Perhaps around the Xmas dinner table this year, being quizzed by parents you haven’t seen for many months, or an aunt you haven’t seen for years, comrades have been met by a familiar refrain:
You’re a socialist? How could you be a socialist today?
How could you be a socialist after what happened in Russia? Isn’t socialism finished with now?
Or perhaps more regularly, as you’re arguing the point with a potential Green Left Weekly buyer, you get similar questions:
How could you be a communist today? or:
Yes, in principle it’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work, does it?
Well, I think it’s time we all stopped being defensive with those nosey aunts or disbelieving parents or questioning Green Left Weekly buyers, and respond:
How could you not be a communist today?
Yes, How could anyone with a sense of justice and a minimal knowledge of the realities of the world not be a communist today?
Who could travel by train from Varanasi to Delhi — as I did — and see hundreds of miles of human misery flow past your window, and not be a communist?
Who could witness the abject degradation, not merely poverty, for mile after mile, and not yearn for social justice, not devote their life to fighting to change the system?
* mud hovels, housing whole families;or grass huts, or cardboard shacks, or nothing;
* human beasts of burden in the fields, with children scavenging leftovers, a grain at a time;
* shit, everywhere, human and animal; cow dung preciously gathered, and dried for fuel, men and women squatting by the tracks;
* garbage everwhere, constantly picked over, by small children, for scraps of paper or plastic or cardboard, or competing with the dogs and pigs and cows for scraps of food.
Mile after mile after mile…
Who could witness all that poverty and degradation, exploitation and filth, and read the Communist Manifesto, and not be a Communist?
Especially, if you then travelled on to Europe.
The contrast is stunning.
The gap between the wealth, the opulence of the ruling classes in the imperialist countries and the desperate poverty and misery of the majority of the world’s people, must be the oustanding atrocity of the 20th Century.
“The states of rich men’s alliance” are well organised to perpetuate their atrocities and privileges. Their imperialist system guarantees this great divide, backed up where needed with battlefleets and bombers, and their respectable policing bodies of today, the IMF, World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, and the UN security council
I saw a TV documentary a few months ago, and the images are still with me, of wealthy coupon clippers and retirees from America and Europe, living off dividends, the sweat of others, and cruising the world for six months of the year on luxury liners, spending on themselves in a day what would sustain a whole village for years.
The well-fed, well-clothed, well-heeled, in wilful ignorance of their direct responsibility for the suffering and starving millions they cruise past on their voyage round the world.
And sometimes on this trip I was a tourist too. In Varanasi (formerly known as Benares), the CPI ML Congress occupied all my attention and time. I didn’t visit the famous ghats, I didn’t even see the Ganges, an omission that I was strongly berated for by comrades after I arrived in London. On my return from Europe, I had more time, and agreed to join the tourist trail, and went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.
It truly must be the most magnificent and beautiful building ever built. But it’s not possible to just be a tourist. While marvelling at such splendour, the greatness of the architects and the skill of the craftsmen, you can’t repress the knowledge about its purpose, and the social circumstances and the facts of its construction. It was ordered built by a brutal emporor; as just a tomb, not even as a palace, let alone a public building. 20,000 workers and incredibly skilled artisans toiled for 22 years to build it; and when they were finished, that emperor ordered their hands chopped off so they would never be able to build anything comparable.
And surrounding this marvel of marble and semi-precious stones is Agra, two million people living in poverty and unecessary backwardness, and around them tens of millions of peasants even worse off.
Any technological wonder of the modern world has that duality. Every aspect of the world today has those two faces…
If you’re not conscious of that, then you’re going through life like a rich, crass Western tourist.
While marvelling at the ancient and modern wonders of the world, the beautiful things that are debased, the tremendous creativity and productivity of humanity that’s wasted, squandered, exploited and stolen by a few,how can you not be a communist?
I felt very privileged to be able to attend the CPI ML Congress, to be present with those 700 delegates who encompassed such a range of struggles, dedication, commitment and humanity. Speaking many different languages, from different cultures, and facing very different conditions of struggle, I felt like they were our type of comrades. You all would have felt the same affinity.
