Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Street-fighting Historian:Goutam Chattopadhyay (1924-2006)

In tribute, Kunal Chattopadhyay* writes about his father’s life and times.
*Email: soma1kunal@airtelbroadband.in

Goutam Chattopadhyay was born on December 9, 1924. His father, Kshitish Prosad Chattopadhyay, was an eminent anthropologist, a student of W.H.R.Rivers and the founder of the Department of Anthropology, University of Calcutta. Goutam’s mother was Manjushree. Though he never flaunted his pedigree, Goutam was proud of being descended from reformers and modernisers like Raja Manmohun Roy, Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar (on his father’s side) and Dwarkanath Tagore (on his mother’s side).

Goutam’s induction to politics, Indian nationalism, and leftism were partly through his father. Kshitish Prasad had been a friend of Subhas Chandra Bose, and when Bose decided not to be an ICS, his friend followed suit. Returning to India, Kshitish joined Calcutta University, but after the Swarajya Party won the Calcutta Corporation elections, became Education Officer at the request of his friend Subhas. His work included not only a massive expansion of the corporation primary school system, but also the giving of jobs to relatives of revolutionary nationalists. But when Kshitish proposed a scheme to enlarge the scope of corporation sponsored education to ensure the eradication of illiteracy from Calcutta, he found himself thwarted by several ‘bhadralok’ nationalist councilors. It was at this point that he gave up this job and returned to Calcutta University. But he never gave up his political views. He was to be severely beaten up by the police on January 26, 1931, when Bose, then Mayor, marched at the head of a procession with the Congress flag towards the Monument, flanked on two sides by Kshitish Prasad and Jyotirmayee Ganguly, daughter of Dwarkanath Ganguly and Kadambini Ganguly. When the police attacked, first Chattopadhyay and then Ganguly protected Bose with their bodies till the police struck them down. When the white khaddar-clad KPC was brought home, blood spattered all over the white, his six-year-old son asked how this had happened, to be told by his grandfather that the British had done this. He replied that in that case, when I grow up I too will beat up the British. This was young Goutam’s initiation into the realities of anti-imperialist struggles. But his direct participation came with the Holwell Monument agitation. He was then attracted to Marxism through his uncle Rajani Mukherjee, a follower of M. N. Roy and a trade unionist. He originally turned to the Bolshevik Party under the influence of his friend Pradyot Mukherjee, but soon turned to the Communist Party of India, when he decided the key task was to side with the Soviet Union in the anti-fascist peoples’ war. From 1943, he was a member of the CPI.

Joining the CPI in 1943 was a very categorical decision. It meant taking a hard political stand about the war and the role Indians should play. For Goutam, personally, it also meant taking up a political stand against a man he greatly respected and in private life referred to as ‘uncle’ till the end, for Subhas Chandra Bose had organized the INA with Japanese support.

Goutam studied in Ballygunge Government High School, and then in Vidyasagar College followed by Krishnanagar College, from where he graduated with English Honours. He was active in the All-India Students Federation, to become President of the Bengal Provincial SF, when Geeta Mukherjee was the General Secretary.

During the post-war upsurge, he was a student leader. Contemporaries remember him as a fiery orator. He was present during the night of November 21, 1945 when students held Dharmatolla after the death of Rameshwar Banerjee, and was also active during the three days of struggle during Rashid Ali Day. He participated in the Prisoners’ Release struggle and fought during the all-India general strike in solidarity with the long Post and Telegraph strike of 1946. His contemporary narration was in the pamphlet Rakter Sakshar (In Letters of Blood). In 1946 he went to Europe as the leader of the AISF delegation to the founding Congress of the International Union of Students, which met at Prague. But his fondest memory was of a trip from there to Yugoslavia, of which he wrote in a pamphlet, I Saw Yugoslavia. Throughout his life he would return to the crucial years 1945-47, when India was on the verge of a revolution that did not happen. The young man who spoke in meetings, recited the poems of Sukanto Bhattacharyya and Subhas Mukhopadhyay to impassioned audiences, and stood at barricades fighting the police and the army, would always prompt the mature scholar when he reflected on ‘The Almost Revolution’.

This would indeed be the most significant contribution Goutam would make as a historian, in a series of essays spanning the years 1976 – 2005. ‘The Almost Revolution’ appeared in B. De et al edited, Essays in Honour of Prof. S.C. Sarkar (1976). It argued that the post-war upsurge had broken out of the Congress mould and failed to turn into a revolution because there was no sufficiently strong alternative revolutionary leadership. This would be fleshed out by articles like those in Amit Gupta ed., Myth and Reality: The Struggle for Freedom in India, 1945-47, (1988), or ‘Bengal Students Movement’, in Nisith Ranjan Ray, Kalpana Joshi (Dutt) and others ed, Challenge: A Saga of India’s Struggle for Freedom (1984), in his histories of the students’ movement: Swadhinata Sangrame Banglar Chhatra Samaj (1973), Swadhinata Sangrame Bharater Chhatra Samaj (1990) and in his keynote address to the 2004 New Alipur College Session of the Paschim Banga Itihas Samsad, entitled ‘Dwitiyo Biswayuddhottar Ganabidroha-- Phire Dekha’ (published in Itihas Anusandhan-19, Calcutta 2005). In his life too, friendships made in this period were among those that were the firmest – with Santosh Bhattacharyya, but above all with Sunil Munshi, and his leaders Prabhat Dasgupta and Ramen Banerjee.

After independence he was among the local organizers of the South East Asian Youth Conference. When, soon after the Second CPI Congress and its left line, the Party was banned, this would figure in the list of charges against him. He was accused by the Indian state of having tried to foment rebellions across South East Asia. No doubt, Ho Chi Minh and Tan Malaka would have been puzzled to know that they were taking instructions from Goutam Chattopadhyay in Calcutta. But the Indian police took all this seriously enough, and he stayed underground for four years, including one stint in his own home, in a concealed room built by his father.

Many communist leaders inspired Goutam, and despite polemics (e.g., after the split) he retained his respect for them regardless of which party they were in. But three party leaders were probably the greatest inspirations for him. They were P. C. Joshi, Somnath Lahiri, and Biswanath Mukherjee. In later life he would often argue that whatever the ‘right deviation’ of the Joshi period, it was Joshi alone who had understood how communists should penetrate civil society. Lahiri epitomised for him the total commitment to proletarian leadership. And Biswanath Mukherjee, the legendary student leader, was also an eye opener for this life long urban communist, as to what it meant to do communist work among the peasantry. But despite later political differences he also remained extremely respectful of, in particular, B. T. Ranadive, S. A. Dange and E.M. S. Namnboodiripad.

In the period of the post-war upsurge he had given up his studies. He returned to them a decade later, changed subjects, did his MA in History from Calcutta University as a private candidate and stood first, scoring what were then record marks in some papers like the one on China. His communist stamp was very strong, and according to the story he narrated to his family members, when he applied for a job in a University, its Rector told him he would be taken in only if he dropped his political work. So he worked all his life as a lecturer in Surendranath College for Women. There too, his commitment to teachers’ rights and his work in defending that before a privately run college’s board led to his losing a part-time job he held in the Day College. He married Jayasree Ghosh, sister of Sada Prosonno Ghosh, a party comrade who had been his courier, in 1953. Their son Kunal was born in 1959.

In 1962 came the India-China war. Though he was critical of China, he did not give way to nationalist hysteria. With the party split came additional responsibilities. In 1967, during the elections, he was a prominent speaker and writer for the CPI. It was also a difficult period as his wife died. He was to go into a second, much briefer underground when the First United Front Government was overthrown.

