Red Spain - would it have survived?

Rahul Mahajan rahul at
Sat Apr 6 01:12:51 MST 1996

>At 5:00 PM 4/5/96, Rahul Mahajan wrote:
>>I would gladly discuss this
>>phenomenon, historically in general and with regard to the prewar years
>>specifically, with anyone who had even half an independent thought based on
>>a quarter of an iota of knowledge.
>Actually I know next to nothing about India, something that embarrasses me
>and which I'd like to correct. Any advice on what to read?

Yes, India has always been ignored by the American left, a combination, I
suppose, of the facts that it never had a communist revolution and that it
was never a direct and overt victim of American imperialism.

This is a tough one for me, because I know what I know largely through
reading many unsatisfactory books. A few general comments:

Although it is certainly important to know some of the history of British
colonialism, and possibly even something about the Mughal Empire, the best
place to start is with the National Movement, or some of its immediate
precursors in the form of social reform movements of various kinds. The
history of various workers' and peasants' movements is of course also worth
knowing, but it is necessary to start with the National Movement, which can
be taken to be roughly coextensive with the Indian National Congress (to
first approximation), because of the vastly greater importance it had in
the evolution of events.

I can't for the life of me figure out where I learned about the movement. A
good place to start would be anything by Rajani Palme Dutt, one of the few
decent Indian marxist historians. Most of his oeuvre, if I'm not mistaken,
is about communism, but he did write on India specifically as well. The
nationalist school led by Bipan Chandra will give a distorted picture, but
the basic facts should be there.

Once you've got the basic information, you might want to check out *Sources
of Indian Tradition*, Volume Two (Stephen Hay, ed., Columbia University
Press), which is a good collection of brief pieces by most of the principal
actors in Indian history of 1800-1947.

Probably the best source of information on the working class of India is,
appropriately enough, *Working Class of India* by Sukomal Sen. The writing
style is atrocious and it reads like a propaganda rag, but delete the
adjectives and you'll have the facts.

A book I found fairly good on peasant movements was *Peasant Movements in
India 1920-50* by D.N. Dhanagare, Oxford University Press. It is especially
useful in that it gives the other side of the Congress-driven view for a
few important  events.

Some of the subaltern stuff is worth reading, but only after the background
is there -- they downplay the importance of the national movement far too
much. Some of the ones I found most interesting:

Peasant Revolt and Indian Nationalism: The Peasant Movement in Awadh,
1919-22, by Gyan Pandey, from Subaltern Studies, vol. 1. Another good
account of the alternative view.

Trade Unions in a Hierarchical Culture: The Jute Workers of Calcutta,
1920-50, by Dipesh Chakrabarty, from vol. 3. An exposition of the
patron-client nature of most trade unionism in India.

Gandhi as Mahatma: Gorakhpur district, Eastern UP, 1921-2, by Shahid Amin, from
vol. 3. The quaint foibles of those wacky inscrutable orientals. Shows the
gap in consciousness between the highbrow national movement and the people,
although, since it surveys ideas prevalent very early in Gandhi's Indian
career, it's probably not very relevant to the later progression.

I can do better giving you a list of books not to read:

1. Freedom at Midnight by Collins and Lapierre. Ostensibly an account of
the dramatic events leading up to Indian freedom, it is actually an
imaginative reconstruction, with Mountbatten playing the starring role.

2. India Wins Freedom by Maulana Azad. Rife with mistakes, it prompted
Rajmohan Gandhi (someone nobody should read -- Gandhi's grandson and a
complete idiot, not to mention that he was formerly in the pay of the CIA)
to write a rebuttal called India Wins Error. Also puts a minor character
(in this case Azad) in the starring role.

3. Any book explicitly about Gandhi. You can't understand India without
understanding Gandhi (well, knowing about him at least), but such books,
and they're a dime a dozen, tend to give a rather distorted view of the
significance of goats' milk and enemas to India's independence. Especially
true of Gandhi's autobiography.

Probably a lot more than you were asking for, but I can't really think of
one or two books that really cover the basics well. The post-independence
period is an even bigger can of worms.


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