To understand the Cuban Embargo, one must understand that it is only one aspect in the broader goal of America to rule over Cuba. The US has long had an interest in colonizing Cuba. In 1823, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote a letter to U.S Minister to Spain Hugh Nelson about the possibility of annexing Cuba within the next fifty years. The Cuban sugar industry at that time had been incredibly lucrative and drew the attention of American investors. Twenty five years later, in 1848, James Polk offered to buy Cuba from Spain for $100,000,000. This offer was rejected.
Though the US may have never formally colonized Cuba, its economic domination of the island could be comparable to that of any colonial power. By the 1870s, 75% of Cuba’s sugar was exported to the US. In 1895, US investments in Cuba were valued up to $95,000,000. Cuba’s industries and economy quickly became subordinated to US corporations. In 1894, 90% of Cuba’s exports went to the US and 38% of its imports were from the US. Cuba served as a valuable geopolitical outpost for the US. It would be valuable in defending Florida and New Orleans, along with serving as an outpost and springboard for further economic and political control of Latin America.
While Cuba might have technically gained independence from the US in 1902, the Platt Amendment, however, kept Cuba in a continual state of colonial subjugation. The Platt Amendment allowed the US to intervene in Cuba at any time. It also set up US control of Cuba’s foreign policy and its public finances. In addition, much of Cuba’s wealth remained in US hands. In essence, the Platt Amendment and the presence of US corporations reduced the notion of Cuban independence to a myth. By the 1920s two thirds of Cuba’s sugar production was controlled by US companies and in 1929, US investments in Cuba reached almost a billion dollars and 62% of it went into the sugar industry. By the 1950s Cuba was the largest recipient of US aid and the US controlled almost all the important industries in Cuba. By 1955, 90% of telecommunications and electric services, 40% of the sugar industry, and 50% of public service railways were in the hands of American investors. Four years later, the US controlled 90% of all the mines, 80% of the utilities, and almost all the cattle ranches and the entire oil industry.
However, this vast investment in Cuba did not benefit the majority of Cubans, instead much of this wealth was repatriated back to the US or consumed by the American and Cuban elites on the island. That’s not to forget of course that US investment in Cuba heavily favored multinationals, and many of these corporations didn’t have to pay taxes to the Cuban government and were allowed to keep their profits, thus doing very little to develop an independent Cuban economy or help the lives of everyday Cubans. In fact, life for everyday Cubans was quite miserable under Batista and American imperialism. In 1953, the average Cuban family made six dollars a week and 15-20% of the labor force was unemployed. The average salary of a rural Cuban was $91. Sugar companies also owned 75% of the arable land and only employed 25,000 people full time and 500,000 people as part time workers during the harvest season which only lasted for about two to four months, for the rest of the year these people were relegated to poverty and unemployment. Only 2% of people in Cuba had running water and 9% of people had electricity. The vast majority of people in the rural areas lived in huts. The life expectancy was 59 years and infant mortality was 60 out of 1000 live births.
The notions that Cuba prior to Castro was a ritzy tropical paradise couldn’t be further from the truth. The vast majority of the population lived in poverty and a system of racial segregation--as horrible as the one in the US if not worse--was institutionalized and barred Afro-Cubans from accessing any employment opportunities other than domestic or manual labor. The only people who truly benefited from Batista’s Cuba were white wealthy landowners, business elites, and the professional class. These were the people that fled immediately after the revolution, not common workers or campesinos. The Cuban revolution was a true revolution of independence. It freed Cuba from the neo-colonial clutches of the United States which subjected the Cuban economy to the whim of monopolistic expansion by American corporations. There is no political independence without economic independence. Castro’s land reform and nationalization of major industries allowed Cuba to buck the reins of US imperialism and chart its own path of development without the destructive interference of an imperialistic power.