In 1956, following the 20th CPSU Congress, there had occurred a great shake up in mainstream international communism. Goutam was to say later that having given up a belief in one infallible leader, he was never again willing to accept another such. So he remained a communist who tried to apply his understanding of Marxism in his own way. A member of the CPI, a loyal soldier, as he saw it, of the international revolution, he was internationalist to the core. For close to four decades, his writings in the weekly and the daily Kalantar, in Mainstream, in Saptaha, and a dozen other journals, and in a number of pamphlets, testify to this. His writings covered the Cuban revolution, the Vietnam War and the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese, the liberation of Angola, the Nicaraguan revolution, the Afghan revolution in its early phase, and so on. He was to retain his anti-imperialism all his life, and even in one of his last major speeches, delivered in memory of Christopher Hill, he finished with comments about the US war on Iraq. But his internationalism was always a critically thinking internationalism. In 1968, he thought that regardless of the specific economic proposals of Ota Sik (which he felt hardly differed from the Libermann proposals), the attempt at democratisation and pluralism by the Dubcek team was worthy of full-scale support. So he was deeply disappointed when Warsaw pact countries sent in their tanks in the ‘friendly’ occupation of Czechoslovakia. He also got into some trouble with the party leadership because in an article devoted to the triumph of fascism, he had criticised the ‘Third Period’ sectarian line of the Communist International and had commented that Trotsky had warned of the disastrous consequences this would bring for the German working class. Though he was never a Trotskyist or sympathizer, he had an unusually large collection of Trotsky’s writings for the late 1960s –early 1970s. He was also among the earliest to read and apply the ideas of Antonio Gramsci in his own political concepts, when they started coming out.

During the Bangladesh War, Goutam threw himself into solidarity work. His residence at 2 Palm Place was forever swarming with visitors from Bangladesh/East Pakistan, some scholars like Professor Salahuddin Ahmed, many more political activists from the CP Bangladesh, the National Awami Party (both factions) and even the occasional Awami League member. Aminul Islam (Badsha) was a favourite. Transfer of uniform, shoes, food, and canteens for carrying water, etc, to Mukti Yoddhas were organised and his house and those of his friendly neighbours became transit points. By this time he had married Manju Gupta, and she too worked with him as a party member and historian. Their son Dhiman was born in 1972.

This was also a trying time in India. The armed struggle line of Charu Mazumdar and his comrades, the clash between different sections of the left and the murder of each other’s cadres, and looming over it all the repressive machinery of the state was a permanent reality in West Bengal in those days. Chattopadhyay was in favour of Communist unity, and at the same time he was a staunch defender of civil liberties. After the Cossipore-Baranagore mass murder of naxalites, he wrote the article ‘Footfalls of Fascism in Bengal’, for the weekly New Wave, which editor O. P. Sangal refused to print in his name, printing it anonymously, saying Goutam might otherwise be in danger from the same thugs. Then, in 1975, at Curzon Park, police had brutally murdered the actor Probir Dutta. So terror stricken was Calcutta that hardly 75 intellectuals turned up at a protest meeting. Goutam was one of the few who did, and he spoke there. The commitment to civil liberties would remain intact all his life. He would march in the rally demanding prisoners’ release in 1977, after the fall of Indira Gandhi’s government, he would be articulate in his defence of Archana Guha’s right to a fair trial and as a result face a contempt of court case along with Debes Roy and Ashok Dasgupta (editor of Aajkaal), he would march and speak after the massacre of Sikhs in 1984, and sign protests condemning the arrest of Kaushik Ganguly and others as supposed PWG sympathizers.

From the late 1950s, however, Goutam was also involved as a scholar. His first interest was in the Bengal Renaissance, and he brought out two volumes of rare documents: Awakening in Bengal (1964), and Bengal: Early 19th Century (. These dealt with documents of the Derozians, and his interpretation of the Derozians would continue to be a part of the historical debates in later times.

But in subsequent years his major fields of attention would be the communist and working class movement and the freedom movement. Books and significant monographs would include Rus Biplab O Banglar Mukti Andolan (1967), Communism and Bengal’s Freedom Movement, vol. 1 (1970), Lenin O Samakalin Bangladesh (1970) (with Manju Chattopadhyay), Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian Communist Movement: A Study of Cooperation and Conflict (1973), translated also into Hindi and Telugu, Bengal Electoral Politics and Freedom Struggle (1984), Strike, Strike (1991), Gandhiji, Subhas Chandra O Bharater Communist Andolan (1995), Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian Leftists and Communists (1997), Subhas Chandra Bose: A Biography, (1997), Itihaser Pata Theke (2001), and a stream of essays and pamphlets on the history and conmtemporary problems of the communist movement, some of which are Peshwar Theke Meerut (1984), Biswa Sramik Andolaner Gorar Katha (1989), Samajtantrer Agni Pariksha o Bharater Communist Andolan (1992), edited volume Sanhati, Langal O Ganabani (1992), Sarbahara Biplaber Jayosankhya (Sushobhan Sarkar Memrial Lecture 1998), etc.

From the 1960s, he was associated with the CPI daily and weekly Kalantar, and wrote editorials, reviews of international affairs, and commentaries on Indian politics, and so on. Never one to write what he did not believe in, he took clear positions. A number of occasions where his work as a historian and as a communist activist came together included a sharp reply to Arun Shourie’s attacks on the CPI, entitled Bharatiya Moshijibir Communist Birodhi, Soviet Birodhi Kutsar Jabab (Bharat Chharo Andolan O CPI Prasango) (1984), and a similar response to attacks entitled Bharater Swadhinata Sangram O Communist Partyr Bhumika (1992).

Goutam Chattopadhyay was an inspirer of research and an organizer too. Countless students of different generations were to profit immensely from his assistance and guidance, as several recounted after his death. They included his direct students like Kanai Lal Chattopadhyay, Debarata Majumdar, etc, as well as others working in Calcutta University, Jadavpur University, JNU, etc, like Anuradha Roy.

He was associated for many decades with the Indian History Congress, was several times a member of its Executive Committee, and in the words of Irfan Habib, was “a mentor and guide”. He was elected Sectional President of the Modern India Section for the Srinagar Session of 1986 and delivered an address on the Role of the Working Class in India’s Freedom Struggle, in which he frankly combined his identities as communist activist and historian.

Goutam Chattopadhyay was always profoundly committed to secular history writing and teaching. He himself, both alone and with his wife Manju, wrote a number of text-books in Bengali. After the Janata era attack on History text books following Nanaji Deshmukh’s notorious note, Professor Sushovan Sarkar wrote an article, which was used as the rallying cry by Goutam Chattopadhyay and his teacher professor A. W. Mahmood to launch the Paschim Banga Itihas Samsad, dedicated to the promotion of secular and scientific history writing and research in the Bengali language. For many years he was Secretary, then President of the Samsad. The Samsad played a major role in fighting communalist attacks. He contributed to this to the end, presiding over a national seminar at Jadavpur University when two volumes of the Towards Freedom project were under attack by the NDA government. He and Salauddin Ahmed jointly led a cross-border meeting of Historians in 1991 defending secularism. It was fitting that his felicitation volume was brought out by the Itihas Samsad in 2005, with the entire Executive Committee (excluding him) as the Board of Editors.

Goutam Chattopadhyay died in the early hours of 2006, at 2 in the morning, of a sudden cardiac failure. On his work desk was the draft of a new book he was to edit for the National Book Trust, an anthology of writings of personalities of the Bengal Renaissance.

Originally written -- 9th January 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Trotsky, Lenin and the Stalinist General Line

Trotsky’s greatest sin, it seems, was that he often disagreed with the “general line” of the party. Or so the contemporary devotees of Joseph Stalin would still like us to believe. Perhaps this should be viewed, rather, as Trotsky’s continuing commitment to the pre-Stalinist Marxist tradition, for which commitment to working class democracy, viewed as more expansive than the best that bourgeois democracy could afford to offer, and hence as his greatest legacy for socialists in the twenty-first century if they do not want to bow movingly to market forces, yet want to be relevant. For the days when one could say in a commanding tone, “this is the party line”, and expect everyone to lie down and play dead like tame dogs, are gone forever.

