Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Report on V. Geetha's Talk on the Sri Lankan Situation

V. Geetha, well known Tamil feminist, activist in the Dalit rights movement and author of several books, was in Calcutta as a visiting faculty at the Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University. At the invitation of Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha, she delivered a talk on the Sri Lankan Situation and Women on 27th October, 2009.

About 21 people were present at the talk, including members of the NNPM, other women’s rights activists, students of Jadavpur University, activists from various left wing organisations and people involved in alternative media.

The programme began with a song, led by Ruchira Goswami. This was followed by a self-introduction session.

Geetha in her speech began with a very short presentation of the history of Tamils as a minority in Sri Lanka, and how the nation-building project by the Sri Lankan elite had systematically sought to exclude the Tamils, beginning with the disenfranchisement of the large numbers of so-called Indian Tamils. She noted how the rise of the LTTE took place, and identified the Indian Peace Keeping Force and its brutalities, including rape and sexual assault of women, as a crucial turning point. The failure of peaceful nationalist oppositions as well as the ideological collapse of the multi-national (Sinhala and Tamil) Left, like the LSSP, resulted in the LTTE emerging as an attractive option. That it degenerated subsequently does not take away the reality of its role at a certain juncture of history.

She explained how the LTTE had lost its ideology a long time back, and had become a militaristic organisation, semi-fascist in its structure and function, and argued that what nevertheless propelled many people towards it was the violence and utter hostility of the Sri Lankan elite. Her talk also examined the role of women inside the LTTE structures, and the issue of how far they had autonomy.

Another complexity of Sri Lankan society that Geetha mentioned was the identity and role of Muslims. They were also Tamil speaking, but had an uneasy relationship with a purely Tamil identity. The LTTE at one stage compelled Muslims to leave Jaffna with an 8-hour notice, and this certainly embittered many of them. In the Eastern province, where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalas live close to each other, the Muslims are aware of being a minority within the minority, and tend to negotiate with both the Tamil and the State leadership.

Another dimension of her talk was the dispersal of Tamils over the years. 45 % of the Tamils now live in Diasporas, with major concentrations in France and Canada, especially Toronto. LTTE penetration of the Diasporas had been crucial for its fund raising and arms collecting. But she also argued that the Diaspora contained many voices, and even the supporters of the LTTE were not homogenous. For many the LTTE provided a link with home, while others supported it out of guilt, as they had left home, while others, yet, accepted it out of fear.

In the period after the defeat and destruction of the LTTE, Geetha argued, the Sri Lankan regime has not taken any steps towards reconciliation. Instead, a Zionist-type solution of permanent camps cannot be ruled out. There are currently about 430,000 people in the camps – 190,000 held over the last 15 years and 240000 held in 2009. Families have been torn apart. Camp life is terribly wretched. And along with a consciously stoked up inter-ethnic hostility, used by the Buddhist clergy and the ruling class to mobilize the Sinhala people, there is another dimension. Areas have been declared as high security zones, from which people have been evicted, in the name of combating the LTTE. But now, such areas are being turned over for making SEZs. The Government of India has been complicit in all this. Indian naval assurance that the LTTE would not be allowed to escape was crucial in the final offensive. And India’s own National Thermal Power Corporation wants its finger in the SEZ pie. Geetha suggested that this was not too far off from what is being done in a large number of places from Chhattisgarh to West Bengal.

In the camps, women face tremendous hardship. And unless they are removed soon, once the monsoon comes, their position will become worse. Given India’s engagement, she felt there should be a huge campaign to put pressure on the Government of India.

A spirited discussion followed her talk, and the meeting went on for nearly three hours. Questions were raised about how far a semi-fascist organization could talk of autonomy for women, what kind of reflection of the situation we find in literature, what role the rights groups and civil society organizations are playing in the current situation, and whether one can equate state-violence with non-state violence? A substantial discussion took place over the polarities created on one hand by pro-LTTE activists and on the other hand by forces like the Sri Lanka Democratic Forum, with the former talking in terms of either traitors or martyrs, while the latter insisted that till the LTTE was destroyed there could be no talk of reacting strongly to state violence.

Indian Nationalism, Hindutva and the Bomb


Sukla Sen

The survival of humanity inhabiting the South Asian subcontinent critically depends on the demystification of the nuclear myths, that invest the Bomb with magical powers of immense proportions, and consequent denuclearisation of the region as an integral and crucial component of global disarmament.

"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, That would be like the splendour of the Mighty One... I am become Death, The shatterer of Worlds."
The Bhagavad-Gita (quoted by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer after the first experimental overground explosion of an atomic bomb)

"I heard the earth thundering below our feet and rising ahead of us in terror. It was a beautiful sight. It was a triumph of Indian science and technology."
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam describes the Pokhran II nuclear explosions, The Times of India, June 28, 1998.

The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter-bombs even as violence cannot be by counter-violence. Mankind has to get out of violence only through non-violence. Hatred can be overcome only by love.
M K Gandhi quoted in ‘Atom Bomb and Ahimsa’


Gandhian Legacy and Its Decline

The frail, slightly stooping and ageing figure of Gandhi leaning on a long uneven stick firmly held in his emaciated hand, clad only in bare loincloth with an old round watch hanging alongside his waist - marching down the dusty Indian roads with transparent grit and determination to demonstratively defy the diktats of the all-powerful imperialist rulers is perhaps one of the most abiding pictures that almost reflexively rises to mind’s surface whenever one thinks of India’s epic struggle against colonial bondage.

True, the new rulers of independent India did little to show any real respect for the Gandhian values and principles, most of all “truth and non-violence”. Even at the very dawn of independence, which was ushered in amidst almost unimaginable sectarian violence and gory bloodshed leading to the vivisection of the country, he stood a tragic and forlorn figure.

And yet it is the image of Gandhi as the indomitable marcher, or working patiently at his spinning wheel, symbolising peace and non-violence, and quiet yet determined opposition to oppression and injustice - that the Indian state took great pains to associate itself with.

Over the decades, however, even this purely formal obeisance got diluted almost to the point of nullity.

The Big Bang and Rupture

But it is perhaps only in the fitness of things that the real break came when the BJP, the mass political/parliamentary wing of the hydra-headed RSS, came to power at the Centre - albeit aided by two dozen sundry political formations, in March 1998. In less than two months’ time the new government deliberately and publicly launched India’s nuclear weaponisation programme through a series of five nuclear explosions. This not only completely overturned India’s official position on the nuclear issue -acknowledging nuclear weapons as an unmitigated evil, being maintained - even if rather tenuously, till then; it also evidently signified a clear and categorical rupture with the Gandhian legacy - anti-colonial nationalism imbibed with the spirit of universalism, or whatever of it had remained.

11th May 1998 was the day the Government of India, constituted of a motley crowd of about two dozen political parties led by the “Hindu” nationalist BJP, carried out, as per its official declaration, three nuclear explosions as a deliberate act of military exhibitionism in the western desert of Rajasthan at a place called Pokhran. Two days after followed another two in the midst of world-wide shock and condemnation.

Just after a fortnight the neighbouring Pakistan, which became the prime target of vulgar taunts and boastful threats of the BJP/NDA leaders occupying senior government posts, retaliated with a series of six explosions.

Since then the South Asian region has virtually turned into a live volcano just waiting to erupt and decimate the lives and dreams of more than one billion human beings along with their habitat.

Indian Nationalism vis-a-vis “Hindu” Nationalism

The very magnitude of the success of BJP’s masterstroke, which appeared quite stunning at that point of time - with rapturous crowds bursting crackers and distributing sweets on the city streets appropriately captured on the TV-screens and banner headlines of the mainstream and venerable newspapers on the morning after screaming full-throated support to India’s “Explosion of Self-Esteem”, regardless of Buddha - whose birthday coincided with the first instalment of explosions, and Gandhi, pointed to a rather complex and problematic relationship between Indian nationalism - or its changing profile, and the politics of Hindutva - which, not too long ago, appeared to belong only to the lunatic fringe.

