21st Century Revolution
August 15th, this year is curiously appropriate for recalling an earlier Independence Day. In 1997 to commemorate India’s fiftieth year of independence Lok Sabha Speaker P Sangma convened a special joint session of both Houses of Parliament. He proposed a Resolution for launching India’s Second Freedom Struggle. An Agenda for India to end casteism, communalism, corruption and criminalization was drawn up. Both Houses unanimously passed that Resolution. Most leaders adorning the benches then are those who adorn the benches now. The call for India’s Second Freedom Struggle suggested nothing less than revolution. National leaders may reflect on how that resolve appears today.
What is revolution?
It does not imply mere change of government or even of system. Revolution implies change of culture and of national mindset. For revolution to succeed at least some section of the ruling establishment, either domestic or foreign, must promote it. No revolution in modern history has succeeded without resources either in cash or in kind. That is the sordid truth obscured by romanticizing revolutionaries who succeed. History, after all, is the victor’s version.
Sir Walter Scott after careful research wrote at great length in half a dozen volumes about the French Revolution. Not surprisingly the books are out of print available only with collectors. Sir Walter claimed that the Revolution was not the work of Frenchmen to improve France but the work of aliens, whose object was to destroy everything that had been France. In his “Life of Napoleon” he wrote: “These financiers used the government as bankrupt prodigals are treated by usurious moneylenders, who feeding their extravagance with the one hand, with the other wring out of their ruined fortunes the most unreasonable recompenses for their advances.” Indeed, after the French Revolution certain communities barred from conducting business in France were allowed to do so.
The Russian Revolution no less was funded by foreign financiers. According to John Schiff, in an interview to New York American Journal in February 3, 1949, he claimed that his grandfather, well known financier Jacob Schiff, gave 20 million dollars to help the Russian revolution succeed. The following American bankers reportedly funded the revolution – Paul Warburg, Harriman, Rockefeller, Vanderlip and JP Morgan. From Germany money came from Max Warburg. From England Alfred Milner did the needful. The Rothschild banks of both London and Paris chipped in. Why did all these bankers help?
It should be recalled that Tsarist Russia was stridently anti-Semitic. Under the Tsars several pogroms
against Jews were organized. Jewish financiers sought protection for their targeted co-religionists in Russia. These events occurred shortly after the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, purportedly a Zionist plot for world domination hatched in the 1897 International Zionist Conference in Switzerland, was being circulated. Scholars have dismissed the book as a forgery. But the Protocols created wide influence in early 20th century.
Not only Hitler but even Winston Churchill was influenced by the book. Churchill differentiated between the bulk of the Jews and the internationalist Jews who he alleged created the Russian revolution. In an article in the Illustrated Sunday Herald of February 8, 1920 Churchill wrote: “There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews. It is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews.” According to Churchill’s biographer Sir Martin Gilbert, Churchill had been sent a copy of the Protocols a few weeks before he wrote the article. Conspiracy theories flourished because most Bolshevik leaders indeed were Jews and Lenin’s wife happened to be of Jewish descent.
China’s revolution was aided by Soviet funds. Japanese arms captured by Soviet troops in the Manchurian campaign of 1945 were passed on to Mao. Mao’s truce with Chiang-Kai-Shek ended in 1946. In the previous nine years Mao had built a formidable though ill-equipped army. Mao defeated Chiang’s forces and by October 1949 had installed the government of the People’s Republic of China.
It may be seen therefore how crucial resources are for the success of a revolution. Home Minister Chidambaram said that the Maoists are not getting money from abroad. Their leaders received seed money and were very well trained by their foreign mentors. Maoists have perfected a parallel taxation system through extortion. But even today the Home Minister confessed they continue to get arms from abroad. If Maoists are attempting revolution
what need is there for another revolution? The short answer is that Maoists are ushering in no revolution but only destabilization and chaos through methods horribly inappropriate in the 21st century world. The method advocated by Hurriyat hardline leader Syed Ali Geelani after the recent spate of stone pelting in Kashmir is an improvement but by no means satisfactory. Geelani has advocated passive resistance and non-violent protest. That is what Mahatma Gandhi practiced. Even the Gandhian approach needs to be updated. Mahatma Gandhi forged his strategy against foreign rule. Today India is independent. Our laws are framed by representatives elected by the people. Apart from the rarest exceptional case it would be wrong to violate law even through non-violent protest.
Assuming for a moment that sections of India’s big corporate world and big media were to get desperate enough to actually support a democratic revolutionary movement promoting an acceptable agenda for change, how should revolutionaries proceed? That brings one to the concept of the 21st century revolution. The law is the weapon used by the ruling class to repress the poor. Consider this example. An impoverished vendor to feed his family enters Connaught Place to sell
his wares. He is not licensed to do so. The Municipal Committee descends on him to demolish his wares and impose a fine. The vendor has done nothing immoral. He just broke the law. The law as a weapon is ruthlessly used by Authority. Well, public discourse and public meetings are not enough. The law can be used as a weapon against the ruling class by the revolutionary too.
Three small incidents in the 1980s illustrate that. To protest against a needless new five star hotel being built by the government to host UNCTAD delegates 3000 slum-dwellers, virtually leaderless, descended without notice on Delhi’s plush Ashok Hotel. They came without warning and denied they were one group. They claimed to be customers. A very few succeeded in drinking tea as a token. The hotel lobby was choked and everything came to a standstill. Armed policemen brandishing guns threatened the slum-dwellers. Police were informed that they were merely customers. They wanted at least once in their lives to visit the hotel which they owned. Ashok Hotel is a public sector hotel built with the money of those who are denied drinking water. The police were nonplussed. They requested slum-dwellers to leave. They allowed them to express their views in the Banquet Hall prepared for a big recital. The slum-dwellers did that and left. The Prime Minister, no less, instigated a case of trespass against the person the police alleged had led the slum-dwellers. The case was fought in court for three years. The government lost.
The same technique was repeated twice more. Once it was used against banks giving loans without surety to the poor as a device to distribute money to Congress Party workers. Poor people repeatedly flooding banks in hundreds demanding loan forms paralyzed work. The banks had to stop the practice after giving loans to about a thousand of those who protested in this manner. Another time the same technique was used against vacant DDA flats for the poor that remained unoccupied while many poor who had applied for the same were not accommodated. This did lead to a beating in the police station and jail for a few days. But here too, the government lost the case in court because it could not present any evidence of criminal trespass.
These are mere examples of how the law can be used creatively against an exploitative ruling class. Given resources and wider organized support the potential of this democratic legal technique is enormous. It may be observed that a parallel police force to help authority maintain law can be organized. If security forces can be allowed to protect factories why not an entire well marked locality? It might also be recalled that under prevalent law any person or persons can make a citizen’s arrest of anyone committing a cognizable offence. Only, after arresting the victim he or she must be handed over with complaint to the nearest police station.
Given the deteriorating conditions today it is possible that people in even high places might feel desperate enough to help. The mass of people are already desperate enough to frequently take the law into their own hands in violent protest. All this despair needs to be channeled constructively. A legitimate democratic revolution can exploit the communication and information opportunities provided by the 21st century.
By Rajinder Puri