Maia Ramnath’s well-researched and comprehensive academic study of the Ghadar movement and party, Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire, and her far more explicitly political book, Decolonizing Anarchism, ought to be regarded as two sides of the same coin. Both attempt to delineate through a historical framework a politics which Ramnath feels is lacking in the contemporary North American radical circles in which she is involved: an anti-authoritarian anti-colonialism. Ramnath seeks to reconstruct a history of Indian anti-colonial movements by “exploring a slice of South Asian history through the lens of an anarchist analysis" and placing at the centre of her inquiry the following questions: “what becomes visible or legible, what is foregrounded or emphasized, that may otherwise seem to defy logic or simply be overlooked? What in India’s counter-history does this shed light on — what forgotten but not lost possibilities?" (5) Retroactively it becomes clear that Ramnath’s affinity for the Ghadar movement lies in its blending of various tendencies of radicalism including syndicalism, republicanism, libertarian Marxism and nationalism combined with a heavy emphasis on action over theory and romantic rhetoric; all in sharp juxtaposition to the “mainstream Left" or Bolshevism. This is a politics that Ramnath will try to more actively demarcate in her latter work. However, because of this blend, Ramnath’s politics are similar to the Ghadar party as they are best described by “the fable of the blind men and the elephant." (238) It will be argued that Haj to Utopia is an invaluable contribution to the history of the sources of early communism in India inasmuch that it allows us to revisit the history of early communism in India in a critical manner. In particular Ramnath allows us to re-examine the relationship between different radical strains that comprised the landscape of the early communist movement inside/outside India through her reconsideration of the existing prevalent conception of Ghadar’s role in the history of communism. Ramnath writes, “Ghadar is often positioned as a transitional phase between two modes of revolutionary struggle, namely, the conspiratorial secret society and the mass organization model ... However, Ghadar should not be seen just as a temporary or intermediate half measure, but as a relatively stable model distinct from other more unequivocal tendencies (in both directions) during the both the pre-war and the interwar periods.” (Haj, 6) Indeed, by doing so, Ramnath on the one hand provides a necessary corrective to existing historical accounts about the importance and the scope of influence that the Ghadar party had on early communism in India, and allows us to analyse an enduring trend in communism in India till date; however, she simultaneously overstates the uniqueness of the Ghadar party in effect differentiating too sharply with the other revolutionary strains in India, in particular the Communist Party of India. There is a little to recommend in Decolonizing Anarchism, except that it perhaps provides a negative example by which to understand the historical necessity the Ghadarites who remained politically active felt to abandon Har Dayalism in favour of a more consistent communist politics.
A Necessary Corrective
From the outset it must be made clear that Ramnath’s Haj to Utopia is an invaluable addition to the scant scholarship that exists on Indian diasporic radicalism and is necessary reading for any scholar of communism in India in general, but also for those scholars interested in the development of the communist movement around the world. In this regard, Haj to Utopia is a fine academic companion to Kate O’Malley’s Ireland, India and Empire: Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919-1964 which similarly does an admirable job examining the political role played by Indian nationalists and revolutionaries in Britain. Scholars of American and Canadian communism and syndicalism can no longer forswear ignorance of the existence of a radicalised Indian diaspora who often intersected, interacted and overlapped with mainstays of North American radicalism including the IWW, the Irish Fenian organisations and early socialist tendencies, and saw Ghadar supporters maintaining a close proximity to radicals like Agnes Smedley. Furthermore, Ramnath’s book is a welcome corrective to existing historical accounts of communism in India which tend to understate the importance of the Ghadar party, although their role is commonly acknowledged. Indeed, the Ghadar party is commonly simply referred to as the activities of ‘nationalist revolutionaries’ abroad. The orthodox historical account written by the Historical Commission of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) sums up the contributions of the Ghadar party thus:
“None of the endeavours to bring about a revolutionary upsurge with the help of Indian soldiers during the First World War succeeded. This was mainly due to the lack of proper political direction and the failure to project before the people an ideal of their future society. However, these efforts are in contrast to the attitude of the Indian National Congress, which supported the imperialist war”.1
This orthodox account fails to realise the positive impact of the Ghadar party through: 1) their capacity to bring together a number of different influences, ideologies and movements together under a common platform; 2) the spread of revolutionary propaganda in India from 1913-1920, at a time in which no group in India capable of doing the same; and 3) the failure of the Ghadar mutiny resulted in roving groups of Ghadarites going from village to village handing out revolutionary propaganda, building contacts, finding out easy targets for revolutionary expropriations etc., all of which would become vital in the next phase of the revolutionary movement in India. (Haj, 51)
