Thomas Mathew REVOLUTIONARY THEORY AND PRACTICE IN THE NEW ERA OF IMPERIALISM Appreciation of Sheo Mangal Siddhantkar’s books
"New Era of Imperialism and New Proletarian Revolution"
"New Proletarian Thought: Political, Ideological & Philosophical" New Proletarian Publications has brought out two books under the above titles, mainly compilation of Sheo Mangal Siddhantkar’s writings and speeches on the specific features of the new era of imperialism that distinguishes it from imperialism, as defined and theorized by Lenin. In briefest possible terms, imperialism has been defined as the monopoly stage of capitalism, state monopoly capitalism, moribund capitalism and also as parasitic, rentier capitalism and decadent capitalism. Lenin elucidated, “ without forgetting the conditional and relative value of all definitions in general, which can never embrace all the concatenations of a phenomenon in its full development, we must give a definition of imperialism that will include the following five of its basic features:
i) The concentration of production and capital has developed to such a high stage that it has created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life;
ii) The merging of bank capital with industrial capital and the creation on the basis of this “finance capital”, of a financial oligarchy;
iii) The export of capital as distinguished from export of commodities acquires exceptional importance;
iv) The formation of international monopolist capitalist associations which share the world among themselves, and
v) The territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed.”
In the precise terms of Lenin, “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts have begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed”. Lenin perceptively adds that ‘the above definition is limited to purely economic concepts and imperialism must be defined differently by taking into account the historical place of this stage of capitalism in relation to capitalism in general or the relation between imperialism and the two main trends in the working class movement’.
Siddhantkar marks the beginning of the new era of imperialism from the Yalta conference, which was held towards the end of the Second World War. It should be noted that Lenin wrote his thesis on imperialism during the First World War. Inter-imperialist rivalry was the prime reason for the War. But by the time of the Second World War, the world situation had undergone drastic changes and the epochal changes included the victory of Bolshevik revolution and rise of Fascism in Europe. The Great Depression also necessitated ‘New Deal’ economics, militarization and war. As the weakest link in the imperialist chain witnessed proletarian revolution, one of the strongest centres of imperialism decayed into Fascism. While Stalin faced imperialist machinations with the ‘Non-aggression Pact’ with Germany, Fascism and Militarism ended up by conceding further victory for socialism, not only in Europe but in Asia as well. The Second World War cannot, therefore, be considered as yet another inter-imperialist war. The balance of forces had changed. And the modalities of imperialism also changed.
Lenin had characterized imperialism as the stage when the “division of the world among international trusts had begun” and the “territorial division of the world among world’s biggest capitalist countries had been completed”. Rise of Soviet Union and socialist construction was the major factor which contributed to the Great Depression, ‘New Deal’, World War and the Yalta consensus on re-division of the world market on socialist and capitalist lines. This division continued all through the Cold War era. The new factor which tended to alter the balance of forces in the Cold War era was the rise of the OPEC, which started control of major sources of energy. It was at this point of time that Nixon visited China and Communist China became a permanent member of the UN Security Council in the place of Kuomintang China. With the defeat of the American forces in Vietnam, the dimensions of the Cold War also changed and the focus shifted to monopolization of the world market sans divisions.
The oil crisis and debt crisis which severely affected the capitalist-imperialist world was sought to be dealt with by the Washington consensus which laid the foundation for the new era of globalization. The hallmark of the consensus was that the under-developed countries would shift the production base from primary products basically to manufactures and services tradable in the developed world market. The fact that the Information Technology (IT) revolution coincided with the end of the Cold War also contributed to the new reordering of the world economy. The IT revolution facilitated mobility of capital, and human resources far and wide, undermining the national and welfare aspects of the nation states in general. The epochal change that took place in the last quarter of the twentieth century also marked the end of the old system of territorial division of the world as separate spheres of influence of developed capitalist countries. End of Apartheid also marked the end of decolonization in the conventional sense of the term. This is the process which Siddhantkar notes as characteristic of the new era of imperialism as monopoly without territorial division of the world among imperialist powers.
The other characteristic feature of imperialism which Lenin noted, namely the process of division of the world among international trusts, which had “just begun” at that time, also became complete after the Second World War and all pervasive with the IT revolution and the WTO system. While the Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) with their global reach facilitated the global technological sweep, the IT revolution enabled monopolistically controlled mobility of capital, labour, goods and services alike. WTO provided the mechanism for this transformation. The very nature of MNCs, their modalities and system of hegemony established and nurtured under the Brettenwoods institutions like the IMF, World Bank as also the WTO system, gives credence to the idea of Multi-national imperialism, as the defining formulation of the new era. The author refers to the decline of the socio-economic and cultural institutions as also the UN system itself and the rise of Brettenwoods institutions and the NATO and also the “coalition of the willing” and invocation of even the “will of God” and the crusade metaphor while perpetrating imperialist aggression on Iraq.
