100 Years of Russian Revolution – V: How Marxism still influences Indian politics
The BJP, a so-called ‘conservative’ and ‘rightist’ party currently dominates the Indian political scene like no party has since Rajiv Gandhi won on a sympathy wave in 1984. The party under Narendra Modi is winning state after state and its dream of a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’ is fast becoming a reality. With this absolute dominance of a ‘rightist’ and ‘conservative’ party, it would seem that all economic, political and social policies would also be rightist in nature.
A quick look at reality contradicts this completely. Not only are some signature rightist policies missing from the BJP’s agenda, some of its drives are trademark socialist. How has that happened? How has socialism and Marxism influenced India so deeply that it is still struggling to come out of their fold, even under a so-called ‘rightist government’?
Marxism has influenced India more deeply than the influence of Soviet Union and the KGB in India reached. There is another route through which Marxist/ socialist thoughts have influenced Indian policy since independence.
If there is an ideology which most completely dominated the 20th century it is Marxism. Though it was not in Germany that the world’s first State based on Marxist principles was established, it was here that socialism developed as a political ideology and a social system. There were two paths that socialism took: Revolutionary Socialism and Evolutionary Socialism. Revolutionary socialism in practice would come to mean communism and evolutionary socialism would just be called socialism. India was to be affected by both of these paths deeply.
Soviet Union and Revolutionary Socialism
Revolutionary Socialism, the path that Lenin took was more in line with the central idea of Marxism. Marx believed that revolution was inevitable. Like rain, thunder or any other law of Nature, it was bound to happen. It did not need any external push. Lenin added that it was impossible for the proletariat to develop revolutionary consciousness on its own. It was the job of the ‘professional revolutionaries’ of Lenin, to develop revolutionary consciousness among the masses, and to wage revolution against the bourgeoisie capitalist State. Lenin also believed that any means, including terror and treason, was justified to achieve this revolutionary goal. This path came to be popularly known as revolutionary socialism.
This was not the only kind of socialist idea, or the only kind of Marxism to exist in 19th century Europe. But it became the most famous of all because Lenin became successful in grabbing a state, Russia. Lenin’s coup in November 1917 put an end to the short-lived democracy in Russia and established world’s first communist State, later to be known as the Soviet Union (USSR). The Soviet Union adopted Marxism-Leninism, the Leninist variant of Marxism, also called colloquially as Revolutionary Socialism, as its official ideology.
Though there are still debates upon the definitions of Marxism, socialism and communism, but to put it simply, while Marxism was the ideology of the Soviet Union, socialism, was described as the transitional stage to communism, which was characterized as the perfect society of future where everyone would be equal and there would be no injustice.
The communists seizing power in Russia in November 1917 was as significant an event as was the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 4th century C.E. Christianity, still a nascent ideology in 4th century, used the immense power of the Roman State to spread across Europe, Africa and Asia. Similarly, after the communists seized power in Russia, they used the immense State power of Soviet Union to spread communism worldwide.
For communism would not be satisfied with just one State or one country. According to Lenin, it was impossible to build true socialism in one country. For establishing a true communist state, a Heaven on Earth, the entire world had to be converted to communism. The worldview of Marxism was not very different from the millennial religions of Christianity and Islam. It had proselytization goals and vision of a Heaven on Earth, a perfect society to be created after the conversion of the entire world to one’s own creed.
Lenin and his party started upon the goal of exporting Revolution worldwide almost immediately after seizing power in 1917. The Communist International, the organization for achieving this goal was created in 1919. Its goal was ‘world communism’, to export Revolution and spread communism worldwide. Its intention was to fight: “by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic.” 
It managed to topple many governments and seized power in many countries across the globe. At its height there were sixteen communist states in the world. But the influence of Marxism was not limited to communist countries. In their quest for spreading communism worldwide, many communist parties were spawned the world over, including the Communist Party of India (est. 1925). Like other communist parties of the world, the Community Party of India also looked towards Moscow for ideological and financial help functioning as the fifth column of the Soviet Union.