The Ghadarites were not centrally organised, with an organisational headquarters, but rather, a decentralised network of militants held together by the newspaper based out of San Francisco which served as an ideological headquarters (Haj, 4). Furthermore, this ideological unity was also limited inasmuch that numerous Ghadarites shared a number of other ideological commitments including Hindu nationalism, Marxism and pan- Islamism (Haj, 5). “Yet,” Ramnath argues, “I do not think the links were causal and contingent, and though many observers and historians have tended to dismiss Ghadar’s political orientation as an untheorised hodgepodge, I believe we can perceive within Ghadarite words and deeds an eclectic and evolving, yet consistent radical programme.” (Haj, 5) This programme can be summed up thusly: anti-colonialist, patriotic, internationalist, secularist, modernist, radically democratic, republican, anti-capitalist, “militantly revolutionist”, and “in temperament audacious, dedicated, courageous unto death; in aesthetic romantically capable of gestures such as declaiming a bold slogan, witticism, or verse of farewell poetry at the foot of the gallows” (Haj, 7). The Ghadar party was exemplary inasmuch that it was able to avoid the reduction of anti-colonialism to nationalism, and propose models of a “liberated society” that “neither mirrored the logic of imperialism (and Orientalism) nor replicated the extractive and disciplinary institutions of the modern state while merely replacing foreign with local control.” (Haj, 8) The Ghadar party and movement was predominately based in the Indian diaspora. However, one ought not to confuse the political consciousness of Indian migrants to North America at the turn of the century. The majority of them were not politically conscious and had moved to North America for personal advancement, whether in professional circles for the better-educated and economic prosperity from those of the lower-classes (Haj, 23). However, the students like their lower-class counterparts found their opportunities limited due to the racism that they experienced (Haj, 22). This resulted in a sizeable minority of them developing seditious ideas of their own, which were cultivated by the to-be Ghadarites. Indeed, the struggle against racism and deportation, combined with an ideological paper, allowed the Hindustan Association in Vancouver, an organisational precursor to the Ghadar party, to spread the ideas of anti-British anti-colonialism (Haj, 27). Whereas, other efforts to form similar organisations were started in Seattle, Portland and Astoria. The Indian Independence League formed in Portland and Astoria would be the seeds of the future Ghadar party (Haj, 30). However, it ought to be noted that the relationship between anti-racist/anti-immigrant and anti-colonial activities always remained tenuous, especially as some put a greater emphasis on either aspect of the relationship, and this became evident in Portland where the organisation became more enmeshed in anti-racist/anti-immigrant activism, rather than the anti-colonial movement which became identified with the increasingly California-based Ghadar movement (Haj, 31). In 1913, these separated organisations coalesced to form the Pacific Coast Hindi Association (Haj, 32). However, reminiscent of debates that generally existed in the revolutionary socialist movement, the question of organisation was raised. The problem was condensed into the following question: “who where the real Ghadarites? Har Dayal’s use of the word in the first issue referred expansively to all of India’s patriotic revolutionaries to date, encompassing all the Bengalis, all the Punjabis, and the activists in London and Paris circles. Yet at the same time he was stressing the need to form a party in the more specific sense". (Haj, 35) Thus, one ought to speak of both a Ghadar movement, more broadly, and the Ghadar party itself. Besides their organising activities in the fields and universities across North America, a considerable amount of emphasis and effort went into the production a clearly written revolutionary socialist newspaper that would be circulated amongst the broader international and national patriotic movement (Haj, 37). This newspaper in particular played an important role in the spread of revolutionary socialist ideas throughout the Indian diaspora and was even able to make its way into India at a time in which no similar paper existed. It is important to note that the newspaper did not simply convey the nationalist aspirations of Indians alone, but those of revolutionary movements and nationalists across the world including the struggles in Russia, China, Mexico, Ireland and Egypt (Haj, 39). Furthermore,
Canadian Ghadarites were not unaware of the conditions around them and drew comparisons between the conditions of the First Nations to those of Indians (Haj, 44). In this regard, the Ghadarites and the international patriotic movement served as a conduit through which relationships, organisational and ideological alike could be established between a wide-variety of revolutionary and nationalist movements, especially with Egyptian and Irish revolutionaries. This was particularly important as the Ghadar party tried to break down the boundaries between the Hindu-majoritarian nationalist movement and the pan-Islamist Khilafist movement.
