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International Socialism, Summer 1963

Revolution Betrayed? The RSP Reply


From International Socialism, No.13, Summer 1963.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The criticism by International Socialism of the stand taken up by the Revolutionary Socialist Party in the India-China conflict proceeds not only from a basic misunderstanding of the Marxist-Leninist point of view, it also proceeds from a still more basic misunderstanding of the realities of the contemporary Indian situation and the dynamics of the armed conflict that broke out between India and China on the Himalayan frontier ...

They find fault with Indian socialists – including Revolutionary Socialists, of course – because they have come forward to support the war efforts of the Indian capitalist government against China, which means in effect defending capitalist rule as against the Indian working class.

‘To be swept up into supporting a regime which claims, as first victims, civil rights and workers’ standards, is to switch our class allegiance from the exploited to their exploiters; it is to abdicate as socialists.’

That precisely is the charge hurled against us by the IS:

‘To call on Marxists to defend this amalgam of everything cruel, shoddy and oppressive (i.e., the imperialist minded capitalist government of India) against, be it admitted, another as cruel, as shoddy and as oppressive, – all in the name of progress, is to extinguish in breath a Marxist tradition and a Marxist method of analysis’ ...

But the question is, has the RSP or The Call really called upon the workers or Marxists to defend the capitalist government of India and its policies ‘in the name of progress’? We are not ourselves aware where or when we have done so. Developing the same theme further on, the IS goes on to say:

‘It is difficult enough in all conscience to assert the “progressiveness” of the Indian bourgeoisie. To claim advantage for it in that regard over the Chinese bureaucracy ... or to claim that Chinese reaction is responsible for the stunted development of Indian capitalism or democracy is to travesty thought’. (See above, last but one para of ‘Himalayan frostbite’)

It has never been part of the RSP’s theoretical belief to regard Indian capitalism and the capitalist state system in India, as emerging after transfer of power and political independence, as a ‘progressive’ social force on any criterion. Nor has the RSP sought to justify its stand in defending national independence and territorial integrity of India against Chinese attack (or for that matter against foreign aggression from any quarter) on the ground that Indian capitalism is a ‘progressive’ force, either considered by itself in the background of internal socio-economic development of India, or in comparison with the bureaucratic state-capitalist system of China.

We have to take the Indian bourgeoisie and Indian capitalism as they are with all their present limitations and oppressive class character. Because capitalism in any country, even in the very best of the so-called ‘progressive’ phase of its development, has never been anything other than a social system based on class exploitation and the most unjust and oppressive economic and political inequality.

But in spite of that there may be specific objective and historical circumstances when support to the defence of a capitalist state against another is politically justified. We pointed out that in the sentence that immediately precedes the impugned passage quoted by IS from the December issue of The Call. We said:

‘There are national bourgeois states in certain stages of historic development which have to be supported by Marxists against outside aggression under specific historic circumstances.

The Call followed up is theoretical proposition by asserting that India is precisely that kind of national bourgeois state ...

In order to formulate our attitude to national states, and nationalism in regard to Asian countries like India which have just emerged into political independence from a colonial status we must try to view these countries in proper historical perspective. It is a generally accepted proposition among Marxist-Leninists that the historic period that was ushered in after the first imperialist world war of 1914-18 and the October Russian revolution is the general epoch of socialist world revolution which manifests itself in two directions viz, revolutionary socialist working class movements in countries of developed capitalism and bourgeois democratic national upsurges in colonial countries. The end of the second imperialist world war has brought us one step further ahead to the final epoch of overthrow and liquidation of imperialism in the former colonial and semi-colonial countries of Asia and Africa. Naturally, this has had repercussions in the structure of capitalism in metropolitan countries as well. Moreover, the end of the second world war also brought about the end of capitalist rule in a number of East European countries and in East Asia outside Soviet Russia, embracing the vast Eurasian land mass extending from China and the Pacific coast to mid-Europe.

Most Asian countries and many African countries as well have freed themselves from colonial thraldom during the pasty two decades and have started on the road to bourgeois democratic transformation of their societies within the framework of national states ....

It will be easily seen that to derive any theoretical or political conclusion about any major political development in the inter-relations of these newly independent countries by simply lifting theoretical generalisations about the inter-relations of European countries in the previous historic period and applying them in regard to these developments would be completely out of place, therefore, mistaken.

