Saturday, January 02, 2010

Communism and Kerala -i

Maju told me Communism succeeded in regions where aristocracy and the serf system were still prevalent (both in Russia and China). There were no noticeable middle (Bourgeois) class and hardly true urban workers. In Western Europe where peasants became free and workers remunerated well, Communism didn't make much impact. I thought this was exactly the situation in Kerala and West Bengal too.

As far as I know Communism is revolt by proletarians (urban workers) against the bourgeoisie (business men). We should note that both Kerala and West Bengal never had socially influential bourgeois class (The class created form merchant and artisan guilds during medieval Europe) as both these castes were either numerically negligible and low in their caste position. I believe when Communism was first conceived in Europe, bourgeois class had become educated. However, this was not the case in Kerala (I'll leave West Bengal as I don't understand much of its "scribe" dominated feudal system.)

It is said that Communism though failed in the economic prosperity of the region, developed an egalitarian society in Kerala (Just like in Eastern Europe and China). However, if we compare the neighbouring state Karnataka, the socialist dominated political parties have managed the land reforms(a major catalyst for an egalitarian society). However, Karnataka lags behind Kerala in terms of literacy. Where Kerala's literacy rate is above 90%, Karnataka is still struggling with 65-70% literacy rate. But that doesn't give the true picture. Tulu region of Karnataka has similar social indices as Kerala. Also, communist ruled West Bengal lags behind Kerala at 70% literacy. So, the common factor for Kerala and Tulu Nadu's high literacy rate appears to be the matrilineal system. Open attitude towards girls' education probably was a major catalyst for this development.

Then we talk about other systems like healthcare, everything is comparable to Tulu region. And Tulu region even moved from centre to right in its political orientation where as Kerala has always remained centre-left. So, I don't think any credit could be given to Communism for social development too. A comparison with Tulu region which shares similar cultural motifs with Kerala gives a true influence of Communism.

At the end of the day, communism only appears to give irrelevant intellectual aura to this region. However, its supposedly main beneficiaries, the working class people have been generally dubbed as "kings at home and slaves abroad". It appears keeping them poor and equal hasn't improved their self respect.

To be fair to Communism, it gave real aspiration to people to come out of their slavery. However, as a movement for workers its abilities were limited and becomes irrelevant over time with more worker friendly policies. As western European nations have shown this could be done even without a communist government. China probably has understood Communism's role mainly as removing social hierarchies and isn't applying the ideology to other domains of social development.


Maju said...

The class created form merchant and artisan guilds during medieval Europe.

This is not too correct, specially for artisans (maybe more correct for merchants though). In fact most artisans became working class and hence, in Marxist terms, became alienated, losing the rather satisfying control over the production process as a whole. In many cases, aristocrats also recycled themselves into bourgeoises, investing agricultural benefits in other business.

In early Capitalism most industrial workers were recycled artisans because knowledge was still important. Only with Fordism would that change radically, as workers became mere pieces of a huge production chain. When Marx and the like thought of the working class they thought of people who were skilled workers, mostly former artisans and called the lower layer of the working class, made up of mostly recycled peasants, "lumpenproletariat", claiming that these were mostly useless in the class war and often a tool of the Capitalists.

So, I don't think any credit could be given to Communism for social development too.

They must have done something right, don't you think? The fact that after so long time they still retain wide social support is significative in itself. Anyhow, just a more emphatic version of socialdemocracy in my opinion, as you would need to control the Indian state as a whole to change the economic system (if that's what they really want).

I don't say that pre-existent sociological or kinship factors do not influence political choices (in fact I recall some study on France's three main regions that suggested that it does happen in fact) but there is more to it. I think it'd be fairer to compare hyper-crowded and hierarchized West Bengal society with more similar places like Bangla-Desh or Uttar Pradesh.

However, as a movement for workers its abilities were limited and becomes irrelevant over time with more worker friendly policies.

