Wednesday 26 December 2018

Caste Conflicts and Caste Politics in India -- What Can Be Done to Oppose Them?

Currently, we – progressive and leftist Indians – are appalled at the atrocities that are being committed against Dalits, Muslims and Christians. We are worried over the dominance of caste and communal considerations in Indian politics, over the fact that caste and communal conflicts are replacing class conflict and pushing socialist and progressive politics to the background. Today, the caste system not only continues to exist in the private life-praxis of Hindus, but also dominates the socio-political structure of India – think only of the caste-based parties and reservations of jobs. It even continues to exist in the way of thinking of the majority of Hindu Indians.
    In this short essay I shall only try to identify the basic factors that explain how in modern India the situation described above could come about in spite of the entry of modern education, Western type development, and successful practice of one-person-one-vote democracy for the last seven decades. In doing so, I shall focus mainly on the caste problematic. It would hopefully also help the reader understand why it has been so difficult for the past and present-day anti-caste reform movements to succeed.

Group Identity, Love of Tradition, and the Desire to Stand Out Among Many

Division of a society in castes (as distinct from classes) is not altogether unique to Indian Hindus. The system exists in some form or other in sub-Saharan Western African countries (Senegal e.g.), it existed in Spanish and Portuguese colonial societies in South America (sociedad de castas). Caste divisions de facto exist among Indian Muslims and Indian Christians. Among the former, there are said to be 3 castes: Ashrafs (nobles), middle caste Muslims called Ajlafs, and the lowest, the Arzals, are equivalents of the Hindu untouchables. Among the latter, there are some who identify themselves as “Brahmin Christians” and some whom others identify as Dalit Christians. This makes me think that there must be some general cause(s) for the origin of the caste system and its continuity up to our times.
    All presently living humans belong to the same species, and despite several genetic variations, throughout their social evolution, their basic behavioral characteristics remained for the greater part similar. Although, being social animals, we need to and want to feel belonging to a group (a family or a larger community), and although for almost every person one’s group identity is very important for both material-economic security and psychological stability, there is a very common characteristic among humans, namely the desire to stand out from and above the other members of the group – through wealth, power, prestige or achievements – and feel proud about it.
    Such identity groups can be large or small, and identities can be based on citizenship of a state (e.g. being Indian), a sub-nationality (e.g. being Maharashtrian), a language (e.g. being Bengali), a region within a state (e.g. being South Indian), a continent or part of it (e.g. being European, East Asian), a religion (e.g. being Muslim), a sect (e.g. being Vaishnavite), a city (e.g. being Hyderabadi or Calcuttan. And it can also be a caste or caste-group within the larger religious identity group, viz. Hindus (e.g. being Brahmin, or, in Bengal, Vaidya). Smaller identity groups within a larger one (e.g. expatriate Indians in the US or UK) may also desire to stand out and feel proud about it, e.g. when such Indians hold high positions in the host countries).
    Among Hindus, one way of standing out has been to make it known that one is not just a Hindu, but a Brahmin (or a Kshatriya). Kulin Brahmin, Deshasth or Chitpavan Brahmin are identities that enable (have enabled in the past) a person bearing this “stamp” to stand out even among Brahmins, among whom the Mandal Commission (MC, for short) has also identified some OBC Brahmins. Among Indian Christians, one can stand out by making it known that one is not just a Christian, but a Brahmin Christian.
    In other societies and in other contexts, one may stand out through a title that one gets bestowed upon by the monarch or the president of a state: Lord, Sir, Raja, Padmabhusan, Padmashree etc., In Europe, titles denoting nobility are often hereditary, making them comparable to our Brahmin family names. In academic contexts, one can stand out through a title such as Doctor and Professor. One can also stand out through and be proud of being able to claim to be a descendant of a once-rich or highly educated family or of a family famous for its accomplishments or contributions to the community or the nation.
    Recently, a strange manifestation of this desire came to the fore when the Mahars of Maharashtra (a Dalit caste-group) wanted to celebrate the 200th anniversary of “their victory” (albeit as mercenaries of the British) over the much larger army of the Peshwas in the battle of Koregaon. The point in this celebration has always been to highlight the valor of the Mahars as soldiers.

Economic and political Factors

Some additional identities (e.g. Brahmin among Hindus) bring not only social prestige, for which all humans have a weakness, but also very often, as we all know, directly or indirectly, concrete material-economic advantages and privileges. This alone is enough to explain why people who have somehow come to possess such additional “higher” identities mostly also want to preserve and flaunt them.
    It is also easy to understand the resentment of those who neither like the caste identity that others gave their forefathers, nor possess any additional higher identity, nor, for whatever reason, have a chance to attain some. For example, the resentment of Dalits, who, despite India’s progressive constitution and despite much progress in political consciousness that has been made, are, in many regions of the country and in many sections of the population, still looked down upon and often suffer violent oppression both individually and as a group. And all this in addition to the fact that they generally cannot, because of birth in poor and uneducated families, make equal use of the chances offered by the Indian economy and education system.
    The desire to stand out or to become rich and powerful or just to leave poverty behind is present in most humans, also among poor Dalit/OBC individuals and groups. Even before independence and particularly since then, the goal of Dalit and anti-caste movements have not been limited to just making untouchability and other sorts of caste-related discrimination vanish. Since then, average young Dalits, just like all young people, have been cherishing higher desires and ambitions. Often these are exorbitant and unrealistic, mere dreams. But they are there.
    I can give two examples from documentary film reportages: (1) A ten years old girl with proven high intelligence, whose poor working class parents from a Mumbai slum could send her only to the lowest quality primary school, was asked what she would like to become. She answered: astronaut. (2) A school boy from a similar background, replied to a similar question, he would like to be Bill Gates of India. Why shouldn’t they cherish such dreams? Why shouldn’t the government give them a chance? Why shouldn’t society allow it to happen? After all, “miracles” do sometimes take place!
    So Dalit and anti-caste movements always conflated in their goal what actually are two different things – (a) fighting against the discriminatory and oppressive caste system as such and (b) economic and educational advancement of the poor, which generally should be the task of any modern nation state. Thus the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth-Seekers’ Society), founded in 1873 by Jyotirao Phule, pursued the goal to
liberate the less privileged in society – such as women, Shudra, and Dalitfrom exploitation and oppression, for which process education was thought to be of great importance. Under its later leaders, economic goals played a stronger part in the activities of the Samaj. In 1902, Shahu Maharaj, who was the ruler of the princely state of Kolhapur (Western India), reserved 50 percent of his state’s civil service jobs for all communities other than Brahmins, Prabhus and Parsis. This movement was later, not unreasonably, termed the Anti-Brahman Movement.
    Also in the report of the Mandal Commission (1979–83), which was mandated to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes " (popularly known as OBCs = other backward classes) of India, it is argued:

"It may appear the upliftment of Other Backward Classes is part of the larger national problem of removal of mass poverty. This is only partially correct. The deprivation of OBCs is a very special case of the larger national issue: here the basic question is that of social and educational backwardness, and poverty is only a direct consequence of these two crippling caste-based handicaps. As these handicaps are embedded in our social structure, their removal will require far-reaching structural changes. No less important will be changes in the perception of the problems of OBCs by the ruling classes of the country."