The outbreak of WW1 saw the Ghadar party exhorting its supporters in not only North America, especially in the wake of the Komatagara Maru incident, but around the world, to return to India and fight for the overthrow of the British Raj. (Haj, 50) It is interesting to note that the IWW and the Ghadar party differed in the assessment of the war. Whereas for the North American and European syndicalists, the war was a disaster and they expressed their anti-imperialism through an opposition to the war; the Ghadar party welcomed the war, siding with the Germans against the British, and saw it as a conjuncture in which much could be achieved. (Haj, 62) It has been estimated that in the first 2 years of WW1 8000 Ghadarites from around the globe returned to India to fight. (Haj, 51) However, arrests, poor communications, and espionage resulted in widespread confusion and organisational weaknesses from the very beginning of the movement. (Haj, 51) Furthermore, the Berlin committee had promised the returnees that they would be armed; however, the arms never arrived. (Haj, 54) An attempt to ferment a mutiny in February 1915 with the help of disaffected army regiments was quickly squashed. (Haj, 60) The result of this stillborn mutiny/uprising was roving groups of Ghadarites going from village to village handing out revolutionary propaganda, building contacts, finding out easy targets for revolutionary expropriations etc., all of which would become vital in the next phase of the revolutionary movement in India. (Haj, 51) It is noteworthy however that the majority of people arrested in connections with the mutiny were not returnees; rather, they were local people who had been radicalised by Ghadarite literature and returnees. By 1917 the San Francisco HQ was split between two different leaders claiming to both being the “real Ghadarites” and both producing their own respective papers. (Haj, 62) Furthermore, other attempts to ferment mutiny in other British colonial outposts like Burma, Siam, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were similarly unsuccessful. (Haj, 77-94) Most accounts of the Ghadar party end here, the Ghadar party had been crushed, its members dispersed, on the run, or jailed. However, Ramnath’s book does not do so, instead offering a wealth of information about the influence of the Ghadar party on efforts to organise Muslims vis-a-vis the Khilfatist movement, again under the leadership of the ill-fated Berlin-India Committee and their German handlers, and subsequently on another of the main sources for the communist movement in India: the Muhajirin.
