The Marxist
Volume: 2, No. 2
April – June 1984
Action Groups / Voluntary Organisation:
A Factor In Imperialist Strategy
Prakash Karat
THE purpose of this article is to explain the phenomenon of proliferation of various voluntary agencies and action groups which are working in the rural and urban areas of our country among the landless, tribals, women, slum-dwellers and unorganised labour. There are, according to our estimate, over five thousand such organisations, which are receiving funds from different agencies in the western imperialist countries to fiancé their activities. The figure runs into crores of rupees every year. What motivates these diverse groups working in different sector and parts of the country? What is their ideological basis? Is it part of an overall strategy of imperialist penetration? Finally, what are its implications for the working class movement and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)? This study seeks to find an answer to these questions.
With the alteration of the strategic balance of forces in the post-second world war period, it is no longer that easy for imperialism, by directly exporting counter-revolution, to halt the progressive march of march of national liberation and the assertion of political independence by the growing number of former colonies in the third world. This reality has been noted by the international communist movement since the Declaration of the Communist and Workers’ Parties of Socialist Countries adopted in their meeting in 1957. While it is true that imperialism headed by the United States is unable to halt the revolutionary currents of history, it must be recognised that it is constantly devising new tactics to halt this decline of imperialist hegemony. The instrument of multinationals, economic aid for subjugation and creating dependence, cultural penetration-all these have become elements of the modern now-colonialist strategy of imperialism. It is in this context that we have to view the imperialist infiltration and tactics in utilising voluntary agencies / action groups in countries like India. The utilisation of this network of agencies has become a new factor in imperialist strategy. The exposure of the “Project Brahmaputra” in Assam and the north – east in 1979 showed how under the cover of research, the United States’ State Department and CIA sought to fan separatist designs in the Assam valley and neighbouring states.
The background to this study stems from the resolution of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) adopted in June 1981 which for the first the highlighted the threat from some church agencies in the service of imperialism who assume a ‘left’ posture. It seeks to elaborate the C. C ‘s formulations, pointing to the ideological basis and wider ramifications of the nature and role of these agencies known as voluntary organisations or action groups.
The sum total of the conclusions of the study may be summarised as follows:
There is a sophisticated and comprehensive strategy worked out in imperialist quarters to harness the forces of voluntary agencies / action to their strategic design to penetrate the Indian society and influence its course of development. It is the imperialist ruling circles, which have provided through their academic outfits the political and ideological basis for the outlook of a substantial number of these proliferating groups in India. By providing liberal funds to these groups, imperialism has created avenues to penetrate directly vital sections of the Indian society and simultaneously use this movement as a vehicle counter and disrupt the potential of the left movement. The Party has to take serious note of this arm of imperialist penetration while focusing on other instruments and tactics of imperialism. An ideological offensive to rebut the philosophy propagated by these groups is urgently necessary, as it tends to attract petty bourgeois youth imbued with idealism.
Further concrete tactics must be worked out to deal with the varied activities of these groups in different sphere and parts of our country. The Party has to take up this challenge of imperialist penetration.
New Dimension Of Imperialist Policy
 In the overall policy-making for the third world countries by the ruling circles of US imperialism and its allies, a significant new outlook was introduced in the early seventies. US imperialism worked out a new element in its strategy for development of the underdeveloped countries. This factor encompasses the “voluntary agencies movement” and it is assigned a specific role in the development of the third world including India. This new policy was vigorously propagated by the World Bank under the president ship of Robert McNamara and other imnperialist agencies. Arguing forgoing beyond the traditional charity / aid approach to development, the new concept was spelt out as follows:
1.     The urgently needed reforms (to ensure development of capitalism) is held up in the third world countries due to the narrow elitist nature of ruling classes and the vested interested and bureaucracy. These ruling circles are too short – sighted to realise the necessity to introduce even limited land reforms and reduce widening disparities, which create socially explosive situations.
2.     Therefore, urgent measures are required, if necessary circumventing the bureaucracy and oligarchic interests, to reduce the dangerously widening inequalities and the threat of social revolution by providing relief improving productivity.
3.     Hence while prodding the ruling circles of these countries to undertake such measures however unpalatable to them, channels should be created outside the oligarchic – bureaucracy structure by voluntary agencies working at the grass-roots among the poverty-stricken people. These agencies which are free from bureaucratic / political control manned by qualified people can help reach the fruits of development to the most under-privileged so that they can develop some stake in the otherwise crisis ridden system. These groups are to be independently founded so that they are not dependent on the aid provided by the official agencies, which normally are the recipients of imperialist aid. While aid to official agencies will continue, another pipeline must be opened which has direct access to the people.
4.     The political fall-out of this strategy will help avoiding the danger of the poverty stricken masses falling prey to subversive revolutionary movements which would abort the whole process of capitalist development / modernisation. These grass-roots voluntary organisations funded by imperialism will be able to root themselves among the people and develop a pluralist society and thereby be an effective counterpoint to working class-ad revolutionary movements.
This is the philosophy put sophisticated jargon, which permeates the literature produced in western academic and official circles on the role of voluntary agencies in the third world societies.
Western ideologues have viewed the development of a network of voluntary associations in countries like India as the basis for a ‘pluralist’ democratic society as opposed to a ‘revolutionary-totalitarian’ set-up. “Finally it is held that (voluntary) associations moderate the political struggle in a number of ways; overlapping membership may produce cross-pressures that do something to qualify the crass self-interests of vocational organisations. Activist organisations may give healthy outlet to potential aggressiveness, which might otherwise take destructive form. The mere fact of organisation with its attendant fixed procedures… provides protection against the rapid contagion of an emotional mass movement; it is not for naught that totalitarian regimes begin by crushing voluntary associations.” (Penn ox & Chapman (led): Voluntary Associations) So, the ideological basis for propping up voluntary associations had already been constructed by the late sixties and sought to be implemented. In the early seventies this was sought to be utilised to pep up the development programme run with imperialist aid, which were increasingly running into crisis and failure. Robert McNamara, President of the World Bank, took the lead in advocating the bold new policy. In his address to the annual meeting of the board of governors of the World Bank held in Naiobi in 1973, he bluntly warned the governments of the third world that development aid was not benefiting the most deprived and poverty stricken who comprise on an average of rural development he spelt out the new elements: “No one can pretend that the genuine land and tenancy reform is easy. It is hardly surprising that members of the political power structure, who own large holdings, should resist reform. But the real issue is whether indefinite procrastination is politically prudent. An increasingly inequitable situation will pose a growing threat to political stability…. It will call for immense courage, for political risk is involved. The politically privileged among the landed elite are rarely enthusiastic over the steps necessary in the advance rural development.”