In countries like India, where they never managed to seize power at the Centre they still remained very powerful in national politics. Learning from their masters in Moscow, communists infiltrated many mainstream political parties influencing key policy decisions. Though the electoral success of communists is limited to the three states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, they have been very influential in national politics by influencing Congress Party and its policy decisions, helping it tilt left of the Centre.
The influence of communism was not just limited to politics. Communist propaganda targeted academic institutions, media houses and other cultural institutions, influencing the very sources which would mould the public opinion. And thus Marxist or communist ideas infiltrated history textbooks in school, and curriculums in India’s colleges and universities. Directors made movies based on communist ideas and artists created art which tilted the public opinion to the Left.
It is this communist influenced cultural eco-system which still persists and is hugely influential in India. Even after the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, it spins a narrative which paints the Hindu majority in a role of ‘fascist aggressors’ and depicts the Muslim and Christian minority as victims of a Hindu supremacist State. One can still see their immense influence when an Award Wapasi campaign starts; when a group of students chant ‘Bharat tere tukde honge’ in an Indian university; when protests erupt upon the appointment of a non-leftist to a film institute.
Evolutionary Socialism and the West
But this was not the only way in which socialism affected India. There was another direction that socialism took in Europe. While Lenin was uncompromising in his theory of revolutionary socialism and favored no changes to it, many other Marxists were debating some doctrinal changes in Marxism. The foremost among them was Eduard Bernstein. Instead of the sudden and violent method of Lenin’s revolutionary socialism he favored following more gradual paths to socialism. He was influenced by British Fabian socialism. In 1909 he published a work called ‘Evolutionary Socialism’, the name with which this branch of Marxism came to be known.
While Lenin claimed that Marxist principles were ‘scientific’, he was vehemently opposed to any revision of the theory. Bernstein on the other hand was known as the great ‘revisionist’ of the Marxist camp. He claimed that there was another path to socialism, opposed to the revolutionary socialism of Lenin. Violent revolution was unnecessary. He argued that “a greater security for lasting success lies in a steady advance than in the possibilities offered by a catastrophic crash.”
Bernstein favored parliamentarian methods of bringing structural and institutional reforms through legislation. This path of ‘social democracy’ in which socialist reforms were gradually embedded into the structure of the state through electoral and parliamentary work was more practical and non-violent. Moreover, it presented an alternative to extremely violent method of Lenin’s revolutionary socialism.
Bernstein’s evolutionary socialism developing as an alternative to Lenin’s revolutionary socialism also came to be known as ‘social democracy’, the path of achieving socialist goals through parliamentary means, remaining within the boundaries of democracy.
Bernstein was seen as a heretic to his cause by most of his fellow Marxists. He had committed the cardinal sin of ‘correcting’ the prophet of Marxism. But an even more serious crime that he had committed was that he had eliminated the necessity of ‘professional revolutionaries’ from the process of building socialism. In evolutionary socialism, the ‘professional revolutionaries’ of Lenin would be jobless. They were certainly angry!
As history would have it, Lenin’s revolutionary socialism got validation by its ‘success’ in Russia. Not many young hotheads who called themselves Marxists had the patience to acquire the path of Bernstein. Lenin’s revolution was bloody and violent, and it gave quick results.
While the communists grabbed power in Russia, Germany turned increasingly anti-communist with the rise of Hitler. The Nazis eliminated communists and socialists from German society, both ideologically and physically. While Russia was won over by revolutionary socialists, the social democrats or the evolutionary socialists could not take hold in Germany. But in another twist of history, Hitler got defeated in the Second World War. The post-war Germany and Europe rose from the ashes, vowing never to let the ‘rightists’ get power again. However the threat of communism was also very real with Stalin lording over the greatest totalitarian state of history.
As a result of successive elimination of both Nazism and revolutionary socialism from Germany, the only path left for those on the Left in Germany was that of social democracy or evolutionary socialism. It is this parliamentary and democratic path of socialism which became popular in Europe after the Second World War.
