Fourth World: Marxist, Gandhian, Environmentalist

Fourth World: Marxist, Gandhian, Environmentalist


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Let us declare a people’s war against sell-out policies, against fundamentalism, against cultural degradation,

against consumerism and against mafias of all form. This is a war to save the human species from self-destruction,

to free human beings from animal limitations, to realise the true human potential



Fourth World: Marxist Gandhian Environmentalist . . .

By Rajinder Chaudhary


The idea of the ‘Fourth World’ as enunciated by M P Parameswaran, a leading thinker from Kerala, is a new concept of a post-capitalist society. It can form the basis for Marxists, Gandhians, environmentalists, feminists, socialists, dalits and peace activists to work together. It offers a theoretical space for all these movements.

In February 2004, Dr. M.P. Parameswaran was expelled from CPI (M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)]. Widely known as MP, without ever having been a Member of Parliament, Dr. Parameswaran about four decades ago quit his job as a nuclear scientist in the nuclear establishment of India soon after coming back from USSR after a three year stay. Since then he has been full time into various movements for social change. He has played a leading role in number of movements and organizations,  at least two of which have received international recognition in the form of UNESCO awards—Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) and Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS)—and in All India People’s Science Network (AIPSN).

He was expelled from the Party for propounding an ‘unmarxist’ concept of ‘Fourth World’. The concept, first put forth in 1998, caused controversy in Kerala in 2003. There was massive debate about it in media and subsequently he was expelled. Post-expulsion, he had elaborated and expanded his views and published a booklet in Malayalam, which has gone into number of reprints. Now, an English translation of this document, more than 40,000 words long, “Thoughts about a Fourth World,” is circulating on the net.

In the aftermath of breakdown of the USSR, this is a major alternative vision document to come from within the Indian mainstream Left. Given his stature and fact that post-expulsion too he continues to play a leading role in above organisations, his vision is likely to have a far reaching, though perhaps quite, influence.

Forth World aims to provide an ‘ideological document which evaluate(s) the failure of the socialist experiments and . . . provide(s) a sound foundation of economics, politics and ethics for a new society’. It identifies ‘three important reasons for (break up of the USSR): economic centralization, political centralization and distorted view of progress.’ Its vision of future world is based on ‘necessity of: participatory democracy, an alternative view of progress, and an alternative approach towards the progress of productive forces, technology’.

Need for ‘participatory democracy’ is often recognised but even theories promoting ‘rectified socialism’ have not been “able to get out of technology fetishism and unlimited growth syndrome”. Taking ‘an alternative view of progress, and an alternative approach towards the progress of productive forces’ is a distinctive feature of the concept of the Fourth World. It notes that “Under communism, at least as conceived by the 20th century experimenters, the productive forces would have developed to such high levels that there is an abundance of each and every commodity, that everybody can have everything they want and hence there is no necessity for competition. The State can, consequently wither away.” Fourth World rejects this possibility and visualises future society ‘with out such abundance’.

The sketch of future society, particularly economy is nearer the Gandhian vision. Fourth World is to ‘be a network of hundreds of thousands local communities which are increasingly becoming self-sufficient.’ It seeks to localise material production as far as possible and to decentralise economy by decentralising “(i) spatial habitat pattern (ii) spatial distribution of resources and (iii) distribution of the control over resources.” This it is argued is essential because only by having a ‘human scale of polity and economy’ can participatory democracy flourish. To this end, it makes a case for harnessing modern technology to make ‘small powerful too’. In the Fourth World material progress is to be reflected in ‘continuous reduction in working hours and increase in leisure’. This is based on the understanding that ‘correlation between per capita GNP’ and even ‘life expectation is very weak’. International data and Kerala experience is cited to show that high levels of life expectation and education are possible with comparatively very low levels of income’.

However, his discussion of ‘economic structure’ is quite weak. It focuses on ‘characteristics’ and not on ‘structures’. Section on economics extensively cites Michael Albert’s Parecon: Life after Capitalism wherein for managing large scale industries ‘Representatives of Workers Councils and Consumers’ Councils’ reminiscent of Yugoslav system are suggested. Some of the other propositions cited are: ‘Means of production will not be owned by anybody. It will not come into the picture of the value of the product’; ‘Remuneration will be calculated not on the basis of production but on the basis of effort and sacrifice’. Discussion of economic aspects of the Fourth World has many such aspects, which do not make economic sense. It is the weakest part of the whole argument.