In 1917, Har Dayal, after having left San Francisco, fearing arrest, arrived in Constantinople via Geneva, where he had convinced the Germans of his plans, to establish a revolutionary headquarters there to organise Muslims there and in several other cities including Mecca, Baghdad and Kabul in a rebellion against the British. (Haj, 175-176) The Ghadar party through its trans-national networks had already made contact with the pan-Islamist movement abroad and notable revolutionaries like Ajit Singh had already been operating out of Iran since 1907, trying to organise Muslims. (Haj. 170-175) However, once again things did not work as planned. First of all, Har Dayal’s group was unable to work well already established pan-Islamist organisations in the country, who regarded his English paper to simply be Hindu nationalist propaganda with occasional and tokenistic attempts to appeal to Muslims. (Haj, 176) Secondly, the strong Hindu revivalist underpinnings of Har Dayal’s politics made many of his attempts to organise Muslims unpopular. (Haj, 177) Thirdly, despite supposed Turkish support for the project, the Turkish government itself was suspicious of their efforts to organise anti-British rebellions, and were unable to overcome existing ethnic/regional/national divisions (Haj, 178). As Ramnath notes, “In other words, true Pan-Islamic unity was a mirage beyond the power of any propaganda to embody.” (Haj, 178) In subsequent years, the BIC would try several more times, including the colourfully named ‘Silk Letters Plot’ and the Singapore mutiny, to make this Pan-Islamic unity a reality to no avail (Haj, 185-193). However, a far more significant aspect of these attempts was that they served as the historical background for the Muhajirin. In 1917, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik Regime called on Muslims, as such, around the world, but in particular in the Central Asia/Transcaucasus region, to play their respective role in the world revolution in “struggle against Western imperialism, especially as manifest in its most advanced form, British capitalism.” (Haj, 194-195) This strategy included the military and political training of cadres from Asian backgrounds as an irregular ancillary force of the Red Army. (Haj, 196) Muslims-inspired by the Khilafatist movement had been travelling to Afghanistan to join the Provisional Government of India since 1915, since they had come to consider
India to be Dar-al-Harab, or infidel rule, and thus chose to quit India themselves. (Haj, 201) “They might be content simply to dwell elsewhere within the Dar-al-Islam, but they might also feel morally obligated to fight: whether to defend the sultan-caliph’s realm or to launch rebellion against British rule in India directly." (Haj, 201) A small group of these Muhajirin “were courted by the Red army and attacked by the Turkmen counter-revolutionaries" and “were persuaded to transfer their revolutionary zeal from the caliph in Istanbul to the revolutionary regime in Moscow" (Haj. 201). They would initially be trained in political and military matters by M.N. Roy in Tashkent and subsequently at the Moscow University of the Toilers of the East. (Haj, 201-202) They would compromise the initial group of Indian revolutionaries that would form the Communist Party of India in 1921. (Haj, 202) Ramnath effectively demonstrates that the Ghadar party played a fundamentally important role in the development of communism, however, as will be demonstrated, Ramnath simultaneously overstates the case by arguing for too sharp a dividing line between the Communist Party of India and the Ghadar party’s successors.
Overstating the Case
The Ghadar movement which, “served as a missing link, a source of hidden continuity between the Bengali “anarchist" conspiracies, “national revolutionary terrorism" and Punjabi agitations of the early twentieth century; and the radical Left and revolutionist movements of the 1920s." (Haj, 2) Indeed, Ramnath correctly locates Ghadar in the Indian revolutionary socialist tradition, rather than simply within the nationalist tradition. As Ramnath writes, “In this sense we could consider the Kirti Communists ... , rather than the Akali Dal ... as better representing the true spirit and intention of the Ghadar movement among the next generation of Punjabi radical movements, although its returned veterans moved into both formations." (Haj, 4) However, Ramnath’s account distinguishes too sharply between the Ghadarites and the CPI, which she refers to as ‘mainline’ and orthodox. (Haj, 140, 162) As Ramnath writes, “In fact, the sister groups Ghadar and Kirti represented a stubbornly autonomous alternative, distinct from the mainline CPI." (Haj, 14) It is this sharp demarcation which will be challenged and shown to be unsustainable.