This relationship we will try to explore, albeit in very brief within the scope of the present monograph, at two distinct, even if interconnected, levels. One, in terms of the (compositional and) attitudinal change of the Indian elite. Then we will also try to map the policy shifts of the principal, or ‘natural’, party of Indian nationalism - the Indian National Congress. Both having profound impact on the appeal of Hindutva, and the fortunes of the RSS/BJP. And consequently the destiny of India.

The politics of ‘Hindutva’ - a term first coined and popularised by V D Savarkar in 1923, and later identified with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - an organisation launched in 1925 on the Vijayaa Dashami Day by one Keshav Baliram Hedgewar to champion its cause, has a rather fascinating history. But before trying to plot the trajectory of Hindutva, it is imperative to keep in mind that the project of ’Hindutva’ is, in its essence, one of building up mass mobilisation, geared to the task of forging a new “Hindu” nation-state - out of the extant one through its appropriation and negation, around a core ’majority’, propelled by whipped up feelings of ’insecurity, paranoia, hatred and aggression’ against an array of ’adversarial and menacing others’, both internal and external, by making extensive and manipulative use of real and imaginary, past and contemporary ’history’ of fissures and conflicts. While religion is put to extensive and intensive instrumentalist use in this task of militant, exclusionist, majoritarian mobilisation, elements of (ultra)nationalism are also put to good use by borrowing and (mis)appropriating the idioms and icons of (widely accepted) mainstream (secular) nationalism, particularly (though not exclusively) of its rightwing variety.

Mainstream Indian nationalism, on the other, came into being through the process and as the culmination of India’s long drawn out struggle for emancipation from the British colonial rule. At its core lies the widely cherished dream of a democratic, pluralist and egalitarian India - at peace with itself and the world without. Consequently the ’idea of India’ that emerged and evolved over the last 150 years or so during the course of this epic struggle (and also in its aftermath) essentially recognises the legitimacy of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural character of the Indian society and consequently pluralist, secular, integrative democracy as the only viable basis for the independent Indian state. It bears reiteration that Hindutva calls for nothing short of deliberate negation of this ideological basis and undermining of the post-independence Indian state, along with its rather elaborate legal-constitutional and institutional framework, while masquerading itself as the greatest defender of the Indian nation state.

Before proceeding further with our investigation an important caveat needs be entered here for any meaningful journey down the line. Indian nationalism from its very inception assumed an ‘omnibus’ character. This deliberate ‘all-inclusiveness’ constituted its key characteristic and made it eminently suitable as the foundational ideology for the ‘India in the making’, given the size and vast diversities amongst the peoples of the subcontinent - in terms of culture, language, ethnicity, social-economic station and, of course, religious belief/practice. As a result we could find the call for ‘Ram Rajya’ and activist support for the Khilafat movement to go hand in hand. This tendency to (uncritically) accept all and reject nothing, overlook otherwise evident differences and contradictions, in so far as they meet the basic criteria of anti-colonialism, however, made it highly incapable of clearly demarcating itself from and consequently taking head on various aberrant tendencies within the broad spectrum. Moreover, the demography and history of the subcontinent saw to it that Indian nationalism, and its principal agency - the Indian National Congress, assumed a distinct (upper caste) Hindu flavour notwithstanding its pluralist and egalitarian commitments, particularly of its most visible symbols - Gandhi, Bose, Nehru, and also Tagore. The quest for and invention of a “golden past” as a critical element and the psychological ballast in the struggle against the commonly perceived civilisational superiority of the colonial rulers further blurred the dividing line between ‘secular’ liberal nationalism and “Hindu” communalism.

It is against this backdrop that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS - National Volunteers’ Federation) opened its shop in 1925, apparently borrowing the basic organisational model from the Anushilan Samity - a militant nationalist organisation in Bengal, to propagate its distinctive brand of “nationalism” under the cover of “character building”. It placed itself outside of the arena of “political” activities, unlike its ideological ancestor the Hindu Mahasabha (Hindus’ Grand Assembly). This made it easier to avoid any direct confrontation with the Congress, the principal vehicle of Indian nationalism, and also adverse attention of the colonial rulers. The strategy was essentially two-pronged : to critique and discredit the mainstream nationalism (in the eyes of its actual and prospective adherents); and (rather surreptitiously) supplant its broad pluralist vision with its own hate-filled sectarian one. In other words : delegitmise/subvert Indian nationalism; and (mis)appropriate it. It is quite significant that this basic duality till this day continues unabated. Praise Gandhi to the sky - claim him as one of your own; celebrate the memory of Nathuram Godse - his unrepentant killer. Demand forced respect for the national flag; spread disaffection against it for containing colours other than saffron. Ditto for the national anthem and the Indian constitution. Even as regards the nuclear explosions : project it as a bold departure from the pusillanimity of the nationalist/Congress traditions; claim it as the continuation and culmination of the earlier policy backed by broad national consensus.

While it definitely goes to the credit of the RSS that it could follow this strategy of duality with high degree of persistence and fiendish finesse, it could hardly have been possible without the intrinsic fuzziness of Indian nationalism, more noticeable on its fringes.

Transmutation of Indian Elite

Break with the Past

The imposition of the British rule, in the mid-eighteenth century, through the agency of the East India Company over vast stretches of the Indian sub-continent as the culmination of a series of persuasive and aggressive overtures to secure exclusive and unfettered trading rights for about two centuries and a half by the colonisers from the West across the seas - which would be, about a century later, converted into the direct rule of the British Crown, created more than a ripple in the life of the landmass called India. While the object was unmistakably to reap huge commercial benefits by buying cheap, mainly raw materials, and selling finished products from its mechanised factories at large margins, once the formal rule was established over the native population it had to be legitimised also in terms of a supposedly civilising mission. This was considered necessary to make the alien rule established on the strength of guns and cannons, aided by diplomatic manœuvres, a less disagreeable, if not outright welcome, development in the eyes of the colonised and thereby minimise the cost of maintaining such rule in a faraway land. But this also served an useful purpose in selling the blood-soaked venture to the domestic constituencies - another necessity, given the political structure at home.

While Marx had noted, with good justification, the revolutionary potentials of introduction of the railways on the Indian soil, it is the introduction of Western education, through the medium of English, with the express purpose of creating layers of subordinate state officials with unquestionable loyalty to the Crown from amongst the ranks of the natives to carry out the colonial rule which, at least on the face of it, turned out to be the most proximate factor in causing a ferment.

The Indian society, given its sub-continental dimensions and extremely wide diversities in terms of class, caste, language ethnicity, religion etc responded to this fundamentally novel experience in a highly complex and variegated manner.

A middle class, a new social category, arose - mainly in the newly emerging metropolises of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. And it is from the ranks of this English educated middle class, coming mainly from the various layers of upper caste Hindu gentry and purported to serve as the loyal agents of the colonial rulers, arose the future vanguards of the anti-colonial independence movement.

The “Sepoy Mutiny” of 1857 was the last attempt of the “traditional” India under the nominal and symbolic, even if rather reluctant, leadership of the then Mughal Emperor of Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to overthrow the ever-expanding alien rule and restore the “old” order. The incipient “middle class’, the offspring of the”new order" stood aside.

Genesis and Growth

The introduction of the English education with the express and explicit goal, as enunciated by Lord Macaulay as far back as1835, of creating “a class [from amongst the native Indians] who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” produced a profoundly contradictory set of results beyond the wildest dreams, or nightmares, of its initiators. While on the face of it, it did achieve its intended goals with a stunning degree of success, it also caused a new ferment in the intellectual life of the subcontinent. With English education came the ideals of liberalism, rooted in the legacy of the Renaissance, and the traditions of the French Revolution succeeded by the Italian and Irish liberation movements. The rising middle class could not be kept hermetically sealed off from the stirring influence of the Bolshevik Revolution either.

