Speech for Seminar “Imperialism, War, and Fascism” in India

Speech for Seminar “Imperialism, War, and Fascism” in India

Is India a New-Imperialist country?

Speech for Seminar “Imperialism, War, and Fascism” in India

Von Peter Weispfenning

Dear comrades,

Thanks to the comrades of CPI (ML) Red Star for organizing this seminar with international participation and for inviting us to attend. We greatly appreciate that CPI (ML) Red Star is offering a forum also for the factual discussion of controversial issues, and has done so in the past.

The tendency to war and reaction is rooted in the present-day basic economic law of imperialism. Stefan Engel’s book, Twilight of the Gods – Götterdämmerung over the “New World Order”, states as this law:

Conquest and defense of a position of domination in the world market by the international monopolies; securing of maximum profit by building international production systems, by constantly increasing the exploitation of the international working class, by ruining or destroying the foundations of life of entire peoples in all countries of the globe without exception, by plundering entire states to the point of bankruptcy, by redistribution of social wealth on a gigantic scale in favor of the monopolies and to the detriment of all other strata of society, by abrogating the sovereign statehood of the neocolonially exploited and oppressed countries, by military action to secure dominance, including even a possible world war for the redivision of the world.” (p. 265)

With the Ukraine war, an open political, economic, ecological and military world crisis broke out, and today a Third World War is being actively prepared by almost all imperialist powers. It is an acute threat and can break out at any time. This danger is partly underestimated in the international Marxist-Leninist, revolutionary and working-class movement, and the Ukraine war, an unjust war on both sides, is dismissed by some as a purely European problem. Yet for the first time since the end of the Second World War a military confrontation between imperialist powers and power blocs is directly escalating. History shows that situations where a great power is threatened with being ousted from its place by a rising power have regularly led to war.

Today we have to do with a large number of rising powers that call in question the existing power spheres of the “old” imperialist countries. The new brochure by Stefan Engel, Gabi Fechtner, and Monika Gärtner-Engel, The Ukraine War and the Open Crisis of the Imperialist World System, states:

The collapse of the social-imperialist superpower Soviet Union and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) in 1990/1991 led to a unified world market. It entailed the reorganization of international capitalist production. This process of the economic and political reordering of the world radically changed the entire previous imperialist world system. All imperialist countries and the leading international monopolies of the world engaged in bitter rivalry for supremacy in the newly emerged world market. In the meantime, in China and several populous, formerly neocolonially dependent countries, domestic monopolies and state-monopoly structures had evolved. They led to the emergence of a number of new-imperialist countries. By 2017 at least 14 new-imperialist countries already were in existence. More than half of the world population was living in them. They increasingly competed with the USA, Japan, and the EU countries for sales markets and spheres of influence. Some of these countries established a regional imperialist hegemony. They include India, Turkey, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. They pursue visions of their own imperialist supremacy, are developing rapidly growing military power structures, and are forming ideological-political power centers worldwide to manipulate public opinion.” (pp. 6 f.)

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China meanwhile has become an economic superpower and is striving to become a superpower also politically and militarily. The aforementioned brochure writes about this: “The rivalry between the USA and China meanwhile is generally dominant among the inter-imperialist contradictions, the development of which at the same time is multipolar in character.” (pp. 7 f.)

The world economic war in consequence of the Ukraine war drives the building of blocs, and an open crisis of the reorganization of international production already has set in. However, new-imperialist India, just like Turkey or Brazil, is reluctant to join any bloc hastily. India refuses to fall in with the Western sanctions and even profits from the import and resale of Russian oil. India is a member of the military Shanghai alliance together with new-imperialist China and Russia, but at the same time also of the “Quad” alliance together with the USA, Australia, and Japan. This shows that it acts based on its own imperialist interests and is neither vassal nor “junior partner” of US imperialism, as is sometimes still maintained today. India’s joining of different inter-imperialist alliances implies an independent imperialist interest of India. These are temporary and contradictory alliances for mutual benefit. The formerly one-sided dependence of India on the social-imperialist USSR and the imperialist superpower USA increasingly is giving way to a mutual interpenetration, though India does not yet play a leading role in the global imperialist alliances.

Of course, economically, politically, and in power-political respect, India is still far behind the currently only fully developed superpower, the USA, and also behind China. Exactly that shows the complexity of the present developments, where alongside superpowers and great powers there are also medium-sized and small imperialist countries. Characteristic here is that between them, despite all bitter rivalry, a mutual dependence exists, finding expression, for example, in a multitude of new alliances.