Ramnath correctly outlines Ghadar’s politics as being a heterodox communist politics, but unfairly seeks to juxtapose them to the supposedly more monolithic communism of the CPI. The fundamental problem with Ramnath’s account in this regard is that it assumes a homogenous CPI to which the Ghadarites could be juxtaposed. However, it would be simply anachronistic to speak of an ‘orthodox’ CPI until 1962, especially because of the numerous different trends that existing within the CPI.2 Indeed, Ramnath tautologically assumes the monolithic communist politics of the CPI; Ramnath first assumes that the CPI is a carbon copy of the Russian model imposed on Indian conditions, and then implicitly attributes a monolithic politics to the Russian model i.e. the Leninist party. This subsequently allows Ramnath to argue that the ‘libertarian’ aspect of the Kirti communists is fundamentally different from that of the CPI. In effect, Ramnath returns to a classical division between a supposed anti-authoritarianism (anarchism) and a supposed authoritarianism (communism). However, it would be more useful to understand how this tension between the Ghadar party and the CPI in fact reflects the tension that existed within the communist movement itself. The very fact that the Ghadar party were invited to the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, as Ramnath herself notes, in 1922 speaks to the very longevity of this very debate in the communist movement. (Haj, 139) Ramnath’s account is simply historically unsustainable in several respects: first, numerous Ghadarites did at different times in the development of the communist movement in India did join the CPI and became key organisational leaders. The Ghadarites played especially an important role in Punjab under the leadership of the former Ghadarites Santokh Singh and Rattan Singh.3 Furthermore, Ramnath herself admits that, “the surviving Ghadari babas gave their blessing to Charu Mazumdar and the Naxalites. The first elected leader of the new Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) in Punjab was a veteran Ghadarite” (Haj, 236). Second, the Kirti communists would finally merge with the CPI which would be impossible if the politically distance between them was so great. (Haj, 125) Third the Kirti communists would be regularly involved in the debates between communist groups in India. In 1925, at the Kanpur conference, organised under the auspices not of Roy, but a national communist, Satyabhakta, was held and included members of the Kirti newspaper.4 At this conference all of the different communist groups around the country, including representation from the emigre CPI, met to coordinate their activities and form a single communist party. Although, Kirti was not included in a list of newspapers produced by the CPI drawn up at the Bombay meeting of the CPI,5 the Kirti communists remained in close touch with the CPI.6 Indeed, the Kirti communists would help form the All-India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party in 1928 with the help of the CPI.7 Ramnath’s argument regarding the noted ideological differences between the Kirti communists and the CPI is rendered even more implausible when one realises that the resolution calling for the formation of the All-India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party was proposed by Muzaffar Ahmed, and saw Sohan Singh Josh being elected to the presidium of the newly formed party.8 Furthermore, at this very same conference the newly formed All-India Workers’ and Peasants’ Party unanimously voted to join the Comintern-led League Against Imperialism.9
This leads to the second
fundamental problem with Ramnath’s account is her insistence that the
Ghadar party had their own mode of politics, and that any adoption of
Marxism-Leninism was merely tactical in nature. (Haj, 164)
Ramnath in this regard does not take into account is how the failure of
the Ghadar mutiny demonstrated that the basic underlying conditions
that had necessitated the Ghadar party had indeed changed. Har Dayal, a
key ideologue and leader of the Ghadar, wrote in Bande Mataram
in 1910, three years prior to the formation of Ghadar, “We must ... try
to strengthen all groups of workers outsides India. The centre of
gravity of political work has been shifted from Calcutta, Poona, and
Lahore to Paris, Geneva, Berlin, London and New York.” (Haj,
2) Indeed, future leaders of the CPI like S.A. Dange and Muzaffar Ahmad
had yet to become communists and remained nationalists with radical
inclinations. However, by 1922 that S.A. Dange would form the first
socialist newspaper in India under the influence of Roy’s
emigre-produced newspaper and publications. The centre of gravity had
shifted once again. This shift in gravity was also reflected in a shift
in political analysis. Ramnath notes that:
post-war and post-prison Ghadarites, having embraced the new doctrines, now saw themselves as having a more “mature” level of political consciousness, through which they understood the causes for the failure in 1915 to be (a) treachery (exacerbated by poor security culture, while Rattan Singh attributed to lack of experience) and (b) failure to link the vanguard insurrection movement with the masses. (Haj, 125)
Ramnath, wanting to defend the Ghadar Party’s own historical record against the Ghadarites own self-analysis and summation, states that the latter were not correct in their analysis as, 1) “conspiratorial action was necessary only when repression made open organising impossible” and 2) that there had been no failure in developing mass organisations, whilst admitting that the only mass organising that had been failed was the development of a revolutionary movement within India itself. (Haj, 164)
Regardless, the Ghadar party members who would remain active within politics, especially Left politics, would regard their earlier political work to be symptomatic of a political immaturity. They advocated a shift from an emphasis on rebellion alone to political work amongst workers and peasants. This shift is apparent in Ramnath’s retelling of the passing of the torch from Santokh Singh to Sohan Singh Josh. In the encounter between Singh and Josh, Singh tells Josh to “go cautiously", which Josh took to mean that he needed to “patiently organise the workers and peasants to fight their struggles ... do not indulge in bombastic slogans." (Haj, 156-157) Ramnath’s contradictory argument is most clear when she argues that Kirti’s articles, which argued Bolshevik land distribution policies under the NEP as a model for the distribution of land and power in India, were in fact evidence of a “more politically decentralised and economically mixed social vision makes Ghadar-Kirti communism quite legible as the ideological kin of a Makhnovian libertarian socialism." (Haj, 163-164) Indeed, it cannot be disputed that the different communist/socialist groups around India, including Kirti which has been formed by former Ghadarites, all had their own understandings of the significance of the Comintern and its ideology, however, this reflected a debate within the communist movement in India and was not evidence of the Kirti-Ghadar members being completely apart from the CPI.
