Recalling Lenin

Dealing with Minorities


In almost all countries of the world today, there are some sorts of minority problems. These minorities may be religious minorities, linguistic minorities, racial minorities or minorities based on some other identity. For example, India has her caste-based diversity and the castes are here arrayed in layers in a pyramid-type structure. The labouring castes lie at the bottom of this pyramid and although they form the majority in the society, they are below all others regarding economic and social rights. Pre-capitalist social systems (such as slave or feudal societies) used to appropriate surplus by suppressing the minorities. In India, there was the caste system through which the labouring masses were suppressed and surplus was extracted by using the method of extra-economic coercion. Under the capitalist system, the method of surplus extraction is different because here both labour power and the fruits of labour power are commodities. Division between minority and majority, between lower castes and upper castes and between white and black are hindrances to the universalization of labour power as a commodity. That is why the capitalist system advanced the theory of equality, fraternity and liberty. To capital, the caste, religion or race of the worker has no importance; what is important whether he can create surplus.

Within this general trend, a different tendency is observable. That is to preserve the various systems of social inequality as much as possible. If particular communities could be deprived of democratic rights and kept in a state of suppression, they could be made to work at lower wages. The USA provides an example of how identity suppression could be used within the capitalist system. This country did not have a slave-system from the beginning. The colonizing white Europeans introduced the slave system in the initial phase of establishment of the capitalist system. Subsequently, the system was abolished and the black population obtained full citizenship rights following a countrywide struggle. Now there is a small middle class among the blacks and a small capitalist class has also grown up. Barack Obama is the first black person to be elected president of the USA. But even after his election, social and political suppression of blacks continues in the USA. Recently, there has been a countrywide discontent and movement against the shooting of innocent black youths by white policemen.

According to the latest Census, there are 39 millions of blacks or African Americans in the USA, and they constitute about 12.6 percent of the population. There was a time when they lived mainly in the southern states, but now they can be found in all regions. In some large cities, they are in large numbers; for example, more than one fourth of the inhabitants of the city of New York are blacks.

The official statistics of the USA are enough to provide an understanding of the suppressed conditions of the blacks. Although constituting 12.6 percent of the population, they form 40 percent of the prisoners. It is also worth mentioning that as much as 60 percent of those who are behind bars in the USA are minorities (blacks, whites of non-European origin or Asians). This percentage is very high among the blacks. One in every three black persons serve prison terms at one time or another in his life, which implies that about 13 millions of blacks in the USA serve prison terms in some periods of their lives. Again, it has to be noted that during 1975 to 2000, the number of imprisoned people in the USA grew seven times. Those who worship the USA as the citadel of democracy find it convenient to overlook these figures. After the aggravation of the crisis of capitalism in the 1970s, the democratic rights of the people in the USA are under all-out attack, and the worst victims of suppression are the minorities including the blacks.

The suppression is also evident in respect of the economic conditions. In the USA, about 10 percent of the population live below the poverty line, while this proportion is about 25 percent among the blacks. About 75 percent of the whites have their own houses, while this proportion is 45 percent among the blacks. The average family incomes of whites and blacks are 55 thousand dollars and 32 thousand dollars respectively. Participation of the blacks in white-collar jobs is low, and they are hired last and fired first. At the time of the recession of 2009, 11.1 percent of the blacks were unemployed, while this proportion was 6.5 among others. The opportunity of the blacks in state-sector employment was somewhat greater, but this is also shrinking with the gradual contraction of the state sector. The social life of the blacks is in a state of breakdown. One symptom is the number of blacks in prison. Similarly, it is found that among the HYV-positive patients, as large as 49 percent are blacks and according to another report, 72 percent of black newborn babies are not born out of wedlock. These babies will grow up only under the care of their mothers, and it is not difficult to understand that a large part of them will be school dropouts and enter the underworld.

The blacks have been struggling for long against this suppression and backwardness. The 'civil rights movement' in the 1970s drew the attention of the entire world. Mao Zedong termed the struggle of the black people as 'national struggle' and exhorted the world proletariat to come in its support.

Nationality Problem in Russia
In pre-revolution Russia, the Russians were the ruling nationality. Other nationalities (e.g. Georgian, Ukrainian, Tatar, Turkamen, Kazakh, Bilorussian etc) were suppressed nationalities. Lenin analyzed the nationality problem of Russia on the basis of Marxist theory and upheld the programme of ending national suppression as an integral part of proletarian revolution. Lenin emphasized equal rights for nationalities and languages and said, "Those who do not recognize equal rights of nationalities and languages cannot be called even ordinary democrats, let alone communists." As the precondition for establishing equal rights, he stood in favour of the right of nations to self-determination. He stressed the task of uniting the working classes of the oppressor nation and oppressed nation. He understood that in order to build up this unity, an abstract recognition of the equal rights of the oppressor nation and the oppressed nation was not enough; rather it was necessary to take affirmative action in favour of the oppressed nation that had been subjected to suppression and discrimination for ages. Hence he wrote, " It is essential to distinguish between the nationalism of the oppressor nation and nationalism of the oppressed nation, between the nationalism of the big nation and the nationalism of the small nation."

