By exploring the intersections of development thought and intellectual traditions in India, this paper seeks to delve upon three under-explored aspects of Rammanohar Lohia’s oeuvre. An engagement with these aspects in Lohia’s intellectual practice is important as here one finds an exceptional sensitivity towards, what has of late been termed as, Eurocentrism of epistemic frameworks. Beyond such frameworks, Lohia undertook some bold theoretical expeditions and chalks out the unfolding of the process of capitalism from the perspective of colonised. With this Lohia also advances the principle of ‘equal irrelevance’ of Eurocentric doctrines for such societies. Such theoretical vignettes advanced by him allows one to not only re-visit some of the axiomatic features of mainstream development discourse but also provides perspective to argue that the mainstream development discourse is both constituted by and situated within a Eurocentric discourse.
Key Words: Eurocentrism, RammanoharLohia, Development thought/thinking, Indian Thought, Indian Intellectual Traditions, Capitalism
The politics of the idea of development, it has been argued, is about taming the future of global South.1 Though the idea of mainstream development, and all that it represents, has acquired the status of a ‘global faith’, scholars have shown that it is rooted in Western intellectual tradition.2 In contemporary times de facto, ‘nothing is more spectacularly global than the formal frameworks of knowledge which have bequeathed to every corner of the globe a universal supposedly tested and verifiable recipe of development’.3 It is the narrative of mainstream development, as a constellation, which commands the global South from ‘backwardness’ to ‘modernity’, from agriculture to industry, from countryside to city and so on - to finally become like ‘them’. However, this ‘universal’ idea, embedded in Eurocentrism, is increasingly contested and there is a felt need to pluralise this conception of development. Such an effort, needless to say, requires an exploration and drawing upon intellectual traditions outside the West. In this spirit, to make a contribution form intellectual tradition of India, this paper seeks to delve upon three aspects of RammanoharLohia’s intellectual practice which emboldens one to trace and question the Eurocentrism4 of development discourse. As a ‘methodological principle’, ‘a hermeneutic of suspicion’5 informed Lohia’s approach towards various forms of Eurocentrism. Three aspects of his thought, resulting from what may be called three ‘creative suspicions’, can be identified which not only capture and elucidate forms of Eurocentrism but also carry important implications for development thinking.
Firstly, one finds an exceptional scepticism towards the Eurocentrism of prevalent epistemic frameworks in Lohia. He comes up as an unusual thinker who is aware that in the discourses of knowledge, hegemony and dominance are intrinsically interwoven. This awareness was much ahead of his time. Secondly, we also find a suspicion for Eurocentric Marxist reading of the history of capitalist development in his writings. Despite its universal claims, Lohia argued that the prime inputs in theorisation of the Marxist understanding were drawn from the specific situations of Western Europe. He calls for a critical scrutiny of such doctrines to contest their universality. Debunking the inadequacies of Marxist mode of reasoning in the unfolding of capitalism, and by bringing in the dimensions of ‘external dynamics’ and ‘twin origin’, he opened up new vistas to re-theorise the phenomenon of capitalist development. And thirdly, along with a scepticism for Western techno-industrialism, Lohia formulated the principle of equal irrelevance of capitalism and communism for societies like India. These three points, if valid even partially, may open up novel ways of approaching some of the axiomatic aspects of mainstream development thinking.
Though Lohia has been seen as a frontal figure in Indian socialist movement and is widely known for his stand on the caste question and banish English programme, his perspective on the aspects associated with development is less known. In this terrain of his ideas, notwithstanding his vast exposure to various ideas and ideologies, Lohia’s ‘line of vision’ remained rooted in the specificities of his location. This can be specifically asserted with reference to the three ideas explored in this paper. Lohia was convinced that the fate of the societies like India meant re-imagination of new civilisation beyond the modern West - and its two ideological manifestations, viz. capitalism and communism. This naturally meant neither an uncritical rejection nor a passive acceptance , but a nuanced and critical engagement with modernity. In this sense, Lohia comes up as an exceptional ‘socialist’ who had the firm belief that any authentic idea has to be embedded in, and also address and anchor, the peculiar context in which it has to be practiced.
