How Do Communists Govern in the Indian State of Kerala? / by Eduardo García Granado

Sources: The Jump [Photo by Ranjit Bhaskar Al Jazeera]

Kerala is an Indian state referred to by citizens of that country as a place of inherent natural beauty. Some 35 million people live in this territory in the south of the subcontinent. To get an idea, one only has to realize that more people live in Kerala than in Venezuela or in all the Scandinavian countries taken together.

The particularity of this state, and why we are interested, is that the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), in the 2021 elections renewed its electoral victory in 2016 that enabled the Party to govern within the coalition framework of the Left Democratic Front, (LDF), along with forces such as the Communist Party of India (CPI). The CPI (M) and CPI historically have achieved rather fantastic results in this region, especially compared to outcomes elsewhere in the country. The Sino-Soviet disputes of the 20th century led to a split in India’s communist movement and the two parties two parties went their separate ways.  So it’s the CPI(M) and the Indian National Congress that have been vying for political dominance for decades in Kerala.

In the 2021 elections, the communist-progressive coalition, having won more than 45% of the votes in the state, opened the door to five more years of left-wing rule in the region. Led by Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, the Communists now face the challenge of reaffirming their political leadership in the elections of 2026. It’s unavoidable, if they want to continue applying the “Kerala model” that differentiates this territory from the rest of India.

The Kerala model

What is the Kerala model? In an economy that revolves around tourism, the state dedicates much effort to determining how best to distribute economic revenues internally. Through initiatives like the missions, among others, that are reminiscent of those in Venezuela, the state carries out projects for the equitable distribution of resources, and for managing them. These public policy packages can be properly implemented thanks to a high rate of social participation in common spaces for discussion and in “local self-government“. In these venues, many people living in different municipalities can bring up for discussion the immediate needs of their communitiesThese assessments by the people end up on the government’s agenda mainly by sectors of the media communicating between the discussion spaces and the state.

These missions are, in short, social stimulus programs. One is the Pothuvidyabhyasa Samrakshana Yajnam, which is a program through which huge amounts of resources are dispensed to guarantee free universal access to books for students, to adapt school infrastructure for students with functional diversity, to offer academic support, etc. In this regard, the government of Kerala has received international recognition for universalizing and improving the quality of public education throughout the country. The high degree of cohesion and planning capabilities of the regional government are illustrated through other examples. See, for example, the Haritha Keralam Mission which deals with the healthcare sector and agencies that manage water resources and waste disposal. There is another mission directed at eradicating hunger and extreme poverty by means of delivering food kits and ration cards.

Programs like these are typical of initiatives characterizing the “Kerala model, and are the basis for a necessary comparison with the “Gujarat model.” That is the state that was governed by Narendra Modi before he became prime minister. It is a development model that, lacking efforts at equitable distribution, offers privatization and profiteering and no significant improvement in social indicators. Although other regional experiences have emphasized popular participation – in West Bengal, for example – none has been sustained over time like the “Kerala model” or has produced deep-seated structural transformations in government, as in Kerala

In India, poverty – even in the “polite” terms with which the national government defines it – is widespread, enormously so. Problems of access to food, education, health care, and/or clean water run through the lives of a considerable part of India’s population. In this context, Kerala, through its particular model, goes way beyond the norm. Among other things, the state boasts the highest literacy rate in India and the highest life expectancy. It also has placed a primary health care center in every village.

Several facts illustrate the gap between the “Kerala model” and the country as a whole. First, the rural-urban divide is less pronounced in that region. For every 1,000 children born alive in rural Kerala, five die; in urban populations, six do. If one pulls the thread a little further, a revealing fact crops up. In comparison with these infant mortality figures from Kerala, the country as a whole shows a rate of 46 deaths per 1,000 live births in rural areas and 29/1,000 in urban areas. At the same time, the percentage of women with more than 10 years of schooling is 70% in rural Kerala, compared to a meager 27% in rural India as a whole. Kerala boasts effective management of sanitation in the context of a country with profound deficiencies in access to sanitary facilities and water, etc.