A key element in the new strategy he posited was: “new forms of rural institutions and organisations that will give as much attention to promoting the inherent potential and productivity of the poor as is generally given to protecting the power of the privileged.” (Robert McNamara: Address to the Board of Governors, Nairobi, 1983)
The Asian protégés of the imperialist agencies were not far behind in following this line. The Asian Development Bank has noted: “Yet it should not be forgotten that in Asian countries there is a long tradition of voluntary action for the uplift of rural (and urban) poor, such as the Sarvodaya or Gandhian movement sin India, the People’s rural Reconstruction Movement in the Philippines, the Sae Maeul movement in Korea and so on. Workers in these movements retain a local touch and have an ideological commitment to redress the plight of the poor and disadvantaged. In many instances they are more effective in fulfilling the objectives of rural development than the bureaucratic organisations”. (Quotes from Rural Asia, Challenge and Opportunity, Asian Development Bank)
This new element in imperialist strategy has been in operation in India also from the early seventies. It can be divided into two phases.
First phases: In the first phase lasting up to 1975-76, the emphasis of these groups so founded and guided was on development projects: rural development, community development, employment – generation, slum improvement, betterment of living conditions, etc. This grass roots (a favourite word in imperialist jargon picked up by our action groups) developmental work and penetration was added to the continuing financing of governmental official projects for developmental activities. So, in the overall development strategy, there was a formal (official) sector and a non-formal (non-official) sector to both which imperialism provided aid and finances. The non-official sector, which in the sixties was more utilised for relief rehabilitation and charity-oriented projects now was given an integral role in the imperialist model of ‘development’ for the third world countries. This represented the new dimension. The constraints of ‘development’ and the necessity to intervene directly among the people in the course of the ‘development’ process were analysed and theorised by imperialism and transmitted through their intellectual and semi-official outfits to the willing ideologues / agents in India. It was not an indigenous process but brought about by imperialist intervention. The role of voluntary agencies in development became part of the official policy of the US establishment and its allies in Western Europe, and it was to soon use its financial clout to sell this line to recipients of aid including the Indian Government.
Various studies were conducted by the World Bank US AID and other similar agencies to identify, which sectors required the direct intervention for development keeping the political aims stated earlier. Who were the ‘absolute poor’ to use McNamara’s? From this analysis, the voluntary agencies were assigned the role of ‘grass roots’ work in the following priority sectors: a) arural poor, agricultural labour and harijans, b) tribals, c) urban poor-slum-dwellers and unorganised labour and d) women. In India it is in these sectors, which are considered politically sensitive that these agencies are concentrating their work.
The first batch of voluntary groups were devoted to what they themselves now call purely ‘development work’.
Second phase: With a few years’ experience in the villages, the feedback emanating from voluntary agencies showed the serious constraints on this type of activities. Not much headway could be made with the existing socio-economic structure in the rural areas with the landlord-political interests either sabotaging these schemes or taking them over. A passive rural poor was not motivated to take advantage of these schemes.
The experience of the first phase led to the imperialist agencies and the groups formulating the ideological basis for ‘intervention’ among the people taking to politics if necessary. ‘people’s movement’, people’s consciousness’ and ‘people’s organisation’ became the catch-words. So difficult variants of ‘education-consciousness-organisation-struggle’ began to be advocate and put into practice. Here it must be stressed that this was not a wholly indigenous process sought to be projected by the ideologues groups at the grass – roots level realised the futility of the earlier approach, got radicalised by their experience and decided to organise the people to fight exploitation and the vested interests. The imperialist funding agencies and the think tanks of imperialism also came to the same conclusions and influenced many of the voluntary agencies to take on the ‘activist’ role of the second phase. During this period from 1975-76 all the major donor agencies listed in their funding programmes the object of not only assisting development activities but also steps to organise and educate the ‘absolute poor’. For instance, the Actions for World Solidarity (ASW), West Germany stats in its objects: “supporting rural development programmers and non-formal educating and adult education, which create awareness among the masses and equip them with knowledge and power to work for their liberation from exploitation forces” (emphasis added).
As will be seen in the following sections, along with the funding for the second phase came the ideological package also. For how else one can explain the strange spectacle of imperialist agencies and governments funding organisations to organise the rural and urban poor to fight for their rights and against exploitation.
For every phase, both in the west and India we have seen the ideologues and intellectual centers springing up to sell the theory and the politics to these groups and activists. For the second phase, there are two-broad streams- the secular theorists and the radical Christian ideologues. Of course both have a common basis while advocating their own political approaches to tackle the same problem. The common basis in the second phase (i.e., to go among the people and organise them) is a radical or left posture. It is this basis, which has tended to create illusions and confusion among the unwary. 
The Advocates of “Non-Party Political Formations”
While in the first phase these groups were popularly called voluntary organisations, the ideological find it more appropriate to call them ‘action groups’ in the second phase, in keeping with the spirit of the changed goals of these groups. These ideologues have sought to explain the necessity for these groups in the Indian society, their rational for existence and for political intervention.
Some of the prominent ideologies for this movement are D L Sheth, Harsh Sethi, Duna Roy and Raini Kothari. They use the term ‘Non-Party Political formations’ (NPPF) for these action groups. We are giving below a set of quotations from their writings so that the ideological under-pinnings can be clarified.