Eurocentrism of Epistemic Tools
Lohia stands quite in contrast to many other illustrious thinkers of modern India, with exceptions like M K Gandhi, who warmly embraced the dominant Eurocentric conceptions of thinking and imagining the world. In the same way, scholarship in Indian universities often remain a passive recipient of the conceptual apparatus, theoretical contemplations, modes of thought and inquiry emanating from the West. What Lohia is insisting is to historicise and analyse a Marx or a Smith squarely in their context and not to assume a default ‘universal’ in their articulations. His insights, in this regard, assume more significance in wake of a tendency on part of epistemic communities in most post-colonial societies to refer to the European intellectual tradition as the only one of any significance.
In an insightful piece titled ‘On Scheme of Research at Indian Universities’6 Lohia states his concerns about the epistemic engagements in social sciences and humanities in Indian academia. He makes a distinction between ‘theoretical-analytical’ and ‘descriptive-analytical’ research where the former is of a ‘broader extent’. In contrast, the descriptive-analytical looks at the specific cases through existing theoretical-analytical. Lohia points out categorically that, in the case of arts and social sciences, ‘the descriptive-analytical must prepare the way for the theoretical-analytical, of which there is almost complete dearth in the Indian universities. Without research into the theoretical-analytical, enquiries of a descriptive kind must inevitably lose their value and become insipid dissertations for doctors of second grade status’.7 Following this observation Lohia advances a powerful vignette, ‘particularly, must the enquiry into the theoretical-analytical become intense in non-European lands, as the conceptual tools of worldwide usage are European in origin and validity. These tools must be subjected to a thorough inquiry. Their pertinence at world-wide validity must be laid bare and the way must be prepared for better conceptual tools through fundamental analysis’.8
Lohia comes up with an explicit awareness about the latent Eurocentrism of dominant epistemic frameworks and underlines the importance of theoretical innovations from alternate perspectives. He flags the epistemic indebtedness of the academia in the non-Western world and asserts, ‘Europe has so dominated the world’s current thought that it does not occur to university men in the non-European world to submit these concepts to close examination’. Drawing an analogy, he argues, ‘like the team of blinkered oxen in an oil press, they [academia] go on and on researching into sectional conditions with Europe’s tools and without a thought that these tools are inadequate and required to be refashioned’.9 Lohia states that the present thought is littered with concepts - such as ‘progress’, ‘plenty’, ‘capitalism’, ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ - which are of partial validity because they originated in specific conditions of Europe. An attempt to trace the genealogy of the conceptual apparatus, theoretical formations, modes of thought and inquiry of the scholarship will invariably point to Europe. Lohia pleads that the academics in India should at least strive to acquire the talent to examine such concepts from ‘inside as well as outside’. In this context ‘all doctrines, so it appears, have their being within a certain framework of power. They are unable to burst this framework, not unless they are born outside it’.10 Lohia took upon himself the mandate to look at the truth from ‘outside’ undertook some bold theoretical expeditions, a glimpse of which is presented in the next section.
Debunking Eurocentric Reading of Capitalist Development
Lohia was convinced that experiences of Europe do not embody the universal experiences of the future of other societies like India. In his treatise ‘Economics after Marx’, written in 1943, Lohia made his key intellectual statements in this direction. Here, he reads Marxist analysis of capitalist development with ‘creative suspicion’ - from the perspective of colonial masses. His analysis revolves around three interrelated formulations, i.e. a revision of the concept of ‘surplus value’, ‘external dynamics’ and the principle of ‘twin origin of capitalism and imperialism’. Through these ideas Lohia arrives at his core conviction that capitalism needs an ‘outside’ to trigger, develop and sustain. This is an alternative reading of the unfolding of capitalism in the West.
The limitation of Marx’s conceptualisation of surplus value, for Lohia, is that it is bound within the immediate context of colonial and industrialised countries as it factors in only the exploitation of the worker in the factory. According to it the dynamic and impetus of capitalist development lies in the contradiction between the value and the use-value of the labour – between wages and the produce. However, according to Lohia, this is only partially correct. He emphasis that another parallel suction of surplus value was from colonial peasants and workers. Lohia thus envisions ‘a picture of two circles, one placed inside the other, the inner circle representing the free capitalist structures with their dynamic in the contradiction between the capitalist profits and mechanisedlabour, the other circle representing the colonial economy of the rest of the world with its dynamic between imperial exploitation and colonial labour, the rim of the inner circle possessing an enormously porous capacity to suck into itself the dynamic of the outer’.11 11These two dynamics need to be captured and the interconnections have to be explored simultaneously to arrive at a better and comprehensive understanding about this issue.
