Political Economy of Labour Repression in the United States: An Interview with Andrew Kolin

Andrew Kolin’s Political Economy of Labor Repression in the United States (Lexington Books, 2016) successfully demonstrates how labour repression is organic to capitalism; something that is central to the very constitution of the capitalist economy and its state. Traversing the history of the United States, the book is a survey of the evolving relationship between capital and labour and how repression has been (re)produced in and through that evolution – something that is structurally manifest in the institutional exclusion of labour. However, by presenting it as an expression of class struggle, the book refuses to deprive labour of its agency. It does not view labour as passive or even merely reactive. It suggests that insofar as the political economy of repression is composed through capital-labour interactions, it is contradictory and provides moments of escape or liberation from repression.

Pratyush Chandra and Pothik Ghosh talk to Andrew Kolin. Professor Kolin teaches Political Science at Hilbert College. His books include The Ethical Foundations of Hume’s Theory of Politics, One Family: Before and During the Holocaust, State Structure and Genocide and State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of G.W. Bush.

Radical Notes: Why is the book called “Political Economy of Labor Repression in the United States”, and not the “History of Labor Repression in the United States”? Considering it is a rather comprehensive survey of labour history in the US, how do you explain your choice of the title?

Andrew Kolin: Although the book provides an historical survey of labour repression in the United States, the underlying theme is to consider the causes of labour repression, which coincides with the rise of American capitalism and its cycles. In considering the political economy of labour repression, the dependent variable over time is labour’s institutional exclusion from the state and the economy. The independent variable is the class struggle between capital and labour during various economic cycles.

Labour Repression

Radical Notes: Reading through the book, one gets a sense that perhaps the logic of capital-labour relations, or rather conflicts, has determined the course of the American history. Is this reading correct? Can it be justifiably claimed that the American state is a product of this logic?

Andrew Kolin: Prior to the Civil War, capital was in conflict with slave labour in the south and wage labour in the north. After the Civil War as industrialisation accelerated capital sought to maximise control over wage labour at the workplace. The great strike wave of the latter part of the 19th century was labour’s response to capital’s efforts to homogenise labour at the workplace. The extent to which capital could increase control over labour was determined by the economic cycles of American capitalism. Crushing strikes did not end class conflict, but only temporarily displaced it. During the Great Depression and with the New Deal, the goal was to have the state mediate class conflict. This worked fine until the 1970s when economic decline set in and the social welfare state was diminished. Starting in the 1980s, the state was no longer concerned with mediating capital and labour, and clearly focused, instead, on supporting finance capital.

Radical Notes: Although the book is mainly about the post-revolutionary institutions, what we find interesting is the way you discover their roots in the very operation of colonialism and waging of the anti-colonial struggle. How would you summarise the role of the politics of labour — its various segments, especially, waged, indentured and slave — in the American Revolution and the building of post-revolutionary institutions, both democratic and repressive?

Andrew Kolin: Property owners understood the need to mobilise labour in order to make the democratic revolution possible. The American Revolution allowed property owners to sever economic ties with Great Britain making it possible for them to put in place policies that supported economic expansion within North America. Most significant was that the well-to-do and labour worked together toward creating a democratic revolution. This in turn created responsive state governments that responded to the needs of the many, that is, until there was a realisation that the system of government should be reframed to better represent the interests of the propertied elites. The constitutional convention established a state structure that severely restricted labour from having a direct role in policymaking. What followed was that states working with property owners made it legally possible for the rise of the corporation. This was enabled by moving away from corporate charters, which were under state control, to the idea of the corporation as an independent legal entity with due-process rights.

Radical Notes: A crucial lesson that seems to come out from your analysis of labour repression in the US is that the tapestry of labour forms and technological changes that we find is actually capital’s mode of coping with the challenges that the working class poses. Do you agree?

Andrew Kolin: Labour repression past and present has been expressed by the organisation and reorganisation of the workplace, for purposes of controlling the labour process. The goal is to increase the production of surplus-value by speeding up the pace of work through technological innovation.

Radical Notes: How do you think segmentation, engineered through the mechanism of institutional inclusion-exclusion, has shaped the officialdom of the labour movement, or what many call, “labour aristocracy”?

Andrew Kolin: Institutional exclusion has divided labour into reform and radical segments. The AFL, under the leadership of Gompers and Green, and even the more progressive ‘CIO’ Lewis accepted capital’s monopoly of control over the workplace. This, in turn, forced labour leaders to function in partnership with capital toward the goal of achieving workplace harmony. Nonetheless, labour’s rank and file has been more progressive than its leadership, engaging in strikes and various forms of labour unrest without the support of labour leaders.

Radical Notes: Do you think the involvement of immigrant, semi-skilled and unskilled segments of workers time and again played a significant role in radicalising the American labour movement whenever it found itself mired in reformism and status quoism? What has been the impact of rank-and-file activism in the US?

Andrew Kolin: Looking back through the mid and latter parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was immigrants, semi-skilled and unskilled labour segments that were the force behind many of the great strikes. They were also heavily involved in creating the socialist and communist parties. These labour segments also fought against the greater imposition of technology at the workplace. Many of the major accomplishments of organised labour came from these rank-and-file activists. They supported not only the formation of the CIO, they agitated for many of the eventual New Deal reforms, which did result in better wages and working conditions.

Radical Notes: Throughout the history of labour repression and class struggle in the US that is narrated in the book, we see an interesting cyclicity of offence and defence, conflict and compromise. Can you see significant moments of leap in the history of the labour movement in the US that had the potential to radically break out of this cyclicity?

Andrew Kolin: Although the mainstay of labour repression has been labour’s institutional exclusion, labour has been successful in achieving a number of reformist demands. And even though radical labour segments have been oppressed, one finds within the capitalist economy the existence of non-capitalist enclaves in the form of public and worker ownership. The future challenge for organised labour is to increase the scope and scale of worker-based ownership, the basis for building a more radical form of economic democracy.

Radical Notes: Neoliberalism and the dominance of finance capital seem to have finally liberated capitalism from hurdles like democratisation and the impact of institutionalised/ territorialised working-class politics. What are “the limits of labor repression and possible options for the liberation of labor” today? What forms of organisation and working-class activities do you see emerging today that overcome the “legal boundaries” defined within and by the political economy of repression?

Andrew Kolin: There are two trends to consider in assessing the possible future limits of labour repression, one is the built-in feature of US capitalism—it cannot solve its problems. The persistence of the cyclical nature of American capitalism along with class struggle between capital and labour create the social effects pointing to an overall limit to a capitalist economy. A second trend is the existence on a limited scale of worker-based economic democracy. If it is to continue to grow, one can expect the appearance of an economy without labour repression. For example, key features would be that all goods and services would be produced by worker-managers. Companies would sell products for profit in a competitive market, in the absence of a class-based economic system. Each company would be owned and controlled by labour. Investments for expansion would be created by a tax on the company’s capital. Through a national fund, money would flow into the economy to public banks. The labourers in the banks would decide which projects were viable investments. Companies would be mandated to set aside monies to deal with modernisation and capital improvements. Since labour would monopolise decision-making the workers could reshape the companies or opt to leave but they could not make the companies sell capital in order to generate income. Minimum wages would have to be determined to be living wages. A company that could not pay workers a living wage would have to file for bankruptcy. All workers would be provided with a broad range of social services. This economic model has been put into practice at the Mondragon company in Spain. In the United States, there are no formal legal obstacles against labour forming a worker-based company.

Radical Notes: The ascendancy of Donald Trump and his politics of reactionary spectacle has often been ascribed to the rightward ideological shift of large sections of the White working class. How accurate is this ascription, and how would you explain this in political-economic terms? Also, in that context, how exactly do race relations currently function to segment and regiment social labour in its totality in the US? In your opinion, how has race historically functioned, if at all, in enabling and/or constituting what you call the “political economy of labor repression” in the US?

Andrew Kolin: I argue that this interpretation of a White, reactionary working class is incorrect. An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post on June 5, 2017, ‘It’s time to bust the myth: most Trump voters were not working class’. The authors cited the research findings of the American National Election Survey, which released its 2016 survey data. The conclusion was that over two-thirds of Trump voters came from the better-off half of the economy. Mainstream labour leadership supported the candidacy of Hilary Clinton. Trump did attract more working-class voters from the industrial belt, more out of desperation and a rejection of Clinton’s neoliberalism. As to the issue of race and the labour movement, the AFL had put in place policies that prevented people of colour from becoming union members. Racial tensions were heightened when people of colour were used as strike-breakers. Radical labour segments have been far more accepting of non-White workers. Recently, there have been some hopeful signs of mainstream labour breaking with its more racist past. Since the Sweeney era, the AFL-CIO has been more active in recruiting workers of colour. The AFL-CIO has supported the strikes of minority workers working for minimum wages as well as those seeking to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. Organised labour is well-aware that its future is dependent on reaching out to and organising non-White workers.

India vs Indians: Peoples’ History of Orissa’s Dispossessed

Saswat Pattanayak

Tribal uprisings in Orissa were the first of organized assaults on the British, against the Hindu Kings, as well as on the Brahmin supremacists. The indigenous were united against oppression way before the Sepoy Mutiny took shape. They had no loyalty towards the kings and unlike the Paikas and Sepoys, they had no interest in releasing the royal families from British domains. In fact, the tribals shone in their capacity to challenge the Rajas as much as they expressed disdain towards British agents.