Their congress closed with a rally of 50,000 peasants from the surrounding districts, waving red flags, singing revolutionary songs as they assembled. The foreign guests were invited to speak. It’s not often that you get a chance to address a rally of 50,000, and a rally that responds so warmly to revolutionary greetings and solidarity.
How can you not be reinspired, to redouble your efforts for a Communist future after an experience like that….
I met many remarkable comrades on this trip to India, at the Congress and afterwards. One example, their international secretary, PV Srinivas, will convey something of the nature of this party.
Coming out of the Naxalbari uprising of the late 1960s, the CPI Ml (Liberation) has been an underground party until 1992. Most of the longer term comrades have spent long periods underground, on the run, in prison, subject to torture. (Compare the credentials report to our conference with the credentials report to theirCongress — it had statistics like — 211 of the 677 delegates had spent periods in jail; 109 had been tortured; 77 had suffered serious injury. Etc)
P V Srinivas, or Ganeshan, his underground name, which most comrades still call him, was responsible for looking after me — very solicitously, a bit like a mother hen in fact. A warm, vibrant man, with an intense interest in political theory, philosophical questions. He has a scar on his forehead, I suspect a result of his time underground.
He recounted some experiences from the underground: how they’d walk 13 kilometers over the fields before dawn to avoid the landlords and their gangs.
How he spent six years in prison, the first three in solitary, 24 hours a day, before a hunger strike forced the prison authorities to allow the political prisoners to mix, and have access to books.
He explained that in the underground, they talked about their “office in a bag,” pointing to his bag slung over his shoulder. Showing me round their national office, I could see they’d moved on from their “office in a bag.” Now a rolled mattress behind his desk was his home.
This is the life of dedicated comrades in the struggle in the Third World, in India, In Indonesia. Fourteen of our comrades in Indonesia are languishing in Suharto’s jails.
If we’re true internationalists, can we expect other revolutionaries, in other countries, to make sacrifices, to endure incredible hardships, yet expect our lives to remain unchanged and comfortable?
Can we see these international struggles, comrades overseas making sacrifices, giving their lives, and we can’t make sacrifices on a smaller scale? Our conditions of life and conditions of struggle are much much easier. It’s a matter of financial sacrifice, not lives. Time, not torture. (Though comrades in India and Indonesia give those in full measure too.)
But we know it’s not a sacrifice really, to be part of that struggle, to have those comrades as your comrades in struggle too.
On the day of my arrival back in India after Europe, the news came through — 61 supporters of the party in one village in Bihar state had been massacred by a landlord gang, the Ranbhir Sena. Men, women, children brutally slaughtered.
This might have got a brief mention here, but not edging out the important items, the cricket score or race results, or the latest follow up on Lady Di, the story of the year.
The CPI ML organised a state-wide bandh in Bihar — more than a general strike, a total shutdown. I attended the demonstration in Delhi which involved a large range of left groups, and again I was asked to speak. Comrades told me the police are quite “polite” in Delhi compared with other cities. Only sometimes do they use their guns at demos. This time there was only one water cannon truck, and a few half-hearted charges with lathis (long batons). Still, it’s a different level of confrontation than we’re used to. The demo easily overturned the police barricades, and got past the water cannon, which is quite powerful and can bowl people over, toss them in the air. I only got my shoes wet, I scuttled out of the front line once the march hit the barricade.
The visible massacres of supporters, the jailing of our comrades, are the most brutal and violent sides of our capitalist opponent. But there are deaths every minute, every second, from hunger, disease, and exploitation. Deaths directly attributable to this rotten system, imperialist capitalism.
So tell your questioners next time, How can they not be a communist in face of all this.
Vinod Mishra, the general secreatary of the CPI ML, in his closing speech to their congress, paid tribute to the many martyrs of their struggle, and there have been hundreds, thousands, and they were to be joined by many more so soon.
“Those martyrs fell with dreams in their eyes and hearts,” he said. “Our duty is to keep those dreams alive.”
That’s our duty too. To keep alive the dreams of all those who have struggled for a better world, for socialism.
It’s for the future, but also for our lives today. Because deep down we know, a life without dreams is no life at all.
To keep alive those dreams til they’re fulfilled.