Commemorating the birth centenary of late Professor Randhir Singh  

Prof Randhir Singh

On January 11th we celebrated the birth centenary of the Marxist intellectual Randhir Singh. who  perished on January 31st  in2016.For 4 decades he served as a Lecturer of political science in Delhi University. Randhir Singh was an embodiment of Marxist scholasticism .With utmost consistency he exposed the autocratic nature of the Indian parliamentary democracy, the fatal consequences of globalisation from 1991 and the germinating of Hindutva Neo-fascism. He was a living example of extricating dogmatism or mechanical approach within the Marxist camp. Randhir Singh even respected the view of integrating caste question with class Struggle. He firmly stood by the genuine democratic movements of the day, of any strata of society. The professor was living example of what someone could do to contribute within the boundaries of an oppressive social order. without being a member of a Communist party or embracing  orthodox Leninism or Maoism. Few intellectuals in the world still displayed faith in Marxism with such degree of conviction as Randhir Singh

We must uphold Randhir Singh’s contribution in creating a breeding ground for adopting Marxist ideology in the 1970’s at a height no teacher did in India when revisionism was flourishing .He displayed mastery in explaining the dynamics of a capitalistic society and inspire cadre to join ranks of the progressive movement.Few teachers as intensively fostered spirit of questioning in students or the Marxist method of critical analysis, in contrast to indoctrination.

Randhir Singh’s former  students like Sandeep Bhushan , Rup Narayan Das,Dilip Simeon, Savita Singh,  Jaspal Kaur,  Jyotysna Kapur, Nina Rao , Rajkumar Oberoi , Bharat Shekhar, Indra Dutt,  Krishnakkanth Trignipalli and Savita Singh  express unforgettable memories if his lectures. I can’t forget Professor Chaman Lal’s description of how the establishment subverted the attempts of Randhir Singh to profess Marxism within the classroom walls and the daring manner he confronted the authorities. Students from all fields literally thronged to his classes, being touched in the very core of the soul. In the ‘Caravan’ his ex student Sandeep Bhushan describes how he had such magnetic effect on students that after being removed he was re-instated as a lecturer on the request of the students. Notable that he even shaped the life of late Marxist playwright of Punjab, Gursharan Singh. Even Vijay Singh, editor of Revolutionary Democracy acknowledges his great contribution.

No Indian Marxist intellectual was held in such esteem as Randhir Singh by the journal ‘Monthly Review.’ In turn Randhir Singh rated the ‘Monthly Review’ as the finest Socialist journal in the world. I recommend readers to read tributes by Chaman Lal,Gilbert Sebastian and Rup Narayan Das in ‘Mainstream Weekly’, Pritam Singh in ‘The Wire’ and by Sandeep Bhushan in the Caravan, which do ample justice to him.

I recommend any democratic cadre to study the writings of Professor Randhir Singh,who taught us the importance of studying all the bourgeois philosophers be it Plato, Thoreau or Voltaire and be a very good student of history. He delved into political thought of Machiavelli and Hobbes as he did to Marx. His best essays are ‘Future of Socialism”, ‘A Note on the Current Political Situation: Some issues and a Conclusion “, and on ‘Nepal’, published in ‘Monthly Review. ‘

His magnum opus Crisis of Socialism: Notes in Defence of a Commitment was published a decade ago, which was released by another notable Marxist thinker, Aijaz Ahmad, in Delhi. Since then, he published a few more collections — Indian Politics Today: An Argument for Socialism-Oriented Path of Development (2009, Indian Communist Revolutionary T Nagi Reddy memorial lecture in book form) and a collection of his early essays, On Nationalism and Communalism in India (2010).

Where Randhir Singh was arguably flawed was his inability to trace The pro-Brahamanical stands of Gandhi like the promoting of Varnas .In the view of Vijay Singh Randhir Singh’s enrolment as a member of the Communist Party of India and later C.P.I.(M) prevented him from grasping Kruschevian revisionism. We could also term him flawed in not demarcating completely from Trotskyism or classifying India as capitalist instead of semi-feudal.

