Tag Archive for 'Vladimir Putin'

A Century of Communism – Some reflections and a few direct experiences

Today on November 7th , Communism completes 100 years of existence in the world. The 25 October 1917 date when the Bolsheviks under Lenin uprooted the Czarist Regime in Russia by staging a coup is now corrected as 7 November in the reformed Russian Calendar. During these 100 years , the ideology of Karl Marx devoted to abolishing markets and private property left a long and bloody trail of destruction in Russia, China , Cambodia , Vietnam and Indonesia – eliminating dissent of all forms through mass killings, state sponsored terror, deportations, forced labor camps and genocide.

Communism ushered in to the world as an alternative ideology, condemning capitalism , promising a better world for peasants and workers through state ownership of property , enterprise and welfare measures. Depending on local conditions , it took different forms in Russia [ which became USSR till it got disintegrated again thanks to Gorbachev ] ,China , Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, North Korea and Cuba. But after a century of communism in power – with hold outs even now in Cuba, North Korea and China , Communism as an ideology has failed to meet the goals for which it started at the first instance. While under Vladimir Putin [ A photograph of Putin riding a Harley Davidson Bike made in USA fascinated me ]in  Russia is moving towards an autocracy while embracing  market economy to a great extent , the Chinese after Mao Zedong beginning with Deng and now Xi Jinping follows a mixed economy under the one party rule !.

While the Communist Party started in India soon after the Russian Revolution,  It was after Independence that it gathered political steam. During the 50’s , they were a weak political force in India while advocating labor reforms except in West Bengal , Telangana region and in the erstwhile state of Travancore and Cochin where they were very active among the working class . While Nehru was toying with the idea of Socialism thanks to his visit to the Soviet Union in June 1955 and as a result of the much publicized return visit of Bulganin and Khruschev to India in November 1955 , he never liked Communists . His ambition along with Nasser of Egypt , Sukarno of Indonesia and Joseph Tito of Yugoslavia to carve out a Non – Aligned Block in the world worked against both the Communist Nations and the Capitalist Nations like the US and UK. The annexation of Tibet by China in 1959 in spite of the “Panch Sheel ” agreement signed by Nehru with Zhou Enlai in the mid fifties followed by the India-China war of 1962 also alienated Nehru with China. The Russians used this opportunity to build bridges with India and followed up with a long era of friendship and co-operation and military assistance in times of crisis . This to some extent pleased the Indian Communists. Shastri and Indira Gandhi after Nehru also followed this policy which helped the country during the 1965 and 1971 war with Pakistan.After the 1964 split of the Communist party in India , today it is CPM and not the CPI who enjoy a sizeable  following in some parts of India.

Now , some personal experiences  – I became aware of Communism at the age of 10 in 1952 , when they were banned by the Government of Travancore and Cochin, my home state , in 1952 because of their radical activities in the state.  I remember it was probably in 1953 or 54 when I almost witnessed the murder of a Police Officer  Bhasi by one Thampi from the underground Communist Party by stabbing in public view near our school after a football match. I believe both Bhasi and Thampi were close friends and Bhasi spotted Thampi in disguise watching the football match. Bhasi accosted him with friendly overtures and tried to take him to the police station nearby . Thampi detecting the ruse stabbed him on the way . Thampi was captured with the help of some enterprising on lookers and handed over to the Police. I also remember the Hindi – Chini Bhai Bhai slogans and the Panchsheel agreement between Nehru and Zhou Enlai in 1954 and the visit of Bulganin and Khruschev to India in 1955 . The landmark victory of the Communist Party in 1957 in Kerala in the State Elections surprised the world – the only time the party came to power on its own through the ballot box. Soon, sweeping land reforms were introduced in Kerala and I remember my father , a lawyer , talking about it many times. He himself had to surrender some of his property assets to those who lived there as our contract workers.

I happened to visit USSR in 1977 as part of a three member team from the Army for a period of 45 days for training and knowledge transfer of some military equipment we were acquiring from USSR. For the first time, I saw Communism in action in Moscow during our first briefing – the tight security , spartan living conditions but friendly public and above all , the scars left by war everywhere. We moved to Daugavpils in Latvia [ now an independent country aligned with NATO ] for our training. We had an interpreter [ we were told by the Indian Embassy in Moscow to watch out as he could be from the dreaded KGB] always staying with us in the same hotel. Here ,we could see poverty everywhere and the life of the public including marriage functions, entertainment , holidaying all regulated and controlled by the state apparatus. People used to drink heavily to forget their woes. No one was permitted to talk to us without our interpreter present with us , even if they could converse in English!. Stocks of grocery including milk and bread was over by Friday evening everywhere! Priority was given to Heavy Industry and defense over  other sectors !.A political Commisar in Army Uniform addressed us and spoke highly about the Communist Party in Soviet Union and how they look after the welfare of the working class. Our Interpreter told us that every Army Unit or Establishment has the Number 2 place occupied by party leaders!

