Comrade Irabot (30 September 1896- 26 September 1951), who had a humble origin as a destitute orphan, was a leading figure of the social reform movement and political agitations in Manipur in the period 1934-1947. He was not lured by the prospect of royal prerogatives and official facilities including the prestigious post of membership to the Sadar Panchayat Court that were being offered to him for having married princess Khomdonsana. He resigned from the government job and fought against the various forms of oppression under feudalism and British colonial rule. He endeavoured towards the promotion of cultural identity, sports, literature and journalism.
He was instrumental in the formation of reform organizations, students’ federation, peasant union, women’s organization and progressive party. By 1943 he was a confirmed communist and during his six years political exile till late 1946 he was politically active in parts of Assam. He was elected to the Manipur Assembly in 1948. Because of the political ideology and mass support he was a threat to the ruling class who subsequently declared him a terrorist on 21 September 1948. He could not attend the inauguration of the Assembly. He subsequently formed Manipur Communist Party, went underground, carried out protracted armed resistance against the Indian State and died in the jungle in 1951.
The legacy of comrade Irabot has been continuously survived with the State declaring holiday on 30 September to commemorate his birthday. He has been honoured with different titles such as Lamyaanba (Pioneer), Jana-Neta (Leader of the people) by the Cacharis, Simanta Prahari (Sentinel of the Frontier) by Hemango Biswas, Afoji (elder comrade in Burmese or, comrade Ahal to the armed Manipuri red guards) by the then Burmese Communist Party. We are happy that the Irabot Research and Commemoration Committee (IRCC) and the Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur) had taken up the joint initiatives to publish the present edition entitled Comrade Irabot and Capitalism to honour the contribution of Comrade Irabot in the democratic movements. It contains the original work of Comrade Irabot entitled Capitalism and a foreword that briefly reviews it and raises certain interrelated questions in the present context of Manipur.We expect that this small publication contributes in making the tradition of constructive debate continuously alive.
Editorial Team 2 September 2013
-Dr Malem Ningthouja
Comrade Irabot has left with us a booklet entitled Capitalism. It is not known accurately as to when it was written and to what extent it was circulated to the people. However, it is likely that the booklet was written without much delay after he had adopted communist ideology while he was at the Sylhet Jail (1940-1943) and after Manipur had experienced disastrous impacts of the Second World War (1939-1945). It is believed that the booklet was used for ideological propaganda among the people when movement was launched after the formation of the Manipur Communist Party in 1948. In order to discuss the historical juncture of Manipur that the book was based on and the agenda of the book it is crucial to analyse ten years time period (1940-1950).
The ten years period may be discussed as follows:
(1) It was a period when Manipur had faced disastrous impacts of capitalism. On the one hand there was colonial oppression till the last moment of 14 August 1947 and on the other hand there were burdens of killings and destructions caused by the Second World War that was fought among the imperialist forces. It was also a period when peoples’ movement to establish responsible government was carried out till 1947 against the feudal regime that had been protected by the colonial rule.
(2) It was a period when the Indian rulers were exerting strong pressures to establish rule over the peoples in the Northeast including Manipur. There were attempts to form new political entities such as NEFA and Purbanchal by merging Manipur with other entities with the alleged intension to wipe off the pre-existing status quo of Manipur. There was also large scale immigration of monopoly traders from India to control the market and Mayang war refugees from Myanmar.
(3) Despite formal declaration of political independence from British rule in 1947, adoption of Manipur Constitution in 1947 and formation of a responsible government in 1948 the political power was controlled the Imphal Valley rich landlords headed by the king who had supported capitalism. There was also a section that was hatching plots in support of the Indian policy with the intension to fill personal coffer by selling off Manipur. Indian black laws were adopted and there were unrestraint suppressive actions against democratic movements of the Hmar and Mao peoples, and peasants and others.
(4) It was a period when communist movement was sweeping across the globe. In India communist movement was carried out under the guidance of the Soviet Russia. Communist parties were also rising in Burma. All these had catalytic impact on Irabot. Many who supported this goal were also carrying out movement to ensure growth and to protect democratic rights of the peasants. The State indulged in repressive actions to suppress them.
The present booklet shall not deal in length with the history of the peasants and their democratic movements. It is sufficed to say that at the end there was open confrontation between Irabot and those who had supported capitalism. He tried best to sow the seed of revolutionary movement through circulation of literatures. His booklet Capitalism is a general outline to explain capitalism, colonialism and fascism. For all these reasons it remains crucial to discuss Irabot’s Capitalism.