Lohia puts forward that, ‘there are two distinct values and wages of labour, those effective in the imperial countries and those effective in the colonies. This distinction between imperial labour and colonial labour and their respective wages is of the utmost importance for a proper understanding of the source of surplus value’.12 In fact the surplus value is the difference between the ‘actual earnings of the labour and the per worker world production of the time’.13 Because of the surplus value extracted from colonies, it was possible to increase both wages and profits at the same time in capitalist countries. Thus what prima facie appears as the higher produce of imperial labour is directly due to the many generations of imperial-colonial division of labour in the world. Noting the unequal and exploitative relationship at world scale Lohia says, ‘one might almost say that the ghosts of hundreds of millions of colonial toilers are invisibly moving the machines in imperial factories. The highly elaborate machinery and its continuing improvement in capitalist countries are due, in large part, to the surplus value created in colonial firms and mines’.14 The productive capacity of these industries is due, largely, to the colonial toilers who buy their produce. This way, colonial societies become ‘one vast village to the capitalist economies’.15 The history of capitalist development, thus, is the history of increasing pauperisation of not the imperial labour but of the colonial masses.
Exploring a related aspect about the nature of capitalism, Lohia argued that the imperialism and capitalism have jointly developed in capitalist history and are inseparable. This, according to him, can be called the ‘twin origins of capitalism and imperialism’. Capitalism and imperialism are twins which grew in concert. Capitalism ‘seeks its external dynamic’ ‘even before it is born and’, argues he, ‘it gobbles up one country after another’.16 In order to explain the trajectory and significance of capitalism in the development of the world economy, Lohia refers to the inter-relations between Britain and India from the second half of the 18 th century. It was at this tipping point, with its beginnings in England, modern world economy began to emerge. Lohia points to an empire-colony dynamic in the fact that textile was the first industry to employ machinery, which is the technical foundation of capitalism. Thus the thrust which Lancashire industry, at its very beginning, got out of India was due to British rule. Lohia writes, ‘history’s record shows that, unsupported by British rule over India... the Lancashire industry would have died in its infancy’.17 Manchester and Lancashire could not have been built in absence of colonial plunder. In similar fashion, ‘Britain did not give railways to India; India gave Britain her railways and the engineering industry’18 and history is full of such truths which seems to go counter to outward appearances. From such historical instances Lohia derives the assertion that ‘imperialism and capitalism are of joint origin and development’.19
Survey of British capitalism, Lohia observes, brings one to the inevitable conclusion that imperialism and capitalism are of joint origin and development. But for Marx and Lenin, according to him, imperialism is a tumour of capitalism, and odorous after-growth. The problem with Marx was that the external dynamics were not the integral part of the framework of his understanding of capitalist development. It might be stated that Lohia’s understanding on this issue was quite distinct from Lenin. For Lenin, imperialism has a specific place in a specific stage of capitalism. Thus ‘imperialism’ should be seen ‘as a special stage of capitalism’.20 For Lohia, in contrast, imperialism is not a characteristic of any specific stage of capitalism [as the stage of ‘monopoly’ capital,à la Lenin] but the very condition which moves and sustains the phenomenon since birth. Lohia, argues that in the face of plethora of contra evidences ‘how anyone could have suggested that imperialism is the last stage of capitalism is beyond comprehension’.21 Imperialism, in fact, is not only the first stage of capitalism but also goes on developing with it. According to Lohia, it is unlikely that capitalism is at all possible without imperialism.22 Thus it is not a ‘self moving’ West European entity. It constantly feeds upon the imperial dynamic. It is a global system in which different dominions of the globe were inter-bound in a definite asymmetric relationship. This asymmetric imperial relationship may not always necessarily take place between different nations; but may occur withina single nation as well.
The theory of twin origin and the external dynamics lays the foundation for and alternative perspective on the technology. For Lohia, capitalism involves unrestrained use of technology for mass production. Similarly, in the Marxist discourse it is almost a postulate that the development of forces of production is fundamental to the progress; in fact a precondition for the advancement towards socialist society. However, for Lohia, the ‘genuine socialism would have to think in terms of destroying both the capitalistrelations of production and the capitalist forces of production, or at least vastly remodelling them’.23 Thus, the aspect of technology, distinct from Marxist programme, should be analysed independent of the question of production relations.
