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Vol. 15, No. 3: July–August 1983
• Suniti Kumar Ghosh - The Indian Bourgeoisie and Imperialism
• Jim Matson - Class Struggles in Cooperative Development: The
Subordination of Labor in the Cooperative Sugar Industry of
Maharashtra, India
• Gail Omvedt - Capitalist Agriculture and Rural Classes in India
• Habibul Haque Khondker - Bangladesh: A Case of Below Poverty
Level Equilibrium Trap by Mohiuddin Alamgir / A Short Review
• Hugh Deane - On the Deadly Parallel: A Review with
Reminiscence. The Origins of the Korean War by Bruce Cumings
• Bruce Cummings - Korea: The Untold Story of the War by Joseph
C. Golden / A Short Review
• Jon Halliday - Siberian Development and East Asia by Allen S.
Whiting / A Review Essay
• Dennis Grafflin - Orientalism’s Attack on Orientalism
BCAS/Critical AsianStudies
CCAS Statement of Purpose
Critical Asian Studies continues to be inspired by the statement of purpose
formulated in 1969 by its parent organization, the Committee of Concerned
Asian Scholars (CCAS). CCAS ceased to exist as an organization in 1979,
but the BCAS board decided in 1993 that the CCAS Statement of Purpose
should be published in our journal at least once a year.
We first came together in opposition to the brutal aggression of
the United States in Vietnam and to the complicity or silence of
our profession with regard to that policy. Those in the field of
Asian studies bear responsibility for the consequences of their
research and the political posture of their profession. We are
concerned about the present unwillingness of specialists to speak
out against the implications of an Asian policy committed to en-
suring American domination of much of Asia. We reject the le-
gitimacy of this aim, and attempt to change this policy. We
recognize that the present structure of the profession has often
perverted scholarship and alienated many people in the field.
The Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars seeks to develop a
humane and knowledgeable understanding of Asian societies
and their efforts to maintain cultural integrity and to confront
such problems as poverty, oppression, and imperialism. We real-
ize that to be students of other peoples, we must first understand
our relations to them.
CCAS wishes to create alternatives to the prevailing trends in
scholarship on Asia, which too often spring from a parochial
cultural perspective and serve selfish interests and expansion-
ism. Our organization is designed to function as a catalyst, a
communications network for both Asian and Western scholars, a
provider of central resources for local chapters, and a commu-
nity for the development of anti-imperialist research.
Passed, 28–30 March 1969
Boston, Massachusetts
VoI.lS, No. 3/July-Aug., 1983
Suniti Kumar Ghosh 2
Jim Matson 18
GailOmvedt 30
Habibul Haque Khondker 55
Hugh Deane 57
Bruce Cumings 61
Jon Halliday 63
Dennis Grafflin 68
The Indian Bourgeoisie and Imperialism
Class Struggles in Cooperative Development:
The Subordination of Labor in the Cooperative
Sugar Industry of Maharashtra, India
Capitalist Agriculture and Rural Classes in India
Bangladesh: A Case ofBelow Poverty Level Equilibrium Trap,
by Mohiuddin Alamgir/short review
On the Deadly Parallel: A Review with Reminiscence;
The Origins ofthe Korean War, by Bruce Cumings
Korea-The Untold Story ofthe War,
by Joseph C. Goulden/short review
Siberian Development and East Asia,
by Allen S. Whiting/review essay
OrientaIism's Attack on Orientalism
Correspondence and Errata
List of Books to Review
Bruce Cumings: The School of International Studieg, Uni­
versity of Washington, Seattle, Washington
Hugh Deane: Harvard '38, was in Korea briefly in 1945 and
for extended stays in 1947 and 1948.
Suniti Kumar Ghosh: Has been editor of Liberation, Central
Organ ofthe Communist Party ofIndia (Marxist-Leninist).
Dennis Grafflin: Department of History, Bates College,
Lewiston, Maine
John Halliday: has served as Editor of the Bulletin of Con­
cerned Asian Scholars for Volume 11, 1979
Habibul Haque Khondker: Department of Sociology, Uni­
versity of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Jim Matson: Graduate Student, Sociology Department,
Gail Omvedt: Writer on India, Kasegaon, Maharashtra,
The Indian Bourgeoisie and Imperialism
by Suniti Kumar Ghosh
In his article "The Problem of India" (Monthly Review,
February 1981) Lawrence Lifschultz approvingly cited the
following lines from Dilip Hiro:
By the late 1960s, the Congress [Indian National Con­
gress] had played out its historically progressive role: a
successful challenge to the foreign imperialistic capital on
behalf of the indigenous capital; and substitution or sup­
planting of the large absentee, feudal ownership in agri­
culture with directly managed landlordship or •'self­
cultivating" ownership by rich peasants.
What, according to Hiro, is wrong with the Congress is
its failure to "initiate, let alone accomplish, the next pro­
gressive step in the economic revolution of Indian society:
combating landlords and rich farmers for the benefit of the
landless and the poor and middle peasants." And he de­
clares that "this is the only way to arrest the continuing
increase in the relative and absolute size of the country's
poor" (cited by Lifschultz-emphasis in the original).
Frankly speaking, the above summing up of the Indian
problem presents quite a wrong view ofit, which is far more
complex than Hiro and Lifschultz imagine. Despite the
wealth of detail (inaccurate in some cases), sharp exposure
of the socialist pretensions of the Indian ruling classes and
an attractive style, Hiro's Inside India Today, which Lif­
schultz has praised highly, fails to grasp the two main
aspects of the Indian situation: the stranglehold of foreign
imperialist capital (direct investment capital as well as loan
capital) on the Indian economy and the wide prevalence of
pre-capitalist relations in India's countryside. Lack of a
correct understanding of these two aspects has led Hiro to
the conclusion (to which Lifschultz seems to agree) that the
Congress played a historically progressive role until the late
sixties-an undeserved tribute to the Congress which more
than compensates for his criticism of this political party of
the Indian ruling classes. It is the Congress that, far from
offering "a successful challenge to the foreign, imperialistic
capital," has invited in the monopoly capital of several
imperialist powers to fleece the people in collaboration
with the classes it represents and has thus preserved and
strengthened the chains of dependence on them.
The basic problem of India-the incredible poverty
and degradation of the vast masses-becomes more and
more acute with every passing day because of three factors.
First, imperialist oppression and plunder continue though
forms of imperialist control have changed; second, the
Indian big bourgeoisie, in order to survive and develop,
serves the interests of foreign imperialist capital and helps
its economic aggression against this country and, by doing
so, waxes fat; and third, pre-capitalist interests, which colo­
nial rule fostered and with which the big bourgeoisie of this
country has close ties, still dominate the countryside de­
spite certain agrarian reforms and emergence of weak capi­
talist relations in agriculture.
Hiro is not alone in imagining that the Congress lead­
ership and the classes it represents are genuinely anti­
imperialist. It is held not only by the official historians of
the Indian ruling classes but by many others as an axiomatic
truth that the Indian National Congress, representing the
Indian bourgeoisie, which is usually assumed to be an
undifferentiated class, sucessfully spearheaded the
people's struggle for freedom to establish an independent
bourgeois nation state. Those who are of this view refuse to
consider the nature of the strategy and tactics of the strug­
gle, carefully formulated by the leadership and without any
parallel in the history of the national liberation struggle of
any other country, and the various constraints and checks
imposed on it by them -all of which were devised to win
concessions but not to overthrow imperialism. They fail to
see through the moral and religious veneer intended to
conceal the real nature of the sordid bargains with im­
perialism and the maneuvers against the people, and forget
that the moral and religious veneer, like many other things,
has a class character. That there were contradictions be­
tween the aims of the leadership and the aspirations of the
people for genuine, not nominal, freedom seems to escape
Confusion Abounding
Rajani Palme Dutt, whose writings have influenced
the Indian communist movement for decades far more
powerfully than anybody else's, spoke ofthe dual character
of the Indian bourgeoisie: it had, according to him, an­
tagonistic contradictions with imperialism as well as with
the masses. With all its proneness to compromise with
imperialism out of fear of social revolution, it led the strug­
gle to overthrow imperialism and establish a bourgeois
nation state. 1
In 1949 Palme Dutt contended that the Indian bour­
geoisie had betrayed the people and gone over to the camp
of imperialism; he then described India in 1948 as "still a
colonial country within the orbit of imperialism, despite the
changes of political forms."2 From about the end of 1955­
after the rise of Krushchev to power in the Soviet Union­
Palme Dutt recanted this view and described the new In­
dian state as an independent bourgeois state, and the 1947
transfer of power as "a landmark of world history," "a
foremost part of the world advance of peoples, of national
liberation and socialism. "3
Since the Communist Party of India (Marxist­
Leninist) formulated that the Indian bourgeoisie com­
prised two sections-the comprador bourgeoisie and the
national bourgeoisie-there has been a spate of writings
seeking to disprove this formulation. Indian academic his­
torians such as Bipan Chandra have put forward "the basic
hypothesis" that "the Indian capitalist class had developed
a long-term contradiction with imperialism while retaining
a relationship of short-term dependence on and accomoda­
tion with it." According to Chandra, the Indian capitalist
class including its upper stratum has never had, especially
not after 1914, an organic link with British capital and has
succesfully led anti-imperialist struggles to wrest power by
stages (by adopting what he ingeniously calls a "P-C-P"­
pressure-compromise-pressure-strategy) and set up an
independent, bourgeois state.
The theoreticians of the
Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of
India (Marxist) hold almost similar views.
What seems basically wrong with most of the formula­
tions of bourgeois academicians, revisionists and even of
many Marxist writers-Indian and Western-is that they
assume that Indian capitalism pursued a line of develop­
ment similar to that of West European capitalism with the
difference that it was born late and that it had to, and did,
struggle against and overcome many constraints imposed
on it by colonial rule. They have never investigated the
precise impact of Western capital with its superior tech­
nique and organization, military and political power, on
the feudal, backward economy of India. One of the results
of this impact-the relationship that developed between
the bourgeoisie of an advanced capitalist country or
countries and the Indian bourgeoisie-is seldom taKen into
Question of Differentiation of the Indian Bourgeoisie
In a colony or semi-colony (which Lenin described as a
semi-dependent country-formally independent but really
1. R. PalmeDutt,IndiaTOOily, Bombay, 1947, pp. 262-3 and 503-4.
2. Ibid, Bombay 1949 edn., p.7
3. "Notes of the Month," Labour Monthly, January 1956 and India Today,
Calcutta 1970 edn., Preface, p. VI.
4. Bipan Chandra, '''The Indian Capitalist Class and British Imper­
ialism," in R. S. Sharma (Ed.), Indian Society: Historical Probings, New
Delhi, 1974.
"Nehru had then gone on to speak of hitching India's
wagon to America's star and not Britain's."
While asking Olaf Caroe, then Secretary, External Affairs
Department, Government of India, to pass on to Sir Staf­
ford Cripps the main lines of the conversation with Jawa­
harlal Nehru he had on 6 April 1942, Colonel Louis John­
son, who had just arrived in India as President Roosevelt's
Personal Representative, reported the above. (See Docu­
ment No. 540 and the enclosure in N. Mansergh (ed.-in­
chief), The Transfer ofPower 1942-7, Vol. I, Her Majesty's
Stationery Office, London, 1971, p. 665.
How Equal Are They?
Total Turnover in 1976:
Exxon-$48,631 million
General Motors-$47, 181 million
Gross output of all factories in India (employing ten or
more workers working with the aid of power or twenty or
more working without it) both Indian- and foreign­
controlled in 1976-77 (April to March) was Rs. 34,090.65
crore, about $34,091 million at the present rate of ex­
change. Furthermore, Economic Times (New Delhi) re­
ported on 14 February 1977 that "The total assets of
Rs. 4,966 crore and sales of Rs. 5879 crore of the top 20
industrial houses add up to only 17 percent and 15 percent
of the assets and sales respectively of Exxon (New York)
[in 1975-76]."
Technological CoUaboration:
Who Controls Whom?
According to a paper prepared by the Federation of Indian
Chambers of Commerce and Industry, India's total R&D
expenditure amounted to Rs. 7,251 million in 1980-81
(which includes the expenditure on R&D of branches and
subsidiaries of foreign multinationals and other foreign­
controlled companies) while the USA's expenditure on
R&D was 87 times in absolute terms. The paper stated
that the cost of developing first generation technology in­
cluding the construction of pilot planes was far more than
what the biggest Indian firms could afford (Economic Times
[Calcutta], 28 March 1983).
A recent UNESCO document stated that while Japan's per
capita expenditure on R&D was $182, India's was one
dollar (Economic Times [Calcutta], 6 March 1982).
dependent on several imperialist powers), the bourgeoisie
inevitably splits up into two sections-the national
bourgeois who seek independent development and the
comprador bourgeois who are selected by foreign capital to
act as its agents for procuring goods from the hinterland for
export to the metropolis, for selling its manufactured goods
on the domestic market and also for serving as a pipe-line
for import of capital goods and technology. On the basis of
his experience in China, Mao Zedong made the following
generalization: "In countries under imperialist oppression
there are two kinds of bourgeoisie-the national bour­
geoisie and the comprador bourgeoisie."5
The interests of the comprador bourgeois are closely
tied up, intertwined, with the interests of the imperialist
bourgeoisie and it is with the assistance of the latter that
they thrive. Their roles are, in the main, complementary­
not competitive. Like comprador traders, there are com­
prador industrialists whose interests are interwoven with
those of imperialist capital, and in this interweaving the
interests of the latter are dominant. As the comprador
plays the role of the agent of imperialist capital, he helps
the latter to intensify its economic as well as political ag­
gression against his country. On the other hand, the in­
terests of the national bourgeoisie in a colony or semi­
colony are not tied up with those of imperialist capital
though it may depend on the latter for capital goods, know­
how, markets and so on. It represents the interests of
independent industrial development, but its aspirations are
thwarted by imperialism acting in collusion with compra­
dor capital and feudal interests.
Though the roles of imperialist capital and comprador
capital are complementary, yet there may arise contradic­
tions between the two over respective shares of the spoils.
Nevertheless, such contradictions are usually not antagon­
istic and are resolved within the framework of the imperialist
system. It is collusion to exploit and oppress the people of
the colony or semi-colony-not contradiction-that is the
principal aspect of the relationship.
It is regarded by most economic historians and politi­
cal scientists as another axiomatic truth that the Indian big
emerged and grew in strength by overcoming
the fierce opposition of the British bourgeoisie both in the
political and in the financial sphere. To quote R. Palme
Dutt, "Such industrial development as has taken place has in
fact had to fight its way against intense opposition from British
finance-capital alike in the financial and in the political
field."7 It is our contention that such a view is in flagrant
contradiction with facts; that the Indian big bourgeoisie, on
the contrary, has been nurtured and helped to grow big by
foreign capital and a symbiotic patron-client relationship
between foreign capital and the Indian big bourgeoisie­
whether commercial, industrial or both-has existed for a
long time and persists even today.
5. Mao Zedong, Selected Works (SW), Vol. 5, Peking, 1977,
p. 327-emphasis added.
6. By the "big bourgeoisie" is meant that section ofthe bourgeoisie which
controls giant firms. The word "big" or "giant" is used not in an absolute
sense. The bourgeois who is big in India is a pigmy in the U.S.A. When we
speak of the Indian big bourgeoisie, we should not forget the Indian
context and the period referred to.
In respect of the native merchant bourgeoisie in India,
the British colonialists followed a dual policy. On the one
hand, they suppressed the growth of that section of the native
bourgeoisie which would not or could not serve as a tool for
exploiting the colony; on the other hand, they remolded
another section of the old native bourgeoisie and raised and
nurtured a new one, which acted as their intermediaries.
British colonial rule destroyed much of the indigenous
industry, including the manufactories that had developed
in iron and steel, salt peter, shipping and some other in­
dustries (small pockets where capitalist relations had made
their appearance), shattered the old union between ag­
riculture and industry and converted India, under the new,
international division of labor that arose in the nineteenth
century, primarily into a raw material appendage and a
market for the products of the British factory industry and,
secondarily, into an outlet for export of capital. India's
external and internal trade came to be dominated by the
British bourgeoisie and, as a result, the transformation of
the big Indian merchants into comprador bourgeois, a pro­
cess which had started long before the advent of colonial
rule, was hastened. Such a transformation took place in
China immediately after the Opium War (1840-42), when
hong merchants (the Chinese emperor's chartered mer­
chants) were supplanted by merchants who were selected
by foreign capital to serve as its agents. In India the process
had started much earlier in the 16th and 17th centuries,
when by virtue of their naval supremacy India's maritime
trade was controlled first by the Portuguese and then by the
Dutch and the English.
The transformation of a section of
the old Indian merchants and the rearing of new ones who
served themselves by serving foreign capital, helped the
Western bourgeoisie to penetrate into the country both
economically and politically.
In the conditions of colonial economy trading and
usury capital, which was closely linked with foreign capital,
thrived and delayed and distorted the growth of industrial
capital. There was, no doubt, an antagonistic contradiction
between colonial rule and the independent development of
capitalism in this country.
Under colonial rule, the transition towards a capitalist
society became more difficult than before because it had to
contend against two formidable obstacles instead of one.
The forces of colonialism combined with the forces of the
pre-capitalist society to prevent such a social transform­
The road to India's independent industrial develop­
8. See D. R. Gadgil, Origins 0/ the Modern Indian Business Class, New
York, 1959, pp. 19-20,41-3; N. K. Sinha, The £CoMmic History o/Bengal,
Vol. I, Calcutta, 1965 edn" pp. 6-7; D. F. Karaka, History ofthe Parsis,
London, 1884, Vol. I, "Introduction"; Vol. II, p. 9 and chap. 2; Holden
Furber, Bombay Presidency in the Mid-Eighteenth Century, Bombay, 1965;
Surendra Gopal, Commerce and Crafts in Gujarat, New Delhi, 1975; and
A. I. Chicherov, Indki: Economic Development in the 16th-18th Centuries,
Moscow, 1971, pp. 112-20 and 126.
9. There is actually no conflict between this statement and Lenin's theory
that imperialism "influences and greatly accelerates the development of
capitalism" in backward countries. He also pointed out that, despite such
acceleration, "survivals of feudalism"-not capitalism-were the target
of the revolution in such countries. (See "Address to the Second All­
Russia Congress of Communist Organizations of the Peoples of the East"
and "Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions,"
Collected Works (CW), Vol. 30, p. 161 and Vol. 31, p. 149. These con­
ment was blocked by British colonial rule. Contrary to
Marx's early optimistic view, which he appeared to discard
later, British rule threw India back instead of laying down
material premises for a move forward. 10 The stunted, lop­
sided industrial development that took place in India did so
not by overcoming the fierce opposition of British capital.
On the contrary, it was guided and fostered by it.
Industrial capitalism did not emerge in this country in
the course of the normal development of industry as in the
countries of the West. I I Factory industry here was trans-
Today when imperia&t monopolies are
interested in exporting capital rather than con­
sumer goods, the Indian big bourgeoisie mserving
as the pipeline for the flow of imperialist capital
(both direct investment and official loan capital)
into [India].
tradictory features of the penetration of imperialist capital into a colony or
semi-colony were clearly pointed out in the "Theses on the Revolutionary
Movement in the Colonies and Semi-Colonies" adopted at the Sixth
Congress of the Communist International in 1928. (See Section 14 "The
Role ofFinance Capital" and Section 15 "Imperialist Economic Policy. ")
Speaking of China, Mao Zedong referred to these contradictory
features: "Penetration by foreign capitalism accelerated this process [of
capitalist development] .... There is another concomitant and obstruc­
tive aspect, namely, the collusion of imperialism with the Chinese feudal
forces to arrest the development of Chinese capitalism" (SW, Vol. 2, pp.
309-10; see also Paul Baran, The Political Economy ofGrowth, New York,
1957, pp. 143-4). The fundamental policy of imperialism is, indeed, to
transform the economy ofthe colony into an appendage of the economy of
the imperialist country, to destroy the equilibrium between separate
branches of production, to spoil it of its natural resources and thus to
hinder the development of productive forces.
A large part of the British capital that flowed into India was usury
capital-loans to the government and semi-government bodies. Most of
the remaining portion was invested in tea and rubber plantations
(products of which were meant primarily for export), trade, banking, and
only a smalI fraction in industry. On the other hand, there was a continu­
ous flow of wealth from India to Britain. This annual tribute during the
two decades before World War II was estimated to have been in the
neighborhood of £135 million (see India Today, 1947, p. 122).
The destruction of indigenous industries and forced conversion of
India into a raw material appendage acted even more powerfully than the
drain as a brake on the development of India's productive forces. Through
export of capital, the imperialist bourgeoisie built up a few enclaves of
capitalist industry but in the vast rural areas feudal relations of production
were zealously preserved and merchant and usury capital flourished as
never before.
10. Considerations of space do not permit us to explain here Marx's early
optimistic view of British rule in India and his later rejection of it. This
question may be taken up in a separate article.
11. No doubt, British capital and contractors, as L. H. Jenks wrote,
"contributed to the rise of industrial life upon the Continent" but the
impulsion came from within. (Jenks, The Migration of British Capital to
1875, London 1963 edn., pp. 185, 188). In France and several other
countries, bourgeois revolutions had taken place and capitalist relations of
production were dominant. In India, on the other hand, pre-capitalist
relations of production prevailed.
Second, while the countries of the West were independent, sovereign
states, India was a colony. Speaking of France, Jenks said: "Initiative,
leadership, decision-making were in French hands, and in the hands of the
government in France" (Ibid, p. 167). And they built up their industries by
erecting tariff walls to protect their own markets. In India, on the other
hand, not only did the initiative and decision-making lie in the hands of the
British and the British government but the British-owned industries as
well as much of the Indian-owned factory industry were controlled from
Third, in the West small producers became merchants and then
turned into industrial capitalists; that is, capitalism developed along what
Marx called "the really revolutionary path." Here, on the contrary,
comprador merchants invested in industry.
Briefly, industrial capitalism did not develop in India independently,
on autonomous lines. It is not the class contradictions and class struggle
within the Indian society that led to the emergence and growth of Indian
industrial capitalism. On the contrary, it was capitalism, which had de­
veloped elsewhere, that urged by the laws of its own development pro­
moted the growth of some industrial enclaves, dependent on it, in the
midst of the vast semi-feudal economy in this country.
plapted from an advanced capitalist country to a depen­
dent, semi-feudal country, as we shall see, in order to
further the interests of the former. With its capital goods
and technology developed elsewhere, the factory industry
in India represents "an importation rather than an evolu­
tion." As colonial rule transformed the Indian economy
into an appendage of the economy of Britain, Indian big
industrial capital, like big merchant capital, remained tied
to foreign imperialist capital like a sub-exploiter to the
chief exploiter.
The second thing to note is that Indian industrial capi­
talism grew not by defeating feudalism but by adjusting
itself to it. One of the chief sources of capital invested in
Indian industries was the huge rent wrung out of the peas­
antry by feudal princes in native "states" (such as Gwalior,
Mysore, Baroda, Indore and Travancore), who ruled
despotically and were responsible only to the British para­
mount power, and by big feudal landlords like the Mahara­
ja of Darbhanga. The rule of the bourgeoisie of a foreign
country and the dominance of a semi-feudal economy were
the major factors which determined the course, nature and
extent of development of Indian industrial capitalism.
Development of Indian Industrial Capitalism
The history of Indian industrial capitalism may be
divided into three phases: first, from the 1850s to World
War I; second, from World War I to 1947-the year which
marked the end of the colonial rule; and third, the period
since 1947.
First phase: 1850s to World War I
Between the 1850s and World War I, Indian-owned
industries were chiefly two: cotton and iron and steel. In
this country neither small commodity producers nor mer­
chants independently carrying on trade grew into industrial
capitalists. Those who set up cotton mills in Bombay and
Ahmedabad in the second half of the nineteenth century
had for a long time been closely associated with British
capital as brokers, banians
and shroffs, 13 as its local in­
12. Till the end of the 18th century, the banians acted as agents and
middlemen for the East Indian Company's servants and British Free
Merchants on a commission basis. Later, the banian became a "guarantee
broker" attached to a European managing agency firm. He had to guaran­
tee the reliability of other Indian businessmen dealing with the firm and
received a commission on sales.
13. Shroffs were originally money-changers and indigenous bankers,
many of whom had branches at different commercial centers and com­
bined their banking activities like moneylending and discounting of bills of
exchange with trade.
termediaries, and had close links with feudal princes and
landlords. A few early industrial capitalists had been
bureaucrats in the service of the colonial government or of
the native princes and, while quite dependent on the latter
for money-capital and other help, had formed close ties
with British capital before venturing on their new activi­
ties. 14
Much of the capital invested in Bombay's cotton mill
industry in its early days, as pointed out by the Indian
Industrial Commission 1916-18, was "derived from the
profits made in the opium trade with China, and, of course,
from the money which the cotton boom [during the Ameri­
can Civil War] brought into Bombay."15
The opium trade with China played a crucial role in
Britain's colonial exploitation of India. Opium constituted
one-third or even more of the total exports from India in
some years and this trade, besides serving as an important
source of revenue for the colonial administration, acted as
a channel for remitting a large part of the imperial tribute
and the savings and clandestine gains of the East India
Company's corrupt officers and other British merchants.
The exported opium provided the British bourgeoisie with
the finances for purchasing Chinese tea and silk, which
fetched them enormous profits after sale in Britain and on
the European continent. Indian merchants were permitted
to take part in this very lucrative trade in opium, mainly as
correspondents of British firms in China like Jardine
Matheson and Company. During the Opium War of 1840­
42, Parsi merchants lent their ships to the British to trans­
port troops to China and several of them were imprisoned
by the Chinese government. 16 The Tatas and, later, Birlas,
the leading Indian business houses today, were among
those who amassed fortunes by taking part in this trade. It
was one of the ways in which Indian big merchant capital
served the British colonial administration and trade and
earned fabulous profits.
The collaboration with the British bourgeoisie which
enabled the Indians to accumulate capital for setting up the
cotton mills was many-sided and long-standing. Many In­
dian merchants had emigrated from Gujarat to the
Bombay island (over which the British had been exercising
sovereignty since the 1660s) were treated as British sub­
jects and carried on trade and other activities as underlings
of British merchants.
The first Indian mill companies were floated in part­
nership with British capitalists by Parsis-Davar, Petit,
etc. -who had long been associated with British capital as
brokers and agents. The textile magnates-the Sassoons (a
Jewish family which had emigrated from Baghdad to Bom­
bay in the early 1830s and, later, settled in England),
Currimbhoys, Petits, Wadias and Tatas-were all inti­
mately tied to British interests. For instance, Jamsetji Tata
set up his first cotton mill-named "Empress Mills" as a
14. S. D. Mehta, The Cotton Mills of India 1854-1954, Bombay, 1954, pp.
13-23; and Ashok V. Desai, "The Origins of Parsi Enterprise," The Indian
Economic and Soc'ia/ History Review. Dec. 1968, pp. 307-17.
15. Indian Industrial Commission 1916-18, Report. Calcutta, 1918,
16. Ashok V. Desai, op cit., p. 315; for Opium trade with China, see
Michael Greenberg, British Trade and the Opening of China 1800-42,
Cambridge, 1951, esp. Chaps. I, IV, V and VI.
token of devotion to the British Queen and Empress of
India-with the capital which consisted of profits earned
from trade in opium, raw cotton procured for export and
from contracts with the commissariat of the British army
when it attacked Iran in 1857 and Ethiopia in 1868.17
Bombay became the first and leading center of cotton
mill industry in India because of some advantages that the
Indian bourgeois of this city who invested in this industry
enjoyed. First, their activities as compradors procuring raw
cotton for export to Lancashire and their sale of Lancashire
goods on the domestic market helped them to form con­
tacts with Lancashire machinery manufacturers. Second,
they knew the market not only in India but also in China
where they had been marketing Lancashire yam and piece
goods. Third, they themselves traded in cotton-the raw
material they needed.
The contradiction between Lancashire textile industry
and Indian cotton mill industry has been very much exag­
gerated. Till World War I, the area of competition between
them was extremely narrow. IS The markets for Indian and
Lancashire goods were mainly separate and were comp­
limentary rather than competitive as the coarse yarn and
cloth produced by the Indian mills hardly competed with
the finer varieties from Lancashire.
Despite certain contradictions with British cotton in­
dustry, India's cotton mills may be said to have developed
as an appendage of British capital, especially of the British
machine-building industry. The iron and machine-building
industries were rising fast in Britain during these years. The
exports of machinery from Britain shot up from the annual
average value of £1 million between 1846 and 1850 to that
of £8 and 8% million between 1871 and 1875,19 and the
value of imports of textile machinery into India rose from
£300,000 in 1870 to £1,185,900 in 1875.
It is also worth
noting that, in 1863, when the duty on imports of cotton
manufacturers into India was 5 percent and that on yarn
3% percent, machinery continued to be on the free list.
cannot be assumed, however, that Lanchashire repre­
sented entire British capitalism, for there were contradic­
tions between the interests of Lancashire and those of
British manufacturers of textile machinery and of the
British capitalists who had invested in the cotton mill in­
dustry in India. 22
For the machinery, spare parts and technical know­
how, the Indian cotton mill industry depended entirely on
the British machinery manufacturers. Because the Indian
capitalists who floated the mill companies were quite ignor­
ant of the technical aspects, the machinery was selected for
17. F. R. Harris, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. Bombay, 1958 edn.,
pp. 5-6 and 11-12; and R. M. Lala, The Creation of Wealth; A Tata Story,
Bombay, 1981, p. 4.
18. S. D. Mehta, op cit., p. 66.
19. L. H. Jenks, op. cit .• p. 174; also E. J. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire,
Pelican 1976 reprint, Chap. 6.
20. Indian Textile Journal Souvenir 1954 (published on the occasion of the
Centenary ofthe Bombay Cotton Mill Industry), p. 685.
21. Pramathanath Banerjea, Fiscal Policy in India, Calcutta, 1922,
22. B. R. Tomlinson, The Political Economy ofthe Raj 1914-1947. London
1979, p. 15; and Matthew J. Kust, Foreign Enterprise in India. Chapel Hill,
U.S.A. and Bombay, 1%5, p. 23.
them by the British suppliers, and erected, managed and
supervised by British managers and technicians. Even the
building plans and instructions came from British firms and
often created very difficult problems for the Indian com­
panies because of the British firms' lack of knowledge of
the Indian conditions. 23
"The cotton mills of India," writes S. D. Mehta, "owe
a lasting debt to the enterprise of the Englishmen who
comprised the mainstay of their technical cadre for more
than six decades after the first mill company was floated in
Bombay in 1854. . . . The share of the Lancashiremen in
the growth of the mill industry shaped into mighty propor­
tions. "24 The Indian employers had no direct voice in the
selection of English managers and technicians, which was
made in England, and their direct control over the top
technicians was extremely limited. 25
For its market also, the Indian cotton mills relied on
the British bourgeoisie. The early mills were mostly spin­
ning mills, which produced yam not so much for the domes­
tic market as for the foreign markets-Britain's imperial
markets in East Africa, Hong Kong, and especially in
China. The extent of dependence of the Indian mills on
exports to China may be realized from the fact that "in 1888
three-fourths of the yam produced in India was exported to
China."26 A. P. Kannangara writes:
Indian textiLes were sold abroad under the umbrella ofBritish
power and influence. The chiefoverseas market was in China:
its entre pots were Hong Kong and Shanghai; it was made
accessible as a market by the rights andfacilities which Britain
had secured in the interior; and the services ofBritish consular
offices were used by Indian exporters. 27
Does all this suggest that there was "intense opposi­
tion" on the part of British finance-capital to the kind of
industrial development that was taking place in India? One
may contrast this generous policy of allowing and encour­
aging the entry of Indian yam and cloth into Britain's
imperial markets with the policy adopted only a few
decades earlier when the British Government levied pro­
hibitory duties-even to the extent of 100 percent and
more on the import of certain types of India's handloom
products into Britain-and banned outright the entry of
certain other types. 28
Furthermore, the cotton mill machinery was sold in
India by the British manufacturers at three times and coal at
six times their ruling prices in Britain.
To promote mill
23. S. M. Rutnagur, Bombay Industries: The Cotton Mills. Bombay, 1927,
p. 633; and D. H. Buchanan, The Development ofCapitalistic Enterprise in
India. New York, 1934, p. 203.
24. S. D. Mehta, op cit .. p. 100.
25. Ibid. pp. 105 and 108.
26. D. H. Buchanan, op cit .. p. 201n; see also W. W. Hunter, The Indian
Empire: Its Peoples. History. and Products. London, 1893, pp. 716-7.
27. A. P. Kannangara, "Indian Millowners and Indian Nationalism Be­
fore 1914," Past and Present. No. 40, July 1968, p. 164.
28. Romesh Dutt, Economic History ofIndia in the Victorian Age. London
1956 edn, p. 112; and N. K. Sinha,The Economic History ofBengal. Vol. III,
Calcutta, 1970, pp. 11-12.
29. W. W. Hunter, op cit., p. 715; and V. I. Pavlov, The Indian Capitalist
Class. New Delhi, 1964, p. 390. Hunter refers to the year 1877. Later, the
prices of mill machinery came down. According to Arum Joshi, the cost of
machinery was thirty percent higher in India than in England inl885 (see
his Lala Shri Ram, New Delhi, 1975, p. 27).
companies, the agents of the machinery manufacturers
often purchased shares of the newly-floated companies out
of the substantial commissions they received and, after­
wards, sold them to buy shares in other such companies.
For capital goods, technical services extending from
the preparation of building plans to installing and running
the machines and for market, the Indian capitalists were
totally or almost totally dependent on the British bour­
geoisie. As a price of this abject dependence, they had to
hand over to the latter a large portion of the surplus value
created by abominably cheap Indian labor in the form of
exorbitant prices, interests, payments for technical services
and high salaries for the managers and other supervisory
Some of the Indian millowners continued to procure
raw cotton for supply to Lancashire and, later, also to
Japan and to sell Lancashire yam and piece goods on the
domestic market. For instance, Morarji Goeuldas, who
made his fortune by selling Lancashire piece goods and
came to own several cotton mills (whose son Narottam
Morarji was afterwards one of the founders of the Scindias)
continued to trade in the products of the Lancashire mills.
The Tatas were the first Indian merchants and millowners
who began towards the end of the last century to export raw
cotton for the Japanese mills which were forcing Indian
yarn out of the Chinese market. Some Indian mill-owners
like the Wadia as and Hormasji Manekji Mehta served as
agents of British textile machinery manufacturers.
To quote Pavlov: "Up to the First World War the big
capitalists who had become factory owners not only con­
tinued to act as agents of the British and as money-lenders,
but frequently even expanded their operations in these
fields."30 And A. D. D. Gorden writes: "As with their
forbears, it was fairly common for Indian industrialists to
be agents of European firms. "31
The following shows just how close was the collabora­
tion between the Indian big bourgeoisie and British capi­
talists. First, from its inception in 1875 to 1923, the Bombay
Millowners' Association was accomodated in the premises
of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce dominated by
British capital and the entire secretarial work of the former
was performed by the latter, the secretary of which was ex
officio secretary of the Millowners' Association. Even
when, in 1923, it became necessary to engage the services
of a wholetime secretary, a Britisher was appointed Tech­
nical Assistant Secretary "responsible for the work of the
Association under the guidance of the Secretary of the
Chamber. "32 Second, many mill companies, whether In­
dian or European, had on their boards of directors both
Europeans and Indians. 33
The "Basic Conflict Theory"
R. Palme Dutt has written:
The basic economic conflict between the new Indian
30. V. I. Pavlov, op cit., p. 386.
31. A. D. D. Gordon, Businessmen and Politics, Canberra and New Delhi,
1978, p. 61.
32. Rutnagur, op cit., p. 535.
33. S. Radhe Shyam Rungta, The Rise of Business Corporations in India
1851-1900. Cambridge, 1979, p. 242; and Rutnagur, opcit., p. 250.
British colonial nile destroyed much of the
indigenous industry,. . . shattered the old union
between agriculture and industry and converted
India, under the new, international division oflabor
that arose in the nineteenth century, primarily into
a raw material appendage 8D4} a market for the
products of the British factory industry and, secon­
darily, into an outlet for export of capital.
bourgeoisie and the British bourgeoisie was already re­
vealed when in 1882 all duties on cotton imports into India
were removed by the Government in response to the demands
of the Lancashire manufacturers against the rising Indian
industry. Three years later the Indian National Congress was
formed. 34
The formation of the Congress is a story into which we
shall not enter here. But it may be mentioned in passing
that the Congress, according to its first president, W. C.
Bonnerjee, was sponsored by Lord Dufferin, the then
Viceroy of India, and was set up on the initiative of a high
retired British official, A. O. Hume, whom his biographer,
William Wedderburn, called "Father of the Indian Na­
tional Congress." Palme Dutt himself partly contradicted
his own facile view when he said that the Congress was set
up "as an intended weapon for safeguarding British rule
against the rising forces of popular unrest and anti-British
feeling. "35
Palme Dutt's mention of the withdrawal of only im­
port duties on cotton goods gives a rather distorted picture.
34. Palme Dutt, op cit .. p. 255, emphasis added.
35. Ibid. p. 256. The refutation of the views of Palme Dutt and many
others does not imply nor is it anywhere suggested, that British imper­
ialism was not, on the whole, opposed to the development of India's
capitalist industry. My contentions are two: first, there was an antagonistic
contradiction between imperialism and independent development ofcapi­
talism in this country; second, whatever little development of India's
capitalist industry took place did so not in the strongest contradiction with
the policies of imperialism but mostly on comprador basis.
Among the factors that did not allow further development of capital­
ist industry in colonized India on comprador basis are the following:
First, all other interests were subordinated to the interests of British
capital, the primary aim of which was to exploit India as a raw material
appendage and market for British manufacturers. Nothing was permitted
that would frustrate this basic aim and harm the complementarity between
the imperialist and the colonial economy. That is why no machine­
building industry existed and the engineering industry, owned by British
capital, was poorly developed here.
Second, the colonial economy favored the monstrous growth of mer­
chant and usury capital which earned fantastic profits by collaborating
with the British bourgeoisie to fleece the people. This delayed, distorted
and restricted the growth of industrial capital.
Third, no considerable development of industrial capitalism can take
place in a country without previous or simultaneous development of
capitalism in agriculture. When the British imperialists sought to preserve
the feudal interests for obtaining food and other primary products as
cheaply as possible and as bulwarks of political reaction and when Indian
capitalists allied themselves with them, no considerable capitalist develop­
ment even on comprador basis could be expected.
Actually, in 1882, all import and export duties were re­
moved, except for very few articles such as salt and liquor.
The withdrawal of import duties, no doubt, benefited
Lancashire, but it caused little harm to the interests of the
Indian cotton millowners, whose goods, as we have seen,
hardly competed with those of Lancashire, while the re­
moval of duties on exports was definitely beneficial to the
Indian millowners. Palme Dutt's statement that the re­
moval of import duties on cotton goods revealed "a basic
conflict between the new Indian bourgeoisie and the British
bourgeoisie" has no basis on facts.
Palme Dutt and many other economic historians and
political scientists also regard the imposition of excise
duties, first in December 1894 and then in 1896, as cruel
blows to "the very weak Indian cotton industry."36 This
argument about the countervailing excise duties is put for­
ward as such an irrefutable proof of British finance capital's
"intense opposition" to "such industrial development as
has taken place" that it needs some discussion.
First, the Indian millowners themselves did not "com­
plain of the countervailing excise duty as in any way injur­
ing us in regard to the competition between England and
India," as the Chairman of the Bombay Millowners' As­
sociation said in his address to its annual general meeting in
1899. He went on: "There cannot, as this Association has
always maintained, be any competition between the fine
goods of Lancashire and the coarse cloth made in this
country, but there can be no doubt that the excise duties
protect the handloom weavers. . . . "37
To the Indian millowners the real enemy was the In­
dian hand loom industry and they criticized the excise duty
on mill-made textiles for affording protection to the hand­
looms against the mill industry. 38 The trade organizations
of British capitalists in India as well as their individual
representatives joined the Indian bourgeoisie in protesting
against the imposition of the excise duties. 39
Second, despite this imposition, the Indian cotton mill
industry had a phenomenal growth. Between 1882 and
1892 the number of mills rose from 62 to 127 and the
number of spindles more than doubled (even after the
installation of a large proportion of ring spindles), and
between 1890 and World War I, spindles more than
doubled while power looms quadrupled. 40
Third, the Government's revenue policy up to World
War I favored the industrialists and other businessmen
instead of being harsh to them. As A. D. D. Gordon says,
"Furthermore, co-existence and, indeed, collaboration
with government were made all the more easy in so far as
the logic of imperial rule decreed that they [the Indian
industrialists] and the marketeers were left almost entirely
out of the revenue structure. "41
36. Ibid. p. 125.
37. Report of the Bombay Mil/owners' Associationfor 1898. p. 85; cited in
Bipan Chandra, The Rise and Growth ofEconomic Nationalism in India, New
Delhi, 1969, p. 139n.
38. For D. E. Wacha's Speech on May 3, 1901, see Bipan Chandra, ibid.
39. S. D. Mehta, op cit., pp. 68-71.
40. Ibid. p. 48 and Buchanan, op cit., p. 138-9.
41. A. D. D. Gordon, op. cit.. p. 5.
Fourth, the Government's labor policy was highly
beneficial to the industrialists. Despite Lancashire agita­
tion for restriction of hours of work in the Indian mills, the
Government permitted the millowners to force laborers to
work sixteen hours or more under atrocious conditions and
on wages which did not cover the subsistence of their
families. Until 1911, even women and many children had to
work twelve to fifteen hours a day. 42 Despite the exorbitant
prices of the imported machinery and auxiliary goods, the
high salaries of British managers and technicians and other
handicaps, many mills earned fabulous profits.
