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               CPI(M) and Karl Marx

               By: Dr.Dipak Basu




     Views expressed here are authors own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.
(The author is a Professor in International Economics in Nagasaki University, Japan)


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     Recently Sitaram Yachury has called for the reevaluation of the history Indias first war of independence or what the British oriented historians calls the Sepoy Munity. However in the process he falls back upon the interpretation given by the historians of Jawaharlal Nehru University( JNU) rather than what is given by Karl Marx. In India, some recent historians from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Milia Islamia, and Delhi University, Satish Chandra, K.M. Shrimali, K.M.Pannikar, R.S. Sharma, D. N. Jha, Gyanendra Pandey, Irfan Habib, Arjun Deva, Musirul Hussain, Harbans Mukhia, and Romila Thaper, are called Marxist historians. However, a closer look at their writings would show that they are not Marxian but loyalist of the British and Pakistani historical traditions, which are anti-Marxist, and anti-Indian. Thus the question can be raised whether CPI(M) is still Marxist or not.



     Marx on India:



     Karl Marx was a great admirer of India. He wrote a number of books (The British Rule in India, The First War of Independence, Notes on Indian History) and a large number of articles on India and the British rule. He is the first person to call the so-called Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as the First War of Independence of India. Marxs admirations and sympathy for India are reflected in his writing when he has compared India to Italy, one of the two (Greece being the other one) foundations of European civilization. He wrote:


     Hindostan is an Italy of Asiatic dimensions, the Himalayas for the Alps, the Plains of Bengal for the Plains of Lombardy, the Deccan for the Apennines, and the Isle of Ceylon for the Island of Sicily. The same rich variety in the products of the soil, and the same dismemberment in the political configuration. (in New York Daily Tribune, June 25, 1853 and London, Friday, June 10, 1853).



     Karl Marx in "The British Rule in India" wrote:



     There cannot, however, remain any doubt but that the misery inflicted by the British on Hindustan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindustan had to suffer before. They destroyed it (India) by breaking up the native communities, by uprooting the native industry, and by leveling all that was great and elevated in the native society. The historic pages of their rule in India report hardly anything beyond that destruction.


     Did they not, in India, to borrow an expression of that great robber, Lord Clive himself, resort to atrocious extortion, when simple corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity? While they prated in Europe about the inviolable sanctity of the national debt, did they not confiscate in India the dividends of the rajahs, who had invested their private savings in the Company's own funds? The devastating effects of English industry, when contemplated with regard to India, a country as vast as Europe, and containing 150 millions of acres, are palpable and confounding. Many writers in India (for example N.S.Rajaram in his book, Profiles in Deception, p 186, published by Voice of India press) have misquoted Marx by saying that Marx made some derogatory remarks on India by saying that India had no history. However, what Marx wrote in this matter, in New York Daily Tribune, 1853, is as follows:


     Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society. Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had successively overrun India, soon became Hindooized, the barbarian conquerors being, by an eternal law of history, conquered themselves by the superior civilization of their subjects. These words could have come from the mouth of Asoke Singhal or Praful Togadia of Sangha Parivar as well.


     Marxs was sad that there is no social or cultural history of India written at that time in 1853. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Swami Vivekananda, and Rabindranath Tagore also have expressed the fact that there was no history of development of Indian culture or society. Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his essay Varatvarsha, that in our history books, we can read only mayhem and bloodshed caused by the Mughals, Pathans, Huns, but there was no explanation how among these chaos we had Guru Nanak, Tukaram, and Sri Chaitanya. Karl Marx similarly criticized history as written by the British in those days, and went ahead to write Indian history in the way he wanted.



     Marxian Methodology in History:



     A historian cannot be called Marxist unless he or she would follow Marxs method on history, which is based on his philosophical idea of Dialectical Materialism.


     In dialectics nature is an integral whole in which all objects and phenomena are interlinked, inter-dependent, and inter-conditioned. Nature is always in a state of continual motion and change, of renovation and development. A Marxist historian follows this basic philosophy while writing history.


     According to Marx, social and historical development has economic roots. If there is a contradiction (or dialect) develops in the economic system, social and historical developments follow. Thus, a historian following Marxs methodology must explain these economic contradictions in history rather than just narrating invasions after invasions or about kings and emperors.


     The historians following the British tradition describe India as an inferior civilization, always poor, always defeated and fragmented. Both James Mill in 19th century (in The History of British India) and Gunner Myrdall in 1970 (in Asian Drama) said that India is a civilization without any quality. According to the British historians, whether MaxMuller in 19th century or F.R.Allchin and Bridget Allchin in 21st century, everything in Indian civilization was borrowed starting with the Sanskrit language and the Aryan civilization, which were both of foreign origin.