The central issues raised in Capitalism are:
(1) Capitalism is a political economy characterised by the capitalists who live by extraction of surplus value from the workers and resources of the peasants establishing themselves firmly and enjoying supreme control over the political power. Because of the exploitative policy of the profit hungry capitalists there developed class contradiction between the rich and the poor and it led to class confrontation. Wastages, destructions and unrests are developed due to the profit motivated over- production and competition among the capitalists.
(2) Capitalism and colonialism went side by side. Fascism is the most brutal form of the capitalist colonial expansion. Due to capitalists propaganda many innocents are misled by blind nationalism and their lives are sacrificed in unjust wars. Unless capitalism is destroyed, despite a country might have overthrown colonial rule there cannot establish a society where equality, collective growth and peace would prevail.
(3) A new social order where equality, collective growth and peace prevail can be possible only by revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist political economy. The new social order cannot be achieved by cosmetic reforms within the capitalist system. The revolution can be successful only by the movement under the leadership of the workers and peasants guided by the principle of classless society. However the capitalists continuously attempt to keep the workers and peasant parties weak by promoting sectarianism among them through cosmetic reforms and bribing the leaders. In other to overcome these challenges there is in need of a party that adopt correct ideology, farsighted strategy and committed tactics.
Perception on India
Irabot had challenged capitalism and the colonial rule associated with it. On the other hand he drew on a comparison among the capitalists depending on time and situation, and had termed Japanese fascism as more dangerous than British colonial rule. It is said that he had considered the Indian National Army as an enemy for its Japanese fascist connexion despite the fact that it had espoused Indian freedom. A pamphlet circulated on 12 December 1950 condemned the Nehruvian government as a fascist State.
It meant that Nehru’s rule was adopting capitalism and extending colonial rule under the cloak of blind nationalism. Irabot had wanted an Independent Manipur in an Indian federation under a socialist system in the same manner of the Russian voluntary federation. It would not be an exaggeration to argue that Irabot had supported the proposed federation model since the then Communist Party of India (till 1951 incorporated the right to secession) had supported voluntary federation.
He was not inclined towards keeping Manipur under a capitalist colonial system. Irabot was not alone in opposing Nehru’s policy. Internationally, in 1931 Nehru was expelled from the League against Imperialism and for National Independence on the charge of deceiving the revolutionary youth and the working masses and a traitor to the cause of independence and an agent of imperialism. The Constituent Assembly of India debates and the correspondence letter between Nehru and Patel in 1950 would expose their capitalist and expansionist motives.
The manner Manipur was forcibly annexed is being mentioned in the eye witness accounts of Nari Rustomji entitled the Enchanted Frontier and Anandmohan entitled Shillong 1949. Nehru’s ambition to create a super-national state stretching from the Middle East to South-East Asia and to exercise an important influence in the Pacific region is discussed in Suniti Kumar Ghosh’s book entitled the Indian Nationality Problem and Ruling Classes. Neville Maxwell’s India’s China War provides with descriptions about Nehru’s territorial ambition that was largely responsible for the war in 1962. In fact India as we know today is a post-1947 invention.
In 1947 the political power of British India was transferred to the monopolistic capitalist groups of Tata, Birla, Dalmia, Singhania, Bhatt, and comprador section of the Bombay bourgeoisie, capitalists from among Gujaratis and Parsis, Marwari moneylenders, Tamil usurers, etc., who were intimately linked to the princes, landlords and British capital. They adopted a capitalist socio-economic system where social relations were based on commodities for exchange, in particular private ownership of the means of production and on the exploitation of wage labour and resources. The system has been perpetuated through means of suppression, subjective psychological propaganda, and other sectarian and counter-progressive tactics that keep many divided and caught up in a vicious cycle of self-inflicting conflicts along communal and territorial interests.
The capitalist path had necessitated territorial expansion. In other words, capital, which is both a pre-condition and outcome of capitalism, requires a territorial base to thrive on. Although territorial expansionism can be obstructed due to competition, rivalry, and protectionism among the capitalists of different countries, the Indian bourgeoisie took the advantage of imperial interregnum in South Asia in the post Second World War period to expand its territorial base wherever possible. While they selectively used blackmail or bribery or intimidation or military tactics to annex territory, they coined integrity jargons and carried nationhood propaganda to cover up forced annexation and military occupation.
