November 05, 2023
Opposing Imperialism is the First Task of Communists: Karat

Below we publish the text of the speech delivered by Prakash Karat, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member at the seminar organised by the Pramod Dasgupta Memorial Trust on ‘The Communist Manifesto @ 175 and the Present Times’. The seminar was held at the Pramod Dasgupta Auditorium in Kolkata on October 17, 2023, the occasion of the 103rd anniversary of the formation of the Party.

WE have gathered here to observe two anniversaries.  The first is the anniversary of the formation of the first unit of the Communist Party of India in Tashkent which was called Indian Communist Party. The second one is the 175th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels. Both these events are intimately connected. The Communist Manifesto was the first political charter or declaration of the communists. Everything about the communist movement subsequently flows from this short book which Marx and Engels wrote at a very young age. Both were less than thirty when they wrote it. It was written for Communist League, a small organization of German workers. Subsequently the Communist League was further expanded to include other workers and then went on to develop into the International Working Men's Association (The First International) and so on. So, without The Communist Manifesto we cannot think of the formation of various communist detachments in the world. 

That is why in 1920 in Tashkent which was a part of the new revolutionary Russia (the USSR was formed a little later) under the leadership of M N Roy who had just attended the Second Congress of the Communist International as a delegate. He took the initiative to gather some of the Indian-origin people who had reached Tashkent, émigrés who had left India- muhajirs who opted to take training and support from revolutionary Russia, come back and fight for the liberation of India. So, the Communist Manifesto laid the basis for the international working-class movement. The Indian unit, the small party which was founded, saw itself as a part, a contingent of this movement. It was motivated primarily by people who wanted to fight British imperialism in India. It was the Communist Manifesto which laid the groundwork for the understanding that capitalism is an international system. The working class will also have to build an international movement in order to fight this worldwide capitalism. In the Communist Manifesto as the outlines of historical materialism, the materialist conception of history was spelt out very lucidly and clearly. We all remember the famous assertion in The Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle “. It goes on to explain how bourgeoisie and capitalism exploit the working class, appropriate surplus value. The Manifesto also foresaw with remarkable clarity how a globalized capitalism would come into being. In fact, even the bourgeois circles acknowledge that   Marx was the prophet of capitalist globalization. Communist Manifesto captures that prophecy in just two sentences:   The need for a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere.” so the bourgeoisie has to chase markets for products and to invest capital in all corners of the globe. This Marx foresaw. But the Manifesto (1848) does not give a full-fledged analysis of capitalism as a system. That was done by Marx subsequently when he wrote Capital (1867). Capital is a critical analysis of the political economy of capitalism, of course, up to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. 

It was Lenin drawing on the work of Marx in Capital who took Marx’s theory of capitalism to a new level when he said, now monopoly capitalism has developed, and monopoly capitalism is identified with imperialism, the highest stage. Thus, Marx’s theory was taken to a higher level after Marx. In the Communist Manifesto lie the seeds of the whole subsequent process. Lenin comprehended that now capitalism is a worldwide system represented by imperialism. Imperialism has colonized different countries in different parts of the globe and brought them all into the nexus of capitalist relations. So, if we want to fight imperialism, Lenin said, the fight must not be confined to advanced capitalist countries, it must be carried out in the colonies and semi-colonies where a vast mass of people, particularly the peasantry is also exploited by imperialism and worldwide capital. Therefore, there is a link between the struggles of the working class in advanced capitalist countries and the peasant masses of the colonial countries that had to fight against imperialism for liberation. 

All this is more relevant today because we are meeting here today at a time when the forces of imperialism are out to launch another destructive war. Israel, backed by the United States and its western allies, is poised to launch a ground invasion of Gaza. The West Bank   and the Gaza Strip have come to constitute the illegally occupied Palestinian territory. We have seen this kind of direct occupation at the global scale up to the 20th century with the major imperialist countries ruling over colonies by occupying territories, establishing their own set-up, running the administration and extracting their loot and surplus from the colonies. That process of colonialism under imperialism was more or less over in the 20th century itself. But one settler colony of the old type remains-that is Palestine. The power which occupies Palestine and colonizes the Palestinian people is Israel. One may argue that Israel is not an imperialist country. By classical definition it is not in that sense an imperialist country like the United States, Britain, France or Germany. But Israel is very much an outpost and a product of imperialism.