But to be sure the social spread of the English educated middle class, engaged in various layers of government jobs, also in slowly proliferating private mercantile and industrial enterprises, and in professions in the fields of law, education, media and modern medicine, remained fairly confined to the upper strata of the traditional Indian society. Then again, the Muslim aristocracy, perhaps as a consequence of the crushed Mutiny, remained by and large outside of this new ferment.

Indian Freedom Movement had its roots in the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 - composed exclusively of prominent and illustrious members from the uppermost strata of the English educated class. The distinction from the leadership of the failed Mutiny, about three decades back, could have not been any starker. But the Movement came into its own only with the advent of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a barrister who had studied law in London, on the Indian shores in 1915 back from his stay at South Africa for just over two decades. Under the leadership of Gandhi, who took over in about five years, the Congress not only adopted more radical stance, it also, for the first time, assumed mass character. Nevertheless the leadership remained firmly in the hands of the middle class - a class while mindful of its own specific interests and consequently by and large jettisoned any revolutionary forms of movement seeking radical rupture with the past and adopted an entirely novel and gradualist strategy based on non-violent non-cooperation with the colonial rulers, was also at the same time fairly awake and sensitive to the needs of the subaltern masses. Numerous members of the class, within and outside the Congress, showed highest forms of self-less idealism and inspired the masses. The protection of self-interests was consciously attempted to be organically integrated with the concerns of the common people. As a result, the middle class leadership of the Freedom Movement earned a very high degree of legitimacy in the eyes of the entire ‘nation in the making’.

The middle class also, even if rather tentatively, worked out a new value system by synthesising elements of Western liberalism and Protestant work ethics e.g. rationalism, punctuality, objectivity, integrity with austerity and abstinence from the Brahminical traditions. However, it is the electrifying ambience of death-defying and self-sacrificing anti-colonial anti-imperialist independence struggle that had the most decisive impact on the moral world of the Indian middle class.


With Independence attained things changed, and changed rather radically - in more ways than one. With Independence the morally uplifting influence of the epic struggle started fading out. And the Nehruvian vision of nation building and his call for “tryst with destiny” failed to adequately fill the vacuum in spite of some initial success under rather trying conditions of abject economic backwardness in a highly diverse society riven by the extremely traumatic experience of the Partition. It did not take too long to start loosing its moral halo. Things had in fact started changing even before Independence, when Congress ministries took reins of power in their hands in the provinces under British rule. In time Khadi Kurta and Gandhi cap came to be recognised as the trademark for corruption and depravity rather than symbol of self-less patriotism as had been the case earlier.

With the launching of the massive industrialisation drive propelled by direct interventions of the ‘welfarist’ state rapidly proliferated the salaried middle class which included patronage dispensing state functionaries. The implementation of the land reforms, even if formulated and implemented in a rather scrappy fashion, together with other measures to promote food and agricultural productions caused the rise of a new strata of rich and middle peasants, mainly from amongst the ranks of the middle castes - the bulk of which have since come to be labelled as ‘Other backward Castes’ (OBC). The massive expansion of economic activities together with land reforms and job reservations in government/public sectors under a parliamentary democratic regime based on adult franchise thus triggered off irreversible changes in the social composition of the burgeoning middle class. The value system, earlier evolved, somewhat tentatively, by a class engaged in an intense anti-establishment struggle infused with egalitarian ideals, based on the synthesis of Western liberalism and elements of Brahminical traditions could not sustain the resultant strains. The new middle class, much larger in proportion than it had hitherto been, arose virtually as a junior partner of their much less numerous but decidedly more weighty cousins - the vastly expanded and expanding class of commercial, industrial and agricultural bourgeoisie, a community of self-seeking “rational fools” bereft of broader social commitments - driven by unenlightened, narrow and consumerist self-interests - for whom “greed is great”. It, however, took some time to decipher this new and momentous development.

Even the international scenario took a turn towards deradicalisation, ironically with the successful conclusion of the struggle for Vietnamese liberation in the early seventies as the befitting climax of a long drawn out process of decolonisation of the Third World - interspersed with Chinese liberation, Korean War, Cuban revolution and so and so forth. After a big spurt of radicalism in the sixties, both nationally and internationally, the manifestations of the ongoing profound changes and the consequent shift to the Right of the whole political spectrum across the board became unmistakably evident since the early/mid seventies. The trend picked up further momentum with the inauguration of the frankly neo-liberal new economic policies in the early nineties, with which the upcoming middle class developed a symbiotic relationship. The gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” widened. The phenomenon of the “secession of the successful” came into being. And yet even the subaltern classes could not escape the morally corrosive influence of this hedonistic “new” middle class.

Degeneration of Congress and Rise of Hindutva

In order to make sense of the complex web of developments since Independence, observers had to perforce resort to periodisation. In the following we also do likewise, albeit in our own way and with necessary approximations .

1947 - 1965 : Predominance, Stability and Transformation

During this period, since 15th August 1947 when (truncated) India attained freedom through a negotiated transfer of power to the Indian National Congress (INC) - as the sole recognised representative of the Indian people, the INC was spectacularly successful in consolidating its hold. While the legacy of the long drawn out and gigantic freedom struggle played a very crucial role, the Nehruvian vision of New India - incorporating the agendas of (a) ‘national integration’, (b) ‘economic development’, (c ) ‘social equality’ and (d) consolidation of multiparty parliamentary democracy - also played no mean part. India declared itself a Republic on the 26th January of 1950 and the Constitution as worked out by the Constituent Assembly came into operation. With the demise of Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, since the early fifties Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, became the unassailable leader, both at the government and party level.

In the first three general elections, in 1952, ’57 and ’62, the Congress polled 45.0, 47.8, and 44.7% votes and gained 76.0, 77.0 and 73.5% of the seats in the Lok Sabha. The degree of predominance of the Congress becomes even clearer if we consider that the sum of votes polled by the top 2 parties were 56, 58 and 55%. And the sum for the top three were 61, 67 and 63%. So as compared to the second largest party the vote share of the Congress was around 4.5 times, and in comparison to the third largest it was between 5.5 and 9 times. The predominance appeared so overwhelming that Indian democracy came to be dubbed by the Western scholars as ‘One Party System’ or ‘Congress System’.

From the party of struggle the Congress transformed itself into the party of governance - governance not through mass mobilisation with the help of the extensive network of party organisation that was built bit by bit during the years of struggle - particularly since 1920, but an elaborate state machinery - the basic structure of which was inherited from the repressive colonial state, networked with the party caucuses at various appropriate levels. The concept of “planned economy”, worked out much before the actual attainment of Independence was operationalised in the form of Five Year Plans commencing in 1951. The planning process, however, came into its own with the inauguration of the Second Five Year Plan in 1956 with its explicit and elaborate emphasis on massive and direct state investment in building infrastructure and heavy industries requiring huge investments with long gestation periods, and thereby beyond the reach of private capitals. This was to serve as the foundation for further industrialisation, apart from opening up large job opportunities and facilitating growth of private capital in the consumer goods sector. The entry of foreign capital and goods was strictly regulated to protect the indigenous capital. The Third Five Year Plan continued on the same note.

The one area in which the rupture with the past was most noticeable was the coercive method of dealing with popular discontent in general - be it Tebhaga or Telengana movement led by the communists or movements for linguistic states. But it was by far at its brutal worst in the case of Naga and Mizo movements for independence in the North-East.

By the end of this period, in October 1962, came the Sino-Indian border war in which the Indian Army was badly humiliated. For the first time since Independence Nehru’s authority was seriously challenged. The then Defence Minister, V K Krishna Menon, a protégé of Nehru without independent political base had to resign. The hitherto highly acclaimed foreign policy was ferociously assailed. Right wing politics, both within and outside Congress, received a big boost and the RSS gained new respectability. Nehru himself died broken-hearted in the summer of ’64. Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded as the Prime Minister.

1965 - 1977 : Turbulence, Instability and Repression

After ’62 the defence budget had been substantially augmented. Then came ’65. The war with Pakistan. It again took its toll on the economy. Relation with the West was seriously impaired. Flow of aids throttled. Crisis of foreign exchange erupted. A large devaluation of the Indian rupee was resorted to. Agricultural productions failed for two consecutive years : ‘65-‘66 and ‘66-’67. Economy suffered severe recession. The planning process collapsed. For three years, ‘66-’69, there was ‘Plan Holiday’.