Till date the Indian constitution approves territorial annexation but no provisions on the right to secession. The Northeast, inhabited by economically backward tribal and peasant communities, apart from strategic calculation was important for;
(a) labour, resources (water, uranium, oil, coal, precious stones, minerals, plantation, flora and fauna, tourism, carbon credits, and forest products), and market,
(b) a buffer vis-à-vis presumed China, and
(c) a military stockpile and commodity stocked for commercial expansion in South and South East Asia.
They annexed the Northeast, forcibly integrated it into inter- territorial division of labour and subjected it to the restructured economic order as the primary supplier of labour, raw material, market, and military stockpile for Indian capitalist expansionism. Interestingly, whether a territory should be annexed to the extent of using military force as were the cases of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Manipur, etc. or should be kept as a subordinated neighbour as were the cases of Sikkim (now annexed), Bhutan and Nepal or should be shown favourable treatment as was the case of Burma (at the cost of the controversial Kabow Valley claimed by Manipur) was a meticulously worked-out capitalist programme.
Capitalism from the current perspectives
Irabot and the Manipur Communist Party under his leadership had stood against the policy of Nehru. However the rulers of our homeland had treated him as an enemy. In other words those who supported Nehru’s capitalism and expansionism became puppets and they launched repressive actions to root out the communist party and peasant movements. To defend the party and the movement Irabot took up arms. In this context the idea of “no internecine bloodshed” was discarded. Because, the internal traitors were several times more dangerous than the external enemy. It was necessary to fight and oust them. On the other hand, for the larger goal of revolutionary internationalism Irabot went to Burma and formed alliance with likeminded parties. However, his life ended as a guerrilla solider in the jungle on 26 September 1951.
The question that may be raised is if Irabot’s perception on capitalism and the movement for an independent and classless society still relevant in the present context of Manipur. The question is being addressed as follows:
(1) The first two decades of the 21st century was remarkable in terms of increasing collaboration of the Indian big bourgeoisie with the imperialist cartels and financial institutions. They were increasingly penetrating into the Southeast Asian underdeveloped countries for markets and resources. They played direct or indirect roles in the US-led imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere and in extractive investments.
Their role in the imperialist international division of labour was visible in the collaborative cum competitive engagement with the Chinese social-imperialists, investments in post-LTTE Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, etc. They were investing in the commercial networks spreading across the extensive Mekong- Ganga Riverbed stretches. In the Northeast, apart from other multinational companies and Indian banks, the ADB finance intrusion was gaining momentum. In tune with militarisation and war pre-emption the US army was permitted to conduct a series of military exercises in the jungles of Mizoram to adapt to guerrilla warfare. US FBI operations in Meghalaya are suspected. Protected Area Permit was lifted from the Northeast in 2011 probably under the pressure of the European Union, largely to promote foreigner strategic analysts in the guise of tourists.
(2) On the other hand the Indian big bourgeoisie had withheld heavy industrialisation in India. India became a warehouse and market for foreign capitalist technologies and commodities, and exporter of assembled commodities. INDIA SHINING was dominantly visible in the tertiary construction sub-sectors and in other secondary manufacturing sectors such as assembling of automobiles, expansion of telecom networks, etc. To maximise extraction of capital millions of tribal and peasants were being forcibly displaced at gunpoint to pave the way for the installation of imperialist assembling units. At the same time a vast number of peasants were deprived of investment and impoverished due to forced extraction in order to fulfil the imperialist quota for food grains and other agrarian products.
(3) In Manipur’s context the Indian big bourgeoisie had been closely working in cahoots with the subordinate ruling class composed of landlords, usurers, contractors, commission agents, corrupt officials, petty merchants, etc., who had been dependent on the Indian bourgeoisie for political and economic power. The latter did not directly create capital through investment in constant and variable capitals. They collectively indulged in accumulation of wealth through misappropriation of rent (in the form of central grants) received in return for exploitation of Manipur by the Indian bourgeoisie. They played crucial role in constituting puppet regimes in respectively carved out revenue blocs under the political command of the Indian State who also provided them with military back-up.
(4) Increasing penetration by the State, market forces, immigration and job opportunities could not phase off the structural crisis leading to inequality and unrest. The State invested in cosmetic reformism to divert attention and militarization leading to suppression, repression and insecurity. The situation had a catalytic impact on generating frustration and disillusionment about livelihood. Material conditions of peasant rebellion and labours’ democratic assertions have been looming.