Unless we understand the historical backdrop of what Israel is and what Palestine was, we shall not be able to comprehend what is happening today in the current round of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The brief account from Marx’s analysis of capitalism to Lenin’s theory of imperialism may serve as a useful backgrounder, to bring forth the awareness that imperialism is still alive and kicking in the world today. What we are witnessing in Gaza or are going to witness in Gaza is another destructive war launched by imperialism. Just as imperialism launched its war against Iraq and destroyed Iraq, just as imperialism attacked   Libya and destroyed Libya, just as imperialism made war on Afghanistan and reduced it to dust, this is happening in west Asia which the British call the Middle East.  

I shall go   back to 1948 as a starting point to briefly recount the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. There was no Israel until May, 1948. There was only Palestine which was a British protectorate, under the rule of Britain until 1948. Before that Palestine formed part of the Ottoman Empire until it was occupied, in 1917-19, by British forces. The First World War ended with the dismemberment of the empire. The western powers carved up the Middle East into spheres of influence for their respective countries.  Thus, Palestine went under British control. 

 The history of the Jews in Europe is so well known, that it hardly needs to be repeated. At many places Jews have been persecuted, oppressed simply because they were Jews, because of the historical antagonism between Christianity and Jewish religion.  A political movement was initiated in the late 19th century among the Jews called the Zionist movement to enable the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people. Jews have lived for centuries in   Europe, with the largest concentration in the Central and Eastern European countries. Most of the European monarchs swore their allegiance to the Catholic Church and in general persecuted the Jews.  Zionist movement or “Zionism” became the modern Jewish term expressing a desire for the Jewish people's return to the land of Zion which was a region in the Biblical times in Palestine where they used to live many centuries ago.  This Zionist movement finally found favour with British imperialism and in 1917 while World War I raged in Europe, the Jewish people received the Balfour Declaration, a public statement issued by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour that expressed British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  

From then began the chain of events, including the massacre, genocide of Jews by Nazis particularly during the Second World War known as the holocaust. After the Second World War almost all of the western powers, bearing the guilt and shame over the Holocaust, accepted the Zionist demand of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. There was no mention however of the original Palestinians, the Arabs who were already staying there. In the meantime, over the decades, Jewish immigration was happening into Palestine. They began settling there and attacking the Arabs and driving them away from their territory. Finally on November 29, 1947 the newly set up United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) which divided the former British mandate into a separate Jewish State of Israel and Arab state of Palestine in May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end.

But this did not happen. As the Israelis were well-armed and they had the support of the western countries, in fact, right from the day of the declaration of the State of Israel began the process of driving away the Palestinian Arabs out of their territory.  The Arabs collectively call this the Nakba (catastrophe). This year is the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. After being driven out, where did they go? They are no longer in the original Palestine. Some of them went to the West Bank, a part of Jordan, known at that time as Trans – Jordan. Some went into Gaza. Gaza was once a part of the Ottoman Empire. Then it came for decades under Egyptian control. And many more people became refugees. 

There are more Palestinians outside the occupied territories and Gaza. Palestinian refugees have been living in camps in Lebanon for more than 60 years. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza are descendants of refugees who   were expelled from the area that became Israel. Gaza contains eight refugee camps, which have become townships. These people who had to leave their homeland 75 years ago are saying that they are facing another Nakba today as Israel has ordered 1.1 million people in northern Gaza to evacuate.  It is not difficult to discern the conspiracy behind this.  They are telling Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza and to take in the displaced Palestinians, like they once went to Lebanon and Jordan.  Once they go there, they will not be allowed to come back. Thus, Gaza shall be vacated and they will take over.  

That is the issue today.    The Israelis have a two-fold aim: one is to finish off Hamas. But behind that also is a hidden agenda-- let us do some ethnic cleansing in the process and get rid of the Palestinians as well. It is very difficult to eliminate Hamas.  Hamas    is deeply entrenched in Gaza.  It was in 2007 that the Palestinian territories held what turned out to be their last parliamentary elections. Hamas won in that election. 

On 7th of October Hamas militants/fighters   broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip, broke through the supposedly impregnable barriers and attacked Israeli military bases and Jewish settlements leading to the death of a large number of people-- about 1500 or even more. This is what is being now put up as a horrific attack and massacre by Hamas ‘terrorists. So, Israel is taking retaliatory action against Gaza. 