Moreover, discussion often implies absolute deprivation/worsening of situation for majority of people within the present/capitalist system and not just increased relative inequality for majority and absolute worsening for some. It results in a reading where ‘majority has nothing to lose but their chains’. Can one say that the majority of  Kerala population (or Dalits) have not experienced any improvement in their life? Fortunately, these formulations are not essential ingredients of the Fourth World, which can stand with out these.

The political structure of the Fourth World is premised on ‘citizens ability and willingness to participate in socio-political activities.’ It views politics to be ‘too important to be left alone with career politicians.’ So, political structure goes deeper than even Panchayats. It is based on ‘neighbourhood groups consisting of 20-30 proximate households of 60-80 citizens (voters). Beyond the size of 60-80 direct, democracy is viewed to be unwieldy. Formations of larger number of citizens can be only representative’. Inversion of power pyramid—where only delegated functions move up and residual powers rest with the grassroots—has often been suggested.

But Fourth World has two innovative provisions. One, ‘in all representative formations, representation will be always done by a pair of one woman and one man’. Secondly, electors shall make all higher-level nominations not ‘from among themselves but from citizens’ residing in that area.

Document does not stop with sketching an outline of the Fourth World. It also suggests a programme of action which is based on the understanding that a “new world is not the result of one single creative act—call it revolution, call it change. It is an evolutionary product, a product of hundreds of thousands of small and big, local and wide spread struggles, a product of meso and macro creations, a product of making and breaking of mutual faiths and alliances. . . . The experiments will challenge the existing systems, but will still be conducted within it.”

Future action plan consists of two components, direct and indirect struggles. Direct component includes economic boycott of not only MNC [multinational corporation} products but the ‘reactionary strength of national large scale manufacturers will [also] be checked using the same techniques used against foreign transnationals—boycott and local substitutes”. It goes on to describe a strategy to handle three main obstacles in promotion of local products: ‘Paucity of good quality alternatives, weakness of marketing mechanism for alternative products and entrenched consumerism brought about by the media’.

But it does not stop at struggle from the outside and, in the Gandhian mode, it also suggests indirect mode of struggle, where in those “who are employed in State institutions from panchayat to national government can use their own office files as a weapon to fight the class enemies. Each issue, each file, will have a class content in it…. This is the meaning of a united front of all the exploited.” Those ‘in S&T research and development [segment can engage in] activities to make small powerful.

The People’s Science Movement [should] consider this as their primary responsibility’. For teachers he suggests another battlefront: “The political struggle of teachers has to be expressed in their classroom transactions [not just outside classrooms!].”  

However, as an analytical concept, Fourth World has number of loose ends. While it is open to ‘enrichment’ of Marxism, which may involve criticism and correction but these terms are not used in this document. While it critiques ‘official interpretations of Marxism’, it does not explore if these official interpretations have some basis in Marxism. It asks, “Where did the Russian and other communist parties go wrong? In interpreting Marxism? Or in the practice of Marxism?” It does not even recognise the possibility that Marxism itself could be wrong/ inadequate. Over all, explanation of break down of USSR in terms of neglect of cultural development of Soviet Citizen and ‘distorted view of progress’ is quite inadequate.

Moreover, while vision of the ‘Fourth World’ is called ‘pre-socialist’ the term ‘socialism’ has nowhere been defined. It is amply clear that for the Fourth World ‘socialism’ does not mean state ownership of the means of production. So, what is meant by socialism, particularly in terms of economic structure and not just in terms of achievements/results needs to be explained. This has not been done.

It is important as in the light of distinction made by Engels between ‘Utopian’ and ‘Scientific’ socialism, unqualified, ‘socialism’ usually stands for so called ‘scientific socialism’. Next, there seems to be a search for a perfect system. In the Fourth World the ‘interest of the individual and of the community become harmonized and the necessity of State vanishes’, there is a ‘transition from competition to cooperation’ and ‘each member of the society has enough wisdom for self-control’. Rather than seek a conflict less ideal society, shouldn’t we be satisfied with a society where basic needs of all are met in a sustainable manner, conflicts are minimised, and a functional system exists to see that these conflicts do not go out of hand?

