From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives
July 1999

Historic roots of conflict in South Asia

by Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.

Editor's Note: The heating up of tensions between nuclearly armed India and Pakistan, which has led to renewed fighting between them in Kashmir, makes this a timely moment to revisit the historic roots of today's conflicts in South Asia. This piece, entitled "The China-India War in a Nuclear State-Capitalist Age: Relationship of Imperialism to the Ideological Struggles," was written by Raya Dunayevskaya in December 1962 after the outbreak of war between China and India. It represents one of many writings on South Asia in the Marxist-Humanist Archives. We publish here excerpts from the piece, which was originally written as a Political Letter to News and Letters Committees. The original can be found in THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 3088.

India was the first country to gain its independence from British imperialism and thus, in 1947, open a new third world that was to stretch from Asia to the Middle East, and from Africa to Latin America. Since all newly independent countries born in the next decade, or 13 years, had all emerged out of national movements striving to free themselves from Western imperialism, the unifying link predominated over the divisions WITHIN this post-war world and seemed indeed capable of forging a new path for all mankind.

Both because it was one of the richest in culture and past traditions, and the first to gain its independence, India seemed destined to play a central role on the Asian continent. As the African continent also sought to use Gandhism(1), or the non-violent mass resistance method to gain freedom, India's world role shone so brightly that it dimmed the OTHER TRUTH, THAT NO FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN HUMAN RELATIONS FOLLOWED INDEPEDENCE. The dominant Congress Party, which had succeeded in uniting all classes in the struggle against foreign domination, first began showing its true class nature by leaving production relations, in the city or the country, basically unchanged.


It is true that, politically, there was both independence from Britain, and a parliamentary democracy established so that, in law, caste is not "recognized." In life, unfortunately, it remains dominant.

Every leader in the new third world seems to consider himself a "socialist"-from Krishna Menon [defense minister under Nehru] to Nasser, from Mao to Nkrumah, not to mention the "Marxist-Leninist-till-the-day-I-die" Castro. But, obviously it is not the HUMAN difference these leaders are concerned with, but the State Plan and some statistics about the "rate of economic growth"....

It is here that the entry of China, two years after India's independence, quickly took away from India its status as a "beacon for the underdeveloped lands." It is true that in Mao's China, the state, and not the people, rules over production, in agriculture as in industry. But, once it drove out Chiang Kai-shek, China did experience an agricultural revolution, and did not have to compete with private vested interests when it established its Five Year Plans. Above all, it had what the Indian rulers did not and could not have-an usurped banner of Marxist liberation.


Up to the Great Leap Forward, which turned out to be state regimentation in forced barrack-like "communes"-or, more precisely put, up to the FAILURE of the Great Leap Forward in 1959-there was no doubt that on every front, from agricultural reform to rapid industrialization, from the prestige of its own hard-won victory through guerrilla war to encouragement of national liberation movements, stretching from Algeria to Cuba, armed with the banner of Marxist liberation, China was winning as against India, both the struggle for the minds of men and actual adherents in this new third world.(2)

We need not stop here to demonstrate how false is the claim of Mao to any "Marxism"...All I want to say here is that, despite China's setback, she does not fear, at this moment, economic competition from India. Those who think that, if it were not for the defeat of the fantastic attempt to leap to 20th century industrialism in a single year, Mao would not have embarked on his present imperialist adventure, will once again be caught blindfolded both as to the expected fair harvest this year AND, ABOVE ALL, THE POSSIBLE BREAKTHROUGH IN THE NUCLEAR FIELD IN 1963...


Strangest of all blindfolds is the one that covers Nehru's vision. Now that his "neutrality" principle lies as shattered as Bandung's "Five Principles of Co-Existence," co-authored by himself and Chou En-lai, he has suddenly discovered that Mao wishes "to destroy the Indian way of life." He rolls that phrase off his moral lips as if it were some classless phenomenon instead of so class-ridden and contradictory a chain over so unfinished a revolution that the strains and stresses in the Indian body politic gave Mao the illusion he could have as easy a victory within India an the military victory on its borders. THE FACT THAT THE [CHINESE] INVASION [OF INDIA IN 1962], INSTEAD, UNITED INDIA AS A NATION SHOULD GIVE NO ILLUSIONS TO NEHRU THAT THE MASSES WILL FOREVER BE SATISFIED WITH A SHAM FREEDOM AND NO BREAD.

The truth is that it was not the classlessness but the SAMENESS OF THE CLASS-that of State Planners-which united Mao and Nehru at Bandung. The respect for "sovereignty of nations" and "non-interference in internal affairs" meant no FOREIGN interference in class relations within each country SO LONG AS the third world could be a single unit against "the West." Mao still thinks that, on that basis, he can get acquiescence to his grab of Indian territory by many of "the uncommitted nations," as indeed he seems to be doing at the Colombo conference meeting presently in Ceylon.

