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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 27, June 20, 2009

EMS on Planning

Monday 22 June 2009, by Prabhat Patnaik

Marxism, as is well-known, does not see ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’ as two separate entities. The journey from the abstract to the concrete, from ‘theory’ to ‘praxis’ is as much a theoretical effort as an effort of praxis. E.M.S. Namboodiripad’s theoretical greatness therefore lay in the fact that he developed this theory-praxis totality in the context of rthe reality of the Indian society. And one very significant feature of this reality that he had to grapple with was that India was a planned economy, which created the illusion in the minds of many that India was in some sense a socialist economy, rather like the Soviet Union. Even those who did not share this piece of naivete, saw Nehruvian India nonetheless as pursuing some sort of a non-capitalist path of development, with the renowned economist Michael Kalecki developing a theory of “intermediate regimes” to explain the phenomenon.

EMS critiqued Kalecki’s theory that saw quite correctly the policy of non-alignment in foreign policy and of building a state capitalist sector (the ‘public sector’) in the realm of the economy, as assertions against imperialism, but that attributed such assertions, quite wrongly, to state power being in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie, a denouement that, Kalecki argued, was a novel phenomenon in human history. EMS was very clear that the Indian state was led by the big bourgeoisie, who, since they appeared late on the historical scene, had to enter into an alliance with the landlord class, even while pursuing the capitalist path of development. The so-called novel features of Indian state policy, like non-alignment and state capitalism, arose not because the Indian state was a petty bourgeois state, but because, even Indian bourgeoisie which had been discriminated against under colonial rule, which had joined the anti-colonial struggle, had imposed its leadership upon it, and had even managed to retain this leadership against the nascent challenge of the proletariat, was interested in pursuing a relatively autonomous path of capitalist develop-ment vis-à-vis imperialism.

The pursuit of the capitalist path in economies like India, he argued, was historically doomed, because it occurred at a time when world capitalism had entered into a period of general crisis. The tragedy of the Indian bourgeoisie, as EMS saw it, lay in the fact that it was embarking on the capitalist path of development in a period of general crisis for world capitalism. The bourgeoisie’s inability to smash feudal landlordism and undertake thorough-going land reforms, as had happened in Europe in the heyday of bourgeois ascendancy, was a reflection of this fact: the Third World bourgeoisie in the period of general crisis could not afford to alienate the landlord class whose political support it needed to ward off the challenge of the proletariat.

This in turn arrested the scope of the bourgeois transformation of society, restrained the development of productive forces in agriculture, restricted the size of the domestic market, kept the economy crisis-prone, imposed enormous burdens on the people, and gave perpetual shakiness to the foundation of bourgeois democracy, as was demonstrated during the Emergency. The crisis of Indian planning, according to EMS, arose because of this fundamentally doomed nature of the Indian bourgeoisie’s historical project. As opposed to this project, EMS advocated the establishment of a state of workers and peasants that would complete the bourgeois revolution of India, which the bourgeoisie itself could not, and take the country forward along a road that eventually led to socialism.


The question naturally arises: how do we evaluate EMS’s theory from the vantage point of today? He critiqued the Nehruvian state, the Nehruvian development path and the Nehruvian planning and did so on the premise that world capitalism was in a general crisis. But Nehrvianism has been replaced by neo-liberalism, as the Indian bourgeoisie has made common cause with imperialism. Indian planning now has become synonymous with the promotion of the private sector, including the MNCs, and the pushing of the Indian economy into the vortex of globalised finance, where the state’s help is enlisted for the defence and protection of the interests of international finance capital. All this has happened moreover in a world where the collapse of the Soviet Union has made all talk of the general crisis of capitalism appear anachronistic.

What is missed in all this, however, is that the existence of the Soviet Union was not the cuase of the general crisis of capitalism, but its symptom. And the bourgeoisie’s making common cause with imperialism, getting integrated with multinational capital and globalised finance, has brought in its train an agrarian crisis of gigantic proportions, followed by an inflationary crisis that reflects the squeeze on petty production, in a scenario that is reminiscent of the period of the thirties and the forties.

World capitalism that had survived till now by enlisting the support of the peasantry, whose conservative attachment to petty property was exploited by it to thwart the emergence of worker-peasant alliances, is now finding this crucial support slipping away from it. EMS’s vision of the correct path of development of the people and his prognosis of how it can be reached, not only remains as true today as it ever was, but perhaps even closer to realisation, in a historical sense, than ever before.

[Courtesy: The Kaumudi (E.M.S. Namboodripad Global Edition in English—October-December 2008)]

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