On the 22nd of May, 2022, we will meet to commemorate the 31st death anniversary of freedom fighter and communist leader Sripad Amrut Dange. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of India’s freedom from British colonialism. S.A. Dange was a product of the Indian freedom movement that represented the strivings of the poor and working masses of people. He was one of those exemplary freedom fighters who gave his life to the struggle against illiteracy, disease and poverty. He was moulded and shaped in the great labor struggles which took place in the Bombay mills, where he earned the respect and trust of working Indian people.
Dange understood that the question of the emancipation of labor was one and the same as the question of the color line and colonialism the world over. He had the vision and clarity to view the struggles of everyday Indian workers and peasants as part of the great movement of humanity to free itself from the shackles of colonialism and establish a new society.
It is this clarity that allowed Dange to recognize the Indian freedom movement under the leadership of the Congress Party as the central movement for freedom of the Indian poor. He rejected the claim that the freedom movement was a movement of the Indian bourgeoisie to take power and instead understood it as a national revolution. Despite confusion among other Indian communists, Dange understood that the struggle to establish an Indian state that could be democratically leveraged for the masses of Indian people was the same as the struggle to establish a commmunistic society and the struggle of Indian labor. Further, he understood that Gandhi was indeed a revolutionary; though his methods differed from the communistic, he was the flesh of the flesh and bone of the bone of the Indian poor. His analysis would be proved correct time and time again in other parts of Asia and Africa where the world anticolonial struggle took shape.
His clarity and determination to stand up for the truth no matter what the cost many times pit him against other strands of the left movement in India. In particular, during the Indo-china war under Nehru’s leadership, and the time of the Emergency under Indira Gandhi, Dange stood steadfast with the Indian state, which he saw as the result of the bitter struggle for Indian freedom, and against imperialism. During the emergency, sections of the left abandoned the Congress, which at the time represented the radical forces coming out of the freedom struggle. In opposing Indira Gandhi, they aligned themselves effectively with the forces of Imperialism seeking to destabilize the Indian state. It must be remembered that this was a time of coups, assassinations and the overturning of anticolonial governments, as was evident in Chile and Bangladesh. Dange saw clearly that the emergency was an attempt to protect the stability of the Indian state, and hence the achievements of the freedom struggle. He fought bitterly against infantilism among the left and for a broad left that would be worthy of the Indian people. He raised the slogan of unity and struggle with the Congress which he saw as representing the Indian people most broadly.
Today, we live in a world historic time where Dange’s ideas are more relevant than ever. On the world stage, US imperialism and leadership are in a state of crisis. The Ukraine war has shown that nations are no longer willing to bend in the face of Western threats and bullying. A new multipolar world is being born, with Russia, China, Iran among others at its core. In this time, the Indian people are being subject to intense propaganda from the Western elite. They want the Indian people to believe that Putin is an oriental despot, and China is authoritarian and selfish while the West remains the benign harbinger of democracy and freedom the world over. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must, as Dange did, learn to see clearly the hand of imperialism in news about Ukraine. Further, we must strive to push India to firmly play out its historic responsibility in this time to oppose American pressure and help to bring about the new world order.
Domestically, the political situation calls for a new vision that draws on the aspirations of the masses. A fragile unity built purely on opposition to the ruling party cannot be the substance of politics in this time. Instead, we must ask ourselves, what are the principles and ideas that can unite the nation today to undertake the task of poverty alleviation and nation building? Dange spent his life engaging in the great battle of ideas, and believed that ideas can profoundly shape history. We must take this seriously, and engage in the struggle to understand the phenomena that define our world. Further, we must believe in the ability of masses of people to think, understand and act. It is a cop out for us to paint the poor as irrational, emotional and communal, rather than asking what are the logics that lie at the root of their decision making. All those engaging in political struggle must be humble enough to think that they have something to learn from the people.
Lastly, our time calls not for moralizing and posturing, but an analysis of the objective reality we are faced with. We must think, attempt to understand our people and work to build a cadre that can be worthy of them. In this discussion we honor and take inspiration from Comrade Dange, and try to take a step in this direction.