Once upon a time, around Christmas in ’91, there was a news item on TV. It showed Christmas and Hanukkah being celebrated in Russia. People were lighting lamps. People were lighting candles. People were singing carols. People were rejoicing.
Remember this was 1991, Doordarshan. This was before “Holi is being celebrated in Mumbai” and suchlike tidbits featured in national news.
“Why…”, I asked my aunt next to me. She told me that it was the first time in many years they were celebrating festivals. “Why..?” I asked again. And she compressed Marx, Trotsky, Lenin, Stalin and Gorbachev in one small sentence – “You would be jailed if you prayed to god”.
Shook me up, that did. What did kids do there if they were bullied (like I was in playschool… and the teachers never did believe me, so what was a kid to do other than pray and wait for judgement day when the evil three-foot somethings would be cast in hell?)? When they were in a state of shock, did they self-censor themselves when they said “Oh my God!”? Were they supposed to worship the Devil or what?
And that was how I was introduced to the idea of Communism, at age four.
Occasionally, much later, I confused the word with communalism. The textbook said you needed to avoid communalism at all costs. Whoa, why were they so emphatic about that?
And then there was the economics teacher in class 9 who professed how communism was great for the economy. “China and India became independent around the same time. Why, then, are they so far ahead of us? Or for that matter, the USSR took considerably lesser time to fly to outer space than the Americans, though they had been free since the 18th Century”.
That was also the same time the media started preaching pseudosecular ideals. And demeaned India. Nothing Indian could ever be good, in their eyes back then, even worse than it is now. The corruption, the vote-bank politics. So communism seemed a great idea. Lal Salaam and revolution were the buzzwords of the day. Though something in me didn’t quite agree with the large-scale human rights violations and the censorship. But, I supposed, those were a small price to pay for good governance and high economic growth rate.
The joblessness at times got to me. I even began watching movies in Bengali, a language I had no clue about… all thanks to DD Bangla and subtitled movies. These ’80s flicks were all the same – about communism, feminism, naxalism. They almost always had a strong female central character, who is invariably waiting for her Naxalite/Communist/Naxalite-Communist-Journalist sweetheart to return. When he does return, she doesn’t follow his philosophy. She thinks agitation and revolution are meaningless, as is loss of life. So Mr. Naxal goes on to explain his philosophy, a passionate speech colored with rhetoric, a propagandist speech the director possibly used to get his ideals across to the audience. The lady put forth a few arguments, but these were always refuted, leaving her confused, her being a teacher/doctor/nurse who abhorred violence and loss of life. She wants a marriage. He feels institutionalizing union of two souls is unnatural. Something that shackles people. He appeals to the feminist in her – One flick I remember had this bit of dialogue:
He: Tell me something, why do married women wear sindoor?
She: Because it looks nice?
He: Well, in that case why don’t men also wear sindoor?
She: Because…. *state of confusion*
He: It’s a symbol of subjugation. That you belong to someone. You are marked territory. Asking the others to lay off.
This was followed by another speech on chastity and how it shackled women, that it was just another tool used by men to keep women subjugated.
Aaaaaand he managed to lay her immediately after with no need to worry about the consequences. Any criticism of that scene because of the crudity, and it would be put down to “Indians are such prudes”. And if she became a single mother, there would have been rhetoric about how claustrophobic Indian society was, that a lone woman could not raise a child on her own.
Back then, I didn’t know to see through the now-blatant evasion of responsibility. But the Internet and Wikipedia saw me through to what my beliefs are now.
I read copiously. Through pages of articles by Nehruvian socialists who asserted Nehru did right by leading India to a democratic path. But more effective were the unconventional viewpoints of Indian rightists. And discovered that Communism always came along with censorship, laws curtailing freedom of speech, revulsion to religion or religious displays of any kind, and large-scale human rights violations.
Cases in question for the last one: Gulags. Tiananmen Square in 1989. Chile under Pinochet. And the worst and the most brutal of all of them, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.
Reading about the execution methods of the Khmer Rouge roused nothing but sheer disgust. The Week had a short piece about the new Cambodian cuisine that developed from the Pol Pot regime – the main ingredients included rats, spiders and assorted insects, the only readily available ingredients in such a setting. No philosophy on earth can justify such brutal violence against the very people who the movement was supposed to liberate.
There’s nothing new about the ideas. The poor man only hears “Bread for the poor” and “Land to the tiller”; no wonder the peasants supported these movements at first. But the worst-affected have been the peasants themselves, dying of man-made famines when they were not dying from government brutality.
A much-softened me also didn’t understand their emphasis on only the hard sciences, leaving out things that also matter, like literature and psychology. Or the overt emphasis on heavy industry, as if it was the only sign of growth and development, and that agriculture was something backward. That they didn’t get it that development need be measured not only in terms of economic growth, but also by how advanced a society is culturally, in aspects like freedoms, human rights and equalities of race, class and gender.
I still don’t get the correlation between communism and totalitarianism. Why do all Communist states go the way of 1984? The Jews practised Socialism in their own way, through the Kibbutz movement. And it has been nothing short of redeeming to Israel, and nowhere has it been brutal, and wherever it erred, it is a case study for errors in judgement about abolition of private property, gender equality, and the like.
To sum up, and I don’t assert here or anywhere that this is a well-researched and unbiased bit of writing, I’d say Communism is a provenly failed philosophy. It is counter-intuitive in the long run. Equality of outcome is admittedly counter-productive compared to Equal Opportunity. You can’t change human nature, and the most optimal solution would choose not to even try to perform that futile exercise, but take it as a given and make it part of the solution.
The ideals of erasing class inequalities and gender inequalities can be pursued even without the philosophy of communism. Revolutions have come and gone, but have only changed the names and titles of the people looting the public. Communism is standing proof for the fact that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The only solution is to educate the public well enough to choose their own leaders effectively.
Freedoms have been earned by too much sacrifice to be frittered away in the name of economic development. Lack of education is no excuse to have someone else making your decisions for you. Class differences are inevitable with division of labour, the only thing the State should do is to ensure fluidity – that class isn’t something you are born into, but something that you earn. The culture of a people should evolve due to its people, not be dictated by a government.
And… it’s counter-intuitive to ban God…. it wasn’t any evangelist or philosopher who introduced God to me, it was a playschool bully. God doesn’t mean much more than Hope and optimism, hope that things will definitely get better, that anything is possible, Deus ex machina, a bountiful mother, and an inspiration that lets you have faith in yourself, that enables you to dream higher, and achieve the impossible. As for banning that….