When Karl Marx started his political career, he began as a democrat. Unlike many earlier and contemporary socialists and communists, he did not advocate aneducational dictatorship of the party (or a group of wise and enlightened elite, by whatever name) over the working people. And his call for a “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” was not a call for party dictatorship. One has to remember that in the Paris Commune, there were very few people holding close to Marx’s views, and that moreover it was an elected body with laws far more democratic than anything that then existed in any liberal state. Yet both Marx and Engels unhesitatingly called the Commune a dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Young Trotsky’s Critique of Lenin

Trotsky stood in this tradition, as despite occasional ferocious statements, did Lenin, till 1921. In 1904, in his polemical pamphlet against Lenin entitled Our Political Tasks, Trotsky wrote that “The problems of the new regime are so intricate that they can be solve only through the rivalry of the various methods of economic and political reconstruction, by long “debates”, by systematic struggle – not only between the socialist and the capitalist worlds, but also between the various tendencies within socialism, tendencies that must inevitably develop as soon as the dictatorship of the proletariat creates tens and hundreds of new unsolved problems …. And no ‘strong authoritative organisation’ will be able to put down these tendencies and disagreement for the purpose of accelerating and simplifying the process, for it is only too clear that the proletariat capable of a dictatorship over society will not tolerable a dictatorship over itself.” This is not to try and replace the myth of the infallible Lenin followed by the infallible Stalin, by another myth of the prophetic Trotsky. Considering that at stake was also a debate over whether a minority, defeated in a democratically organised Congress, should accept the decisions of the Congress or not, where Trotsky was supporting the creation of a special category of members who had the right to flout decisions because they were leaders, he made his share of errors. On this issue he was wrong, not just according to some special canons of Leninism, but by any commonsense definition of democracy. However, by the time Trotsky came to write this particular pamphlet, Lenin had tried to bolster his claims with further arguments. Trotsky argued, against Lenin, on three points, which together constituted, according to him, an alternative (and superior) theory of organisation. The first is the opposition that he set up between the self activity of the class and a “fantastic” sectarian error, whereby Lenin allegedly wanted a ready made set of tactics to enable the Central Committee to control the masses. The second point is the opposition between democracy and Lenin’s “pitiless centralism” (to borrow a term used by Rosa Luxemburg). The third point is the contrast between a formalist and a historical political viewpoint. One important charge he made against Lenin and his supporters was that they believed in automatic success due to their possession of Marxist doctrine. One can refer to statements like: “The Party is the organized detachment of the working class”, or the “General Staff”. Trotsky himself was a Marxist. And it was certainly not his intention to decry the merits of Marxism. But he did question its exclusive possession by any individual, group of individuals, or party; and even more strongly did he reject the notion that possession of Marxism was a guarantee against mistakes. Acknowledging the existence of different political trends in the Russian working class movement, he insisted that they have to be situated in the historical context, and argued that part of their mistakes stem from an ahistoricity. “Each period has its own routine and tends to impose its own tendencies on the movement as a whole.” The necessary and correct industrial work gave rise to the errors of “economism”. The centralising of Iskra gave rise to the errors of Bolshevism. So ran his argument. The problems arose because “Each new tendency casts the previous one into anathema. For the bearers of new ideas, each preceding period seems no more than a gross deviation from the correct path, an historical aberration, a sum of errors, the result of a fortuitous combination of theoretical mystifications.” Trotsky’s position is of more general value, because even if Lenin is taken to be free of every error that Trotsky mentions, the “Leninism” that has been propagated, by Stalinists, and sometimes by sectarians who believe that revolutionary discipline means utterly wooden rigidity entirely measures up to Trotsky’s critique.

On one hand, then, references to The Party of the proletariat in the singular. On the other hand, the inevitability of the struggle of tendencies, not only between capitalism and socialism, but also within socialism. The tension this created in Trotsky's thought was to be resolved only in the 1930s, when he finally accepted that a vanguard party can remain one only in a pluralistic political system. Alternatives to this range from denunciations of “party persons taking the capitalist road”, gun-point arrest and summary executions of feared rivals (e.g., the Beria or the Mehmet Shehu cases), or, alternatively, the abandonment of the concepts of vanguard party and class vanguard, either openly and fully, or de-facto, partially, in the name of pluralism.

Revolution and Reaction in Russia

However, even before the 1930s, Trotsky was to take his position for deepening of democracy. Trotsky’s writings themselves present a confusing picture, and one has to pick one’s way carefully. There is no doubt that he genuinely considered himself a Leninist after 1917, though he continued to cherish his independence of mind. In late 1924, in his unpublished pamphlet ‘Our Differences’ Trotsky stated that he had been fundamentally wrong, because he had expected events to force the two factions together. He admitted that his “conciliationism” had led him to err, chiefly in the direction of not realising the need to split with the Mensheviks. He acknowledged that Lenin’s criticisms of his line regarding party unity were correct. However, Trotsky no less than Lenin progressed in his thinking, and we find him taking a dialectical stand in 1905 on the question of building the party. At that time, he was editing a popular socialist paper, Nachalo. Though his famous biographer Isaac Deutscher gives the impression that he only preached permanent revolution and unity, we find him devoting space to programme and organisation as a whole. And what emerges clearly from those articles is that while he decried what he felt were Bolshevik rigid attitudes, he did not thereby lapse into any spontaneism or into condoning arm-chair socialists.

In the period of reaction, no less than during the revolution of 1905, the revolutionary camp was not simply equated with the Bolshevik faction, nor was Bolshevism identical to Leninism. At the Third Congress of the RSDLP, a purely Bolshevik affair, one of the points where Lenin was defeated was over whether the committees should have a majority of workers, or not. On the other hand, at the Fourth or Unity Congress at Stockholm, a Menshevik majority (62 to 44 for the Bolsheviks) approved of the principles of democratic centralism. In a report on the Stockholm Congress Lenin called the principles of democratic centralism the heart of the system, and called for a generalisation of the elective principle. The application of this principle, Lenin held, “implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action …”

As the mass party of 1905-6 collapsed responses varied. Among Bolsheviks, there developed a current, originally in a majority, especially among the underground committees, that favoured boycotting the elections to the Duma (Russia’s very limited power semi-parliament), and later, for recalling the Duma deputies and sticking only to the underground structures. Among Mensheviks, a considerable number of theorists and ╬╣migr╬╣ leaders became “liquidators”, people who wanted to drop the old structures and build a workers’ party within the constraints of existing legality. In between these two extremes stood a majority of activists. Re-examining the issues and the documents in debate, one finds that Lenin and Trotsky also stood in between. But until 1912, Lenin tended to consider all legal activists as liquidators. According to Marcel Liebman, a historian sympathetic to him, Down to 1914, he had a tendency to pass up opportunities on open work.

