Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Statement in Support of the Demand for the Repeal of the Blasphemy law in Pakistan

We are deeply concerned by the recent blasphemy(?) related incidents in Gojra, Pakistan and other places where many innocent people were subjected to unabashed brutality and devastation.  The laws have specifically made minorities vulnerable but have also been used against people of the Muslim majority and several cases of public lynching and mob violence are incited on the premise of blasphemy
The recent deadly attacks on a Christian community in Punjab, Pakistan, whose members were accused of desecrating the Qur'an has raised an urgent demand for the abrogation of the law. Members of a banned Islamist group, Sipah-i-Sahaba, took the law into their own hands and it is reported that policeperson present did not try to control the mob and protect the citizens.
This violence was precipitated by an event at a wedding in the Korian village on 24 July 2009, when a few Muslims accused three Christians of tearing paper with Quranic verses. Muslim and Christian community leaders stepped in to resolve this conflict and requested that the accused apologise. However, on 30 July, the mosques of Korian and nearby villages began spreading the allegation of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of about 3,000 people descended on Korian, and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burnt Christians’ houses. As the rumour of this blasphemy proliferated, the hostility towards Christians escalated in the district.
On the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) led a procession against the alleged desecration and approached the Christian colony. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men, attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the residents’ belongings were taken and two churches were ransacked.
This draconian law is an outcome of the Islamicisation process of the Pakistan Penal Code by General Zia ul Haq under the the pretext of defending the honour of the holy Quran, the holy prophet, his wives and other holy personages of Islam. The amended order, known as the Blashpemy Laws, has become a convenient means to nurture the atmosphere of religious intolerance and to settle personal scores, because of its ambiguity and provision to arrest people without prior permission of a magistrate.
Due to the elusiveness of the Blasphemy Laws, both Muslims and non-Muslims suffer. Indeed, in many recorded cases of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, police and local authorities have failed to act effectively despite prior warning of communal tensions. People are victims of false allegations of blasphemy, often on the word of just one witness. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986.
The Blasphemy Laws, especially Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been used and misused, in the words of Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “… It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with.” Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimise their violence.
We are in solidarity and support the Pakistani human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities calling Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws which have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries.
We are deeply concerned by the recent blasphemy(?) related incidents in Gojra, Pakistan and other places where many innocent people were subjected to unabashed brutality and devastation.  The laws have specifically made minorities vulnerable but have also been used against people of the Muslim majority and several cases of public lynching and mob violence are incited on the premise of blasphemy
The recent deadly attacks on a Christian community in Punjab, Pakistan, whose members were accused of desecrating the Qur'an has raised an urgent demand for the abrogation of the law. Members of a banned Islamist group, Sipah-i-Sahaba, took the law into their own hands and it is reported that policeperson present did not try to control the mob and protect the citizens.
This violence was precipitated by an event at a wedding in the Korian village on 24 July 2009, when a few Muslims accused three Christians of tearing paper with Quranic verses. Muslim and Christian community leaders stepped in to resolve this conflict and requested that the accused apologise. However, on 30 July, the mosques of Korian and nearby villages began spreading the allegation of Christians desecrating the Quran, inciting attack on Christians. That evening, a mob of about 3,000 people descended on Korian, and demanded that those accused of desecrating the Quran be handed over to them. Out of a fear for their own safety the Christians ran away while the mob looted property and burnt Christians’ houses. As the rumour of this blasphemy proliferated, the hostility towards Christians escalated in the district.
On the morning of 1st August, the local Ulema (Muslim legal scholars) led a procession against the alleged desecration and approached the Christian colony. In the afternoon, the mob, led by some armed and masked men, attacked the colony and set fire to 68 houses. Six Christians, including four women and one child, were burnt alive, Mr. Hameed Masih, one of the accused, was shot, the residents’ belongings were taken and two churches were ransacked.
This draconian law is an outcome of the Islamicisation process of the Pakistan Penal Code by General Zia ul Haq under the the pretext of defending the honour of the holy Quran, the holy prophet, his wives and other holy personages of Islam. The amended order, known as the Blashpemy Laws, has become a convenient means to nurture the atmosphere of religious intolerance and to settle personal scores, because of its ambiguity and provision to arrest people without prior permission of a magistrate.
Due to the elusiveness of the Blasphemy Laws, both Muslims and non-Muslims suffer. Indeed, in many recorded cases of violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, police and local authorities have failed to act effectively despite prior warning of communal tensions. People are victims of false allegations of blasphemy, often on the word of just one witness. According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan, 960 individuals have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986.
The Blasphemy Laws, especially Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, have been used and misused, in the words of Hina Jilani, a lawyer with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan “… It's a tool to be used against anyone you are in conflict with.” Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws. The Blasphemy Laws are not only a convenient provision for the religious extremists to eliminate their enemies and intimidate civilians, but also for criminals to legitimise their violence.
We are in solidarity and support the Pakistani human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities calling Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws which have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries.

Globalization, and its impact in India: Some dimensions

Kunal Chattopadhyay


Reading the English language press in India, as well as writings in the international media, one would have to believe that till 1991, there was a socialist economy in the country. This is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject. Not that it is the most serious academic resource, but for millions of people checking the internet, this is the first thing that they will see on the subject. “ The economy of India was under socialism-based policies for an entire generation from the 1950s until the 1980s. The economy was characterized by extensive regulation, protectionism, and public ownership, leading to pervasive corruption and slow growth. Since 1991, the ongoing economic liberalization has moved India towards a capitalist market economy. It has created millions of better paying jobs and a fast-growing middle class” .

This is an ideological posturing, in order to attack all state control in favour of all out privatization with no controls. In order to cut through the myth, let me briefly discuss the nature of the Indian economy between independence and 1991.

The nationalist movement in India had won hegemony in the struggles by arguing that with the exception of a few small layers, like the big landlords and the bureaucrats, who were the collaborators of the British rulers, all classes stood to benefit by first uniting to remove British rule from India. So independence, from an early stage, meant a socio-economic agenda, not just the substitution of a particular set of rulers. As a part of this promise, there was much talk of planning. However, this was not entirely something that Indian capitalists opposed. In 1944, with India on the verge of independence, a group of industrialists that included Tata, Birla and other notables such as Purshottamdas Thakurdas, A.D. Shroff and Kasturbhai Lalbhai came up with a document called A Brief Memorandum Outlining a Plan of Economic Development for India—also known, famously, as the Bombay Plan. In this, instead of arguing for free markets, they made a case for massive state involvement in the economy.  In 1948, immediately after Independence, Government introduced the Industrial Policy Resolution. This outlined the approach to industrial growth and development. It emphasized the importance to the economy of securing a continuous increase in production and ensuring its equitable distribution. The Industrial Policy Resolution of 1948 was followed by the Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956 which had as its objective the acceleration of the rate of economic growth and the speeding up of industrialization. In 1956, capital was scarce and the base of entrepreneurship not strong enough. Hence, the 1956 Industrial Policy Resolution gave primacy to the role of the State to assume a predominant and direct responsibility for industrial development.

In other words, the growth of the public sector was designed to ensure that wherever private capital did not have the resources, the state would step in. During the 1970s, the nationalization of private Indian banks resulted in deeper penetration of banking capital into the countryside, leading to tapping hitherto untouched rural wealth.  The state sector built infrastructure, low profit heavy industry, at a time when private capital did not have the ability, and kept out foreign capital by its protectionist wall. At the same time, the development of a Public Distribution System meant some amount of subsidies on one hand for peasants, from whom food grain was purchased at a relatively higher procurement price, as well as for the urban poor and middle classes, who got the food grain at a lower price. State subsidized fertilizer, pesticide, and transport also played an important role, so that by the late 1980s, per capita food grain production had gone up to about 180 kilogrammes. This did not mean that poverty had disappeared from India, but famines, that had stalked rural India throughout the colonial era, did disappear for some time.

However, by the early 1980s, Indian capitalism had become stronger, thanks to the policies that had been pursued. The Indian big bourgeoisie now wanted privatization, the opening up of the economy to international trade, and at the same time, in order to compete with powerful international capital, the gutting of the limited laws that protected labour and the environment. The existence of powerful trade unions in both blue collar and white collar sectors made this a difficult project, as did, at the political level, the existence of sizeable left wing parties and a federal structure that meant provincial governments had a degree of autonomy. The Rajiv Gandhi government in the mid-1980s began the process of economic liberalization , but despite the vast majority won by the Congress party in the elections, the early years, which also saw a variety of movements by intermediate castes, regional aspirations, as well as the most oppressed castes, all demanding more state action, were not very good for rapid liberalization. However, a number of changes had begun earlier. The defeat of the railway general strike, crushed by brute power in 1974, defeats of jute mill general strikes in West Bengal in the 1970s and 1980s, and the defeat of the Bombay textile strike of 1980-81, considerably weakened the blue collar workers movements and organizations. In textiles, the shift away from Bombay’s traditional mills to new mills in smaller towns, to mills in Ahmedabad, meant a restructuring of the workforce. The white collar unions did remain strong, which is a major factor behind the slow privatization of the finance sectors.

The period 1989-1991 saw a sudden swing and the onset of a rapid transition to globalization. There were three factors involved. First, an increased pressure from the Indian capitalist class. In a seminar organized by the Centre for European Studies, Jadavpur University, in 2001, where I debated Tapan Bhowmick, the then spokesperson of the Confederation of Indian Industries, Mr. Bhowmick strongly argued that in the case of India, it would be wrong to speak of globalization being imposed from outside. The industrialists were keen to change the nature of the Indian economy. Secondly, the crisis of 1989-91, involving the Tien an Men Square massacre, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in East Europe, and the crisis of the USSR, massively disoriented the Indian left and weakened its ability to fight for a period. This coincided with a massive balance of payments crisis, enabling governments, working in tandem with the IMF, to push through Structural Adjustment Programme. Finally, while a number of trade unions, peasant organizations, youth organizations, women’s organizations did unite to resist the onset of neoliberalism, this was brought to a halt by the end of 1992 using a line of political argument that is often called popular frontism. From 1987, a strongly Hindu sectarian rightwing party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the ultra-right current of which it is the electoral front (which is often called the Sangh family, after the ultimate authority, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh) had been carrying out a strongly communal fanatic campaign.  The central slogan through which it was carrying out its mobilizations was the call to build a temple by destroying a historic mosque, claiming that the mosque had been built by destroying a temple that marked the birth place of the mythical Hindu hero Rama.  In 1992, this radical right mobilization did succeed in destroying the mosque. At this point, the left parties, the Communist party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and their smaller allies, who led those 56 mass organizations, declared that in the face of this fascist threat, the campaign against globalization must be suspended and an anti-fascist block built.  In other words, they saw the RSS as fascist, a designation that is widely accepted in India. But from this designation, they went on to draw the cfonclusion that the struggle against fascism had to be waged by blunting the struggle against neoliberalism.

As a result, the next years saw first, the Congress government, though in a minority, pushing through the first stages of the IMF-world Bank WTO programmes. Then came a United Front government, in which the CPI actually participated, while the CPI(M) lent support from outside. This government’s finance minister was P. Chidambaram, whose first budget was describerd by Indian industrialists as a “dream budget”. Among his measures were abolishing the top tier of the graded income tax (the 40%) level, reducing other direct taxes, and carrying out privatization, but at a slightly slower pace. In less than two years this government collapsed, as the Congress withdrew its support from outside. This was followed by the victory of the national Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. In other words, the chosen strategy of the left to halt the forward march of the BJP had failed, while its acceptance of  liberalization with small sops to the workers and peasants saw the logic of liberalization brush aside the “social policies”, and a disappointed worker and peasant mass voting in a disjointed manner. The NDA regime lasted till 2004. During this period, it adopted a bellicose foreign policy, testing nuclear weapons, and surviving the economic sanctions that followed by a greater opening of the markets.

In 2004, the NDA had a very aggressive neoliberal electoral campaign, entitled India Shining. It assumed that the upper and comfortably placed middle classes alone mattered. As a result, the popular verdict went against it. Interestingly, in those provinces, like Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress had been in power and had followed a neoliberal policy, it too suffered set backs. The left, not so much for what it did but for what it said – that it would oppose neoliberalism – received its highest ever number of seats in the parliament: 61 out of 542. After the elections, however, once more in the name of stopping fascism, the left agreed to support a Congress led government, the United Progressive Alliance, and it finally broke with the UPA not over its economic policies, but over the Indo-US nuclear deal.  

A. The Impact of Globalization
This background history shows that regardless of which party or group of parties have been in power in India, the main contours of economic policy have not changed. It is necessary to look at the general consequences of that, before I turn specifically to the SEZs.
The first point to note is that the neoliberal agenda called for cutting down subsidies. The drastic reduction of agricultural subsidies contrasts remarkably with the US paying farmers not to cultivate land, or with tax cuts, tax holidays, and other hand outs for the rich. Credit to agriculture declined. The state procurement was no longer as supportive as in the past. At the same time, the more prosperous farmers were encouraged to move away from foodgrain production, and go for cash crop production. This meant that food grain production dropped rapidly, till in 2008, the per capita production was around 155 kilogrammes, or barely what it was in 1947.

From the beginning, it was argued that free market capitalism would mean a trickle down effect so that as growth rates went up the poor too would enjoy prosperity. The reality has been very different. The Indian parliament committed the country to a reduction of the fiscal deficit to under 3% by 2009. Since tax rates have been lowered, and military expenditure has gone up, the plainest way to cut fiscal deficit was, from the start, cutting subsidies for the workers and peasants. An immediate action was to shift from general public distribution to targeted public distribution. The poor were divided into two arbitrary groups, those Below Poverty Line, (BPL) and those above the poverty line. The result is, 70% of the Indian population currently lives in food insecurity. As the wealthy have no wish to buy from PDS shops, sub standard food is being distributed to the poor. This has led to food riots of a minor type.

The crisis of 1997 had not affected India as much as it affected other countries, since the Indian economy had been less open to foreign capital. It is different now. In 1989, export and import accounted for about 10% of the GDP, while currently it is over 40%. This has not meant wealth trickling down below. But this has meant making India more dependent on international trade and the impact of the crisis in more powerful economies. It has meant the loss of 700,000 jobs in textiles and 200,000 in the diamond, gem and jewelry industry. Minister of Commerce and industry, Kamal Nath has warned that by the end of June, 1.5 million jobs could be lost in export oriented industries. Meanwhile the acting finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was advocating cutting wages and working hours as a “humane” alternative to cutting jobs. In recent years, the stock market has been taken as the best indicator of the economy. In that case, the collapse from a high of 20863 to the current 10,000 plus, after a recovery from its low of a little over 8000, shows the effect of over-reliance on foreign institutional investors, and the impact of their dollars being pulled out when the US economic crisis became acute. In the same way, the fact that exports and imports now account for over 40% of the GDP means that international crises affect India to a far greater extent.

The growth of the economy, the booming sales figures and profits, had been based on a minority of the population. As I remarked, there had been no significant trickle down. Because the Indian population is huge, even 10-15 percent of it looks like a massive market. They drove the housing market, for example. They drove the market in cars, though in the case of India, the market in cars means adding to the oil import bill, adding to pollution, and creating a terrific congestion. Calcutta, for example, has just about 7 percent of its land for roads. Going for a model of development that depends on selling private cars instead of improving public transport, as has been done in recent years, means a serious environmental as well as long term economic crisis. A Jadavpur University team found out that in busy Gariahat junction in Calcutta, standing out one day for 8 hours is equivalent to smoking 30 cigarettes.

Generally, then, the growth that is talked about has been based on a minority. Its wealth has increased. But for the working class that has certainly not been the case. The liberalisation of 1991 was accompanied by a vigorous employer campaign for an 'Exit Policy', i.e. the right to hire and fire workers freely. This was resisted just as fiercely by trade unions, and temporarily withdrawn. However, dismissals and closures continued unabated throughout the decade. In Bombay alone, plants belonging to Ciba Geigy, Abbott Laboratories, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Hoechst, Boots, Boehringer-Mannheim and Parke-Davis were closed, demolishing some of the best jobs available anywhere in India, especially for women. Most of these were achieved by means of so-called Voluntary Retirement Schemes, which, however, contained a large element of intimidation and coercion combined with disinformation designed to create what workers called 'a fear psychosis’.

Employers thus demonstrated that they could get rid of their workforces even without any change in the law. Nonetheless, Indian employers in particular found it cumbersome to be obliged to negotiate a retirement compensation scheme with the union, or to obtain permission for closure or downsizing from the state government. They therefore mounted a systematic campaign to revise (a) the Contract Labour Act, especially Section 10, in order to remove all restrictions on the use of contract labour, and (b) the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Provision V B of the latter, introduced in 1976, specified that all units employing 300 or more workers would have to obtain permission from the state government before carrying out dismissals or closures, and this was made applicable to all units employing 100 workers or more in 1982.

Looking at the proportion of informal labour, one estimate puts it at 90.5 per cent in 1972-73, 90.1 per cent in 1987-88, and 91.1 per cent in 1993-94  . The total labour force was 314.13 million in the 1991 census while the Economic Survey 1997-98 estimated the labour force as being 397.2 million in 1997. According to the Statistical Outline of India 1998-99, employment in the organised sector, in millions, rose from 26.73 in 1991 to 28.25 in 1997, so the proportion of (permanent) employees in the organised sector declined from 8.5 per cent to 7.1 per cent in the period 1991-97. Finally, it was estimated that organised sector employment fell from 8 per cent of total employment in 1994 to 7 per cent in 1999-2000 (Economic Times 2000).  

As a result, it is fair to say that globalization has not improved the conditions of the bulk of the labour force, just as it has actually worsened the conditions of the bulk of the rural poor. However, it is at this point that I want to look at the most recent thrust – the call to build special Economic zones. This represents, on one hand, a response to what little legal protection any sector of the working class has, and on the other hand, as response to all environment protection laws and regulations that put the slightest barrier to the accumulation of capital.

B. The Development of SEZs
The name and the concept were borrowed directly from the Chinese. The policy prescription is simple – set up a development zone with the entire infrastructure, offer fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, (income tax concessions, exemption from custom and import duties, and so on), ensure that bureaucratic hassles do not come in the way (no custom clearance required, automatic foreign direct investment or FDI approval, ignore environment and labour laws), and see the rising tide of investment create an export led growth impulse which would attract fresh rounds of investment and provide more employment – a multiplier effect would thus take the economy forward.

SEZ has its origin, in India, in the Export Promotion Zones which had first come up very tentatively in 1965. Till 1985 the EPZs were few and did not really amount to much. In 1981, the Tandon Committee argued that excessive protectionism had imparted a significant bias against exports and the high cost of production structure created by heavy protection reduced the competitiveness of Indian exports. It suggested that free trade zones could be a useful instrument of export promotion. A few EPZs were set up. But there were no major law changes. From 1991 to 2000, there was greater interest, and zone authorities were granted greater powers to provide additional fiscal initiatives, simplifying policy provisions and greater facilities. Moreover, agriculture, horticulture and aqua culture were brought within the purview of EPZs. In 1994, trading, re-engineering and re-conditioning units were also permitted to be set up.  

