14 April 2011

Maoism in India Linked To Neo-Feudalism

In parts of India, historically, land has typically been owned by individuals, much as it is in most of the United States. In parts of India, historically, land has typically been owned communally by villages in what amounts to a localized form of communism. In yet other parts of India, historically, land has typically been owned the landlords with large land holdings that is worked by landless peasants, in what amounts to a neo-feudal system.

While territorial boundary tensions in the general vicinity of Kashmir, and religous/ethnic conflicts between Hindus and Muslims capture most of the press about political violence in India, a third major source of political violence in India is an ongoing insurgency by Naxalites, who are usually described as Maoist are highly concentrated in parts of India that have historically had neo-feudal land tenure.

Thus, what seems from abroad to be revolution in support of discredited communist ideology, looks locally like an economic struggle that had already been largely resolved in Europe when Adam Smith and Karl Marx were defining the boundaries of the political economy debate there. Maoists in India are addressing legitimate grievances that the developed world is so far removed from that it is has largely forgotten them.

The United States experienced a similar struggle, but we didn't conceptualize it as an issue of land reform. We called the effort to dismantle a system largely build around ownership of large farms worked by landless workers abolition and dealt with it by ending slavery rather than with government sponsored land reform. Emancipation happened; 40 acres and a mule did not. A wave of reconstruction era bank foreclosures did a little to disaggregate plantation land holdings, but mostly the mechanization of agriculture and rise of an industrial economy made land ownership less economically relevant than it had been.

The implication of this fact, of course, is that the solution to the long running Maoist insurgencies in India may be to address the land tenure concerns that a fueling those insurgencies, and for outsider forces in India's policy environment to not so easily conflate an anti-feudal movement with anti-capitalist sentiment. This understanding of the movement helps makes sense of otherwise mysterious phenomena like the large contigent of pro-business Maoists in nearby Nepal's recent democratic elections.

In the words of a 1972 speech by Pope Paul VI, "If you want peace, work for justice."

1 comment:

TiradeFaction said...

India is an interesting place, if for no other reason it's much more of a sub continent than a "real" nation so to say, so many religions and cultures, and national identities, including different economic struggles apparently.