A large group of worker activists or ‘praktiki’, who had been party members in 1905-6, sought to fuse legal work with the underground. They were criticised from opposite ends by Lenin and the liquidators. Younger Mensheviks, notably the ‘praktiki’, by and large rejected the liquidators’ proposals. Between 1909 and 1911, this meant a definite rise in Trotsky’s influence. Left Mensheviks, as well as Bolshevik – conciliators (i.e., those who wanted to unite the revolutionary forces though they supported the Bolshevik programme) found in Trotsky a leading figure who advocated a line they found close to their outlook. A distortion of this history began in 1923, when Lenin lay dying and a Triumvirate, consisting of Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin tried to organise a tight control over the party. Zinoviev wrote a History of the Bolshevik Party which began the distortions of history completed over a decade later in Stalin’s History of the CPSU(B) – Short Course. In these histories, bereft of documentary evidence, lenin’s views were proclaimed the sole correct revolutionary general line. Trotsky was cast as an arch-villain who opposed Lenin and was therefore a renegade. The problem was of course, that Lenin till 1912 considered himself a part of the common Social Democratic Party, so opposing Lenin did not mean, for example, opposing any general line. Secondly, whether Lenin was correct at different moments can only be tested by looking at the specific history, not by a teleology that claims the Bolshevik triumph of 1917 as proof of Lenin’s correctness all his life (in High Stalinist myth, of course, he abandoned terrorism for Marxism at age 11, on hearing of the death sentence on his elder brother Alexander). Moreover, during the revolution of 1905, Lenin had changed his own position about party democracy, and argued that it was wrong to demand that the Soviet should accept the programme of the RSDRP. On the question of the party press, Lenin stressed that here there could be no question of a mechanical “rule of the majority over the minority ...” In other words, the party press should publish different viewpoints. Indeed, during the period of reaction, when Lenin differed with Bogdanov, leader of the boycottists, he had Bogdanov expelled from the Bolshevik faction, arguing that while a party was broad and contained many shades, a faction had to be tightly knit. This was an acknowledgement of the validity of the criticism made earlier by people like Trotsky or Luxemburg, and also a blow to the Stalinist myth that a party had to be monolithic.

From October Revolution to the Collapse of Democracy

In 1917, when Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks, he did so with the conviction that a proletarian revolution was in the offing, and all revolutionaries should unite. When he did so, he did not abjure his earlier views, and in exhorting his supporters in the Inter-Borough Organisation (a revolutionary, non-Bolshevik organisation) to unite with the Bolsheviks, he argued that the Bolsheviks had in practice “de-Bolshevised” themselves. And contrary to Cold War propaganda, serious historiography has repeatedly shown that the Soviet insurrection of October 1917 was more democratic than any of the alternatives. Throughout Russia, from late August, new elections to soviets were being organised. The Bolsheviks made significant gains. Thus, at the Second Congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Urals, representing 505,780 workers and soldiers, which met on 17-21 August, the Bolsheviks had 77 deputies against 23 for the Mensheviks. On 31 August - 1st September, the Petrograd Soviet adopted a resolution on power, which led to the resignation of the old executive committee. On 5 September, the Moscow Soviet passed a resolution condemning the Provisional Government by 355 votes to 254. By September 21, the Saratov Soviet had 320 Bolsheviks against 103 SRs, 76 Mensheviks, and 34 non-party deputies. The First Congress of Soviets had stipulated that fresh Congresses were to be called every three month. But the Executive Committee elected by that Congress, controlled by Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, now began to hesitate. So the Bolsheviks started putting pressure by organising regional congresses. These included the Moscow regional Congress, the All Siberian Congress, the Congress, the regional Congresses at Minsk (Byelo Russia), the Northern Caucasus, provincial Congresses in Vladimir and Tver, etc. But the most important was the Congress of Northern Soviets. Represented in it were Soviets from Petrograd, Moscow, Archangel, Reval, Helsingfors, Kronstadt, Vyborg, Narva, Gatchina, Tsarskoe Selo, the Baltic Fleet, the Petrograd Soviet of Peasant Deputies, the Petrograd District Soviets, and the soldiers organisations of the Northern, Western, South-Western and Rumanian fronts. Alexander Rabinowich’s classic work, The Bolsheviks Come to Power, lays out in detail the network of mass organisations through which the Bolsheviks established their hegemony. As Marc Ferro, a hostile historian, was compelled to write about the moment of insurrection, a state without a government (the nationwide network of council type institutions) was facing a government without a state (Kerensky’s government, based on absolutely no institutional support whatsoever). Between this and the Stalinist dictatorship lay a Civil War and a 14-country war of intervention, followed by a counter-revolution within the revolution as Stalin consolidated his rule between 1923 and 1928-29.

There did occur a phase, under the blows of the civil war, when every non-Bolshevik party sided with White Guard counter-revolution, that Lenin and Trotsky alike played a role in legitimising authoritarianism in the name of Marxism. What were wrong were not always the specific acts. In a Civil War, when your opponent is shooting at you, you cannot extend full democracy to them. Serious histories of the Civil War, like W. Bruce Lincoln’s Red Victory, or of the Red Terror, like Leggett’s The Cheka, show that the Reds were in fact less violent than the Whites, who often shot workers because they were workers, something that does not stir the souls of upper class writers as much as the shooting of Nicholas and Alexandra. But when Trotsky (or Lenin) started justifying these actions not as emergency measures to save the republic but as Marxist theory, they committed serious errors. The climax came in 1921, when, at the end of the Civil War, but following the Kronstadt uprising, all opposition parties were banned, as were opponent factions within the party. Yet, Trotsky, while still in full power, as Commissar for War and Politbureau member, came out opposing the continuation of these measures by 1923. In late 1923, a strike wave broke out. Feliks Dzherzhinskii, head of the OGPU, successor of the disbanded Cheka, wanted party members in factories to finger the strike leaders and report them to the secret police. It was this proposal that moved Trotsky to write two letters to the Central Committee, demanding restoration of democratic rights. These started the New Course debate, which Stalin and the Triumvirate won only after gagging open discussions and rigging the only open voting that took place, in Moscow. By 1926-7, the Platform of the United Opposition was calling for restoration of Soviet Democracy. And alone among all the Bolshevik leaders, it was Trotsky who wrote, in The Revolution Betrayed, in a self-critical tone that “The degeneration of the party became both cause and consequence of the bureaucratization of the state.” In analysing this degeneration, he came to the conclusion that “The prohibition of oppositional parties brought after it the prohibition of factions. The prohibition of factious ended in a prohibition to think otherwise than the infallible leaders.” On the basis of this analysis, when it came to drafting the programme of the Fourth International Trotsky wrote that “Democratization of the Soviets is impossible without legalization of soviet parties,” and he further said that “the workers and peasants themselves, by their own free votes will indicate what parties they recognize as Soviet parties.” This was absolutely a negation of any conception of the “general line of The Party”.

The Creation of the General Line

The idea that there is something called the general line of the party, and that opposing it is a secular sin not less heinous than heresy as detected and rooted out by Torquemada, was a concept that developed as Lenin lay dying. Stalin’s funeral speech on Lenin’s death is overlaid with religious overtones. The embalming of Lenin showed the turn in the party upper ranks towards cultism. Trotsky later claimed he and Krupskaya had opposed this. This naturally meant a consolidation of every anti-democratic practice. Indeed, as early as the 1923 Congress of the party, which Lenin could not attend due to his stroke, Stalin responded to demands for broadening inner party democracy by arguing that a party of 400,000 could not have full democracy as long as it was ruling a country surrounded by imperialism. This was and has been the logic for imposing and maintaining de jure or de facto one party rule with a top down commandist structure in every so-called communist country. By the mid 1920s, one of Stalin’s then supporters (later executed for siding with Bukharin), Uglanov, was defining party democracy in terms that made it look exactly like bureaucratic rule. Responding to him, Trotsky wrote: “Comrade Uglanov for the first time has made an open attempt to overcome the contradiction between the programmatic definition of democracy and the actual regime by bringing the program down, drastically, to the level of what has existed in practice. As the essence of democracy he proclaims the unlimited domination of the party apparatus, which presents[ the report -- KC], draws in [comments by masses -- KC], checks and rectifies [itself, without the ranks having the right to reject the leadership itself—K.C.]. ... Attempting to define the essence of democracy, Comrade Uglanov has defined the essence of bureaucracy.” By the mid-1930s, the situation was worse. The 1934 Congress of the Party was called the Victor’s Congress, because the spine of all opposition within the USSR except those of Trotskyists and their allies, the Democratic Centralist group, had been broken. Their leaders had been made to grovel. Yet the majority of the delegates to even this Stalinist Party Congress, and the majority of Central Committee members, would be executed over the years, many in secret trials, some in show trials where they would “confess”, like the hapless Bukharin to save his wife and child.