Therefore, when the native Kings of Khurda, Kanika and Kujang made a confederation to oppose the British invasion, the tribal agitators knew the kings had no motives other than to safeguard their royal privileges. Although Khurda Movement is usually declared as the first mass movement against the British following hanging of Jayakrishna Rajguru who has been eulogized profusely, its anti-imperialistic nature is highly suspect. Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar and his chief associate Krushna Chandra Bhramarbar Ray have been equally immortalized in history for their involvement in the anti-British movement. But the true champions of the organized revolt upon which the royal clan depended for survival were the forgotten tribal masses of rebels.

Khurda Movement did not start with Bakshi Jagabandhu, it started with 400 Kandhs in Banpur who came from the neighboring territory of Ghumsar. For seven years the movement lasted with the help of fellow tribals – the Kandhs, Savaras and Panas of Banpur, Nayagarh, Boudh and Daspalla. It was not the loyalists of the royal families, but their dissenting and oppressed subjects who took to arms and fought the British which indirectly benefited the needs of the local kings of the time. But the tribals never gave in to the manipulative designs of the kings either, thus constituting an independent stream in Orissa’s freedom movement, inviting wrath from the mainstream historians.

A. Das in “Life of Surendra Sai” (1963) decries the tribal revolts in Sambalpur. While glorifying Surendra Sai as a freedom fighter, the actual heroes of the revolt – the indigenous masses – have been portrayed as nothing less than crazy looters. Tribal uprisings have been compared with “the tyranny and lootings carried on by the Burgees of the Maratha days.” Surendra Sai, despite being a rebel claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur, was solely interested in the throne. To eulogize him as the charismatic anti-British hero while attacking the Gonds upon whose abilities he rode high, would be to use history as a paternalistic tool. And yet, for years into historical research, this is exactly what has been done. Surendra Sai has become a hero, while the tribal uprisings have been denounced as daylight robberies.

Ramnarayan Mishra in his paper, sponsored by Indian Council of Historical Research (1980), writes about Sambalpur following tribal uprising, “Life and properties were quite unsafe, the ryots could not raise their crops in their lands and as soon as they were ripe, they were looted and removed from the fields by these bands of robbers. There were day-light robberies and dacoity; the economic and social life of the people were completely paralyzed…Even now the days are remembered with alarm as the memories have come down from generations to generations. The atrocities of minor nature were the looting of cakes, which were being prepared by the housewife a certain evening, and the looting of all the belongings of the bride when she was on a procession to her father-in-law’s house for marriage….”

It is astounding to notice how the historians have continually felt sympathies with the landlords and the propertied class of Orissa. Mishra recalled the days with alarm when the tribal rose in revolt against the Brahmins in Sambalpur. Little did he pause to imagine the days from the lens of those that were forced to revolt. Much of the histories about Orissa still continue to be produced from the ruling class elitist visions of the past, part of the reason why the true history of peoples’ struggles is yet to be documented in totality.

Andrew Fraser in “Among Indian Rajah and Ryot” (1912) describes the Kalahandi revolution as though it were the responsibility of the Kandhs to forgive the Koltas. “The wretched prisoners fell at the feet of the leading Khonds and begged them to spare their lives; but they were told that none of the men among them would be spared,” he writes.

L.S.S. O’Malley in “Modern India and the East: A Study of the Interaction of their Civilization” laments the passage of the British interventions. Ramnarayan Mishra agrees with the old British thesis and writes, “The old ceremonies called the Mariah sacrifice which had been put down with great difficulty by the British officers some years before was revived. The sacrifice involved killing captives and hacking off pieces of their flesh which they buried in the fields as an offering to the earth goddess which would ensure their fertility.”

What O’Malley and subsequently, Mishra have omitted out of their deconstructions is that Mariah sacrifice was not merely about human captives. The tribal resistance was not nonviolent in nature, principally because it was always part of a defensive reaction, as opposed to the oppressors’ tactics which were premeditated murders. It is presumptuous to assume that the historically oppressed and dispossessed tribal population of Orissa show solidarity with the ruling class hooligans of Rajput and British origin who were profiting from the lands of the indigenous by imposing bonded labor terms upon them.

Therefore, even as ruling class histories suggest Orissa lost her independence after death of the last Hindu King Mukunda Harichandan, the tribals never really thought so. Contrary to mainstream belief that Muslim rule in Orissa was oppressive, there was no recorded revolt by the tribals against the Muslim rule.

Prasanna Kumar Mishra in “Political Unrest in Orissa in the 19th Century” (1983) writes, “The people of Orissa lost their independence from the sixteenth century, but could not fully express their dissatisfaction against the aliens throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Only when a foreign trading company began to rule through exploitation and oppressed them socio psychologically, the people woke up from their slumber and began to raise their voice against this foreign rule.”

What is crucial here is the fact that the first organized mass rebellions were organized by the tribal people of Orissa. They were organized against the British as well as against the Hindu (of Rajput origin) rulers of Orissa. Both the anti-British and anti-royal movements were part of the larger national struggle that were to arrive following the footsteps of the Orissan tribal revolutions.

In this context, it is important to observe the Mariah sacrifices. Dismissing them as mere tribal superstitions bordering on criminality is also a dismissal of their roles in the national freedom movements orchestrated by the oppressed subjects against the ruling classes. The human “sacrifices” had elements of not just violence as a last resort, but also of targeted violence with a distinct class character that eliminated landlords, dewans, British agents and associates of royal families. The British were afraid of the tribal movements precisely because of the violent nature of their resistance. It was an economic war justly organized by the majority oppressed against their minority oppressors. Not some religious abstractions, as later historians tend to stress.

Ramnarayan Mishra dismisses the tribal movement as nothing other than a selfish pursuit to guard their traditional interests, that had no bearing upon the freedom movement against the British. He writes, “The resistance movement (against the British) in the States was a middle class movement sponsored by the people of coastal areas and it had nothing to do with tribal solidarity.”

P. Mukherjee in “History of Orissa” (1954) writes that the reason behind tribal uprisings in Orissa was their apprehensions that alien rule intended to “assess their lands, punish their leaders for the religious rites performed by them.”

H. K. Mahtab in “History of the Freedom Movement in Orissa (1957) writes, “The Khond risings in Baudh, Ghumsar and Khandmal during the years 1846-1848 were just temporary show of disaffection and resentment of the Khonds at the governmental interference in their religious rites.”

Not only have the tribal contributions been grossly overlooked, and their participations have been looked down upon as anarchical, even many false heroes have been recreated in the process to overshadow the real ones. Fakir Mohan Senapati is one such historical character who has been eulogized at the expense of Dharanidhar Naik. Collective celebration of Fakir Mohan as a literary champion has also necessitated the destruction of his challenger, the other literary genius in Dharanidhar. Dharanidhar was duped not only because Fakir Mohan was a state agent interested to earn loyalty points from his beloved king who was otherwise an oppressive ruler, but also because Naik belonged to a lower caste not worthy of literary celebration. Likewise, British agent Superintendent Ravenshaw who organized military tactics to capture Dharanidhar remains immortalized to this day, whereas his roles in suppressing the tribal uprisings have been held with esteem.

It is again astounding as to how an entire state can celebrate the act of immoral trickery on part of the oppressive ruling class to capture a tribal hero. And yet, every primary school student in Orissa is taught precisely this. Capture of Dharanidhar is almost a climax in Oriya nationalism, whereas nothing could be farther from the truth. And when Dharanidhar emerged more popular after his imprisonment in the hands of Fakir Mohan, the upper caste upholders of Brahminical education started portraying the tribal revolutionary into a universal saint. Pandit Nilakantha Das and Pandit Gopabandhu Das subsequently claimed to have learnt from Dharanidhar, the saint, about life’s essences. Apparently, Dharanidhar gave them an apt philosophical lesson, “First try to be a true human being, and then only free the country.”

Ironically, the last of the tribal revolutionaries in the pre-1947 era, Laxmana Naik is celebrated today as the foremost tribal leader. It is so understood because Laxmana Naik led the movement which for the first time collaborated with the mainstream Congress strategies. Naik was beyond doubt one of the bravest and most courageous of leaders to have emerged anywhere. But he was only a successor to a long history of indigenous revolts in Orissa that witnessed countless distinguished tribal leaders like Dora Bisoi, Chakra Bisoi, Sadhu Jani, Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, Ratna Naik, Dharanidhar Naik, Nirmal Munda among others.

And more importantly, these leaders found their subsistence not through royal scriptures or British mentions of honor, or national awards by the independent republic, but through innumerable masses of people who supported them throughout their long and historic struggles against land-grabbers – both foreign and domestic. Their historic struggles ever so radical, fundamentally unforgiving towards their oppressors.

And no matter how much the lousy, corrupt, and incompetent administrations of this day work overtime to ignore the vision of the indigenous for a socially just world of equality and prosperity, of ecological respect and communitarian solidarity, the courageous blood of the tribal ancestors still boils in the veins of their successors. And through the movements today once again against the oppressive ruling elites stationed in Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Washington DC, London, Kolkata and Seoul – the blood shows.

The blood narrates Orissa’s history as the history of tribal uprisings against socio-economic injustice. And that, her future, too, shall be shaped by the mandates of the dispossessed, not by the whims of the oligarchs.

India vs Indians: Revolution never ends in Orissa

Saswat Pattanayak

Freedom will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear….
I do not need freedom when I’m dead
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread

– Langston Hughes

Using brute police force to silence indigenous peoples’ mass uprising in Orissa is not just an act of sheer cowardice and criminality; it is a decision founded upon gross ignorance of the unique stream of struggles which characterize the class war in the land that has witnessed more organized revolutions than enforced reforms.

