Polemics on 'Fractured Freedom': Kobad Ghandi responds to Manish Azad's critique of his book "Fractured Freedom"
Answers to Manish Azad who wrote a critique of the book "Fractured Freedom" in 'The Chorus'
(An English translation of the critique of Manish Azad has been added at the end of this reply for correspondence)
It is good that there is a debate on the questions raised as only through debate can we get greater clarity on issues facing the communist movement worldwide in a period when capitalism is on an aggressive spree rampaging peoples’ lives and the environment. But the way this is presented is typical of the Indian left many of whom do not analyse their own practice (and its relevance) but are adept at sarcasm without serious content. In my reply as MA has only raised questions and provided not a single answer, before answering him, I will first ask him some questions; next I will like to touch on his methodology and finally I will take up the points he raised:
What does Manish Azad (MA) feel is the reasons for the setback of revolutions/socialism worldwide?
What are the reasons for the stagnation in the communist/revolutionary movements in India?
What are his reflections of the growth and development of his own group/party ( I assume he is part of one though it is not mentioned) and as he feels revolution is inevitable when does he expect that his organisation will achieve it.
What was the reasons for the reversal of the GPCR, that too immediately after Mao’s death.
While recounting past revolutions – Paris Commune, Soviet, GPCR – he does not mention the Chinese revolution; why?
He mocks at the point I make that armed revolutions have only been successful during wars between the ruling classes; could he recount which revolutions he considers successful in peace times.
While negating the Bhakti movement and being silent on Ambedkar, Phule and Periyar he does not elaborate what should be the stand of the Marxists in India to the caste/dalit question. Please elaborate.
MA’s methodology seems to be exactly the type which ails much of the left movement which I have tried to counter is Section III of my book Fractured Freedom. It is in the Chanakya style: pitting Anuradha (a dead person who cannot reply; that too a person he doesn’t probably know) against me; misquoting and misinterpreting points (I will elaborate in the answers); branding a different view to discredit it (Frankfurt School, Liu Shao Chi, etc); continuing in the dogmatic tradition treating Marxist texts as some Bhagvad Gita rather than a guide to action and not even trying to assess the cause for stagnation/setbacks in the movement. And finally, being totally uncritical to one’s own practice; thereby giving the impression that it is perfect following the Marxist classics to the T. I will ignore the sarcasm in my answers as it does not warrant comment at such low levels and only deal with the issues raised.
Answers to the main points
Bihar-Odisha Movement : By his emphasis on it one expects he is a field activist of that movement and based on that experience has passed a number of comments. He misquotes and says that I say the movement has turned into ‘gangs’. My point was only recounting what I witnessed of the Maoists in Jharkhand jail and not a comment on the entire movement, which I know very little about. When I do talk about the movements in various areas getting cut off from the masses it is in the light of repression by the state. What I mention is a standard cycle which MA would have himself witnessed in his own personal experience (if he has ever faced repression). Here I have recounted what I was told in jails about the AP and Odisha movements and also my own experience. That is: huge mass movements were built under revolutionary leadership; then massive state repression is brought in and the mass movement collapses (a section killed/imprisoned and a small section capitulating); then the revolutionaries are cut off from the masses and either become easy targets or are forced to becoming roving rebels. I presented this as a problem the movement faces, but instead of seeing it and giving suggestions of how to face this dilemma MA acts like the ‘holy cow’ sticking to the classics. This does not help in solving the problem at the grass roots and sticking to dogma rather than using Marxism as a guide to action does not help tackle this issue. No one has negated anywhere the struggles against the upper-caste sena in Bihar, but it would have been more relevant to state the present condition (which I am not aware of) rather than recounting events of two to three decades back.
Question of happiness-freedom-new values: Again MA resorts to misquoting saying I have shifted the agenda from fighting for ‘equality’ to fighting for happiness. It is clearly stated that the fight for equality should be part of the fight for happiness. And as far as the question of ‘new values’ and the ‘Anuradha model’ MA seems to go hysterical sometimes branding it as the same as the ‘Frankfurt School’, sometimes as Liu Shao Chi’s ‘How to be a Good Communist” (criticised by Mao and the Cultural Revolution) going so far as to state that the ‘Anuradha model’ is an ‘elite model’…… but nowhere does he state whether communists should change themselves as part of changing society. That too he is silent on the issue in a country like India where Brahminical and caste values are ingrained in us from birth. Here I am not seeking to go into a debate of the ‘Frankfurt School’ nor on Liu Sha Chi’s book as this is not the place (and neither has MA countered those arguments, he has only used it to brand) but what MA needs to consider is why the GPCR which also sought to change values, failed and the entire process was reversed after Mao’s death. But then MA is probably not particularly interested in improving practice and learning from past history but more interested is scoring points. Again on the question of ‘Freedom’ he says why have I not quoted Marx? What is the significance merely quoting Marx, without linking it to the fact of what that freedom entails in real practical life and organisational work. Merely taking quotes to prove the ‘purity’ of one’s thoughts is intellectualism and does not help practice.
