothing but congealed labour and defunct nature incarnate in commodities. And, in the contemporary world capitalist system, we witness the real subsumption of labour, nature, and even democratically-elected governments to finance. Yes, the bond markets — the funds and financial institutions that buy government bonds, not the people who elected the governments — are able to very significantly influence public policy, for it is they who specify the conditions under which they will buy those governments’ bonds. Indeed, the main focus of corporations today is financial, and here, with quarterly reporting on a mark-to-market basis, short-term net worth is all that seems to matter. Add to this stock options-based remuneration of those who manage the huge financial portfolios, monetary policy designed for the benefit of high finance, and rising labour productivity alongside stagnant real wages, and the result is “traumatized workers”, “indebted consumers”, and “manic-depressive savers”5 high on Prozac and Viagra which keep Pfizer’s cash register ringing. “Humanity” has become “an appendage of the asset markets”, my friend Jan Toporowski writes.6 We are reminded of what Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff (then editors of Monthly Review) wrote in the aftermath of the 1987 stock market crash in the US and it seems appropriate to paraphrase their words to apply to the present: “The mess” the world-system is in flows “from capitalism’s ruthless pursuit of unlimited wealth by any and all available means, whether or not these have anything to do with satisfying the needs of real human beings.”7 Indeed, capitalism — which has metamorphosed into a life-threatening disease — has become a threat to humanity and other forms of life. The only remedy “is a truly revolutionary reconstruction of the whole socio-economic system”.8
But, the failures of the revolutions of the 20th century stare us in the face. I have taken more time than I had intended to, and lest I become a barrier between the star-speaker and you, I need to quickly wind up. Let me then not mince words — revolution is about expropriating the expropriators, and “force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”.9 But, and more importantly, revolution is also about “human emancipation”. It has to create a socialist sensitivity, a socialist consciousness; so forms of violence — cruelty and brutality — which negate the very end of revolution must never be a part of the means. Now, while the “seizure of power” and the strategy to achieve this seem to be the central preoccupation of revolutionaries, we need to remember these words of Marx from The German Ideology (1932; written in 1846):10
Both for the production on a mass scale of . . . communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of [human beings] on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.
Rightly, Marx was more concerned about the “human emancipation” that must come about in the process of making the revolution, the kind of emancipation that makes of us a new kind of “human” being, a practice necessary to found a society that is egalitarian, cooperative, and democratic.
With this “brief” (ha, ha!) introduction, may I invite Arundhati Roy to take the baton.
1 Scripting the Change: Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy, edited by Anand Teltumbde and Shoma Sen, Daanish Books, Delhi, 2011.
3 See Michael Lowy’s “The Romantic and the Marxist Critique of Modern Civilisation”, Theory and Society, Vol. 16, No. 6 (November 1987), p 892.
4 Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1954; a reproduction of the first English edition of 1887, edited by Frederick Engels), chapter 10, “The Working Day”, p 233.
5 Riccardo Bellofiore and Joseph Halevi, “Magdoff-Sweezy and Minsky on the Real Subsumption of Labour to Finance”, 2010, at cemf.u-bourgogne.fr/z-outils/documents/communications%202009/AHE.pdf.
6 Jan Toporowski, “The Wisdom of Property and the Politics of the Middle Classes”, Monthly Review, Vol. 62, Issue 4, September 2010.
Bernard D’Mello is deputy editor, Economic & Political Weekly, and a member of the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.
24 October 2011. As the world watched videos of the body of Muammar Gaddafi being dragged through the dust, even while perhaps still alive, there was a deafening silence from the corridors of imperial power about this lynching. One could say Gaddafi’s death was emblematic of the entire operation in Libya: his convoy being hit by French and/or US missiles was key to his capture and execution, just as the role of the NATO imperialists all along was decisive in shaping the struggle there. On the very day Gaddafi was killed, the new UK Defence Secretary called on British businessmen to “pack your suitcases” to go to Libya to seize the business opportunities there (and of course to“help with the country’s reconstruction”). The corporate jackals of the world are eagerly waiting to take a bite out of the spoils, including under the contracts already made with Gaddafi. The French ”super” oil company Total had their people on the ground even before Gaddafi’s execution. (A joke making the rounds is that Total wants Total control of Libya’s oil.)
The following is a slightly excerpted and edited interview with Raymond Lotta by Revolution, newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, which gives some background to the development of the Gaddafi regime. For the full text go to revcom.us Revolution #226, 8 March 2011.
The Events in Libya in Perspective
The uprising in Libya is an expression of profound discontent in Libyan society. Broad sections of Libyan society, taking inspiration from events in Tunisia and Egypt, have risen against an oppressive regime. And this uprising in Libya is part of the wave of rebellion sweeping through the imperialist-dominated Middle East.
But when you compare events in Libya with those of Egypt, there are two major differences.
First, in Libya, you have a situation where imperialist intrigue is commingling with genuine and just mass upheaval. This makes things highly complicated.
In Egypt, the uprising was overwhelmingly a product of mass discontent against a U.S-backed client regime. But U.S. imperialism had a reliable base within the leadership and command structure of the Egyptian military. Now the outcome of the uprising in Egypt has by no means been sealed. Protests are still erupting, people are debating what’s been accomplished and what hasn’t. U.S. imperialism has important capacities and assets inside Egypt.
That’s not the case in Libya. You don’t have that kind of military apparatus with such close ties to the U.S. So this creates both necessity and opportunity for the U.S. and West European imperialists. They are reaching out to and seeking to bolster oppositional forces in Libya who might be the embryo of an entirely new neocolonial regime, one that would be a more pliant tool of Western interests. And it can’t be ruled out that imperialist operatives have, from the very beginning of this uprising, been assisting some of the oppositional forces.
While there is genuine and just mass upheaval, there are also significant elements of imperialist manoeuvring involved. These are things that we need to analyze and understand more deeply.
The second major difference between what’s happening in Libya and the upheavals in other parts of the Middle East is Gaddafi himself. Muammar Gaddafi is not the same as Mubarak.
I know this is not the official story line of the State Department or the narrative put out on CNN about a crazed, autocratic ruler… but Gaddafi actually had popular support when he came to power in 1969, especially from sections of the intelligentsia and professional and middle classes. He had popular bases of support for many years of his rule.
For three decades, Gaddafi was viewed by many inside and outside of Libya as someone standing up for the genuine national interests of Libya… as someone who stood against imperialism and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Gaddafi is not the same as the openly servile Hosni Mubarak… even though the Gaddafi regime never fundamentally broke with or fundamentally challenged imperialism.