The de­
clared profits, it may be noted, were "peanuts" compared
to the actual profits made. The enormous profits shared by
British and Indian big capital arose out of the abominable
exploitation of the Indian workers and of the cotton­
growers who were defrauded of their rightful prices by a
whole host of British exporters, Indian and British mill­
owners, and a hierarchy of brokers, moneylenders and
landlords acting in close alliance.
Despite the growth of the Indian cotton mill industry
and the Swadeshi ("Buy indigenous goods") agitation in the
opening years of this century, the export of Lancashire
cotton goods to India continued to rise until 1913-14 when
it reached its peak. The subsequent decline of Lancashire is
another subject with which we are not concerned here. It
may only be pointed out that this decline was due to its
inherent weakness-the smallness of its units, insufficient
capital and out-of-date plants and methods, in short, its
backwardness compared with the rising industries ofJapan
and the U.S.A.44 During the inter-war years, the British
rulers tried to salvage as much of Lancashire's market in
India as possible by concluding the Ottawa Agreement in
1932, the Bombay - Lancashire pact and other trade agree­
ments and by levying import duties to the tune of even
seventy-five percent ad valorem on Japanese cotton goods.
The decline of Lancashire is vividly described by
Buchanan, who wrote in the early thirties: "Japan, in the
past 25 years, has built up an industry whose goods are now
being sold in the shops of Manchester. "45
The only other important Indian-owned industry,
which started production just before World War I, was iron
and steel. Though earlier efforts to set up this industry in
India had been made by British capital, they failed or did
not become particularly successful for lack of sufficient
encouragement from the British rulers. But in the closing
years of the last century some intimations of change could
be noticed. Viceroy Lord Curzon amended the mining act.
And at an interview in 1900 Lord George Hamilton, then
Secretary of State for India, urged J. N. Tata to undertake
the building of a steel plant. Hamilton told him that it was
in Tata that the British Government had found the man
they had been looking for. When Tata expressed his mis­
givings, the Secretary of State promised him all govern­
ment support and the promise was kept. 46
42. Buchanan, op cit., p. 313.
43. Ibid, pp. 208-10; see also Rutnagur, op cit., pp, 50-51.
44. Alfred E. Kahn, Great Britain in the World Economy, New York, 1946,
45. Buchanan, op cit., p. 196.
46. Harris, op. cit., p. 155-6.
When Tata failed to obtain capital in England for his
iron and steel project, most of the money-capital was sub­
scribed by India's feudal lords. The Maharaja of Gwalior
provided the entire working capital. This is one instance
among many which shows how very close were the links
between the comprador bourgeoisie and the feudal class.
For prospecting for iron ore (though ultimately an
Indian helped them), capital goods, construction of the
works, etc., the Tatas turned to the Americans. The factory
was constructed by Julian Kennedy, Sahlin and Co., an
American firm of engineers, and Wells, an American, be­
came the first General Manager. The different shops were
managed by Americans and Europeans.
In a Note appended to the Report of the Indian Indus­
trial Commission 1916-18, of which he was a member,
Madan Mohan Malaviya, an eminent Congress leader,
The Government has earned the gratitude ofIndians by
the support they gave to the scheme [the Tata Iron and Steel
Works], and it is a matter of great satisfaction that thejirm
has rendered signal services to the Government and the
Empire during the War [World War IJ by a ready supply of
rails and shell steelfor use in Mesopotamia and Egypt. 47
What Jamsetji Tata declared in his statement, which
appeared in the Times of India, 12 April 1894, reflects the
attitude of the Indian big bourgeoisie towards the British
Our small community [meaning the Parsi community
but it may as well standfor the entire Indian big bourgeoisieJ
is, to my thinking, peculiarly suited as interpreters and
intermediaries between the rulers and the ruled in this
country. Through their peculiar position they have
benefited more than any other class by English rule, and I
am sure their gratitude to that rule is, as it ought to be, in due
proportion to the advantage derived from it. (Emphasis
Second Phase: World War I to 1947
The second phase of development of India's industrial
capitalism saw the expansion of the cotton and iron and
steel industries, the investment of Indian big capital in
paper, sugar, cement, jute and a few other industries and
the emergence of new groups of the Indian big bour­
geoisie-the Birlas, Singhanias,
Hukumchands, Goenkas, Dalmia Jains, Ruias, Thapars,
Walchands, Chettiars, Naidus and others.
According to present-day Soviet theoreticians like
V. I. Pavlov, the Indian big bourgeoisie which started as
comprador changed into the national bourgeoisie during
the inter-war years, especially the thirties.
theory propagated by some Indian historians is that the
capitalist class that developed in India, especially after
1914, "did not develop an organic link with British capi­
talism: it was not integrated with foreign capital in
India. "49
47. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya's Note in Indian Industrial Commis­
sion 1916-18, Report, p. 305.
48. See Pavlov, opcit., pp. 400-7.
These are, no doubt, ingenious theories, but their
hollowness is exposed once they are put to the test of facts.
As we shall see, like the Tatas and other textile magnates,
the new groups of the Indian big bourgeoisie that arose
after 1914 had forged intimate links with foreign capital: in
fact, there was a close interweaving of their interests and in
this interweaving foreign capital was as usual the principal
World War I brought about a change in the govern­
ment's industrial policy for three reasons: economic, mili­
tary political. The rise of formidable imperialist rivals,
especially the U.S.A. and Germany, the military security
o.f the empire and the political need to grant some conces­
sions to the Indian big bourgeois in return for the services
had rendered and were rendering, demanded a change
10 the government's policy. The Montagu-Chelmsford Re­
port of 1918 on India's Constitutional Reforms stated:
"There are political considerations peculiar to India itself.
But both on economic and military grounds imperial in­
terests also demand that the natural resources of India
should henceforth be better utilized. "SO
The change in the government's policy was reflected
mainly in the setting up of the Indian Industrial Commis­
sion 1916--18 and its Report recommending a positive policy
of industrialization, the appointment of the Indian Fiscal
Commission in 1921 and Tariff Boards for selected in­
dustries in subsequent years and in the grant of protection
to certain industries. First to benefit from this change was
Tata Iron and Steel and among other important industries
that received protection were cotton textiles, paper,
matches, heavy chemicals and sugar.
The advantages arising out of the policy of discriminat­
ing protection were reaped by Indian as well as foreign
capital. While, during the inter-war years, Lancashire with
its small units and backward technique retreated, giant
monopolies such as Imperial Chemical Industries, Uni­
lever, Dunlop, British Oxygen, Guest Keen Williams,
Bata, Aluminium Ltd., Union Carbide, Swedish Match,
moved in to dominate its trade and industry. The protec­
tion granted to industries like matches was enjoyed almost
wholly by foreign monopolies.
. During World War I, Indian big businessmen, like
thetr European counterparts in India, minted gold out of
the blood, sweat and tears of the people. With the end of
the war, new groups of businessmen, mainly Marwaris,
such as the Birlas, Surajmull-Nagarmulls, Hukumchands
and Singhanias, flush with war profits, invested in industry,
while carrying on their traditional businesses-comprador
trade, money-lending, speculation in commodities, com­
pany shares and bullion. About the Marwaris who had
to almost all parts of India to seize the oppor­
tunttIes created by European trade and industry, Thomas
Timberg observes:
Chandra, "The Indian Capitalist Class and British Imper­
lahsm ID R. S. Sharma (Ed.), IruJian Society: Historical Probings New
Delhi, 1974, p. 391. '
50. Cited in M. M. Malaviya's Note in Indian Industrial Commission
1916-18, Report. p. 317; for Viceroy Lord Hardinge's message to the
Secretary of State for India, dated 26 Nov. 1915 on the need for change
see ibid. p. 315. ' ,
. commercially oriented 'resource groups'.
w,th relatives and corresponding jinns all over India the
Marwaris became the natural agents to British houses the
port cities. They would have their upcountry correspondents
buy raw producefor sale to the British firms in the port cities
and sell imported goods that could be bought from them.
I •
Contrary to what historians like Bipan Chandra assert
these Marwari groups had long been closely integrated with
foreign capital.
For instance, the Birlas were among the leading opium
speculators before World War I, who together with
Harduttrai Chamaria (who was a banian to British firms and
whose sons, banians like him, founded two jute mills in the
1930s) set up a syndicate which organized the entire
opium trade. G. D. Birlahimselfstartedhisbusinesscareer
as a broker to European firms in Calcutta. Even though
after World War I, the Birlas invested in industry their
from trade that was an adjunct mainly to British
capital and from speculation in various commodities, and
owned cotton mills and a jute mill, they continued to act as
intermediaries of British and Japanese capitalists. They were
among the three top exporters of raw jute and procured raw
cotton for Mitsui and other Japanese trading firms. 52
The Singhanias (Juggilal Kamlapat) of Kanpur, a
branch of old and large Marwari firm, which had
branches at different places and which at one time traded in
opium as its major commodity, were main financiers of the
e3!ly British-owned mills at Kanpur and, in return, re­
ceived sole selling agencies for them before 1914.
war-time profits enabled them to set up several cotton mills
one jute. factory but, at the same time, they had large
lDvestments European-controlled mills of Kanpur.
In the thirties, a number of Marwari and other firms
started investing in industry. One such firm was the
Goenkas. They were for decades banians to the European
firms of the Rallis (the biggest importers of Lancashire
piece goods and one of the leading exporters of raw cotton
jute and hessian) and Kettlewell Bullen. They also
cured and supplied raw jute to Dundee (Scotland) and
Germany, besides local pIills, and were owners of large
amounts of real estate and big money-lenders. They first
launched into industry in 1934, when they purchased a
cotton mill in Bombay.
The Chettiars of Madras, whose activities as usurers
and traders were not confined to South India but had
spread under the protection afforded by the British to the
of South-east Asia, and who, according to one
estimate, had capital of Rs. 750 million invested in Burma
alone in 1930 and came to own, by 1937, one-fourth of the
total cultivated land in Burma, turned to industry on a large
scale in the thirties. 54
Many were the ties with foreign capital. First, the
Indian houses which turned to industry after World War I
51. Thomas A. Timberg, The Marwaris: From Traders to Industrialists
New Delhi, 1978, p. 51. .
52. Ibid. pp. 63 and 171.
53. Ibid. p. 150.
54. Shoji Ito, "A Note on the 'Business Combine' in India," The Develop­
ing Economies (Tokyo), September 1966; and Stanley Kochanek Business
and Politics in India. Berkeley 1974, p. 23. '
accumulated their capital by serving foreign capital, espe­
cially by rendering all aid to the British imperialists during
the war. Second, their activities as brokers or banians to
European firms did not cease but continued after their
participation in the industrial sphere.
Third, large chunks of Indian capital were subor­
dinated by foreign capitals to serve its interests. In a
memorandum submitted to the Simon Commission in
1929, the Associated Chambers of Commerce, which
represented foreign capital, pointed out:
It is almost impossible to draw any line ofdemarcation
between British and Indian interests in regard to invested
capital for companies floated and managed by British
managing agents were frequently owned to a very large
extent by Indians. Similarly in many companies generally
regarded as Indian, a considerable number of the share­
holders may be British. 55
Fourth, the Indian capital invested in foreign­
controlled companies constituted the savings not only of
the landlords like the Maharaja of Barbhanga and the
affluent petty bourgeois but of the big bourgeoisie. At an
informal interview Shri Iswari Prasad Goenka, a nephew of
Sir Hari Ram and Sir Badridas, said that the Goenkas as
well as the Birlas, Bangurs, Jalans, Bajorias, Jatias, etc.,
had had large financial stakes in the European-managed
companies and served on their boards of directors though
they had had no control over their management. Shri
Isware Prasad Goenka himself had been a director of at
least twenty-five such companies during the inter-war
years. 56 Men like Sir Pureshotamdas Thakurdas, one ofthe
topmost representatives of Indian Commerce and industry,
were very closely associated with British capital. 57
Except for a few jute mills owned and contr?lled b.y
Marwari groups and managed by Scotchmen With thelf
Scottish assistants, 58 the entire jute industry, then one of
the major industries in India, was controlled by European
managing agencies. Yet, according to a written statement
of the Marwari Association before the Indian Fiscal
Commission, "not less than 60 percent of the shares of the
J ute Mills" were owned by Indians. 59 Indian big capital was
similarly subordinated to foreign capital in other British­
controlled enterprises-paper, engineering, power gen­
eration. Tata's three hydro-electric companies, then the
biggest of their kind came in India in 1929 under the joint
management of Tata and a Morgan subsidiary, American
and Foreign Power Company. The Tinplate Company of
India was set up in 1919 as a joint subsidiary of the
British-owned Burma Oil Company and Tata, the former
holding two-thirds of the capital, and with a European firm,
Shaw Wallace and Co., as its managing agents. 60
55. Cited in Reserve Bank of India, Report on the Census ofIndia' s Foreign
Liabilities and Assets as on 30th June 1948, Bombay 1950, p. 15.
56. Interview in Calcutta on 24 June 1980.
57. Tomlinson, op cit., pp. 54-5; and M. M. Mehta, Structure of Indian
Industries, Bombay, 1961, p. 333.
58. D. H. Ruchanan, opcit., p. 23-1.
59. A. K. Bagchi, Private Investments in India, Madras, 1975, p. 192 and
Vera Anstey, "Economic Development" in S. S. O'Malley, Modem/ndia
and the West, London 1968 edn., p. 272.
Many were the ties with foreign capital. First,
the Indian houses which turned to industry after
World War I accumulated their capital by serving
foreign capital, especially by rendering all aid to the
British imperialists during the war. Second, their
activities as brokers or banians to European finns
did not cease but continued after their participa­
tion in the industrial sphere.
In Martin-Bum also, which controlled the Indian Iron
and Steel Company, some of the largest engineering firms,
a number of light railways, electricity, coal, tea and cement
companies, and was the third biggest business house in
India till the beginning of the seventies, British and Indian
interests were interwoven.
Foreign and Indian big capital were dovetailed also in
another way. British and Indian capitalists, including Tata,
decided on a merger of their cement units to set up a big
trust-the Associated Cement Companies-in 1936.
When there was a conflict between this cement trust and
the Dalmia Jains, who then controlled five cement plants,
ajoint syndicate was formed. Similarly, the Indian Sugar
Syndicate, on which both Indian and British capital were
represented, came into existence before World War 11.61
During World War II the collaboration between
Indian big capital on the one hand and British capital and
the colonial state machinery on the other became still
closer than before. As Michael Kidron said, "This drawing
together went beyond the confines of individual com­
panies. . . . For virtually the first time, the two business
communities had to deal with the state as purchaser,
regulator, or patron on a vast scale, and this in a period of
unprecedented boom. "62
The fruits of this collaboration in defence of t h ~
empire during the war, which brought untold misery to tlie
lives of the people, were enjoyed in an abundant measure
by the Indian big bourgeoisie. According to D. R. Gadgil,
"The prices of cloth reached levels more than five times the
pre-war level before Government intervened and when the
intervention came, it was on terms on which alone the
co-operation of the industrialist could be obtained. "63
Naturally, the profits, for instance, of the cotton mill
industry soared from Rs. 7 crore in 1940 to Rs. 109 crore in
1943 (1 crore = 10 millions; and 1 dollar = a little over Rs.
9.5 at present). But the declared profits were only a portion
of the total profits made hoarding and black marketing
were the rule.
In this economic war against the people, the colonial
state machinery, the British and Indian big bourgeoisie
60. See P. J. Thomas, India's Basic Industries, Bombay, 1948,
61. A. I. Levkovsky, Capitalism in India, New Delhi, 1966, pp. 303-4.
62. Michael Kidron, Foreign Investments in India, London, 1965,
63. D. R. Gadgil, Economic Policy and Developnumt, Poona, 1955,
were at one pole and the people at the other. Writing in
1951, D. R. Gadgilobserved: "A glance at the industrial
growth of India during the last 30 years makes clear how
almost each industry has grown through support, direct and
indirect, given by general revenues or by laying burdens on
the general consumer. "64
It would be incorrect to think that the relation of the
Indian big bourgeoisie with foreign imperialist capital was
one of only collaboration and no conflict. There was, no
doubt, conflict over secondary issues like tariff, protection,
fiscal autonomy, sterling-rupee ratio, and sterling
balances. On most of these issues, e.g., tariff, protection,
fiscal autonomy and sterling-rupee ratio, British capital
operating in India often sided with Indian capital. But the
Indian big bourgeoisie was "dying to cooperate" economi­
cally as well as politically with foreign imperialist capital
and allying itself with imperialism against the people on the
primary, basic issue of complete liquidation of imperialist
control and exploitation. Cooperation with imperialism,
which meant subservience, was primary while conflict or
contradiction was secondary. 6S
During World War II the Indian big bourgeoisie came
to cherish ambitious plans as it hoped to win some freedom
for itself within the limits of basic dependence on im­
perialistic countries after the war. Its hopes were roused
and sustained by, among other things, the contradictions
between U.S. imperialism and British imperialism seen in
64. Ibid, p. 141.
65. This statement may seem oversimplified and schematic, for the
end of the era of petitions and prayers to the British rulers, which the
Congress leaders were in the habit of making before World War I, and the
launching of mass movements by the new Gandhian leadership appear to
be proof of the radicalization of the Congress leadership vis-a-vis col­
onialism. Obviously, no satisfactory discussion of this question is possible
here. In passing, it may be noted that in judging the character of the
"radicalization" ofthe leadership, one should take into account the aims,
the strategy and tactics, the forms of struggle insisted upon by the leader­
ship and the nature of the compromises arrived at. Above all, one should
take into consideration the temper and mood of the people at the times
when the movements were started and the deliberate measures and prop­
aganda of the leadership to dissipate that mood, demoralize them and
keep them passive. Gandhi's phase of petitions and prayers (see The
Collected Works ofMalUltma Gandhi, Vol. XIII, New Delhi, 1964, pp. 528-0
and 575-6), his policy of cooperation with the colonial rulers adopted in
the Amritsar Congress at the end of 1919 and his exhortation to the people
to fulfil their "duty" by settling down quietly to work the "Reforms" "so
as to make them a success"-after passing of the Rowlatt Act, the Jal­
lianwala Bagh massacre, and so forth-abruptly ended for the time being
because the Gandhian leadership was shrewd enough to plant itself at the
head of the anti-imperialist struggles of the people that had already
broken out and when the country was seething with anger. It was not the
dog that wagged the tail but the tail that wagged the dog. And it was also
not fortuitous that on August 15, 1947, the day direct colonial rule ended,
Delhi's sky was rent with the cries of "Jai Hind" (Victory to India) and
"Mountbatten ki Jai" (Victory to Mountbatten) (see Alan Campbell­
Johnson, Mission with Mountbanen, London, 1951, pp. 158-9), that the sole
responsibility of fixing the boundaries of the two new states formed on
communal lines, which affected the fates of tens of millions ofIndians, was
entrusted to a Britisher, and that Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy and
Governor-General of colonized India, became at the i n s i s t e n c ~ of the
Congress leadership the first Governor-General of the new Indian domin­
Despite many dissensions within the Congress leadership and some
revolts, the political representative of the big bourgeoisie could retain
their leadership because the working class and its leadership were not
ideologically and politically mature as in China.
the decline of British Imperialism and U.S. diplomacy
which, while upholding the Allied coalition in order first to
defeat Japan, Germany and Italy, sought continually to
weaken Britain's hold on India. Developments like the
open intervention of Colonel Johnson, President
Roosevelt's personal representative in India, in the Gripps
mission's negotiations with Indian leaders in 1942 and the
"Gripps-Johnson formula";66 the American Technical
Mission's Report (1942) which was suppressed by the
British Government; the reports and letters to the U.S.
President of William Phillips, Roosevelt's personal envoy
in India (who was declared persona non grata by the British
Govemment),67 besides Roosevelt's behind-the-scene
-which all conformed to the U.S. strategy of
building up a vast post-war informal empire-gave them
cause for optimism.
A Plan of Economic Development for India (/944)­
popularly known as the Bombay Plan-the authors of which
were the topmost representatives of the Indian big bour­
geoisie including Sir J. R. D. Tata and G. D. Birla,
enshrines some of the hopes and aspirations of this class.
The Plan does not demand the nationalization of the
foreign capital which then dominated Indian trade, in­
dustry and banking; on the contrary, it depends on the
influx of fresh foreign loan-capital as one of the main
sources of finance for the plan. "The colonies," said Lenin,
"have no capital of their own, or none to speak of, and
under finance capital no colony can obtain any except on
terms of political submission. "69 Conscious of its crippling
dependence on imperialist capital for capital goods and
technology and the latter's dominance over the home
market and fearful of the people's revolutionary struggles,
the Indian big bourgeoisie sought to fulfil its ambitions by
relying on two props-foreign capital and state capitalism.
The plan stated: "In the initial years of planning, India will
be dependent almost entirely on foreign countries for the
machinery and technical skill necessary for the establish­
ment of both basic and other industries.
The Indian big bourgeoisie's plan of depending on
imperialist capital for its survival and expansion fitted
perfectly into British and U.S. imperialism's strategies of
using India chiefly as an outlet for export of capital.
Referring to the proposed visit by a delegation of leading
Indian industrialists in the summer of 1945, sponsored by
66. Nicholas Mansergh (Editor-in-Chief), The Transfer of Power /942-7,
Vol. I, London, 1971, pp. 691,694-7, and 706.
67. In his letter to Roosevelt written in the spring of 1943, Phillips
suggested that a conference of Indian political leaders should be convened
by the U.S. President and presided over by an American. He wrote:
"American Chairmanship would have the advantage not only of expres­
sing the interest of America in the future independence of India but would
also be a guarantee to Indians of the British offer of independence" (see
N. N. Mitra [Ed.], The Indian Annual Register, July-Dec. 1944, Calcutta,
68. N. Mansergh (Editor-in-Chief), op cit .. pp. 404, 409-10, 415, 619,
759-60; P. L. Loewenheim, R. D. Langley and M. Jones (Ed.), Roosevelt
and Churchill; Their Secret Wartime Correspondence, London 1975, pp. 74n,
183-4 (note 1).
69. Lenin, C.W., Vol. 22, Moscow, 1974 reprint, p. 338-emphasisin the
70. Sir Purshotamdas Thakurdas and others, A Plan ofEconomic Develop­
mentfor India, Bombay, 1944, p. 44.
the government, to the U.K. and the U.S.A. in quest of
fresh capital from those countries, the British Secretary of
State for India, Leopold Amery, wrote to Viceroy Lord
Wavell on 25 January 1945:
They {U.K. business interests] are anxious to assist
India's industrial expansion which they believe will, if
properly organised, carry the hope of considerable profits
to themselves as well as to Indians by expanding the market
in Indiafor United Kingdom goods. 71
Amery enclosed a confidential memorandum with this
message, prepared jointly by the Board of Trade and
Amery's office and circulated to some of the members of
the Federation of British Industries, which stated:
In the case of India it seems clear that our future
prospects lie in meeting and indeed promoting ( J) the steady
growth in the demand for machinery, equipment, stores,
accessories and semi-manufactured materials needed by an
expanding and diversified Indian industrial system, and (2)
the rapidly developing sophistication ofa growing section of
Indian consumers. . . .72
The memorandum expressed the hope that, through co­
operation with Indian industrial interests and by setting up
manufacturing units in India, British monopolies would be
capable of "guiding domestic production in the interests of
. both countries" and "strengthening. . . our position in the
Indian market. "73
As part of the preparations for the visit of the Indian
industrial delegation led by J. R. D. Tata and G. D. Birla,
British monopolists on the initiative of Sir George Schus­
ter, M. P., a former Finance Member of the Government of
India, formed the Midlands group to offer the Indian
delegation "helpful cooperation." Reporting this, Capital.
the mouthpiece of British capital in India, wrote: "Partner­
ship in the old-fashioned business meaningofthe word may
no longer always be possible. But collaboration over a large
area ofcommercial activity is not merely something to be hoped
for; it is an inescapable necessity. "74
Wavell had a note prepared under his instructions on
the effect of the proposed transfer of power in India on "the
Strategy, Economics, and Prestige of Great Britain and the
British Commonwealth" and enclosed it with his top secret
message of 13 July 1946 to the Secretary of State Lord
Pethick-Lawrence. The note said:
As India's commerce and industry expand, th!!re seems
every reason that British business, both in India and in the
U.K., should also benefit increasingly. Britain is still the
natural marketfrom which Indian importers are likely to seek
their requirements; and sterling balances will greatly streng­
then the connection.
The note concluded:
To sum up, it is vital to Britain that when she gives over political
power in India she may be able to hand over to a stable and
friendly Government and contract with it a genuine defensive
alliance. Fortunately India's interests quite obviously point the
same way. Ifthis objective is achieved the demission ofpolitical
power may bring advantage and not less . ... "75
Was the Indian big bourgeoisie indeed hostile to
foreign imperialist capital at about the time of the transfer
of power, as Stanley Kochanek and Michael Kidron have
asserted-a view shared by many Indian academicians and
others? Kidron did, indeed, notice some "ingredients of
collaboration" also.
In fact, on the eve of the transfer of power and after,
the Indian big bourgeoisie was far from hostile: it was then
seeing visions of rapid expansion through close collabora­
tion with foreign capital. We have already referred to the
Bombay Plan and the visit of the Indian Industrial Delega­
tion, led by sir J. R. D. Tata and G. D. Birla and sponsored
by the Government, to explore the possibilities of tie-ups
with foreign monopolies. The Indian big bourgeoisie was
anxious to forge "a new kind of relationship" with British
and U.S. capital,76 Speaking of British capital in India,
G. D. Birla, who is represented by many as the most
"radical" Indian bourgeois, declared: "I don't belive this
will ever be expropriated. The British firms will carry
on. "77
"Ingredients of hostility" were there among the mid­
dle bourgeoisie. On May 2, Manu Subedar, a small
industrialist and leader of an anti-collaborationist group
within the Indian Merchants Chamber, Bombay, de­
nounced in the Central Legislative Assembly the collabora­
tion between foreign monopolies and Indian big capital as
an "illegitimate marriage. " On the same day the Commit­
tee of the Indian Merchants Chamber issued a statement
opposing the influx of fresh foreign capital, referring to
"the creation of new East India Companies in this
country." But the middle bourgeoisie was too weak to
intervene effectively and change the course of history.
Several agreements between foreign monopolies and
Indian big business houses to start joint ventures in India,
such as the ICI-Tata and Nuffield-Birla deals, were con­
cluded about this time. Thus opened a new era of close
integration between giant multinationals and Indian big
capital. The political counterpart of this economic and
financial collaboration was the transfer of power in 1947.
Third Phase: Since 1947
As Harry Magdoff has rightly observed:
Even though it {the British Labor Party] eventually
presided over the dissolution ofthe formal British Empire­
not by choice, but by necessity-it realistically managed the
dissolution so that there would be as smooth a transition as
possible to an informal empire that would serve the same
imperialist policies. 78
75. N. Mansergh (Editor-in-Chief), op cit. Vol. VIII. 1977, pp. 51-2­
emphasis added.
71. N. Mansergh (Editor-in-Chief), op cit .. Vol. V, 1974, p. 466­
emphasis added.
76. Eastern Economist-a Birla organ-Nov. 23, 1945, pp. 748-9; Jan. 4,
1946, p. 39; and May 31, 1946, p. 905.
72. Ibid. p. 469-emphasis added.
77. Hindustan Times. April 11, 1946; cited in Palme Dutt, India Today.
73. Ibid. pp. 468-470-emphasis added.
1947, p. 160.
74. Capital. September 14,1944, p. 297-emphasis added.
78. Magdoff, The Ageo/lmperialism. New York, 1%9, p. 25.
But the transition was far from smooth in colonies like
Malaya, where the national liberation struggle was led by
the party of the working class, which was not content with
formal independence but sought to liquidate imperialist
control and exploitation and break out of the capitalist­
imperialist system.
The transition became smooth in India from im­
perialism's point of view because the working class here
was politically and organizationally weak and the long
colonial rule had molded the native big bourgeoisie into a
class the interests of which were closely linked with those of
the imperialists and which depended on the latter for
survival and expansion. Its struggle against imperialism for
independent development would be an invitation to social
revolution which could end in the burial both of im­
perialism and of itself.
But an important change occurred. Britain's formal
empire was transformed into the informal empire shared by
several imperialist powers, of which the U.S.A. emerged as
the leader. After the rise of Khruschev and Brezhnev in the
Soviet Union, its ruling class too has been contending for
hegemony over India and exploiting it through the mechan­
isms of "aid" (economic as well as military) and trade,
which follows the old colonial pattern.
Today when imperialist monopolies are interested in
exporting capital rather than consumer goods, the Indian
big bourgeoisie is serving as the pipeline for the flow of
imperialist capital (both direct investment and official loan
capital) into this country. Export of capital, typical of the
latest stage of capitalism when monopolies rule, as Lenin,
said, becomes in the hands of imperialist monopolies and
their governments a lever for exporting more goods than
before, besides high-priced, out-dated (in most cases)
technology and technical "experts." Foreign investment
creates an almost permanent market for components,
spare parts, industrial raw and semi-processed materials.
Today, as before, the Indian big bourgeois play the role of
local intermediaries of foreign monopoly capital.
The Report of the Indian Industrial Delegation which
visited the U.S.A., the U.K., West Germany, etc., under
the leadership of G. D. Birla in 1957 stated: " ... India
cannot be developed without foreign capital which we shall
continue to need for at least the next 25 years and in
substantially large amounts. "79
Today, when "the sun of the giant international
corporation was at its zenith," as Hobsbawm put it,
multinational corporations in increasing numbers set up
branches, subsidiaries and joint ventures in collaboration
with Indian houses in sophisticated industries like chemi­
cals, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, machinery manu­
facturing, and fertilizers. The amount of foreign direct
investment capital in Indian industry and trade has in­
creased from Rs. 264.6 crore in June 1948 to Rs. 2,500 crore
in 1981.
But the actual amount of foreign direct investment
capital is not a correct index ofthe control it exercises over
Indian industry. According to one estimate, the share
controlled by foreign capital in private corporate assets
79. Report of the Indian Industrial Delegation to the Federation of Indian
Chambers ofCommerce and Industry, 1957, p. 27.
could be anything up to 60 percent in the early seventies. 80
Since then branches and subsidiaries of foreign multina­
tionals have utilized the Foreign Exchange Regulations
Act [FERA] of 1973, diluted their equity holdings, greatly
diversified and expanded their activities and extended their
domination over a larger sphere than before.
Levkovsky was right in arguing that
neither the absolute nor the relative size offoreign invest­
ments gives a correct picture of the influence of the foreign
monopolies. This influence is actually much greater since
these monopolies operate in key branches of the economy,
reflect a high degree of concentration of production and
capital, control considerable amounts of Indian capital,
possess enormous connections, and have at their disposal the
latest technical inventions and engineering personnel. 81
Even before FERA came into operation, imperialist
monopolies preferred "joint ventures" with Indian big
capital to solely-owned branches. As Michael Kidron
pointed out,
Paramount [among foreign capital's reasons for seek­
ing collaboration] is the growing need for local inter­
mediaries. These are cast in a number of roles, the most
important of which . .. is that of coping with official­
dom . ... Easy access to Governmental authority [at vari­
ous levels] is itself an important 'factor ofproduction'. All
foreign firms require this factor. 82
The Indian big bourgeoisie finds it much more profit­
able to buy technology and capital goods than to develop
them. The market for technology is a sellers' market
dominated by a few multinationals. Technology today is
"the decisive key to power" and dependence is the major
price that the Indian big bourgeoisie has to pay to obtain it.
The technology and the capital goods that are im­
ported into this country have usually been discarded in
favor of more advanced ones in the countries of their
origin. This and the high prices of imported goods and the
various restrictions imposed by the sellers of technology
make Indian industries uncompetitive, despite cheap In­
dian labor. Moreover, the foreign monopolies, in order "to
systematize a continuing control of know-how," seldom
impart the knowledge of the entire production process to
the Indian partner. 83 With the passing of years the tech­
nological gap grows wider and wider instead of narrowing.
Though, up to December 1980, technical collaborations
approved by the Government of India were over 6,500,
"the technological gap vis-a-vis developed countries is
widening instead of being bridged," lamented H. S.
Singhania, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers
of Commerce and Industry in 1979-80.
80. N. K. Chandra, "Role of Foreign Capital in India," Social Scientist,
April 1977, p. 17.
til. A. I. Levkovsky, p. 484.
112. Kidron, op cit .. p. 263.
83. See Ibid, pp. 2112, 288, 292 and 312-3; see also A. K. Malhotra,
"Technological Domination and Satellitic Development of Sciences" in
A. Rahman and others (Ed.), Imperialism in the Modern Phase , Vol. 2, New
Delhi, 1977, pp. 85-7.
84. Singhania, Perspectives for Indian Economy, New Delhi, 1980,
The technology that is imported is wholly unsuited to
the conditions ofthe country. It displaces more jobs than it
creates and the ruthless exploitation that accompanies it
drags the people into lower and still lower depths of misery.
Today there is more complete interpenetration of
foreign monopoly capital and Indian big capital than ever
before-"a quadrangle configuration of interests," to
quote P. J. Eldridge, involving foreign official loan and
private capital as well as Indian private and state capital. In
every large enterprise in chemical, automobile, machine
manufacturing, electrical, fertilizer, pharmaceutical and
other industries supposed to be Indian-controlled, there is
a fusion of Indian private and state capital, foreign private
capital and foreign official loan capital. The question is:
Does such an enterprise, designed, installed and equipped
by foreign multinationals, ever dependent on them for very
much over priced technology and capital goods, financed to
a large extent by them and exploited by them in various
ways, represent Indian capitalism? In this context the
following advertisement, which was issued by one of the
largest Birla enterprises and which appeared on the first
page of the Birlas' Hindustan Times (New Delhi) on
November 8, 1976, is somewhat significant.
Hindustan Motors Ltd., Earthmoving Equipment Divi­
sion, Trivellore, Tamil Nadu. We come from international
stock. HM-built TEREX forms an intrinsic part of the world­
wide heritage ofGeneral Motors. Our enterprise forms part
of the GM family of eight plants. . . And a revelation of
our pedigree. " (Our emphasis. )84.0
What is true of Hindustan Motors' lineage, its family
links, is true of Indian big capital as a whole. According to
84a. Is it an example of the internationalization of capital, which is today
a widespread phenomenon?
Internationalization of capital has two aspects-one for the advanced
capitalist countries and the other for what are called underdeveloped
countries like India. Though the multinational corporation operates in
different countries and forms ties with the domestic capital of host
countries, it has a national center from which it is controlled. These
national centers-the advanced capitalist countries-are more or less
independent and equal, though one of them is indeed more equal than the
But the relationship between the advanced capitalist countries and
countries like India is altogether different. Indian big capital, far from
being an equal, plays a subordinate role, the role of a junior partner,
because of its inherent weakness in respect of capital goods and technol­
ogy. To quote from Joint International Business Ventures (a Columbia
University project, ed. by W. G. Friedmann and G. Kalmanoff, New
York and London, 1961, p. 151), "Advanced technical know-how and
continuing research give [foreign) investor companies effective control of
joint ventures without majority ownerhsip or legal control ofd the board."
It also says: "To spare local susceptibilities, the existence of investor
company control is often disguised in the form of technical assistance
agreements which do not overtly convey managerial powers" (p. 153; see
also Selig S. Harrison, India and the United States, New York, 1961, pp.
154-5; "Transnational Corporations in Electrical Industry," Economic and
Political Weekly (EPW) Jan. 20, 1979, pp. 103-6; and Subhendu Dasgupta,
"Structure of 'Interdependence' in Indian Industry: Electrical Equipment
Industry: A Case Study," EPW. Oct. 29, 1977, pp. 1857-65, for excerpts
from technical collaboration agreements which show how only technical
collaboration can enable a foreign company to exercise many-sided con­
trol over a joint venture in India). Most of the industrial enterprises that
are supposed to be Indian-controlled like Hindustan Motors are actualIy
controlled from centers located outside India. In India, the internationali­
zation of capital means the subordination of domestic capital by foreign
imperialist capital.
an official statement, India's outstanding foreign debt on
government account alone as on 31 July 1981 was Rs.
14,374.03 crore.
It is chiefly used for maintenance and
consumption imports and for building the infrastructure for
the private sector. The debt-servicing payments in 1978-79
amounted to Rs. 899.7 crore.
A report of the Interna­
tional LaborOrganization , Geneva, stated that the "aid"­
giving countries extort three dollars for every dollar given
as "aid. "87
Speaking of external aid, D. R. Gadgil, formerly
Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, New Delhi,
said: " ... it mortgages our future to the giver of aid: and as
recent experience has painfully underlined, it gives outsid­
ers enormous influence in shaping our economic policy. "88
Besides using these loans "to skin the ox twice" as
Lenin said (pocketing the profits from the loans as well as
from the sale of goods with which the loans are tied), the
creditors use them as a lever to force the debtor country to
carry out economic and political policies that serve their
interest. Besides economic and military agreements, sale of
military hardware, direct investment and"joint ventures,"
the Western imperialist powers, chiefly the U.S.A., em­
ploy two other weapons-the World Bank and the IMF­
to fleece and subject India to their control. In 1966 they
forced the Indian government to devalue the currency by
thirty-six percent, which was a disaster to the Indian
economy. The recent negotiations on India's application to
the IMF for a loan of $5.8 billion and the conditions it has
imposed have once again demonstrated how the IMF
tramples underfoot the concept of sovereignty of a
member-state. The binding conditions and policy prescrip­
tions attached to the loan, to all of which the India
Government have agreed, are blatant violations of this
country's right to frame its own policies as regards fixation
of domestic prices, extension of credit, borrowing from
international capital markets, imports and exports, foreign
capital and technology, growth of foreign monopolies and
Indian large houses, public expenditure and so on. These
are meant to intensify the exploitation of the country,
doom the masses to still worse poverty and starvation and
tighten the noose round its neck. 89
The annual interest charges alone for this particular
loan will be Rs. 500 crore and total debt servicing on
account of it will exceed an estimated one billion SDRs (or
Rs. 1300 crore) a year during 1986-87 to 1990-9l,9° As
Thomas Balogh observed,
neo-imperialism does not depend on open political domination.
The economic relations of the u.s. to South America are not
essentially different from those of Britain to her African col­
85. See Finance Minister Venkataraman's statement in the Rajya Sabha,
Business Standard, 16 Sept. 1981.
86. See Govt. of India, Economic Survey 1978-79. New Delhi, 1979,
87. See Economic Times IETi, March 1,1977.
88. GadgiJ, "Planning without a Policy Frame," in C. D. Wadhva, Some
Problems ofIndia's Economic Policy. New Delhi, 1977, p. 107.
89. See Govt. of West Bengal, The IMF Loan: Facts and Issues, Calcutta,
90. See K. Rangachari, "Foreign Debt Burden," Statesman, Aug. 28,
1981 andET, March 11, 1982.
onies. The International Monetary Fundfulfils the role of the
colonial administration oferiforcing the rules ofthe game. 91
Besides the loans on government account, commercial
borrowings are fast rising. According to the estimates of
the Finance Secretary of the Indian government, in 1981­
82 nearly Rs. 800 crore of commercial borrowings was tied
up and the figure for the current year is expected to .be
Rs. 900 crore. Early this year he spoke of develop1Og
commercial borrowings as a kind of parallel system of
borrowing. Without doubt, enmeshed in a net of financial
dependence, India is mortgaged to foreign capital.
The deterioration in India's terms of trade with
advanced capitalist countries, almost a continuing process,
is another way of draining off this country's social to
them. According to an UNCTAD study, the detenoration
in the terms of trade of the non-oil petroleum countries by
the end of 1972 compared to the mid-fifties was equivalent
to a loss in 1972 of about $10 billion, or rather more than
twenty percent of these countries' aggregate exports. "This
disaccumulation exceeded their receipts of official develop­
ment aid ... which amounted to a paltry $8,408.9 million in
1972."92 In recent years, India's terms of trade have
become still more adverse than before. If we take 1968 as
the base year (1968-69 = 1(0), India's terms oftrade fell off
to 66 in 1979--80.
In its latest annual report, the World
Bank states that, because of adverse movements in the
terms of trade, the balance of payments will continue to be
a problem for India and "India's
will rely more on external resources than it di.d 10 the
1970s. "94 That is, the chains of dependence are be10g made
even stronger than before.
Today, as before, the Indian big bourgeoisie is playing
a complementary role to that of foreign imperialist capital.
In the era of industrial capital when the import of consump­
tion goods from the metropolis into this country was
primary and that of capital goods secondary, t?is class
acted primarily as the supplier of raw matenals and
foodgrains and the distributor of imported goods on the
domestic market, and secondarily, as a channel for the
import of capital. In the era of finance capital, especially
today, what was primary has what
was secondary primary. The Indian big bourgeOlsie has
now become primarily the "local intermediary" of the
imperialist bourgeoisie for import of. amoull:ts of
both direct investment and loan capital, which dommate
every sphere of India's life, even family planning.
The talk of "a successful challenge to the foreign,
imperialistic capital on behalf of .the
sounds unreal when indigenous bIg capital IS lead10g thiS
country along the path of abject dependence on foreign
imperialist capital and it as its local to
intensify its aggression agamst the people. It IS Mao
91. Thomas Balogh, The Economics o/Poverty, New York, 1966, p. 29.
92. F. P. CIairmonte, "Dynamics of International Exploitation," EPW,
Aug. 9, 1975, p. 1186.