The region has even begun to work together with organizations that offer spaces of sexual diversity and varying life styles. In that regard, the state has been able to focus on communities that for various reasons – belonging to the LGTBI+ community or unfamiliarity with the Malayalam language, for example – were not properly brought into universalizing programs, literacy programs, for instance. Responding, the government has launched programs for these groups, and the groups have designed them. Finally, it is worthwhile to mention poverty. The data are overwhelming. The 0.7% poverty rate for Kerala in 2021 contrasts with states such as Bihar (51.9%), Uttar Pradesh (37.8%) or Madhya Pradesh (36.7%.

There are also notable differences in other areas between Kerala and the rest of India. One of them is selective abortion of female fetuses. Several factors give rise to this reality, among them the custom of dowry.  At the time of marriage, the woman’s family must give the husband’s family the equivalent, in money or goods, of the value of a house.

Economics and cultural inheritance combine to produce customs like this that are characteristic of misogyny, especially in rural areas. For example, a family withiout sons being born faces the prospect of a   “loss” of lineage. However, it’s different in Kerala, where girl babies are born in ample numbers. As of 2011, the female-male ratio there was 1,084:1,000. In India as a whole, it was 943:1,000.

The political peculiarities of Kerala and of the CPI(M)

In Kerala, Communists are in the majority. This fact is evident aesthetically as one travels through the state. The Argentine Fernando Duclos – known on social networks as ‘Periodistan’ – offered rich testimony to this on YouTube. Statues, posters and graffiti of Che Guevara adorn the city streets of Kannur, and red hammer-and-sickle flags accompany a multitude of posters featuring figures such as Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even Kim Jong-un. A special kind of socialist folklore captures the attention of visitors to the region.

In regard to positions on international issues, one comment has to be made at the start: because of its regional nature, the state of Kerala takes clear positions only on questions that are national. Nevertheless, the CPI(M) recently did weigh in on happenings abroad.

According to Ramachandran Pillai, a leading party figure, “China declared that it had eradicated poverty. China contributed to the struggle against global poverty by having alleviated 70 percent of it.” [He took India’s national government to task for having failed to ease poverty in India, which] “constitutes 60 percent of the world’s poor people.”

Some positions taken within the Party are critical of the Chinese Communist Party, while other opinions are closer to Chinese socialism. (Translator’s note: The Indian government is no friend of China’s government, and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, a CPI(M) member, “clarified the stand of the CPI(M)” in case R. Pillai’s pro-Chinese views were taken as anti-Indian.)

In any event, and as happens elsewhere, in Brazil, for example, the anti-China speeches of the Indian right wing have great resonance in domestic politics. Sectors of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Modi’s party, have connected anti-China rhetoric with anti-Communism and have focused on the CPI(M). BJP members went so far as to say that belief in internationalism was “dangerous” and “a great betrayal of this land by the Communist movement.” They have called upon all “Marxist groups” to leave India and join with China. The context is that of of border disputes between the two countries over places like Kashmir.

In sum, the differences between Kerala and the rest of India are extreme; they result from their divergent political histories. The general belief is that Ayurveda, which is a set of pseudo-therapies that often lead people away from real medicine, was born in this region. However, the Indian national government actually funds a Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (Ministry of AYUSH), which, in the governmental hierarchy, is at a level equal to that of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Kerala, by contrast, maintains a considerable separation between the administrative apparatus of that ministry and the pseudo-sciences that are so popular.

For space reasons, it is impossible in this article to list all the differences between Kerala’s regional government and India’s national government. What can be highlighted is evidence that the role Communists have played in the region’s governing apparatus has had much to do with this state showing figures for social safety and human development that are far superior to those prevailing in the rest of the country. At the same time, it should be remembered that India is one of the countries most affected by endemic problems such as poverty and conditions predisposing to ill health. These are realities against which the government of Kerala offers an alternative that contrasts sharply with other governments in India.

W.T. Whitney Jr. modified and edited a translation provided by Author Eduardo García Granado is a political journalist based in Spain who writes on international affairs.

The Indian economy since Independence / by Prabhat Patnaik

Indian Farmers – Bacbone of Economy | Photo credit: IJR

The post-colonial state in India had two primary tasks before it: one was to overcome the hegemony of metropolitan capital, so that a development strategy in relative autonomy from imperialism could be pursued; the second was to attack landlordism both to free the agrarian population from its clutches, and to increase agricultural output for rapid industrialisation based on a growing home market. These two tasks were interlinked: unless agricultural growth was stepped up considerably by attacking landlordism, the inflationary and balance of payments pressures associated with a relatively autonomous development strategy would keep overall growth constrained, generating social contradictions that would force an eventual capitulation before imperialism.