Libya did not really exist as a unitary state until after World War 2. It gained its formal independence in 1951.
In the late 1500s, the coastal regions of what is today Libya were conquered by the Turkish Ottoman empire. In 1910, Italian imperialism moved to colonize the area of Libya. Libya is strategically located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. When Italy came to the imperialist banquet table, other colonial powers had already imposed their presence in the region. The British ruled Egypt. The French had colonized Algeria. From 1911 to 1943, Italy employed savage means to consolidate its rule in Libya. The historian Abdullatif Ahmida describes this as one of the most brutal colonizations of the 20th century.
Italy was on the losing side of World War 2. After the war, the U.S. and Britain put their weight behind a pro-Western constitutional monarchy in Libya headed by King Idris. He allowed the U.S. to set up Wheelus Air Base. It was one of the U.S.’s largest overseas military facilities… and the base was used for military training, missile testing, and for fighter and reconnaissance missions.
It was only in 1959 that large oil deposits were discovered in Libya. U.S. and European companies moved in big time to set up production operations. The banking sector grew rapidly, especially after an oil pipeline to the Mediterranean Sea was finished. Oil revenues soared through the decade of the 1960s. But the foreign oil companies were getting the lion’s share of earnings. And what oil wealth did return to Libya… it was concentrated in the hands of a small mercantile, banking, and speculator elite.
Poverty remained widespread. So, mass resentment against the Idris monarchy was growing.
Then you had the impact of regional and world events. In 1967, Israel attacked Egypt and Syria with the support of the U.S. In Libya, students, intellectuals, and workers organized mass actions and strikes. There were also protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Unrest was spreading in the face of the Libyan government’s total subordination to the West.
In the 1960s, a wave of national liberation struggles – in Asia, Latin America, and Africa – was battering imperialism and shook the international order. This aroused literally hundreds of millions throughout the world to rise in resistance. This was a time when a new nationalist spirit was being stirred, when ideas of Arab unity against imperialism were taking hold. It was a time when revolutionary China was influencing social forces and Marxism-Leninism was a big part of the ideological discourse. But the fact that the U.S. was under this kind of siege also provided openings for many different class forces who had been held down by imperialism. They saw new possibilities.
Gaddafi was part of a group of young army officers influenced by the pan-Arabist and social reformist ideas of Gamal Nasser, the leader of Egypt. Gaddafi came from poor desert-tribal origins, and other radical-minded officers came from lower-class backgrounds. The military was one of the few institutions in Libyan society that afforded them any chance of training and mobility.
These young army officers were outraged by the corruption and subservience of the ruling regime. IIn 1969, they organized a coup against the King and constituted a new government out of what they called their Revolutionary Command Council.
Gaddafi argued that Libya’s national sovereignty had been bartered away, that foreign capital had been allowed to dictate to the Libyan people. He accused the old order of squandering Libya’s oil resources and doing little to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people.
He forced the U.S. to accelerate its timetable for closing down Wheelus Air Base. He moved to nationalize banks. He made the government a major stakeholder in the oil industry. He promised to develop agriculture and industry and did direct some funds into these sectors. He enacted social programs in the 1970s that over the next 20 years led to real improvements in mass literacy, life expectancy, and housing. These actions and polices had popular support.
But for all of Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, this whole project rested on the preservation and expansion of Libya’s oil-based economy. It rested on Libya’s continued insertion into the global capitalist system… its division of labour and international relations of exploitation.
Gaddafi relied heavily on Western Europe as a market for Libyan oil. He used oil revenues to buy French jets, to attract German manufacturing capital to Libya, and even to become a major investor in Italy’s largest auto company. Italy, the old colonial power, was allowed to keep its operations going in Libya.
Gaddafi harnessed oil revenues to restructure society. He was creating a social welfare system with particular political features. He set up “people’s committees” at local levels in order to widen his political support and to redirect tribal and clan loyalties toward the central regime. At the same time, he outlawed unions and independent political organization and muzzled press criticism of the regime.
He used oil revenues to build up a large security and military apparatus… both to put down any internal opposition to the regime and to project Libya as a political model and regional force in the Middle East and Africa.
Ideologically, the Gaddafi regime combined social welfarism and pan-Arabism with retrograde values. Islam was made the official state religion. Women had more opportunities than before, but patriarchal Sharia law was made the foundation of legal-social codes. Gaddafi was vehemently anticommunist… and claimed to be finding a third way between capitalism and communism.
The reality was that Gaddafi was creating a state capitalism… based on oil revenues and beholden to world imperialism for markets, technology, transport, and investment capital.
Gaddafi was changing things, but within the existing framework of imperialist dominance, capitalist property relations, and a complex web of tribal loyalties and regional divisions.
There was nothing truly transformative in terms of breaking with imperialism. There was nothing truly transformative in terms of the masses having the kind of leadership and radically different political state power that could enable them to remake the economy and society in a truly liberating direction.
Bob Avakian has this very incisive formulation about “three alternatives” in the world. Now I am paraphrasing here, but he basically says this. The first alternative is to leave the world as it is… which is totally unacceptable. Or you can make some changes in the distribution of wealth and forms of rule, but leave the basic exploitative production and oppressive social relations of society and the world basically intact. That’s the second alternative.
Or, and this is the third alternative, you can make a genuine revolution. A revolution that aims to transform all relations of exploitation, all oppressive institutions, all oppressive social arrangements, and all enslaving ideas and values… a revolution to overcome the very division of human society into classes. That third alternative is the world proletarian revolution to achieve communism.
Gaddafi’s program, his social and economic model, fits into that second alternative that changes some aspects of the status quo but keeps the oppressive essence of existing social order the same.
The notion of Gaddafi as a “strongman” obscures the essence, the class essence, of things. This is what Marxism enables us to understand.
Look, all societies at this stage of human history are divided into classes. Leaders don’t float in some ether. They concentrate the outlook, the methods, and aspirations of different classes. Gaddafi and those military officers who took power in 1969, what I was talking about earlier… they represented and concentrated the outlook of a radicalized sector of the petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie of a nation oppressed by imperialism.