On the question of Utopia again MA seeks to brand it, by referring to Engels’s ‘Utopian Socialism’ without in anyway linking what I have said to what Engels said over one and a half centuries back in a particular context. And then he immediately jumps to another issue saying that new ideas cannot come form a clash of differing views. This is the very negation of dialectics and typical to the small group mentality that exits in many a Marxist circle which cannot countenance a differing view and immediately seeks to brand it rather than argue the point out.
Finally, it would be good if Manish Azad instead of resorting to Brahminical semantics discusses the concrete points with the aim of bettering our practice and achieving greater success in revolutionary growth (let alone change). The communist movement has existed in India since 1925 and we need to assess how far it has evolved in this time (nearly a century) and why it is still on the back burner. I would welcome such criticism which would help bring more clarity to the complex issues facing movements not only all over the world, but more particularly in the specific conditions of India.
Critique of Manish Azad on "Fractured Freedom" in 'The Chorus'
'Fractured Freedom': A Fractured Ideology
While reading the prison diary of Kobad Ghandi, I had a constant feeling that if the diary was read by Kobad Ghandi's partner Anuradha Gandhi, what would have been her reaction. Would she have agreed that the Naxal movement of Bihar-Jharkhand has turned into a mafia movement today, she was returning after a class with tribal Naxalites in Jharkhand before she died of brain malaria on 12 April, 2008]. The road ahead is now closed for Bastar's Naxal-Maoist movement.
Revolution is no longer inevitable, revolution and armed struggle only succeed during World Wars, the electoral boycott always benefits the reactionaries, so this strategy is useless. There is no scope for any kind of creativity within the left ideology, the entire Left-Naxal movement of India has been a victim of narrowness, and is itself narrow-minded.
Would Anuradha Ghandi agree with his solution that we should shift our goal from economic equality and make it 'public happiness' [universal happiness]. The only reason for the decline of communism in the last 100 years is that the leadership comrades did not fill good values within the cadres. Would Anuradha Gandhi agree with this over simplification?
It is important to mention Anuradha here because Kobad did not leave his 'Yashodhara' i.e. Anuradha while sleeping, while leaving his 'Raj Prasad' like Buddha. In the turbulent 70s, both the rebels had come out tightly holding each other's hands in search of truth.
The truth that they met in the way of life was the shared truth of the two. In the original story, Buddha did not return. Anuradha did not return in Anuradha-Kobad's story. She immersed and merged herself into her found and own made truth.
But Kobad returned. And he is also sad that due to his 'leftist parochialism', he could not understand the importance of people of his 'society' at first. Well, the 'truth' with which he returned was not their shared truth. Rather it was the truth of Kobad alone; just like his 'fractured freedom', it was his 'fractured truth.'
Actually, this is not really a jail diary. In his own words, it is a reflection on his whole life. In this process, he also had an aching prison life of 10 years. His remarks on his prison life are very accurate. He used to say- 'Despite with big lawyers like Fali Nariman, Collin Gonzalves, Revika Jan, KD Rao and all the influential human rights activists, if I get my precious 10 years into 7 different jails of the country, as an undertrial without any punishment, then it can be easily understood what will be the situation of the common man or common prisoner in this country.
I too have felt it strongly during my jail stay. Such ordinary prisoners live in jail just like a shadow, as if their life has been sucked by someone. This is what Charles Dickens refers to as 'killing the soul while saving the body' in the context of the then American prisons.
The mention of Afzal Guru is very poignant among the fellow inmates of jail of whom Kobad writes about. For how long will this system be able to carry the blood of innocent and brilliant humans like Afzal Guru, remains to be seen. In the coming days, for all those who need to meet Afzal Guru, these few pages of this book will work as a good window.
But from the same window of the prison, Kobad also looks at the Maoist movement in Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa and concludes that this movement has shifted from the masses to gangs. For this, he draws conclusions from the conduct and stories told by the Maoists or prisoners who have left Maoism, especially in the jails of Jharkhand.
In 2013, a film by Sudhir Mishra on Naxal backdrop was 'Hazaro Khwaishein Aisi'. Critic Vishnu Khare says an important thing while reviewing this film. He says that Sudhir Mishra cannot differentiate between the sugar syrup being cooked on fire and the dirt floating on the syrup.