The Non-Party Political Formations are essentially revolts against the unscrupulous, unprincipled corrupt and bureaucratic or vanguardist structures and principles f political parties and their mass fronts. These have come up over the last two decades in various ways and methods. They are essentially composed of young men and women who get radicalised during the sixties as the veneer of the Indian developmental and political process began to crack. The radicalisation has had different sources and impetuses. Some others owe their inspiration to a Gandhian or Marxist ideology. A fair number came from the church.” (S Pendse, A K Roy, Harsh Sethi in “HOW”, May 1982: A look at non-party political formations)
In a historical sense, the major repositories of experimental knowledge are the left political parties but they have cut themselves off from all the domains except that of the political. Hence they have not attempted to strengthen the roots from which they have sprung. The task of feed-back has been as such left to those few training institutions and freelance trainers who have taken upon themselves the burden of widening the road from development to political education…”
On the other hand, the alternate cannot come into being as a centralised apparatus like the state. The logic of the counter ideology demand a decentralised non-exploitative and non-hierarchical apparatus…” (Dunu Roy: Between Dogma and Debate)
But unlike the established left parties, the activist groups work directly with the people, take up concrete issues of oppression and exploitation and in the process develop their consciousness of the structures that exploit and oppress. They have been able to organise oppressed groups in the rural and urban areas which were considered unorganisable by the left parties and hence non-consequential for social transformations. In this sense, at the level of the people they are generating an ability to move beyond the conventional politics of transformation.” (DL Sheth: Movement, in “Seminar”, October 1982)
WE are not arguing that groups should cease to be political but that their forte lies in operating outside the considerations of capture of state power… More importantly, and this will be argued later, their very existence challenge the notion of a macro- Bolshevik Party as the only viable agency for social Transformation. What we learn is that the politics of capture of power, the raison d’etre of political parties may be a necessary condition for transformation, if definitely is not a sufficient one.” (H. Sethi: Redefinitions: Groups in a new Political of Transformation)
The whole thrust, as can be seem from the above paragraphs, is to central point: the left is irrelevant, it has to be bypassed; the left parties are as exploitative as other parties; the NPPF represents a more radical alternative to the communists. This explains why the governments of Western Europe liberally donate funds to these groups; why the traditional church organisations funnel their massive resources to wage their continuing battle against atheistic communism in a new garb. Only the garb is much more sophisticated one. One has to cut through the pseudo-radical, academic jargon of the NPPF advocates to expose the core of their pernicious anti-Marxist ideology.
The glorification of “Micro-level” grass-roots action groups is to counterpose them to the “macro-level” Communist Party. The term used, “non-party political formation”, itself betrays an anti-political approach. A counter-ideology has to be decentralised, so that there is no threat to the centralised ruling classes.
The capture of state poser is seen selfish pursuit of power. Presumably revolutionary transformation is possible without the “conventional politics of transformation.” All these revolutionary activities advocated for the NPPFs minus of course “the left’s preoccupation with state power” would ideally suit the imperialist ruling circles and even our own ruling bourgeoisie who are anxious to see that some modernisation in the capitalist sense takes place leading to improved productivity. Their writings are permeated with distrust of the organised working class movement and seek to substitute classes and class struggle with people’s participation and people’s movement. A deliberately vague and ambiguous formulation, which can cover up the fact that what is sought is a variety of bourgeois reform.
Most harmful of all is the argument put forward that these people’s organisations and consciousness must be developed delinked from the left parties. “The dependent groups (i.e., the oppressed) must be taught to think independently, i.e., even independent groups can no longer be advanced through mobilisation work and left parties only, for both these have their limitation. If the foundation of the revolutionary movement is to be established, the consciousness of the dependent groups must be developed through determined educational efforts.” (Development of the dependent groups in the context of the politics of the dominant group: The role of Activist Groups)
Autonomy from the Communist Party and the organised working class movement is required for the harijan agricultural labourers, poor Christian fishermen, dispossessed adivasis, oppressed women-all of whom have to be organised in a new way and their consciousness developed through the NPPs. For these new revolutionary theorists the marriage of Marxism and American political science has led to a startling new discovery-that it is possible to develop a new revolutionary ideology and movement, renouncing the working class ideology and organisation, which can be a credible alternative to the ruling class ideology and structure! This theory of autonomous movements can be seen to work with devastating effect on the bourgeois feminist movement, and the rising consciousness of women in their struggle against class and sex exploitation is sought to be diverted.
The bourgeois feminist approach has been imported to provide the necessary edge for the “autonomous women’s movement”. Here are some typical formulations made by Chaya Datar, who runs an action groups-cum-documentation center in Bombay-these are typical of the ideological package which is sought to be imported by the western capitalist funding agencies into India. Chaya Datar herself, it may be noted, is a product of the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, which is a key intellectual center for the action groups’ philosophy and bourgeois feminism.
As many of these women matured politically, they were inspired by the ideas of western feminists and became conscious of need for action specifically aimed at helping women. As their militancy became more specific and streamlined, they rejected the established women’s organisations of both the left and the right and autonomous groups were born….
Whereas the efforts for women made by fronts of established parties have been marked by a certain tokenism, the emerging women’s groups distinguished themselves by dealing with personal and immediate issues. Without wavering on their commitment to the working class, these groups insisted on making the cause of women the top priority, not be subordinated to any ‘party line’.
Autonomy means that maximum control of decision  – making should remain in the hands of women recipients. Political parties, especially left parties, which stand for social change are also patriarchal and hence try to subsume the women’s question under the general question. Their understanding of politics is also in line with their subsumptionist policy towards women. Thus the question is not whether they organise women but whether they organise them with a feminist perspective.” (The women’s movement-a feminist perspective; the non-party political process: Uncertain Alternatives; UNRISD LOKAYAN)
It should be apparent to any genuine leftist that his feminism can conveniently serve the interests of the imperialist agencies and even the advanced sections of the bourgeoisie in India. The bourgeois feminist ideology, which is in vogue in the western capitalist countries is sought to be insidiously injected into India and incorporated into the work of the action groups. In fact any action groups which claims to be political has to have the similar mandatory outlook on the women’s movement and all the major groups and apex bodies have women’s programmes, journals an organisations to disseminate this outlook.
This is not the place to go into a critique of bourgeois feminist ideology but it will be sufficient for the purpose of this paper to point out that along with the theory of the NPPFs, it provides an admirable rationale to disorient any united class movement developing among the oppressed sections.
To sum up, the framework for the pseudo-radical theory advocating the role of action groups has its firm roots in western bourgeois political development theories. We have quoted earlier such writings to show how they view voluntary associations in a pluralist society; added to these are the varieties of community development which American political science has specialise in since the sixties. These provide the foundation for the new intervention in Indian politics the society through the prettified theory of grass-roots action groups brining about a new movement for fundamental social transformation.