The real change came from the end of the 20th century. The export import policy 1997-2002 introduced a new wscheme for big SEZs. SEZs will be permitted to be set up in the public, private or joint sectors with a minimum size of 1000 hectares.
So let me first summarize the laws and proposals involved:
Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a specifically delineated duty free enclave and shall be deemed to be foreign territory for the purposes of trade operations and duties and tariffs.
If an application is made by a company or a group to set up an SEZ,
The State Government shall, forward it along with their commitment to the following to the Department of Commerce, Government of India:
•    That area incorporated in the proposed Special Economic Zone is free from environmental restrictions;
•    That water, electricity and other services would be provided as required;
•    That the units would be given full exemption in electricity duty and tax on sale of electricity for self generated and purchased power;
•    To allow generation, transmission and distribution of power within SEZ;
•    To exempt from State sales tax, octroi, mandi tax, turnover tax and any other duty/cess or levies on the supply of goods from Domestic Tariff Area to SEZ units;
•    That for units inside the Zone, the powers under the Industrial Disputes Act and other related labour Acts would be delegated to the Development Commissioner and that the units will be declared as a Public Utility Service under Industrial Disputes Act.
•    That single point clearances system and minimum inspections requirement under State Laws/Rules would be provided.
The proposal incorporating the commitments of the State Government will be considered by an Inter-Ministerial Committee in the Department of Commerce. On acceptance of the proposal, a letter of permission will be issued to the applicant

C. What are the facilities Incentive/ Facilities to SEZ Developer?
•    100% FDI allowed for: (a) townships with residential, educational and recreational facilities on a case to case basis, (b)franchise for basic telephone service in SEZ.
•    Income Tax benefit under ( 80 IA ) to developers for any block of 10 years in 15 years
•    Duty free import/domestic procurement of goods for development, operation and maintenance of SEZs.
•    Exemption from Service Tax /CST.
•    Income of infrastructure capital fund/co. from investment in SEZ exempt from Income Tax
•    Investment made by individuals etc in a SEZ co also eligible for exemption u/s 88 of IT Act
•    Developer permitted to transfer infrastructure facility for operation and maintenance.
•    Generation, transmission and distribution of power in SEZs allowed
•    Full freedom in allocation of space and built up area to approved SEZ units on commercial basis.
•    Authorised to provide and maintain service like water, electricity, security, restaurants and recreation centres on commercial lines.
•    SEZs in India functioned from 1.11.2000 to 09.02.2006 under the provisions of the Foreign Trade Policy and fiscal incentives were made effective through the provisions of relevant statutes.
•    To instill confidence in investors and signal the Government’s commitment to a stable SEZ policy regime and with a view to impart stability to the SEZ regime thereby generating greater economic activity and employment through the establishment of SEZs, a comprehensive draft SEZ Bill prepared after extensive discussions with the stakeholders. A number of meetings were held in various parts of the country both by the Minister for Commerce and Industry as well as senior officials for this purpose.  The Special Economic Zones Act, 2005, was passed by Parliament in May, 2005 which received Presidential assent on the 23rd of June, 2005. The draft SEZ Rules were widely discussed and put on the website of the Department of Commerce offering suggestions/comments. Around 800 suggestions were received on the draft rules.  After extensive consultations, the SEZ Act, 2005, supported by SEZ Rules, came into effect on 10th February, 2006, providing for drastic simplification of procedures and for single window clearance on matters relating to central as well as state governments.   The main objectives of the SEZ Act are:
(a) generation of additional economic activity
(b) promotion of exports of goods and services;
(c) promotion of investment from domestic and foreign sources;
(d) creation of employment opportunities;
(e) development of infrastructure facilities;

•    It is expected that this will trigger a large flow of foreign and domestic investment in SEZs, in infrastructure and productive capacity, leading to generation of additional economic activity and creation of employment opportunities.
We now need to look at the actual impact of SEZs, the aim of Indian and international capital regarding SEZs and similar units, and the growth of popular resistance.

According to government propaganda,
“Out of the 531 formal approvals given till date, 174 approvals are for sector specific and multi product SEZs for manufacture of Textiles & Apparels, Leather Footwear, Automobile components, Engineering etc.. which would involve labour intensive manufacturing. SEZs are going to lead to creation of employment for large number of unemployed rural youth. Nokia and Flextronics electronics hardware SEZs in Sriperumbudur are already providing employment to 14577 and 1058 persons. Hyderabad Gems SEZ for Jewellery manufacturing in Hyderabad has already employed 2145 persons, majority of whom are from landless families, after providing training to them. They have a projected direct employment for about 2267 persons. Apache SEZ being set up in Andhra Pradesh will employ 20, 000 persons to manufacture 10,00,000 pairs of shoes every month. Current employment in Apache SEZ is 5536 persons. Brandix Apparels, a Sri Lankan FDI project would provide employment to 60,000 workers over a period of 3 years. Even in the services sector, 12.5 million sq meters space is expected in the IT/ITES SEZs which as per the NASSCOM standards translates into 12.5 lakh jobs. It is, therefore, expected that establishment of SEZs would lead to fast growth of labour intensive manufacturing and services in the country.”

The actual picture is quite different. In most cases, the so called new jobs created in SEZs are jobs shifted from the previously existing industries.  Relatively better paid workers have lost jobs and worse pay or worse working conditions have been imposed. Nirmala Banerjee’s studies show that the SEZs have a higher proportion of women workers, who are willing to put up with worse conditions, because many of them feel they will not be working all their lives. They are trying to save up money for a dowry, and are therefore willing to put up with the additional burden. Employers’ unwritten conditions for hiring women workers include the terms that they have to be young and unmarried. Marriage or pregnancy often leads to immediate sacking, since employers are not interested in paying additional amount as maternity benefit, including paid leave. In the organized sector, workers get 4 months paid leave, and in some sectors there is a pressure to make it six months.

D. SEZs and Peasant Resistance
But the immediate victims of SEZs are peasants. Special Economic Zones were first conceptualised during the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government. The government began giving away land across the country at throwaway prices to big industrial houses. Critics were silenced by the refrain: China had done the same in the 1980s, look at it now. Continuing with the NDA government's policy, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government notified 63 places in various states to set up SEZs. In all, it is planning to set up 235 such zones. The UPA government believes these SEZs will lead to investments to the tune of Rs 300,000 crore (Rs 3,000 billion) and also create 4 million jobs.
The reality is different. Land for SEZs cannot be land in deserts or inaccessible places. In the end, it is agricultural land that is targeted, with the argument that development will benefit everyone. This is a rhetoric common to Narendra Modi, BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat, and Buddhadev Bhattacharya, CPIM chief minister of West Bengal. It was in West Bengal, that large scale popular resistance developed. Land take over is of course not restricted to acquisition for SEZs alone. In Kalinganagar, in Jajpur district of Orissa, the government was trying to take over land from indigenous peoples for the Tata steel plant expansion. On 2nd January, 2006 the State police opened fire on a protest by local tribals against the takeover and seizure of their land. Sixteen people died on the spot, four more died in the hospital, and a police constable was also killed in the clash. The firing was indiscriminate and in all directions, and continued for over an hour. Even people who were 200-300 meters away were injured. Many people who were trying to escape have bullet injuries in the back, whereas others who stood and tried to fight back, have been injured in neck and torso in front. The tribal woman who died was inside her house when see came out to see what the noise was and was struck by a bullet. The whole massacre seems pre-planned and organized, with certain key persons in the Government and bureaucracy collaborating with Tata Steel to crush the tribal resistance to industrialization and displacement. It seems that a clear signal was to be sent to the opponents of the forced "industrialization" through private capital that no obstacles shall be tolerated.

It was not very different in West Bengal, except that the peasants were not indigenous people (adivasis, or “tribals”). The first attack was in Singur, a part of Hooghly district. According to the government, this area has poor land, identified as capable of producing only one or at best two crops a year. In fact, development of irrigation, road networks, and land reforms have combined to produce a multi-crop area here.  There have been many investigations. A women’s team from Calcutta visited the area several times. What they saw was clear. The government is using a 19th century colonial era act that has remained in the statute books. It allows the government to take away agricultural land for a compensation in cash, and for public need. In Singur, the public need was to give land at throwaway price to the Tatas, once again, so that they could manufacture their Nano, the promised $2000 car, The agreement between the government and the Tatas remained a secret deal, despite attempts to get the details out through the right to information Act. What has been leaked out indicates that the Tatas would pay a paltry sum, over 60 years. The motor car factory is not a labour intensive factory. It was to come up by displacing not only peasants who, willingly or unwillingly, were going to be given cash compensation, but also share-croppers, agricultural labourers, transporters who moved agricultural products, and a range of people who were not going to be compensated at all. In addition, as some of the peasants said clearly, they were peasants, and they wanted development to mean improvement in rural conditions, not their displacement. The process of selection of the site is quite unprecedented and queer. From the statements of the Chief Minister, only this much could be ascertained that the Tatas opted for it and the government accepted readily. Presently a small plot of land of as little as 5 cottas can encourage a sharecropper to send his kids to school nourishing an aspiration for a better future. This was what was brutally destroyed on 2 Decmeber 2006 when a massive violence was unleashed and the land marked out was taken over, even though despite all government and CPI(M) efforts, peasants in half the area had refused to even take the compensation cheques. Resistance continued. So did state and party violence. On 8 December, Tapasi Malik, a young woman (18) leader of the resistance struggle, was strangled, and then burnt to death. The CPI(M) in India, and some intellectuals in the US, like Vijay Prashad, claimed that Tapasi’s father and brother had killed her  . After a protracted fight, including a campaign to have not the state criminal investigation department but a central body, the Central Bureau of investigation, look into the murder case, a CPI(M) leader and a CPI(M) activist were arrested. A lower court has found them guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment, but the case is going on in a higher court. Peasant resistance also created a major upset. In the rural self government bodies’ elections, the district was won by the rightwing opposition Trinamul Congress, as its leader Mamata Banerjee had supported the peasants. Banerjee had been a partner in the BJP led coalition that had initiated the SEZ projects in India, so her role is purely opportunistic. But that she changed positions shows the degree of popular anger at the land acquisition policy.

Singur was followed by bigger plans. The government was upbeat about acquiring land and setting up various SEZs. The first one was to be in Nandigram, in East Medinipur district. A traditionally strong left base, Nandigram also has a record of militant fighting. In January 2007, a notice was circulated that land would be acquired to set up a Chemical Hub. Peasants opposed this. Lakshman Seth, the CPI(M) strong man of Haldia, a nearby town, threatened to use force. There were clashes, and some local CPI(M) leaders, attempting to fire on peasants, were counter attacked. One of them was killed and his house was burnt. A large number of CPI(M) supporters left the area, claiming they were unsafe. After two months, in March, they gathered arms, and backed by the police, attacked in force.

On December 29, 2006, Seth held a public meeting where he announced that land would be taken for the chemical hub, to be set up by the Salim group of Indonesia. For this, 10,000 hectares of land would be acquired from 15 Mouzas (villages). 4500 acres of land was to be acquired in 14 mouzas for a ship building and repairing industry. A number of other villages were to be totally acquired. The total area to be acquired was to be just under 18547 acres. Over 15,000 families would have to be evicted. 137 schools (mostly primary, but also some secondary), and 3 health care units were to be shut down. 16,652 water bodies would be filled up.

To resist this, Nandigram peasants did not allow government personnel into the areas between January and March. The CPI(M) retaliated by organizing an economic blockade of Nandigram. CPI(M) camps on the road to Nandigram searched vehicles. Peasants set up a committee, the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee(land eviction resistance committee). Between 11 and 14 march they were sending telegrams and appeals saying they feared an attack. On the 14th, police and CPI(M) goons attacked, killing at least 14. Hundreds were injured. Some of us went there in a relief team. We saw attempts at resistance, but no trace of Maoist guerillas, who, according to the government, were fomenting trouble.

The peasant resistance continued even after the killings. Finally, in April the government stated that an SEZ would not be built in Nandigram, but they refused to pay any compensation for those killed, injured and raped on March 14. No attempts were made to arrest and punish the guilty. So called peace talks were held, but the BUPC was never called for peace talks at the state level. The CPI(M) claimed that the BUPC had ejected 3500 of its supporters from Nandigram area. But civil liberties groups trying to meet those people were not allowed to do so. The APDR estimated that the real number of people ejected were around 300. From late October the CPI(M) again stepped up armed threats, culminating in a mass attack in early November. On 6 november, several villages were torched. Two days prior to this, CPI(M) all India leader Brinda Karat had called for public violence on the people of Nandigram. By 7 November 25000 people had been rendered homeless. Medha Patkar, travelling in a car that also had one of my colleagues, Prof. Amit Bhattacharya, was not allowed to proceed to Nandigram.

Nandigram was taken back by the CPI(M), but at a high price. In East Medinipur too, the party lost in the rural elections. More important, the left political culture in the state received a severe jolt.
Finally there was the struggle in Lalgarh. The Jindal group wanted to set up an SEZ. The focus was to be a steel mill. The area chosen was near Shalboni in West Midnapur district. Inhabited by adivasis or tribals, who have, even six decades after independence, been treated virtually in the same way that the colonial rulers sued to treat them, this was seen as a “soft” area. On 2 November 2008, some Maoists exploded bombs close to the car of the Chief Minister. Immediately, the police swung into action against ordinary people. The police, supposedly there to ensure the safety and security of people, was identified as the main element contributing to people’s insecurity. The organization that came up was named Pulishi Santras Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee (Peoples’ Committee Against Police Atrocities)– a telling commentary on how people see the police. Their charter of demands was the consequence of state violence, including violence on women. On 4th November, an armed police party arrested Dipak Pratihar of Kantapahari village while he was buying medicine from a chemist’s shop in Lalgarh for his pregnant wife Lakshmi. In the process the police brutally beat up Lakshmi and threw her to the ground. She had to be subsequently hospitalized. The police and CRPF, led by the officer in charge of Lalgarh police station, Sandeep Sinha Roy and the superintendent of police of West Midnapore district, Rajesh Singh, unleashed a reign of terror in 35 villages encompassing the entire tribal belt of Lalgarh. In raids throughout the night of November 6th, women were brutally kicked and beaten up with lathis and butts of guns. Among the injured, Chintamani Murmu, one of whose eyes was hit by a gun butt, and Panamani Hansda, who was kicked on her chest and suffered multiple fractures, had to hospitalized. Chintamani’s lost her eye because of the injury. Eight other women were badly wounded. These police brutalities soon reached a point where the adivasis had no other option but to rise up in revolt. The 13 point charter of demands expressed the demands perhaps a little crudely, but very firmly. Demand 1 called for the oppressive Superintendent of Police apologizing in public, using a form that was a form of punishment, and thereby attempting an inversion of existing power relations. Not surprisingly, any talk of an apology by the Superintendent of Police was unacceptable for the state, since how could it lower its head to people it really considers inferiors and subjects rather than citizens. For months, there was a peaceful and democratic struggle by the adivasis both for their land and for their dignity. Eventually, using some violence carried out by Maoists, the state swung into action, making the “Operation Lalgarh” out to be virtually a military operation against a foreign enemy, where police and paramilitary forces, backed by the Indian Air force, march only a few kilometers a day, “reconquering” territory, and beast up locals after they do that reconquest.  
There have been battles elsewhere too. In Gujarat, the Reliance Company, owned by Mukesh Ambani, is setting up an SEZ to producer organic farm products. Peasants are questioning why the government does not punish polluting industries who dump waste on agricultural land, or whose waste is carried by water so that irrigation becomes impossible, while subsidizing farming by one of India’s richest industrialists.

D. SEZs and the Environment
The environmental dimensions of SEZs are less discussed, because the position of all mainstream political parties is a contemptuous one towards environment. In the entire din surrounding the impacts of the Special Economic Zones there is not much information on the impact of these zones on the water situation in the areas around these zones. Broadly, there are three kinds of impacts that SEZ can have on access to water for the people in the SEZ area. First would be due to the diversion of water for use within the SEZ. Second impact would be the impact of release of effluents from the SEZ. Here the situation at locations like Ankleshwar in Gujarat and Patancheru in Andhra Pradesh, among scores of other places is illustrative. At these places, the release of untreated effluents from the industrial estates has created a hell for the residents of the area. Thirdly, the conversion of land to SEZ would mean destruction of groundwater recharge systems. Moreover, it should be remembered here that in India, right to extract groundwater continues to be connected with the ownership of land. Hence SEZs even in relatively small area can pump out huge quantity of water, drying up the wells of the surrounding area.

The Government of India SEZ Act of 2005 has no mention of the sources of water for the proposed zones, leave aside the question of restrictions or impact assessment. In fact, the only time the Act mentions water, it is in the context of territorial waters of India. The SEZ acts or orders or notifications of various states give a blank cheque to the water requirement for the zones. For example, the Gujarat Act says, “The SEZ developer will be granted approval for development of water supply and distribution system to ensure the provision of adequate water supply for SEZ units.” Similar is the situation for other states.

Protests in Maharashtra: The Govt of Maharashtra has issued a land acquisition notice to acquire 10 000 ha land of 45 villages in Pen, Uran and Panvel talukas of Raigarh district for the proposed Mahamumbai SEZ by Reliance. But farmers here have been strongly agitating against this proposal, refusing to give any land for the project. In Pen taluka there are people displaced by the Koyna dam, still without potable water, living in miserable conditions, punching holes in govt’s claim of rehabilitation. Adjacent to this land, the company, in joint venture with the Maharashtra City and Industrial Development Corporation, is acquiring 5000 ha for Navi Mumbai SEZ. At Maan near Pune, where the govt plans to acquire 800 ha of land for industrial zone, a strong protest by the farmers, fisherfolk, salt pan workers and other affected persons demanded scrapping of the SEZ on April 5.

Large scale Mangrove destruction in Gujarat: In the 13 000 ha Mundra SEZ in Kutch in Gujarat, 3000 ha area is covered by Mangroves, which are already being destroyed for the SEZ. Gujarat Forest Dept has raised an alarm over this destruction. Mangroves are also facing destruction at a number of other locations in Gujarat due to industrial expansion along the coast in Kutch, Saurashtra and South Gujarat. Potentially the largest SEZ in the country, the Mundra SEZ will destroy fisheries and livelihood of large number of fisherfolk and they are protesting against the SEZ. On Feb 14, ’07, five members of the community have filed a petition before the Gujarat High Court. Nine villages have also lost their grazing land to the SEZ.

So by now, across India, over a hundred have died resisting the SEZs. And they harm peasants, workers and the environment. The ideology of free market, and the attack on any state aided protection – social security, education, health, are being branded “socialist”, because it was hoped that this would weaken resistance. In recent times, the bogey does not appear so threatening. What is harmful, though, is the dual role of the CPI(M), which has been a major factor in the fortunes of the left dipping in the elections of 2009.

Notes and References:

  1. ‘The Indian Economy’, article in Wikipedia, accessed on 4 April 2009. The recent version is heavily edited. See ‘Economy of India’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_India , accessed on 1. 7. 2009.
  2. Chibber, Vivek. Locked in Place: State-building and Late Industrialization in India, Princeton: Princeton UP (2003).
  3. See Dutt, Ruddar and K.P.M. Sundaram. Indian Economy, Delhi, S Chand & Co (2008) for details of these policy documents. See also Tomlinson, B. R. and Gordon Johnson, The Economy of Modern India 1860-1970, Cambridge University Press (1996), for a discussion on how limited the resolutions really were.
  4. See Vanaik, Achin The Painful Transition: Bourgeois Democracy in India, Verso, London (1990).
  5. For the Hindutva forces see Chattopadhyay, Kunal (Ed): The Genocidal Pogrom in Gujarat – Anatomy of Indian Fascism. Vadodara, Inquilabi Communist Sangathan (2002).
  6. See Chattopadhyay, Kunal and Soma Marik, ‘The Left Front and the United Progressive Alliance’, in http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/News&AnalysisInternational/News&AnalysisIntTheLeftFrontAndTheUnitedProgressiveAlliance.html (accessed June 15, 2007)
  7. Mahendra Dev, S., 'Economic Liberalisation and Employment in South Asia -I', Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXV Nos.1&2, 8 January, 2000, p.48.
  8. Ibid, pp. 40-51.
  9. Shalti Research Group SEZ in West Bengal, Kolkata, (2008).
  10. Special economic zones in India, http://www.sezindia.nic.in/HTMLS/about.htm (accessed on 30.6.2009)
  11. See Mitra, Pinaki and others, Marxbad Amader Bhitti, Punjibad amader Bhabishyat, Kolkata, no date.
  12. Peoples’ Democracy 7 May 2007; Sudhanva Deshpande and Vijay Prashad: Communism in Bengal-- The Political Economy of a Crisis, Counterpunch, May 23, 2007. http://www.counterpunch.org/prashad05232007.html  (accessed 25 November 2007).
  13. For Lalgarh, I have relied mainly on television coverage, since it forms part of the government’s strategy. See for detailed accounts the website http://sanhati.com/ as it has been providing a consistent coverage since early November 2008.

Beyond the first anniversary of the debt-relief programme – what does it hold for the indebted Indian farmers?

Sushovan Dhar


Andhra Pradesh has recorded 25 farmers’ suicides in the last two months. Dozens of impoverished farmers struggling with debt and poor rainfall have killed themselves in southern India in recent weeks, leaving behind families plunged even further into poverty, activists and politicians said. Nearly every day, newspapers report more farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh, a state of 80 million people where 70% of the population depends on agriculture — and which has suffered badly this year from weak monsoon rains. Officially, the total number of suicides stands at 25 in the past six weeks. But opposition parties and farmers' groups say the true total is more than 150.


When a high-level team from the Central Government was visiting different districts and assessing the loss because of drought in the region, 11 more farmers from Vidarbha[i] ended their lives since September 1. Nine farmers killed themselves by swallowing pesticides while two ended their lives by hanging themselves, reports said. It is suspected that most of the farmers had taken the drastic step because of crop failure. Paddy, Soyabean and cotton crops were badly affected because of paucity of rains in the region, he pointed out.