However, what if capitalism has to be practiced in absence of external dynamic? Lohia argues that ‘capitalism depending upon an exclusive internal dynamic, though theoretically improbable in a vast country with a vast population, will have to bear two burdens at the same time, the joint capitalist-imperialist burdens’.24 In all likelihood it will crash under these burdens; in all likelihood it will cause impoverishment on a hitherto unknown scale. This specific argument, becomes quite germane in context of Lohia’s position on the nature of high technology and industrialism resulting into his principle of ‘equal irrelevance’ - a subject matter of the third ‘creative suspicion’ in Lohia’s thought one wishes to emphasise.
Equal Irrelevance of European Doctrines of Capitalism and Communism
‘Capitalism and Communism’, Lohia argued, ‘are but two parts of the single complex of existing civilisation’,25 barring the property question. There are some striking and fundamental commonalities between capitalism and communism. There exists a shared core in the form of politico-economic centralisation. The lure of industrial grandiose is common to both and both share an unabated faith in technology. Both doctrines, as they share the commitment in terms of means of production, are inadequate theoretical constructs and do not suit the requirement of societies like India because of their specificities. Hence Lohia insists on equal illrevanae of capitalism and communism for such societies. Along with an imperative to disintegrate the premises of these Eurocentric doctrines it is also important to imagine an alternative. Framing his principle, Lohia notes that, ‘the theory of equal irrelevance is the decision of the traveller on a new road, who refuses to be tempted by the two other roads that go round and round and lead nowhere. Nothing is more fatal for such a traveller than to waste his time in comparisons between the two other roads; they are equally irrelevant to him’.26
Another malady of modern civilisation, of which the two doctrinal manifestations are capitalism and socialism, is also noted by Lohia. Stressing on the aspect of spiritual equality, he writes, ‘if previous civilisations broke down under the weight of spiritual equality coupled to a social inequality, modern civilisation appears to be cracking under the weight of a social equality coupled to a spiritual inequality. Collective life has become so callous, and man is but the object of an experiment’.27 Further, he says that under the two doctrinal manifestations of modern civilisation ‘the relationship between man and things is reversed so that things use him rather than he them’.28 Thus, Lohia attracts attention to the hollowness of modern civilisation at one level. Though, he is equally cautious not to denounce this civilisation in every aspect. In fact, he admires its progressive aspects – for example, the idea of social equality – and argues that there is much to learn from the thought and practice of this civilisation. However, he viewed the dominant ideological frameworks of capitalism and communism which have shaped much of the theory and practice in social world with suspicion and pokes at the inherent ethnocentrism of these doctrines.
Under both capitalism or communism, according to Lohia, the unbridled hunger for raising the ‘standards of living’, manifested in concepts like ‘progress’ and ‘plenty’ (which inform the mainstream development thinking), is common. Capitalism expects the dream world of ‘affluence’ to be achieved under the situation of perfect competition, where an individual is driven by his/her self interests. Communists expect this ideal to arise out of social ownership over means of production. Both the doctrines, as they share the same means of production and many conceptual underpinnings, are inadequate theoretical constructs and do not suit the requirements of societies like India. Lohia is deeply sceptical about the possibility and feasibility of the ‘dream world’ of the two doctrines. Of late, a similar idea about the limits of progress has gained currency due to environmental critiques of development which question the idea of limitless growth. Thus the three ‘creative suspicions’ of Lohia helps to unearth three latent forms of Eurocentrism. However what are the entailments of these theoretical positions, if valid, for development discourse/thinking ?
Some Implications for Development Thinking
One can tentatively derive following arguments from the aforesaid discussion with reference to development thinking. First, the aforesaid arguments call for a need to construct, what Lohia calls, ‘theoretical-analytical’ in the development discourse from the perspectives of non-Western societies. ‘Mainstream development thinking’, as Hettne puts it, ‘can be analysed along a continuum running between two ideological anti-poles, socialism versus capitalism’.29 Thus, the mainstream in development discourse represents various shades running between two conventional dominant doctrines, capitalism and orthodox marxism. Lohia’s theory of equal irrelevance of capitalism and communism, as these doctrines carry subtle forms of Eurocentrism, leads to the argument that these systems are ill-assorted to inform the developmental vision for the societies of global South. Further, an intellectual engagement with Lohia also allows to challenge the techno-industrialism, so prevalent in mainstream development discourse.