93. See ET, Dec. 30, 1981.
94. See ET, Aug. 26, 1982.
Zedong who for the first time pointed out long that in
the epoch of imperialism no former colony or
can be really free without breaking out of the capitalist­
imperialist system.
Lastly, a few words about of the
"Naxalites" (that is, the CPI-ML). He IS qUite nght when
he says that their "theoretical formulations often
analytical depth or sophistication." But they had some idea
of the problems facing India and i!s "the
leading intellectual figures of thiS 1o.
country," an interesting list of whom he has furnished 10 hiS
article, had never before or since. The "Naxalites" alone
grasped a few of the basic truths that Mao had formulated
for the first time in his "On New Democracy," without
assimilating which no underdeveloped or underdeveloping
country, at least not India, can accomplish its It
is true that the Indian revolution will be no rephca of the
Chinese revolution. Nevertheless, the specific policies
arising from the analysis of the conditions. in
India and the world today will have to be 10tegrated With
the general principles Mao formulated on the of his
revolutionary experience in semi-colonial and semi-feudal
China. The "Naxalites" failed because they were too
impatient to integrate the teachings of Mao and his great
predecessors with the conditions in India.
Lifschultz was told by a Pakistani Marxist in 1977 that
the "Naxalites" themselves were to blame for the failure of
the revolt they had led. This had been pointed out in 1972 by
one of the "Naxalites." In my article "Naxalbari and
After: An Appraisal," written under the pen-name
Prabhat Jana and cited by Lifschultz, I wrote:
The ruling classes and the minions of the law may
congratulate themselves on their performance, but it is not
their efficiency in perpetrating diabolical crimes but the
weakness of the Party's line that is to blame for the present
defeat and disarray ofthe revolutionary forces .It is the party
line that determines success or failure of revolutionary
Indeed the road to victory is paved with many defeats.
, *
95. See Samar Sen and others (Ed.), Naxalbari and After: A Frontier
Anthology, Vol. 2, Calcutta, 1978, pp. 118-9.
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How I'I'IUCIh do we know about..,..
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OONNEXIONS: A wamen'I_"'1IJ; aI
newt, CII'ICIIVIII. and ................
lam .......ICIIIIOIIIOI ..... ~
Class Struggles in Cooperative Development:
The Subordination of Labor in the Cooperative Sugar
Industry of Maharashtra, India
by Jim Matson
The progressive promise of agricultural cooperatives
has two fundamental aspects; they lead to the expansion of
the productive forces and to the democratization of the
social relations of production. Critiques of cooperatives
have most often focused on their failure to increase produc­
tion or on the monopolization of services and benefits by a
small proportion of wealthier farmers. This essay will ex­
amine an often overlooked facet in the assessment of co­
operative development, focusing on its impact on wage
workers and on the labor movement in the case of the sugar
industry in Maharashtra, India. 1
Since India's independence, cooperatives have come
to dominate the sugar industry in Maharashtra, supersed­
ing the previous plantation form of organization. Sugar
cooperatives have proven enormously successful, rapidly
expanding to become the major rural industry in the state.
The change from plantation to cooperative production has
entailed a substantial transformation in the social relations
of production. A new configuration of class alignments has
emerged from the change in ownership and control of sugar
processing, as well as a different pattern of cultivation and
harvesting, which has significantly altered the character of
class conflict and labor struggles.
Cooperative production introduced a new division of
labor which has segmented workers into groups with op­
posing immediate interests and organizational capacities.
The labor force has been divided into three distinct groups,
factory, field, and harvesting labor. They have been dif­
ferentiated by their role in the production process, the
benefits they receive from their labor, and their social
relations with the landowning producer-members of co­
operatives. As a whole, the working class has been
systematically divided and subordinated to the interests of
the landowners. The subordination of labor in the sugar
industry appears to be the paradoxical result of a demo­
1. This paper is based on my MA thesis from the Univeristy of Hawaii.
My aloha to Edna Bonacich, Ben Kerkvliet, Hagen Koo, Martin Murray,
Mark Selden, and Mimi Sharma for their comments on earlier drafts.
Financial support for fieldwork was provided by the Open Grants Pro­
gram of the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.
cratizing and progressive reorganization of the system of
In Maharashtra the redistribution of ownership and
control of sugar factories to the "producers," that is, those
who own the land, resulted in a labor system which has
contributed to the increased vulnerability and domination
of labor, and has suppressed the development of a broad­
based working class movement. Yet within this overall
pattern of labor subordination, strong labor militancy has
emerged in the late 1970s among one section of unionized
factory workers. The labor struggles reveal the contradic­
tions underlying the complex structure of cooperative de­
velopment and suggest limits to the process of working
class subordination.
I begin with an assessment of the impact of coopera­
tive organization on the labor process in sugar production.
The discussion of the labor process in cooperative sugar
draws on my fieldwork in Maharashtra and from archival
and secondary materials collected in England (January­
June 1980). Analysis of the direct and indirect control of
labor reveals how the structure of cooperative production
contributes to the subordination of labor. This structural
perspective is linked then to the specific historical actions of
the State and of labor organizations as a means of taking
into account the present pattern of labor conflict and strug­
gle. In essence, I reexamine cooperative development by
focusing on domination within the labor process and on the
ability of the working class to operate broad-based collec­
tive organizations.
Cooperative Formation and the Labor Proces
The establishment of sugar cooperatives in
Maharashtra soon after India's independence in 1947
2. Subordination refers to a process of domination which occurs at a
number of levels (e.g., in the work place, or in the political arena). This
should not be confused with a discussion of the real subsumption of labor
to capital. Within the overall development of capitalist agriculture (the
real subsumption of labor to capital) there are a range of possible political,
social, and work relations. The impact ofcooperatives on these relations is
examined in this paper.
Map of Maharashtra
(with names of districts referred to in the article)
brought about substantial changes in an industry which had
been organized previously into corporate plantations. 3 The
sugar plantations of Maharashtra were relatively new en­
terprises, having almost all been established since the ex­
tension of tariff protection to the sugar industry in 1931.
Most of the Indian sugar industry'S expansion in response
to the tariff protection took place in the United Provinces
(later to become Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar, where produc­
tion costs were lower per acre, and not in the Bombay­
Deccan region. The high cost of year round irrigation in the
hot and dry climate of the Deccan plateau made efficiency
3. Of the 14 sugar factories operating in the Bombay-Deccan in 1947, 12
were joint-stock companies (2 of them were British) and 2 of the smallest
were private firms. Twelve of the factories had substantial estates, and 2
met most of their cane needs by purchases from local farmers. Since these
large estates were so distinctive in terms of the national industry, and
characterized Maharashtra's system of sugar production, I refer to the
entire industry as if it had been entirely organized as plantations.
of cane production and processing an imperative in order to
compete with the sugar industry of the Gangetic plain. The
corporate plantations that developed in Maharashtra
rented large tracts of land along government irrigation
canals, cultivated their own sugarcane intensively with
"scientific" supervision, and achieved extremely high
yields and rates of sugar recovery from the cane. The sugar
plantations were isolated islands of relatively capital­
intensive CUltivation, and were not well integrated into the
surrounding agrarian economy.
Even after sugar plantations had been established in
Maharashtra, individual farmers continued to grow most of
the sugarcane in the region.
This cane was processed into
gu/, a form of raw sugar native to the place produced
4. Cane had been cultivated in the region on a limited scale for at least
several hundred years. B. H. Baden-Powell, The Land System of British
India. v. 3, (Oxford, Clarendon Press) 1892, pp. 205.
through a simple process of boiling cane juice. Gul. a rela­ Maharashtra Sugar Factories
tively perishable commodity, was subject to rapid and er­
ratic price fluctuations, due in part to the uncompetitive
regional nature of the market. S These fluctuations con­
tributed to the formation of the industry along plantation
lines. As sugar produced in the area had to compete in the
national market, the sugar factories were constrained in the
price they could offer for cane. When gul prices were high,
the sugar industry would be outbid for its raw materials.
Large corporate estates assured an adequate supply of cane
for sugar processing. The fourteen sugar factories
established by the mid-l940s did not create a large market
for individual farmer's sugarcane since most of the factories
fulfilled their requirements from their own estates. The
terms at which cane was purchased were not very favorable
for individual cultivators. The impetus for a cane farmers
cooperative movement came from both the restricted
market for cane in the sugar industry, and the volatile
nature of the gul market.
The first cooperative factory, began at Pravara, in
Ahmednagar district in 1949, was a tremendous success
and served as a model for the future expansion of the
industry. At the Pravara cooperative, individual owners of
irrigated land capable of producing sugarcane raised capi­
tal for a factory which was to be owned and run for the
purpose of processing their sugarcane into sugar. Various
state agencies provided essential support to the Pravara
cooperative and, in general, promoted the expansion and
profitability of sugar cooperatives. In 1954, with only one
cooperative fully in operation, the Bombay State govern­
ment restricted licensing for new sugar factories to the
cooperative sector.
Cooperative sugar in Maharashtra has
rapidly expanded to cover sixty factories producing
1,831,000 tonnes of sugar (twice the amount of sugar pro­
duced in all of India in 1946-47) with almost 350,000
While the organization of labor in cooperative sugar
production (described by one government minister as "the
cornerstone of success of the [sugar] cooperative move­
ment")8 differs substantially from that of the plantations, it
has not been fully analyzed in the literature of Mahar­
ashtra. There is however, an exemplary work by Jan
Breman,9 a Dutch social scientist, on the migratory labor
system in the cooperative sugar industry in the neighboring
state of Gujarat, which serves as a point of departure for
this analysis. Breman provides a clear picture of a complex
system of contractual and informal relationships between
migratory harvesters, labor contractors and sugar coopera­
tives. He demonstrates how the harvest campaign,
5. Gul kept up to 40 days under the best conditions, and was marketed
locally and in adjacent regions, especially in Gujarat.
6. N. R. Inamdar, Government and Co-operative Sugar Factories.
(Bombay, Popular Prakashan) 1%5, pp. 5-7.
7. Directorate of Sugar, State of Maharashtra, 1980. One tonne equals
2,240 pounds, or 1.12 tons.
8. Y. J. Mohite, Sugarcane Industry ofMaharashtra, A Blue Printfor Prog·
ress. (Bombay, Government Central Press) 1974, pp. 46.
9. Jan Breman, "Seasonal Migration and Co-operative Capitlism: The
Crushing of Cane and Labour by the Sugar Factories of Bardoli, South
Gujarat," Parts 1 and 2, The Journal ofPeasant Studies. 6(1). October 1978:
41-70; 6(2), January 1979: 168-209.
c c
pP C
C C ~ P P C c C
P-Joint-Stock (Plantation) Factories
organized to assure an adequate supply of labor at the
cheapest possible price, results in the extreme exploitation
of labor and in the inability of migratory workers to or­
ganize collectively.
An essential part of cooperative sugar production, in
both Gujarat and Maharashtra, is the use of seasonal mi­
grants to harvest cane. Cooperatives in Gujarat draw on a
sizable reserve of cheap labor from the area of Khandesh in
Maharashtra,lO which has only a kharif (wet season) crop
each year. The cooperatives of Maharashtra operate in a
similar way, though their areas of migrant labor recruit­
ment are more dispersed. The harvest of cane corresponds
to the dry season (November-May) when smallholders and
landless laborers from these areas have few other oppor­
tunities for employment. Harvesters are recruited in their
home villages, and returned to those areas after the harvest
is complete. The use of middlemen contractors and debt­
bonding of laborers for the harvest season provides the
cooperatives an assured supply of cheap labor.
Harvesting sugarcane for cooperative factories is an
immensely complex task. Breman refers to the countryside
during the harvest season as being "in a state of mobiliza­
tion. "11 Cane is grown for the factories on dispersed indi­
vidual plots. Yet, each acre must be harvested precisely at
maturity when it has the highest percentage of sucrose.
Once cut, the cane must be rapidly delivered to the factory,
within 24-28 hours, or it loses a significant portion of su­
crose content. The essential coordination of the harvest
campaign, with thousands of work teams scattered
throughout the factory area, working long and often irregu­
lar hourS to provide a constant supply offreshly-cut cane, is
fully in the hands of sugar cooperatives, even though they
utilize a labor system which minimizes any direct contact
with laborers.
Breman demonstrates that migrant labor is not a re­
sponse to labor shortages. The percentage of agricultural
laborers in the talukas which he studied rose from 58.2
percent to 72.6 percent of the rural population between
1961 and 1971.
Local agricultural laborers, he empha­
sized, are extremely underemployed at the time of the
sugar harvest. Breman argues that the use of migrants
(1) lowers the wages of harvesters and shifts the full cost of
reproduction of labor to the migrants' home areas, and (2)
contributes to the absolute control of the labor force. These
two issues illustrate how cooperative sugar production is
linked to the uneven development within Indian agri­
culture, and to the overall course of class struggle in the
The uses of migrant labor in cooperative sugar exemp­
lify the separation of maintenance and renewal proces­
Much of the literature on immigrant labor refers to
international migration, as in the case of guestworkers in
Western Europe, or to situations where migrants have
10. Breman, 1978: 51. the Khandesh is an area in the Northwest comer of
the Deccan Plateau, encompassing parts ofDhulia and Jalgaon Districts in
11. Breman, Ibid: 41.
12. Breman, 1979: 183.
13. Michael Burawoy, "The Functions of Reproduction of Migrant
Labor," American Journal o/Sociology. 81, March 1976, 1050-1087.
substantially less political rights than workers from the host
areas, as in the case of internal black migration in South
Africa. Yet, there are many parallels with the situation of
migrants in cooperative sugar harvests. Migrant laborers in
the several situations cited are "not simply an extra source
of labor in conditions of rapid growth,"14 but are used
because they provide a cheap and submissive work force.
"The strategic role of immigrants is to be explained not in
terms of technical demands of production, but by specific
interests of capital in a particular phase of its develop­
ment."IS The exploitation of migratory harvesters con­
tributed to the economic and political efficacy of coopera­
tives, and promoted a rapid expansion of the industry.
With the migrants, the cooperatives had a system of labor
control which cheapened the wage and strengthened the
factories' position in dealing with labor.
Migrants contribute to the absolute domination of
labor. They are consciously selected not only because they
are extremely cheap, but also because they are easily con­
trolled. Baviskar reported in an early study of Mahar­
ashtra's sugar cooperatives that the factory staff felt
migrants "would be more obedient as compared to local
workers. "16 From the early 1970s, new migrants have been
consciously recruited for the Gujarat cooperatives from a
more widely dispersed area, including part of Gu jarat, so
that collective action by harvesters would have to over­
come regional and linguistic barriers.
The interest in new supply is for the sake of having addi­
tional, substitute areas ofrecruitment, and arises primtlrily
from a calculated effort to spread their risks . ... A region­
ally varied composition of the army of cane-cutters, so the
reasoning goes, reduces the chance ofsuch a collective stand
being taken on a communal basis and helps to mtlintain the
sugar factories' hold over the fieldworkers. 17
Breman's work provides both a thorough description
of the structure of labor control and an understanding of
how this is linked up with the processes of uneven develop­
ment. The migrant harvesters fuel the rapid advancement
of cooperative capitalism in Gujarat, yet remain tied both
to their underdeveloped home areas and to a system which
consistently returns them to work in the harvest campaigns.
Breman demonstrates how migrants are maniupulated to
provide a docile labor force and completely separate the
cultivation of cane from its processing.
There remains, however, a need to place Breman's
analysis in a wider perspective, to look at the relations
between all workers-that is, the entire context of land and
labor relations in the production of cooperative sugar. We
need to examine how the direct and indirect control of the
labor force operates within the cooperative organization of
production, and how this structure of labor control ob­
structs the development of a broad-based working class
movement. The sugar cooperatives' ability to control the
14. Manuel Castells, "Immigrant Workers and Class Struggles in Ad­
vanced Capitalism: The Western European Experience," Politics and
Society. 5(1), 1975:38.
15. Ibid: 44.
16. Breman, 1979:208.
17. Breman, 1979:192.
Land and Labor Relations in
Cooperative Sugar Production
1 3
Cooperative ___Sugar Labor
Members Cooperatives ­ Contractors
Local Factory Migrant
Fieldworkers Workers Harvesters
labor force and achieve industrial peace (as in other in­
dustries) 18 is one of the central issues in their successful
management and development.
To illustrate the most essential features of the land and
labor relations in cooperative sugar production I shall in­
troduce Figure 1, which exhibits the linkages among major
groups in the labor force, sugar cooperatives, and their
members. Space considerations will limit the kind of rich
detail which Breman was able to offer; however, the elab­
oration of each linkage will clarify m jor dimensions of the
processes involved in cultivating and harvesting sugarcane
and refining it into sugar.
Linkage 1: Landholding Members and
Sugar Cooperatives
Sugar cooperatives are both large industrial enter­
prises and associations of landowners. These dual features
are essential elements in the structure which supports a
(limited) decentralized economic prosperity and the politi­
cal and ideological hegemony of the "rich peasants. "
Cooperatives function as a major conduit of privileges
and resources to their members. 19 Cooperatives control a
18. While this point does not originate with Mike Davis, he provides a
convincing example of how the General Motors contract with United
Auto Workers in 1950 established a pattern ofcollective bargaining which
significantly limited the power ofthe union rank and file. "As Fortune slyly
put it at the time: 'GM may have paid a billion for peace ... It got a
bargain!'." Mike Davis, ''The Barren Marriage of American Labour and
the Democratic Party," New Left Review. 124, November-December
19. Membership in sugar cooperative societies is actually divided into
three grades, of which only category A (producer-members) is of concern
here. Category B (ordinary-members) is for other local cooperative
societies, such as the local cooperative credit society. Membership in this
category confers voting rights for a single member of the Board of
Directors of the sugar cooperative, and with only one representative, they
exert little direct influence. This is not to say that these other cooperatives
might not exert influence through individual cooperative members, but
this is a rather complex set of interlocking relationships which have been
best described by B. S. Baviskar, The Politics of Development: Sugar Co­
operatives in Rural Maharashtra. (Delhi, Oxford University Press) 1980,
and is outside of the immediate interest of this paper. Category C (nomi­
nal members) is for any businesses which might have dealings with the
sugar cooperative. For instance, if a sugar cooperative were to expand its
factory, any construction firm which gets the bid for the expansion would
have to join the cooperative, as a grade C member. Category C requires
that members buy stock, although they do not receive any voting rights,
special privileges or dividends. It is, one might say, the price of doing
In Maharashtra the redistribution ofowner­
ship and control of sugar factories to the "pro­
ducers," that is, those who own the land, resulted
in a labor system which has contributed to the
increased vulnerability and domination of labor,
and has suppressed the development of a broad­
based working class movement.
large number of relatively high-paying factory jobs which
are usually distributed as a privilege among cooperative
members and their relatives. The cooperatives also provide
a range of services including the distribution of fertilizer,
seed, credit and courses in agricultural innovation. In gen­
eral, the cooperatives help to assure access for their mem­
bers to government assistance and influence in government
quarters, such as in the placement of roads, the disburse­
ment of funding, or the implementation of policies.
The relationship between members and the coopera­
tive association is based on the delivery of cane, which has
consistently brought a price higher than the government
established minimum price or the rates paid by competing
private factories_ Cane supplied by members is paid for in
installments, the final one of which is not made until the
cooperative's accounts have been settled for the year. By
paying out all profit in higher cane prices, the cooperative
avoids paying any taxes on profits. What would have been
paid out to the government is simply redistributed to mem­
Membership in the association confers both a right and
an obligation to deliver cane to the cooperative factory.
The effect is to tie a substantial and influential block of
farmers into the fortunes ofthe cooperatives. This block of
farmers regularly demand higher cane prices and further
concessions from the government. The cooperatives be­
come a focal point to push for better returns from the
market. In this sense the landowners' efforts are in line with
a cooperative ideal of independent producers banding to­
gether to wield greater strength in the market and to insure
against its ruinous vicissitudes. Yet, two points need to be
made in this regard; (1) cane farmers remain a small minor­
ity in the overall population of landowners (cane is only one
percent of the net sown area in Maharashtra), and (2) the
degree of government involvement and regulation of the
industry makes most of the cooperative efforts to raise
prices overtly political.
The political power of cooperative members can be
seen not only in their electorial and lobbying influence, but
also in their ability to dominate both government and op­
position discourse on agrarian politics.
Cooperatives are
20. Two perspectives on the dynamics of politics associated with sugar
cooperatives are represented in the exchange between B. S. Baviskar and
Gail Omvedt which followed her review of Baviskar's monograph, Ibid.
Omvedt, "Wishing Away Class Politics," Economic and Political Weekly.
able to mobilize votes, influence their association mem­
bers, and provide offices and resources in electoral cam­
paigns. The Maharashtra Federation of Cooperative Sugar
Factories operates as a lobbying organization and a clear­
ing house for information and is recognized as one of the
strongest lobbies in the state. Its effectiveness is due in
large part to the pressure which cooperatives are able to
wield through militant direct action. The cooperative in­
terests have been successful in bringing all major political
parties together to support their "peasant movements"
which are efforts to gain higher minimum prices for crops,
especially sugarcane.
As Omvedt points out, however, the struggle over the
terms of trade is not in the interest of the majority, who
would be better served by lower food prices, higher wages
and an end to the violent intimidation of landless laborers
and untouchables.
Yet,even the left-wing opposition
parties, the Congress (S), and the Communist Parties of
India (CPI and CPI-M) have supported the efforts of rich
farmers to get higher prices. The "Left and Democratic
Front" led by Sharad Pawar even instigated a "long march"
in 1980, from Nasik to Nagpur, to demand higher farm
prices. If nothing else, the "long march" symbolized the
degree to which even the opposition is committed to the
struggle over the terms of trade-a struggle which benefits
the rich farmer and the sugar cooperative interests.
Linkage 2: Landowners and Local
Agricultural Labor
Most scholarly research and government publications
on cooperative sugar have consistently excluded field­
workers from consideration as an integral part of the labor
force involved with sugar production. The basic argument
often made is that fieldworkers are not employees of co­
operative factories and, therefore, are not workers in the
sugar industry. This is similar to the argument made about
migratory harvesters, where an elaborate system of inter­
mediaries and debt-bonding secures labor for the factory.
The factory staff coordinate the harvesting of cane, but
they are able to claim to have no direct relations with, and
therefore no responsibility for the harvesters. The separa­
tion of fieldworkers from the cooperative factory is less
elaborate, but the result is much the same-an indirectly
controlled labor force subject to severe exploitation and
The shift to a cooperative form of sugar production has
meant the isolation of local agricultural labor from the rest
of sugar industry workers and increased domination by
landowners. The separation of growing of sugarcane from
its processing, facilitated by cooperative organization, has
left fieldworkers without any collective or union organiza­
tion in a labor market which is both seasonal and soft.
Whereas fieldworkers on plantations had organized joint
unions with factory workers, laborers hired by individual
16(7), February 15, 1981 :235. Baviskar, "Obsession With Class Politics,"
Economic and Political Weekly. 16(15), April 11, 1981:731:732. Omvedt,
"Obsession With Class Politics: A Reply," Economic and Political Weekly.
16(18), May 2,1981:831-832.
21. Gail Omvedt, "Cane Farmers' Movement," Economic and Political
Weekly. 15(49), December 6, 1980:2042.
cooperative members have no collective representation
and are more vulnerable to the direct influence of dom­
ineering and paternalistic landowners. The demand for
hired labor by individual cooperative members is irregular,
depending on the specific task such as ploughing or weed­
ing, and cannot provide steady employment to significant
numbers of daily wage workers. Fieldworkers usually have
to seek work in other crops besides sugarcane. In case
studies by both Breman and Attwood,22 increasing cane
cultivation coincides with substantial increases in landless
labor. Attwood shows this situation to be primarily the
result of immigration from dry (non-irrigated) areas. The
impact of cooperative sugar production on the labor
market has been to create a huge seasonal demand for
labor, which is largely fulfilled by migratory harvesters at
low wages. It has not provided secure or regular employ­
ment for the increasing numbers of local landless laborers.
In Maharashtra, the effect of the separation of grow­
ing from processing of cane is clearly seen in comparing the
situation of the fieldworkers in cooperative sugar produc­
tion with that of those who were directly employed by the
private sugar plantations, and more recently by the state
corporation which took over their estates. On the dozen
private plantations which operated in Maharashtra prior to
the emergence of cooperatives, the directly-employed "de­
partment" labor (year round estate workers) comprised a
substantial portion of the work force.
The wages for the
unskilled department labor were very similar to those for
unskilled factory labor, 24 and the unions that were formed
in the plantations represented both factory and department
Following the Maharashtra Agricultural Land (Ceil­
ing) Act of 1962, a state corporation, the Maharashtra
State Farming Corporation (M.S.F.C.), took over most of
the land from the private sugar estates. Not all of the 85,000
acres of land taken over from the estates by the M.S.F.C.
remained in the government's control. Local landowners,
who had rented lands to the estates on long term leases,
were engaged in a struggle with plantations to regain pos­
session of it. Although the factory unions opposed redis­
tribution of land because of the adverse impact it would
have on productivity (and thereby worker wages and
bonuses), the government eventually transferred twenty
percent of the total land to its original owners, all of it
irrigated and suitable for cane cultivation.
The M.S.F.C. had agreed that the wages and service
conditions of labor on the date of their transfer from pri­
vate plantations would not be adversely changed. Faced,
however, with a limited capital stock and the redistribution
22. Breman, Ibid. Donald W. Attwood, "Why Some of the Poor Get
Richer: Economic Change and Mobility in Rural Western India," Cu"ent
Anthropology. 20(3), September 1979:495-516.
23. To cultivate and harvest cane, corporate plantations employed peren­
nial department (estate) labor which was paid a daily wage, perennial
contracted labor and seasonal contracted labor. Deodhar's survey of 12
factory estates in 1947-48 indicated that out of almost 40,000 estate work­
ers, 39.7% were seasonal, 34.5% were department employed, and 25.5%
contracted, perennial. L. D. Deodhar, Labour In the Sugar Industry ofthe
Bombay-Deccan. unpublished Ph.D, thesis, University of Bombay, 1950:
24. Deodhar, Ibid:228.
factories. The responsibility of the contractor is to recruit
supervise the work throughout the harvest, and allocate ali
Cooperatives succeeded in splitting the
allegiances of labor and preventing an extension
of trade unionism and collective action from the
plantations to the fields ofindividual landowners.
The system of collective bargaining and nego­
tiated settlements for factory workers, overseen
and orchestrated by the state, separated their
concerns from those of other workers involved in
sugar production. Cooperative development co­
incided with labor quiescence.
of some of its better parcels of land, the M.S.F.C. tried
expanding in experimental seed crops as well as squeezing
labor. The Corporation distinguished between work done
on sl;lgarcane and work done on all other crops, paying
unskdled labor on average twenty-five percent less for the
latter. The Corporation also refused to grant an interim
increase awarded by the Tripartite Sugar Commis­
SIon in 1974.2S Litigation was pursued by the union and was
eventually resolved by a government committee. The com­
mittee awarded some wage increases to M.S.F.C. workers,
but limited them because of the Corporation's inability to
From this the fiscal strength of the Corpora­
tIon became an mcreasmg concern of the union. As I was
leaving Maharashtra, a veteran union leader, G. J. Ogale,
was preparing to organize protests to increase the capital!
debt ratio of the Corporation and the amount of irrigated
water allocated to it from government canals. The failure of
the M.S.F.C. to match factory increases in wages has led to
the fa!ltastic situation of trade unionists courting arrest by
breakmg down the gates of government irrigation canals
only to improve the profits of their state corporation.
Despite their apparent declining position in relation to
factory workers, two points need to be stressed about
M.S.F.C. workers; (1) the minimum wage employee
makes two to three times as much as the average field­
worker, even if this is around Rs. 100 per month less than
the minimum factory wage, and (2) the M.S.F.C. remains
unionized with avenues to redress worker grievances.
Their wages are determined by government committees
which are vulnerable to pressure from organized workers
and, at the very least, are committed to paying the min­
imum agricultural wage allowed by law, which the majority
of farmers freely ignore.
Linkage 3: Sugar Cooperatives and
Labor Contractors
Labor contractors (mukadams) arrange with coopera­
tives to bring a certain number and type of work teams each
season for the harvesting and transporting of cane to the
25. The Tripartite Sugar Commission had been appointed by the Central
Government in response to a jump in the consumer price index between
November 1973 and June 1974.
wages and allowances to his respective teams. The con­
tractor receives a commission from the cooperative, cur­
rently fixed at nine percent of total harvesting and transport
charges on all cane delivered, and whatever surplus in the
form of. interest on loans or underpayments he can
from hIS work teams. Contracting can be an extremely
profitable business despite the low wages for harvesters.
In order to help debt-bond laborers for the season
cooperatives provide advances to a labor contractor
cording to the number and kind of work teams he has
agreed to recruit. The contractor augments these advances
with his own funds (or with funds he has received from
other sources) in order to find enough of the desired kinds
of work teams. Those workers who bring their own cart and
pair of bullocks may obtain larger advances that take into
account the cost involved in cart and bullock maintenance
repair or replacement. '
The cooperatives pay all wages and allowances and
give to workers through the mukadams. Wages
are paId m a lump sum for the entire work group under each
mukadam. per ton ofcane cut and per mile carted, minus the
cooperative's deductions for advances. The contractor is
then responsible for dividing wages, minus his deductions,
to head of each cutting or carting group. In addition,
certam allowances, usually staples at "discount" prices, are
offered by cooperatives and every mukadam arranges for
their use.
The factory determines the cutting schedule and
rhythm of work to maximize the supply of freshly cut cane
twenty-four hours a day, except during periodic closures
for routine maintenance. The mukadam is responsible for
seeing that the work is done properly (cane cut low enough
to the ground, etc.) and according to the specifications of
the factory. The contractor must look after the needs and
accounts of his teams, but most of all he must keep them
organized, efficient and subservient to the requirements of
the factory.
Linkage 4: Labor Contractors and Migratory
The labor contractor usually recruits debt-bonded
teams from his home or neighboring villages. The
mformal pressures which the contractors are able to bring
to the divisions among the harvesters, and the use of
famIly labor help to subordinate harvesting labor and to
decrease wages of workers to the lowest possible level.
Ties between the contractor and the work teams in­
volve all phases of recruitment, migration, work and pay,
yet these ties are primarily non-contractual. Although the
advances given to work teams involve a formal contract
contractors rely on informal sanctions to make sure that
laborers comply and serve them well. The contractors
usually select people whom they already know, and with
whom they already have a multiplicity of relationships. The
power of the contractor is derived from his influence in
all aspects of the harvesters' lives, as well as the
mIgrants' extreme dependence during the entire harvest
season. As Breman notes about the similar situation in
Gujarat, "the pressure. .. [is] wholly ineffective if a
In the words of one trade unionist, "the
cooperatives started tooth and nail in opposition
to the (plantation) joint-stock companies ••• with
the backing of the labor movement and aU pro­
gressive sections. •• [yet,] cooperatives are now
deadly against the labor movement."
personal relationship is lacking. "26
Factories distinguish between two kinds of work
teams: koytavalas who simply cut the cane, and gadivalas
who cut cane and cart it directly to the factory or to a nearby
truck on their bullock-carts. The distinctions are important
not only for the kind of work the teams do but also because
wages and advances are higher for carters-cum-cutters,
especially direct-carters. The direct-carters, who require
much stronger bullocks and sturdier carts for hauling heavy
cane loads all the way to the factory, receive a larger
advance and make higher wages, since the rates are set per
ton/mile. Joy Richardson, a young scholar from the
Geography Department of Cambridge University who
completed her fieldwork in the area, argues that the direct­
carters tend to be composed of middle and rich peasants
from the "dry" villages, while the truck-carters tend to be
small peasants, and the koytavalas tend to be landless.
Although working conditions for aU harvesters are
difficult, direct-carters are relatively privileged in that they
are allowed to pitch camp around the factory premises for
the duration of the season, and are often provided with a
minimum of amenities, such as a few water taps or electric
lights, per encampment. The carters who deliver only to
trucks and the koytavalas must break camp (constructed
from a few bamboo poles and straw matting which the
cooperatives provide) regularly to follow the cutting
schedule. Often even the barest facilities, such as clean
water, are not available for these workers, and they are
forced to drink from the chemical and pesticide saturated
irrigation ditches.
Both koytavalas and gadivalas generally rely on the use
of family labor. Each team is commonly made up of three
people, headed by a male who cuts the cane. Under the
cutters are usually two helpers to strip leaves from the cane
and bundle the cane up as they advance down the cane row.
These helpers are often related to the cutter (such as a wife,
daughter or close relative) in some subordinate kin rela­
tionship. The advance at the start of the season is given to
the head of the team, who is responsible for seeing that the
rest of the team is filled out.
Linkage 5: Sugar Cooperatives and
Factory Laborers
Factory workers (who receive relatively high wages
compared to fieldworkers or harvesters) are the only seg­
26. Breman, 1978:57.
ment of the labor force in sugar production organized into
trade unions. Under cooperatives, unions were restricted
to factory workers, whose concerns were increasingly
isolated from other workers. Factory workers became
closely tied to cooperative producer-members and divided
amongst themselves by an elaborate hierarchy of remun­
eration and tenure. Demands by factory workers were
determined by state mediation and arbitration. The narrow
limitations of the state framework for negotiation under­
mined the basis for collective action by factory workers.
The composition of the factory work force is domin­
ated, especially at the lower levels, by local residents. This
contrasts with Breman's description of Gujarat coopera­
tives, where most seasonal factory operatives migrate from
the sugar growing areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Some
of the factory positions in Maharashtra are filled by those
who have no link with the local community, especially the
most technical positions such as chemists. However, the
percentage of outsiders appears quite small-something
that the industry takes pride in.
Access to factory jobs generally flows through the
patronage of members of the cooperative association. This
results in a strong influence of landowning members among
the factory work force. Workers are often related or eVen
cooperative members themselves. Usually job advance­
ment is made from within the factory ranks, though it is
often restricted to a narrow range of positions. Operatives
can develop only specialized skills on the job. Yet, as the
skills are specific to particular tasks in sugar production,
they do not have much application in other departments or
in other industries.
The length of employment each year and the security
of that service reflect the divisions and hierarchy within the
work force. Permanent
workers are employed through­
out the year. Seasonal-permanent workers work only
during the harvest season, but they receive a retention
allowance which provides them with a monthly percentage
of their wages during the off-season. Seasonal workers are
hired for only one season at a time, though if they remain
with the same factory for three consecutive seasons, they
become seasonal-permanent. A small number of workers
are hired on a daily rate or on contract, to serve as
substitute labor or to fulfill particular tasks, such as
unloading cane trucks. The supervisory and higher clerical
positions tend to be permanent employees, while the
unskilled labor tends to be seasonal. Since factory jobs are
usually the highest paying wage labor in the area, the
longer one can work in a given year, the greater the
difference in income from most other local workers.
The basic job classification system was established by
the first Central Wage Board for the Sugar Industry, which
gave its report in 1960. The report's classification and wage
settlement applied to every sugar factory worker in India.
The factory work force was broadly divided into three
groups; operatives, clerks, and supervisory personnel, and
each group was sub-divided according to skill and
responsibility. Each position in a factory was allocated a set
27. As Deodhar pointed out in his study. the term permanent or perennial
"is misleading since the people were not always there, just the position."
Deodhar, Ibid:388.
wage according to rank and seniority. The remuneration
for factory jobs was standardized and no longer subject to
collective actions at individual mills.
Factory workers have maintained relatively high wage
levels and achieved a greater degree of job security through
successive wage boards at the national and state levels.
Basic wage scales have been determined and periodically
revised. In addition, the "dearness allowance" (differenti­
ated according to job classification) was standardized and a
portion of it pegged against inflation. The wage boards also
standardized the conditions for giving bonuses,28 which
had made up a substantial portion of a worker's annual
wage (up to twenty percent depending on the profitability
of the factory in the previous season). Retention
allowances were extended to a wider range of employees
during the off-season. The conditions under which workers
could achieve more permanent positions were standard­
ized, and most contract labor within the factory was
eliminated. On the whole, factory workers became
increasingly privileged, and isolated from the conditions
and concerns of other segments of the labor force.
Cooperatives ushered in an era of industrial peace in
Maharashtra's sugar factories which prevailed until the late
1970s. The reorganization of ownership and control of
sugar production re-defined relations between owners and
workers. Cooperatives succeeded in splitting the al­
legiances of labor and preventing an extension of trade
unionism and collective action from the plantations to the
fields of individual landowners. The system of collective
bargaining and negotiated settlements for factory workers,
overseen and orchestrated by the state, separated their
concerns from those of other workers involved in sugar
production. Cooperative development coincided with
labor quiescence.
The subordination of labor within cooperative sugar,
however, was bound up in structures and issues larger than
the industry itself. Patterns of class domination and conflict
changed with the expansion of cooperative sugar.
Paradoxically, while the industry expanded and the power
base of the sugar interests grew, the system of labor control
became increasingly ineffective at containing the demands
of factory workers. The structural basis for the recent rise
of militant trade union action and the fundamental
inequalities of cooperative development can be illuminated
by a brief review of the history of state intervention and the
labor movement in sugar cooperatives.
The State and the Labor Movement
The early labor movement in Maharashtra was unique
in India's sugar industry, drawing on a relatively
homogeneous local labor force, and combining factory and
farm workers in one union. Trade unions began in the
mid-1930s, organizing both factory and department
28. The first national wage board waived the factories' obligation to give
out bonuses in Maharashtra on the grounds that so many factories needed
"rehabilitation," in spite of the labor representative's citation of a Tariff
Commission report to show that the Bombay factories "are the most
prosperous in the sugar industry." Government of India, Central Wage
Board for the Sugar Industry, Report. (Delhi, Government of India Press)
(directly-employed) estate workers. Both factory and farm
workers shared an interest in gaining secure, regular
employment and in eliminating contract work. Depart­
ment workers often made up the most militant section of
the trade unions because of the tendency of the plantations
to shift department jobs to a piece-rate contracted basis. 29
The organization of workers industry-wide remained
only partial and illegal until the eve of independence, after
which unions were institutionalized within a framework
constructed by the state for containing labor conflicts. In
1945-46, following the release from prison of "freedom
fighters" including most non-communist union activists,
there was a strike wave involving urban industries as well as
corporate sugar plantations. At this point the government
stepped in to regulate union-employer disputes in the sugar
industry. The Bombay Industrial Relations Act (B.I.R.A.)
introduced a whole series of mechanisms for government
mediation which established Industrial Courts and
Appellate Tribunals, and gave recognition to "representa­
tive" unions on a taluka by taluka basis.
stipulated that, until the government mediation mechan­
ism had run its full course, including the possibility of a
lengthy appeal, unions could not legally srike. Relatively
secure from competing unions,31 "representative" unions
began to focus their efforts strictly within legal channels.
Tripartite wage boards representing employers,
employees and government selected experts became the
next major government vehicle for containing the demands
of labor. The first wage board for the sugar industry
rejected the notion of a "need-based" minimum wage and
the pegging of wages to an index that would equalize
The wage boards promoted wage determina­
tion according to the "ability to pay" (Le., the industry'S
profits). Both national wage boards (1960, 1969) for the
sugar industry restricted their coverage to factory workers,
ignoring demands to include field and harvesting labor, a
separate system of collective bargaining was established for
factory workers.
The national wage boards, in effect,
29. The Belapur plantation's intention to shift irrigation workers, who
made up sixty percent of the department labor force, to a contracted basis
led to a long and bitter strike in 1941.
30. Under B.I.R.A., "representative" unions were the only unions al­
lowed to pursue grievances and present evidence through government
mediation mechanisms, to collect dues or hold meetings within the work
place. Although enacted in 1946, B.I.R.A. was not formally applied to the
sugar industry unti11948.
31. The criteria for challenging a "representative" union presented com­
peting unions with a virtual catch-22. Without being able to provide any
tangible results through strikes or grievance procedures, contesting
unions had to sustain a dues paying membership throughout the credential
challenge and appeal.
32. The wage board for the sugar industry concluded that the minimum
wage earner should not be insulated from the effects of inflation and that "a
degree of sacrifice on the part of this class is even psychologically neces­
sary for imparting a sense of participation into the plans ...." Employers
Federation of India, Handbook on Central Wage Boards' Recommendations.
(Bombay, The Employers Federation of India) 1971:57.
33. The labor representative in 1960, G. J. Ogale from Maharashtra,
argued his union had always represented factory and agricultural workers
and that the Industrial Courts had never made any distinction between
them. Government of India, Central Wage Board for the Sugar Industry,
Report. (Delhi, Government ofIndia Press) 1960:165.
B. Shastri, in the Second Wage board, continued to argue for the exten­
sion of coverage to a broader range of workers "on sugarcane farms
isolated factory workers from the concerns of other
laborers, and left unprotected the great majority of sugar
Following the second national wage board's mandate,
succeeding tripartite wage boards for the sugar industry
were established at the state government level. The
state-level wage boards took as given the restricted
definition of sugar industry workers, and did not try to
coordinate wage determination policy for all segments of
the work force (such as for harvesters, whose case is
discussed below). While the national wage boards had gone
to great lengths to assess the overall condition of the
industry, and in so doing documented the situation of
workers within factories, the state-level wage boards
simply put forward a wage settlement based on overt
political bargaining.
A major difference between the situation of migrant
harvesters in Gujarat, as described by Breman, and those
in Maharashtra is the system of government regulation of
wage rates. In 1974, the Maharashtra state government
standardized wage rates for harvesting and transport
workers. A consequence of the first wage award to
harvesters illustrates an important aspect of the relation­
ship between unions and harvesters. As a result of litigation
pursued by a factory union, the Bombay Industrial Court
(award #130 of 1971) determined that contracted
harvesters were employees of sugar cooperatives and so
entitled to the minimum factory wage. While the decision
was under appeal, a deal was cut in which the substantial
rise in harvesting rates from the 1974 award would be
applied retroactively through the 1969-70 season by the
factory named in the suit.