Uncritical application of Marxism has reflection in understanding of ‘capitalism’. This fairly detailed monograph has no word of appreciation for any aspect of capitalism and market forces. It blandly says that, “Sanitized or Human- faced capitalism” is “a semantic absurdity, to say the least. Capitalism per se cannot have a human face.” Why ‘welfare state’ is considered to be an exception incompatible with ‘capitalism’ is not elaborated.

‘Capitalist’ societies are not devoid of ‘fellow-feeling’ as is often made out to be. Perhaps ‘capitalism’ was/is victim of similar ‘distorted view of progress’, that plagued ‘socialism’. Ideology of ‘capitalism’ is not indifferent to poverty and deprivation; it suggests a different strategy (which does not seem to work is another matter) to handle this. Moreover, why seek to do away with markets and profit all together? Certainly in deciding location of a shop or a factory, cost, demand and viability considerations should play an important role. The problem is serious and deep rooted. Fourth World reproduces the following quotation form Che Guevera:

It is not at all possible to speak about expanding trade [between USSR and Third World countries] as for ‘mutual benefit’ when the trade is based on values dictated by uneven development of productive forces. The world market price is dictated by the mechanized factory production. To ascribe the same value for the labour of underdeveloped nations is not for mutual benefit. If socialist countries establish such relations with underdeveloped countries, it will have to be accepted that they too are partners in imperialist exploitation.

What else can be the basis of trade? Else, it will be aid and not trade. But in a way Che Guevera cannot be faulted because Marxist analysis otherwise calls it exploitation. This contradiction can be resolved by recognising inadequacy/errors of Marxism. Further, the question of inefficiency of ‘public sector’ is not considered at all and no suggestions are made in this regard. Today, one has to convince people that public sector can be made to work

However, it is quite a comprehensive document and discusses wide range of issues, though not with uniform rigour. While it does have misplaced arguments like “Sexual relationship is purely a biological act”, it also has number of valuable insights, or at least beautifully put ideas. To wit:

?? “There have been arguments within almost all communist parties about the concept of an ‘Ideal Communist’ and of a ‘Pragmatic Communist’. In the struggle, the ideal communists lose, perhaps not because of their idealism, but because of its degeneration into formalism and organizationalism and often fundamentalism. The pragmatists survive, but in the process become more and more ‘pragmatic’ and in the end become one with the public—not like fish in the water, but water itself.”

?? “Propensity for cooperation too is a genetically inherited quality.” “This was an essential element of human evolution. The species could not have survived without cooperation. Variants with less ability for cooperation became extinct. Collectivity is an evolutionary feature.”

?? It has suggested number of alternative and innovative indices to measure physical and spiritual quality of life. These include Wastage Index, Dehumanization Index, Participation Index, Emancipation Index and Recycling Index. Construction of these indices is discussed in detail and hence these can be debated. For example, it suggests that “If we divide the total expenditure on police, jail, courts, military, and administration by the total expenditure on education and health care, we get a quantity which can be termed as ‘dehumanization index’.”

While this may be all right for the time being but eventually health expenditure like expenditure on pollution control should go down. So, health and education cannot be equated. Anyway, visions and ideologies can neither be discarded nor developed in one go. But with the Fourth World, post-Soviet gestation period within Indian Left is perhaps coming to an end. It has brought out into the open and given a theoretical form to what was perhaps already changing in praxis of mainstream Indian Left. (Even party programme of the CPI (M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)] does not call for abolition of private property.)

This has been done without disowning as well as without defending the Marxist/Soviet path all the way. Fourth World is offered as ‘one concept of a post-capitalist society’ with the recognition that ‘there could be many others too.’ So, it can form the basis for Marxists, Gandhians, Environmentalists, Feminists, Socialists, Dalits and peace activists to come closer, if not together.

This is possible because the Fourth World has a theoretical space for all these movements and not just a desire for broadest possible unity. A comparison of the ideological documents of National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) and Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP) formerly led by Kishan Patnaik, Bharat Nirman Abhiyan led by BD Sharma and Gandhian fortnightly ‘Sarvodya Jagat’ with the Fourth World, would give a feeling that there is lot of shared ground.

Of course a closer reading of documents of all the aforesaid organisations/movements will show shades of differences, some of which may appear to be unbridgeable to their respective proponents. But having gone through these, one can say that at least as a programme of action in the current context, there is lot that is common. This commonality is perhaps being increasingly realised as reflected in coming together of various shades of opinion against the hegemony of America and American vision in World Social Forum, as campaigns for Right to Information, Right to Food, for Employment Guarantee Act and for peace. Fourth World, coming from within the mainstream Left bridges this gap further and can form the basis of further fine tuning. . . .

