May Day Tribute to Clara Fraser: Synthesizer of Marxism and feminism #Womenrights


May Day 2013

Clara Fraser: Synthesizer of Marxism and feminism

By Tamara Turner
April 2013

“What better fate can a person carve out than participation in the emancipation of humanity?” Clara Fraser posed this question and answered it by living bravely, with commitment, relish and inimitable style. Fifteen years after her death, Fraser’s life still inspires. And her groundbreaking synthesis of socialism and feminism can be clearly seen as a breakthrough contribution to Marxist thought.

Fraser always insisted that she had notdiscovered socialist feminism. It’s true that all the great Marxists advocated women’s liberation. But it was Fraser who showed justhow essential the dynamics of sex and race are to the fight for change in the current era.

The Permanent Revolution meets feminism. Beginning more than a century ago, socialists including Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V.I. Lenin, Clara Zetkin, and Leon Trotsky showed that women’s emancipation was crucial to the struggle for socialism.

Still, many leftists regarded the “Woman Question” as divisive and secondary. Female leadership was discouraged and treated with condescension. These inflexible, conservative and largely male radicals were stunned by the social upsurges that began in the late 1950s. They regarded the explosions of people of color, women, students and queers as sidebars and aberrations from the “real” class struggle waged by white male unionists in heavy industry.

But Clara Fraser was not surprised. She had been paying attention to the political vitality of the second sex: female union militants like her mother, hard-working sister-comrades on the Left, and grass-roots Black civil rights organizers, who had been molded by their multiple forms of oppression into “figure[s] of independence, self-reliance, responsibility and resourcefulness.”

Indeed, said Fraser, “Feminism, the struggle for women’s equal rights, is always a powder keg of the class struggle.” She saw that the leadership of women — especially women of color and lesbians — would drive the whole movement forward.

Fraser explained that the race question and the woman question share a dual nature. Each is a unique problem with its own logic, history, and needs. But exploitation on the job connects both women and people of color to the class struggle. Women of color, in whom the threads of race and gender combine, are pivotally placed to clarify the issues and unite the movements.

This analysis grew from Fraser’s understanding of Trotsky’s concept of Permanent Revolution as a continuous and international process whose main force is the unmet demands of the most oppressed. These are inherently revolutionary demands because they cannot be met under capitalism.

Fraser recognized the outbreak of dynamic movements for equality as a feature of Permanent Revolution and a necessary solution to the problems of a conservatized and stratified labor movement.

U.S. unions were terribly weakened by the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s that drove out radicals and civil rights advocates. The union bureaucracy largely rejected the movements of the 1960s and withdrew into collaboration with the government and subservience to the Democratic Party. This retreat has sapped the labor movement to the point where only about 13 percent of the U.S. workforce is unionized today. Youth, women and people of color, though they are together the majority of workers, are generally either outside the unions or are reduced to second-class status within them.

Fraser foresaw that “the very survival of labor organizations requires that a new revolutionary wing in the unions emerge. The initial impulse … will come from people and issues within the class but outside the unions.”

These rebels call on unions to shake off conservatism and go beyond limited economic demands to fight for reforms such as affirmative action and childcare. Such issues can not only mobilize labor but also radicalize it, by showing that every reform won under capitalism is temporary. As Trotsky phrased it, the demands of the most oppressed help working people “find the bridge between their present demands and the socialist program of the revolution.”

Journey of a leader. Clara was born on March 12, 1923, and raised in a multicultural East Los Angeles ghetto by Jewish immigrant parents. Her socialist mother was a garment worker and her father was an anarchist and truck driver. She worked her way through college and then joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

She was lucky to be in the SWP’s Los Angeles branch while it was led by Murry Weiss, a brilliant theorist and writer, and Myra Tanner Weiss, a dynamic leader who stressed the importance of the Woman Question. The two were close collaborators with James P. Cannon, the founder of the SWP and U.S. Trotskyism.

In 1948, Clara moved to Seattle to assist the SWP local there. This branch became distinctive for its high level of activism in the midst of the McCarthyite 1950s and for its theoretical work on Black liberation. Along with a group of cothinkers in Seattle and Los Angeles, she helped Richard Fraser, her second husband, develop the concept of Revolutionary Integration.

This landmark theory demonstrates that the main direction of Black struggle in the U.S. has been toward integration and equality, not separation; that this aspiration can only be achieved through socialism; and that Black leadership and an onslaught against racism are crucial to unifying a working class divided and corrupted by white privilege.

Unfortunately, the increasingly bureaucratic SWP leadership rejected this revolutionary approach to Black liberation. In 1965, the SWP banned discussion of dissident views at its conventions, a death blow to democracy within the party. In January 1966, the Seattle branch resigned.

Birth of a new party. Within five months, the Seattle branch was reorganized as the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) with a Trotskyist program of internationalism, socialist feminism, and Revolutionary Integration. Two years later, the FSP split over its first test of feminism in practice — the right of female radicals to be both activists and mothers, which the party majority affirmed.

For a short time during its early history, the FSP was an all-woman party led by Clara Fraser and her close colleagues Melba Windoffer and Gloria Martin. But that soon changed as a younger generation of men began to join.

To the predominantly male Left, the FSP was an aberration: a Leninist party led by awoman? Socialist feminism? No way!

Fraser was familiar with these attitudes: “Ever since feminists organized the modern movement in the ’60s, we have been harangued from all sides for being insane, unfulfilled, petty-bourgeois, narcissistic, frivolous, home-wreckers, strident bitches, dykes, man-haters, and enemies of civility and civilization.”

However, Fraser knew, revolution against capitalism requires a vanguard party to guide and unite workers. Despite the scoffers, she took on the mammoth project of creating such a party. This feat was made even more difficult because much of the Left gave the feminist FSP no credibility.

But Fraser excelled at the “continuous, consistent, and conscious building” that James P. Cannon described as necessary for forming a party to defeat the profit system. She stressed theoretical grounding, unshakable principles, involvement in the issues of the day, and an internationalism that recognizes the U.S. revolution as key to progress elsewhere. She emphasized James Cannon’s tradition of collaborative leadership, writing and publishing, class-struggle unionism, left regroupment and never, ever, giving up without a fight. Due to her skills, tough love, and example, the FSP has survived, flourished, and stayed true to its roots for 47 years.

Ideas into action. Fraser’s political achievements, accomplished as a working mother of two sons, would fill volumes.

Soon after moving to Seattle, she became a leader in a lengthy 1948 strike against Boeing, her employer at the time. She organized Seattle’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee after the 1959 revolution. In 1967, she and an unusual collaboration of women from the Old and New Left founded Radical Women (RW) to provide a feminist voice within male-dominated movements and to allow women to develop their own leadership in an autonomous, but never separatist, organization.

With Black women coworkers in the anti-poverty program, Fraser launched the battle for legalized abortion in Washington State. She organized for community control of the police and defense of the Black Panthers, participated in Native American fishing rights actions, helped win job protections on the basis of sexual orientation and political ideology, and provided a humanist Jewish voice against Zionism.

She was a creative strategist for numerous legal fights over the right to be radical. Of note: her eight-year-long sex and political ideology discrimination case against her employer, Seattle City Light; and the Freeway Hall Case, in which Fraser and other FSP leaders won the right of dissident groups to keep internal records out of the hands of political opponents and courts.

Fraser also reconnected with Murry and Myra Weiss and other former SWP leaders who had left the SWP as it degenerated. Together they initiated the Committee for a Revolutionary Socialist Party to seek left regroupment. Although this venture eventually foundered — the sticking point was feminism — Murry Weiss was tremendously impressed by socialist feminism and joined FSP. He contributed to the party until his death in 1981.

The socialist battle for a better world to which Fraser devoted her life continues on, decisively strengthened by her legacy. Those who follow in her footsteps will find, as she did, that “the act of fighting injustice is full of hope and joy … an innate historical tradition, an ancient reaching out for universal human fulfillment.”

To the Self-Obsessed Marxists And The Pseudo Ambedkarites


By Anand Teltumbde

03 April, 2013
Countercurrents.org

Frankly I curse myself for having gone to Chandigarh. Not so much because I am embarrassed by the unseemly controversy created by certain pseudo Ambedkarites in Maharashtra but because I am deeply saddened to see the egotistic bunch of people with frozen mind masquerading as Marxists. I imagined there will be serious discussions on the current state of castes and the possible way out for their annihilation. But within my brief stay of a few hours I gathered an impression that it was meant not to enrich the standpoint they presented in the approach paper with outsiders’ participation but to prove how they are right and all others are wrong.

Such conferences are meant to be for free and frank discussions to evolve understanding on some complex issue. They are not the public meetings that the organizers can unilaterally decide to throw open the raw discussion to the public. Simply because the larger public will not be at the same level of understanding as the delegates to the conference to whom one basically speaks to. Therefore, there is a basic mischief in organizers’ making the raw record of the conference public in proof of their claim that they came out as victors. If they had little sense of responsibility, they would not have done so. This itself reveals how distant they are from understanding the Indian reality of caste and their immaturity to handle these delicate issue.