An average two farmers now commit suicide every day in the region. As many as 48 farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha last month while the figure was 784 last year. The farmers' pressure groups in Nagpur attributed rising costs of cultivation, low rate of remunerative price of agriculture produces, lack of credit availability for small and marginal farmers and repeated crop failures are the main reasons for such a pathetic state of farmers in the region.

Indebtedness as a grave problem for the Indian farmers arrived at the horizon ever since the government openly embraced the neo-liberal economic since 1991. Within a few years the nation started witnessing the pandemic of farmers’ suicide and saw it spread across the country.  This tragic and unprecedented phenomenon caused by increasing debt-driven vulnerability of peasant households started with the cotton farmers of Andhra Pradesh and gradually afflicted farmers – primarily growers of various commercial crops in other parts of the country. The government was initially in an attempt to deny & downplay its grave economic policies as a reason for such suicides and was making all possible efforts to attribute the suicides to social problems such as family disputes or alcoholism. However, as things went out of proportion and after numerous political protests and social affront besides a number of sustained enquiries and reporting of the same the government was compelled to announce the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008[ii]. The much-awaited debt-waiver scheme arrived much later than necessary, and lamentably after more than 1, 60,000 farmers have ended their lives over the last decade.

A number of analysts point out that financial liberalisation not only swung credit flows towards urban areas but also starved agriculture of credit. It was therefore an important cause of the more than decade long agrarian crisis that characterised rural India. Starved of institutional credit, farmers switched to high-cost non-institutional sources of borrowing. When farm prices collapsed globally in the 1990s, farmers, caught in the pincer of falling prices and rising indebtedness and with nowhere to turn, started committing suicides. However, the government has still date never acknowledged its flawed credit policies or the trade policies that have been instrumental behind this catastrophe devastating large parts of rural India.

The government claims that till date over 36 million farmers have benefited from debt waivers[iii]. However, the waiver is only for the loans taken from the commercial or regional rural banks and no care has been taken of the farmers who have taken loans from the informal sources. Also the limitation of 5 acres has also caused problems for the farmers as there as some areas in the country where farmers have more than 7 acres of land but they are still poor as the land is not fertile.

As discussed earlier[iv], the limits of the scheme was evident from its inception and it was coupled with a total apathy to apply the same. Indeed a shocking revelation comes from a RTI (right to information) query regarding implementation of the prime minister’s and chief minister’s special relief package for distressed farmers in suicide-prone Vidarbha. The worst fears of planners and activists came true as a huge scam relating to relief schemes for the families of farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region came to the light. The revelations point to large-scale corruption and irregularities in the implementation of a subsidised cattle scheme in Yavatmal district, known to be the epicentre of farmer suicides. The scheme, in which 50% of the cost of buying a cow or a buffalo is subsidised by the government for poor, bereaved farmer families, is being abused[v] by undeserving beneficiaries including a six-time former Member of Parliament (MP), relatives of a sitting Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and several former MLAs. The cattle scheme was put in place to help the families of indebted farmers who were the sole breadwinners and had ended their lives. Its purpose was to enable distressed families to supplement their income as farming had become uneconomical in Vidarbha’s unirrigated cotton-growing hinterland.

Another problem was the definition used to categorise poor and marginal farmers based on that of the debt waiver relief scheme. It is problematic and cannot be accepted, as it does not differentiate between irrigated and non-irrigated land. Thus, while adivasi farmers in Nasik and Vidarbha holding more than five acres of unirrigated land were excluded from the debt relief scheme even though they are in the category of poor peasants, the better off small farmers of Western Maharashtra holding five acres of irrigated land were beneficiaries of the debt relief scheme.

Another controversy developed when the national agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar took a ‘u-turn’ on raising the two-hectare land-holding cap stipulated in the government’s farm loan waiver. Activists complained that it was a stunning breach of umpteen promises of raising the land-holding ceiling in un-irrigated areas. Only 400,000 farmers out of a total three million in Vidarbha have a land holding less than two hectares (five acres) and only 100,000 of them are eligible for loan waiver though most of those deprived of the benefit because of a larger land holding are in dire straits and are committing suicide. The fact that un-irrigated lands have low productivity but high input costs - because of inappropriate farm practices promoted by the government - is commonly known and hundreds of farmer suicides in the last five years have highlighted the frightening agrarian crisis in such regions. About 80% of farmers in each village of Vidarbha have been left out of the government’s ambitious farm loan waiver package. Farmers say the manner in which the scheme was drafted and implemented shows little understanding of rural India and the conventional agricultural practices followed here. In most villages, the agricultural land is owned by the whole family, where the title is usually in the name of the family’s eldest male member. While on the land revenue records a farmer may own 15-20 acres, his actual per capita holding may be far less. The current ceiling of 5 acres (2hectares) makes these farmers ineligible for a full waiver. The most deserving have been left to fend for themselves.

As argued earlier, a cardinal weakness of the scheme is that ‘agricultural / professional moneylender’ is more important than banks or standard credit institutions for farmers with lower land holdings. Informal sources of credit outweigh the formal sources in case of farmers with up to 0.40 hectares of land. Apart from the moneylenders, there are a lot of other informal sources that farmers approach for their credit needs. Informal lending is a peculiar phenomenon in Indian agriculture, and as Arindam Banik points out, “Farmers, on an average, borrow much larger amounts from commission agents or traders than workers do from employers or tenants from landlords[vi]”. Still, the problem of indebtedness due to informal sector lending is not considered in the loan waiver scheme.

Indeed, the benefits of the loan waiver scheme would be very short-term, and the same problem of indebtedness might arise in the next season also. This is because the need for credit would never end, and due of the lack of a long-term solution in this approach, the productivity and the yield will not increase and many farmers would continue to be defaulters.

Several reports and studies identify the heavy rural indebtedness as the major reason behind the suicides but more importantly, indebtedness arises from a mismatch between the cost of production and the market prices. So, in order to get farmers out of this indebtedness induced suicide trap, improving the market mechanism would be crucial. Cost of inputs has also gone up drastically after the increase of pest attacks 1995 onwards, and thus the increasing need for application of pesticides. The short term policy of the government should have ideally targeted these problems in order to put an end to the increasing trend of farmer suicides.

It is a well known fact that the current scheme provides only a very short term relief, with a very limited outreach and it does not cater to the problems of agriculture. The last budget should have given a large push to core issues like public investment in infrastructure, land and water management including rain water conservation and watershed development, research and extension, price stabilization, etc, to make cultivation viable and profitable. There is no doubt that agriculture could have benefited more if the same amount had been used for development of infrastructure.

A simple provision of credit will also not end the woes. It is almost a fallacy to believe that credit or its waiver alone can mitigate the problems of the afflicted farmers. Timely availability of the right kind of fertilizers, genuine and quality seeds is very important. The marketing component of the chain is weak and the Government can improve the storage, transport and processing facilities of grains, fruits and vegetables and prevent distress sale of produce. Measures for raising output and good prices for production are fundamental rather than mere credit which, in the absence of viable agriculture, push them back into a debt trap. The issue is not that of availability of institutional credit, but access, ease, and terms and conditions of such finance.

In retrospect, Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008 has been a petite step towards the solution and there is a need for more effective measures that will negotiate the huge debt burden of farmers to informal sources. The adoption of unilateral and misplaced targeting rules based on size of and holdings limits the effectiveness of such a policy. A more inclusive debt-relief policy that also constitutes a debt-relief commission, expansion of rural institutional credit facilities and improved real returns for agriculture can effectively release the primary sector from the clutches of deflation and indebtedness in which it has come to be ensnared under the neoliberal regime.

The severe crisis in the agricultural sector must be addressed, and the viability of farming in India ensured. There are a slew of measures that are needed to ameliorate distress and increase the vibrancy of farming. These should include better support prices, more rational policies in international trade, special programmes and direct subsidies for agricultural revival including the building of farm ponds on every farm, better credit policies and effective crop insurance. Questions of credit, trade, and technology must be re-examined keeping the farmer’s long-term interests in mind. However, subsidising farmers through lower wages for agricultural labour, or transferring a share of resources meant for those who are worst-off in rural India, is the most unjust way to help the Indian farmer. The legitimate concerns of the farmers need to be separately addressed. The fragile success of a debt-relief programme cannot lift the entire rural economy and the population out of the morass.

[i] An area of the Indian state of Maharashtra where the suicides have occurred at a magnitude much higher than anywhere in the country.

[ii] The Finance Minister, in his Budget Speech for 2008-2009, announced a Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme for farmers.

[iii] The Hindu, April 6, 2009

[iv] See AVP, issue no….

[v] The information, provided by the deputy commissioner of Yavatmal’s animal husbandry department, says former Congress MP Uttamrao Patil and members of his family got 10 cows, sitting MLA of Digras Sanjay Deshmukh’s wife and mother got a cow each, ex-minister and former guardian minister of Nagpur district Shivajirao Moghe’s relatives got eight cows, four relatives of Wani ex-MLA Wamanrao Kasawar’s got eight cows, while Congress leader Suresh Lonkar’s relatives bagged six cows. The contractor who supplied the cows, Amol Kshirsagar, also got a subsidy on two cows!

[vi] Arindam Banik, June 20,2006, Farmer Suicides: Beyond the Obvious The Hindu Business Line

Support the Gurgaon Workers

Fight for Unfettered Trade Union Rights

Gurgaon in Haryana has been time and again projected as the ‘shining’ India, a symbol of capitalist success promising a better life for everyone behind the gateway of development. It has also been rocked by workers’ protests, ignored by the media until it boils over. In 2005, a massive struggle broke out, only to be brutally crushed. But trouble was simmering for the past few months, and it boiled over in late October, as over 80,000 of workers walked off their jobs on the 20th, after the death of a colleague over the weekend when police fired on agitating employees of an auto parts company. The workers, belonging mostly to auto parts units in a belt that houses factories of India’s biggest car maker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and bike maker Hero Honda Motors Ltd, were protesting against the death of the RICO Auto Industries Ltd worker on Sunday.

The strike follows the militant struggles across industrial hubs such as Sriperumbudur and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, also home to several automobile companies and their ancillaries.

Protests began early Tuesday morning with hundreds of workers from Rico and Sunbeam Auto Ltd protesting near the company gates adjacent to National Highway 8, which connects Delhi to Jaipur. They were joined by waves of workers from other units such as Sona Koyo Steering Systems Ltd, Lumax Industries Ltd, Bajaj Auto Ltd and Hero Honda Motors Ltd.

The workers of Rico’s Gurgaon factory were seething in anger since 21 September, 2009 when 16 employees were arbitrarily sacked by the management citing disciplinary reasons. The management resorted to such vindictive stand in response to workers’ demand that their union be recognized by the labour commissioner. It is reported that the management hired gangsters to prevent workers from coming back to work and with the collusion of the police of the police, brought around 300 casual workers to resume work in the factory. There are testimonies of workers who were not allowed to leave the premises of the factory and tortured by the goons.

The management’s act violated the workers’ basic right to association guaranteed by ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention “Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish and, subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation” and ILO Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining “Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment.” It is utterly shameful that India has still not ratified Conventions 87 and 98 on the freedom of association, the right to organise, and the right to collective bargaining.

Though Indian Trade Union Act of 1926 and the Industrial Dispute Act of 1947 permits the right to form trade unions and collective bargaining by the workers, the matter has been systematically impinged and violated by the Indian capitalist class. The working class in India, for that matter throughout the world, has established their rights through struggle and sacrifice and they cannot forego their right to collective bargaining including the right to form unions in furtherance of their legitimate interests whatever may be the circumstances. We strongly denounce the attempts of the Rico management against the workers to suppress their justified collective action for the redressal of their grievances.

We salute the workers and stand in solidarity with their struggle with the hope that their collective class actions would further the workers movement and will motivate more and more struggles against the capitalist tyranny and their associates from the governments to the media.

We support the basic demands of the workers, including:

  • Arrest and punishment of the people responsible for the death of RICO employee
  • A substantial compensation to be provided by the company along with job to the kin of the deceased family
  • The reinstatement of 16 employees sacked by the company
  • And above all, the company must recognize the right of the RICO employees to form a union and recognize their own democratic union.

The intrigues by the trade-union bureaucracy on this issue are likewise condemnable. Though it was the AITUC which formally called the strike, the motive was revealed categorically by a leading member of the central trade union, who equated the workers’ protests sans control as a Maoist menace. So the strike has been called only out of fear of some form of radicalism, not because working class emancipation is the goal of these bureaucrats. The betrayal of the movement by these leaderships after the 2005 repression of Honda Workers in Gurgaon – which was crushed by brutal state violence – is firmly etched in the memories of the workers.

We urge upon all trade unions of the country and internationally to rise in strong protest against such virulent attack on the trade union rights and to hold high the banner of class unity and class independence.











Is Nature Dialectical?

George Novack

On December 7, 1961, 6000 young people gathered in a Paris auditorium to listen to a debate on dialectics by four noted French scholars.[1] Such a meeting would be as unlikely in New York as the outdoor recitals poets give before large crowds in Moscow. Different countries, different customs—and different levels of cultural and intellectual development.

The participants in the symposium represented the two most widely discussed philosophies of our time: existentialism and Marxism. Neither trend of thought has the following in the United States that the first has in Western Europe or the second in communist countries. America’s ideological life is provincial and lags far behind the most advanced movements elsewhere.

Jean-Paul Sartre, possibly the most influential living man of letters, and Jean Hyppolite, Sorbonne professor and Hegelian scholar, upheld the existentialist viewpoint. Roger Garaudy of the Political Bureau of the French Communist Party, director of its Centre for Marxist Studies and Research, and author of numerous philosophical works, and Jean-Pierre Vigier, one of France’s leading theoretical physicists, spoke for Marxism. Their topic was: “Is the dialectic solely a law of history or is it also a law of nature?”

It is possible to hold one of three main positions on this question. The first is that dialectics is sheer metaphysics, a vestige of theology, an aberration of logic, meaningless verbiage which has no reference to reality and is useless for scientific thought in any field. This is the opinion of almost all scholars, scientists, and those trained by them in the universities of the US and England, where empiricism, positivism, and pragmatism hold sway.

Another is that dialectics is valid in certain domains but not in others. Adherents of partial dialectics usually maintain that its laws apply to mental or social processes but not to nature. For them a dialectic of nature belongs to Hegelian idealism, not to a consistent materialism. This position has been put forward by quite a number of Marxists and semi-Marxists. Such is the view taken by the existentialists Sartre and Hyppolite.

The third position is that dialectical materialism deals with the entire universe and its logic holds good for all the constituent sectors of reality which enter into human experience: nature, society, and thought. The laws of dialectics, which have arisen out of the investigation of universal processes of becoming and modes of being, apply to all phenomena. Although each level of being has its own specific laws, these merge with general laws covering all spheres of existence and development, which constitute the content and shape the method of materialist dialectics. This view, held by the creators of scientific socialism and their authentic disciples, was defended in the debate by Garaudy, Vigier, and the chairman, Jean Orcel, professor of mineralogy at the National Museum of Natural History.

An American would consider it strange that the controversy on the question should take place only between two schools of dialecticians, one piecemeal, the other thoroughgoing. Very few people in the United States today are convinced that dialectical logic of any kind is worth serious consideration.

A broad spectrum of attitudes toward Marxism is exhibited in the Soviet Union, the United States, and France. In the US, where capitalism reigns supreme, anything associated with socialism and communism is depreciated, if not tabooed. Marxism is regarded as obsolete, its philosophy false.

In the Soviet Union, where the socialist revolution abolished capitalism decades ago, dialectical materialism is the state philosophy. Under Stalin, in fact, it became scholasticised and ossified, as Vigier admits and Hyppolite testifies. The latter tells how during a recent visit the Soviet Academy of Sciences contrived to have him talk to the students about mechanism instead of existentialism, as he wished. However, all the questions after his lecture related to existentialism. “It seems to me that the youth were strongly interested in Sartre’s existential philosophy”, he dryly observes.

The intellectual and political climate of France stands between those of the major cold war antagonists. There is lively tension and continual intercourse between Marxist and non-Marxist currents of thought, and especially between the politically oriented atheistic existentialists such as Sartre, and various exponents of Marxism. Sartre and C. Wright Mills reflect the ideological differences between their two countries. Mills held a place among radical intellectuals in the English-speaking world like that of Sartre in Europe. Yet in his last work, The Marxists , Mills dismissed the laws of dialectics as something “mysterious, which Marx never explains clearly but which his disciples claim to use”. Indeed, even this footnote reference was an afterthought added to his original manuscript in deference to friendly critics.

Such a blackout of dialectics would be unthinkable for Sartre. He was educated and lives in an environment where both Hegelian and Marxist philosophies are taken seriously, on a continent where scientific socialism has influenced intellectual and public life for almost a century, and in a country where the Communist Party gets a quarter of the vote and has the allegiance of much of the working class. He has developed his own ideas in contact and contest with Marxism, from the time he propounded the philosophy of existence as its rival to the present stage, when he conceives of existentialism as a subordinate ideology within Marxism which aspires to renovate and enrich it.

Mills took from Marxism only those elements that suited his empirical sociology and New Left orientation. He cut the dialectical heart out of the Marxist method of thought and presented what was left as the whole organism. Sartre has a higher esteem for dialectics. But as we shall see, he too accepts only what can be fitted into his Marxised existentialism.

The transcript of this Paris debate between existentialists and Marxists is worth examining at length because many of the chief objections to materialist dialectics were posed and answered in the light of present-day scientific developments.

Sartre’s case against a dialectic of nature is quite different from that of an American pragmatist or positivist. His arguments are distinctively existentialist.

He agrees that history and knowledge are dialectical processes because they are created by humanity and humanity is involved in their development. There is a historical materialism but no dialectical materialism. Dialectics is internal to history. The province of dialectics cannot go beyond human practice. It is illegitimate to extend dialectical laws to nonhistorical, nonhuman phenomena. Sartre presents three main reasons for this restriction:

1. Dialectics deals only with concrete totalities which human beings themselves “totalised” through practice. History and society are such. Nature, on the other hand, does not constitute a single integrated whole. Nature may be infinite, even contain an infinity of infinites. But it consists of fragmented totalities which have no inner unity, no universal and necessary interconnection. The disunity of nature forbids any universal dialectic.

2. The contradictions operating in history cannot be the same as antagonisms in nature. Social contradictions are based upon the reciprocal conditioning and organic interpenetration of their contending sides through human mediation. The opposing forces inside a physical-chemical system are not interactive and interrelated in this way. Brute matter, the “practico-inert”, is disjointed, dispersed, resistant to dialectical movement.

3. We can know society and history from the inside, as they really are, because they are the work of humanity, the result of our decision and action. Their dialectical linkages are disclosed through the contradictory interplay of subject and situation. But physical phenomena remain external to us and to other objects. They are opaque to our insight. We cannot penetrate to their real inner nature and grasp their essence.

In sum, nature must be nondialectical because of its disunity, its lack of contradiction, its insurmountable externality and inertia. The only possible dialectical materialism is historical materialism, which views our establishment of relations with the rest of reality from the standpoint of our action upon it.

Orthodox Marxists revert to theology and metaphysics, says Sartre, by extending dialectical laws over nature on purely philosophical or methodological grounds. He does, however, concede that dialectical laws may at some point be found applicable to nature. But only by way of analogy. This presently involves a risky extrapolation, which must await verification through further findings by the natural scientists. And even if they should discover that physical processes resemble the dialectical type and start to use dialectical models in their research, this would provide no insight into the nature of nature, no true knowledge of its essential features.

Thus the existentialist Sartre turns out to be a positivist in his last word on the possible relations of dialectics to the physical world. For him the ideas of this logic can be no more than handy hypotheses in metaphorical dress that may help scientists order and clarify their data but cannot reflect the content of nature.

Sartre is not consistent in his effort to imprison dialectics in the social world and strike it out of prehuman and nonhuman phenomena. His arguments against the dialectics of nature are more fully set forth in his 1960 philosophical work of 755 pages, Critique of Dialectical Reason , of which the first part was published here in 1963 under the title Search for a Method . There he admits that living matter, at least, may develop dialectically. Sartre writes: “The organism engenders the negative as that which disrupts its unity; disassimilation and excretion are still opaque and biological forms of negation in so far as they are a movement oriented toward rejection.” This exception opens a breach in his position. Garaudy correctly observes that once Sartre has recognised that negation and totalisation exist in the prehuman state, it will be difficult to stop halfway and keep dialectics confined to biology without extending its jurisdiction to the rest of nature.