"We, persons of a big nation, are historically guilty of numerous violent activities. Moreover, we often commit them without being conscious of them. It is enough to recall my experience of Volga about our behaviour towards the non-Russians. We call the Poles Poliachiskas, sarcastically call the Tatars Princes, call the Ukrainians Khokholds and call the Georgians and other Caucasians nothing but Kapkasians."

"That is why for the oppressor or 'great' nation (although their greatness lies only in perpetrating oppression, violence and suppression), internationalism implies not only the recognition of formal equality of nations, but demand for discriminatory action against the oppressor nation so that the discrimination that remains in real life may be compensated. One who does not comprehend it has not grasped the proletarian position on national question. He has remained in a petty-bourgeois outlook and is bound to degenerate finally into a bourgeois position."

"Which is the important issue for the proletariat? From the outlook of the proletariat, it is not only important but essential that the non-Russians should express confidence in the class struggle of the proletariat. What is necessary for this? That is not only a formal recognition of equal rights, but taking all possible measures (for example, through behaviour and additional privileges) for compensating for the mistrust, doubts and insults that the non-Russians have been subjected to by the government of the prevailing nation."

"Hence in respect of grant of privileges or leniency to national miorities, it is better to overdo than to underdo."

Lenin wrote this towards the end of his life. The Soviet Union had been established five years ago. During this period of Soviet rule, Lenin must have observed that the promise of granting equal rights to the national minorities made by the Bolshevik Party there had remained under-fulfilled, generating grievances among the national minorities. That is why, lying in sickbed, he argued that it was not enough to grant equal rights. Rather additional advantages should be given by way of compensation and it is better to overdo rather than underdo in this respect.

Minority Question in India
In India, the picture of identity suppression is a complex one. Hindus are the majority in respect of religion, but the Hindu society is plagued by the division on caste lines. In this division, the lower castes are victims of suppression. Besides, the adivasis who are considered Hindus in the Census are also suppressed. Next, there are religious minorities (Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and others). Muslims are the largest among these communities. They constitute about 13 percent of the total population of India, while their representation in government jobs is less than 4 percent. On the other hand, their proportion among prisoners is about 30 percent. In that respect, their condition is largely similar to that of the American blacks. Their economic and educational status is far worse than that of the American blacks, and besides, they often are victims of genocidal communal riots. Besides the religious minorities, there are the linguistic minorities who are victims of nationality suppression.

Abolition of such discriminations is a necessity for the democratization of Indian society. The Indian Constitution has granted equal rights to all citizens irrespective of nationality, religion, caste, language and gender. But in order to establish real equality, it is not enough to grant formal equality to the communities that are deprived over the ages. What is necessary is some special affirmative measures. In the Constitution, some such measures are there for untouchable castes, adivasis and other backward communities, but they have not been fully implemented owing to lack of goodwill on the part of the state. But whatever measures have been implemented have benefited one section of the untouchable castes and adivasis. But the religious minorities have remained where they were before. Those dalits who have adopted Sikhism or Buddhism have received some facilities including reservation, but these facilities have been denied to those who have adopted Islam or Christianity. This is a glaring example of discrimination on the basis of religion.

In order to complete the task of democratic revolution in the Indian society, all the labouring people including the working class have to be united. The responsibility of building up this unity lies with the leftists. Owing to historical reasons, leaders of the leftist parties have come from the advanced communities. In order to unite the working class and other toilers belonging to all the communities, advanced as well as backward, the Leninist policy has to be adopted in the concrete conditions of India. The essence of the policy that Lenin had adopted in order to solve the national problem of Russia was the nationalities' right to self-determination. Since the nationalities lived in geographically separated territories, the policy of self-determination was applicable there. But Indian conditions are different. Here there are a number of cases of suppressed communities living with other communities in the same territories. Hence although the right to territorial self-determination is applicable to some areas including Nagaland and Kashmir, there are many problems about the application of this principle in the vast tracts of the country. Here, in order to ensure equal rights to suppressed communities (identities based on caste, religion, language etc), various affirmative actions within a federal structure including multi-layered autonomy have to be considered. It is unfortunate that theoretical and practical cultivation of this issue has been far less than required as far as the leftists are concerned.

After the ascent of the corporate-Hindutva alliance to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the pace of liberalization has been quickened and on the other hand, steps have begun to negate the democratic and secular structure and to move towards a fascist Hindu state. Attacks on the suppressed communities are sharpened, and the spearhead of such attacks directed towards the religious minorities.

In this situation, resisting communal fascism and defending the diversity and secularism of India require the leftists to go to the suppressed communities with special emphasis so that a solid unity of the toilers belonging to all identities can be formed. Here Leninism can be a pathfinder in determining the outlook to be adopted towards the suppressed nationalities and communities.

Vol. 47, No. 31, Feb 8 -14, 2015