The attack on landlordism however was limited. It amounted to getting rid of absentee landlords, turning the remaining landlords into agricultural capitalists on the land they retained as khudkasht, and giving ownership rights on whatever land was taken from the landlords to the upper layer of tenants. Land concentration in the sense of the proportion of land owned by, say, the top 15 per cent of landowners, remained unchanged, but the composition of this top 15 per cent changed; and the ground was cleared for capitalist farming in the countryside. At the same time, State investment in irrigation, in the development of better agricultural practices, and in extension activities, were all stepped up.

The main instruments used for overcoming the hegemony of metropolitan capital were: pervasive protection of the domestic economy; control over trade especially in agricultural products; keeping out agribusiness altogether (and even preventing Indian business houses from having any direct relationship with the peasantry); strict control over cross-border capital flows;  nationalisation in certain key areas, notably finance (though the substantial nationalisation of banks was to come later); and the development of the public sector as a bulwark against such hegemony. The development of a relatively autonomous capitalism which was the sine qua non of this strategy was sought to be kept under control by the institution of a policy of investment–and foreign exchange–licensing that also covered collaboration agreements with foreign capital.

This dirigiste period marked a substantial break from the dismal state of the colonial era. The growth-rate of both the overall gross domestic product and of the agricultural sector accelerated greatly. There was a remarkable turnaround in foodgrain availability per capita: the per capita foodgrain availability in British India which had been about 200 kg per annum at the beginning of the twentieth century, had dropped to an abysmal 136.8 kg by 1946-47; this drastic retrogression was reversed and per capita availability reached close to 180 kg by the end of the 1980s.

But this pace of change, though rapid relative to the colonial period, could not satisfy people’s aspirations. Even in 1973-74, despite the rise in per capita foodgrain availability and the associated fall in poverty defined through a nutritional norm, 56 per cent of the rural population could not access 2200 calories per person per day, and 60 per cent of the urban population could not access 2100 calories per person per day. Likewise, the 2 per cent annual increase in the magnitude of employment, while it may have broadly matched population growth, also meant a growth in the backlog of unemployment, which specially alienated the youth. The big bourgeoisie which had supported the project of building an autonomous capitalism, found the growth-rate of the economy too stifling once it had grown to a considerable extent and had become more ambitious; and even this growth rate became difficult to sustain because of the growing fiscal crisis of the State.

The push for a regime change, away from dirigisme towards neo-liberalism, came from the big bourgeoisie. It saw greater opportunities for itself in the new situation by getting integrated with international finance capital that had emerged as the hegemonic element after the oil price shocks of the seventies. The middle class backed it up: it was lured by the prospects of greater employment if activities were outsourced from the metropolitan economies to India, as neo-liberalism promised. And the working people, who might have been expected to stand up in defence of dirigisme, did not do so, as that regime had belied their expectations. Starting from 1985 therefore, but especially after 1991, India moved to a neo-liberal regime which meant freer cross-border flows of goods and services, and of capital, including above all of finance; it also meant the end of licensing.

This was not just a change of economic regime. It entailed the reassertion of the hegemony of metropolitan capital over the Indian economy, though in a vastly altered context, with the big bourgeoisie integrated with it and with segments of the upper middle class acquiescing in this reassertion. The contradiction between imperialism and the Indian society that had united several classes against imperialism in the pre-independence period, of which the dirigiste strategy after independence was seen to be a carryover, now divided the nation itself. The dividing line in short shifted from its location between imperialism and the nation to within the nation itself, between international finance capital, together with the domestic big bourgeoisie integrated with it, on the one hand, and the working people on the other.

An immediate fall-out of this related to the State. Instead of being an entity apparently standing above classes, it became concerned exclusively with the interests of the big business and landlords, and international finance capital with which big business got integrated. A manifestation of this shift was the withdrawal of State support from petty production, including peasant agriculture, and an opening up of this sector to encroachment by international agribusiness and the domestic big bourgeoisie. Such withdrawal of support, eg, of price-support for cash crops (the attempt to withdraw price support for foodgrains was defeated by the year-long kisan agitation), and of subsidies on inputs including credit, led to a sharp decline in the profitability of peasant agriculture. The crisis that followed for peasant agriculture resulted in mass suicides and also peasant emigration to cities in search of non-existent jobs, which only swelled the relative size of the reserve army of labour.