Orissan tribal uprising has a definitive historical pattern. It is not exclusive to the current state of unrest. The administrations – both Union and the State – deliberately fail to acknowledge the peoples’ organized movements as thus. It is not a Maoist prerogative to envision the path of violent resistance among the oppressed in Orissa. Quite the contrary, actually – it is the continuation of radical dissent among the peoples of Orissa that has generated a certain Maoist character within the struggle.

The indigenous in Orissa have never retired from their relentless rebellions against the land-grabbers. They have violently challenged the zamindars, formed alliances against the kings, conspired to overthrow the British, and have demonstrated ample courage in battling caste supremacism. Tribal resistance movements in Orissa have consistently targeted foreign interventions via expropriation of their lands that threaten to result in economic distress.

Prof J. H. Hutton (quoted in G.S. Ghurye’s “The Scheduled Tribes”, 1961) observes, “All these rebellions were defensive movements: they were the last resort of tribesmen driven to despair by the encroachments of outsiders on their land or economic resources. As such they could have all been avoided had the authorities recognized the aboriginals’ grievances and taken steps to remedy them out… but before the pressure on the tribesmen had made an outbreak unavoidable. Indeed anyone with first hand experience of conditions in the backward areas must be surprised, not by the occurrence of risings, but by the infrequency of violent reactions on the part of the aboriginals to the loss of their ancestral lands and to their economic enslavement.”

Ghumsar Risings

One of the first organized revolts by the indigenous, known as Ghumsar risings, during early 19th century, illustrates how the people have cried for freedom from invaders, both local and global. Ghumsar, a small estate in Ganjam district was ruled by the Bhanja dynasty. Owing to default in revenue payment to the Empire, the British intervened in the affairs of Ghumsar and its ruler Srikar Bhanja was deposed in 1800 CE. When the British took control of Ghumsar after overthrowing Srikar’s son Dhananjaya, it was Dora Bisoi, a leader of the Kandhs (who was awarded the title of Birabar Patra) who won the support of the common people as well as Kandh chiefs to decide on the fate of Ghumsar. Since a Kandh leader could not be allowed to rule, Bisoi brought a 12-yr old girl and substituted Dhananjaya’s son of that age with her and ruled the estate on her behalf. Dora Bisoi was the leader of the masses and this was the reason why the Collector of Ganjam failed to arrest him for over three years.

Administrative officers did their best to harass Bisoi and finally, he escaped to Torabadi at Soroda. The Kandhs then garnered support of the Savaras in this movement against the British and the royals. In the meantime, Srikar Bhanja was again placed on the throne, but he failed to manage the affairs properly upon which his son Dhananjaya was reinstalled on the condition that he paid the dues to the British. British force under Sir Henry Taylor finally occupied Ghumsar in 1834.

Dora Bisoi, the leader of the anti-Bhanja rebellion now led a revolt against the British which claimed lives of several British soldiers and burnt down British camps. British Government appointed a special officer George Russell to capture Dora. Rebel leaders including Kollada, Galeri, and Durgaprasad lent support to Dora in their collective fight against the British, while they found shelter in the mountains of Daspalla and Nayagarh.

Special Commissioner Russell unleashed one of the greatest assaults upon a resisting people that changed the character of India’s freedom movement. The British offered an unprecedented Rs 5,000 as a reward to anyone who could capture Dora. Many rebel leaders were captured and hanged, but Dora escaped first to Patna before escaping to Angul. It was there that the Raja of Angul handed him over to the British and received the reward. Dora Bisoi died tortured in a state prison of Madras. But his ability to lead and create many rebel leaders in Orissa continued to inspire. Great Oriya patriot and nephew of Dora Bisoi, Chakradhar Bisoi took his place and Ganjam’s destinies were reshaped after what the people demanded, not what was imposed from above.

In Banpur, the Kandhs alongwith another low caste people Panas organized their struggle under the leaderships of Krutibas Patasahani, Sadhu Jani and Dunai Jani. Kandhs of Baudh also joined the movement and were united by leaders such as Nabaghana Kahnar, Bira Kahnar, and Madhab Kanhar. The Kandhs remained united in struggle for social justice and economic improvements against both the British and their Rajas. All efforts by the British to divide and rule over the tribals drastically failed.

Mariah Revolt

Elsewhere in India, people used to heed to their Kings as mediators between them and the British. Not so in Orissa. When the British could not accept their defeat in the hands of the Bisois and people of Ganjam, they used the Kandh practice of Mariah sacrifice as a moral justification to attack the indigenous. Chakra Bisoi flat refused to negotiate and the British brought the King of Baudh to intervene. Chakra Bisoi and his comrades not only defied the Baudh King, they burnt down the camp of the British agent and forced the Raja to be sent back with them.

Chakradhar successfully organized the Kandhs in the territories of Angul, Ghumsar, Boudh, Patna, Kalahandi and Paralakhemundi. He also led the Savaras in Paralakhemundi, the peasants in Nayagarh, as well as the Kandhs of Ranpur and Daspalla.

In 1846, right after rainy season, British officer Macpherson marched into Kandhamal to recover his prestige. His troops managed to burn down some houses of the Kandhs. But the Kandhs organized to strike back and plundered in every direction, making the revolt more widespread than before. Orissa’s tribal revolt against the royal thrones as well as British officers became such a matter of concern that the Madras unit of British Government sent a whole army under the command of General Dyee to control the situation. Government of Bengal cooperated with General Dyee to put an end to indigenous revolts.

Tribal leader Nabaghan Kahnar of Baudh and Chakra Bisoi harassed the British no end. Rani of Sonepur, Raja of Angul and Raja of Baudh tried their best to apprehend them and a reward of Rs 3,000 was declared this time. Failing in all their efforts to suppress tribal resistance, Raja of Baudh had to cede Kandhamal to the British.

Governments – both British and the feudal – tried all measures, including arresting Rendon Majhi, head of Borikiya Kandhs of Kalahandi on charges of performing human sacrifices. Most warrior class among the Kandhs, the Kutiya Kandhs joined the larger tribal movements and demanded the release of Majhi. Zamindar of Madanpur was removed when he failed to act against the rising violent rebellions. In the meantime, Chakra Bisoi escaped to Ganjam and joined with the Saoras to rise in rebellion under leadership of Radhakrushna Dandasena. The British ruthlessly attacked and burnt down scores of villages and hanged Dandasena.

Many rebel leaders were hanged and eliminated by the British forces. But this never stopped the march of the revolts. When the Baudha Raja in collaboration with the British oppressed the downtrodden in his state, a new leader Narayan Maliah led the Kandhs to lead yet another violent rebellion.

Bhuinya Risings

In 1868, the Bhuinya revolts determined the shape of things to come in Keonjhar. The newly appointed King Dhanurjaya was not recognized by the Bhuinyas. Tired of being brutalized by the royal family, tribal leader Ratna Naik led a popular agitation against the king. The Dewan of Keonjhar Nanda Dhal took help of officer Ravenshaw, the Superintendent of the Tributary Mahals. But the Bhuinyas did not remain silent for long. They rose in revolt, captured Nanda Dhal and Raja’s other associates, and plundered Keonjhargada, the kingdom.

The Bhuinyas found support from the Juangs and the Kols. The Deputy Commissioner of Singhbhum marched to Keonjhar and demanded that the indigenous groups return the captives. The Bhuinyas refused to cooperate and the Deputy Hayes requisitioned for another contingent of army from Singhbhum. Equipped with bows, arrows and swords, the Bhuinyas bravely confronted the British armies but had to finally surrender. Ratna Naik was captured by the Paiks of Pallahara on August 15, 1868 and brought to Cuttack. Paiks who were agents of the British helped arrest several hundreds of tribal revolutionaries. In a show trial, seven were sentenced to death, 27 were transported for life and 149 revolutionaries were imprisoned. Ratna Naik and three of his comrades were hanged in Cuttack.

Dharani Meli

Minor in age, but a boy of immense moral courage, Dharanidhar Naik of Bhuinya tribe was well educated for his age. The Raja of Keonjhar even appreciated his talents. But when he attempted to educate the fellow Bhuinyas, it did not sit well with the king. Dharanidhar, his brother and friends did not bury the lessons of their education. They organized the bonded labor class of Keonjhar against the King and demanded that they be paid for their work.

This infuriated the King of Keonjhar who had fancied that his tribal subjects were forever deemed to remain as slaves. Dharanidhar, even at such young age, did not submit to various temptations as offered by the King, and went ahead to foster a spirit of resistance among the oppressed indigenous peoples. Many of them then joined Dharanidhar in submitting a petition to the Superintendent of Tributary Mahals. The Superintendent obviously did not act upon the petition and the Raja arrested the petitioners.

Dharanidhar then went on to organize the people to revolt against the Raja. This shocked the ruling class. Dharanidhar led the people inside the palace and looted the palace and distributed the ill-gotten wealth among the people. The King of Keonjhar fled to Anandapur and sent his Assistant Dewan Fakirmohan Senapati to control the situation. Superintendent Ravenshaw also helped the King by sending a detachment of British force to Keonjhar.

Fakirmohan resorted to ugly tricks against the tribal leader. He assured Dharanidhar that the British police was there to help the tribal people. Dharanidhar on good faith appeared before the police officer, but little did he know that Fakirmohan was acting on behalf of the King and the British to punish the poor people who demanded their rights to dignity of life. Dharanidhar and his comrades were arrested and sent to years of rigorous imprisonment by the royal-feudal-bureaucratic-British nexus.

