By Ron Ridenour –
T.G. Jacob, an Indian scholar and former Maoist activist, has written a tour de force about the century-long history of India’s many communist parties. Left to Right, Decline of Communism in India’s main contribution is its description and analysis of these parties’ failures and it does so without stooping to anti-communism or in pandering to the capitalist class. (1)
Jacob’s well researched book is honest, courageous, and challenging. Nor does he beat around the bush. Jacob contends that the “dismal failure” and decline of most communist parties into social democracy is partly a consequence of colonised mindsets that facilitated communists to become lackeys of the Soviet-led Comintern and the British Communist party.
In the 1960s, the original Communist Party of India (CPI), founded in 1920, split into two, then three and four parties. The latter were variation of Maoists, who denounced parliamentary politics, the forte of the CPI. Many Maoist groups engaged in armed struggle in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s (with a rebirth in recent years). While most Maoists who survived mass slaughter have not degenerated into social democratic reformists of the capitalist system, they too religiously followed a foreign idol, Mao Tse-tung instead of Lenin or Stalin. Maoists also fell into the alienating national game of god-hero worshiping and did so without vigorously analyzing their own country’s conditions, a requirement needed to shape any national program for socialist revolution.
In some states, especially Kerala and West Bengal where Communist parties gained such popularity that they won state power, they did not dismantle the economic power of capitalist enterprise nor radically change the political structures. In fact, they continued the system of plantations and the market economy that requires exploitation of the working class plus demands oppression of castes.
To understand why the various communist parties have failed so dismally, Jacob points out that the communist leaderships have mainly come from the upper Brahmin caste with its standard hereditary privileges. Additionally, communist leaders of the non-Maoist communist parties accepted the illusionary notion of the “unitary” all-India.
“The present political structure of India is a colonial legacy put in place in the interests of the colonial bourgeoisie…in alliance with the feudal casteist vested interests in the countryside…The nationality question in this country of sub-continental dimensions is probably the most serious threat to the ruling classes [and] the communists accepted without dissent the unitary Constitution that paid lip service to federalism…the communist approach was always a bundle of irreconcilable contradictions.” (pg. 16-17)
Jacob compares post-colonial India with Lenin’s characterization of Tsarist Russia: “a prison house of nations”. Thousands of tribes, hundreds of nationalities and languages, scores of castes have been discriminated against and largely disregarded or even discarded by both the bourgeois and leftist parties, with many Maoist groups as exceptions.
The author also summarizes the rise and fall of Soviet and Chinese communism, as well as sketching what Marxism is, including some of its theoretical errors.
A key error for Jacob’s assessment of what went wrong in India is the Marxist contention that it is scientifically calculable. One example of “scientific” error is the notion of where working class socialist revolutions would and would not occur.
Contrary to that “science”, revolutions aimed towards socialism took place and initially succeeded in some underdeveloped “third world” countries, instead of in the more industrialized “first world”, because colonialism prevented full-scale bourgeois democratic revolutions in the third world.
Other shortcomings that Jacob finds in Marxism, is its neglect to take both the hearts of humanity, and the rights and needs of Nature into account. While it seems unfair to criticize Marx for not foreseeing ecological disasters given the era in which he lived, Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist and post-Maoist development plans grossly disregarded mother nature’s needs. Furthermore, most followers of Marxism have turned a blind eye to the emotional strengths and weaknesses of the human heart, or as some critics would say, the “spirit”, or to consider the human touch.
Another disaster for socialist development is the methods that the communist parties have used to shape and conduct their policies.
”Marxism and communism as an ideological stream originated as a stream of thinking to facilitate social change, and dogmatism originated within that system as a deadly anti-thesis blocking further creativity and development.” (p.29)
“Such a command structure by perpetuating the suppression of dissent distorts and obstructs the creative potential of human beings (particularly its members), and it can very fast turn into the anti-thesis of democracy. Such a monolith scorns the liberationist and humanist essence of Marxism.” (p. 193)
“Left to Right” also offers a short background of India’s religious history, including its horrendous caste system. The period of British colonisation is briefly presented as well. It is truly sad to see how strongly the coolie mentality hangs fast in India, and how the classes have long been sub-divided into castes, alienating one from another, and thereby allowing ruling classes at home and abroad to divide and conquer nearly at will.
Even though I knew next to nothing about India and its communist parties what I read here regarding the divisive and domineering role that the Comintern played, as well as the authoritarian roles played by Maoism and other communist party leaderships, confirms what I had already discovered as a follower of Marxism and revolutions, and I learned a good deal more.
Still it is difficult to understand why these communist parties in India, and across the world, did not put into practice the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—true people’s democracy taking hold on the means of production and decision-making.
I am also left wondering why all these communist parties, and most of their leaders throughout the world, dissipated or degenerated into partners with capitalism. More than “just” the fact that capitalism and its imperialism/globalisation are as powerful as they are, there must be something about the party approaches and structures, which Jacob hints at, and the perhaps “natural” inclination to obey-worship leaderships, that is amiss with communism.
One of the most important factors is the epistemological fact that socialism can not develop, and that revolutions soon become static, when workers are not allowed to actually own the means of production, and make important decisions—promises never implemented. But why have the communist parties and their leaders failed to prepare workers to take over and thus create true democracy is a major question still in need of analysis and answers.
In a reissue, non-India readers of this important book could benefit from a clearer picture of what the caste system is, perhaps with a summary of castes and under castes and their functions both in practice and ideologically. All readers could benefit from a more complete index. Moreover, Jacob has a tendency to repeat himself a bit much, and some important terms are introduced without explaining what they mean, or an explanation appears sometime afterwards. Some terms, such as “social fascism”, “social imperialism”, are used as curse words without clarity.
But these are minor complaints. “Left to Right” is a basic reference book that should be read by all practitioners or students of revolution, of socialism-communism, of Marxism. The book must find its way into libraries, universities, and book stores, especially in India but also throughout the self-styled Commonwealth and the ubiquitous USA.
(1) Published by Empower India Press, New Delhi, India. Scholars without Borders, New Delhi, sells “Left to Right” online: http://www.swb.co.in/store/book/left-right. It is also online at South Asia Study Centre https://sites.google.com/site/sastudycentre/ , publisher of Odyssey Publications run by T.G. Jacob and Pranjali Bandu. They have co-authored several books, including Reflections on the Caste Question, the Dalit situation in South India, which elucidates this complicated structure of oppression only cursorily dealt with in “Left to Right”.
*Ron Ridenour is a veteran activist against imperialist war and for justice, journalist, and author/co-author of a dozen books, including: Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka, Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn, Cuba at Sea, Yankee Sandinistas, Sounds of Venezuela.