Second, the mainstream development perspectives - rooted in the ideas like ‘progress’ and ‘plenty’ and the master frames like capitalism and socialism - are to be ‘treated as provincial unless proven otherwise’. Clearly the arguments of Lohia induces to assert that development – having the capital-intensive technology, high industrialism and idea of mass-production, mass-consumption at its core – if to be practiced in the erstwhile colonies will bring immense social and economic costs. Putting forward the argument that capitalist development essentially needs colonies, Lohia cautions against a mad-rush to attempt the same, without being aware of its darker side, as the desideratum may have devastating consequences for a large part of humanity.
Third, and most importantly, Lohia’s arguments also asks one to challenge the raison d’être of universalist theories of development, which foster a uni-linearity in the development discourse. Modernisation theories and theories located in orthodox Marxist teachings are examples par excellence which subscribe to the notion of uni-linearity where societies are imagined to pass through set stages, finally arriving at a universal terminus of abundance and affluence. This ‘first in the West, then in the rest’ informs the core of mainstream development thinking. There is a rule almost cast in stone in the orthodox development discourse about the uni-linearity, also known as ‘transition’, closely associated with what economists call structural transformation, in the orthodox development understanding.30 It sets a standardised narrative of a dream world - a uniform, universal end-product of mega industrial/urban affluence - to be achieved by all societies. To ‘catch up’, because of this imperative, has become some sort of tryst with destiny for the societies of global South. Lohia’s argument about the external dynamic and twin origin of capitalism and imperialism asks us to critically engage with this narrative. One of the key prospects of his argument is that being ‘clones’ of the West is not an option for the societies like India. The simplistic uni-linearity assumption, Lohia’s approach insists, is often the consequence of a perspective of history as a linear process with Europe as it’s magnetic compass and terminus. The essential point is that India – and global South at large - cannot adopt the historical path of development hitherto adopted by the modern West.
Lohia, for the arguments of twin origin and the external dynamics, was convinced that capitalist development needs colonies – or an ‘outside’– to begin, to sustain and to develop. The capitalist development - having high industrialism and mass production-mass consumption at its core, also quite central to orthodox Marxism - was visualised by him as a process which fosters a global hierarchical system in which different parts of the globe are yoked in a definite asymmetric relationship. A key feature of the expansion of capitalist development, Lohia maintains, is the inherent ‘perennial’ process of primitive accumulation, though, ‘by definition’, primitive accumulation precedes capital accumulation. It follows from Lohia’s analysis that primitive accumulation is not only a historical fact, but a continuing reality - a perennial process - inbuilt in the very process of capitalist development.31 It is constantly experienced especially in the developing world today. This positioning, has specific entailments; primary being that such a process if attempted to be practiced in societies like India, inevitably brings immense social and economic costs for many. The claim is that the very nature and logic of capitalist development is such that it continuously reproduces ‘non-capital’. Further, in the postcolonial contexts, the vast population which gets uprooted in the process cannot be absorbed within the domain of capitalist economy and thus a wasteland of the capitalism’s rejects is continuously produced.32 The idea of ‘transition’ is therefore flawed in itself, rather than a result of flawed implementation of a basically sound idea.
Basic take-away which follows from Lohia’s three ‘creative suspicions’ and the resulting formulations is that the mainstream development discourse is both constituted by and situated within a Eurocentric discourse. In order to burst it, it has to approached from outside. Extremely sensitive to the incongruences between Eurocentric doctrines and the realities in societies like India, Lohia’s arguments can serve not only as entry points but may also provide a perspective to explore a wider set of issues related to political economy and development which are germane to the global South. What follows from his ‘line of vision’ is that societies should evolve their own authentic approaches, particularly with reference to political-economy and development, informed by their specificities. Needless to say, explorations into Lohia’s intellectual terrain, surely, will not bring us the panacea, however this exercise potentially equips one to critically engage with some uncritically accepted axiomatic features of mainstream development discourse and assist in conceptualising an alternative. Lohia himself was quite conscious of the fact that doctrines often turn into frozen dogmas and he repeatedly cautioned that ‘no man’s thought should be made the centre of a political action; it should help but not control’.33 This applies, obviously, to him and his analysis as well. With these caveats, this article has focused on three aspects of Lohia’s thought from the perspective of development however there is more in him, and in intellectual traditions in India in general,34 which may assist one to derive insights and theoretical formulations to sculpt post-Western ideas of alternative development. Reinventing development, through such endeavours, is not only about pluralising a ‘normative universal’ of our times; it also means a resistance to global structures of dominance and giving back the ‘majority’ world, the global South, the claim to envision its own future.
Notes and References
Asst. Professor, Department of Political Science,
Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University