Sambalpur Revolution

Not only were the Adivasis exploited economically, they were also culturally forced to submit to higher-caste whims. The tribal deities were Hinduised and the indigenous were compelled to show allegiance to the protectors of their new Gods. In the guise of developing personal relationships between the rulers and the ruled, the indigenous peoples were routinely recruited to fight on behalf of the ruling class.

Sambalpur was a classic instance of cultural exploitation during the Sepoy Mutiny. Surendra Sai, a claimant to the guddee of Sambalpur used the Gond and Binjhal tribal chiefs to wage a war against the British Government because the British opposed Sai’s demands. The Gonds of course cooperated in resisting the British, but they also figured out that they were being manipulated by the ambitious ruling class hierarchies.

Sambalpur and adjoining areas were inhabited by the Gonds and the Binjhal tribes who enjoyed autonomy in governance, economic and political. When the king of Sambalpur died without a son, the British Government let his widow Rani Mohan Kumari to succeed him. The patriarchal upper-caste mindset prevalent in the kingdom could not allow a woman to govern the state. The biggest opponent happened to be Surendra Sai, a royal descendant from the Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur, who himself aspired to the throne.

Under the prevailing tensions, the British removed the Rani and replaced her with Narayan Singh who was also from the royal family. The Gonds agitated against Narayan Singh who was appeasing the higher castes by creating 37 Maufi tenures. The Gonds made remarkable progress in Sambalpur. They shook the foundation of royal families which were ambitious in their designs and atrocious in their actions against the dispossessed indigenous.

The Gonds brought Sambalpur to a standstill and organized mass movements to teach a lesson to the Brahmins and the royal family collaborators. In a historic episode now described as “Gond Maru”, the Gonds attacked higher caste people, burnt down their ill-gotten wealth and killed the caste supremacists who were encouraged by the royal families. King of Sambalpur entrusted a Brahmin talukdar of 96 villages with the task of putting down the tribal agitation. The Adivasis rose in revolt against the prescript and killed several Brahmin landlords. The British Government directly intervened to suppress the uprising, but considerably failed to.

Kalahandi Uprising

Kalahandi revolt was a direct result of economic exploitation of the Kandhs by the Koltas, a class of prosperous agriculturists from Western Orissa. Kandhs had been the pioneering agronomists in Kalahandi for generations, and yet, the Koltas, with financial and military backing of the kings expanded their reach. The Rajas supported the Koltas under the pretext of receiving higher rents, and the Koltas stopped at nothing to exploit the Kandhs, resulting in an agrarian revolt by the latter.

In May 1878, the Kandhs organized a meeting in Balwaspur where they decided to defend themselves against the Koltas. The British Superintendent of the State intervened to stop the Kandhs agitation. The Kandhs resolved to attack whoever came on their way. Several Koltas were killed and many more taken captives by the Kandhs in a mass agitation movement.

The British, acting on behalf of the wealthy, sent additional forces from Raipur, Ganjam and Sambalpur to suppress the Kandhs agitation. Ten Kandh leaders were hanged. Although “peace” was restored, the Koltas were afraid of committing any more atrocities upon the Kandhs in the region.

Gangpur Revolt

Attacks on the tribal sovereignty in Orissa continued from both the British regime and the rulers of the princely states. In 1897, several tribal village chiefs were forcibly replaced by the royal ruling class. In Gangpur, the Raja installed the aristocratic oligarchy of Sambalpur in charge of the tribal population.

The indigenous peoples led by Madri Kalo organized a mass agitation movement against Agharia and the rich elites. The Raja sought help from the British to suppress the tribal agitation, but open revolt by the oppressed remained difficult to counter. Many poor people were captured on charges of committing dacoities, but the class/caste war in Gangpur continued without a pause. In 1938, Gangpur witnessed a serious agrarian discontent when Mundas were forced to pay higher rents. The Munda uprising led by Nirmal Munda demanding exemption from payment of land revenues to the colonialists resulted in British intervention causing the Simko firing which killed 41 tribal rebels.

Revolution Never Ends

Orissa’s indigenous never ceased their strikes against the oppressors. Countless revolts – varying in scale – resulted from the organized dissent. This is the nature of struggle that the poorest section of Orissa have engaged in since centuries. It is unlikely that they shall abandon their freedom movement now, simply because the seat of power has been transferred from the white-skinned elites to the brown-skinned ones.

And just as the indigenous organizers were correct in their assessment of human values in the past, it is more likely that keeping in view the status quo of power dynamics in independent India, their dissent towards the power this time around, too, is indicative of appropriate impatience towards prevailing rampant social injustice.

“Almost non-violence”

“If a man fights with his sword single-handed against a horde of dacoits armed to the teeth, I should say he is fighting almost non-violently. Haven’t I said to our women that, if in defence of their honour they used their nails and teeth and even a dagger, I should regard their conduct nonviolent? She does know the distinction between himsa and ahimsa. She acts spontaneously.

“Supposing a mouse in fighting a cat tried to resist the cat with his sharp teeth, would you call that mouse violent? In the same way, for the Poles to stand valiantly against the German hordes vastly superior in numbers, military equipment and strength, was almost non-violence. I should not mind repeating that statement over and over again. You must give its full value to the word ‘almost’.”

Mahatma Gandhi, “Discussion with B.G. Kher and others” (August 15, 1940), Collected Works, Vol 79, p. 122.

50 YEARS ON… And the same challenge of making a Revolution

Lázaro Barredo Medina, GRANMA

“THE dictatorship has been defeated. The joy is immense. And yet, there still remains much to do. We won’t deceive ourselves by believing that everything will be much easier from now on; perhaps it will be much more difficult.”

This is what Commander in Chief Fidel Castro told the people on January 8, 1959, the day of his entry into Havana. Many people could never imagine the immense challenge that they would live to experience.

Suffice it to say that just a few days later, Fidel proclaimed the right to self-determination in terms of relations with the United States and immediately, the aggressions, attempts on his life and anger on the part of U.S. politicians began, evidence of which can be seen in speeches and articles of the time, as in an editorial of Time magazine, the mouthpiece of the most conservative sectors, entitled: “Fidel Castro’s neutralism is a challenge for the United States.”

But the Cuban people could not be neutral in the face of the United States. The triumph of the Revolution that January 1959 signified for the Cuban nation, for the first time in its history, the real possibility of exercising the right to self-determination. From that moment on, neither the U.S. president, Congress nor its ambassadors could continue making decisions on what could or could not be done in Cuba. The bitter dependence had been brought to an end; a dependence that saw U.S. governors and ambassadors enjoying a degree of power in Cuba that was far greater than the actual power that they had – with respect to decision-making – within the U.S. federal government or in relation to any of the 50 states that make up the U.S.A.

When full national independence was achieved, the Revolution began to exercise that right by immediately applying the program that Fidel had announced during the Moncada trial of 1953 and which is contained in his historic self-defense speech History Will Absolve Me.

Cuba established the economic and social regime that it believed was most just and established a socialist state with participatory democracy, equality and social justice.

The country’s economy was characterized by limited industrial development, essentially depending on sugar production and a latifundia agricultural economy, where landowners controlled 75% of the total arable land.

Most of the country’s economic activity and its mineral resources were managed by U.S. capital, which controlled 1.2 million hectares of land (a quarter of the productive territory) and most of the sugar industry, nickel production, oil refineries, the electricity and telephone services and the majority of bank credits. Likewise, the U.S. market controlled approximately 70% of Cuban imports and exports, within a system of highly dependent volumes of exchange: in 1958, Cuba exported products worth 733 million pesos and imported 777 million pesos worth of goods.

The prevailing social picture was characterized by a high unemployment and illiteracy, a precarious healthcare, social assistance and housing system for the vast majority of the population, as well as abysmal differences in living conditions between urban and rural populations. There was a high degree of polarization and unequal distribution of income; in 1958, 50% of the population earned just 11% of total income, while a 5% minority controlled 26%. Racial and gender discrimination, begging, prostitution and social and administrative corruption were widespread.

Addressing the social and economic problems in Cuban society could no longer be put off and could only be resolved if the Cuban people had control of their own wealth and natural resources. Thus, using the 1940 Constitution and in line with international law, Cuba exercised its right to take control of these resources and assumed total responsibility for this action. The island paid compensation to all nationals from third countries (Canada, Spain, Britain, etc.) with the exception of U.S. nationals, given that that government rejected the provisions outright and transformed the Cuban government’s decision into a pretext for unleashing a war unprecedented in the history of bilateral relations between the two nations.

Not only did the Revolution hand over land to campesinos who, up until then, had been subjected to semi-feudal conditions of production and forced to live in extreme poverty, but it also determined that that all the country’s resources should be allocated to national economic development and improving the material and living conditions of the population. To give just one example, in the 1980s alone, approximately 60 billion pesos were allocated to the construction of productive and social facilities.

The process of industrialization underway paved the way for economic and productive diversification. Under the Revolution and up until the economic crisis which began with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist bloc between 1989 and 1991 – what we in Cuba call the Special Period – the country’s capacity for producing steel grew 14-fold, fertilizer increased six-fold, the oil refining industry quadrupled (not counting the new refinery in Cienfuegos), the textile industry grew seven-fold, tourism three-fold, to mention but a few. The state also created complete ranges and new industries such as machinery, mechanics, electronics, the production of medical equipment, a pharmaceutical industry, construction materials, a glass industry and ceramics, as well as making investments to increase and upgrade the sugar, food and light industries. In addition to these endeavors, we have the development of biotechnology, genetic engineering and other branches of science.