Ramnath argues that
Ghadar’s purported ideological “incoherence" which effectively melded
politically libertarian aspects of French and American political
liberalism and anti-colonialism “is actually quite legible through a
logic of anarchism – which thereby provides a somewhat ironic bridge
between rival nationalist and Communist readings of the Ghadar story." (Haj,
6) Ramnath tries to argue that anarchism does need to be hostile to
anti-colonial social movement by arguing for a form of anarchism that
1) allows for an admittedly contested ‘strategic identity politics’
“where the assertion of collective existence and demand for recognition
functions as a stand against genocide, apartheid, systemic
discrimination, or forced assimilation to a dominant norm" which makes
geographical claims whilst still differentiating between state and
nation (DA, 21); 2) recognises that many key aspects of
anarchist theories and practice are present in anti-colonial social
movements and; 3) should not be anti-modern, but rather reconstructs a
different form of modernity from that of colonial modernity and pivots
on “the quest for collective liberation in its most meaningful sense,
by maximising the conditions for autonomy and egalitarian social
relationships, sustainable production and reproduction.” (DA, 37)
Ramnath argues that several key aspects of anarchist theory and
practice were unwittingly adopted by the anti-colonial movement in
India: 1) “the perception of the government itself as an evil and the
state as clearly extraneous to society, so that the primary sites of
resistance were the defining mechanisms of state function, including
both disciplinary and ideological apparatus” (DA, 26); 2) “the primary
resistance to the onset of industrialisation” which she juxtaposes to a
supposed Marxist and syndicalist positions that in fact assumed that
the transition to industrialism had in fact already occurred (DA, 26);
and 3) that there was active resistance in the field of cultural
hegemony (DA, 27). Ramnath’s tries to do this through a series of
thumbnail biographies of figures in Indian history that supposedly
embody particular anti-authoritarian lessons and teachings. Her account
is most convincing when she discusses the “critical Leftists”: Acharya,
Lotvala and Bhagat Singh, and their attempts to delineate a libertarian
socialism. (DA, 124-162). Ramnath acknowledges that her
history is not complete inasmuch that it does not include the voices of
anti-caste and women voices, and simply focuses on the male high-caste
voices of Indian nationalist history, but then curiously writes,
this is not a history of caste or patriarchy, or the movements to dismantle the structures of oppression based on them. So for the purposes of this project, it seemed better to offer what is actually there rather than to simply condemn or discard the record of what isn’t there – and then continue the efforts it chronicles to broaden and deepen liberation, in practice. (DA, 9)
However, it is this every very odd exclusion that plagues Ramnath’s book throughout. It is difficult to imagine an attempt to reconstruct an anti-authoritarian history of India that does not take into consideration the central themes of contemporary Indian politics: 1) Hindu revivalism and Hindutva; 2) caste politics; and 3) the politics of gender. Indeed, in the context of India, any political emancipatory project that does not take into consideration these three radically important strands of anti-authoritarian thought and practice simply is unable to address itself to the concerns of the oppressed peoples of India. Indeed, Ramnath’s overtly political book, Decolonizing Anarchism, can be regarded to be dangerously naive in its argument and its scope. Furthermore, Ramnath does little to discuss the contradictory nature of the different movements and people that she would deem as anarchists. It would be difficult to go case by case, however, for the sake of brevity, it is sufficient to analyse the case of V.D. Sarvarkar; Ramnath’s analysis of Gandhi and her comments on Dalit movements.