The US sees an independent Cuba as a threat to its grasp over the rest of Latin America and its own status as a global hegemonic power. Therefore, it can’t let Cuba’s socialist development succeed. Though the US has attempted various methods to sabotage the development through means of terrorism and assasination, the Embargo, otherwise known as the blockade has been the most enduring inhibitor to a prosperous and socialist Cuba. The blockade is incredibly thorough and applies not only to U.S. nationals and businesses based in the United States but also to businesses and nationals outside of the US as well.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
“I am Lenin” – Remembering the Bolshevik Revolution from India. By: Suryashekhar BiswasRead Now
In 1917, the worker-peasant alliance in economically-backward Russia began the formation of the first state in the world that truly belonged to the hardworking masses. The Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, displayed to the whole world that it was possible for ordinary people to achieve self-determination. With counter-revolutionaries, loyalists, monarchists and revivalists attempting to purge Russia from within and imperialists waging war from outside, the tale the first “Really Existing Socialism” began under circumstances of great challenge. Nonetheless, the red star had begun to shine. Its light extended beyond the borders of the USSR, through Eastern Europe, all the way to the colonised third-world. Mired in the tactics of internationalism and world-socialism, the successful revolution offered its amicable hands to its toiling comrades of the third-world, who were struggling against the excesses of imperialism.
Before going further, it is important to note that communism in India had its origins in the material conditions of India, in its process of historical development, and its efforts to resolve the contradictions of British imperialism on the one hand, and feudal landlordism on the other. Communism in India was not a formula implanted into the minds of people by bureaucrats sitting in Moscow, as certain right-wing ideologues claim. That being said, the Bolshevik Revolution and the worker’s state it established, had a profound impact on the Indians grappling with their reality, and also provided them some theoretical frameworks.
The national and colonial questions, as they were called, were not peripheral ponderings that arbitrarily occurred in the minds of the Third International revolutionaries. For Lenin, and many others, national liberation and the anti-colonial struggle was central to the process of overthrowing capitalism. This extends from the idea that imperialism was integral for capitalism to function - which was to become Lenin’s core thesis in ‘Imperialism – The Highest Stage of Capitalism’. These revolutionaries found it preposterous that many communists of the colonizing countries (read Europe) did not concern themselves with the colonial question. In the second Congress of the Comintern, Lenin stated, “All Communist parties should render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and underprivileged nations … and in the colonies.”
On this day, celebrating the 104th anniversary of the October Revolution, let us take a look at what this revolution meant to the masses of India, the country where I live.
Comintern: National and Colonial Questions
The world had changed immensely since the collapse of the First International, and the reformism, anarchism and Eurocentrism of the Second International led many revolutionaries to utter disappointment. The 1905 revolutionary coup in Russia had failed. Lenin had further solidified his understanding of imperialism as an inevitable extension of capitalism, and understood the importance of an international communist organisation that could truly connect with the people of the colonized countries. Overdetermined by these conditions, the Third International (or Comintern) was formed.
In the second Congress of the Comintern, held between July and August 1920, there were delegates from across the world, including the colonized countries. M.N Roy, a young communist of Indian origins, was representing the Mexican communist party, which he had helped form during his self-exile from India. Abani Mukherjee represented India. Lenin delivered his draft-thesis on ‘National and Colonial Questions’ which substantiated the need for the communist movement to grapple with the material conditions of colonised country and agree on some strategies and tactics to lead the spread of the revolution in the colonized world. He called for suggestions and criticisms from the delegates of various nationalities, who understood their own reality better.
Although M.N Roy was representing Mexico in the Second Congress of the Comintern, his remarks were almost entirely about the struggle in India. In response to Lenin’s address and call for criticism, M.N Roy put forward the arguments which form the basis the famous Lenin-Roy Debate. The debate can be fragmented into three areas of contention: (a) the economic mode-of-production in the colonies, (b) the role and nature of the national bourgeoisie of the colonized countries, and by obvious extension from the previous two points, (c) the mode of struggle and strategy to be applied in the colonized countries.
Lenin had remarked (in the thesis mentioned earlier) that unlike what Marxism had originally anticipated, the colonized world does not go through the subsequent historical stages and their economic mode-of-production remains backward. In the colonized countries, capitalism gets the liberty to be overwhelmingly vicious and ruthless. The character of the national bourgeoisie in those countries is also inversely affected, as the colonizers don’t allow the nationalist bourgeoisie to play the role of developing the productive forces according to its own needs and interests. However, Lenin insisted that there needs to be a strategic support and alliance with the national bourgeoisie of the colonized countries, in the process of overthrowing colonialism. In the USSR, a form of bourgeois-democratic revolution had happened before the socialist revolution could succeed. In the colonized world, the overthrow of colonialism in alliance with the national bourgeoisie would mark a similar step, paving way for socialism.