In his rejoinder to Sartre, who wishes to see only partial unities or specific totalities in nature, Vigier points out that nature is a whole made up of myriad parts. The reality of the universe we inhabit is both material and dialectical. Its unity is expressed in an infinite series of levels of existence. Each of the specific realms of being which collectively constitute the material universe is finite, partial; it incorporates only a limited aspect of the whole.

In itself nature is endless and inexhaustible. It forever generates new properties, modes, and fields of existence. There are no limits to what it has been, to what it now is, to what it may become. One of the major errors of mechanical and metaphysical thought about nature, Vigier says, is the notion that it is based upon ultimate elements from which everything else issues and with which the rest of reality can be built up. This conception, which goes back to the Greek atomists, has been carried forward by the natural scientists who believed that molecules, atoms, and then “elementary” particles were the basic building blocks of the entire universe.

Actually science has been developing along different lines, both in regard to the universe at large (the macrocosm) and to the subatomic domain (the microcosm). There is no foreseeable end to astronomical phenomena or our discovery of them, as the recently discovered “black holes” indicate. What appears immobile on one level is really in flux at another level. There are in principle no irreducible or immutable elements in nature. This has just been reconfirmed by the acknowledgment that so-called elementary particles can no longer be considered the ultimate objects of microphysics. New microparticles keep turning up which reveal more profound movements and antagonisms.

The history and practice of the sciences demonstrate that various totalities exist in nature as well as in human history. Vigier points out that living organisms are totalities which can be decomposed into finer totalities such as the giant molecules. Farther afield, the earth, the solar system, our galaxy, and all galactic systems taken together can be approached and analysed as totalities with a disregard for their detailed fluctuations. The distinct totalities which are found all around us in nature are relative, partial, and limited. Yet, far from negating the unity of nature, they constitute and confirm it.

Experiments show that however complicated the biochemistry of life, its processes are fundamentally the same from the algae to the human organism. We ourselves are made of star-stuff. It has been ascertained that the universe has a common chemistry, just as all the diverse forms of life on earth share similar biological laws. The same elements that make up the earth and its inhabitants are present in the most remote stellar regions.

The substantial unity of nature is asserted not only in its structural components, but in its stages and modes of development. Science is rapidly filling in a vast panorama of cosmic advancement. It is uncertain how the observable universe originated, if it did at all. But it has certainly evolved—from the creation of the elements, the constitution of the stellar galaxies, and other celestial phenomena to the birth of our solar system and the formation of the earth’s crust and atmosphere. Then it proceeded to the chemical conditions required for the primary reactions leading to the first forms of life, on through the transformations of organic species, up to the advent of humanity. All this has been climaxed by the birth and forward movement of society over the past million-odd years.

This unified process of development is the real basis for the universality of the dialectic, which maintains that everything is linked together and interactive, in continuous motion and change, and that this change is the outcome of the conflicts of opposing forces within nature as well as everything to be found in it.

To assert that everything is in the last analysis connected with everything else does not nullify the relative autonomy of specific formations and singular things. But the separation of one thing from another, its qualitative distinctions from everything else, breaks down at a certain point in time and in space. So long as the opposing forces are in balance the totality appears stable, harmonious, at rest—and is really so. But this is a transient condition. Sooner or later, alterations in the inner relation of forces, and interactions with other processes in the environment, upset the achieved equilibrium, generate instability, and can eventuate in the disruption and destruction of the most hard-and-fast formations. Dialectics is fundamentally the most consistent way of thinking about the universal interconnections of things in the full range of their development.


In addition to denying the unity of nature, Sartre attempts to erect impassable barriers between different orders of existence by splitting nature from human history. Is this justified by the facts? There was a profound interruption in the continuity of natural evolution, a qualitative jump, when humankind lifted itself above the other primates by means of the labour process. There are basic differences between nature and society; they have different laws of development. But there is no unbridgeable gap between them.

Just as the inorganic gave rise to the organic, that in turn and in time engendered social life, the distinctive field of human action. But all three sectors of reality remain in the closest communion. The chemical elements (nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen) which enter into the total metabolism of organisms through food consumption, inhaling, exhaling, internal utilisation and breakdown, excretion and elimination, return to the atmosphere, earth, and water for reuse. Our economy as well as our physiology exhibits the unbreakable unity of the diverse levels of being. The farmer furrowing the soil with an animal-drawn plough and seeding it brings together mineral, botanical, zoological, and human forces in the unified process of producing food.

The inanimate, the animate, and the social belong to a single stream of material existence and evolution with endless currents.

Are the oppositions in nature so radically different from contradictions in the life of humanity as Sartre contends? Contradictions on every level of existence have their peculiar characteristics, which must be found out in the course of practical experience and formulated in scientific inquiry. The sociological law that as technology expands, the productive forces of humankind tend to grow beyond and conflict with the relations of production and the property forms in which they have been encased is very different from Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.

Does this mean that physical and social processes have no common denominators? Marxism maintains that general laws of being and becoming exist which allow both for the identities and differences, the persistent and the changing, in the real world. They embrace both nature and human life and are capable of expression as laws of logical thought. Included in the inventory of the laws of dialectics are the interpenetration of opposites, the passage of quantity into quality, the negation of the negation, the conflict of form and content, and many others. They are as relevant to nature as to society because they are rooted in the objective world.

Vigier observes that “internal antagonisms (that is to say, the assemblage of forces which necessarily evolve in contrary directions) illustrate the nature of contradiction Ö The unity of opposites is understood as the unity of elements on one level which engenders the phenomena of a higher level. The transformation of quantity into quality is interpreted as the sudden rupture of equilibrium within a system (for example, the destruction of one of the antagonistic forces), which modifies the equilibrium and gives rise to a qualitatively new phenomenon in the midst of which new contradictions appear.”

Vigier cites the advances of modern physics as evidence of the intrinsically contradictory properties of analysed systems, which contain simplicity and complexity, inertia and violent motion at one and the same time. “The material elements considered inert at one level, for example the macroscopic bodies described by classical physics, are revealed upon analysis to be prodigiously complex and mobile as scientific knowledge progresses. On our scale this table can appear to me inert, but we know it is composed of molecules in extremely complex and violent motion. These molecules themselves can be decomposed into mobile atoms when I push analysis much further. Finally, the atoms themselves split into so-called ‘elementary particles’ which in their turn disclose equally mobile and complex internal structures.”

The motion dealt with in contemporary microphysics is not considered as the simple shift of an inert element from one point to another but rather as a violent oscillating movement which develops at one point to the degree it is destroyed in the immediately preceding position. Each side of this dual process of annihilation and creation reciprocally conditions the other.

The new emerges from the old in nature by way of contradiction, that is to say, by negating the essential properties of the previous form of being and absorbing its reconstituted elements into a higher synthesis. The major leaps from one qualitative state to another take place on the borderlands of evolution where one state of matter passes over into another.

Biochemists are now seeking to ascertain and duplicate the successive steps through which purely chemical reactions produced the first biochemical mechanisms. Although the inorganic is the matrix, the mother of life, life on earth is something radically novel. As a totality it is other and more than a chemical process; it has structures, properties, and powers that go far beyond its predecessor. “It is necessary to seek in the mineral for the origin of the processes and materials of the organic world”, says J.D. Bernal, the British physicist, “but life itself represents a capital stage in the evolution of matter: the containment of continual chemical processes in a limited volume.”

Formal logic, which is based on abstract, or simple, identity (A equals A), is too one-sided to explain this negation of one state of matter and its transformation into its opposite, in this case the lifeless into the living, because it excludes from its premises real difference and contradiction, which is the extreme development of difference. But the unity of opposites (A equals non-A), which makes contradiction explicit and intelligible, can explain this transition, which actually occurred on earth. The emergence of life from the nonliving in turn substantiates the objective basis in nature of this law of concrete contradiction, a cornerstone of dialectical logic.

According to Sartre, we are barred from knowing the inside of nature because it is not the work of humankind. Are physical-chemical phenomena inaccessible to us because we do not have such direct contact with them as with history? To be sure, remarks Vigier, we have to make and employ experimental devices to delve into the thick of things. But through these instruments we do find out their real properties and inner relations.

How can we be sure that our ideas actually correspond to what nature is “in itself”? This is no new question for philosophy, and Marxism developed a theory of knowledge to answer it. Sartre, like Immanuel Kant, bases his agnosticism upon the supposedly impenetrable character of materiality. Garaudy points out that while relations between the subject and object, the human and nonhuman, may initially be opaque, they can be rendered more and more transparent by practice and theory.

The proof that we know what things really are comes from useful practice. From solar masses to subatomic particles, we handle the materials and direct the operations of nature for our social purposes.

If we project through action an idea or scientific hypothesis about the material world or any portion of it, we receive a response, either negative or affirmative. The idea either fits the situation or it does not. Both responses enable us to deal with, and eventually to understand, the features and functions of nature. They disclose not only the movement but the structure of reality.

A new hypothesis does not simply destroy the old, leading to null results in the history of thought. The superior hypothesis that replaces the cruder and narrower one contains within itself whatever remains valid and valuable in its outworn and discarded predecessor, as an automatic shear retains the cutting edge of chipped stone and Albert Einstein’s relativity theory includes and explains what is true and useful in Newtonian physics. Knowledge progresses and accumulates in this dialectical manner. It is thus possible to deepen our understanding and extend our control. Even if we never get to learn everything about nature, the verified knowledge actually gained through endless investigation enables us to probe ever more deeply into its recesses.

The issue in dispute is whether the structure and movement of nature disclosed by science and experiment is such that only a dialectical method of thought renders the phenomena intelligible and manageable. Sartre evades a definite answer to this question by walling up nature in an unbreachable externality with no windows we can look and reach through. He rejects the Marxist conception that human knowledge reflects objective reality.

Garaudy is obliged to clear up two common misunderstandings about this theory which Sartre plays upon. The term “reflection” does not signify that knowledge is a passive phenomenon which merely duplicates the object, like a mirror image, or mechanically reproduces it, like a stamping machine. The process of conception is more complex and active. Arising out of work and everyday practice, stimulated by the predicaments of life, the human mind invents ideas and hypotheses and tries various means of verifying them. Further, knowledge is not simply derived from sensation—which gives immediate contact with the external world—as the original empiricists taught. It is essentially historical, the product of prolonged social practice and intricate modifications of thought in its adjustments to reality, which remain forever incomplete.

This is true of the dialectics of nature as well. It is not imposed a priori or wilfully upon nature, as Sartre charges. It represents the verified conclusions, the systematic formulations of practical experience, scientific investigation, and critical thought extending from Heraclitus to Hegel. Like other theoretical acquisitions, it is projected into the future as a guide to further inquiry into concrete reality.

But if Marxism has discarded the passive, oversimplified, and nonevolutionary versions of the thought process held by previous schools of materialism from Epicurus to the 18th-century sensationalists, it asserts with them that conceptual reflection does bring out and define the essential qualities and relations of things. Nature is prior to consciousness. There is an internal bond between what exists and what is known—and even how it is known. The order of ideas, as Benedict Spinoza said, does correspond with the order of things.

Hyppolite makes two charges against the Marxist interpretation of dialectics. On the one hand it aims to make nature historical by importing dialectical laws into it, and on the other it tries to “naturise” history by subjecting it to the same laws as the physical world. He wishes to keep history and nature in totally separate compartments.

This is alien to reality. Nature is through and through historical. Vigier emphasises how, “proceeding from the history of biology and the human sciences, the idea of evolution has step by step invaded the whole of the sciences: after astronomy it is today breaking through into chemistry and physics Ö This idea of history, of evolution, of analysis in terms of development is for us precisely the profound logical root of the dialectics of nature. It can even be said that in a sense all scientific progress is being achieved along the line of abandoning static descriptions for the sake of dynamic analyses combining the intrinsic properties of the analysed phenomena. For us, science progresses from Cuvier to Darwin, from the static to the dynamic, from formal logic to dialectical logic.”

Nature and society form two parts of a single historical process. But they are basically different, contradictory parts. Other living beings have history made for them; we make our own history.

Animals depend upon the available food and other features of their environment for survival; they cannot alter or discard their specialised organs and ways of life to cope with sudden changes. Entire species can perish when their habitats change too rapidly and radically. Humans, on the other hand, are not subjected to any particular environment or mode of adaptation. We can adjust to new conditions, meet changes, and even institute them by inventing new tools and techniques and producing what we need.

Up to now social development has carried over certain traits of natural development because by and large it has proceeded in an unconscious and uncontrolled manner. The course of society has been determined not by human purposes, but by the unintended results of the operation of the productive forces. But human history has reached the point where it can discard its blind automatism and enter an entirely different type of development. By discovering the laws of social development and collectively acting upon them, we can take control of society and consciously plan its further growth.


Hyppolite and Sartre accuse Marxism of instituting a new dogmatism by presenting a fixed and finished system of thought about the world. Hyppolite’s last words in the debate are: “You risk giving us a sort of dialectics, under the pretext of dialectics of nature, which would be a speculative (i.e., idealistic) thought, in certain respects a theological thought, even though you disclaim such an intention.” Sartre contends that Marxist dialectics is a frozen system based upon a limited number of laws, the three mentioned by Engels in Dialectics of Nature .

Sartre is right in saying that the laws of logic are not limited. But so does genuine Marxism, even though some doctrinaires of the Stalinist school have sought to limit them. The French philosopher Henri Lefebvre ridiculed one official of the French Communist Party who smugly declared to him: “The house [of dialectical thought] is finished; there is nothing left to do but put up the tapestries.”

“There does not exist a closed, finished, definitive list of dialectical laws”, says Garaudy. “The presently known laws constitute a provisional balance sheet of our knowledge Ö Further social practice and scientific experiment will permit us to enrich and extend them.” Although the dialectical laws discovered and formulated to date have a definite content and universal scope, they are neither completed nor unchangeable. The number and the character of the laws of logic have changed over the past 2500 years. They will continue to be transformed along with the development of nature, society and knowledge.

Sartre strives to secure an objective basis for dialectics by locating it exclusively within human practice. “If we refuse to see the original dialectical movement in the individual and in his enterprise of producing his life, of objectifying himself, then we shall have to give up dialectic or else make of it the immanent law of history,” he writes in Search for a Method . This is a very misleading description of dialectical movement even within human history. The dialectical development of society proceeds not from the action and decision of the isolated individual in a concrete situation but from the work of the group, first in the struggle against nature, then in the conflict of classes. Subjective components of the whole—such as individual psychology—which so preoccupy the existentialists, are integral and subordinate elements of this objective historical process and derive their validity and significance from it.

In the reciprocal relationship whereby human practice transforms and masters the environment, nature retains existential priority, however much this offends the subjectivity of the existentialist philosopher.

The origin of human practice itself requires explanation. The distinctive activities that have separated humanity from the animal condition originated with the using and making of tools and weapons to obtain the means of subsistence. But this new kind of activity, which is at the foundation of society, grew out of natural processes which antedate human practice by billions of years.

In the evolutionary scale, animal activity preceded human practice, which was a qualitatively new offshoot of it. When the first fish developed lungs, came to live on dry land, and converted themselves into amphibians, that was a dialectical change in organic nature. Through the natural mechanisms of the evolution of species, the fish, to use Sartre’s language, “objectified himself” into something else.

The dialectics of human history grew out of this dialectics of nature. It originated in the conversion of the early primate into the human, the most meaningful of all the contradictory developments of matter. The elevation of humanity above animality was the greatest rupture in the continuity of nature’s evolution. The qualitative disjunction between us and other species is so deepgoing that Sartre takes it as the ground for excluding dialectics from nature.

He is here baffled by a genuine contradiction. Human beings are both creatures of nature and a departure from it. When the human is low-rated as nothing but a high-grade animal, different in degree but not in kind from other living beings, the essential and distinctive nature of humanity is obliterated. Human life, which stems from the production of the means of subsistence by tools and weapons, is something radically new compared with the animal foraging for food. The labour process is the beginning of society and provides the platform for the dialectical movement of history. Fundamental changes in the organisation of this labour process are the decisive steps in the further advancement of humanity.

But the processes which humanised our primate ancestors were both a prolongation of brute nature and a level above and beyond it. Just as there is both continuity and discontinuity in the transition from ape to human, so there is comparable continuity and discontinuity between the dialectics of nature and that of history. The dialectics of nature has different forms and proceeds according to different laws than the dialectics of social evolution. It is the prehistory of human dialectics, the precondition for it. The one passes over into the other as humanity has created its own characteristics in distinction from the rest of nature.

The evolution of human life through social practice is only the culminating chapter in the evolution of matter. The dialectic of human history, which for Sartre is the be-all and end-all of dialectics, is the latest episode in the universal dialectic.

Sartre’s subjectivist and anthropocentric conception of dialectical movement is belied by the latest finding of modem science. Scientists now say that billions of planets are suitable for the creation of life and may very likely be populated by intelligent organisms of some sort. There are 100 million eligible planets in our galaxy alone! Humanity is only one manifestation of life, inhabiting a small planet of a solar system on the edge of an ordinary galaxy in an explorable universe of billions of galaxies containing other—and in some cases higher—specimens of life.

This remarkable addition to our knowledge does not detract from the value and significance of life on earth for us. After all, the improvement of our own scientific practice and theory has led us to this insight. But it should serve to put our existence into proper cosmic proportion and perspective. Dialectics can no more be restricted to the people on our planet than life and intelligence can be.

The existentialist resents and rejects the rationalism and objectivity of science. It supposedly leads us away from real being, which is to be perpetually sought, though never reached, through the ever-renewed, ever-baffled effort of the individual consciousness to go beyond our human condition. The terrible destiny of the human race is like “the desire of the moth for the star/ the night for the morrow/ the devotion to something afar/ from the sphere of our sorrow”.

So the exasperated existentialist Sartre flings as his trump card against the dialectics of nature the current crisis in science. “There has never been, I believe, as grave a crisis as the present one in science”, he cries to Vigier. “So when you come to talk to us about your completed, formed, solid science and want to dissolve us in it, you’ll understand our reserve.”

Vigier calmly replies: “Science progresses by means of crises in the same manner as history; that’s what we call progress. Crises are the very foundation of progress.” And he concludes: “The very practice of science, its progress, the very manner in which it is today passing from a static to a dynamic analysis of the world, that is precisely what is progressively elaborating the dialectic of nature under our very eyes Ö The dialectic of nature is very simply the effort of the philosophy of our time Ö of the most encyclopedic philosophy, that is, Marxism to apprehend the world and change it.”

This ringing affirmation will appear bizarre to Anglo-American scientists who may respect Vigier for his work as a physicist. They summarily disqualify dialectical logic on the ground that, whatever its philosophical or political interest, it has no value in promoting any endeavour in natural science. If the method is valid, the antidialecticians say, then purposeful application by its proponents should prove capable of producing important new theories and practical results in other fields than the social. Marxists are challenged to cite instances where the dialectical method has actually led to new discoveries and not simply demonstrated after the fact that specific scientific findings conform to the generalisations of dialectical logic.

The most splendid contribution of this kind in recent decades has been Oparin’s theories on the origin of life, which are widely accepted and have stimulated fruitful work on the problems of biogenesis and genetics. The Soviet scientist’s theory is based on the hypothesis that the random formation and interaction of increasingly complex molecules gave rise to the simplest forms of living matter, which then began to reproduce at the expense of the surrounding organic material.

Oparin consciously employed such principles of materialist dialectics as the transformation of quantity into quality, the interruption of continuity (evolution by leaps), and the conversion of chance fluctuations into regular processes and definite properties of matter, to initiate an effective new line of approach to one of the central problems of science: How did inanimate nature generate life on earth? Such cases would undoubtedly multiply if more practicing scientists were better informed about the Marxist method of thought.


The crisis of method within science is only one aspect of the more general crisis of modern civilisation. This has become most excruciating in the deadly consequences of physical science under capitalist auspices. The dialectics of nature exhibited in the fission and fusion of atoms has merged with the dialectics of history in the most monstrous and momentous of all contradictions facing humanity: the threat of self-destruction by nuclear war.

Why have the immense strides in physical knowledge and technology designed to serve humankind become perverted into an intolerable menace to our survival? The H-bomb exemplifies the sociological law that the fast-expanding forces of production have outgrown capitalist relations and are pounding against them for liberation. Used for good or evil, nuclear energy, the greatest source of power at our command, is proving incompatible with private ownership of the economy and capitalist control over the government.

