[Kobad Ghandy, a member of the Politburo and Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), was captured by Indian Intelligence Bureau on September 17, 2009. Initially kept in illegal detention and tortured, he remains a political prisoner in Tihar Jail, where he continues his revolutionary studies and writings, organizes Maoist classes, and joins the struggles of other prisoners against the draconian conditions they face. The following is the first two parts of a series on freedom–its promise and the problems in its pathway. — Frontlines ed.]
Mainstream, VOL L, No 35, August 18, 2012
[Kobad Ghandy from Tihar Jail now writes on the concept of freedom vis-à-vis present-day society as also in relation to a future just order, bringing out some causes for the failure of the erstwhile socialist states. It will comprise a series of five to six articles. —Editor]
PART I — THE CONTEXT
Communism is the return of man himself as a social, i.e. really human being, a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development. Communism, as a fully developed naturalism, is humanism, and, as a fully developed humanism, is naturalism. It is the DEFINITIVE resolution of the antagonism between man and nature, and between man and man. It is the true solution of the conflict between existence and essence, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be this solution. —Karl Marx
Utopian? Maybe. Yet, it sounds like the ultimate in freedom, something toward which one could move towards, step by step. The rose of freedom in the above-mentioned garden, called by any other name, would, no doubt, smell as sweet. It may seem ironical to dream of freedom locked up in a jail within jail (the high-risk ward), with lathi-wielding cops breathing down one’s neck 24 hours a day, denied access to even the normal jail facilities. But dream one must to maintain one’s sanity under such conditions.
Yet FREEDOM… that much abused word. Freedom—around which hundreds of myths have been woven into beautiful-looking intricate webs waiting to entrap us. US, as the ultimate in freedom: free speech; free trade; free association; free thought; et al. And, if perchance we are unable to find freedom here, there is always the escape to religious illusion—moksha, to be acquired in splendid isolation. In all this are we not losing the essence of freedom?
Coming back to this jailed existence, we find some bright spots within the darkness—like the compound attached to our ward covered by a canopy of trees. I sit in silence watching the squirrels prancing around in gay abandon, and listen to the chirping of birds in the tree. Looking at them, they seem so free. But, are they really? I begin to think what really is the meaning of freedom?
My thoughts drift to the time I developed an interest in communism. It was a time in the late 1960s and early seventies when lakhs, nay millions, of youth came to a similar conclusion in their search for freedom and justice. After all, at that time one-third of the world was socialist, and, in addition, Left national liberation movements raged throughout the backward countries. One can safely say that about half the world was under the sway of communism. But today, just forty years later, when the world is going through one of its worst crisis, when the gap between the rich and the poor has never been so wide, the communist existence is insignificant. Though all the conditions exist for it, yet it is unable to captivate the minds of the youth, workers and students. The socialist countries have collapsed, the national liberation movements have been replaced, in many places, by Islamic resistance, and of the millions who have come onto the streets in the West, one can see only a sprinkling of Communists. There continue to be a few communist resistance movements, but even of these, many have collapsed, while a few continue with enormous difficulties, fighting with their backs to the wall. Sitting here in the quietude of the compound, I begin to contemplate the serious implications of what has happened. Why such a devastating reversal? What happened to our hopes and dreams of a better future? Was it to witness a mafia-type rule in the first ever socialist country, or the billionaire princelings of China, not to mention the tin-pot dictators of earlier East Europe!! Forget the autocratic rulers, why did the masses so easily choose a free market over freedom from want? If there are no clear-cut answers and also solutions, the Communists of today may continue to live ostrich-like in their make-believe worlds; but the people will go their own way. The reasons given by many an academic for the failures—lack of democracy and development of productive forces—are in no way convincing; so these have little impact on the people. If the sensitive amongst the people are unable to find answers in real life, they will once again seek solace in religion and spiritualism. As Marx put it, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of an unspiritual world. It is the opium of the people.” Yes, people are seeking spiritual solace from a crass-materialist consumerist opium, far more potent than earlier religions. Do we not see such a turn not only amongst the deeply alienated middle classes, but even amongst the organised working class? Communism seems no longer an attraction for the youth, as it was for us in the 1960s and 1970s.
Tracing my way back to the cell, through two locked iron gates, I feel that I am returning from the garden of paradise to the real cruel world. My musty cell brings me back to reality—recollections of my past experiences.
Images float before my eyes, some clear, some hazy. Quite naturally the first image to come is of the person with whom I had the longest and deepest relationship—my late wife Anuradha. So lively and chirpy, like the little squirrels, she was straightforward, simple, with few complexes, and her reactions were so spontaneous and child-like (not calculated and cunning). My impression was that probably her inner feelings were very much in tune with her outward reactions; as a result she was closest to what we may call a free person.
The image passes. Then others appear—of associations experienced over forty years of social activities. I could club them into three categories:
First is the Anuradha-type. Many of these (not all) would be from tribal, women and Dalit background, but would include others as well.
The second category would be those from the other extreme. Notwithstanding their dedication, they have been unable to get out of the prevalent value system, deeply embedded in their sub-conscious, and have to resort to pretences, intrigues, subterfuges, etc. to gain acceptability. Often they may even be unconscious of this dichotomy wherein their inner feelings are in deep contradiction with their outward behaviour. They therefore get entangled in a web of comp-lexes, like caged animals in a zoo. Particularly, in India, the entrenched caste hierarchy adds to the existing feelings of class superiority, creating fertile grounds for these complexities. This may not reflect in crude casteism, but gets manifested in the form of intellectual superiority, arrogance/ego, domi-nation/authoritarianism, etc.—one could call it, in its extreme form, the Chanakya syndrome.
And between these two extremes of white and black would lie the third category—the varied shades of grey: some veering towards the white, others towards the black. I would consider the majority would lie here.
My mind then switches back to myself and the present caged existence. I look out at the guards walking up-and-down through two sets of gates. It reminds me how animals in a zoo look at us humans from their cages—only they have one set of gates, and sufficient space to pace up and down. In this caged existence it is difficult to evaluate myself in relation to freedom, in the sense outlined above. But before arrest, where would I have stood? An honest self-assessment is often the most difficult, while one easily jumps to conclusions about others. Yet, a truthful self-assessment is most important, as that and that alone would be the starting point for any positive change—given that we would all be infected, to varying degrees, with the dominant values prevalent in the system. Well, I think I would place myself in the third category. One may say that this is a convenient broad categorisation. Very true! But, the important aspect here is to remember that no one is static (this applies to all categories), we are in continuous flux; the key factor here is the direction of our movement—whether it is towards white or heading towards the morass of black. This I leave to others to assess.
NOW, before coming to the CONTEXT in which FREEDOM should be viewed, a point of clarification needs to be made. The above presentation may appear as a crude pragmatic interpretation of freedom, lacking a scientific content. But, all I have sought to present is the reality. Science seeks to understand the laws behind the reality, which I will try and do in my future articles. Continue reading →