[OPE-L] M.P. Paramesaran on socialism and the 4th World

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Wed Oct 26 2005 - 10:14:25 EDT

From EPW. / In solidarity, Jerry

FOURTH WORLD: Marxian, Gandhian, Environmental...
Rajinder Chaudhary, Economic & Political Weekly, Oct 15, 2005

In February 2004, M P Parameswaran was expelled from the CPI(M).
Widely known as MP, without ever having been a member of Parliament,
Parameswaran, about four decades ago, quit his job as a nuclear
scientist in the nuclear establishment of India soon after coming
back from USSR after a three-year stay. Since then, he has been full time
into various movements for social change. He has played a leading
role in number of movements and organisations, at least two of which have
received international recognition in the form of UNESCO awards –
Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) and Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti
(BGVS) – and in All India People's Science Network (AIPSN).

Parameswaran was expelled from the party for propounding
an "unmarxist"  concept of the "Fourth World". The concept, first put
forth in 1998, caused a controversy in Kerala in 2003. There was a
massive debate in the media and subsequently he was expelled.
Post-expulsion, he has elaborated and expanded his views and published a
booklet in Malayalam,  which has gone into number of reprints. Now, an
English translation of  this document, more than 40,000 words long,
"Thoughts about A Fourth  World", is circulating on the net.

An Alternate Vision

In the aftermath of the breakdown of the USSR, "Thoughts" is a major
alternative vision document to come from within the Indian
mainstream  Left. The Fourth World aims to provide an "ideological
document which  evaluate(s) the failure of the socialist experiments
and … provide(s) a  sound foundation of economics, politics and ethics
for a new society".   It identifies "three important reasons for (the
break-up of the USSR):  economic centralisation, political centralisation
and a distorted view  of progress". Its vision of the future world is
based on the "necessity  of: participatory democracy, an alternative view
of progress, and an  alternative approach towards the progress of
productive forces,  technology". A need for "participatory democracy" is
often recognised,  but even theories promoting "rectified socialism" have
not been "able  to get out of technology fetishism and unlimited growth
syndrome".  Taking "an alternative view of progress, and an alternative
approach  towards the progress of productive forces" is a distinctive
feature of  the concept of the Fourth World. It notes that "under
communism, at  least as conceived by the 20th century experimenters, the
productive  forces would have developed to such high levels that there is
an abundance of each and every commodity, that everybody can have
everything they want and hence, there is no necessity for
competition.  The state can, consequently wither away." The Fourth World
rejects this  possibility and visualises future society "without such

The sketch of future society, particularly the economy, is nearer
the  Gandhian vision. The Fourth World is to "be a network of hundreds of
thousands local communities which are increasingly becoming
self-sufficient". It seeks to localise material production as far as
possible and to decentralise the economy. This, it is argued, is
essential because only by having a "human scale of polity and
economy"  can participatory democracy flourish. To this end, it makes a
case for  harnessing modern technology to make "small powerful too". In
the  Fourth World, material progress is to be reflected in a "continuous
reduction in working hours and increase in leisure".

Structure of the Fourth World

However, Parameswaran's discussion of "economic structure" is quite
weak. It focuses on "characteristics" and not on "structures". The
section on economic structure extensively cites Michael Albert's
Parecon: Life after Capitalism wherein for managing large-scale
industries, "Representatives of Workers' Councils and Consumers'
Councils" reminiscent of the Yugoslav system are suggested. Some of
the  other propositions cited are: "Means of production will not be owned
by  anybody. It will not come into the picture of the value of the
product"; "The remuneration will be calculated not on the basis of
production, but on the basis of effort and sacrifice." The
discussion  of economic aspects of the Fourth World has many such aspects,
which do  not make economic sense. It is the weakest part of the whole
argument.  Moreover, the discussion often implies an absolute
deprivation/worsening of situation for majority of people within the
present/capitalist system and not just an increased relative
inequality  for majority and an absolute worsening for some. Can one say
that the majority of Kerala population (or dalits) have not experienced
any  improvement in their life? Fortunately, these formulations are not
essential ingredients of the Fourth World, which can stand without