Neo-liberalism in short was loaded with false promises. No doubt the growth rate of GDP in the economy went up, but the rate of growth of employment was halved compared to earlier, to about 1 per cent per annum, because of the high rate of productivity growth that was simultaneously labour-displacing. This acceleration in labour productivity growth came about because of the exposure of domestic producers, not just those exporting but even those producing for the home market, to foreign competition because of the withdrawal of protection under neo-liberalism. The rise in the relative size of the reserve army of labour showed itself not necessarily as a higher unemployment rate, but as the sharing of a given number of jobs (each with a given wage) among more and more people. This rise however kept down the wages even of the organised workers by reducing their bargaining strength.

By squeezing the peasants and petty producers, and by reducing the bargaining strength even of the organised workers, the neo-liberal regime necessarily reduced the average real income per capita of the working people of the country which manifested itself in an increase in the poverty ratio, no matter how high the GDP growth might have been. The per capita foodgrain availability that had risen until the end of the 1980s, at best stagnated thereafter. The proportion of the rural population that fell below 2200 calories per person per day in 1993-94 was, according to the National Sample Survey, 58 per cent; it went up to 68 per cent by 2011-12. The next NSS in 2017-18 came with such dismal findings (apparently per capita real expenditure had fallen by 9 per cent between 2011-12 and 2017-18 in rural India) that the Modi government suppressed them, and decided even to discontinue the NSS in its old form! In urban India the proportion of people falling below 2100 calories per person per day had increased from 57 to 65 per cent between 1993-94 and 2011-12.

The working people’s misery, increasing even in the heyday of neo-liberalism (and thus showing the bogusness of the theory of “trickle down”), has accentuated sharply as neo-liberalism has moved into a crisis, from which there is no clear way out. This crisis is hardly surprising. We saw earlier the tendency under neo-liberalism for the per capita real incomes of the working people to decline on average, even as labour productivity increases, which increases the share of economic surplus in output (this in fact is a world-wide phenomenon). This is the reason behind the sharp rise in income inequality in India and elsewhere during the period of neo-liberalism.

Since a rupee in the hands of the surplus earners generates less consumption than the same rupee in the hands of the working people, such an income shift tends to create a tendency towards over-production. This tendency, kept in check in the world economy because of the asset-price bubbles in the U.S., which artificially increase demand by making asset-holders feel spuriously wealthier, has asserted itself after the collapse of the American housing bubble. The world economy has been more or less in a state of stagnation since then, and this has caught up with the Indian economy too, pushing it towards greater unemployment, and accentuated distress. Matters have been made even worse by the Modi government’s ill-conceived measures like demonetisation and the introduction of the GST (the work on which had begun under the Congress earlier).

This crisis cannot be overcome within the neo-liberal regime. The only possible mechanism for overcoming it, viz. larger State expenditure, can work if this expenditure is financed either by a fiscal deficit or by taxing the surplus- earning rich; if it is financed by taxing the working people, who more or less spend their entire income anyway, then one kind of demand would simply get substituted by another, with no net expansion in demand. But both an increase in the fiscal deficit and an increase in taxes on the rich are unacceptable to international finance capital; if they are resorted to under neo-liberalism then finance will simply quit the country en masse, causing an acute financial crisis.

On the other hand, neo-liberalism’s own way of coping with the crisis, which is to give tax concessions to the capitalists in the hope that they will raise investment, actually worsens the crisis: the capitalists just pocket the money without investing a rupee more (they will do so only if demand has increased), while the reduction of expenditure elsewhere for financing these handouts to capitalists, actually reduces demand.

Getting out of this crisis, which has nothing to do with the pandemic and which predates the pandemic (though the pandemic has added to it in the short-run) requires therefore a transcendence of neo-liberalism. But precisely to forestall such a possibility, neo-liberalism in crisis has made an alliance with Hindu communalism to change the discourse. The aim of this corporate-Hindutva alliance is to shift the discourse away from issues of material life to the alleged “atrocities” committed, whether in the present or in the past, by a hapless minority group. Its aim is to keep people engaged in hatred against this group while they suffer growing distress, even as international capital and domestic big business add to their wealth despite the crisis, by getting hold of assets, of raw material extracting rights, and of investment opportunities, from the public sector and the petty production sector.