Fast forward to 2007 , I visited Chengdu in China to attend the Chinasoft Seminar as a delegate representing the IT Industry at Hyderabad where I took up a job after my Army Career. Alibaba of Jack Ma was present in the Expo .I found in Chengdu a vibrant society , still under State Control thanks to the effects of a mixed economy . People were tech savvy and very friendly . China has made great strides in economic progress by then compared to India. Infrastructure development was visible everywhere , be it the giant IT parks, highways or the airport.

Communism is no longer relevant in its traditional form – but some of the offshoots like Naxalites are a threat to the civic society in many parts of India . In West Bengal , CPM is no longer in power and in Kerala they are in power as a coalition of parties with different ideology. Globally , the Communist regimes with single party rule are more of autocracy with leaders like Putin,  Xi Jinping or Kim Jong-un almost enjoying positions for life . With the advent of technology breaking geographical barriers , the age-old class distinction which was the breeding ground for Communism has ceased to exist except in some pockets. But the violent memories and the legacy remains!

Chinese Premier Xi Jinping – A Party of One !

Andrew Browne in his column – China World in the Wall Street Journal today describes the Chinese Premier ‘s election victory last month as ‘ A Party of One ” . Xi Jinping was re-elected unanimously for another term – for life ? – as for the first time in several decades ,the succession question is open as the 19th Party Congress did not name a successor to Xi . Also after Mao’s legacy , this is probably the first time that a leader’s thoughts got included in the policy framework of the Nation.

The world has seen ‘cult ‘ figures in national leadership roles like Joseph Stalin , Mao Zedong , Charles de Gaulle and Lee Kuan Yew who wielded great power with almost no opposition politically. Will Xi Jinping reach this level as the third generation leader in China after Mao and Deng ?  – Vladimir Putin is a close contender to Xi Jinping in this aspect in Russia.

I took interest in Chinese history first time after reading the books – The Good Earth and Dragon Seed by Pearl S Buck. The first Chinese Revolution of 1911 which overthrew the Imperial Dynasty and the second Chinese Revolution of 1949 when Mao Zedong created the Peoples Republic Of China attracted a lot of attention of the world. The Sleeping Dragon of the Peasant and Cycle days of China went through a great Cultural Revolution through the ” Great Leap Forward “.  China remained closed and isolated from the world for some more time until the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 – the first and probably the last efforts for democratic rights and pluralism with a multi party framework ! .

The Annexation of Tibet by China in 1960 and the US – China Rapprochement of the 70’s through the good offices of Henry Kissinger were strategically important developments of the century and altered the power balance post World War Two . But the new ‘ Avtar ‘ of China really came about thanks to the adoption of market economy by Den Xiaoping during 1978-89. While Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao who followed Deng kept the new momentum , it was Xi Jiping in a short period  of five years after taking over ,  kicked off many initiatives during his term towards bringing up China as the second most world economic power after the US . His new ambitious Infrastructure Initiative – The One Belt -One Road [ OBOR] towards Globalization of Investments in a multi nation road map for 30 plus years is the talk of the global strategists today.  This $5 Trillion project integrates the old silk routes through the land with a new maritime silk road covering Asia, the Middle East ,Europe and Africa. The project involves Roads,bridges ,gas pipelines,ports,railways and power plants . China always believes in dreaming BIG as is clear from their many large infrastructure projects within China in the recent past as seen in Shanghai, Dalian and in Chengdu.  The US,Japan and India have expressed reservations on this project for strategic reasons – India because the OBOR passes through POK – a disputed territory between India and Pakistan and the US and japan because of its objections on the maritime routes . Recently, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan has mooted an alternative to OBOR with Australia,India and the US participating in it.

While China stands poised for greater laurels in the World Economic Scene, many analysts predict the bursting of the Bubble in the near term. While Mao and Deng were cult figures loved and revered by the Chinese Public, Xi Jiping is yet to acquire this status. Another issue of global impact is the defiant nuclear posture of North Korea which will test the leadership of Xi Jinping to a very critical level ! Only time will tell if this ” Party of One ” will vindicate the trust placed on him by the Chinese Polity.

From Iron Curtain to a Borderless World

The Times Of India today carried a photo of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin kicking off his election campaign revving up his three wheeled Harley Davidson at the head of a biker’s motorcade in Novorossiysk.

I could not help go back down memory lane to 1977 when I visited Moscow and Daugavpils in Latvia of the erstwhile USSR on military duty from India when the only visible overture of friendship between USA and the USSR was a token collaboration for the Apollo- Soyuz space flight and I remember buying a special packet of cigarette with the photo of the spacecraft sold during  this historic event . Otherwise , business was as usual with both the CIA and KGB trying to outwit each other in Intelligence and Counter Intelligence activities .

The Gorbachev era brought down the Iron Curtain and everything which it concealed for ever. And today after about 25 years of that defying moment , we have a Russian PM driving the symbol of American Youth and pride – A Harley Davidson driving it while seeking re-election .

The world we live in has come along way from a game of political brinkmanship through cold war to the new reality of a borderless world connecting minds virtually across geography and cultures . Let us hope that humanity is the ultimate winner in this transition.