They felt stymied by imperialist subjugation. And from their class standpoint, the problem, as they saw it, was that Libya was getting a bad deal. They wanted to make market mechanisms, which are based on exploitation and the production of profit, somehow “work” for the benefit of the whole nation. They had this illusion that they would be able to wrench concessions from imperialism… and force imperialism to come to terms with them. But the fact is: global capitalism operates according to a definite logic and imposes its norms on these societies and economies.
These bourgeois nationalist forces claimed to speak for the whole nation. They saw their interests as being identical with the interests of all social classes in the nation. But there are dominant and dominated classes in these nations.
One of the slogans that Gaddafi raised was: “not wage earners but partners.” In other words, here you have this system based on profit and integration into capitalist world markets, but somehow you could turn everyone into equal stakeholders. That was both populist rhetoric and illusion, ignoring the basic antagonism between workers and capitalists.
In Libya, wage-labor is part of the foundation of the economy. There’s 20 percent unemployment. The reality is that wage earners cannot be “partners” of capital.
My point is that whatever idiosyncrasies Gaddafi might have… if you want to understand the Gaddafi program, you have to analyze the class interests and outlook that he represents and how those interests were interacting with the world situation.
When Gaddafi consolidated power in the early 1970s, the regime had certain things going for it in world politics and world economics. To begin with, the U.S. was facing defeat in Vietnam and its global economic power was weakening. So that created some space.
Second, the Soviet Union was challenging the U.S. globally. Now the Soviet Union claimed to be socialist. But socialism in the Soviet Union had been overthrown by a new capitalist class in the mid-1950s. The Soviet Union became a social-imperialist power. By the mid-1970s, it was contending for influence and control in different parts of the world. Part of its global strategy was to build up client regimes in key areas of the Third World. The Soviet Union began offering economic aid, oil agreements, and diplomatic support to regimes like that headed by Gaddafi… and the Soviets became a major weapons supplier to Libya.
And there was a third factor. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the world oil industry was going through changes. The major oil companies were entering into new arrangements with oil producers in the Third World. Formal control over production was allowed to pass into the hands of Third World governments and their state oil companies. Imperialist domination was exerted through control over oil refining, marketing, technology, and finance. But now producer countries had more latitude at the production level… you have the Third World producers cartel, OPEC. And in the 1970s the price of oil was rising. These developments worked to Gaddafi’s advantage.
But the bourgeois nationalist forces such as Gaddafi were neither willing nor able to lead the masses to break with imperialism and to carry forward a liberating social revolution. They chafed under imperialism but also feared the masses. Again, this has to do with theclass nature of these rulers: they were held down by relations of imperialism but could not see beyond a world in which they control exploitative relations… rather than a world that has abolished exploitation.
So here you have Gaddafi… securing his hold on power… wheeling and dealing with imperialism… and seeking to modernize an oil economy subordinated to the norms of world capitalist production. Over 95 percent of Libya’s export earnings were coming from oil, and in the 1973-83 decade, Libya became one of the three largest weapons importers in the Third World. This was distorted and dependent development.
On the international stage, Gaddafi criticized conservative Arab regimes and presented himself as the real champion of the Palestinian people’s rights. He voiced support for African liberation. This was part of his popularity.
Gaddafi was demonized by the U.S. Imperialists in the 1980s, but this had nothing to do with the repressiveness of the regime or Gaddafi’s style of rule. I mean the U.S. was propping up brutal client regimes and “strongman despots” in Central America – and their human rights violations made Gaddafi look positively benign. The problem the U.S. imperialists had with Gaddafi was his close ties to the Soviet bloc… the problem they had was assertiveness in supporting certain radical movements and groups that might benefit the Soviet bloc at a time when the rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet-led blocs was heading towards a global military showdown.
At that time Ronald Reagan provoked aerial fights with Soviet-made Libyan jets off the Libyan coast. The U.S. set out to punish the regime with economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures. U.S. oil companies suspended operations.
Libya has been a significant energy supplier to Western Europe. This was a source of tension between the U.S. and the West European imperialists. I think there is strong evidence that Reagan’s military attacks on Libya that I referred to earlier were also aimed at bringing the West European imperialists more closely into line, as the face-off with the Soviet social-imperialist bloc was intensifying.
Under U.S. pressure, the UN imposed sanctions on Libya. These moves to isolate Libya began to pinch Libya’s economy and periodic declines in world oil prices hurt the economy as well. And Libya’s oil industry was in need of upgrading and new investment.
Then in 1989-91, the Soviet Union and its bloc collapsed. This marked a qualitative shift in international relations. It knocked a lot of the wind out of Gaddafi’s project. He no longer had this great power backing. And the demise of the Soviet Union gave the U.S. new freedom—and it moved to exploit this new freedom in the Middle East and other parts of the Third World. In this changed situation, Gaddafi began cultivating closer ties with the West European imperialists. By the end of the 1990s, relations were restored with Great Britain. Italy was allowed greater sway over Libya’s oil and natural gas sectors.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was another turning point. It put more pressure on Gaddafi—would Libya be next? Gaddafi was also worried about a fundamentalist Islamic challenge to his rule. So he began making overtures to the U.S. After 9/11, the Gaddafi regime started sharing intelligence about al-Qaida-type forces with the U.S. In 2004, Gaddafi announced that he was giving up various nuclear and other weapons programs. The U.S. took Libya off its list of “terrorist states.” Gaddafi became a valued ally in the U.S. war against terrorism. Bush gave the green light to U.S. oil companies to sign new contracts with Libya. Gaddafi began privatizing some sectors of industry.
Gaddafi bowed and scraped before the imperialists. Last year he signed an agreement with Italy to seal off the crossing routes for undocumented African immigrants coming through Libya to Europe. This was ugly. He demanded billions in payment for patrolling borders… and he issued racist warnings that Europe would turn “black” unless it adopted stricter measures to turn back African immigrants. This was the “rehabilitated” Gaddafi whose son met with Hillary Clinton… this was the Gaddafi that the London School of Economics was accepting huge donations from… the Gaddafi that the British were now selling arms to. The imperialists found Gaddafi useful and “workable.”
In early February 2011, the International Monetary Fund released a report on Libya’s economy and commended the Gaddafi government, and I’m quoting, for its “ambitious reform agenda” and “strong macroeconomic performance”… and “encouraged” authorities to keep on this promising path. What higher praise, than from the IMF!
But now, when it suits them, and it’s really brazen… when they might be able to utilize mass discontent to install an even “more workable” regime, the imperialists are back to the master narrative of “Gaddafi the madman,” “Gaddafi the strongman.”