But if his imperialist ambitions are all too clear, do Nehru's lesser ambitions constitute a different CLASS phenomenon? The moment of independence was the moment also of the fratricidal war with Pakistan. (That unresolved conflict was another element in the temptation of Mao to attack.)

There is no doubt that British imperialistic maneuvers and their eternal attempt to break up a country at the moment of independence so as to continue its rule over it helped set up the division between India and Pakistan. It is as true, however, that once the countries did separate each had a right to its own existence. Gandhi became a martyr when he fought to end the "holy war" and build up fraternal relations.(3) Nehru chose Menon as his "holy man" to proclaim Pakistan "Enemy No. 1" for all these 14 years [and] kept two-thirds of the Army at the Kashmir site while leaving the borders to China unprotected from that "ally."

Despite its "period of glory"-the 1947-48 Kashmir war-Nehru had not allowed the Army any decisive role in the Indian pattern of life. Despite the fact that he allowed the ultra-conservative Sandhurst-educated officer class to have the Army under its command and play some old imperialist roles in Korea and in Congo, Nehru's concept of the role of the army made it subordinate to the civil authorities. In this he fundamentally differs from Mao, who, even in the Communist (read: state-capitalist) orbit holds to a special militaristic position. The Chinese Constitution is the only one where not only the "Party" but the Army is made synonymous with the state authority.

This one element that would have created at least the semblance of an ideology in opposition to that expounded in China is now itself in question since the Anglo-American aid will not only come with political strings attached but inevitably create its own image internally by raising the Indian Army to a new status. Since Nehru's good anti-military instincts were not backed up by a proletarian class position he will inevitably give way both to the Anglo-American advice and Indian Army ambitions.

It is true that he is still holding out one hope of not completely falling into the orbit of Western imperialism by counting on Russian aid, but insofar as the Indian masses are concerned, DOES IT REALLY MATTER WHETHER IT IS THE RUSSIAN OR THE AMERICAN NUCLEAR ORBIT? Even as a foreign policy, a military line is derivative, rather than a determinant, of the class relations within the country. In this lies the danger that India may still capitulate either to Communist totalitarianism or to a military clique.

Nehru's unique authority in India does not stem from his creation of new relations with the great mass of the Indian people who must bend both to his State Plans and to the private capitalist and entrenched landlord interests. He has been a leader of the struggle for independence from Britain, and he has now been attacked by his Communist ally, and the Indian people have saved him from downfall. His desperate attempt first now to search for a new ideological banner and come up with "the Indian way of life" will create no new world apart from both poles of world capital-the Russo-Soviet or Anglo-American orbits-fighting for world domination. To cling to the class-ridden "Indian way of life" is only one more way of saying "the old cannot be changed"-and, by losing the struggle for the minds of men, losing both India and the new third world.

It was no accident that in the 15 years since independence, in the 13-year alliance with Mao's China, in the seven years of "Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference," plus the innumerable "neutralist" conferences since, Nehru failed to condemn Russia either for its counter-revolutionary role in putting down the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 or for its unilateral breaking of the nuclear moratorium; [he] acquiesced in China's conquest of Tibet and bowed sufficiently to [Egypt's] stand on Israel not to open an embassy there although he had been among the first to hail its independence. The opportunist, the short-sighted, the self-righteous, the ambivalent in foreign and military policies, was the counterpoint to the so-called socialist, but actually capitalist, exploitative relations internally.

The Indian people who have pushed him off his "neutrality" for the Sino-Soviet orbit, must now see that he doesn't merely shift over to the Anglo-American orbit, leaving production relations and ideological banner as unchanged as the changeless caste system of "unfreedom."


1. Gandhism means both much more, and much less, than passive non-violent mass resistance. From Gandhi's first introduction of satyagraha and the resulting British massacre at Amritsar in 1919, which coincided in world affairs with the Russian Revolution and the attempts in India to start a Marxist movement which he fought, to Gandhi's role in the post-World War II movement he finally led to victory and thus became the prototype of the new nationalist revolutionary in Africa-there lies a quarter of a century in need of analysis. This is not the place to attempt it.[BACK]

2. NATIONALISM, COMMUNISM, MARXIST-HUMANISM AND THE AFRO-ASIAN REVOLUTIONS, by Raya Dunayevskaya (Chicago: News and Letters, 1959 [new edition, 1984]).[BACK]

3. One other role for which Gandhi will go into history is hardly ever mentioned, and yet it will endear him more to future generations than the role he is famous for. This "hidden" role in his recognition that "The Party" in power is corruptible. Though be passed on his mantle of leadership to Nehru, he himself refused to take a position in power, and urged that others too must stay out of power and look at the ruling Congress Party, their own, with "outside" eyes.[BACK]



Home l News & Letters Newspaper l Back issues l News and Letters Committees l Dialogues l Raya Dunayevskaya l Contact us l Search

Subscribe to News & Letters

Published by News and Letters Committees
Designed and maintained by  Internet Horizons