These retroactiye wages would
be settled in a lump sum payment of Rs. 3 lakhs to the union
which had brought the case, to be spent "entirely at the
discretion of the union. "35 In return, the union agreed to
set aside the Industrial Court award of 1971, and leave open
the question of whether harvesting and carting labor are
employees of the factory.
Subsequent government awards have resulted in real
increases in harvester wages, but the harvesters themselves
have had only sporadic influence over the process of wage
determination. In 1978, the same factory that had won the
Industrial Court award organized a major strike of
harvesting and carting labor. The strike itself posed no real
threat to the contract labor system, but succeeded in
wresting substantial increases from the factories in the
taluka and in demonstrating a new dimension of the factory
union's strength, in their ability to coordinate struggles by
migrant harvesters. However, a labor minister's- decree
reduced the concessions gained by the harvester strike by
attached to factories, contracted workers, outside of the factory, workers
employed in harvesting and transport and other captive units of the
principal sugar factory, (e.g., distilleries, etc ...)." Government of India,
Second Wage Board jor the Sugar IndllStry, Repon. (New Delhi, Govern­
ment oflndia Press) 1970: 184.
34. The February 1974 award recommended that rates for koytavalas be
increased 87 percent and gadivalas by 30 percent. Had harvesters been
paid the minimum wage of factory workers, the increase to koytavalas
would have been roughly 600 percent.
35. Senlement Between the Kopargaon Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Ltd. and the
Kopargaon Taluka Sakhar Kamgar Sabha, A Representative Union under the
Bombay IndllStrial Relations Act. 1975:1
two-thirds and applied them throughout the state on the
grounds that unequal harvesting rates would put the
cooperatives in areas of labor militancy at an undue
disadvantage. Many factories ignored even the more
modest increase in their harvesting rates, and migrants,
with no permanent organization of their own, were
dependent on factory worker unions to enforce implemen­
tation. For Maharashtra's harvesters, in spite of
government intervention, the situation remains much the
same as in Gujarat, with migrant workers debt-bonded,
isolated and unorganized.
In the years immediately after independence, trade
unions were in alliance with landowning cooperative
members, in joint opposition to sugar plantations. 36
However, as cooperatives became the norm in the industry
and no longer a progressive innovation in rsponse to
corporate plantations, their "pro-labor" attitude changed
dramatically. Unionists charged that cooperatives became
"seats of personal aggrandizement" for their directors and
managers. The leaders of cooperatives came to be closely
linked to centers of power in the Congress Party and state
government. In a number of cases, cooperatives sought to
overturn the recognized "representative" union and install
one which supported their own interests. In the words of
one trade unionist, "the cooperatives started tooth and nail
in opposition to the (plantation) joint-stock companies ...
with the backing of the labor movement and all progressive
sections... [yet,] cooperatives are now deadly against the
labor movement."
By 1974, the Sugar Enquiry Commission found that
the attitude of organized labor had soured and "their
criticism of the cooperative sector [became] harsher and
sharper than of the private sector. "37 The economic and
political benefits of cooperatives were believed to have
gone to the producer-members at the expense of workers
and consumers as a whole. 38
The degree of opposition to cooperatives varied
significantly according to the political orientation of union
groups. The major unions operating in Maharashtra's
sugar industry are all affiliaJed with political parties, i.e.,
the Indian National Trade' Union Congress (INTUC) is
affiliated with the Congress Party, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha
(HMS) is affiliated with the Socialist Party, and the Lal
Nishan (Red Flag) union is affiliated with an independent
regional communist party. The influence of the rich farmer
class in statewide politics has meant, paradoxically, that the
majority of unions (INTUC and HMS) are aligned in the
larger political arena witht the same rich farmer class which
they oppose in the cooperatives.
In the 19708, the confluence of factors which had led to
the long period of labor quiescence began to come apart.
The reluctance of new cooperatives to implement existing
statewide wage agreements exacerbated labor tensions and
36. An example of this took place in the 1950 strike at Tilaknagar. In the
first yearof its operation, the Pravara Cooperative took in all workers who
had been victimized as a result of a strike at the neighboring private sugar
37. Government of India, Repon ojthe Sugar Enquiry Commission. (Delhi,
Ministry of Agriculture) 1974:77.
38. G. S. Kamat, New Dimension oj Cooperative Management. (Bombay,
Himalya Publishing House) 1978:169.
resulted in occasional lightning strikes in individual mills to
force their implementation. The composition of the work
force in the case of newer factories has helped to increase
labor militancy.39 The transference of wage boards to the
state level opened new opportunities for competing unions
groups to exert their influence. the closeness of a union's
alliance with successive state level governments, which
were dominated by rich farmer interest, determined much
of the influence it could wield in negotiations mediated by
the state. But these alliances also severely restricted the
union's freedom of action. The political affiliations of
particular union groups came to influence strongly the
pattern of labor militancy which emerged in the late 1970s.
From 1957, all unions effectively operated under one
umbrella organization, the Sakhar Kamgar Pratinidhi
Mandai (Sugar Workers Representatives Association)
which represented the joint unions' interests at the national
and state level. Under the leadership of the Pratinidhi
Mandai strikes were exceedingly rare. However, in the
early 1970s Lal Nishan unions began organizing new
factories using the tactic of quick strikes during the middle
of the season to gain implementation of existing awards. In
March 1978, the Kriti Samiti (Action Committee)
composed mostly of Lal Nishan unions established a
separate set of demands from thePratinidhi MandaI's, and a
more militant posture in union negotiations. While initially
remaining in alliance with the Mandai, the Kriti Samiti
introduced a fissure in the united labor front which would
rupture in the negotiations and events surrounding the
state level awards of 1979-80.
The formation of the Kriti Samiti pressured the
Pratinidhi Mandai to develop a more militant posture of its
own, and in August 1978, to organize the first one-day,
industry-wide strike. As it was a token strike, in the
off-season, no production was stopped, but the MandaI's
strength was exhibited since fifty-four of sixty-six factories
participated. The indefinite strike initially scheduled for
the height of the harvest season was postponed until the
following fall. In spite of unity between the Mandai and
Samiti and extensive rallies and preparations for the general
strike scheduled for November 15,1979, the strike call was
never given. INTUC and HMS unions were supporting
members of Sharad Pawar's state government, and with the
Lok Sabha elections pending in early January, a strike was
perceived to be disruptive and detrimental to the ruling
party's position. After the disastrous rout of the Chief
Minister's party in the national parliamentary elections,
and the continuing failure to reach a wage agreement, the
Kriti Samiti led a strike of its own. From January 16-28, 22
factories went out on strike, many with HMS "recognized"
The strike led to the final and official split in the
39. New factories tend to have a very young unskilled labor force, and a
skilled labor force from other areas. As one trade unionist explained, "the
younger, single workers have the fire and idealism of youth ... and
freedom from family [constraints]. ... Combined with experienced
union members from other areas, they can face the unenlightened land­
owners in new factory areas who ignore existing wage agreements."
40. Background to the negotiations is provided by Amrita Abraham,
"Sugar Workers Draw and Blank," Economic and Political Weekly. 14(50),
December 15, 1979:2035-2037; and Gail Omvedt, "Sugar Workers:
Round Two," Economic andPolitical Weekly. 15(1), January 5,1980:17-18.
41. Although these strikes achieved some "model agreements," they
statewide trade union alliance.
In response to the Samiti's strike, on January 21, the
Chief Minister finalized a wage agreement with the
Pratinidhi Mandai. The terms of the agreement fell far short
of the initial union demands and factories so ignored the
terms of the award that sugar workers were forced to go out
on strike again in October 1980.
The state appointed
committee to resolve the dispute accepted separate sets of
demands from both the Pratinidhi Mandai and the Kriti
Samiti. In spite of real differences between the two union
groups in terms of specific wage demands and political
alliances, both remained locked into the system of
government arbitration.
The emergence of labor militancy reflects the interilal
contradictions within this form of cooperative develop­
ment. Although isolated within a factory work force closely
tied to local cooperative members, organized labor's
quiescence remained dependent on a whole structure of
labor control in which state mediation was crucial. The
expansion of the industry through the 1970s coincided with
increasing ineffectiveness of the system's ability to contain
labor's demands. The labor force in the newly established
factories faced cooperative farmers who tended to ignore
the terms of the labor agreements, and the composition of
the new factories facilitated the development of a militant
posture by workers in response. Conditions specific to the
conjuncture of the late 1970s-the failure of the wage
board to establish a new wage agreement, the reluctance of
INTUC and HMS unions to pursue militant strategies, the
existence of a competing union unfettered by political
alliances, and a period of political uncertainty and change
in state politics-opened new possibilities for labor
militancy and suggest limits to the continued subordination
of labor. However, the militant unions have still to build
the alliances between all the segments of the labor force
necessary to overturn the structure of domination that has
been created in cooperative sugar.
The impact of such an ostensibly progressive
reorganization of production raises fundamental questions
about how to look at cooperative development. Coopera­
tives not only have increased sugar production and
channelled the majority of the benefits to a rich farmer
class, they have also increased the vulnerability and
domination of labor. Cooperative ideology has re-defined
relations of production and transformed the nature of
conflict between workers and owners. Cooperatives have
facilitated the separation of the cultivation of cane from its
processing, and have isolated workers in each process from
were generally not observed. Management was even able to argue in some
cases that they could not honor those agreements because the strikes were
not represented by recognized "representative" unions, and under the
conditions ofB.I.R.A. this would amount to unfair labor practices.
42. Abraham quotes union circles as saying the award was "hastily,
almost surreptitiously accepted despite its uncertainties and modest gains
because elections were due (state legislative assembly election in May
1980) and the unions did not want to queer the pitch of the PDF (Progres­
sive Democratic Front) government then in power." Amrita Abraham,
"Another Patchwork Agreement for Sugar Industry workers," Economic
and Political Weekly. 15(48), November 1980:2007.
each other. Cooperatives have promoted a new capitalist
class with far more power and influence within the villages,
that has the ability to employ a series of indirect social
controls on labor. The rich farmers' influence over the
government reinforces their position of strength vis-a-vis
the working class. The success of cooperative development
cannot be judged without determining its impact on wage
workers. Our concern is not simply for an indicator of
workers income, but for an understanding of the complex
set of social relations through which workers engage in a
system of production. The situation in Maharashtra's sugar
industry shows that the organization of work and the
pattern of state involvement in the industry are central in
an examination of the politics of production. Development
perspectives too often divorce their assessments of
progressive programs from the political implications of a
particular set of relations of production. Class struggles
cannot be disengaged from economic development, but
must be incorporated into the way we see the world. *
SUMMER 1983 £21$4
• Racism without colour: the Catholic ethic and ethnicity in
Quebec - Dipankar Gupta
• The people's commentator: calypso and the Grenada
revolution: an interview with Cecil Belfon, The Flying Turkey
- Chris Searle
• Ethnicity and class in Cyprus - Floya Anthias and Ron Ayres
Notes and documents: Lyrics by the Flying Turkey. The SAS and
popular fiction - John N ewsinger • Book reviews
Spring 1983 - Special double issue
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Capitalist Agriculture and Rural Classes in India
by Gail Omvedt*
In 1969, two years after Naxalbari, Ashok Rudra and
two colleagues publised results of a survey on capitalist
farming in Punjab. Their rather negative conclusions were
responded to first by Daniel Thorner, a longtime observer
of India's agriculture, who had concluded from his own
rural tours that a new era of capitalist agriculture was
beginning: "Rudra tells us that he is more interested in the
'red revolution' than the 'green revolution.' The colour of
the revolution I have seen in one area after another of
Indian in 1960 is steel-grey. I call it an industrial revolu­
tion."1 Then in 1971 Utsa Patnaik argued, from her own
study of 1969, that a new capitalist farmer class was indeed
beginning to emerge. Rudra contested this, Patnaik re­
plied, Paresh Chattopadhyay intervened with crucial theo­
retical points-and the famous Indian devbate on the
"mode of production in agriculture" was on. Ranjit Sau,
Hamza Alavi, Jairus Banaji, Harry Cleaver and numerous
other Indian and foreign scholars became involved, and
journals in Europe and elsewhere published summaries
and further interpretations.
Clearly the "mode of production" debate was pro­
voked by real changes occurring in Indian agriculture, ex­
pressed politically in the Naxalbari revolt, new organizing
of agricultural laborers and the repression of this organiz­
ing by the rural elite as symbolized in the 1968 Kilvenmani
massacre, first of a long series of "atrocities on Harijans."
It grew out of a milieu where scholars stepped in the classic
Marxist notions of feudalism, capitalism and imperialism
confronted a changing empirical reality, and the concern of
all participants about the connection of research with revo­
lutionary practice was perhaps best expressed in the catch­
phrase, "Will the Green Revolution tum into a red one?"
But reading through the material in retrospect, it is surpris­
ing how scanty in fact the data base of the whole debate
• An earlier version of this article appeared in Economic and Political
Weekly. Vol. XVI, No. 52 (Dec. 1981), pp. A-140-A-159
1. Daniel Thorner, "Capitalist Farming in India," Economic and Political
Weekly (EPW) (Dec. 1969), p. A-212.
was. Most of the important economic changes in agricul­
ture can be said to date from the 1960s, when the process of
destroying the pre-independence forms of landlordism and
laying the foundations of an industrial and infrastructural
development that could supply inputs to agriculture was
beginning to produce real changes. But though there were
a few micro-studies, the only all-India data available was
from 1961 (including both the most important data on
tenancy and land concentration as well as Census data) and
to a small extent from 1964-65 (the Rural Labour En­
quiry). And this was rather early to show patterns. In fact,
much of the "mode of production" debate centered more
on the colonial period, than on analyzing whether a qualita­
tively different process was at work in the post-colonial
Now, ten years later, many thing seem much clearer.
To begin with, not only have the patterns that could be seen
in outline in 1968-69 developed much further, but there is
more data available to confirm them. These include not
only many more village and regional studies, but also mass­
ive all-India government material-the Census and Ag­
ricultural Census of 19781, the National Sample Survey and
All-India Debt and Investment Survey whose jointly con­
ducted 1971 survey of 12,452 villages is perhaps the most
quoted source of information we have, the Rural Labour
Enquiry of 8,512 villages in 1974-75, to mention only the
most important. These are heavily infected with bias, as we
shall see, and are also ten years old, but biases can to some
extent be compensated for, and 1971 was sufficient to re­
flect the basic pattern of the changes in Indian agriculture.
Further, data on production itself-productivity, crop pat­
terns, irrigation, investment and credit, use of tractors,
fertilizers and improved seeds, etc. - is available for much
more recent years up to 1978. There is, in other words, a
basis now that did not exist in 1969-70 to draw more solid
empirical conclusions about the agrarian economy and
class structure, though there are still important gaps in our
knowledge and the state of theory .
Politically also the classes that observers were barely
discerning in 1970-a Kulak or capitalist farmer class, and
a rural semi-proletariat of agricultural laborers and poor
peasants-are now coming forward as clearly powerful
rural actors, though not in forms predicted in 1970. Capital­
ist farmers are the main force behind the "farmers' agita­
tions" that are dominating the rural political scene: it is no
accident that these agitations are centering in the more
capitalistically developed regions, that their main demand
for higher crop prices itself indicates the commercialization
of the rural economy, and that in contrast to pre-indepen­
dence peasant movements they are not directed against any
rural exploiter but rather seek to unite "all peasants," with
an ideology that claims the "city" is exploiting the "coun­
tryside." Thus they show the kulaks on the offensive
against the industrial bourgeoisie and seeking to bring
other sections of the rural population under their hegem­
ony-with some success in the case of the middle peasants
and even among the poor peasants especially where the left
parties are there to help them. On the other hand, the
increasing incidences of "atrocities against Harijans" and
caste riots, especially those recently in Marathwada and
Gujarat which raged in both rural and urban areas, show
the capitalist farmers on the offensive against the rural poor
(it is again no accident that the most mass explosions and
campaigns, including that centering on Kanjhawala, have
been in more capitalistic areas) and using a weapon whose
potency had also been hardly expected ten years ago-the
weapon of caste divisions. It is symptomatic of the current
dilemma that the question, "will the green revolution tum
into a red one?" is now being replaced by, "will the caste
war tum into a class war?"
As for the rural poor themselves, agricultural labor­
ers, poor peasants, contract laborers and migrants,
whether dalits, adivasis, Muslims or caste Hindus, have also
been constantly struggling and asserting their rights, some­
times as workers, sometimes for wages or land, sometimes
also as oppressed castes, nationalities or women struggling
for rights as human beings. Though their movements so far
have been comparatively weak and divided-and most
weak and divided precisely in the more capitalistic areas­
they provide a hint of what might come once they really
begin to organize.
This article attempts to use the main all-India empir­
ical data, especially the Agricultural Census, the 1971 Na­
tional Sample Survey/All India Debt and Investment Sur­
vey (NSS/AIDIS) and the 1974-75 Rural Labour Enquiry
(RLE), to show something of the structure and character­
istics of what we consider to be the main rural classes:
capitalist farmers, middle peasants and the semi-prole­
tarianized poor peasants and laborers. Generally it will
back up not the hesitant conclusions of most of the partici­
pants in the "mode of production" debate (including my­
self at the time)2 who still stressed the dominance in one
way or another of semi-feudalism and forces holding back
agricultural evelopment or saw the post-colonial period as
a mere continuation of colonial patterns in a slightly diffe­
rent form, but rather the bolder, even sweeping, conclu­
sions of Thorner that "a few pockets of capitalist farmers
were to be found in certain regions of India before 1947.
But their emergence as a significant group in every state is
2. Gail Omvedt, The Political Economy of Starvation: Imperialism and the
World Food Crisis (Pune: Scientific Socialist Education Trust, 1976).
adivasi: tribal (Scheduled Tribe). Term means "original
inhabitant. "
benami: illegal (literally "without name") land shown un­
der someone else's name to escape the land ceiling laws.
bhauki: patrilineage.
crore: ten million.
dalit: member of ex-untouchable caste (Scheduled Caste).
gawki kam: "village work," literally, but refers to caste-
duties of dalits.
Harijans: Gandhian term fordalits.
jajmani: the social organization of production at the village
level according to which each caste pedormed its specific
jati: caste.
kisan: "peasant."
ksatriya: second offour varnas; warrior, ruler.
lakh: one hundred thousand.
mahila mandai: "women's club" -women's organizations
usually traditionally run, in villages and cities.
panchayat: village council.
panchayat raj: "village government."
patil: village headman.
ryot: usually translated as "peasant," but one with rights to
cultivate the land. Some ryots in British and pre-British
times were actually petty landlords.
ryotwari: the land settlement which gave "ownership"
rights to ryots rather than landlords or other inter­
sat-shudra: "clean" shudra, term applied to high-status,
non-Brahman castes of Tamil-nadu.
shudra: fourth of four varnas.
taluka: county; lowest political unit above village.
varna: one of four caste-categories (these were brahman,
ksatriya, vaishya, shudra) in which actually existingjatis
were given a place.
veth begar: forced labor somewhat equivalent to feudal
corvee but often mediated through the caste system
which required caste-specific duties.
zamindar, talukdar, khot, malguzar, jotedar: all terms for
various types of non-cultivating landlords or inter­
mediaries who could claim rent from the land. Zamindars
were lower-level landlords throughout north India and
higher level landlords, in Bengal; the term has come to
be generally used for "landlord." Talukdars were higher­
level intermediaries in U.P. Khots were in the Konkan
(western India), malguzars in central India. lotedars are
now landlords in West Bengal but were before inde­
pendence sub-holders from Bengali zamindars.
zilha parishad: district council.
one of the facets of the industrial revolution that is chang­
ing the face of India. "3 That is, it will stress the growth of
capitalism in agriculture and the links between agriculture
and industry, city and countryside. But it must not be
forgotten that this is a capitalism developing within a post­
colonial economy totally bound up with imperialism, af­
fected in specific ways by the disarticulation between small­
scale capitalism (including that in agriculture) and large­
scale industry characteristic of such economies and by the
still-potent effects of backwardness and various types of
semi-feudal elements, including caste. It is important to
analyze the specific nature and processes .of this t)ye of
integration with imperialism.' than all
kinds of backwardness and dlstortlOns ofcapitalism as SignS
of "semi-feudalism." The article, however, will focus
mainly on the growth of capitalism as such.
Transformation of Indian Agriculture
Indian agriculture at the time of independence was
predominantly feudal in though ele­
ments of capitalism had nsen. Vanous types of ZQrmndars.
talukdars. khots. malguzars. etc., controlled the land in the
areas of zamindari settlement, even though tenancy acts
under the British had already given substantial protection
to the top section of the tenantry. Some of these tenants
themselves (for instance those whom Charan Singh rep­
resented in UP) were essentially proto-capitalist in charac­
ter and needed only the final blow of Zamindari Abolition
to emerge as Kulaks; others (such as the Bengal jotedars)
were more feudal in nature in that they sublet the land to
share-croppers rather than cultivating it themselves or with
hired labor. In ryotwari areas also, the majority of land was
informally under control of non-cultivating landlords.
These were in some areas merchants or bureaucrats who
had purchased it or won rights over it as a of'peasant
indebtedness (e.g., western Maharashtra) whIle ID other
cases they were village landlords who were recognized by
the law as "ryots" (e.g., Thanjavur). Even where the rec­
ognized "ryots" were those who came
cultivating tradition and took an entrepreneunallDterest ID
the land, they very often relied heavily on the near-slave
bonded labor (e.g., the Gujars and Bhils in Dhule district
of Maharashtra).
Not only was the majority of land cultivated under
some form of formal or informal tenancy (even formally,
area leased-in as a percentage of total land was 35.7 percent
in 1950-51) and thus dominated by landlords outside of or
at the very top of the village, but inside the village itself
specific types of semi-feudal relations to pre­
Most of those classed as "field laborers ID the co­
lonial period were from untouchable castes who still per­
3. Thorner, p. A-2I2.
4. It is true that tenancy as such cannot simply be identified with feudal­
ism, that different types of tenancy are associated with varying of
production and that cash-rent itself can be viewed as a final transltu;>nal
form to capitalist relations. Nevertheless, where landlord-tenant
are the most prevalent form in agriculture, and where the surplus IS mamly
extracted in the form of rent (by cash, kind or labor-rent) by big landlords
from small peasants who have some kind of claim on subsistence plots, it
can be said that feudalism prevails.
The independence that was won in 1947 was un­
der control of the bourgeois-dominated Congress
Party; and it was in a bourgeois manner and
directed to the needs of capitalist development
rather than for the sake of a thoroughgoing
agrarian revolution that those in power set out to
destroy the semi-feudal system that dominated in
formed all types of labor service as an obligatory caste duty,
though struggles against this had begun and though legal
definitions had shifted, by and large their servitude re­
mained in its traditional form. (This is shown in nomencla­
ture: various forms of "contractual" debt-originated servi­
tude had replaced the pre-British state-enforced caste
slavery-and this was an important shift-but locally these
almost always continued to be known by the traditional
caste-specific nomenclature.) Similarly, most of the means
of production for agriculture were provided by artisans
working within the traditionaljajmani system in which their
work was a birth-defined caste duty for which they received
not exchange but yearly prerequisites in shares of the har­
vest or occasionally small allotments of land. Together
these dalit field laborers and the artisans were a significant
part of the village population who performed labor that was
crucial for agricultural production but never had any tradi­
tional recognition as "tillers of the soil"; and with the
development of the kisan movement their labor came to be
known as veth begar. While a few dalits and large numbers
of artisan caste people were becoming free wage laborers
or small sharecroppers or even landholders, the continued
prevalence of caste-defined duties and their importance for
the whole process of agricultural production also defined
the system as still a feudal one.
Clearly this was a caste-structured form of feudalism.
In Indian feudalism prior to British conquest, jatis were
basic units of the social division of labor, with the "twice­
born" vamas and other high castes being landlords, mer­
chants and other exploiters, while the exploited toilers,
were divided along caste lines into three main sections­
the cultivating kisan castes who were traditionally "tillers of
the soil" (Kurmis, Jats, Kunbi-Marathas, etc.), the artisan
and service castes who produced the means of production
and some consumption goods, and dalit (untouchable) la­
borers who were semi-slaves for the village authorities and
some dominant landlord. Where there was a seeming over­
lap in jati between landlords and peasant cultivators, there
were always distinctions made between the mainly landlord
clan/sub-caste and the others, e.g., between patils and
"guest" cultivators, between Shahhanavkuli Marathas and
Kunbis, between Reddis and Kapus, etc. Further in the
south traditionally landed castes such as the Vellalas or
N ayars who did not have ksatriya status used other to
distinguish themselves in varna terms from the cultivators
as sat-shudras versus ordinary shudras. or by classifying all
others as untouchable. During the colonial period, the
state no longer enforced the caste system but rather in­
situ ted formal rights to acquire property, education, etc.;
with this and with the opening of new factories, mines and
schools the old identity of class and caste was broken; some
members of low castes and even untouchables found op­
portunities for education, employment and even landhold­
ings; agricultural differentiation resulted in some tradi­
tional landholding peasants becoming poor and going for
labor, or in new landlords (especially often from Brahmans
or merchant castes) taking control at the expense of old
ones. Thus "caste" and "class" began to be constituted as
separate social phenomena; but there was still a near­
absolute correlation between them, with high castes con­
tinuing to be the main lords of the land, middle castes
remaining as dominantly peasant cultivators and semi­
skilled workers in the new factories, and the dalits and
adivasis remaining primarily semi-bound toilers and work­
ers in the most exploitative of the new jobs in plantations
A hundred years of peasant revolts, kisan movements,
anti-Brahman movements and organizations of dalits and
agricultural laborers accompanied India's freedom strug­
gle. Because of the particular caste-form of Indian feudal­
ism, the anti-feudal movement was expressed not only
through peasant revolts but also in the radical anti-caste
movements of Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar; the anti­
caste and social reform movements often contained attacks
on moneylenders and landlords, while the most radical
peasant revolts and especially the climatic Telengana revolt
took up social issues including the fights against veth begar
and against untouchability. In spite of all this, the inde­
pendence that was won in 1947 was under control of the
bourgeois-dominated Congress Party; and it was in a bour­
geois manner and directed to the needs of capitalist de­
velopment rather than for the sake of a thoroughgoing
agrarian revolution that those in power set out to destroy
the semi-feudal system that dominated in agriculture. The
government had no intention of giving either "peoples'
power" or "land to the tiller," the main slogan of the Kisan
Sabha. But those at the head of the state knew very well
that they not only had to yield to the demands of a politi­
cized and mobilized rich peasant section who had emerged
at the head of the broader agrarian masses, but also that
anti-feudal land reforms and the widening of the rural
home market were necessary for any real capitalist de­
velopment. Thus, the five-year plans not only focused on
the building up of a heavy industry, a public sector and
infrastructure that included dams, roads and other forms of
transportation, but also a series ofland reforms and various
village developments programs.
The Zamindari Abolition Acts and Tenancy Acts
passed in various states in the 1950s did not give land to the
landless or land-poor; they were not intended to. They
allowed landlords to retain huge amounts of land (usually
the best land) and paid generously for what was taken
away; and they resulted as often in poor tenants being
expelled from the land as in richer tenants getting control of
the land. But they did achieve by and large the main effec­
5. For a fuller analysis see Gail Omvedt, "Caste, Class and Politics," in
Land, Caste and Politics, (New Delhi: 1981).
Striking textile workers organize a village march. (Gail Omvedt)
tive slogan of the Kisan Sabha movement-that of giving
land to the tenants.
They deprived big landlords to a large
degree of their village power, pushed them to tum to
farnling through hired labor and investing in the land (here
compensation money also helped), and laid a basis for the
bigger tenants and rich peasant cultivators to come to
power in the villages and develop as capitalist farmers.
Land concentration as such was little affected by the Acts
(it should be remembered there is both feudal land con­
centration and capitalist land concentration, and these acts
struck only at the first type). But a basis was laid for the
emergence of a new class in the countryside, bigger and
more broad-based than the old landlords, composed in part
of some old landlords but numerically more of ex-tenants
and rich peasants. This class was "new" in its relation to the
land; its members were no longer living off peasant sur­
pluses but were hirers and exploiters of labor power. It was
also new in its different and in some ways wider social base
in the villages, its caste composition, its traditions of
self-cultivation, and its history of involvement in anti­
landlord and anti-caste struggles. While land concentration
remained as high as before, tenancy declined and effective
landlessness and proletarianization increased.
The second phase of land reform, the Land Ceiling
Acts that began to be passed from 1961 onwards, were very
different from these Zamindari Abolition and Tenancy
Acts. They were designed to give "land to the landless' and
were not simple anti-feudal reforms but rather challenged
land property as such, whether "capitalist" or "feudal." As
a result they had little significant effect at all. By 1977, 4,l)4
6. Nearly all Kisan Sabha documents show that the slogan of "land to the
tiller" and the whole analysis of landlordism was mechanically transferred
to the Indian context and made equivalent to abolition of Zamindari,
which in effect meant "land to the tenant." It was assumed that a substan­
tial class of agricultural laborers would go on existing and that low caste
artisans or dalits toiling as field servants did not really have rights as
"tillers." Only the Telengana revolt in practice brought forward through
the application of land ceilings, the notion of transferring land to these
sections as well.
Village women organize a march demanding toilet facilities and an end to
atrocities. (GaiIOmvedt)
million acres had been declared surplus under those Acts,
2.1 million were taken over by the government and 1.29
million were actually distributed-a minute proportion of
the nearly 390 million estimated cultivated acreage.
Along with anti-feudal land reforms came programs to
increase production, for from the very beginning the Indian
ruling class had seen its task of building capitalism as inc­
luding both the development of heavy industry and of
fostering and transforming the small-scale sector which
centered on agriculture. 7 Developments often seemed slow
and halting, but the government did invest, from the 1950s
onwards, in irrigation, dam-building, promoting new seeds
and improved breeds, long before the Ford Foundation
and international agencies came along with their package
programs, selected IAVP districts, and the "green revolu­
tion." The spread of education, co-operative credit soci­
eties, land development banks, sugar co-operatives, agri­
cultural universities all played a role. One of the most signifi­
cant steps was the bank nationalization of 1969, which had
the effect of channeling an increased share of credit to the
countryside. Perhaps more important than any specific pro­
gram or the whole "green revolution" package was the
increasing ability of the new kulak class to claim an increas­
ing share of government resources for itself, especially
after 1965.
Government programs and funds played an
essential role in helping the new class to increase its produc­
tive base.
Finally, on the political side, the new institutions of the
pallchayat raj, credit co-operatives and educational institu­
tions, mahila mandals and similar "village development"
institutions, all helped the new class maintain its hegemony
in a new way over the increasingly proletarianized and
restless rural majority.
All these developments took place very unevenly, for
7. G. K. Shirokov. Industrialisation of India (Moscow: Progress Publica­
tions. 1973). pp. 62-64.
8. Ashok Mody. "Resource Flows between Agriculture and Non-Agri­
culture in India. 1950-1970," EPW, Annual No. (Mar. 1981).
India is a vast and highly varied land, a sub-continent that
has become a nation. In areas of ryotwari settlement, where
strong peasant or anti-caste movements occurred, it proved
easier to move against landlordism and consolidate the
gains of the new kulak class. Thus south and western India
and the northwest show on the whole a clearer prevalence
of capitalist relations of production. (This does not neces­
sarily mean a greater development of the productive
forces: the south remains poorer even today, while Punjab
and Haryana, where investment in agriculture has been
high from British times, maintain their lead in production.)
In contrast, the east, northeast and central regions remain
backward, with a significant amount of semi-feudal rela­
tions of production. Within these broader regions, within
states, and even within districts tremendous differences
remain. But on the whole a growth in agricultural produc­
tion and the transformation of the agrarian relations of
production, in short the development of capitalist agricul­
ture-even though it remains a backward capitalist ag­
riculture with tremendous hangovers of feudal relations
and remnants-has characterized the Indian countryside
since independence.
Development of the Forces of Production
To begin with, let us look at the evidence for the
degree of development of the productive forces in agricul­
On the commercialization of the rural economy, Re­
serve Bank studies showed that by the early 1960s wages
provided either the main or supplementary income for over
half of rural families
; my estimate now is that this figure is
close to 65 percent (see below).
Similarly in the early 1960s the Ministry of Food and
Agriculture estimated that 45-47 percent of total crop pro­
9. V. G. Rastyannikov, "The Agrarian Evolution of Indian Society in the
50s and 60s of the 20th Century," in V. Pavlov, et al., India: Social and
Economic Development (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 140. My
estimate now is that this figure is close to 65 percent.
Rural women laborers plastering on a richfarmer's house. (Gail Omvedt)
Rural woman laborer.
duction was marketed; it seems that about three-fourths of
this was marketed by producers while the rest represented
crops turned over to landlords or moneylenders who in tum
sold them on the market.
I know of no recent detailed
study of rural marketing that would allow us to estimate the
changes in this,11 but Indradeep Sinha
has claimed re-
Because the rural semi-proletariat is now the
dominant section among the rui-aJ poor does not
mean that wage issues must be considered prim­
ary, let alone the main "revolutionary" issue.
Wages are simply often the most important im­
mediate organizing issue.
cently that "during the last 30 years virtually the entire
rural economy has been drawn into the vortex of money­
commodity relationships and almost 100 percent of com­
mercial crops and 40 to 60 percent of the food crops are
brought to the market and sold as commodities." This is
probably correct, as is his point that village traders and
wholesalers are thoroughly integrated into the overall In­
dian industrial-commercial structure and that this itself is
linked to the imperialist chain, so that the life of India's
rural population is truly dominated by the crisis-ridden
economy of world capitalism.
There is clear evidence for a substantial growth in the
use of capital inputs in agriculture, such as fertilizers, trac­
tors, oil engines, irrigation pumpsets, etc. As Table 1
shows, there has been an almost qUalitative change even in
the last few years. Besides these, while the use of wooden
10. Ibid., pp. 116-20.
11. One 1976 study does argue that the percentage of gross product
marketed remained relatively stagnant between 1961-62 and 1974-75.
S.S. Madalgi, "Trends in Monetisation in the Indian Economy," Reserve
Bank Staff Papers I, 1 June 1976. However, this is based on assuming that
the rural class structure remained essentially the same throughout the
period as it was in 1951.
12. Indradeep Sinha, The Changing Agrarian (Delhi: Peoples' Publishing
House, 1979), p. 22.
Table 1
Agriculture Inputs
1950-51 1965-66 1975-76 1978-79
Net irrigated area as percent of net sown area 17.6 19.3 24.2 NA
Consumption of fertilizer per hectare
of cropped area in kgs (all kinds) 0.5 5.1 17.4 29.4
Tractors per lakh * hectares of gross cropped area 7 34 166 234
Oil engines per lakh hectares of gross cropped area 62 295 1,074 (1974) NA
Irrigation pump-sets with electrically
operated tube wells per lakh hectares 16 326 1,617 2,308
Consumption of power in kwh per
thousand hectares gross cropped area 1.5 12.2 50.0 76.9
Source: Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE), Basic Statistics Relating to the Indian Economy, Vol. I, All India (Oct. 1979), Sec. 10.
* lakh = 100,000.
ploughs and animal carts remained stagnant, iron ploughs
nearly doubled between 1961 and 1971, from 2,298,000, to
This use of capital inputs has been often provided
through the state and co-operative sectors and has been
inevitably accompanied by greater dependence on the
world market. A particularly stark example is the case of
fertilizers. While production rose from 39,000 tons in 1951­
52 to 3,490,000 tons in 1979-80, imports also rose from
52,000 tons to 2,300,000 tons in the same period. Imports as
a percentage of total use declined from 57 percent to 40
percent but the value of these imports rose from Rs 5 crore
to Rs 600 crore
; and this does not include the import of
crude oil required for the production of fertilizers. India's
previous food dependence has now substantially ended,
but according to one economist, "instead of importing
food we are importing fertilizers for producing food" (The
Economic Times, March 4, 1980).
Behind this growth in capital inputs has been a sub­
stantial inflow offinancial resources to agriculture. This can
be measured in various ways. Advances from Scheduled
Commercial Banks to agriculture increased from Rs 11
crore (2.3 percent of total lending) in 1950 to RS 67 crore
(2.2 percent of the total) in 1968 to Rs 1,399 crore (l0.4
percent of the total) in June 1977; the most dramatic in­
crease was clearly after the nationalization of banks. Co­
operative societies of all types numbered 214,000 with
35,600,000 members and a total of Rs 1,637 crore of loans
outstanding in 1965-66; by 1976-77 the number of societies
had decreased to 150,000 but there were 66,400,000 mem­
bers and Rs 7,102 crore of loans outstanding. IS Interna­
tional funds, especially from the World Bank, going to
agriculture substantially increased during the 1970s
the Reserve Bank estimated that institutional finance of all
kinds, direct and indirect, to agriculture more than doubled
between 1973 and 1978, from Rs 2,621.8 crore in 1973 to Rs
5,722.3 crore in 1978.
Some effort to quantify the flow of resources going
into agriculture, especially between 1961 and 1971, has
been made recently by Ashok Mody. He estimates a net
inflow of about Rs 829 crore into farm households between
1962 and 1971 measured in terms of changes in financial
assets and liabilities. He also estimates the average annual
net flow of funds on government account into agriculture
(public expenditure minus tax burden) as ranging from
about Rs 48 crore a year to Rs 182 crore a year between
1951-52 and 1968-69. This latter figure does not include
subsidies to the agricultural sector in the form of low water,
electricity and interest rates or in the form of subsidies for
food purchases, all of which have become increasingly
important in recent years. Finally, terms of trade, which
were more or less constant until the mid-sixties, turned
steadily in favor of the agricultural sector between the
13. Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE), Basic Statistics
Relating to the Indian Economy, Vol. I: All India (Oct. 1979), Sec. 10.
14. Ibid., Table 10.4.
15. Ibid., Sec. 16.
16. Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen, "World Bank Investment on the
Poor," Social Scientist 91-92 (Feb.-Mar. 1980).
17. CMIE, Basic Statistics, Table 10:11.
Table 2
Annual Rates of Increase in Agricultural Production
1951-52 1964-65
to to Whole
1964--75 1978-79 Period
Foodgrains: ~
Area 1.5 0.5 1.0
Productivity 1.5 1.9 1.7
Production 3.1 2.7 2.9
Per capita production 1.0 0.7 0.8
Area 2.5 0.7 1.5
Productivity 1.0 0.9 0.9
Production 3.5 2.5 2.8
Per capita production 1.2 0.1 0.7
All commodities:
Area 1.7 0.6 1.1
Productivity 1.4 1.4 1.5
Production 3.2 2.0 2.9
Per capita production 1.1 0.5 0.7
Source: Basic Statistics, Tables 11.4-11.6.
mid-sixties and mid-seventies; though there has again been
a reversal in recent years the net result has still been to
increase the resource flow into agriculture. 18
Clearly there have been substantial inflows of re­
sources, largely as a result of state policy, into agriculture
though the effects of this on the economy as a whole are still
much debated, and just as clearly this has resulted in some
growth of a capital investment. The results of all of this can
be measured in three ways: in terms of growth of produc­
tion, mass welfare, and the changing nature of the rural
First, there has been a genuine, if halting, growth in
agricultural production. Since independence the growth in
production of all crops has been 2.9 percent a year or 0.7
percent per capita per year (Table 2). The overall rates of
food imports have steadily declined. The growth rate in the
earlier period, up to 1964-65, was higher than in the later
period, but this early growth was primarily due to expan­
sion of cultivated area. Productivity growth rates were
more or less constant with some improvement in food­
grains in the later period; there is no marked difference in
productivity seen from the time of the "Green Revolution"
because in fact state-sponsored efforts at technological
growth preceded this period. In the early 1970s it seemed
the growth rates were slowing and tending towards stagna­
tion per capita; this was part of a world-wide agricultural
crisis accompanied by widespread drought, famines and
starvation deaths. The later 1970s appear to have reverse
18. Mody, "Resource Flows."
this process and led to renewed growth and even export
surpluses. But it is too soon to define a long-term trend; it
has to be noted that even some fairly recent studies (e.g.,
by the Asian Development Bank have predicted increased
dependence on imports for India in the 1980s. Still, it seems
fairly clear after thirty years that in spite of some reversals
neither "semi-feudalism" nor imperialism is successfully
holding back the "growth of the forces of production" in
agriculture. Though Indian agriculture is still miserably
backward, though progress is slower than it could be under
a rational socialist agriculture (it may be noted that China
has achieved an estimated 5.3 percent growth rate in almost
the same period on an even more crowded land area, cf.
Economic Times, June 26, 1981), there has been a halting
but clear capitalist agricultural development. 19
This development, however, is not leading to any in­
creased overall welfare of the rural (or urban) masses.
(Indeed the idea that capitalist development by itself leads
to improved welfare, or that immiseration, pauperization,
growing landlessness, etc., are themselves signs of "semi­
feudalism" or the lack of capitalist development betrays
some strange illusions about the nature of capitalism.)
India's agricultural development is development that is
accompanied by continuing insecurity in which bad
weather leads to famines and by increasing dangers of
widespread plant disease and salination, water logging,
etc., resulting from major irrigation projects. Most of all, in
the context of the imperialist system, it is development
accompanied by growing exports of food from under­
nourished third world countries to the imperialist centers
and to the Arab countries, and by dependence on imperial­
ist countries for imports of food during bad years and of
agricultural inputs on a continuing basis; and it is develop­
ment based on the stagnant and in some respects even
declining living standards of the rural poor.
