Suharto- ‘Water will wear away the Stone’

Death, even of dreaded criminals like Suharto who died today, comes as a shock. It is also a reminder of events- in this case, the slaughter of at least a million Indonesians in the 1960s- mostly communists in a predominantly Muslim country. Outside the officially communist countries, Indonesia had the largest communist party in the world before Suharto brutally decimated it. (news report at npr)

Closer home, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Modi- he brought ‘economic development’ and ‘stability’ to the country.

Here is a poem by the great Indonesian poet, WS Rendra written during the 1998 student demonstrations that brought down Suharto.

Because we have to eat roots
while grain piles up in your storeroom…
Because we live crowded together
and you have more space than you need…
Therefore we are not on the same side.Because we’re all creased and crumpled
and you’re immaculate…
Because we’re crowded and stifled
and you lock the door…
Therefore we are suspicious of you.

Because we’re abandoned in the street
and you own all the shelter…
Because we’re caught in floods
while you have parties on pleasure craft…
Therefore we do not like you.
Because we are silenced
and you never shut up…
Because we are threatened
and you impose your will by force…
therefore we say NO to you.

Because we are not allowed to choose
and you can do what you like…
Because we wear only sandals
and you use your rifles freely…
Because we have to be polite
and you have the prisons…
therefore NO and NO to you.

Because we are like a flowing river
and you are a stone without a heart
the water will wear away the stone.

Source

As to the barbaric political repression under the former general, Tariq Ali quotes the Indonesian writer Pripit Rochijat:

Usually the corpses were no longer recognisable as human. Headless. Stomachs torn open. The smell was unimaginable. To make sure they didn’t sink, the carcasses were deliberately tied to, or impaled upon, bamboo stakes. And the departure of the corpses from the Kediri region down the Brantas achieved its golden age when bodies were stacked together on rafts over which the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] banner grandly flew . . . Once the purge of Communist elements got under way, clients stopped coming for sexual satisfaction. The reason: most clients–and prostitutes–were too frightened, for, hanging up in front of the whorehouses, there were a lot of male Communist genitals–like bananas hung out for sale.’

Listen to this post

Technorati Tags: , ,

Advertisements

CPM and The New Class

Communist parties that come to power have a nasty history of developing a closed oligarchy. Milovan Djilas in 1957 had pointed to what he called ‘the new class‘- a ruling class that developed within the communist party. Trotsky before him had characterized the Stalinist Soviet state as a ‘degenerate workers’ or bureaucratic state much earlier.

Mercifully, in the absence of a socialist revolution the communists in India never came to a situation where they were able to capture state power, though neither were they a complete failure. The CPM’s three decade old hold on the state of West Bengal is the closest they have come to establishing a single party rule. Kerala and Tripura, the other two states where the CPM has been in power at the state level, have played a sun and shade game with them, keeping the states alternating between Congress and CPM led fronts.

A feature of the communist leaders in India, till recently, has been the presence of many of them who participated in India’s struggle for freedom, often within the umbrella that the pre- Independence Indian National Congress was- people like Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjit, to cite just two examples. These have been replaced in the last few years by a ‘younger’ generation, though here one must keep in mind that an age when most people face retirement, for communists that is just a start to taking up the reins- I have Prakash Karat in mind here, as well as Buddhadev Bhattacharya. Lack of a historical association with grass roots struggles except perhaps college and university level student activism has created a leadership that may be more youthful in age, but has been nurtured on strong doses of a dogmatic Marxism and bureaucratic manipulations within the party, lacking the pragmatism and political sense of a Basu and Surjeet.

At the grass roots, there is a change too. Recently, former CPM Finance Minister Ashok Mitra has pointed out that over 70 percent of the party cadre in West Bengal has joined the party after 1991 and 90 percent after 1977- that is, after the CPM led Left Front came to power in the state. The communists’ record in giving due representation to Dalits and Muslims in the state is appalling.

Similarly, D. Bandyopadhyay, the former bureaucrat who played a crucial role in carrying out Operation Barga in the state, has pointed out in a recent article that West Bengal has one of the worst records in addressing rural poverty and in providing employment to agricultural workers. A survey of panchayats in the state that are responsible for implementing the National Rural Employment Scheme reveals that 93 percent of the representation in the Panchayats belongs to local landed interests, nevertheless spawned by the implementation of the land reforms. The CPM and the Left Front indeed need to be complimented on the implementation of the reforms, but these have also contributed to changing the class character of the CPM in the state- that is favourably inclined towards the upper and rich peasantry as Bandopadhyay points out.

In this context, the CPM’s attempt at attacking its own base by displacing agriculturalists may look contradictory, but given the history of communists elsewhere, is not really so. At one level, it is the relative autonomy of the leadership (‘the new class’), at another the arrogance which takes its support base for granted.