Radical Christian Theories
Compared to the secular theorists in the service of imperialism who change their academic colours according to the requirements of the overall strategy, the radical Christian concerns and strivings show a greater relevance. In the Indian context, a traditional and status-quoist church, the church establishment’s vested interests and collaborations with the ruling classes, pose before a socially conscious Christian the dilemma of how to relate his Christian beliefs to the society he is confronted with. To that extent as in other parts of the world, a radical current has grown and developed within the Christian mainstream. Bastiaan Wielenga, in his lucidly argued though unconvincing rejoinder to the resolution of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) of June 1981, has asked whether the CPI(M) is not aware of the progressive role of sections of the Christian church in Latin America? If so why does it treat similar stirrings in India with blind hostility? (The Marxist Revive, October 1981).  Wielenga’s query deserves consideration and a reply. This reply should also probably help allay his suspicious that the CPI(M) given its “Stalinist inheritance” is averse toany critical discussions.
The CPI(M) would certainly view with sympathy any radical moves by elements in the Indian Christian community to make their respective churches more responsive to social needs and stand by the working people.
However, where we sharply disagree with Wielenga is in the assessment of the role played by many of the radical Christian action groups in the domain of their political activity. Most of these groups derive inspiration from Paulo Friere and the method of “education” that he expounds. They talk about “conscientiation”, the action / reflection process, the necessity for education through praxis; conscientiasation leading to historical commitment and breaking the “culture of silence” of the oppressed. Friere, a Brazilian catholic, evolved this theory to come to terms with the catholic masses under the heel of imperialist and domestic oligarchic exploitation in Latin America and sought to synthesise his catholic beliefs with the radical needs of that society. His method has been mainly used for removing illiteracy and has been widely used as a method in non-formal education. Whatever its effectivity in combating illiteracy, the attempt has been made by concerned interests to project it as a new revolutionary theory for the oppressed to fight exploitation. As such it has been sought to be counter posed against Marxism by some, or sought to be married to Marxism by others. Friere himself declares the idealistic and utopian basis of his theory and considers that to be its strength and vitality, which can humanise the traditional preactice of Christianity.
The conflict comes when the practical work based on this ideological premise seeks to organise the urban/rural poor. The Christian action groups, which claim to be radical seek to pit their following against the organised left because of a profound ideological incompatibility which emanates form the very theory that they propagate. They view the Communist Party and its mass organisations as manipulators of the mass, creating dependent groups leading to bureaucratic control and imitating the ‘culture of repression’ of the rightists. What is sought to be offered instead is an individualised variety of Christian reformism. This mixture of Friere Saul Alinsky and the theories of NPPFs peppered with varying degrees of Marxist phraseology seek to divert and derail the working people’s attention from the real tasks of social revolution and is easily incorporated by the imperialised circles and domestic ruling class ideologists. It is not surprising; therefore, that non-formal education based on Friere’s method has become acceptable to the church establishment in particular and to imperialist agencies in general.
While one can objectively understand and sympathise with efforts within the Christian community for social relevance in India and take positive note of the stream of young Catholics and Protestants who are being influenced by the radical trends in the worldwide who are developments, it cannot be forgotten that it remains primarily a petty-bourgeois phenomenon. Such potential activists given their class background, education and social isolation from the working people, easily fall prey to a mish-mash of petty-bourgeois ideology imported from the west whether under the label of new-left, ultra-leftism, Marxist revisionism or bourgeois feminism. All this is sought with their increasing social consciousness to be integrated with Marxism. Their work in the action groups also exposes them to the stark realities of the Indian society and class exploitation Wielenga is correct in pointing out this aspect.
If the process had gone only so far, a different response would be called for from Marxist-Leninists. Unfortunately, imperialism is there as an omnipresent factor. The same Christian radicals, who recongnise in their writings imperialist exploitation of the third world, calls for halting the loot by multinational corporations and expresses solidarity with the struggles in Latin America and southern Africa, seem curiously blind to imperialism in their day-to-day live and how it impinges in practices their sphere of activities. How else can to politically educate and organise people? Is this not a form of foreign manipulation and creation of ‘dependent groups’ against, which they wax eloquent against the left? Have they questioned as to why church establishment and the ruling circles of imperialist countries are donating funds for their sustenance and activities? How do they explain the paradox?
Herein lies the crux of the matter. Sections of the radical Christian groups have attempted to counter the CPI(M) by stating that they send outside leaders to guide their local cadres: that instructions emanate from a centralised top and this is a form of manipulation, that the principles of communist party organisations are bureaucratic and in practices dictated by electoral exigencies. While as Marxists, we would dismiss these as anti-Marxist-Leninist propositions and inimical to all principle of revolutionary organisation, we have to ask them in return a simple question: are the board rooms of the Bread for the World, EZE and CEBEMO ‘consicentised’? and have our Christian radical groups worked out a revolutionary praxis which makes the piper call the tune instead of those who pay the piper? The hard fact from which the Christian radicals run away is that imperialism will tolerate their idealistic radicalism as long as under its garb the nefarious designs of disruption of the organised left, tribal separatism and secessionism flourish. Whether it is the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Tripura Upajati Juba Samiti or the Chatiisgarh Mukti Morcha, action groups led by Christian radicals have not demarcated from them but on the other hand some have extended support to such movements. That the CPI(M)’s apprehension on this score is not exaggerated is confirmed by a sympathetic critic of action groups who writes: “Secondly, action groups do not have a well-defined ideological position. The revolutionary nationalism devoid of a clear ideology ‘bears within itself seeds of right-wing opportunism’ and sometimes will manifest in terms of sectanianism and anarchism. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha are example. It is not an accidental coincidence that action groups working in those areas are vehement supporters of these movements.” (J John, Critique of Action Groups, The Marxist Review, August 1982)
It is this same amorphous ideology, which is leading Christian action groups in groups on Sri Lanka and some of their counterparts in India to support the eelam demand of the Tamil separatists.