How to Explain the Durability of the Caste System

Because for a human’s material-economic security and mental health the feeling of belonging to an identity group (next only to a family) is important, one is obliged and expected to adhere to the rules, rituals, mores, ethical norms (e.g. of solidarity) and traditions of one’s identity group(s). This is comparable to the fact that for belonging to and remaining in a professional group – e.g. engineers, doctors, lawyers etc. – one has to follow its written and unwritten code of conduct.
    Now because, in Hindu society, caste has in the past been the most important among a person’s identities, it is no surprise that it still plays an important role in most caste Hindu’s private sphere – in daily rituals, in eating and drinking norms, in marriage, socializing etc. In backward rural areas, even matters of the private sphere of Hindus – such as (inter-caste) love affairs and marriage, a Dalit eating in an eatery or drinking water from a well or worshipping in a temple – often become a matter of the public sphere of the village. And in the larger economic and political spheres, generally speaking, decisions on personnel matters such as appointments and promotions are still to a large extent influenced by one’s caste.
    I can give two examples: In my extended family circle, a young (Kayastha) woman fell in love and married a Brahmin man. They were both communists, the young man even a member of the party. When their son became 12 years old, I got an invitation to his sacred thread ceremony. I was surprised. I could not imagine they would do this. Accosted by me, the man said, he could not offend his family. It is only them he can rely upon if he would someday need help. His wife said she could not oppose the wish of her husband. That was in the 1950s. The other example is from the 1970s. A highly educated leftist male friend of mine, a man from a rich Kamma family of Hyderabad, married and took a dowry. When his political friends criticized him, he said apologetically: what could he have done? It was his family that found a suitable bride and arranged the traditional style marriage for him; and, after all, it was thanks to his father’s connections that he had got a lecturer’s job. These were both microeconomic and micro-political decisions.
    That is also the case in election times. In large parts of India, among caste-conscious Hindu’s, voting and campaigning for a candidate from the same caste or the same larger cast-identity group (e.g. Dalits, OBCs) as the one to which the person belongs, is not only seen as one of the latter’s social obligations that overrides other considerations. It may also, in case this candidate wins, bring material benefits to her or her caste group. In this respect, it is not much different in other kinds of identity groups – e.g. religious, ethnic or language identity groups. In particular cases of candidates, it may be a justifiable or unjustifiable, a good or bad choice, and exceptions are always there. At the provincial level, there is also a big exception, namely West Bengal. But even here, if we look back to pre-partition Bengal, we see that Bengali Dalits (in those days called Namashudras) did pursue caste politics.1 The point here is only that this is largely how Indian politics functions.
    The points made till now explain why the caste system still remains entrenched in the conscious and subconscious thinking of Hindus and resists all reforms and efforts to eradicate it. They are also the reasons behind the rise of parties that are based on caste, religion, language, ethnicity, province or region (e.g. Samajwady Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Jamat-e- Islami parties, Shiv Sena, Telugu Desham Party etc.). The secular all-India parties (Congress and the ideology-based communist parties) are losing ground. The ruling all-India communal party, the BJP, is successful, because its communal base, the Hindus, constitute the 80% majority of India’s population.
    There are also macro-economic and macro-political factors that partly explain the continued strength of the caste system. The Mandal Commission (in the following, MC for short) argued for reservations for OBCs, inter alia, in the following words:

Assuming that a child from an advanced class family and that of a backward class family had the same intelligence at the time of their birth, it is obvious that owing to vast differences in social, cultural and environmental factors, the former will beat the latter by lengths in any competitive field. Even if an advanced class child's intelligence quotient was much lower compared to the child of backward class, chances are that the former will still beat the latter in any competition where selection is made on the basis of 'merit'.“

    This is a sound argument. Note, however, the key words in it, namely “competition” and “competitive field”. These relate MC’s argument more to the prevailing economic system than to the caste system. For people fighting for social justice, the only call that logically follows from this is: abolish the capitalist competitive system. The mandate of the MC was, however, only to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes (OBCs)” and to make recommendations for theirupliftment”, not to make recommendations for annihilating caste.
    To what extent the recommended reservations contributed toward uplifting the OBCs in general is difficult to answer. Many criticisms have been expressed against these. The sharpest and the most convincing among all has been made by Justice Iyer even before the MC was appointed (1975):

"The danger of 'reservation', …. , is three-fold. Its benefits, by and large, are snatched away by the top creamy layer of the 'backward' castes or classes, thus keeping the weakest among the weak always weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake".

    What we know for sure, however, is that they did not contribute anything toward annihilating caste. What is worse, today, those who really want to annihilate caste face a great structural difficulty: Thanks to the reservations, belonging to a lower or backward caste has become an advantage in the job market and in the matter of getting a scholarship or a place in higher and better institutions of learning. For this reason, the formerly underprivileged majority of the citizenry of India, i.e. members of SCs, STs, and OBCs taken together, themselves have no interest any more in annihilating caste. In truth, they have now strong economic interest in perpetuating the caste system, so that their children and grandchildren too may enjoy these advantages even if and when their families have risen to the “creamy lair”. All they want and demand is more compensation for their “unfortunate” birth in a Dalit or OBC family. This is why we saw some time ago that the Jaths, from whose ranks India even got a Prime Minister, and the Patidars staged huge, powerful, and even destructive demonstrations demanding reservations for their youth too. For the same reason, even many Muslim politicians are nowadays eager to define Muslims as a backward class.
    Implementation of the MC recommendations divided Indian society into two fighting groups: the beneficiaries (i.e. Dalits and OBCs) on the one side and the excluded rest (the upper castes, Muslims etc.) on the other. Soon after the acceptance and implementation (1990 onwards) of the MC recommendations, upper-caste young people, who henceforth imagined themselves to be the victims of the caste-based reservation system, started a protest campaign that included violent demonstrations, self-immolations etc.