The imperative political conclusion is that the representatives of the money power in the United States must be prevented from pressing the button which can doom us all, as was nearly done in the 1962 missile crisis over Cuba. Capitalism is the last form of socioeconomic organisation dominated by laws which operate in an ungovernable way, like laws of nature. The aim of scientific socialism, the task of the proletarian world revolution, is to subdue all the anarchic forces tied up with capitalism which generate insecurity and havoc in our society. The blind drives of class society have pushed humanity to the brink of extinction. Conscious understanding and application of the dialectical laws of evolution—and revolution—can help save us.

Only through public ownership and operation of the economy and democratic direction of state policy can the working people introduce scientific enlightenment into the material foundations of life, overthrow the last entrenchment of automatism in social evolution, and clear the way for the rule of reason in all human affairs.


I have just read your article, “Is Nature Dialectical?” in the Summer 1964 issue of the International Socialist Review , and I was quite impressed by it.

Although I must plead guilty to a rather superficial knowledge of Marxism, I am very interested in Hegel’s work. During my study of Hegel, I have come to the conclusion that the question of the philosophy of nature is a crucial one. In my opinion, Hegel’s philosophy falls apart into a dualism of mind and matter instead of being the synthesis he desired just because of the failure of his philosophy of nature.

This failure is not, I submit, a failure of the dialectical method, but the result of the lack of sufficient scientific knowledge at Hegel’s time plus Hegel’s insistence on bending the inadequate knowledge he did have into his philosophic system. It is the latter fault that makes his philosophy of nature appear downright silly today; but it is only today that we are beginning to attain the scientific knowledge that makes a dialectical view of the facts the only reasonable one.

This part of Hegel’s philosophy has been largely neglected, but I consider it vital to a serious consideration of his thought today. Therefore, your article on the dialectics of nature was a very welcome piece of writing to me. On the whole, I agree with your position—the laws of dialectics apply to nature as well as humanity.

The scientific knowledge available now can only be understood thoroughly by the use of dialectics. This appears most obviously in the realm of evolution and biology in general, but the interrelationship of all aspects of our world means that it is applicable to the other sciences as well.

The existentialist position would create a complete alienation between man and the world, and would destroy the objectivity of our knowledge and thus our ability to act. Sartre’s position, as described in your article—that humans can never attain to the “reality” of things, that our knowledge and the laws of our (dialectical) logic apply only to humanity and society, etc.—sounds like that of a resuscitated Kant.

It can only lead to a divided world-view, a denial of the possibility of true knowledge and, ultimately, to excesses of subjectivity rather than creative activity. The existentialists may begin their philosophic inquiry from the standpoint of the individual, but that does not mean that they can stop there without losing sight of the essential thing—that we are in and of the world.

The points made by Vigier and Garaudy were, I felt, an excellent rebuttal to Sartre and Hyppolite. There is one point in your article, however, with which I would take some exception. That is when you argue against the antidialecticians by pointing out the advances made in science, especially by Oparin, through the use of dialectical method. Dialectical logic may help the scientist reach some useful hypotheses for later investigation, but this is not the essential point here.

It seems to me that the method or means by which scientific discoveries are made is secondary in this argument. What is really vital is the fact that only a dialectical view of nature can provide an adequate framework in which these new discoveries can be seen in their total relationship. That is, how one gets to the discovery is not so important as the realisation that this new “fact” can only be thoroughly explained and related to the rest of our knowledge through a dialectical viewpoint.

There is one other point that seems appropriate to this discussion: I read recently that Roger Garaudy was to write an introduction to a Russian translation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man . Now Teilhard certainly is not a dialectical materialist in any sense of the word. However, beneath the theological portion of his thought, one finds a view of evolution that is certainly dialectical—in a Hegelian, if not a Marxist, sense. And Teilhard’s work seems to have been a little too “materialistic” for the Roman Catholic church.

Teilhard’s work in itself deserves study, but simply in connection with the question of the dialectics of nature, it seems to me that it may be a sign that we are approaching a higher synthesis of thought. The static conceptions of “idealism” and “materialism” may give way to a newer, more adequate realisation of their interdependence throughout the whole sphere of nature. That can only be achieved if we recognise the objective character of dialectics—that it applies to nature as well as to history. The perpetuation of alienation between “mind” and “matter”, humanity and the world, nature and history, can serve no good purpose, but only leads to fragmentation and confusion in philosophy and action.

Dialectics by its nature has to be an “open” system which not only allows for the addition of new knowledge but also admits our freedom and ability to shape history. The recognition of nature as dialectical is the only way to a whole world-view that includes humanity in the world while recognising our unique position and frees us to control our own future. Your article is an excellent statement of the issues and their importance, and I hope it will precipitate in this country a greater appreciation of the problem and wide discussion of it.

Yvonne Groseil

Here are some comments on the main questions of theoretical interest raised by this friendly comment.

1. Would knowledge of the method of the materialist dialectic, which is based on the most general laws of being and becoming, assist physical scientists in their investigations of nature?

Up to now almost all scientists have carried on their work without conscious understanding of the dialectical laws of universal development, just as most people speak very well without knowing the history or grammar of their language, breathe without awareness of the physiological processes of respiration, and acquire the necessities of life without comprehending the principles of political economy.

Western philosophers and scientists almost unanimously believe that the dialectical view of nature is false, irrelevant, and even positively harmful in the theory and practice of science. This prejudice, rooted in our predominantly empirical and positivist intellectual traditions, has been reinforced by the arbitrary and ignorant interference of the Stalinist bureaucrats with scientific theory, along with their narrowly schematic, distorted, and dogmatic interpretation of Marxist method.

This correspondent has a more favourable attitude toward the dialectical conception of nature. But she suggests that it may be far less important in facilitating progress in physical science than it is for explaining and correlating its discoveries after they have been made.

Such a one-sided emphasis runs the risk of lapsing into the very Kantian dualism which she correctly criticises in the case of the existentialists. What are here involved are the organic connections between the unity of reality, the sum total of our knowledge, and the scientific inquiry which shuttles from one to the other. If the dialectical method can be useful in clarifying the relationships of the knowledge of nature once it has been acquired, why cannot it be equally valuable in helping scientists to arrive at verified results? After all, the dialectical characteristics which are disclosed in the body of known facts must already have existed and been effective in the objective realities from which they have been derived.

If scientists should approach the problems for which they seek solutions in their particular fields with an informed understanding of the fundamental traits of development formulated in the laws of dialectical logic, why couldn’t these serve as a general methodological guide in their concrete inquiries?

In fact, the most creative scientists have assumed the truth of this or that rule of dialectical logic in conducting their work, although they have done so in a piecemeal, haphazard, semiconscious manner. Without referring to past examples, let’s take the many non-Marxist scientists around the world who are cooperating with Oparin in studying the specific steps by which the most elementary processes and mechanisms of life have emerged from inanimate matter. Unlike him, they pay no heed to the fact that the transition of the lifeless into the living exemplifies at least two laws of dialectical logic.

One is the unity of opposites, which states that A equals non-A; the other is the transformation of quantity into quality. That is to say, a sufficient aggregate of chemical reactions of a special type gave rise to new properties appropriate to a new and higher state of material existence on this planet, the biochemical level, of which humans are the most complex and advanced embodiment.

Just as Teilhard de Chardin’s religious views did not prevent him from participating in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929 and thus adding to our knowledge of human origins, so practicing physicists, chemists, and biologists can and do promote their sciences without any clear notions of the logic underlying their investigations, or even with erroneous ideas of the world. But would not the work of individual scientists benefit—as much as science as a whole—if they could rid their minds of errors and inconsistencies which run counter to a scientific outlook, and thus bring their general ideas about the universe and their logical theory into closer accord with their experimental practice and the requirements of science itself?

That is why Marxists contend that a comprehensive grasp of the logic of dialectical materialism would not only clarify what science has already achieved but enable contemporary scientists to promote and improve their work. Science is still in its infancy and is only now being applied on a grand scale. There are more scientists in the world today than in all previous history. This sudden and sharp jump in the number of scientists and the facilities at their disposal demands a corresponding expansion in their understanding of the logic of evolution, which so far has been best provided by the school of dialectical materialism.

2. The works of Father Teilhard de Chardin can throw light on this matter, although not entirely in the way intended by our correspondent. While Chardin is an inconsistent dialectician, he is not at all a materialist in his philosophy and procedure. One of the world’s most eminent biologists, George Gaylord Simpson, who was a friend of Chardin’s and has read both his published and unpublished manuscripts, concurs with this judgment in his book This View of Life . There, in a chapter entitled “Evolutionary Theology: the New Mysticism”, Simpson states that Chardin’s ideas are mystical and nonscientific in two major respects. First, he divides all energy into two distinct kinds which cannot be verified: a “tangential” material energy and a “radial” spiritual energy. Second, he advocates orthogenesis as the principal mechanism of evolution. Unlike natural selection, which is based upon random and multidirectional trends of evolution, orthogenesis holds that evolution proceeds in a unidirectional, predetermined, and even purposive manner.

Simpson severely censures Chardin for his spiritualistic “doubletalk”, which really has nothing to do with science. He writes that “Teilhard was primarily a Christian mystic and only secondarily a scientist”.

Roger Garaudy likewise deals with Chardin in his book Perspectives of Man . Ironically, this foremost French communist philosopher is far more conciliatory toward the views of the Jesuit father than is the American biologist Simpson. Garaudy’s book undertakes a critical analysis of the main currents of contemporary French thought: existentialism, Catholicism, and Marxism. He claims that all three are engaged in a common effort to grasp “man in his totality”, and he seeks to emphasise their “possible convergences”. He concludes that radical existentialists, liberal Catholics, and communists can cooperate “not as adversaries but as explorers in a common venture” which proceeds by different paths toward the same goal.

This theoretical position is the reverse of that taken by Garaudy in the days of Stalin-Zhdanov. It is motivated by the desire for a philosophical rapprochement among these incompatible schools of thought to accompany the CP’s quest for a political alliance of all “democratic, progressive, peace-loving” forces as prescribed by the policy of “peaceful coexistence”.

Those unorthodox features of Chardin’s thought, which scandalise his superiors in the Jesuit order and the church but attract liberal Catholics, lend themselves to this purpose. It is true, as Garaudy points out, that Chardin recognised certain dialectical characteristics in the process of evolution, such as the universal interconnection and reciprocal action of all things, the transformation of quantity into quality in connection with biogenesis (though not in the transition from biological to social life), and the transmutation of matter in an ascending series of higher forms.

But the “finalism” and “vitalism” which permeate his thought—based on the supposition that evolution heads in only one direction, toward greater “centro-complexity”, toward the Omega point where humanity will merge with God—are irreconcilable not only with dialectical materialism but, as Simpson insists, with any acceptable scientific approach to universal evolution.

3. Somewhat in the spirit of Chardin, Yvonne Groseil intimates that “the static conceptions of ‘idealism’ and ‘materialism’ may give way to a newer, more adequate realisation of their interdependence throughout the whole sphere of nature.” A Marxist cannot agree with this for numerous reasons.

First, there is nothing “static” about a consistently dialectical and materialist view of nature, which is based upon the proposition that everything is in flux because of the opposing forces at work within it and in the universe. Materialist dialectics is dynamic, mobile, evolutionary through and through.

Second, the valid and valuable contributions made to the store of human knowledge by the great idealists of the past (like dialectical logic itself) have been—or ought to be—incorporated into the structure of dialectical materialism without surrendering or compromising its fundamental positions: that reality consists of matter in motion, and that social life and intellectuality are the highest manifestations of the development of matter.

Idealism, on the other hand, makes spiritual, supernatural, ideological, or personal forces the essence of reality. Such a fundamentally false philosophy has to be rejected in toto.

Nor can these two opposing conceptions of the world and its evolution be amalgamated into some superior synthesis eclectically combining the “best features of both”, as Sartre tries to do with his neo-Marxist existentialism and Father de Chardin in his blend of religious mysticism and evolutionism.

Modern thought and science can be most effectively advanced through a firm repudiation of all religious, mystical, and idealistic notions and the conscious adoption, application, and development of dialectical materialism. Working in equal partnership, Marxist logic and the sciences can enable us to penetrate more surely and deeply into the nature of the world we live in.


After finishing this reply, I chanced to read “The Emergence of Evolutionary Novelties” by Ernst Mayr, Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard, in The Evolution of Life . It deals with the key problem of explaining the origin of entirely new biological phenomena on the basis of random variations.

Mayr points out that “the exact definition of an ‘evolutionary novelty’ faces the same insuperable difficulty as the definition of the species. As long as we believe in gradual evolution, we must be prepared to encounter mediate evolutionary stages. Equivalent to the cases in which it is impossible to decide whether a population is not yet a species or already a species, will be cases of doubt as to whether a population is already or not yet an evolutionary novelty. The study of this difficult transition from the quantitative to the qualitative is precisely one of the objects of this paper.”

Mayr finds that there are three main kinds of evolutionary novelties: cellular biochemical innovations (the uric acid and fat metabolism of the cleidoic egg of the terrestrial vertebrates); new structures (eyes, wings, stings); and new habits or behaviour patterns (the shift from water to land or from the earth to air).

The saltationists and mutationists of various schools argued against the natural selectionists that new structures could only have come into existence suddenly and all ready for advantageous use, whereas Charles Darwin held that they would have to be formed by numerous, successive, and slight modifications of preexisting organs. “The problem of the emergence of evolutionary novelties”, writes Mayr, “then consists in having to explain how a sufficient number of small gene mutations can be accumulated until the new structure has become sufficiently large to have selective value.” He calls this the “threshold problem”.

His paper undertakes to demonstrate the ways in which different organisms have actually effected the changeover from one structure to another in the evolutionary process. Mayr’s treatment is highly pertinent to our own discussion of logical method in science because it indicates how a biologist concerned with the fundamental problem of evolution has been impelled to invoke the dialectical law of the transformation of quantity into quality in order to explain the generation of novelty in living beings.

Indeed, how would it be possible to comprehend how the mere piling up of quantitative variations could give rise to something decisively different from its antecedents unless this law was operative?

It may be objected that Mayr has not used this law to discover anything new but only to clarify how new biological phenomena come into existence. But, as John Dalton’s atomic theory of the chemical elements, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Max Planck’s quantum theory testify, the discovery of the general laws at work, the basic features and essential relations in any field of reality, is the highest expression of scientific activity. A correct and comprehensive conception of the production of novelty in organic evolution is more important for the advancement and reinforcement of biological science than the discovery of some new aspect of functional adaptation to a habitat by a particular group of fauna.

Mayr is one of the most eminent of contemporary American biologists. It can be assumed that he is not a Marxist or an adherent of dialectical materialism. He has resorted to one of the major laws of dialectics empirically, without a full awareness of the type of logical thinking he was applying, just as another naturalist of lesser stature might explore a novel type of adaptation of a group of organisms without concerning himself about a general explanation of evolutionary novelty as Mayr had done.

Mayr’s acknowledgment of the indispensability of this law of dialectics in solving the problem of the emergence of evolutionary novelties provides involuntary and forceful testimony to its value for the natural scientist.


[1] The stenograph of this debate was published as Marxisme et Existentialisme (Libraire Plon: Paris, 1962).

Globalisation in India and Women

Soma Marik

In my talk, I will address globalisation as an economic process, and ask how far that has been gender neutral. Has it weakened patriarchy and created greater employment opportunities and greater equality for women in India or just equalized poverty? There is a need for an assessment from a feminist and socialist standpoint, since the bourgeois/ non-feminist scholarship makes invisible both the class and gender dimensions of the dynamics of power and capital distribution.
The imperialist offensive on state regulated economies, begun by Reagan and Thatcher, intensified from the late 1980s. Globalisation as an ideology and a strategy involved using the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, and from the peripheries to the core countries. Hundreds of millions have been impoverished since the late 1980s across the world. (Chossudovsky). For women, the impact of globalisation has been uneven. A small layer have gained work opportunity in terms of newly emerging forms of employment, especially in the IT, service and food-processing sectors, but the semi-/unskilled ones have lost control over their natural recourses (land, water forest etc), as well as in traditional industries, resulting in the loss of traditional livelihood and sustainability. Gender is not a homogeneous category, but is intersected by class, caste, community and ethnicity, and impacted by age, ideology and sexual preference.


Even among leftists, there exist various views on globalisation. Rohini Hensman argues that an ‘anti-globalisation’ agenda would actually deprive third-world women of job opportunities and improving their conditions. She argues that talk of alternatives at the present juncture is to dream, and reality demands recognizing that some job is better than no job. Even if trade unions have collapsed due to capitalist offensives, jobs for some women enable them to survive, be independent of male relatives and feed their families. However the Second NGO Shadow Report (2006) on CEDAW shows a considerable decline and in some cases closure of employment opportunities for large numbers of women. Work participation rates for women fell from 444 per thousand in 1993-1994 to 419 in 1999-2000 across rural India, and from 154 per thousand to 139 in urban India in the same period.
But nationalist oriented leftists like Jayati Ghosh and others like Sumita Sarkar argue that globalisation-generated international mobility of capital has increased its relative strength vis-à-vis labour. As a result, tough conditions are imposed on workers, with women workers facing the worst attacks. True but focus on import-restrictions and restoration of state control, link the fate of indigenous labour with the fate of native capital. As though indigenous capital will voluntarily increase wages of local workers, and will not adopt strategies to exploit workers more ruthlessly.
Inter-capitalist competition under neo-liberal free market conditions mean intense pressure on workers viz, (a) Labour flexibility – a shift in many sectors from full-time, pensionable, medical benefit enabled jobs to part-time, temporary, sub-contracted and home-based work. (b) Casualisation of labour-- companies use a small permanent labour force, and hire casual workers depending on the expansion of work. (c) Feminisation of certain types of labour, especially home based as well as low skilled jobs. The consequences are: (i) decline of regular social-security based work, (ii) fragmentation of labour processes-- the creation of a small layer of well-paid skilled workers, especially in or using information communication technology and called upon to do multi-tasking (thereby maximising profit) and a large segment of low-salaried workers mostly women. Labour flexibility tantamounts to super-exploitation of women who have to do both housework and “flexible” production, with no flexible time for themselves.
The growing predominance of international trade in the economy has meant a growing power of exporters and importers. Both Indian and Transnational companies seek more women workers, to gain flexible labour with cheaper wages. Women workers are seen as more subservient to male managers’ authority, and hence hired more. They are also perceived as anti-union/ lesser capability to organize unions, more willing to accept poor working conditions and easier to dismiss using lifecycle criteria such as marriage and child birth (Ghosh, 1999).
The argument in favour of globalisation is that the country that can produce something most efficiently will produce it at low cost and will then export it in order to buy other things from other countries at low rates where restrictions on imports and exports will no longer be necessary. Surplus production, lower prices will whip up demand, expand domestic market as well as employment opportunities thereby making ample scope for steady progression of global economy.
Vibhuti Patel contesting this argued that in looking at the impact of globalisation on women, we need to look, not at the binary of national frontier versus globalisation, but at capitalist-patriarchy. She shows that the ideology of globalisation and the drive for cheap labour has meant the defiance of India’s labour laws, especially those affecting women.