One of the leaders and organisers of the Christian action groups George Ninan, has sought to justify the use of foreign funds so that they can remain independent of the pressures of the church hierarchy. “In talking about the relationship between Christian action groups and the church, I mentioned that the foreign aid that the action groups receive directly from donor agencies makes them free from church control which enables groups to move in with their work without having to go through a series of committees and paper work or the pressure to be in personal favour of any church leader. However, one cannot defend all groups and all actions.” (Ninan: “Towards a New Heaven and a New Faith”, Build News, September 1983)
Here precisely comes the distortion in outlook. One would have thought that the radicals’ main task lay in combating the conservative / reactionary elements in the church hierarchy and to take church and its congregation forward as a whole on democratic lines. Instead we find our radicals becoming dependent on foreign money and opting out of the main fight to democratise the church structure and outlook.
The Strategy In Operation And The Forces Harnessed
We had earlier mentioned that the priority sectors for voluntary agencies/action groups are the rural poor, tribals, women and the urban unorganised labour. How do these groups go about their work and what are the supporting agencies?
With a preliminary period of developmental work, these groups graduate to organising the people. Having struck some roots and rapport with the local people, they encourage their activists tofloat mass organisations of the rural poor, artisans, unorganised labour, etc. ryotu-coolie sanghams, kashtkari sanghatanas, fishermen’s unions adivasi organisations, women’s groups come into being. Where such organisations come into existence, some local struggles against individual vested interests or for assertion of the rights of the organised are sought to be launches. The reports of such activities are regularly filed with the Indian apex bodies or directly to donor agencies abroad and to documentation centers in India set up by action groups.
Sponsoring network: The official aid agencies, the USIS and the US embassy show great interest in the voluntary organisations. Periodically, the USIS and similar agencies organise seminars and workshops to propagate their ideas and to monitor the work of these groups. One such workshop was held in Ooty in 1980 on rural development and the role of voluntary agencies. What is noteworthy is the government acquiescence in the matter. As will be clear from the next section, the government exercises no check on inflow of foreign funds for this purpose. Secondly, the government has also adopted the philosophy of grass-roots voluntary work as an important agency for economic and social development tying in with the official plants and development work of the Government. This feature, which began with the Congress regime before the emergency, was stepped up during the Janata tenure and is continued by the present Congress (I) government. The World Bank and similar agencies have obviously been able to sell this idea to the top bureaucracy and planners given their enormous economic clout. A combination has emerged of foreign funding agencies, top bureaucrats and big business house coordinating their resources and efforts to effect a so-called revolution from above. Some of the big business house which finance ventures in the voluntary sector are: Hindustan Lever, Tatas, Mafatlals, Modis, Thapars and the DCM groups. Apart from the political objective of stimulating agrarian capitalism, it may also serve to funnel funds out for tax purposes. However, the indigenous efforts of the ruling classes is only a minor part and the bulk of the funding is still foreign-based and so is the ideological inspiration.
The formation of Lokayan would further substantiate the argument in the first section. Lokaya originates with Dr. Rajni Kothari and the Centre for Developing Societies in Delhi. This academic center, set up in the sixties, specialised in political development studies inspired by American political science and was funded by US foundation like Rockefeller. Rajni Kothari who heads the center is one of the prominent academics of the American political science school in the country. lokayan, sep up in 1980, seeks to act as a center for dialogue for the various action groups and to help in the process of crystallisation of common viewpoints and objectives.
Lokayan is also foreign funded. By holding colloquiums and conferences, it subtly tries to evolve a consensus suitable to anti-left interests. It also guides action groups in Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Prades and other states and has ambitions of being the coordinator of a national network of NPPFs.
In one of the gatherings sponsored in Delhi entitled “colloquium on Communicating and Development” in December 1980 and early January 1981, the report had the following observations:
It was also pointed out that any party coming to power becomes dogmatic; for instance, voluntary groups have suffered both under congress (I) and CPI(M) governments in West Bengal…
One experience was narrated suggesting that those who work with the poor take upon themselves the entire ‘burden’ of changing the world and sometimes the resulting attitude became a form of ‘left imperialism’. Leftists would use whatever talent was offered and fail to establish human links…
A vigorous argument was made not to view communication as an instrument for radical ideologies. Any value-laden superimposition of contents was a subtle form of exploitation.”
Once again social science used for obfuscation! The old argument once again for a value- free communication, a consciousness generated free from ideology. The same CDS political development models of the sixties is back to underpin the philosophy of the ‘development’ is value-free, now want to build an alternate revolutionary force which is not ‘value-laden superimposition.”
Type of voluntary organisations: The first category consists of the older social-service-oriented bodies whether affiliated to religious institutions or secular ones.
The second category of organisations are the ones which sprung up in the late sixties and in the seventies which began as grass-roots agencies for development work.
The third category, which are really the action groups within the mainstream of the voluntary associations’ movement, are the post-1975 crop. Here their activities range from education, training, developmental work to setting up organisations of sections of the people to intervene in the socio-economic and political spheres. Also a feature of many of these organisations is the emphasis on documentation and research.
All the three categories get foreign funding. For information we have listed in appendix (A) a list of selected action groups mainly of the third category.
Coordination and network of action groups: Side by side with the proliferation of individual action groups, there has also been the need felt increasingly by them and the donor agencies for coordination and having a regional/national network to pool experiences, resources and information. Some of the bodies, which began as fund-consultants have also gradually evolved into coordination forums.
For purposes of coordination of such a large number of groups running into thousand, a study of the agencies/forums set up also reveals their institutional and political affiliations.
Among the Christian groups, one of the most impressive in terms of effort and planning is that of the Indian Social Institute which is a catholic center (not surprisingly run by Jesuits). It has the ISI Training Centre and an ISI Documentation Centre in Bangalore. It is this complex that nurtures, funds, and guides and coordinates a network of around 25 action groups in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. These can be broadly termed the catholic-based action groups. It conducts a three-month training course for activists of the action groups, which has a distinct ‘left’ orientation.
For the protestant-based groups, under the aegis of the World Council of Churches, in 1970 the Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development (CCPD) had been set up. The CCPD has its Asia Fellowship and it is under it that the Urban Industrial Rural Mission (UIRM) functions. It is the CCPD-UIRM which acts as the mentor and guide for the action groups under the protestant umbrella. An intellectual resource center of vital importance for these groups is also the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (CISRS) based in Bangalore.  It has now got an office in Delhi also to service the needs of the northern groups. Among the non-church bodies, we have already mentioned Lokayan. However, the major body in this category is the Association of Voluntary Agencies for rural Development (AVARD) and its inspire, the Gandhi Peace Foundation. These two are a class apart as they have been in a sense the pioneer apex bodies for the voluntary associations network in India and in foreign funding. Right from the sixties, the Gandhi Peace Foundation and later the AVARD have been getting huge funds from diverse foreign source (with West Germany being the most prominent) to sponsor activities of the voluntary organisations. From development philosophy to activist groups the GPF-AVARD has been one of the key centers of the whole nexus of groups in India. The Vishwa Yuvak Kendra which come into prominence as a CIA-funded institution via the World Assembly of Youth in the sixties has also developed as a center for funding and coordinating some of the groups.
Forces harnessed into the movement: Three streams of political elements have been distinctly harnessed by the action groups’ movement. They should be analysed to grasp the anti-left edge of the movement.
The first major steam, and this has been the bedrock for the whole movement from the first phase itself, has been the old sarvodaya stream and the socialists. As mentioned earlier through GPF and its allied Gandhian institutions, the voluntary agencies movement found a ready-made basis. It helped inject life into the flagging and stagnant sarvodaya movement and resurrected it in a anew form. This stream was strengthened further after the young activists and some socialists who were active in the JP movement got disillusioned with the performance of the Janata Party government and lent their services to the action groups’ movement. Some other younger socialists have joined bodies like Lokayan and GPF-sponsored projects. The Chhatra Sangharsh Yuva Vahini originating in the JP movement is also sought to be projected now as an NPPF. The petty-bourgeois socialist outlook being inherently anti-communist, their entrance has also provided further ideological thrust to the anti-communist outlook of the voluntary agencies.
Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the GPF-AVARD establishment, with men like Radhakrishna, B G Verghese and Pannalal Dasgupta manning the affairs, has always been from the beginning a pro-imperialist outfit. It is ironical to note how have pro-imperialist institutions are the mentors of non-party ‘radical’ action groups.
The second major stream of recruitment for the running of these groups’ in terns of personnel and field activists has been the naxalites and former naxalites. This fact appears totally incredulous to many. They seek as to how anxalities can be part of any movement which imperialism seeks to utilise?  A suggestion is then made that it is the usual CPI(M) slander. Therefore it is necessary toexplain this phenomenon. The entry of the petty-bourgeois naxalite yough into the action groups movement was preceded by the disintegration of the naxalite movement and the resultant theoretical disarray in the early 1970s. Many of them gravitated to take shelter in voluntary groups as it gave them some semblance of maintaining their old political stance of working among the poor, provided them with a livelihood and financial security and enabled them to continue their petty-bourgeois anarchist way of life without the rigorous discipline of a working class organisation. The ingrained hostility to the left movement made them ideal recruits for the philosophy propagated by most of the action groups.
A few concrete example of organisations where such elements are active may be given to substantiate our point: 1. Rural Development Advisory Service, Hyderabad, 2. Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (IMSE), Calcutta/Bolpur, West Bengal, 3. ROSE, Kanaykumari district, Tamil Nadu, 4. Hyderabad Book Trust, Andhra Pradesh. In all these organisations names of such personnel/activists are available whose earlier or current links with ultra-left groups are know.
The last stream, which can politically identifiable in this network are the sections of the new left/ultra/left who, influenced by trends in western countries, find no place in the Communist Party or consider it beneath them to do so. These groups and their publications are also actively sponsored and encouraged by foreign funded groups and agencies like Lokayan. The ultra-left has made a distinctive contribution to the network-given their largely academic orientation-in the form of documentation centres.
Documentation and research: a network of documentation centers have been established in the urban centers which act as, a) information-clearing houses for action groups, b) disseminate material and information about struggle of all groups and political parties to the action groups and their intellectual sympathisers, c) bring out analytical and background papers on major political and economic developments, d) send all such material collected, processed and documented to the funding agencies and to interested subscribers abroad.         
The significant feature of these documentation centers is the presence of ultra-left elements in most of them, whether Christian or secular –sponsored.
The major documentation centers are concentrated in Bombay and Bangalore. Some of the prominent ones are BUILD documentation center, Centre for Education and Development, Indian School for Research and Education (ISRE), all in Bombay; ISI documentation center and CIEDS in Bangalore.
Some of the documentation centers are a department/wing of a bigger agency like BUILD or ISI. Secondly, many of the documentation centers are not confined to only research and documentation but also run action groups, journals, and etc. For instance, the CIEDS has a women’s group ‘Vimochana’ in Bangalore; the ISRE runs a “Feminist Resources Centre” and a bulletin.
An important feature of the documentation centres is the close links they attempt to maintain with media. Many of the younger journalists are regularly provided backgrounders and news of struggles of action groups for coverage in the press. A disturbing aspect of this documentation business is the export of information collated and processed by these centers to the agencies, which fund them abroad. Theses centers apart from news-collation specialise in collecting detailed information of struggle and movements in various spheres of the Indian society, the nature of the demands, the personnel and mobilisation involved and the relative strengths and weaknesses of the organisations conducting these activities. Left parties come in for particular attention. All this material photocopied, microfilmed goes into the metropolitan centers. Here one must be aware of the ‘information imperialism’ that has become a global phenomenon. Headed by the USA there are scores of specialised agencies in the west today which collect information of every aspect of society in the third world and this enormous data bank provides valuable intelligence base for policy-planning, and for interventionist strategies. Most of these documentation centers by being foreign-funded are wittingly or unwittingly, servicing the information need of imperialism also.
A selected list of documentation centers linked with action groups is given in appendix (A).
Over the past several decades west European and other Social-Democratic, Christian-Democratic and leaders have offered open assistance to fraternal political and social institutions to being about peaceful and democratic progress. Appropriately for a vigorous new democracy, the Federal Republic of Germany’s political foundations have become a major force in this effort” – President Reagan
it would be no exaggeration to say that the whole voluntary agencies/action groups network is maintained and nurtured by funds from western capitalist countries. The scale of funding and the vast involved are so striking that it is surprising that this has not become a matter of urgent public debate in this country. In 1976, the Government enacted a law through parliament entitled the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, 1976. This act prohibits political parties and mass organisations connected with them from receiving funds from abroad of any type without prior permission of the Government. However, this does not apply to other organisation which are social, economic or cultural in nature. Under this gamut falls bodies which are registered under the Societies Registration Act. All these organisations can receive money directly from abroad without prior permission. All they are required to do is to file a declaration with the Home Ministry annually as to the details of the amount received and the purpose it was utilised for. Also such organisations have to submit a copy of their audited accounts. This open access to foreign funds allowed by the Government of India has become one of the major sources of imperialist penetration financially in the country. The annual influx runs to anywhere between Rs 1500 to 3000 million.