In the present situation the importance of discussion and agreement in the international Marxist-Leninist, revolutionary and working-class movement grows concerning the assessment of the emergence of new-imperialist countries. For example, the open revisionists strictly deny the imperialist character of Russia and obsequiously and willingly support the fascist Putin regime. Stefan Engel’s book, The Crisis of Bourgeois Ideology and of Opportunism, points out:

In crises, when their costs and burdens are passed on to the masses, when the bourgeoisie fights revolutionary developments or is on course for war – in short, when the contradictions intensify, as a law of development opportunism turns into social-chauvinism.” (p. 226)

We cannot analyze the global situation accurately and will even draw wrong conclusions for strategy and tactics if we deny or question the fact of the emergence of new-imperialist countries. Of course, it is up to the Indian revolutionary parties to determine their ideological-political line, where we do not interfere. However, we would like to contribute our findings and reflections to the discussion, while also addressing various counter-arguments to them.

As is well known, starting from Lenin, there are three main characteristics of imperialist development, in economic, political and foreign policy terms.

Economically, according to Lenin, the formation of monopolies and the fact that they occupy a dominant position in economic life indicate the imperialist character of a country. India has nine supermonopolies among the 500 largest in the world,1 2 more than in 2021: Reliance Industries, Indian Oil, Oil & Natural Gas, State Bank of India, Bharat Petroleum, Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Rajesh Exports, Life Insurance Corporation of India. They had a turnover of US$444.3 billion in the last reporting year, 2021. In comparison, India’s GDP in 2021 was US$3,042 billion. India has a total of 55 monopolies (2022) listed on the Forbes 2000 list.2 This is already more than imperialist Germany with 52 monopolies. A large part of the monopolies developed precisely as a result of neoliberal policies with the privatization of the public sector. Of course, Singh willingly opened India to foreign international monopolies. But he also created the basis for growing Indian monopolies, which in turn could benefit from the fact that foreign international finance capital was looking in countries like China or India for a way out of the over-accumulation of capital.

In part, with reference to foreign participation in some of these corporations their character as Indian supermonopolies is questioned. In reality, however, the majority of these supermonopolies are owned by Indian multibillionaires or their families (such as the Ambani family at Reliance, the Tata family at Tata – through their foundations or directly through the top management or the Board of Directors – or the Mittal family at Arcelor-Mittal), or they are state-owned (such as Indian Oil or Bahrat Petroleum, in which the state holds 51% of the shares). The decisive factor is a majority shareholding or a controlling shareholding where there is a large free float. In the world economy today, it is typical for monopolies to have high foreign ownership. A large part of the world’s capital export is aimed at such shareholdings, with which monopolies of various countries participate in the predatory profits of other monopolies. That is an essential method of international finance capital today for dividing up the world among themselves. In Germany, already in 2019 foreign investors held at least 50% of the shares of 23 of the 30 DAX (German stock index) corporations. In the case of Mercedes-Benz, the Chinese BAIC Group is the largest single shareholder with 10% of the voting rights, the Chinese investor Li Shufu holds a share of 9.7%, and the Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund 6.8%. Only 34.4% of the Mercedes-Benz shares are in German hands. Production long since takes place mainly abroad. Nevertheless, it would never occur to anyone not to characterize it as a German monopoly. The group was founded in Germany; is still headquartered here, and the German state is even a particular service provider for Mercedes-Benz.

It is typical of the Indian monopolies that they have become international supermonopolies that exploit even workers in various neocolonially dependent and imperialist countries and appropriate the natural resources there. It is proving to be a myth that multinationals exist only in the West and dominate all Indian ones. In fact, Tata, with its 30 companies, operates in more than 100 countries on all six continents. Tata Sons is the controlling holding company of the Tata Group and is 66% family-owned via foundation models that are also widespread in Germany. The Tata Group now includes more than 98 companies, ranging from the metals sector to telecommunications and the automotive industry. Tata has 935,000 employees. No private company employs more blue- and white-collar workers in India than Tata. The stock market capitalization of Tata’s listed companies is US$311 billion. The incomplete combined revenue of the largest Tata companies is at least US$128 billion.3

Arcelor Mittal is the world’s largest steel company by tons of pig iron produced. 39% of the voting rights are held by the trust company HSBC Trustee (C.I.) Limited on behalf of the Indian Lakshmi Mittal family. The family also provides the Group’s top management. The fact that the Group is based in Luxembourg for tax reasons does not change the fact that it is a supermonopoly with its main roots in India. The headquarters of Arcelor Mittal in Luxembourg, or formerly Mittal Steel in Rotterdam, was important above all in order to conquer the European market and achieve the hostile takeover of Arcelor by Mittal. As a monopoly not based in the EU, this would hardly have been possible, as the failed takeover of thyssenkrupp by Tata showed. Mahindra is also an international supermonopoly. In India it commands about 38% of the tractor market, far ahead of John Deere, which operates four plants in India.