Media craves for sensation and they jumped on to my stray statements, of course sans context, that I termed Babasaheb Ambedkar’s all efforts towards dalit emancipation as grand failure. As a matter of fact the Approach Paper already attributed this to me and therefore it was not the first time that I was making this ‘explosive disclosure’. I have been making such observations over many years in various contexts and never ever was it construed as an affront to Babasaheb Ambedkar. It only showed how ill informed the pseudo Ambedkarites were who woke up only by the media and swallowed it without ever suspecting its veracity. As for the leakage of it to the Hindi newspaper, Abhinav Sinha denies having given it to the journalists but can he be absolved of the responsibility for it? Because the manner in which he has been hampering on my ‘second statement’ as my volte face reveals his own ignorance, real or pretended, about the context with which I stood and spoke there. I set the context right in the beginning itself that I did not find anything new in the approach paper except for the horrendous distortions that were indulged in, in describing the contents of the anti-caste movements led by the greats like Jotiba Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar, almost trashing them. The known commentators of these movements with certain radical approach, such as Gail Omvedt, Subhash Gatade and I, also were dismissed in similar fashion. The entire text apart from its usual parts of ‘Marxian’ historiography of caste, smacked of heavy prejudice against the non-Marxist (thin line to differentiate it from casteist and brahmanist, the familiar terms in Indian context) movement, theory and opinions. I therefore decided to merely expose these distortions with a view to chastise the organizers that with this kind of casteist attitude they would be unfit to discuss caste. I chose just a para in the Approach Paper that discussed about my purported opinions on castes simply because that was the best thing that I could do towards the objective I set for myself.

The para originally in Hindi roughly translates as below:

“Anand Teltumbde, the main proponent of the amalgamation (samanvaya) of Marxism and Ambedkarism accepts on the one hand that all plans of Ambedkar for annihilation of caste have proved to be a failure but still considers, one does not know why, Ambedkar’s book – Annihilation of Caste (the analysis of which we have already given above) as important as Communist Manifesto in India. Teltumbde considers reservation as a mirage and useless in the era of declining jobs. He is also a bitter critique of identity politics. However instead of understanding caste within the framework of the metaphor of base and superstructure, he considers this framework itself as a hurdle in understanding the relations between caste and class and considers that the failure to link caste with class struggle is the unpardonable mistake of the Indian communists. We have presented our opinion on the base and superstructure above. We neither get any direction for annihilation of castes from even Teltumbde nor do we understand what Ambedkar can contribute to Marxism in linking castes with the strategy of class struggle.”

Before this there was a sentence with reference to me as follows:

“Yes, most of the ML groups, Gail Omvedt, Anand Teltumbde, Subhash Gatade, etc. are stunned at Ambedkar’s fundamental theoretical contribution that the caste system is not only a division of labour but also a division of labourers, which marks the specificity of India. Lack of understanding compels us to be impressed even by very commonplace things…

The monumental ignorance in belittling the division of castes to the level of other divisions along the order of places in production system (such as division between mental and physical labour, skilled and unskilled workers, permanent and temporary workers, British and Irish workers in Britain and white and black workers in America—these were their own examples) apart, just note the insulting tone of the sentence! It is this misfounded self-righteousness that pervaded the entire discussion of the anti-caste movements, their leaders and their commentators.

Now those who are conversant with my writings would never find that I ever advocated amalgamation of Ambedkarism and Marxism. Rather I have never used the term Ambedkarism, attributed to me. The manner in which I was accused of treating Annihilation of Caste as important as Communist Manifesto insinuated as though the former was worthless. The approach paper was replete with such references ridiculing or trashing others’ opinions and projecting their opinions as the only correct understanding. Obviously, the organizers had formed their opinion on me on the basis of the Introduction I had written to a reprint of Annihilation of Caste issued by the Students for Resistance in JNU in 2012 and some recent interviews floating around on the Net. I have been writing on these issues for the last 30 years and my opinions are fairly known among activists and concerned scholars. Obviously they had not gone through my books where I discussed the contemporary caste question and provided a blueprint for the Annihilation project. Even the sources they referred to did not warrant such misrepresentation and hence it appeared to me that they deliberately wanted to belittle others’ opinions that smacked of casteist prejudice. Moreover, there was a Bushesqe arrogance associated with it that ‘either you are with us or against us’. This attitude not so unfamiliar in traditional Marxist circle being inimical to the building of wider organization of increasing numbers of oppressed people, I decided to just deal with it.

My entire comment therefore was confined to pointing out this attitudinal deficiency in them. The more objectionable manifestation of it was the prejudice reflecting in the text against the anti-caste struggles of the lower castes, particularly dalits. I had duly explicated this context and object to the audience. I tried to show how the distortions were willful and deliberate and therefore smacked of some casteist prejudice. If one understood this context, my entire comment could be easily seen in proper perspective. It did not relate with supporting or opposing Marx or Ambedkar, it did not relate with comparison of their philosophies or methodologies, which anyway I inherently hate to do; it did not relate with even opposing any one of them or their movements, much less trashing them. Take for instance, the issue of manifestos. They accused me of considering Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste as important as Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The raw writing of this kind itself revealed their brahmanist obsession to hierrachize even the ideologies and movements. As capitalism commoditizes everything, Brahmanism hierrachizes everything! Fortunately for me, Asit Das of CDRO who spoke before me had read out the actual sentence I wrote: “What Communist Manifesto is to the capitalist world, Annihilation of Caste is to caste India”, and had also observed that it was not the same as what the Approach Paper conveyed; their domains having been duly differentiated. It was not my concern to analyse the correctness or otherwise of these manifestos. As for Annihilation of Caste, even the same Introduction that they referred to provides a glimpse of my reservations about its applicability to the contemporary castes. Manifestos are the expression of struggles in time and space; they do not happen in vacuum. The right or wrong about them is inevitably associated with the success or failure of struggles they represent. Only time can decide that.

Interestingly, while Sinha misconstrued my statements as the justification of Ambedkar, some misinformed and vested interests among Dalits, the pseudo Ambedkarites projected them as the insult to Ambedkar. Actually, I did neither; it was not my purpose at all. In relation to the phrase ‘Ambedkarwad’ I reiterated my old stand that I did not consider anything like it existed. I gave my own justification in terms of the philosophy or methodology informing Ambedkar’s struggles and polemical writings. Many scholars have written about how deeply Babasaheb Ambedkar was influenced by his professor John Dewey in Columbia. He himself had acknowledged his intellectual debt saying as late as in 1952 that his entire intellectual being he owed to John Dewey. The philosophy of Progressive Pragmatism or Instrumentalism that Dewey is associated with considered that knowledge was tentative; any theoretical postulate needed to be tested out in practice in order to get enriched theory as well as enlightened practice. I merely stated that this methodology, as considered by many commentators of Dewey, could be taken as scientific methodology, for that is what scientist do in their laboratories. This was misconstrued by Sinha as my justification of Dewey and in turn support to Ambedkar. How foolish! It was only meant to stress the plausibility of this philosophy that it may not be casually discarded. I was not justifying anything or supporting or opposing anyone. It was in the same vein that I pointed out the necessity of rethinking many of Marxist formulations in view of the changes that befell the world. I said that I had a long list for Marxist prompting such a rethinking. Was I therefore criticizing or trashing Marx? Only fools would say so. My only stress was on sensitizing people who are intoxicated by this or that ism to be open to realities the world presents; simply because eventually revolutions have to happen in these worlds not in their heads or the books they adore.

Unlike Marx, I said, Babasaheb Ambedkar had no claim to any grand theory. Rather, his basic reservation about Marx stems from his deep distrust of his grand theory. With his meager resources, he followed his pragmatist methodology and in process frequently changed his strategies and tactics. To recount, he initially believed in reforms in Hinduism such that the hardships of the Untouchables could be alleviated. This belief was soon shattered with the hostility the caste Hindus exhibited in Mahad and the entire society kept mum over the issue as it happens even today. He switched his attention to political opportunities that were unfolding with communal turn in politics. He began stressing separate political identity for the Untouchables and soon won them separate electorates in the Round Table Conferences against spirited opposition from Gandhi. But they proved still born. Gandhi’s epic fast blackmailed him into giving them up and accepting joint electorates with reserved seats and other promises in the Poona Pact. The entire plan proved trickery and he realized that the reserved seats had rather become an instrument in the hands of the ruling class parties to decimate genuine representation of dalit interests. He experimented with Independent Labour Party (ILP) and drove his politics along class lines; toyed with joining hands with the Communists but got a taste of their ‘brahmanism’. This experiment also was short-lived in the face of colonial promotion of the communal politics. The Cripps Mission Report of February 1942 became the last straw and he had to dissolve the ILP and launch the Scheduled Caste Federation. Around the same time, he became a minister in Viceroy’s cabinet and was instrumental in converting the incipient preferential system into quota system of reservation and a plethora of labour laws. When the Viceroy’s executive council was dissolved, he found himself totally sidetracked from the parleys for transfer of power for three long years until he was inducted in the all party cabinet, thanks to the Gandhi’s strategy. In the wake of formation of the Constituent Assembly, he prepared a draft outline for the future constitution of India and giving a plan of ‘state socialism’. Against the obvious odds, he managed to reach the Constituent Assembly but it became short-lived because East Bengal, from where he was elected, was marked as Pakistan. Congress at the instance of Gandhi again inducted him into the Constituent Assembly and made him even the chairman of its most important committee – the drafting committee. He initially reposed faith in the Constitution but was soon disillusioned to disown it completely. At the end of his life he fulfilled his vow taken in 1935 by converting to ‘radical’ version of Buddhism.

