The Past and the Future of the Socialist Project**
I must begin by expressing my gratitude that I have been offered this opportunity to pay my respects to Comrade Ved Gupta on the first anniversary of his tragic demise. Comrade Ved Gupta was an outstanding figure. His total dedication to the progressive cause, his self-effacing charm, his commitment to his students, his unfailing courtesy, his loving concern for his comrades, his courage, and his willingness to sacrifice personal well-being for the larger cause, marked him out as an exemplary activist of our socialist movement. He commanded enormous respect and affection from all those who had the good fortune to come in contact with him. The quality of a movement is defined not only by the correctness of its theory but also by the type of people it draws into its fold, and in my bleaker moments I occasionally comforted myself with the thought that a movement which had activists like Comrade Ved Gupta must have a bright future. It is that future which I wish to talk about today drawing upon the past experience of the socialist project.
The origins of the socialist project go back to the French Revolution which for the first time articulated the position that the people as a whole can control their own destiny. The promise of the French Revolution however was undermined by the bourgeois order that it ushered in. The institutions of a bourgeois society such as private property and the free market created an economic system which acted as an external coercive mechanism, alienating all and perpetuating exploitation in a different, impersonal garb, even as it unleashed uprecedented development of productive forces. Within years after the French Revolution, the idea that the achievement of "liberty, equality, and fraternity", the very slogans of the Revolution, required the transcendence of the system brought into being by the Revolution itself, was expounded by a host of thinkers from Saint-Simon, to
Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, New Delhi. First Ved Gupta Memorial Lecture, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1997