The country has also made great efforts in terms of improving its infrastructure. Electricity generation has risen eight-fold and water storage capacity has increased 310 times, from 29 million cubic meters in 1958 to nine billion-plus cubic meters today. There has been diversification with respect to roads and freeways and modernization of ports and other areas. Social needs have been covered fairly well, except for housing, which has been Cuba’s biggest problem.

The progressive growth and diversification of productive potential and the application of a widespread social program has allowed the nation to confront the problem of unemployment. In 1958, with a population of six million inhabitants, approximately one third of the economically active population was unemployed. Of this figure, 45% of the unemployed lived in rural areas while, out of 200,000 women in work, 70% were employed as domestic servants. Today, with 11 million inhabitants, the number of people in work is in excess of 4.5 million. Over 40% of workers are women and today they represent more than 60% of the nation’s technical and professional sectors.

In 1958, the number of illiterate and semi-illiterate people in Cuba stood at two million. The average academic level of 15-plus year-olds was third grade, more than 600,000 children did not attend school and 58% of teachers were unemployed. Just 45.9% of school-age children were enrolled and half of them did not attend classes. Only 6% of those enrolled finished elementary education. Universities were available to just 20,000 students.

The education sector received immediate attention from the revolutionary government. Its first task was to develop a masse literacy campaign with the participation of the population. An extensive network of schools was constructed throughout the country and more than 300,000 teachers and professors were in fulltime employment in this sector. The average academic level for those aged 15-plus year-olds rose to ninth grade. One hundred per cent of school age children are enrolled in schools, some 98% complete elementary education and 91% complete junior high. One in every 11 citizens is a university graduate and one in eight has technical-professional qualifications. There are 650,000 students in the country’s universities today and all education is free of charge. Education and vocational skills are also guaranteed for 100% of children with physical or mental disabilities, who attend special schools.

The precarious situation in 1958 with respect to public health was characterized by an infant mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births and a maternal mortality rate of 118 per 10,000. The mortality rate for those suffering from gastroenteritis was 41.2 per 100,000, and from tuberculosis, 15.9 per 100,000. In rural areas, 36% of the population suffered from intestinal parasites, 31% from malaria, 14% from tuberculosis and 13% from typhoid. Life expectancy at birth was estimated at 58.8 years.

Around 61% of hospital beds and 65% of the nation’s 6,500 doctors were concentrated in the capital. In the other provinces, medical coverage was one doctor for every 2,378 inhabitants and there was just one hospital for all the country’s rural areas.

Today, healthcare is free of charge and Cuba has more than 70,000 doctors, providing coverage of one for every 194 inhabitants. Almost 30,000 of them are providing services in over 60 different countries. A national network of more than 700 hospitals and polyclinics has been created. Thanks to a widespread vaccination campaign (every child currently receives vaccines against 13 different illnesses) diseases such as polio, diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, rubella, mumps and hepatitis B have been almost entirely eradicated. The infant mortality rate is 5.3 for every 1,000 live births and life expectancy exceeds 77 years.

There is also a series of advanced medical services that are not considered as “basic” in the international arena, and are provided completely free of charge, such as intensive care units in pediatric and general hospitals, cardiovascular surgery, transplant services, special perinatal care, treatment for chronic renal failure, and special services for occupational and physical rehabilitation.

The revolutionary state did not focus its attention solely on economic and social measures. It also embarked on efforts to establish an internal legal system to facilitate the right to self-determination via the population’s direct participation in discussions, analyses and the passing of the country’s principal laws. The most notable of these was the 1976 Constitution, supported by 97% of Cubans aged 16 and over through a referendum, as well as other momentous laws like the Penal Code, the Civil Code, the Family Code, the Children and Young People’s Code, the Labor and Social Security Code and many others.

Likewise, the self-determination of the Cuban people is expressed through the right to defend the nation against foreign aggression. Today, more than four million Cubans – workers, campesinos, and university students – are organized in militia groups have access to weapons in their campuses, factories and in rural areas.

However, since 1959, Cuba has had to confront the hostility of 10 U.S. administrations that have attempted to limit its right to self-determination through the use of aggression and the unilateral imposition of a criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade.

One of the universally accepted principles of international law is that state cannot be allowed to coerce another in order to deny it the right to exercise its sovereign rights. Article 24 of the UN Charter states that, in the context of international relations, nations must refrain from using threats or force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.

Over the past 45 years, the United States has prohibited any trade with Cuba, including foodstuffs and medicines; it cancelled the Cuban sugar quota; prohibited its citizens from traveling to Cuba via the imposition of heavy sanctions; prohibited the re-export of U.S. products or items containing U.S. components or technology to Cuba from third countries; prescribed that banks in third countries should maintain Cuban bank accounts in dollars or use that currency in their transactions with the Cuban nation; has systematically intervened to prevent or hinder trade with or financial assistance to Cuba on the part of governments, institutions and citizens from other countries and international organizations.

In the 1960s these reprisals forced Cuba to structurally reconstitute its economic relations when and establish its essential markets in countries in the former East European bloc – specifically in the Soviet Union – which meant that the country had to embark on an almost total re-conversion of its industrial technology, means of transport, and provisions, etc.

When Cuba lost its natural markets in Eastern Europe, the U.S. government intensified its blockade via the 1992 Torricelli Act, which used the pretext of “democracy and human rights” to prohibit U.S. subsidiaries located in third countries and subject to the laws of those nations from engaging in commercial or financial operations with Cuba (particularly in respect to food and medicines), and punishing these by prohibiting the entry into U.S. ports for 180 days of vessels transporting goods to or from Cuba or on behalf of Cuba, measures that – given their extraterritorial nature – do not just prejudice Cuba but also harm the sovereignty of other nations and the international freedom of transportation.

On March 12, 1996, the U.S. government passed the Helms-Burton Ac, further aggravating relations between the two countries and assuming the right to sanction citizens of third countries in U.S. courts, as well as determining their expulsion or denying them and their families entry visas into the United States, with the aim of hindering Cuba’s efforts to recover its economy and hampering its possibilities of securing a greater insertion in the international market. That was also a way of attempting to pressure the Cuban people into relinquishing their efforts of self-determination.

More recently, it has adopted the Bush Plan, an attempt to transform Cuba into a colony through an annexationist program and the sibylline intention to intervene via a pretext of “transition,” a scenario in which the State Department would entrust one of its leaders as “governor,” when the Cuban revolutionary state disappears. This plan, with which George W. Bush decided “to precipitate the day when Cuba becomes a free country,” has intensified the blockade and pressure on the Cuban people by repressing family relations between Cubans resident in the United States and their families on the island; grants million-dollar resources to terrorist groups in Miami, as well as to mercenary subordinates in the U.S. Interests Sections in Havana; and promotes formulas to destabilize the country and redouble international pressure on the island.

That hostility on the part of the U.S. has included other notorious manifestations of aggression, ranging from the military aggression through the Bay of Pigs in 1961, the dirty war carried out by counterrevolutionary gangs heavily supplied by the U.S. CIA, bacteriological warfare on agricultural crops (sugar, tobacco, and citric fruits), animals (swine fever), and humans (hemorrhagic dengue), to sabotage plans, bombings using pirate planes, and assassination attempts on the country’s principal leaders.

The actions of terrorist organizations executing military attacks on Cuba from U.S. territory are notorious, and are publicized and fomented by the Miami media. Groups are constantly recruiting adventurers who are willing to head off to Cuba as agents and saboteurs, who openly declare that they have no fear whatsoever of being brought to justice in U.S. courts.

That is why Cuban patriots have had to leave aside their personal interests to serve those of the nation, even sacrificing their family relationships, in order to infiltrate the ranks of those terrorist groups in order to discover their activities and, with this information, prevent the bloodshed of Cuban and U.S. people. They are willing to pay the price of the political irrationality of the U.S. government, as is the case of the five Cuban heroes unjustly incarcerated in U.S. jails for combating terrorism.

The above is compounded by the heavy military mechanism created by the United States around Cuba and its constant tension-generating activities, as well as the illegal occupation of the Guantánamo Naval Base on Cuban territory (today converted into a horrific prison camp), a part of Cuba rented out by force to the United States in the early 20th century and which the U.S. government refuses to return.

In the early 90’s, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, isolated and reviled by the international reaction, Cuba absorbed the terrible blow of losing the bulk of its markets in a matter of months and an abrupt descent in its gross domestic product. But the island confirmed that it shone with its own light and that it had never been a satellite of anyone, given that it was able to face that juncture on account of the extraordinary resistance of the majority of Cubans, who have acted on the basis of authentic motivations, values and ethical principles.

The Cuban people have made a conscious decision to support the country’s leadership, not only because they identify the system with their own interests, but also because of the responsible manner in which the state took on the crisis, reorganized its forces and designed a recovery strategy, despite the U.S. blockade and conditions imposed by its European allies.

The sacrifices provoked by that situation have been hard, but it has been possible to endure them because of the undisputed social advances attained, because of the confidence deposited in the country’s leading institutions and because of people’s appreciation that their government is not a decadent one or one that is in management crisis or lacking in strategies, but has confirmed that the population has remained at the center of all its work, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Fifty years have gone by and the liberation process has reached this point following the same direction indicated that night, 50 years ago, when Fidel, speaking to the huge crowd awaiting him in what was the dictatorship’s headquarters, affirmed that everything could be more difficult in the future, because we would have to fight to make the Revolution.