If one takes an objective look at this brief life sketch, Babsaheb Ambedkar kept changing his strategies and tactics as per the situations with a sole focus on the emancipation of Dalits. One does not find any enduring theory or a theoretical postulate that represents him except for pragmatism. He could be ideal, a role model, for his unstinted commitment, iconoclastic attitude, intellectual honesty, hard work, integrity and sincerity but possibly cannot be extrapolated to face the future. If he had been always evolving and changing all through his life, how possibly could one extend him into the future? It is in this studied sense I have been writing that there cannot be Ambedkarism, which is casually spoken about a section of scholars and sentimentally celebrated by Ambedkarite Dalits. I stated the gist of all this in the conference. I said that my self-initiation into Marxism dates back to my early childhood and by conviction I do follow Marxist methodology, but I still would not call myself a Marxist. Because, firstly, the kind of dogma the Marxists reflect I would never subscribe to and secondly, I might shun all these isms because they also unconsciously serve as identities and eventually divide people. I explicated my conception of Marxism as the core of dialectical materialism, until it is disproved by physical sciences. Thereafter, much of the body of Marxism is a derivation from this core, prone to errors and hence should be available for verification. The claimants of grand theory have to be vigilant about its validity in face of changing reality. But unfortunately, the so called Marxists have made Marxism a religion, an article of faith that Marx has said the last word. This attitude made Marx to exclaim, “thanks god, I am not a Marxist” and impels me too to say similar thing.

Even a cursory look at the life sketch of Babasaheb Ambedkar will indicate that he faced failures at every stage. Nothing that he expected materialized. The political representation of Dalits over which he had struggled so hard proved to be the bane. He himself could never win an election on reserved seat even against the political pigmies. He emphasized higher education for Dalits and opened colleges but soon lamented that the educated people had cheated him. He gave the mantra of Annihilation of Caste but had to reconcile with castes getting Constitutional legitimacy in modern India. We can go on citing such undesirable ends his efforts met all through his life. If one takes a look at the current state of Dalits, we get the similar picture. While a handful of dalits made significant progress, vast majority of Dalits are stagnated vis-a-vis the non-Dalits or even fallen behind. Broadly speaking, untouchability, though outlawed in the Constitution is rampantly practiced as the recent surveys indicate; castes are kicking as a part of modern institutions. The caste identities are being proudly flaunted even by Dalits, paradoxically claiming to be Ambedkarites. Gauged by incidences of atrocities, that I considered the best proxy for casteism, castes have surely aggravated. All the institutions Ambedkar had started for Dalits, viz., Peoples’ Education Society, Buddhist Society of India, Samata Sainik Dal, just to name a few, are in shambles today. The less said of Ambedkarite politics, the better it is.

If these things are not to be construed as failure, what else could one call them? It is as glaring as sunlight but this is picked up as a bombshell and agitated against by Dalits, not knowing that with their behavior they are further failing Ambedkar. He wanted them to be ‘prabuddha’ the enlightened ones; but refusing to see the reality they proudly show up as ‘nirbuddha’, anti-enlightenment. Will they introspect to realize that each bit of their behavior to claim allegiance to Ambedkar is anti-Ambedkar and verily insulting to him? It is not Babasaheb Ambedkar alone, every great person in history who cherished universal goal of human emancipation has met with grand failures. But the fact remains that the humanity owes its existence to them; more to their failures than successes. We cannot negate their contribution to betterment of our lives. The stark realization of such facts only can awaken Dalits to reality from their self-imposed slumber. Only through the realization of his failures can we realize the pain and travails Babasaheb Ambedkar underwent, understand the value of his contributions, and internalize our responsibility to strive to accomplish his dream. Should they not recall that at the fag end of his life when he was looking back to his life in an introspective mode he used to suddenly burst into tears saying that whatever he had done benefitted only a handful of urban people; he could not do anything for the vast majority of people living in villages? It was this realization that he had asked BS Waghmare, who had visited him along with the SCF team of Marathwada to launch struggle for land. The only significant struggle that happened on the real problem of Dalits in the entire history was the countrywide satyagraha for land in 1964, which I guess was also prompted by him in his last years. This says all to the so called Ambedkarites who have constructed a canard against me on this issue as though I was raising it just now!

Most great people can be seen as grand failures because they never accomplished what they set for themselves. The goal of human emancipation, expressed in varying language and terms, since ancient times still stays the same despite struggles and strivings of scores of great people in every era. What was Babasaheb Ambedkar’s goal? He stated it himself in terms of his conception of an ideal society characterized by ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’. Is that fulfilled? Even his subsidiary goal of emancipating Dalits remains unfulfilled. I have already recounted all that he desired but met with almost its opposite end. He imagined he would make entire India Buddhist. The fact is that Buddhism remains confined to his own caste people even among Dalits. Babasaheb Ambedkar detested hero worship; paradoxically he himself became a hero extraordinaire and a cult figure. He ruthlessly dissected gods and goddesses; sadly he himself became bigger than any god ever. He hated irrationality and humbug; but he is drowned in it thanks to his followers; he hated intellectual dishonesty; his followers have made it a virtue; he was proud being an iconoclast; he himself has become the biggest ever icon; he expected his followers to be enlightened and take his chariot ahead; they have shut themselves off from the world and became his blind worshippers, a la bhaktipanth. Whether it is his followers or whether it is the circumstances; the fact remains that he has been so distant from his goal post.

My other point, which remained unsaid (giving an opportunity to Sinha to exploit it to the hilt) but was very much implicit in the context of my comment on ‘grand theory’ and ‘rethinking’ hints was to sensitize the comrades about the failure of Marx being far more catastrophic than any other failure in history. Ambedkar’s failures were implicit in his methodology of progressive pragmatism. Sinha’s belabouring this point in his lengthy lecture on Dewey’s philosophy, which I confess I liked and so acknowledged in my second statement, was really unnecessary, which also I pointed out in the very first statement. I wished to remind the Marxist audience that Marxism is not a fossilized doctrine or exhibition of allegiance to Marx but it is a methodology to understand the dynamic reality around us in order to change it for the betterment of mankind. We can easily recount as I did the failure of Babasaheb Ambedkar or for that matter most great men in history including Marx. However, Marx’s failure becomes more colossal because his was a grand theory. If we give up the article of faith, Marx’s formulations have failed to confirm to the reality, much so to bring about change in it. Capitalism, despite its inherent crises has been able to limp past it and even marginalize it. Should Marxists be not concerned with it? If I say so, I am not at all demeaning Marx. He stands as one of my most adorable thinkers. Therefore, Marxists should not indulge in another kind of self-deception that Marx has uttered the last word, a la end of theory. They have developed more elaborate lexicon to block any impurities in their ideology. A lifelong comrade could suddenly turn a renegade, reactionary and enemy of people!

I had recounted few developments in the world which crave for proper fitment into Marxist praxis and hinted that I have a long list of such things. Sinha rejoices exploiting the fact that I did not ever mention the failure of Marx. I did not have a written speech; I was speaking extempore in a language which I was not used to and to an audience which was potentially alien to what I was speaking and hence might have not been as coherent but I do not think that handicapped me in my communicating what I meant to say as Republican Panthers’ version independently recounted. The thrust of my entire argument was to sensitize them that they should not be conceited in trashing historical movements and peoples’ heroes just because they did not belong to their tribe. The biggest challenge before the Marxists in India is to transcend the existing alienation of Dalits and gain their confidence.

Ambedkar was no Marxist. As I said, he inherited critique of Dewey against Marxism. Anybody can see that with little effort. He also inherited Dewey’s Fabianism which got further reinforced when he entered the London School of Economics, the institution founded by the Fabian Society, in which the founders of Fabianism, viz., Sydney and Beatrice Webs still taught. Fabianism opposed Marxism and had a very different hodgepodge of a vision about socialism. They thought socialism will be brought about through gradualist and reformist way, rather than revolutionary means and it will be accomplished by the enlightened middle class rather than proletariat. Babasaheb Ambedkar also reflected these notions. It is only later that the Fabians felt the need to organize workers and founded the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Ambedkar’s ILP was fashioned after this Fabian ILP. Despite these deep influences he was curiously aware of the potential attraction of Marxism to the downtrodden and always kept on projecting his methods being superior to the Marxist, perhaps as an imperative. He was not opposed to it as can be seen from the serialized features on Russian Revolution and occasional references to its heroes in his Marathi writings. It is only later, with the bitter experience with the Bombay communists that he developed some kind of abhorrence for them. I see him using Marxism as the benchmark, something as the second best to his own methods. In 1953, he writes to his lieutenant Dadasaheb Gaikwad that he saw his methods were not working and hence his people could become communists if they wanted to. Nonetheless, it can still be said that his understanding of Marxism was far from proper. He never referred to or touched upon any basic tenets of Marxism. Although he once said that he read more books on Marxism than all communists combined, if true, none of them might have been the classics. Even in his last lecture in Kathmandu, where he presented a comparative picture of Buddhism and Marxism, he just referred to things about Marxism which no sensible reader of Marx would take seriously. Why should even Ambedkarites also feel slighted by this observation? Is their behavior not irrational? Does it become a true follower of Ambedkar?

It is not at all important in evaluation of his contribution to the Indian society that he did not care for Marxism. He has been singularly instrumental in raising the consciousness of the lowliest of the lowly to their human rights. He has been the first to foreground the caste question at the national level and give a slogan of Annihilation of Caste. No one can deny the contribution of the communists and it is verily true that in the mode of class struggle they waged in countryside, castes had melted away. But in terms of sheer magnitude it may have to be admitted that Ambedkar’s influence exceeds all of them. One may examine the quality of this consciousness but that is a different matter. In India this may be seen as necessary step in the process of democratization. It is with this sense that I said that his contribution to India’s democratization is greater than all communists combined. It is deliberately rhetorical because I want communists to think what opportunities they have missed and what have been the consequence of that miss.