I’ve focused a lot on the class nature of Gaddafi and the social-economic character of the development model that the Gaddafi regime was pursuing. This is important in understanding how things have unfolded and how growing numbers of people turned against Gaddafi and this model.
Over the last decade, oil wealth and nationalized properties were becoming the province of a narrower and narrower circle, including the extended Gaddafi family… and more of this wealth was being invested abroad.
The widespread censorship became increasingly unbearable at a time when people were seeking outlets for expression. Dissidents were being arrested. There was a thirst for political life outside the official structures. The so-called “people’s councils” were largely discredited, having become arms of a patronage system and tools of a surveillance network. There was a thirst for cultural diversity – until recently, foreign languages could not be taught in the schools. Health care has deteriorated recently. Unemployment has risen.
Gaddafi’s response has been heavier repression… while looking to invigorate the economy with infusions of Western capital. One of the paradoxes of recent years is that when the sanctions were lifted, and the sense of siege abated, Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist and nationalist appeals did not have the same resonance. His militant “luster” had worn thin… the allegiance he previously commanded was dissipating.
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt lit a fuse As we’re doing this interview, the situation in Libya is both cloudy and bloody. Gaddafi announced his intention to fight to the end to retain power. Right now the central government controls Tripoli and the western regions of the country, while oppositional forces have taken command of the east. Some ministers and military figures have gone over to the opposition and become part of a nucleus of another government in the making.
Some within this “interim national government council” are calling for Western air strikes to aid them. This is a reactionary demand that represents a craven pro-imperialist stance. This is not in the interests of the Libyan people, who have long suffered under imperial domination.
Something to keep in mind is that this is the first upheaval in the region that has disrupted oil production. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves of any African country, and Libya supplies a significant share of Europe’s oil needs. So this too is a factor influencing imperialist calculations. The imperialists are using the pretext of “humanitarian concern” as an ideological wedge for possible military intervention.
What kind of leadership?
One of the things to emphasize here, looking at the situation in Libya and the continuing struggle in Egypt, is that the notion of “leaderless” movements… it’s untrue and it’s very damaging.
In Libya, as in Egypt, different class and social forces have been in the field. They are bringing their interests and outlooks into the fray… and various forces are vying for leadership and seeking to push these movements in certain directions. You have lawyers assembling in eastern Libya who want to restore the old 1952 constitution, which served a decrepit political and social order. And doctors, university professors, students, disaffected youth, and workers who had taken to the streets… well, they are part of a larger swirl in which reactionary tribal leaders, former ministers, and colonels are angling for position and leadership. You have some people who are trying to settle old scores. You have youth raising slogans “no to tribalism and no to factionalism.” And in this same swirl, the imperialists are manoeuvring.
Different class forces are bringing forward leadership, programs, and agendas that correspond to their interests. And different sections of society are looking for leadership.
The question is not leadership or no leadership. No, the question is what kind of leadership? Serving what goals? Using what methods to achieve those goals? And where there is no truly revolutionary and communist leadership, history has repeatedly shown that the masses lose… the people who are the most bitterly oppressed and exploited… and who yearn for and most desperately need fundamental change… they get left out and betrayed.
In his recent statement on Egypt, Bob Avakian speaks to these issues very powerfully, and I want to read from it. He says: “When people … in their millions finally break free of the constraints that have kept them from rising up against their oppressors and tormentors, then whether or not their heroic struggle and sacrifice will really lead to fundamental change, moving toward the abolition of all exploitation and oppression, depends on whether or not there is a leadership, a communist leadership, that has the necessary scientific understanding and method, and on that basis can develop the necessary strategic approach and the influence and organized ties among growing numbers of the people, in order to lead the uprising of the people, through all the twists and turns, to the goal of a real, revolutionary transformation of society, in accordance with the fundamental interests of the people.”
But, and this brings me back to issues of class, to make the kind of revolution that can really emancipate all of humanity… this requires bringing forward the basic sections of the people as the backbone and driving force of revolutionary transformation and as conscious emancipators of all humanity. It requires a leadership capable of doing so. So there are important lessons to be drawn from what is happening. There are big challenges to rise to. And as Avakian has also emphasized, the future remains to be written.
— Suniti Kumar Ghosh
The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming publication of R.U.P.E., India’s Nationality Question and Ruling Classes, by Suniti Kumar Ghosh. (This is a revised version of an earlier edition published by the author himself, Kolkata, 1996.)
We would like to discuss briefly the question raised by C.H. Philips – the question why the Muslims could found a state in the Indian subcontinent and why the nationalities like the Bengalis could not.
Many hold the Muslim League led by M.A. Jinnah responsible for the partition of India. Facts lead to a different conclusion. Michael Brecher, Nehru’s biographer, writes that the consensus among the people, including Nehru, whom he met, was that “a united India was within the realm of possibility as late as 1946”. He adds that “one must assume” that the partition of India “was a voluntary choice of Nehru, Patel and their colleagues”.3 Abul Kalam Azad also held that “Patel was the founder of India’s partition”. He said: “I was surprised that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two-nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of partition but now the real flag-bearer was Patel.”4 He also blamed Nehru for the partition. In fact, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and their close associates shared the responsibility. To quote Frank Moraes, “Reflecting on my many conversations and discussions with Jinnah I am convinced that he did not really want Pakistan but was driven by the logic of events and the intransigence of the Congress leaders into finally embracing it.”5
To be brief, when during the negotiations between British imperialism, the Congress and the League, there was no agreement between the leaders of the Congress and of the League as regards the future political set-up in India, the Cabinet delegation which came to India in 1946 and Viceroy Wavell produced their own plan, known as the Cabinet Mission Plan, on 16 May. It rejected the League demand for a separate Pakistan and argued that “a radical partition of the Punjab and Bengal, as this would do, would be contrary to the wishes and interests of a very large proportion of the inhabitants of these Provinces”. It said: “Bengal and the Punjab each has its own common language and a long history and tradition.” Besides, the partition of the Punjab would be harmful to the interests of the Sikhs who were spread over the whole of the province.
The Cabinet Mission Plan outlined a scheme for a united India. The plan, recommended for India comprising both ‘British India’ and the native states, was a three-tier one – a Union Centre dealing with foreign affairs, defence and communications and with powers to raise the necessary finances and equipped with an Executive and a Legislature; three groups of provinces (or sub-federations) with their own executives and legislatures – one including all Hindu majority provinces, another comprising the Punjab, Sind, the NWFP and Baluchistan; and the third one consisting of Bengal and Assam. The provinces would be vested with all subjects other than the Union subjects and with residuary powers. British paramountcy over the native states would lapse and there should be negotiations between them and the rest of India for their inclusion in the Indian Union.