Estimates of per capita availability of foodgrains,
pulses and other foods and of the general level of calories
and protein consumed show a small rise in the availability
of cereals between 1951-55 and 1971-76; but even then
there is stagnancy in cereals between 1961-65 and 1971-76,

and there is a general decline in almost every other food
source over the whole period and in overall estimated
calories and protein between 1961-65 and 1971-76 (Table
3). The general rise in agricultural productivity since 1975­
76 does not appear to have led to any real change in this
trend; in fact the drought year of 1979-80 caused another
drastic fall in per capita availabilities.
It seems that most
19. Indian agriculture is still miserably backward. Nevertheless, an over·
all 2 . 9 percent growth rate is significant, though not sufficient. Hayami and
Rutton argue that growth rates of 1 percent a year were the best achieved
in pre-industrial societies and that only following industrialization were
growth rates of 1.5 to 2.5 percent possible. Yujiro Hayami and Vernon
Rutton, Agricultural Development: An International Perspective (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins, 1971), p. 27. In this perspective the annual growth rates
achieved since the 1950s by some countries (including some third world
countries) on the basis of world-wide technological developments appear
as a real gain, and India's 2.9 percent is also not bad. Hayami's own recent
visit (1981) sees India's agricultural development as respectable. The
point is that leftists should not simply dismiss this as capitalist propaganda,
but rather give an analysis of the type of exploitative system coming into
20. CMIE, Basic Statistics, Table 1.3.
Table 3
Per Capita Availability of Food Protein and Energy
(grams per day)
1951-55 1961-65 1971-76
Cereals 354.08 400.42 400.92
Pulses 64.66 60.68 45.40
Milk 131.29 129.90 115.65
Fish 5.67 6.00 8.75
Meat (a) 3.60 3.40
Meat (b) 6.80 6.30
Hen eggs .50 .30
Reference protein
(expressed in egg
protein as standard) 29.26 27.57
(kcal per day) 1744.57 1682.80
Meat (a) = from slaughtered animals and poultry.
Meat (b) = from both slaughtered and indigenous animals and poultry.
Source: S.D. Sawant, "Indian Agriculture: The Protein Crisis," The
Economic Times (14 Feb. 1981).
of the increasing gains in production are being directed
towards export, including not only traditional exports like
tea or coffee but also the best of India's rice, fruit, veget­
ables, onions, meat and fish products. As far as the other
major items of rural expenditure goes, the most thorough
estimate of per capita availability of cloth (including
natural and synthetic fibers) shows a rise of 31 percent
between 1952 and 1964, from about 11 to 16 meters a year,
and then stagnation through 1978.
There is further, every reason to think that the rural
poor are getting a decreasing share of this stagnant avail­
able product. There are widening inequalities in rural
assets, between classes and between regions, which will be
discussed partly below (Table 7). The NSS estimate of the
percentage of households below the poverty line increased
in rural areas from 38.11 percent in 1960-61 to 45.12 per­
cent in 1973-74 and close to 48 percent in 1977-78.
ricultural labor remains the main source of income of the
rural poor, and almost all studies show that both real wage
rates and the days of work available have been declining.
While there is a somewhat growing reliance on other
sources of income, from low-paid labor in the unorganized
sector (organized sector employment continues to show
declining rates of growth), from various forms of very
petty-commodity production (ranging from lace-making to
selling grass in the market), or from ownership of tiny plots
of land or a cow or milch buffalo, there is no evidence to
21. CMIE, Standard of Living of the Indian People (Bombay: May 1979),
Table 2.1.
22. A. N. Agrawal, Indian Agriculture: Problems. Progress and Prospects
(Ghaziabad: Vikas, 1980), Table 5.2; The Economic Times, (19 April 1981).
show that this is increasing sufficiently to compensate for
the decline in income from agricultural labor. The Rural
Labour Enquiry itself estimated that the total real earnings
of rural workers (defined as those who get the majority of
their income from rural wage labor and who were 31 per­
cent of the population in 1974-75) decreased by 10-18
percent over the period from 1964-65 to 1974-75 (The
Economic Times, March 9,1981). In short, we are forced to
conclude that in spite of some gains in the years ofIndepen­
dence-increased medical care which has resulted in a
lengthening of life expectancy, and some improved access
to other amenities such as water, education, electricity and
transport-the living standard of India's rural poor outside
of a few pockets has actually declined in key respects. This
absolute immiseration of a growing proletariat even while
capitalist development is preceding on its crisis-ridden path
is a sad confirmation of the most dire Marxist views of
A third result of the capitalist growth of productive
forces in agriculture has ,been a significant change in the
nature of the rural elite. On one hand the inequality of
access to the new inputs is stark: while aggregate capital
expenditure on farm business rose by 65.7 percent between
1961-62 and 1971-72, the proportion of rural households
making any capital expenditure declined from 52.2 percent
to 37.9 percent. But inequality is not the main point here.
What is is the relation ofthe changing forces ofproduction to
class. Rastyannikov
points out that in the middle 1960s,
the distinguishing characteristic ofcommodity production in
India's agriculture prior to the "green revolution" was the
markedly uneven erosion of natural-type relations in both
spheres of the reproduction process; the reproduction of
labour power was freed from the fetters ofthe natural econ­
omy to a far greater extent than the reproduction of the
means ofproduction . . . The industrial sector, both large­
scale industry and small-scale industry, played an insignifi­
cant role in the productive consumption ofagriculture.
That is to say, the reproduction of labor power had become
dependent on the market (on wage labor or selling crops to
buy necessities) but the reproduction of the means of pro­
duction was not: modem inputs were minimal, land was the
most decisive factor, and most other means of production
were provided by traditional craftsmen and household pro­
duction. This situation has now substantially altered. The
large increments in credit going to agriculture, in fertiliz­
ers, improved seeds, pumpsets, tractors, etc., and the im­
portance of irrigation in determining the value of land itself
means that now the means of production for the rich farm­
ers who control most of the land are being significantly and
increasingly provided through the market and by modern
industry and the state. Another indication is that over half
of the debt owed by richer farmers comes from modern
external sources such as co-operatives and banks in con­
trast to traditional moneylenders and other agricultur­
alists.24 This also reflects the transition of the dominant
class in agriculture from being primarily landlords to being
23. Rastyannikov, pp. 115-16.
24. See Mody, "Resource Flows," and note 31. This is likely an under­
Table 4
Tenancy Variation over Time
Percentage of Holdings
Reporting Land
Area Leased-in
as Percentage
of Total Land
1950-51 NA 35.7
1953-54 39.85 20.34
1961-62 23.52 10.70
1971-72 17.61 9.25
Source: P. C. Joshi, Land Reforms and Agrarian Change in India and Pald­
stan, Reprints from Studies in Asian Development, No.1 (n.d.); All India
Debt and Investment Survey (AlDIS), Statistical Tables Relating to Dispo­
sition of Land Held and Area and Value of Irrigated Land Owned by Rural
Households as on June 30, 1971 (Bombay: Reserve Bank of India, 1978).
primarily capitalist farmers.
In conclusion, there seems to be no basis on which we
can argue that India's agriculture is not dominantly capital­
ist: over half the rural population depend on wages for their
survival; all cultivators, including middle and poor peas­
ants, are forced to sell to some extent in the market and
their production is governed by the laws of the market; and
the means of production in agriculture are now significantly
produced industrially, acquired through the market, and
monopolized by those who depend on the exploitation of
labor power.
Changing Relations ofProduction:
Decline of Tenancy
In documenting these changes more precisely at the
level of relations of production, the most striking, simple
but important fact is the decline in tenancy. According to
NSS data, area leased-in declined from 35.7 percent of the
total in 1950-51 to 9.25 percent in 1971-72 the main drop
took place before 1961-62, that is during the years of the
Zamindari Abolition and Tenancy Acts (Table 4).
Further, there is evidence that tenancy is increasingly
a kind of capitalist tenancy, in which land is given not by big
landlords to small sharecroppers but by all kinds of land­
owners (including even very small owners who cannot work
their own land for a variety of reasons) to middle peasants
and rich farmers who have the means of production to farm
it profitably. From the point of view of capitalist farmers,
this "reverse tenancy" is also a way of increasing land
concentration in a period where there are some (even if
usually unimplemented) limitations on ownership. Our
estimates from AlDIS data show that the 50 percent poor­
est households held only about 40 percent oftenanted land,
while the richest of 15 percent households held about 24
percent of tenanted land in 1971 (Table 5). There is also
significant variation by states.
How accurate is such data? Must we postulate a lot of
"hidden tenancy" resulting from the fact that landlords are
actually continuing to sharecrop their land but only shifting
tenants around and showing them as wage-laborers in­
Himachal Pradesh
West Bengal
Uttar Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh
Jammu and Kashmir
Tamil Nadu
Tenancy Variation by States
Percentage of
Land Leased-in
stead? The fact is, there is little other evidence to show any
significant amount of hidden tenancy; even micro-studies
which have gone looking for it have found little of it. 25 And
where there is hidden tenancy, as my own study of western
Maharashtra villages indicates, it is as likely to be that of
land leased-in by rich farmers as by poor peasants, and is
part of the general tendency of the rich to hide the extent of
their land control. Perhaps most significant of all, though a
form of indirect evidence, is the fact that all of those who
postulate "semi-feudalism" in agriculture no longer do so
on the basis of tenancy of any kind, but have shifted their
arguments to postulating the prevalence of "bonded labor"
and other forms of labor relations that indicate the laborer
is "like a serf' and the landowner is "like a landlord" or
that "new forms" of landlordism have corne into existence.
The inescapable fact is that landlord-tenant relations are
now. a minor element in the relations of agricultural pro­
ductton, and tenanted land covers only a small proportion
of the cultivated area.
25. Joan Mencher, Agriculture and Social Structure in Tamilnadu (New
Delhi: Allied, 1978) and N. S. Jodha, "Complex of Concealed Tenancy,"
EPW (31Jan. 1981).
Approximate Percentage of Leased-in Land
Percentage of
Households Leasing
Held by
Lowest Top 15
50 Percent Percent
Households Households
60-63 11-12
55-58 12-14
45-48 17-18
46 13-14
65-68 9-10
50-55 13-14
48-53 17-18
60-65 8-9
45-47 11-12
30-35 16-18
40-41 18-20
35-40 20-22
35-40 35-37
25-30 33-34
27-28 30-32
40 24
Land Concentration and Capitalist Farmers
Assuming that tenancy covers roughly 9-10 percent of
the total how do we characterize the ownership of
.the relattons of production prevailing upon) the re­
mammg 90 percent? There are two issues here. One is that
many political activists and theorists argue that big farmers
who do not manually on their own land and rely for
labor mostly on mdebted, low caste permanent hired labor­
ers are in essence "landlords"; the laborers are character­
ized as "bonded laborers" and the agrarian relations are
as The varying types of labor
relattons on bIg farmers' land will be discussed later. Our
opinion is that as long as production is based on hired labor,
even v:here are elements of compulsion, the land­
owner IS extractmg surplus value. The general conditions in
India are such that even the most repressed laborers submit
!o their "bondage" for largely economic reasons; general­
Ized commodity production, including the sale of labor
power, is the prevalent fact. And, whether or not the
landowner himself works manually on the land is irrelevant
to determining his status as a capitalist; in fact capitalists in
general do not work manually though very small capitalists
do so to a considerable extent.
What percentage of land is controlled mainly by peas­
ants working their own land (i.e. by middle and poor peas­
ants) and what percentage by rich farmers (i.e. predomin­
antly capitalist farmers) who mainly farm this land through
hired labor? Answering this question is in part equivalent
to answering the question of how much land concentration
there is. (Of course the value of land varies immensely
depending on its quality and whether it is irrigated, and the
amount of land required to make a family a capitalist
farmer one-i.e. where hired labor significantly surpasses
family labor-varies immensely from region to region; but
here we are taking an all-India average and taking amount
of land owned as an index, not the essence of class status.)
The amount of land concentration, however, is not a
simple issue because of data bias. There are basically only
two types of evidence available at the macro-level. The first
is that of the Agricultural Census, which is based on ag­
gregating data from village land records. The other is that
of the Agricultural Census, which is based on aggregating
data from village land records. The other is that of the
National Sample Surveys (NSS), the All-India Debt and
Investment Surveys (ALDIS), the Rural Labour Enquiries
(RLE) and other sample surveys which depend on teams of
research assistants asking questions of villagers. A little
thinking about these sources by anyone familiar with
Indian reality will be enough to cut the ground from under
almost any conclusion.
In addition, it should be remem­
bered that the most important of such data was gathered in
1971-after the Naxalbari revolt and other outbreaks,
after the big left-led "land grab" movement of 1970, at a
time when talk of imposing more rigorous land ceilings was
in the air (and land ceilings were lowered in most states in
1971-72)-in short when the rich farmers were well aware
of some kind of threat to their property and ready to cover
up any record of the extent of their holdings in written form
and from anyone who might be thought to be an official
observer. Yet data from such sources is cited without ex­
ception in all studies and in all journalistic references to
rural inequality, and is usually taken at face value.
result of this uncritical use of biased sources, is an under­
estimation of the power and wealth of the rich, an over­
estimation of the number and position of middle peasants,
and an underestimation of proletarianization-something
that has important consequences for political strategy. We
shall also use the data, but we will try to estimate and
compensate for its biases.
First, the Agricultural Census. Table 5 shows the dis­
tribution of "operational holdings"; this shows that the top
15 percent of holdings controlled about 60 percent of the
26. In fact it may also be necessary to argue why it is possible to use such
statistical data. In fact, there is good reason to think the Indian data are as
relatively valid as data anywhere (compared to the U.S. census, for
instance). Biases to some extent can be compensated for, and there is
some independent confirmation provided by the general comparability
between, for instance, the NSS/AIDIS (All India Debt and Investment
Survey) and the RLE (Rural Labour Enquiry) data on landless laborers. It
is likely that the data on the lower class majority is more valid than that on
the rich farmers, simply because they have less to hide and less capability
of doing so.
27. For arecent example see Dilip Swamy, "Land and Credit Reforms in
India," Social Scientist 95-96 (June-July 1980), p. 4.
Table 6
Size Distribution of Operational Holdings, 1970-71
Holdings Area
Number Per- Hectares Per­
(Millions) centage (Millions) centage
Up to
1. 0 hectares 35.69 50.6 14.56 9.0
1.0 to 2.0 13.43 19.1 19.28 11.9
2.0 to 4.0 10.69 15.2 30.00 18.5
4.0 to 10. 7.93 11.2 48.23 29.7
10.0 and above 2.77 3.9 50.06 30.9
Total 70.49 100.0 162.12 100.0
Source: CMIE, Basic Statistics, Table 10.1.
area and the top 4 percent had 31 percent. By itself, this
already seems an impressive degree of inequality. But it is
clearly an underestimate. Aside from the often notorious
inaccuracy of any village statistics, one simple fact indicates
this: "operational holdings" for the Census is defined as
land operated as a technical unit whether owned or rented,
by one person:
The concept of holding used in the Census was one of indi­
vidual as against a family holding. If more than one indi­
vidual ofthe same family held land in their individual names
(and were shown in the records as such), their holdings were
considered to constitute as many separate holdings. 28
But leaving aside any real benami transactions, the true
unit of land operation is the family, often a joint family,
whose head manages the cultivation of land that is very
often put in the names of many member.s of the family.
Rich farmers in particular have almost always already "dis­
tributed" their land under the names of sons, brothers and
even distant relatives but continue to operate it as a unit;
the Census definition allows them to do so perfectly legally.
In addition, the data on "operational holdings" from the
land records does not include landless families, land held in
two or more talukas, or unrecorded and illegal leasings,
land-grabbing, etc.
How can we use such figures? According to the NSS/
ALDIS there were 78 million rural families in 1971, of
whom 57 million operated land. Thus the top 15 percent of
holdings (10.7 million) by themselves would represent
about 14 percent of rural families, but there are in addition
about 13 million "extra" operational holdings representing
an unknown portion of total land, If we assume that one­
half to all of these holdings belonged to the richer farmers
(the over 4 hectare group) and that they represented about
2 hectares of land each we can estimate that this section,
representing about 14 percent of actual families with land
28. Maharashtra State, Report on Agricultural Census. 1970-71 (Bombay:
Government of Maharashtra, 1976), p. 16.
Table 7
Distribution of Land Operated
Size Class Percentage of Households Percentage of Area Operated
1953-54 1971-72 1953-54 1971-72
None 10.96 27.41
0.01-0.99 31.12 14.93 1.20 1.69
1.00-4.99 29.15 34.38 14.40 22.47
5.00-9.99 14.59 12.94 19.56 22.61
10.0-24.99 9.96 8.10 29.22 30.40
25 and above 4.22 2.24 26.62 22.83
Total number
(000s) 61,780 78,370 335,711 310,439
Source: NSS Surveys, cited in Indradeep Sinha, The Clumging Agrarian Scene (Delhi: Peoples' Publishing House, 1980).
of 10-12 acres or more, controlled about 70-80 percent of
the total land in India. This is a very rough estimate, but it is
clearly closer to reality than the figure of 60 percent.
Second, the NSS/AIDIS. Table 7 gives data from the
NSS 8th round (1953-54) and 27th round (1971-72, the one
conducted with the AlDIS) on distribution of operated
land. But note that the basis is a sample survey and while
researchers might be able to find and interview a valid
sample of rural families (hence the reason for taking as
roughly accurate the number of families given in this data),
there is no reason at all to assure that their respondents tell
the truth. In fact, our own experience
is that rich farmers
lie; (so for that matter do many poor peasants, but their
amount of cover-up and their incentive and ability to cover
up is much less). They "underestimate" their land holdings
even in comparison to existing village records, they under­
estimate their crop productivity often by laughable
amounts, they do not mention land they own in other
villages, and they do not mention government-owned
"waste land" that they might be illegally cultivating or land
taken on lease or mortgage (often from the rural poor) which
is not recorded. ­
An estimate of the extent of this bias can be easily
made: the NSS derives from its surveyed land holdings a
figure of 310 million acres total for operated land in India,
but the Agricultural Census for the same year a n ~ this can
be said to be roughly accurate about the total amount of
cultivated land which the village accountants are somehow
bound to account for) shows 390 million. In other words,
there are 80 million missing acres, one-fifth ofthe total land
area, to represent the land about which the farmers "for­
got" to tell the surveyors. Very approximately again, if we
assume that three-fourths to all of this land is in fact oper­
ated by the top 10 percent of families, we can conclude that
the top 10 percent controls actually 57-62 percent of total
29. Gail Omvedt, "Effects of Agricultural Development on the Status of
Women," Paper presented for n.O Tripartite Regional Seminar on
Women and Development, Mahabaleshwar, April 1981.
land, and that the top 15 percent controls about 75 percent.
(The NSS figures show a significant decline in the propor­
tion of land held by the top category, 25 acres and over,
betweeen 1953-54 and 1971-72. This is often taken as
indicating that as a result of land reforms "middle" farmers
gained something at the expense of very big farmers. How­
ever, this decline is also likely to be spurious; we simply
cannot tell from the data since it is the biggest farmers who
have the most interest in cover-up and the most capacity to
do so.)
Concentration of marketed produce is higher since
rich farmers market at least twice as much of their total
produce as the poorer families; this at least was true in
And concentration of total assets, taking into
account the value of land, as well as buildings, animals,
farm machinery, as well as non-agricultural assets is even
higher. From the NSS/AIDIS figures three economists
have derived information on distributions of assets by
decile groups (Table 8). This is also an underestimate, it
has to be remembered, since non-landed assets can be
hidden even more easily in land (the farmers "forget" to
mention their house or sheds in the fields or the businesses
or houses they share in nearby towns or cities, their profits
from trade, etc.)3l and possibly 80 percent might be closer
than 60 percent in representing the actual control of the top
10 percent of families. This is indeed a quite frightening
degree of inequality, and the significance of the qualitative
gap between the top 10-15 percent of rural families and the
rest should also be noted: for it indicates not only inequal­
30. Rastyannikov, p. 120.
31. Another estimate ofthe underestimating in the AlDIS figures is given
by Ashoka Mody, ibid., pp. 434-36, who compares reported shares and
deposits in primary credit societies from the AlDIS with actual holdings.
While there was only a minor underestimation in 1961-62, by 1971 AlDIS
showed RS 13.3 crore in deposits and Rs 121.5 crore in shares while the
actual deposits were Rs 69.5 crore and the actual shares Rs 188.81 crore.
Similarly in 1971 the AlDIS estimated Rs 724 crore in cooperative direct
finance to agriculture while the actual figure was Rs 1,419 crore. See
Mody, Tables 9 and 12.
Table 8
Distribution of Rural Assets by DecDe Groups
Decile Share in total Assets
1961-62 1971-72
0-10 0.26 0.21
10-20 0.68 0.56
20-30 1.18 1.01
30-40 1.80 1.58
40-50 2.76 2.34
50-60 3.88 3.47
60-70 5.79 5.51
70-80 9.11 8.28
80-90 15.83 15.24
90-100 58.71 61.79
Source: R..G. Pathak, K. R. Ganapathyand Y. U. K. Sarma, "Shifts in
Pattern of Asset-Holding of Rural Households 1961-& to 1971­
72," EPW (19 Mar. 1977), p. 5fJ7.
ity, but membership in an essentially different class,
property-holding as compared to near-propertylessness.
The nature of rural assets also suggests another fact
about the nature of the rich farmers: their property and
power is not simply in agriculture. After the coming of
independence, rich peasants, landlords and the emerging
capitalist farmers began to invest on a wider scale, rather
than simply consuming surpluses. The establishment of
tiny transport companies, tea shops, small flour mills, oil
mills, brick kilns were all part of this process. Some moved
more into trade in direct competition with previous mer­
chant classes/castes. With the establishment of c0­
operative sugar factories the new kulaks fought the domi­
nation of urban industrialists and merchants, and in the
process transformed some of their wealth into accumula­
tion in India's second biggest industry. The spread of rural
education with the establishment of numerous societies
running schools and colleges has also been largely their
work. A rural capitalist farmer family today normally has a
well-educated younger generation, and systematically
seeks to diversify economic activities, placing some sons in
service (making them doctors or lawyers if possible), set­
ting others up with small shops or tiny businesses, and
leaving only one or two to run the land and the tractor. By
1971-72, according to the AlDIS (which may be under­
estimating this as much as anything), about 6 percent of all
capital expenditure and 12 percent of gross capital forma­
tion of rural households was in non-farm business. This is
Thorner's "steel-grey revolution," the connection of in­
dustry (small-scale) and agriculture.
In class terms, the situation is somewhat complex, for
the rural elite (the top 10-15 percent of families) contains
an intermixture of small business, merchant, landlord and
white collar employee interests along with those of capital­
ist farmers. Some are becoming small-scale businessmen
and engaging in trade, while in a converse fashion many
families from traditional merchant castes are now hiring
laborers rather than renting out land and engaging in en­
trepreneurial farming along with their trading activity.
Some big farmers continue to give out a portion of their
lands on share, while there are also (we can estimate from
the AIDIS data) another 1-2 percent of rural families who
are not among the top in terms of operated land, but who
own enough in terms of assets and leased-out land to class­
ify them with the rural elite. These are the rural families
who are primarily merchants or landlords (it should be
remembered the majority of merchants and many of the
landlords still live in towns). But while there is an overlap
of personnel and thus of concrete individual material in­
terests, this is not necessarily true of class interests as such.
Small businessmen and capitalist farmers may not have any
interests in conflict, but there is clearly a conflict between
the industrial bourgeoisie and the farmers over the issue of
food and manufactured goods prices and over claims over
bank credit and government concessions. Similarly mer­
chant capital has a complex and conflicting relation with the
farmers. In the case of landlords, in some areas where
semi-feudal relations are still very important, the conflict
between landlords and rich tenants/kulaks may have some
of its old sharpness; but in the more capitalist areas this
conflict is no longer important, the remaining landlords
have made a tactical adjustment with the rising kulaks and
very frequently the relation is simply that of sharing the
surplus extracted from agricultural laborers. The concrete
form of these class conflicts is also heavily affected by their
historical emergence, including the caste character of their
As far as the majority of the rich farmer class itself is
concerned, it is no longer appropriate to describe the rural
elite as "landlords" who appropriate surpluses from the
toiling peasantry. Some of the income of the top families
comes from urban employment, rent, trade, or money­
lending; and the ultimate sources of such income in tum are
partly outside the agrarian sector, partly other sections of
the rich farmer class (and this involves in tum sharing
surpluses extracted from laborers), partly middle peasants,
and partly the rural poor. Again this varies by families, and
more systematic studies are necessary. Still it seems clear
that the primary aspect of their relationship with the rural
poor is as exploiters of labor power, the labor of the ag­
riculturallaborers who work on the 70-80 percent of land
they control, and the labor of the various other types of
rural workers employed in small businesses, mills, road
contracting, construction. It is for this reason that we call
them basically a class of capitalist farmers.
In analyzing this class it should also be remembered
that there is considerable inequality within it-as there is
within every capitalist class. The Agricultural Census
shows the top 4 percent of holdings operating 31 percent of
the area; the NSS/AIDIS shows the top 2.2 percent of
households operating 23 percent, while assets concentra­
tion figures show that in 1971-72 the top 5 percent of all
households had 47.21 percent of total assets and the top 1
percent had 22.96 percent. 32 Ifwe try to compensate for the
32. See tables 5 and 6, and R.G. Pathak, K.R. Ganapathy and Y. U.K.
Sanna, "Shifts in Pattern of Asset-Holding of Rural Households 1961~ 2
to 1971-72," EPW(19 Mar. 1977).
Closing down a nalionaJ highwaynearKasegaon inAugllSt 1980toproteSlprice
rise. (GaiIOmvedt)
underestimations in all these studies it might be accurate
to say that the top 5 percent of households hold close to 50
percent of total area and more oftotal assets-though such
estimates are very difficult to make. But the degree of
inequality, even up to the very top fractions of a percent­
age, is clear, with the .probably merg­
ing into the urban and mdustrtal bourgeOIsIe.
As noted, a smaU percentage of the top landholders
can be characterized as primarily merchants or landlords;
the latter in tum might be classes as either "feudal" or
"capitalist"landlords depending on how much they invest
and how much exploitation ofhired labor is involved on the
leased land. But this class distinction cannot be assumed to
coincide with the distinction between size of landholdings
and other assets; there are everywhere both small and big
landlords as weU as small and big agrarian capitalists. In
other words, it can no longer be assumed that a "big"
landowner is a "landlord" while a slightly smaU landowner
is a "rich peasant. " . . .
Finally, given the general condItIons of Indian pov­
erty, the smaller capitalist farmers do not have, by world
standards, a very high level of living-which is one
it is possible for upper-middle class urban and foreIgn
observers to see them as "peasants." Some family mem­
bers do normaUy work on the land, and though this is
mostly supervisory work, such work itsel! is
strenuous. FinaUy, given the often VIolently ftuctuatmg
price and market conditions of any capitalist
and the vagaries ofweather on top of the normally msecure
life of all small capitalists anywhere in the world, their own
life is likely to be insecure and unstable. This, along with
their social traditions that may include a history of past
participation in peasant and nationalist agitations as well as
a combination of caste pride and a sense of being "working
cultivators" arising out of specific caste statuses, may well
lead to a readiness to participate in such militant agitations
as the recent "farmers' movements" for higher prices.
They also have their contradictions with merchants and
industrialists, and an ability to appeal to and identify with a
wider range of poorer and middle peasants. But all these
factors do not change their relationship to the means of
production which makes them part of one of the most
important exploiting classes in India. This "rich
section is an important sector to be taken into account m an
analysis of India's rural capitalists but there is no reason to
conclude there is an essential class difference between
small and big capitalist farmers.
Middle Peasants
Perhaps 20-30 percent of the land, then, is under
cultivation of the remaining 85 percent of rural families.
But these families are also stratified into asset-holding and
land-holding families. More important, just as there is a
qualitative gap, a class difference, between the capitalist
farmers (and other exploiters) and the rest of the rural
families so there is also a qualitative gap among the "rest, "
a class difference between those who are essentiaUy middle
peasants and those who are essentially a landless or land­
poor rural semi-proletariat. For some among these 85 per­
cent of rural families possess enough land or other assets so
that they can survive as petty-commodity producers, work­
ing mainly with family labor on their own land (or working
as artisans or as petty traders) and some do not, so that they
are forced to sell their labor-power on a regular basis.
This is an important distinction, for even though there
may be a gradual transition in the sense that some families
may seem to be midway between the two classes, or may be
in the process of mobility (the same thing is true of the
distinction between middle peasants and rich farmers), it
still indicates an important class difference and correspond­
ing differences in consciousness. Middle peasants are very
small property holders who aspire to increase their prop­
erty (the AlDIS survey showed 37.9 percent of aU rural
families making some kind of capital investment on the
land, that is, including approximately both capitalist farm­
ers and middle peasants); if they are exploited it is via the
terms of trade sometimes by rents when they are tenants,
and most often by middlemen (who are often themselves
rich farmers) and moneylenders. This is not true of the rest
of the rural poor, who make no investment in their prop­
erty, market very little of their product, cannot realistically
aspire to any prosperity and are exploited primarily or
partly through the sale of their labor power.
We can estimate the size of the middle peasants if we
assume that, on an all-India basis and on the average, two
and a half acres indicate a cut-off point. Above this families
can manage to survive on their own land; below this fam­
ilies cannot and have to rely on their sale of labor power,
either in rural areas or by migrating to urban areas. This is a
highly complex matter, because first the variation from
state to strate and between regions within states is high (in
states like Kerala the cut-off point would be closer to one
acre, in others nearer to five or more acres) and second
because the survival of a rural family on "household" in­
come also depends on such things as ownership of milch
cattle and buffalo and other forms of petty commodity
production. Similarly some forms of putting out of house­
hold production which can be said to be essentiaUy forms of
exploitation of labor-power also playa role in the income of
these rural families.
Nevertheless, 2.5 acres seems to be a reasonable cut­
off point. According to the Agricultural Census (Table 5),
there were 35,680,000 operational holdings under one hec­
tare in 1971 representing 9 percent of the total cultivated
area. The question is, how many rural families (including
those with no land) do these holdings represent? We have
to assume that in at least a few cases they represent hold­
ings actually operated by relatives or richer farmers. If we
assume that two or three million holdings should be thus
"subtracted" we are left with about 33 million families with
operated land of under one hectare, or about 40 percent of
all rural families. This plus the 25 percent of rural poor
families who operate no land (see below for this estimate)
gives us 65 percent of rural families who have no land or
land below one hectare. These are the rural semi-prole­
tariat who depend on some form of wage labor for their
survival. And the remaining 25-25 percent of rural fam­
ilies, operating between 10-20 percent of the total land
area, can be said to be primarily a middle peasant petty­
bourgeoisie, including a few families deriving a fairly stable
income from artisanship or petty trade.
Nature of Rural Proletarianization
The 65 percent of rural families who together operate
9 percent or less of the total land in India and own even a
lower percentage of total assets are essentially a prole­
tarianized, or proletarianizing, section which requires
some other form ofincome to survive through the year. It is
they who provide the labor on the land controlled by the
rich farmers, and on the roads and construction projects
and in the brick kilns, mills, small factories and other
businesses controlled by the rural and urban capitalists and
the state.
This rural semi-proletariat itself is a fairly stratified
section, as indeed the assets Table suggests. To really anal­
yze its class character, we need to get away from the simple
and misleading classification of the rural poor into "poor
peasants" and "landless laborers." First, we need to distin­
guish landless rural families from those who are agricul­
turallaborers (since not all agricultural laborer families are
landless, and not all of the landless work on the fields).
Second, we need to distinguish the number or percentage
of agricultural laborers from agricultural laborer families,
since members of primarily poor peasant or even artisan
families may also do labor on a regular basis. (The Census
of India gives its data by number of laborers; but we shall
mainly use figures which show number of families or house­
holds on the assumption that, given the ongoingsubordina­
tion of women in the family and the continuing significance
of the patriarchal Hindu joint family, class structure is mainly
organized in terms of families.) Third, we rieed to distin­
guish agricultural laborer from other (rural or urban) la­
borer families, since some rural families, both landless and
landed, depend primarily for their survival on non-agricul­
tural rural labor or on urban labor income. Finally, we can
distinguish laborer families, defined as those who get the
majority of their income from agricultural or other wage
labor, from poor peasant families, who get most of their
income from land but also require some income from wage
This will give some sense of the class fractions of the
rural poor, but to analyze their position fully we also have
to briefly look at the conditions of labor, the variations in
labor relations (e.g., the extent of "bondedness"), the role
of tiny landholdings, and the increasing significance of
migration. Finally, of course, the role of caste and the
position of women will have to be considered.
In terms of landlessness, the NSS/AIDIS data are
fairly clear-and somewhat unexpected. For landlessness
in the sense of owned land has declined from 22.0 percent of
all families in 1953-54 to 9.6 percent in 1971-72, which in
part reflects tenancy acts and land ceiling laws and various
other government measures giving cultivable waste land,
forest land, village grazing land to the "landless." But one
cannot conclude from this that proletarianization is not
increasing. For at the same time the percentage of rural
families not cultivating land has risen equally decisively
from 11.0 to 27.4 percent. In other words, at least 18
percent of poor families who own some land are unable to
cultivate it, either because it is too barren or because they
cannot afford the inputs. (The figure would in fact be
higher because some families who do not own land acquire
some for cultivation through sharecropping.) They tum it
over to relatives or to rich farmers or middle peasants who
can cultivate it, and either migrate for labor or sometimes
even continue to work in the same village. (One example of
the latter category is a small percentage of widowed or
abandoned women, often old, who cannot cultivate their
tiny bits of land and so lease it to others, but themselves
continue to work as agricultural laborers. )
This 27 percent really gives us a more accurate figure
for "landlessness." According to the same AlDIS survey,
in 1971-72 14.6 percent were landless agricultural laborers,
2.4 percent were landless artisans, and 10.6 percent were
"others." These "other non-cultivators" are described as
"a heterogeneous group consisting of absentee landlords,
traders, moneylenders, shopkeepers, skilled workers like
tractor drivers, mechanics, truck-drivers, electricians,
workers employed in processing factories and marketing
yards, government servants, etc,"33 but only a small pro­
portion of them (1.28 percent of total rural households)
had enough assets including land to fall above the line
demarcating middle peasants from the rural poor. (That is,
they had over Rs 10,000 worth of assets and land of an
average of 5.32 acres each.) These 1.28 percent were the
absentee landlords, merchants, skilled workers, elec­
tricians, etc., and the remaining 9.3 percent of rural house­
holds were, according to AlDIS data, landless non-agricul­
turallaborer households working at very petty and under­
paid manual labor. Thus, assuming that the statistics are
roughly accurate and the more substantial "landless' non­
cultivators are no more than 1.5 to 2.0 percent, we can
estimate about 25 percent of rural households as the land­
less rural poor. Aside from the landless artisans, that is very
poor petty commodity producers, these are the most fully
proletarianized section in the countryside. Most of them
work as agricultural laborers, but a significantly large per­
centage (37 percent of the landless) work on other kinds of
low-paid rural or urban labor.
But these are not all of the agricultural laborer or other
33. All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS),Assets ofRural House­
holds as on June 30, 1971 (Bo1l1bay: Reserve Bank ofIndia, 1976), p. 8.
laborer households in the countryside. There are also
landed artisans, landed agricultural laborers, and landed
other laborers. They are laborers in the sense that the
majority of the income of the household is from wage labor
(this is the definition of the RLE), but they have tiny plots
of land, sufficient to meet a bit of consumption needs for
part of the year or to provide a bit of extra income through
sale of some crops. (And we would, to repeat, distinguish
these households from the poor peasant households who
have significantly more land but still must do some wage
labor on a permanent basis.)
How many are these? According to the Rural Labour
Enquiry,34 there were 25.5 percent agricultural labor fam­
ilies and 5.0 percent other rural labor families in 1974-75.
(Unlike the AlDIS, the RLE data do not include among
"rural laborers" .those families who are artisans or who
work in urban areas. This is problematic because the dis­
tinction between rural and urban non-agricultural labor is
often quite tenuous, and somewhat meaningless in eco­
nomic terms since many small, unorganized and highly
exploitative factories are likely to be located in towns draw­
ing their workers from the countryside.) Of these agricul­
tural and other rural labor families, about half were "land­
less" (not operating land) according to the RLE while the
rest had small holdings, three-fourths of them less than 1.5
acres. The RLE figures for landless agricultural laborers
(12.8 percent of rural households) are roughly comparable
to the AlDIS figures (14.6 percent) and this comparability
generally holds also when looked at state by state (see
Table 9). It is significant that the RLE estimates the total
number of laborer households to be about twice the num­
ber of landless laborer households. Ifwe extend this kind of
estimate to artisans and "other" laborers, we can derive a
figure of about 45 percent of rural households being semi­
proletarian households in the sense of getting the majority
of their income from wage labor, while another 5 percent
are poor artisans, and about 15 percent are poor peasants.
This estimate, again, is a very approximate one, and the line
between poor peasant and landed laborer households is
very hard to draw even in principle; but it seems to be a
fairly accurate picture of the Indian countryside today.
Regional VariatiODS
Before taking up further issues about the nature of
labor relations, it is important to look at regional varia­
tions. Given the very uneven nature of capitalist develop­
ment in India, superimposed upon the uneven impact of
colonialism on an already highly varied and imniense sub­
continent, it is not surprising that there should be tremen­
dous variation in agrarian relations and the development of
production. (In a sense it may be equally surprising that
there is not more variations, given all these factors.) Some
idea of the variation can be had from Table 4 on tenancy
and Table 9, which gives data on agricultural laborer and
other rural laborer households from both the 1974-75 RLE
and 1971-72 AlDIS survctys. (It can be noted that both
surveys define "landlessness" in terms of not cultivating
land, and that the RLE definition of "rural laborer" is not
34. Rural Labour Enquiry (RLE) 1974-75, Table 2.1.
equivalent to the AlDIS definition of the "other non­
cultivator. ")
On the basis of these Tables the states can be approxi­
mately divided into five groups. The clearest contrast is
between the first group, the northeastern and mountainous
region, which is characterized by relatively high tenancy,
more of tenanted land held by poorer households, and
relatively fewer landless and laborer households, and the
last group of southern and western states which have low
tenancy, less of tenanted land held by poor households,
and more laborer and landless households. (Kerala is only
an apparent exception in terms oflandlessness, because the
tiny plots of homestead land given to agricultural laborers
are counted as "operated land" on the assumption that
laborers maintain garden plots; this assumption is con­
tested by some scholars like Mencher, 1980.)
The three middle groups, however, represent a mix­
ture. West Bengal and Bihar appear to have both high
tenancy and a high degree of proletarianization as measured
in landlessness and laborer households, while Haryana and
Punjab have very high tenancy and a relatively low propor­
tion of agricultural laborers (in spite of being in the fore­
front of capitalist agriculture in other respects) though they
have a very high proportion of landlessness. Similarly, UP
and Jammu and Kashmir have low tenancy (but most of it
going to poorer households) along with relatively fewer
laborer and landless households.
It is tempting to say that the northeast shows a greater
prevalence of semi-feudal relations of production while the
southern-western group is more thoroughly capitalist. But
then we would have to characterize West Bengal and Bihar
as a mixture of two forms of exploitation, while Punjab and
Haryana also seemingly contain some mixed forms though
most of their tenancy is clearly capitalist tenancy with land
going to middle peasants and rich farmers. The middle
group of states would appear to have a greater prevalence
of small or middle peasants within frequently backward
forms of production and a likely prevalence of a good deal
of trading-moneylending exploitation. In any case there
are clearly many factors at work, and a limited amount of
overall data. While there may not be much hidden tenancy,
the actual degree of mobility and freedom of agricultural
laborers is not indicated in these figures, and there is almost
no study at all referring to the important specific element of
Indian feudal relations, the degree to which caste-defined
duties remain in force (gawk; /cam, veth begar, jajman;, etc.).
Thus all categorizations must remain tentative, and in any
case they indicate only the variation of local relations of
production and forms of extraction of surplus under the
dominance of a generally capitalist mode of production.
The figures for Punjab, agriculturally the most produc­
tive and wealthy state, are however very interesting. Its
high tenancy, as noted, is mainly capitalist tenancy. Fur­
ther, Punjab has the highest proportion of rural landless­
ness in India: only 43 percent of all rural families actually
cultivate land. From the AlDIS (n.d. Section 15) we can
see that of the 57 percent non-cultivating households, over
90 percent owned land which they leased out, but the
majority of these were poor families with only tiny plots.
