In 50s-60s American structural-functionalism and British functionalism dominated social sciences in general and sociological researches in particular. However Desai continued to write on Indian society and state from the Marxist perspective. He finds that the dominant sociological approaches in India are basically non-Marxist and the Marxist approach has been rejected on the pretext of its being dogmatic, value-loaded and deterministic in nature. The relevant approach according to him is the Marxist approach as it could help to study of govt’s policies, the class entrenched into state apparatus and India’s political economy.The Marxist approach helps to understand the social reality through the means of production, the techno-economic division of labour involved in operating the instruments of production and social relations of production or what was more precisely characterized as property relations. Thus the Marxist approach focuses on understanding the type of property relations which existed on the eve of independence in India. The Marxist approach gives central importance to property structure in analyzing any society. It provides historical location or specification of all social phenomena. It recognizes the dialectics of evolutionary as well as revolutionary changes of the breaks in historical continuity in the transition from one socio-economic formation to another. In this context A R Desai tried to understand the Indian society which also reflects in his work.
A.R Desai was born on April 16, 1915 at Nadiadin Gujarat and died in 1994 at Baroda. He consistently advocated and applied dialectical-historical model in his sociological studies. He closely studied the works of Marx and Engels and the writings of Trotsky. He may be regarded as one of the pioneers in introducing the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research. He rejects any interpretations of tradition with reference to religion, rituals and festivities. It is essentially a secular phenomenon. He finds it in family, village and other social institutions. He also does not find the origin of tradition in western culture. He considers that the emerging contradictions in the Indian process of social transformation arise mainly from the growing nexus among the capitalist bourgeoisie, the rural petty-bourgeoisie and a state apparatus all drawn from similar social roots.
Among Indian sociologists one who has consistently advocate and applied dialectical-historical model in his sociological studies is A.R.Desai. Desai closely studied the works of Marx and Engels and the writings of Leon Trotsky by whom he was very much influenced He may be regarded as one of the pioneers introducing the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research. Following facts are worth mentioning about Desai :
- Desai alone among Indian sociologists has consistently applied Marxist methods in his treatment of Indian social structure and its processes. He is a doctrinaire Marxist.
- He rejects any interpretations of tradition with reference to religion, rituals and festivities; it is essentially
- a secular phenomenon. Its nature is economic and it originates and develops in economic. He finds it in family, village and other social institutions. He also does not find the origin of tradition in western culture.
- His studies mainly of nationalism and its social configuration, his examination of community development programmes for economic development in villages, his diagnosis of the interface between state and society in India or the relationship between polity and social structure, his treatment of urban slums and their demographic problems, and finally his study of peasant movements are all based on a Marxist method of historical-dialectical materialism.
- He considers that the emerging contradictions in the Indian process of social transformation arise mainly from the growing nexus among the capitalist bourgeoisie, the rural petty-bourgeoisie and a state apparatus, industrial working classes by sheer of its power and of its skilful stratagems. The contradiction, however, is not resolved It only takes new cumulative forms and re-emerges in the form of protests and social movements.The social unrest is rooted in the capitalist path of development followed by India, bequeathed to it as a legacy of the national movement.
Analysis of Indian Society through Marxist Approach :
Marx pointed out that different sub-formations within a society could not be understood adequately if seen in the context of the historical level Thus,
- The Marxist approach endeavors to locate, within a specific society, the forces which preserve and forces which prompt it to change, i.e., the forces driving to take a leap into a new or a higher form of social organization, which would unleash the productive power of mankind to a next higher level.
- Further, Desai argues that the methodology adopted by social scientists is apt to understand social reality from the ideology of capitalism. But that is a false finding. He further argues that changes need to be interpreted from the perspective of production relation. And it is precisely the method he has applied.
- The Marxist approach further considers that focusing on the type of property relations prevailing in the Indian society as crucial-axial element for properly understanding the nature will be crudely reducing of every phenomenon to economic factor; it also not denies the autonomy, or prevalence of distinct institutional and normative features peculiar to a particular society. For instance, according to Desai, it does not deny the necessity of understanding institutions like caste system, religions, linguistic or tribal groups or even specific cultural traditions which are characteristics of the Indian society.