I have been faulting the early Marxists for importing the moulds from Europe for doing class analysis of India and excluding castes as superstructural category. Lenin had defined classes as follows:

“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated by law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and their mode of acquiring it”. (Vladimir I. Lenin: ‘A Great Beginning: Heroism of the Workers in the Rear: ‘Communist Subbotniks’ in: ‘Collected Works’, Volume 29; Moscow; 1965; p. 421).

My contention is that if the early communists had internalized this definition of Lenin, castes could not have been left out to yield an idiotic duality of class and caste. Even today they keep swearing by the Marxian metaphor of ‘base and superstructure’. Sinha still sees a big problem in my statement that this metaphor has been the biggest hurdle in the path of Indian revolution. Ask any Dalit Marxist and he would trash this metaphor; ask any non-Dalit Marxist he would cling to this metaphor. Why? That is the reality of India and its caste divide! Now don’t say that only the non-Dalits grasped the ‘pure’ Marxism. There has been quite a controversy around this metaphor that prompted theoretical developments in the realm of cultural Marxism. But we would not enter that sphere here. Over the time the Indian Marxists limped to realize that castes are not merely the aspects of superstructure but extend into the production base itself. Castes in 1920s almost defined peoples’ lives at least in broad terms and hence if they had been incorporated within the class analysis, the anti-caste struggle would have been an integral part of the class struggle eliminating the need of separate anti-caste movement, which was sure to be developed in a divergent direction as it did. I called this the biggest sin of the communists. Even to this proposition there was lengthy retort from the organizers’ side. Of course, what was possible in 1920s cannot be tried in 2013. But there should be a realization that a costly mistake was committed. Surprisingly, there is no admission ever from the Marxists. With all kinds of display of enlightenment on caste question with unmistaken pretention that it was superior to what existed, confront them on this simple issue and you will find them clinging to this metaphor as though it was the core of Marxism.

I have been saying umpteen times that the core character of caste is like an amoeba; it only knows splitting. Castes basically seek hierarchy; it cannot survive in non-hierarchical waters. Castes under external pressure tend to contract together, but remove the pressure they would start splitting. All caste movements have experienced it but failed to note this core characteristic of castes. Babasaheb Ambedkar tried to articulate his anti-caste struggle in class terms, organizing all the Untouchables into a class. He tended to use ‘class’ instead of castes. His first essay on Caste, when he was just a student in Columbia makes profound observation (I am aware, Sinha and comrades of his ilk will not be amused) about their characteristics. Needless to say, that his conception of class was not Marxist and rather came closer to Weberian sense. But as he proceeded, he was compelled by the circumstances to repeatedly fall back to castes. As a result, it sounds unpalatable to many people that his was not the caste based struggle. ‘Dalit’ that was shaped through this movement deceptively appeared viable, collapsing all the sub-castes into one whole, but today after 60 years it faces a threat of extinction from the upsurge of sub-castes. The logical conclusion for Dalits to realize is that castes cannot be the basis for articulating any struggle for radical change. What does it mean? It means that they will have to shun caste idiom and orient them towards class. The circumstances are congenial today than ever before to realize it as every caste has created a class layer within it, which pretends to identify with the rest but is in fact inimical to it. It is not necessary for Dalits to sublimate to Marxism because they have not yet exhausted Ambedkar itself. Babasaheb Ambedkar gave them a vision of Annihilation of Caste. That is a good enough dream to pursue. Any and everything that comes in its way should be discarded as anti-Ambedkar. Castes cannot be annihilated by Dalits alone for the simple fact that they have not created it. Unless the larger society owned up this task, castes will not be annihilated. Therefore, they should orient them to identify their friends and foes not on the basis of ‘certificates’ but their placements in life situation, i.e., class. I have been advising the Left also in a reverse direction that they should shun their orthodoxy and understand that they ought to see castes as the prime hurdle in revolution and reflect it in their practice. It is not the lip service that they will speak out all wise things but still hamper on the worn out metaphors. Let their theory as well as practice reflect this conviction that they have really changed. It is through the gradual convergence of these two movements and not the isms that the new revolutionary movement will be born quickly fructifying into Indian revolution. It is with this logic that I have been warning both sides for years: “there is no dalit emancipation without a revolution and there is no revolution without dalit participation.” Is there anything anti-Ambedkar here? Or am I speaking the same thing as Sinha did?

There is one more issue that is picked up by the pseudo Ambedkarites and that relates with the Reservation Policy. I pointed out the genesis of the current system of reservation based on ‘quota’ into an innocuous memorandum Babasaheb Ambedkar issued while he was a Labour Member in Viceroy’s Executive Council. The same policy was continued after Independence with an addition of a schedule for the Tribes. The related articles in the Constitution connote the rationale for reservations for the SCs, STs and BCs in terms of their backwardness. Backwardness in a backward country like India did not make a sound ground for making big exception to the general principle of equality. The rationale should have been caste based exclusion. This exclusion was suffered by the SCs alone as the Untouchables, not by the tribals who were outside the pale of castes and surely not by the BCs. The reservation for the SCs therefore should have been based on the principal that it was not their disability (backwardness) but the disability of the larger society to treat its own members equal necessitated reservations as a countervailing force of the state. Even if the SCs were not backward, the society would never give them their dues because of the ingrained notion of their caste. The first correction that would follow is to its domain. It would not be restricted to only miniscule public sector but would encompass entire societal sphere, i.e., public, private, and everything. Such a formulation would have eliminated most of the current deficiencies in policy: the lack of self-terminating feature; lack of well defined objective; lack of linkage to the annihilation of castes; lack of acceptance of the larger society; lack of consideration of the psycho-cultural impact on the beneficiary population, etc. The caste exclusion of the SCs was a concrete reality and was not in dispute unlike backwardness. The onus of annihilation of caste could have fallen on the larger society, where it ought to be, making it strive for it in order to end the policy. The stigma being borne by the society, the beneficiaries would be destigmatized and still they might not like to carry the traditional attribution of low caste. Today the SCs bear huge cost in terms of psychological pressure that perpetuates their backwardness everywhere. While I say this I am not against the tribes and BCs; I admit on the criteria of backwardness, there are as backward people among them as among the SCs. And the state owes responsibility towards them. But reservation is a bitter pill and should be used sparingly. There are other policy instruments to remove backwardness of people without enlivening castes. The ruling classes would never let go of this golden goose but the intellectuals on the peoples’ side should not have blindly toed their line.

These reservations to the SCs moreover needed to be implemented carefully taking the social reality into consideration. The SC was a administration category which did not correspond to the social reality of numerous castes within it and different environments (rural versus urban) and socio-economic statuses of people within them. Small number of people living in cities and towns with relatively better socio-economic condition were bound to grab larger share of reservations than the rest of the population. These reservations moreover would further strengthen their position and push the vast majority to disadvantage. Therefore, while the reservation to the Untouchables was justified for the above given logic, its implementation within the beneficiary set should have been on the basis of family unit. The families that were in advantageous position may grab the first chunk of reservations but they would be excluded from the potential beneficiary population. This simple principle could have dampened the caste idiom within Dalits and ensured even distribution of the benefits across the SC population. The glaring fallacy of the current system of reservation that while it benefits an individual but costs the entire caste could have been eliminated to a larger extent. I had proposed this scheme years ago and publicly offered the implementation assistance if anybody had any doubt about it. The ruling classes for whom the current scheme of reservation has proved as the most potent weapon to divide people at will asunder, would surely ignore it. But this caste-dampening scheme did not evoke any reaction even among Dalits. The fact remains that everybody loves his caste; the lower the caste, more you do. Well, Com Sinha, this was my enduring stand on reservation. Do not search my words in your record as subtle things could not be explained to people who are not open to hear anything than their own voices. And the pseudo Ambedkarites, is there any slighting to Babasaheb here in such a policy analysis? If you see that you are surely holding him responsible for all the ills the country suffers from.

Now the programme the Approach Paper ends with on last two pages of the 55 page document gives you a feel of ‘khoda pahad, nikala chuha’. It is fraught with all salutary statements which could be found in any communist document on caste. I would say, CPM through its anti-caste front has gone far ahead taking up concrete caste issues in certain states like Tamil Nadu. That we should have thousands of propagandists doing anti-caste prachar among masses, that we should accord primacy to the dalit demands in the general charter of demands, that we should demand ban on caste based matrimonial advertisements, khap and other caste based organizations; that the communists should not follow castes, etc. are besides being a usual wish list, does not reflect any Marxist theoretical feat. Anybody Marxist or non-Marxist will easily come out with such measures while speaking against caste system. What theoretical formulation informs it? All of them arguably belong to the bourgeois liberal space. For argument sake, and mind, I am not advocating for Ambedkar, consider his measures in his States and Minorities put forth in 1947. Are they not far more radical than any of these worn out recipes to confront castes?

