The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Ideas and the Material world: The case of Decolonization.

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Where do ideas come from? Is there a separate world of Ideas, as Plato claimed? Or are they shaped by what we encounter in the ‘material world’? What then is the significance of this interaction? Is it one way? Or do both affect each other; are both dialectically connected?

In order to understand these questions it is important to take examples from history and then form a hypothesis. The example I choose is one of the successful decolonization movements of the world. Let us begin at home and analyze the particular flavor of the Indian decolonization. One must understand the objective material reality of India, at the time of the British withdrawal, and how it was different from the objective-material reality of other parts of the world.

To further our understanding of this concept I will first define the concepts I use. We must first understand what ‘objective material reality’ means – what was ‘decolonization’?

For any scientist, the basic priority is assigned to material stimuli which, in turn, give rise to ideas. These ideas are, therefore, the cognitive consequence of the material stimuli as they impact the Human Brain. It is clear, therefore, that supremacy must be given to ‘material life’. This is not to say that this is a one way street; indeed ideas, as they are generated by material circumstances, also impact material circumstances in turn. This is the dialectical relationship between the two. Decolonization refers to a dynamic or a process whereby ‘colonizing’ agents are physically removed from the geographical boundary that constitutes, later, a National boundary.

Having established the working definitions of the main ideas in question, we are better equipped to address the issue.

My first example shall be of ‘United-India’. It is important to understand that the decolonization process, within India, was not a singular one; that indeed with the decolonization movement there were several strands of thought. The popular ones included;

1) Bhagat Singh’s Marxist-Leninist stance,
2) Gandhi’s Swaraj,
3) Muslim League’s Two Nation theory- oriented stance etc.

In each case, the fundamental understanding is that none of these strands could have existed had there not been a “Colonial oppressive structure” within India. This colonial structure was a material reality – it was not an intangible concept. The oppression and exploitation were stung the Indians, of the time, just as much as their ‘white’-lord’s whip. These were their ‘objective-material conditions’.

In each case, this led these particular strands to develop a certain school of thought. Bhagat Singh, thoroughly disenchanted with Gandhi’s non-violent movement chose to go the way violent struggle against the oppressor. Gandhi, in keeping with his subjective reality which comprised of his having lived in a western society and then having been disenchanted with it, stressed on the importance of returning to the ‘Pre-colonial’ stage of India.

Muslims, also in keeping with the kind of educational stagnation and subsequent political disenfranchisement, decided to opt for a movement for separate homelands. Although there is substantial evidence to prove that the strength of the two-nation theory resided not in the movement of the common folk but in the preservation of the property of West Punjab’s landlords.

So the Indian example clearly shows that the material reality of these schools of thought defined who they became and, later, the ideas that these individuals and movements espoused impacted the people of India and the ‘flavor’ of the decolonization movements.

In the case of Africa, the movement had a very different format than that in India. Why was this?
This was because Africa, as a whole, had a very different objective-material reality than India. While India was a relatively ‘well-kept’ colony and only structurally oppressed Africa was brutally (and literally) raped by the colonizers. The colonizers (in contrast to other colonies) developed India in terms of Infra-structure, agriculture, culture and some level of Industry. Africa was not that lucky. Men and women were kidnapped from their native lands and taken to Europe and, in particular, to the Americas to be slaves-labor on Plantations. The rape of the Ivory coast is chief among examples.

This is all pertinent because the format of the decolonization movement, its ideology, its colonial-sponsored backlash and the movement’s victory was on a near-epic scale. Kwami Nkrumah’s example is that of a western-educated individual. As such his movement and his ideas were very well thought out. While it is true that Nkrumah advocated a non-violent method of protest but it does not take away from the fact that the movement itself was unrelenting in the fashion in which it paralyzed the colonial economy. Thousands upon thousands of people simply refused to work – the colonial governments found themselves forced to the negotiation table. This is the legacy of Nkrumah’s movement who understand the material reality of Ghana at the time – who understood that any out and out violent revolution would elicit an even more severe colonial backlash which would result in the death of thousands of Africans. It is an excellent example of a movement, of an idea, tailored to the material needs of the time; a movement which then succeeded.

A similar example can be quoted about the, now, Socialist State of Cuba which is under the revolutionary democratic government of Fidel Castro. This revolution effectively destroyed colonial remnants and cut itself off from its Imperial neighbor based on their material reality as well. Cuba was a thoroughly oppressed and exploited State at the time of its decolonization. At the time of revolution Cuba’s president was Gen. Fulgencio Batista, little more than a puppet dictator who was living off his nation. The only reason he maintained power was because of US support; this in light of the fact that United States maintained a substantial economic presense within Cuba in his reign. Fidel Castro begun with attacking the military might of Batista; by attacking the Moncada Barracks. This was in keeping with the Guerilla strategy – an idea concieved by Chairman Mao Zedong; an idea and strategy developed for, and which proved essential to, the Chinese Revolution.

The examples have been taken from the three chief Third World locations of the world i.e Asia, Africa and Latin America. All of them prove that it was material reality; indeed material and social factors which were important towards the implimentation of any decolonization strategy. Even Marxism, which recieves regular criticism as being an ‘economic deterministic’ philosophy, simply is NOT an economically determined ideology. It is based on the class divide – which in and of itself is a social phenomenon; it is a material phenomenon. The economic understanding of the class struggle is NOT the primary assumption but an effort to explain the primary justification i.e the exploitation of the poor by the rich; and in modern context the exploitation of the Proletariat by the Bourgeoisie.

It is, therefore, my assertion that all decolonization movements are based on decolonization ideology; that all decolonization ideology is based on and tailored to the objective-material reality of that particular situation; that objective material conditions must exist which necessitate a new idea, thought or ideology – without material reality there cannot be any abstract ideas.


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