Roy disagreed on the count that the nationalist bourgeoisie of India was mired in reactionary conservatism. He argued that it was due to Lenin’s lack of awareness about the material conditions of India that the latter ascribed a progressive and revolutionary role to the Indian national bourgeoisie. Roy argued that the bourgeois-nationalist movement led by the Indian National Congress and Gandhi, was backward looking. If the communists had to align with them, the national bourgeoisie would eventually take over control of the alliance and subvert the movement. People would be led to be satisfied with bourgeois-democratic forms of capitalism and nothing more. For clarity of the Russian comrades, Roy compared Gandhi’s movement with the populist movements that had happened in Russia earlier: these were motivated by religious zeal and cultural revivalism, and were reactionary even if they might have appeared to be progressive.
The final resolution of the Congress settled on the following line:
“With regard to those states and nationalities where a backward, mainly
feudal, patriarchal or patriarchal-agrarian regime prevails, the following
must be borne in mind: All communist parties must give active support
to the revolutionary movements of liberation….”
Initially, the phrase towards the end had assured support to “bourgeois-democratic liberation movements”. But Roy’s intervention had successfully warranted its upgrade to “revolutionary movements of liberation”.
The struggle in India was not only the struggle of the INC and Gandhi, argued Roy. The working-class and peasantry had begun to organise. It was a duty of the Communist International to support those movements.
The Communist Party of India was formed in Tashkent, sometime between 1920 and 1921, the dates are contestable. It was consolidated in the Communist Conference in Kanpur, on December 1925.
Bolshevism in Art
Maxim Gorky wrote his iconic novel ‘Mother’, after the failure of the 1905 coup. It tells the story of Mother Nilovna, a working-class woman who slowly turns to the radical path when her son Pavel (aka Pasha) exposes her to the communist movement taking place then. Avtar Singh Sandhu, a militant communist poet from Punjab, read the novel in the 70s and declared his pen name to be ‘Pash’ – named after Pasha. Between the time when the novel was written to lighten up the struggling revolutionaries of Russia, and when it was read and perceived by Pash, came so many events of thrill and solidarity.
Pash wrote about Comrade Bhagat Singh:
“The awakening of the people of Punjab
To a revolutionary consciousness,
Was done for the first time
By Bhagat Singh.
On the day that he was hanged,
They had recovered from his lock-up cell,
Among his belongings
A Lenin book,
On which he had marked the page
Till where he had read;
Now it is our turn
To read the book to that page, and read it further;
To lead the struggle to that stage, and lead it further.”
Among others, Maxim Gorky – a comrade of the revolution and a literary genius, held the idea that the revolutionary Soviet republic should have a revolutionary printing press that actively translated a wide range of texts across different languages. A publishing house for world literature was established in 1919, which survived for five years. A magazine titled ‘Literature of the World Revolution’ was launched in 1931. The most significant was the creation of Publishing Co-operative of Foreign Workers (ITIR), which translated books into foreign languages. Through Comintern connections, ITIR employed mostly migrants from different parts of the world, who brought in their indigenous wisdom. In its first year, it translated to seventeen European languages and five Asian languages. Within two decades, it was translating to various Indian, Arab and African languages. In 1963, ITIR would merge with another organization to give rise to the legendary Progress Publishers. Thousands of books from these publications would come to India, throughout the period of the Soviet Union’s existence. This would bring all kinds of books, from old fairy-tales from across the world, to analyses on political economy.
The impact of the Bolshevik Revolution on art was manifold. ‘Amar Lenin’, a short film by Ritwik Ghatak portrays a working-man from rural Bengal who comes across a jatra about the Bolsheviks going from village to village, understanding the troubles of the peasants and arming them with theory. (A jatra is a drama form practised primarily in Rural Bengal, characterised by music and theatrics.) This was a part of Ghatak’s cinema of praxis, a concept he held on to, even after his fallout with the communist party. There were several such instances where Bolshevism arose in art and armed the working people with confidence to fight.