Perspectives and Conclusions

Today, macroeconomic trends do not indicate that the competitive field, that the MC mentioned as an argument, would soon become any less competitive. Indeed, the opposite is likely to happen, what with continuously growing population (at the rate of 16 million a year) and number of college graduates, and with expanding mechanization, automation and digitalization. Moreover, the basic ecological and resource-related limits to growth are already having their feared impacts. These problems must be addressed very soon. If, however, in the meantime, also the present-day policies of reservation remain in place, the resulting upliftment of some poor Dalits and OBCs, that we would welcome so much, would come at the price of ever more caste hatred and conflicts – especially if we consider the growing belligerence of both caste groups. Such conflicts are not class conflicts. Also in future, they would not be directed against capitalism. There is nothing positive about fighting for one’s own caste interest.
    This short essay is not suitable for making detailed alternative recommendations. But a few half-baked ideas can be presented: (a) Against the background of facts mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is obvious that at least population growth must be stopped, if not also the growth of labor-saving technologies. (b) For uplifting the educational level of economically poor classes, the state and society should create and reserve for them more scholarships (i.e. only financial aid). These should also be available to children and youth of poor families among the upper castes and not to those of well-off families among the lower castes and OBCs. Let the state also pay for all sorts of extra coaching for such youth. (c) Government jobs and university places for students must be given only on the basis of merit. It is not a small matter. It harms the people as a whole, if unqualified and incompetent people are appointed in responsible positions as doctors, engineers, administrators, military commanders etc.
    The caste system is a social evil that defies laws and constitutional provisions. As we have seen, even conversion to another religion – to Islam in the past, then to Christianity, and more recently to Buddhism – did not help. The law-and-order authorities must do their duties, but the system can only be made to wither away by a strong social movement and a cultural revolution, in which enlightened members of the upper castes should play a leading role.
    It is my hunch that in ancient times, the economic-material basis of the caste system has been that dirty, hard and menial work with poor rewards were naturally detested and unwanted.2 They were therefore easily inherited by the children from the parents. The brutality of the Hindu caste system consisted in the fact that the ruling and/or powerful elites compelled the children of e.g. methors (removing excrements), chamars (tanners), chandals (cremating corpses) etc. to inherit such jobs by declaring them to be ritually dirty and the workers ritually untouchable for finer people. Refinements, rationalizations and sanctification of the system in the ancient canonical texts (Manusmriti et. al) came later. (d) It is therefore not enough for enlightened upper caste Indians to avow their rejection of this system. They must do more, e.g., following Gandhiji’s example, not only to clean their WCs at home, which is not a dirty work anymore, but also a public latrine in their own town – even if only for a day or two per month. I remember a scene in Attenborough’s film on Gandhiji, where the latter insisted that his wife must also clean the latrine of the Ashram. (e) Or, to give another example, let us make it impossible to guess a person’s caste (and, why not, religion) from his family name. Thus Dilip Chakrabarty’s son could be named David Bagh or Indra Mandal). There is no need for me to invent more possible actions and demands. If they have the will, upper caste activists can do it themselves.
    (f) In the recent past, some actions of some Dalit activists were provocative, hence counterproductive, e.g. celebrating the 200th anniversary of “the Mahars’ victory” mentioned above. Or, was anything gained, when some Adivasis lodged a court case trying to prevent a Durga-Puja celebration, a tradition that Bengalis love so much?3 It is better to think of constructive actions.

Notes and references

Almost all data used here including data and quotes from the Mandal Commission Report can be found in the internet.

1. “Caste vs Religion – Why Caste Politics Failed in Bengal”
by Ayan Guha

2. For general knowledge on references to the caste system in ancient texts I can recommend the following articles:

“Caste is the Cruelest Exclusion”
By GailOmvedt


“Doctoring History For Political Goals: Origin of Caste System in India”
By Ram Puniyani

3. “Adivasis Dance Today: The First Ever FIR Filed Against Durga Puja

Monday 12 November 2018

India's Unwelcome Immigrants Problem -- Identity Politics Beats Class Politics


For many decades now, all over the world, identity politics has become a major cause of social conflict. Masses of common people have been forming themselves into racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic identity groups, and, from time to time, they have been fighting against each other, often by violent means, for power and a higher share of the given resources of the country. For leftists, socialists and communists of all kinds, it is highly regrettable, because they are advocates and practitioners of class politics. They would rather see the masses fighting against their class adversaries. This long-term trend has particularly been strong in India with its multiplicity of languages, religions and castes.
    Against this general background, recently, a particular old conflict broke out anew in Assam, one of the Easternmost provinces of India. Assamese speaking people, the original inhabitants of the province, have been complaining since long that people from the other provinces of India, particularly Bengalis from West Bengal and the republic of Bangladesh, are legally and illegally immigrating into Assam and occupying jobs, business opportunities, and arable land, which, they say, should go to the Assamese, the sons of the soil. To make matters more complicated, in the past few decades, the number and percentage of Muslims, who have for a few centuries now constituted a substantial minority of Assam, have been swelling because of illegal immigration of Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh, thus also fanning the already existing Hindu-Muslim conflicts in the province.
    In order to contain the anti-foreigner agitations of the Assamese and allay their fear that they were losing control of their own country, the authorities acceded to their demand that the names of genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam be ascertained and published in a National Register of Citizens (NRC). This was first done in 1951. A similar operation was carried out in 2017 and an updated NRC was published on 30th July 2018. In the process, it was found that some four million residents of Assam were not citizens of India.
    A debate then ensued on the question regarding the future of these illegal immigrants, the non-citizen residents in India. In the process, also the whole problem of illegal immigration in Assam was discussed. At that point, I intervened in the discussion with the following article. It was published in Frontier Weekly in the beginning of September 2018.

    (NB. Non-Indian readers would be well advised to first read the articles of Sharma and Gohain referred to in my article.)

On the Assam Conflicts, NRC, Illegal Immigration etc.