Communsits, whether during the forced collectivization in Soviet Union in the 1930s or during the Cultural Revolution in China, have done more to destroy fellow communists and their own people than any of their class enemies. Events in Nandigram indicate that CPM in West Bengal is intent on following in their footsteps. Mercifully, they have to operate in a much more democratic environment that the CPSU and the CPC ever had to, which interestingly may slow down their self- destruction.

In the context of the fall of the Soviet Union, Eric Hobsbawm remarked in his autobiography that communism, as we have known it, no longer exists. Just as the success of the communists in India was never as complete or as abrupt as in Russia and China, so too their demise may not be as abrupt or sudden. But the way things are going, it is certainly in a state of decline. Whether it will help to rejuvenate a new wave of peoples’ movement- in name whether communist or not, is yet uncertain.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

“Mr King, we are not going to shut up”

Quote of the day:

“Mr King, we are not going to shut up,” he said.

That is Chavez addressing King Carlos of Spain.

And this is what Chavez’s supporters have to say on the remark the king made to Chavez yesterday, asking Chavez to “shut up”:

“He’s insolent. He has to respect a sovereign leader. The king is just a monarch and Spain has been sacking the people of Latin America for the past 500 years.

“President Chavez has more right to say what he pleases than the king because he was elected by the Venezuelan people.

Technorati Tags: ,

90th Anniversary of the Revolution against Das Capital

The Bolshevik Revolution … is the revolution against Karl Marx’s Capital….events have overcome ideologies. Events have exploded the critical schema determining how the history of Russia would unfold according to the canons of historical materialism. The Bolsheviks reject Karl Marx, and their explicit actions and conquests bear witness that the canons of historical materialism are not so rigid as might have been and has been thought.

(Live Marxist) thought sees as the dominant factor in history, not raw economic facts, but man, men in societies, men in relation to one another, reaching agreements with one another, developing through these contacts (civilization) a collective, social will; men coming to understand economic facts, judging them and adapting them to their will until this becomes the driving force of the economy and moulds objective reality, which lives and moves and comes to resemble a current of volcanic lava that can be channelled wherever and in whatever way men’s will determines.

On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Great October Revolution, 17 leading academicians from Russia, among them Roy Medvedev and Mikhail Shatrov have issued an appeal reiterating the achievements of the Revolution and criticizing post- USSR attempts to whitewash that period of history.

In sum, the popular power of the initial years of the revolution degenerated into rule by the bureaucracy and its leader Stalin.  We consider the massive Stalinist repressions, along with the violation of the rights of the individual and of whole nationalities in the USSR, to have been a crime.  All this discredited the ideals of the revolution and of socialism.

While acknowledging these facts, we do not accept scholarly-sounding lies and stupefyingly one-sided propaganda with regard to the whole of Soviet history. This history was diverse; within it, democratic and bureaucratic tendencies engaged in conflict with and replaced one another.  Hence, the freedoms of the NEP years were replaced by Stalinist totalitarianism, which in turn gave way to the Khrushchev “thaw”.  Later, the Brezhnev authoritarianism was replaced by perestroika, which proclaimed as its goal the creation of a humane, democratic socialism.

Image Source: Marxists.org

Discovering Che- Forty Years Later

“It is impossible to eclipse the life of Che, nobody could do that. One could consider themselves the successor of Che only if they give their life for humanity.”

– Evo Morales, first indigenous President of Bolivia speaking today on the 40th anniversary of the Latin American revolutionary’s summary execution

***

My discovery of Che Guevara started on a false note when I met “Guevara”, the tall, lanky leader of the student union. He had just managed to flunk, I believe for the second time, his second year in B.A in the local government college. A sticker on the front of his light chocolate coloured Vespa two wheeler had a picture of a man with flaming eyes and another on the rear number plate  read “Guevara”. He called himself “Guevara”, all other students called him “Guevara” and that is what I thought his real name was– until I discovered his real name. My curiosity simply sky rocked: who is, or in this case was Guevara? Only then I discovered, that our local hero had taken the name after a person called Che Guevara, the harbinger of the Cuban revolution.

I went on to read Che’s biography at the library. The otherwise informative hagiography written with typical Soviet dryness failed, however, to transform me into a wide- eyed admirer of the Argentina born revolutionary, even as I sympathized with his politics.

Meanwhile, the “Guevara” that I knew went on to flunk a few more examinations, finally dropping off and taking up a distance education course to complete his bachelors and then his law degree from the local university. By then, his escapades were well known. He had always been very energetic and had once slapped a senior political activist in his face during a drunken brawl. I mean he was energetic in that sort of way.