The vigorous impact of the revolution, may be summed up with a few lines from a poem by Sukanta Bhattacharya:
“We sailed across the murderous seas, we reach the safe shore,
The fields of freedom have arrived, we see no chains anymore;
Only a voice, that whispers my words from within
Saying out it seems as though that I am Lenin.”
No revolution without Lenin
It is important to note that Marxism came to India through Soviet Russia. For a sufficient period of time, Indian people who were exploring different paths of liberation, found their theory in Lenin’s writings and were thus introduced to Marxism. In the Western world, several factions of Marxist thought, both in the academic arena and the political, tend to skip Lenin. The essence of Western Marxism lies in the rejection of Soviet interpretation of Marx, which is denounced as ‘objectivist’. They go further to say that this form of Marxism was derived from Engel’s misrepresentation of Marx, and has no bearing to the original Marx at all. Other schools of the New Left make it a point to develop “anti-Stalinism” in their politics, to avoid bureaucracy and totalitarian control.
Revolutionaries in our world – the colonized world, do not have that luxury. For us, revolution runs through Leninism, which we see as the only path through which we can build socialism. Our party offices and pamphlets, alongside our own indigenous revolutionaries and heroes, have posters of Lenin, Stalin and Engels (and Mao). Not for us the defeatism of Trotsky. Not for us the entitlement of Eurocommunism. It is crucial for us, all the more, to uphold and defend the legacies of the great Bolshevik revolution.
Spectre of Communism
Three decades have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The renegades of capitalism have declared the “end of ideology”. The agents of the market who had begun their penetration in the Indian soil with liberalisation in the 80s, are making attempts to seep in further into every nook and corner of the country, their most recent prey being Bhagat Singh’s Punjab. In 2018, a statue of Lenin in the state of Tripura was demolished by the fascist forces, among other reasons, to drive home the point that communism is dead and done with. Yet, there are communist parties, trade-unions and students unions striving to organize and put forth the demands of the hardworking masses. There are countless people finding solace in the red-flag, as the only genuine alternative to the dominant corporate oligarchy. Surely, one may find a know-it-all bourgeois news-anchor screaming, “The USSR collapsed long ago, so what are you on about!” Across the streets and corners, in ghettoes and slums, in villages and universities, one will also find a steadfast communist, answering, “What if the reactionary forces destroy the Taj Mahal some day? Will we stop falling in love?”
This is a very personal attempt at presenting the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution in India. This is not a comprehensive overview. Therefore, I have had to omit certain figures and events, which may have been important. There have been important communist and socialist movements parallel to the CPI, such as the famous HSRA with Bhagat Singh, which I have omitted. I also recognise that in the section on art, my references come from Bengal and North India. I have left out a rich plethora of art from South India, simply because of my lack of knowledge of it. Among the poems mentioned, the poem by Pash was written in Punjabi and the one by Sukanta was written in Bangla. Both have been translated by the present author.
Chowdhuri, S. R. (2007). Leftism in India: 1917-1947. Palgrave.
Prashad, V. (2019). The East was read: Socialist culture in the third world. LeftWord.
Riddell, J., Prashad, V., & Mollah, N. (2019). Liberate the colonies!: Communism and colonial freedom, 1917-1924. LeftWord Books. (The section on Lenin’s Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions, and M.N Roy’s supplementary thesis on the same.
Suryashekhar Biswas is an undergrad from India, majoring in media studies and English literature. He takes interest in cultural and literary criticism and wishes to contribute to the glorious lineage of third-world Marxism.
“For “academics” I have here substituted “up lifters”, i.e., believers in law-abiding progress without a political struggle, progress under the autocracy. Such up lifters are to be found in all sections of Russian society, and everywhere, like the student “academics”, they confine themselves to the narrow range of professional interests, the improvement of their particular branches of the national economy or of state and local administration; everywhere they fearfully shun “politics”, making no distinction (as the academics make none) between the “politically minded” of different trends, and implying by the term politics everything that concerns the form of government.”