Big business finances the Hindutva Party to come to power and supports it through the media it controls; in return it increases its wealth inter alia through measures of primitive accumulation of capital. And any opposition to this process is stifled through a combination of blatant authoritarianism, the creation of disunity among the people, and the use of hoodlum elements against dissenters.

Neo-liberalism even in its heyday increases economic inequalities greatly, abrogates whatever democratic content there was in the operation of the State, subverts the autonomy of the State, and increases absolute poverty; in addition however it ends up getting enmeshed in stagnation and mass unemployment from which there is no exit. Because of this dead-end, it imposes a neo-fascist political regime upon the country. This regime can be overthrown not just by democratic elements coming together. That of course is necessary; but the transcendence of neo-fascism requires the transcendence of the conjuncture that produced it, viz. the crisis produced by the neo-liberal order, for which this order itself has to be transcended. This is a difficult task; it can be accomplished only by the widest mobilisation of the working people.

Prabhat Patnaik is an Indian political economist and political commentator. His books include Accumulation and Stability Under Capitalism (1997), The Value of Money (2009), and Re-envisioning Socialism (2011).

MR Online, August, 13, 2022, The Indian economy since Independence / by Prabhat Patnaik

Commentary – Culture and existence: the message from Silger / by Saroj Giri

A mandi woman in Adivasi day. (Photo: Biplob Rahman / Wikimedia Commons)

On May 17, 2021 three unarmed adivasi (aboriginal) protesters were killed by Indian police near the village of Silger, in the central Indian forests in the State of Chhattisgarh. They were protesting the building of a fortified camp by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on their land and without their consent. A movement in protest has convulsed Chhattisgarh, and culminated in a mass rally at Silger on the one year anniversary of the murders. Monthly Review author Saroj Giri, who teaches Politics at the University of Delhi, travelled to the forest for the event and has sent us his thoughts on its considerable significance. Eds., Monthly Review

It is quite common to think of the black man in the United States who finds himself in a moment of danger. But let us talk about the adivasi people in India who are in a similar situation. Not just danger, but they–their life, culture, forests and land–are facing a situation of accelerated danger.

In such a situation, as one can imagine, one tends to react with a bodily presence of mind, with heightened stimulation. You respond not really in a strategic or tactical manner, calmly thinking about winning but almost in a reflex, a corporeal reaction from each and every pore–which might still help you win. Your responses are immediate and unthought, but precise and cutting. In such a world, each object displays infinite powers even in their finite objectivity–a kind of corporeal enervation. What looks like a finite action in such a moment might be one of divination, utterly sublime.

In Frantz Fanon, the black man is in the moment of danger, of nonbeing and declivity. But this is not about being cast into victimhood and oppression. For it is like a prelude, the springboard from which a revolutionary subjectivity is born. Fanon writes,

there is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinarily sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born.

The moment of accelerated danger and the zone of nonbeing are precisely what captures the situation in the adivasi lands of central India today. Places like Bastar, Gadchiroli in the Dandakaranya forests. But what you also find is that this is where “an authentic upheaval can be born”–or is born. The adivasi population has conjured itself into a form of divine corporeality and an authentic upheaval, speaking right from their pores and capillaries. Their culture, the struggle for the defence of adivasi culture, is enervated into a defence of their very existence. Never before has the question of culture become so fundamentally a question of the very existence of a people.

Culture whose defence necessitates an armed struggle to uphold the existence of the people is not culture in any simple sense. It is now a culture which plays a larger role of blocking the process of capital accumulation, undoing accumulation through dispossession, stalling capital in its tracks. 

“What will you do with adivasi (indigenous or aboriginal) culture, if there is no adivasi, if your very existence is under threat?” These are the words of Surju Tikam, a key member of the mainstream Sarva Adivasi Samaj (United Indigenous Society) in Chhattisgarh. He shared this thought in a conversation we were having in Silger on the 16th May 2022.