We have to understand that the reference of Communists has been all the time the USSR and similar systems like that of China (more in the past than now, as it's turning quickly into ugly fascist capitalism). However the Soviet system was already obsolete 30 years ago, as Capitalism (of which it was just an epiphenomenon) moved on into its third and final phase: Toyotism (in Marxist terms "total subsumption of Work into Capital" - see the unpublished chapter VI of Das Kapital - Book I, which he dared not to publish for being too much into forecasting but which has been vindicated in the last decades).

The USSR was too much trapped into the Fordist disciplinary model and hence, after 1968 had to either reinvent itself completely or succumb. China and Cuba regimes survived only because they were much less developed, however China has to eventually face this fact too, specially as it becomes more and more advanced. However Western Capitalism is also facing its own problems - after all it's been already more than 40 years of Toyotism... the model is exhausted and there is surely no exit within Capitalism. Now is the time when the industrial powers and their working classes face the objective limits of Capitalism, not before.


Anyhow, an interesting read.

manju said...

This is not too correct, specially for artisans

Well, I just based it from Wikipedia article on Bourgeoisie.

In the late Middle Ages, as cities were emerging, artisans and tradesmen began to emerge as both a physical and economic force. They formed guilds, associations and received charters for companies to conduct business and promote their own interests. These were the early bourgeoisie. In the late Middle Ages (the 14th and 15th centuries), they were the highest guildsmen and artisans, as evidenced in their ability to pay the fines for breaking sumptuary laws, and by paying to be called citizens of the city in which they lived. In fact the King of France granted nobility to all of the bourgeoisie of Paris in the late fourteenth century.[citation needed] They eventually allied with the kings in centralising power and uprooting feudal barriers against trade.

Maju said...

For what I have read (in books written by historians) that is overly simplistic. Anyhow Medieval artisans were themselves a complex class, with master artisans (the guild approved owners of the workshops), officers (experts but under the control of the masters, whose approval was needed for them to be acknowledged as master artisans) and apprentices. Often the son of the master was the only one to become a master himself. Tricky issue.

The term bourgeois originally just means town-dweller anyhow (from bourg: one of the French names for town, similar to German burg, Scandinavian berg, Spanish burgo). Obviously not all town dwellers were what we'd call now bourgeoises. I'd say that the merchant sub-class was the most involved in that development, though of course there were "poor" traders too.

You'd need to read some books on European economic history to get the fine detail: how banks appeared in Italy, how was trade in the Middle Ages, the fairs, the appearance of the trade writ (name in English? - "letter of exchange" in Spanish), checks, mercantile companies, accountability books, etc. It's pretty interesting and central to understand the origins of Modernity, even if it may sound Eurocentric. For instance I enjoyed pretty much N.J. Pounds "An Economic History of Medieval Europe" but there must be others. Of course something on the Industrial Revolution too (not sure which one to recommend right now).

manju said...

They must have done something right, don't you think?

In Kerala, castes form 56% of the population, Muslims 25% and Christians 19%. The real Bourgeoisie in Kerala are Christians and Muslims. Both religions were probably built around merchant guilds. Among the castes two castes Nairs (dominant caste) and Ezhava (weaker caste) form around 70-75% of the caste (Hindu) population. If you go by Communist model then Nairs were feudals and proletarians and Ezhavas were proletarians and bourgeoisie in early 20th century.

Ezhava bourgeois class in fact had its own Protestant movement in early 20th century. They started their own Advaita Saiva sect headed by a spiritual leader called Narayana Guru.

Communist movement is strongly supported by these two castes. Whereas Christians and Muslims generally support the Congress led front.

In a way, Communists have an entrenched vote back in certain sections of the society. Recently they hobnobbed with a Muslim fundamentalist leader to garner votes from the Muslims but it appeared to have backfired badly.

Probably, there is a some kind of communal identification with Communist party. At present only Communists and Congress have grass root base in the state.

But you must note that Congress and Communists have ruled the state alternatively. So, people aren't happy with any one party and there is no other party with a proper grass root base. They haven't rejected the ideology completely because, even without any proper industries migrated Malayalis have turned the state into a middle class society.

manju said...