The central story would be, that these people had started out as opponents of the “general line” and as a result had become counter revolutionaries. So in place of Marx’s notion of a pluralist commune state, the idea of the general line came to mean that there could be no alternative thinking. Stalin explained this in an interview with a journalist, Roy Howard, where he said that a party is part of a class, so since there were no opposed classes in the USSR there could not be a multi-party system. Obviously, this was grammatically no less than politically utter nonsense. A class can have more than one part, else why use the term part. So each part should be free to create its own party. Even more pertinent is the question whether parties and classes are to remain welded till the end of time. Would differences disappear if classes were abolished? If not, then there would be formed parties – over environmental alternatives, over alternative models of social construction. The reason why Trotsky, alone among the opponents of Stalin, could articulate this idea was because of his past. Even Bukharin, a very talented theoretician, was helpless, because after all, in power, he had said that if there were two parties in the USSR the place for the second party would be in prison. That was why, when the ruthless murder machine crushed the old Bolshevik Party, including the majority of the Central Committee that had made the October Revolution, the majority of pre-1917 activists, and the majority of the Civil War era cadres, only those who had a clear understanding of the democratic promise of classical Marxism could avoid the options of surrendering to the murder machine like Koestler’s Rubashov, or defecting to the capitalist west. Today, in most of the world, Stalinism is utterly discredited. From the vantage point of what we know clearly today, Khruschev’s speech was a bid to save the Stalinist system by purging it of its most extreme excrescences. Khruschev, after all, defended the mass murders of workers and peasants, of non-Bolsheviks (the Mensheviks and SRs) as well as the dissidents within the party. It was only Stalin’s murder of dissident Stalinists that he rued. Yet what is known today ( and even what was written in Soviet years by dissidents like Evgeniia Ginsberg, a survivor of the Gulag, or documented through painstaking research under dictatorial rule by Roy Medvedev) suggests that Stalin and his henchmen, who of course included Khrushchev, killed more communists (not only Russian but global) than did most bourgeois states, and that socialism cannot survive unless it clearly disavows his crimes. In a country like India, where the vast majority do not have access to any Western language information system, it is by simply suppressing or not making available in Indian language editions the information available to much of the world including Spanish and Portuguese speaking South America (the continent where leftists are currently advancing, but by openly rejecting Stalinism), that the Indian Stalinist left hopes to buy time for a few more years. The fables they spread, to the effect that revelations about the Moscow Trials, the mass murders etc are all undocumented gossip, can be disproved with ease. Contemporaries like Anton Ciliga (Ten Years in the Country of the Big Lie) or Alexander Orlov (The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes), as well as later historians like Robert Conquest (The Great Terror), Roy Medvedev, and others have shown how terrible were these purges. If socialism is to survive other than as a museum piece or as a part of Political Science curricula, it has to take the ideas of revolutionary democratic politics to heart. For that, Trotsky’s alternative to the brutal culmination of the politics of the general line remains an essential contribution.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Permanent Revolution and Left Social Democracy