     Civilization in India, according to them, was imported by the successive conquerors whether Mongols, Arabs, Turks, Persian and Europeans.As Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan wrote, the West tried its best to persuade India that its philosophy is absurd, its art puerile, its poetry uninspired, its religion grotesque and its ethics barbarous. [in Indian Philosophy, Vol.II, Allen& Unwin, London, 1977, p.779]


     The British historians glorify the Muslim rule in India and dismiss the Hindu period as myths and fantasy. They dismiss the Marxian analysis of the British oppression of India. They emphasize the improvements in administration, construction of railroad, universities, abolition of Sati and Thugis from India and ultimate peaceful transfer of power to Gandhi-Nehru. In that history, there was no freedom movement in India, no man made famines, no transfer of huge resources from India to Britain, no destruction of Indian industries and agriculture by the British rule, but only a very benign and benevolent British rule in India. History according to the JNU or AMU is not much different.


     Marx has explained how British rule has transformed India from a prosperous self- sufficient country to a country of destitute and famines. This transformation is the historical process of evolution from feudalism to capitalism, as described by Marx and Engels. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones" in The Communist Manifesto).


     For India, it meant destruction of her self-sufficient village economies along with both Indian industry and agriculture because of the free trade with Britain, excessive tax collections and absence of any public works.

Later Ramesh Chandra Dutta has elaborated this thesis of Marx in his book The Economic History of India, published in 1902.Dadabhai Naoroji (Poverty and Unbritish Rule in India. First published in 1901,Government of India) in his writings and lectures in the British parliament has followed Marxs analysis of India extensively to demonstrate how India was devastated through the British rule.


     British historians totally reject these. Recently they are trying to justify imperialism in terms of expansion of civilization to these dark areas of the world and establishment of economic progress. These types of arguments of Nial Ferguson and Michael Ignatief, both Professors of history in Harvard University, are being reflected by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, vice-president of the IMF Anne Kruger, and various Anglo-American historians, economists and policy makers.


     They found a number of Indian intellectual who are prepared to propagate for their master. Deepak Lal in his books, In Defense of Empire and Hindu Equilibrium, has justified both the British rule and the exploitative economic system imposed upon the developing countries by the Western nations. Meghnad Desai, in The Cambridge Economic History of India, explained the Bengal famine of 1943, where at least 5 million people were starved to death by the British policy, in terms of speculations by Indian traders only and thereby whitewashing the crime of the British. Meghnad Desai also has reduced the number killed in Jaliwanwala Bagh massacre from 3500 to about 380. It is an insult to Marx to call this type of historians and economists as Marxists, as their ideas are totally opposite to what Marx thought about India.



     Karl Marx and Swami Vivekananda:



     It is unknown in India, but Karl Marx and Swami Vivekananda had similar views on the historical cycle of the world. According to Marx the world history has four cycles starting with primitive communism of tribal societies, then feudalism, capitalism and ultimately socialism followed by advanced communism. For Marx the history is deterministic, these cycles are bound to happen due to the contradictions or dialectics in the existing system. In Karl Marx, Changes occur in society because of contradictions in prevailing ideology, in its social, economic and political order. These contradictions arise from hostilities between the social classes (in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow).


     Swami Vivekananda similarly divided the world history into four cycles, starting with the Age of the Priests, Age of the Warriors, Age of the Merchants as we are now in and ultimately the Age of the Worker, which is coming. With each cycle, society rises to higher and still higher stages and is perfected.


     The contradiction in the society according to Vivekananda is as follows, .. At a certain time every society attains its manhood, when a strong conflict ensues between the ruling power and the common people (Vivekananda, Collected Works, vol.iv, p.399). In the new Age of the Workers, just distribution of material values will be achieved, equality of the rights of all members of society to ownership of property established and caste differences obliterated (in Vivekananda, Collected Works, vol.vi, p.343). Sri Aurobindo also has expressed similar views on history.



     How Marxist historians look at India:



     The view of the Marxist historians in the Soviet Union should be considered seriously if we want to know the Marxian view of India. The opinion of the historians of the Soviet Union, following Marxs methodology, was exactly the opposite to that of the Anglo-American view on India. For ancient India, The cosmic hymn of the Rig Veda is, in our view, fundamentally a realistic work with strong elements of spontaneous materialism and dialectics. The Vedic literature has a great significance for the study of the forms of social life in ancient India [in Vladimir Brodovs book Indian Philosophy in Modern Times; Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984].


     On the Muslim period the historians of AMU, JNU and Delhi have followed the Pakistani version of Indian history, which is very different from the Soviet version of the Indian history after the arrivals of the Muslims. Jamia Milia Islamia historian Mussirul Hassan said (India Partitioned, Oxford University Press, 1985) that Muslims came to India first to Malabar Coast peacefully, but Karl Marx wrote in his book Notes on Indian History the followings:

     Mussulman Conquest of India: First Arab entry into India A.D.664 (year 44 of the Hegira): Arabs reached Kabul; in the same year Muhallab, an Arab general, raided India, advanced as far as Multan.


     Soviet historians wrote about Aurangjeb as follows: "This cold calculating politician was a fanatical Moslem and his victory over Dara Shukoh signified the advent of a policy, which stripped Hindus of their rights... Between 1665 and 1669, he gave orders for Hindu temples to be destroyed and for mosques to be erected from their debris. Hindus were not allowed to wear any marks of honor, to ride elephants etc.. The heaviest burden of all was the poll-tax on non-Moslems, or jizya, introduced in 1679... [in The History of India by K.Antonova, G.Bongard-Levin, G.Kotovsky, Progress Publisher, Moscow 1979, p. 255). The historians of JNU and AMU will certainly dispute that view about Aurangjeb and other Muslim emperors of India, who are considered by them and their fellow Pakistani historians as progressive.



     The Soviet historians summarized modern India in the following way:



      Progressive thought in India in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century is characterized by the following features.


     Direct links with the historical destiny of the country, with the search for the solution of political and economic problems and for the ways of the countrys democratic transformation (Dayananda Sarasvati, Swami Vivekananda, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and others)


     Anti-colonialism. Links between the theory and practice of the national liberation struggle and the condition of the masses (Vivekananda, Tilak).


     Distinct rudiments of the ideas of petty-bourgeois Utopian socialism (Vivekananda).


     The struggle between two historical tendencies, the liberal and the democratic, as an expression of two paths of the countrys capitalist development, reformist and radical.


      The progressive trends aimed at connecting philosophy with real life, with the practice of the national liberation movement, reorienting traditional Vedanta in such a way as to strengthen its ties with all spheres of life, private, social and international. ( in V. Brodovs book, Indian Philosophy in Modern Times, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984)


     Russian historians have emphasized various popular uprisings against the British rule in 18th and 19th centuries including the revolt of the Sanyasis mentioned in Ananda Math of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the revolutionary movements in the 20th century, the role of the ideology of Tilak, Vivekananda and Tagore, the revolt of the Indian Navy in 1946; but dismissed Gandhi-Nehru and the endless negotiations between the British and Gandhi.


     On the contrary, the Western historians put extreme emphasis on the process of transfer of power from the British to the pro-British Indian and Pakistani politicians like Gandhi-Nehru-Jinnah. The historians of JNU and AMU also put extreme importance to Gandhi-Nehru-Jinnah, dismissing every other aspect of the political and historical developments of India.


     Romila Thaper in her book, History of India, has dismissed the Indian revolutionaries as bomb throwing terrorists in one sentence. She has spent only two sentences for Subhas Bose and the Azad Hind Fauz. It is worthwhile to remember that the Soviet Union has recognized the Azad Hind Government in 1942 and allowed Subhas Bose to open a consulate in the Soviet Union; while the British has branded him as a war criminal. British historians (the best example is The History of the Second World War written by Winston Churchill) do not mention Indian revolutionaries or Subhas Bose. These Indian historians of JNU and AMU have followed the British historical tradition, not the Marxist one.






     Karl Marx was one of the greatest philosophers of the world, and he was highly sympathetic to India. Both Marx and Lenin wrote substantial amounts of India, which have inspired a number of anti-British writers and politicians of India during the days of the freedom struggle. The writings of Karl Marx and the Soviet historians are very pro-Indian, unlike those of the Anglo-American writers. The historians of JNU and AMU are the followers of the Anglo-American Ideologists, who are by nature anti-Marx, anti-Soviet, and anti-Indian.


     The historians of JNU-AMU-Delhi are pursuing a policy to reflect and amplify the Anglo-American opinion, which is hostile towards India and particularly towards the Indian religions. The ideas propagated by these historians have their origin in the Anglo-American writings and later in Pakistani textbooks, which are not only biased but also full of ignorance, falsehood, and misinterpretations of facts.


     For a detail description of these Anglo-American opinions on India the article by Avijit Bagal, Biases in Hinduism Studies, www.indiaCause.com, November 21, 2004, should be the eye-opener. Yvette Rosser in her PhD thesis, Curricula as Destiny: Forging National Identities in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh" in the University of Texas in Austin, has proved that the source of the recent writings of the JNU-AMU-Delhi historians are the Pakistani textbooks.


     Rewards for the pro-Western intellectuals and politicians are great and punishments for the seekers of truth are most severe. Rakhal Das Banerjee, who has discovered the ruins of Mahenjodaro, was expelled from the Archeological Survey of India as he has demonstrated direct links between the Indus valley civilization and the ancient Hindu civilization, thereby proving the Aryan invasion theory invented by the British colonialists as groundless. Jadunath Sarkar, by enhancing the British idea about the greatness of the Mughal emperors, received Knighthood. Romila Thaper, by repeating what her British tutors told her, received the Kluge Chair in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in USA.Romesh Chandra Mazumdar, even after completing his monumental works on Indian history, could not get any recognition from the British or American but denounced as a communal historian. Thus, it is no surprise that the pro-Western historians of JNU-AMU-Delhi would repeat what the Anglo-American Indologists are writing on India; but these are unrelated to anything Marx said. Sitaram Yachury and most members of the CPI(M)s central committee drawn from the JNU are thus following the history written by the British and the Pakistanis not by Karl Marx..

     Dr.Dipak Basu








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