Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

The Kashmir Land-Grab

Wherever the capitalist world has established nation states, there are borders, potential flashpoints of future conflicts. The British state wherever it saw inter-communal divisions used these as an opportunistic pretext for partition. First in the island of Ireland: - result being that decades and generations later, the scars of the Troubles are still raw.

Most notoriously, when the post-war Labour government decided to cut its losses and abandon its overseas empire, it left behind many unsolved problems. The Indian sub-continent, with its many cultures, peoples and languages, was very hastily divided by Partition into just two states, India and Pakistan. That division based on religion was bound to lead to tensions, rival nationalisms and conflict.

Even before Partition, there had been horrific inter-communal massacres in Calcutta (Kolkata). Independence triggered widespread massacres, and in the chaos of 'ethnic cleansing' millions of desperate, terrified refugees fled en masse - Hindus to India, Muslims to Pakistan. Down the decades since, there have been a great many intercommunal riots in most of India.

Among the unsolved problems was the unsettled status of Kashmir. This was one of several 'princely states' and the decision about its future was left to its Hindu ruler who opted for India. That decision was resented as illegitimate by the mainly Muslim population, also by Pakistan. There have been at least two Indo-Pakistan wars fought over Kashmir, in 1947 and 1965, plus minor conflicts and some 'terrorism'. Those wars led to a de facto partition of Kashmir, backed by the UN. The UN passed resolutions, e.g. in 1948 / 1957, affirming that the "final disposition" of the region could only be through "the will of the people", i.e. by "a free and impartial plebiscite" held under UN auspices. But India still ruled the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, and has long had a large military force there.

Once Kashmir was known as one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit. Long before international mass tourism took off as an industry, Kashmir Lake - with its water-lilies, house-boats and surrounding mountains - was a major attraction, unforgettably lovely.

But the ongoing brutal ugliness of military occupation, fears of terrorism, and economic distress have combined to make this no longer an attractive tourist venue.

The region's semi-autonomous status was spelt out in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution but in August 2019 Modi's government simply abolished this. At the same time, large numbers of Indian armed forces moved into the region, enforced a curfew, and cut off all telephone, mobile and internet communications. Many Kashmiris have been arrested and detained, and there are rumours of torture. For weeks the streets have been empty, shops shuttered, people unable to leave their homes. Indian soldiers patrol the towns, and there are reports of deaths from army shooting.

By ending the autonomous status of Kashmir, the Indian government has made it possible for outsiders to acquire valuable Kashmiri property - something which Kashmir's laws had prevented. And as the Indian government, with its extremist Hindu political base, is hostile to Muslims, Kashmiris are understandably afraid and mistrustful, fearing an influx of Hindus, turning them into second-class citizens. In Assam, India has imposed a citizenship list, effectively excluding Muslims. A similar policy is expected in the rest of India as the BJP, the ruling extremist Hindu party, rolls this policy out and turns secular India into a Hindu state.

Moreover, many Kashmiris in the Pakistan sector are also disturbed. And in Pakistan there are mass demonstrations, and plans to take the issue to the UN. In addition, while India has cultivated its important international connections (Russia, Turkey, Saudi etc.), Pakistan has for decades had strong connections with China. Plus, China is encroaching on India in another disputed borderland. And both India and Pakistan have well-organised armed forces, plus missiles and nuclear weapons, and are motivated by strong nationalist hostility and decades of distrust.

So this small patch of Mother Earth is now a microcosm of conflict. Politics, economics, religious and other ideological identity: all these, plus the geo-politics of larger international rivalries, combine to make Kashmir a divisive focal point, a possible starting point for another war - as if there were not enough wars already.

As Socialists we have argued again and again that capitalism's inherent competitiveness is a root cause of conflict. Most wars in modern times have been quite obviously linked to disputing control of oil and gas fields, or over strategically important trade routes (e.g. the South China Sea, the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf).

But other conflicts, especially civil wars, are more about control of political power, and are fuelled by religious, cultural or language differences.

Marx and Engels's materialist conception of history is one which points to competing material and economic interests as the root cause of conflict. But it would be a mistake to assume that people's ideas, their social, cultural, linguistic, tribal, national and ideological allegiances are utterly unimportant. These do motivate and divide and simplistic people, and such divisions fuel and perpetuate conflicts.

In later life, Marx and Engels wanted to dissociate themselves from the cruder types of 'Marxist' with their dogmatic economic determinism. As Engels explained in his 1893 letter to Franz Mehring:

[There] is the fatuous notion of the ideologists that because we deny an independent historical development to the various ideological spheres which play a part in history we also deny them any effect upon history. The basis of this is the common undialectical conception of cause and effect as rigidly opposite poles, the total disregarding of interaction; these gentlemen often almost deliberately forget that once an historic element has been brought into the world by other elements, ultimately by economic facts, it also reacts in its turn and may react on its environment and even on its own causes.

Living as we all do in a capitalist world, torn asunder by innumerable conflicts, we Socialists see all too often how wars are fought over control of mineral and other resources - over the interests of competing sections of the capitalist class. But we also recognize the divisive nature of religion, nationalism, racism and other ideologies. These too have a motivating effect, driving people into wars, into fratricidal conflicts, even into genocide - anything from the retail to the wholesale, e.g. from the small-scale, street thuggery of white supremacists to vast global conflicts and all-out warfare.

The best way to counter such dangerously divisive ideologies is by unifying the working class of every region, every place on the planet - by equipping workers with the unifying ideology of class consciousness, an understanding of our shared interest in ending this system of class exploitation, and a determination to put an end to the horrors of poverty and endless warfare.

We argue that only Socialism will mean a world at peace, a planet no longer divided between politically defined nation states, and one where no-one need ever be hungry or homeless. And we know that the capitalist system is a mechanism for exploitation, to make the rich richer from our unpaid labour. As such it works against our interests as a class.

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