Earlier the Government of India had in 1973 clamped down on direct funding of institutions under PL-480 funds and specifies that it should be routed through the Government. However, during the emergency, Mrs. Gandhi’s Government by this dangerous piece of legislation allowed the floodgates for imperialist funds to be opened giving them direct access to all sorts of agencies and institutions to penetrate among the people directly.
In 1982, the Home Ministry provided in Parliament the amount of money received by about five thousand organisations who intimated the Home Ministry under the 1976 Act. These figures for the years 1976 and 1977 amounted to Rs. 1700.8 million. We are expecting the Home Ministry to soon provide the figures for subsequent years a promised in parliament. The figures of 1976-77 were given according to country-wise origin of the funds. The list of the major countries is given below:
1.     West Germany                       Rs.      448,657,858
2.     U.S.A                                 285,493,677
3.     U. K                                 103,824,182
4.     Australia                                 26,586,610
5.     Holland                               56,996,530
6.     Italy                                150,494,957
7.     Sweden                               25,390,159
8.     Switzerland                            60,973,839
9.     Norway                               11,152,435
10. Belgium                                27,738,738
11. Austria                                12,635,642
12. France                               17,706,784
13. Denmark                                 4,721,591
14. New Zealand                            7,700,356
15. Philippines                            1,241,147
16. Ireland                               4,518,496
17. Saudi Arabia                           5,043,187
18. Kuwait                                 1,605,917
It is noteworthy that the largest amount, Rs 448.7 million, came from West Germany, further confirmation of the fact which president Reagan had approvingly stated in the quotation given above. This fact should also cause no surprise. After 1968, when CIA funding to many institutions in the world including India was exposed, US/CIA funds have been funneled through various European fronts and foundations, which have ostensibly no links with the USA. In this ploy, it is well known that West German institution play a key role fronting for US money. Some of these agencies in Western Europe have the support of their respective governments others are purely church-sponsored. There are similar bodies in the USA Australia and Canada also, many of the whom are also private foundations.
A detailed list is given in appendix (B) of the list of funding agencies abroad who finance the network of voluntary associations in India. Among these agencies some maintain offices in India as their volume of financing requires an Indian office. Some of the prominent ones are: 1. Bread for the world (West Germany);  2. Indo-German Social Service Society;  3. EZE (West German);  4. Ford Foundation, USA; 5. CARITAS (Catholic apex body); 6. CASA (Protestant apex body); 7. Lutheran World Relief; 8. Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA); 9. Canadian Internation Development Agency (CIDA); 10. NOVIB (Netherlands).
To give some idea of the scale and scope of funding, we give below some items of information made available by the government of India in Parliament: (See at end)    
Another illustration will serve to further highlight our point. Take the Rural Development Advisory Service (RDAS), Secunderabad, for instance. In its 1981 year-ending report, it has listed a directory of partners and the funds budgeted for their projects and activities. Forty-two such partner voluntary organisations in Andhra Pradesh received funds to the time of Rs 15.6 million through RDAS’s role as funding consultants.
One of the chief mentors of the RDAS is Bread for the World (FRG), apart from NOVIB and many others.
For the forthcoming five years the report concludes that the RDAS will act for among others:
1.     Identifying local groups actively engaged in organisation of the rural poor, particularly the socially oppressed groups.
2.     Providing orientation and training through personnel working in RDAS as well as involving RDAS partners.
3.     Recommending an initial an single phase funding for small action groups mainly for support of grass-roots level workers, etc, actually to jettison the funding role altogether.
4.     Accepting screening and reporting to donor agencies on new groups or existing groups.
5.     Organising women’s groups and encouraging activities for taking up women’s issues.
6.     Developing documentation centers for relevant material on grass-roots experience and experimentation.
Here we find in the above six objectives, the new orientation of the imperialist agencies abroad and their agents in India. It should not be forgotten that the donor agencies RDAS liaisons with, include, apart from private foundations, agencies set up by west European governments also.
Provided by these agencies, is scanty as the Government has divulged only information in tit-bits which are only the tip of the iceberg. But even this piece-meal bit reveals a disturbing picture of imperialist penetration under the benevolent disposition of the Government.
It is the appalling situation created by the Congress (I) Government (and for a period the Janata Party Government), which has led to a grave threat to our country’s integrity and sovereignty.
When the Core Group-CCPD Asia Regional Fellowship met Madurai in November 1981, it proposed a 227,000-dollar budget for activities among which were included “training at the grass-roots level, focusing on peasants and workers, and two years training of middle-level cadres abroad, especially within Asia.” “For individuals whose proven commitments and/or long-term loyalty to people’s struggle strongly suggest that such further training abroad will markedly increase their effectiveness.” How can the genuine left forces fail the react to this political intervention adversely? Foreign money is being used to prepare an ‘intervention’ in Indian politics- what else is organising workers and peasants? The question of the content of the invention aside, why is the political action subsidised by foreign money? It is time for the genuine, honest elements among the Christian radicals, if they are to play to relevant role in the Indian democratic movement, to fundamentally reassess their position and make a clean break with past practice. Failure to do so will bring down the well-merited charge of an imperialist fifth column on their heads.
Finally, we have to keep in view the threat posed by Reagan’s new policy initiative. Speaking about financing organisations in the third world for ‘preserving democracy’, Reagan in the speech quoted at the outset of this section continued to go on and say:  “We in America now intend to take additional steps as many of our allies have already done towards realising this same goal. The Chairman and other leaders of the National Republican/ Democratic Party organisations are initiating a study with the bipartisan American political foundations to determine how the United States can best contribute as a nation to the global campaign for democracy now gathering force. They will have the cooperation of Congressional leaders of both parties along with representatives of business, labour and other major institutions of our society.”
