The Weekend Observer, ‘Books’, 15 February 1992
Darkness before a new dawn
“Socialism came into being despite all the objections of the old world, when it was ushered in, it was contested, and finally socialism went into retreat. Inspite of the clouds, we still glimpse the light of the people’s aspirations: their deep longing for democracy. All those who are calling for their political rights and economic well-being, opposing the use of force in the solution of conflicts between nations, and demanding the protection of environment, cannot be part of the night.”
With these optimistic words the author Hardial Bains starts his book Communism 1989-1991.
The two years 1989-1991 have been tumultuous. They have witnessed the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union: even the state of USSR has collapsed, and has been replaced by CIS, while some former constituents have seceded; the Cold War has ended. These developments which have had profound effect on the whole world are bound to have deep effect on the Communist movement itself.
At this juncture a book written by a person who for the last over twenty years has been the first secretary of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), naturally arouses a lot of interest, Though he has been a prolific writer, to the Indian readers he is mainly known through his earlier book, Call of the Martyrs – On the Present Crisis in India and the Situation in Punjab (1985). It was not only an important contribution to the analysis of the Punjab problem but also contained a very interesting Marxist evaluation of the Bhakti movement, as a revolutionary democratic movement with a religious form.
The author says he was dissatisfied with the Social Democratic approach which considers socialism as merely state intervention in the economy, achieved by constituting the government through the electoral process and without touching capitalism in anyway. He is also dissatisfied with the pro-Soviet parties which presented Soviet Union as the model of socialism even when it was oppressing its own working people and the nations within its boundaries, and had turned its allied countries into satellites. They in fact revised the principle that each country must chart its own course and instead said other countries had only “limited sovereignty”. Such parties when asked about problems in domestic or foreign policy of the USSR at best said, “What problems? Or worse, called you “anti-Soviet”, “CIA agent”, etc. Many such parties, especially in the West, have gone over from ‘because it is socialism it can have no problems’ position to ‘because so many problems emerged, it is socialism which does not work’!
The author’s view is that while the rapid development in USSR, in the economy, industry, agriculture, science, technology, fine arts etc. in just two decades after the revolution was a great defeat of fascism, and support for the anti-imperialist struggles all over the world, which inspired such non-communists as our own Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore to speak of the “dawn of a new civilisation”. However, in the post- World War II years complacency, and bureaucracy set in, socialism went into retreat. While Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev and his successors including Gorbachev played important positive or negative roles in these developments; the author does not get involved in either glorifying or decrying any individual but tries to find objective reasons for the retreat of socialism.
The author calls for a serious summation of the experience of socialism and highlights the need to work out solutions to the problems facing us, whether it is recurring recession, degradation of the environment, democracy, or use of force in resoling international problems. In the changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe, he sees the democratic urge of the people of these countries, as the motive force, and though their struggles are being hijacked by demagogues who are pushing the Western narrow minded formula that ‘Democracy = Free Market Economy + Multi-party Elections’ in the most undemocratic way; he feels that the measures being taken now will not satisfy either the material or political demands of the people.
He makes a very important point, “the debate should be how a problem is to be solved, not which system is best. The latter would be a debate of which the working people have no direct experience. The problems they face are quite well known to them, while the debate about systems will be abstract”. The latter type of debate will also keep tensions brewing, and can lead to war as well. He gives the example of the Gulf War, where the immediate task was to oppose the use of force in settling the problem. But what was said and done was that: “I don’t like such and such system. Let’s go and blast that country.” There was no concern for war and it simply became how best to blast the place!
Essays like ‘Matter‘ stand out for their readability despite treating such a complex philosophical subject as the relationship between matter and consciousness. The author has developed, a dialectical style so to say, where he starts with an idea moves away from it and comes back to it again and again, and each time he has taken the reader forward. Today, when instant pop-history is passed off as ‘Current History’, this book is one of the few exceptions of serious analysis.
The jacket design is tastefully done, depicting a Canadian wild flower which grows and glows with intensity in inhospitable terrain.
While the book does not answer many of the questions the author has raised, it is a welcome contribution to the effort to overcome the present theoretical impasse.