The author takes note of the Indian capital’s apparent ‘love-hate’ relation with global monopoly capital, from the very initial stages of its formation to the present. He characterizes the Indian state as an imperialist junior partner. This is the formulation that distinguishes the author from the general ‘grist of the mill’ analyses of Marxist-Leninist formations in India. In this regard, it would be pertinent to refer to Lenin’s remarks while concluding his analysis of imperialism. Lenin admitted that his analysis was based on purely economic factors and imperialism will have to be redefined by taking into account the political factors, including the historical place of that particular stage of capitalism in relation to capitalism in general and the relation of imperialism with two trends in the working class movement. He referred to the two trends in the working class movement in his thesis on “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”. What he meant was that imperialism caused an ideological split in the world working class movement. He referred to the national chauvinist trend, among workers of the imperialist countries, which sided with the imperialist nations in the inter-imperialist First World War. The other trend was the proletarian internationalist line. He also asserts that the imperialist state is a rentier-cum-parasitic state. Lenin, in fact, anticipated the rise of Fascism as the manifestation of the economic and political-ideological aspects of imperialism, including the national chauvinist trend within the workers movement.
The division in the Indian Left should also be seen in the above light. The Indian Left in general concedes concessions to the ruling class while characterizing it as national, bourgeois, patriotic bourgeois, bourgeois-landlord, autonomous bourgeois, dependent capitalist, comprador etc., Some Marxist- Leninists even argue that China is imperialist and that India is neo-colonial or subservient to imperialism. In Siddhantkar’s formulation, India is attributed the position of a junior partner of US-led imperialism, a position akin to that of the United Kingdom. He tends to suggest that due consideration of the role of the Indian state in the past and present as also the nature and extent of the internal and external relations of exploitation and subjugation and strategic partnership with imperialism would qualify India to be the most important strategic partner and economic base of imperialism. This formulation emphatically rejects all the Left formulations which attribute national character to the Indian state and ruling class. This is where Lenin’s idea of linking imperialism with the two trends in the working class movement becomes relevant. While the national chauvinist trend, generally, identify with the imperialist offensive against the people, the proletarian internationalist line would identify with the peoples movements of resistance, empowerment and liberation, inside and outside the nation-state boundaries.
In this context, it would be interesting to look at the debate within the CPM on the approach to the Indo-US nuclear deal. The apparent division within the CPI (M) on the approach to the Indo-US nuclear deal would appear to be this kind of a split between national chauvinism and internationalism. However, a close scrutiny would expose the hollowness of both the lines within the CPI (M). The official response of the CPI (M) to the Nuclear Deal was quite vague. Their opposition was half-hearted that they adopted a position that the civil nuclear deal was not a big disaster as compared to the strategic alliance which India entered with the US. And their emphasis was on exposing the strategic alliance rather than opposing and preventing the civil nuclear deal. But the national chauvinist sentiments were not satisfied with this formulation and the Left got the electoral drubbing from both the chauvinists and the working class forces as well.
The formulation about India as a junior partner of imperialism enables us to understand the pronounced manifestation of the rentier/parasitic and Fascist/Militaristic character of the Indian state. This characterization also exposes the militarization of the state as also the abdication of the welfare and social security functions of the state. For instance, the dominant line in CPM represents the national chauvinist tendency that reinforces imperialism and fascism. The other line only emphasized capitalism with human face. Prof. Siddhantkar suggests that in the new era of imperialism which is also the era of transition to socialism, only socialist orientation can provide human face to development. The conflict between these two lines of thought also reflects two tendencies within capitalism, at the same time, reflecting the epochal tendency of socialism existing in embryonic form within imperialism, which is transitional capitalism. The monopoly bourgeoisie and their representatives from Obama to Manmohan Singh also talk about capitalism with human face. In fact, Obama is the last human face of global monopoly capitalism. And Manmohan is the last mask of capitalist-imperialism in India.