Despite protective legislations and Minimum Wages Act the workers in the organized sectors are not adequately better off as the there is lack of political will to implement them. While, minimum wages fixed by the government are low (Rs 80 per day), but even that basic level is denied to many workers.  Often, bribes to factory inspectors or threats to close down factories ensure flouting the minimum wages laws. Crèches in workplaces are often not maintained in violation of the Factories Act (1987) where according to the Act the crèches are supposed to be maintained only when there are 30 women employees. Women activists in India are demanding the clause 30 women to be replaced by 30 men and women employees. Moreover in the service sector there is no legal compulsion to maintain crèches. Both the absence of crèches and insistence of its presence only in women’s workplace have obvious gender implications.
The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 is seldom implemented. The definition and evaluation of the same work or work of a similar nature often makes gender discrimination very easy. In the era of globalisation, attempts to enforce this law have come down even more. Regardless of whether they work in the formal or the informal/home-based sector/s women suffer from a significant pay differential. The forms however vary. In the formal sector there are laws to protect equal pay, but due to lesser access to education and consequent lower skills women could not always get the better paid jobs. In some cases, formal distinction of designations ensures pay differentials, as between air hostesses and stewards. In the informal sector, there is a straightforward pay differential, based on several assumptions – that men have a greater responsibility of feeding the family, that women are necessarily less skilled even when doing the same kind of job, and cultural constraints and life cycle factors making prolonged work for women more difficult (Esteve-Volart and Bhan).
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 covers benefit during childbirth, miscarriages, abortions, and tubectomy. But substantially large number of establishments employing less than ten persons are excluded from this Act as well as the Employees State Insurance Act. Under the former the woman before availing the leave must have worked for eighty days in that establishment or organization. Even the Calcutta University First Statutes, 1979, prevents women teachers from availing of this paid leave if they have not completed nine months of service. This a travesty of Constitutional guarantee of the right to work without discrimination. Moreover given the power equations in the family women are not always in a position to take the decision when to have a child. In many organizations they are never allowed to complete the required number of days on record. Globalisation in particular has seen the rise of Export Promotion Zones (EPZs) and Free Trade Zones (FTZs), all or most recently renamed Special Economic Zones (SEZs). In these areas, women’s employment is most precarious. To avoid payment of maternity benefits, women are thrown out of job if they get married, and certainly if they are found to be pregnant. Dr Pratibha Sharma, who runs a clinic in Noida Export Processing Zone, points out with horror that women workers often go for unsafe abortions to retain their jobs. With weak or non-existent trade unions in the SEZs, it is easy to impose such distortions of the law. Especially, by Section 49 of the SEZ Act (2005), the government is empowered to exempt any SEZ from the operation of any central law, which means for all practical purposes SEZs exist outside the laws of India, though on paper unionization is legal.


In the informal sector women workers have neither contracts nor social security, and have low wages and unhygienic working conditions. Poverty, lack of medical insurance, and forced overtime and the culture of self-denial often make health the first casualty. Women suffer from malnutrition, chronic anaemia, TB, respiratory problems, pelvic inflammatory disease, severe cases of dehydration and miscarriages are common. The lack of income security for women in the informal sector also means children’s lack of access to education. As a result the children also get pushed into the informal sector themselves.
The worst off among all the unorganized sector women are the women employed across urban India as domestic maids or “naukars”, a feudal term still much in use among the well to do. Since 1959, there have been repeated, but abortive, attempts at legislating their social security, [the latest being the Domestic workers (Registration social security and welfare ) Act 2008] because the ruling elite in India, as well as the more comfortable layers of the salaried population, all depend on exploiting such people, most of whom are women. There are about 20 million of them across India (Faleiro). Globalisation and the growing insecurity as well as work pressure has also brought a little greater awareness among such women about the need for greater rights and the possibility of upward mobility. In September 2008, the Sara Bangla Paricharika Samiti (All Bengal Maids’ Association) representing 17,000 such women, organized a protest meeting, demanding social security from the state, identity cards, fixed holidays and minimum wages. In few cities, like Mumbai, there have been of women domestic workers’ organizations demanding rights. But Parichiti, a Calcutta-based NGO organising women domestic workers, says that organizing them is particularly difficult, because many of the women work as part time help in several houses at different times and have to commute from quite a distance. So these women lacking a collective space are among the most vulnerable even among unorganized workers. Formally, the new Act provides for implementation of the Minimum Wages Act, 15 days a year paid leave, and ten hours of rest time per day. But the word “as far as practicable” leaves a leeway for flouting its provisions under any pretext.


Globalisation has also dealt blows to traditional rural economy where despite patriarchy women had a space, since family units did much of the work of vegetable and food grain production. Globalised push for cash crops and high end technologies has attacked food security for the entire family and the national economy. The widely reported suicides by Indian farmers involve not the poorest, but well-to-do farmers who took bank loans to fund cash crop production and were ruined when global competition and overproduction led to plummeting prices and failure to repay loans (Shiva). The immediate effects of the IMF-World Bank dictated Structural Adjustment Programme meant, in 1991-92, a rise in cash crop production for export by 3 per cent, while the cultivation of basic grains fell 1.5 per cent (The People vs Global Capital). At the same time, this shift to cash crop and the need to meet orders quickly meant regular hired (male) labour replacing women who henceforth used to combine house and field-work flexibly leading to a higher wage gap. On an average, in rural India, a woman’s daily wage in early 2008 was Rs 20 less than that of a man, though both worked equal hours. (It’s a Free World). The introduction of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 is an evidence that the economy by itself was totally failing to provide jobs, and that the state had to step in. If a BPL family were to get the full promised benefit of NREGA they could earn the equivalent of more than 40% of their annual income from this one scheme alone. Data for the three years during which NREGA has been in operation, 2006-09 shows that on average only 50% of the households that registered under the scheme actually got employment and that only for 45 days against the promised 100 (Shankar Raghuraman). Moreover, an ungendered notion of “the average worker” means that in reality, gender and age have not been factored in, so women and the aged will be getting less than average wages, as the same productivity norm is imposed on them. A survey carried out in January, 2008, in the Nuapada district of Orissa observes that the absence of crèche facilities may severely affect women’s participation in the NREGA schemes (Centre for Science and Environment report).
Another development has been the attempt by major corporate groups to go into agricultural production directly, like the recent attempt by the Reliance group in Gujarat to set up its own organic farming units involving setting up SEZs by taking over peasants’ lands. At best, this will, given the pre-existing patriarchy in Indian agriculture, mean that the compensation in the form of cash will go to males. It is the experience of the present author, that when compensation is paid, whether in the Narmada eviction cases in Western India (since the 1970s) or in Singur in West Bengal (2006), most often the money is given singly to a male “head of household”. In the case of the Narmada displacements, that “head of household” has even been as young as a thirteen year old boy. One result of the displacements due to the building of the Bargi Dam on the Narmada was the influx of rural women into prostitution in nearby Jabbalpur city. Even when that does not happen, the shift from an agricultural to a non-agricultural economy is traumatic, and women lose much of their voice in family level decision making as men control the money.


As opposed to the hope of the supporters of globalisation, greater employment for women in the new industries like textile and food-processing in the 1990s, instead of breaking the patriarchal hold reintensifies gender division of labour and their deskilling led to wider wage gap. The demand for greater female labour has come because female labour is seen as cheaper and safer than male labour. Capital intensive industries, not women, are taking away men’s jobs. Women of female-headed households, about one-third in India, have to go for salaried employment in order to feed themselves and their family members. Poverty is another reason why the older patriarchal model, where the woman was expected to be an unpaid housewife, no longer operates. Among the so-called “middle classes”, women’s employment has gone up as lifestyles change, as greater education leads to greater expectations, and as globalisation itself needs more consumers.
A survey (1985-1990) of export oriented industries carried out across 165 countries, showed that though the majority of new entrants in the industries were women they face gender disparity at almost every step. In this process of feminization of poverty – on one hand the rich are truly getting richer while the poor grow poorer, and on the other hand women constitute a disproportionate part of the poor. A noted feminist economist remarked in a study of the 1990s that “FTZs and EPZs thrive on young women’s super-exploitation”. (Patel)
III. Urbanization and its Impact:
One of the important dimensions of the recent globalization process is, there is a huge amount of capital in the developed capitalist world, which wants to find new areas of investment. At the same time, in countries like India, where there have been some amount of capital accumulation, both the local capitalist class and the upper layer of the salaried want access to the consumer goods and services available in the developed countries. So a massive urbanization process has begun in India, with funding from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, as well as numerous private capitalist consortiums. The steps include huge outlays for building residential areas, office complexes, shopping malls and supermarkets, road widening to facilitate the new cars coming in, more expensive varieties of public transportation (e.g., the proposal that Calcutta should have an elevated monorail). The boom in car manufacturing and selling, and the boom in real estate, were the crucial driving forces of the urbanization process. But everywhere, whether in Calcutta, Bombay, or Delhi, the bottleneck for this dream of unimpeded beauty was the existence of the urban poor. In India, the urban poor were essential for the urban rich. They provide services, from road side tea stalls to domestic maids, from small food shops for the other poor (who in turn provide services for the rich) to pavement hawkers who have so far sold goods at lower prices (since they have little establishment cost) to the lower middle classes. Many of them live in terrible slums, not because they like it, but because that is the only option open to them. And everywhere, development now meant targeting these layers of urban poor. This is done in open contravention of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees right to life and livelihood, as well as of India’s accession to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), whose articles 2, 11, 12, 13 and 15 are being flouted. In Bombay, nearly 80,000 slums are going to be “rehabilitated’ so that airport expansion and modernisation can take place. In one such slum, Gaodevi, which is one of the poorest slums (housing 85000 families), private builders are moving in, trying to buy up the property from the slum dwellers before the state comes in, presumably in order to do a spot of profitable real estate deal. But locals are not happy. Vijaya Muthu argued that relocation to some far away place would not benefit them. She also said that many of the women living in the slum worked as domestic help in the city and therefore could not afford to be relocated very far away. "Bring on the bull dozers. We will not move so easily," Vijaya says. (Meena Menon) Yet with land at a premium in Bombay, that is inevitably what the government would do at best.
In 2006, a Supreme Court order paved the way for the sale of 602 acres of land owned by textile mills in the heart of a city where prices are high even by world standards. The land will be used to build expensive shopping malls and high-end apartments for the affluent few. The court ruling immediately affected 285 acres. Under Development Control Rules (1991) 58, the vacant mill land was to be allocated according to “a one-third formula”—one third of affordable homes for mill workers, one third for public use, including parks, and one third for commercial use. According to this legal provision, Mumbai municipal authorities were to guarantee 400 acres of mill land for open space and for public housing.
In 2001, using a loophole in the Maharashtra Town and Planning Act 1966, DCR 58 was amended to DCR 58 (I), which stated: “Only land that is vacant on mill properties, that is, with no built-up structure, would be divided by the one-third formula”. With this legal sleight of hand, the way was opened to sell most prime land to private developers, leaving just 133 acres for public housing and recreation.
The amendment allowed the National Textile Mills to be sold in 2005 for $US158 million to the Delhi-based builder DLF in what was one of India’s highest priced real estate sales. Another mill Kohinoor was sold for $95 million to a company, reportedly owned by two leading Mumbai politicians. The Supreme Court ruling has upheld these deals and opened the door for further land sales.
In West Bengal, ruled since 1977 by the Left Front, the picture was not different. What was different was that because of the leftist past, there was a degree of militancy. Developmental discourses of the World Bank have led in fact to a sustained pumping out of money from the poorer to the richer countries and from the poor to the rich in every country. So how has development been tackled in West Bengal? How are the poorest of the poor availing of the safety net?
The Development paradigm has created a uniform model of urbanisation. The “middle class” is being redefined, so the new middle class (i.e., the well paid salariat, especially those in the IT and IT enabled sectors), tempted to copy a western model of living (shopping malls, electronic gadgets, semi-cooked food bought from shops, or eating out relatively regularly) no longer needs the hawkers, the slum dwellers providing part time domestic help, and the rest. Moreover in the languages of power, the people evicted/ to be evicted were all illegal occupants.
The first major charge came in November 1996, when a project called Operation Sunshine saw around 100,000 pavement hawkers being evicted from their livelihoods. Though most hawkers were male, and hence the movement was mostly male dominated) many women who were connected to street hawkers, including women who supplied food to the hawkers, women who manufactured at home many of the goods sold by the hawkers, as well as the family members of the hawkers themselves, suffered a deep negative impact. Hawking was not ultimately abolished, but it came to be regulated through a symbiosis between the state, and an association that, developing originally from a Hawkers’ movement, became an institutionalized bureaucracy. Within the bureaucratic structure, women seem to have had no space. (Bandyopadhyay)
The beginning of the 21st century saw large-scale projects of eviction of illegal squatters. One major test case was the Tolly Nallah eviction. The Chief Minister has gone on record saying: “Where is the problem in accepting a minor loss of 4000 people for a development project [Tollynallah Metro Rail] that is proposed for the benefit of 4 lakhs of people? (Krishna Roy)” In 2002, the NNPM brought out a pamphlet highlighting the gender dimensions of these evictions. The following narrative is mainly based on that pamphlet (NNPM: 2002). Women were major victims, especially in the evictions at Beliaghata and Tolly’s Nullah. 1100 shanties were demolished in and around Tolly’s Nullah in South Calcutta, after landing the Rapid Action Force (created originally to tackle terrorists) and after using tremendous violence. Most of the women were employees in middle class houses as domestic help.  After the first round of evictions, 147 families had taken shelter in a godown. Anima Chanda recounted that they had been given eviction notices only 15 days before the forced eviction occurred. Rekha Kundu remarked that police had broken up her home with great brutality. One woman told Maitreyi Chatterjee, convenor of Mancha that the RAF had urinated on her bed while throwing her stuff out. They also recounted that as a result of the timing of the eviction some 300 children, including some who were preparing for their Class X test examinations, faced an uncertain future. The women tried to fight on, by organising a common kitchen, which became the symbol of collective resistance. However this symbol is not free of gender stereotype. Here too, Maitree members campaigned both before and after the evictions, and assisted the victims in organising their rehabilitation, including in running a community kitchen, as a result of which, when the police broke up the kitchen, Maitree members were among those arrested. On October 2, 2001, on Gandhi Jayanti and immediately after observing World Housing Day, the police smashed that kitchen, even though it was located in a place outside the distance marked off by the police. Maitree immediately adopted a resolution condemning it.
Evictions have occurred in all major metros. But even when we consider the infamous Turkoman Gate evictions during the Emergency (1976), we should remember that the government was condemned for relocating the people so far away. Repayment of debt and interest becomes the paramount fiscal task of all governments. The attack on “subsidies” ensures that social security is heavily reduced. (Chossudovsky)  At the same time, the fact that a supposedly progressive regime like West Bengal has a brutal policy also needs to be stressed. In 2002, the Sachar Commission Inquiry Report stated that there have never been such brutal evictions as in West Bengal.
On December 10, 2002, police in Calcutta unleashed brutality on shanty dwellers in the Beliaghata Canal area. A large number of people were evicted from the only homes they had ever known, for the crime of being “illegal squatters”, in a country where a huge number of people live below the poverty line and where the idea of a room of one’s own is a distant dream for most men and women. Protesters were beaten up, and over a hundred were arrested, including Sujato Bhadra, former General Secretary of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal, Shaktiman Ghosh of the Hawkers Sangram Committee, and Pranab Bandyopadhyay, veteran Gandhian and local community activist. Subsequently, the shanties were set on fire. It was symbolic, that the Left Front Government chose Human Rights Day as the latest date for eviction. It sent out a message that the squatters and such other people do not merit human treatment. Once more, thousands of women were among those evicted. During our visit to the area, we talked with many of them. They had been living in those slums for four decades. Indeed, many had been born there. They worked in areas within walking distance, because often they did not have the money to pay the daily bus fare.
In West Bengal, the process of evictions and job losses of the poor in the name of development has been temporarily halted after the severe electoral reverses of the Left Front in 2009. But the Calcutta High Court’s orders, such as permitting the banning of “non-licensed” hand-pulled rickshaws, banning the (genuinely environmentally terrible) auto rickshaws without ensuring that the people who drive them get proper subsidies so that they can buy more eco-friendly models of auto rickshaws ( using Compressed Natural Gas rather than an oil mix that releases huge quantities of poisonous fumes), and the other attempts at urban beautification that systematically target the u8rban poor, mean that the attacks of globalization on life and livelihood have not really stopped. And each set back enabled the rulers to attack more brutally. The initial success of Operation Sunshine emboldened the government so it could launch the eviction attacks at Tolly Nallah and Beliaghata. The successes there in turn made them think they could take on the entire rural communities, and build Special Economic Zones by taking over peasant land. This finally led to their hubris, but that will have to be discussed separately. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee explained that his party was opposed to globalization only insofar as a handful of countries benefited from it. So as long as the capitalists of India also make a killing, it is good.


There is no conclusion to this paper, because it describes a situation that is still unfolding. Globalisation has met a global check, with the economic crash of 2008. At the same time, there have been local level struggles. The anti-SEZ, anti-globalisation struggles in India had mixed fortunes. Historically, people in such struggles have turned to the left parties. But the left was nationally a supporter of the Congress between 2004 and mid-2008, while in its main turf, West Bengal, it played a role worse than the Congress. So the anti-globalisation campaign was harvested by the TMC. (Chattopadhyay and Marik). But the votes for the TMC should be seen primarily as votes against globalisation. The urban as well as the rural poor voted en masse. Many women who often did not care to turn out for the vote did so this time. It is unlikely that they will be satisfied with what is being done now. So the next chapter in this unfolding story of resistance to globalisation is still to be written.


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2.    Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti, ‘Hawkers’ Movement in Kolkata, 1975-2007’ Economic & Political Weekly April 25, 2009 vol xliv no 17: 116-119.
3.    Bhan Gautam, 2001, India Gender Profile, http://www.bridge.ids.ac.uk/reports/re62.pdf (accessed on 4.7.2009)
4.    Centre for Science and Environment, Report prepared for the Ministry of Rural Development, 2008, ‘An Assessment of the Performance of The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme’. (accessed on 4.9.2006)
5.    Chattopadhyay, Kunal and Soma Marik. “The Elections and Left-wing Politics in India.” International Socialist Review,   66, July-August (2009): 44-54.
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19.    Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha, 2007. Singur – Meyeder Bhasya: Jami Adhigrahaner Aage O Pore. (Singur- Women’s Voices: Before and After Land take-over). Kolkata.
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23.    People’s Commission on Eviction and Displacement, Interim Report, 22 September 2002.
24.    Raghuraman, Shankar, TNN 12 July 2009, ‘NREGA is a promise half-kept’ http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/NEWS-Sunday-TOI-Special-Report-NREGA-is-a-promise-half-kept/articleshow/4767608.cms
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28.    The International People’s Tribunal to Judge the G-7,1994, The People vs Global Capital. Tokyo: Pacific Asia Resource Center.

In Defence Of October

Leon Trotsky

A speech delivered in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 1932

The first time that I was in Copenhagen was at the International Socialist Congress and I took away with me the kindest recollections of your city. But that was over a quarter of a century ago. Since then, the water in the Ore-Sund and in the fjords has changed over and over again. And not the water alone. The war has broke the backbone of the old European continent. The rivers and seas of Europe have washed down not a little blood. Mankind and particularly European mankind has gone through severe trials, has become more sombre and more brutal. Every kind of conflict has become more bitter. The world has entered into the period of the great change. Its extreme expressions are war and revolution.

Before I pass on to the theme of my lecture, the Revolution, I consider it my duty to express my thanks to the organisers of this meeting, the organisation of social-democratic students. I do this as a political adversary. My lecture, it is true, pursues historic scientific and not political lines. I want to emphasise this right from the beginning. But it is impossible to speak of a revolution, out of which the Soviet Republic arose, without taking up a political position. As a lecturer I stand under the banner as I did when I participated in the events of the revolution.

Up to the war, the Bolshevik Party belonged to the Social-Democratic International. On August 4, 1914, the vote of the German social-democracy for the war credits put an end to this connection once and for all, and opened the period of uninterrupted and irreconcilable struggle of Bolshevism against social-democracy. Does this mean that the organisers of this assembly made a mistake in inviting me to lecture? On this point the audience will be able to judge only after my lecture. To justify my acceptance of the kind invitation to present a report on the Russian Revolution, permit me to point to the fact that during the thirty-five years of my political life the question of the Russian Revolution has been the practical and theoretical axis of my thought and of my actions. The four years of my stay in Turkey were principally devoted to historical elaboration of the problems of the Russian Revolution. Perhaps this fact gives me a certain right to hope that I will succeed in part at least in helping not only friends and sympathisers, but also opponents, better to understand many features of the Revolution which before had escaped their attention. At all events, the purpose of my lecture is to help to understand. I do not intend to conduct propaganda for the Revolution, nor to call upon you to join the Revolution. I intend to explain the Revolution.

Let us begin with some elementary sociological principles which are doubtless familiar to you all, but as to which we must refresh our memory in approaching so complicated a phenomenon as the Revolution.

The Materialist Conception of History

Human society is an historically-originated collaboration in the struggle for existence and the assurance of the maintenance of the generations. The character of a society is determined by the character of its economy. The character of its economy is determined by its means of productive labour.

For every great epoch in the development of the productive forces there is a definite corresponding social regime. Every social regime until now has secured enormous advantages to the ruling class.

It is clear, therefore, that social regimes are not eternal. They arise historically, and then become fetters on further progress. “All that arises deserves to be destroyed.”

But no ruling class has ever voluntarily and peacefully abdicated. In questions of life and death, arguments based on reason have never replaced the arguments of force. This may be sad, but it is so. It is not we that have made this world. We can do nothing but take it as it is.