Rajinder Chaudhary is Professor of Economics at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak (Haryana, India).

Source: Geocities

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Dr. M. P. Parameswaran, author of Empowering People: Insights from a Local Experiment in Participatory Planning, received a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the College of Engineering, Kerala, India in 1956, and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the Moscow Power Institute in 1965. He was a scientist with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, from 1957 to 1975. Since 1975 he has been a full-time activist with the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP). Dr. Parameswaran also currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS) and as the Chair of the Total Health and Sanitation Mission, Kerala.

The Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (which literally means the Science Writers’ Forum of Kerala) has earned wide acclaim for activities related to generating environmental consciousness, literacy campaigns, and decentralized, micro-level planning. The KSSP is a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (dubbed the alternate Nobel Prize) in 1996, the UNESCO Literacy Award (King Sejong Prize) in 1990, the UNEP’s Global 500, and the Vriksha Mitra award.—IndiaTogether

M. P. Parameswaran is an Indian nuclear engineer and eminent science contributor. He is an atomic scientist and educationist of India. He played an important role in Indian Nuclear program. He was born on January 18, 1935 in Kerala. In 1956, he received Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the College of Engineering, Kerala. He then joined Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay in 1956 as a scientist and continued there up to 1975. From 1969 to 1973 he also worked as the assistant director of the State Institute of Languages in Kerala, on a deputation from BARC. He got PhD in Nuclear Engineering from Moscow Power Engineering Institute in 1965. . . .

MP is also a prolific writer. He has written 29 popular science books in Malayalam and two in English. His books give a panoramic view of science. Radioactivity, atomic science, Astronomy, Mathematics, political science, social science, ecology


these are some of the varied subjects he has dealt with in his books. A vision of “A New World


A New India” guides his thoughts and actions. He was the recipient of two national awards, one for science popularisation and another for literacy. Articles written by him in various periodicals run to more than 300. He has received Government of India awards for Books for Neoliterates (1962) and Basic and Cultural Literature (1964). He also received an Award for Children’s Literature in 1982.

He was also an active member of Communist Party of India (Marxist) for 33 years, before being expelled for writing an ideological book ‘Fourth World’ which envisions a world based on decentralised democracy and an economic production that is detached from consumerism, but the party views it as a rejection of Marxist principles. In 2007, he also acted in a Malayalam movie named ‘AKG’ about the Communist leader A K Gopalan in which M. P. Parameswaran donned the role of Kerala’s first Chief Minister E M Sankaran Namboodiripad (EMS).



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Social ideas of an n-scientist

While suggesting alternatives to globalisation, he said direct action, both defensive and offensive, was required and we have to clearly declare it a war-like situation. “Let us declare a people’s war against sell-out policies, against fundamentalism, against cultural degradation, against consumerism and against mafias of all form. This is a war to save the human species from self-destruction, to free human beings from animal limitations, to realise the true human potential,” says Dr. Parameswaran, the spirit behind the formation of the All India People’s Science Network

Dr. Parameswaran, who has blended Gandhism with Marxism and his own type of Socialism, has devised new forms of offensive defence against the aggression by the so called corporate world, which he calls “corporate mafia”. He suggests an extensive and intensive boycott of goods produced by the trans-national corporations. He preferred developing smaller technologies for producing quality goods for all and organising a mega network of consumers and cooperative societies involving millions of households.

He suggested that a massive citizen education programme of more than one year’s duration be envisaged to educate all about the ill-effects of forced globalisation and the benefits of local self-reliance. A cultural offensive to be used against cultural imperialism by organising scientists, artists and writers. The natural resources available in various States, he said, should belong to the people and shall not be allowed to be sold over to private profiteers. Luxury, conspicuous and extravagant consumption should be considered as unethical and anti-social. It is immoral to have a star or stylish living in a country with so much of poverty, ill health and illiteracy, he said.