- The Marxist approach, in fact, Endeavors to understand the role and the nature of the transformation of these institutions in the larger context of the type of society, which is being evolved. This approach understands these institutions in the matrix of underlying overall property relations and norms implicit therein, which pervasively influence the entire social economic formation.
- Desai feels that adoption of the Marxist approach will be helpful in studying the industrial relations, not merely as management-labour relations, and also in the context of the state wedded to capitalist path of development, shaping these relations.
- The Marxist approach will also assist in understanding why institutions generating higher knowledge-products, sponsored, financed and basically shaped by the state, pursuing a path of capitalist development. This understanding will expose the myth spread about state, as welfare neutral state and reveal it as basically a capitalist state.
- The constitution evolved is bourgeois constitution and the leadership is representing capitalist class and is reshaping the economy and society on capitalist path. The slogan of socialistic pattern is a hoax to create illusion and confuse the masses. The real intentions and practices are geared to the development on capitalist lines.
- According to Desai, the bourgeoisie is the dominant class in India. The Indian society is based on the capitalist economy. The dominant culture in our country is therefore the culture of the dominant capitalist class.
- Indian capitalism was a by- product of imperialist capitalism. Indian capitalism was born during the declining phase of world capitalism when, due to the general crisis of capitalism, even in advanced capitalist countries, the ruling bourgeoisie, not cognizant of the cause of the crisis, have been increasingly abandoning rationalism and materialist philosophies and retrograding to religio-mystical world outlook,
- Desai argues that Indian bourgeoisie built up a fundamentally secular bourgeois democratic state, which has been imparting modern scientific, technological and liberal democratic education.
- This class and its intelligensia have been, in the cultural field are revivalist and more and more popularizing, supporting and spreading old religious and idealistic philosophic concepts among the people.
- The social role played by this culture is reactionary since it gives myopic picture of the physical universe and the social world, a misexplanation of the fundamental causes of the economic and social crisis, opiates the consciousness of the masses and tries to divert the latter from advancing on the road of specific solution of their problems.
Important contributions of Desai on major themes are :
- Village structure
- Social background of Indian nationalism
- State and society
- Transformation of Indian society
- Peasant struggles
Village Structure :
- It is viewed that Indian village was a self-sufficient unit in pre-British period The village population was mainly composed of peasants. The peasant families enjoyed traditional hereditary right to possess, and cultivate his holding from generation to generation. Therefore, village was based on agriculture carried on with the primitive plough and bullock-power and handicraft by means of the primitive equipment.
- The village council was the de facto owner of the village land which represented the village community. All exchange of product produced by the village workers, was limited to the village community. The village did not have any appreciable exchange relations with the outside world Further, the pre-British Indian society almost completely subordinated the individual to the caste, family and the village panchayat. The culture of pre-British India was feudal in nature, which was predominantly mystical in character. This was due to the fact that the society was economically on a low level stationary and socially rigid Whatever changes occurred was quantitative and not qualitative in character.
Transformation of Indian Society :
The transformation of the pre-British India from feudal economy to capitalist economy was a result of the British conquest of India. The British government adopted the capitalist path of development in their political and economic policies at three levels, viz., trade, industry and finance.
- The introduction of new economic reforms of the British government disrupted the old economic system. Consequently it destroyed the old land relations and artisans with the emergence of new land relations and modern industries.
- In place of village commune appeared modern peasant proprietors or zamindars, as private owner of land.
- The class of artisans disappeared with modern industry. New classes like the capitalist industrial workers, agricultural labourer, tenants, merchants etc., emerged Thus, the British impact not only led to the transformation of the economic anatomy of Indian society, but also its social physiognomy.
- Further, the new land revenue system, commercialization of agriculture, fragmentation of land etc., also led to the transformation of Indian village.
- At higher level this resulted in growing polarization of classes in agrarian areas, poverty in rural areas and exploitations by the owners of land It give rise to new class structure in agrarian society with categories like zamindars, absentee landlords, tenants, peasant proprietors, agricultural labourers, money lenders and merchant class.