The overthrow of old imperialism (or ‘recession’, or ‘liquidation’, or even ‘self-liquidation’ – whatever may be the term that we choose to employ in this context) from these countries, for instance, has not led to the disappearance of bourgeois national democratic demands and national sentiments amongst the people of these countries. Because even after ‘independence’ most of these countries remain economically and financially dependent on capital aid along with everything that kind of aid implies from richer imperialist-capitalist countries of the West. There is in their minds the ever present fear that their political independence may be jeopardised by some kind of disguised economic domination by bigger powers. Hence the common emphasis in these countries on their international relations on a policy of non-aligned independence, on an attempt to match their economic dependence on the Western power bloc by seeking (and often getting) comparable aid from the other bloc and so on.

Vital sectors of the national economies of these countries and strategic points and areas in these regions are still in the control of the big imperialist powers. The latter sometimes manage to win over stooges from amongst the most reactionary and feudal elements of the ruling classes of these countries by various forms of bribery and utilise them for maintaining stranglehold over the economic life and international relations of some of these countries (Philippines, Formosa, Thailand, Irian till lately, North Borneo, Malaya, Aden, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and so on).

This inevitably creates a sense of resentment amongst the people of all newly freed countries and keeps alive strong suspicion and a sense of resentment and also an eagerness to free themselves from all remnants of foreign domination by fighting against all forms of the latter ...

The appeal that nationalism still has in the minds of the people of these countries, however, also provides an opportunity for the ruling classes to utilise the nationalism of the masses for their own selfish class ends, to reinforce their domination over the masses and to hold them down under their heels. By an appeal to the national sentiment the ruling classes seek to blur the line of class division and suppress all just demands of the common masses for larger political rights and economic betterment. The composition of the ruling classes in different countries being uneven due to their uneven socio-economic and historical developments, the political form through which their independence has been realised vary from country to country – from feudal autocracy, landlord/bourgeois militarist dictatorships to capitalist rule through a bourgeois-democratic parliamentary form of government. But in every country different variations of the national and patriotic sentiment come in handy for the feudal as well as the bourgeois-capitalist ruling class (as the case may be in a particular country) to hold down the demands of the common people.

But nevertheless in view of this constant neo-colonialist economic and political manoeuvres of the bigger imperialist powers, and also in view of the fact that all vestiges of imperialist domination have not disappeared altogether, it would be a basic mistake not to take into account the potent force and mass appeal of nationalism while considering the political developments of these countries.

Even in India where the ruling class is formed by the bourgeoisie in the main (in alliance with capitalist landlords and feudal princes transformed into capitalists), with a fairly advanced industrial and economic base of capitalism, the powerful appeal of nationalism to move the masses has not been exhausted. It still retains the character of a mass bourgeois democratic movement against the threat of any kind of foreign domination or against the threat of foreign aggression whatever may be the quarter from which that threat comes.

This is not the only aspect or the principal aspect of the matter about the politics of these newly independent Afro-Asian countries which the Marxists are called upon to take into consideration in determining their programme in respect of these countries.

The class contradiction between the ruling classes and the toilers – working people in fields and factories, industrial workers, lower middle classes, poor peasantry and agricultural labourers etc., works against any artificial concept of national cohesion and solidarity imposed from above. The intensity of these class contradictions, however, depend on the degree of capitalist development on modern lines.

Secondly, it should be remembered that the working classes and the mass of the toilers may themselves be simultaneously swayed by intense feelings of opposition against economic exploitation and oppression by the privileged classes of their own nation and also by national sentiments of opposition against imperialism and foreign aggression. It has to be borne in mind that even in the Communist ruled countries of East Asia – People’s China included – the Communist parties could come to power only on the crest of national mass upsurges against foreign imperialism or imperialist backed native reactionaries like Chiang Kai-shek etc.

Whatever be the degree of intensity with which anti capitalist class struggle manifests itself in these countries, the working people and toiling masses at large are bound to be swayed by patriotic national sentiments even when they fight against the ruling capitalist class.

Nationalism, anti-imperialism and the striving of the poverty-stricken masses towards a more just and equitable social order, these are the three major forces which set the general direction and broad pattern of the political developments in these countries.