However, in ‘67-’68 the agricultural production, and food production in particular, rose significantly on a sustained basis as a result of use of hybrid seeds, better irrigation, increased use of fertilisers and pesticides, and mechanisation of agriculture. The rich and middle peasants, mainly from the ‘middle castes’ became the main vehicle and beneficiaries of this technology driven “Green Revolution”. The increased economic clout, in due course, sought and found reflection in social and political spheres as well. Aspirations spurted. Tensions in rural society further aggravated.

Indira Gandhi was installed by the Congress High Command, known as the Syndicate at that time, as Shastri’s successor, who died in January ’66. At the state levels Congress started facing large scale desertions of the local satraps, mainly representing the upcoming rural bourgeoisie.

The year 1965 saw food riots in Kerala. In 1966 severe food shortage triggered off organised mass protests under the leadership of the Left in West Bengal on an unprecedented scale. India was beset with widespread mass discontent and political agitation.

The Congress received a serious jolt in the 1967 elections. Its vote share in the Lok Sabha elections came down by about 4% points. Its number of seats fell more dramatically. From about three fourth it was reduced just over half. But even more significantly it lost power in as many as nine states. Something undreamt of even a couple of years back. Political instability at the state levels became the rule rather than exception. On top of that militant student and agrarian movements emanating from West Bengal started spreading to various other parts of India. Two decades after Independence India all of a sudden appeared to start wobbling.

After initial years of fumbling Indira struck out on her own. By the end of 1969 she split the Congress in pursuance of a populist politico-economic agenda. In the process humbled the ageing Congress bosses, adopted confrontationist politics, rejected the concept of Nehruvian/Gandhian consensus of the earlier years, virtually destroyed the complex hierarchical organisation structure of the Congress and crippled the independent support base of almost every other leader in the organisation - whether at the Centre or at the states. The Congress was in due course renamed after her as Congress (Indira).

The Lok Sabha was prematurely dissolved. Early election was called. She notched up a stunning victory, with 43.7% of the votes and 68.1% of the seats, on the strength of her call of garibi hatao (expel poverty). And yet the Congress under her leadership fell short of its 1962 performance. By the end of 1971 Pakistan was mutilated. Bangladesh came into being in place of the erstwhile East Pakistan. Indira played a decisive role in the whole process. She was hailed as goddess Durga even by her opponents. Her popularity reached the peak. In 1974 India carried out its first underground nuclear explosion, dubbed as ‘implosion’ in those days - ostensibly for peaceful purposes. No one took the claim too seriously. The move was widely hailed within the country, by the Right in particular.

And yet the political instability and mass discontent could not be squashed. Particularly since 1974 the anti-government agitation under the leadership of Jaya Prakash Narayan became more and more virulent. In the night of 25th June 1975 Emergency was proclaimed. All democratic rights were suspended. A reign of brutal repression was let loose. Thousands were sent to jails. The media was completely gagged.

During the course of Emergency Sanjay Gandhi, the second and youngest son of Indira, holding no official post emerged as the second most powerful person in India - exercising power in the most arbitrary and profligate manner. Under his leadership a highly coercive population control drive was launched - treating human beings, and the poor in particular, as no better than cattle. In the name of beautification of cities extreme cruelties were perpetrated against the homeless poor. Both these campaigns had noticeably anti-Muslim edge. In 1977, with the political opposition completely crushed and the terrorised media singing hallelujah to her, Indira Gandhi called for parliamentary elections, presumably to legitimise her reign of terror. But the eventual outcome was beyond the wildest dreams of her opponents. The Congress was swept aside in a massive avalanche of mass disapproval. Indira herself had to bite dust. The Congress vote rather dramatically fell to 34.5% and seats to 28.5%.

1977 - 1998 : Years of Drift

From ’77 to March ’98, in twenty one years, there were seven elections and eleven governments at the Centre. Out of these, three served full term or nearly full term. And all these three were Congress governments, two with comfortable majority. But the last one was actually a minority government led by Narasimha Rao, which survived with the (tacit) support of the BJP. It was somewhat a mirror image of what Indira did between ’69 and ’71 - indicative of the underlying shift in the balance and equation of political forces. Of the short-lived ones, the first one was a Janata Party government, which assumed power in 1977 with a comfortable majority. The now-dissolved Jana Sangh constituted an important component of the Janata Party which was formed out of the merger of the Cong(O), BLD, Jana Sangh and CFD. Another one was a National Front Government led by V P Singh supported by the BJP and the Left. In the fall of both these governments the JS/BJP played a major role.

In ’96 an United Front government came to power with the backing of the Left, some of the regional parties and also rather reluctant support from the Congress. The Congress caused the fall of the government in less than two years after effecting a change of leader in between.

In March 1998 eventually the BJP occupied the coveted seat of power at the Centre heading a coalition of about two dozen parties.

Over this period the actual distance between the Congress and BJP, or rather Saffron politics, considerably narrowed, and the dividing line blurred. While Rajiv Gandhi’s role in reopening the doors of the Babri Mosque to allow worship by the Hindus have been widely noted, the (spine-chilling) significance of the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, in which Congress polled 48.1% votes and 76.7% seats - an all-time record, with highest ever voter turn out, has not been adequately discussed and comprehended. This was an election which was almost literally fought over the dead bodies of hundreds of Sikhs - painted as anti-nationals and mercilessly slaughtered by the Congress goons led by some of its prominent leaders duly aided by the RSS. Consequently even during the elections the RSS support was mobilised behind the Congress to further reinforce the ambience of siege and fighting the election capitalising on the resultant paranoia. In a way, 1984 LS elections prefigured the Gujarat assembly election in 2002.

It is during this period, in 1996, the Congress vote share dipped below 30%. And that of the JS/BJP rose dramatically from around 10% ( 9.4 in ’67, 7.4 in ’71 and 11.5 in ’89) to over 20%.

In the two subsequent elections, in ’98 and ’99, Congress vote share further plummeted to 26-29% range. And the BJP improved its tally further - hovering around 25%. Then again, as the Congress remained a prisoner of its imperial hangover, the BJP managed to capture power by deftly indulging in coalition politics.

But before going over to this next and last period, i.e. ’98 March onwards, it is necessary to note that it is the period from ’77 to ’98 March which saw the most dramatic upsurge of the Saffron politics. And this did not simply mean the emergence of the BJP as the major player in the political arena. The Congress, which was and is still occupying the large middle ground in Indian politics, itself got more and more saffronised. This was both the cause and effect of the saffronisation of the civil society itself - which eventually led to the emergence of the BJP as the ruling power.

The steady switch over, endorsed by the successive Congress governments, from the time-honoured, even if somewhat cliched, slogan of “Unity in Diversity” to the strident exhortation “Join the National Mainstream” was only indicative of this profound subterranean shift. And this could have not but only gladdened the adherents of the Saffron camp as the legitimisation of their frank and unashamed, and till recently highly despised, drive for cultural homogenisation encapsulated in the call for “One Nation, One Culture, One People” or “Hindi, Hindu, Hindusthan”. Similarly the slogan coined during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime : Mera Bharat Mahan (My India is Great) was also indicative of the Indian elite’s desire to emerge as the regional bully, in the image of the international super-bully - reflected graphically in India’s disastrous intervention in neighbouring Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, and meshed well with the Hindutva vision of India’s role as a militarist superpower on the global stage - shorn of the ‘baggage’ of moral and ethical principles and considerations. (The total unconcern for ethics, or rather strong unconcealed contempt for it, is one of the defining characteristics of Hindutva - (identity) politics explicitly linked to Hindu religion. Quite in sharp contrast, Gandhi - a deeply religious Hindu but not given to performing traditional/customary religious rites, was elevated to the status of a Mahatma (a great soul) by the vast multitude of common Indians - predominantly Hindu, far overshadowing their established religious gurus and the likes, precisely because of his perceived adherence to the highest ethical principles - ‘Truth and Non-Violence’, in an unfaltering manner.)

