Sunday, August 3, 2008

Kerala’ s Contribution to Marxist Thinking

This is part of a few posts I made on the topic in a discussion in memory of the late Dr T K Ramachandran, whose contributions to the understanding of Marxism in our contemporary social context is immense:

I feel that here we need to focus more on broad trends and historical sweeps. It was Eric Hobsbawm who categorized the history of the long, majestic 19th century into the ages of revolution and empire and the short, unhappy 20th to the age of extremes. These were broad categories but the historian's vast and panoramic view helps us see what we otherwise would have missed: the main threads that determined the history of our times.

Likewise, we need to look back and try to delineate what were the main trends in the development of our Marxist thinking, in the light of our historical experiences of the past 70 years since we were first introduced to this philosophical and political system. We can think about it only in the light of the experiences of our times, past and present, because the Marxist thought emerged in a symbiotic relationship with the life of the people. It was a corollary to the political life emerging outside.

In this I would divide our Marxist thinkers into three broad categories: First, the classicists who were the pioneers who tried to negotiate the revolutionary new ideas to the twin concerns of our national freedom and the emancipation of the toiling people. I will include in this group K Damodaran, EMS, C Unni Raja and a few others who continued to wield influence till the late sixties.

Then comes the age of confusion and soul-searching: The sudden emergence of the spring thunder, the realization that the answers of the classicists were not sufficient to explain our new reality and the influence of the pre-and-post War thinking from other parts of the world, all contributed to this new generation of thinkers. For me people like K Venu, K Satchidanandan, B Rajeevan, TK Ramachandran, et al, would be a part of this group.

Then in the nineties' terrible experiences after the fall of the Berlin wall-- and in India, the fall of Babri Masjid-- brings to the fore a new kind of Marxist thinking, something which I would describe as Subaltern Marxism or Post-Marxism. They are not card-holding Marxists, they are not even consciously Marxist in any sense, but they have inherited the great and most vibrant aspects of Marxist philosophy, that it its libratory aspects. Now I would like to include most of our dalit thinkers, thinkers from other streams who are making an effort to explain the new reality to us in most unconventional ways.

Here I would like to add a few points:

How do we assess the first generation Marxists like Damodaran and EMS? I remember a major volume brought out by Dr K N Panikkar and others in memory of Damodaran after his death in JNU some time in late seventies. It was an effort to examine the national liberation movement and its various strands in India to which Damodaran had made his seminal contribution. They were pioneers and as pioneers they were making an original and invaluable contribution.

But how far they were able to actually capture and internalize the complex debates that were going on elsewhere in the world during that period? It would appear they were not able to actually grapple with this question, as I can see even after many years people like EMS were defending their mistakes in 1942. Perhaps, the earlier debate between M N Roy and Lenin on the colonial question in twenties could have been of immense help to chart out the correct course. Lenin was asking the communist parties in the colonies to be part and parcel of the national liberation movements in their respective countries, so that the party could emerge as a real and powerful force.

This was accepted in principle, but when the real test came during the August Kranti movement in 1942, the party took a line that was totally opposed to this basic understanding. So it would seem that though the correct political line was already there, the party's leadership was not able to apply it to the concrete political context which means a failure to apply Marxism in the proper sense.

Perhaps this lack of proper internalization in the national context was not an isolated thing, confined to the forties. It continued and we can see the abominable way the CPI took to defending Indira Gandhi's semi-fascist rule in 1975.

So we need to critically examine whether our early communist thinkers were taking Marxism as a kind of mechanical rule book, not a live philosophical and political system that need to be analyzed and applied to the context?

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