But what is Gaza?  The Israeli army is said to have formally dismantled settlements and withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005. But instead of having actual occupation they imposed a blockade and exercised effective control of Gaza. Gaza, a narrow coastal strip where about 2.3 million people live is stuck between the Mediterranean, Israel, and Egypt with an area measuring 365 square kilometers, or 141 square miles. All access points to   the Gaza Strip are controlled by Israel with the exception of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which coordinates with Israel to manage it. Gaza's 2.3 million people depend on Israel largely for their basic supplies of food, water and electricity. Their ability to travel—within and outside Gaza- depends on Israeli permits. That is why the Gaza Strip is often referred to as the world’s largest 'open-air prison’. 

For the last 16 years, from 2007 onwards this illegal blockade has throttled the Gaza Strip; periodically the people have been revolting against this prison life.  They have been launching rockets into Israel. They have been sending squads. Every time Israel   retaliates by aerial or naval bombing killing hundreds of ordinary civilians in Gaza. Israel’s stand is crystal-clear: you are in a prison; if you do not behave properly, you will not get food, electricity or medical supplies. If you protest, we will attack you.

 After 16 years in desperation the youth of Gaza   organized by Hamas has launched this attack which Israel could never expect. They thought they had got the most sophisticated army, the most sophisticated surveillance system through constant satellite monitoring and everything else.  Despite all this they were attacked and for a while their control went off from these areas. Now Israel is run by an extreme right government. It is an irony that people who suffered the most under the Nazis and the fascists have chosen to be led by people who behave like fascists.    Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is full of fascists, religious fanatics and extremists who assert that no Arab should live in their Holy Land.   If they live, they must survive like slaves. This is the situation in Gaza. 

In the other occupied territory, that is the West Bank, which has another 3 million Palestinians, its whole map has become unrecognizable. They have cut up the tiny territory of the West Bank   into several conclaves and fenced it all. Furthermore, Israel has constructed a nine-foot- high wall that separates the West Bank territories from Israeli-controlled land which is known as the apartheid wall. In between they have built a settler-only road called infamously the apartheid road which means that Israeli settlers are able to travel freely across the occupied territories and into Israel, while Palestinians   cannot: They must apply for permits, which are difficult to obtain. These are just a few examples of the ways in which Israel functions as an apartheid state. 

Furthermore, the extremist Jewish movement has pushed   half a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank into different settlements cutting off one area from the other. These Jewish settlers are Zionists. They are ideologically motivated, heavily armed and they have come there purposefully to ensure that their Holy Land is fully under them and to drive away the Palestinians. So, they systematically cut down their olive trees as they are the source of livelihoods throughout Palestine.  They force   Palestinians off their land and homes, occupying and illegally using them. This process has accelerated. So, the choice for the Palestinians now is: either you stand with your back against the wall or you stand up and fight. And if you fight you will be killed. In the months leading up to this escalation 248 Palestinians, including 47 children, were killed in the West Bank this year alone by the Israeli security forces or these armed settlers. 

Thus, here is an unfinished task of the twentieth century. There is one colony which has still not been liberated. This is the longest occupied territory in modern times. But how does Israel manage to do this? This is because when Israel was founded after        WWII there was already the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. National liberation struggles were advancing. The Arab nationalist movement developed. In Egypt Nasser came to power. In Iraq also  “Baath” movement gained momentum. They were all secularly oriented. So, America wanted a policeman for this region to protect its interest.   This resulted in the unholy deal-US shall back the Israeli state, arming it to the teeth, providing all material resources and in return Israel would ensure that these Arab progressive nationalist secular forces do not grow. That process has continued. 

We can see today how America has responded to this escalation of conflict. It has sent two aircraft carriers to the region. The US military has readied 2000 troops for their potential deployment to the Middle East. U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on a visit to show solidarity. Interestingly, when Biden talks about US obligation to tackle Hamas, he does not talk about Israeli atrocities in Gaza. He does not talk about how till today thousands of ordinary Palestinians have been killed by bombing. A vast number are children because the demography of Gaza is such that the median age is 18 i.e. 50% of the population is under 18. So, when they bomb Gaza children are the first victims. But Biden doesn't say anything about the call given by Israel that 1.1 million people will have to vacate Gaza and go to a tiny area where there is no water. They do not say anything because Israel is their gendarme, the policeman for this region. 