At a more tangible level, however, the complicity of the Congress governments, led by Rajiv Gandhi and Narsimha Rao, in promoting the Ram Mandir Movement spearheaded by the Hindutva Brigade leading to the eventual demolition of the Babri Mosque turned out to be the most proximate cause in their phenomenal electoral success. The other major factors facilitating the rise of Hindutva include the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report by V P Singh-led National Front government and insurgency in Kasmir valley, since early nineties, preceded by the rise (and fall) of Sikh separatism in Punjab, in turn, coming on top of ongoing turbulence and insurgency in the North-East - contributing to the ambience of siege.

1998 March Onwards : ‘Hindutva’ On Top

After an extremely brief stint as the Prime Minister of India at the conclusion of the 1996 general election, when he lost the confidence vote just after twelve days of being sworn in, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP leader in the parliament, occupied the highly coveted chair after the 1998 election at the head of a coalition comprising around two dozen parties of widely varying size and influence. This time his government lasted for about thirteen months and collapsed after withdrawal of support by AIDMK, a key supporting partner, led by Jayalalitha. These thirteen months turned out to be quite eventful. ‘The party with a difference’ did not quite disappoint its traditional constituencies. If compulsions of coalition politics brought about a semblance of moderation - particularly on the temple front, then the tension between their age old commitments and the new imperatives were attempted to be resolved in a rather spectacular manner with a big bang or to be more precise, a series of five nuclear explosions in the first half of May barely seven weeks after assuming power. The causes and consequences of these we will examine in the following sections. Here it will suffice to note that these blasts were followed, quite ironically, by Vajpayee’s trip to Lahore in the following February, soon after the visit of Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State of the US, to the region, ostensibly in search of peace with neighbouring Pakistan, the traditional bugbear of the Hindutva politicians, which had gone nuclear in about a fortnight of blasts on the Indian side of the border. Soon after in the month of April ‘Kargil War’ erupted on the Line of Control (LoC) running through the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The (undeclared) limited war came to an end only by the end of July after active intervention of the US President, Bill Clinton. In the meanwhile Vajpayee had already lost majority in the parliament and became the head of a caretaker government. In the ensuing election the ‘Kargil War’, which was made possible because of gross intelligence failure on the Indian part, quite paradoxically came to his rescue. And on 13th October 1999 he resumed charge as the head of the BJP-led coalition, NDA, with a significantly increased majority.

Apart from the ebb and flow of tensions between the two nuclear neighbours, India and Pakistan, largely mediated by the sole global superpower, the US, the other most important event during this period is the genocide of ‘minority’ Muslims in Gujarat, understandably planned and executed by the BJP government in power led by Narendra Modi, as the central piece of an unfolding agenda, with somewhat ambiguous backing of the Vajpayee-led Central government. The Congress in Gujarat abjectly failed to offer even any semblance of resistance.

Summing Up

To sum up, the rise of the Hindutva politics, constituting just not of ‘minority’/Muslim bashing but encompassing a changed conception of “nationalism” itself, since early eighties in particular, has a strong and clearly discernible correlation with the steady drift, decline and vicissitudes of the Congress, which had till then been not only the ruling power at the centre, albeit with a brief interlude, but also regarded as the very core of Indian nationalism.

Conversely, in the early days after Independence, despite the traumatic experience of the Partition, Hindutva was kept well under check by the Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru in spite of many of its Chief Ministers in the states, and also quite a few other senior leaders, having been closet communalists. Nehru was, however, rather providentially aided in his task by the shocking assassination of Gandhi by a self-proclaimed “Hindu” militant - with RSS background and a close associate of V D Savarkar - the Hindutva mascot, and the consequent eclipse and premature demise of his main challenger - Vallabhbhai Patel, the first, and the then, Home Minister, and also Deputy Prime Minister, of Independent India.

India Goes Nuclear : Tracing the Trajectory

Nuclearisation of a state has essentially two dimensions : technological and doctrinal/ideological. It requires a certain level of scientific/technological development in a certain specific direction. More so, as unlike other armaments nuclear weapons and related technologies are not tradable commodities in the international markets. But then that by itself is not enough. It also calls for a conscious and deliberate political decision making based on an ideology/doctrine favouring a decisive move in the required direction. These are two distinctly different aspects, but not wholly unconnected and autonomous. The ‘technological development’ while by itself is not ‘sufficient’, even if ‘necessary’, it tends to generate its own momentum/pressure to reorient the ideological sphere. Similarly, the ideological orientation may very well precede the ‘technological development’ and in fact guide and steer it along a route, at least broadly, charted out in advance. Then again, quite significantly, there is no clear fault line demarcating the ‘technology’ required for ‘peaceful’ use of nuclear energy, or to be more precise nuclear power generation, and that for production of nuclear explosive devices meant for mass destruction. So, while the shift from peaceful use of nuclear energy to nuclear weaponisation involves a big leap in the realm of political decision making, in the domain of technology the transition is virtually seamless.

In order to make sense of the emergence of India as a declared Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) from the status of a founding and leading member of the Non Alignment Movement championing the cause of decolonisation, pacifism and nuclear disarmament over a period of just over half a century it is imperative to keep the broad clues offered above in close focus. But before we go into the specifics of the Indian case, we will have a cursory look at the international scenario to have a better appreciation of the proposition enunciated above. The terms of the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 1996 provide that the treaty will come into force after being ratified by 44 states who were participants in the 1996 session of the Conference on Disarmament held in Geneva and possess nuclear power or research reactors.

Evidently the underlying assumption is that possession of nuclear power, or even research, reactor amounts to nuclear weapons (production) capability or thereabout. That is why, as the official argument would go, it was necessary to obtain their ratification as the precondition for the treaty coming into force. Now out of these 44 countries only five were recognised, as per the terms of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Nuclear Weapons States (NWS). Another two, India and Pakistan, subsequently became declared, even if unrecognised, NWS. Apart from these, Israel is held to be (clandestinely) in possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea and Iran enjoy somewhat ambiguous status. All the rest do not have the Bomb. Not only that, quite a few of them - e.g. Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Ukraine, renounced their nuclear weapons programme/capability at some stage or the other. This does clearly illustrate that mere technological wherewithal for producing nuclear weapons, or nuclear capability, does not automatically and axiomatically lead to nuclear weaponisation. Nuclearisation, in the ultimate analysis, is a political act - albeit overlying a base of technological capability.

Coming back to India, the distinction between ‘technology’ and ‘ideology’ becomes all the more relevant and important if one is not to lose sight of the fact that Independent India started off its journey with no blueprint whatsoever for its eventual nuclearisation even as the endeavour for building up the requisite scientific/technological base had commenced even before the actual independence. With independence attained, the drive for technology in general, and nuclear in particular, gained further momentum. But that was more reflective of Independent India’s supreme leader Jawaharlal Nehru’s telling faith in science and technology, in stark contrast with his mentor Gandhi, not just as a great developmental tool but also as a liberating force of immense proportions. (Only with the benefit of actual historical experience and the hindsight of more than half a century one can now proceed to pronounce such visionary faith and optimism on his part somewhat naïve and misplaced). The other important aspect of India’s drive for nuclearisation, which would start off much later, is that quite contrary to the claims of its apologists this had only a tenuous correlation with any external threat perception. This has been rather brilliantly captured by a perceptive Indian observer in the following words : “Speaking after the nuclear tests that he had ordered [in May 1998], with a clear sense of being vindicated, Prime Minister Vajpayee declared ‘I have been advocating the cause of India going nuclear for well over four decades.’ In triumph were forgotten the careful, laboured explanations of the need for the bomb; there was no problem with the fact that four decades earlier China was seen as a special ally not threat, that China then had no nuclear weapons, that Pakistan was struggling to find its feet as a state.” A foreign observer, of great diligence and distinction, has also arrived at a broadly similar, even if rather prosaic and more detailed, conclusion : “Domestic factors, including moral and political norms, have been more significant in determining India’s nuclear policy… Often, tensions between domestic interests have made this policy appear ambivalent and ambiguous. India has been torn between a moral antagonism toward the production of weapons of mass destruction, on one hand, and on the other hand, an ambition to be regarded as a major power”.

