Two of my previous articles published in this blog were in response to Ramachandra Guha’s very brief intellectual history of India since independence published in The Caravan magazine on March 1, 2015: In Absentia: Where are India’s conservative intellectuals?
In this blog post, I would just consider two paragraphs of his article which are an eloquent expression of the intellectual atmosphere in India immediately before Independence; a kind of mere “conditioned reflexes” to events and ideas by men rather than any attempt of critical inquiry and analysis that is required of Intellectuals. But before analyzing this further, I would like to recollect some of the ideas on these topics that I had in the past.
During my college days in the late 1970s, there were widespread ideas among college students that Indian Independence was achieved without exhibiting any kind of courage in the struggle, and therefore, they had the opinion that independence was not much of a valve to them.
The countries of Vietnam and Angola and their method of armed struggle to achieve independence were spoken very respectfully among college students at that time. There was an awe and wonder in their voices when they spoke of these countries. I knew even at that time that they were speaking and thinking only of physical courage and not Intellectual Courage: To know the truth of an idea or principle about any aspect of human life and stand by that idea and able to respond intellectually when that idea is attacked. They did not seem to have any idea, even remotely, of the concept of intellectual courage. I knew even at that time that physical courage, though may be needed, would not be enough to sustain an individual in his life and that intellectual courage plays a more important role. This applies to the course of a nation’s culture as well: The intellectual courage of the leaders of the nation for the sustenance and development of its culture. As it turned out, those two nations cannot be said to have achieved much in terms of welfare of their people.
Of course, I never subscribed to such ideas about freedom struggles of newly liberated nations, but I was of the opinion that our intellectual leadership at that time did not have clear and coherent ideas about the course that the country was to take to achieve prosperity and development after independence. Most of the intellectual leaders of India at that time had many misconceptions about the political theories and economic ideas that were dominant at that time.
I have always wondered at that time why most of the Indians – the would be freedom fighters – who went to higher studies to Europe and USA returned to India as socialists with the exception of only one leader that I can think of: Dr. Ambedkar, whose work in Economic sciences was supportive of free trade and free market ideas. However, even Dr. Ambedkar, after coming to India and joining politics, became a full-blown socialist, and he seemed to have forgotten completely all of his great work as an intellectual in the Economics sciences.
It was in this context that I read this one paragraph of Ramachandra Guha’s article mentioned above: “Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a classical liberal reared on John Stuart Mill and John Morley, who urged the British to grant to Indians the same democratic liberties their own people enjoyed; Jawaharlal Nehru, a modernising socialist influenced both by the Russian Revolution and by British Fabian thought; BR Ambedkar, an economist and legal theorist educated at those two bastions of progressive thought, Columbia University and the London School of Economics; Ram Manohar Lohia, who received a PhD in political science from Berlin, and whose personal experience of Nazi brutality made him a socialist for life; and Jayaprakash Narayan, whose experience of studying and working in the United States during the Depression oriented him towards the left.”
After reading this, my mind was bombarded with many questions, the answers of which were missing in all of the rest of Guha’s article. First, I would put the questions before trying to give my answers and also write about my attempts whether I would be able to locate the answers to those questions in Guha’s other writings.
Have all these leaders of India studied – or at least read – about the liberal thought of John Locke in political science and Adam Smith and other classical economists? Did they reject those ideas after careful inquiry and analysis in favor of socialism? Did they have any ideas about the working of the principles of Capitalism? Did they found out the origin and development of Industrial Revolution in England and Europe at that time. Did they have any idea of the Renaissance and about the Age of Enlightenment?
Guha gives no answer to these questions. He did not even seem to have thought the possibility of such questions because he calls himself a “lapsed Marxist” but still a socialist, and it would be better to never ask such questions as the answers to those questions would make one skeptic of the idea of socialism.
Read carefully what Guha writes on Dr. Ambedkar here. He did not mention anything about Ambedkar’s political ideas and whether or not he accepted, like all other leaders mentioned here, the idea of socialism, after his intellectual pursuit in the field of economics in England and USA. This was because, as an economist, Dr. Ambedkar was for free trade and free market and he even endorsed the principle of Gold Standard as the basis of monetary policy in opposition to John Maynard Keynes at that time.