Now listen, I distilled out an approach to annihilation of castes in my book ‘Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Castes’ based on adequate theoretical analysis and support from my own research in cybernetics. One, I found that under the capitalist onslaught since colonial period through 1960s, the ritual castes are weakened to a large extent and hence to speak about castes in a classical hierarchy is fruitless. Contemporary castes have reduced to dalits and non-dalits. Two, the caste contradiction manifests in rural areas between the class of rich farmers and rural proletariat who mostly belong to Dalits. These contradictions are based primarily on economic interests but they are accentuated with non-economic (social, cultural and political) considerations. The rich farmers using their caste ties with their own caste people can easily transform them into a caste conflict between Dalits and Backward castes. Three, atrocity precipitates because of the intrinsic weakness of Dalits (as identified way back in 1936 by Ambedkar). The nexus of the state and its apparatus with the rich farmers adds to this power asymmetry between Dalits and non-Dalits. It is by far the dominating factor. Four, generally the advanced elements of society should undertake education of people against the evil of caste through political economy; not in a cultural or moralistic manner. This is expected to weaken the caste ties between rich farmers and their caste fellows who do their bidding in becoming their foot soldiers against dalits. Five, there will still be some elements who do not understand it and participate in atrocity. They need to be physically dealt with. Here comes the opportunity as well as a role for the Left to intervene. If they join their forces with Dalits, this can be accomplished. The fall out of this process will be in terms of Left winning the confidence of Dalits and thereby the forces for Annihilation of Castes getting spirally strengthened. I am not cluttering it with my worksheets for this blueprint. Do this much, and you will find yourself close to Annihilation of Castes.

Finally to the self-obsessed Marxists, I would like to say that it is childish to take support of words and lose sight of the content. The entire rejoinder of yours to the Republican Panthers hampers upon my second statement, that I annulled all that I said by agreeing with you. Amazing! The very first sentence of the second statement was that I did not say all that you belaboured to refute and you indulged again in distortion. Assuming what one said something and then celebrating refutation of that something is purely a waste of labour. When I said that I agreed with much of what I said, I meant the contents of your Approach Paper (I never said I rejected it entirely. I said, I got a feel of déjà vu reading it) as well as your pontification on Dewey’s philosophy (which I carefully heard). ‘Much of’ however does not include all of it, surely. I was in hurry as had to leave for Jalandhar to observe my other commitments. I uncomfortably spoke something, (not that I do not mean it and am making a volte face) to get out of there, which cannot be construed as agreement with you on my main points. When I told Sinha that he again distorted my statements, he said that “aisa mujhe dhwanit huwa”. To hear what is not said is called hallucination and if it repeatedly happens it is serious enough for a Marxist because then he cannot see the reality. As a senior activist, I had advised against the self-righteous arrogance you people reflected to the comrades who came with me. Please mind it.

And now to the pseudo Ambedkarites, I would state that you have only exhibited your characteristic ignorance in using my stray statements to spread canard among gullible dalit masses that I insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar because I have been expressing such opinions based on my studies over the last 30 years through my books, articles and speeches. It is not I but you who have insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar in process by exploiting the sentiments of his innocent people against someone who has worked singularly for them keeping away from the camp of the ruling classes. It is you who have insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar not now but every moment of the last 57 years by imprisoning him and his thoughts into an inert identity icon, systematically intoxicating dalit masses with devotion to that icon and disorienting them from the issues of their life and death; by trading the brand of Ambedkar for getting into good books of the ruling classes to get state concessions, nominations to posts, getting election tickets, becoming ministers, state largess and scores of such things for your selfish gains and in exchange supporting ruling class policies that have systematically exploited dalit masses; by systematically distorting Ambedkar to support your nefarious activities; and by becoming dalals of dalt interests. Not insulting alone, you have killed him. I am the one who has never shown any iota of bhakti to Babasaheb Ambedkar unlike your tribe but sincerely followed his role model in excelling in whatever I did, in standing firm on the side of the oppressed masses, securing capability of analyzing the world around on behalf of them, and striving to the best of my capacity to fulfill Babasaheb Ambedkar’s dream of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity.’ You have insulted Babasaheb Ambedkar, you have insulted me, and you have insulted the sacred legacy of all those who struggled for human emancipation.

Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, scholar of peoples’ movements, civil rights activists with CPDR, Mumbai.Contact: tanandraj@gmail.com

 

Comrade Shalini’ s Poem – My Last Wish – A Revolutionary Will #mustread


38 year old Comrade Shalini passed away on 29th March. She battled with courage till her last breath. For those not aware, Comrade Shalini was the chairperson of the Jan Chetna Trust along with being an executive member of the Rahul Foundation.  Please go her blog to know more about her and what a gusty and determined person she was.  The blog has material in english and hindi. http://shaliniatjanchetna.blogspot.in/
The English translation of a very powerful poem written by her on 31st January, 2013 in Hindi called “My Last Wish : A Revolutionary’s Will” is being pasted below.

Communists fight every battle with all their might.
I know – metastatic cancer is a deadly disease
So I am fighting it with all my willpower.
I want to live my life to the fullest and I do believe
That my will to live will defeat even death
And even if it does not happen
I will prove in any case that
True revolutionaries neither give up in the face of hard times
Nor surrender before death like a coward.I believe in my determination and combativeness
And I know that I have to win this battle and
Return to the front, to hold which till my last breath
Is a commitment made to my soul.
So, there is every possibility that this last wish of mine,
This ideological testament of mine
Might become meaningless tomorrow,
But even after fighting valiantly till the last breath,
Like a true communist,
If I have to fall,
I want to leave this letter of my last wish
For my comrades and friends.I know I have to defeat cancer.
I have the love and pain of my comrades with me.
I have to get back to rejoin the ongoing war against capital
On my front, for the sake of coming generations.
But if this is not going to be possible,
My comrades will ensure that
My body is untouched by the dirty hands of those
Who threw dirt on our red flag
Who vilified and slandered against our experiments
Built through hard work and sacrifices of numerous comrades,
Who defamed ‘Janchetna’ and our publications
By saying these are profit-churning enterprises, even though they know the truth.
The vermin must not be allowed to come near my body
Who indulged in the filthiest mudslinging against us and tried their best to spread
Poisonous fumes of suspicion and distrust among communist ranks
To cover up their own degeneration.
These deserters who fled to hide in their dens in the hard times
Shamelessly talk of principles.
Some are degenerate opportunists who still run political shops
To satisfy their egos and make a living.
This abominable gang has even used death and disease of comrades
As a political weapon to target us.
Even my filthy rich father is a part of this gang
Who blinded by his class arrogance and vested interests
Has tried everything possible to damage our work,
He has his own class commitments
And he will never change.
Comrades! You all must ensure
These people must never come close
To my body even after I am gone,
This is my last wish.

Comrades! I am not a daughter of working people.
I was born in a family of
Usurers, traders, landlords, parasitic moneybags.
As I gradually imbibed the spirit of communism,
I tried to think of myself as a daughter of working class,
And tried to work like a labourer on the revolutionary front.
I don’t know how much I have been able to pay back the people’s debt,
How much sins of my ancestors I have been able to wash away –
This will be judged by the coming generations.
I can only assure that
I have never thought of going back home,
I was never attracted by the idea of settling in a cosy nest,
And back away from the storms.
Like a normal communist
I too have had natural human weaknesses,
And even some class weaknesses inherited from my background.
I do not claim that I was never touched by pessimism,
Or I never had any grievance with my comrades,
But I can assure that I have always got satisfaction and happiness
In my efforts to become a better communist,
I love my comrades more than anything in the world
And trust them wholeheartedly
And I still love life with all my heart
And I want to live as much as I can.

That’s why, I believe that victory will be mine
The cancer is bound to be decimated against my communist resolve
In this fight against death.
But I am ready like a true communist
To face every adversity
And that’s why I am writing down my heartiest wish
That if I lose out in the battle of life
My body must be wrapped in our cherished red flag
And then it must be donated to a government hospital or medical institute
For the purpose of scientific research or to donate organs to poor and needy patients.
I will legally assign the responsibility for this to two of my comrades.
If this is not possible for any reason
My body should be taken to an electric crematorium
On the shoulders of my comrades
And my last rites must be performed without any religious rituals
With raised fists and the International being played.
It must also be ensured
That none of the degenerate renegades must be allowed to join
They must not be allowed to come near my body.
I know, those who say even today
That I have been “brainwashed” (which is the biggest abuse for me),
Will not refrain from using my death for their dirty politics,
Thus, it is necessary
That I write down my wish in clear terms.

Comrades! I do not await death
But to get back to my work.
Cancer can be defeated by
Positive attitude and firm resolve
And all possible treatments are going on.
But still if I am unable to return to my front,
There is nothing to worry,
I will remain present in your thoughts and determinations.
I know, you will turn grief into strength
To make up for my loss.
You can turn one into a hundred.
We have to save the children! Save the dreams!!
We have to wake up forgotten ideas,
And explore new thoughts!
We have to recruit new soldiers
And make the people realise once again
That they are the makers of history.
I may or may not be with you,
But this fight will go on, till victory comes.
The caravan will keep on going, until it reaches our destination.