Siddhantkar’s analysis and formulation about the new era of imperialism is even more significant that he does not see the breakup of the Soviet Union and the opening up of China as major setbacks for the march of the world working class towards socialism and communism. He broadly sees both these developments as manifestations of the fundamental urge of the advanced new-proletarian forces to compete with capitalism and chase moribund capitalism to its graveyard. He notes that social ownership of the means of production, particularly industrial and scientific production remains the mainstay of the societies in transition to socialism. As Mao pointed out, this transition is a kind of zigzag movement, involving several advances and setbacks. The general feeling of despondency prevalent among Marxist-Leninists is discounted. The virulent negation of the spectacular and historic achievements of proletarian revolutions, from both sides of the ideological divide, is also rejected by this analysis. Imperialists and their publicists, apologists and the monopoly media talk about the uni-polar world and the assertion of the fundamental tendency of capital to concentrate wealth and economic power under monopolistic structures of economic political and military power. The chauvinists and the timid lament the invincibility and resilience of capitalism. The post-modernists declare the end of ideology and history. But, new-proletarian thought takes note of the decadence and parasitism that is characteristic of imperialism and the objective conditions engendering countervailing forces of resistance and revolution. Taking the cue from Lenin, Siddhantkar extends the sweep of proletarian internationalism and anti-imperialism to the global plane as well as the national, sub-national and even the local community level as also the enterprise and factory and workplace level as well. He calls for declaration of independence not only by national/ethnic formations, but also by class and mass forces wherever possible. As Lenin called for civil wars against imperialist war, the call here is for people’s war against imperialist state aggression against the peoples of the world, where strategic partner states like India are doing the imperial bidding.
Further, in the new situation, it is noted that the conventional allies of the democratic revolution have undergone drastic changes and the social class categories of the new era are different. One major change is that, with the current stage of globalization characterized by integration of the capitalist imperialist market, the old class category of national bourgeoisie has become effete. The peasantry which was the principal ally of the working class has also undergone major changes in different socio-economic and cultural political situations. While in China and other socialist countries, the peasantry made rapid strides under socialist construction and the Islamic peasant masses offer stiff resistance to imperialism, the Indian peasantry too offers resistance and opposition to imperialist onslaughts in their own ways.
The signal contribution of Siddhantkar is the formulation of the concept of new proletarians and characterization of the new era of imperialism as the era of new proletarian revolution. The conception of new proletariat is mainly about the technical managerial proletariat. It is not the old concept of intelligentsia, which was considered to be part of the petty bourgeoisie as a class. The working class or the vanguard class is redefined to constitute the rural proletariat or semi-proletariat including the poor peasants and artisan and agricultural workers, and the workers in the organized, unorganized, formal and informal workers and the new proletarians, mainly the technical-managerial category as also women, particularly in the Indian context where they generally and traditionally does not own property and domestic work is not accounted for. About the technical personnel it has been theorized elsewhere that the scientist or technician who make inventions and products like software or hardware are deprived of the products when the Corporations expropriates the intellectual property end obtains patent for the product in the corporate account. In that sense, such technical workers are intellectual proletarians, whose products and property are alienated from them. Unlike the semi-proletarians, the new proletariat is more conscious of the exploitation and the extent of surplus transfer in their case is so enormous that the cost of production of such upgraded labour power is borne by the previous generation and the remuneration package does not include any amount for the subsistence of the parents of the technical worker. IT-enabled services generally involves such huge exploitation of surplus from the individual technicians and the society and community, irrespective of the fact whether they are employed in the in the home country or foreign country by domestic or foreign companies of multi-national character or domestic character.
It may be noted that the leading elements of radical Islam fighting imperialism belong to this category of technicians and professionals. Siddhantkar’s formulation also makes the significant suggestion that the mechanistic fallacies of Marxist practice shall be overcome by incorporating the spiritual aspects of humanity’s great cultural heritage. Mao had invoked the moral and spiritual elements in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Ambedkar attributed the setbacks suffered by Soviet socialism, even in Stalin’s time, to the lack of spiritual aspects in western communist practice He suggested that Buddhism could give the answer to the problems faced by communism in practice. Ambedlar established Neo-Buddhism in the twentieth century and presaged the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which redefined the perspective of world revolution.
The author reiterates that the Chinese are still following the ‘Four Modernizations’ strategy of Mao’s period. And as a modern nation state they are doing the best that is possible in the stage of transition to socialism. Effective competition to imperialism may be the best they can do in the given situation. But the lessons of the Cultural Revolution may perhaps be more relevant for countries like India where imperialist culture has merged with the anti-human consciousness of India’s hereditary ruling classes. In the new era of imperialism, it is not just the global market and economy that have merged and integrated. We may recall that Indian capital grew under the fostering care of capitalism, specifically in its imperialist phase. Just as colonialism and imperialism involved the merger and reinforcement of the culture and consciousness of untouchability, exclusion and alienation, the new era of imperialism is marked by the flourishing of all these cultural-ideological traits. Again, the most significant lesson of the Cultural Revolution is the emphasis on the salience of ideological struggle as central to proletarian revolution, whatever the stage of revolution. In the new era of imperialism, the intellectual proletariat or the new proletarians shall lead the ideological offensive, alongside the vanguard forces and the toiling masses in particular.