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A Fourth World outlook

To know the world does not mean knowing only the word. One has to learn from interactions with the world. The literacy campaign was initiated in 1989. At a discussion in Delhi, where the UNESCO director general and many important people from the Government of India were present, it was argued that it is not possible to mount a campaign for literacy in India. This is because, elsewhere where there was such a campaign—Cuba, China , Tanzania, Burma or Russia—there had also been a major social upheaval. So a literacy campaign could only succeed either with or after a social revolution, but not before it. Since there was no semblance of any revolution in India, such campaigns could not succeed. Our own experience has been that on the basis of science we have been able to mobilize people for campaigns, ranging from the silent valley movement to lectures on astronomy. In fact, in 1987 we mobilized tens of thousands of people for a major science campaign, the Jan Vigyan Jatha. So we argued that it is not necessary for literacy to follow social revolution. Rather, literacy could accelerate social revolution. They said there was no precedence for that. I said that anything which is first cannot have precedence. So, let us try it first.

However the initial trial should be in a place where it is easiest to achieve success, viz. Kerala. This is because in Kerala, the literacy level was higher than in other places. In addition, the KSSP was a very large organization with 40,000 members and units everywhere. It had a lot of credibility, and the Ernakulam district collector at that time was a former vice president of the KSSP. He said that he would be game to such an experiment which would help make Ernakulam 100% literate. So, we joined forces and the government of India gave about Rs. 1 crore. We then had to mobilize about 15,000 volunteers to educate approximately 170,000 people. These volunteers conducted saturation propaganda through face to face discussions, multimedia and street theater. They visited every household. Ultimately 160,000 people enrolled, and of these, 130,000 became literate. This meant that they could read and understand around 35 words per minute, write 7 or 8 words per minute without mistakes, and perform numerical calculations with two digit numbers. Beyond this, we took each of them on 3-4 visits to the police station, post office, bus stand, collector’s office etc. Most of the villagers were afraid to go to these places. So this exercise helped to increase their confidence level, and reduce their fear of the bureaucracy.

This achievement in Ernakulam caught the imagination of people all over the country. Similar campaigns were started in Pondicherry (Tamil Nadu), Bijapur (Karnataka), Midnapore (West Bengal), and Durg (Madhya Pradesh). The following year, it spread nationwide.

However, the term 100% literacy is used figuratively. In reality, nothing is 100% – about 70-80% of people may be functionally literate, while the other 20% may be marginally literate. So anything above 90% should be known as total literacy and not 100% literacy. But even that term is a misnomer when expanded to the rest of India, and should instead be referred to as a mass literacy campaign.

Nevertheless, total literacy became a fashion and about 400 districts in India took it up. Every collector and minister took it up as a prestige issue. The result is that about 120 million people participated in the literacy campaign. Of these, about 20% became totally literate, while the rest could only sign their name. But even this was a massive process which required a volunteer force of more than 10 million. Each volunteer committed about 400 hours per year. During the process, the outlook of the volunteers changed by discussing with and learning from groups of people who had enrolled in the campaign. Many of the learners were more knowledgeable than the volunteers. The volunteers knew only the alphabet. So, an interesting relationship started. As a result, the demand for primary education shot up since these people wanted their children to be literate. Initially there was extreme cynicism, and to break that we needed plenty of optimism.

This achievement may not be called literacy per se. Rather it could be referred to as an increased level of awareness because of the increased demand for education and active involvement. For instance, movements like the Nellore anti arrack and the quarry workers’ women’s movement developed as a result of this campaign

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Fourth World Essays

Afro-America & The Fourth World 

The Black Middle Class & a Political Party of the Poor  (essay)

Dark Child of the Fourth World  

The Fourth World and the Marxists

The Fourth World: In the Belly of the Beast

New Orleans: The American Nightmare

On the Fourth World: Black Power, Black Panthers, and White Allies

Why I Support the Latino Demonstrators


Other Fourth World Essays

African America – A Fourth World 

(Waldron H. Giles)

Dark Child of the Fourth World Reaches Out   (Dennis Leroy Moore)

Fourth World Introduction (M.P. Parameswaran)

 Fourth World: Marxist, Gandhian, Environmentalist  (M.P. Parameswaran)

The Fourth World Multiculturalism (Rose Ure Mezu)

Fourth World Programme M.P. Parameswaran)

Neo-Liberalism Dictatorship of the Market  M.P. Parameswaran)

The Rise and Fall of the Socialist World  M.P. Parameswaran)

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Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 26 November 2011




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Related files:  Fourth World Introduction   Fourth World Programme   Neo-Liberalism: Dictatorship of the Market   The Rise and Fall of the Socialist World

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