(5) Concurrent to the penetration by State and market forces, parallel community formations, the sense of loss of freedom and ‘national’ identity, there has been armed insurgent groups. However, the insurgents had not been able to propagate the ideology of an independent and classless society to create a collective revolutionary movement across communities. Their politics could not advance much as they concentrated more on creating nationalism markers based on culture and community histories.
In this scenario the local ruling class indulged in two way strategies to retain their political and economic power. On the one hand they carried out sectarian and communal propaganda to cover up their exploitative regime. On the one hand they played a leadership role in carving out exclusive revenue blocs for unrestrained control over land, labour, funds and resources. All these were being interwoven into one through communal interpretation of economic grievances and misrule. Most peasants and wage labours were therefore communally organised. They remained sectarian and disunited.
Freedom / sovereignty and revolution are universal truth. If on the earth there had been no culture of reconstruction to overcome social regression and economic decline the word revolution would have been non-existent. If the microscopic few that control the State is indifferent to freedom and revolution then it exposes that they do not see beyond self interest and they are the destroyers of democracy. They cannot forever rely on black laws, cosmetic reforms and divisive propaganda to permanently cover up the questions of freedom and revolution that had emerged due to the constraints of their political economy.
Their tactics may delay awakening of the mass. However, there is no reason that the poison inherent in their folly administration will not lead to self destruction of the army and divisive propaganda that they rely on to retain their rule. The polemics that Manipur is an inseparable organic part of India is based on the statute framed by the Indian capitalists. It is within the framework of their law that there had developed the exigency to suppress at gun point the freedom question, self-determination movement by communities and movements against destructive projects. On the other hand it is their inherent tendency to impoverish their country and kill, thereby, violating constitutional fundamental rights that are their own making. It does not bring development. But people want peace and development. How to reconcile this contradiction? How long will they defend the country with the paid soldiers? Will the highhanded and hooligan police, army and their relatives remain immune from the unrest and burden of the overall destructions and havocs brought about by the structural crisis? It is highly needed that they change for good the direction of their gun and contribute to the revolutionary cause.
Otherwise they will also be drowned along with the people as a whole. History is the testimony; the capitalist must have to change the path ways from the self vested profit agenda and exploitative culture in order that the question of rebellion or insurgency is resolved. The responsibility of a revolutionary party is to act as the vanguard in leading the people towards revolution. Unless the people as a whole participate a party alone cannot bring revolution. Peoples are awakened by the directions of the party’s revolutionary political and economic programmes. The questions, pertaining to freedom for what and whose freedoms, are automatically responded by the political and economic programmes. The party should be able to explain clearly to the people who the enemies of revolution are and who the revolutionaries are.
All these are constructed on the basis of revolutionary ideology. However, in my homeland despite an increase in the number of parties formed in the name of freedom, it seems distinctive strategy and tactics to be based on revolutionary ideology are still confusing. There is widespread rumour about the insurgents are working in cahoots with the State. The number of those who want to know the differences and commonalities among the insurgent parties has been increasing. Many are today curious to make sharp distinction between those parties that merely use the cloak of freedom under the instigation of the capitalists to misguide people and those parties that genuinely stand for the revolutionary cause. Those parties that could propagate a matured revolutionary ideology, exhibit farsighted revolutionary strategy and carry out committed revolutionary tactics will enjoy long lasting comradeship with the people.
Today in Manipur Irabot Day has been widespreadly organised by the State and several other organisations and individuals. They have converted Irabot into a festival / ritual. They have also converted Irabot’s photograph and other related publications into commodities. Most does not discuss Irabot’s Capitalism and other revolutionary voices and they have distanced away from the revolutionary path. It is common sight that leaders are at the forefront in offering floral tribute to Irabot’s statue; bourgeoisie intellectuals hurriedly arrived and returned hurriedly after delivering public lectures using difficult technical jargons that are difficult to be grasped by the laypersons.
Most of them do not bother to play roles in the revolutionary movement. The merit is some hotels and shops near the programme venue could increase their sell and benefitted. Every year Irabot Day is organised. When elections came after every five years interval most people took money from candidates and the rich were always elected. Is this patriotism, is this civilisation, and is this democracy?
Irabot Research and Commemoration Committee, Head Office Marxism Learning Centre, RIMS ROAD- Imphal.
Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur), New Delhi