Ramnath wants to pull apart anarchism from the Far Right inasmuch that
they two are commonly related to one another in the Indian ‘mainline
Left’ imaginary (DA 38-39).
However, Ramnath does irrevocable damage to her own argument through
her inclusion of the founder of the Far Right Hindu-nationalist
movement, V.D. Sarvarkar, in her history. Ramnath begins her history of
anti-authoritarian with the emigre revolutionary nationalist circles in
Paris, London etc. This is unsurprising given Ramnath’s earlier
research; however, what is surprising is Ramnath’s attention to
Sarvarkar. It is indeed true that Sarvarkar, for a brief period, was
centrally involved in circles that agitated for and provided the means
for the ‘propaganda of the deed’. Sarvarkar did send twenty revolvers
to India upon hearing the arrest of his brother by the British for
seditious activities. (DA, 60) As Ramnath points out Sarvarkar’s arrest
and calls for his release did become a cause celebre for emigre
revolutionary nationalists. (DA, 61) However, Ramnath is aware of
Sarvarkar’s role in Indian politics and concludes the chapter by
explaining that, “Sarvarkar became a founding hero of the Hindu far
Right, while other Abhinava Bharat members like Har Dayal ... became
leaders of the dissident Left. From that crossroads, this is the path
we take now.” (DA, 77) The inclusion of Sarvarkar in any history of the
Left, authoritarian and anti-authoritarian, cannot but be
controversial. The two-three years that Sarvarkar spent in circles that
advocated propaganda of the deed is quickly overshadowed by his
lifelong role as the father of the far Right, and thus one cannot but
be perturbed by Ramnath’s inclusion of him. Furthermore, this
crossroads is not as simple as Ramnath suggests, inasmuch that
repeatedly Hindu revivalist politics are consistently brought up again
and again, without comment. When Ramnath examines Har Dayal, she
mentions that “[biographer] Emily Brown suggests that Har Dayal was
having trouble squaring his more overtly Hindu ideals with Cama and
Rana’s focus on international socialism.” (DA, 84) However, Ramnath
defends Har Dayal from such claims writing that, “Har Dayal’s new
“religion” was a self-consciously modernist and unmistakably anarchist
vision.” (DA, 84) Ramnath unfortunately seems to have forgotten her own
chapter in Haj and Utopia when she discusses how Har Dayal’s
attempts to organise Muslim soldiers in Turkey was rebuffed because of
what was perceived as Hindu nationalist etc. Rather, Ramnath focuses on
Har Dayal’s aim of “utopian holism” based on love and mutual respect
amongst peoples. (DA, 108-109) This inattention to the problem of Hindu
revivalism becomes most shocking in Ramnath’s discussion of Gandhi and
the “romantic counter-modernists". Ramnath chastises the “traditional
Left" in India for its
passionate devotion to economic materialism, secularism, and modernisation, rejected Gandhian thought as reactionary. Their deep anxiety about deviating from the principles of science and rationalism is quite understandable, given what they were positioning themselves against — the bloodbaths of communalism, the religiously sanctioned degradation of the caste system, and recently the growth of religious politics both Hindu and Islamic. Yet this made the entire category of the spiritual or non-rational out of bounds for progressive politics, ceding it to the Right rather than allowing it other modes of expression. (DA, 163-164)
Ramnath unburdened from
the things that the traditional Left was positioning itself against,
communalism and caste prejudice, wants to argue for the “possibility of
conceptually straddling the line." (DA, 164) Ramnath attempts to
provide an anarchist reading of Gandhi. Whilst acknowledging that
culturally specific religiosity gives his thought and practice quite a different guise from anything generally associated with anarchism in the West. It was precisely his religiosity, along with anti-modernism and refusal to endorse class war or repudiate the caste system, that led the Indian Left to angrily reject him, holding him accountable for the festering canker of communalism within the Indian national movement and Indian society’s persistent attachment to archaic structures of oppression. Instead of stoking dialectical conflict, he called for social harmony, counseling a benevolent, paternalistic relationship between landlords and peasants. (DA, 174)