“New Proletarian Thought” is an authentic effort to develop theory in the crucible of practice. An important advance, in theoretical praxis here, is the distinction which the author has drawn between socialist revolution and proletarian revolution. According to him, it is not correct to say that Russia or China had socialist revolutions. The key element of both these revolutions was that the proletariat led the democratic revolution and started socialist construction and re-construction of the society, economy and polity. This is a significnt summation of the unending debate among Marxist-Leninists on the restoration of capitalism in Soviet Union and China. He asserts that Russia, China and other countries like Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba are all in the stage of transition to socialism. This formulation fits into the Leninist characterization of the present era as the era of transition from capitalism to socialism.
Another significant contribution of ‘New Proletarian Thought’ is the addition of certain new component parts to Marxism. Lenin had identified, dialectical and historical materialism or the world view of the proletariat, critique of British political economy and the concept of political revolution elborated in "Paris Commune" as three component parts of Marxism. The author adds the Soviet revolutionary praxis as the fourth component and the Chinese revolutionary experience as the fifth component of Marxism; and suggests the new proletarian revolutionary praxis as the new component taking shape in the new era of imperialism and new proletarian revolution.
The author takes the cue from Lenin and Mao and reiterates the method of application of the dialectical and historical materialist conception to the concrete situation obtaining at different points of time and space. He rejects the general Marxist- Leninist perception that ‘Maoism is the Marxism-Leninism of this era’. Even Mao would have but agreed. The line of argument is akin to Mao’s approach in the Critique of Soviet Economics. Mao rejected the approach of starting with Marx’s political economy principles while dealing with problems of Soviet economics. Siddhantkar also drives in the point that we should not be tied down to the ‘real thought’ of Lenin contained in the “Era of Imperialism & Proletarian Revolution”. The assertion is that “men’s relations of production determine the guiding principles” of revolution. The production relations have undergone drastic changes since Lenin’s time. And the basic features of imperialism which Lenin identified in the early stages of imperialism need updating. Further, the updating shall also involve the inclusion of the political-ideological aspects, which Lenin himself had desired to be incorporated into a comprehensive definition of imperialism. This is what is done in the book.
It is reiterated that dialectical and historical materialism is the world view of the working class. It is re-asserted that the internationalist new proletariat that is composed of stratas from semi-proletarians to the new proletarians would develop theory and praxis that is possible only in authentic working class practice. The author makes the assertion, quite uncharacteristic of conventional Marxist-Leninists, that in the new era, communist revolutionary praxis is possible with different perspectives. Further, he makes the point that the concept of democratic centralism should be allowed to regain its original essence as practiced by the Bolshevik Party in Lenin’s time. The author has in fact developed the concept of the right to legitimate opposition within the party. This concept, which Siddhantar has put into practice, resolves the question of dealing with dissent, two-line struggle and contradiction between different tendencies in the Communist Party. He advocates the theory and practice of "unity on uncommonness" within the party and beyond. These are not antagonistic class-ideological contradictions, but contradictions of that nature which Mao called 'contradictions among the people'.
The most important point of departure in "New Proletarian Thought" is the historical imperative of the unity of all the non-parasitic classes and working class masses, including the intellectual proletariat in the new proletarian revolution. Here, the strategic alliance of proletarian revolution is being redefined, beyond the shadow of the old concept of 'new democratic revolution' developed in the Chinese context. It has been a moot question among the Marxist-Leninists in India as to whether the strategic allies of the democratic revolution could be part of the Communist Parties. Siddhnatkar’s reformulation of new proletariat is in fact based on the Leninist shift in the nature of global class contradiction in terms of parasitic classes versus non-parasitic classes, as indicated in Lenin’s essay on imperialism. In India, again, many Marxist-Leninist groups, with their roots in the intellectual proletariat, had largely failed to understand the role of the rural proletariat in the revolutionary process. The new proletarian vision resolves these confusions and put forward the concept of "Peoples’ Front" in all nationality formations in India, under the leadership of internationalist proletarian forces. Thus the 'party' concept and the 'united front' concept are redefined in the new era of imperialism. The distinguishing character of the present era is that all kinds of democratic revolutions, whether national, anti-feudal, anti-colonial or anti-monopoly would be led by the proletariat and with the new proletarian ideology in command. Thus we may call it the era of new proletarian revolution.