On the other hand, Iran fully supports the Palestinian people. In Lebanon there is Hezbollah which has been fighting Israel. The Syrian Golan Heights is a region in southwest Syria   occupied   by Israeli forces. That is another colony. To maintain this America will give them full support. So, this fight is not between some Jews and Muslims. That is how Narendra Modi and the BJP see it. Why has Modi for   the first time as an Indian prime minister declared one-sided support for Israel? He said we condemn the terrorist attack and declare our solidarity with Israel. Normally we have always said, we support Israel’s right to exist but Palestinians must get their right for statehood. This is the stand India has always been taking. But that has changed. For in our country we have today a government and its leader which are very similar to the Netanyahu’s far-Right government in their thinking. This is not just anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim fear-mongering because Jewish extremism does not tolerate the fact that Islam has a position there in Palestine.  You must have heard of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. All of Jerusalem is holy to three religions—Christian, Jewish and Muslim and they have some of their most holy religious sites in this City.  The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound which is also known as the Temple Mount in Jewish religion, holds immense religious significance to both. For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus preached, died and was resurrected. Bethlehem where Jesus was born is a Palestinian town south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The Jewish extremists/ Zionists want to eliminate not only the Muslims but also Christians from Jerusalem. This is very similar to the outlook of our Hindutvavadis  here in India who find kinship and solidarity with Jewish extremists-the Zionists. 

Long ago, V D Savarkar , father of Hindutva ,  had praised Israel in 1950 and said we should learn from them how they are dealing with these Muslims in their neighbourhood. So the Zionists and the Hindutva forces ideologically find themselves on the same wavelength.  The axis between Washington, Tel-Aviv and Delhi was conceived when the first BJP-led Vajpayee government came into power. Brajesh Mishra who was principal secretary of Vajpayee and national security adviser, went to America and addressed the Jewish Congress where he declared that in future we will have an India-US-Israel axis.  We all know that Israel has now become the biggest supplier of military equipment to India. Israel supplies all the intelligence equipment to India.  We have all heard of Pegasus technology which is provided by Israel and used to infect our phones. If we go to Kashmir, not just now, for the last 20 years, all the technologies used to keep surveillance on the Kashmir people were acquired from Israel. The pellet guns which were used against the demonstrators and stone pelters were exactly the same that were used against Intifada activists.  When Palestinian boys used to throw stones they were shot at by this type of gun. We learnt from Israel how to suppress our own religious minorities. That is why India today is looking like the mirror image of what Israel has become where the majority of the populations in Israel, occupied territories are still Arabs outnumbering the Jews. Still the Israelis are running the occupied territories as colonies suppressing the Palestinians, and acting as gendarmes of imperialism all over the region. 

So, what did the Communist Manifesto teach us? We have to fight imperialism worldwide. We have to fight it, we have to oppose it, and we have to express solidarity with all those people who suffer from imperialism. That is why during our national liberation struggle, when the whole Israeli business started at the cost of Palestinians immediately after WWII the leadership of or nationalist movement including Gandhiji said what is being done to the Palestinians is unjust. You cannot give justice to Jews at the expense of Palestinians. Palestinians have the right to have their homeland. That has been our consistent policy since then. 

But now times have changed. We have a ruling class in India who has now aligned themselves closely with imperialism. There is no difference between Biden’s stand and Modi’s stand today because under the Modi government we have turned into a strategic ally of the US. Two years ago, under the guidance of America we joined a forum (Israel, India, UAE and USA) called IUIU. They want India also to help them in West Asia along with Israel.  So, we have our foreign policy today aligned with the USA. Israel is now seen as a valuable military and security partner of India. If that is the case how can our government bother about the Palestinians? Anyway, they are Muslims who are expendable as far as RSS and BJP are concerned. That is why for us communists, who are first and foremost anti-imperialists, vow  to fight imperialism anywhere and everywhere because we know it is the same imperialism that oppresses us through its alliance with our ruling classes. 

