During the recent coronavirus outbreak, China realized that it needs more infrastructure to deal with the increasing number of people affected. She managed to construct two hospitals (out of prefabricated buildings – constructing one from scratch is probably possible only around Hogwarts :p) and make them functional within 10 days. In contrast, the World Bank has labeled India’s Santa Cruz- Chembur link road in Mumbai as ‘the world’s most delayed road project’.
What do many of us Indians have to say about it? ‘China is a communist country, bro. The government can even stop people from having more than one kid, haha. We should have had this in India too.’
Firstly, what is communism?
It is a system of social organization in which all property (including resources) is owned by the community (i.e., no concept of private ownership) and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs (which means the distribution of resources is controlled by the collective). There is also no class (capitalist and worker), money and state. In practice, the collective is replaced by the state/government, making it all-powerful.
Today, only China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea are communist, a result of capitalist U.S.A’s victory over communist U.S.S.R. Even they claim that they are working towards the establishment of socialism. China has long ago ditched the communist economic model. Its state enterprises coexist with a vibrant private sector and it has a market-oriented economic policy. Communism, in its pure form, is simply not viable anymore.
Influence of history
During the 15th century, the imperial powers had to deal with a China which was strong, centralized and aware of its national identity. China was never completely colonized by imperial powers, who only had spheres of influence and trade concessions. They attempted to control China through its ruling dispensation, be it the Qing dynasty or the Chinese nationalists. The Chinese, therefore, did not come in close contact with western democratic ideals.
Russia also deeply influenced the Chinese. Several Chinese intellectuals looked upon the Russian Revolution as an answer to the inequality, foreign interferences, political chaos and underdevelopment rife in the country. The May 4th revolution, which established the communist regime, was a war between the nationalists and communists. It can be concluded that rather than individual rights for the people, establishment of a strong state was foremost on the minds of the Chinese.
Whereas, in India, the freedom struggle was as much a movement to overthrow the British regime, as a process of development of political ideologies among its leaders and national consciousness among its people. Establishment of democracy and guarantees of civil rights were among the most important objectives of the Indian National Congress. In fact, demands for independence stemmed from an urge for self-determination by the people.
Nearly all sections of Indian society participated in the independence movement and agitated for their various demands. Young revolutionaries gave up their lives, women donated their gold and people willingly submitted to lathi charges. Democracy and civil rights became deeply rooted among Indians and later enshrined in their Constitution.
Would communism do any good to India?
India is a land of many diversities, language, religion, race and culture. To hold such a country together, it is essential to have a political system which accommodates every shade of opinion. Communism, with its intolerance towards dissent, may break the country apart.
The imposition of the emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi , in 1975, was a culmination of power centralizing policies and authoritarianism of the Congress government. It was a dark time, with undermining of institutions built painstakingly built by her father, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. In the next elections, Indians voted overwhelmingly against the Congress, putting a different party in power.
In China, in 1989, when university students gathered in a peaceful agitation for democratic rights in Tiananmen Square, the then Chinese premier, Deng Xiaoping, brutally suppressed it using army rifles and tanks. It is evident that dissent is treated very differently in the two countries.
China has also introduced many controversial policies, like the Great Leap Forward (a move to change China’s agrarian economy into a communist economy) and the Cultural Revolution (a movement to root out capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society), which resulted in the deaths of millions of people, farmers, workers, intellectuals and scientists alike and suffering to many more. Its one-child policy has led to female infanticide, forced abortions and thousands of undocumented children.
Parliamentarian and writer Shashi Tharoor has said ‘If China wants to build a new expressway, it can bulldoze its way past any number of villages in its path; in India, if you want to widen a two-lane road, you could be tied up in court for a dozen years over compensation entitlements’. Development may occur faster due to immensity of the government’s power and the resources at its command, but it is not justified, if it comes at the cost of suffering to the people it seeks to uplift. India has always stuck to its motto, at least in word if not in spirit, ‘of leaving none behind’.
The most widespread religion in China is Chinese folk religion which includes ancestral and deity worship, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese Buddhism) and most Han Chinese do not consider themselves as belonging to any exclusive religion. Marxist-Leninist policy (the basis for communist ideology) advocates the control, suppression and elimination of religious beliefs. During the Cultural Revolution, all religious beliefs and practices were attacked as ‘superstitions’ and religious freedoms are only nominally protected in China.
It is highly probable that such an attempt at elimination of religion in would have ended in disaster in India. Unlike the Chinese, religion forms a very important part of the daily life and identity of the average Indian. One of the reasons for the Communist Party of India’s limited reach can be attributed to its constant opposition to and critique of Hinduism.
Communism insists upon violent overthrow of the prevailing regime by an uprising of the proletariat (urban worker). It rejects achieving its end by democratic and reformist means. This is an anti-thesis to the non-violent nature of India and its people, which birthed Buddhism and Satyagraha, and did not engage in any extra-territorial aggression for the past 1000 years. In fact, the Communist Party of India is the only party in the world, with a communist ideology, to form a democratically elected government.
Communism would have spelled disaster for India, if not for the country, the at least for its people. But is communism totally irrelevant to India and the world? Topic for the future posts!!