Life Summary (Thanking Chaman Lal for information)

Born on January 11th, 1922, in Moga district of Punjab, Singh’s father was an idealist and doctor (civil surgeon) by profession. He gained his baptism in politics in the anti-colonial struggle in Lahore Spending a year in Lahore jail. He was drawn to Marxism because of the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, whose 1931 hanging triggered mass protests across the country, including in Lahore, where Singh was a school-going child. Singh became a full-time activist of the Communist Party of India in 1939 at the age of 17 years, first as an activist of All India Students Federation (AISF), of which Satya Pal Dang was leader at that time. He remained underground as well, reaching out to peasants in rural area and was a part of editorial staff of party journal in Punjabi. Singh also translated the Communist Manifesto and some other works of Karl Marx in Punjabi in those days. He was 25 at the time of partition and after moving to Delhi, he started teaching at the Camp College, which was set up for refugees from Pakistan.

He got a lecturer’s job in Delhi College, where he had the company of colleagues and friends such as progressive Hindi author Bhisham Sahni and historian Bipan Chandra.Along with Bipan Chandra, he would distribute copies of Enquiry in those days, besides other Leftist journals. He continued to be a part of the CPI, but was critical of its “revisionist” policies.

With the split of the party in 1964, he went along with CPI (Marxist) for a few years. This was the period; he was viciously attacked by the “official” communists. He was removed from the editorship of CPI’s theoretical Punjabi journal Sada Jug (Our Age) charged with “individualism and intellectual arrogance”, as he had refused to publish BT Randive’s criticism of Mao Tse Tung.

After spending nearly two decades in Delhi College and a brief stint in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), he was finally invited by the Delhi University as a professor in the political science department in 1972, from where he retired in 1987.

In between, his PhD thesis was rejected, he published only one book in 1967 — ReasonRevolution and Political Theory: Notes on Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics. But it was this one book that earned him laurels as a political theorist.

Randhir Singh on setback to Socialism

I admire Randhir Singh for challenging the dogmatic and autocratic character of the left parties like the C.P.I. and C.P.M, and give respect to more democratic functioning. In his writings he was critical of Socialist Societies like USSR neglecting mass democracy and was not convinced by the analysis of Marxist Leninist groups that the setback was only due to capitalist reversion under Khrushchev in USSR. What was most striking is that he mantained that there were inherent flaws within Socialist Societies which failed to live upto the expectations of Karl Marx and supported no particular trend within India. In his view we must all go back to Marx. Randhir Singh introduced the ideas of the New Left in the campuses like Antonio Gramisci, Frantz Fanon, Herbert Marcuse, Jean Paul Sartre or Louis Althusser. Few intellectuals took Marxist analysis to such creative depths or proved that Marxism was not a dogma. Few better asserted that conventional theory of Marxism Leninism or Maoism has to be critically analyzed and conventional concept of the absolutism of the Communist party must be challenged which should be answerable to the people. This has striking significance when we remember how the Soviets were bureaucratized in erstwhile USSR or Revolutionary commune dissolved in China in the Cultural Revolution.. Perhaps it was a misfortune that Randhir Singh could not comprehensively trace or adress the root cause of the setback to Socialist societies or write a critique on Maoism, or the phenomena of splits or deviations within the Indian Communist Movement

Randhir Singh admired China under Mao but equally admired Cuba. In his view Cuba was a model for third world people and Che Guevara made path breaking contributions. He did not admired the Bolivarian revolution and other movements in Latin America adopting extra-parliamentary forms. On Nepal he also made some insightful writings which helped the leadership of revolutionary forces there.