India’s largest bank, State Bank of India, has been state-owned since 1955. However, it is an international bank with branches in all major imperialist states.

India has also become an important exporter of capital, according to Lenin a major criterion of imperialist development: “Typical of the old capitalism, when free competition held undivided sway, was the export of goods. Typical of the latest stage of capitalism, when monopolies rule, is the export of capital.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 240) The stock of Indian foreign direct investment in 2020 was US$191 billion. In 2021, India’s direct foreign investment came to US$15.522 billion,4 a threefold increase since 2016, after a decline during the world economic and financial crisis of 2008–2014. Indian corporations are now also in the top group for land grabs, especially in Africa.

Another objection to India’s new-imperialist character is that India does not have an all-round developed industry and production base. But an all-round production base is no longer a decisive criterion for judging the imperialist character of a country because of the present stage of the international division of labor. The imperialist countries and their international monopolies concentrate on those areas where they can achieve world market leadership, dictate monopoly prices, and make other countries – including imperialist ones – dependent on them. Germany, for example, has completely abandoned coal mining, while the UK has concentrated on its role as an international financial center. The division of labor in internationalized production results in multiple mutual dependencies. Indian monopolies are also world market leaders in important areas, based on highly developed technology. Tata (TCS), for example, is considered the world market leader in IT services. Mahindra sells the most tractors worldwide; Wipro in IT, Crompton Greaves in transformers. Arcelor Mittal is the biggest steel company in the world.

India has decisively increased its economic weight in the world since the reorganization of international production. Before colonization began, India had an estimated 25% share of world GDP, which fell back to 2.78% by 1980. Today, according to the World Bank, it is already back above 7%, making India the fifth largest economy in the world.

Of course, there is a glaring contradiction in India between highly productive international supermonopolies, unimaginable hunger and misery, backward to semi-feudal sectors in agriculture. But this is not an argument against the imperialist character of the country. Lenin said in 1917 in a comparable situation about the imperialist character of Russia: Furthermore, in the case of Russia it would be wrong to present imperialism as a coherent whole (imperialism in general is an incoherent whole), since in Russia there are no few fields and branches of labour that are still in a state of transition from natural or semi-natural economy to capitalism.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 24, p. 465) He explicitly identified Russia as an imperialist country although undoubtedly it was “underdeveloped” in many areas and had only a fraction of the industry that, for example, India has today.

The Modi regime is a service provider for India’s supermonopolies. With its “Make in India” policy, it specifically promotes the expansion of Indian monopolies, especially privately run “champions” in the energy and telecommunications markets.

Under the Modi government, an aggressive environment destroying policy is carried out. For example, Modi is pursuing a plan to open 55 new coal mines, expand 193 existing mines, and produce 1 billion tons of coal annually. Underground mines are closed and surface mining is expanded. 80% of the new mines are located on the land of the Adivas; here a gigantic destruction of the land and the livelihood of tens of thousands is underway.

Peasant expropriation is also pushed and a course set for increased capitalist industrialization and monopolization of agriculture, against which violent peasant unrest has unfolded.

All this also leads to important changes in India’s class structure. According to the figures known to us about 42% of the workforce is still employed in agriculture today. This proportion has even risen again in recent years in connection with the Corona and world economic and financial crises. But about a quarter of those employed in agriculture are farm workers, according to the figures we have,5 and their total number is reported to exceed 36 million. After increasing for a long time, the share of industrial workers has decreased some in the past five years as a result of the recent crises, but is growing again. In the manufacturing industry, mining and construction, there are said to be about 81.88 million employees all together.6 According to the World Bank, the total industrial employment even accounts for 26.2% of all employment. The manufacturing industry in India alone is reported to have around 21.4 million permanent or contract industrial workers;7 to that we have to add the portion of day laborers who also work in industry. Around 40 million construction workers also should be included in the working class in the narrower sense. A larger part of those employed in the so-called service sectors, which account for about 32.3% of all employed persons, must be counted as part of the working class in the broader sense.8