Many thanks to the authors Devabrata Sharma and Hiren Gohain (Frontier, 19 – 25th August 2018) for giving the valuable background info materials, which enable us to get a better and deeper understanding of the multifaceted conflicts in Assam.
    However, it would have been better – both in regard to identifying the most important cause of the conflicts and in regard to suggesting solutions – if we also had some relevant statistical data, particularly some on the demographic development in Assam.
    Assam is a state where, in 2001, Assamese was the mother tongue of less than half of the population (48.8%) and Bengali that of a substantial minority (27.5%), where Hinduism in all its varieties was, in 2011, the religion of 61.5% of the population and Islam that of 34.2%, where, in 2011, Muslims were the majority in 9 out of the 27 districts. On economic development in Assam we read: “
The per capita income of Assam was higher than the national average soon after Indian Independence. But it has slipped since, and the difference has become larger since liberalization of the Indian economy in the 1980s.” In such a state, the population grew from 8 million in 1951 to 31 Million in 2011. It is estimated to be 35 Million in 2018. (All data from Internet and Wikipedia)
    Seen against the background of these data and given India’s history full of all kinds of conflict since the early 20th century, it is no wonder that Assam has been suffering so many communal and linguistic conflicts. That Sharma blames the British for all these does not surprise me. It is an age-old explanatory model of the standard Left to blame imperialism/colonialism/CIA for everything bad. (Another such model is capitalism.) As if it was the British who was to blame for Assam’s and the Indian subcontinent’s huge exponential population growth since 1951, as if mass migration of poor people to greener pastures in other countries is not a universal phenomenon.
    Gohain at least comes close to the truth when he speaks of “natural resources” and “unemployment and landlessness”. More so, when he speaks of the “fact” that “the Indigenes” (i.e. the Assamese) have been “robbed
of their power to decide how many guests they could welcome in their homes.” At another place, he truthfully uses the term “aliens” for non-Assamese Indians and Bangladeshis. For such people’s coming to Assam he uses the term “infiltration”. (Trump uses the term invasion).
    But neither Gohain nor Sharma mention the ever worsening population problem, the fact that Assam and the Indian subcontinent, in fact the whole world is simply overpopulated. Today, if we do not take cognizance of this fact, we cannot really and fully explain any serious problem in the world. We then cannot explain why already in the 1960s to 1980s, many Maharashtrians complained that South Indians were occupying the urban areas and the jobs of their territory. They wanted to push the South Indians out of Maharashtra. They did the same, in 1914, 1915, 1917, with regard to Biharis, who had occupied many menial jobs (private car drivers e.g.) in the urban areas.
    The feeling that aliens are infiltrating and occupying their “home” is not only troubling Assam, but also many other countries of the world. Today, in Europe, Australia, and the USA, it is called the problem of illegal immigrants or too many immigrants. In such countries, it is the main cause of the recent rise of fascistic forces. In Sweden, it has already destroyed the formerly glorious social-democratic model of an ideal society
    Sharma has also very generally thought about what to do, but he could not come up with any concrete proposal. He writes about “assimilating the huge immigrant masses in a democratic way”, “providing opportunities for those who are left out”, and “democratization of the polity”. But what opportunities can help assimilate the huge masses of immigrants other than jobs and small businesses, which are already in very short supply for the indigenes? Democratization of the polity does not create jobs and other sources of income!
    I have an idea for a long-term solution of the problem. We may learn from the Chinese. When Deng Xiaoping took over power in China in 1979, he, firstly, opened up China for exploitation by foreign imperialist capitalists. This has already been done in India. Secondly, Deng initiated and enforced the one-child policy. This has not been done in India. Of course, it promises to bear fruit only in the long run. But it must be done, while in the short and middle term we somehow muddle through. For, as Paul Ehrlich said, “Whatever [be] your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth].” There is no other solution for the problems that are plaguing not only Assam but also the whole Indian subcontinent. Democrats might object that such a policy violates human rights or reproductive rights. But firstly, the right to produce as many children as one wishes is not a universal human right, and secondly, it is usual, because necessary, to curtail human rights in times of emergency. I agree with Hiren Gohain when he writes: “ … human rights … is an ideal goal, not a reality during a period of transition to that.” For a nation, survival has top priority.


Devabrata Sharma: “Assam – Contextualising NRC Historically”

Hirain Gohain: “An Open Letter to Indians”

Thursday 18 October 2018

French, Spanish and English Translations Of My Books and Texts

The French translation of my book

Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism – A Critical Analysis of Humanity’s Fundamental Choices

can henceforth be found in the internet on a new website, which has taken over all major texts of the Initiative Oekosozialismus, which were formerly available in the Initiative’s own website that does not exist anymore. The French translation can be downloaded by clicking on the link

then scrolling down the page to the button

Livre: Saral Sarkar, Éco-socialisme ou éco-capitalisme?

and clicking on it.
    The same procedure should be followed for downloading the
English, Spanish and German texts including books (translations and originals) of mine and Bruno Kern.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

From Marxist Socialism to Eco-Socialism --- Turning Points of a Personal Journey Through a Theory of Socialism

At the beginning of the journey stood the most famous two sentences of Marx, which I read as a college student:

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.”1

I was immediately faced with a dilemma. There was no need for me to interpret the world; that had already been done for us by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin et al. But, I thought, in order to be able to contribute to changing the world, I must at least understand it. The purpose was clear to me: to work for creating a socialist/communist society. But for understanding the world, I knew I must read a lot, at least a lot of Marx, Engels and Lenin, a lot of history plus current affairs, and also a lot of modern Marxist literature on the social sciences.
    For the average socialist/communist activist, however, it was the sheer volume of reading required for the purpose that posed the greatest difficulty. She must work to earn her livelihood, work for her conviction, and read a few of the relevant texts. As for me, I had the ambition, and I thought I also had the cerebral capacity, to read all the important works of Marx, Engels, Lenin et al. But being materially in the position of an average activist, it was clear to me in my early youth that I could only become an activist, not a Marxologist.

The Moscow Trials and Destalinization

In 1953 – I was then 17 and in college – I realized how little I knew, when I heard for the first time of the notorious Moscow Trials of 1936–1938,2 in which several famous leaders of the Russian revolution were accused of treason, convicted, and then executed. What was worse, I heard it from an anti-communist class mate. I was shocked to hear that Stalin, our great leader of those days, was the perpetrator of these and similar other crimes against several hundred thousand innocent and patriotic citizens and communists. When asked, my communist classmates said they had never heard of it before. But, they opined, it surely was imperialist propaganda.
    I had started reading the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the course of this reading, I later got the official version of the story: the accused were traitors, agents of the enemy etc. This story haunted me for a few years. How could so many communist leaders and activists of the revolution have been traitors, I wondered. The issue was settled in 1956, when Khrushchev, in his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU(B) confirmed the veracity of what was formerly dubbed imperialist propaganda.
    1956, when a thorough destalinization began in the Soviet Union, was a watershed year. It resulted in a huge, indescribable mental shock, not only for me, but also, I think, for all young communists of those days, who used to think of the Soviet Union as if it were a golden country, our materialized utopia. Thereafter, I began gradually distancing myself from the Soviet model of socialism.
    But among older communists, at least in India, there was no outbreak of disloyalty to the Soviet communist leadership. If asked, they used to say, in the general sense: if in the past mistakes have been made, then it is good that they are being corrected. For me, it was only a logical and rational reaction, not a satisfactory one. Was it simply a case of the leader making a few mistakes? It troubled me very much that the crimes were committed in the name of a communist revolution and in the name of defending a “socialist” state inspired by Marx and his theories. After all, Marx and Engels had endorsed use of force in their kind of revolution. In the concluding para of their Manifesto, they write inter alia, “The communists … declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of …”. We Indians knew that Mahatma Gandhi had strictly and on principle opposed any use of violence in our independence movement. Yet questions regarding ends and means had not crossed my mind before 1956.
    Destalinization was also the cause and 1956 the time when my interest in Marx and Marxism began to wane. I thought, it could not be that just two thinkers of the second half of the 19th century, however brilliant they might have been, had thought through all the problems of mankind, even those that would arise many decades after their death. It could not be, I thought further, that the results of their analysis of the situation prevailing in the 19th century were also valid in the 20th century. So I started taking an interest in other subjects and other thinkers too, e.g. in Malthusianism, and Keynesianism.