Stages of Development

India’s journey towards eventual nuclearisation in May 1998 (and further development onwards) since Independence has passed through a couple of distinct phases.

1947 to 1964 : The first phase covers from 1947 to November 1964. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, with funding from the Tata Trust, had been launched in 1945 in the then Bombay. It was the brainchild of Dr Homi Bhabha, an extremely gifted world class physicist. Bhabha was its first Director and would often refer to this institute as the cradle of Indian atomic energy programme. In 1946 the Atomic Energy Research Committee was instituted, again Bhabha as its Chairman, to promote studies in nuclear physics in Indian colleges and universities. Within a year of attainment of Independence, at the initiative of Nehru, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) came into being, under an appropriate act passed by the parliament, led by Dr Bhabha reporting directly to the Prime Minister. Through the establishment of the AEC India’s atomic/nuclear energy programme was formally launched. The programme from the very beginning received highest indulgence from the PM and its progenitor highest degree of autonomy and institutionalised protection from parliamentary and other forms of enquiry/intervention. While the large overlap between the programmes for peaceful use of nuclear energy and weapon producing capability was clearly recognised, the Indian state at the doctrinal and policy level remained firmly wedded to the ideal of abjuring nuclear weapons. And this was very much in keeping with the overall foreign policy and its status as a pioneering and leading member of the Non Aligned Movement.

India’s foreign policy for the first time, however, came under serious assault, as had been noted in the foregoing, in the wake of October 1962 - as a consequence of terrible humiliation of the Indian Army at the hands of its Chinese counterpart. The Jana Sangh, the earlier incarnation of the BJP, took the opportunity to repeatedly put forward its decade old demand that India at least now must go nuclear. But Nehru, however, was able to weather the storms in spite of losing much of his moral/political stature.

On 16th October 1964 China carried out an overground nuclear explosion pursuant to the state policy adopted as far back as in 1958. On November 27, as the culmination of an ongoing outcry for an Indian Bomb - encouraged and reinforced by none other than Homi Bhabha’s public pronouncement promising cheap and quick nuclear deterrence capability if backed up by the Indian state, the Jana Sangh introduced a motion in the Lok sabha calling for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. While Lal Bahadur Shastri, the successor of Nehru, could manage to save the day, in the teeth of dissenting voices from influential quarters even within his own party, and even reiterated his earlier position of renouncing the Bomb, he nevertheless had to make two important concessions. From “No Bomb Ever”, the position shifted to “No Bomb Now”. And then, along with energy, the goal of developing technological capability for Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) was adopted. At that time it went by and large unnoticed, given the rather meagre presence of the JS in the parliament, that the politics of Hindutva had scored a significant victory with far-reaching consequences, with backing from the Samyukta Socialist Party and a section of the Congress itself. As would happen about thirty three and a half years later there was a complete convergence of interests between the scientocrats/technocrats representing India’s nuclear establishment and the rabidly chauvinist/jingoist “Hindu” nationalist party.

1965 to 1974 : During this period India fought an intense ten day war with Pakistan in August-September 1965. Faced economic/military sanctions from the US on that account. Both Shastri and Bhabha died premature death in January 1966. Indira Gandhi was installed as Shastri’s successor. And Mrs Gandhi chose Dr. Vikram Sarabhai as Bhabha’s successor. Sarabhai was unique in that he was the only head of India’s nuclear establishment who did not exhibit any marked enthusiasm to develop technological capability for manufacturing nuclear weapons or even (peaceful?) explosion. India in 1968 reiterated its resolve not to go in for nuclear weapons on practical considerations and refused to sign the [Nuclear] Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on the ground of it being discriminatory. In 1971 facilitated by India’s direct military intervention Pakistan was dismembered and the new state of Bangladesh came into being in place of the erstwhile East Pakistan. Dr Sarabhai died prematurely on 30thDecember 1971. On May 18, 1974 India carried out its first (underground) nuclear explosion, dubbed as ‘implosion’ for peaceful purpose, in Pokhran in the bordering state of Rajasthan. As per available accounts, which are at any rate rather scanty, the explosion was carried out at the initiative of India’s nuclear establishment and was endorsed by Mrs Gandhi to counteract the raging mass discontent against her rule. Nevertheless she took special care to emphasise the ‘peaceful’ nature and intent of the blast and even wrote a letter singing the same tune to Pakistani Prime Minister to dispel his misgivings four days after the blast. The blast was perceived as a great feat for Indian science and technology and India’s de facto entry into the big league. With few exceptions, the media and the political parties, the “nationalist” Jana Sangh in particular, welcomed the development with rapturous applause. But in so far as the official position was concerned, the attainment of nuclear weapon capability, which the ‘implosion’ demonstrated, however, remained only a powerful subtext - carefully and emphatically denied in all formal enunciation. While the nuclear establishment scored a landmark victory, Indira gained a political dividend which appeared quite impressive for a while but would soon prove to be rather transient and dubious.

As regards the external consequences, “[i]t increased US and international pressure on India to conform to the nonproliferation regime. It appeared to have no effect on China, and it had the negative impact of hardening Pakistan’s resolve to develop nuclear weapons.” As regards the process, “[t]here was no systematic analysis of costs and benefits. India’s foreign affairs establishment was not asked to assess likely international reactions and repercussions. The military services were not consulted…” The ‘process’, more than the ’consequences’, clearly points out that the motivation underlying the blast flowed essentially from domestic compulsions - and definitely not from any external threat perceptions.

1974 to 1984 : The ten years from ’74 to ‘84’ proved to be rather uneventful in terms of development on the nuclear front. Of the two Prime Ministers, who ruled for significant periods, Morarji Desai was implacably set against any nuclear programme. Even Indira seemed to have regained, at least partly, the strong moral aversion of her father, Independent India’s first Prime Minister. Despite persistent efforts the nuclear establishment failed to obtain any authorisation for any further test, peaceful or otherwise. Genera Sundarji, an advocate of nuclear weaponisation, later bitterly lamented, “Between the mid-Seventies and mid-Eighties, India’s [nuclear] decision-making … appear to have enjoyed something between a drugged sleep and a deep postprandial siesta.”

1984 to 1995 : After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi took over the reins. In March 1985 an American documentary on Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme drew attention of the Indian press. In 1986 border tension between the two neighbours rose to a new pitch. Nevertheless commitment to restrict India’s nuclear programme to peaceful use only was repeatedly reiterated. India also took some initiative in the direction of global nuclear disarmament but steadfastly rejected any overture for regional disarmament. Concurrently the programme for developing nuclear weapon capability and also ballistic missiles went apace without resorting to any further test explosion.

1995 to May 1998 : The Final Push

In 1995 May the NPT was indefinitely extended without any commitment from the NWSs for a time-bound programme for deweaponisation. This in India was perceived as a perpetuation of the ‘nuclear apartheid’ regime and consequently a setback. Parallelly the negotiation to finalise the CTBT draft had already been under way since January 1994. This added to the nervousness of the nuclear lobby in India, comprising top functionaries of the DAE, BARC and DRDO, the so-called ‘strategic enclave’ on the one hand, backed up by a loose group of ‘strategic analysts’, and a section of the political milieu - the BJP in particular, on the other. They foresaw in the forthcoming CTBT a permanent closure of India’s nuclear weapon development programme in absence of the facility to carry out explosive testing, as the Treaty was meant to ban all explosive testing save the sub-critical ones. The objection, to be sure, was not because these developments would allow the P5 countries to maintain their nuclear arsenal indefinitely, as had been publicly claimed, but because it would stop India from joining this big league as a new member. At any rate, pressure was built up for authorising test explosions before the CTBT coming into force. Narasimha Rao led Congress government grappling with serious corruption charges and due to face election in the next year apparently gave green signal to the scientists to carry out test explosion in the month of December. However, the US intelligence got wind of it and under pressure the attempt was abandoned. Though at that time for evident reasons such report was vehemently denied. The Rao government somewhat compensated for the abandonment by flight-testing a 250 kilometre range Prthvi missile on January 27 next.

