How I Became A Communist
Medium: Wearable; Hand screen printed on cotton fabric
First edition of 50
Object #: TO-22
XL and XXL come in a slightly lighter shirt color
This is an exploration around the Communist government elected in the southern Indian state of Kerala in 1957.
(Read The Full Study Below ▼)
“As opposed to this two-stage transformation-slave to feudal and feudal to capitalist-in Europe, India remained tied to the same old order under which the overwhelming majority of the people belonged to the oppressed and backward castes. This is the essence of what Marx called India’s ‘unchanging’ society where the village was not touched by the wars and upheavals at the higher levels, the British conquest being the first revolution.” - E.M.S. Namboodiripad, The Indian National Question: Need for Deeper Study
Those associated with the feudal legacy of India and the growing capitalist class formed an alliance to beat back the Communists.
“The Nair Service Society and the Catholic Church led “The Liberation Struggle”, or “Vimochana Samaram”, which pushed the Centre to impose President’s Rule merely two years into CPI’s term in 1959.” (Nandita Singh, “EMS Namboodiripad, the communist CM who laid the foundation of the Kerala Model”, The Print, March 19, 2019
“But the events in 1959 serve to remind us that the decadence in India has deep roots.
"To recap, the ruling Congress Party at the Centre in the '50s blatantly used the central government machinery to destabilise the elected communist government led by chief minister EMS Namboodiripad which came to power in 1957.
"From day 1, attempts were afoot to engineer defections from the ruling alliance in Kerala.
"When these attempts failed, an agitation under the rubric ‘Vimochana Samaram’ (liberation struggle) was orchestrated by the Congress party in alliance with all sorts of reactionary and obscurantist forces to oppose tooth and nail the progressive reforms undertaken by the communist government -- land reform, legislation to delimit the free run of religious and private bodies in the field of education, enactment of laws for minimum wage for workers and so on.
“But there are enough indications to suggest that the US intelligence actively contributed to the Congress party’s strategy -- and collaborated with it -- to destabilise the Kerala government.” (MK Bhadrakumar, “60 Years of EMS’s Dismissal: Nehru’s Darkest Hour”, Rediff.com, August 1, 2019)
We took a step back and started thinking about the unique historical context of Kerala. Namely, the arrival of Christianity there nearly 2,000 years ago through the Apostle Thomas.
“The Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.” (Gospel of Thomas)
Liberation Theology was an attempt to view Christianity from the bottom up and to find common ground between the thoughts of Marx and Christ. The liberation theologians in Kerala went a step further and tried to identify a strand of radical thought that was indigenous to India.
“What I claim therefore is not the superiority of Christianity over the Indian religious traditions, but the superiority of the humanizing religiosity of the Buddha, the radical Bhaktas and Jesus over the magico-ritualistic religiosity of orthodox Hinduism and the depropheticised religiosity of tradition-based Christianity” (From “Jesus and Cultural Revolution: An Asian Perspective” - Sebastian Kappen)
The explorations of the liberation theologians and the accompanying work they did in downtrodden, oppressed communities troubled the powers that be and led to its suppression by the combined forces of global capital (namely the USA) and its local representatives. This was the case globally, especially in Latin America.
“A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — what gospel is that?”
- Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love
“Outside, the people were dispersed with phosphorous bombs. San Salvador laden with night and espionage, with whispers in homes and boardinghouses and screams in police stations. Carías' palace stoned by the people. A window of his office has been smashed, and the police have fired upon the people. And Managua the target of machine guns from the chocolate-cookie palace and steel helmets patrolling the streets.” - Ernesto Cardenal, “Zero Hour”
Che Guevara's visit to India, 1959
The Communist Party tried to incorporate aspects of Liberation Theology in their own outreach in Kerala, but these efforts were stifled by a new method deployed by global capital, the “non-profit industrial complex”.
In 2012, The Communist Party of Kerala created "its" Last Supper, depicting Obama/America as the Antichrist. "This is the last supper of capitalism...Marxism is the only hope."
The connections we draw are sometimes random. The talk of Christ brough to mind the song “Jesus Christ Pose” by Soundgarden. Kim Thayil, lead guitarist of Soundgarden, is the son of first-generation immigrants from Kerala.
In recovering these histories, we came across several compelling figures, such as Gowri Amma, a long-time communist elected official and one of the first women to hold a statewide cabinet position in India.
“Gowri Amma: The Best CM Kerala Never Had”
“The first woman advocate from the Ezhava community, Gowri Amma’s ascent from being one of the party’s doughtiest grassroots workers at the van of hugely influential trade union, farmer and worker movements to helming the crucial revenue portfolio in both E.M.S. Namboodiripad’s ministries was meteoric.” (Siddharth Premkumar, “Gowri Amma: The Best CM Kerala Never Had”, Outlook, July 9, 2020)
Understanding why Gowri Amma’s story and the related movement are not better known can provide an insight into the quagmire that is our current situation.