– 31/1/2013
An inspirational poem  for shalini

शालिनी से

हम लड़े हैं साथी
उदास मौसम के खि़लाफ़
हम लड़े हैं साथी
एक नयी राह बनाते हुए, प्रतिकूल हवाओं
के ख़ि‍लाफ़
हम लड़े हैं साथी
उखड़े तम्‍बुओं वालों की घिनौनी तोहमतों के ख़ि‍लाफ़
हम लड़े हैं साथी,
मौत पर राजनीति करने वाले
गिद्धों के ख़ि‍लाफ़
हम लड़े हैं साथी
उल्‍टे पैर घर लौटती दुनियादारी के ख़ि‍लाफ़
सीलन भरे अँधेरे के ख़ि‍लाफ़,
वैचारिक प्रदूषण और दि‍खावटी प्रतिबद्धता के ख़ि‍लाफ़।
और अब, हम लड़ेंगे साथी
मौत की चुनौती के ख़ि‍लाफ़,
षड्यंत्ररत मृतात्‍माओं के ख़ि‍लाफ़।
हम लड़ेंगे
कि ज़ि‍न्‍दगी ठहरी नहीं रहेगी।
हम लड़ेंगे
कि अभी बहुत सारे मोर्चे खुले हुए हैं
जूझने और जीतने को।
हम लड़ेंगे
पीड़ा और यंत्रणा के ख़ि‍लाफ़
हम लड़ेंगे
सच्‍चे ज़ि‍न्‍दा लोगों की तरह
क्‍योंकि उम्‍मीद एक ज़ि‍न्‍दा शब्‍द है।

                               – कविता कृष्‍णपल्‍लवी

 

Press Release-We have to move beyond Ambedkar for realization of the Dalit emancipation


 

Press Release
(Press release in hindi and punjabi are attached)
Last day of the national level seminar on “Caste Question and Marxism
We have to move beyond Ambedkar for realization of the Dalit emancipation
Chandigarh16 March.Ambedkar waged a fierce struggle against the caste question and untouchability and created a new awakening in the dalits but he failed to put forward a all-out project for emancipation of dalits and from Ambedkar’s philosophical, political, economic and social thought, no pathway is possible to draw out for the dalit emancipation. So, for taking the struggle against caste system and untouchability to its end, we have to move beyond Ambedkar.
            While presenting his write-up on the topic “Ambedkar and Dalit Emancipation” in the Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar going on here in Bhakna Bhavan, editor of Punjabi magazine ‘Pratibadh’ Sukhwinder said that while achknowledging the historical progressive role of the Ambedkar and the social-reformist movements in their leadership, it is not possible to ignore his limitations.
            He said that today there are attempts going on to forge a compromise between Marxism and Ambedkarism but there are fundamental differences between the two ideologies. Marxism puts forward the pathway of Class struggle for ending the class divisions, exploitation of one man by other man and taking the socialism to the stage of classless society whereas Ambedkar’s politics does not move an inch beyond the policy of some reforms while remaining a part of the capitalist system. In his detailed paper Sukhwinder presented well elaborated analysis of philosophy, politics, economics and historiographic ideas of Ambedkar and said that while achknowledging the historical progressive role of the Ambedkar and the social-reformist movements in their leadership, it is not possible to ignore his limitations.
            He said that dalits have to remember the words of Shaheed Bhagat Singh that path of slow reforms will give nothing to dalits, they have to get ready for a social revolution and a political & economic revolution.
            Famous writer and professor in Jawahar Lal Nehru university, Prof. Tulsi Ram said that greatest contribution of Ambedkar lies in the fact that he attacked the divinity of caste system. Criticizing the paper presented by Sukhwinder, he said that the paper has overlooked the revolutionary role of Buddhist philosophy. Ambedkar too has to be understood while considering the historical limits in which he lived. He talked in detailed about the evils of Hindu religion and said that brahmanists destroyed the Buddhist religion because it opposed the caste system. Prof. Tulsi Ram said that the state capitalist model proposed by Ambedkar was not less progressive than the state socialist system of Russia in any respect.
            Disagreeing on many points with Prof. Tulsi Ram, editor of Ahwan magazine Abhinav said that his explanation is not in unison with the historical facts. Ambedkar said fought against the caste system but this does not prove that his project of caste emancipation was the correct path. Who has the correct understanding of the problem, only that person can propose the correct way for solving that problem. But this is the thing that is lacking in Ambedkar. He strongly criticised the idea of Prof. Tulsi Ram that social movements should be given more importance than the political movements. Social movements always remain confined to the reforms while keeping the question state-power on the fences.
            In the evening session yesterday, Prashant from BR Ambedkar college, Delhi presented his write-up on identity politics. Ninu Chapagai, Shivani, Asit Das, Shabdeesh, Tapish Mandola, Dr. Sukhdev, Kashmir Singh, Satyam were among many other participants who took part in intense discussions that continued in late evening.
            Today’s session was presided over by Prof. Tulsi Ram, poetess Katyayani and Debashish Barat from Chintan Vichar Manch, Patna.
            — Meenakshy (Managing Trustee), Anand Singh (Secretary)
Arvind Memorial Trust
For more information, please contact:
Katyayani – 09936650658, Satyam – 9910462009, Namita (Chandigarh) –  978072412

 

PRESS RELEASE- Dalit emancipation is not possible without REVOLUTION- ( English/Hindi/punjabi)


Chandigarh, 14 March. Known writer and intellectual Dr. Anand Teltumbde said here today that all experiments dalit emancipation by Dr. Ambedkar ended in a ‘grand failure’ and for elimination of caste, we have go beyond their movements.

While speaking at Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar here in Bhakna Bhavan, a national level five-day seminar on the topic of ‘Caste Question and Marxism‘, Dr. Teltumbde said that only 10% of the dalits have benefitted so far from the policy of Reservation. The reason for this is that Dr. Ambedkar did not correctly constituted the policy of reservation. He said that dalit emancipation is not possible without revolution and revolution is not possible without the widest participation of Dalits.

Dr. Teltumbde said that communists of India applied Marxism in a dogmatic way and so they neither understood the caste problem correctly nor they were able to draw a correct strategy for struggle against it. While agreeing with many points in the keynote paper presented in the seminar, he said that by rejecting Ambedkar, Phule or Periyar the social revolution can’t move ahead.

He said that Ambedkar did not make a thorough study of Marxism, but he had a deep attraction for it. We have to think to bring together Marx and Ambedkarite movements. For this it is important that Communists should stand by dalits in every instance of atrocities over dalits.

Editor of ‘Ahwan’ magazine Abhinav presented a detailed criticism of the philosophical source of Ambedkar, an American philosopher John Devy and said that he did not provide any complete way-out for the emancipation of dalits. He did not go beyond getting some concessions from state in the form of ‘Affirmative action’ and welfare steps. The same thing we find in the ideology of Ambedkar. Expressing disagreement with many points raised by Dr. Teltumbde, Abhinav said that the reasons for the failure of all experiments of Dr. Ambedkar have to looked for in his philosophical outlook. While brushing aside the theory of social revolution he continued only to experiment and even there he lacked rationality.

Abhinav said that while acknowledging the contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in bringing to forefront the dalit identity and creating consciousness among them, but along with this we have to present the criticism of political-economical-philosophical views of Dr. Ambedkar.

Mr. Lalto, professor at IIT Hyderabad and a known writer said that Marxism is not a static philosophy, but it gets enriched with many new ideas continuously. Marxists should also use other methods of epistemology and should not rely solely upon a single method. Prof. Sewa Singh said that Ambedkar’s contribution should be evaluated in the light of a correct historical perspective. Alongwith this, Ambedkar’s views about muslims should also be reviewed.

Sukhwinder, editor of Punjabi magazine ‘Pratibadh’ sharply criticized the comments of Dr. Teltumbde on the communists of India and said that communists of India did not even had the program for Indian revolution, so in such circumstances it should not be expected a correct line on caste question from them. But in every part of the country communists fought in front ranks for the rights of oppressed and exploited and gave uncountable sacrifices.

Discussion is still in progress on the two other papers presented in seminar. From ‘Sanhati’, Asit Das presented his write up on “Caste question and Marxism” and a paper by Arjun Prasad Singh from PDFI, Delhi was read out by Tapish Mandola because of his inability to attend the seminar.

Senior leader of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Ninu Chapagai, Kashmir Singh from Sirsa, Jitendra Bharti from Dehradun, Rohit Rajora & Surya Kumar Yadav from Lucknow, Dr. Amrit from Ludhiana, Rajesh Kumar from Varanasi also spoke on the keynote paper of the seminar.

The session was presided over by president of Nepal Rashtrya Dalit Mukti Morcha Tilak Parihar, convener of Gyan Prasar Smaj Master Harish and Dr. Amritpal. Stage was conducted by Satyam.

 

Press release_14.3.13 Hindi

Press release_14.3.13 Punjabi

Press Release: Emancipation of Indian Society is impossible without finding a solution to the Caste question


wad

Arvind Memorial Trust
69 A, Baba Ka Purwa, Paper Mil Road, Nishatganj, Lucknow – 226006

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Press Note

Attached: Hindi and Punjabi version of the press note along with few pictures.

Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar has started in Chandigarh

Emancipation of Indian Society is impossible without finding a solution to the Caste question

Chandigarh, 12 March. The dicussion involving the various intellectuals and social activists arrived here from different corners of the country on the subject ‘Caste question amd Marxism‘ has started in the Fourth Arvind Memorial Seminar that has commenced in Bhakna Bhavan today.

At the very beginning of the seminar, it was clearly stated that no project of eliminating exploitation in Indian Society can be put forward without giving due consideration to the caste question. In this five-day seminar, various historians, social scientists, writers, social activities from states like Punjab, UP, Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, Bihar etc. are participating. In addition, senior leaders from both the main political parties of Nepal are also participating along with the intellectuals from the Britain and Germany.

In the commencing session of the seminar, Satyam from Arvind Institute of Marxist Studies said that in the seminar, issues like relation between Marxism and Ambedkarism, political ideas of Dr. Ambedkar, Marxist Understanding of the caste qusetion, historiographic writing of the caste question, caste question and dalit literature & aesthetics etc. will be thoroughly debated so that the obtacles to the social change can be removed. He said that in last few years the mechanical thinking prevalent in Marxist circles has undergone a change and in Dalitists also, questions are being raised regarding the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar.

Satyam also said that there has been a trend to bring a compromise between the Marxism & Ambedkarism, and a trend of subaltern & identity politics. Analysis of these trends from Marxist perspective is also the need of the hour.