Only about 15 percent of the non-cultivators (or about 8.6
percent of all households) had assets equivalent to middle
peasant status on an all-India scale or above; about 70
Table 9 Agricultural Laborers and Landlessness
Part 1: RLE Figures (1974-75) (Percentages)
Agricultural Laborer Households
With Without Labor
Land Land Total Households
Assam 7.3 5.9 13.1 22.1
Manipur .7 .7 1.3 2.0
Orisa 13.3 7.9 21.2 25.7
Himachal Pradesh 1.4 .4 1.8
West Bengal· 20.1 23.8 44.0 55.1
Bihar 19.3 13.9 33.3 36.1
Uttar Pradesh 9.0 6.8 15.8 19.1
Madhya Pradesh 11.5 10.3 21.8 24.0
Rajasthan 1.8 2.1 4.0 6.4
Jammu-Kashmir 1.1 .6 1.7 4.8
Haryana 1.5 7.6 9.1 16.2
Punjab 1.8 19.1 20.9 25.6
Karnataka 14.4 16.4 30.8 35.8
Tamil Nadu 13.8 24.3 38.1 44.3
Gujarat 7.7 14.6 22.3 29.6
Maharashtra 15.0 16.9 32.0 36.7
Maharashtra 15.0 16.9 32.0 36.7
Andhra 14.0 21.8 35.8 39.4
Kerala 23.8 3.6 27.4 42.1
INDIA 12.4 12.8 25.3 30.3
Part ll: AlDIS Figures (1971-72)-Landless Households
Laborers Artisans Others Total
Assam 6.2 0.8 11.2 18.4
Orissa 12.1 1.7 9.0 22.8
West Bengal 17.4 1.0 14.9 34.2
Bihar 13.4 1.0 5.2 19.6
Uttar Pradesh 8.1 3.6 14.1 25.8
Madhya Pradesh 10.3 1.4 6.3 18.0
Rajasthan 3.3 1.5 8.4 13.2
Jammu-Kashmir 0.7 0.5 4.9 6.1
Haryana 14.7 4.0 20.7 40.0
Punjab 25.8 5.1 26.2 57.1
Karnataka 19.3 2.9 9.1 31.3
Tamil Nadu 26.6 3.8 14.2 44.6
Gujarat 18.3 3.6 14.1 36.0
Maharashtra 19.8 2.9 8.7 31.4
Andhra 23.1 3.3 12.0 38.4
Kerala 3.8 0.6 5.1 10.3
INDIA 14.6 2.4 10.6 27.6
• The West Bengal figures from the RLE for agricultural laborer and rural laborer households appear to contain an error, being based on an improbably
low number of total rural households (p. 22).
Source: Rural Labour Enquiry (RLE), (1974-75), Table 2.1; AlDIS, Assets a/Rural Households, Table 1.2.
percent of these had their assets mainly in land. Thus we
can estimate that about 6 percent of all Pun jab rural house­
holds were non-cultivating landlord households, though
not necessarily big landlords. The other non-cultivating
households-51 percent of all rural households-were
mainly proletarian landless households, living on agri­
cult'urallabor, other labor, or artisan work. The unique
feature of Punjab in comparison to other states with
more capitalist labor relations is that there is only a tiny
percentage of agricultural laborer households who also
operate small plots of land. Another unique feature is that
Punjab's agricultural laborers are almost all dalits (see
Table 10) and, more recently, migrants; local caste Hindu
landless apparently prefer to work at almost any kind of
job, rather than as field laborers. Punjab thus has the
highest percentage of rural households in the category of
"other non-cultivators" and is (along with Haryana) prac­
tically the only area where the category "scheduled caste
landless agricultural laborer" really makes sense.
Specificity of Labor Relations
In analyzing the type of proletarianization that is
occurring in India one of the most important features to
take into account is the wide extent of tiny landholdings of
laborer families. It is not accidental, nor simply due to the
fact that proletarianization is "incomplete" or that these
are still mainly "peasants." Rather, the fact that half or
more of rural wage workers have small plots of land is a
fairly permanent feature of the rural scene that must be
analyzed in terms of the nature of the imperialist economy
today and the fact that the Indian economy is indissolubly
linked to it and conditioned by its laws. The fact is that the
compulsions of imperialism to compete at a high level of
organic composition of capital in the world market force
Indian industry (whether multinational or national) to
grow in such a way that the organized sector can employ
only a small proportion of the total labor force. It is now a
general feature throughout the third world that while a
fairly sophisticated and competitive manufacturing sector
can grow, employment in it does not keep pace with a
growing labor force; the result is a systematic creation of a
dual labor market. In India the rest of the manufacturing
sector (the so-called "informal" or "unorganized" sector)
pays such miserably low wages that it is to
maintain a family with only one or two working members.
The result is that while in some cases the total family need is
met at very minimal levels by all (women, children) doing
petty labor, in many cases the family only because
in addition to the wage income there IS a bit of help from a
piece of land, a milch cow or buffalo, the sale of grass or
firewood gathered from forests, or other services. The fact
that a large section of proletarians are "landed pro­
letarians" or "semi-proletarians" means simply that there
is a cushion which helps to dampen their desperation and­
just as important-cheapen their labor power. The ability
of the unorganized sector to continue operating at such low
wage levels depends to a large degree on the existence of
this section of rural households with tiny plots of land.
Another major issue is the element of compulsion in
the relations of production. As noted above, the continuing
existence of "bonded labor" is a major reason for claiming
that these relations in fact continue to be "semi-feudal." In
this context the most-often cited figure is that of the Gandhi
Peace Foundation which has claimed five million "bonded
laborers" in India; but generally permanent agricultural la­
borers (those serving on a monthly or yearly basis for one
landowner) and contract laborers are often simply de­
scribed as "bonded. "
What is the real situation? First, it is crucial to under­
stand that there are important regional variations in the
actual position of agricultural laborers. In some areas there
is a larger percentage of permanent laborers, in others most
laborers work on a casual, daily basis. In some areas a large
percentage of the daily or permanent wage is paid in kind,
in others it is almost all in cash; this also varies from crop to
crop. The position of the "permanent" laborers themselves
varied tremendously, from being almost hereditary family
servants, or bound by debt from generation to generation
or for a number of years to that of being relatively free
"contractual," laborers who are even in a more privileged
position compared to the daily laborers becaue they have
security of employment. A "permanent" laborer who
changes employers every few months, even if he is obliged
to make some arrangements to repay the debt he has in­
curred with an earlier employer, cannot realistically be
called bonded. But the fact is that this situation varies; and
there is no harm in saying that where there are larger
numbers of permanent, indebted laborers working for
longer periods of time for a single landowner, where com­
pulsion clearly exists and where elements of traditional
caste power also enter (that is where the laborers is a dalit
or adivasi), that the relationship is a "more feudal" one.
Similarly the element of compulsion is very high in many
forms of contract labor, especially where the contractor has
clear and extra-legal links with the police, government
officials, local landowners. This again has crucial regional
patterning, and it is not hard to identify the large central­
India belt with its agricultural backwardness and relatively
high adivasi population (especially the Jharkhand region:
south Bihar, western Orissa, eastern Madhya Pradesh) as
the "bonded labor belt" in India.
But (aside from the theoretical importance of the fact
that economic compulsions lie behind almost all these
forms of bondedness) several important facts need to be
noted here. The first is that the number of "semi-feudal
bonded laborers" in the above sense is a relatively small
one in the all-India context. Not all of permanent agricul­
turallaborers or contract laborers can be called "bonded"
in any sense. The highest figure given for the number of
such laborers in India (the five million of the Gandhi Peace
Foundation) is still a small proportion of total rural laborer
families. According to the Rural Labour Enquiry (1974­
75: Table 6.1) 60 percent of all agricultural laborer families
were indebted, and of these only 10 percent were indebted
to their employers. Since debt-bondage is defined in terms
of the worker who takes a loan and then has to slave for the
landowner for years on end to pay it off, this means that at
the very most 6 percent of agricultural laborer families are
"bonded" (and again we would not agree that all who take
loans from their employer are really bonded); even if the
survey can be said to underestimate because laborers are
afraid to admit their position, this is a minor proportion.
Second, it is crucial to take account of the trend, of the
Table 10
Agricultural Laborers, Caste and Landlessness: Percentage of Households
(Figures in brackets show percentage of landless households)
Scheduled Scheduled
Caste Tribe Other Total
Assam 4.65 1.25 7.17 13.06
(1.76) (0.66) (4.36) (5.79)
Manipur 1.32
Orissa 5.86 5.55 9.77 21.18
(2.86) (1.72) (3.44) (7.92)
Himachal Pradesh 1.42 .36 1.78
(0.35) (.10) (.36)
West Bengal 17.98 5.32 20.66 43.96
(10.42) (2.81) (10.63) (23.86)
Bihar 14.01 1.74 16.54 32.29
(6.84) (.32) (6.76) (13.92)
Uttar Pradesh 9.72 .24 5.85 15.81
(5.28) (.17) (1.38) (6.83)
Madhya Pradesh 5.99 7.39 8.39 21.77
(3.11) (3.41) (3.76) (10.28)
Rajasthan 2.37 .66 .99 3.96
(1.31) (.27) (.54) (2.12)
Jammu and Kashmir .46 .22 1.68
Haryana 7.22 1.89 9.11
(5.98) (1.60) (7.58)
Punjab 18.14 2.74 20.88
(16.87) (2.25) (19.12)
Kamataka 8.67 .46 21.24 30.78
(4.79) (.13) (11.48) (16.40)
Tamil Nadu 16.17 .47 21.11 38.05
(11.35) (.33) (13.59) (24.27)
Gujarat 4.91 6.79 10.60 22.30
(3.41) (4.54) (6.65) (14.60)
Maharashtra 7.38* 5.56 19.13 31.97
(3.89) (3.67) (9.67) (16.93)
Andhra 12.73 1.58 21.47 35.78
(8.26) (1.12) (12.40) (21.78)
Kerala 7.45 .89 19.06 27.40
(1.26) (.26) (2.13) (3.65)
INDIA 9.84 2.51 12.93 25.28
(5.41) (1.25) (6.18) (12.84)
* The Maharashtra figure for Scheduled Castes is an underestimate by nearly half since Mahar converts to Buddhism are not counted.
Source: Calculated from RLE, Table 2.3(b).
element of change. From the Gandhi Peace Foundation
figures themselves and from all other evidence it seems
clear that the old form ofhereditary ,generation-to-genera­
tion bondedness has become an extremely minor element,
that even permanent indebted laborers are now working
only for some years, that a high turnover is going on. The
fact is that the permanent laborers, "bonded" or not, can
organize themselves like other agricultural laborers; they
do in fact organize in many areas and where they do so they
enter a process of constituting themselves as a more free
(proletarianized) wage labor force. Reports from many
areas indicate that to the extent we can identify a variation
from permanent/indebted/caste-bound laborers to free
daily wage workers, the trend is towards the latter. For
instance in Sangli district of western Maharashtra where
some years ago daily laborers took loans during the rainy
season on the basis of agreeing to work at cheaper rates
during the harvest season for those rich farmers (still a
common practice in many areas) they now refuse to do so:
they take loans, but pay interest and refuse to sell their
labor cheaply. Similarly, in Khammam district ofAndhra it
is now reported that laborers almost all work on a daily
basis and simply refuse to work as permanent laborers.
There are similar reports of dalits and other low castes
refusing to do their traditional caste duties (veth begar)
where these still go on. In all these cases it is often said that
"the laborers are becoming aggressive"; the fact is that the
process of proletarianization is going on, not only "from
above" as rich farmers or landlords become agricultural
entrepreneurs but also "from below" as the rural poor and
dO\votrodden assert their rights as human beings and
Finally, it can be argued that while compulsion in labor
relations is a problem, the focus on "bonded labor" as such
has come as much from the government (that is, the bour­
geoisie) as from the left, and it can play a crucial role in
distracting the attention of progressive forces from more
general problems of all the rural proletariat such as wage
levels, price rise, unemployment and landlessness (lack of
control over the means of production). At a minimum,
rather than seeking to "free bonded labor" from their
employment, the beginnings of a solution can be found
only when they begin to organize where they are exploited
at the point of production and in their home area against
the poverty and social conditions (caste traditions, etc.)
that often force them into bondage.
Migration and mobility must also be considered as
increasingly important features of the rural scene, not sim­
ply rural-to-urban, but also rural-to-rural. Here again there
are important regional variations. Rudra
has argued that
in Bengal most laborers in fact are immobile, work only in
their own villages and often only for the same few land­
owners year after year-and gives this as a major reason
for saying the relations are not capitalistic. But in contrast,
in such areas as western Maharashtra, one can find cases of
whole villages whose laborers daily go to nearby villages to
More significantly, the phenomenon of migration
35. Ashok Rudra, "The Self-Contained Village Society," Frontier (3,10
& 17 Jan. 1978).
36. Omvedt, "Caste, Class and Politics. "
on a seasonal basis from backward rural areas to more
developed ones seems to be on the increase. Again in
Maharashtra, there are some 1,500,000 migrants from poor
peasant and laborer families in dry districts who work from
six to eight months a year cutting and hauling sugar cane in
the irrigated belts. Besides these there are more regular
migrants working as agricultural laborers, for instance
those from Sholapur district and northern Karnataka, who
have now become regular workers in the fields of western
Maharashtra. The most stark example of such migratory
connections may be Punjab-Bihar, or more generally
northwest India-central-east India: it is now estimated by
some that one million workets come every year to labor on
the wheat and rice harvests (they also fill in jobs such as
permanent laborers or in small industries such as brick­
kilns). These include some adivasis from the Jharkband
region whose bonded condition has become notorious, but
the majority are caste Hindu poor peasants from eastern
UP and northern Bihar. This migration has served to re­
verse the gains in wage rates that local laborers were mak­
ing from the "green revolution," labor shortage and their
own organizing and has introduced new tension between
the migrants and the locals; on the other side it is now said
to be "universal knowledge" in some eastern UP districts
that people can make a thousand rupees in the Punjab. 37
There are many, many examples of such type of migration
which is becoming increasingly predominant not only in
India but throughout the third world and indicates the way
in which the processes of imperialism are increasing pro­
ducing "integrated" (but uneven and exploitative) capital­
ist development.
Rural Classes: Some Tentative Conclusions
Given the uncertainty and often unreliable data, iden­
tification of rural classes on an all-India scale is necessarily
a tentative procedure. Nevertheless, in terms of their rela­
tions to the means of production, we can identify two main
exploited classes and an intermediary section/class.
• A toiling peasant class, including both relatively self­
sufficient middle peasants and poor peasants who also have
to do some wage labor. Poor peasants can be included in
this class because their primary relationship to the means of
production is as small producers working their own land,
and this conditions their way of life and aspirations. 38 But it
must not be forgotten that the fact they do wage labor for a
significant period of time gives them important interests in
common with the rural semi-proletariat. We can very
roughly estimate this class as 35 percent of the total rural
popUlation, including 20 percent middle peasants and 15
percent poor peasants.
• Rural petty producers and service-workers. This is a
hard-to-define category including artisans (about 50 per­
cent), plus a wide variety of other rural toilers who survive
37. The original version of this paper had included "poor peasants" with
the rural semi-proletariat. On reconsideration it seems more accurate to
classify them as part of the "toiling peasant" class, if we are to define class
in terms of relationship to means of production and define the proletariat
as mainly sellers of labor-power. For a full discussion of the issues of
defining rural classes, see Gail Omvedt, "Agrarian Economy and Rural
Classes," Frontier (18 Oct. & 8, 15, 22 & 27 Nov. 1980).
38. Ibid.
primarily through such forms of labor as small household
industry, bidi-making, selling offorest produce (from grass
to fodder and other things), and petty trade. The latter are
mostly landless and are classified along with actual wage
laborers under the category of "other landless households"
in the AlDIS statistics. They are classified as "self­
employed" or "own account" workers in the RLE survey.
But, though they are not strictly speaking wage labor, their
work is sometimes in fact a form of piece-work putting-out
labor, and is almost always governed by the laws of capital­
ist production. Thus in fact they are practically a semi­
proletariat. We can estimate about 10 percent of such
laborers, making 15 percent total rural households in this
-A rural semi-proletariat, including 25-30 percent ag­
riculturallaborer households (whose main income is from
agricultural labor) and 5-10 percent other rural wage labor­
ers, who get their main income from various forms of other
direct wage labor, ranging from work in or for sugar fac­
tories, road and construction work to work gained by
migration to urban or more developed rural areas, in small
or large factories, brick-kilns, and urban construction proj­
ects (such as Asiad!). I call these a "semi-proletariat" since
about half of their families do cultivate small plots of land,
but the land does not make much difference to their way of
life. This class totals about 35% of all rural households.
We can sum up the main characteristics of the exploited
rural toilers as follows:
(1) This is a highly stratified group, both between and
within those classified as primarily "toiling peasants" and
those classified as primarily a "semi-proletariat." That is,
there is a high inequality in terms of income and life-stan­
dard running from those with some significant parcels of
land at the top (or those with access to well-paying working
class jobs) down to those who are totally landless and
nearly without work. This inequality has a regional/lin­
guistic dimension (e.g. Punjab/Bihar/Jharkhand) and a so­
cial dimension that functions primarily in terms of caste.
These regional/linguistic/national/caste divisions have in
recent years become a severe barrier to the unity of the
rural toilers.
(2) In spite of stratification, poverty is the main over­
all characteristic, even for the better off. Their overall
consumption level is incredibly low. At best, the poor
peasants and laborers as a whole, representing 65 percent
of the rural population, control only 9 percent of the total
land and much less of total assets and represents an insigni­
ficant section of the rural market (and it is also important
that Indian capitalism is in the process of finding ways to go
ahead without developing a market based on the rural
majority). Their 40 percent poorest, the semi-proletariat,
have at best only 1.58 percent of total rural assets (see
Table 8).
(3) In spite of some elements of bondage, some areas
of immobility, and some remaining aspects ofcaste-defined
feudal servitude, this is by and large and increasingly a
mobile, migrant and free rural section. Not only the semi­
proletariat and poor peasants, but even members of many
middle peasant families are ready to go anywhere in search
of work, through education and training if this is available,
as casual and unskilled laborers if it is not.
(4) Nearly all members of the family, certainly wo­
men and in most cases children also, have to work to
maintain even the current miserable standard of living. For
women from both laborer and toiling peasant families, this
means double work in its most exploitative form, with work
as hired laborers in the fields or as low-paid home workers
producing some kind of goods for the market
added to
their drudgery of cooking, cleaning, child-care, and fetch­
ing water and fuel. The Hindu patriarchal family continues
to be strong. Male authority is everywhere, often in brutal
forms, even when women are also earning members, and
the fact that women remain at the bottom is starkly shown
in the Indian sex ratio, where the proportion of females to
males continues to be among the lowest in the world.
(5) Not a rural-urban dichotomy, but a rural-urban
and agricultural-industrial continuum must be stressed.
Not only is migration increasingly important, but a large
section of the rural semi-proletariat is dependent on non­
agricultural wage labor, both in towns and the countryside.
Rural laborers, petty commodity producers and poor peas­
ants buy on the market significantly more than whatever
crops they may manage to sell and thus are in general
adversely affected by rising commodity prices. This is a
characteristic they share with the urban working majority
and which distinguishes them from the rich farmers who are
demanding higher agricultural prices in the name of a
"peasant" majority. Even for middle peasants the gains
from higher crop prices are offset when the costs of their
inputs and consumption goods continues to rise.
(6) It is a striking fact that now India's rural poor
toiling majority is no longer primarily a "peasant" class but
an increasingly proletarian one. Even if we classify poor
peasants (who also do wage labor) with the "toiling peas­
ant" class, it can still be seen that the strictly defined rural
wage-earning semi-proletariat is at least as large a class and
perhaps larger. And, in spite of poverty, ties to the land and
remnants of feudal servitude, this is now a class with in­
creasingly wide labor experiences (including some experi­
ence of labor organizing) which has some limited access to
modem amenities (from education to the cinema) which
help to increase its knowledge of the world and change its
consciousness. It is a class whose main immediate concern
is not land or the price of crops, but rather the price of labor
power and the consumption goods it has to buy. It differs
from the factory proletariat in that it labors under ex­
tremely backward conditions of production where workers
are subjected to more personalized compulsions and re­
pression, but this is true also of a significant section of
urban workers. It is true that large numbers of this rural
semi-proletariat hold property, that it is stratified in terms
of standard of living, and that it is divided by linguistic,
caste, sex and other social differences. But such things are
true of the urban working class as well and similar factors
can be found in every country in the world. In this sense the
differences between urban and rural working classes seem
more those of quantity rather than quality.
While in some regions (especially backward areas and
forest regions) fights for land continue to be crucial, in the
39. Maria Mies, "Dynamics of Sexual Division of Labour and Capital
Accumulation: Women Lace Workers of Narsapur," EPW. Special No.
(Oct. 1981).
large majority of areas the rural poor are organizing them­
selves on the same kinds of demands as the urban poor,
!hough spo:c'dically-for higher wages, for
Jobs, agamst pnce nse, against caste and sexual
(7) Finally, the revolutionary process in India will be
heavily shaped by this rural class structure-given that
a high percentage of the population were still
livmg m VIllages. The specific features of India's "new
revolution" still have to be fully analyzed, but
some things seem clear. One is that the "main enemy" can
no longer be defined as simply a landlord, or landlord­
merchant class, but must include capitalist farmers (who
are often called "rich peasants" by the traditional left
parties) as a whole. These not only exploit labor power and
control the majority of land; they also control rural power
structures, ranging from gram panchayats and zilha
parisha:Js and district councils) to cooperatives,
educatIon SOCIetIes, sugar factories, credit societies and
banks. Not only do they (capitalist farmers) exploit the
rural proletariat, they also exploit and oppress the toiling
peasantry through their control of such institutions and
they are often the direct intermediaries in the purchase of
crops and provision of inputs.
Because the rural semi-proletariat is now the domin­
section among the rural poor does not mean that wage
Issues must be considered primary, let alone the main
:'revolutionary" issue. Wages are simply often the most
Important immediate organizing issue. For a revolutionary
rural movement, some other things are as or more im­
portant. One is overcoming internal divisions among
the rural semi-proletariat and among rural toilers as a
whole requires taking up the issues of dalits, adivasis.
women, and oppressed nationality groups, which means
the proletariat taking the lead in such broad and often
social movements. Similarly, the question
of what IS often referred to as "class alliances" is still a
central one. In many areas the struggle for land is still
this becomes a mass movement normally in the
heaVIly tnbal, forest areas. And everywhere the question
of uniting with the "middle peasant" is a live one. Middle
poor peasants very often tail after the capitalist farmers
m such movements as the "farmers movement" for higher
crop fact they are more troubled by
problems of pnce-nses (of consumption goods and agricul­
tural inputsj), by the corruption and gangsterism that are
of the operation of all rural power structures,
and by theIr oppression by the intermediaries (whether
merchants or sugar factories) who buy their produce. The
rural semi-proletariat can take up such issues to split them
off from the rural rich and build a broad movement, and in
some parts of India such local movements can be seen­
whether it may be a sugar factory workers' union leading
peasants of their area against the corrupt management of
the factory, or an "anti-price rise movement" fought in the
form of direct seizure and distribution of goods to the rural
Finally, while it can still be said that in some sense
agrarian revolution and "land to the tiller (or tillers)" is
. can longer be seen simply as
redIstnbution of land. FIrst, while poor peasant and
laborer committees may take over land, in many areas the
may be appropriate for collective and coopera­
tIve forms rather than redistribution. And control of land is
no sufficient: control of inputs, tractors, irrigation
facIlItIes, and all the rural power institutions from "c0­
operative" credit societies to banks, and schools is equally
Thus "collective control of the means of produc­
tIon becomes almost as important for rural as for urban
Caste and Rural Classes
No analysis of class in rural India can be complete
taking caste int? account; for not only did Indian
feudalism have the specific feature of being structured and
through caste, but caste-though in a somewhat
different form -remainsequally viable and virulent today.
colonial rule, as noted above, though the seeds
of capItalist development were laid and the feudal form of
was given a decisive blow, still by and large a correla­
tIon between class and caste continued to exist, with high
castes (usually the so-called "twice-born") continuing to be
lords of the land, moneylender-merchants and bureaucrats
and professionals and middle and low castes mainly toilers.
Today, the development of capitalist agriculture in India has
broken down this old correlation between class and caste and
reconstituted a new and more complex relationship between the
two. In destroying the old type of feudal landlordism, the
old .f<;>rm of high-caste domination has also been given a
deCISIve blow, th?ugh caste itself is far from vanishing. A
of the mam rural classes will give some idea of the
Rich Farmers (including capitalist farmers and land­
lords) include both the former high-caste landlords
(Brahman.s, Rajputs, Bhumihars, Nairs, Ve11as, etc.) and a
large sectIon of the shudra-status kisan castes (Marathas
including those who were former low-status Kunbis Jats
Kurmis, Yadavas, Kammas, Reddis, Kapus, etc.)'
landlords who rent out their land tend to be drawn from
mainly the "non-cultivating" high castes (Brahmans,
Kayasthas-Karans, etc.); conversely, the dominant section
among the capitalist farmers are the kisan castes who have
caste .traditions of being cultivating peasants and were
often m fact former tenants and peasant cultivators. In the
more backward and semi-feudal regions, former landlord
castes such as the Rajputs, Bhumihars, Brahmans remain
powerful and contend with kisan-caste kulaks for control of
the countryside. In Bihar this conflict expressed as the
"ad,:anced-backward" caste conflict, is still fiercely raging.
But m the most capitalistically developed areas the kisan­
caste kulaks, who were traditionally of shudra varna and
were often tenants or subordinate peasant cultivators in the
past, are now decisively in control: Marathas in Maha­
rashtra, Patidars in Gujarat, Jats in Punjab, Haryana and
western UP, Okkaligas and Lingayats in Karnataka and so
forth. That is not to say that there are no capitalist farmers
?r landlords of other castes in these areas. There are (even
m western Maharashtra, for example, there are still a fair
!lumber of big landowners), but they are polit­
Ically and SOCIally subordinate and outnumbered by the
dominant caste farmers.
. In this sense, the dominant section among the rural
nch as a whole, and especially in the more capitalistic
states, are those who are shudra or "middle-caste" in terms
of varna status, who still represent themselves as kisan or
shetkari ("peasant") or bahujan samaj ("majority commu­
nity") and whose caste-cultural traditions combine both a
sense of caste-pride and a history of resistance to high-caste
and landlord domination.
Middle peasants are made up predominantly of the
kisan castes. And where such castes (Marathas, Jats, etc.)
are in significant proportion in a state or an area, they
generally make up an overwhelming proportion of both
capitalist farmers and middle peasants. The difference
from the capitalist farmers is that the middle peasant class
contains almost none or very few of the high castes
(Brahmans, etc.) and a somewhat larger proportion of the
artisan-service castes. A tiny proportion of dalits and
adivasis, probably no more than one or two percent, are
also in this class. This common caste and kinship back­
ground, along with the general propertied nature of the
middle peasants and the aspirations this gives rise to, facili­
tates identification of the middle peasants with the capital­
ist farmers.
The rural semi-proletariat is most divided in caste
terms. Here we have, at least for its lowest section, rela­
tively precise data. The Rurall.abour Enquiry (see Table
10) gives the proportion of agticulturallabor households,
both landed and landless, who are dalits (Scheduled
Castes), adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) and "other." "Other"
is a broad category that includes Muslims, Christians,
Buddhists, and Hindus of artisan and kisan caste back­
ground (generally micro-level village studies and observa­
tion back up the assertion that not only artisans and non­
dalil low castes but also a large section of the kisan castes are
agricultural laborers in many areas). As can be seen from
Table 10, a little over half of agricultural laborers on an
all-India basis are "other," and the proportion is greater in
the southern and western states where proletarianization
and loss of land by ex-peasants has gone the farthest. This is
a clear refutation of the assumption sometimes carelessly
made that agricultural laborers are only or even primarily
dalits and adivasis. Only in Punjab and Haryana does this
seem to be true, and here also the in-migration of large
numbers of UP-Bihar caste Hindu laborers is changing the
situation. Even considering only landless laborers does not
make much difference, for dalits are only a bit more likely
to be landless than the caste Hindu laborers.
Thus, class and caste are no longer absolutely cor­
related: economic differentiation has affected almost every
caste. But this differentiation is itself differentially felt.
That is, the dalits and adivasis, and to a lesser extent the
artisan-service castes and other low castes and probably
also minorities such as Muslims and Christians, remain
primarily proletarianized. Only a small proportion of their
members become middle peasants, almost none are capi­
talist farmers, while somewhat more become socially mo­
bile through urban occupations and service. In contrast,
the middle-level kisan castes are the most differentiated in
class terms, and include all classes from capitalist farmers
(and members in high government service, business and
politics) to middle peasants to landless agricultural labor­
ers. Further, my own study of Maharashtra suggests that
not only are major castes like the Marathas differentiated,
but this differentiation extends to practically every bhauki
or clan among them, so that even the most dominant
•'patil" lineage of a village may contain members who are
agricultural laborers.
(In other areas, however, where
such castes have a status-contempt for doing field labor,
poorer members may refuse to work as field laborers in
their own village and choose instead to move away or
struggle along on reduced levels of consumption.)
Looking at the situation from another angle, while the
capitalist farmers are the most nearly homogeneous in
caste terms-and this is most true of the more capitalist­
ically developed states-the rural proletariat, in contrast,
is most divided. Its members include, and at all levels, from
landless to poor peasants, dalits, adivasis, minorities and
caste Hindus of "middle-high" status, all present in size­
able sections and with regional/national differentiations
often overlapping the caste divisions.
It should be stressed that this caste differentiation
among the rural proletariat is not simply a matter of "s0­
cial" or "superstructural" factors. There are still material
and economic divisions. Where there is bonded labor, it is
mainly among dalits and adivasis, while these sections and
very low-caste artisans are the ones still affected by survi­
vals of jajmani-type veth begar in some areas. It is still true
that the more skilled and privileged laborers are caste
Hindus; these are favored by their caste and kin among the
rich farmers and are more likely to be hired as permanent
laborers where this position provides some security; more
likely to get such jobs as tractor drivers, in mills, and
dairies. There are still some jobs that for pollution reasons
dalit laborers are not hired to do in some areas, such as
sowing. Dalits still live "outside the village," in separate
settlements with separate water supply and worse roads
and other amenities, while caste Hindu laborers live in the
village, next door to and to some extent sharing the social
life and some material benefits of their richer caste and
kin-mates. Finally, there is an important historical differ­
ence: dalit agricultural laborers, in most cases, have won
their current relatively free status along with some access
and rights to land and education as a result of their own
struggles and movements and so experience their position,
however difficult and impoverished it may be, as an ad­
vance over their previous feudal bondage. In contrast, the
caste Hindu agricultural laborers have often experienced
historically a downward mobility, a loss of their former
position as subsistence peasants or artisans, a decline of
their social status. All of these differences provide a histor­
ical and material basis for crucial differences in conscious­
ness and social organization.
The impact of caste on the nature of class conflict in
India appears to be a dual one. On the one hand, a Japan­
ese agricultural expert has given his belief that caste is
reinforcing class in the countryside:
It is my impression that the relation between farmer
employers and agricultural labourers now prevailing in
India is more like an urban market type rather than a patron­
client; type; this somewhat impersonal market-like relation
in Indian village is reinforced by caste prejudice. Class
conflict is that much more sharp and explosive ... [It]
appeared to me much more tense and sharply felt than in
40. Omvedt, "Effects of Agricultural Development. "
Southeast Asia. 41
emerge as an independent revolutionary force. Its weak­
. It is that added to fearsome poverty and exploita­
tIOn, the bItterness of ongoing caste oppression gives a
potentially explosive character to the Indian countryside. It
IS also true that the specific historical-cultural traditions of
dalits, adivasis and low-caste non-Brahman laborers are a
potentially powerful weapon against oppression that can
also help to unite all the toiling masses if the fight against
caste oppression and its culture of repression is made an
integral part of class struggle. Similarly it must be noted
that the massive work participation of women is also a
crucial strength that can be drawn on most effectively by
developing a genuine toiling women's liberation move­
ment. But this .requires a conscious and sustained effort by
advanced sectIons to make the fight for liberation from
caste and women's liberation a central part of the organiz­
ing of the rural toiling people.
And there is the other side of the situation: the existing
class/caste complex also provides a fertile ground for the
capitalist farmers to use caste ism to appeal to their kin
among the middle peasants and laborers, to divide the rural
semi-proletariat, and to attack its dalit and adivasi sections
(and their women) who are often the most militant. While
"atrocities against Harijans" are occurring throughout In­
dia, it is precisely in the more capitalistically developed
areas, where the general class-caste structure described
above is most fully present, that they are taking the most
widespread forms with even poor and middle peasant caste
Hindus sometimes participating in attacks on dalits on a
mass basis: in northwestern India (in the campaigns center­
ing around Kanjhawala), Marathwada, and Gujarat.
. present (mid-1981) it seems that it is mainly the
capItalIst farmers who are on the offensive, whether in
leading agitations for higher prices for their products or in
organizing repression of the rural poor, while the revolu­
tionary potential of the rural proletariat is still to be or­
is a situation that leads many left and progres­
SIve lOdIVIduals to feel that agricultural laborers and poor
peasants really constitute a revolutionary force,
that are inherently weak, that they are incapable of
formlOg a center around which middle peasants and other
oppressed sections can be united, that in order not to be
"isolated" it is necessary to ally with the "rich peasants"
(always meaning in effect the village rulers, and capitalist
farmers) on issues like higher prices. (This tendency is
helped by the fact that the major parliamentary left parties
not only possess a political line that in theory says it is
necessary to maintain an "all-peasant" alliance, but have
their leading activists drawn not simply from middle peas­
ants but from the kulaks themselves-many of whom were
in fact previously tenants of middle peasants fighting
landlords. )
But the seemingly repressed and divided state of the
rural semi-proletariat today is after all only a phase in a
period intense. and complex class struggle. Though
thIS class has ItS roots 10 the dalits and agricultural laborers
who battled for freedom from feudal bondage, wages and
land in the colonial period, it has after all only begun to
41. Yu jiro Hayami, "Agrarian Problems ofIndia: An East and Southeast
Asian Perspective," EPW (18 April 1981), p. 710.
ness is in part only apparent, for there are vast numbers of
diverse and unreported or underreported clashes going on
among both agricultural laborers and other rural laborers
as well as poor and middle peasants. The organization of
sugar-cane cutters in Maharashtra in 1980-81 as well as an
upsurge of spontaneous rural laborers' strikes in Ahmed­
nagar and other districts (as well as locally organized ones
especially in Dhule) are part of this upsurge, as is the
decades-long struggle of dalit and low-caste laborers in
Bhojpur under leadership. Confusing the ability
to understand thIS upsurge of the rural toiling masses is the
fact that because class exploitation is compounded with
caste and national oppression, struggles frequently take
place under forms difficult to identify as simple "class
struggle"-for instance under the Iharkhand Mukti
Morcha in Bihar or the Dalit Panthers in Maharashtra. It is
noteworthy that there was a bigger mobilization for the
dalits' "long march" in December 1979 with hundreds of
thousands of people taking part in various actions under
various types of leadership all over Maharashtra) than
there was for the "farmers' long march" a year later, even
though the left parties threw all their energy into helping
the latter and only a bit into the former. It is clear that the
rural toiling masses have not yet found their own revolu­
tionary party and that in the political vacuum, especially
where the opposition (including much of the left) tends to
line up with the capitalist farmers, they are giving their
support to the authoritarian Indira Congress. But the pres­
ent lack of leadership, and the consequent prevalence of
divisions and fragmentation is due to factors external to the
class situation. it may also be a phase that will pass
WIth the undoubtedly tumultuous political developments
that appear to be ahead. *
Additional References
Hamza Alavi, "India and the Colonial Mode of Production," EPW Special
No. (Aug. 1975).
, "India: Transition from Feudalism to Colonial Capitalism "
Journal ofContemporary Asia, vol. 10, no. 4. '
All India Debt and Investment Survey (AlDIS), Capital Expenditure and
Capital Formation of Rural Households (Bombay: Reserve Bank of
India, 1978).
AlDIS, Assets and Liabilities of Rural Households as on June 30 1971:
Statistical Tables, Vol. I: All/ndia and States, Vol. II: Regions w;'thin the
States (Bombay: Reserve Bank of India, n.d.).
Jairus Banaji, "India and the Colonial Mode of Production: Comment,"
EPW (6 Dec. 1975).
Pranab Bardhan, "Variations in Extent and Forms of Agricultural Ten·
ancy," EPW(l1 & 18 Sept. 1976).
A. Bhaduri, "An,Analysis of Semi-Feudalism in East Indian Agricul­
ture," Frontier (29 Sept. 1973).
N. K. Chandra, "Proletarianisation in Rural India" Frontier (3 & 10 Nov
1979). ,.
Paresh Chattopadhyay, "On the Question of the Mode of Production in
India Agriculture: A Preliminary Note," EPW (Mar. 1972).
---, "Mode of Production in Indian Agriculture: An Anti-Kritik,"
EPW (Dec. 1972).
Harry Cleaver, "Intemationalisation of Capital and Mode of Production
in Agriculture," EPW (Mar. 1976).
S. N. Mane, "Poverty in India," The Economic Times (10& 11 April 1981).
Joan Mencher, "The Lessons and Non-lessons of Kerala: Agricultural
Labourers and Poverty," EPW Special No. (Oct. 1980).
P. V. Paranjape, "Kulaks and Adivasis: The Formation of Classes in
Maharashtra," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 13, No.1
(Jan.-Mar. 1981).
Utsa Patnaik, "Capitalist Development in Agriculture: Further Com­ Ashok Rudra, A. Majid and B. D. Talib, "Big Farmers of Punjab: Some
ment," EPW (Dec. 1971). Preliminary Findings of Sample Survey," EPW (Sept. 1969).
---, "Capitalist Development in Agriculture: Further Comment," Ranjit Rau, "On the Essence and Manifestation of Capitalism in Indian
EPW (Dec. 1971). Agriculture," EPW (Mar. 1973).
---, "On the Mode of Production in Indian Agriculture: A Reply," ---, "On the Agrarian Question in India," Frontier (7, 14,21, 28 July
EPW (Sept. 1972). & 4 Aug. 1979).
---, "Class Differentiation with the Peasantry: An Approach to Hari Sharma, "Green Revolution in India: Prelude to a Red One?" in
Analysis ofIndian Agriculture," EPW (Sept. 1976). Hari Sharma and Kathleen Gough (eds. ),imperialism andRevolution in
Pradhan Prasad, "Semi-Feudalism: The Basic Constraint of Indian South Asia (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974).
Agriculture," in Arvind Das and V. Nilakant (eds.), Agrarian Re/ations
Ranjit Singh and Gopal Iyer, "Migrant Labourers in Rural Punjab,"
in India (Delhi: Manohar, 1979).
Paper given at Workshop on the Trade Unions and Labouring Poor in
Ashok Rudra, "Big Farmers of Punjab: Second Installment of Results,"
the Third World," (Delhi, March-Apr. 1981).
EPW (Dec. 1969).
---, "In Search of the Capitalist Farmer," EPW (June 1970). H. S. Surjeet, "General Secretary's Report," in All-India Kisan Sabha,
---, "Reply to Patnaik," EPW (6 Nov. 1971). Vamasi, Mar. 3O-Aprill, 1979.
---, "Class Relations in Indian Agriculture," EPW (3, 10 & 17 June
an academic monthly published since 1954, edited by Tullio Bagiotti for thirty years
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BOLTHO A., Italian and Japanese Postwar Growth: Some Similarities and Differences
DORE R. P., The Future of Japan's Meritocracy
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after 1945
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TAIRA K., Wages, Plant Size and Spillover Effect: An Exploration
ZHANG X., The Readjustment of the Chinese Economy and Prospects for Trade
A Short Review
Alamgir. Dacca: Bangladesh Institute ofDevelopment
Studies, n.d.
by Habibul Haque Khondker
At a cursory look, thanks to the ambitious title, the
readers might expect that Alamgir, who has hitherto made
his mark by proliferating microeconomic studies ofBangla­
desh, has come up with his magnum opus, nothing less than a
macro-level study of the economy of Bangladesh based on
his research. In that expectation, the work under review is
bound to disappoint.
Alamgir in his attempt to bridge the gap between
pseudo-scientific economic analysis and Marxist scholar­
ship falls into a trap which is difficult to overcome. In this
regard the author typifies the problem of many third world
social scientists (mainly economists) who sooner or later
get disillusioned with the liberal-Western paradigms in
which they were trained, only to take recourse in pseudo­
Marxist· explanation. While some make the transition to
Marxist analysis successfully others fail. They use Marxism
as a mere language convention whereas their heart lies in
the tradition of liberal-Western social science. What Alam­
gir seems to lack, not unlike many of his fellow-travellers, is
the Weltanschauung. He attempts a Marxist interpretation
of the historical development of the exploitative social
structure of Bangladesh, but at the end contents himself
with advancing a number of piecemeal proposals to change
the situation.
In the first couple of chapters the author substantiates
the claim with convincing statistics that the economic situa­
tion of Bangladesh has deteriorated since the Pakistan
days. Then he puts forth his thesis: the deterioration owes
to an exploitative social structure in Bangladesh, histori­
cally developed, whereby a group of people is forced to live
on the margin of poverty and starvation. They seem to be
trapped in a below-poverty-Ievel equilibrium. Most vulner­
able to famine, this group is forced into a precarious exis­
Why are the Bangladeshi so poor? Alamgir's Marxist
instincts tell him that it is because they are exploited. How
they are exploited-that is, what are the mechanisms of
exploitations-is not dealt with in any satisf!lctory fashion.
Alamgir talks about classes but skirts the question of class­
struggle, even though in the Marxist tradition classes exist
in class-struggle which is manifested either in latent or
overt forms at different junctures in history. Another cru­
cial question is how to understand the relationship between
the state power vis-a-vis the conflicting classes and their
struggles. Who is in charge of the state apparatus, or who
do they represent? Do the holders ofstate power operate at
the behest of a certain dominant class or a combination of
classes? Let alone answering these questions, Alamgir does
not raise them. Therefore his attempt to explain poverty in
Bangladesh as the result of exploitation suffers from a basic
theoretical incoherence. He presents a highly schematic
model of three classes, namely, A, B, and C, which, ac­
cording to him, are "groups" consisting of several classes.
