Marxist history writing in India could not become as ridiculous as is the case of the Soviet or Chinese writings. But this was only due to different circumstances. In India too, the Marxist history writing (as also the writing on other social science subjects) would inevitably have reached the same ridiculous state had there been no check on it of an independent press, democracy, competing political parties and the presence of writers and scholars holding various viewpoints. Only because of communist monopoly, the social science books of the Soviet Union (and Red China) written during 1918-1988 were such that in a changed circumstance they were directly consigned to dustbins! If that has not happened in India, despite the dominance of the Marxist writers, it is thanks to the sobering presence of the democratic political structure. Without this check the Indian Marxist writings could have attained the same ridiculous depths. The tendency to distort, falsify and conceal was as vigorous among the Indian Marxists.
The criteria for testing the quality of any writing on history is broadly as follows:
Authenticity of facts
Logic and argument for interpretation
Providing new, verifiable facts
It is only on these bases that a history book or article passes the test of merit and its value is accordingly determined.
Having such criteria in mind, one can notice that the writing of our Marxists has always been seriously coloured by contemporary political worries. They were always concerned more about the political effect on readers than anything else. In fact, our Marxist writers have always expressed this concern in various public fora. They condemned, dismissed and insisted on removing other historians from academic jobs not for academic reasons but for some political viewpoint they found inconvenient.
For instance, when they dismissed the history books written by such giants as Arnold Toynbee, Jadunath Sarkar or Ramesh Chandra Majumdar they did not (because they could not) mention any deficiencies in their books by organising workshops and seminars or by publishing booklets showing the faults of the books by those historians. Those writings are all honest and scholarly presentation with abundant, verifiable facts and logical conclusions. But since they were a hindrance to the Marxist line of presenting history, the same were rejected summarily by using the full power of governmental and bureaucratic tyranny.
Ever since their chokehold on institutions weakened and when the first NDA Government took office in 1998, Marxist historians raised all sorts of questions on the removal of their books from school curricula.
Romila Thapar: "Who were the scholars who were consulted or with whom discussions were held?”
R.S. Sharma: "When there is already an understanding regarding history it should not be changed”.
Will these professors reveal whom they had consulted while rejecting historians before them, dismissing the history books prepared with meticulous research and the hard work of a lifetime, in the Indian Council of Historical Research? There was a general understanding among Muslim, Hindu and Christian scholars about the history of Islamic rule in India, till the independence of India. Why was that understanding summarily discarded with the advent of these Marxist worthies? Who had the Marxist historians consulted when they buried and concealed and whitewashed all those dark facts of Islamic history to manufacture a ‘secular’ and progressive image of their own concoction? Who did they consult when they mindlessly pressed on to a "progressive" change and, through such stratagems, attempted to push India in the direction of a communist rule? The obvious answer: nobody.
Indeed, Bipan Chandra wrote in detail how there can be no purely academic Marxism and how every Marxist is an activist who not only works but also writes for a social revolution. He elaborately advised the Communist Party of India to improve its strategy and work tactics. He wrote all this in his capacity as the Chairman of the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU. See his essay titled Total Rectification published in Seminar on June 1974. Thus, by his own admission, Marxist historians have been essentially political activists. Their basic insistence has been ‘to change the present political structure’ as Bipan Chandra wrote in the preface of another book sixteen years later, which he coauthored with Mridula Mukherjee and others: Bharat ka Swatantrata Sangharsha.
The entire history of Marxist politics and writing all over the world bear witness to the fact that they have different standards for themselves and for others. They become self-styled authorities when they reject others; but if they are to be rejected that must occur through elaborate seminars, procedures, and a referendum must be placed among a choice circle of their own propagandists occupying different posts. This is the typical communist attitude which insists on maximum freedom for all kinds of opposition, demonstration, satayagraha, boycotts, agitations, up to the level of sedition (‘right to self-determination of Muslims’) etc. in a "bourgeois" country like India. They insist on human rights even to mass murderers, terrorists, extremists and traitors. But when the issue concerns China, Cuba, North Korea or brutal Islamic dictatorships favoured by them, then the absence of civil liberties becomes a non-issue.
We can easily test the true worth of the writings of our Marxist historians on the academic touchstone. In university examinations, answer books with coded roll numbers are sent to examiners to ensure free and fair evaluation. Similarly, if we send for academic evaluation books and articles written by noted Marxist historians without disclosing the identity of the authors, we may get very interesting results. Because, then, the examiner would not be influenced by the power wielded by the authors in the form of chairmanship of an academy or professorship in a university. The examiner will only evaluate the following:
The subject matter
The facts and evidence in support of the propositions
The sources for rejected formulations, if any
Standards or norms for the approval and rejection of a given conclusion
This is how true impartiality (i.e. free from political prejudices), logic, and rigour can be accomplished in the procedure.
Even a common reader can carry out this test. A through evaluation on the basis of the aforementioned six criteria will fully expose the writings and proclamations of our Marxist professors. Testing strictly on academic criteria, their lectures, books and booklets do not appear scholarly but ordinary Leninist propaganda material written for devoted political workers. The aim of this is not to enlighten a reader or student but to instil faith in the captive followers.
Such writings invariably do not stick with facts but what they do instead is mention an invented problem, an imagined enemy or a villain, and the villainy itself will be taken as an established fact! Thus, the aim to annihilate the said enemy is made clear at the very outset. If it is not with the identification of an enemy, the beginning takes place with some sort of proclamation. But then, a proclamation is different from a proposition. While a proposition should be followed by facts and evidence, a proclamation does not need anything. The entire article or lecture is full of proclamations, condemnation of a declared enemy or writers and scholars holding different views. This tactic will be accompanied by a constant repetition of the Marxist standpoint.
This kind of writing is not aimed at a discerning reader or student who might hold a differing political opinion. It is aimed at a committed party worker into whose mind this ideological "nuance" should be repeatedly reinforced to achieve political perseverance. This in general has been the style of Marxist history writing.
In the later parts of this series, we will examine this psychological technique in more detail and with the help of some examples.
To be continued
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