The Congress lost its majority in the election for the eleventh Lok Sabha. Vajpayee was sworn in as the PM on May 16 and on May 28 he lost the vote of confidence. Even within this short span the nuclear establishment and the BJP toyed with the idea of going ahead with nuclear explosion. For whatever reasons the attempt did not fructify.

H D Deve Gowda, the chosen leader of the United Front, with Congress support from outside took over. Inder Kumar Gujral became the External Affairs Minister. While the UF government reportedly turned down the nuclear lobby’s ardent plea to carry out further tests, it nevertheless came under tremendous pressure of BJP’s hawkish posture on the issue of CTBT to which it had to succumb. Rather ironically the position of the Left, an important prop for the UF government, on this issue remarkably converged with that of the BJP.

It was only since October 1995 the Indian government started making a clear linkage between the CTBT and a time-bound programme for disarmament by the P5 as a precondition for its accession. But as the negotiation inched towards the final phase Indian objection became more and more shrill and high-pitched reflecting the general mood amongst the debating ‘experts’ within the country.

On June 20, India’s representative at the Geneva talks, Arundhati Ghosh rejected the CTBT draft not only on the ground of discrimination, between the NWSs and non-NWSs, (quite unjustifiably, as the CTBT draft did not recognise different classes of state parties as regards its implementation) but also on the ground of “national security considerations”. This was a crucial departure from India’s traditional position on nuclear weapons. Even as recently as in March 1996, India’s the then Foreign Secretary, Salman Haider, had submitted to the same august body, Conference on Disarmament (CD) : “We do not believe that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is essential for national security, and we have followed a conscious decision in this regard. We are also convinced that the existence of nuclear weapons diminishes international security. We, therefore, seek their complete elimination. These are fundamental precepts that have been an integral basis of India’s foreign and national security policy.” On July 15 Gujral, the External Affairs Minister, reiterated in the parliament India’s resolve to scuttle the treaty by blocking the required consensus. On August 14 India carried out its threat in Geneva. The Treaty, however, eventually taken to the UN General Assembly and, on September 10, was voted for by a margin of 158 to 3. India was in the august company of only Bhutan and Libya.

The next day the Times of India noted : “India has hardly ever been so united internally, or so isolated internationally, as on the issue of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty”. In fact, it is the CTBT ‘debate’ - a virtually one-sided misleading campaign replete with deliberate disinformation, that had gone on furiously for the last one year or so in the domestic circles subsequently proved to be a major facilitator for India, under the “Hindu” Nationalist rule, to come out openly as a Nuclear Weapon State throwing all moral inhibitions of the yesteryears, so to say, to the dustbin of History. And the whole political class, without any significant exception, including the mainstream Left became willing participants in this grand extravaganza of political/moral degeneration.

The United Front government which became instrumental in rejecting the CTBT died a premature, and yet not wholly unexpected, death by the end of ’97. In between, I K Gujral, who had by then become the Prime Minister, made a public declaration on May 31, 1997 that India would not sign a prospective treaty banning fissile material production - in keeping with the hardened and belligerent posture adopted at the time of CTBT negotiations. This, however, went hand in hand with intermittent reassertion of India’s resolve not to go in for nuclear weapons.

On March 19, 1998 Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Indian Prime Minister. This time he could survive the confidence vote, even if rather narrowly, held on March 28. On 11th May, the Government of India claimed, before the stunned nation and the international community, to have carried out three underground nuclear explosions in Pokhran, to be followed by another two - two days later.

The Dynamics and The Propellants

The propulsion for ’nuclearism’ is often derived form a quest for raw power and potency, ’power’ shorn of any ’moral’ or ’ethical’ principles, ’power’ to dominate and subjugate, and ’potency’ coupled with grossest exhibitionism. While the ’elite’, or a section of it, functions as the main driving force; in order to gain legitimacy and momentum the ’quest’ must also infect and intoxicate the ’masses’, who would then join the ’quest’, even if in a vicarious manner. So, in the process , ’nuclearism’ has to and does actually set off a whole chain of motions transforming the individual and collective mind-set. Peace and non-violence is projected, and eventually comes to be regarded, as ’effeminate’, and ’machismo’ as the ’ultimate’ virtue.

In the specific Indian context, the leading support for the drive towards nuclear weaponisation, as has been narrated above, comes mainly from three distinct and yet somewhat overlapping segments. These are :

1.The scientific and technical establishments associated with the development of nuclear weapons. Their prestige and power are directly at stake. The scientocrats and technocrats connected with the BARC, AEC and the DRDO fall in this category.

The top echelons of the ’defence’ forces and the current breed of defence analysts played supportive roles, even if, as late entrants and junior collaborators.

These are the people who have most consistently and with single-minded fiendish determination pushed India towards nuclearisaition.

2. The new Indian elite, a product of the post-independence economic development, who gradually sidelined the ’old’ middle and lower middle classes - whose ideals and value systems were by and large rooted in the experiences of the epic anti-colonial liberation struggles of the past decades, and emerged as the most vocal section of the society.

Particularly since the mid-seventies the mainstream political parties more and more transformed themselves into the vehicle and mouthpiece of their hopes and aspirations. Fiercely narrow-minded and self-centred, they started viewing acquisition of nuclear weapons as the shortest path to enduring glory.

3.The triggering force behind the Pokhran-II blasts was, however, unarguably the forces and politics of ’Hindutva’.

For these sickeningly evil forces the nuclear explosion was to provide a grand opportunity to stir up bestial passions and trigger off an avalanche of murderous mass-hysteria, which would, at one go, radically consolidate and crystallise the exclusionist and majoritarian ’national’ identity sought to be built by them. And that is precisely why the explosions were engineered, in less than two months of their coming to power, as a part of a predetermined agenda, without the least pretence of carrying out any systematic and comprehensive review of India’s current security concerns and strategic needs. Even the Defence Minister and the three Service Chiefs, it came to light subsequently, had been informed, so to say, only at the last moment; even though the publisher of the RSS organ Organiser had been made privy to this schedule so that they could advance and coincide the publication of their special issue to commemorate the first nuclear blast (ostensibly for peaceful purpose) eighteen years back on 18th May 1974. This ‘leak’ alone is sufficient to blow the lid off the claim that the concern for ‘National Security’ was the motivating force for undertaking these explosions, even if ‘security’ is interpreted in the most narrow-minded right wing fashion - completely disconnected from the issues of food, shelter, health, education and such other basic necessities for sustaining human life.

Here it would be pertinent to mention, at least in passing, that in the immediate aftermath of the blasts two major strands of explanation emerged from its critics, particularly from the Left. One, the nuclearisation of India actually constituted a critical and essential component of the grand US imperialist strategy to encircle and contain the People’s Republic of China. The other, it was only a ploy on the part of the BJP-led government to sign and join the CTBT regime, which in any case is nothing but an imperialist trap, under the cover of the euphoria manufactured through these blasts. It goes without saying that both these lines of argument are actually complementary and built upon a common set of premises.

The major underlying assumptions are that the explosions were not an independent act on the part of India’s incumbent rulers. These were carried out at the behest of the US imperialism and hence enjoyed their covert, even if not overt, support. This explains the apparent failure of the omnipresent and omniscient US spy satellites to detect the preparations in advance and block further activities.

It would, at any rate, not be superfluous to reiterate that the subsequent developments completely rubbished these projections. For one, China itself discovered no hidden US hand and pinpointed compulsions of India’s domestic politics as the underlying cause. Then, the US under Bill Clinton took active and leading initiative in blackballing India, however, without closing the channels of communication altogether. Moreover, China was in those days dubbed as the strategic partner of the US. Bill Clinton once even suggested that China as the major regional power should mediate between the two feuding nuclear neighbours - India and Pakistan. A highly publicised trip was undertaken by the US President to China soon afterwards to cement the bonds of partnership.