Ramnath then proceeds to provide snippets from Hind Swaraj to make her case for an anarchist Gandhi, but completely overlooks Gandhi’s actions in this respect and provides no defense of the traditional Left’s arguments against Gandhi. Ramnath willingly overlooks Gandhi’s Hindu revivalism, his caste-based understanding of India, and his pro-business perspectives in favour of an idealised version of Gandhi that emphasises panchayat- rule. Ramnath relying on Surendranath Karr’s utopian vision of village republics, decentralised, unburdened by caste etc. (DA, 180-181) This is only made worse because the generosity afforded to Sarvarkar, Har Dayal and Gandhi is not afforded to those truly on the margins of Indian society: the Dalits. Ramnath uncharitably writes, “Dalit movements weren’t necessarily antiauthoritarian, although some were indeed radically egalitarian. (Some weren’t even that, seeking not an end to the hierarchy but a better rung on the latter for a particular group” (DA, 231). This is made worse when Ramnath seems to agree with Gail Omvedt that “the Dalit movement tended to lack ideological content”. (DA, 232) Ramnath adds salt to injury when she concludes about Dalit movements that they, “did not necessarily see themselves as part of anti-colonial struggle, unless in the implicit sense that the Brahminic master narrative proudly claims the mantle of conquest along with the identity of primordial Aryans” and then proceeds to argue that “Ambedkar and his followers were more apt to be British loyalists, blaming Gandhi and the INC for the discrimination, exclusion, and brutality they routinely faced (DA, 232) It is deeply troubling to see a wide range of Dalit movements, admittedly differing in their politics, being dismissed as an undifferentiated whole, characterised only by British loyalism and a lack of ideological content. Rather, than adopt an anarchist reading of Ambedkar that would have recognised that the Ambedkar and the Dalit movements realised that independence from the British meant little without the end of caste-rule, Ramnath adopts a nationalist position that overlooks the very real grievances of Dalits during the anti-colonial struggle and subsequent to independence, postcolonial India. Gone is any mention of Dalit Marxist theorists and organisations. This allows Ramnath to discuss Jayaprakash Narayan and his Janata Party government in the immediate aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency without mentioning the Hindu far Right’s role in the Janata party and government.
Ramnath’s Haj to Utopia is an important contribution to the existing literature of not only South-Asian diasporic radicalism and communism, but also North American and European. In particular it allows for a reconsideration of the early history of communism in India and around the world. In the Indian context in particular it provocatively demonstrates that the Ghadar movement was deeply influential on a number of different movements that would to compose the communist movement, and would animate a genealogy of a particular trend of communism in India that would emphasis active attempts at rebellion. Ramnath however, overstates the uniqueness of the Ghadar movement and party through her emphasis on their differences with the Communist Party of India, especially as it is not borne out through her own account. Finally, Ramnath’s affinity for the Ghadar party derives from their particular mode of politics that emphasises action over coherent ideology; however, while the Ghadar party developed past this mode, Ramnath seeks to preserve it. This results in her ambitious, but failed, attempt to create an anti-authoritarian history of India. Ramnath’s desire to demarcate her account from the traditional Left results in her making strange allies in the Hindu revivalist and nationalist movements. Furthermore, Ramnath makes a number of sweeping comments about diverse movements which betray the ideological confusion at the heart of her decolonised Anarchism, and puts into question her understanding of the basic concerns that confront antiauthoritarian movements in India today.
1. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 23.
2. See, for example, “Stenographic Record of the Discussion of the Members of the Committee of the CC A-UCP(B) with the Representatives of the CC Communist Party of India on 4th and 6th February 1951", Revolutionary Democracy, Vol. 12 (2)
3. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 65.
4. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 129.
5. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 106-107.
6. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 129.
7. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 132-133.
8. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 133.
9. Historical Commission, History of the Communist Movement, 133.