- Vladimir Lenin, “The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth”
We live in difficult times. The class struggle persists, but with preponderant power in the hands of the ruling class. The socialist revolution appears to be postponed indefinitely. The imperial agents of free-markets and economic liberalism have gripped our world and seem to hold power with an iron fist. Trade unions have been made illegal, obsolete or overwhelmingly weak across the world. In India, the country where I live, the old trade unions are struggling to find newer ways to organise and newer ones are finding space to breathe.
In the USA, the AFL-CIO has long abandoned any element of class struggle, with all the socialist and communist factions within it being purged away. In India, the BJP (i.e., the electoral party faction of the fascist outfit RSS) has its own trade union. The fascists have made their way into working-class ghettoes, tea-plantation mills, urban industrial areas and everywhere else the socialists were supposed to have gained strength. They drive a Hindu revivalist agenda, or a Brahmanical agenda, depending on the context of the people and make it increasingly harder for socialist trade unions to organise.
The BJP won its first term in 2014, with the popular consensus being critical of the previously elected neo-liberal elite government of INC. Narendra Modi assured the people that the country will be freed from the corrupt INC rule. He assured the Hindu majority that their pride will be restored. In other words, Make India Great Again. The BJP won. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the country that prides itself to be the world’s largest democracy.
Modi’s first term as the Prime Minister involved several cases of lynching of Muslims (mostly from the working class) in the name of protecting the holy cow. It involved a prolonged delay in the release of data on farmer suicides, a phenomenon that has been rising since the 90s when the Indian government took the neo-liberal route. Among other atrocious realities, the neo-fascist rule involved a fundamentally McCarthyist attack on intellectualism in general, with fairly liberal historians such as Romila Thapar and economists such as Amartya Sen, being remarked as Marxists and therefore “anti-national”. This manifested in a protracted war on students across the country through cancellation of fellowships that were essential for financially and socially backward students. A legitimising ideology was created by propagating the idea that students are a waste of public money, that students pursue research in topics that are irrelevant to India’s glory and that they are conspiring with terrorists to undermine Indian sovereignty. Corporate media, television, and more crucially, state-sponsored en-masse WhatsApp forwards played a huge role in legitimising this ideology.
Students across the country struck the streets into a protest termed as the Occupy UGC movement (UGC being the University Grants Commission.) (1) Rohit Vemula, a young student from Hyderabad was a part of this movement. He belonged to a marginalised caste. He was witch-hunted by the authorities and compelled to commit suicide. His death followed another media propaganda campaign to wash down the caste angle. His death sparked the fire of revolt and protest across the country. His suicide note has the chilling effect that is bound to radicalise anybody with an iota of humanity. (2)
The protests of the Occupy UGC movement and those demanding justice for Rohit Vemula, caused the surfacing of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, the erstwhile student union president of Jawaharlal Nehru University and a member of AISF, the student-wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Certain allegations were made about anti-national slogans being raised in the university on 9 February, 2016. Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested, along with a few other students. After his release from a brief period in jail, Kanhaiya Kumar found himself declared a traitor in the national ideology. He was vilified, but also popularised. The speech he gave right after his release went viral in the internet and secular liberals as well as leftists saw a hero in him. His excellent oratory skills coupled with leftist rhetoric gained him abundant charm. (3) The CPI leadership saw great potential in Kanhaiya and was quick to promote him into the party’s highest policy-decision board. The quickness of his rise within the party is unimaginable in the history of communist movement in India. His subsequent standing in the elections struck enough fear in the BJP candidate Giriraj Singh who was to stand in the same constituency. Kanhaiya crowd-funded his election campaign. Several liberal celebrities and comedians supported his campaign. Kanhaiya Kumar lost the elections, but became a celebrity championing the cause of dissent. (4)
Kanhaiya Kumar, in his radical speeches made as a student leader in the campus, made serious criticism of the INC, which he correctly identified as a representative of the ruling class. This was pre-2016. Recently, Kanhaiya Kumar has addressed the media and confirmed that he has joined the INC. In his announcement, he stated a bunch of reasons, which boil down to the idea that INC is the oldest national party in India that upholds secularism and democracy, and thus the only way to battle the influence of BJP would be to align with the INC. CPIML-L politburo member Kavita Krishnan has written an article pointing out the fallacies in Kanhaiya’s argument, and exposing his opportunism. (5) The liberals that upheld him, had a gleeful reaction to see him dissociate from the communist movement. D Raja, the General Secretary of CPI, made a statement condemning him. “It shows that he has no ideological and political commitment other than his personal ambitions,” read the official statement by the party. Shubham Banerjee, another important member of the CPI and a leader of its student wing said that he had observed opportunistic tendencies in Kanhaiya for quite some time, but didn’t have any reason to think that he would join a bourgeois electoral party. (6) It is certainly true that Kanhaiya’s speeches criticised the style of governance that Modi pursued, condemning the communalism and intolerance. However, these were at best liberal. The speeches never mentioned communism or even the communist party he was representing. Kanhaiya’s campaigns in his home district of Begusarai, were done under the banner of ‘Team Kanhaiya’, and not that of his party, CPI. His radicalism from student days has long dried out. He is now a steadfast politician, who knows the rules of the game.