The political structure of the Fourth World is premised
on "citizens'  ability and willingness to participate in socio-political
activities".  It views politics to be "too important to be left alone
with career  politicians". So, the political structure goes deeper than
even  panchayats. It is based on the "neighbourhood groups consisting of
20-30 proximate households of 60-80 citizens (voters). Beyond the
size  of 60-80 direct, democracy is viewed to be unwieldy. Formations of
larger number of citizens can be only representative". The inversion
of  a power pyramid – where only delegated functions move up and
residual  powers rest with the grassroots – has often been suggested.
But, the  Fourth World has two innovative provisions. One, "in all
representative formations, representation will be always done by a pair
of one woman  and one man". Secondly, electors shall make all higher-level
nominations not "from among themselves but from citizens" residing
in  that area.

Future Action Plan

The document does not stop with sketching an outline of the Fourth
World. It also suggests a programme of action. The future action
plan  consists of two components, direct and indirect struggles. The
direct component includes economic boycott of not only MNC products, but
the  "reactionary strength of national large-scale manufacturers will
[also]  be checked using the same techniques used against foreign
transnationals – boycott and local substitutes". It goes on to
describe  a strategy to handle three main obstacles in promotion of local
products: "Paucity of good quality alternatives, weakness of
marketing  mechanism for alternative products and entrenched consumerism
brought  about by the media". But it does not stop at struggle from the
outside  and, in the Gandhian mode, it also suggests indirect mode of
struggle,  wherein those "who are employed in state institutions from
panchayat to  national government can use their own office files as a
weapon to fight  the class enemies. Each issue, each file, will have a
class content in  it… This is the meaning of a united front of all the

Loose Ends

However, as an analytical concept, the Fourth World has a number of
loose ends. While it is open to "enrichment" of Marxism, which may
involve criticism and correction, the terms are not used in this
document. While it critiques "official interpretations of Marxism",
it  does not explore if these official interpretations have some basis
in  Marxism. It asks, "Where did the Russian and other Communist Parties
go  wrong? In interpreting Marxism? Or in the practice of Marxism?" It
does  not even recognise the possibility that Marxism itself could be
wrong/inadequate. Overall, the explanation for the breakdown of USSR
in  terms of neglect of cultural development of the Soviet citizen and a
"distorted view of progress" is quite inadequate.

Moreover, while the vision of the "Fourth World" is called
"pre-socialist" the term "socialism" has nowhere been defined. It is
amply clear that for the Fourth World "socialism" does not mean
state  ownership of the means of production. So, what is meant by
socialism,  particularly in terms of economic structure and, not just in
terms of  achievements/results needs to be explained. This has not been
done. It  is important as in the light of distinction made by Engels
between  "utopian" and "scientific" socialism, unqualified, "socialism"
usually  stands for the so-called "scientific socialism". Next, there
seems to  be a search for a perfect system. In the Fourth World the
"interest of  the individual and of the community become harmonised
and the necessity  of the State vanishes", there is a "transition from
competition to  cooperation" and "each member of the society has enough
wisdom for  self-control". Rather than seek a conflictless ideal society,
shouldn't  we be satisfied with a society where basic needs of all are met
in a  sustainable manner, conflicts are minimised, and a functional system
exists to see that these conflicts do not go out of hand?