So, our first and foremost task, irrespective of what the Modi government does, is to express our solidarity with the people of Palestine. We must also understand what the corporate media puts up in India and across the globe does not reflect the true situation. Even in the US and many of the European countries there are people who are rising up and saying to their respective governments that    your stand of only supporting Israel is wrong.   The Palestinians have for long been the victims of Israeli occupation and aggression. 

In our country we too have to tell our bourgeois intellectuals and media that you cannot equate the violence perpetrated by the victims of oppression who were fighting for their own survival and liberation with the violence of the oppressors and colonizers. We strongly condemn and deplore the killing of innocent people, particularly women and children, during the Hamas attack. But that does not mean we have to be blind to the much greater atrocity that is taking place, of the killing of hundreds of ordinary women and children through the savage bombing of Gaza. Can one say shooting a child is barbarous but dropping a bomb on a child is okay? Both of these are war crimes. So, we condemn both. 

We cannot understand this tragic conflict unless we see that Palestinian people have been the most unfortunate and oppressed people unlike people in other parts who were colonized and oppressed but were successful in getting independence. Palestine, as I have said, is the unfinished task of the twentieth century.  We have to work towards that in the 21st century. At some point in time there will be a political settlement or solution as envisaged by the UN in 1948. Yes, Israel has a right to exist. It has existed now for 75 years.  We do not agree with Hamas’s position that Israel has no right to exist at all.  We say let them exist, but on the pre-1967 borders. After the 1967 war Israel has occupied all these additional territories. We tell them to go back to 1967 borders and rest of these territories must, without any barriers or encumbrances, become the Palestinian homeland.

So, comrades, given the dominant Hindutva narrative in our country today we may be attacked for saying this. It may be said that we are supporting terrorism. This government, anyway, brands anybody who opposes them as terrorists. In Kashmir everybody is a terrorist. Journalists who criticize the government are terrorists. So, it is natural that they will brand us as supporters of terrorism. But that should not deter us because this fight is a part of our fight against the Modi government. After all, foreign policy is only an extension of domestic policy. Their domestic policy is to target the minorities, to turn them into second class citizens and to establish the Hindu Rashtra just like Israel is trying to establish a Jewish state. So, our fight against the Modi government today is not only against its attack on democracy, secularism, federal structure, the Constitution and on the democratic rights of the opposition as a whole. It is also against the foreign policy of the government. Unless stopped,  it is going the way where it will end up as neo-fascism.

This is what is happening in Israel. The irony is that before the Hamas attack, Netanyahu's  government was facing huge protests from the people of Israel. Netanyahu was trying to pass laws to control the judiciary. The big movement was being built up. What is our government doing here? They want to control the judiciary, media and parliament. They want to control everything. Already we have a Hindutva authoritarian regime and if they are allowed to go unchecked and unresisted it will end up in a form of neo-fascism i.e. what we have to understand. When we stand up against the Modi government’s policies, we are also standing up against the Modi government’s foreign policy because just like America and Biden backs the reactionary government in Israel, imperialism and the United States is fully backing Modi and Hindutvavadi forces. So, our battle must be comprehensive, all rounded against the foreign policies against the domestic policies and all the attacks that are being made to change India’s secular democratic character.

So, I hope in the coming days when we observe the formation of our party, we will take into consideration all these issues. Three years ago, it was the centenary celebration, that is 100 years of Communist movement. That time we went through our history and records and found that it was the century of struggles and sacrifices. The small unit which was formed in 1917 by 7 members recruited many of the “muhajirs” to come to India to fight the British. They were most of the time picked up by the British and put on trial- Peshawar conspiracy case, Kanpur conspiracy case also called Bolshevik Conspiracy trial. Some others like Shaukat Usmani came from Tashkent and they were put into jail. 

So right from the very beginning communists were hunted by the British rulers. By the time we held the first Party Congress in 1943 in Bombay the movement had grown through blood and tears. There were 138 delegates attending the Congress and the records of the 138 delegates showed that they had spent an aggregate of 414 years in jail. So, this is how the Communist party started and developed, by fighting imperialism. Without fighting imperialism, we could not have a communist party - so that is our heritage. I am sure that you will utilize such occasions as this to educate our party ranks and supporters about the glorious legacy of the Communist movement in India which will give us necessary resourcess and replenishment to continue our arduous struggle in the coming days.