Lohia’s “Revolutionary” Thought
To understand this world of ours, noted Socialist thinker Ram Manohar Lohia divided it into two parts. He addressed the people of Asian countries like India as “Coloured” races and those of Western nations like America and England as “White” races. He was of the firm view that in India – a nation of coloured races – no social or political revolution can be staged by aping the White races. And if it is done, it would only bring about a temporary and wrong solution to their problems. He gave the example of India, where the people were getting disillusioned with the freedom we had won in 1947.
He studied revolutions all over the world vis-a-vis the revolution that wasn’t in India. He was also concerned that countries like Pakistan and Indonesia had taken the road to dictatorship. He also believed that an India without political parties, which the likes of Vinoba Bhave were advocating and which Nehru perceived to be in his interest, would do no good to the people of India. Lohia was expressing these views in November 1958 in his English monthly Mankind. This at a time when Egyptian President Abdul Nasser was arguing that while steering clear of struggle between individuals and classes, a country’s army, equipped with adequate material resources, can initiate a revolution by tapping the internal energy of the people.
Lohia believed that unless the Coloured races diagnose what was ailing them – and the same ailments afflict the While races as well – their revolutions would continue to be blocked. Just as the Russian revolution was blocked, having got caught between the social and political revolutions or just as the Indian revolution was blocked.
Nasser argued that the unprecedented transformation of Egypt could become possible only because of simultaneous revolutions in social and political arenas. Lohia contended that Egypt’s was not a unique example; in the US and France too, both the revolutions took place simultaneously. Lohia did not believe that the blocking of the Indian and Soviet revolutions was a permanent failure of revolutions. Lohia believed that if the Coloured societies were able to comprehend the reasons that were responsible for the temporary blocking of their revolution, it would usher in a new era of human race.
As for Nasser emphasising the importance of the Army, Lohia was witness to the growing popularity of military and other dictatorships in Afro-Asian countries. Such dictatorships had struck roots from Cairo to Jakarta to Peking. And Pakistan was then the latest example.
He also examined the role of elections being held under military or other dictatorships. Elections are definitely important, especially if they are held in an atmosphere where liberty of thought and organisation exist and where the right to dissent is respected. But he found the controlled elections in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany utterly useless. He also drew attention to the tendency of the masses of Asian countries, who, with their weakened capacity to think independently, were delegating their power to take decisions to one leader, party or the military. We have seen the manifestation of this tendency in India, where the people handed over power to Indira Gandhi through elections but she later turned a dictator.
Lohia could sense the shape of things to come. In 1958, he wrote that in countries like India, where there is no constitutional arrangement prescribing handing over the decision-making power to one particular leader or the military, there too the same tendency was gaining momentum. He was of the view that in such a situation, handing over power by the people to a party rather than the military taking over the governance was a better option. Such an arrangement would not only be more stable but would also have ideological moorings. A comparison between Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the period of Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship proves the point. Nevertheless, the weakening of the capacity to sift right from wrong was inevitable in both cases.
He also noted the dangers inherent in the formulations of party-less politics, being advocated by so-called saint-politicians like Vinoba Bhave. The initiation of a debate on this issue would give Nehru and others an excuse to curb intra-party dissent and criticism, he opined. Hinting at the dangers of party-less democracy, he said that in such a system only the elite and the educated or in other words, the status-quoists would get elected. The unlettered, angry, shouting masses would be gradually pushed out of the system. And this is exactly the class that represents the people of Coloured races.
Drawing attention to another instance of flawed reasoning, he wrote that similarity should not be confused with sameness. Merely because one is similar to another, does not make the two same. The Coloured people have the weakness of believing that similarity and sameness are synonymous. The Coloured people have witnessed the strength, power and amenities of life of the White races and they think that merely by aping the Whites, they would acquire the same strength, power and amenities. This flawed reasoning is reflected in the struggle between Forward castes and Dalits in India. The Dalits launch agitations demanding the right to wear the sacred thread. They add ‘Singh’ to their surnames. They think that if they become similar to the Forward castes, they would become a part of them. They do not realise that they would become the same as the Forward castes only if they develop confidence in themselves and set their own standards. Aping would not work.
Lohia saw that the members of the Coloured society – madly running after modernization – on acquiring power, make modernization of production and consumption, the guiding star of state policy. The tension and pressures this policy generates pushes these societies towards dictatorship.
Exploring the reasons for the tensions and the inclination towards dictatorship of the Coloured races, he wrote that the Coloured nations lacked the capital needed for the modernization of production and consumption. The White countries cannot help us in this matter even if they want to. Growing population is another problem for the Coloured nations. The population of the Whites is also growing but the development of the means of production is keeping pace with the population growth. That does not happen in the Coloured nations, which, then, have to find another way out; and that is modernization in bits and pieces. They divide the nation into many areas and try to develop them in stages. This becomes a source of tension. The areas which become developed or which become a model become a source of bitterness and
tension for the Backward classes or areas. The cold war which results from this situation pushes nations towards military or one-party dictatorship.
In this context, Lohia found Communist regimes a better option. He considered that the Communist governments had comprehended this problem better. The Communist leaders led a simple, even sacrificial, life. On the other hand non-Communist leaders tended to ape the Whites. Isn’t it ironical that the chief minister of Gujarat – a state that could become a model only because of the lop-sided development – does not feel ashamed in using the pictures of Gandhi to improve his image. Thus, Lohia correctly identified the stumbling blocks to revolution in Coloured nations.
Published in the March 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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