- Similarly, in urban society, there were capitalist industrial working class, petty traders, professional classes like doctors, layers, engineers etc.
The British government also introduced railways, postal services, centralized uniform law, English education, modern industry and many more, which brought qualitative change in Indian society. It is said that although the British government had various exploitative mechanisms in India, but unintentionally these efforts led to unification of Indian society. The role of railways and press is significant in this direction. It has brought the scattered and disintegrated Indians into the mainstream. The implication was social movements, collective representations, national sentiments, and consciousness among Indian people and formation of unionism at various levels. Such a social infrastructural set-up gave rise to nationalism, freedom movement and awakening of Indian nationalism.
Social Background of Indian Nationalism :
Desai applies the Marxist approach to the study of ‘nationalism’ in India during the British rule. He spells out historical-dialectical materialism and applies it to the study of various types of movements- rural and urban, caste and class structure, social mobility, education and other aspects of Indian society.
Desai’s first full-length work The Social Background of Indian Nationalism was a trendsetter not only for its Marxist academic orientation, but also for the way in which it cross-fertilized sociology with history. Quite like other Marxists, he employer production relations for the explanation of traditional social background of Indian nationalism in his classical work.
- The book is an excellent effort to trace the emergence of Indian nationalism from dialectical perspective.
- According to Desai, India’s nationalism is the result of the material conditions created by the British colonialism. The Britishers developed new economic relations by introducing industrialization and modernization. This economic relationship is predominantly a stabilizing factor in the continuity of traditional institutions in India, which would undergo changes as these relations would change.
- Desai thinks that when traditions are linked with economic relations, the change in the latter would eventually change the traditions. It is in this context that he thinks that, caste will disintegrate with the creations of new social and material conditions, such as industries, economic growth, education etc.
- Desai’s definition of tradition is a watershed. He does not trace it from caste, religion or ritual The dialectical history of India that he presents very clearly shows that traditions have their roots in Indian economy and production relation. Despite merits of dialectical approach applied by Desai in the definition of tradition, Yogendra Singh argues that the merits are not without weaknesses. What is wrong with Desai is that he was very profound when he applies principles of Marxism in analyzing Indian situation but fails at the level of empirical support. In other words, his theoretical framework can be challenged by the strength of substantial data.
- In his works, Desai developed the Marxian framework to outline the growth of capitalism in India. He provided an analysis of the emergence of the various social forces, which radically altered the economy and society in India within the context of colonialism.The state which emerged in India after independence, he postulated was a capitalist state. To him, the administrative level apparatus of the state performed the twin functions of protecting the propertied classes and suppressing the struggle of the exploited classes.
- In ‘India s path of Development’ he took on the traditional communist parties and the Marxian scholars who spoke of the alliance with the progressive bourgeoisie, of semi-feudalism, of foreign imperialist control over Indian economy, and who postulated a ‘two-stages theory of revolution’ or accepted a ‘peaceful parliamentary road to socialism’ in India. Desai’s works include a number of edited volumes on rural sociology, urbanization, labour movements, peasant’s struggle, modernization, religion and democratic rights. They are a rich source of reference material for students, researchers and activists.
Peasant Struggles :
In his two volumes entitled Peasant Struggles in India and Agrarian Struggles in India after Independence? Desai had complied excellent material on peasant struggles in India during colonial rule and after independence. The difference in the character of struggles then and now is highlighted Agrarian struggles, at present, Desai suggests, are waged by the newly-emerged propertied classes as well as the agrarian poor, especially the agrarian proletariat, whereas the former fight for the greater share in the fruits of development The poor comprising pauperized peasants and labourers belonging to low castes and tribal communities struggle for survival and for a better life in themselves. Thus, Desai maintained progress could be achieved only by radically transforming the exploitative capitalist system of India. The theme of the state was explored in several of his studies.