Failure of the Russian and the Chinese Revolution

Both the October Revolution (1917–1921) and the Chinese Revolution (1930s to 1949) were made or at least led by people who were communists and Marxists, at least they said they were inspired by Marxism. After success on the battlefields, they tried to build up in their respective countries a socialist society following economic and political principles they claimed were based on and/or derived from Marxism. In the long run both revolutions failed. The Russians and the Chinese themselves willfully reintroduced capitalism in their countries. The Russians openly confess to capitalism, whereas Chinese society is today in reality a capitalist one that is only ruled by self-styled “communists”.
    Can their failures be put down to flaws in the ideology called Marxism? Today, on the occasion of the 200th birth anniversary of Marx, when his total theoretical-intellectual contribution to recent world history is being discussed, criticized, and celebrated, this question needs to be answered. But before that come the questions (1) whether the vision of socialism that the Soviet Russians and the Chinese, the Cubans and the Vietnamese tried to realize – and thereby failed – was really the Marxist one, and (2) whether it was at all realizable. We should not seek an answer to them just in the academic sense of seeking truth for the sake of truth, but also and especially in the practical sense. For if we fail to get the right answer to these questions, we may, in our zeal, make many more mistakes: We may then pursue a wrong goal or choose the wrong path to reach the right goal, or we may make a wrong choice in regard to both.

Marxian and Marxist

There are some disputes regarding the content of Marxism. Once, when he was told about a person who was claiming to be a Marxist while expressing un-Marxist views, Marx replied in frustration: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist.” Ever since, it has become useful to differentiate between the terms Marxian and Marxist. Marxian would mean: strictly based on what Marx himself has written. And Marxist would mean: based on Marxian thoughts as developed and presented by Engels, Lenin and later theoretician-adherents of Marx. For this reason, Marxist theory cannot be regarded as a monolithically consistent theory. Even in the works of Marx himself, inner contradictions and errors have been found by Marx scholars. No wonder. After all, Marx’s writing career stretched over some forty years. Also no wonder that some Marx scholars have reportedly found it necessary to differentiate between the writings of the young (early) Marx and those of the mature (later) Marx.
    Fortunately, we can give a quick and short reply to the question put above (in connection with the crimes of Stalinist USSR and failure of the Soviet and Chinese Revolutions). Pure Marxists say, in the general sense: what has all that to do with Marx and Marxian theory? Nothing. None of the socialist/communist revolutions that have taken place till now has been a Marxian revolution. To give just one recently published example, Paresh Chattopadhyay, an eminent Marx scholar, wrote3 criticizing a description of the Cuban Revolution as a Marxist one:

“However, what kind of revolution are we speaking of? ….. we are invited to a Marxian kind of socialism. The rub is precisely here. Why is the need for bringing in Marx whose whole outlook on socialism is the exact opposite? To refresh our memory, there is no ‘socialist dictatorship’ in Marx’s universe of discourse. For Marx it is a postulate that the laboring people must emancipate themselves. This is the outcome of the ‘autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’. And this self-emancipation means the … establishment of a ‘union of free individuals’, which alone is socialism. It follows, secondly, that this is not the task of a group styling itself as the vanguard irrespective of the group’s revolutionary ardor and spirit of self-sacrifice.”

Critique of Pure Marx

I trust Chattopadhyay’s scholarship. This must be a correct paraphrase of the Marxian ideal of socialist revolution (emancipation, as he also calls it.). This quote deals with the questions regarding who and how of a socialist revolution, i.e. the questions: who are the agents of the revolution (emancipation), and how do they go about it – before, during, and after the revolution proper? But it also shows how wrong, how unrealistic, and how utopian in the negative sense Marx has been. For hardly any revolution that has been called proletarian, socialist, or people’s revolution, successful or not, could do without a leadership, most members of which usually came from classes other than the proletariat. Even the leadership of the Paris Commune of 1871, as far as I have learnt, did not come exclusively from the working class.
    I believe, without a good leadership, any attempt to overthrow a hated regime or an exploitative-oppressive system can only end in defeat or a fruitless, chaotic rebellion – even if the crisis situation that triggered it had been favorable to such an attempt. I am of course saying these things without great knowledge of history. But I believe evidence to the contrary must be rare if it at all exists. Also for building a “socialist” society after a successful takeover of power, as, for example, in Russia after 1917 and in Yugoslavia after 1945, a strong leadership proved to be indispensable.

Revolutionary Proletariat?

Marx and Engels had "discovered" the revolutionary proletariat very early in their life, much before the proletariat even became a sizeable class in Germany, and they did it purely deductively. They explained it in 1845 as follows:

“It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will be historically compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today.”5

   Three years later, in their Communist Manifesto, they apodictically proclaimed, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” Also apodictic was their assertion that “the working men have no country,” which was logically followed by the call “Working men of all countries, unite!”
    On this question, Lenin convinced me (and millions of other activists) more when he asserted that the
laboring people cannot emancipate themselves through an autonomous movement of their own, because they lacked the will and the revolutionary consciousness required for this goal, which must be brought to them by a group of professional revolutionaries. A few years before Lenin, Bernstein had maintained that proletarians of the industrially advanced countries of Europe did not even have any reason for willing to overthrow capitalism. He asserted that educated/trained workers/employees actually wanted to be integrated into the given system and rise within it.
    For Lenin, Tito, Mao, and Ho-Chi-Min, and later also for Fidel and Che, the primary, immediate, and urgent task had been to overthrow the hated oppressive regimes of their respective countries – in the case of China, Yugoslavia, and Viet Nam, these were even foreign imperialist invaders occupying the country. There was no question of trying this overthrow later, when the proletariat would have become the immense majority of the population. After fulfilling this immediate task, Lenin, Tito, Mao, and Ho, being communists, could not but try to build a socialist society on the ground and in the situation they found given. They could not have postponed this work in order to do it in the pure way as prescribed by Marx, i.e. waited until their country had achieved the industrial development level of Germany or Britain in the 1870s–1880s, their proletariat had become the immense majority of the population, and had also developed the right revolutionary consciousness.
    Already when I was a young student and had read the Communist Manifesto, I had some doubts on this point. It was wrong, I thought, to say “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” In any revolution, every revolutionary can lose her life or limbs. After a failed one, she can be incarcerated and lose her livelihood; her dependents can descend into a state of penury. To say that the proletariat (as a class) “have a world to win” is for the average proletarian too abstract a promise of compensation for the said concrete risks and sufferings. Only the inspired are willing to take them. It is alright for a manifesto to contain such high-flown words, but it is better to know that they do not correspond to the reality.
     Also the sentence “The working men have no country” was nothing more than an assertion in high-flown words. How far-fetched, how unrealistic and hollow all these words were, was demonstrated just 31 years after Marx’s death, when, in the 1st World War, the working men of the advanced industrialized countries of Europe not only did not prevent the war, but also, obeying their heads of state, readily went to the front to fulfill their patriotic duty, namely to kill the working men of their respective enemy countries.
    Even after socialists/communists had made a revolution – alternatively, won a revolutionary antiimperialist war – and took over power in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, their armies, made up of their working men of all kinds (few proletarians in the Marxian sense), fought against one another, because of petty disputes (partly border disputes). So far as I know, generations of Marxist theoreticians have failed to devote enough attention to this aspect of human nature, which also socialist/communist idealists regularly fall victim to. Only Lenin may have been aware of this serious problem when he advocated the right of peoples to self-determination. In spite of this history, even today as always, in all countries, on the 1st May demonstrations and rallies, one can observe socialists, communists, leftists mindlessly shouting vacuous slogans like “workers of all countries unite”, “long live international solidarity”.
    I think some people make a revolution – let us modestly say they just revolt – when life under the prevailing conditions has in some sense or another become unbearable – objectively and materially for the broad masses, subjectively for highly sensitive (mostly) young people. Some of them – like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky etc. – are cool, intellectual and analytical types, others, such as Mao, Fidel and Che, are more like daredevils. They revolt irrespective of whether the time is ripe or not, irrespective of whether the proletariat has understood its world-historic mission or not, irrespective of whether the proletariat joins the revolt or remains aloof. Mao led a communist revolution in an agrarian society, Che even tried to bring revolution to Congo and Bolivia, where there was no working class. Such people cannot just see exploitation and oppression happening and sit idly by.