Therefore, in our opinion, one should raise the question what follows from this concerning the main force of the revolution. In any case, especially in the export zones an international industrial proletariat has formed, which must be in the forefront of the struggle of the working class and all the oppressed. This shows that in India, too, the character of the revolution is already objectively proletarian. India is a center of worldwide protests and peasant uprisings and of a large women’s movement; here especially large general strikes of the working-class movement stand out clearly. As many as 180 million took part in such strikes on 2 September 2016; about 200 million on 9 January 2019; and 250 million workers along with millions of peasants in November 2020 against the regime under the fascist Modi. Certainly there are still important tasks of agrarian revolution, overcoming backwardness and imbalance in the economy, and overcoming feudal remnants. Subjective factors, in our estimation, may make it necessary to establish an anti-imperialist new-democratic order as an intermediate stage.

The second characteristic of imperialism in contrast to capitalism of free competition is that it means political reaction all along the line. Lenin explained: “Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 106) Since 2016 a general rightward development has spread in the imperialist countries, increasing in intensity with the Ukraine war. In India the Modi regime consolidated its position, has restricted democratic rights and liberties with increasing severity, and pursues an aggressive fascistization of the state apparatus. Modi is a fascist and, in terms of world outlook, espouses the extremely reactionary to fascist Hindutva ideology, according to which India is not a diverse, secular state, but exclusively a state of the Hindus, who as preeminent people are elevated above others. Hindu nationalism is a form of racism and extreme anticommunism.

Thirdly, imperialism means striving for world domination in foreign policy. Lenin summed it up this way: “‘World domination’ is, to put it briefly, the substance of imperialist policy, of which imperialist war is the continuation.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 35) Modi envisages an “Indian century”. After all, India has a population of 1.39 billion and in a few years will be more populous than China. India is expanding its dominating regional position, for example at the expense of Nepal. At present, the striving for world domination finds expression in Indian politics in the striving for regional supremacy. The role as regional power cannot be used to object to the assessment as an imperialist power. Other imperialist powers, too, like Turkey, are mainly regional powers today. Some smaller imperialists do not even have the potential today to act as regional powers, for example Luxembourg or Liechtenstein. They rely on their affiliation with the EU and participate through this connection in exploiting other countries. Unquestionably, these differences must be taken into account, but they are never a reason for Marxist-Leninists to come to the defence of any imperialist. In Lenin’s day there were also smaller imperialist countries, like Switzerland, explicitly characterised by Lenin as imperialist, which were not in the position to control other countries directly.

India pursues an aggressive foreign policy. The first aircraft carrier built in India has just been christened and launched, so that India now has two carriers. India has the second largest army in the world and 1.45 million soldiers under arms. Add to this 1.15 million reservists and 87,000 paramilitaries as well as 1.4 million police under the control of the interior ministry. India is now also beginning to participate in the arms race in space and the digital arms race. Since November 2018 India has recourse to a nuclear triad; that is, can launch nuclear weapons by missiles, aircraft, or submarines. India today is still one of the world’s biggest arms importers, but in the medium to long term wants to build up an internationally competitive arms export industry as a central pillar of the “Make in India” program of Modi.

India pursues a policy of cultural imperialism as well with the worldwide marketing of the Bollywood culture. India also uses television and internet to influence Indian minorities abroad. Modi specifically influences the members of the Indian diaspora, estimated to number at least 20 million.

So in our opinion the Indian revolution today no longer can be aimed only directly at the foreign international finance capital operating in the country, but must also be aimed directly at the national monopoly bourgeoisie and the remnants of feudal and semi-feudal big landholdings. On the other hand, wouldn’t a call to free India from imperialism that disregards India’s new-imperialist character – thought through to the end – objectively amount to support for Indian imperialism?

1 Fortune Global 500, 2022; own calculations

2 Forbes Global 2000: www.forbes.com/lists/global2000/

3 www.tata.com/stockdata

4 Country report of Austrian Economic Chamber, July 2022, based on World Bank data

5 CEDA-CMIE Bulletin no. 10, 7 April 2022

6 Business Standard, CEDA, 7 May 2021

7 CMIE – Industrial recovery, 23 May 2022

8 Figures for employees in agriculture, services and industry as percentages of all employees from
data.worldbank.org, summarized by de.statista.com, Employees by economic sectors in India through 2020, 1 August 2022