The booklet under review comprises the fifth R.C. Dutt Lectures delivered by Professor V.M. Dandekar in Calcutta at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences. Professor Dande¬kar is well known, among other things, for his study on poverty in India and can be said to be one of the foremost proponents of the ‘poverty’ approach to an understanding of Indian social reality, as against the class approach. The booklet seeks to provide a theoretical basis for this ap¬proach. The first lecture deals with the controversies over the sources of capital accumulation (and of markets, let it be said, in the case of Rosa Luxembourg) in which the chief actors were Rosa Luxembourg, N. Bukharin and Preobrazhensky. To those familiar with Joan Robinson’s introduction to Rosa Luxembourg’s The Accu¬mulation of Capital, Paul-Squeezy’s critique in Theory of Capitalist Development and Ashok Mitra’s Terms of Exchange and Accumulation: The Soviet Debate, there is nothing very new in the author’s presentation. But it is done with lucidity and brevity.
In the second lecture Professor Dandekar examines and pre¬sents the views of Arghiri Emmannuel, supplements and re¬inforces these views with skil¬ful use of Piero Sraffra’s work on value and wages and demolishes to his own satisfac¬tion the opinions of Charles Bettelheim. He also has a side¬swipe at Marx’s transforma¬tion of values into prices of production.
The chief point supposed by 1 all this virtuosity is that the capitalists and labour of the rich country jointly appro¬priate, through the mechan¬ism of free exchange of commodities, a part of the surplus value created by the labour of the poor country …The proletariat of the rich countries is party to the ex¬ploitation of the poor coun¬tries by the rich countries.
Emmannel is quoted with ap¬proval to rub home the fact that
it is not the conser¬vatism of the leaders that has held back the revolu¬tionary elan of the masses, as has been believed in the Marxist-Leninist camp; it is the slow but steady growth in awareness by the masses that they belong to privileg¬ed exploiting nations that has, obliged the leaders of their parties to revise their ideologies so as not to lose their clientele.
The third lecture extends the analysis of the second lecture to the situation within under¬developed countries, particul¬arly our own. Here a number of points are made. First, that Marx’s theory of the equalization of the rate of ex¬ploitation leading to a capital¬ist-worker bipolarized society has not in fact been realized in India. Second, that the deve¬lopment of capitalism has been very uneven leading to high productivity-high wage sectors exploiting those lower down in the productivity-wages hierarchy. Third, under con¬ditions of unequal wage rates between different industries, the surplus value in one indus¬try is transferred to another industry and is used to pay not only part of the profits but also part of the wages in that industry. Fourth, Marx con¬cealed the exploitation of workers in one industry by workers in another by reducing different kinds of labour to homogeneous labour. Fifth, bilateral collective bargaining amounts to workers in the more developed sectors join¬ing hands with the bour¬geoisie for splitting the gains of exploitation of the less developed sector. Finally, he suggests, the workers should break with economism and evolve a wider programme,
I suggest the enunciation of wages and incomes policy ensuring guaranteed emp-loyment at a certain subsis¬tence wage to all who are willing to work, recognition of differential skills within tolerable limits of inequality, a ceiling on dividends on private capital, and a com¬mitment to maximizing accumulation of capital in public hands.
—this is Dandekar’s sugges¬tion for a wider programme. The views of the author certa¬inly deserve very serious con¬sideration, not only because of his radical personal com¬mitment but because of the skillfully integrated manner of their presentation. Such con¬sideration, however, can also lead to basic disagreement.
In effect, Dandekar supports the ‘North-South’ confronta¬tion in place of anti-imperia¬list conflict and on the basis of the ‘high wage islands’ thesis he pits the poor against the worker. It is no accident that in his lectures there is no call for worker-peasant unity against imperialism, indi¬genous monopoly capital and all varieties of landlordism. It is also no accident that in his wider programme, based on seemingly ‘more left than Marx’ radicalism, there is no agenda for expropriation of at least some expropriators. If .we were to follow Dandekar, the workers would fight not only peasants rather than the landlord-usurer-trader com¬bine but also the better paid workers rather than their common exploiter.
What has led the well-meaning author to such disastrous con¬clusions? Mainly, three wrong premises. The first wrong premise is that he confuses the production of surplus value with its distribution. Surplus value does not result from exchange but its distribution is a process in which exchange between countries, sectors and strata certainly play an impor¬tant role. The second Wrong premise is that while the super-profits of imperialism do trickle down to a limited extent to the working class, this does not make the worker a partner of the capitalist—though it does help to breed reformist illusions and oppor¬tunist trends.
This idea is not new but was prominently pin-pointed by Lenin—whom our author does not appear to have looked up, at least for these lectures. This analysis by Lenin has been carried for¬ward in the documents of many Communist parties as well as in international con¬ferences of the world Commu¬nist movement. But the basic facts remain—the workers in the imperialist countries continue to be exploited by monopoly capital which is the overwhelmingly preponderent beneficiary of non-equivalent exchange. Hence, despite the crumbs from imperialist super¬-profits, the workers are in a condition of antagonistic con¬tradiction with the monopolist exploiters of the underdeve¬loped countries. Hence, also, the workers and the oppressed peoples can and have united in a joint front against their common imperialist enemy. Dandekar completely misses this cardinal feature of the modern world.
The third wrong premise is the author’s exaggeration of a temporary non-antagonistic contradiction between strata of workers or between workers and peasants into a fundamental antagonistic con¬tradiction. The worker-peasant alliance in India is necessary and possible in order to effect revolutionary transformation because they have an objective identity of interests and a common enemy or bloc of enemies. Eco-nomism in the working class movement has to be fought, not only in the interests of the peasants or the poorer workers, but in the interests of all the workers, including those who are relati¬vely better paid. At the same time, the peasants and the more poorly paid workers have to concentrate their attack on their direct exploi¬ters and certainly not against those of their class or their closest ally who might be somewhat better off than themselves.
The ‘poverty’ approach of Dandekar will lead to the pea¬sants fighting the workers instead of building an alliance with them, and to the develop¬ing countries getting isolated from the current of the strug¬gle for socialism in the imperialist countries as well as the countries of existing socialism. It is a divisive app¬roach which the learned and radical Dandeker would do well to reconsider.
Mohit Sen is Member of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of India.