This would mean that under Reagan direct funding by the USA is also going to be stepped up in a big way to those organisations, which the US administration believes is going to help the ‘global campaign for democracy’. Along with the money already routed through Western Europe and the existing contributions of west European ruling circles, what this implies is a big spurt in the scale of foreign funding that would be made available in the near future if the Reagan initiative is pursued.
Left Feint Exposed: Party Should Take Up Challenge
The left posture and the sophisticated pseudo-radical jargon of the political action groups confuse many of our own comrades and those on the left. At times, vigilance comes when it is noted that known ultra-left elements are working in these organisation or maintaining links with them. But the ultra-left penetration about which we referred earlier has not yet been fully comprehended.
It is not the ultra-left elements from the naxalite stream alone who have jumped on to the foreign funded bandwagon. All varieties of ultra-left find a place in the movement.
The role, attitude and funding of these groups is also revealing. In 1982, some of the ‘left’ action groups decided to coordinate their work and work out a common outlook as distinct from purely church bodies or other secular groups such as the Gandhians. They held a series of meetings beginning from Calcutta in March 1982, to the second meeting in Vijayawada in June 1982, and a third meeting of representatives of 12 activist groups of the southern states at Mahabalipuram.
In the Vijayawada meeting attended by 16 groups (all rural-based), the question of relationship with different political parties was taken up. “As regards the political parties, there was no disagreement about the shift in the position of the left parties towards revisionism. However, on some issues they could be supported working with progressive individuals in the left parties was not negated-rather it was decided upon as a policy…”
In the Mahabalipuram meeting participants narrated their experience with left political parties:
One participant from Andhra Preadesh related the experiences of a few activist groups working in AP in trying to involve the CPI(M) local groups in a struggle against the atrocities of a local landlord. The results were discouraging. Apparently the CPI(M) would not involve itself with struggles led by activist groups. Then the participant from West Bengal described the experiences of his group with the CPI(M)-led Government in West Bengal. It was his conclusion that in West Bengal the CPI(M) would not cooperate with left activist groups.”
One group was very critical of the left parties’ policy of left and democratic front, which they felt revealed the class character of the left parties within the present Indian historical context. The same groups was also critical of the leadership of the CPI and CPI(M)’s peasant organisations which were with the rich and middle peasants. A participant from West Bengal confirmed that CPM’s leadership in West Bengal villages was mainly from rich peasants and the urban middle class.”
One participant from Tamil Nadu “also stated that CPML groups were working exclusively with the poor peasantry and had done very effective work. These groups had no relationship with the CPM. Many activist groups were on good terms with the ML groups and had even accepted meetings of activists and ML groups.”
We have quoted at length from the proceedings of these meetings to give in their own words the political attitude they represent. It is self-explanatory. Denunciation of left parties, glorification of naxalism as the real champion of the poor peasantry and pretensions to be new revolutionary core in India.
But what is relevant to our study is the nature of the ‘left’ groups, which participated in these meetings. They are similar to the collectives, which met at Penukonda at the Young India Project in Cudappah district, Andhra Pradesh, where also they discussed topics such as ‘Marx and Alienation’, struggle and class struggles’, etc. the Young India Project itself is foreign-funded; it has a recipient of the flanking fund of RDAS, apart from funds from Norway. The Samajika Vikasa Kendram is another such group in Vishakapatnam, which receive foreign funds. It received over Rs 67,000 from one source in 1981 for training programmes in villages. The rural Development Association in Midnapore is run by Dipankar Dasgupta. He is one of the prominent initiators of the ‘left groups’ meetings. His groups receive money from EZE and Oxfam amongst others and work in the tribal areas of Jhargram and Gopiballpur. Another participant in these meetings is Felix Surgirtharaj of the Association of the Rural Poor, Madras, which is also gets substantial funds from western Europe.
Practically every group, which attended these ‘left grounds’ meeting, is funded from abroad. It is almost as if the West German “Bread for the World” were financing efforts to develop a new revolutionary movement in India!
There should be no liberal approach which tends to view all these groups uncritically as allies in common struggle. There is no doubt that in some areas, particularly where the left is weak, many young and idealistic persons are drawn into the network of these agencies. However, once they get drawn into this kind of work and develop some awareness, they are simultaneously being influenced to delink their work and experience from the political party espousing Marxism-Leninism and the working class movement. If they do get politicised, it is in the manner of the ultra-left/ new left variety, which breeds contempt for the Communist Party as a ‘reformist- bureaucratic’ establishment. Once this stage is reached these persons are lost to the democratic movement. Petty-bourgeois anarchic ideology grips them which makes them easy prey for imperialist blandishments.
The party at different levels will have to identify such agencies and come to conclusions about their character and activities. Caution should be exercised to discern the genuine social work and charitable organisation, which do not indulge in disruptive activities. The party should treat all action groups (i.e., directly involved in mobilisation and organisation of the people) as political entities. All those organisations receiving foreign funds are automatically suspect and must be screened to clear their bona fides. The Party and the mass organisation led by our cadres should exercise vigilance to ensure that activists of these groups do not join our organisation s while maintaining organic links with these groups. It is another matter when individuals from such groups sever their connections after realising the pseudo-radical nature of these groups and then approach the Party. It must be noted that in limited areas, the action groups have had some success in mobilising people in day-to-day issues against local oppression, through this generally is not a sustained effort. Here also appropriate tactics will have to be worked out.
The culpability of the Central Government has already been highlighted. Public opinion will have to be mobilised to plug the loopholes in the foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act, which allows such massive penetration an amendment bill to the act during the end of the budget session of Parliament in April 1984. The proposed amendments fall far short of the aim of stopping such funding of political activities.
Most urgent is the necessity for a sustained ideological campaign against the eclectic and pseudo-radical postures of action groups. Their suspicion of the working class movement, their hostility to any centralised organisation, their silence on the socialist camp and its struggle for peace against the war threats of imperialism, their willingness to become vehicles of anti-soviet propaganda, their petty-bourgeois glorification of ‘people’ at the expense of classes, their ideological roots in American community development and pluralist theories- exposing and combating all these will also help many young men and women who, in their petty-bourgeois frustration, are joining these groups under the misguided assumption that they represent a genuine revolutionary alternative.