This article is not about Kanhaiya Kumar, or any individual for that matter. However, this case of opportunism strikes me personally because the initial arrest of young Kanhaiya Kumar and the spectacle that was made of it, played a huge role in my turn towards radical politics. I am aware that this was the case for many young people across the country, at least those from a petty-bourgeois class background. When I was still in junior-high, I binge-watched every Kanhaiya Kumar speech and conference that I could get my hands on. I had also read his PhD thesis on African decolonisation and his personal memoir called “From Bihar to Tihar”. Kanhaiya pursuing opportunism did not surprise me one bit, the turn he was to take had become fairly obvious. There was an expectation in the CPI that Kanhaiya would translate his massive popularity into mass mobilisation and energy for class struggle. That expectation was let down.
A couple of decades ago, in the same campus of JNU stood another young communist leader: Chandrashekhar Prasad, endearingly called ‘Chandu’. Chandu was a member of AISA, the student-wing of the Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist Liberation (CPIML-L). Chandu had begun his tryst with student politics in AISF (the same organisation that Kanhaiya was a part of). However, soon he made his shift to AISA, having become disillusioned by the revisionist tendencies of his previous organisation. AISA was then in its formative years, since its parent party (CPIML-L) had only began to make its shift from underground politics to broad mass-based organising. (7) Chandu is known to have been a charismatic leader and a brilliant student, who could present his arguments pertinently in the intellectual arena, as well as connect mirthfully with the working-class. He was pursuing his post-doctoral research thesis on forms of popular folk theatre of Bihar, the state where he was from. He wished to return to Bihar right after the completion of his education and struggle to improve the political scenario of the state, which was then dominated by government cronies and goons.
In 1997, while planning a general strike in Bihar, Chandu was shot dead, along with one of his comrades, Shyam Narayan Yadav. This was nothing new in the Laloo Yadav-led Bihar state, where political assassinations and cronyism was manifold. Chandu’s death sparked protests across the country, especially among students. The protests were faced with violent police repression but succeeded to gain so much ground that a dialogue had to be arranged between the students and the nation’s then Prime Minister I.K Gujral. Gujral dismissed the students demands for justice as “impractical”. The protests did succeed in forcing a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, however, the crony parliamentarian Shahabuddin, who had ordered the political assassination, was not arrested due to lack of evidence. (8) Chandu’s inspiration leads forwards young revolutionaries across the country, and his efforts at organising the initial years of AISA, bloom flowers today, with thousands of members across the country – the author of this article included.
What is to be done?
I do not intend to present a hagiography of Chandu, there is quite an amount of that available: the corporate Hindi film industry even displayed the desire to produce a commercial biopic of him, but was met with strong opposition from the party which Chandu had been loyal to in his life. Neither do I wish to present a contrast between two student leaders who grew out of similar circumstances and conditions of repression, but went in radically different directions. That contrast should be fairly obvious and not much is to be made of it. What is important for us, is to recognise the concrete elements of Chandu’s politics that could lead young student radicals closer to the revolutionary cause, and away from petty opportunism.