Thousands of adivasi masses had converged in Silger in Central India to mark one year of their movement against the killing of five people last year. The movement under the banner of Moolvasi Bachao Manch (Aboriginal Peoples Platform) is in protest against the paramilitary camps and disproportionately wide roads built for further infiltration in the region. The entire area is rich in minerals and ore that are being eyed by the rapacious corporations. Crushing the rebel Maoist movement and enabling “development” in the area is the stated rationale of the state for the spiralling militarisation and road building. Earlier, these “area domination” exercises took place under the rubric of Operation Green Hunt, now under Operation Samadhan-Prahar, of the Indian state.

What did Surju Tikam mean by his remarks?

| Adivasi 1 | MR Online

He meant that existence must be defended. The Silger resistance is about defending the very existence of the adivasi as a people in their land and habitat–and not just defending an abstract aboriginal “culture”. 

The refusal to turn one’s culture into a valorised good in the commodity spectacle, in the market of multiculturalism and non-binary, “two-spirit” branding–means that culture would now turn into a solid basis for its own defence. Culture becomes the terrain of resistance and must attune itself to the laws of war.

Nor is it about culture as “radical art” or the avant garde “political art”, detached from the living reproduction of society, the mode of interchange between humans and nature. How to bury the dead, welcome the new born, the rites of marriage, harvest and festivals–such is the culture at stake here, furthest from the deracination typical of “radical art” today. Hence existence is vital. But the defence of existence cannot be done without culture. There comes a moment when culture and war of resistance becomes inseparable.

Silger today stands for adivasi culture which is inseparable from the existence of the adivasi people as adivasi, from their astitva (existence). This is “existence” which is more fundamental than even self-determination and autonomy–more in tune with the Black Panther’s emphasis on the existence and self-defence of the black people in the U.S..

| Adivasi 2 | MR Online

Culture, defetishized and tied with existence, seems to make capital nervous and desperate. For here is culture which denies capital that on which it feeds, the vital mineral resources and primary materials and “unfree labour”. Remember how the anthropologist Maurice Godelier formulated that in certain indigenous societies, kinship relations themselves take the form of production relations. In Bastar with the movement in Silger, we have a case where kinship relations, being the very form of production relations, now as culture interlaced with existence in the ongoing resistance, work towards impeding the penetration of big capital and mining interests. 

Adi-vasi, as the first (adi-) inhabitants are the first people not just in the temporal or chronological sense, but also in the spatial sense–that is, they started human settlements and social life in the region. The spatial aspect is more complicated as surely the adivasi way of life, even if it were chronologically the first, is not the only possible way of life and, moreover, it is itself subject to change and motion. There is no reason to romanticize the adivasi way of life. And yet in the dynamic political battle raging in Bastar today the convergence of culture and existence as a bulwark against capital accumulation means that the adivasi way of life is a political banner of resistance and a way of life rolled into one. The Moolvasi Bachao Manch is right in defending it.

There is another dimension. For what is inescapable, in the Indian debate on indigeneity, is that “adivasi” denotes a prior register of resisting the Hindu-Brahminical hegemonic social-civilisational framework which aligns closely with the ruling establishment.

| Adivasi 3 | MR Online

We know where B. R. Ambedkar identified the revolution and counter revolution in India. He identified it in what he called the “Buddhist revolution and Brahminical counter-revolution” going back to ancient India. Then you have Jyotirao Phule who would propose the almost socio-civilisational divide between the Aryan invaders who defeated and subjugated the native adivasis and instituted the Brahminical caste system. The Buddhist is not to be conflated with adivasi. But there are good reasons to believe that, in the struggle between contending forces in Indian civilisation, the Buddhists were on the side of the adivasi in opposition to the Brahminical/Aryan social order.

Now these civilisational-socio-ideological formulations must be provided a material basis in the active relationship between culture and the defence of existence. They must be freed from the essentialist racialization of Aryan vs. non-Aryan and cast onto the furnace of capitalist accelerationism and class formation which is not about fixating on a sociological working class as a separate category, but one which striates the whole social body–this means that class forces would also internally differentiate and constitute the adivasi or the bahujan (lower caste majority) itself or for that matter the Brahminical sections. This is not about the working class as a group to be venerated but class forces that animate and structure the social body, including existence and culture.