Till now, in highly developed industrial countries like Germany, England etc., the working class has rejected the revolutionary role assigned to them by Marx and Engels. In Germany, their party, the Social-Democratic Party (SPD, founded in 1863–1875) pursued the reformist strategy advocated by Bernstein. In 1959, it even accepted capitalist market economy in its new program called the Godesberg Program. In Britain, the Labor Party, formed between 1893 and 1900, never explicitly accepted Marxism as its political philosophy, but was for a long time regarded as a constitutional socialist party in some sense. In the 1990s, however, it became an arch protagonist of neoliberal capitalism.
    It would be interesting to go deeper into the question why, in Russia, in 1917ff, the relatively small proletariat made the revolution together with soldiers of a demoralized army, while in Germany, in the Autumn of 1918, the very large proletariat and soldiers of a defeated army refused to heed the call for revolution (except in Munich, Bavaria). This is not the right place for that enquiry. But a few words from Kolakowski’s exposition on Bernstein’s revisionism can be quoted as a short answer:

“When Bernstein started intervening, the real wages of the German working class had risen for a long time, and it had won numerous social security benefits and a shorter working day. ... Of course, ... there was still no universal suffrage in Prussia, … but the elections and the political mobilization as well as the relative power connected with them offered the prospect of a successful struggle for the republic and even assumption of power. … The real experience of the working class in no way supported the [Marxist] theory according to which their situation within the limits of capitalism was basically hopeless and not susceptible of improvements. … The history of revisionism does not support the [Marxist] claim that there is a natural revolutionary attitude in the working class … that results from its very situation as a seller of labor power and incurable victim in this system of alienation. ... The traditional [Marxist] belief in the revolutionary mission of the proletariat was put into question. ... Revisionism robbed the socialist doctrine of the noble pathos of the 'final battle' and total liberation.”7

Part II

How much Marxism has gone into my Eco-Socialism?

As regards Marxian/Marxist theory, it is a bit difficult for me to answer the question put above, because I have read only some, not all, of the works of Marx and Engels. Much of my knowledge of their theory is based on reading secondary literature written by well-known Marxists of earlier decades (Sweezy, Mandel. Leontiev, Kolakowski, Vranicki etc.). I, moreover, never believed that intelligent people and scholars of the twentieth century could not study and understand the problems of their century without always asking what Marx had exactly written about an issue. After all, the authors of Limits to growth,8 such an important book for our century, were not known for their Marx scholarship.

Agents of Change?

The leaders of the previous revolutionary changes may or may not have come from the ranks of revolutionary proletarians, but without a good leadership overthrow of any capitalist, feudal, colonial or any other sort of oppressive-exploitative regime would not have been possible. However, whether the societies they built up thereafter could be called “socialist” has been a disputed question, which I cannot take up here.
    People who have some knowledge of history know what political role the “working class parties” (sometimes called social-democratic, sometimes socialist) and their proletarian members have played in the highly developed industrial countries as well as in the less developed ones, such as India. Above, in part I, I have given a short pointer to that role. What we read there applies all the more to the trade unions. Sometimes, of course, they defied the wishes of the leadership of their respective parties, but fighting against capitalism has never been at the top of their agenda. In the developed world, they had already explicitly accepted capitalism, calling the system a “social market economy” and their relationship with capitalists “social partnership”. What they fought for has always been higher wages, better conditions of work, and defending their existing jobs, in short, for their own private and class interests. Occasionally, in the past, in the recent past, and at the present, even their national interest got top priority.
    For me, all that means that today and in the near future, we cannot really think of the proletariat as the chief agent of any radical transformation of capitalist society into some kind of a socialist one. For capitalism in the highly industrialized countries of Europe and America is still capable of maintaining a superficially democratic form of governance with many freedoms and a standard of living of averagely skilled workers that is many times higher than that of averagely skilled workers of underdeveloped countries. It is no wonder then that at least in the USA, such workers understand themselves, and are also understood by others, as members of the middle class. They have a strong interest in defending this system.
    Now, if we tell them that in a future eco-socialist society, all, including skilled workers, will have to forgo many of the comforts and privileges that they today take for granted, they will curse us and wish to send us to hell. This has been my experience in Germany. Here, workers and their trade unions have always been the strongest opponents of the ecology movement.
    The proletariat’s political behavior in such countries may change if capitalism there loses the said capability, e.g. in a crisis more severe than anything seen till today, a crisis of whatever origin and kind. But in which direction they will then push society is anyone’s guess. It may be in the revolutionary socialist direction, but it may also be in the direction of fascism.

Crises and Collapse of Capitalism?

Once, between 1929 and 1933, modern capitalist economy faced a severe crisis and stood on the verge of collapse. No society was then transformed into a socialist one. But in one, fascists took over power. Now how probable is such a crisis in our days, or in the foreseeable future?
    After Marx’s death, four Marxian or Marxist crisis theories were in circulation. About two of them there has been some doubt as to whether Marx himself propounded them or his followers derived/developed them from his writings. The other two were creations of Marx himself.