Read these two articles on Dr. Ambedkar and his contributions to free market ideas as an economist:
I hope the readers will now understand why Guha has conveniently remained silent on the political and economic ideas of Dr. Ambedkar.
Ramachandra Guha is a highly respectable historian and an intellectual. He has very wide knowledge of the intellectual capabilities of the men he talks about and one can very well take his word for what he writes about them. I assume that he knows exactly what he is talking about them in this article, except Dr. Ambedkar, because he has not written anything much in the way of his economic and political ideas.
I have in another article in this blog, “A Critique of Ramachandra Guha’s Brief Intellectual History of India since Independence,” treated extensively how Guha himself has misunderstood, misinterpreted, and had some very fundamental misconception of the ideas of Liberalism, Fascism, Socialism, and Capitalism in his mind.
The above paragraph would mean only two alternatives. If these ideas that he expresses of them are true and that he has arrived these conclusions about them after considerable thought and analysis of the ideas of these intellectuals then by implication they do not deserve the title of the intellectuals because their becoming socialists was not because of deep thought and a reasoned understanding and response to the events around them but because of some kind of conditioned reflexes based on their emotion with which they might have formed those concepts when they were young and their rational faculty was in the formative stage. The other alternative is that Guha is wrong in evaluation of how those intellectuals became intellectual defenders of socialism. The first alternative seems to be nearer to truth than the second.
Even if you come to the conclusion that one idea is wrong or evil, it would not mean that the presumed opposite idea would automatically be right or good. In fact, when you decide that certain idea as bad or evil, you just do not pick whatever idea that is prevalent at certain time as an alternative at all. It may very well turn out to be two sides of the same coin, and whose alternative may not be obvious but has to be identified taking into account the basic premises.
Nazi (German: Nationalsozialismus) idea is not opposite of socialism. In fact, Nazism means National Socialism and the party was called National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Communism and Nazism are not exactly opposite sides but assuming different aspects of a fundamentally collectivist ideology. If one chooses communism because you find Nazism to be evil, then you are merely reflecting conditionally out of frustration or impotence to be unable to think and find out the real alternative. The real alternative here, of course, is freedom or control, individualism or collectivism, which would be obvious only by means of a reasoned analysis.
If you find out that depression in the USA as the challenge faced by that country in the 1930s, and if an average person comes to the conclusion that depression happened in a capitalist country and that it caused suffering to millions of people and therefore one need an alternative ideology for the country, it would be excusable (not justifiable) because USA was not a capitalist country anymore at that time. It was the country of mixed economy, a mixture of freedom and control. Therefore, his conclusion would be obviously wrong. This was excusable if this wrong was done by an uneducated or illiterate person. What an intellectual would do in such a circumstance? He would find out which part of the mixture (here freedom and control) led to the depression.
USA in the first 100 years of existence came very close to being a laissez faire capitalist economy. But after the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, and the establishment of Federal Reserve System replacing the semi-gold standard in 1913, USA had started slowly moving away from being a country of free market and free trade towards a mixed economy.
These four Acts and laws are based on the fascist principles, where the Government, while recognizing the property rights in principle, imposes various controls over the right to use and dispose of the fruits derived from the property rights, while socialism rejects the principle of property right itself. So fascist ideas had started to creep into the American system long before the Great Depression.
It can be still said to be the freest country on earth than any other economy, but on the principles based on the laws that are in statue books in USA, it is close to a socialist/fascist economy than anywhere near to a free economy.
About these four laws, read these excerpts from Wikipedia: The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 is a United States federal law that was designed to regulate the railroad industry, particularly its monopolistic practices. The Act required that railroad rates be “reasonable and just,” but did not empower the government to fix specific rates. It also required that railroads publicize shipping rates and prohibited short haul or long haul fare discrimination, a form of price discrimination against smaller markets, particularly farmers. The Act created a federal regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which it charged with monitoring railroads to ensure that they complied with the new regulations. The Act was the first federal law to regulate private industry in the United States. It was later amended to regulate other modes of transportation and commerce.”