The three groups of provinces would frame constitutions for the provinces included in them and decide whether to have group constitutions. A province would be free to opt out of a particular group after the first general election under the new constitution.
The Muslim League agreed to a united India with its grouping of provinces.6 The Congress Working Committee resolution of 24 May insisted that “India must necessarily have a strong central authority.” The Nehrus were violently opposed to the grouping system, which, according to the British government, was an essential feature of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Talking glibly of provincial autonomy, of which the Nehrus were sworn enemies, they torpedoed the plan which envisaged a United India.
The Congress leaders’ real objection was not to the denial of provincial autonomy to Assam and the NWFP – the NWFP, which they soon threw to the wolves, as Abdul Ghaffar Khan accused the Congress leaders of doing. What they really objected to was the emergence of groups or sub-federations, which would render the Centre weak. Their policy was basically opposed to the essence of the Cabinet Mission Plan – decentralization of powers and a weak Centre. As they had chosen the royal road of negotiations to attain the goal of self-government, they were prepared to settle for an India minus certain parts in the north-west and the east. But they were not willing to make any compromise on the issue of a strong Centre – a strong Centre which would not be restricted to the exercise of merely three subjects. That is why on the pleas of upholding the sacred principle of provincial autonomy and Sikh interests, they buried the Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have preserved the unity of India.
As noted before, the Congress (and the people) were offered another chance for having a United India. After assuming office on 23 March 1947 as Viceroy, Mountbatten realized that the Cabinet Mission Plan could not be revived as the difference between the Congress and the League over the grouping system could not be reconciled. The Viceroy and his British staff drafted a plan which gave to the representatives of the provinces (the NWFP after a fresh election) and the Muslim-majority and non-Muslim-majority areas of the Punjab and Bengal the right to decide whether they would join the existing constituent assembly (dominated by the Congress) or group together in one or more constituent assemblies or stand out independently and act as their own constituent assembly. Among the main features of the plan were: compulsory grouping was avoided to meet the objections of the Congress to this feature of the Cabinet Mission Plan; the right of the provinces to decide their own fate was recognized; Bengal and the Punjab would be free to decide whether they would remain undivided with their integrity intact and free to decide their relations with the rest of India.
The plan also envisaged that “the constituent assemblies, if more than one, should also create machinery for joint consultation among themselves on matters of common concern, particularly Defence, and for the negotiation of agreements in respect of these matters.”
If either of the two plans was accepted by the Congress leaders, the holocausts throughout India in 1947 and after would have been averted. But the lives of tens of millions of ordinary Indians were dirt cheap to the Congress leaders who have been falsely acclaimed as leaders of India’s freedom struggle.
The Congress Working Committee, which met early in May for several days with Gandhi attending, took a completely different stand. In an interview to the Associated Press of America, Patel proposed two alternatives. All power should be transferred to the Central Government “as it now stands” (“the interim Government”, formed by Congress representatives on 2 September 1946 and joined by Muslim League representatives later, in which the Congress had majority support), which should function as a dominion government with “the Viceroy standing out”. “If there were conflicts in the Cabinet on any question, the majority would rule.” The other alternative was that power should be transferred to the two constituent assemblies – the existing one [boycotted by League members] and the other composed of Muslim League members already elected. Patel affirmed: “Congress would like to have a strong centre.” So the alternatives were either Congress rule or partition on communal lines.
This plan drawn up by Mountbatten and his British staff fully satisfied Nehru’s craving (more hypocritical than genuine) for provincial autonomy. So Nehru had to raise another bogey: the plan, if implemented, would lead to the balkanization of India.
To obtain a monopoly of power (of course, under the British umbrella), the Congress leaders opposed the plan that the provinces should initially be successor states and the central authority or authorities should emerge on the voluntary coming together of the provinces – their voluntary agreement to part with some powers in favour of some central authority – the essence of genuine federalism. Every province (or national region like Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Maharashtra etc.) was large enough to constitute an independent state – many of them far larger and more populous than most of the states of Europe. Instead of accepting the federal principle to which the Congress leaders often paid lip service, they killed the provincial choice and insisted on having an undivided India with a centralized, authoritarian state run by them; or, if that was not possible, they were prepared for the partition of India on artificial, religious lines with the national regions or parts of them coerced to join either Hindustan or Pakistan. That this would cause countless millions mourn did not matter to the political representatives of the Indian big bourgeoisie. Millions of lives of the common people were nothing compared to profits earned by this class. Quite sometime before the Muslim League demanded the partition of India on a religious basis, G.D. Birla had pleaded for it. On 11 January 1938, he wrote to Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s secretary:
“I wonder why it should not be possible to have two Federations, one of Muslims and another of Hindus. The Muslim Federation may be composed of all the provinces or portions of the provinces which contain more than two-thirds Muslim population and the Indian states like Kashmir … if anything is going to check our progress, it is the Hindu-Muslim question – not the Englishman, but our own internal quarrels.”7
Not only did Birla try to persuade Gandhi to agree to the partition of India on communal lines as early as January 1938 but he also approached Viceroy Linlithgow with the same proposal in the same month.8
Even after the partition of India became a settled fact, there arose the possibility of Bengal remaining undivided outside Hindustan and Pakistan. A memorandum of the Secretary of State, dated 4 March 1947, envisaged the possibility of the emergence of three states: Pakistan, Hindustan and Bengal.9
On 15 May, Lord Ismay informed Mountbatten that the British Cabinet’s India and Burma Committee “were pledged to give the Provinces the option of remaining independent of either Hindustan or Pakistan, if they so desired. This was particularly applicable to the case of Bengal.”10
In a memorandum, dated 17 May, the Secretary of State, Listowel, said that “there are strong practical arguments for giving the third option of remaining united and framing its own constitution certainly to Bengal and probably also to the Punjab.” He refuted Nehru’s charge of balkanization and said that it would be consistent with the right of self-determination.11 At the Cabinet meeting on 23 May, Prime Minister Attlee said: “In the North-East there were good hopes that Bengal might decide to remain united on the basis of a coalition Government elected on a joint electorate.”12 On the same day Attlee mentioned in his messages to the prime ministers of the British dominions the emergence of “two or possibly three independent states” in the Indian sub-continent.13
Curiously, in his letter of 9 March 1947 to Wavell, Nehru demanded that Bengal and the Punjab should be partitioned even if India was not partitioned. The demand had already been raised by Birla’s Hindustan Times. On 1May Nehru again conveyed to Mountbatten the same demand. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee of the Hindu Mahasabha, who had become a special favourite of the Patels, went on echoing it.14
The leaders of Bengal, both Hindu and Muslim, who had a mass base, started a move to prevent the dismemberment of Bengal and keep her undivided outside both Hindustan and Pakistan. Earlier, in April 1946, when rumours were afloat in Delhi about the possible partition of Bengal, Sarat Chandra Bose, then leader of the Congress party in the Central Legislative Assembly, arranged a meeting of Congress representatives of Bengal. They expressed their unanimous view that “partitioning of Bengal would ruin the national life of the Bengalis for all time. They are reported to have stated that, although in the minority, the Hindus of Bengal would prefer to remain as they were at present and work with the majority community in the political sphere rather than accept any scheme of partitioning Bengal.” According to the report, “ They also contended that the scheme for partitioning Bengal was absolutely uncalled for.”15
The destinies of Bengal, the Punjab, the NWFP, etc, were being traded between the big compradors of the Hindu (and Parsi) and Muslim communities. The representatives of these provinces whose fate was being decided were excluded from the negotiations. It is the minuscule coteries of Congress and League leaders, especially Nehru, Patel, Gandhi and Jinnah, and the British rulers, who were seeking to make the best bargain for those whom they represented – the decisions that would have the most profound impact on the lives of hundreds of millions and of their descendants.