That is the challenge of the struggle currently underway to eradicate vices and exalt virtues, with Fidel as a soldier of ideas serving as a compass in the fight for freedom and independence.

Cuba’s enemies are backing their all on the opposite of that. In this world, where politics is a caricature, they cannot comprehend that, in its thinking and action, this Revolution is a process of continuity, and that Fidel will continue to be the leader of the Revolution of today and tomorrow, because, beyond responsibilities and titles, he will continue to be the counselor of ideas to which we will always have recourse, because he has transcended political life to insert himself in an intimate way in the family life of the vast majority of Cubans.

Courtesy: GRANMA

Kosambi and the discourse of civilization

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya

The polymath’s most enduring and wide-ranging contribution to the interpretation of Indian history was his approach to the idea of India as a civilization.

D.D. Kosambi (1907-1966) was a polymath who made original contributions in diverse areas including pure mathematics, quantitative numismatics, Sanskrit studies, and ancient Indian history. But he is remembered today chiefly for his work as a historian. That is not without reason. That is where he made an enduring impact even if some details of his findings and observations may be open to question in the light of later research. If we try to situate his contribution to the interpretation of history, the most enduring and wide-ranging in significance appears to be his approach to the idea of India as a civilization.

When he wrote in 1965 his last major work, The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India, he gave a central place to the notion of civilization. He began with the question: what unifies Indian civilization amidst cultural diversities within? He goes on to ask: what explains “the continuity we find in India over the last three thousand years”? He underlines the importance of the “material foundation for Indian culture and civilization” and, in the concluding chapter, explores the reason why, in his judgment, the ancient civilization was destined to stagnate.

In posing such wide-ranging questions about the civilization in India, Kosambi differed from the general run of academic historians of his times for they rarely engaged in the discourse of civilizations. He was swimming against the current. The specialised and fragmented view in the academic historians’ professional writings did not usually add up to that vision of totality that the notion of civilization demands. The fact that Kosambi was never given his due by them in his lifetime can be, arguably, ascribed to their disdain for a non-professional who was not only an avowed Marxist, but also given to talking about a dubious entity called ‘civilization.’

On the other hand, when Kosambi talked about the Indian civilization, he entered a discourse of civilization that was developed by some of the most creative minds of twentieth century India, including Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jawaharlal Nehru. The questions that engaged such minds were roughly the same as those Kosambi grappled with. What kept India together as a civilization through the millennia? Was it a Hindu civilization, as some would have us believe? Is it possible to discern a continuity in this civilization from the prehistoric to colonial times? How does a notion of an ‘Indian civilization’ accommodate the immense diversities in the constituent communities and cultures? Is it necessary, even if it were possible, to talk of an ‘Indian civilization’? How did Kosambi’s intervention relate with the nationalist discourse of civilization?

It is interesting to recall that about two years after the birth of Kosambi (July 31, 1907), M. K. Gandhi, not yet the Mahatma, published his very first political tract, Hind Swaraj (1909). It was an unusual political tract in that it was mainly about India’s civilization. “It is my deliberate opinion that India is being ground down not under the English heels, but under that of modern civilization” (chapter VII). In a chapter entitled ‘What is civilization’ Gandhi poses a choice between what he considered to be true Indian civilization and the ‘materialistic’ civilization of Europe, for that choice would determine the outcome of the clash between the two. Gandhi virtually subordinates the political agenda before India to the cultural agenda and goes so far as to say our goal was not the expulsion of the English: “We can accommodate them. Only there is no room for their civilization” (chapter XIV).

Gandhi’s denunciation of Europe and idealisation of the non-materialistic tradition in India was, of course, distant from Kosambi’s emphasis on the material basis of India’s attainment of a high level of civilization. On the other hand, consider the fact that throughout the text of Hind Swaraj Gandhi never talks of a Hindu civilization. He talks of an Indian civilization. And the seminal notion of syncretism as the key to comprehending Indian civilization is already there in this very first piece of political statement by Mahatma Gandhi. He speaks of India’s “faculty of assimilation.”

Between this approach and Kosambi’s there are close parallels. Kosambi begins his treatise on The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India with the statement that India displays “diversity and unity at the same time.” And he deploys the notion of syncretism in Indian civilization in explicating the absorption of peripheral tribal groups into the mainstream, “their merger into general agrarian society,” in terms of the accommodation of their religious belief systems within the Brahmanic scheme of things. He saw a “process of syncretism” in the absorption of “primitive deities,” a “mechanism of acculturation, a clear give and take,” which allowed “Indian society to be formed out of many diverse and even discordant elements” (chapter 7).

The idea of a syncretism in the construal of India’s civilizational unity was of crucial importance in the nationalist discourse. The absence of the European concept of nationhood in the pre-colonial past, despite the substantial evidence of the existence of an indigenous notion of patriotism at the regional and sometimes also at the supra-regional level, was undeniable. The intellectual response to this perception was the idea of India’s civilizational unity, cutting across and over-riding all diversities.

Shortly before Gandhi wrote famously of India as a civilization, Rabindranath Tagore articulated the idea of syncretism in some less-known essays. “We can see that the aim of Bharatavarsha has always been to establish unity amidst differences, to bring diverse paths to a convergence, and to internalize within her soul the unity within severalty, that is to say to comprehend the inner unity of externally perceptible differences — without eliminating the uniqueness of each element.” Tagore wrote thus and much more in that vein in 1902 in an essay, ‘History of Bharatvarsha,’ which was reproduced many times during the Swadeshi agitation in Bengal from 1905. More prominent in the public mind were of course the pronouncements of the nationalist leadership.

While Kosambi shared this perception, while he underlined the unity within apparent diversity, he went on to make a point that was not often made in the nationalist discourse of civilization. “The modern Indian village gives an unspeakable impression of the grimmest poverty and helplessness,” he writes in 1965 in the book cited earlier (chapter 1). “The surplus taken away from people who live in such misery and degradation nevertheless provided and still provides the material foundation for Indian culture and civilization.” This evaluation was a radical departure from the oft-heard paeans of praise of the civilization.

Another new note struck by Kosambi was that stability of a civilizational unity was secured at the cost of stagnation and subjection to a regime of superstition and primitiveness. In this regard he follows Marx’s tendency of thought and at one point he even quoted Marx on ‘the idiocy’ of rural existence. Kosambi argues that syncretism allowed the admission of many a “primitive local god or goddess” and religious beliefs into the ancient Brahmanic system, along with the merger of different social groups with their own belief-systems and cultures. But he adds: “Brahmanism thus gave some unity to what would have been social fragments without a common bond. The process was of crucial importance in the history of India, first in developing the country from tribe to society and then holding it back, bogged down in the filthy swamp of superstition.”

His notion of the ‘primitive’ and the implicit idea of progression to ‘higher’ stages may be open to question today. In fact that approach is not so pronounced in his earlier essays on this theme, for example Myth and Reality (1962). However, the point for the present is that, contrary to the usual nationalist position with regard to the virtues of syncretism, he was critical of the consequences in terms of the obscurantism that enveloped the Indian mind.

The most famous exposition of the theme of the unifying Indian civilization in Kosambi’s lifetime was Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India (1946). Nehru commences with the question, “what is this India, apart from her physical and geographical aspects?” (p.36) He goes on to hazard a bold generalisation: in India’s past “disruptive tendencies gave rise immediately to attempts to find a synthesis. Some kind of a dream of unity has occupied the mind of India since the dawn of civilization.” He returns to this theme through the entire work time and again. He ends the book with reflections on the same question: India is “a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads…She is a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive” (p. 378).

The idea that India was held together by bonds of unity rooted in the past of Indian civilization was not of course new. What was new was its assertion at a time when that unity was threatened by a communal divide that was soon to bring about the Partition of 1947. In the face of the threat, Nehru speaks of a dream of Indian unity. In early 20th century that unity appeared as an undeniable reality to Gandhi or Tagore; to Nehru in 1946 it was a dream, although it was in some ways also a reality. To Kosambi that unity possibly appeared as an enduring fact of history.

But when Kosambi reviewed this book, in Science and Society, he did not comment upon this aspect of it. Actually he found Nehru to be a poor historian so far as ancient India was concerned; he added however that he was “an admirer of the author” and he could see how difficult it was for Nehru, sitting in jail, to get the sources he needed. His critique was directed mainly against Nehru’s failure to attempt class analysis in understanding modern developments in India (Exasperating Essays, 1957). In this regard Kosambi was consistent in that he made class analysis the basis of his analysis of changes and continuities in Indian civilization when he turned to that theme in 1965.

That raises finally another question. What explanatory weight is to be assigned to Kosambi’s Marxian method in our effort to understand and contextualise his approach to the civilizational discourse? In a letter to his old friend Daniel Ingalls, an Indologist at Harvard, he wrote in 1953: “The world is divided into three groups: (1) swearing by Marxism, (2) swearing at Marxism, (3) indifferent, i.e. just swearing…I belong to (1), you and your colleagues to (2).” Perhaps Kosambi’s adherence to Marxism was to its use as a method, not as a source on par with empirical sources of knowledge.

He allowed that in some respects there was a poor fit between Indian history and the classical Marxian scheme. But he consistently used Marx’s method as a tool. Hence his scorn for ‘theological’ tendencies in Marxism. In his Introduction to Exasperating Essays he writes: “Indian Official Marxists hereafter called OM” were often displeased with him but he could not but protest their “theological emphasis on the inviolable sanctity of the current party line, or irrelevant quotations from the classics.” In using Marxist method in his own lights, in his effort to construe the civilization in India, in the convergences and divergences between his approach and the nationalist discourse of civilization, D.D. Kosambi has left much for us to try and understand and evaluate.

