People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

September 02, 2007



Prabhat Patnaik


KRUPSKAYA tells us in her Memories of Lenin that when she and Lenin were in exile in London at the beginning of the twentieth century, they would often take omnibus rides in the areas of London frequented by the bourgeoisie; they would also walk along the streets of the working class areas, where omnibuses did not ply. Lenin was so struck by the contrast between the two Londons that he would often refer to “two nations” within one country. Now, six decades after India’s independence, which came as the result of a prolonged anti-colonial struggle, in the course of which the modern Indian nation was born, we are in the process of slipping into the reality described by Lenin: “two nations” within one country. The so-called “two nation” theory which was used to justify the partition of the subcontinent was palpably false: the Hindus and the Muslims did not constitute separate and distinct nationalities. But neo-liberalism has spawned a more plausible division of the country into two “nations”, a term that may not stand up to strict scrutiny under the canons of Marxist theory, but nonetheless contains a rich description, reminiscent of Lenin, of the Indian context.


What is striking about this hiatus is that one of these two nations, the “nation of the rich”, believes that it belongs to the first world, would like to be accepted within the first world as belonging to it, and is even in the most “fortunate position”, in its own perception, of being acceptable to the first world, though as a slightly inferior relative. The other, “the nation of the poor”, remains stubbornly stuck in the third world, experiencing the same agrarian crisis, the same unemployment, and the same privations on account of cuts in government expenditures in areas that matter to it, that pervade the entire third world. Some have referred to this hiatus as the “secessionism of the rich” within the third world, but, no matter how we describe it, the phenomenon is unambiguously present: a fracturing of the nation into two quite distinct components.




This transition from a situation where the whole nation-in-the-making was waging an anti-colonial struggle, to one where the nation-that-came-into-being is getting fractured into two distinct components, can be understood in class terms as a shift in the position of the big bourgeoisie vis-à-vis imperialism. From leading the anti-imperialist struggle of the people, and hence belonging to the camp of the people, notwithstanding all its tendencies to vacillate and compromise, it moves into a position where it carries its collaboration with imperialism to a point at which it effectively deserts the people, or does a volte face against the people. It does so not only because of the intense pressures upon it from the side of imperialism in the era of globalisation, but also because its ambition of building a relatively autonomous capitalism, autonomous, that is, vis-à-vis imperialism, runs into serious contradictions, even as imperialist globalisation opens up new pastures for it.


The two most significant components of the policy of the post-colonial State, both aimed at asserting this relative autonomy, were: the public sector, and non-alignment. The distinguished Marxist economist, Michael Kalecki, whose overall characterisation of the post-decolonisation regimes as “intermediate regimes” was rather off the mark, was nonetheless accurate in identifying these two elements as the key elements of State policy. The public sector, built up in most third world countries with the support of the Soviet Union, was a bulwark against metropolitan capital. It was used for building up a domestic industrial base, for achieving technological self-reliance, for developing the skill base of the economy, and for providing the overall setting in which domestic capitalists, including the newly emerging peasant and landlord capitalists of the agricultural sector, could prosper. And non-alignment made it possible to keep the requisite distance from imperialism, to keep a door open to the Soviet Union which was so essential for the relative autonomy of the capitalist development path that was pursued.


Imperialism had always attacked both these elements of third world State policy viciously. It had attacked the public sector first by boycotting it, and later by infiltrating and subverting it through the so-called “aid” provided by its agencies like the World Bank. And it had attacked, and does so to this day, the policy of non-alignment. From the days of John Foster Dulles right down to the days of Condoleeza Rice, this attack has been relentless.


It is instructive that precisely these two elements of State policy are being sought to be abandoned in the period of globalisation. The public sector is being sought to be privatised, and would have been privatised but for the intervention of the Left. And non-alignment is being sought to be abandoned in favour of a closer strategic alliance with imperialism, of which the Indo-US nuclear deal is a clear example. What this points to is the volte face on the part of the big bourgeoisie, the shift in its position vis-à-vis imperialism, the replacement of its project of a relatively autonomous development of capitalism by an alternative project of bourgeois development through greater collaboration with imperialism in the context of globalisation. To go back to the Leninist description, one of the “two nations”, the “nation of the rich” consisting of the big bourgeoisie and its hangers-on, wants to become part of the first world.




