“The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general.”
Karl Marx, Letter from Marx to Engels In Manchester, December 11, 1869
Though the British considered Ireland as an integral part of their kingdom, however, swimming against the popular current, Marx and Engels explained through their writings why the English working class should support the freedom struggle of Ireland.
Later, when the self-styled ‘Marxist’ leaders of the Second International tried to assemble the workers of their countries in support of their respective governments during the First World War, Lenin accused them of being social-chauvinists. Not only this, after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, independence was granted to all oppressed nations who were living under Tsarist Russia. Lenin even had to fight against Russian great-nation chauvinism to found the Soviet Union through a voluntary association of nations on the basis of a concrete programme and by recognising their right to secession.
Algeria was considered as an integral part of France. When the parliamentary French Communist Party was vehemently supporting their government’s position on Algeria, then existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was one among those who, apart from the Maoists, took a Marxist-Leninist position on the question of the Algerian liberation struggle.
To support the Algerian liberation struggle in real terms, few young French intellectuals, radical leftists formed a group called the ‘Réseau de Soutien’. The members of the group were arrested at the beginning of 1960 and were tried in a military tribunal. Francis Jeanson was the leader of this group and Sartre’s name was also linked with this group for which he was summoned by the military tribunal. Jean Paul-Sartre was in Brazil at that time and he wrote a letter to the tribunal, whose excerpts are given below:
“It being impossible for me to attend the hearing of the Military Tribunal, which I profoundly regret… It is little to affirm my “complete solidarity” with the accused; I must also say why.
Jeanson, I remind you, was a collaborator of mine for a long time, and if we haven’t always been in agreement, as is normal, the Algerian problem, in any case, brings us together…
Algerian independence, in fact, is assured… What isn’t is the future of democracy in France, for the war in Algeria has rotted this country. The progressive diminution in liberties, the disappearance of political life, the generalisation of torture, the permanent insurrection of the military power against the civil power mark an evolution that we can, without exaggeration, qualify as “fascist”.
…Those who the right-wing press accuse of “treason,” and that a certain left hesitates to defend as it should, overseas are largely considered France’s hope for tomorrow, and its honour of today…
…During the Resistance professors at the Sorbonne didn’t hesitate to pass along messages and work as liaisons. If Jeanson has asked of me to carry valises or to put up Algerian militants, and if I could have done so without any risks for them, I would have done it without any hesitation.”Jean Paul-Satre, September 1960
It’s important to know that the ABVP attacked a programme organised to protest against the hanging of Afzal Guru in the JNU on 9 February 2016. The media houses showed that the students are raising slogans like “Pakistan Zindabad” (long live Pakistan), “Kashmir ki Azadi tak jung rahegi jari” (the war shall be on until the liberation of Kashmir), etc. However, the students of the JNU recognised those raising “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans as active workers of the ABVP. A few days later, a journalist named Vishwa Deepak resigned from the Zee News because he accused that the “Pakistan Zindabad” slogan was imposed on the footage by editing them at the Zee News studio. The funny part is, as the ‘sharp minds’ of the Zee News didn’t know the students, they dubbed the “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans on ABVP workers’ lips.
It may be so that all those slogans that are called ‘anti-national’ were dubbed by the Zee News or other media houses by editing the footages; however, if we, for a while, consider that the students have really raised those slogans in favour of Kashmir’s freedom and against the hanging of Afzal Guru, then what will be the repercussions?
In an interview given to NDTV’s Ravish Kumar in 2016, soon after coming out of the jail, Kanhaiya Kumar said that “I have complete faith in this country’s Constitution and judiciary. The slogans that were given are wrong and action should be taken against those who have delivered those slogans.” He also said- “Why isn’t the Police acting against those who have raised ‘anti-national’ slogans?” Now, after three years, the Delhi Police brought a chargesheet accusing 10 among the 36 accused and, lo and behold, Kanhaiya Kumar’s name is featuring among them.
In a gist, is it democratic or a fascist thought for Kanhaiya Kumar and the media houses to declare a set of slogans as ‘anti-national’? As there remains no fine line between opposing the state, opposing some actions of the state and opposing the country. For some, the country means a Goddess in a map and for others, it means millions of toiled, labouring people. For some, the interests of the country may mean the business interests of a handful of the super-rich, for others, it may mean the interest of the working class and the peasantry. For some, patriotism may mean unconditional subordination to the ‘state’, for others it may mean bothering the ‘state’ with a barrage of uncomfortable questions.
The Marxists will stand along the exploited people and oppose the ‘state’ and would advocate replacing it with another, this is normal. Not only the Marxists but even MK Gandhi also spoke about ‘state-less democracy’. Lenin fought against the government of Russia after the First World War, because he knew how to distinguish between the government and the country.
Kanhaiya Kumar has repeatedly explained his political position clearly; he thinks that “Kashmir to Kanyakumari are inalienable parts of India”. Absent in his speeches are the interests of the British, the aggression of the Nehru-Patel-Jinnah clique on the question of nation-building by forcefully including landmasses into a union by not respecting the wishes of the people of oppressed nations, which led to the formation of ‘liberation’ or ‘secessionist’ movements at present. Still, he couldn’t save himself! The chargesheet has featured his name as well.