The author not only overlooks the conceptual difference
between such terms as groups and classes, he also fails to
ground his three-class model in a coherent theoretical
framework. He quotes Wallerstein in support of his tbree­
class model. This appeal to Wallerstein confounds the
problem because Wallerstein, at least, in the section from
which Alamgir quotes, was talking about three types of
societies in the capitalist World System which he elsewhere
terms as core, periphery, and semi-periphery. Obviously,
Wallerstein's level of analysis is also quite different from
that of Alamgir.
Alamgir argues that one of the major reasons of famine
and starvation is that the people become too poor to buy
the necessary food stuff. In his opinion the famine of 1974
in Bangladesh was not unexpected but the distressing as­
pect of it was that it was unavoidable. He writes, "A large
section of the population in both urban and rural areas had
been pauperized to such an extent that it was difficult for it
to withstand the pressure of an unusual scarcity and high
price situation"(21). Tracing the historical development of
famine in India Alamgir quotes Bhatia: " ... the nature of
famine in the latter half of the nineteenth century had
changed from a shortage of food supply, as in the past, to
lack of purchasing power with those who suffered starva­
tion" (quoted in Alamgir, 63-64).
Alamgir's main thesis that a group of people live per­
petually below poverty level and in the event of an economic
downturn with or without the association of food shortage
suffer starvation is interesting but by no means novel. For
example, R. H. Tawney writing on China about half a
century ago observed, "There are districts in which the
position of the rural population is that of a man standing
permanently up to the neck in water, so that even a ripple is
sufficient to drown him."1
1. James C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant, New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1976, p. 1.
The main weakness of Alamgir, in my opinion, is that
he presents a conspiratorial image of social dynamics. He
tends to believe that the dominant classes (in his terminol­
ogy, groups) conspire to keep a section of the population
below poverty line. The dominant "groups," Alamgir ar­
gues, "are quite sensitive to any significant fallout beyond
the famine line. In such event they become very apprehen­
sive about possible spontaneous violent reaction from the
affected majority and in order to thwart any such possibility
they respond with measures that tend to maintain some
semblance of class harmony." Alamgir continues, "In both
normal and extreme situations acts of charity by individuals
and groups of people from among those who can afford it
and have the foresight to see the need for it in order to
ensure their own survival are quite common"(3). This seems
to be not only a voluntaristic but also a reductionist in­
terpretation. Unfortunately, such a tendency to reduce the
whole welter of social phenomena to crass economic or
class analysis is not uncommon in certain Marxist sects. Nor
is it rare to deemphasize the structural contexts in favor of
Alamgir's attempt to ground his discussion in a histori­
cal context succeeds in spirit only. First, he fails to differ­
entiate between historical and evolutionary processes-a
failure that characterizes the orthodox Marxists. Thanks to
the influence of Darwin's evolutionary ideas, there has
been a trend in social history to present an evolutionary
image of society in which one stage succeeds the previous
stage. Despite the prevalence of such a notion in the ortho­
dox-Marxism we would argue that such a schematic evolu­
tionary world view is not only ahistorical but also non­
dialectical, and therefore contrary to the spirit of Marxist
analysis. In this regard Trotsky's ideas are seminal. He
writes, "The laws of history have nothing in common with a
pedantic schematism. Unevenness, the most general law of
the historical process, reveals itself most sharply and com­
plexly in the destiny of the backward countries."2 Such a
notion of uneven development has been at the core of
analyses ofsuch writers as Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, and
Wallerstein. Secondly, Alamgir's periodization of the so­
cial history of Bangladesh into four historical epochs,
namely, primitive communal, feudal, colonial, and semi­
feudal/semi-colonial is problematic. For good reasons one
might doubt the utility of such periodization since there is
little agreement among the Marxist writers either on the
number or the nomenclature of these periods. Besides,
Alamgir's characterization of the present stage of Bangla­
desh society as semi-feudal/semi-colonial is debatable.
Semi-feudal stage implies a transitional society-moving
away from classical feudalism to a capitalist industrial stage
-where feudal production relations and institutions re­
main deeply entrenched. Historically, Bangladesh society
never underwent a phase of classical feudalism nor is it
moving into a capitalist industrial phase. Also the term
semi-colonial phase illustrates part of the reality by imply­
ing that the remnants of colonial institutions are in exis­
tence. It does not, however, say anything about the neo­
colonial penetrations.
2. Leon Trotsky, The Russian Revolution, New York: Doubleday Anchor,
1959, p. 4.
So far I have only highlighted the weaknesses of the
book but this must not be construed to the effect that the
book is without any merits. Alamgir has made a valuable
contribution by initiating a discussion-a Marxist interpre­
tation of the problem of poverty in Bangladesh-which
would go a long way. Although one might disagree with his
formulations and wonder why Alamgir should base his
thesis on orthodox Marxism juxtaposing it with fancy eco­
nomic analysis, one must note the ground-breaking role of
this work. The success of this book lies precisely in its
polemical nature. The author's analysis of the deteriora­
tion of Bangladesh economy in the first part of the book
provides a wealth of useful statistics. These will be of
particular importance to the students of Bangladesh econ­
Alamgir is not naive in recommending a set of policies
to change the situation in Bangladesh. He is cautious to
note that these would only help buying time and nothing
short of replacing the dominant classes would fundamen­
tally alter the situation. How this is to be done, however,
remains unanswered. *
Vol. 56, No.2 Summer 1983
Carol Lee Hamrin
Franklin A. Presler
Joan L. Erdman
Nonnan Cutler
Notes and Comments
David P. Chandler
Review Article
Leonard Casper
Published Quarterly - $20.00 a year
University or British Columbia
Vancouver, Be, Canada V6T IW5
SEPARATE REGIMES 1945-1947, by Bruce Cum­
A Review with Reminiscence
ings. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981,
606 pp., photos.
by Hugh Deane·
Pyongyang was immediately responsible for the fight­
ing that began on June 25, 1950. It held the balance of
military power and that enabled it to make the vital
choices. Syngman Rhee's Capital Division may have at­
tacked in some force on the Ongjin Peninsula and the
suspicious circumstances uncovered by I. F. Stone in his
The Hidden History ofthe Korean War may be the reality, but
whether reacting to provocations (good leaderships do not)
or taking advantage of what it thought to be auspicious
circumstances, north Korea made the miscalculated deci­
sion to go for the entire peninsula.
But that is not to imply that the north started the war.
The southern plunge of its divisions was a new phase of
conflict that began when the U.S. 24th Division landed at
Inchon on September 8, 1945 and immediately undertook
the suppression of the Korean People's Republic and its
component committees and mass organizations. The U.S.
counterrevolutionary intervention set in motion the catena
of painful events that led to the clash of armies.
This is not a new thought. As Bruce Bumings ob­
serves, the standard works on the Korean war pay scant
attention to events before June 25th, but sophisticated
readers could have figured out the reality from a careful
reading of George McCune's Korea Today, and a few did.
And over the years the longer view has been set forth a
good many times in summary fashion.
But Bruce Cummings has taken us on a slow journey
to the Beginning. Using to good purpose both Korean and
American sources (including some declassified top secret
documents), Cumings recounts in persuasive de.tail the
decisive events of the first sixteen months of the American
The basic issues over which the war in 1950 was fought
were apparent immediately after liberation, within a three­
month period, and led to open fighting that eventually
·Hugh Deane, Harvard '38, was in Korea briefty in 1945 as a traveling
naval officer. He was later a Tokyo-based journalist, and returned to
Korea for substantial visits in 1947 and 1948, reporting for Allied Labor
News (part ofFederated Press) and contributing articles to The Nation. the
China Weekly Review (Shanghai) and various Japanese publications. His
Korea articles (1946-51), unpublished notes and other papers are at the
University ofWashington; copies are at the State University of New York
at Binghamton.
claimed more than one hundred thousand lives in peasant
rebellion, labor strife, guerrilla warfare, and open fighting
along the thirty-eighth parallel-all this before the ostensi­
ble Korean war began. In other words, the conflict was civil
and revolutionary in character, beginning just after 1945
and proceeding through a dialectic of revolution and reac­
tion. The opening ofconventional battles in June 1950 only
continued this war by other means (Preface, XXI).
I was briefly misled by Cumings' title, supposing that I
would be given an account of the momentous events of 1947,
which included- the second vain convening of the US-USSR
Joint Commission, the assassination of Yo Un-hyong
(Lyuh Woon Hyung to old Korea hands), a continued
crackdown on the left, and the U.S. decision to set up a
separate government under the auspices of the United
Nations. Cumings looks ahead now and again, but the
volume does not go substantially beyond 1946. But
Cumings will get to the events of 1947 and subsequent years
in a planned second volume announced in the preface.
Among the apologies for the U.S. peformance in
Korea is the repeated assertion that Washington did not
have much of a Korean policy in 1945 and that General
John R. Hodge received little guidance and erred out of
confusion and ignorance. Cumings makes good use of re­
cently opened files to show that by 1945 American foreign
policy planners were convinced that the U.S. had impor­
tant interests in Korea and that Hodge landed at Inchon set
to put down the Reds, very broadly defined. "From late
1943 on, State Department planners began to worry about
a Korea in Soviet hands; and from early 1944 on, they
began to plan for a partial or full military occupation of
Korea," Cumings informs us (p. 113).
I stumbled into a sense of what the U.S. was up to in
October, 1945. In Seoul for a few days before proceeding to
Sasebo, other junior naval officers and I looked up marine
officers who had studied Japanese with us at the University
of Colorado. We found them in a small red brick building
within an easy walk of the Bando Hotel. Teamed up with
Japanese intelligence personnel, they were monitoring
telephone calls. On the table in front of them was a type­
written guide titled something like "Communist Suspects
in the Seoul Area. "
That day or the next I ran into Harold Isaacs in the
lobby of the Bando Hotel..He gave me what he thought was
great news-a vigorously anti-Communist nationalist gov­
ernment was about to be proclaimed in Seoul. I can't recall
if he mentioned Syngman Rhee, who had been met in
Tokyo by Hodge, brought to Seoul on a plane provided by
MacArthur, given a kitty of millions of won, and hand­
somely quartered in the Choson Hotel, along with the
highest American officers. As Cumings notes, this was a
time rife with rumors. Some were at least prophetic.
In August, 1947 I got some idea of what took place in
the countryside during the first weeks of the American
occupation from Korea's foremost Shakespearean scholar.
In Elizabethan flavored English he told me that he had
gone to his ancestral village outside of Seoul and joined in
the exhilarating first moves toward democracy and reform.
An American unit commanded by an officer named Ross
arrived and, acting on the complaints of village elders,
arrested alleged Communists, including him. My scholar
informant argued with Ross, got himself and others re­
leased, and even received an apology. "But in many places
where there wasn't someone like me who spoke English,
sad things happened. "
Korea early separated the "soft" and "hard" partners
in the American postwar enterprise-"internationalists"
and "nationalists," Cumings calls them-bringing to the
surface differences over strategy between makers of policy
generally united on anti-Soviet, anti-Communist objec­
Most Roosevelt aides with input into foreign policy
believed that American assets certainly included political
attraction as well as economic might and the atom bomb.
They thOUght that the Philippines were indeed the "show­
case of democracy" in Asia-a beacon to peoples shaking
off colonial rule. They also respected the value of alliances.
While using American power in the service of an expansion
of foreign trade and overseas investment, the "interna­
tionalists" aimed to pin down the Soviet Gulliver by criss­
crossing institutional and diplomatic threads-to contain it
and make it, in the words of State Department speech
writers, "a responsible member of the global community."
The internationalist strategy, which was an application
to foreign policy of the establishment's principal internal
strategy, was workable overall, as America's hegemonic
successes in the postwar years proves, but it failed in re­
volutionary situations, as in China and Korea then and in
Indochina later. The "internationalists" sent Marshall to
China to support the Kuomintang regime, already in
trouble; he was to persuade it to carry out palliative re­
forms, mostly administrative, and he was to fend off the
revolutionary challenge by giving the Communists, at least
temporarily, minority representation in the government.
In Korea (where John Carter Vincent was also involved)
somewhat similarly, the soft noses in 1946 sought a centrist
regime isolating the Reds and capable at least of gaining
popular tolerance. They disparaged Rhee.
When the Marshall gambit in China, disguised as
mediation, collapsed, Washington could come up with no
alternative. Attempting to halt the tide of revolution by
American force would have been an adventure with little
hope of success. But on the small Korean stage harsh
counterrevolution was practical, and Hodge and
associates, correctly perceiving that softness and compro­
mise would abet revolution, went about it, suffering put-
downs of the "military mind" and other barbs from
Washington. Cumings describes Hodge as "honest." He
was certainly forthright, but he also had no qualms about
inventing Communist conspiracies and labeling people
Communists who were not.
As late as 1949 the State Department, reacting to
Syngman Rbee's floundering, put out an appraisal arguing
that failure to recognize the People's republic in 1945 was
probably an error. But by that time reaction had won and
"internationalists" and "nationalists" were at least in ag­
reement on the validity of the containment policy. Cumings
observes: "The very serious policy differences between the
State Department planners in Washington and those on the
scene in Korea that marked the first months of occupation
could be bridged because Americans differed not in their
opposition to revolution in Korea, but on the question of
how to deal with it (p. 439)."
In Korea the U.S. could not come up with any bal­
anced consent-coercion formula, and had to inflict oppres­
sion on the people of the southern half of the peninsula,
and its early Korean performance was a harbinger of much
worse to come.
Vincent and others brought a democratic sense to
foreign policy considerations and were distressed when
unpleasantness intruded. In the American Military Gov­
ernment in Korea some officials of lesser rank were simi­
larly disturbed by the repeated violations of democratic
I cherished, and found useful, those I ran into who
could not keep their distress to themselves. Late in 1946 or
early in 1947 I was visited in the Tokyo Correspondents
Club by a medium-ranking AMG official who poured out
his reasons for profound disillusionment. On the train from
Pusan to Seoul an agitated doctor told he could not wait to
get out of Korea; the screams from the jail next to the clinic
in which he worked had got to him. Another American
doctor at considerable risk smuggled medicine to prisoners
who had been tortured; a union leader I interviewed sev­
eral times credited this doctor with saving his eyesight. And
then there was Burton Martin, called Tony, chief adviser
on education to the Seoul municipal government, who
protested the abuse of students who had taken part in the
1947 May Day celebration, was put down as a trouble
maker and transferred to a post in Japan. He said in his
Should the police be allowed, as at the present time they are
being allowed, to torture school children? By torture I mean:
pulling hair (especially girls), beating on all parts of the
body, kicking chins and groin, pushing lighted cigarette
butts into the lips, tying hands together and slamming elbows
on the edge of tables and chairs. water treatments. . . ,
pulling up girls' skirts and hitting their bare legs and around
the pelvis?"
Americans who have a sharp sense of what happened
in Indochina do not think of Korea as a deadly parallel. My
local library, on New York's West Side, has two and a half
shelves of books on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and just
three books, happily good ones, on Korea.
The press coverage-very occasionally excellent,
more often falsifications of reality, and generally mediocre
or worse, the product of handouts and briefings-is cer­
tainly partly responsible. Korea was the quintessence of the
Cold War, as Cumings says, and that inhibited the flow
from the typewriters.
In the early period the regular Seoul press corps con­
sisted of Richard J. H. Johnston of the New York Times and
wives of American Military Group (AMG) personnel who
served the Associated Press and United Press as stringers.
Journalists stationed in Tokyo occasionally came for a look
around and editors of leading publications dropped in from
the States on chaperoned junkets. Later regulars included
a Saturday Evening Post correspondent who was working for
the CIA and a Hearst feature writer who received half his
salary from Rhee's Tokyo ambassador.
If I recollect accurately, International News Service,
later merged with United Press, covered Korea most of the
time from Tokyo in the early period, but once in a while
sent someone over, and thereby hangs a tale. In March,
1947 a junior International News Service reporter cabled
from Seoul a brief, circumspect account of the horrendous
experience of a visiting delegation from the World Federa­
tion of Trade Unions, which saw welcoming union mem­
bers beaten by police and rightwing youths. The reporter
got a brief rebuke from the San Francisco office: "Don't be
a sucker for Communist propaganda. "
Cumings relates how Johnston effectively maligned
Pak Honyong, the Communist leader, who held a press
conference on January 5, 1946 following the Moscow Deci­
sion. Johnston "quoted Pak as advocating an extended
Soviet trusteeship over Korea to be followed by the
incorporation of Korea into the Soviet Union," though
other reporters present "claimed that Pak wanted nothing
more than a Korea run by Koreans for Koreans. " Internal
AMG accounts supported them, reporting that Pak had
advocated "complete independence" and that his remarks
had been misrepresented. But Hodge found Johnston's
story "most interesting," Cumings goes on, and refused to
insist that he retract. "Pak's reputation was severely
Korea was the subject of some fine reporting by such
visiting journalists as Mark Gayn of the Chicago Sun (Cum­
ings makes use of his Japan Diary), Walter Sullivan of the
New York Times, and Pierre Doublet of Agence France
Presse. I remember when Gayn came back to Tokyo in the
fall of 1946 and, still wrought up, told what he had witnes­
sed to a gathering of colleagues. But then and later the
general press coverage was epitomized by the rewritten
handout and Marguerite Higgins' empty chatter in "War in
While the U.S. was the principal interventionist in
Korea, the Soviet Union's role was not unblemished. It
acceded readily to trusteeship and then to the division of
the peninsula along the 38th parallel. During the first weeks
of its occupation of the north its troops behaved outrage­
ously. While it accepted the People's Republ.ic, it gradually
converted it from fairly autonomous committees represent­
ing a variety of views into a centralized state firmly in
Communist hands. But the Soviet Union permitted, and
indeed promoted, the far-reaching revolutionary changes
that shape the socialist north of today.
At Moscow in December, 1945 the Soviet Union did
succeed in limiting the duration of trusteeship to five years
and subordinating it to formation of a provisional Korean
government. The accord was satisfactory to both Britain
and the American "internationalists," but was promptly
sabotaged in Seoul by a joint effort of Rhee and the Korean
right and the American command. Cumings properly calls
this "an important episode in the devloping Soviet­
American conflict, not only in Korea but around the
world." He believes that the Soviets probably interpreted
the overnight collapse of the Moscow decision "as a double
cross and a sign that cooperation with the Americans was
possible only on American terms (pp. 225-226)."
V.S. intransigence, which cleared the way for the
establishment of a separate southern regime, operated
shortly in the negotiations of the U.S. - U.S.S.R. Joint
Commission. In April, 1946 a Soviet concession brought
the parties very close to agreement, but at the next session,
two days later, the V.S. changed its position. This was later
the pattern at Panmunjon, where concessions on the Com­
munist side led not to a settlement but to new American
Information on what happened north of the 38th
parallel in 1945-46 is relatively sparse, but Cumings seems
to make the most of what exists. He makes plain that the
north enjoys a considerable degree of independence not
just because it has two giant neighbors to playoff against
each other but because of the strength of the Communist­
led resistance to Japan. Questions spring to mind as
Cumings' account unfolds. Would a Korea united under
the People's Republic in 1945 be now characterized by Kim
II Sung's extraordinary personality cult (the April 17th
issue of the four-page Pyongyang Times includes the phrase
"Great Leader Kim II Sung" in headlines eight times),
narrow politics and historical myth making?
Nationalist and social revolutions developed nearly
everywhere in East Asia after World War II. The surge in
Korea had its own characteristics, which Cumings relates to
the impact of Japanese domination. As in Taiwan, the
Japanese built ports, a rail and road network, and a com­
munications system, and commercialized a good deal of the
agriculture, and in Korea, especially in the north, they also
industrialized; Korea possessed vital resources and was in
the middle of the Japan-Korea-Manchukuo triad.
Economic development and war mobilization uprooted·
huge numbers of Korean peasants. Given a sense that they
had a lot coming to them and could get it, they were ready
to go. Migrations made revolutionaries. And many stay-at­
home tenant farmers, whose past was a mix ofsubservience
and rebellion, were ready to join them.
By the end of 1946, as Cumings shows, the events
which led inexorably to civil war had taken place. The
American occupiers had created a counterrevolutionary
instrument of the bureaucracy and police taken over from
the Japanese, both Koreanized after a period in which
Japanese personnel kept their posts, and the new con­
stabulary, nucleus of the new army, office red in part of
Korean officers of the Imperial Army. And to this was later
added jackbooted young men, inculcated with the Ilmin
(One People) doctrine, who, in concert with the police,
administered the "hammer of justice" to traitors who sup­
ported the Moscow Decision. They chanted songs:
We are the So-Chung Youth Corps.
Brave warriors/allowing the Fatherland,
March and march across the 38th parallel,
And smash the national traitors. . . .
As Cumings observes, Rhee and his associates eventually
succeeded in creating a rightwing mass organization.
The counterrevolutionary instrument proved its effec­
tiveness in breaking the strikes and putting down the peas­
ant uprisings that convulsed most of the south in the fall of
1946. The police-terrorist alliance dealt the left blows from
which it never fully recovered; in the jails, and in the
compounds hastily made into jails, many bodies and hearts
were broken. Cumings not only tells us about the decisions
and happenings in Seoul, but gives us a detailed account of
events in the countryside. A section of a chapter is devoted
to each province.
Resistance to U.S.-supported oppression in south
Korea has several times been almost, but not quite, ex­
tinguished. It has been carried on in different ways succes­
sively by Communists, leftists, liberals, moderates and
church people, and their experiences have little in common
other than tribulation. The leftward move of disillusioned
moderates began early, and Cumings gives instances of it.
A peak came in 1948 when a very broad coalition unfortu­
nately lacking in power opposed the United Nations­
sponsored elections which gave birth to the separate south­
ern regime. I was present when an embittered Kim Kyu-sik
gave voice to the wish of many Koreans that they be left to
work out their own destiny: "If we Koreans are to prosper,
let it be by our own efforts; if we are to suffer, let it be by
our own hands. "
Cumings gets a bit soft in approaching his final conclu­
sion. American leaders, he says, "were not ill-intentioned,
nor were they conspirators, nor were they would-be ex­
ploiters. They were not evil men or hypocrites. They be­
lieved sincerely in what they sought to do in Korea (p.
443)." All that sincerity yet the Koreans were undone, and
Before you do,
Let us know.
(Every time you fail to tell us, the Post Office sends us a bill.)
Old address:
(City, State)
New address:
(City, State) (ZIP)
the metropole served. As for conspirators, Cumings him­
self names four: "Let us be frank: Hodge, MacArthur,
Goodfellow, and Rhee conspired against established State
Department policy (p. 189)."
Nevertheless, Cumings' judgments seem to me to be
generally astute and well formulated, and one cannot quar­
rel with his conclusion, which is that American policies
reflected ethnocentric assumptions and "in their concep­
tion and their consequence, took no heed of Korean needs
and demands for a full restructuring of colonial legacies;
the best of intentions were no substitute. This was not a
matter of ignorance and mistakes, but was the essence of
the American failure in Korea. "
Cumings' volume is a major contribution to Korean
studies, which in general have been overly polite to the
American performance. It and its sequel will surely have a
corrective impact on our thinking about the Korean War
and its sad aftermath.
Cumings can also take satisfaction in knowing that
those resisting the Chun Doo Hwan regime have them­
selves made the journey to the beginning. "The United
States should not make Korea its subordinate country, but
leave this land," the leaflet distributed by the theology
students who set fire to the American Cultural Center in
Pusan in March, 1982, said, continuing:
Looking back on history from the 15 August (1945)
Liberation until today, the United States, while providing
economic aid for Korea, has closely colluded with Korean
businessmen and forced us to obey its domination under the
pretext ofbeing an ally. .­
The United States has supported the military regime
which refuses democratization, social revolution and
development and unification. In fact the United States has
brought about the permanent national division. *
Praxis #6: Art and Ideology (Part 2)
Michel Pecheux, Language, Ideology and Discourse Analysis:
An Overview
Douglas Kellner, Television, Mythology and Ritual
Nicos Hadjinicolaou, On the Ideology of Avant-Gardism
Kenneth Coutts-Smith, Postbourgeois Ideology and Visual
Marc Zimmerman, Francois Perus and Latin American
Modernism: The Interventions of Althusser
Fred Lonidier, "The Health and Safety Game" (Visual Feature)
Forthcoming issues:
Praxis #7' Antonio Gramsci Praxis #8: Weimar and After
Single copy: $4.95 Subscription (2 issues): $8.00
Make checks payable to "the Regents of the University of California"
Praxis, Dickson Art Center, UCLA. Los Angeles. CA 90024 USA
A Short Review
by Joseph C. Goulden. New York: NY Times Books,
1982, 690 pp., $15.00.
by Bruce Cumi.
The Korean War is among the most unstudied of
American postwar interventions in the Third World. In
most libraries and bookstores you can learn far more about
our role in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, or EI Salvador
in 1982, than you can about Korea, 1950. Yet the commit­
ment of American power in Korea did not begin in 1950,
but five years earlier; and it continues today in the form of
40,000 ground troops and at least 700 tactical nuclear
weapons. When the magnitude of the involvement is
stacked up against the paucity of useful literature, a book
like Joseph Goulden's, promising not just to tell us a story
but indeed an "untold" story, meets with great anticipa­
Unfortunately the anticipation, and the grand claims
made for the book on the back jacket, are unmet and
unrewarded by a close reading. Goulden's is an oft-told
tale, thoroughly conventional in its assumptions and argu­
ments about the basic character of the war. The publisher
claims that the story has not been told before, but in fact it
has: for example in David Rees' Korea: The Limited War
(1964), a similar narrative history. Goulden does make use
of some ofthe multitude ofdeclassified documents to come
available in recent years, but with a couple ofexceptions he
is not the first to do so in print, as he claims. More im­
portantly the new information becomes for Goulden a
matter of an interesting tidbit here, a gossipy item there,
when in fact the entire history of the period 1945-53 in
Korea needs rewriting on the basis of what we now know.
Goulden essentially uses a slice of the new documentation
to bolster a very conventional view of this forgotten war.
Goulden is, however, a very good writer of popular
history. The book is vivid, entertaining, and at times funny.
It is made overly long by hundreds of pages of battle
accounts, but those who like war will find the narrative
gripping and fascinating. The reader will also find that
Goulden sprinkles his tepid and marginal criticisms of
American elites evenly among the participating warmak­
ers: Douglas MacArthur gets his share, but so do Dean
Acheson and Harry Truman. Apart from his uncritical
acceptance of the fundamentals of the American role in
Korea (i.e., we were right to step in against North Korea's
"brutal act of aggression"), Goulden is hard to pigeonhole
on the Right or Left of the (very limited) spectrum of
conventional debate on the war.
What is new in the book? Not much from among the
nine separate "revelations" touted by the publisher on the
back jacket. "Korea reveals" that Acheson and Truman
abruptly reversed established policy to intervene in Korea.
Nothing new here; this is what the newspapers said on June
26. "Korea reveals" that within weeks of the opening ofthe
war on June 2S Acheson also committed American aid to
the French in Vietnam. Actually, the Pentagon Papers
showed that aid was approved in NSC 48/1, signed by
Truman in December 1949. (Goulden cites NSC 48 but
does not grasp its significance.) "Korea reveals" that
Truman wanted to dump Syngman Rhee in a coup attempt
called "Operation Everready." This was "revealed" in the
New York Times seven years ago by a graduate student. In
the nine "revelations," there is absolutely nothing un­
known to scholars of the war. Yet after wading through the
hype it is true that Goulden has a few new things to say.
Koreans, for example, might like to know that the
U.S. had plans to establish "New Korea" in the Western
Samoa islands, in the event that the Korean peninsula had
to be evacuated (p. 409). Truman apparently had unas­
sembled nuclear bomb components stored aboard aircraft
carriers off the Korean coast, in case conventional carpet
bombing was not enough (p. 416). There is a very good
section on CIA activities in Korea, gotten from interviews
with Hans Tofte who ran operations out of Japan (pp.
465-475). And there is an interesting section arguing-I
think without the necessary documentation-that the real
reason Truman fired MacArthur was that intercepts from
the Spanish and Portuguese embassies in Tokyo quoted
MacArthur as telling diplomats that he was "confident that
he could transform the Korean War into a major conflict"
and dispose of the Chinese Communists, presumably a
message that the dictators Franco and Salazar would be
pleased to hear (pp. 476-477). The problem here is that
MacArthur provided Truman with a multitude of good
reasons for sacking him; also, as Goulden rightly points
out, Washington policymakers who had unanimously
backed the American march into North Korea were
anxious to scapegoat MacArthur for the debacle that en­
sued when the Chinese entered the war, and which none of
them had foreseen.
Goulden also provides useful information on the unre­
strained air campaigns that left North Korea a wasteland by
1953 (pp. 298,303), and on the many-one could say even
continual-threats to use the atomic bomb against Korean
and Chinese opponents utterly defenseless against such
weapons. MacArthur wanted to sow a band of radioactive
waste along the Sino-Korean border, severing the two
countries rather permanently. Truman authorized simu­
lated nuclear bombing runs over P'yongyang. Today, thirty
years after the war, North Korea remains under threat of
nuclear annhilation. B-52s periodically lift off from Guam
for practice runs against North Korea. Americans­
including those on the left-might reflect on this the next
time they gag on one of the periodic excesses of Kim Il Sung
and his people.
It is too bad that Goulden did not build on such
strengths to write a truly new and revelatory account. In­
stead, too often he uncritically accepts bad sources and bad
policies. He swallows whole the mythology about Syngman
Rhee put out by his personal biographer, Robert Oliver
(Rbee was a committed Christian, a great revolutionary
during the Japanese period, a friend of Woodrow Wilson).
Goulden finds unproblematic the notion that Manchuria
was a Chinese "sanctuary," from which we allowed the
Chinese to strike our soldiers "with impunity"; perhaps
instead we should have "laid waste all major Chinese
cities" (p. 322). Of course, Japan and the East Sea and
Okinawa and much of the Pacific were our sanctuaries,
from which we "laid waste" all North Korean cities. We
had total control of the air and the sea. And during most of
the Chinese civil war Chiang Kai-shek controlled most
cities, which hardly led to the defeat of Mao's forces.
Goulden laments several times that "the U.S. was not to
win in Korea," never defining what "winning" would have
meant or how it might. have been accomplished. For an
investigative reporter Goulden is also too complacent
about American denials of any use of bacteriological war­
fare in Korea (pp. 599-604). Although to my knowledge no
information has come to light which adequately documents
the Korean and Chinese charges, we have learned in recent
years about Army and CIA testing of chemical and biologi­
cal weapons, and about the American decision to cover up
and then utilize the experience of Japanese bacteriological
warfare projects done in Manchuria during World War II.
Goulden also claims that "no other sources exist" to docu­
ment Kim Il Sung's prewar guerrilla history except
P'yongyang's propaganda (p. 11), when in fact we have
many extant Japanese police reports on his exploits. The
map of Korea on p. 255 refers to one city, Najin, by its
Japanese name (Rashin) while calling P'ohang "Potsung."
There are many other such errors.
The most conventional, and most incorrect, of
Goulden's assumptions is to view the Korean War as some­
how unrelated to what came after in Indochina, Guate­
mala, Iran. Somehow Korea is the one place that doesn't fit
with America's postwar history of involvement in the Third
World. Here, the assumption is, the U.S. uniquely and
courageously resisted Stalinist imperialism; we backed the
right side, even if Rbee's regime had some problems and
pecadilloes. The war came like a thunderclap out of the
blue in the summer of 1950, through unprovoked aggres­
sion, and so we applied the containment doctrine to East
Asia. What Mr. Goulden and conventional analysts do not
know about the Korean case could-and will-fill vol­
umes. For example: the war began in 1945, not 1950, with
the establishment of alter regimes and the beginning of
open if unconventional fighting; it was a civil war, whose
origins go back into Korea's colonial existence; the U.S.
was entirely responsible for creating a southern regime,
conceived with a raison d' etre in counter-revolution; a so­
cial revolution occurred in the North, and had multitudes
of supporters in the South; Soviet policy in the North was at
odds with its satellite policies in Eastern Europe in the
same period; both sides had reasons for and plans for war in
the summer of 1950-so on and so on.
Mr. Goulden has written a useful and interesting
book, for those who know little about this forgotten war.
But it is high time that it becomes the last of its genre. *
Third World Fil",
JUMP CUT, No. 27 $2.00
Overview of films on EI Salvador and Nicaragua.
Work of Ousmane Sembene. BOTTLE BABIES. Rev­
olutionary Turkish Cinema - Yllmaz Ganey. US TV
Censorship. DECISION TO WIN.
BACK ISSUES. US with sub, $2; abroad with sub,
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No. 20. Cuban Film: ONE WAY OR ANOTHER,
Films of Manuel Octavio Gomez, "For an Imperfect
Cinema" (Julio Garcia Espinosa), JUAN QUIN QUIN.
No. 21. Brazilian Cinema: Beyond Cinema Novo -­
Overview, Censorship, TENT OF MIRACLES. Alsa,
ING TIDE, Namibia Films, US Alternative Cinema.
No. 22. Brazil: XICA DA SILVA, THE FALL, Glau­
ber Rocha's music, Filmography. Cuba: Joris Ivens,
TV Film Criticism, Bibliography. Also, Alternative
Cinema Conference, WNET Censorship, Quebec Film.
Nos. 10/11 & 12/13
$5 (US); $6.50 (abroad).
Film Theory.
Subs: $6/4 issues, US; $8,
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Berkeley CA 94701 Payment only in US dollars.
A Review Essay
THREAT OR PROMISE, by ADen S. Whiting.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981,276pp.
by Jon Halliday
As D. K. Ludwig, the epitome of individual capitalist
entrepreneurship, flounders in the Amazon, can the creak­
ing Soviet state make a go of things in the icy wastes of
Siberia? And what are the implications if it does? Almost
every question to which one could reasonably want an
answer is satisfied by Allen Whiting in this judicious and
politically timely book, rich in economic data, well set in
the context of overall Soviet development issues and
soberly linked to strategic questions.
The sheer dimensions and climatic conditions of Si­
beria boggle the mind. Whiting limits himself to what he
terms "East Asian Siberia" (EAS) which takes in the whole
of the Soviet Far East and most, but not all, of Eastern
Siberia. For it notably excludes the Krasnoyarsk region, as
well as all of Western Siberia (i.e., everything west of the
Irkutsk oblast and the Yakut Autonomous SSR). It thus
excludes Novosibirsk, the Tyumen oil fields and the gas
fields which are the subject of major US-EEC controversy
at the moment. EAS covers 7,766,600 square kilometers
(3,100,000 square miles)-roughly the size of Brazil
(21-22). *
If anything, it is climate, more even than size, which is
ultimately the crucial determinant. What emerges strongly
from Whiting's vivid account of the weather is that most of
Siberia cannot be "developed" in any conventional sense
with existing technologies.
Those who have never been to Siberia (or, like myself,
been there only during the hot summer) can only imagine
what the climate is like most of the year. Irkutsk, with a
population of 550,000 in 1979, has a frost-free period of
only 94 days and an average winter temperature of -2eC
(-5.8°F). Yakutsk, further north, averages -42.rC
(-45°F) and has hit a recorded low of (-92.2°F),
while its summer temperature sometimes reaches 38°C
(I000F). Whiting states (21, 23) that there is relatively little
snowfall over much of Siberia, and little wind in the interior
(though other sources! suggest that icy winds are a major
If windchill is taken into account, the coldest parts of
Siberia are not those in the interior but on the coast, where
• Figures in parentheses refer to pages of Whiting's book.
1. Hedrick Smith, The Russians (London, Sphere Books, 1976), pp. 400,
windchill readings of down to -125°C (-193°F) have been
recorded (24). There are heavy fogs, especially in the
coastal regions, and ice fogs, for example at Yakutsk, for
extended periods.
Almost the entire region suffers from permafrost. The
only parts of EAS wholly free of it are Sakhalin, the lower
half of Kamchatka, the areas of the Amur and Ussuri rivers
and the Amur-Maritime sections along the coast (27).
Permafrost creates enormous problems for building, both
technically and in terms of cost and time, severely affecting
both ordinary housing and communications like railways.
Even when something is actually built (usually on piles
going rteep into the ground), buildings can buckle as a
result of huge seasonal "pulsations" (29) as segments of
underground water freeze and thaw (the permafrost can go
deeper than 400 meters, but is often with areas
of unfrozen water).
The combination of appalling cold, violent oscillations
in temperature, poor soil and low rainfall means that EAS
can not be anything like self-sufficient in agriculture (20).
The BAM zone (where the Trans-Siberian railway is being
built, the Baikal-Amur Mainline) produces only one-third
of its current food requirements (107). The cost of import­
ing vast amounts of food is already a major constraint. The
Soviet Union imports as much as it can from North Korea,
and it is striking that the last Soviet trade agreement with
Hanoi committed Vietnam to increase considerably its ex­
ports of agricultural products to the USSR (presumably for
EAS), in spite of Vietnam's own drastic shortages.
A related factor is the extremely high cost of installing
people in Siberia. One source cited suggests that by 1979 it
cost the state 30,000 roubles (US $40,(00) per migrant (241,
232). Labor turnover is incredibly high, with the young
moving out particularly fast (32-33). In the Aldan region of
the Yakut ASSR 74 percent of migrants left within two
years of arrival (33). Apart from the high installation costs,
high population turnover also raises administrative ex­
2. A much more optintistic view is expressed by the Soviet expert, V.
Alexandrov, "Siberia and the Far East on the Eve of the 26th CPSU
Congress," Far Eastern Affairs (Moscow), no. 4, 1980, pp. 67-68, where
he even envisages a food surplus for the area. Excellent information on
food production in Robert N. North, ''The Soviet FarEast: New Centre of
Attention in the U .S.S.R., .. Pacific Affairs. Vol. 51, no. 2 (Summer 1978),

penses greatly and causes long interruptions while new
recruits are found.
Whiting lists an impressive number of factors which
make living in Siberia extremely unpleasant and difficult,
even compared with the rest of the Soviet Union. Interest­
ingly, climate is not given as the main factor for leaving
(33). Living conditions, consumer goods and cultural con­
ditions all rate as much more important. Climate makes
poor and restricted housing even more trying than in the
rest of the USSR, and EAS's average for housing is well
below the national figure (34). Wages and pensions in
Siberia are considerably higher than the national average,
but the extra income is largely eaten up by strikingly higher
prices for food and basic consumer goods, including clothes
and housing costs, all of which rise the farther north one
Brezhnev's report to the 26th Congress of the CPSU in
February 1981 showed concern about not being able to get
enough people to move to Siberia, even via wage incen­
tives. In fact, he noted that "to this day many people prefer
to move from north to south and from east to west, al­
though the rational distribution of productive forces re­
quires movement in the opposite directions."3 Within
Siberia, there is also an unwelcome migration from the
rural areas to the urban ones (37). One solution, but only a
partial one, is to import labor from other countries: size­
able numbers of North Koreans have been reported work­
ing in Siberia on lumber projects, but this appears to be
only seasonal (North Korea has its own labor shortage).
More controversial is the use of Bulgarian workers, appar­
ently on long-term contracts, which has aroused resent­
ment in Bulgaria and criticism of the role of the CMEA
(Comecon) in imposing a "socialist international division
of labor" which discriminates against Bulgaria.
Overall, Whiting's description of the general setting is
lucid, informative and comprehensive. Perhaps this lies
outside the scope of the book, but I personally would have
liked to see more on the human problems connected with
the quality of life in EAS. Crimes seems to be much higher
in Siberia as a whole than in the rest of the USSR. 5 Al­
coholism is almost surely worse there even than in the rest
of the nation. The climate and poor housing must have a
negative effect on the sex lives of the inhabitants and pre­
sumably on personal relations in the widest sense, and this
must also be a factor in people wanting to leave
mentioned by Brezhnev). Whiting suggests, interestingly,
(something which is confirmed by other sources) that Sino­
phobia-or rather miso-Sinism-which is rabid through­
out most of the Soviet Union, may decline the further one
gets from Moscow, even though this also means getting
nearer to China. In any case, it seemed lower in
Khabarovsk and Vladivostok than in Moscow, where it was
worst. In general, Siberia is "freer" than the Russian heart­
3. Full report in New Times (Moscow), no. 9 (February) 1981; quote at
4. See Meraklia, "Bulgaria: the Taiwan of Eastern Europe," Telos, no, 49
(Fall 1981), p. 174.
5. Smith, The Russians, p, 238.
6. Dr. Mikhail Stem and Dr. August Stem, Sex in the Soviet Vnion
(London, W.H. Allen, 1981), is one of the most devastating books on the
land and especially Moscow (this emerges strongly from
both Hedrick Smith's The Russians and from Martin Cruz
Smith's Gorky Park)1-at least, freer for those not subject
to some form of confinement. Whiting omits any mention
of the use of political prisoners and forced labor in Siberia.
Soviet dissidents have reported that political prisoners may
have been forced to serve part (usually the last one-third)
of their sentence in dangerous and/or high-polluting jobs in
Siberia-and that this is then disguised officially as "part
remission. " One of the more reprehensible aspects of life in
the Soviet Union, especially for the working class, is the
regime's conspicuously lax attitude towards industrial
safety and the thoroughly nonchalant attitude to pollution.