Certain words from Lenin form the epigraph of this article. What one needs to understand is that students (and I mean students pursuing higher-education) do not automatically constitute an inherently progressive strata. A very tiny minority of a country’s population even comes close to higher education, and an even tinier portion of that minority comes from marginalised backgrounds. Higher-education spaces are an arena of the elite. Even those that enter universities are often victims of the dominant ideology, which leads them to be negligent to politics – let alone working-class politics. For these reasons, various communist party documents go ahead with the implicit assumption that students are generally petty-bourgeois. Thus, even when the liberal intelligentsia leads us to see an amount of glory in student protests and dissent, we must recognise its limitations. Lenin’s words echo this sentiment.
That being said, no sensible person will deny that students form an important part of society and have a role to play in political transformation. From the young Red Guards of the Chinese Cultural Revolution to the hundreds of déclassé students in Naxalbari uprising in India, there is no denying of the role students play. The catch being that: in these uprisings and others, students were required to uproot themselves from the elite setting of the academia and form new roots in the ghettoes, slums, villages and dwellings of the workers and peasants. They were required to engage with the exploited classes and understand their needs, and fight alongside them for revolutionary change. They were required to transform their abstract political understanding into materially feasible programs, by engaging with the exploited class.
In our times, the Chandus are less in number and the Kanhaiyas are ever expanding. In the context of the U.S, the same has been pointed out by many including the Marxist sociologist Vivek Chibber. The individuals are shaped and designed by the political domains of their time. In our domain of performative woke politics and postmodernist identity-politics, the broader left has lost touch with the working-class. Leftist students, being a subset, have met the same fate. There has been a broad acceptance of theories of intersectionality that focus on upward mobility and individualise the collective experiences of oppression. At its extreme, this shift causes the working-class to be incorrectly portrayed as a regressive reactionary class that isn’t well versed with politically correct diction and hence needs to be rebuild after the sanctimonious images of these woke students and the intelligentsia. (9)
To bring alive the struggle against fascism, neoliberalism and the bourgeois-landlord alliance, to lead the struggle for revolutionary change, the left will have to relocate itself along the lines of Naxalbari, along the lines of the Cultural Revolution, along the lines of Chandu. The student left will have to stop obsessing over its own self and stand in alliance with the workers and peasants who have little to lose but their chains.
1. Pisharoty, Sangeeta Barooah. What Lies Behind the 'Occupy UGC' Protest. The Wire, India. [Online] November 24, 2015. https://thewire.in/education/what-lies-behind-the-occupy-ugc-protest.
2. The Wire Staff. My Birth is My Fatal Accident: Rohith Vemula's Searing Letter. The Wire, India. [Online] January 17, 2019. https://thewire.in/caste/rohith-vemula-letter-a-powerful-indictment-of-social-prejudices.
3. HT Correspondant. Kanhaiya Kumar released from jail, says will write his story now. Hindustan Times. [Online] March 3, 2016. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/jnu-students-union-leader-kanhaiya-kumar-released-from-jail/story-EMqrXflBIlkyhat12crKUP.html.
4. Kumar, Manish. Elections 2019: Why Giriraj Singh Won't Take His Rival Kanhaiya Kumar's Name. NDTV. [Online] April 24, 2019. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/lok-sabha-elections-2019-why-giriraj-singh-wont-take-his-rival-kanhaiya-kumars-name-2028063.
5. Krishnan, Kavita. How To Not Fight Fascism. Liberation. [Online] November 2021. https://liberation.org.in/liberation-2021-november/how-not-fight-fascism.
6. Host, Swarup Katha Channel. CPI & AISF Leader Shuvam Banerjee on Kanhaiya Kumar. YouTube. [Online] September 29, 2021. https://youtu.be/JqxWuTfQh7s.
7. Banerjee, Sumanta. In the Wake of Naxalbari. Kolkara : A. P. Printers, 2014. 978-81-7955-116-5.
8. Kant, Krishna. The Gun That Killed JNU's Chandrashekhar 20 Years Ago Was 'Secular'. The Wire, India. [Online] April 1, 2017. https://thewire.in/politics/gun-killed-jnus-chandrashekhar-secular.
9. Chibber, Vivek. Whatever Happened To Class? Himal South Asian. [Online] November 21, 2017. https://www.himalmag.com/whatever-happened-to-class/.
Suryashekhar Biswas is an undergrad from India, majoring in media studies and English literature. He takes interest in cultural and literary criticism and wishes to contribute to the glorious lineage of third-world Marxism.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
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