The Breakdown theory

In vol. 3 of Capital, in a passage on the process of centralization of capital, Marx wrote: “This process would soon bring about the collapse of capitalist production … .”9 But this passage, according to Sweezy, is nothing more than a description of a tendency, since Marx speaks in the same breath about “counteracting tendencies which continually have a decentralizing effect by the side of the centripetal ones” Nowhere else did Sweezy find in Marx’s works “a doctrine of the specifically economic breakdown of capitalist production.” (ibid:192). However, there is another longish passage in Capital, Vol. 3, which is worth noting in this context. Marx writes:

“The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-valorization [i.e. getting returns and capital accumulation] appear as the starting and finishing point, as the motive and purpose of production; production is production only for capital, and not the reverse, i.e. the means of production are not simply means for a steadily expanding pattern of life for the society of the producers. The barriers within which the maintenance and valorization of the capital-value has necessarily to move – and this in turn depends on the dispossession and impoverishment of the great mass of the producers – therefore come constantly into contradiction with the methods of production that capital must apply to its purpose and which set its course towards an unlimited expansion of production, to production as an end in itself, to an unrestricted development of the social productive powers of labor. The means … comes into persistent conflict with the restricted end, … . If the capitalist mode of production is therefore a historical means for developing the material powers of production … , it is at the same time the constant contradiction between this historical task and the social relations of production [i.e. capitalist relations among members of society] corresponding to it9a

    Some Marx scholars think that this key passage in Marx’s writings, which is his quintessential characterization of capitalism, can be interpreted as a theory of ultimate breakdown of the system. It has to be noted that Marx wrote it while presenting and elaborating on his famous Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit. It is logically correct, I think, to conclude that if this law is a secular tendency, which Marx insisted it was, then sooner or later the rate of profit will fall to such a low level, that, for most capitalists, it won’t any more be interesting to invest their money in industry – in spite of all the “counteracting forces” that Marx also described.
    Another point to be noted here is that Marx enumerated among his counteracting forces “more intense exploitation of labor”, “reduction of wages below their value” (possible because of competition among workers) and generation of “the relative surplus population” (i.e. unemployment). It is logical to conclude from this that Marx had a Pauperization Theory, that he thought universal pauperization of the working people would also contribute to the eventual breakdown of capitalism. In the passage quoted above, Marx himself speaks of “dispossession and impoverishment of the great mass of the producers.” And pauperization theory logically leads to an under-consumption theory, which can also be called the (relative) over-production theory
    I cannot here again discuss these Marxian and/or Marxist theories nor the criticisms thereof.10 Suffice it to say that the fact that 135 years after Marx’s death, capitalism has not broken down yet, and the fact that, on the contrary, it has now conquered the whole world, and even reconquered the lost territories – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam,10a – should actually give rise to the conjecture that the famous Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit, the basis of all these theories mentioned above, was itself fundamentally flawed. I had this suspicion when I, as a young man, first read about this law. I did not then dare express it. I thought I had not read enough. So I just put a question mark on the margin of the book, and continued to live and work as a socialist with this suspicion in the back of my head.
    But several years later, when I read the late Paul Sweezy’s book on Marxian economics, I found my suspicion confirmed. Sweezy, himself a famous Marxist, had pointed out the flaw as early as in 1942. For lack of space, I cannot here present his (and my) argumentation in detail. Just this:

“Marx was hardly justified, even in terms of his own theoretical system, in assuming a constant rate of surplus value simultaneously with a rising organic composition of capital.”11

    In short, the enormous gains in labor productivity that capitalist production achieved and is today still achieving thanks to automation and the microelectronic revolution have made it possible that, in the industrial countries, large-scale impoverishment is today a thing of the past. At the most, one can today only speak cautiously of relative impoverishment. These huge gains in labor productivity have allowed capital to accept the higher wage demands of workers and enabled the state to be generous to the unemployed and the unemployable. That these gains went hand in hand with losses in the sphere of ecological balance was known, also to Marx and Engels. But that is another matter.
    If and when Marx’s prediction comes true, i.e. capitalism breaks down because of its inner contradictions, and if we, for the sake of argument, ignore the ecological and resource-related crises, then Schumpeter takes over with his theory of creative destruction.12 That is what happened in the 1930s, and again in 2008ff.

Is the Situation Today Ripe for Socialism? Limits to Growth.

When the great financial crash of 2008 led to the Great Recession and another Great Depression, many Marxist leftists thought this could be the final crisis of capitalism. Others thought Marx was right after all. A renewed interest in reading Capital was observed. Ten years after 2008, I feel like quoting Schumpeter. In 1943, he wrote:

“The capitalist or any other order of things may evidently break down – or economic and social evolution may outgrow it – and yet the socialist phoenix may fail to rise from the ashes.13

    The Great Depression of 2008ff did not prove Marx right, but, once more, Bernstein. As during the Great Depression of the 1930s, this time too, the proletariat of the highly industrialized countries failed to deliver. Even those of the worst-hit countries like the USA, Greece, Spain and Italy14 did not make any move whatsoever to overthrow capitalism. Today, in such countries, capitalism is of course not thriving, but it is also not dead. Marx, it seems, was totally wrong in writing that “the true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself.” Is then capitalism an immortal system?
    It may not be so, because in the meantime, a new barrier has been discovered, namely limits to growth, which, if translated into Marxist jargon, would read limits to accumulation, limits to capitalist production. And these limits are – unlike Marx’s idea that capital itself is the true barrier – not a mere theoretical construct. They are concrete and tangible limits to the carrying capacity of the earth: (1) limits to the availability of cheap renewable and nonrenewable resources needed for industrial production, (2) limits to the capacity of our natural environment to absorb or, alternatively, neutralize pollutants produced by us humans such as CO2 (the Earth’s sink function), and (3) limits to the number of modern humans that can live on the earth without ruining the ecological balance of its biosphere.
    However, they are not only a barrier to capitalist production, but to any kind of industrial production, also of the socialist kind. And all environmentally conscious humans, I presume, know of reports by serious scientists that say we have already overshot many of these limits.14a And journalistic reports show that many of today’s human societies have already collapsed, that many others are fast approaching collapse: Somalia, Central African Republic, Greece, Bolivia, Mexico Venezuela etc.

Prospects for Eco-Socialism

After reading the book Limits to growth (1972) I realized that this discovery was of an import to economics, politics and socio-economic policy comparable to that of the Copernican discovery of the heliocentric movement of the planets. Like the latter, it demanded of us a wholesale paradigm shift, namely from the until then prevailing growth paradigm to what I call the limits-to-growth paradigm.15 The thought occurred to me that limits to growth may be the real and ultimate barrier that will cause the breakdown of capitalism. It later enabled me to come to a different and better understanding of the causes of the breakdown of the Soviet model of socialism.16 It meant for me that we must now bid farewell to development of productive forces as well as to economic growth and concentrate our efforts on economic and ecological sustainability, which would require economic contraction in (at least) the highly industrialized countries.
    Here I also saw a new kind of necessity and justification for socialism: A socialist society, because it would be egalitarian, would be an ethically better one and hence more desirable. And only such a society, because it would be planned, could guarantee that no person of working age would go without a gainful employment, even in a contracting economy. And only such a socialist society can guarantee that the job an employed person would be doing would also be a socially useful work. Only in such a society would it be possible that working people would accept policies designed for deliberately reducing production and consumption, for saving the earth. This new conception of socialism should be called, I thought, eco-socialism.
    Marx and Engels had known a lot about the ecological problems and damages that arise from capitalism (actually from industrialism of any kind). But because they did not see any limits to development of productive forces, they did not take them seriously for their own vision of socialism. Engels expressly wrote:

“… after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realize and hence to control even the more remote natural consequences of at least our day today production activities.”17 (emphasis added)