The meaning of revolution

Revolution means a change of the social order. It transfers the power from the hands of a class which has exhausted itself into those of another class, which is in the ascendant. Insurrection constitutes the sharpest and most critical moment in the struggle for power of two classes. The insurrection can lead to the real victory of the Revolution and to the establishment of a new order only when it is based on a progressive class, which is able to rally around it the overwhelming majority of the people.

As distinguished from the processes of nature, a revolution is made by human beings and through human beings. But in the course of revolution, too, men act under the influence of social conditions which are not freely chosen by them but are handed down from the past and imperatively point out the road which they must follow. For this reason, and only for this reason, a revolution follows certain laws.

But human consciousness does not merely passively reflect its objective conditions. It is accustomed to react actively to them. At certain times this reaction assumes a tense, passionate, mass character. The barriers of right and might are overthrown. The active intervention of the masses in historical events is in fact the most indispensable element of a revolution.

But even the stormiest activity can remain in the stage of demonstration or rebellion, without rising to the height of a revolution. The uprising of the masses must lead to the overthrow of the domination of one class and to the establishment of the domination of another. Only then have we achieved a revolution. A mass uprising is no isolated undertaking, which can be conjured up any time one pleases. It represents an objectively-conditioned element in the development of a revolution, just as a revolution represents an objectively-conditioned process in the development of society. But if the necessary conditions for the uprising exist, one must not simply wait passively, with open mouth; as Shakespeare says: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

In order to sweep away the outlived social order, the progressive class must understand that its hour has struck and set before itself the task of conquering power. Here opens the field of conscious revolutionary action, where foresight and calculation combine with will and courage. In other words: here opens the field of action of the Party.

The Coup d’État

The revolutionary Party unites within itself the flower of the progressive class. Without a Party which is able to orientate itself in its environment, appreciate the progress and rhythm of events and early win the confidence of the masses, the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. These are the reciprocal relations between the objective and the subjective factors of insurrection and revolution.

In disputations, particularly theological ones, it is customary, as you know, for the opponents to discredit scientific truth by driving it to an absurdity. This method is called in logic Reductio ad absurdum. We shall start from an absurdity so as to approach the truth with all the greater safety. In any case, we cannot complain of lack of absurdities. Let us take one of the most recent, and crude.

The Italian writer Malaparte, who is something in the nature of a Fascist theoretician – there are such, too – not long ago, launched a book on the technique of the coup d’état. Naturally, the author devotes a not inconsiderable number of pages of his “investigation” to the October upheaval.

In contradistinction to the “strategy” of Lenin which was always related to the social and political conditions of Russia in 1917, “the tactics of Trotsky.” in Malaparte's words, “were, on the contrary, not at all limited by the general conditions of the country.” This is the main idea of the book! Malaparte compels Lenin and Trotsky in the pages of his book, to carry on numerous dialogues, in which both participants together show as much profundity of mind as Nature put at the disposal of Malaparte alone. In answer to Lenin's considerations of the social and political prerequisites of the upheaval, Malaparte has his alleged Trotsky say, literally, “Your strategy requires far too many favourable circumstances; the insurrection needs nothing, it is self-sufficing.” You hear: “The insurrection needs nothing!” That is precisely the absurdity which must help us to approach the truth. The author repeats persistently, that, in the October Revolution, it was not the strategy of Lenin but the tactics of Trotsky which won the victory. These tactics, according to his words, are a menace even now to the peace of the States of Europe. “The strategy of Lenin” I quote word for word, “does not constitute any immediate danger for the Governments of Europe. But the tactics of Trotsky do constitute an actual and consequently a permanent danger to them.” Still more concretely, “Put Poincaré in the place of Kerensky and the Bolshevik coup d’état of October, 1917 would have been just as successful.” It is hard to believe that such a book has been translated into several languages and taken seriously.

We seek in vain to discover what is the necessity altogether of the historically-conditioned strategy of Lenin, if “Trotsky’s tactics” can fulfil the same tasks in every situation. And why are successful revolutions so rare, if only a few technical recipes suffice for their success?

The dialogue between Lenin and Trotsky presented by the fascist author is in content, as well as in form, an insipid invention, from beginning to end. Of such inventions there are not a few floating around the world. For example, in Madrid, there has been printed a book, La Vida del Lenin (The Life of Lenin) for which I am as little responsible as for the tactical recipes of Malaparte. The Madrid weekly, Estampa, published in advance whole chapters of this alleged book of Trotsky’s on Lenin, which contain horrible desecrations of the life of that man whom I valued and still value incomparably higher than anyone else among my contemporaries.

But let us leave the forgers to their fate. Old Wilhelm Liebknecht, the father of the unforgettable fighter and hero Karl Liebknecht, liked to say, “A revolutionary politician must provide himself with a thick skin.” Doctor Stockmann even more expressively recommended that anyone who proposed to act in a manner contrary to the opinion of society should refrain from putting on new trousers. We will take note of the two good pieces of advice and proceed.

The Causes of October

What questions does the October Revolution raise in the mind of a thinking man?

  • Why and how did this revolution take place? More correctly, why did the proletarian revolution conquer in one of the most backward countries in Europe?
  • What have been the results of the October revolution? And finally:
  • Has the October Revolution stood the test?

The first question, as to the causes, can now be answered more or less exhaustively. I have attempted to do this in great detail in my History of the Revolution. Here I can only formulate the most important conclusions.

The Law of Uneven Development

The fact that the proletariat reached power for the first time in such a backward country as the former Tsarist Russia seems mysterious only at a first glance; in reality it is fully in accord with historical law. It could have been predicted, and it was predicted. Still more, on the basis of the prediction of this fact the revolutionary Marxists built up their strategy long before the decisive events.

The first and most general explanation is: Russia is a backward country, but only a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system. In this sense Lenin solved the enigma of the Russian Revolution with the lapidary formula, “The chain broke at its weakest link.”

A crude illustration: the Great War, the result of the contradictions of world imperialism, drew into its maelstrom countries of different stages of development, but made the same claims on all the participants. It is clear that the burdens of the war would be particularly intolerable for the most backward countries. Russia was the first to be compelled to leave the field. But to tear itself away from the war, the Russian people had to overthrow the ruling classes. In this way the chain of war broke at its weakest link.

Still, war is not a catastrophe coming from outside like an earthquake, but, as old Clausewitz said, the continuation of politics by other means. In the last war, the main tendencies of the imperialistic system of “peace” time only expressed themselves more crudely. The higher the general forces of production, the tenser the competition on the world markets, the sharper the antagonisms and the madder the race for armaments, so much the more difficult it became for the weaker participants. That is precisely why the backward countries assumed the first places in the succession of collapse. The chain of world capitalism always tends to break at its weakest link.

If, as a result of exceptional unfavourable circumstances – for example, let us say, a successful military intervention from the outside or irreparable mistakes on the part of the Soviet Government itself – capitalism should arise again on the immeasurably wide Soviet territory, its historical inadequacy would at the same time have inevitably arisen and such capitalism would in turn soon become the victim of the same contradictions which caused its explosion in 1917. No tactical recipes could have called the October Revolution into being, if Russia had not carried it within its body. The revolutionary Party in the last analysis can claim only the role of an obstetrician, who is compelled to resort to a Caesarean operation.

One might say in answer to this: “Your general considerations may adequately explain why old Russia had to suffer shipwreck, that country where backward capitalism and an impoverished peasantry were crowned by a parasitic nobility and a decaying monarchy. But in the simile of the chain and it weakest link there is still missing the key to the real enigma: How could a socialist revolution succeed in a backward country? History knows of more than a few illustrations of the decay of countries and civilisations accompanied by the collapse of the old classes for which no progressive successors had been found. The breakdown of old Russia should, at first sight have changed the country into a capitalist colony rather than into a Socialist State.

This objection is very interesting. It leads us directly to the kernel of the whole problem. And yet, this objection is erroneous; I might say, it lacks internal symmetry. On the one hand, it starts from an exaggerated conception of the phenomenon of historical backwardness in general.

Living beings, including man, of course, go through similar stages of development in accordance with their ages. In a normal five-year old child, we find a certain correspondence between the weight, size and the internal organs. But it is quite otherwise with human consciousness. In contrast with anatomy and physiology, psychology, both individual and collective, is distinguished by exceptional capacity of absorption, flexibility and elasticity; therein consists the aristocratic advantage of man over his nearest zoological relatives, the apes. The absorptive and flexible psyche confers on the so-called social “organisms", as distinguished from the real, that is biological organisms, an exceptional variability of internal structure as a necessary condition for historical progress. In the development of nations and states, particularly capitalist ones, there is neither similarity nor regularity. Different stages of civilisation, even polar opposites, approach and intermingle with one another in the life of one and the same country.

The Law of Combined Development

Let us not forget that historical backwardness is a relative concept. There being both backward and progressive countries, there is also a reciprocal influencing of one by the other; there is the pressure of the progressive countries on the backward ones; there is the necessity for the backward countries to catch up with the progressive ones, to borrow their technology and science, etc. In this way arises the combined type of development: features of backwardness are combined with the last word in world technique and in world thought. Finally the countries historically backward, in order to escape their backwardness, are often compelled to rush ahead of the others.

The flexibility of the collective consciousness makes it possible under certain conditions to achieve the result, in the social arena, which in individual psychology is called “overcoming the consciousness of inferiority”. In this sense we can say that the October Revolution was an heroic means whereby the people of Russia were able to overcome their own economic and cultural inferiority.

But let us pass over from these historico-philosophic, perhaps somewhat too abstract, generalisations, and put up the same question in concrete form, that is within the cross-section of living economic facts. The backwardness of Russia expressed itself most clearly at the beginning of the twentieth century in the fact that industry occupied a small place in that country in comparison with the peasantry. Taken as a whole, this meant a low productivity of the national labour. Suffice it to say that on the eve of the war, when Tsarist Russia had reached the peak of its well-being, the national income was eight to ten times lower than in the United States. This expresses numerically the “amplitude” of its backwardness if the word “amplitude” can be used at all in connection with backwardness.

At the same time however, the law of combined development expressed itself in the economic field at every step, in simple as well as in complex phenomena. Almost without highways, Russia was compelled to build railroads. Without having gone through the European artisan and manufacturing stages, Russia passed directly to mechanised production. To jump over intermediate stages is the way of backward countries.

While peasant agriculture often remained at the level of the seventeenth century, Russia's industry, if not in scope, at least in type, reached the level of progressive countries and in some respects rushed ahead of them. It suffices to say that gigantic enterprises, with over a thousand workers each, employed in the United States less than 18 per cent of the total number of industrial workers. In Russia it was over 41%. This fact is hard to reconcile with the conventional conception of the economic backwardness of Russia. It does not on the other hand, refute this backwardness, but dialectically complements it.

The same contradictory character was shown by the class structure of the country. The finance capital of Europe industrialised Russian economy at an accelerated tempo. The industrial bourgeoisie forthwith assumed a large scale capitalistic and anti-popular character. The foreign stock-holders moreover, lived outside of the country. The workers, on the other hand, were naturally Russians. Against a numerically weak Russian bourgeoisie, which had no national roots, there stood confronting it a relatively strong proletariat with strong roots in the depths of the people.

The revolutionary character of the proletariat was furthered by the fact that Russia in particular, as a backward country, under the compulsion of catching up with its opponents, had not been able to work out its own social or political conservatism. The most conservative country of Europe, in fact of the entire world, is considered, and correctly, to be the oldest capitalist country – England. The European country freest of conservatism would in all probability be Russia.

But the young, fresh, determined proletariat of Russia still constituted only a tiny minority of the nation. The reserves of its revolutionary power lay outside of the proletariat itself-in the peasantry, living in half-serfdom; and in the oppressed nationalities.


The peasantry

The subsoil of the revolution was the agrarian question. The old feudal monarchic system became doubly intolerable under the conditions of the new capitalist exploitation. The peasant communal areas amounted to some 140 million dessiatines. But 30,000 large landowners, whose average holdings were over 2,000 dessiatines, owned altogether 7 million dessiatines, that is as much as some 10 million peasant population. These statistics of land tenure constituted a ready-made programme of agrarian revolt.

The nobleman, Bokorin, wrote in 1917 to the dignitary, Rodsianko, the Chairman of the last municipal Duma: “I am a landowner and I cannot get it into my head that I must lose my land, and for an unbelievable purpose to boot, for the experiment of the socialist doctrine.” But it is precisely the task of revolutions to accomplish that which the ruling classes cannot get into their heads.

In Autumn, 1917, almost the whole country was the scene of peasant revolts. Of the 642 departments of old Russia, 482, that is 77%, were affected by the movements! The reflection of the burning villages lit up the arena of the insurrections in the cities.

But you may argue the war of the peasants against the landowners is one of the classic elements of bourgeois revolution, and not at all of the proletarian revolution!

Perfectly right, I reply – so it was in the past. But the inability of capitalist society to survive in an historically backward country was expressed precisely in the fact that the peasant insurrections did not drive the bourgeois classes of Russia forward but on the contrary, drove them back for good into the camp of reaction. If the peasantry did not want to be completely ruined there was nothing else left for it but to join the industrial proletariat. This revolutionary joining of the two oppressed classes was foreseen by the genius of Lenin and prepared for him long before.

Had the agrarian question been courageously solved by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat of Russia would not, obviously, have been able to arrive at the power in 1917. But the Russian, bourgeoisie, covetous and cowardly, too late on the scene, prematurely a victim of senility, dared not lift a hand against feudal property. But thereby it delivered the power to the proletariat and together with it the right to dispose of the destinies of bourgeois society.

In order for the Soviet State to come into existence, it was consequently necessary for two factors of a different historical nature to collaborate: the peasant war, that is to say, a movement which is characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development, and the proletarian insurrection, or uprising which announces the decline of the bourgeois movement. There we have the combined character of the Russian Revolution.

Once let the Bear – the peasant – stand up on his hind feet, he becomes terrible in his wrath. But he is unable to give conscious expression to his indignation. He needs a leader. For the first time in the history of the world, the insurrectionary peasants found a faithful leader in the person of the proletariat.

Four million workers in industry and transport leading a hundred million peasants. That was the natural and inevitable reciprocal relations between proletariat and peasantry in the Revolution.

The national question

The second revolutionary reserve of the proletariat was formed by the oppressed nationalities, who moreover were also predominantly peasants. Closely allied with the historical backwardness of the country is the extensive character of the development of the State, which spread out like a grease spot from the centre at Moscow to the circumference. In the East, it subjugated the still more backward peoples, basing itself upon them, in order to stifle the more developed nationalities of the West. To the 70 million Great Russians, who constituted the main mass of the population were added gradually some 90 millions of other races.

In this way arose the empire, in whose composition the ruling nationality made up only 43 percent of the population, while the remaining 57 per cent, consisted of nationalities of varying degrees of civilisation and legal deprivation. The national pressure was incomparably cruder than in the neighbouring States, and not only than those beyond the western frontier, but beyond the eastern one too. This conferred on the national problem an enormous explosive force.

The Russian liberal bourgeoisie was not willing in either the national or the agrarian question, to go beyond certain amelioration's of the regime of oppression and violence. The “democratic” Governments of Miliukov and Kerensky, which reflected the interests of the great Russian bourgeoisie and bureaucracy actually hastened to impress upon the discontented nationalities in the course of the eight months of their existence: “You will obtain what you can get by force.”

The inevitability of the development of the centrifugal national movements had been early taken into consideration by Lenin. The Bolshevik Party struggled obstinately for years for the right of self-determination for nations, that is, for the right of full secession. Only through this courageous position on the national question could the Russian proletariat gradually win the confidence of the oppressed peoples. The national independence movement as well as the agrarian movement, necessarily turned against the official democracy, strengthened the proletariat, and poured into the stream of the October upheaval.

The permanent revolution

In these ways the riddle of the proletarian upheaval in an historically backward country loses its veil of mystery.

Marxist revolutionaries predicted, long before the events, the march of the Revolution and the historical role of the young Russian proletariat. I may be permitted to repeat here a passage from a work of my own in 1905.

“In an economically backward country the proletariat can arrive at power earlier than in a capitalistically advanced one ...

“The Russian Revolution creates the conditions under which the power can (and in the event of a successful revolution must) be transferred to the proletariat, even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism receives the opportunity of unfolding its genius for government to its full extent.

“The destiny of the most elementary revolutionary interest of the peasantry ... is bound up with the destiny of the whole revolution, that is, with the destiny of the proletariat. The proletariat, once arrived at power, will appear before the peasantry as the liberating class.

“The proletariat enters into the Government as the revolutionary representative of the nation, as the acknowledged leader of the people in the struggle with absolutism and the barbarism of serfdom.

“The proletarian regime will have to stand from the very beginning for the solution of the agrarian question, with which the question of the destiny of tremendous masses of the population of Russia is bound up.”

I have taken the liberty of quoting these passages as evidence that the theory of the October Revolution which I am presenting today is no casual improvisation and was not constructed ex-post facto under the pressure of events. No, in the form of a political prognosis it preceded the October upheaval by a long time. You will agree that a theory is in general valuable only in so far as it helps to foresee the course of development and influence it purposively. Therein, in general terms, is the invaluable importance of Marxism as a weapon of social historical orientation. I am sorry that the narrow limits of the lecture do not permit me to enlarge upon the above quotation materially. I will therefore content myself with a brief resume of the whole work which dates from 1905.

In accordance with its immediate tasks, the Russian Revolution is a bourgeois revolution. But the Russian bourgeoisie is anti-revolutionary. The victory of the Revolution is therefore possible only as a victory of the proletariat. But the victorious proletariat will not stop at the programme of bourgeois democracy: it will go on to the programme of socialism. The Russian Revolution will become the first stage of the Socialist world revolution.

This was the theory of permanent revolution formulated by me in 1905 and since then exposed to the severest criticism under the name of “Trotskyism”.

To be more exact, it is only a part of this theory. The other part, which is particularly timely now, states:

The present productive forces have long outgrown their national limits. A socialist society is not feasible within national boundaries. Significant as the economic successes of an isolated workers’ state may be, the programme of “Socialism in one country” is a petty-bourgeois utopia. Only a European and then a world federation of socialist republics can be the real arena for a harmonious socialist society.

Today, after the test of events, I see less reason than ever to discard this theory.

Pre-requisites for October

After all that has been said above, is it still worthwhile to recall the Fascist writer Malaparte, who ascribes to me tactics which are independent of strategy and amount to a series of technical recipes for insurrection, applicable in all latitudes and longitudes? It is a good thing that the name of the luckless theoretician of the coup d’état makes it easy to distinguish him from the victorious practitioner of the coup d’état; no one therefore runs the risk of confusing Malaparte with Bonaparte.

Without the armed insurrection of 7th November, 1917, the Soviet State would not be in existence. But the insurrection itself did not drop from heaven. A series of historical prerequisites were necessary for the October Revolution.

  1. The rotting away of the old ruling classes-the nobility, the monarchy, the bureaucracy.
  2. The political weakness of the bourgeoisie, which had no roots in the masses of the people.
  3. The revolutionary character of the agrarian question.
  4. The revolutionary character of the problem of the oppressed nationalities.
  5. The significant social burdens weighing on the proletariat.

To these organic preconditions must be added certain highly important connected conditions.

  1. The Revolution of 1905 was the great school or in Lenin’s phrase, “the dress rehearsal” of the Revolution of 1917. The Soviet’s as the irreplaceable organisational form of the proletarian united front in the Revolution were created for the first time in the year 1905.
  2. The imperialist war sharpened all the contradictions, tore the backward masses out of their immobility, and thus prepared the grandiose scale of the catastrophe.

The Bolshevik Party

But all these conditions, which fully sufficed for the outbreak of the Revolution, were insufficient to assure the victory of the proletariat in the Revolution. For this victory one condition more was necessary.

  1. The Bolshevik Party

When I enumerate this condition last in the series, I do it only because it follows the logical sequence, and not because I assign the last place in the order of importance to the Party.

No,. I am far from such a thought. The liberal bourgeoisie can seize power and has seized it more than once as the result of struggles in which it took no part; it possesses organs of seizure which are admirably adapted to the purpose. But the working masses are in a different position; they have long been accustomed to give, and not to take. They work, are patient as long as they can be, hope, lose patience, rise up and struggle, die, bring victory to others, are betrayed, fall into despondency, bow their necks, and work again. Such is the history of the masses of the people under all regimes. To be able to take the power firmly and surely into its hands the proletariat needs a Party, which far surpasses other parties in the clarity of its thought and in its revolutionary determination.

