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International Socialism, Winter 1960/61


David Breen



From International Socialism (1st series), No.3, Winter 1960/61, p.30.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Kerala Past and Present
A.K. Gopalan
Lawrence & Wishart. 15s.

South Asian Affairs No.1
St Antony’s Papers No.8
Edited by Raghavan Iyer
Chatto & Windus. 18s.

It is not surprising that a leading member of the Indian Communist Party, writing towards the end of the communist administration of Kerala (April 1957-August 1959), should deliver an elaborate apologia for his party and its policy. This is the main interest of Gopalan’s book. Seasoned ‘politicals’ will relish the wry admission that ‘it required a tremendous amount of political conviction and courage to swim against the current of national sentiment’ and support the British Raj during the war when ‘the political line of the Party ran counter to the sentiments of the majority of anti-imperialists’. (p.70) Or the admission that the united front for which the Kerala CP campaigned in 1951 was to include ‘those sections of even the bourgeoisie and feudal ruling class who wanted our country to be free, happy and prosperous’. (p.88)

Gopalan’s apologia consists in demonstrating to the Powers That Be (in India and elsewhere) how ‘safe’ and ‘moderate’ a Stalinist government can be. ‘No State in India’ we are told, ‘except Kerala, was able to put forward a balanced Budget in the finance year 1957-8’. (p.97) This must have delighted the unemployed! ‘Government convened a conference of labourers and landlords and amicably settled the question of rice cultivation by improving 15.000 acres of (landlords’) land’. (p.100) This must have overjoyed the landless peasants. They distributed ‘seven and a half lakhs of wasteland (my emphasis – D.B.) to landless peasants’ (p.102) and proposed a Tenancy Bill (summer 1958) which would have provided the ‘last vestiges of feudal landlordism in the Travancore area’ with 8.2 million, rupees in compensation. (p.103) The tenants will doubtless be eternally grateful. The Kerala Government’s labour policy resulted, inter alia, in ‘justice for the employers’. (p.106) Wage increases and paid holidays were only granted to workers at the Government Engineering Workshop after they ‘had been urged to the brink of a strike by the Revolutionary Socialist Party’. (p.106)

There is of course no mention of the pact with big businessman Birla; or of the shooting down of striking workers at Chandanathoppu (July 1958) and again during the plantation workers’ strike (October 1958); or of the constant baton charges, or finally of the resort to Section 144 against workers, peasants and students. An apologia, after all, is not a history.

South Asian Papers is a book of quite another sort. Far above the battle, it can devote 71 of its 153 pages to a wordy essay by the editor, entitled Utilitarianism and All that. The only one of its five essays that might be of value is Kyril Tidmarsh’s Soviet Re-assessment of Mahatma Gandhi – a quoteful description of the Indian leaders’s fall from grace and subsequent re-instatement, in accordance with the exigencies of Russian diplomacy.

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Last updated on 14 February 2010