K Murali (Ajith) and K.P Sethunath in conversation. (Part 8)

Basic Concepts

Q. Perhaps it could be said that the contribution of Maoism lies in its putting forward the concept that the Communist party may not only commit mistakes, it could even become its opposite, instead of the view that the party will not commit mistakes. This view was different from that existing in Marxism, or communist practice, till then. But, quite often, things seem to be such that there is a situation where even those who claim to be a Maoist party have gone back.

K.M: There is unevenness. But there is no going back. To understand why this happens we must understand how these parties have been built up. The ideas guiding that process were not those of building up a Maoist party. Rather, concepts of the old Leninist party guided this, more or less. In this matter, the understanding about what Maoism’s specific contribution is, came later. The Chinese Communist Party itself took up such a summarisation in 1974 or 1975, through the book ‘A Basic Understanding of the Chinese Communist Party’. Its circulation all over the world and getting studied and discussed by people that again took place after some more time. So there is an unevenness in this. At the same time there are also efforts being made to assimilate it. There are the rectifications, corrections, self-criticisms that came through this.

Q. Some fundamental questions have been raised about this on many occasions. The evaluation made by the ML movement at the time of its formation, that is, concepts like semi-feudal, semi-colonial, comprador bourgeois, how far are such concepts relevant in the present situation. In a situation where society is getting urbanised at a fast rate how realistic is the view about a people’s war carried out by building liberated areas in villages? Or the question of semi-feudalism. All of these bring up the issue of changes in material conditions. Don’t all these changes demand theoretical re-examination and new insights?

K.M: There is the question of whether basic concepts have to be abandoned. Then there is also the issue of how these concepts are to be grasped today. How are they being concretised today and how are they to be understood? These are two different issues. Regarding the first issue I don’t think that these concepts have to be abandoned. Because, I was able to discover many examples of the semi-feudalism existing here in the study I carried out about the agrarian relations existing in Kerala. Not in the old form. It is not the old semi-feudalism. Not the old caste-feudalism. But even then caste-feudalism is existing in a new form in the economy and other spheres. It is very clearly present in social relations. Apart from that, it is present in economic relations also. This phenomenon of urbanisation, if statistics are closely examined, we can see that this evaluation is actually being made on the basis of the category of census towns. The definition of a census town is itself very weak. If the percentage of people becoming daily wagers exceeds a certain number, or a certain percentage of houses are of a specified area, this is how these figures are arrived at. Once the number of census towns increases another statistic is presented that says that the urban population has increased. But the actual extent of urbanisation is a matter of doubt. Is the growth of some market situated in the rural areas into a bigger center being mistaken as urbanisation? These things have yet to be sufficiently investigated. The Economic and Political Weekly had bought out an issue solely devoted to census towns. I read it while in jail. What I saw in it is an intermingled state of affairs. I say it is intermingled because these developments have taken place depending on some other factors. It is not organic, something that came about through the transition from rural to urban, the division of labour and local industries that have come up as a part of this, this is not the process that took place there. Other factors like a (new) road passing through in this specific direction instead of that one, a bridge coming up, it is factors like these that have led to the emergence of these centers. Or a new center came up which led to the decline of an earlier one and so on. So we must examine how far this talk about urbanisation is factual. Of course, there are now more towns than in the past. No quarrel about that. But there is the issue of its extent. The issue of whether there is urbanisation to the extent claimed. That is why I said I don’t think this is a question of abandoning basic concepts.

Moreover, I think that the concept of bureaucrat capitalism needs to be studied deeper in order to deepen the grasp of those concepts. Bureaucrat capitalism is a concept that was there from the beginning of the ML movement. But more studies haven’t taken place. The CPI (Maoist) had accepted that this has to be studied. I don’t know what happened later. I haven’t been able to see any such document of that nature. This bureaucrat capitalism Mao talked about is the specific type of capitalism created by imperialist countries in Third world countries. Its basic nature is that of serving imperialism and feudalism at the same time.Then this is not a type of capitalism that will eliminate feudalism. It is one that is always intertwined with it. Then that brings up the issue that feudalism will be recreated in one form or the other. How is that taking place here? This is something that has to be evaluated concretely. Similarly the issue of the central slogan of the new democratic revolution and agrarian revolution, ‘land to the tiller’. It is asked whether this slogan is relevant in a period where people are moving away from agriculture. There is the question of why people are moving away from agriculture. The reason is that the income from agriculture is not sufficient. Not because they have lost interest in agriculture. On the contrary a situation has emerged where one cannot live depending on agriculture. In a society where cash income is prime, people will be concerned over how that can be maximised. A huge number of youngsters are coming to Keralam as migrant labour.

Q. Where is the money they earn going? What is it being turned into in the rural areas? It is being invested precisely in agriculture itself. To improve their holding or buy land or if they were having a thatched house to renovate or improve it. Their earnings are going into these sorts of things. It is not transforming into capital. No, the income is not sufficient for that.

K.M: This is not just because their income is not sufficient for that. It is not being accumulated, it is not going in that direction. So, as I said earlier, at the level of concepts, I am of the view that they are correct. But how it is existing today, what tactical approach should be adopted and such things should certainly be studied and formulated in relation to each concrete situation. There is no dispute there. But I don’t think that a fundamental change has taken place in basic relations. I couldn’t see that sort of an indication in the articles I have read in the EPW too. In one of its issues it carried essays on comparative studies carried out by various social scientists or their students in villages they had investigated fifty years ago. They say that there is both change and no-change. True, things have changed from what was seen in the past. But there is no change in some basic things. Particularly, in things related to caste, landlordism or feudalism, that continues without change, basically. I think that this common picture will be seen everywhere.


Q. You have been involved in ug activities or put in jail for long periods during your 40-50 years long political life. Haven’t you faced solitude during this period? Not in an existential sense. But people who worked along with you from your political formative period, almost all have left the movement or the political orientation you are following. In this situation how do you assess the isolation one experiences in this situation?

K.M: I have never experienced it as isolation. I have only thought about it as something that happens in any revolutionary movement. Feeling isolated or alone, these sort of problems were never there. Moreover even while ug, I always had a lot to do. Reading, writing, meeting and talking to comrades, doing investigation, I was always engaged in something or the other. There never was an occasion where I had to sit idle and kill time or be isolated. I didn’t face that while in jail also. Rather I was thinking that I am not getting sufficient time, I mean to carry out and complete all the things I was planning to do.

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