Posted by: Vikram | December 3, 2008

What if India was a communist state ?

Interesting thought, isnt it ? Especially when our neighbours beyond the Himalayas are going great guns, it doesnt seem like a bad one. I once asked one of my Chinese friends about what had made China so successful and strong, and he said “In China, we had a people’s revolution. Perhaps India also needs a revolution”. I replied that India did have a revolution but it was against colonial rule. So what if India had a commuist revolution in the 40s and 50s like many other countries did ? Would we be better off today ? Or would things get a lot worse (if they are already not bad enough) ?

So lets assume that its 1955 and the Communist Party of India has taken control of the state after a revolution. Many things would be different. For one, communism has a very egalitarian ideology, both in economic terms and gender roles. Virtually all developing countries that are/were communist, like China, Russia and others, faced a higly unequal and stratified society along with unequal gender roles. All the aforementioned countries today have had great success in gender equality and breaking down social barriers. It would thus seem that communism would get rid of two key problems in Indian society, casteism and the low status of women.

But it might not be that simple. While developing countries as a whole did have inequalities, inequalities in India had great religious and social significance. The difference between a Dalit and a Brahmin was never simply economic (in fact Brahmins are supposed to be rustics), it was supposed to be an inherent quality of theirs. Also there were the inevitable cultural differences that arose due to centuries of segregation and oppression. It is quite possible that the communist ideology would have even triumphed these deeply ossified injustices, Kerala is a great example. But whether it would have been broadly successful is an interesting question that I cannot answer, its success in that area would have definitely faced stiffer opposition in India.

The other major difference would have been the absence of any opposition parties. This seems like a very attractive notion for many Indians, but not for most, who dont seem very interested in the national parties today1. I will actually claim that absence of opposition political parties would have destroyed the Indian Union. To see this, we only need observe the other big communist country of the last century, the USSR. India, in many ways, is much like the USSR, successor state of an empire with large, virtually unrelated constituents. Although, one will definitely point out the difference in geographical size, but in the end it is the populations that matter. In the era of highly mobile armed forces and the fact that today any individual can do a lot more damage (with bombs and guns), it is much easier to occupy a large area with a small unwilling population rather than a smaller one with a large unwilling population. Kashmir and Punjab are great examples.

The Soviet Union collapsed at virtually the first economic crisis it faced, although overall the demise was gradual. Wikipedia says,

The four principal elements of the old Soviet system were the hierarchy of soviets, ethnic federalism, state socialism, and Communist Party dominance.

India for 40 years shared every feature with the Soviet Union, a hierarchy of bureaucrats, linguistic/ethnic federalism, socialism and Congress Party dominance. The difference was democracy and the presence of opposition parties who had already come to power in many states by the 90s. While the Soviet Union dissolved once the communist party collapsed, in many ways the Indian Union has become stronger after the ‘collapse’ of the Congress and the emergence of other parties. This has lead to a period of great political instability, which many might argue is not worth the price. But one must not forget that the collapse, though in many ways beneficial to Russia, has made many of the former soviet republics in East Europe and Central Asia outposts of oppression and stagnation. A similar collapse of the Indian Union would have had terrible consequences for both the Hindi heartland and remote states like Jharkhand and Mizoram.

The third difference would be the status of media. To see the impact of this one need not look abroad. Before the 90s, with Doordarshan’s and AIR’s monopoly over the airwaves and our oh-so-moral censor board, India was a stellar example of the media oppression seen in most communist countries. The print media was free, but it had little broad impact in a nation where the bulk of the population was not able to read. The situation today is actually mixed, the airwaves are free from state control but the news has to be ‘profitable’ :) . Make no mistake, India’s media revolution has dramatically changed things, I know a lot more about my country than Doordarshan would have ever told me. But the country is still a long ways from producing a BBC, a Rageh Omar or even a Giridhardas !

All in all, India as a communist state would not have lasted very long as far I am concerned. But that doesnt mean that we shouldnt learn from communist countries, past and present.

Footnotes:

1: In the 2004 federal elections, almost 60 % of the electorate voted with the two major national parties garnering only about 49 % of the votes. There has not been a non-coalition government in power in Delhi since 1991.

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Responses

  1. nice post and interesting views…
    brings me to an incident when I was travelling in china;

    one of the passengers in the train asked me as to why didnt India have a one child norm like china stating that our population problem would be a lot more simpler to solve…. I had a tough time explaining to him that we are a democracy and that we cannot do that because the people would’nt support that…

    that should probably also add to the factors as to why communism wouldnt work ..

    Welcome to the blog Aditya. Yes, a one child policy would trigger massive protests and with good reason. Infant and child mortality rates are quite high in populous states like Bihar and UP, and the survival rate of a single child would be pretty low. It is interesting to note that the four Southern states have achieved a fertility rate similar to that of China without any such policies. I think the best strategies for population control are better natal and 0-6 age child health care.

  2. An interesting thought, Vikram. :)

    Re: religion- I think the role of religion is different in India than in Russia and other former communist countries. As you say, it has caused inequalities not entirely related to economic status.

    But another difference is that in India, religion means more than just what you believe in, or how you pray. Here religion is a way of life. And a way of life shared with the community one lives in.

    So I cannot see Indians practising their religion in the secrecy of their homes, as people did in communist Russia.

    You are correct Manju, religion in India has enormous cultural significance. Although, given the antics of some of the right wing parties, many religious minorities have moved to the communist parties in India, an interesting twist of events.

  3. blog hoppin here…. but I do hope that we never ever become a communistic country…..