Managing trustee of Arvind Memorial Trust, Meenakashi said that a national level seminar on the important issues concerning the communist movement of India is organized every year in the memory of Com. Arvind. Arvind Institute of Marxist Studies has been founded to carry out the research and study on the theoretical and practical issues faced by the communist movement of India.

While welcoming the various guests reached for the seminar, Sukhwinder, editor of Punjabi magazine Pratibadh said that left movement in Punjab has a distinct history and the caste question has also always remained here in its peculiar form. It has been a big thing for us that such a seminar is being organized here in Chandigarh.

The commencing session was presided over by the politburo member of Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and famous literary critic Ninu Chapagai, senior trade-unionist from Mumbai Deepati, Trustee of Arvind Memorial Trust Meenakshi, and editor of Magazine ‘Ahwan’ Abhinav. The stage was conducted by poetess Katyayani.

The program started after paying homage to Comrade Arvind. Then the team from ‘Vihaan’ cultural group presented revolutionary songs.

Overall, 14 papers and write-ups will be presented in the seminar on different aspects of the subject. The base paper of the seminar ‘Caste Question and its solution: A Marxist Viewpoint’ is prepared by the research team of Arvind Institute of Marxist Studies. Other papers include ‘Ambedkarism and Dalit Liberation’ by Sukhwinder, editor of Punjabi journal Pratibaddh; ‘Historiography of Caste’ by Abhinav, editor, Aahwan; ‘Class, Caste and Identity Politics‘ by Shivani, Delhi University; ‘Caste and Politics in West Bengal‘ by Praskanva Sinharay, CSSS, Kolkata; ‘Caste and Sex in Marxist Traditions’ by Dr. Rajarshi Dasgupta, JNU; Marxism and the caste question’ by Asit Das, Researcher and Activist, New Delhi; ‘On Identity Politics’ by Prashant Gupta, B.R. Ambedkar College, Delhi University; On Conjoint Relevance of Marxism and Ambedkarism by Sukhdev Singh Janagal, Punjab and on the limitations of caste and identity politics by Jai Prakash of the ‘Jati Virodhi Andolan’.

Eminent historian Prof. Irfan Habib will send a background note on caste in India, Ninu Chapagain, Politburo Member and in charge of the Cultural Division of UCPN (M) will present a write-up on ‘The Dalit Question and Aesthetics’ and a paper ‘Towards A Programme for Abolition of Material Basis of Casteist Hierarchy’ by Dr. Anant Phadke, Shramik Mukti Dal (Democratic), Pune will be presented. Prof. William Paul Cockshott, University of Glasgow will make a presentation through internet linkup and his paper ‘Dr. Ambedkar or Dr. Marx’ will be circulated as a background note.

— Meenakshy (Managing Trustee), Anand Singh (Secretary)

Arvind Memorial Trust

For more information, please contact:
Katyayani – 09936650658, Satyam – 9910462009, Namita (Chandigarh) – 9780724125

 

An appeal to friends and comrades to save the life of a revolutionary #mustshare


TUESDAY, 12 FEBRUARY 2013

Friends and comrades,

Com. Shalini is fighting a battle of life and death with metastatic cancer. We are trying our very best to make the most advanced treatments available to her. Currently, she is undergoing treatment at Dharmshila Cancer Hospital and Research Center, Delhi. We are also receiving consultations from specialists at Tata Memorial Cancer Institute, Hinduja Hospital, Leelavati Hospital (Mumbai) as well as from Ireland and the US. Apart from that, we are also trying alternative therapies.Com. Shalini joined the Left revolutionary movement at a very young age. Since 1995 her life was fully devoted to the tasks of the revolution. During this period, she was active on the student front as well as the women and cultural fronts. She has been a strong pillar of all our projects (Janchetna, Rahul Foundation, Parikalpna, Anurag Trust) involving publication and distribution of progressive literature. She is the President of Janchetna society, an Executive Committee member of Rahul Foundation, the Director of Parikalpana and one of the Trustees of Anurag Trust. Her revolutionary life of 18 years has been an example of a militant, uncompromising revolutionary life full of sacrifices and based on unflinching dedication to her principles. We are committed to protect this valuable life.

However, we need the help of all our friends, comrades and progressive, democratic, leftist intellectuals and sensitive civilians. The treatment of this type of cancer is highly expensive in India. Hence, we are making an urgent appeal to save the life of a revolutionary.

A clarification is required here: we will not take any help for this purpose from the government, capitalist enterprises, foreign funded NGOs or political parties. Any contribution from an unknown source will also not be acceptable. This is our principle and Com. Shalini’s strong wish. We only seek the help of those comrades and well-wishers, who despite minor or major political differences believe in our revolutionary integrity and honesty. Com. Shalini has also urged that she would not accept any type of financial assistance from her family members as she has broken all relations with her family years ago after the destructive anti-revolutionary activities of her father. We shall undoubtedly respect her sentiments. We are hopeful of the support of comrades, friends and well-wishers from all over the country to save the life of a young revolutionary. Friends willing to extend a helping hand may contact us here:

Phone:  9910462009 /  8853093555; E-mail: satyamvarma@gmail.com;
For correspondence: Satyam, Flat No.: 250, MIG, Sector-28, Rohini, Delhi-110085

After you contact us, we will immediately intimate you the necessary details for sending cheque/draft/money order or doing an account transfer.

My Last Wish

(A Revolutionary’s Will)

 
  – Shalini

Communists fight every battle with all their might.
I know – metastatic cancer is a deadly disease
So I am fighting it with all my willpower.
I want to live my life to the fullest and I do believe
That my will to live will defeat even death
And even if it does not happen
I will prove in any case that
True revolutionaries neither give up in the face of hard times
Nor surrender before death like a coward.I believe in my determination and combativeness
And I know that I have to win this battle and
Return to the front, to hold which till my last breath
Is a commitment made to my soul.
So, there is every possibility that this last wish of mine,
This ideological testament of mine
Might become meaningless tomorrow,
But even after fighting valiantly till the last breath,
Like a true communist,
If I have to fall,
I want to leave this letter of my last wish
For my comrades and friends.

I know I have to defeat cancer.
I have the love and pain of my comrades with me.
I have to get back to rejoin the ongoing war against capital
On my front, for the sake of coming generations.
But if this is not going to be possible,
My comrades will ensure that
My body is untouched by the dirty hands of those
Who threw dirt on our red flag
Who vilified and slandered against our experiments
Built through hard work and sacrifices of numerous comrades,
Who defamed ‘Janchetna’ and our publications
By saying these are profit-churning enterprises, even though they know the truth.
The vermin must not be allowed to come near my body
Who indulged in the filthiest mudslinging against us and tried their best to spread
Poisonous fumes of suspicion and distrust among communist ranks
To cover up their own degeneration.
These deserters who fled to hide in their dens in the hard times
Shamelessly talk of principles.
Some are degenerate opportunists who still run political shops
To satisfy their egos and make a living.
This abominable gang has even used death and disease of comrades
As a political weapon to target us.
Even my filthy rich father is a part of this gang
Who blinded by his class arrogance and vested interests
Has tried everything possible to damage our work,
He has his own class commitments
And he will never change.
Comrades! You all must ensure
These people must never come close
To my body even after I am gone,
This is my last wish.

Comrades! I am not a daughter of working people.
I was born in a family of
Usurers, traders, landlords, parasitic moneybags.
As I gradually imbibed the spirit of communism,
I tried to think of myself as a daughter of working class,
And tried to work like a labourer on the revolutionary front.
I don’t know how much I have been able to pay back the people’s debt,
How much sins of my ancestors I have been able to wash away –
This will be judged by the coming generations.
I can only assure that
I have never thought of going back home,
I was never attracted by the idea of settling in a cosy nest,
And back away from the storms.
Like a normal communist
I too have had natural human weaknesses,
And even some class weaknesses inherited from my background.
I do not claim that I was never touched by pessimism,
Or I never had any grievance with my comrades,
But I can assure that I have always got satisfaction and happiness
In my efforts to become a better communist,
I love my comrades more than anything in the world
And trust them wholeheartedly
And I still love life with all my heart
And I want to live as much as I can.

That’s why, I believe that victory will be mine
The cancer is bound to be decimated against my communist resolve
In this fight against death.
But I am ready like a true communist
To face every adversity
And that’s why I am writing down my heartiest wish
That if I lose out in the battle of life
My body must be wrapped in our cherished red flag
And then it must be donated to a government hospital or medical institute
For the purpose of scientific research or to donate organs to poor and needy patients.
I will legally assign the responsibility for this to two of my comrades.
If this is not possible for any reason
My body should be taken to an electric crematorium
On the shoulders of my comrades
And my last rites must be performed without any religious rituals
With raised fists and the International being played.
It must also be ensured
That none of the degenerate renegades must be allowed to join
They must not be allowed to come near my body.
I know, those who say even today
That I have been “brainwashed” (which is the biggest abuse for me),
Will not refrain from using my death for their dirty politics,
Thus, it is necessary
That I write down my wish in clear terms.

Comrades! I do not await death
But to get back to my work.
Cancer can be defeated by
Positive attitude and firm resolve
And all possible treatments are going on.
But still if I am unable to return to my front,
There is nothing to worry,
I will remain present in your thoughts and determinations.
I know, you will turn grief into strength
To make up for my loss.
You can turn one into a hundred.
We have to save the children! Save the dreams!!
We have to wake up forgotten ideas,
And explore new thoughts!
We have to recruit new soldiers
And make the people realise once again
That they are the makers of history.
I may or may not be with you,
But this fight will go on, till victory comes.
The caravan will keep on going, until it reaches our destination.