Sarat Chandra Bose resigned from the Congress Working Committee in January 1947. In the same month he, Abul Hashim (the secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League) and several other leaders started discussions about how to settle communal differences, form a new representative ministry, prepare an outline of the future Constitution of Bengal and prevent her dismemberment. They believed neither in India being one nation nor in the two-nation theory. They held that India was a subcontinent, the home of many nationalities.16
At the invitation of Akhil Chandra Datta, former Vice-President of the Central Legislative Assembly, a representative conference of prominent persons was held on 23 March in Calcutta. The conference regarded partition as a “ retrograde and reactionary move”. It stated: “Communalism is only a passing phase in our national life. The destiny of our country will inevitably be shaped by socio-economic and political forces which have already begun to work. The partition of Bengal will create a permanent cleavage between the two communities and perpetuate an evil which is bound to die out even earlier than some people find it difficult to believe.”17 The All-Bengal Anti-Pakistan and Anti-Partition Committee was set up in April with Sarat Bose as President and Kamini Kumar Dutta, M.L.C., as Secretary.
Bengal’s Muslim politicians of different political hues were unanimous in their demand for a united Bengal outside Hindustan and Pakistan. H.S. Suhrawardy, then Prime Minister of Bengal, made every effort to build a “united, undivided, sovereign Bengal”. Khwaja Nazimuddin, a former Bengal Premier and then deputy leader of the Muslim League Party in the Central Legislative Assembly, and Mohammad Ali, then Bengal’s finance minister, too were opposed to Bengal’s dismemberment. (All three later became at different times Prime Ministers of Pakistan.) So were Fazlul Huq, Professor Humayun Kabir, then general secretary of the Krishak Praja Party, and others.
Jogendra Nath Mondal, a leader of the Scheduled Castes Federation and Law Member of the Interim Government of India, declared in a statement to the press on 21 April that the majority of non-Muslims were not behind the demand for the partition of Bengal and that this could be proved by a referendum. He also said that it was not in the interests of the Hindus to divide the province, and the scheduled castes, who together with the backward castes formed a majority of the population of proposed West Bengal, were definitely opposed to partition.18
On 25 April, at the Viceroy’s eighth miscellaneous meeting, Mountbatten “said that he had got the impression that Bengal, for economic reasons, wanted to remain as an entity…. Sardar Patel said he believed that the feeling in Bengal among non-Muslims was that, whether there was Pakistan or not, they could not remain united unless joint electorates were introduced.”19
The fact is, the joint committee which was set up at a meeting of Congress and League leaders in the last week of April and which included Sarat Bose, Kiran Shankar Roy (leader of the Congress party in the Bengal Legislative Assembly), Suhrawardy, Nazimuddin, Abul Hashim, Mohammad Ali , etc, drew up a draft constitution of united Bengal by 19 May. To be brief, while envisaging future Bengal as a Free State, it provided for election to the Bengal Legislature on the basis of joint electorate and adult franchise with reservation of seats proportionate to the population amongst the Hindus and Muslims.20
Parties like the Forward Bloc and Communist Party of India supported the cause of a united Bengal outside Hindustan and Pakistan.
The British government, as Mountbatten said, “had declared themselves willing to agree to an independent Bengal – in fact willing to agree to any solution for Bengal with which the leaders of the principal parties [ the Congress and the League] agreed.”21
Besides the British government, the leaders of one of the two “principal parties” – the Muslim League – declared several times their agreement to Bengal remaining united and ‘independent’. When, on 26 April, Mountbatten spoke to Jinnah of Suhrawardy’s proposal for a United Bengal outside Hindustan and Pakistan, Jinnah “said without any hesitation: ‘I should be delighted, they had much better remain united and independent.’”22 Liaquat Ali Khan, the League’s General Secretary, told Mountbatten’s principal secretary, Mieville, on 28 April that “he was in no way worried about Bengal as he was convinced in his mind that the province would never divide. He thought that it would remain a separate state, joining neither Hindustan nor Pakistan.23 The same view was expressed by Jinnah and Liaquat Ali several times afterwards24
It was the leaders of the other ‘principal’ party – the Nehrus – who were firm and inflexible in their opposition to any such possibility. It is they who alone insisted on breaking up Bengal on communal lines. No plebiscite or fresh election on the issue of Bengal’s partition was held though it was demanded by Jinnah, Jogendranath Mondal, Humayun Kabir , CPI and others. There arose the possibility of Bengal emerging with her integrity intact and with joint electorates and a Constituent Assembly of her own, based on adult suffrage, which would decide her relations with the rest of India. In such a Bengal communal strife would yield to the united struggle for the overthrow of the indirect rule of imperialism and of its Indian lackeys and new vistas of progress and development would open up. This possibility was killed by the Nehrus, which inflicted an endless series of tragedies the like of which few countries have experienced.
