Chief Events & Outreach Officer | BSc Economics, UCL
Jawaharlal Nehru – first prime minister of India (l) & Karl Marx
The title in many ways may seem strange. Afterall Marx, and his communist philosophy has come to be defined by the same sickle and hammer that sat proudly on the Soviet Union’s flag. In this backdrop, it might have been more fitting to have Lenin or even Stalin in place of Nehru. One might even propose – naturally so – the name of Mao Tse Tung, who has been the flagbearer of communism for much of the 20th century. Such has been his influence in the communist circles that one of India’s many communist parties adopted his name as a suffix – Communist Party of India ( Maoist ). Yet, I purposely avoid their names. For these leaders propagated a personality – linked communism. One that was, at best, loosely based on Marx’s idea but heavily modified to reflect the respective leader’s perspective. Thus the world got Marxist – Leninists or Maoists, but never Marxists. The world remembered Karl Marx, but failed to remember his ideology, falsely equating it with that of the ‘communist’ bloc.
In Das Kapital, Marx (1867) said, “ All history was the history of class struggles...the history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms…these warring classes of society are always the products of the conditions of production and exchange, in a word, of the economic condition of the time.” In essence thus, Marx positioned communism as a way to lower inequality and take back the extensive power concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie, after the first industrial revolution. Marx did not dismiss capitalism. On the contrary he admired the growth in productivity brought in by it, “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together….. what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”( Marx, 1848) It is thus safe to assume, that Marx never positioned communism as an alternative growth engine, but as an economic model not chasing growth only.
In this backdrop, Mao’s use of communism as a ‘ great leap forward to catch up with the west,’ seems a bit odd. Nehru on the contrary was attracted to communism for the same ideals and mottos that made Marx come up with communism. In communism he found a solution for the plaguing caste divide in Indian society and a bridge for the over 90% of population living below poverty. Communism was the way to ensure that British rule was not replaced by elitist rule. Communism appealed to his general distrust of corporate powers walloping too much power, which for him was defined by the British East India Company.(Nehru, 2004)
Karl Marx stated in the communist manifesto (1848), “the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy.” In this regard, extolling Lenin is still acceptable, but calling Mao and the later era of Soviet leaders communist, is going against the very idea of communism. For all these leaders, found it totally acceptable to ignore democracy and the democratic institutions altogether, as they set out to establish a communist country. It was Nehru, and the communism he spread in India that put democracy at the centre of every policy. Thus, it was only Nehru who won the battle for democracy and raised the proletariat to the ruling class. He was the only communist who strived to create lasting institutions that enabled democracy to flourish in India.
Yet, Nehru’s brand of communism was labelled as socialism and never accepted as communism by any communist. This was mainly due to the fact that independent India still had private enterprises. One is forced to visit Marx’s critique of private enterprises at this juncture. Marx’s (1867) primary dislike for private enterprises stemmed from the fact quoted here, “given the pursuit of profit in a competitive economy, there would be constant pressure to increase the capital stock and improve productivity. This in turn would lead to labour-saving, or capital-intensive, technological change.” It did lead to capital intensive production indeed, but it also led to rising employment, thus disavowing the labour-saving prediction. Nehru, coming much after Marx was aware of this change, and thus sought to tweak Marx’s communist manifesto on this one point. Yet Nehru stayed true to Marx’s dictum of limiting concentration of private property. Marx (1848) said, “the distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.” In a similar manner, Nehru never sought to abolish private property completely. He did, though, crackdown on any form of excessive property concentration, as is evident from his abolishing of the zamindari system.
No leader ever implements a policy or model, without some tweaks to suit his perspective or understanding. But the so-called ‘Nehruvian Socialism’ was the closest this world reached to implementing ‘Marxist Communism.’
· Engels, F & Marx, K. (1848) The Communist Manifesto. London: Workers' Educational Association
· Marx, K. (1867) Das Kapital. Germany: Verlag von Otto Meisner
· Nehru, J. (2004) An Autobiography 2nd edn. India: Penguin Books India