We have already stated that all these countries are passing though a more or less historic transition phase through the bourgeois democratic stage of social transformation towards socialism and toilers’ rule. They are a sort of widely spread-out chain of buffers between imperialist-capitalist West and the non-capitalist or socialist east. They have just thrown off their colonial fetters and are undergoing the process of realising national and bourgeois democratic freedom in various measures. And many of them have started moving forward beyond the limits set by capitalist property relationships in the direction of socialism and rule of toilers. Many have not; but the pressure of class and mass forces which impel a movement in that direction is already there ...

Looked at from that class point of view, the national defence efforts of the India bourgeoisie in the present India-China conflict have a dual aspect. They see it – and also hold it up before the masses – as a projection of the old national struggle for independence and also as a struggle for defending independent national statehood of India. But so long as they conduct this war in their own way, it is also good business for them. That is why they always seek to direct the spontaneous national upsurge of the masses on lines of an uncritical and hysterical national chauvinism, so that they can easily persuade the people (on the plea of ‘national danger’, ‘ threat to freedom’ etc.) to support the idea of a closer political and military alignment with ‘democratic’ Western powers against ‘Communist’ China and throw the previous inhibitions arising out of feigned non-alignment with power blocs to the winds.

It will be impossible for us to arrive at a correct Marxist understanding and appraisal of the national defence policy of the bourgeoisie without taking both the above mentioned aspects of that policy into consideration from the proper historical perspective. To the extent the bourgeoisie come forward to mobilise the people into the national struggle for the defence of the political independence and territorial integrity of India against foreign aggression and keep the country out of all subservience and dependence on imperialist-capitalist powers of the West, they act consistently with the traditions of the nation al anti-imperialist struggle of earlier days. But to the extent the Indian bourgeoisie as the ruling class in the present-day national state of India seeks to use (as it must, impelled by their selfish class interests) the slogan of national defence as a cloak to intensify the exploitation of the toiling people, to consolidate its class rule, the bourgeois slogan of ‘national defence’ degenerates into a plea for the defence of capitalist class rule against the basic interests of the toilers.

If we take both aspects of the national defence policy of the bourgeoisie and give them due weight from a correct historical perspective, it will be easily understood why in the current Sino-Indian conflict we cannot straight away take a ‘defeatist’ stand as called for by IS, in the same manner in which revolutionary Marxists took a ‘defeatist’ line of programme under Lenin’s slogan of turning the imperialist war into a civil war during the first and second imperialist world wars. But it is also clear at the same time, that we cannot take an uncritical and unconditional support to the so-called national defence policies of the bourgeoisie, as the Praja Socialists and Lohia Socialists have done, without taking into account the selfish and unscrupulous manner in which the slogan of national defence is utilised by the bourgeoisie to intensify the exploitation of the masses, to consolidate their class rule and to force the country into an alliance with imperialist camp. There can hardly be any manner of doubt that to the extent the bourgeoisie proceeds along this road we must expose and fight their policies to the bitter end ...

It is undoubtedly true that ion the main question of national defence in the context of the Sino-Indian conflict, our support to the national defence efforts of India means offering to support the war preparations of a bourgeois state. Does this not mean in effect a support to the government of the capitalists and allied vested interests, whatever may be our reservations and criticism about this or that aspect of its defence policy? From that point cannot our basic support to defence efforts of ruling capitalist class be interpreted as switching our allegiance to the exploiters of the people?

We think, no. this is because of two reasons.

We have already pointed out the historical reasons which make the struggle for national defence even under the bourgeoisie a broad movement of the democratic masses in post-colonial Asian and African countries. Besides, we believe that it is quite permissible for Marxists to support the defence efforts even of bourgeois states against outside aggression, in certain stages of their historical development and in certain specific international circumstances, from the point of view of the practical interests of the development of the working class movement.

In the particular passage of the article in the December issue of The Call with which IS has found fault, we merely sought to enumerate some of the conditions in relation to India. We do not think – as the IS Editors seem to – that India is well on the way to becoming an imperialist country and is already displaying imperialist tendencies. We think a country like India which has thrown off imperialist shackles only recently, where the national sentiment amongst the masses is still powerful, a capitalist country which has not yet become an imperialist country (in our view its dependence on foreign capital for financing its plans of development and industrialisation sufficiently prove that it has not reached the imperialist stage as yet) and which has not openly allied itself (say like Thailand, Malaya, Pakistan etc.) with Western imperialist powers, is a state which can be and should be supported in its national defence efforts against foreign aggression.