A number of Siberian writers like Valentin Rasputin have
questioned the cost of "progress," especially in ecological
terms. In fact, pollution is probably even worse in Siberia
(per unit of industrial output) than in the rest of the coun­
try. A leading Soviet scientists recently went public with
devastating criticisms of the effects of pollution (including
genetic damage in newborn babies and a rise in mortality
rates among workers) in the Kuzbass area of Southwestern
Also missing in Whiting's account is any discussion of
the impact of what seems from the outside, and is probably
seen as such from the inside, to be essentially Russian-(i.e.,
Moscow- )determined "development" on the original in­
digenous inhabitants, such as the Yakuts. Indeed, Whiting
virtually ignores the existence of both the indigenous
minorities, such as the Yakuts and the Buryats, as well as
the unfortunate Jews languishing in the Birobidzan so­
called Autonomous Republic-which rates a mention only
for its manganese potential (54-55). More generally, the
technically fascinating and highly competent discussion of
Siberia's development prospects within those of the USSR
as a whole lacks the ethnic-demographic component which
is so richly treated by Heltme Carrere d'Encausse in her
Decline ofan Empire (especially chapter 3).9
Strategic Questions
Whiting's book will probably be read by many for its
discussion of issues of strategy, as its subtitle implicitly
invites. There are separate chapters on how Siberia's de­
velopment may affect Japan, China and the USA.
As of early 1982, Japan's ties with Siberia were gener­
ally much lower than the outside world seemed to imagine.
The only Siberian resources which had actually reached
Japan were forest products. Even Sakhalin gas is unlikely
to start reaching Japan (probably in the form of LNG)
much before the end of the 1980s. And even if all the
various plans mooted, including those suspended, were to
go ahead, Japan's overall energy dependency rate on the
USSR would be only about 7-8 percent (9 percent for
coking coal)-much lower than that of West Germany.
Siberia would be really useful to Japan for a number of
raw materials: asbestos, nickel, natural gas, coking coal,
steam coal, oil and timber (109). As Whiting notes: "poten­
7. New York, Random House, 1981.
8. See International Herald Tribune, April 1, 1982.
9. Originally published in French as L' empire eclat/!: La rholte des Nations
en V.R,S.S. (Paris, F1ammarion, 1978).
tial Soviet leverage, although it may be pinpointed on
certain sectors of the economy, will be minimal for the
country [Japan] as a whole." And: "The combined impact
of all four commodities [gas, coking coal, steam coal, oil]
being cut off by Moscow would cause short-term disloca­
tion in selected areas and industries. However, there would
be no long-term impact, assuming that other suppliers
could increase their deliveries." By 1979 Japan had sup­
plied nearly $4 billion in official credits for Soviet economic
development (4, 135, 137). But the pace of new co­
operative ventures has slowly greatly from the heady days
of the early 1970s when it seemed that Japan and Siberia
had found a near-perfect match. Reagan's policy of pres­
suring the USSR has also hurt Japan: "The Reagan Ad­
ministration sanctions toward the U.S.S.R. are really sanc­
tions against Japan," lamented an official of the Tokyo­
based Sakhalin Oil Development Corporation to Business
Week (March 22, 1982). Whiting's treatment of the deep
asymmetry of Japan's and the USA's relationships with
Siberia is both fair and timely (5). "
The other main question is the territorial dispute. This
concerns three islands, Kunashir (Kunashiri in Japanese),
Iturup (Etorofu in Japanese), Shikotan, and the Archi­
pelago of the Habomais, totalling 2,000 square miles.
These islands lie off the North coast of Hokkaido and are
known as the "Northern Islands" in Japan. Essentially, the
dispute revolves around whether or not these islands are
the bottom end of the Kuril chain (which was returned to
the USSR by international agreement in 1945), or separate
from it. In 1956 the Soviet Union officially offered to return
Shikotan and the Habomais after concluding a peace
treaty, (thus, in a sense, it could be argued, weakening
their own case), but Whiting writes: "Realistically . . .
there is no prospect of the USSR giving back any of the
islands now" (125). Both sides have dug in too deep. Be­
sides, it is hard to see what the Japanese could possibly give
the Russians in return for the islands (except good will?).
Moreover, Kunashir and Hurup guard the Soya Strait, one
of the few narrow passages for the Soviet fleet to get out to
the Pacific.
The Sino-Soviet question has been bedevilled by ex­
treme partisanship on both sides (if not always in equal
measure). The Soviet Union has permitted Victor Louis,
widely thought to be closely associated with the KGB, to
publish a book, The Coming Decline ofthe Chinese Empire, 10
which calls, bluntly and rabidly, for the dismantling of the
present Chinese state via the detachment of several large
outlying areas populated by sizeable minorities (Tibet, Sin­
jiang, Inner Mongolia-and even Manchuria!). China offi­
cially gives unprincipled support to Japanese revanchist
attempts to detach the "Northern Islands" from the
10. New York, New York Times Books, 1979; this weird book, a mixture
of fascinating informrnation, aberrant history and thoroughly unpleasant
racial views, deserves extended treatment on its own.
11. It is good to see Whiting explicitly confronting the unscrupulous
quality of Chinese propaganda on such issues; as he notes (130), Beijing
often suggests that some obscure right-wing publication (usually not polit­
ically identified) represents "public opinion." This reprehensible practice
has been a constant of Chinese practice and is rarely commented on, in
spite of its blatant use, for what it is: a disgraceful and degenerate form of
Sino-Soviet detente should be a prime objective of all
those interested in world peace and one which is not often
discussed in principled terms. The plain fact of the matter
is, as Whiting puts it (82), that "Beijing and Moscow could
settle their border differences easily if they both wished."
But on the same page he also recognizes that it is unlikely
that they will do so in the near future: "The path to a
Sino-Soviet detente is far more rocky and hazardous than
the long series of steps that led to Sino-American detente."
Whiting's measured and well-informed treatment of the
issue, setting out the facts and the problems,. provides a
very helpful base around which to construct a discussion on
what is in many ways the single most neglected key issue in
current global debate.
One major new element in the equation is the railway
being built to the North of the existing Trans-Siberian­
the BAM. At enormous cost, this will help to open up large
resources to the North. It is separated from the Trans­
Siberian and from the Chinese border by mountains almost
the whole way. From a strategic point of view, Whiting
emphasizes (103) that the new railway has mainly defensive
value and that it "would appear to have more military value
in a precombat situation than in an actual war." B e ~ e e n
Ust-Kut (on the Lena) and Komsomolsk (on the Amur) it
is single-track-over a distance of 1,965 miles (102) and
will be powered by vulnerable overground electric supply.
Curiously, Beijing has been almost totally silent about
BAM, as about Siberian development as a whole, as it
might affect China. In fact, as Whiting notes (145, 174),
Chinese comment has been both uncomprehensive and
unsystematic; it rages against Soviet military activity in the
Pacific area, but says little about Siberian development,
even as it might relate to Soviet military capacity; it tends to
stress the Soviet-Japan relationship, but without objecting
to Japanese involvement in Siberia, as a whole. After pot­
shotting at Japan's projected participation in the Tyumen
oil project, Beijing fell silent on Japanese involvement in
Siberia (145). Above all, Beijing has evaded the fact that
"Siberian development has potentially positive implica­
tions for China" (180).
The third major strategic question addressed is that of
the Soviet Pacific fleet (94-99). Whiting notes "the relative
consistency of smaller allocations to the Pacific Fleet" com­
pared with the Atlantic and Black Sea fleets, except for
submarines (95). As of 1978 the Soviet fleet had many more
ships than the U.S. Seventh Fleet, but in terms of tonnage
was only about 50 percent heavier (762,000 to 503,000
tons)-and younger. One-fifth of the fleet is made up of
minesweepers. However, as is rarely emphasized by Re­
gan, Weinberger, & Co., this fleet is not based off Baja
California, nor in the mid-Pacific, but largely guarding the
USSR's own extensive Pacific coastline. Moreover, any
comparison should not just be between Soviet and U.S.
fleets, but should also take into account those of potential
allies and enemies.
Geographical and ciimatic conditions severely limit
Soviet freedom of action. Egress from Vladivostok to the
Pacific is only via three narrow straits (Tsushima, Tsugaru
and Soya). Both Tsugaru and Soya could be mined. And
even Vladivostok, the most southern of the Pacific ports, is
blocked by ice for three to four months per year. The only
major base with direct access to the "open" Pacific, Petro­
pavlovsk, on the eastern coast of Kamchatka, is ice-bound
from November to April (though ships can, apparently, be
guided out by ice-breakers)12 and has no rail supply line
(97). In brief, the Soviet Pacific fleet has to operate under
conditions almost as appalling as those afflicting the work­
ers on the BAM. And, although Whiting does not say so in
these words, there seems little reason to regard the current
expansion of the fleet as out of proportion with the USSR's
legitimate defense interests, given the length of its Pacific
coast and the abundance of potential enemies in the area. 13
There are several technical questions which it would
have been good to see discussed more explicitly. First,
which stretches of railway are single- or double-tracked?
Whiting tells us that the BAM will be single-tracked be­
tween Ust-Kut and Komsomolsk (102), but in discussing
the vulnerability of existing railroads, such as the Trans­
Siberian between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok (77, 91­
92), he omits to say whether it is single or double. Second,
there is the question of ports being ice-free or ice-bound.
Vladivostok is described as having its access to the Pacific
"impeded" for three-four months of the year (77); Petro­
pavlosk's "access is ice-covered" from November to April
(97). But what is meant, exactly? Other sources indicate
that ships can get in and out with the aid of ice-breakers. All
the time? And presumably submarines always can? The
ports of Nakhodka and Wrangel, just east of Vladivostok,
are discussed (136) without it being specified whether they
are ice-free or not. And what are the likely technical adv­
ances in ice-breaking? Soviet s o u r ~ s say that nuclear
merchant ships will be able to travel from the Pacific to the
Atlantic via the Arctic route by 1985, with year-round
traffic expected later (92).
One important neighbor is given rather short shrift­
Korea. And yet, as the involuntary eye at the center of the
East Asian storm zone, it could be considerably affected by
the opening up of the Soviet Far East, with potentially
positive effects. North Korea exports a lot of fresh food to
EAS and quite a lot of goods for EAS transit through the
North Korean port of Najin (since there is such severe
congestion in the Soviet ports). However, Whiting's book
would not lead the casual reader to think there was any
point in using Najin since his maps, prominently displayed
on the dust jacket and on both the end-papers, show the
Soviet Union as' clearly having no common border with
Korea at all. Indeed, China is given a narrow corridor to
the Pacific between the USSR and the DPRK-something
I am sure it would dearly love to have.
One other egregious error stands out in a book which
generally attains a high level of accuracy. Three times
Japan's defense expenditure is given as below 1 percent of
GNP and it is claimed that there is an "established ceiling"
of 1 percent (118, 120, 122). There is even an explicit
comparison with NATO spending (120). But Whiting
should know that Japan computes its military budget by
highly specific criteria and that if NATO criteria are used­
which they should be in a direct comparison, or else the
12. Tan Su-cheng, The Expansion ofSoviet Seapower and the Security ofAsia
(Taipei, Asia and the World Forum, 1977), p. 21.
13. Whiting is equally good and judicious on the limited Soviet land
build-up. (92)
different criteria should be made explicit-the figure is
about 1.5 percent of GNP.
More curious readers might also like to know why the
new port on the Pacific is called Wrangel, a name usually
associated only with a famous White Russian counter-revo­
lutionary. And is "Vostochny" (Eastern) a new name to
replace the dubious Wrangel? Is there any discussion about
changing the name of Vladivostok ("Ruler of the East"),
which does seem to be like waving a red rag at the Chinese?
On the whole question of the "place" of Siberia in the
overall development of the Soviet Union, two different
approaches to development clash (44, 202, 212ff). All­
round "balanced development" of the type proclaimed by
official ideology (even if not often implemented fully) is out
of the question for much of Siberia (44,213). The cost in
terms of food, infrastructure, etc., is just too high for most
of EAS to be "habitable"-and anyway hardly anyone
seems to want to go there, as Brezhnev himself noted. But
the government seems reluctant to break with its own
official approach, at least explicitly. Rather, it seems to be
bending it towards what is in effect, basically a policy of
extraction, with the population rising only very slightly,
just enough to increase exploitation of natural resources.
Within the approach, there will be pockets of "develop­
ment" such as the area on the southern Pacific coast
(Vladivostok-Nakhodka-Wrangel), which has a relatively
benign (if very foggy) climate. There is considerable logic
to promoting development on and related to the Pacific,
which in many ways provides both more advantageous
access to the world than the Atlantic and access to a huge
percentage of world fishing very close by. (229)
As the center of Soviet geography, at least in resource
terms, moves East at accelerating pace, there must be
considerable debate within the Soviet hierarchy about how
much money to pour into Siberia, and Whiting has fascinat­
ing material on this. One Soviet source, the above-men­
tioned Victor Louis, suggests that there is a kind of "Siberia
first" lobby (the same theme is echoed in Gorky Park,
although more from the standpoint of breaking away from
the dead hand of Moscow and "Party creeps"). Brezhnev
made an extended tour of the area in late March 1978 (not
mentioned by Whiting, curiously) and put a lot of emphasis
on Siberia (more on Western than EAS) at the 26th
There has always been a mystique attached to Siberia,
as anyone who has boarded the Trans-Siberian must feel;
but it is an ambiguous mystique. Siberia is two things fused
into one: the "frontier"-and the Gulag; fascination and
dread. And even if one is not in the Gulag, it is still an icy
waste. What in the USA has turned out to be a new "fron­
tier" in the SunbeIt, for the USSR is, alas, a Snowbelt (or
rather an Icebelt). The regime seems committed in a
dogged ideological sort of way to opening up Siberia, but it
has not really come clean to its own people about the pros
and cons. In particular, it has not confronted the widening
gap between the resource location and the demographic
distribution: the ethnic groups which have the highest
population growth rates, especially in Central Asia, show
no sign of wanting to move to Siberia (Brezhnev hinted to
the 26th Congress that more incentives, or pressure,
needed to be applied to get them to move). The non­
settlement of most of Siberia must, in turn, determine the
type of extraction-exploitation policy likely to be followed
(probably "in-and-out" with little attention to pOllution).
But the regime does not, at this stage of its development,
have the technological lability to handle much of Siberia.
The answer cannot be to "throw" Uzbeks and Tadzhiks at
the wastes of Yakutia. The force of nature is too strong.
Whiting subtitles his book "Threat or Promise?". One
might ask: to whom? In fact, Siberia's development
emerges as a threat to no one, and rather less of a promise,
at least in the medium-term, than one might imagine.
There is plenty there, but it is going to take a lot of time,
money, human energy-and especially new technology
(probably largely Western and Japanese)-to get it out. If
the USSR can wait, there is plenty to be said for that, until
forum for international dialogue across
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better technology comes along.
What emerges strongly from this book is that while
there is undoubtedly an inexorable dynamic to the opening
up of Siberia, and it must play an increasing role in the
Soviet economy, equally it is patent that the USSR has an
awful lot on its plate; and this factor in itself promises a
powerful impetus towards detente. There is not space here
to discuss in detail Whiting's political positions, especially
on U.S. foreign policy and U.S. interests, real and alleged,
in East Asia. But the upshot of the book is a measured and
welcome argument in favor of detente, not just between
Moscow and Washington, but also and most importantly,
between Moscow and Beijing. *
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Orientalism's Attack on Orientalism
by Dennis Gramin
A depressing shortcoming of scholarly activity since
the appearance of Edward Said's Orientalism (New
York: Pantheon, 1978) has been the failure to apply his
analysis to the broader Asian context for which his book
cried out. Over the past several years, as Said's ideas have
met varying resistance among those whom Robert A.
Kapp labeled "scholars who are professionally socialized in
and work in one culture but who devote themselves to
the study of another culture, "I Said himself has descended
into the tumult of contemporary Middle Eastern
polemic with two volumes, The Question of Palestine (New
York: Times Books, 1979) and Covering Islam (New
York: Pantheon, 1981).
Having thus enhanced his scholarly vulnerability, Said
has recently found himself the target of an effort to read
backwards through his trilogy, using American irritation
with militant Islam of the Khomeini variety (richly docu­
mented in Covering Islam) to fuel an angry rejection of the
arguments in Orientalism. Pursued relatively courteously
by Clifford Geertz,
this dubious project has recently found
bitter expression in an article by Bernard Lewis, Cleveland
E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton
University and a member of the School of Social Studies at
the Institute for Advanced Studies.
From so puissant a
source, so total an attack rules out equivocation as a re­
sponse. Either Lewis is right, and many of us have been
deluded in seeing Orientalism as a salutary shock to the
field, or else there is something seriously wrong with
Lewis's dismissal of Said. I argue that a close look will
convince one of the latter. Indeed, Lewis's essay is a
splendid example of the horrid paradox inherent in the
logic of Orientalism-that its validity stimulates (in fact,
demands) its denunciation in certain quarters.
Lewis, one of those "who hail from the high command
of British Orientalism," as George Rentz of the Hoover
Institution said of him and his fellow editors of the
Cambridge History of Islam ,4 is clearly a man with a cause in
"The Question of Orientalism. " That cause is to extirpate
even the idea of any valid criticism of Orientalism as such
("which would be meaningless"), and in particular to deny
any intellectual standing to the work of Said, "the main
exponent of anti-Orientalism at the present time in the
United States."5
Let it be conceded from the start that Lewis's anger
has ample cause. Said has been attacking him in print since
1976, when he penned a vitriolic review of the Cambridge
History ofIslam that is obviously still on Lewis's mind.
History was characterized as "an intellectual failure," "al­
ready doomed when first planned," lacking in "ideas and
methodological intelligence," "so perfect an instance of
the academic Edsel," "an academic effort to embalm Is­
lam," and the role of chief mortician was awarded to
This gentle artistry continued in Orientalism, reach­
ing its apogee in the notorious "camel rising" episode,
which Lewis grimly retells, appropriately invoking the Iron
Even so, after one has granted that Said's gift for
invective is unfortunate, that his scholarly craftsmanship is
often less than perfect, and that Covering Islam is a slender
effort, the fact remains thatOrientalism is a book with a
serious argument that Lewis completely fails to under­
stand. In his haste to discredit Said, Lewis invents ludicrous
anti-Orientalist positions that Said explicitly disowns, he
misrepresents Said's own positions, and he reveals that he
has no idea what Said's purpose was in writing.
1. Robert A. Kapp, "Introduction," Journal of Asian Studies 39.3 (May,
1980): 481.
2. Clifford Geertz, "Conjuring with Islam," The New York Review of
Books. 27 May 1982, p. 28.
3. Bernard Lewis, "The Question of Orientalism," The New York Review
ofBooks , 24 June 1982, pp. 49-56.
4. In a review in the American Historical Review 77.1 (February, 1972): 115.
5. Lewis, "Question," pp. 56, 51.
6. Ibid., p, 54n6.
7. Edward W. Said, "Arabs, Islam and the Dogmas of the West," New
York Times Book Review. 31 October 1976, pp. 4-5.
8. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978),
pp. 314-316; Lewis; "Question," p. 52.
The trouble starts with Lewis's opening fantasia pur­
porting to describe the anti-Orientalist position, which
among other follies attributes to it the meretricious argu­
ment that "only [Arabs] are truly able to teach and write on
[Arab] history and culture from remote antiquity to the
present day; only [Arabs] are genuinely competent to di­
rect and conduct programs of academic studies in these
fields."9 Said's view of such evil nonsense is crystal clear:
It is not the thesis ofthis book . .. to make an assertion about
the necessary privilege ofan "insider" perspective over an
"outsider" one . ... I certainly do not believe the limited
proposition that only a black can write about blacks, a
Muslim about Muslims, andsoforth.
Lewis goes on to sum up his enemies' "entirely new" defini­
tion of Orientalism as meaning "unsympathetic or hostile
treatment of Oriental peoples. . . . not supportive of cur­
rently fashionable creeds or causes," characterizing this
definition as an act of "intellectual pollution" rendering the
word "unfit for use in rational discourse. "11 Perhaps so, but
it is his definition, no one else's.
Said is explicit about what he means by the term-he
was clear about it in his 1976 review article, and he main­
tains a consistent position in Orientalism:
The principal dogma ofOrientalism exist in their purestform
today in studies of the Arabs and Islam. Let us recapitulate
them here: one is the absolute and systematic difference
between the West, which is rational, developed, humane,
superior, and the Orient, which is aberrant, undeveloped,
inferior. Another dogma is that abstractions about the
Orient, particularly those based on texts representing a
"classical" Oriental civilization, are always preferable to
direct evidence drawn from modern Oriental realities. A
third dogma is that the Orient is eternal, uniform, and
incapable of defining itself; therefore it is assumed that a
highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing
the Orient from a Western standpoint is inevitable and even
scientifically "objective." Afourth dogma is that the Orient
is at bottom something either to befeared (the Yellow Peril,
the Mongol hordes, the brown dominions) or to be controlled
(by pacification, research and development, outright occu­
pation whenever possible). 12
It is just at this point in his argument that Lewis refers
to V. S. Naipaul as a fellow innocent accused of Orientalist
crimes, apparently in the conviction that the mere sight ofa
novelist of East Indian ethnicity and West Indian upbring­
ing being marched into the dock beside him will cause the
proceedings to be laughed out of court. In fact, on Said's
definition of Orientalism, Naipaul is guilty as charged.
Consider the following passage from Among the Believers:
On the pavement outside the Turkish embassy two tur­
banned, sunburnt medicine men sat with their display of
coloured powders, roots, and minerals. I had seen other
medicine men in Tehran and had thought ofthem as Iranian
9. Lewis, "Question," p. 49.
10. Said, Orientalism. p. 322.
11. Lewis, "Question," p. 49.
12. Said, Orientalism. pp. 300-301.
equivalents of the homeopathic medicine men ofIndia. But
the names these Iranians were invoking as medical author­
ities-as Behzad told me, after listening to their sales talk to
a peasant group-were Avicenna, Galen, and "Hip­
pocrat.' ,
Avicenna! To me only a name, someone from the Euro­
pean Middle Ages: it had never occurred to me that he was a
Persian. In this dusty pavement medical stock was a remin­
der of the Arab glory ofa thousand years before, when the
Arab faith mingled with Persia,lndia, and the remnant ofthe
classical world it had overrun, and Muslim civilization was
the central civilization ofthe West.
Behzad was less awed than I was. He didn't care for that
Muslim past; and he didn't belive in pavement medicines. 13
In analyzing the rhetoric of this passage, Said would pre­
sumably point to the blithe confidence with which the lin­
guistically incompetent outsider from the West evaluates
these backward exotics it has been his good fortune to
stumble upOn, the unspoken assumption of Oriental un­
iformity (Iranian, Indian-when you've seen one Oriental
medicine man, you've seen them all), the immediate re­
course to a classical Islamic past more significant than
anything in the here and now, and the implicit contempt for
those Muslims who are trying to live in the here and now,
unaware of their glorious heritage, which it is the Western­
er's duty to explain. In the words of Marx, which echo
through Orientalism, "they cannot represent themselves;
they must be represented." Another passage in Naipaul
brings us to the crucial point that Lewis and many other
critics of Said have missed. Naipaul is observing groups of
pilgrims at the shrine of the tomb of the sister of the eighth
Shia Imam in Qom:
One Mon!{oloid group was Turkoman, Behzad said. I hardly
knew the word. In the 1824 English novel Hajji Baba (which
I had bought at the hotel in a pirated offset of the Oxford
World's Classics edition), there were Turkoman ban­
dits. . . . Small, sunburnt, ragged, they were like debris at
the edge ofa civilization that had itselffor a long time been
on the edge ofthe world. 14
If I usurp Said's analytical prerogative once more, it is to
point to the characteristic view of the Orient as an exotic
appendage of a Eurocentric world, and to the immediate
appeal to a literary representation, one moreover that
introduces Orientals to its readers as figures of mysterious
The parade of literary figures through the pages of
Orientalism has been a puzzle to those unwilling to ascertain
Said's purpose of writing. He is not interested in doing "a
history of Arabic studies in Europe" or in being "a his­
torian of Orientalism" as Lewis claims. IS To oversimplify
brutally, the book is synchronic and French, rather than
diachronic and English. To put that in less enigmatic terms,
Said is describing a certain rhetorical tradition which
formed within Anglo-French culture after about 1800, a
13. V. S. Naipaul, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1981), p. 8.
14. Ibid., pp. 42-43.
15. Lewis, "Question," pp. 51, 53.
tradition that drew on scholarly sources, but which spread
far beyond the bounds of the academy. This tradition
shaped people's perceptions of the Orient and Orientals in
a consistent fashion that can fruitfully be termed Orienta­
list, with its core ideas as listed above.
Once this surprisingly elusive point is grasped, it is
instantly apparent that many of the criticisms leveled at
Said are completely irrelevant. For example, Lewis's ina­
bility to understand why Germans are missing from the
account, and why Said allows the Russians to say such
awful things about Arabs.
Indeed, Lewis's dark brood­
ings on the theme of the "plenary indulgence" that Said
extends to the Russians manage to imply that he is both
Red and Papist, a delightfully malicious invention worthy
of the Parr Professor of English and Comparative Litera­
ture himself.17 On examination, Lewis's effort to portray
himself as operating on a level of "intellectual precision
and discipline" beyond Said's comprehension rings very
hollow. 18 My favorite excess is his attribution of the begin­
ning of anti-Orientalism within the Muslim world to Nazis
in Pakistan. Mandarin gentleman that he is, Lewis never
says "Nazi," he merely refers to an "unreconstructed
German" and to "the mind-set ofthe Third Reich. "19 He is
hardly fairer in his dealings with Said. Some of his rhetori­
cal mayhem (e.g., "the hitherto unknown theory of know­
ledge" on p. 52) would require excessive space to disen­
tangle, but it may be worth while to point out Lewis's gross
misrepresentation of Said's treatment of Edward William
Lane. Lewis states that Lane is "maligned" by Said, whose
tactic is to focus on a "minor or occasional" work, while of
"Lane's lifework, his multi-volume Arabic-English lexi­
con... Mr. Said has nothing to say. "20 Said specifically
refers to Lane's lexicographical labors twice in Orientalism
(pp. 164,240), but I assume it never occurred to him that it
was necessary to explain that dictionaries do not lend them­
selves to rhetorical analysis, unless their contents are over­
whelminglyon the order of Dr. Johnson's famous defini­
tion of oats. Said repeatedly identifies Lane and Silvestre
de Sacy as the greatest figures in the Orientalist tradition
(e.g., Orientalism, p. 206). IfLewis really means to describe
Lane's An Account of the Manners and Customs ofthe Modern
Egyptians Written in Egypt During the Years 1833-1835 as
"minor or occasional," then his scholarly standards are
such as to boggle the mind. In the currently available
edition, a reprint of that 1895, Modern Egyptians runs to
nearly 600 pages of what Said rightly characterizes as
"sheer, overpowering, monumental description" of "diz­
zying detail," "a classic of historical and anthropological
observation because of its style, its enormously intelligent
and brilliant details. "21 A path-breaking work of such mag­
nitude produced today would procure for its author an
international reputation, and Said's precise reservations
concerning Lane's achievement are compatible with his
16. Ibid., pp. 51,53-54.
17. Ibid., p. 55.
18. Ibid., p. 56.
19. Ibid., p. 50.
20. Ibid., p. 52.
21. Said, Orientalism. pp. 162, 15.
appreciation of it as a "great Orienta list work of genuine
scholarship. "22
Sacy himself figures in another of these deliberate
misrepresentations, this one involving a citation from
Orientalism (p. 127), which Lewis gives as "he [Sacy] ran­
sacked the Oriental archives .... What texts he isolated,
he then brought back; he doctored them ...." Lewis con­
tinues: "If these words bear any meaning at all it is that
Sacy was somehow at fault in his access to these documents,
and then committed the crime of tampering with them.
This outrageous libel on a great scholar is without a shred of
truth. "23 Lewis apparently wants us to believe that Said has
accused Sacy of being a bibliographic second-story man
and forger, spooking about the Middle East prying open
rare-book vaults and boiling concocted manuscripts in tea
to age them. He knows better, as his devious ellipsis
proves. The eight missing words are " ... and he could do
so without leaving France. " The meaning of "he ransacked
the Oriental archives" is roughly the same as "he worked
indefatigably in the Bibliotheque nationale.·· Lewis's clever
misreading gains a specious credibility from the common
associations of the word "archive," which is here explicitly
being used in a special sense developed by Foucault. As for
"the crime of tampering," Said means what he said-Sacy
doctored ("treated so as to alter the appearance, flavour, or
character of," OED) his texts. The nature of that doctoring,
which produced the Chrestomathie arabe. is described in
some detail. The Chrestomathie arabe, incidentally, is the
only Orientalist work that Said feels can bear comparison
with Lane's Modern Egyptians. 24 So much for the charge of
"outrageous libel."
One could go on for thousands of words pointing out
how Lewis repeatedly misreads Said and then gleefully
attacks something Said never meant, but it should be clear
by now that Lewis's magisterial Orientalist authority rela­
tive to Said is a sham. This is a point that not only Said has
been making, and which is larger than both men. Lewis
wants us to believe that Orientalism is a lone, discredited
voice ("predominantly unfavorable response among re­
viewers in learned journals"), although he has to concede
that the Journal ofthe American Oriental Society. than which
there is no more Orientalist publication in the Western
hemisphere, took it quite seriously.2s In fact, the JAOS
reviewer suggested that much of Said's argument was al­
ready circulating in the profession (e.g., in Oleg Grabar's
splendid The Formation of Islamic Art [New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1973]), and that other scholars' critiques
of the Cambridge History ofIslam as methodologically defec­
tive had met with "general appreciation. "26 A glance at
major reviews ofthe History (e. g., that by the distinguished
Albert Hourani of Oxford) reveals a chorus of "anti­
Orientalist" criticism, albeit expressed in far gentler tones
22. Ibid., p. 8.
23. Lewis, "Question," pp. 52-53.
24. Said, Orientalism. p. 8.
25. Lewis, "Question," p. 55; Peter Gran, untitled review, Journal o/the
American Oriental Society 100.3 (July-October, 1980): 328-331.
26. Gran, p. 331.
than Said's.27 Hourani even plays Lewis's game of Pin the
Tail on the Defective Bibliography, bemoaning the "seri­
ous exclusion" of Turkish sources. 28 No doubt Lewis has an
explanation for the omission, but his treatment of others
stifles compassion.
Lewis might also have acknowledged the Journal of
Asian Studies symposium on Orientalism, which took up half
of the May, 1980 issue of what is probably the most widely
read Oriental journal in the world. The symposium reveals,
among other things, that there are strongly held definitions
of "Orientalist" floating about that have very little to do
with either Lewis or Said (e.g., the contribution by David
Both alarming and educational in all this has been the
editorial orchestration calculated to preserve Lewis's dig­
nity and the honor of establishment Orientalism. Third­
party protests over the outrageous excesses of Lewis's arti­
cle were barred from the pages of The New York Review of
Books, although their texts were conveyed to Lewis, who
cunningly placed their antagonism at the service of his own
omniscience, attempting to defuse some of their points
with what were subsequently offered as if spontaneous
minor corrections to the earlier article.
Permissible (i. e. ,
approving) third-party reaction to Lewis's diatribe, as in
the case of Oleg Grabar, displayed another facet of the
power of establishment Orientalism to compel obedience.
Grabar, as mentioned above, has published "anti­
Orientalist" arguments himself. Astonishingly enough, his
printed claim that he has "little quarrel" with Lewis, who is
"right on nearly every point," prefaces a long list of anti­
Orientalist fears and complaints that he shares po More­
over, Grabar has, in the past, endorsed Said with even
greater enthusiasm:
I have no quarrel with the thrust of the book [Orientalism],
with most ofyour [Said's] examples, and with the [analysis
of the] tragic 'orientalization' oj'Oriental' intellectuals, to
my mind the most brutal result ofwesternization. . . .31
Apparently apotropaic pro forma oaths of loyalty are the
better part ofintellectual valor.
Considering this curious and sorry episode, I empha­
size to the astonishing number of my colleagues who have
yet to pick up a copy of Said's book that Orientalism has not
been brushed aside, that the anti-Orientalist challenge re­
mains, and still behooves us to come to grips with it,
just as it did when the JAS published its symposium. When
the dust has finally settled, I believe that Said's conclusion
will retain its force-that "any knowledge, anywhere, at
any time" is subject to a process of "seductive degra­
27. Albert H. Hourani, untitled review, English Historical Review 87.343
(April, 1972): 348-357.
28. Ibid.,p.356.
29. Bernard Lewis, letter to the editor, The New York Review ofBooks, 12
August 1982, p. 48.
30. Oleg Graber, letter to the editor, The New York Review of Books.
12 August 1982, p. 46.
31. Oleg Graber, letter to Edward Said of 11 December 1978, as cited in
letter from Said to Grabar of 20 August 1982 (copy of letter supplied by
dation,"32 and that Western study of the Orient has pro­
vided, and continues to provide, a sharp reminder that
when we take our methodology for granted, or lose our
sensitivity to the ways in which scholarly activity interacts
with political power, we harm those that we have defined as
the Other, and in so doing, we harm ourselves as well. *
32. Said, Orientalism. p. 328.
The Editors 27 July 1983
Dear Joe Moore,
Zed Press is now six years old, with nearly 100 titles in
print, and distribution arrangements in many parts of the
world. We are a socialist publisher, organized internally as
a workers' cooperative, and specializing in the Third World.
Our authors are usually scholars and/or political activists
with a clear anti-imperialist commitment. We at Zed Press
see our role as a twofold one: acting as a mirror of left-wing
debate around significant theoretical and political issues in
the Third World; and also publishing books in support of
liberation struggles and post-revolutionary societies.
Our initial Series included Political Economy, Imperi­
alism, Revolutionary Struggles, and Women. With the
growth of our programme to 50 new titles ~ i n g published
this year, and the same again in 1984, we have expanded
into new Series on Labour, Human Rights, Indigenous
Peoples, Culture and Revolution, and Radical Religion.
Our most ambitious project is to initiate in 1984 a series of
easy-to-read, concise and cheap political education hand­
books. We would welcome BCAS readers getting in touch
with us if they feel they can contribute in any way or have
manuscripts to offer.
Yours sincerely,
Robert Molteno
Zed Press
57 Caledonian Road,
To the Editors:
Thanks for the last issue of the BCAS which arrived
here yesterday (the special issue on Indonesia). It is an
interesting issue, and I am very glad that you used my
article on East Timor in your Bulletin.
There is one mistake that I would like to point out. A
whole paragraph has been left out, by inadvertence. The
passage should read as follows:
The Socialist Party reacted strongly to these accusa­
tions: "All lies." the headlines ofthe party newspaper said
next day, and in Parliament Santos challenged his oppo­
nents to prove their allegations of collusion with Indonesia
over Timor. At the same time, he also demanded that
president Eanes should publish a hitherto secret report
prepared in 1976 on Portugal's ill-fated decolonisation in
1974-75. (Jill Jolliffe, Manchester Guardian October 12,
1981 and Canberra Times October 13, 1981; John Torres,
London Times October 13 and 14, 1981; Peter Wise,
Boston Globe November 26, 1981).
The report was released a few days later, and in the
Manchester Guardian of October 17, 1981, Jill Jolliffe
writes that it confirms the claims ofsecret negotiations with
the Indonesians: According to a description of the last of
these secret meetings, held in Hong Kong in June 1975... ,
If you could arrange for a correction in your next issue,
I would appreciate it. Thank you.
Torben Retboll
Falstersgade 3
A general note about typographical and other mistakes in
the Bulletin: We are always glad to acknowledge any errors that
are likely to confuse or mislead. In all such cases, we request
your indulgence and wish to explain that we have neither proof­
reading staff nor time or funds to mail galleys to authors who
reside in many parts of the world.
Books to Review
The following review copies have arrived at the office of the
Bulletin. Ifyou are interested in reviewing one or more ofthem ,
write to Joe Moore, BCAS, P.O. Box R, Berthoud, Colorado
80513. Reviews of important works not listed here will be
equally welcome.
Hamza Alavi & Teodor Shanin: Introduction to the Sociology of' 'Develop­
ing Societies" (Monthly Review, 1982).
Noam Chomsky: Myth and Ideology in U.S. Foreign Policy (East Timor
Human Rights Comm., 1982).
Warren I. Cohen (ed): New Frontiers in American-East Relations (Columbia
Univ., 1983).
Noel J. Kent: Hawaii: Islands Under the Influence (Monthly Review, 1983).
Ralph W. McGehee: Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA (Sheridan
Square, 1983).
Nishikawa Jun: Asean and the United Nations System (U.N. Institute for
Training and Research, 1983).
East Asia
Samir Amin: The Future ofMaoism (Monthly Review, 1983).
Anthony B. Chan: Arming the Chinese: The Western Armaments Trade in
Warlord China, 1920-1928 (Univ. of British Columbia, 1982).
Aleksandr Ya. Kalyagin: Along Alien Roads (Columbia Univ., 1983).
Morris Rossabi (ed): China among Equals: The Middle Kingdom and its
Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries (Univ. of Calif. , 1983).
Hung-mao Tien (ed): Mainland China, Taiwan, and U.S. Policy (Oelge­
schlager, Gunn & Hain, 1983).
Nancy B. Tucker: Patterns in the Dust: Chinese-American Relations and the
Recognition Controversy, 1949-1950 (Columbia Univ., 1983).
Anthony B. Chan: Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World (New Star
Books, 1983).
K.K. Fung (ed.): Social Needs versus Economic Efficiency in China: Sun
Yefang's Critique ofSocialist Economics (M.E. Sharpe, 1982).
Stevan Harrell: Ploughshare Village: Culture and Context in Taiwan (Univ.
of Washington Press, 1982).
John W. Dardess: Confucianism and Autocracy: Professional Elites in the
Founding ofthe M ing Dynasty (U niv. of California Press, 1983)
Nicholas R. Lardy & Kenneth Lieberthal (eds.): Chen Yun's Strategy for
China's Development: ANon-Maoist Alternative (M.E. Sharpe, 1983).
Lynda Shaffer: Mao and the Workers: The Hunan Labor Movement, 1920­
1923 (M.E. Sharpe, 1982).
Judith Stacey: Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China (Univ. of Cali­
fornia Press, 1983)
Jonathan Unger: Education Under Mao: Class and Competition in Canton
Schools, 1960-1980 (Columbia Univ. Press, 1982).
South Asia
M.L. Dewan: Agriculture and Rural Development in India: A Case Study on
the Dignity ofLabour (Humanities Press, 1983).
Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj: Hindu Places ofPilgraTTUlge in India: A study in
Cultural Geography (Univ. of California Press, 1983)
Hanna Papanek & Gail Minault (eds): Separate Worlds: Studies ofPurdah in
South Asia (Chanakya Publications, Delhi, 1982).
H. L. Deb Roy: A Tribe in Transition: The Jaintias ofMeghalaya (Humani­
ties Press, 1981).
M.S. Venkataremani: The American Role in Pakistan, 1947-1958 (Human­
ities Press, 1982).
Denis von der Weid & Guy Poitevin: Roots ofa Peasant Movement: Apprai­
sal ofthe Movement Initiated by Rural Community Development Association
(Shubhada-Sarswat Pubs., Pune, 1981).
Shelton U. Kodikara: Foreign Policy ofSri Lanka: A Third World Perspective
(Chanakya Publications, Delhi, 1982).
Northeast Asia
Thomas P. Rohlen: Japan's High Schools (Univ. ofCalifornia Press, 1983)
Joe Moore: Japanese Workers and theStrugglefor Power, 1945-1947 (Univ.
of Wisconsin Press, 1983)
Jean Esmein: Un demi plus: Etudes sur la defense du Japon hier et aujourd' hui
(Fondation pour les etudes de defense nationale, Paris, 1983).
Noriko Mizuta Lippit & Kyoko Iriye Selden (eds): Stories by Contemporary
Japanese Women Writers (M. E. Sharpe, 1982).
Roy A. Miller: Japan's Modern Myth: The Language and Beyond (Weather
Hill, 1982).
Mine Okubo: Citizen 13660 (Univ. of Washington, 1983).
Harry Wray & Hilary Conroy (eds.): Japan Examined: Perspectives on
Modern Japanese History (Univ. of Hawaii, 1983).
Bruce Cumings (ed): Child of Conflict: The Korean-American Relationship,
1943-1953 (Univ. of Washington, 1983).
M. P. Srivastava: The Korean Conflict: Searchfor Unification (Prentice Hall
of India, 1982).
Dae-Sook Suh: Korean Communism 1945-1980: A Reference Guide to the
Political System (Univ. Press of Hawaii, 1981).
Southeast Asia
Benedict J. Kerkvliet: The H uk Rebellion: A Study of Peasant Revolt in the
Philippines (U. California Press, 1982).
Jim Zwick: Militarism and Repression in the Philippines (Centre for Devel­
oping-Area Studies, McGill Univ., 1983).
Philippines Research Center (ed): New People's Army of the Philippines
(PRC, 1981).
E. San Juan, JT. (ed): If You Want to Know What We Are: A Carlos Bulosan
Reader (West End Press, 1983).
E. San Juan, Jr,: Toward Rizal: An Essay on Noli Me Tangere and EI
Filibusterismo (PRC, 1983).
Robert Y. Siy, Jr.: Community Resource Management: Lessons from the
Zanjera: (Univ. of the Philippines, 1982).
TAPOL (ed): West Papua: The Obliteration ofa People (TAPOL, 1983).
Micronesia Support Committee (ed): Palau: Self-Determination vs. U.S.
Military Plans (MSC, 1983).
Keith St. Cartmail: Exodus Indochina (Heinemann Educational Books
Inc., 1983)
Chantal Descours-Gatin & Hugues Villiers: Guide de Recherches sur Ie
Vietnam: Bibliographies, archives et Bibliotheques de France (Editions
L'Harmattan, 1983).
Archimedes L.A. Patti: Why Vietnam? Prelude to America's Albatross
(Univ. of California Press, 1982).
Wallace J. Thies: When Governments Collide: Coercion and Diplomacy in the
Vietnam Conflict, 1964-1968 (Univ, of California Press, 1982).

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