— 31/1/2013
PLease chekc her blog-http://shaliniatjanchetna-en.blogspot.in/

Some Questions for Comrade Karat on Afzal’ Guru’s killing #deathpenalty


To,
Shri Prakash Karat,

General Secretary,

Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Dear Comrade,

Afzal Guru was hanged yesterday in utter secrecy, denied in his last moments the right to meet his wife and children one final time. Denied to him also was the ultimate judicial resort, due to every condemned convict after his/her mercy petition has been rejected.

The entire legal proceedings against Afzal were shot through with contradictions, fabrications and travesties of legal procedure. The Supreme Court bench that finally sentenced him to death did so to ‘appease the national conscience’ despite inadequate evidence of his role in the Parliament attack case.

And yet this is what your colleague in the Polit Bureau Sitaram Yechury had to say to the media on this issue, “I think, the law of the land with all its provisions has finally been completed as far as the Afzal Guru case and the attack on the Indian Parliament is concerned. The issue which had been lingering for the past 11 years has finally completed its due course.”

‘Law of the land’ has ‘completed its due course’? Is this the official stand of the CPI(M) on the Afzal Guru case? Or is it just Com. Yechury trying to ‘appease the national conscience’ and joining the UPA in harnessing the ‘Hindu vote’?

Surely you and your colleagues in the Polit Bureau have heard that Afzal was unrepresented from the time of his arrest till he made his alleged ‘confession? You may have also perhaps heard of the letter that Afzal wrote to the Judge pleading he had no faith in the lawyer appointed for him by the Court, asking to be represented by any from a list of four lawyers he named. The Court records show that two of these lawyers refused to represent him but there is no information whether the other two on the list were even ever asked.

A lawyer, who had never met Afzal, admitted documents in court incriminating him. Or has your Polit Bureau been watching too many telecasts of his ‘confession’ – considered inadmissible in any court of law – as damning evidence of his guilt?

But never mind. Lack of legal representation for your Party does not seem too major an obstacle in implementing the ‘due course of law’. When elections are looming on the horizon, and your Party’s mass base is dwindling, a little injustice – like the murder of an innocent man- does not matter of course.

If the Congress is fast becoming the B Team of the communal Hindutva brigade should the CPI (M) try to become the C Team? Has your Party learnt nothing from the defeats it has suffered due to similar unprincipled stands it has taken in the past? Are we being completely delusional in expecting a Party named with grand terms like ‘Communist’ and ‘Marxist’ to take a stand different from that of political formations taking the nation fast forward towards all out Fascism?

Sincerely,

Satya Sivaraman

Manisha Sethi

 

An Open Letter to Anurag Kashyap and his 12.12.12 project. #kractivism


121212

LATEST UPDATE CLICK HERE

IMPACT OF POSTING THIS LETTER HERE, MESSAGE FROM THE FILMMAKER– ‘KRACKTIVISM”

( Within 3 hours after putting this post- picture abhi baak hai dost :-P)

“Shilpa has been refunded the expenses she incurred on making the film and Showhouse’s Large Short Films has promised to give her copyright over her work soon subsequent to the circulation of the open letter. She is waiting for it in writing. She stands by the issues she raised and thanks everyone for the immense kind support” Thanks Kamayani this would not have been possible without you. You are really awesome!

I am a Mysore based woman filmmaker who was chosen by you to be part of the Mega Movies project 12.12.12 executed by Showhouse Entertainment’s Large Short Films Wing. I am writing this open letter because I think public discourse is important given that over the years you have come to occupy such an important space within what you call ‘independent cinema’.

Also no one from the company that you endorse, as well as you, thinks it is important to have a dialogue with me about unpaid wages, disrespect and unfair dismissal which has caused me tremendous amount of financial, emotional stress. There is also a much touted save indie cinema doing the rounds and what it fails to add to the discourse (not surprising going by the kind of signatories it claims) is what I want to talk about. Changing the look of how you produce cinema and being backed by big studio capital isn’t really independent. I think it is important to bring this into the public domain as the silences around working practices result in the perpetuation of exploitative systems and weed out filmmakers based on their class, caste, gender, religion and language.

It was absolutely no surprise when I saw that the list of 12 directors included no woman. So apparently out of 600 entries only I, the sole woman, made it to the shortlist and because I decided to speak up and not be quiet about how my film was going to tortured and beaten into becoming the kind of objects that you seem to grant your blessings to, 12.12.12 is now officially an all male production.

I bring your notice to this because the tone of the company with regard to objections I raised has been patronising, condescending and dismissive. Well meaning friends and critics will tell me that’s how it works, that’s the industry,
the industry that works on free labour, meant for those who have the money to afford the time to chase dreams. It’s not meant for women like me who have no big daddies or brothers or husbands supporting them. It isn’t meant for women
like me who choose to work in a language other than Hindi and it definitely isn’t meant for women like me who don’t know how to waddle along consenting to practices that make people like you and the companies you endorse just richer
on the back of such exploitative practices.

You sent me an email stipulating that I would not be in touch with any of the other 11 directors (an effective way I must say to curb dissent and this goes by the name of being collaborative!) The contract also stipulated that I would be paid once I handed over the film contrary to what the rules on the contest page initially stated wherein I was supposed to have been given the money before Ivmade the film. This I was informed after having worked a full month on the project. I did sign it and I take full responsibility for that sign because you were the carrot dangled to me, the one ruling the roost in the film festival circuit and of course the Indian public funding circuit, what seemed like the only way to make one’s film. And since you must have been paid handsomely to be the carrot, I only ask that you own up to the full responsibility of it and be accountable to the carrot desirers you create.

After insisting that I get paid at least half I went ahead, after funds were released, and borrowed money to complete it. I hand over the film and fulfil my contractual obligations and then am bullied into changing and reshooting it for a mistake made by Asmit Pathare (Project director not the 12th discovery – check the shortlist!) and Abhijit Das (the godfather of short films in the making). So I naturally said no. You must understand how difficult it is for a director to hurt their stories? It’s kind of like being okay with Abhijit Das (Creative head of Largeshortfilms) adding on a scene where Manoj Bajpai spouts Feminist Marxist dialogues in Gangs of Wasseypur and without telling you! Wouldn’t really fit with the ethos of the film no? Your company even told me that since I do not have the resources I cannot be involved in the reshoot. At such a juncture I asked you not to use my film if I was not being reimbursed and no, you go ahead and use it. The matchbox still from my film is still up on the company’s website.

In a country with absolutely zilch funding for independent films you exploit the hopes of thousands of aspirants. You reiterate a certain way of working which accommodates only a certain type of filmmaker. This in my world is called cheating, it’s called immoral and it’s called unfair. In your world all this is grey, this hijacking that you do of a space that has seen so much struggle and such amazing cinema, this hijacking of language – calling it collaborative when it’s more dictatorial, this hijacking of image, of new film waves, of new ways of working. One of the most exciting things about globalised capitalism’s current avatar (as Hardt and Negri will tell you) is that even though it creates systems like you it also provides for ruptures like me.

Before you come back with a reply to this I ask you to re‐look at emails that you sent me and words you relayed to me through the company about my filmmaking. Everything that I have said is backed by evidence (I know too well
how important that is) I know this open dissent will cost me. I’m not naïve not to understand as to how you rule visibilities around distribution and production but I will walk away knowing that I have spoken and that this is just the beginning not the end of the road for me. For those of you reading this I understand that within the larger framework of what we call injustice in this country this is nothing but when we start to look at continuums everything does matter and support for this would really help not just me but for all those who are engaged in changing the way images speak.

From the 12th director who so mysteriously disappeared
Shilpa Munikempanna
munikempannaproductions@gmail.com

contact- 9611843981

#RIP Eric Hobsbawm: a talented historian who outshone his Marxist ideology


 

 

 

Oliver Kamm

Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, died this morning, aged 95. I’ve written critically in the past about Hobsbawm’s politics and their influence on his writings about the 20th century. In the last conversation I had with Christopher Hitchens, we touched on the issue. Hitch was scathing that Hobsbawm’s eventual parting from Communism was due to a simple failure, at the end of the catastrophic history of the USSR, to renew his subscription.

It was an extraordinary failure of imagination that caused Hobsbawm to write, with Raymond Williams, a notorious Cambridge pamphlet supporting the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-40. As Williams later recalled (in Politics and Letters, 1981, p.43), without shame: “We were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words.”

Hobsbawm was a young man at the outbreak of the Second World War, but as far as I know he never expressed contrition for this act of intellectual prostitution in the service of totalitarianism. (In his memoirs, by the way, Hobsbawm claims that the pamphlet has been lost. It hasn’t: I have a copy.)

I mention this, because you can’t understand Hobsbawm without grasping his commitment to what came to be known as Eurocommunism – an adherence to Marxist theory allied with an acceptance of Western parliamentary democracy. And Eurocommunism, despite its ideological compromises, was deeply implicated in associating with Soviet Communism.

Hobsbawm was also an outstanding historian – and you can’t understand him, either, without having read his three-volume account of England in the 19th century. He was a superb economic historian who, in spite of his Marxism, never underestimated the role of the individual in historical change (as assessed in his book Primitive Rebels, among others). On my only meeting with him, I found him a man of deep intellect, humility and charm. It was one of the ironies of his generation that ideology could seize some of its most talented figures. The talent, in Hobsbawm’s case, superseded it, even so.

@oliverkamm

Read The Times obituary for Eric Hobsbawm

 

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