In the revolution of 1905, the term permanent revolution cropped up quite often. It, or related terms, were used by Franz Mehring, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, various Socialist Revolutionaries and even on one occasion, by Lenin. But the content Trotsky put into it was quite specific, and unique in the Social Democratic camp. Mensheviks like Martynov counterposed permanent revolution to the struggle for democracy, and carried away by revolutionary euphoria, championed this ‘vulgarised’ version as Trotsky characterised it.[i]
Discussion on the term and its origins, implications, etc, have often been confused. They have even been muddied with deliberate intent by generations of Stalinists, beginning with Stalin who asserted that “Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg … invented the utopian and semi-Menshevik scheme of permanent revolution….subsequently, this semi-Menshevik scheme of permanent revolution was caught by Trotsky”.[ii]
Even scholars who do not have that particular axe to grind often do little better. Knei-paz holds that Trotsky’s choice of the term was unfortunate, because it is sententious, bombastic, and misleading.[iii] Having retailed all the possible misunderstandings, he declares suddenly, “But we shall not quibble over semantics”.[iv] Knei-Paz’s search for the origin of the term are quite erroneous, for he attributes it to Proudhon, and considers Marx’s usage a ‘Blanquist’ aberration and also possibly a Pickwickian usage.[v]
Nocolas Krasso goes even further, forgetting conveniently Marx’s use of the term. He then safely asserts the ‘permanent revolution’ is “an inept designation” that shows the lack of scientific precision even in Trotsky’s profoundest insights. Apparently, Krasso believes, that thereby Trotsky evoked the idea of a continuous conflagration at all times and all places.[vi]
Actually, if we look at the contemporary left Social Democratic writers, we find many of them expressing unease with the mechanical determinism of “orthodox” theory.[vii]
Lenin based his tactics on the socio-economic analysis that he had carried out.[viii] His first analysis of Russian capitalism was primarily a national one. He argued that industrial capitalism constituted the apex of capitalist development.[ix] For him, accordingly, at this stage, every proletarian revolution was primarily a nationally self-contained one. The ‘ripeness’ of the country for revolution was determined by national conditions.
Lenin could not transcend the limits of Social Democratic orthodoxy because he tended to equate that orthodoxy with the cardinal tent that building a communist society was possible only on the basis of highly developed productive forces and the domination of a modern industrial proletariat. Trotsky had no dispute with him on this point. But his understanding of imperialism and the world economy led him to conclude that communism would be achieved globally, and that if the Russian workers come to power before others, they would use such power to promote faster social development short–circuiting capitalism, and helping the process of world revolution in which they too would find salvation.
Lenin, for his part, saw only two possibilities. All through 1905, and beyond, he went on evoking the rival models of 1789 and 1848.[x] In his major work of 1905, Lenin on one hand repeatedly emphasised the purely bourgeois character of the revolution, encasing his argument in the formulation that the degree of economic development, (the objective condition) determined the level of consciousness and organisation of the proletariat (the subjective condition).[xi] Lenin also rejected the Paris Commune as a model.[xii]
However, Lenin also wrote, in an article of September 1905, that “We stand for uninterrupted revolution”.[xiii] But by this he meant, not his 1917 formula of the growth in over of the bourgeois revolution, but only a kind of foreshortening of the historical process.
But between the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions in Lenin’s schema there was to exist a period of capitalist consolidation.
As he commented, “Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution precisely because the struggle going on in it is … between two forms of capitalism … The proletarian –peasant republic, too, is a bourgeois democracy.”[xiv]
Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg both saw a temporary workers’ power as the only route to achieving victory in the democratic revolution. In a 1906 polemic with Plekhanov, Luxemburg agreed that the proletariat could not remain in lasting power, but could only use its temporary power to finish off the old regime.[xv]
The legitimate power was for her the power of a democratically elected constituent assembly, where the majority would inevitably be non-proletarian. Though a far more radical concept than Plekhanov’s and to some extent Lenin’s too, Luxemburg’s idea stopped at the utmost barrier of orthodoxy, the inevitably bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. In a work on the revolution of 1905, she wrote: “The present revolution in Russia goes far beyond the content of all previous revolutions…. It is then, both in method and in content, a radically new type of revolution. Bourgeois–democratic in form, proletarian–socialist in essence, it is also in content and form a transitional form between the bourgeois revolutions of the past and the proletarian revolutions of the future.” Though this may appear to be a ‘permanentist’ text, a little later in the same essay she again repeats that the “proletariat does not now place before itself the task of implementing socialism, but rather must first create the bourgeois–capitalist pre-conditions for the implementation of socialism.”[xvi]
The main difference between Lenin and Luxemburg was over the question of the precise mechanisms of the worker–peasant bloc. Lenin wanted to keep his options open, sometimes saying that a peasant party could arise, sometimes being more hesitant. Luxemburg, on the other hand, adopted here the formula put forward by Trotsky: “ dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry”. But at the 1909 conference, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky all rallied to this formula, while each chose to interpret it in his or her own way.
Between 1914 and 1917/18, Lenin and Luxemburg changed their positions. Lenin’s change is better documented. Prior to 1917, Lenin again and again presented a careful sequence of events. He clearly expected the peasantry to become treacherous once the bourgeois democratic revolution had been accomplished.[xvii] Indeed, in this, he was less optimistic than Trotsky for the latter had emphasized that “the Russian peasantry in the first and most difficult period of the revolution will be interested in the maintenance of a proletarian regime….”[xviii]
Under the impact of war and the new view of international capitalism that he developed, his philosophical studies, etc., led Lenin to change his position.[xix] A methodological break through prepared the way for a new socio-economic analysis. His Imperialism enabled him to situate capitalism in its concrete totality as a global system. After the February revolution Lenin therefore adopted an explicitly permanentist visualisation of the process of revolution.[xx]
Monty Johnstone and Loizos Mikhail both try to prove that the April Theses differed from Trotsky’s perspectives.[xxi] But the most vital point, which they have perforce to gloss over, is that Lenin gave up the idea that the Russian revolution could only clear the ground for a wide and rapid development of capitalism.
Luxemburg, too, changed her position. This is easiest seen by looking at her critical work, The Russian Revolution, where her criticisms of Lenin and Trotsky start by accepting the necessity of a proletarian revolution and the beginning of socialist construction.[xxii]
[i]. Martynov’s position is cited in L. Trotsky, 1905, pp., 317 – 8. See also his Stalin, pp. 68 – 9 for the opportunistic nature of the Mensheviks’ adaptation to the slogan.
[ii]. J. Stalin, Works, Moscow, 1954, Vol. 13, p. 93.
[iii]. B. Knei-Paz, The Social and Political Thoguht of Leon Trotsky, London etc, p. 153.
[iv]. Ibid, p.154.
[v]. Ibid., p. 155 text and note 111, pp. 158 – 9.
[vi]. N. Krasso ‘Trotsky’s Marxism’ in N. Krasso (Ed), Trotsky: The Great Debate Renewed, St. Louis, 1972, p. 16.
[vii]. See on this point E. Mandel, Trotsky: A Study in the Dynamics of His Thought, pp. 12 – 3.
[viii]. See N. Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought,2v., London and Basingstoke,, 1983. My own arguments are based more on K. Chattopadhyay, Leninism and Permanent Revolution, Baroda, 1987, a work I wrote originally in 1978 – 9, without the aid of Harding’s valuable research.
[ix]. LCW, vol. 1, p. 438. Industrial capitalism, he held, organised and disciplined the workers – vol. 1, p. 236 and vol. 3, p. 546. The factory workers therefore were the representatives of the entire exploited population – vol. 1, p. 299.
[x]. Thus, against Parvus, he wrote that a Social Democratic majority government was impossible as a revolutionary dictatorship that would leave its mark in history. Trotsky was a ‘wind bag’ who failed to realise that Russia had to pass through her own 1789 – 93. LCW, vol. 8, pp. 291 – 2, See also Ibid., vol. 9, p. 241.
[xi]. Ibid., pp. 49, 28.
[xii]. Ibid., pp. 80 – 1. He criticised the commune for confusing the democratic and socialist tasks, and argued that it was a model to be eschewed. See by contrast Trotsky’s introduction to The Civil War in France, in Leon Trotsky, On the Paris Commune.
[xiii]. LCW, vol. 9, p. 237.
[xiv]. Ibid., vol. 15, p. 175. In this period, Lenin and Kautsky shared some common positions, as did Luxemburg. For this, see M. Lowy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development, pp. 36 – 7, and M. Salvadori, Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution 1880 – 1938, London, 1979, pp. 100 – 8.
[xv]. R. Luxemburg, ‘Blanquisme et social democratie’, Quatrieme Internationale, April 2, 1972, p. 55.
[xvi]. Cited in M. Lowy, op. cit., p. 38.
[xvii]. Cf. LCW, vol. 13, pp. 239, 343, vol. 15, pp. 158 – 81, vol. 16, p. 379 for expectations of capitalist development, and vol. 9, p. 136 for the above mentioned assessment of the peasantry.
[xviii]. L. Trotsky, PRRP, pp. 71 – 2.
[xix]. For a full treatment, see my Leninism and Permanent Revolution, especially pp. 49 – 61.
[xx]. Cf. LCW, vol. 23, pp. 299 – 300, 306 – 7, 308, and vol. 24 (which contains the April Theses).
[xxi]. M. Johnstone, ‘Trotsky – Part One’, Cogito, No. 5, London, n.d., pp. 11-12; and L. Mikhail, op. cit., pp. 31-40.
[xxii]. For Luxemburg, see further N. Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, London, 1972.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Reservations and Progressives in West Bengal

As we all know, West Bengal is a progressive state. This is not simply a claim by the Left Front. It is a claim by every honest to goodness Bengali who does not believe in such pathetic measures like actually examining reality, preferring to look back to the Bengal renaissance and the golden age of Indian cricket, when Ganguly was king.

That is why, it is worth looking at some of the voices of progressive Bengal concerning reservations, and use these voices as a peg to present some arguments. I have in mind three sets of incidents. The first concern posters put up in my own University campus by the All India Democratic Students Organization. When the reservation issue came up early in 2006, their first poster charged the ruling class of seeking to fragment students’ unity by raking up the non-issue of reservations. When the agitation by the anti-reservation activists met police violence they simply condemned police violence. There was no condemnation of the politics of the YFE. So let me briefly quote from the YFE’s official statement. According to the YFE, “YFE stands for total Roll-back of the proposed legislation to increase the reservation percentage in central government institutions and central examinations. YFE stands for reviewing the complete reservation policy and phased eradication of reservation policy.” In explaining this, YFE goes into a bit of history. According to them, reservations were introduced by the British as a divide and rule policy, because they treated the Brahmins as untrustworthy. “In a country that was ruled for more than 1000 years by foreigners, people were divided on the basis of being backward or forward, although the entire country was backward, un-educated, poor, un-employed, depressed and deprived.” Thus, at one go, the entire period of Turko-Afghan and Mughal Rule is clubbed with British rule, and a psedu-history is constructed whereby this long foreign rule had created backwardness for all.
The casteist and communal attitude of YFE and itsa supporters also come out when we look at sites linked to the YFE, and the blogs posted there. Unlike printed articles, where either a relatively responsible media is doing it, and therefore ensuring some minimum cuts, or at least there is some legal control, the wild internet, free for those with money, which mostly rules out the people for whom reservations are sought, finds the elite and especially the sons and daughters of the elite give full freedom to their outlook. I copy just one here, for lack of space.
“ask mr p chidambaram to first collect the 49.5 percent revenue from the bloody bhangis and then we will pay even if he asks us to pay 200 percent of our incomes”. This was posted on 25 May in antireservation.org , and can be read at http://www.antireservation.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=350&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=30
In the West Bengal Chapter of YFE, one Suman posted a comment, which asked the middle class to rise up against the government.

So the AIDSO, which claims to be the student organisation of the one true revolutionary party founded by India’s Lenin, has nothing to criticise in the caste, communal or class outlook of the YFE and its supporters. If we are to argue that we should condemn all police violence, under all circumstances, I wonder what will be the reaction if the police is called out to stop riots?