It is strange that people seldom realize that not just the communist bloc but entire Europe was won over by one or other branch of socialism. While Eastern Europe got bulldozed by Soviet Union’s forcibly exported communism, Western and Northern Europe gradually migrated towards soft socialism with legislation after legislation. These soft socialist states developed the model of what we now know as the ‘welfare State’, a State which does not just limit itself to defense and administration but is actively involved in the welfare of its citizens.
The welfare state is basically socialist in nature. It has to take care of the homeless citizens, abandoned orphans, disabled persons, women, children, minorities and even the unemployed youth. As welfare state evolved, election after election, its concerns started becoming bigger. The welfare state in Western Europe has reached a stage where the State does not just provide necessary food, shelter and clothing to all its citizens, regardless of whether they work or not, it even takes care of their love lives, providing stipends to disabled person every second week or so, so that they can visit a brothel and have the services of a legal prostitute!
While on one hand these Western European countries were granting basic minimum income to all of its citizens whether they worked or not, advances in medical science and better living conditions was ensuring longer average life spans. At the same time, just like every prosperous society, the fertility rates of all these countries are falling. The result is an ever thinning earning population and an ever growing dependent population with the burden of a welfare state.
It is unsustainable and country after country, groaning under the weight of a welfare state has given way and collapsed like a pack of cards. Greece, Italy, Spain are some of the more well-known black holes of EU economy but other countries are not doing very well either and even economies like Germany, France and United Kingdom which are doing well at the moment stare at a Greece like fate very soon in history. It is just a matter of when and not if. Welfare state, with its illogical and unsustainable idea, is meant to collapse.
The idea of the welfare state is basically socialist: that there should at least be a seeming equality among its citizens and the burden to feed its citizens is upon the State. This situation is exacerbated with the breakdown of the concepts of family clan, caste, religion etc. It is these identity groups which in non-welfare state societies take care of those individuals who are not capable of working. In the absence of all of these, nothing stands between the individual and the State and all individual responsibilities from physical to emotional, from fiscal to sexual fall upon the State to fulfill. Quite an absurd and horrible hole to dig oneself in, but that seems to be the way many countries have gone all over the world, countries which have chosen welfare state.
‘Right-wing Socialism’ in India
How is it all relevant to India? While India crippled itself with the socialist economy until the 1990s, it then launched itself on the capitalist path under the Narsimha Rao government. When the Vajpayee led NDA government came to power in 1998 it was logical to conclude that the era of socialist economic policies was at end.
However, the influence of evolutionary socialism in the cultural sphere has been so great that even the so called ‘rightist’ and ‘conservative’ governments like the BJP have repeatedly espoused socialist ideas and implemented socialist schemes. Most of their state governments seem to be vying for a welfare state. Many Indologists like Koenraad Elst and Sita Ram Goel have alleged that it is within the BJP that Gandhian socialism lives on. Even these so-called conservative ‘right-wing’ BJP governments follow patently socialist policies. It is what one would call a ‘right-wing socialism’.
And so Shivraj Singh Chouhan gives free water to the farmers; free meals, books, bags and even cycles to school children; unlimited electricity for a fixed bill of 6000/- and many other such Mama-Bhanji schemes which have garnered sufficient votes for him to stay in power for three consecutive terms. Vasundara Raje Scindia has also started many such schemes. Yogi Adityanath has called off farmer loans.
It is easy to distribute goodies keeping in mind the next elections, but it starts a country on a sure path of collapse. A population once become habitual of free goodies from the government can seldom be persuaded to give them up. As the BJP gains state after state in India and as it rules the centre, this slide towards welfare state is one of the most serious questions, which faces India in near future. Revolutionary or evolutionary, socialism is unsustainable and increases government control in economy. India will have to decide soon, whether it wants to retain this evolutionary socialist strain in its policy, or is it willing to forsake it altogether.
Featured Image: Financial Express