   This defect in their theory was also noted by Ted Benton,18 a famous Marx scholar, who, in connection with the hostile attitude of Marx and Engels toward Malthus and his law of population, writes of a

“… defect in Marx’s economic thought” … which “derives, rather, from an insufficiently radical critique of the leading exponents of Classical Political Economy. … It is plausible to see this failure as in part due to a mystificatory feature of capitalist economic life itself, but it is also connected with a general, politically understandable, reluctance on the part of Marx and Engels to recognize nature-imposed limits to human potential in general, and to the creation of wealth in particular. …”
    For political reasons, … Marx and Engels were strongly, and understandably, predisposed against ‘natural-limits’ arguments, ….”.(emphases added)

    However much understanding one might have had up to 1972 for this politically motivated attitude of Marx and Engels, today, the Marxist conception of socialism based on stubborn refusal to recognize unpleasant realities must be regarded as obsolete.
    While working on my book on eco-socialism, I was very surprised to find, that Mahatma Gandhi, who was neither known for scholarship nor for scientific thinking, needed only common sense to come, in 1928, to the conclusion for which scholars and scientists needed to wait until 1972. He wrote:

“The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [Britain] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”19

    Yet, it was Marx from whom I got the clue to the theoretical thought that eco-socialism might succeed where earlier socialisms based more or less on his and Engels’s theory failed. Marx wrote in his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

“No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since … it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.”20

    I interpreted the quote as follows: The capitalist social order has not perished yet because until now, there has been enough room in it for all the productive forces to develop. Today, however, this issue is irrelevant. For against the background of the global ecological crisis and rapidly dwindling resources, the global economy, especially the advanced industrial economies, must contract to a sustainable level. That is the task today. Technologically, its solution is easy. There is no need to develop new technologies. But there is a political need to conceive (which is difficult) new relations of production that would allow, indeed facilitate, the fulfilment of this task. One such conception is there. It is called eco-socialism. It has already matured as a conception in the womb of existing society.
    At this point comes up the question whether this interpretation of mine is at all in consonance with the original quotation, which expresses one of the main points of the theory of history of Marx and Engels. It is, obviously, not. Marxists have always maintained that private capitalism has become a fetter to the development of productive forces and that the fetter must be shattered. Take, for instance. the following two quotes from Principles of Communism, an early work of Engels:

It is clear that, up to now, the forces of production have never been developed to the point where enough could be developed [produced?] for all, and that private property [i.e. capitalism] has become a fetter and a barrier in relation to the further development of the forces of production.”
… though big industry [large-scale industry] in its earliest stage created free competition, it has now outgrown free competition; … for big industry, competition and generally the individualistic organization of production have become a fetter which it must and will shatter;”21 (emphases added)

But now we are saying the forces of production have developed so much that they have become destructive for the environment as well as for humans; so, today, they must be fettered and thus prevented from developing further.
    I would like to express this inconsonance with Marx and Engels through a beautiful quote from Walter Benjamin, a famous Marxist literary critique of the 1930s, who, in a different critical political situation, wrote:

“Marx says revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But perhaps it is entirely different. Revolutions are perhaps the attempt of humanity travelling in a train to pull the emergency brake.”22

    Today, only eco-socialism can actively pull the emergency brakes to stop the destructive course of the locomotive of industrialism. For this task, however, the proletariat is not the right agent. Proletarians are trained to and want to drive locomotives, and drive them as fast as possible. Their vision, if it is at all a kind of socialism, is cornucopian socialism. Erich Fromm, the famous social psychologist, who also admired Marx very much, thought that today there are “only two camps: those who care and those who don’t care.”23 I agree.

Today, humanity has come to a point where Marxist theory of history has reached the end of its tether, and another theory of history takes over, that of Arnold Toynbee.24 When collapse of the current civilization stares us in the face, the issue is not whether or how we can farther develop the forces of production, but whether we can meet the various challenges we are facing and transform, through contraction, our civilization into a sustainable one. I think with eco-socialism that is possible, but not with Marxian/Marxist socialism with its Promethean productivism.

Notes and References

1. Marx: Theses on Feuerbach. In Marx-Engels: Selected Works. Vol.1.Moscow 1977. P.15.
2. These were the show trials, in which several top leaders of the CPSU (B), such as
 Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin etc. were found guilty of treason, sentenced to death, and subsequently executed.
3. Chattopadhyay, Paresh: “A Brief Note on Subrata Bagchi’s write up “Che Guevara …..”.
 in  Frontier, 14.07.2014. Kolkata. (emphases added)
4. (not used)
5. Marx and Engels: The Holy Family, in Collected Works, Vol. 4. 1975, Moscow. P.37.
6. (not used)
7. Kolakowski, Leszek (1978/81) Die Hauptströmungen des Marxismus. Vol.2. Munich.
 P. 133f. (Tr. SS).
8. Meadows, Donella and Dennis et al.: Limits to Growth – Report to the Club of Rome.
9. Quoted in Sweezy, Paul M (1942) The Theory of Capitalist Development. New York: P.191.
9a. Marx: Capital Vol.3; translated by Fernbach. Penguin. P. 358f.
10. I have done that in my book The Crises of Capitalism. Berkeley, 2012.
10a. See my article on Vietnam’s return to capitalism:
11. Sweezy (see note 9), P. 102.
12. See Schumpeter; Joseph Alois (1912/1934) The Theory of Economic Development.
 Cambridge, MA. USA.
13. Schumpeter, Joseph Alois (1943) Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. London. P. 56f.

14. See my essay Understanding the Present-day World Economic Crisis – An 

Eco-Socialist Approach

14a. William Rees has recently published a good summary of the ecological state of the world:
15. See Kuhn, Thomas (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago.
I used and explained the terms in my book
Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanities Fundamental 

Choices. London (Zed Books). 1999.
16. See Chapter 2 and 3 of my above mentioned book (note 15).
17. Marx & Engels (1976) Selected Works (in 3 Volumes) Vol. 3. Moscow.
18. Benton, Ted: “Marxism and Natural Limits: An Ecological Critique and Reconstruction”, in
New Left Review, I_178, Nov–Dec. 1989.
19. Gandhi, Mahatma, quoted in
Bandyopadhyay, Jayanta and Vandana Shiva (1989) “Political Economy of Ecology
Movements”, in Ifda dossier 71, May/June.
20. Marx: Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In 
Marx-Engels: Selected Works, Vol. 1. Moscow. 1977.
21. Engels: Principles of Communism : Quoted from the internet:
22. Benjamin, Walter , quoted in
Fetcher, Iring (1980) Überlebensbedingungen der Menschheit.
Munich.P. 8).
23. Fromm, Erich (1979) To Have or to Be. London.P.196.
24. Toynbee, Arnold is the author of the monumental work A Study of History. (I have 
not read the 12 volumes, but some articles on his theory of history.)

6811 words

Note: The essay was first published in the online journal Radical Ecological Democracy