Through this political opportunism, an unholy ‘nationalist’ unity is formed under Vallabbhai Patel’s Statue of Unity between hardcore right-wing parties like the BJP, Congress, etc. and parliamentary opportunist left parties like Kanhaiya’s own party- the CPI. Some would exhibit hardcore nationalism and some would exhibit softcore nationalism, however, despite their variation, such nationalism can’t resist foreign aggression, rather it will help such aggression.
On the other end, Marxism-Leninism has always supported the justified struggle of nationalities for their right to self-determination. Like Lenin carried forward the legacy of Marx, similarly, Charu Majumdar carried ahead Lenin’s ideology as a successor in India and stood on behalf of the liberation struggle of all nationalities, including those in Kashmir and Nagaland.
Kanhaiya Kumar may not agree with the slogans, however, in case if someone had really raised slogans in favour of Afzal Guru or Kashmir’s liberation, then is demanding of police action against them a democratic act? If Kanhaiya Kumar is released as not guilty by a court, then what will happen to the rest (even if we accept that they had raised those slogans)? Is the democratic India of Kanhaiya Kumar’s dreams such a country where youth will be left to rot in jails only for raising slogans? What type of democratic tolerance is this?
Inter alia, it’s citable that Sartre wasn’t jailed. The democracy, which Sartre alleged of rotting in France was never even established in India. Still, it can be said that the democratic space that the working people’s struggle created in India, is rotting due to the war waged to keep Kashmir and North East forcefully under India’s domination.
Kanhaiya Kumar, using his unique oratory skills, repeatedly tells people in his public meetings about the Constitution and Dr BR Ambedkar. He asks people to have faith in the Constitution, asks them to save democracy from the onslaught of the Sangh Parivar. Though in the country of discrimination, run according to the interests of the upper-castes, Dr Ambedkar himself couldn’t keep his own faith in the very Constitution created by him as much his followers do.
“My friend says that the last time when I spoke, I said that I wanted to burn the Constitution. Well, in a hurry I did not explain the reason. Now that my friend has given me the opportunity, I think I shall give the reason. The reason is this: We built a temple for God to come in and reside, but before the God could be installed, if the devil had taken possession of it, what else could we do except destroy the temple? We did not intend that it should be occupied by the Asuras. We intended it to be occupied by the Devas. That’s the reason why I said I would rather like to burn it.”
Dr BR Ambedkar in the Rajya Sabha on 19 March 1955
Dr Ambedkar could only try to provide a constitutional immunity to the people of the ‘lower castes’ from the aggression of the Brahminical forces, his Constitution has been incapable of preventing colonial-style exploitation and oppression.
Though Marx and Lenin had expressed severe doubts over the ‘neutrality’ of the bourgeois state, Kanhaiya Kumar on his own keeps faith in the Indian Constitution and judiciary, he even considers India a free country. Ironically, the fact is that the section of law used to file the case against Kanhaiya Kumar and others is the Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The British colonial rulers have created these laws regarding secession to dominate and rule over the colonised people.
The British couldn’t keep similar laws enacted in their own country due to the pressure exerted by the people. However, in India, such reactionary and anti-democratic colonial laws are still not abolished even after 1947. It’s due to the dire need of the foreign monopoly and finance capital that these laws remain in use; they’re in demand as much as a centralised unipolar India instead of a real federal India.
In the countryside of India or in its cities, the working class or the peasantry never enjoyed democracy but only the unbridled reign of upper-caste ‘Bahubali’ mafia. When the peasants are forced to sell their crops far below the market price, when the workers are forced to sell their labour at a wage less than what’s required for survival, then what value does the ‘freedom of speech’ holds in such a scenario? The ‘freedom of speech’ of a small section of urban Indians was the advertisement of Indian democracy so far, however, the JNU fiasco and the Bhima Koregaon violence show that even that pocket-sized democracy used for advertisement is no more tolerated by the Indian ruling classes.
Thus, not reform, the need is for a drastic change. It’s true that Kanhaiya Kumar, using his impressive oratory skills is exposing the divisive politics of the Sangh Parivar before the people and making the people conscious of their rights and demands, however, he is trying to create an illusion over a sham democracy before the people, which is not only against Marxism but also against any form of radical change.
We must remember that Afzal Guru was condemned to death, not on the basis of any direct evidence but to appease the ‘conscience of the nation’, which even created division within the judges. It’s not the purpose of this article to attack Kanhaiya Kumar personally but against the thought that he represents. Even if the Delhi Police prove in the court using witnesses that 36 people including Kanhaiya Kumar raised those slogans, then too, on the basis of merely raising slogans if they are imprisoned then it will not be a healthy or normal affair even as per the yardstick of bourgeois democracy.
This trend is rotting the Indian media and the democratic conscience. Instead of ‘punishment for real culprits’ the demand should be that all charges against Kanhaiya Kumar and other accused must be dropped. The colonial-era Sedition Law must be abolished. No one can be kept in jail for opposing the state through their speech or writing in a healthy and civilised democratic state. Many European countries have either abolished their sedition law or have not enacted any, and their bourgeoisie states didn’t collapse due to this.
Even after spending a huge amount every year in lieu of defence expenses from the money paid by the people as taxes, if the ‘integrity’ and ‘stability’ of India can be threatened by mere street meetings, few posters or slogans, then it’s either that the base of the ‘great Indian democracy’ is quite fragile or the Home Minister and the Home Secretary must resign immediately accepting their inability to play their respective roles.
Soumo Mondol started his journey as a student activist in West Bengal. He is a radical Marxist thinker, a left-wing activist who fights for the cause of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed people.