An uncritical application of Marxism is reflected in the understanding  of
"capitalism". This fairly detailed monograph has no word of
appreciation for any aspect of capitalism and market forces. It
blandly  says that, "Sanitised or human-faced capitalism" is "a semantic
absurdity, to say the least. Capitalism per se cannot have a human
face". Why the welfare state is considered to be an exception
incompatible with capitalism is not elaborated. The capitalist
societies are not devoid of fellow-feeling as is often made out to
be.  Perhaps, capitalism was/is the victim of a similar "distorted view
of  progress", that plagued socialism. The ideology of capitalism is not
indifferent to poverty and deprivation; it suggests a different
strategy (which does not seem to work is another matter) to handle

The problem is serious and deep rooted. The Fourth World reproduces
the  following quotation form Che Guevera:

It is not at all possible to speak about expanding trade [between
USSR  and third world countries] as for "mutual benefit" when the trade
is  based on values dictated by uneven development of productive forces.
The world market price is dictated by the mechanised factory
production. To ascribe the same value for the labour of
underdeveloped  nations is not for mutual benefit. If socialist countries
establish  such relations with underdeveloped countries, it will have to
be  accepted that they too are partners in imperialist exploitation.

What else can be the basis of trade? Else, it will be aid and not
trade. But in a way Che Guevera cannot be faulted because Marxist
analysis otherwise calls it exploitation. This contradiction can be
resolved by recognising inadequacy/errors of Marxism. Further, the
question of inefficiency of the public sector is not considered and
no suggestions are made in this regard.

Visions and Ideologies

However, it is quite a comprehensive document and discusses a wide
range of issues, though not with uniform rigour. While it does have
misplaced arguments like the "Sexual relationship is purely a
biological act", it also has a number of valuable insights, or at
least beautifully put ideas. To wit:
– "There have been arguments within almost all communist parties
about  the concept of an "ideal communist" and of a "pragmatic communist".
In  the struggle, the ideal communists lose, perhaps not because of
their  idealism, but because of a degeneration into formalism and
organisationalism and often fundamentalism. The pragmatists survive,
but in the process become more and more pragmatic and in the end
become  one with the public – not like fish in the water, but water
– Propensity for cooperation too is a genetically inherited quality.
"This was an essential element of human evolution. The species could
not have survived without cooperation. Variants with less ability
for  cooperation became extinct. Collectivity is an evolutionary feature."
– It has suggested a number of alternative and innovative indices to
measure the physical and spiritual quality of life. These include
wastage index, dehumanisation index, participation index,
emancipation  index and recycling index. The construction of these
indices is  discussed in detail and hence, these can be debated. For
example, it  suggests that "If we divide the total expenditure on police,
jail,  courts, military, and administration by the total expenditure on
education and health care, we get a quantity which can be termed as
`dehumanisation index'." While this may be all right for the time
being, but eventually health expenditure like the expenditure on
pollution control should go down. So, health and education cannot be

Anyway, visions and ideologies can neither be discarded nor
developed in one go. But with the Fourth World, the post-Soviet
gestation period  within the Indian Left is perhaps coming to an end.
It has brought out  into the open and given a theoretical form to
what was perhaps already  changing in praxis of the mainstream Indian
Left. (Even the party  programme of the CPI(M) does not call for an
abolition of private  property.) This has been done without disowning as
well as without  defending the Marxist/Soviet path all the way. The
Fourth World is  offered as "one concept of a post-capitalist society"
with the  recognition that "there could be many others too". So, it can
form the  basis for Marxists, Gandhians, environmentalists, feminists,
socialists, dalits and peace activists to come closer, if not
together.  This is possible because the Fourth World has a theoretical
space for  all these movements and not just a desire for the broadest
possible  unity. A comparison of the ideological documents of National
Alliance  of People's Movement (NAPM) and Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP)
earlier  led by the late Kishan Patnaik, Bharat Nirman Abhiyan led by
B D Sharma  and Gandhian fortnightly Sarvodya Jagat with the Fourth
World, would  give a feeling that there is lot of shared ground. A
commonality is  perhaps being increasingly realised as reflected in the
coming together  of various shades of opinion against the hegemony of the
US and  American vision in the World Social Forum, as campaigns for the
right  to information, right to food, for employment guarantee act and for
peace. The Fourth World, coming from within the mainstream Left
bridges  this gap further and can form the basis of further fine tuning.

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