The Bolshevik Party, which has been described more than once and with complete justification as the most revolutionary Party in the history of mankind was the living condensation of the modern history of Russia, of all that was dynamic in it. The overthrow of Tsarism had long been recognised as the necessary condition for the development of economy and culture. But for the solution of this task, the forces were insufficient. The bourgeoisie feared the Revolution. The intelligentsia tried to bring the peasant to his feet. The muzhik, incapable of generalising his own miseries and his aims, left this appeal unanswered. The intelligentsia armed itself with dynamite. A whole generation was wasted in this struggle.

On March 1st 1887, Alexander Ulianov carried out the last of the great terrorist plots. The attempted assassination of Alexander III failed. Ulianov and the other participants were executed. The attempt to make chemical preparation take the place of a revolutionary class, came to grief. Even the most heroic intelligentsia is nothing without the masses. Ulianov’s younger brother Vladimir, the future Lenin, the greatest figure of Russian history, grew up under the immediate impression of these facts and conclusion. Even in his early youth he placed himself on the foundations of Marxism and turned his face toward the proletariat. Without losing sight of the village for a moment he sought the way of the peasantry through the workers. Inheriting from his revolutionary predecessors their capacity for self sacrifice, and their willingness to go to the limit, Lenin, at an early age, became the teacher of the new generation of the intelligentsia and of the advanced workers. In strikes and street fights, in prisons and in exile, the workers received the necessary tempering. They needed the searchlight of Marxism to light up their historical road in the darkness of absolutism.

Among the émigrés the first Marxist group arose in 1883. In 1899 at a secret meeting, the foundation of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party was proclaimed (we all called ourselves Social-Democrats in those days). In 1903 occurred the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and in 1912 the Bolshevik faction finally became an independent Party.

It learned to recognise the class mechanics of society in its struggles during the events of twelve years (1905-1917). It educated groups equally capable of initiative and of subordination. The discipline of its revolutionary action was based on the unity of its doctrine, on the tradition of common struggles and on confidence in its tested leadership.

Such was the party in 1917. Despised by the official “public opinion” and the paper thunder of the intelligentsia Press it adapted itself to the movement of the masses. It kept firmly in hand the lever of control in the factories and regiments. More and more the peasant masses turned toward it. If we understand by “nation” not the privileged heads, but the majority of the people, that is, the workers and peasants, then the Bolsheviks became during the course of 1917 a truly national Russian Party.

In September, 1917, Lenin who was compelled to keep in hiding gave the signal, “The crisis is ripe, the hour of insurrection has approached.” He was right. The ruling classes faced with the problems of the war, the land and liberation, had got into inextricable difficulties. The bourgeoisie positively lost its head. The democratic parties, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, dissipated the last remaining bit of confidence of the masses in them by their support of the imperialist war, by their policy of compromise and concessions to the bourgeois and feudal property owners. The awakened army no longer wanted to fight for the alien aims of imperialism. Disregarding democratic advice, the peasantry smoked the landowners out of their estates. The oppressed nationalities of the far boundaries rose up against the bureaucracy of Petrograd. In the most important workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets the Bolsheviks were dominant. The ulcer was ripe. It needed a cut of the lancet.

Only under these social and political conditions was the insurrection possible. And thus it also became inevitable. But there is no playing around with insurrection. Woe to the surgeon who is careless in the use of the lancet! Insurrection is an art. It has its laws and its rules.

The party faced the realities of the October insurrection with cold calculation and with ardent resolution. Thanks to this, it conquered almost without victims. Through the victorious soviets the Bolsheviks placed themselves at the head of a country which occupies one sixth of the surface of the globe.

The majority of my present listeners, it is to be presumed, did not occupy themselves at all with politics in 1917. So much the better. Before the young generation lies much that is interesting, if not always easy. But the representatives of the old generation in this hall will certainly remember well how the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was received: as a curiosity, as a misunderstanding, as a scandal; most often as a nightmare which was bound to disappear with the first rays of dawn. The Bolsheviks would last twenty four hours, a week, month, year. The period had to be constantly lengthened. The rulers of the whole world armed themselves up against the first workers’ state: civil war was stirred up, interventions again and again, blockade. So passed year after year. Meantime, history has recorded fifteen years of existence of the Soviet power.

Can October be justified?

“Yes", some opponents will say, “the adventure of October has shown itself to be much more substantial than many of us thought. Perhaps it was not even quite an ‘adventure’. Nevertheless, the question (#8211; What was achieved at this high cost? – retains its full force. Have the dazzling promises which the Bolsheviks proclaimed on the eve of the Revolution been fulfilled?”

Before we answer the hypothetical opponent let us note that the question in and of itself is not new. On the contrary, it followed right at the heels of the October Revolution, since the day of its birth.

The French journalist, Clad Anet, who was in Petrograd during the Revolution, wrote as early as 27th October, 1917:

“The maximalists (which was what the French called the Bolsheviks at that time) have seized power and the great day has come. At last, I say to myself, I shall behold the realisation of the socialist Eden which has been promised us for so many years ... Admirable adventure! A privileged position!”

And so on and so forth. What sincere hatred was behind the ironical salutation! The very morning after the capture of the Winter Palace, the reactionary journalist hurried to register his claim for a ticket of admission to Eden. Fifteen years have passed since the Revolution. With all the greater absence of ceremony our enemies reveal their malicious joy over the fact that the land of the Soviets, even today, bears but little resemblance to a realm of general well-being. Why then the Revolution and why the sacrifice?

Permit me to express the opinion that the contradictions, difficulties, mistakes and insufficiency of the Soviet regime are no less familiar to me than to anyone. I, personally, have never concealed them, whether in speech or in writing. I have believed and I still believe that revolutionary politics as distinguished from conservative, cannot be built up on concealment. “To speak out that which is” must be the highest principle of the workers’ State.

But in criticism, as well as in creative activity, perspective is necessary. Subjectivism is a poor adviser, particularly in great questions. Periods of time must be commensurate with the tasks, and not with individual caprices. Fifteen years! Haw long is that in the life of one man! Within that period not a few of our generation were borne to their graves and those who remain have added innumerable grey hors. But these same fifteen years – what an insignificant period in the life of a people! Only a minute on the clock of history.

Capitalism required centuries to establish itself in the struggle against the Middle Ages, to raise the level of science and technique, to build railroads, to make use of electric current. And then? Then humanity was thrust by capitalism into the hell of wars and crises.

But Socialism is allowed by its enemies, that is, by the adherents of capitalism, only a decade and a half to install on earth Paradise, with all modern improvements. Such obligations were never assumed by us.

The processes of great changes must be measured by scales which are commensurate with them. I do not know if the Socialist society will resemble the biblical Paradise. I doubt it. But in the Soviet Union there is no Socialism as yet. The situation that prevails there is one of transition, full of contradictions, burdened with the heavy inheritance of the past and in addition is under the hostile pressure of the capitalistic states. The October Revolution has proclaimed the principles of the new society. The Soviet Republic has shown only the first stage of its realisation. Edison’s first lamp was very bad. We must learn how to discern the future.

But the unhappiness that rains on living men! Do the results of the Revolution justify the sacrifice which it has caused? A fruitless question, rhetorical through and through; as if the processes of history admitted of a balance sheet accounting! We might just as well ask, in view of the difficulties and miseries of human existence, “Does it pay to be born altogether?” To which Heine wrote: “And the fool expects an answer” ... Such melancholy reflections haven’t hindered mankind from being born and from giving birth. Even in these days of unexampled world crisis, suicides fortunately constitute an unimportant percentage. But peoples never resort to suicide. When their burdens are intolerable they seek a way out through revolution.

Besides who are they who are indignant over the victims of the social upheaval? Most often those who have paved the way for the victims of the imperialist war, and have glorified or, at least, easily accommodated themselves to it. It is now our turn to ask, “Has the war justified itself? What has it given us? What has it taught?”

The reactionary historian, Hippolyte Taine, in his eleven volume pamphlet against the great French Revolution describes, not without malicious joy, the sufferings of the French people in the years of the dictatorship of the Jacobins and afterward. The worst off were the lower classes of the cities, the plebeians, who as “sansculottes” had given of their best for the Revolution. Now they or their wives stood in line throughout cold nights to return empty-handed to the extinguished family hearth. In the tenth year of the Revolution, Paris was poorer than before it began. Carefully selected, artificially pieced out facts serve Taine as Justification for his destructive verdict against the Revolution. Look, the plebeians wanted to be dictators and have precipitated themselves into misery!

It is hard to conceive of a more uninspired piece of moralising. First of all, if the Revolution precipitated the country into misery the blame lay principally on the ruling classes who drove the people to revolution. Second the great French Revolution did not exhaust itself in hungry lines before bakeries. The whole of modern France, in many respects the whole of modern civilisation, arose out of the bath of the French Revolution!

In the course of the Civil War in the United States in the ’60s of the past century, 50,000 men were killed. Can these sacrifices be justified?

From the standpoint of the American slaveholder and the ruling classes of Great Britain who marched with them – no! From the standpoint of the Negro or of the British working man – absolutely. And from the standpoint of the development of humanity as a whole there can be no doubt whatever. Out of the Civil War of the ’60s came the present United States with its unbounded practical initiative, its rationalised technique, its economic energy. On these achievements of Americanism, humanity will build the new society.

The October Revolution penetrated deeper than any of its predecessors into the Holy of Holies of society-into the property relations. So much the longer time is necessary to reveal the creative consequences of the Revolution in all spheres of life. But the general direction of the upheaval is already clear: the Soviet Republic has no reason whatever to bow its head before the capitalists accusers and speak the language of apology.

In order to appreciate the new regime from the stand-point of human development, one must first answer the question, “How does social progress express itself and how can it be measured?”

The balance sheet of October

The deepest, the most objective and the most indisputable criterion says: progress can be measured by the growth of the productivity of social labour. From this angle the estimate of the October Revolution is already given by experience. The principle of socialistic organisation has for the first time in history shown its ability to record results in production unheard of in a short space of time.

The curve of the industrial development of Russia expressed in crude index numbers is as follows, taking 1913, the last year before the war as 100. The year 1920, the highest point of the civil war, is also the lowest point in industry – only 25, that is to say, a quarter of the pre-war production. In 1925 it rose to 75, that is, three-quarters of the pre-war production; in 1929 about 200, in 1932: 300, that is to say, three times as much as on the eve of the war.

The picture becomes even more striking in the light of the international index. From 1925 to 1932 the industrial production of Germany has diminished one and a half times, in America twice, in the Soviet Union it has increased four fold. These figures speak for themselves.

I have no intention of denying or concealing the seamy side of the Soviet economy. The results of the industrial index are extraordinarily influenced by the unfavourable development of agriculture, that is to say, in the domain which essentially has not yet risen to Socialist methods, but at the same time had been led on the road to collectivisation with insufficient preparation, bureaucratically rather than technically and economically. This is a great question, which however goes beyond the limits of my lecture.

The index numbers cited require another important reservation. The indisputable and, in their way, splendid results of Soviet industrialisation demand a further economic checking-up from the stand point of the mutual adaptation of the various elements of the economy, their dynamic equilibrium and consequently their productive capacity. Here great difficulties and even set backs are inevitable. Socialism does not arise in its perfected form from the five-year Plan like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, or Venus from the foam of the sea. Before it are decades of persistent work, of mistakes, corrections, and reorganisation. Moreover, let us not forget that socialist construction in accordance with its very nature can only reach perfection on the international arena. But even the most favourable economic balance sheet of the results so far obtained could reveal only the incorrectness of the preliminary calculations, the faults of planning and errors of direction. It could in no way refute the empirically firmly established fact – the possibility, with the aid of socialist methods, of raising the productivity of collective labour to an unheard of height. This conquest, of world historical importance, cannot be taken away from us by anybody or anything.

After what has been said it is scarcely worthwhile to spend time on the complaints that the October Revolution has brought Russia to the downfall of its civilisation. That is the voice of the disquieted ruling houses and salons. The feudal bourgeois “civilisation” overthrown by the proletarian upheaval was only barbarism with decorations à la Talmi. While it remained inaccessible to the Russian people, it brought little that was new to the treasury of mankind.

But even with respect to this civilisation, which is so bemoaned by the white émigrés, we must put the question more precisely – in what sense has it been destroyed? Only in one sense: the monopoly of a small minority in the treasures of civilisation has been done away with. But everything of cultural value in the old Russian civilisation has remained untouched. The “Huns” of Bolshevism have shattered neither the conquests of the mind nor the creations of art. On the contrary, they carefully collected the monuments of human creativeness and arranged them in model order. The culture of the monarchy, the nobility and the bourgeoisie has now become the culture of the historic museums.

The people visit these museums eagerly. But they do not live in them. They learn. They construct. The fact alone that the October Revolution taught the Russian people, the dozens of peoples of Tsarist Russia, to read and write stands immeasurably higher than the whole former hot-house Russian civilisation.

The October Revolution has laid the foundations for a new civilisation which is designed, not for a select few, but for all. This is felt by the masses of the whole world. Hence their sympathy for the Soviet Union which is as passionate as once was their hatred for Tsarist Russia.

Human language is an irreplaceable instrument not only for giving names to events, but also for their valuation. By filtering out that which is accidental, episodic, artificial, it absorbs into itself that which is essential, characteristic, of full weight. Notice with what sensibility the languages of civilised nations have distinguished two epochs in the developments of Russia. The culture of the nobility brought into world currency such barbarisms as Tsar, Cossack, pogrom, nagaika. You know these words and what they mean. The October Revolution introduced into the language of the world such words as Bolshevik, Soviet, kolkhoz, Gosplan, piatileka. Here practical linguistics holds it historical supreme court!

The most profound meaning of the Revolution, but the hardest to submit to immediate measurement, consists in the fact that it forms and tempers the character of the people. The conception of the Russian people as slow, passive, melancholy, mystical, is widely spread and not accidental. It has its roots, in the past. But in Western countries up to the present time those far reaching changes which have been introduced into the character of the people by the revolution, have not been sufficiently considered. Could it be otherwise?

Every man with experience of life can recall the picture of some youth that he has known, receptive, lyrical, all too susceptible, who later becomes suddenly under the influence of a powerful moral impetus, stronger, better balanced and hardly recognisable. In the developments of a whole nation, such moral transformations are wrought by the revolution.

The February insurrection against the autocracy, the struggle against the nobility, against the imperialist war, for peace, for land, for national equality, the October insurrection, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and of those parties which supported it, or sought agreements with the bourgeoisie, three years of civil war on a front of 5000 miles, the years of blockade, hunger, misery, and epidemics, the years of tense economic reconstruction, of new difficulties and renunciations-these make a hard but good school. A heavy hammer smashes glass, but forges steel. The hammer of the revolution is forging the steel of the people’s character.

“Who will believe,” wrote a Tsarist general, Zalweski, with indignation shortly after the upheaval, “that a porter or a watchman suddenly becomes a chief justice, a hospital attendant the director of the hospital, a barber an office-holder, a corporal a commander-in-chief, a day-worker a mayor, a locksmith the director of a factory?”

“Who will believe it?” But it had to be believed. They could do nothing else but believe it, when the corporals defeated the generals, when the mayor – the former day-worker – broke the resistance of the old bureaucracy, the wagon greaser put the transportation system into order, the locksmith as director put the industrial equipment into working condition. “Who will believe it?” Let anyone only try not to believe it.

For an explanation of the extraordinary persistence which the masses of the people of the Soviet Union are showing throughout the years of the revolution, many foreign observers rely, in accord with ancient habit, on the “passivity” of the Russian character. Gross anachronism! The revolutionary masses endure privations patiently but not passively. With their own hands they are creating a better future and are determined to create it at any cost. Let the enemy class only attempt to impose his will from outside on these patient masses! No, better, he should not try!

The Revolution and its place in history

Let me now, in closing, attempt to ascertain the place of the October Revolution, not only in the history of Russia but in the history of the world. During the year of 1917, in a period of eight months, two historical curves intersect. The February upheaval – that belated echo of the great struggles which had been carried out in the past centuries on the territories of Holland, England, France, nearly all over Continental Europe – takes its place in the series of bourgeois revolutions. The October Revolution proclaimed and opened the domination of the proletariat. World capitalism suffered its first great defeat on the Russian territory. The chain broke at its weakest link. But it was the chain that broke, and not only the link.

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfil its essential function: the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. Freedom in two senses – first of all man will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical toil. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and obscure forces which work behind his back. He will build his economy freely, according to plan, with compass in hand. This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and the will of collective humanity. In this sense, socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind. Before our ancestor, who first armed himself with a stone axe, the whole of nature represented a conspiracy of secret and hostile forces. Since then, the natural sciences hand in hand with practical technology, have illuminated nature down to its most secret depths. By means of electrical energy, the physicist passes judgement on the nucleus of the atom. The hour is not far when science will easily solve the task of alchemists, and turn manure into gold and gold into manure. Where the demons and furies of nature once raged, now reigns over more courageously the industrious will of man.

But while he wrestled victoriously with nature, man built up his relations to order men blindly almost like the bee or the ant. Slowly and very haltingly he approached the problems of human society.

The Reformation represented the first victory of bourgeois individualism in a domain which had been ruled by dead tradition. From the church, critical thought went on to the State. Born in the struggle with absolutism and the medieval estates, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and of the rights of man and the citizen grew stronger. Thus arose the system of parliamentarianism. Critical thought penetrated into the domain of government administration. The political rationalism of democracy was the highest achievement of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

But between nature and the state stands economic life. Technical science liberated man from the tyranny of the old elements – earth, water, fire and air – only to subject him to its own tyranny. Man ceased to be a slave to nature to become a slave to the machine, and, still worse, a slave to supply and demand. The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rise up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves from the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and – every man and every woman, not only a selected few – become a citizen with full power in the realm of thought.

The Future of Man

But this is not yet the end of the road. No, it is only the beginning. Man calls himself the crown of creation. He has a certain right to that claim. But who has asserted that present-day man is the last and highest representative of the species Homo Sapiens? No, physically as well as spiritually he is very far from perfection, prematurely born biologically, with feeble thought, and has not produced any new organic equilibrium.

It is true that humanity has more than once brought forth giants of thought and action, who tower over their contemporaries like summits in a chain of mountains. The human race has a right to be proud of its Aristotle, Shakespeare, Darwin, Beethoven, Goethe, Marx, Edison and Lenin. But why are they so rare? Above all, because almost without exception they came out of the middle and upper classes. Apart from rare exceptions, the sparks of genius in the suppressed depths of the people are choked before they can burst into flame. But also because the processes of creating, developing and educating a human being have been and remain essentially a matter of chance, not illuminated by theory and practice, not subjected to consciousness and will.

Anthropology, biology, physiology and psychology have accumulated mountains of material to raise up before mankind in their full scope the tasks of perfecting and developing body and spirit. Psycho-analysis, with the inspired hand of Sigmund Freud, has lifted the cover of the well which is poetically called the “soul”. And what has been revealed? Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Learned divers descend to the bottom of the ocean and there take photographs of mysterious fishes. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will.

Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race.


Napoleon I (1769-1821): Seized power in coup d’état in 1804, proclaiming the French empire and himself emperor.
Karl Von (1780-183l): Prussian army officer, military theoretician.
: Parliament in Russia before 1917. Had a truncated franchise.
: Popular name for members of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, who were the radical wing of the French revolution.
Alexander (1882-1970): Reformist Prime Minister in Russia in 1917, overthrown by the October Revolution.
Wilhelm (1826-1900): Alongside Bebel founder of the German Social Democracy.
Karl (1871-1919): Leader of the left wing of the German Social Democracy, opposed World War One, founded Spartakusbund with Rosa Luxembourg. Murdered by reactionary troops in January 1919.
Mensheviks: Reformist wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDLP), until 1912 when it and the Bolsheviks became separate parties. The Mensheviks opposed the October 1917 revolution.
Paul (1859-1943): Leader of the capitalist Cadet Party in Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs until May 1917.
Raymond (1860-1934): President of France, 1913-20, Prime Minister 1912, 1922-24, 1926-29.
Democratic International: Historically Social Democratic was the title adopted by many workers’ parties. The International collapsed in 1914 when a majority of its parties supported the imperialist war.
Revolutionaries (SRs): Peasant socialist party. Split in 1917, the Left SRs participated for a period in the Soviet government, the right SRs opposed the revolution.