But I would be doing an injustice to the AIDSO if I pretended they were alone in this. People senior to them in the academic world have likewise taken strange positions. In recent times, one university in West Bengal has twice advertised the post of a lecturer in one of their departments. On both occasions, there had been applicants, surely possessing minimum qualifications, since they had been called for interviews. Yet on both occasions, the post remained unfilled, with the selectors declaring that none had been found to be suitable.

This same logic, of being particularly finicky when selecting for reserved posts, can be found time and again. In a number of discussions with academicians of repute, I have come across the argument that if posts are advertised as requiring some specialisation, there might not be any SC, ST or OBC applicants available. I have not seen the same academicians being troubled over that fact. Yet the UGC has grants for additional coaching of students coming from socially deprived backgrounds. In my own Department, for example, I have never seen any attempt to utilise these funds.

What these lead one to surmise is that we are really not keen to support the filling up of reserved posts. If we go back again to the YFE site, we will find them arguing that reservations have failed in India. No doubt. But why is it so? The answer is, because the upper castes have done little to ensure that the policy succeeds.

This is the wider context within which I propose to discuss some of the issues like merit, economic reservation, and exclusion of the creamy layers. To say that the creamy layers should be excluded sounds very just. In reality, this is the best way to ensure that OBCs absolutely do not get in, particularly in the better institutions. For example, how many poor students, with no coaching from top level institutions specialising in coaching for IIMs, IITs, the Medical colleges, etc, get in into those institutions? Reading the YFE and allied sites and particularly their blogs and discussion groups, one is struck by the number of well to do in their ranks. One proposal doing the rounds was to withdraw money from the nationalised banks and put them in the foreign banks which have come in. Obviously, only people who have the kind of money, the withdrawal of which might pose any pressure, were discussing these issues. In other words, those objecting most strongly for the exclusion of the creamy layer OBCs are members of the elite themselves. Some of their medical fraternity friends are truly equal, having purchased seats legally.

The emrgence of a dalit or OBC creamy layer would certainly not ensure social justice for all dalits and OBCs. But then, the YFE is not talking socialism either, is it? But if the ST, SC and OBC creamy layer is expanded, some good may occur. Exclusion of the creamy layers would really mean the seats being ultimately transferred to the general category on the ground that no OBC was found. Kancha Ilaiah has argued that the emergence of a well educated elite within each caste community is necessary for that caste community reaching the modernist stage. If upper caste intellectuals use a suddenly progressive argument, stressing class rather than caste, stressing the poor rather than the elite, they need to show that they mean it, by launching a mass movement for uniform educational facilities for all, and for free hostel and boarding facilites for all students who are so poor that they would have to drop out in search of jobs. If that policy was implemented in a sustained manner for a decade, we might find that reservations could indeed begin to be phased out. It is worth remembering that the Mandal Commission had indeed recommended something close to this. But upper caste intellectuals from West Bengal who are hiding behind progressive masks (the openly elitist ones do not bother and I am not bothered with them) have neither written dozens of articles and manifestos along these lines, nor taken out a single demonstration. They really would not like the idea of uniform schooling, where their children must rub shoulder with “ill-bred” children. But where is career open to merit, if there is not equal scope for the development of merit?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My 11th September