    (Dr. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya is Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research and a former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. This article is based on his Kosambi Birth Centenary Address at the University of Mumbai.)

Courtesy: The Hindu

Understanding 1857

Irfan Habib

THE Revolt of 1857 had as its opponent what was the largest colonial power of the world. It has, therefore, a notable place in the history of Imperialism, and no study of the Revolt can be separated from that of the emergence and internal mechanics of Imperialism. In a letter (27 October 1890) to Conrad Schmidt, Engels noted that while colonial powers before 1800 aspired to capture sources of imports at the lowest cost, thereafter following the Industrial Revolution, they essentially sought markets for their own industrial manufacturers. In respect to India, Marx (New York Daily Tribune, 11 July 1853) dated the change to 1813, when the Charter Act threw Indian markets open to British manufactures by abolishing the East India Company’s commercial monopoly. The results of this invasion of ‘Free Trade’ for India’s own artisanal manufactures were disastrous. In Capital, I, (ed. Dona Torr, p.461), Marx noted that after 1833, there came about “the wholesale extinction of Indian handloom weavers”, amounting to a “destruction of the human race.” It must be remembered that this new source of misery was in addition to the increasing burden of ‘Tribute’, extracted by Britain through excessive over-taxation of the country. Marx had seen in such Tribute a special source of primitive accumulation for British capital; and this too was, therefore, an inseparable element of the new regime of Free Trade, how much individual Free Traders like Bright may have criticised it.

Not only was ‘Free Trade’ a vehicle for the conquest of external markets by British capitalism, a new impetus was now given to world-wide expansion of British power, so as to impose ‘Free Trade’ on the whole world. ‘Imperialism of Free Trade’ is how this new aggressive stage in British colonialism has been described by British historians, J. Gallagher and R. Robinson in an essay of this title (1953). Marx himself had never believed in the sincerity of the ‘peace cant’ of the British Free Traders (Tribune, 11 July 1853) and spoke specifically of the military means that were adopted for “securing the monopoly of the Indian market to the Manchester Free Traders”. (Tribune, 30 April 1859).

The expansion of British power, both world-wide and within the Indian subcontinent imposed a still further burden on India: Annexations of princely states came one after another: Sind, Punjab, Nagpur, Satara, Jhansi, Awadh, all went into Britain’s grasp between 1844 and 1856. In each state large sections from courtiers to common people lost their means of livelihood. Payment had to be made in blood as well. The Bengal Army became a major instrument that was put to use for fulfilling the sub-continental and global ambitions of British imperialism. The bones of thousands of its Sepoys lay scattered in the fields of Afghanistan, Sind, Punjab, Burma, Crimea and China, and no end to the blood-letting was in sight when the storm burst over the greased cartridges in 1857.

We can thus see in 1857 a critical juncture in the history of emerging Imperialism: the pressures it relentlessly exerted on the largest colony in the world, provoked, finally, an anti-colonial outbreak, unique for its scale in the whole of the nineteenth century. The rebellion pitted against the colonial regime over 120,000 trained professional soldiers from the Bengal Army, the most modern army east of Suez, with tens of thousands of other armed rebels, reinforcing and aiding them. In terms of the area affected, nearly a fourth of the population of British India (some five crores of people) passed under rebel control.

That the Revolt of 1857 had its roots in the pressures exerted on India by the Imperialism of Free Trade can hardly be denied; but the depth and breadth of the upheaval also raises the question of the classes and groups that became involved in it, and of their grievances and aspirations.

In his Discovery of India (1946) Jawaharlal Nehru wrote most feelingly about the slaughter and suffering imposed on the people of India by the British during and after the Revolt; and he compared the ‘racialism’ exhibited by the British to that of Hitler. Yet he simultaneously believed that the uprising was essentially “a feudal outburst, headed by the feudal chiefs and their followers, and aided by the widespread anti-foreign sentiment” (p.324). Nehru repeats this characterisation at the end of his account of the rebellion as well (p.328: “essentially a feudal uprising, though there were some nationalistic elements in it”).

Such characterisation, though perhaps natural with the limited amount of evidence available on 1857 at the time Nehru was writing, needs now to be reconsidered.

In the first place, the perception inexplicably overlooks the role of the Bengal Army sepoys. Coming largely from peasant and small land-owing families, they had been drilled and trained in modern warfare and, often themselves literate, were attuned to the mode of British administration with its committees and councils. They had thus no “feudal” attachments that we can think of. Yet, they remained from the beginning to the end, the firmest single component among the ranks of the Rebels. During the rebellion, they asserted their ‘democratic’ attitude by electing their officers (with, often enough, largely Hindu regiments electing Muslims, and vice versa). They formed ‘councils’ to govern their affairs, and in Delhi established the famous ‘Court of Administration.’ If their officers gave themselves designations, they were those of a modern army; such as “Captains”, “Colonels” and “Generals”!

Another class, which we tend to overlook, is that of the educated in the towns, who were increasingly affected by modern ideas. While it is true that there was nothing comparable to the Bengal Renaissance in the Hindustani-speaking zone, at both Delhi and Agra colleges had been established, imparting modern education. In People’s Democracy (April 23-29), Shireen Moosvi has given an account of weekly newspapers coming out in Delhi during the time it was held by the rebels (May-September 1857). Her account shows clearly that the rebel newspapers addressed themselves to people at large, and were not mere Mughal court bulletins.

Let us take a cursory view of the Delhi Urdu Akhbar (June 21,1857), where under the heading “Seize this Opportunity”, it tells its readers that the English had been depriving India of its wealth, by taking it away to England, and remarks upon how the new rebel administration, as it extended its control over “districts” would open opportunities for men of “education and capacity.” It calls upon the scions of the old aristocracy to leave their ways of idleness and take to various trades and crafts. It especially commends the ironsmiths who were manufacturing “rifles, English guns and Turkish pistols.” Its appeal to Hindus and Muslims to fight the English does, indeed, make use of the slogan of saving both religions from the onslaught of the alien English, but it increasingly shifts to patriotic sentiments, addressing “fellow countrymen” and glorying in the exploits of “the Indian Army” (Fauj-i-Hindustani). Modern methods of propaganda were also employed: a pamphlet containing an appeal to Hindus and Muslims was separately printed to be sold at a quarter Rupee per copy (issues of 5 and 12 July). Interestingly, the paper’s hero consistently is not any of the Mughal princes, but the brusque “republican” sepoy leader, the Commander-in-Chief, “General” Bakht Khan. Clearly, the weekly’s readership consists not just of the dependants of the Mughal court, but also a much larger educated population, which was being invited to support the rebel cause by enticing vistas of what they would gain from an Indian (not necessarily, a mere Royal) regime. The general slaughter by way of retribution carried out by the English in Delhi after its fall in September proved that in English eyes the rebel appeals to the Delhi citizenry for support had not fallen on deaf ears.

Beyond the educated class, there were the artisans whose callings the Delhi Urdu Akhbar in its issue of 21 June had so much commended. These included many who had lost their employment owing to the competition of British manufactures, especially textiles. Firuz Shah, the famous rebel leader, in his Proclamation of August 25, 1857 – which reads surprisingly like a modern political party’s programme – makes a special promise of giving employment to the weavers and other kinds of artisans rendered unemployed by English importations. Such artisans formed another class that turned out to be strongly sympathetic to the rebellion. Syed Ahmad Khan then a British agent, in his contemporary memoir of the Revolt in district Bijnor (Sarkashi-i-zila‘ Bijnor) speaks sneeringly of how the sepoys and professional soldiers of the local rebel leader, Mahmud Khan were reinforced by “cotton-carders and weavers, who had hitherto handled only yarn, and never a sword.”

While we are discussing the outlook of the rebel press at Delhi, it may be mentioned that none of the extant issues of the three weekly newspapers display the slightest sign of Wahabi influence. Iqtidar Alam Khan’s critique of the theory of a large Wahabi role in 1857 is going to be published in a subsequent issue, so more need not be said here about it. The practical absence of theocratic influence on rebel leaders, despite the constant cry of religion in danger is, indeed, remarkable.

As for peasant support for the rebellion this became so immediately apparent that already in his article in the Tribune (16 September 1857), Marx was drawing a comparison between the Indian Revolt and the French Revolution of 1789, on this, very basis. The peasants were hard-pressed by the Mahalwari system of land-tax (a consequence of the British pressure for Tribute), and the Revolt gave them an opportunity to throw off the tax-collector. The late Eric Stokes deserves much gratitude for his detailed studies of peasant participation in the Revolt. To him is owed the telling quotation from the report of Mark Thornhill (15 November 1858), where that official held “the agricultural labouring class”, i.e. peasants, rather than “the large proprietors”, as having been “the most hostile” to the continuance of British rule during the Revolt.

