As the US Pushes for War in Eurasia, We Must Remember Romesh Chandra
The crisis in the West continues to intensify.
“An old world is dying, and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives. No matter, so long as we accept that our responsibility is to the newborn: the acceptance of responsibility contains the key to the necessarily evolving skill.”
-James Baldwin, No Name in the Street
For the first time since the second world war, and since Indian independence, the world dominance of the United States, and its Western allies is tenuous. The crisis in the West continues to intensify. The American people are seeing high levels of inflation despite Joe Biden’s efforts to rescue the American economy. There are unprecedented levels of unemployment, and a crisis of legitimacy as workers refuse to return to the jobs that are available. American society continues to polarize along class lines -- the bicoastal liberal elites on the one hand, and the poor, largely white, workers suffering from de-industrialization on the other.
As Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and popular protests in countries like France have shown, the people of the Western world have lost faith in the American-European alliance epitomized by Nato. This is all in the backdrop of the spectacular rise of China on the world stage, and the emergence of a new axis of alliance between China, Russia and Iran. Many European nations are open to cooperation with China, including Germany, Italy, Spain and Greece, despite mounting American pressure against it.
As the American ruling class loses its influence over the world, it in turn loses control over economic assets that American and Western corporations rely upon. With the profit machine of western finance in peril, the American ruling elite is desperate to hold on to power. In its desperation it becomes more and more reckless, pushing the world to the edge of nuclear war. Biden’s democracy summit was but one of many attempts to isolate China and Russia, and now the American government seems bent on provoking the Russian people and government on Ukraine.
A multipolar world order is being born as the American empire collapses. We must take responsibility to make this transition as peaceful as possible. India has had a special and important role in the world, and Indians must not shirk our historic responsibility at this time. Our role in the world was established by the men and women who took part and were produced by our great struggle for freedom. One such exemplary freedom fighter was Romesh Chandra who we look to today to understand our responsibility.
Romesh Chandra was a stalwart of the peace movement, and it is a disservice to the youth and people of India that his name is not known widely today. He lived a rich life of struggle and sacrifice. As a student he participated in the freedom struggle and spent time in British prisons. He went on to join the Communist Party of India. He was elected the first General secretary of the All India Peace Council when it was formally established in October of 1952. Later he served as president of the World Peace Council and made hefty contributions to the struggle against apartheid, the movement for Vietnamese freedom, the Palestinian cause and many other anti-imperialist movements.
Throughout his life, Romesh never shied away from struggle. He took difficult positions on the crucial issues of his time and always pushed for political positions based on principle, rather than tactical considerations. He saw the fight for peace as being inextricably interlinked to the battle against neocolonialism and imperialism. The battle for peace then became an intensely political movement. In his speeches, Romesh never tiptoed around who he saw as the purveyors of war in the world. During the Vietnam war, he said, “We are meeting at a grave moment in international history; the US imperialists are escalating and aggravating their aggression, they are stepping up their dirty war in Vietnam and are extending it to Laos and Cambodia. (...) The Vietnamese people have shown that imperialism can be defeated by a people which is united and is ready to give the last drop of its blood to defend its independence.”
It should be stressed that although today we in India understand the Vietnam war as a just war of the Vietnamese people to defend their independence, the war propaganda by the American elite was intense in that time. Just as today the media paints Russia as an aggressor in Ukraine, or the Chinese as committing human rights abuses against its own population, the 70s saw the Western media painting the Communist forces of North Vietnam as invading South Vietnam.
They claimed, similar to today, that the American and French military in Vietnam was defending the ‘democratic’ forces behind Ngo Dinh Diem. Romesh fought for clarity on ideas that guided the peace movement. He said, ‘One can recall the manner in which imperialist-controlled mass media sought to distort the entire chapter of the Vietnamese people’s struggle, to hide imperialist aggression and to suggest that what was taking place in Vietnam was a war between north and south Vietnam, a fratricidal war of the Vietnamese people itself.’
Romesh Chandra understood that the battle for peace could not be conducted solely by conferences with diplomats in Paris, Brussels and London. He would often say, ‘peace is everybody’s business’. He made efforts to take the peace movement to the people of the world. He tied the world peace movement to local groups that engaged in political education of the people. Romesh saw that true peace could only be achieved when the masses, and especially the colored masses of the world, could be engaged in the task of building it. He pushed for the message of peace, and education about imperialist wars to be taken to schools, colleges, religious organisations, and political organisations fighting local battles.
Romesh, along with another remarkable Indian, E.S. Reddy, played an instrumental role in galvanizing world wide support for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. E.S. Reddy served in the UN's Special Committee Against Apartheid for several years. In a speech at the United Nations in 1974, Romesh would say, ‘I would like to state our views very firmly. (...)Our view is that the voice of South Africa must be heard on all questions with which the people of South Africa are concerned. And therefore, the liberation movement, which are the sole representatives of the people of South Africa, must be granted not only the right but every opportunity to speak for their people on all matters in which they are concerned.’
After the Soweto massacre in 1976, he said, ‘We believe it is necessary for the world and for the peoples of the world and for the governments to declare that the people of South Africa have the right to wage their struggle for the seizure of power by every means at their disposal, and that the armed struggle today is the form which has been imposed upon the people of South Africa and which commands the full support of all who stand against apartheir, for justice, for human rights.’
Romesh put himself squarely on the side of the oppressed, and threw the weight of the World Peace Council behind their cause.
At many points in his life, it would have been easy for Romesh to have claimed easy victory, and to declare that his work had been enough of a contribution to the peace movement to warrant a retirement. Yet, he remained a tireless fighter for peace his entire life.
Romesh Chandra exemplifies the best of the tradition that came out of India’s struggle for freedom, and it is our responsibility today to look to his life for inspiration and carry on his work. The West today is attempting to pull India and Indians to the cause of propping up the Western empire under the banner of ‘democracy’. We must look through the propaganda that is so pervasive in the media and have the courage to take a stand on Ukraine.
The Ukrainian and Russian people have long historical ties, and the US has not been a factor in this relationship till very recently. Not enough people today are aware of the CIA backed colour revolution that toppled a legitimate government in Ukraine in 2004 and the manufactured protests that led to what was effectively a presidential coup in 2014. Even fewer know of the widespread pro-government protests that opposed these colour revolutions in regions outside of Kyiv. In both these instances, the ‘freedom fighters’ leading the colour revolutions were people known openly to support US interference in Ukraine and to hob-nob with the American intelligence and government elite.
This included former president Yuschenko’s wife, Kateryna Yushchenko who had previously worked at the US State Department and Mikheil Saakashvili, who had led yet another color revolution in Georgia, the Rose Revolution. Ukraine is today split between the East, Crimea and the west. Crimea recently voted to secede from Ukraine to rejoin Russia, while there are sections in Western Ukraine that look to Western Europe. In 2014, the protests were sparked by President Yanukovich’s refusal to accept an unfair and unbalanced free trade agreement with the European Union.
Ultimately, the question of Ukraine’s place in the world is a question that will have to be decided by the Ukrainian people in conversation with their neighbours. Whatever this solution is, the United States military has no business being in Eastern Europe, just as its presence in the Indian Ocean on the island of Diego Garcia is indefensible.
The US and Nato have repeatedly broken promises made to Russia to not increase Nato presence along its borders. We in India must have the courage to say clearly what the situation in Ukraine is -- an example of the US war machine pushing for war with Russia.
Rebuilding the peace movement is a primary task for our times. We must go to the people of India with a picture of what is happening in the world, and how the world order is changing. People want to know about the world, and it is only with their support that we can build a movement to change it.
Nandita Chaturvedi is a fellow at the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore