1985-11 India’s path of development: a Marxist approach [Chattopadhyay]
India’s path of development: a Marxist approach. – book reviews
Monthly Review, Nov, 1985 by Paresh Chattopadhyay
A vast literature has grown up around India’s development experience. Most of it, has been the work of the bourgeous scholars and the academicians who accept Marxism only intellectually.
The work under review, on the contrary, is by one of those rare social scientists in India who are not only far removed from the bourgeois establishment but for whom Marxism is an instrument for changing the world and not merely an academic discipline meant at best to interpret the world.
The book contains a series of essays written on different occasions–from what the author calls the « revolutionary Marxist point of view »–with the aim of critically examining those currents of Marxist thought which are propagated by the « traditional » communist parties of India and their sympathizers. More specifically, the author is critical of (1) the « two stages theory » of revolution (in India)–that is, first completing the bourgeois-democratic revolution in alliance with the bourgeoisie and then going over to the socialist revolution, and (2) the peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism, precluding the overthrow of the existing state power, held up by these people as the correct path of India’s development. However, along with this criticism, the book also strives to present a Marxist analysis of the way India has been developing since independence, particularly of the changes the country has been going through under the impact of the policies of its bourgeois state.
The work is divided into four parts. The first part is mainly methodological, and here the author forcefully argues in favor of the Marxist method of analyzing social development as the only correct method. The second part deals with the character and role of India’s public sector in the country’s development. Here the author highlights the contradiction between the objectives proclaimed by the Indian planners and the results of plan implementation as they affect the immense majority of the people and shows that this contradiction is inheret in the very logic of the capitalist path of development chosen by the Indian rulers. As a matter of fact, the character of the state being bourgeois, the public sector, according to the author, far from paving the way for socialism, as claimed by the rulers, has only been a « device to build capitalism. » This simple truth, the author emphasizes, is obfuscated by the « traditional » communist parties trying to seek alliance with the so-called progressive section of the ruling Congress Party in pursuit of their peaceful, parliamentary path to socialism. The third part discusses the center-state relation within India’s overall federal structure and particularly criticizes the Communisty Party of India (Marxist)–the ruling party in West Bengal–which, the author holds, is blunting the class struggles of the exploited by wrongly insisting on having greater power and more autonomy for the states in relation to the center. In the same part he touches on the nationality question in India and reproaches the « traditional? communists for pursuing an opportunist line in this regard. In the last part the author brings up India’s agrarian problem, both as it had evolved under British rule and as it stands today under the « bourgeois agrarian strategy. » The author concludes the book by considering the outcomes of some of the most important cases of peasant war in the third world in the twentieth century.
The great merit of the book lies in emphasizing in very clear terms the exploiting character of the Indian ruling class and its states, and unambiguously showing but by first smashing the existing regime. In this connection Desai has very correctly highlighted the essentially reformist character of the « traditional » communist parties of the country–the pro-Soviet CPI and the so-called « independent » CPI(M).
While fully recognizing the value of this work I have, however, reservations on some of its aspects. I start with a couple of minor points. The data on India’s development are given largely as they were originally presented in the essays, written over a span of three decades, without being updated. Again, the author gives, as his point of departure (chapter 1), a long quotation from Marx–in a rather unsatisfactory translation–on the materialist conception of history (improperly called « historial materialism ») but, in the absence of any reference, the general reader has no way of knowing that the quotation is from the German Ideology (basically a joint work by Marx and Engels).
Let us now turn to more substantive issues. First, while justly critical of the « traditional » communists, the author’s approach does not seem to be, paradoxically, very much different from theirs on what I consider to be the essence of the materialist conception of history–namely, that it is the relations of production whch constitute the (economic) foundation of society.
For the author as well as for the « tradional » communists (all over the world), production relations seem to mean simply property relations (chapter 1). Exactly like the « traditional » communist, Desai nowhere distinguishes between the two; nor does he say whether he means thereby juridical property relations or real relations of appropriation, independent of their formal juridical character. Without going into the question at length, let us simply recall that Marx directed some of his sharpest polemics against Proudhon, Lassalle, and the « vulgar » economists precisely for confounding the two very different kinds of relations, for fetishizing the property relations instead of showing them as nothing but a juridical expression of the real relations of production, and more specifically for obscuring the distinction between the « economic property » and the « juridical property » of capital. In particular, it is a gross oversimplification, from a Marxist standpoint, to identify capitalism with private property in the means of production (chapters 4, 14, and passim) unless it is specified that « private property » here simply means class property from which the immediate producers are separated (in fact this separation constitutes, as Marx showed, the very « concept of capital »). As is well known, at least beginning with the 1850s, Marx developed the category of « directly social capital » where capital is no longer the juridical « private property » of the individual capitalists but is the common property of different types of capitalist collectives, and went on to emphasize that this constitutes « the abolition of capital as private property within the limits of the capitalist mode of production itself. » It is not fortuitous that, while correctly pointing out that the public sector in India is simply an instrument for facilitating the development of capitalism, the author nowhere discusses the character of property relations within the public sector itself, nor does he indicate in what sense the public sector is « state capitalist » (chapter 6) when, as we know, the juridical forms of property relations in this sector is certainly not « private. » As a matter of fact, the author’s demonstration that the right to private property enshrined in India’s constitution and supported by the « legal norms and legislative measures » of the Indian state is the « distinguishing mark » which makes this state a capitalist state (chapters 2 and 3) seems to me inadequate. I contend, in contrast, that the Indian state is capitalist fundamentally because all its institutions, including the « legal norms and legislative measures, » are engaged in creating the overall conditions of enlarged reproduction of wage labor (based on commodity production), in other words, the separation of the immediate producers from the means of production, whatever be the juridical forms of property (« private » or « public, » for example) that the state finds convenient for the purpose.
Next I turn to the author’s rejection of the theory of « two-stage revolution » and, along with it, the thesis of a peaceful, parliamentary path to socialism. The concept of « two-stage revolution, » however, is nowhere explained nor its untenability demonstrated. The author’s statement in favor of his position that the October revolution, taking place in backward Russia, enabled the Soviet Union to « skip the bourgeois phase » (chapter 7) is, again, an oversimplification. Without going into details, we can simply recall Lenin’s own position on this question as a counter-example. Four full years after October, Lenin contended that « only the bourgeois-democratic work has been completed by our revolution » and that we were only « advancing towards the socialist revolution. » Secondly, I do not see any (necessary) logical connection between accepting the thesis of two-stage revolution and following the peaceful path to socialism. The Chinese and the Vietnamese communists, for example, had subscribed to the thesis of two-stage revolution while at the same time following the nonpeaceful road or revolution with a view to constructing socialism. The point is that by simply establishing its own political power, the proletariat does not « skip the bourgeois phase. » To the extent that the victorious proletariat accomplishes the unfinished tasks of the bourgeoisie, the revolution is still bourgeois-democratic, strictly speaking, and the proletariat is still preparing only the prerequisites of socialist revolution.
We now come to Desai’s discussion of the impact of British rule on India’s development (chapters 7, 9). He is corrent in pointing out that the Indian bourgeoisie came into being as a consequence of the measures adopted by the colonialists to serve their interests and that the Indian bourgeoisie preserved
the colonial state apparatus for the requirements of capitalist development. The discussion, however, is inadequate. The author does not clearly bring out the contradictory role that colonialism played in India (the same role it has played in the other colonies and semi-colonies)–namely, simultaneously destroying and preserving the old mode(s) of production, simultaneously accelerating and retarding the development of capitalism. First, the destruction of the old Indian village system was not, contrary to the author’s contention, due simply to the colonial « politico-administrative apparatus »; it was basically due to the combined effects of the establishment of railways, the massive invasion of low-priced manufacturers from England, and the introduction of a land revenue system based on cash payment. While destroying the old village system, the colonialists, however, also preserved and even « imposed » many of its old features. Thus they had no need to « ensure the penetration » of usury and merchant capital in the Indian countryside (or, for that matter, parasitic landlordism); these features were widely prevalent by the time the colonialists arrived. The newly ordained juridical private property in land, along with the cash payment of land revenue and slowly growing commodity production, only accentuated the process. The preservation of the old mode(s) of production was dictated by the colonialists’ need for class alliances with the most retrograde forces of the Indian society. When Marx in his well-known, though much misunderstood, articles of 1853 was describing the « revolution » in the Indian village system, he did not, contrary to Desai’s contention, refer to usury and merchant capital (« ante-diluvian forms of capital, » as he qualified them elsewhere) as the agents of this « revolution. » Marx was referring, instead, to the « English steam and English free trade » as the instruments for « blowing up the economic basis »–that is, the union of agriculture and industry–of the Indian village system. Years later Marx returned to this theme. In a word, the colonialists contributed to the development of capitalism by destroying the old village system, facilitating commodity production and circulation in the process and, it the later (imperialist) period, exporting capital; at the same time they retarded this development by preserving, for the sake of class alliances, many of the features of the pre-capitalist period.
We conclude with a word about Desai’s treatment of the nationality question. He is absolutely correct in emphasizing how the Indian rulers are ruthlessly repressing the movements of various regional and nationality groups within the country and how the « traditional » communist parties have also accepted an « integrated bourgeois India » an an emerging larger national whole « by rejecting the principle of self-determination » of nationalities (chapter 9).
However, his own position on this question is far from clear. He seems to hold that since the nationality problem cannot be solved by a bourgeois state, it is first necessary to establish a proletarian state before trying to tackle the problem. As a principle this looks unexceptionable but it leaves unanswered whether the struggles of the different nationalities for self-determination should be shelved until the proletarian revolution breaks out. While correctly emphasizing that the historical context of the national/nationality question in Russia has been different from that in India, the author nowhere clarifies his position on the struggle against the Indian ruling class–the common enemy of the exploited–that the various minority nationalities (Kashmiris, Nagas, Mizos, etc.) are wagging for their right of self-determination. This repressive policy of the Indian ruling class toward the minority nationalities within the country, let us add finally, is not unconnected with what could be called, for the lack of a better exprression, its « subimperialist » policy toward India’s immediate neighbors–Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka–a policy basically unquestioned by the « traditional » (« patriotic ») communists and, unfortunately, nowhere mentioned by Desai in his otherwise so valuable work.
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