This principle applies with greater force in a case where the political repercussions of that foreign aggression tend to strengthen the reactionary right-wing elements inside the country vis-à-vis its working class. This is exactly what Chinese aggression has done in its reaction on the internal balance of political forces in India. The instance of Kashmir and Nagaland in our view do not prove the imperialist tendencies on the part of the Indian state. It proves just the opposite viz the conspiracy of imperialist big powers like Britain and the US to provoke national conflicts amongst the newly independent powers by fomenting an encouraging disruptionist and centrifugal tendencies within the body politic of these countries.

So far as India and China are concerned neither of them are imperialist-capitalist countries. India has been since independence a capitalist, bourgeois democratic country with all limitations of a belated and retarded development of capitalism. People’s China is a non-capitalist country which is proceeding towards a collectivist economy through bureaucratic state capitalism. The dominance of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois bureaucratic elements both in the state and in the ruling Communist Party has ended this new state towards national Chauvinism, in spite of professions of a socialist goal. We do not, therefore, regard china as a socialist state I the true meaning of the term socialism. This chauvinism is an outcome of the ideology of Great Han nationalism which ha dominated the minds of the Chinese bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie in recent times. It has manifested itself not only in the external relations of People’s China, but also in regard to the treatment of national minorities like Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, etc. the internal imbalances of Chinese society and state structure which produces this chauvinism was bound some day or other to bring it into conflict with neighbouring states. The clashes that China had with Indonesia over the control over overseas Chinese (mostly traders and money lenders) in that country only a few years back, for instance, was an expression of this chauvinism.

The six year old border dispute with India is another instance of this trend. As IS expressed it, less than two years back,

‘A border dispute with India is manufactured and inflated to threatening proportions although the tracts in question mean nothing strategically and little in any other way’ (although we are afraid the IS opinion about the strategic insignificance of the NEFA and Ladakh would not be shared by many).

The present Sino-Indian conflict is the inevitable result of the ‘manufactured conflict’. it has produced political repercussions in India which go against the basic interests of the working people and place it at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the bourgeoisie.

What line Indian working class is to take up in the present situation? The twofold repercussion of Chinese aggression on India has produced on one side an unprecedented national mass upsurge and at the same time it has strengthened as never before the most reactionary rightwing pro-imperialist, pro-West elements among the capitalists and other vested interests. The only correct course under these circumstances for Marxists and the socialist vanguard of working class in India, would be, in the opinion of the RSP, to seek to identify itself with the national upsurge against foreign aggression and to isolate the reactionary elements of the bourgeoisie, to proceed stage by stage to an exposure of the selfish class policies of the ruling bourgeoisie and to develop the class struggle against them. This will certainly involve taking up a ‘defencist’ attitude as against Chinese aggression. But this ‘defencism’ is fundamentally different from the ‘defencism’ of ‘social democracy’ at the time of the imperialist wars. The ‘defencism’ for which the RSP pleads leads to the further development of class struggle against the bourgeoisie, while the social chauvinistic and pro-imperialist ‘defencism’ of Social democrats at the time of the imperialist war led to the smothering of class struggle and surrender to the imperialist bourgeoisie ...

This revolutionary ‘defencism’ (defending a bourgeois state in the ultimate interests of revolutionary class struggle) is quite consistent with the revolutionary traditions of Marxism. The IS Editors make much of a ‘Marxist tradition and Marxist method of analysis’. But they may not be unaware that not only in relation to national movements against Czarist Russia and Hapsburg Austria-Hungary, that Marx, Engels, Lenin accorded their support. Both Marx and Engels in their day advised the German working class to support Prussian War of 1870. There was no question of their regarding Prussianism and Prussian monarchy as being ‘more progressive’ compared to the ‘Bonapartism’ of Napoleon III, or the latter as ‘more reactionary’ compared to the former.

They criticised Liebknecht for being blinded by his fanatical opposition to Bismarck and Pruussianism to forget that the slogan of ‘defence of the fatherland’ could be better utilised by socialists for the development of class struggle in Germany than a frontal opposition to the war efforts of the Prussian state ... The fundamental criterion is not an imaginary and abstract struggle for international socialism, but the concrete, practical method by which the political interests of the working class in the concrete historical and political circumstances in which it finds itself in a particular country can be furthered and revolutionary class struggle carried forward. The ‘enemy at home’ must be fought, not merely in theory, but in practice and that is the task in which the RSP is engaged.

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