    My views on this topic:

    http://quintessentialhope.blogspot.com/2008/11/curious-case-of-not-so-communistic.html

  4. @ Vikram : You should go to the PRC once. Its quite an experience. Especially in remote parts of the PRC. The disparity is so glaring. It makes India appear more socialistic. Basically the Chinese are a victim of their own culture where they make everything from the outside look nice and shiny and the inside is empty. I have often commonly observed in China that a street looks very nice but just behind the street is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes you may find a garbage dump though. Oh and do not even get me started about Chinese bureaucracy they make Indian babus look like angels. Although yeah if we had a communist revolution may be the lower castes and the women might have been better off. I admit that. India’s upper caste controlled party’s and India’s religious right wing bring no good news for any of these people.

  5. “It is interesting to note that the four Southern states have achieved a fertility rate similar to that of China without any such policie”

    – a lot of it has also to do with the literacy rates and the level of education imparted in these states.

  6. A great post Vikram!! Some insights on how India would have changed if we took the communism path..? Policies of communism are very nice and attractive but if we follow it means we will not develop. We have to take only things which will benefit our country and suits our country. As you said inequality would surely be get ridden off from our society. But our political parties still playing with it for their own good.
    And we could find some true leaders in CPM and CPI who are stick by their own principles, which we can’t find in Congress party. But Communists too started to think about power instead of people’s welfare. What made me to speak like this is they are going have a coalition with ADMK for the coming elections. ADMK has no policy which is identical with communist but for the sake of some votes they are opting for it.. too bad

  7. Well, if we keep ignoring the rural population the way we’ve been doing, then it’s entirely likely we’ll end up voting in a communist government.

    And if we go by the results of such a vote in states, then we’ll end up with better social infrastructure (health, education, etc) and worse everything else. However our population will travel everywhere and work their butts off to send money home and we will make some great cinema and write great literature. Our newspapers will be bolshie to the extreme and we’ll all read them exhaustively while sipping endless cups of tea.

    PS – There’s this post I’ve been meaning to write for the longest time about this book by Sudeep Chakravarty called Red Sun – Travels in Naxalite Country. If you haven’t read it, you should.

  8. Very interesting subject. I d’nt have any idea about Russia and or China but if we talk about a state in India governed by so called Communist I am sure by these time India should have been under the control of China.

    These communists changed their ideology according to their needs. Some time they used to share their ideology with a communal party and some time so called capitalist party. But still they have managed to survive by the help of antisocial. Are you talking about these communists?

  9. I believe our first Prime minister took care that we will have a government that came out of the positives of both the Capitalism and Communism. There is no way we can say that one is better over the other. Chinese economy is flourishing by produce low quality cheap goods, it another country like Vietnam produce much cheaper goods Chinese economy will come down, where as Indian companies offer high quality services. Atleast thats what I read :P

  10. Having lived in a communist state gives me an urge to write here. Communist party in India is a feudal party, not as feudal as other parties, and nothing to choose amongst others when it comes into gender relations. Even in Russia, 70 years’ rule of the party couldn’t change the mindset of its population.

  11. The Communist Party of India and all communist parties who split from the main party were/are all based on the same stalinist ideology. Today there are more communist parties then meets the eye in India. You have reformist stalinists who work with the pro-capitalist Congress Party and revolutionary communist parties who are still dogmatic. For them the works of Marx, Lenin and Stalin is holy!

    But Indian communists have never understood Lenin or Marx. They blindly follow the dogma’s imposed on the communist movement by Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Those two dictator’s can easy be seen next to Marx and Lenin on communist party banners.

    There are little to no trotksyist or anti-Stalin communist parties to all those stalinist communist parties. All of them base themselves more or less on what Stalin started and with a little sectarianism, they split into more and more parties. What India needs is a workers party. Not a dogmatic stalinist party who worships Lenin, Marx and Stalin as gods. Indian workers need a party they can trust, not a party that is working with the capitalists and the rich!

    • Welcome Jorein. You are absolutely spot on. I really think that someone from the global lefts (but outside the Indian ones) performed a comprehensive, critical analysis of the left movements in India and why they have mostly been a political and economic failure.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly on the idea that India needs a party with the worker and the farmer as the centre of its economic vision. The only groups that seem to even claim to have such a vision are engaged in a violent movement of murder and extortion. The absence of such a party in India’s mainstream space is a great failure of our democracy and our most marginalized are paying a terrible price for it.

  12. Well, I feel that communism can be a stepping stone towards dictatorship in India…Well, the Lokpal Bill was a slightly modified version of communism, we cant say wholly, but there were some features of it that were similar to the features of communism and dictatorship. In a democracy, the govt. is answerable to the public and we have the opposition to point out the drawbacks of the decisions taken by the ruling party, but I don’t think it would be possible in communism.

  13. Most people in the world today give a lot of emphasis to economic development. In their minds, once a country can develop economically all else, including equality and rule of law will follow. But is that really so? Let us take the example of a non-communist country – Singapore. Looking at Singapore today, most are tempted to say that it has become a stable, equal society because it has developed economically. But the story is not so simple. To get Singapore to develop economically, Lee Kuan Yew had to suspend many liberties and rule with an iron fist – almost like a communist country. Equality was forced upon the people, who were as diverse as you can get – Chinese, Indians, Malays and Westerners. In fact, Lee’s party was non-communist only in name, otherwise it displayed all the totalitarian tendencies of the Communist party of china. Is it not true then that we first need a party to enforce equality by law, in order that people concentrate on economic development, instead of wasting their energies on religious, caste and linguistic differences?

    • Totalitarian tendencies were/are displayed by the Communist Party in North Korea as well, and the results there have been quite different from Singapore.

      Creating an equal society involves raising the political and social consciousness of the population, political parties are just results of this consciousness, not its drivers.


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