It is the interests of the big Indian compradors like the Birlas that decided the fate of Bengal. The Nehrus were willing to have an undivided Bengal within Hindustan but not outside it. At that time Calcutta was the seat of big Marwari capital. So they would not allow West Bengal to escape from their clutches.
Replying to Patel, B.M. Birla wrote on 5 June: “I am so glad … that things have turned out according to your desire…. I am very happy that the Bengal question has also been settled by you.”25 When the prospect of being uprooted from their homes and terrors of an unknown future haunted tens of millions of Bengalis the big compradors were elated, for their long-held objective was fulfilled.
Later, G.D. Birla, who had been putting pressure on Gandhi at least since January 1938 to agree to partition of India on a religious basis and consequent dismemberment of Bengal and the Punjab, wrote in a self-congratulatory vein:
10. Ibid, X, 834 – emphasis added.
23. Ibid, 479.
People’s Union for Democratic Rights
11 September 2011
People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi (PUDR) condemns in the strongest terms the arrest of Lingaram Kodopi on 9 September 2011 by the Chhattisgarh police from his village Sameli in Dantewada district. The police team continues to be present in the village since then and there is fear that the police intends to arrest his aunt Soni Sori too. This arrest comes immediately on the heels of the Chhattisgarh government’s attempt to undermine the Supreme Court order disbanding the practice of exploiting SPOs to fight the Maoists.
Lingaram Kodopi was picked up by the Chhattisgarh police from his village in September 2009 and kept in illegal detention for 40 days. During this period he was tortured to force him to become an SPO. A habeas corpus petition was filed by his brother Masaram Kodopi in the High Court. It was due to the court’s intervention that Lingaram was released and allowed to return to his village.
Since then Lingaram has been in Delhi much of the time and has also enrolled in a journalism course at the International Media Institute of India at Noida. In April 2010 he had appeared before the Indian Peoples Tribunal at Delhi on the atrocities being conducted by the Salwa Judum and the security forces as part of the Operation Green Hunt.
On 11 July 2010, the Senior Superintendent of Police of Dantewada district held a press conference to alleging that Lingaram was the prime suspect for the attack on the house of Congress worker and civil contractor Avdesh Singh Gautam. The police also made ridiculous claims that Lingaram was the Chattisgarh Incharge of the CPI Maoist and was tipped to succeed as the Central Spokesperson of the CPI Maoist party.
Lingaram held a press conference at Delhi on 13 July 2010 with Advocate Prashant Bhushan and the then peace negotiator Swami Agnivesh and publicly stated how he was tortured and was now being victimised by the Chhattisgarh police.
The arrest of Lingaram on 9 September is an attempt by the Chhattisgarh police to declare their total contempt for the Constitution of India and the established law of the land.
PUDR demands an immediate and unconditional release of Lingaram Kodopi and the withdrawal of police and security forces from his village.
12 year ago, on July 9, 1999, students of Tehran University, opposing the repressive measure against freedom of speech, and directly challenging the regime of Islamic republic, launched a militant mass uprising that continued for over a week. In solidarity and supportive of the students of Tehran university, students and other sections of society in different cities across the country, joined the mass protests, expressing the wide spread discontent and indignation with the regime of Islamic republic.
In response to the countrywide mass protests the regime of Islamic republic commenced on a widespread attack against the students and despatched its repressive forces to crush the legitimate and just struggle of the masses. As a result, 1 student was killed in the streets, hundreds of students were injured and at least 1500 were arrested and subjected to torture and ill treatment by the regime of Islamic republic.
But despite this savage repression, the regime of Islamic republic failed to silence the militant voice of the students. During the past 12 years, the militant struggle of the students against the reactionary Islamic regime has continued unabated.
Just over two years ago, in June 2009, following the sham presidential elections of Islamic republic, where millions of forged votes were added to favour Mr Ahmadinejhad, the oppressed masses once again using this opportunity and the intensified infighting amongst various factions of the reactionary regime, poured out into the streets expressing their opposition to the fascist regime of Islamic republic. The widespread scale of these protests, some of which were reflected through the international media, shook the ruling classes in Iran. Khamenei, the leader of Islamic republic ordered the brutal repression of the popular mass protests. The repression of this widespread movement of the people by the thugs of the regime left tens of dead and thousands injured. Thousands of protestors were arrested and subjected to medieval torture by the regime’s security forces.
During the past two years alone, with the intensification of repression and terror across the country, the numbers of political prisoners has increased. Many have been killed under torture and hundreds of political prisoners, many of which belong to movements of national minorities have been executed. Despite the savage repression that continues till today, the regime of Islamic republic has not been able to silence the militant struggles and the democratic, anti- imperialist and freedom loving aspiration of the people of Iran.
On the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the students’ uprising in Iran, we remember the heroic struggle of the students and the fallen martyrs of the past struggles. We condemn the regime of Islamic republic with all its cliques and fractions for crimes against the workers, students, women and national minorities in Iran that constitute the vast majority of the people of the country.
We call on all progressive and freedom loving people across the world to extend their solidarity and support for the just struggle of the people of Iran.
Down with Islamic regime of Iran!
Free all political prisoners in Iran!
Long Live International Solidarity!
Activists of Peoples Fadaii Guerrillas of Iran – London
Democratic anti-imperialist organisation of Iranians in Britain
We are posting this article of Samir Amin written in very lucid and coherent manner. It deepens our understanding of the recent events of Egypt and the Arab world. Amin’s analysis, well entrenched into the history, not only identifies the problems and prospects of anti imperialist democratic transition of Egypt but also makes sound class analysis of the forces involved at this crucial juncture. He correctly foresees that the fate of the movement will depend on the question of the class alliance of broad democratic masses. We are presenting this article originally appeared in Monthly Review for the purpose of discussion. Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal and author of The Liberal Virus, The World We Wish to See and most recently The Law of Worldwide Value. This article was translated by Shane Henry Mage.–Editor
The year 2011 began with a series of shattering, wrathful, explosions from the Arab peoples. Is this springtime the inception of a second “awakening of the Arab world?” Or will these revolts bog down and finally prove abortive—as was the case with the first episode of that awakening, which was evoked in my book L’éveil du Sud (Paris: Le temps des cerises, 2008). If the first hypothesis is confirmed, the forward movement of the Arab world will necessarily become part of the movement to go beyond imperialist capitalism on the world scale. Failure would keep the Arab world in its current status as a submissive periphery, prohibiting its elevation to the rank of an active participant in shaping the world.