Soon thereafter, on my first travel abroad, I chanced on a just published book in Amsterdam airport- The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara and found myself carried away by the adventures of the 23 year old medical student venturing to travel all over South America on a motorbike. His descriptions of a continent that he, as Simon Bolivar before him, believed to be essentially one, are evocative, touching and peppered with insights. For the brief time that Che and his friend Alberto spend with the inmates of a leprosy hospital, for example, they establish an instant rapport.

‘Although it was very simple, one of the things which affected us most in Lima was the send- off we received from the hospitals inmates. They collected 100.50 soles (the local currency), which they presented to us with a very grandiloquent letter. Afterwards, some of them came up personally and some of them had tears in their eyes, spending time with them accepting their presents, sitting listening to football on the radio with them. If anything were to make us seriously specialize in leprosy, it would be the affection of the patients’.

This is how Che describes a working class couple in the copper mines of Chuquicamata.

‘In the light of a candle, drinking maté and eating a piece of bread and cheese, the man’s shrunken features stuck a mysterious, tragic note. In simple but expressive language, he told us about his three months in prison, his starving wife, and his children left in the care of a kindly neighbor, his fruitless pilgrimage in search of work and his comrades, who had mysteriously disappeared and were said to be somewhere at the bottom of the sea’. These copper mines – ‘ spiced with the lives of poor unsung heroes of this battle, who die miserable deaths, when all they want is to earn is their daily bread’- produce 20 percent of all the world’s copper…’

The book made me respect Che more than I did earlier and the reason was not far to seek.

Meeting the “Guevara” of my university had not been a pleasant experience. The Soviet book had dwelt on the political exploits and ideology of Che. The Motorcycle Diaries, on the other hand, presented the young Che, the Che that had not yet become a legend and was a well meaning, inquisitive medical student out to discover the people and humanity of South America– a continent bruised by centuries of colonization and conflict, much before he went on to discover an armed revolution there. The political Che, I realized, was an outgrowth of his deep seated humanism.

His legacy, however, has turned out to be an inversion in which his aura as an armed insurgent seems to overshadow his humanism.

To some extent this is understandable, after all if Marxism was the face of humanism for many in the twentieth century, armed revolution was nothing but an extension of the same in the 1960s South America and elsewhere. The appeal of his persona finds resonance in every upstart generation everywhere while the appeal of his humanism echoes only in the silence of the jungles as it were. The self- styled inheritors of his name and legacy continue to be all sorts- the lumpen as well as young people revolting without any cause in particular. Entrepreneurs profit from his name by printing his pictures on T- shirts and coffee mugs. Che, the revolutionary, has become a money-mill for his nemesis, Capital. Cuba wallows in his name to justify Castro’s dictatorship. His legacy, therefore, is confusing, and seems to appeal to all and sundry, and it is disconcerting to find his admirers especially among the  ‘wrong set’ of people, sending out wrong messages about the man.

In my case, for example, my introduction to Che started with a person with whom I would rather not be friends. It created little interest let alone respect for Che. Nevertheless, I persisted and tried to discover him in his politics, first via the Soviet hagiography and then via his book On Guerrilla Warfare. Both left me cold and uninspired.

I finally found Che in The Motorcycle Diaries, in the deep humanism of a 23 year old student, as frightened by a pair of a cat’s eyes in the night as anyone else in his place would be.

I realized then that to discover Che, one has to trudge through various layers of reality, through the phases in his life and his deeply sensitive reactions to the world that he lived in.

To discover Che, one has to go with him to his youth and grow up with him.

To discover Che, one has to accompany him to the ruins of Machu Picchu, and observe with him in quiet poignance- ‘gold doesn’t have the same quiet dignity as silver which acquires new charm as it ages’.

To discover Che, one has to realize that Che is talking as much about himself as about the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Listen to this article Listen to this post

Tags: , ,

“Motherland” by Lal Singh Dil

In Memory of the poet Lal Singh Dil

Lal Singh Dil died earlier this week on 14th August.

LalSinghDil

Motherland

Does love have any reason to be?
Does the fragrance of flowers have any roots?
Truth may, or may not have an intent
But falsity is not without one

It is not because of your azure skies
Nor because of the blue waters
Even if these were deep gray
Like the color of my old mom’s hair
Even then I would have loved you

These treasure trove of riches
Are not meant for me
Surely not.

Love has no reason to be
Falsity is not without intent

The snakes that slither
Around the treasure trove of your riches
Sing paeans
And proclaim you
“The Golden Bird”*

* The reference is to ancient India termed as a “Golden Bird” because of its perceived riches.

A previous post on the Dalit Marxist poet.

Source of the poem in Panjabi. Translation into English by readerswords.

An essay on Dil by Amarjit Chandan (in Punjabi, pdf file). Thanks to HD for sending the essay. Picture at the top of this post is taken from this essay, and is credited to Amarjit Chandan.

Technorati Tags: , ,