That large numbers of zamindars, the bulk of Oudh taluqdars and some princely courts threw their lot with the Rebels is, on the other hand, quite undeniable; and Talmiz Khaldun’s suggestion that the 1857 Revolt was developing into “a peasant [and, therefore, anti-feudal] war against indigenous landlordism and foreign-imperialism” was rightly contested by P.C. Joshi in whose centenary volume on 1857 the essay had appeared. Much of the visible rebel leadership came from these elements: the reluctant Bahadur Shah Zafar, Nana Sahib and Tantia Topi, Hazarat Mahal and her entourage, Khan Bahadur Khan of Bareilly, Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, and Kunwar Singh and Amar Singh of Jagdishpur, all came from what one can conveniently characterise as feudal classes. Most of them had their own grievances, over lost rights or rebuffed claims. But it needs to be borne in mind that resistance and struggle, in which support had more and more widely to be sought from among the common people, could not but force fundamental changes of outlook. One may look, for instance at two proclamations of Birjis Qadr, whom the rebels declared to be the ruler of Awadh. The first was the proclamation of Rebel Rule at Lucknow, printed in Urdu and Hindi side by side, and issued in June 1857. Addressed to the “Zamindars and the Common People of this Country” it blames the English for their attack on the religion of both Hindus and Muslims, on their seizures of land, and on their disregard of the dignity of the higher classes by treating them at par with the meanest! There is no explicit reference to India, in the main text and, quite clearly, the interests of the landed aristocracy are given primacy. Contrast this with the last appeal to the Indian people in reply to Queen Victoria’s Proclamation of November 1858. In this Appeal issued on behalf of Birjis Qadr, India (Hindustan) is in the forefront. The story is briefly narrated of how the British by force and fraud have acquired territory after territory in India from Tipu’s Mysore to Dulip Singh’s Panjab. The rebels are not to believe in Victoria’s honeyed words, but to continue the struggle. Victoria’s Proclamation shows, it asserts, that if British rule continues, Indians would remain mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. The petty matters, such as the loss of hierarchical dignity, are here quietly forgotten.

One must recognize that the overall historical orientation of the 1857 Revolt cannot be established in definitive terms for the simple reason that, because of its ruthless suppression, there is no way of knowing how it would have developed should success have come its way. But some preliminary suggestions can still be made.

Given the crucial role of the Bengal Army sepoys in initiating and carrying the Revolt forward, the Revolt at least drew on one element of the ‘regenerative’ process, that Marx had spoken of, in his seminal articles of 1853 on British rule. The Sepoys did not at all belong to the old world of princes and landlords. Significant also are the early traces of modern ideas and perceptions that we see in rebel journalism of Delhi and certain proclamations of the rebels. The fact that these modern or quasi-modern elements could make common cause with princely courts, zamindars, unemployed artisans and overtaxed peasants was due to a particular combination of circumstances created partly by that transformation of colonialism itself, with a discussion of which this essay had opened. To characterise the revolt as either “feudal” or “bourgeois” would be unhistorical. The time for one was past, the time for the other had not come. Such discussions have their place in attempting any understanding of how 1857 came about. But what cannot be disputed is either the sheer patriotism of so many, whatever class they came from, or their undying defiance in the face of so brutal and ferocious a retribution as the English visited upon them. The memory of the Rebels’ sacrifices in what they believed so ardently to be the cause of their country will remain ever green in our people’s memory — so long, as the royal poet of 1857 said, as “the country of India endures.”

SOURCE: People’s Democracy May 13, 2007

Remembering Bhagat Singh

Saswat Pattanayak

Commemorating the historic day (March 23, 1931) that immortalized great revolutionary Bhagat Singh through his martyrdom, Radical Notes’ Journal begins its journey with quoting the comrade. Produced in full here is a letter written by Bhagat Singh to his father Sardar Kishan Singh, who in the eve of judgment submitted a petition to the trial judges for permission to produce a defense witness to save his son.

I have typed it out from a chapter written by Bhagat Singh’s friend and comrade Bejoy Kumar Sinha. For reproducing this work, I am thankful to the Delhi-based People’s Publishing House for the book “India’s Freedom Struggle: Several Streams”, edited by Sarkar, Bardhan, & Balaram, 1986.

Readers will surely go beyond the sentiments to view a glimpse of India’s freedom struggle, and yet understand that the deep seated well meaning sentiments do affect revolutionary goals negatively at many times. The line between professed selfish love and practiced social goals needs to be one of the bold revolutionary nature, sans which it becomes quite easy to tow the line of individualistic aspirations and solely personal freedoms.

There are too many distractions in the world today, from Ayn Rand to God Blessed Flags; from salary hikes to Friday parties; from getting an Oprah ticket to being ticketed for drunk driving; from life on the celebrity fast lanes to life on edge of thrilling video games; and it’s quite easy to fall prey to the “good family”, or “happy couple” theories of the heterosexist preachers and the model minority status of the aspiring educated urban youths. Too many temptations, for sure.

However, there are just a very few goals in order to attain social justice for the most, and despite that, its often invariably less taken. And they are not so difficult to head towards, if one knows that individual life is as precious as one’s convictions would lead one to believe. Bhagat Singh as an instance, clearly overlooked, ignored and trampled the individual yardsticks (and came down heavily on his ‘good-family’ background in the following letter) when it came to deciding between the individual liberty and social equality principles, and clearly upholding the need of social equality, he took the road less taken.

At the same time, its important to remember that he never acted alone, and never on an impulse. Never as a terrorist. Never as a trigger-happy war-monger. Never as a violent reactionary.

He was a great organizer and agitator, and to educate his own self and that of his comrades, he looked into oceans of progressive literatures. His was a planned commitment to attainment of freedom from imperialistic designs, not just a national liberation that would have transferred power from the colonialists to petty bourgeois. As this following letter would amply show: he was “pursuing a definite policy”.

I am always deeply moved by Bhagat Singh’s sacrifices and so have at times found his death was in vain. There have been such occasions while looking at the state of affairs among today’s youths when it has seemed so very hopeless. Yet, revolutionaries do not look backwards to proceed, they look back only to learn so as to march forward even with greater vigor. Hence the reality is that Bhagat Singh must continue to be an inspiration to many of us in our different worlds and we must feel the resonance every time there is a struggle against religious fundamentalism, against irrational superstitions, against orthodoxy, against conservatism and against narrow nationalists. Every time there is an uncompromising battle against the warlords, the police states, the rogue powerholders, a battle that has international sentiments echoing with the courage of Che Guevera and valor of Salvador Allende. All of them have represented the need of global unity against forces of injustice, against mighty powers of economic and social exploiters.

We at Radical Notes are sure the following letter is a good prologue to the example we need to exemplify:

“Respected dear father,
“I was astounded to learn that you had submitted a petition to the members of the Special Tribunal in connection with my defense. This intelligence proved to be too severe a blow to be borne with equanimity. It has upset the whole equilibrium of my mind. I have not been able to understand how you could think it proper to submit such a petition at this stage and in these circumstances. In spite of all the sentiments and feeling of a father, I don’t think, you were at all entitled to make such a move on my behalf without even consulting me. You know that in the political field my views have always differed with those of yours. I have always been acting independently, without having cared for your approval or disapproval.

“I hope you can recall to yourself that since the very beginning you have been trying to convince me to fight my case very seriously and to defend myself properly. But you also know that I was always opposed to it. I never had any desire to defend myself and never did I seriously think about it, whether it was a mere vague ideology or that I had certain arguments to justify my position, is a different question and that cannot be discussed here.

“You know that we have been pursuing a definite policy in this trial. Every action of mine ought to have been consistent with that policy, my principles and the program. At present the circumstances were altogether different but had the situation been otherwise, even then I would have been the last man to offer defense. I had only one idea before me throughout the trial, i.e., to show complete indifference towards the trial in spite of the serious nature of the charges against us. I have always been of opinion that all the political workers should be indifferent and should never bother about the legal fight in the law courts and should boldly bear the heaviest possible sentences inflicted upon them. They may defend themselves but always from purely political considerations and never from a personal point of view. Our policy in this trial has always been consistent with this principle. Whether we were successful in that or not is not for me to judge. We have always been doing our duty quite disinterestedly.

“In the statement accompanying the text of the Lahore Conspiracy Case Ordinance the Viceroy had stated that the accused in this case were trying to bring both law and justice into contempt. The situation afforded us an opportunity to show to the public whether we were trying to bring law into contempt or whether others were doing so. People might disagree with us on this point. You might be one of them. But that never meant that such moves should be made on my behalf without my consent or even my knowledge. My life is not so precious – at least to me – as you may probably think it to be. It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles. There are other comrades of mine whose case is as serious as that of mine. We had adopted a common policy, and have so far stood shoulder to shoulder, so shall we stand to the last-no matter how dearly we have to pay individually for it.

“Father, I am quite perplexed. I fear I might overlook the ordinary principles of etiquette, and my language may become a little bit harsh while criticizing or rather censuring this move on your part. Let me be candid, I feel as though I have been stabbed at the back. Had any other person done it, I would have considered it to be nothing short of treachery, but in your case let me say that it has been a weakness-a weakness of the worst type.

“This was the time when everybody’s mettle was being tested. Let me say, father, you have failed. I know you are as sincere a patriot as one can be. I know you have devoted your life to the cause of Indian independence; but why at this moment have you displayed such a weakness? I cannot understand.

“In the end I would like to inform you and my other friends and all the people interested in my case, that I have not approved of your move. I am still not at all in favor of offering any defense. Even if the court had accepted that petition submitted by some of my co-accused regarding defense etc., I would have not defended myself. My applications submitted to the Tribunal regarding my interview during the hunger-strike were misinterpreted and it was published in the press that I was going to offer defense, though in reality I was never willing to offer any defense. I still hold the same opinion as before. My friends in the Borstal Jail will be taking it as a treachery and betrayal on my part. I shall not even get an opportunity to clear my position before them.

“I want that the public should know all the details about this complication and therefore, I request you to publish this letter.
Yours obediently,
Bhagat Singh”