The resistance against military camps and spooky roads in Silger (as also in several other parts of central India) is therefore of major significance today.

| Adivasi 4 | MR Online

Silger poses the question of culture in such a way that it prevents the dissolution of the adivasi people into the mass of heavily underpaid cheap labour dotting the industrial towns and cities of India. Here is a cultural resistance which stops feeding the machine of capitalist accumulation with mineral resources and cheap precariat labour.

This also means that it is not about opposing all mining or “development” as such. It is about opposing mining in its present form–for even within adivasi culture/existence, we find the persistence of living traditions of mining and metallurgy. Walk into any fancy high-end store in Indian cities and you will find the famous artefacts of adivasi metalworks, most famously, the Dhokra art. Art galleries in cities too display such artefacts and similar archaeological finds from the region.

Cabral, Fanon and the armed struggle

Surju Tikam’s formulation connecting culture with existence and the war of resistance, resonates with the views of Amilcar Cabral from Africa during the 1960-70s who was faced with a similar situation with regards to the culture and existence of the people. In his famous essay called “National liberation and Culture” (1970), Cabral foregrounded the question of culture and the armed struggle of the people against Portuguese colonial domination in Guinea-Bissau. We can also think of Frantz Fanon’s emphasis on culture and its interrelationship with the anti-colonial resistance, most famously the role of the Islamic veil worn by women in the armed struggle in Algeria. In his The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon asked:

There now remains one fundamental question. What is the relationship between the struggle, the political or armed conflict, and culture?

Cabral is very aware that complete domination of a people “can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned”. And then,

For, as long as there continues to exist a part of these people retaining their own cultural life, foreign domination cannot be sure of its perpetuation.

But culture might as well escape enslavement and can serve as the basis of resistance and armed struggle. He writes:

At any moment, depending on internal and external factors determining the evolution of the society in question, cultural resistance (indestructible) may take on new forms (political, economic, armed) in order fully to contest foreign domination.

At the same time, the armed struggle also further develops the culture in new and creative directions: “the armed liberation struggle is not only a product of culture but also a determinant of culture”. So the armed struggle also influences culture thereby strengthening the relation between culture and existence of the people.

Culture is not just the basis for the armed struggle, but also “an inexhaustible source of courage, of material and moral support, of physical and psychic energy which enables them to accept sacrifices—even to accomplish ‘miracles’.”

There is also a warning here as culture can also entrap the resistance struggle:

But equally, in some respects, culture is very much a source of obstacles and difficulties of erroneous conceptions about reality, of deviations in carrying out duty, and of limitations on the tempo and efficiency of a struggle that is confronted with the political, technical and scientific requirements of a war.

There are of course many differences between the situation in Africa in the 1970s and what is unfolding in central India today. And yet in the very concrete specificity of the adivasi situation today there is so much resonance of the precise relation between culture and existence, culture and the war of liberation of the people, if not as nation, but as a people. That Cabral’s views resonated so much with what Surju Tikam was saying is not entirely incidental.

As a mainstream platform, the Sarva Adivasi Samaj in Chhattisgarh today has members from the adivasi community who are from both the lower classes and the middle class and a small section of the more moneyed upper classes. It is split between focusing one-sidedly on defending adivasi culture in an abstract or essentialised culturalist sense, or integrating the culture question with that of existence. If it does the latter, that is integrates culture with existence, then it might have to reckon with the ongoing battle and armed struggle in Bastar. In order to avoid the question of armed struggle, it might be tempted to close its eyes and only focus on an essentialised and abstract idea of culture, removed from the lives of millions of adivasi masses—that however might not be the right thing to do.

The message from Silger is to go forward on the path of a strong people’s resistance movement which would uphold adivasi culture without abandoning the task of defending the very existence of the adivasi people without displacing and splintering them into the ranks of the impoverished urban proletariat. Ambedkar, Phule, Kabir, Ravidas all emphasised on the moolvasi’s rejection of Brahminical ideology–now Silger takes that struggle, and its cultural-ideological fight, into the very terrain of big capitalist interests and state repression that profess the idea of “development” and “growth”. Silger, as the open movement of the masses, is able to “balance” itself between the state and the Maoists and yet is able to attack the overwhelming injustice and exceptional violence of the state and its connivance with big capitalist interests.

Saroj Giri writes for Monthly Review and teaches Politics at the University of Delhi

MR Online, June 6, 2022, 2022,