It is always dangerous to generalize about the “Arab world,” thus ignoring the diversity of objective conditions characterizing each country of that world. So I will concentrate the following reflections on Egypt, which is easily recognized as playing and having always played a major role in the general evolution of its region.
Egypt was the first country in the periphery of globalized capitalism that tried to “emerge.” Even at the start of the 19th century, well before Japan and China, the Viceroy Mohammed Ali had conceived and undertaken a program of renovation for Egypt and its near neighbors in the Arab Mashreq [Mashreq means “East,” i.e., eastern North Africa and the Levant, ed.]. That vigorous experiment took up two-thirds of the 19th century and only belatedly ran out of breath in the 1870′s, during the second half of the reign of the Khedive Ismail. The analysis of its failure cannot ignore the violence of the foreign aggression by Great Britain, the foremost power of industrial capitalism during that period. Twice, in [the naval campaign of] 1840 and then by taking control of the Khedive’s finances during the 1870′s, and then finally by military occupation in 1882, England fiercely pursued its objective: to make sure that a modern Egypt would fail to emerge. Certainly the Egyptian project was subject to the limitations of its time since it manifestly envisaged emergence within and through capitalism, unlike Egypt’s second attempt at emergence—which we will discuss further on. That project’s own social contradictions, like its underlying political, cultural, and ideological presuppositions, undoubtedly had their share of responsibility for its failure. The fact remains that without imperialist aggression those contradictions would probably have been overcome, as they were in Japan.
Beaten, emergent Egypt was forced to undergo nearly forty years (1880-1920) as a servile periphery, whose institutions were refashioned in service to that period’s model of capitalist/imperialist accumulation. That imposed retrogression struck, over and beyond its productive system, the country’s political and social institutions. It operated systematically to reinforce all the reactionary and medievalistical cultural and ideological conceptions that were useful for keeping the country in its subordinate position.
The Egyptian nation—its people, its elites—never accepted that position. This stubborn refusal in turn gave rise to a second wave of rising movements which unfolded during the next half-century (1919-1967). Indeed, I see that period as a continuous series of struggles and major forward movements. It had a triple objective: democracy, national independence, social progress. Three objectives—however limited and sometimes confused were their formulations—inseparable one from the other. An inseparability identical to the expression of the effects of modern Egypt’s integration into the globalized capitalist/imperialist system of that period. In this reading, the chapter (1955-1967) of Nasserist systematization is nothing but the final chapter of that long series of advancing struggles, which began with the revolution of 1919-1920.
The first moment of that half-century of rising emancipation struggles in Egypt had put its emphasis—with the formation of the Wafd in 1919—on political modernization through adoption (in 1923) of a bourgeois form of constitutional democracy (limited monarchy) and on the reconquest of independence. The form of democracy envisaged allowed progressive secularization—if not secularism in the radical sense of that term—whose symbol was the flag linking cross and crescent (a flag that reappeared in the demonstrations of January and February 2011). “Normal” elections then allowed, without the least problem, not merely for Copts to be elected by Muslim majorities but for those very Copts to hold high positions in the State.
The British put their full power, supported actively by the reactionary bloc comprising the monarchy, the great landlords, and the rich peasants, into undoing the democratic progress made by Egypt under Wafdist leadership. In the 1930′s the dictatorship of Sedki Pasha, abolishing the democratic 1923 constitution, clashed with the student movement then spearheading the democratic anti-imperialist struggles. It was not by chance that, to counter this threat, the British Embassy and the Royal Palace actively supported the formation in 1927 of the Muslim Brotherhood, inspired by “Islamist” thought in its most backward “Salafist” version of Wahhabism as formulated by Rachid Reda—the most reactionary version, antidemocratic and against social progress, of the newborn “political Islam.”
The conquest of Ethiopia undertaken by Mussolini, with world war looming, forced London to make some concessions to the democratic forces. In 1936 the Wafd, having learned its lesson, was allowed to return to power and a new Anglo-Egyptian treaty was signed. The Second World War necessarily constituted a sort of parenthesis. But a rising tide of struggles resumed already on February 21, 1946 with the formation of the “worker-student bloc,” reinforced in its radicalization by the entry on stage of the communists and of the working-class movement. Once again the Egyptian reactionaries, supported by London, responded with violence and to this end mobilized the Muslim Brotherhood behind a second dictatorship by Sedki Pasha—without, however, being able to silence the protest movement. Elections had to be held in 1950 and the Wafd returned to power. Its repudiation of the 1936 Treaty and the inception of guerrilla actions in the Suez Canal Zone were defeated only by setting fire to Cairo (January 1952), an operation in which the Muslim Brotherhood was deeply involved.
A first coup d’état in 1952 by the “Free Officers,” and above all a second coup in 1954 by which Nasser took control, was taken by some to “crown” the continual flow of struggles and by others to put it to an end. Rejecting the view of the Egyptian awakening advanced above, Nasserism put forth an ideological discourse that wiped out the whole history of the years from 1919 to 1952 in order to push the start of the “Egyptian Revolution” to July 1952. At that time many among the communists had denounced this discourse and analyzed the coups d’état of 1952 and 1954 as aimed at putting an end to the radicalization of the democratic movement. They were not wrong, since Nasserism only took the shape of an anti-imperialist project after the Bandung Conference of April 1955. Nasserism then contributed all it had to give: a resolutely anti-imperialist international posture (in association with the pan-Arab and pan-African movements) and some progressive (but not “socialist”) social reforms. The whole thing done from above, not only “without democracy” (the popular masses being denied any right to organize by and for themselves) but even by “abolishing” any form of political life. This was an invitation to political Islam to fill the vacuum thus created. In only ten short years (1955-1965) the Nasserist project used up its progressive potential. Its exhaustion offered imperialism, henceforward led by the United States, the chance to break the movement by mobilizing to that end its regional military instrument: Israel. The 1967 defeat marked the end of the tide that had flowed for a half-century. Its reflux was initiated by Nasser himself who chose the path of concessions to the Right (the infitah or “opening,” an opening to capitalist globalization of course) rather than the radicalization called for by, among others, the student movement (which held the stage briefly in 1970, shortly before and then after the death of Nasser). His successor, Sadat, intensified and extended the rightward turn and integrated the Muslim Brotherhood into his new autocratic system. Mubarak continued along the same path. Continue reading