As regards the CTBT, one must remember that the BJP had always been earnest in the extreme to scuttle it by making India withhold its assent. The point is not that the option of signing the CTBT, in the aftermath of the blasts, was never considered - but only as a fallback option and by no means as the preferred one. Notwithstanding all sorts of confusing and ambivalent statements from time to time, evidently to dodge American pressure, this they could eventually evade. (Of course, the transfer of the baton from Clinton to Bush, a die-hard opponent of the CTBT, in January 2001 came as a great providential help). In fact, to do anything otherwise would have gone against the very grain of their politics. It would be well to recall that Vajpayee, on a subsequent visit to America to attend the General Assembly session of the UN in New York, took special pains to meet Republican Senator Jesse Helms, the then head of the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate - a known nuclear hawk and a leading opponent of the CTBT, through the good offices of an NRI businessman. It is the same Helms, it would be of interest to note, who had pronounced, immediately after the Pokhran blasts, that the “Indian government has not shot itself in the foot - it has most likely shot itself in the head.” .Helms would subsequently play the decisive role in blocking the Senate’s ratification of America’s endorsement of the CTBT - a statutory requirement.

These deeply flawed analyses and projections must, however, not be taken as indicative of any ineptitude on the part of the individual analysts. They rather reflected the utter inadequacy, or profound irrelevance, of the analytical frameworks used - rooted in the long outmoded experiences and the imperatives of the Cold War days.

But what is most relevant and crucial from our point of view is the fact that these arguments tend to deny an autonomous role to the politics of Hindutva and thereby severely underrate the grave danger that it signifies by itself - irrespective of its equation with the US at any given point of time.

The Consequences

The strong international censure, which erupted almost instantaneously, and the attendant punitive measures, which would follow soon thereafter, apart - the most obvious and enduring outcome of Pokhran-II was evidently Chagai. Just in a fortnight’s time Pakistan retaliated with (the claim of) six blasts - in response to India’s five now and another one eighteen years back to square off the account. Those who had gone euphoric proclaiming India’s “strategic” superiority over Pakistan attained through the recent blasts and hailed it as the “Explosion of Self-Esteem” went livid with frustration and gave vent to their deep sense of bitterness by calling it a “Copycat” reaction. These descriptions, however, even if rather unwittingly, brought out a crucial element of the subcontinental reality. While Indian nuclearisation did not stem from any threat perception from Pakistan - having been rooted in its quest for Big Power status and the ascendancy of Hindutva politics, Pakistan’s was a purely reactive one. Be that as it may, at one single stroke India’s massive superiority in terms of extant military strength, estimated at around 2.5 (or 3) to 1, got virtually wiped out. Pakistan attained a ‘parity" of sorts, through Chagai triggered off by Pokhran - to the great dismay of the Indian elite, through their own monumental folly.

What, however, rather dramatically laid bare the depth of Indian ineptitude, amidst all sorts of fanciful and clamorous claims in the wake of Pokhran-II, is the utter lack of political anticipation and ground level intelligence on Pakistan’s reaction. On the 28th of May, 1998 an MP in the Lok Sabha rose to seek confirmation during the ongoing session from the treasury benches regarding the Pakistani blasts by then already reported in the electronic media. It caused a veritable flutter among the cabinet members. The Prime Minister himself was present. The Defence Minister rushed out of the hall. After a while the news was confirmed. Subsequently, in response to the queries made by the journalists, the Prime Minister solemnly observed that it was quite unfair to expect him to keep track of the Pakistani moves while he was sitting in the Lok Sabha.

Even a cursory look at the chain of events since 11th May ’98 , which evidently constitutes a watershed in the history of this subcontinent , up to the present would clearly demonstrate that every bit of the claims and projections made by the proponents and apologists of Pokhran-II in its defence have been thoroughly falsified by the subsequent developments. It is not only the Kargil episode in the summer of 1999, when Pakistan indulged in military adventurism - albeit on a limited scale and in a clandestine manner, after a lapse of about thirty four years, even the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft, IC 814, in the following December, which obliged the Indian External Affairs Minister - a former army man himself, to personally escort the three Kashmiri militants released from Indian jails to Kandahar in exchange of civilian hostages, made nonsense of India’s claim to greater glory and military strength - in relation to Pakistan in particular. The pathetic fizzling out of the Operation Parakram (Show of Might), the biggest peacetime military mobilisation on the international border as a demonstrative act of “coercive diplomacy”, launched with much drum beating in the wake of terrorist attack on the Indian Parliment on Decmber 13, 2002, further underscored this predicament.

By including Farooq Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in the entourage of the Prime Minister on his ceremonial visit to the blast site after the explosions a deliberate linkage was made between Kashmir and the Bomb, evidently to intimidate Pakistan. In the process, the Kashmir issue got internationalised, as never before since 1949, and identified as the most inflammable nuclear flash point in the present day world.

Instead of raising the level of India’s autonomy, India since May 1998 has become, along with Pakistan, far more vulnerable to American pressure and interference than ever before. The US has emerged as the de facto, even if not yet de jure, arbiter between the two perennially feuding nuclear neighbours.

The defence expenditure, even on conventional arms, has since sharply escalated - again contrary to the earlier claims.

Most importantly, Pokhran-II has triggered off an open-ended nuclear, and non-nuclear, arms race between India and Pakistan - as the cause as well as effect of perpetually mounting tensions and hardening postures on both the sides. This has seriously degraded the security environment of South Asia, instead of bringing about any ‘stability’ as had been projected. A nuclear holocaust now is no longer a distant possibility. During the Kargil War itself threats of nuclear strike and retaliation were exchanged with frightening frequency.

As recently as on September 1 2003, at its first meeting chaired by the Indian Prime Minister, the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA) - eight months after its creation consequent upon finalisation and formal adoption of the triadic Nuclear Doctrine, has decided to further “consolidate India’s nuclear deterrent”. And, Pakistan’s President in turn chaired a meeting of its National Command Authority only two days after, reminding very much the way Chagai had followed Pokhran in a prompt and almost reflexive tit for tat response, and announced that Pakistan would “keep upgrading its arsenal in order to maintain its minimum deterrent capability”. It is quite self-evident that the term ‘minimum’ in the present context is only an euphemism for ‘maximum possible’. This mutually reinforcing mindless drive for the weapons of mass destruction can only have spine-chilling consequences for the region. It is even more so, given the abysmally poor safety records of both the countries in all walks of life. Even an innocuous accident can very well lead to a catastrophic nuclear exchange.

Last but not the least, the nuclearisation of South Asia has also significantly contributed to the weakening of the process of global denuclearisation that was set in motion, howsoever tentatively, at the end of the Cold War.


Pokhran-II together with the demolition of the Babri Mosque, about five and half years earlier, constitute the two darkest spots in post-colonial Indian history - far more ominous than Gandhi assassination as it, in any case, had elicited massive and visceral disapproval on the part of the Indian masses. Both the cataclysmic events are symptomatic of a considerable closing of the gap, especially over the past quarter century or so, between Indian Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism - a rather unanticipated spin-off of India’s grand project for modernisation, and symbolise grave threats to the very concept of ‘India’ as had evolved through the epic freedom struggle. In spite of all the dismal consequences and, waiting to be realised, mind-numbing possibilities, Indian elite is yet to get over its phase of denial. It continues to most obstinately refuse, like a thoroughly spoilt brat, to acknowledge the stark reality staring in the face.

The survival of humanity inhabiting the South Asian subcontinent, nevertheless, critically depends on the demystification of the nuclear myths, that invest the Bomb with magical powers of immense proportions, and consequent denuclearisation of the region as an integral and crucial component of global disarmament.

Originally online on 11 May 2008. Reproduced with thanks to Rurope Solidaire Sans Frontieres


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).