Of Wine, Marx and Kerala

Representatioanl image:Unsplash

One was this obviously manufactured picture on Facebook of an environmentalist friend with a glass of what looked like beer but was captioned as wine. The page that carried the post, had the cover photo and profile picture of Kerala’s Marxist Chief Minister(CM), Pinarayi Vijayan, with the website of the ruling party, the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPIM), (Marxist emphasised here!).
It also had followership running to a few lakhs.

The page was obviously maintained by some hardcore fan of the Marxist CM. The posts were mostly close to libel and the comments section revealed the “cadre” nature of the page.
Amusingly, the environmentalist actually was being called out for his alleged double standards on the matter of drinking wine! The real reason was perhaps the campaign he was involved in against the highly controversial dream project of the government, the Silver Line Semi High-Speed Rail project.

This post together with another one, almost amounting to cyberstalking and cyberbullying of all environmentalists and well known social and cultural leaders opposing the project, had literally unleashed a nasty war of sorts in the social media spaces in Kerala.

For a change, even the global stand-off on the Ukraine issue was of only secondary news value then.
Soon as this happened, a good old friend sent me the photo of a souvenir bottle of wine, engraved with the picture and name of Karl Marx, that he had collected from Trier in Germany, the birthplace of the radical political theorist.

The Karl Marx House, as the museum is known, has a section where you can buy souvenirs that message the iconic philosopher and economist. He, as we all know, wasn’t just the man who co-wrote the Das Capital and propounded the theory that is now Marxism, but he also loved his wine.
A relatively obscure biographer of his, Jens Baumeister, nevertheless has much to say on the later side of his obsession – Wine!

The Mosel River Valley close to where Marx was born had a number of vineyards, known for their white wines, and the Marx family owned one.

It is known that Karl Marx had some of the earliest explorations with economics, from the struggles in these vineyards and he has even written about them in the pursuit of his theory.

Baumeister, who is a tour guide and calls himself “an art historian, archaeologist, a wine lecturer and Marx lecturer” was obviously promoting tourism in Trier, but quite well connecting the wine of the region to the icon of the land. No wonder his book on Marx is called “How Wine made Karl Marx a Communist”. I don't suppose any of us in the mallu world had read it.

It’s in German, but I suggest we get it translated so as to see whether there is something in there to help reform the parochial form of Marxism as practised in Kerala.

India incidentally also has a long history with alcohol, much before it became a drink of misuse and abuse.

Some literature talks about alcoholic fermentation and distillation dating back to the Bronze Age in India. We have many indigenous desi brews. To name a few, Feni, the pride of Goa, Rice Wines and Beer from North-Eastern India, a variety of Fruit Wines, Mahua, part of many indigenous communities, Toddy from Palm and coconut trees in Kerala. Feni, the pride of Goa even has a Geographical Index tag to the name.

Kerala has had its own tryst with intoxicant drinks through the healthy toddy which was a farm produce, and the more vicious arrack, which is distilled high alcoholic drinks that were locally made and consumed. Wine was a household culture in many Christian families and was associated with Christmas and New Year.

Some of the best wines were the ones made in homes by Christian families and even churches.
Even today both toddy and wine has great potential to invigorate the local economies of farmers and cottage-based enterprises. But there are obstacles.

The Government has to do away with those archaic sections of the Abkari Act which incidentally does not allow such local productions for commercial purposes. This provision in a sense killed both toddy and wine from being locally produced by skilled and resourceful families and local enterprises, and on the other hand, also allowed for the big liquor companies to monopolise the booze industry.
Infact, this has been a matter of discussion in consecutive governments at least for the last two decades, with no favourable decision being taken.

Kerala has quite a large number of fruits that can be used for winemaking and there are also studies that have tested this in such fruits as Bilimbi, Guava, Pineapple, Banana, Cashew, Nutmeg, Java Apple, Gooseberries, Ginger, Pepper and even Coffee.

And not to forget Rice itself, which could immensely improve a lot of the rice farmers. Even the current government's proposal to amend the Abkari Act has nothing to do with deregulating toddy and wine, and is primarily meant to bring their production under the control of large producers or the Government beverages corporation directly.

The other big obstacle is on the moral side. The Marxist who abused the environmentalist clearly used the wine to show him as an immoral person.

The victim here wasn’t just the environmentalist, but wine as well. This attribution of the much benign and healthy alcoholic drinks of wine and toddy, or even beer for that matter to the immoral is an attitude that needs reformation. And we need to turn to the people of Trier and Marx for this.
Is it Marxist to drink wine or toddy? Yes, I think so. If we were to take a look at our own proletarian culture, where men and even women consumed toddy without any guilt, whatsoever, I believe it is Marxist to do so. And would Marx have approved it? Surely, if only it was to help the proletarians, the local working class, the farmers, the local cottage enterprises and the villages.

And finally, what do we now do of the environmentalist, his abuser and the morality of the matter? Let us turn to Karl Marx for resolution. The philosopher seems to have once said, “Be careful to trust a person who does not like wine”.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan is an engineer and environmentalist.

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