Quoting Randhir Singh “No discussion of socialism today, least of all its future, can bypass what happened in the erstwhile Soviet Union. What we have here, as I have argued at length in my book, is a failed revolutionary experiment: a grievously deformed socialism that was built and the final crisis and collapse of the sui generis class exploitative system it had ultimately degenerated into — all of which is fully amenable to a Marxist explanation in terms of its method of historical materialism and class analysis. In other words, what failed in Soviet Union was not socialism but a system that came to be built in its name. It is indeed imperative for socialists who wish for a future beyond capitalism to understand what has happened, what was built and what has failed as socialism in the Soviet Union. They must assess the costs and consequences of this failure, the collapse of what we have described as ‘actually existing socialism’, and some others as ‘authoritarian communism’ — though they must do so fully mindful of the costs and consequences of ‘actually existing capitalism’ or ‘authoritarian capitalism’ which has rushed in to pick up the pieces. It was certainly mistaken to see the struggle for socialism in our times as a contest between ‘the socialist world’ and ‘the capitalist world’, as official Marxism in the post-1917 period made it out to be. It was, as always, an international class struggle with several more or less important fronts. The countries of ‘actually existing socialism’, while it lasted, were only one front of this struggle, and while they did condition or influence this struggle, positively as well as negatively, they did not determine or settle the question of its outcome. Nor does the collapse of these countries now or their return to the capitalist fold, in any way settle the question of the future of socialism — the struggle still goes on and will, so long as capitalism lasts. Nevertheless, these countries constituted what was in many ways a most important front of the ongoing international class struggle and their collapse demands that socialists understand and come to terms with it. If they no more need to carry the burden of a deformed and degenerated socialism or be answerable for its ugliness and cruelties, the burden of a genuine, Marxist explanation of its collapse has still to be carried by them so that our people know the truth and appropriate lessons are drawn for struggles of the future. The collapse of the Soviet Union does not end or modify the structural logic of global capitalism as manifested in poverty, underdevelopment, deindustrialisation and exploitation in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It has only made global capitalism all the more powerful and given a new edge to its predatory logic. Any social system built on inequality in the command of human and natural resources works in many ways to reproduce itself and to increase the extent of the in-built inequality.”

 Randhir Singh on India

Randhir Singh wrote some of the most comprehensive articles on state terrorism and democratic Rights in India and presented a paper at the 1991 conference of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee. A very notable article was also written summing up the phenomena of Khalistani and state terrorism in Punjab in the 1980’s when he refuted the pro-state views of Bipin Chandra.Randhir Singh was bitterly critical of the attacks on the Sikh community and vocally condemned the collaboration of left parties with the parties like Congress and BJP. In most incise depth he exposed how fascist Hindutva politics was infiltrating the parliamentary system and breaking the very fabric of democracy. Even as a Marxist he felt that M.K.Gandhi made a positive contribution.

In India he opposed the militaristic tendencies of the Maoists but left no stone unturned in condemning Operation Green Hunt. Even if differing with line he defended the contribution of the Maoists in taking up the cudgels of the tribals.Randhir Singh was a strong adherent in utilizing extra parliamentary trends to achieve a radical change and not blindly adopt tactic of Boycott of elections.  He was bitterly critical of the splintering within the revolutionary camp and why unity did not take place between the C.P.I. (Maoist) with other groups not undertaking armed revolution.

“The revolutionary Left, including the Maoists, need to shift the focus of debate and struggle from violence to politics, to policies and programmes, to the issue of the country’s path of development, which to be pro-people has to be a socialism-oriented path of development.  As part of this shift the Maoists also need to reach out to other Naxal formations.  A challenge for the Maoists, this shift and reaching out is a challenge for their ‘civil society’ sympathisers and supporters as well.  They must not rest content with their opposition to the government’s war on people or with ‘peace initiatives’ etc.  They need to help towards realisation of both this shift and unity among the Naxalites.  Unless this happens and the focus of debates and struggle shifts from violence to politics, above all to the issue of the country’s path of development, Indian politics will remain stranded in the quagmire of violence to the benefit of the ruling establishment, the people’s support for the capitalist path of development will continue to be consolidated, democracy will continue to be eroded, giving way to the authoritarian form of bourgeois rule, misery and suffering, old and new, will continue to be visited upon our adivasi population, all revolutionary advance will stay stalled and winning popular support for a revolutionary transformation of Indian society, for an alternative politics that seeks to realise the Naxalite aspiration for a life worthy of human beings for all, will become increasingly more difficult.”

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Toured India, particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly


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