He does not see that the confectioner keeps removing this scum continuously. This is a mandatory process of making sugar syrup. Lenin describes it - 'Any powerful revolution also gives rise to powerful counter-revolution.'
And it comes not only from outside but also from inside. It is very sad that despite being aware of all the revolutionary movements of the world, Kobad Ghandi is not able to observe the difference between sugar syrup and scum. In Anuradha Ghandi's collection of articles 'Scripting the Change' of 2001, she gave an interview to Paru Mahila in the context of this 'sugar syrup' process well in terms of tribal women.
Commenting on the Bihar-Jharkhand movement, he denies any contribution to it. Surprisingly, even social scientists like Kobad could not see such a big truth that the elimination of upper-caste reactionary forces like 'Sun Light', 'Moonlight' from Bihar-Jharkhand owes to the Naxalites and Maoists. Journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh has put forward this important fact in his prison diary 'Kyadkhane Ke Aayna'. And that too through the jailed people of Jharkhand.
No finger can be raised on Kobad's Marxist 'knowledge'. He has studied Marxism in the British Museum during his stay in London, where Marx himself took all the notes to write 'Capital'.
But it is surprising that while talking about the value of freedom, Kobad cites the existentialist Albert Camus along with all the poets of the Bhakti movement, including Saint Rumi, but does not even quote the correct Marxist definition of freedom even once. As Engels has written - 'Freedom is the recognition of necessity'. Later Mao changed the definition stating that freedom is not just a recognition of necessity, but a process of change in it. This definition of freedom essentially connects freedom with the revolutionary movement. Yet, the value of freedom that Kobad has mentioned in the book, can only be decorated in bouquets.
The way he assimilated the reason behind the overthrow of the entire communist movement in the world with the lack of certain values (which he calls the 'Anuradha Model') is the same intellectual exercise Adorno and Horkheimer of Frankfurt School did in 1948; when they established in one of their books 'Dialectics of Enlightenment' that the root of fascism and Soviet totalitarianism lies in Europe's 'enlightenment', where the 'power of logic' was forcibly established.
Kobad writes clearly that Marx initially gave little importance to 'Freedom-Happiness-Good-Value', but it was lost somewhere in the later practical movement. There is a need to bring it back again today. In this statement, Kobad has put together the Paris Commune-Soviet Revolution-Chinese Cultural Revolution. What type of historical vision is this that separates the 'freedom-happiness-good-value' from these three great big movements of the proletariat?
Indeed, the solitary way in which the 'values' have been cut from their references and presented here as a solution to the problem, reminds us of a book 'How to be a Good Communist' published in China in 1939. This book written by 'Lu Shao Chi' was widely criticized during the Cultural Revolution. In this book too, a lot of emphasis was placed on 'Self Cultivation'.
In fact, a beautiful rose is born in the accompaniment of a lot of beautiful roses. Just as the gardener 'chooses' one of the many beautiful roses for himself, in the same way history also 'chooses' one of many Anuradha's. Just as history 'chose' one of the many Lenins, and that same Lenin became the principal strategist of the Soviet Revolution. But regrettably, while talking about the 'Anuradha Model', Kobad turns a blind eye to this historical process and, despite not wanting, turns Anuradha Gandhi into an 'Elite Model', as if she was born from a vacuum.
Well, it is a good thing that Kobad has not lost faith in the betterment of man and his future. He talks about a utopia throughout the book, which has to be implemented. But it is also a matter of regret here that this utopia of Kobad is the utopia of imaginary socialists before Marx such as Fourier-Simon-Owen. Not 'Scientific Socialism' of Engels.
Celebrating his return to his society after 40-50 years, Kobad says - "In these meetings I have realized that my scope was very limited. I lost contact with new and fresh ideas. Being in a limited enclosure of the Left circle, I was a victim of bitterness, shortness and lack of creativity. Due to this, energy is wasted in things of no importance, tension increases and the creative ability of man is degraded. Now I am ready for new and opposite ideas which will give impetus to my thinking and this will help in the development of new ideas.' If new ideas come in in this way, then I congratulate Kobad for his new ideas. But to understand what is new in this, one may have to perform mental yoga.
Sometimes it seems that the returned Buddha should keep his truth to himself. It should not be made public. Because his 'ultimate truth' overshadows his earlier 'dynamic truth' and the search for truth halts in a way. His path closes. Then Freedom, Happiness and Good Values also cannot be seen.
[The views expressed from both ends are the sole responsibility of the corresponding authors.]