That is very problematic term in Indian context I suppose. Most of the Dalit farm labourers could be described thus. Though sadly they are indeed the vote banks of their feudal masters (A situation seen very starkly in Feudal regions of Andhra Pradesh. This state also had a dominant Naxal(Maoist) movement but now it's petered out).

Maju said...

I was in fact comparing in my mind the concept that Marx et al. had of the lumpenproletiarat and the concept of pariah or outcast. Just that did not wanted to make unfair comparisons. Also the lumpenproletariat has been vindicated by some Marxists.

I'd rather make a distinction anyhow between unconscious and conscious working class (rather than the obsolete term proletariat, meaning those whose only wealth are their children = "prole"). There are deeply poor unconscious workers (what is maybe justified by the misery their dumped into, including illiteracy and superstition) and there are rather affluent unconscious workers ("bribed" by the advantages of their privileged position within the working class and brainwashed by the media). A sector also detected by Marx as I mentioned elsewhere, and that he described as "lackeys" and that largely includes most of the First World working class nowadays.

However conscious workers (conscious of the exploitation and the potential in their hands) are in most circumstances surely a minority. These I guess would constitute "the party" (or parties, or series of class organizations such as labor unions or even NGOs nowadays). This poses a serious problem of drift towards a neo-religion of sorts and a bureaucracy, as happened everywhere where socialist revolutions have succeeded so far.

It's obviously not enough with a conscious minority, though it's something: a beginning.

manju said...

When Marx and the like thought of the working class they thought of people who were skilled workers

What is special about a skilled worker? What made Marx love him? The way I see he is the opposite to say Mongol warrior. He is the epitome of sedentary domestication. His personality is uni-dimensional. He can't think beyond his skill. He is insecure and he is cunning. He works like a slave when job prospects are bad but behaves like a mercenary when situation turns good. The non-monopoly economy is made for him. He allows himself to be corrupted even for minimum, inconsequential money. He is a coward.

But a farmer as I see it can be turned into a Mongol warrior. They are still close to nature. I think that's the reason Chinese and Russian revolutions succeeded.

Maju said...

A skilled worker is a producer: makes homes, furniture, pots, clothes and all those things needed for real life, including the weapons and saddle of the Mongol warrior. I kind of sympathized briefly with your harsh criticism of civilized life but even among hunter-gatherers and Mongol warriors, such skills are/were very valuable.

I could make a similar criticism of warriors, who are nothing but organized bullies, getting everyone else to work for them as slaves and usually producing nothing or very little of value themselves.

As famous Spanish anarchist leader Bunaventura Durruti said, workers should not be afraid of total destruction, because they are the only ones who have the skills to rebuild. He was an Iberian warrior but a worker too. Legend says (not sure how true this is) that being at a tavern he was approached by a beggar. Instead of giving him money, he gave him his gun, saying: "go and take what is yours, comrade!"

Anonymous said...

The funny thing about all this is both capitalism and communism are both invented by Jews.

Sad to see the gentiles, especially the Malayalis fight over it.

Manhun(ಮಂಞುನ್/മഞ്ഞുന്‌) said...

What you say is very vague or incorrect.

You may want to elaborate on that.

Concentrating on the ethnic/religious identities of ideologies requires deliberation on ethnic/religious identities of Malayalis themselves.

Anonymous said...

This is the disadvantage of having a free blog! anyone without proper knowledge will blabber non sense! its cpe of people like you that India sees communists in a negative image! I strongly recommend you read more on what communists are! look at what Kerala is, and probably, when you know what it actually is, apologize for the non sense you wrote!

Manhun(ಮಂಞುನ್/മഞ്ഞുന്‌) said...

I wonder whether you have read all the posts related to this topic. Your religious fervour in defense of Communism is weird. If it's some consolation to you, this blog is among the least read. And anyway, I consider all other political parties not even worthy of discussing.