For several days I have been seeing the media go gaga in its annual US worship. I do not support the killing of innocent people anywhere, and that includes New York. Indeed, I have relatives and close friends in new York, and shudder to think that some of them might have died.
But why must we compulsorily mourn every year the death of a few thousand Americans? Because they hail from the richest part of the world? My friend Steve Bloom, a non-jewish Jew who pointed to his nose to make that point, showed me the skyline (at that time with the World Trade Centre) and said, that small portion is the financial heart of the world. He also admitted to a slight vested interest. As a revolutionary socialist he is commited to overthrowing it. But he makes his living by painting the houses of the rich.
No, it is not what you might think. Steve does not just take brush and paint a bedroom light yellow. He paints walls so they look like other things. You can have a brick and mortar will looking like a marble wall, and so on.
So Steve, you, I we all have more than a slight interest in the uS. When you see KANK, you think Hindi is the national language of NY. Then you realise that NY is the national dream of those willing to shell out the hefty rates for KANK tickets. And that is why, we empathise more when several thousand New Yorkers die.
But I wanted to remember a different 9/11 -- my 9/11, the tragedy of my generation. I have not been a believer in peaceful revolution since 1972, when I was briefly around a Maoist circle. But this did not prevent me from appreciating the popular enthusiadsm that went into the election of Salvador Allende as the President of Chile.
The U.S. ambassador to Chile and other senior Nixon officials saw a regional crisis -- and a blow to Washington's international prestige -- if an avowed Marxist won a fair presidential election in South America.
Ambassador Edward Korry began sending frantic, minute-by-minute commentaries about the last days of Chile's 1970 campaign. Korry's cables became known inside the State Department as "Korrygrams" because of their unusual language and undiplomatic opinions.
On election day, Korry sent no fewer than 18 updates. He reported that he could hear "the mounting roar of Allendistas acclaiming their victory" from the streets. Korry wrote: "We have suffered a grievous defeat."
The next three weeks, Korry flooded Washington with lurid reports alleging a communist takeover. In one cable, he announced that "there is a graveyard smell to Chile, the fumes of a democracy in decomposition. They stank in my nostrils in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and they are no less sickening here today."
Allende's victory also sent Nixon into a rage and started the president's men plotting how to stop Allende's inauguration. Cables focused on a scheme to derail formal ratification of Allende's victory by Chile's congress on Oct. 24, 1970.
According to one idea, the congress would defy the electorate and pick the runner-up, Jorge Alessandri, "who would renounce the presidency and thus provoke new elections in which [outgoing president Eduardo] Frei would run."
On Sept. 12, Korry and Assistant Secretary of State John Richardson met secretly with Frei at the presidential palace. While much of the conversation remains classified, Korry reported that Frei saw only a "one in 20 chance" to stop Allende, but added that he could not "afford to be anything but the president of all Chileans at this time."
Despite the odds, Nixon ordered the CIA to try. The covert action to reverse the results of the Chilean election -- by political or military means -- took the code name, "Project FUBELT."
On Sept. 16, CIA director Richard Helms informed his senior covert action staff that "President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States," according to one declassified CIA memo.
"The President asked the Agency to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," Helms added. The CIA had 48 hours to present an action plan to Kissinger.
Soon, the CIA was pressuring Frei. "CIA mobilized an interlocking political action and propaganda campaign designed both to goad and entice Frei" into the "so-called Frei re-election gambit," according to a declassified "Report on CIA Chilean Task Force Activities." The scheme had "only one purpose," Helms told the NSC: "to induce President Frei to prevent Allende's [formal] election by the congress on 24 October, and, failing that, to support -- by benevolent neutrality at the least and conspiratorial benediction at the most - - a military coup which would prevent Allende from taking office." The election gambit was known as Track I.
The back-up plan for a military coup was called Track II. The CIA inducements to Frei included offering substantial sums of money to his "re-election" campaign, bribing other Christian Democrats outright, and orchestrating visits and calls from respected leaders abroad.
To influence Frei through his wife, the CIA instigated the wiring of telegrams to Mrs. Frei from women's groups in other Latin American nations.
Other mailings to Frei included CIA-planted news articles from around the world about Chile's peril. The articles were part of a covert "black" propaganda campaign which, the CIA boasted, resulted in at least 726 stories, broadcasts and editorials against an Allende presidency. Despite these labors, the Frei "re-election gambit" failed, as Frei refused to have the Christian Democrats block Allende's ratification.
Allende won the election on a reformist program, but his victory sparked a mass movement of the working class and poor peasants which had immense revolutionary potential. Allende and his Stalinist backers in the Chilean Communist Party spent the next three years restraining, discouraging and disorienting the mass movement, blocking any decisive challenge to the Chilean ruling class and American imperialism, while the right-wing and fascist elements prepared their counterattack. During this period there were six unsuccessful right-wing coup attempts, most of them with direct American aid.
And yet, Allende, and even more the Communist party, which stood to the right of tghe socialist Party, insisted on strict legality.No popular regime could coexist with the Chilean armed forces which were led by the most reactionary representatives of the capitalists and landlords. Every one of their leaders was a CIA-trained professional reactionary.
In a seminar organized by the Stalinist journal World Marxist Review, the spokesman for Chilean Stalinism, Banchero, clearly stated his party's attitude to the state: "A distinctive feature of the revolutionary process in Chile is that it began and continues within the framework of the bourgeois institutions of the past.... In Chile, where an anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly, and anti-feudal democratic people's revolution is now under way, we have essentially retained the old state machine. Government offices are staffed mainly with the old officials.... The administration exercises its functions under the guidance and control of the popular government.
"The armed forces, observing their status of a professional institution, take no part in political debate and submit to the lawfully constituted civilian power. Bonds of cooperation and mutual respect have evolved between the army and the working class in the name of the patriotic goal of shaping Chile into a free, advanced, and democratic land.
"Ultra-left elements clamor for the immediate 'introduction' of socialism. We hold, however, that the working class will gain full power gradually: it will be in step with our gaining control of the state machine that we shall begin to transform in the interests of the further development of the revolution."
I also remember Marxism Today coming out with an article by Lios Corvalan, Stalnist leader, saying the army would be constitutional, the day we got news of the coup.
Allende and the CP refused to ride roughshod over the bourgeois oppositon which had a majority in /congress, and they refused to hear any talk about building a revolutionary militia.
After the January 1972 by-elections Allende was forced to drop his socialist Minister of the Interior, while his plans for the reform of the two-chamber system were effectively blocked by the opposition.
In June 1972 more pressure and secret talks between government and opposition produced another cabinet crisis when Allende fired his left-wing economics minister, Pedro Vuskovic, and dropped his nationalization plans. This predictably had the full support of the Stalinists who, as in Spain in 1938, had become the extreme right wing of the coalition.
By the end of 1972 the reaction was ready for its second phase. This was the truck owners' strike in the south against nationalization. After four weeks, Allende not only capitulated to the reaction, but also agreed to bring three generals into his cabinet, and for the second time dropped another Interior Minister. The most prominent of the appointments was General Morio Prats--head of the Armed Forces and notorious anti-working class reactionary. The Interior Minister--Del Canto--was dropped because he permitted "illegal occupation" of private industries by workers. This shift to the right was inexorable.
This was not only a signal victory for the reactionaries, but a significant gain for the Stalinists, who all along fought against any factory occupations or land seizures and ruthlessly opposed any struggle which was not controlled by them or Allende.
All over the world, the Stalinist lie machine went to work to distort the meaning of these ominous changes. Comment (November 1972), the British CP journal, did not hesitate to defend Allende--and Prats:
"Is this not a sign of weakness? Or a surrender? Or a betrayal? ... the entry of these officers into the government, strange though it seems, is an indication that the right wing has been outmaneuvered and defeated in this engagement of the class battle."
And yet, while these class traitors betrayed a possible revolution, I also need to keep reminding people, usually on the extreme left, that sections of the left, including Allende, were, in the owrds of afriend of the late 1970s, "honest reformists'. Allende did not personally capitulate, though his politics was a capitulationist one. Behind the growing intrigues of the opposition, the arrogance of the generals, the mounting vacillation of President Salvador Allende and the capitulation of the Stalinists during 1972-73 lay the insoluble crisis of Chilean and world capitalism.
When Allende took power, Chile was in the throes of a major economic and financial crisis which has since been considerably exacerbated. The Central Bank's reserves had dropped from $500 million to $280 million and by April 1972 were estimated to be no more than $60 million. At the same time Chile's foreign debts exceeded $3,000 million, most of which was subject to scrutiny by European central bankers.
Failure to repudiate this massive national debt, coupled with the continued drop in copper export prices, meant that Allende had to devalue the Chilean escudo four times in two years.
But despite anger, people still had faith in Allende. In June 1973, the right wing made their first attempt at power in the aftermath of the copper miners' strike. This attempt of the Second Armored Regiment failed, but it showed how extremely vulnerable the regime was to a coup.
This attack stimulated the working class to go into action, to seize factories and to strengthen the assemblies of rank-and-file workers which sprang up in October to November 1972.
Even at this late hour, the situation could have been changed by resolute and decisive leadership.... The Chilean Stalinists, however, followed a course which was not only false but, worse still, contradictory. As Corvalan wrote: "The patriotic and revolutionary slogan must be: 'No to civil war! No to fascism.'" But fascism is civil war against the workers and the existence of the capitalist state carries in it the potential danger of civil war against the working class. By renouncing civil war and leaving the struggle in the hands of the reactionary bourgeois officers, Chilean Stalinism only facilitated and expedited the defeat of the workers.
But the Chilean workers were to receive an even more ominous blow. In this desperate search for allies, the Chilean Stalinists began to make the most opportunistic appeals to the ranks of the fascists and extreme nationalist parties. Corvalan unashamedly begged the followers of Pablo H. Rodriguez, the fascist, for a "dialog" to avoid civil war, to "unite our country, to avoid artificial divisions between Chileans, who have a common interest." The fascists predictably treated Corvalan's entreaties with contempt and derision ... and pressed on with the preparation of civil war.
All was not betrayal. if it had been, there would have been no need for a coup. No US government is plotting a coup against theBuddhist pseudo-marxists of West Bengal.In his first year, Allende employed Keynesian measures to hike salaries and wages, thus pumping up the purchasing power of the middle and working classes. This "consumer revolution" benefited 95 percent of the population in the short run because prices were held down and employment went up. Producers responded to rising demand by employing previously underused capacity. The government took over virtually all the great estates. It turned the lands over to the resident workers, who benefited far more than the owners of tiny plots or the numerous migrant laborers. By 1972 food production had fallen and food imports had risen. Also during 1971-72, the government dusted off emergency legislation from the 1932 Socialist Republic to allow it to expropriate industries without congressional approval. It turned many factories over to management by the workers and the state.The Popular Unity government tried to maintain cordial relations with the United States, even while staking out an independent position as a champion of developing nations and socialist causes. It opened diplomatic relations with Cuba, China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), and Albania. It befriended the Soviet Union, which sent aid to the Allende administration, although far less than Cuba received or than Popular Unity had hoped for. v The problem was that there was no sustained reformist solution possible. The downward Kondratiev (or recessionary long wave) that had begun foreclosed a simple solution of the kind possible in the 1950s.
And so, the contradictions came to a head. With full knowledge, planning and support of the US and american corporations, General Pinochet went into action. Allende was determined neither to flee nor surrender, and at this last moment, he died the death of e hero and martyr, fighting from the Moncada Palace until killed. Tens of thousands were rounded up and killed. The National Stadium was used as a concentration camp holding 40,000 prisoners. Approximately 130,000 individuals were arrested in a three-year period, with the number of dead and "disappeared" reaching into the thousands within the first few months. Most of the people targeted had been supporters of Allende; the September 13 decree also outlawed the parties that had been part of Popular Unity, and all political activity was declared "in recess".
Back in 1973, I was struck by the scale of the tragedy. although a supporter of armed struggle (of a rather juvenile variety), I was still moved by the tragedy. My father was a communist since 1942, and he had taight me that internationalism meant solidarity for struggles, regardless of the party leading it, even though we could criticise the parites.
So my blood boils even now, every 11th September, when i remember the scale of violence on the workers and peasants, and it boils doubly when I see rascally journalistic lapdogs in India shedding tears for the US. do they write articles about Chile? do they think that tens of thousands murdered in Chile are less valuable because the Chielan curreency was worth less than the dollar?