State and Society :
- In State and Society in India, Desai provided a critique of the theories of modernization accepted by a large number of academic establishments. He clearly stated that in reality the concept assumed “modernization on capitalist path a desirable value premise”.It, however, served as a valuable ideological vehicle to the ruling class pursuing the capitalist path. Desai remarked on the absence of a comprehensive analysis of the class character, class role and the economic, repressive, ideological functions of the post-independence Indian state by Marxists scholars. In many of his later works he pursued the theme of the repressive role of the state and the growing resistance to it In Violation of Democratic Rights in India, he highlights the violation of the democratic rights of minorities, women, slum dwellers in urban India, press and other media by the state (Munshi Sand Saldanha).
- In his studies of nationalism, analysis of rural social structure, the nature of economic and social politics of change in India and the structure of state and society, he has consistently tried to expose the contradictions and anomalies in policies and process of change resulting from the capitalist-bourgeoisie interlocking of interest in the Indian society. According to Desai, the polarization of class interest, especially of the bourgeoisie, is the foundation of modern society in India. It has thus inherent in it the class contradictions and the logic of its dialectics. This has been thoroughly exposed by Desai in his several writings.
Relevance of Marxist Approach:
- In the fifties and early sixties; American structural-functionalism and British functionalism dominated social sciences; in general and sociological researches, in particular. However, Desai undeterred by these imperialistic influences continued to write on Indian society and state from the Marxist perspective.
- He finds that the dominant sociological approaches in India are basically non-Marxist, and the Marxist approach has been rejected on the pretext of its being dogmatic, value-loaded and deterministic in nature.
- According to Desai, the Marxist approach is the relevant approach. It could help to study of government polices; the classes entrenched into state apparatus and India’s political economy. Desai writes,’I wish the social science practitioners in India break-through the atmosphere of allergy towards this profound and influential approach and create climate to study the growing body of literature articulating various aspects of Indian society, the class character of the slate and the path of development”
- According to Desai, the Marxist approach helps one to raise relevant questions, conduct researches in the right direction, formulate adequate hypotheses, evolve proper concepts, adopt and combine appropriate research techniques and locate the central tendencies of transformation with its major implications.
- According to Desai the Marxist approach helps to understand the social reality through the means of production, the techno-economic division of labour involved in operating the instruments of production, and social relations of production or what are more precisely characterized as property relations. Thus, the Marxist approach focuses on understanding the type of property relations which existed on the eve of independence in India. These are being elaborated by the state as the active agent of transformation of post-independent India. Hence, the Marxist approach will help the Indian scholars to designate the type of society and its class character, the role of the state and the specificity of the path of development with all the implications.
- Property relations are crucial because they shape the purpose, nature, control, direction and objectives underlying the production. Further, property relations determine the norms about who shall get how much and on what grounds. For understanding the post-independence Indian society, the Marxist approach will focus on the specific type of property relations, which existed on the eve of independence and which are being elaborated by the state as the active agent of transformation.
In brief, the Marxist approach gives central importance to property structure in analyzing any society. It provides “historical location or specification of all social phenomena Moreover, “this approach recognizes the dialectics of evolutionary as well as revolutionary changes of the breaks in historical continuity in the transition from one socio-economic formation to another” In this context, Desai tried to understand the Indian society which also reflects in his works. Desai not only did give notice to the mainstream that Marx has a place in sociology, but also, he provided a forum for radical-minded scholars to broaden their horizon of research.
However, this approach has been criticized on many counts. According to Yogendra Singh, the important limitation of the dialectical approach for studies of social change in India is the lack of substantial empirical data in support of his major assertion, which are often historiography and can easily be challenged In theoretical terms, however, this approach can be more visible for analysis of the processes of change and conflict in India provided it is founded upon a sound tradition of scientific research. Despite these limitations, some studies conducted on this model offer useful hypotheses, which can be further tested in course of the studies on social change.
The works of A. R. Desai, shows that how Marxist approach can be applied in understanding Indian social reality. The Social Background of Indian Nationalism reflects on the economic interpretation of Indian society. Desai applies historical materialism for understanding the transformation of Indian society. He explains that how the national consciousness emerged through qualitative changes in Indian society. It must be observed by the concluding words that in all his writings Desai has examined the usefulness of Marxian framework to understand India’s reality.