It is a hallmark of this “nation of the rich” within the country that it sees itself as the sole and true nation, as the embodiment of the nation as a whole. It simply pretends that the other “nation” within the country, the one facing the massive agrarian crisis thanks to the same process of globalisation, the one reeling under the impact of unemployment and underemployment, the one steeped in debt and hunger, the one consisting of the marginalised and the economically disenfranchised, does not exist. And the media at its command, the opinion-forming devices it controls, work overtime to obliterate the marginalised, to present the “nation of the rich” as the “true nation”. The la dolce vita of the former is passed off as “India shining”. The economic bonanza reaped by the former is passed off as the “nation’s progress”.


And nowhere has this role of the so-called “opinion makers” manifested itself so clearly as in their response to the Left’s rejection of the Indo-US nuclear deal. One commentator was simply amazed how anybody could reject such a relationship with the US, when “our children” go there! One newspaper (The New Indian Express August 23) editorially commented: “the Left’s knee-jerk opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal again suggests a lack of empathy for the national consensus, and a sympathy for China’s position on the issue.” Obviously, since no sample survey covering the entire country has been conducted on the issue, the “national consensus” referred to in the editorial is the consensus among the SMS-sending crowd! The nation apparently consists of those whose children go to the US, and those who send SMS messages to the questions accompanying the so-called TV “discussions” where the audience is drawn from the same crowd. The “nation of the rich” simply appropriates for itself the mantle of the Indian nation!


The more sophisticated defenders of the deal do not explicitly refer to the strategic alliance with the US. They continue to profess commitment to non-alignment but argue the need for the deal in terms of the country’s energy requirement. And the still more sophisticated defenders even drag in climate change, which makes carbon-based energy sources dangerous, to buttress their argument. Interestingly however no cost-benefit analysis has ever been cited to argue the case for nuclear energy. No convincing case has ever been made out on purely energy grounds for having such a deal. The energy argument serves as a cover for having a strategic alliance with the US, which is the objective of one of the “two nations” into which the country is getting increasingly divided.




Non-alignment, autonomy vis-à-vis imperialism, breaking loose from the shackles of globalisation that leads to the dispossession and expropriation of petty producers, and having an autonomous State that can intervene in favour of the marginalised, and will do so because of the pressure of having to face the electorate, are what the “nation of the poor” needs. But this is precisely what the “nation of the rich” abhors. The interests of the “two nations” are sharply contradictory. (This explains why the prime minister’s “packages” for the peasants have not stopped the spate of suicides, since these “packages” have been worked out ensuring their compatibility with imperialist globalisation).


The fracturing of the nation into “two nations” and the growing ascendancy of the “nation of the rich” for which it needs the support of imperialism, has serious implications for the country’s future. The most obvious relates to democracy. Broad-based democracy, democracy based on universal adult franchise as we have known it, is basically in the interests of the poor, since political empowerment gives them some opportunity for arresting or even reversing the process of their economic marginalisation. On the other hand, such broad-based democracy which threatens the ascendancy of the “nation of the rich” is anathema for the latter. Its attempt therefore is always to attenuate democracy, to make it hollow, to reduce the effectiveness of the people’s political choice. Not that it necessarily wishes to do away with universal adult franchise, but it wishes to enfeeble its significance. It wishes to institutionalise the kind of democracy which the Americans push everywhere: “the government must be chosen by the people but must follow the policies we like”. Indeed the very instance of a government pushing ahead with a nuclear deal (which it would have done but for the opposition of the Left), even though a majority in the parliament is opposed to such a deal, throws light on the kind of “democracy” that the “nation of the rich” and its imperialist backers want.


There are a number of ways in which a democracy that has struck roots among the people, that has captured the people’s imagination, and that is vigorously used by them to assert themselves, is sought to be enfeebled. These vary from a substitution of parliamentary democracy by a presidential form of government; to a substitution of politicians by bureaucrats and technocrats as the heads of government even within a parliamentary democracy (to facilitate which a process of vilification of politicians is unleashed by the bourgeois media and “opinion makers”); to the institutionalisation of a uniformity among all political parties on policy issues, ostensibly for the sake of “development”. One national daily has even called upon both the prime minister and the CPI(M) to quickly reach a settlement (for which, needless to say, the latter must abandon its opposition to the nuclear deal), so that the “stock markets are not disturbed”! The interests of finance capital in short must take precedence over the people’s interests, and the country’s future.


The introduction of capital account convertibility greatly increases the voice of finance capital in the country’s affairs; and it is instructive that in the very midst of the stand off between the prime minister and the Left, a committee has been appointed to work out the modalities of introducing capital account convertibility. You may think it is a case of bull-headed obtuseness; but it is not. It is a part of a strategy.