The Sherman Antitrust Act is a landmark federal statute in the history of United States antitrust law (or “competition law”) passed by Congress in 1890. Passed under the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, it prohibits certain business activities that federal government regulators deem to be anti-competitive, and requires the federal government to investigate and pursue trusts.
Clayton Antitrust Act: An amendment passed by the U.S. Congress in 1914 that provides further clarification and substance to the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The Clayton Antitrust Act attempts to prohibit certain actions that lead to anti-competitiveness.
The Federal Reserve System is the central banking system of the United States. It was created on December 23, 1913, with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, largely in response to a series of financial panics, particularly a severe panic in 1907. Over time, the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Reserve System have expanded, and its structure has evolved. Events such as the Great Depression in the 1930s were major factors leading to changes in the system.”
The so called severe panic of 1907 was mild compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The spectacular crash of 1929 followed five years of reckless credit expansion by the Federal Reserve System under President Coolidge administration.
The choice of socialism was, therefore, not made by the Indian intellectuals after serious thought and analysis of various political and economic systems but by conditioned reflexes to events and ideas of that time, if what Guha writes about them is to be believed.
Another paragraph from Guha’s article: “These scholars, who came to prominence before and soon after Independence, in turn trained and nurtured younger generations of liberals and socialists. But this was not mere ideological indoctrination; it was also in keeping with the spirit of the times.”
Intellectuals, in the proper sense of the word, are not men who just blindly agree with the prevalent trend – the spirit of the times – but who would rather try to swim against the current, if necessary, and advocate ideas which are true and good rather than accepted without inquiry and merely because they are fashionable at certain time.
After reading so many misconceptions about the various political and economic ideas in this article of Guha, it was like breathing of fresh air when one reads Guha’s another article: A fifty-fifty democracy – Seven threats to freedom of expression in The Telegraph dated January 24, 2015.
In this article, Guha blames RSS for invoking colonial laws like IPC, which were originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay – a man whom the RSS professes to despise, but it uses those laws when they suit its purpose. According to Guha, “the postcolonial State has done nothing to repeal laws clearly unsuited to a democratic age,” conveniently forgetting that for the first 17 years “the post colonial state” was under Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister, whom Guha admires very much. I want to remind Guha that it was failure on the part of Nehru by not repealing those laws, which paved the way for RSS to use those laws. One can very well blame Nehru for not repealing those laws because he himself wanted to use those laws to suit his purpose.
I am quoting Guha again: “The State’s powers to suppress independent thought also take advantage of the first amendment to the Indian Constitution which restricted the sweeping freedom of speech originally granted by the Constitution. This amendment, introduced in May 1951 when Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister and B.R. Ambedkar law minister, allowed governments to ban periodicals or books, which threatened “the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, [or] public order” – provisions that give the authorities wide latitude to prohibit the circulation of books, newspapers or films they do not like.”
Here again Guha just mentions Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar for the enactment of the first amendment which allowed government to restrict freedom of speech and expression by banning books but did not say a word by way of reprimand for this Act. This raises some doubts in the reader’s mind about whether Guha really wants India to be a 100% democracy like the United Kingdom, where such ban can not be sustained.
Guha again blames RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad for targeting M.F. Hussain, which filled various suits in courts across India for hurting religious sentiments of Hindus through his paintings, using the first amendment.
Why blame anybody for merely invoking laws in the statue books which allow for the suppression of free speech and expression? If the laws are evil, why do not Guha ask for its repeal? Was it because Guha wants to keep such laws in statue books so that books of his choice and that of other pseudo-secularists, when they think and feel that such books hurt the sentiments of some other religion other than The Hindu religion, can be banned to serve their purpose?
This last was preciously the reason why nowhere in this whole article he asks for the repeal of the first amendment, which would make India a “100% democratic nation” to use his own phrase. Perhaps, he does want India to be such a country!
This was one of the most fundamental misconceptions of secularism by the Indian intellectuals from the left including Ramachandra Guha.