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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 47, New Delhi, November 7, 2020

Tapan Bandyopadhyay and Marxian temper | Sankar Ray

Sunday 8 November 2020

Tapan Bandyopadhyay passed away at a time when his intellectual engagement was needed in the emerging phenomenon of ‘Marxian Renaissance’. He died of lung cancer, exacerbated by Covid 19 infection on 28 October 2020 (he was born on 5 February 1946). In his last years, he used to introduce himself as an adherent of Marxian thoughts and theoretically distanced himself from Marxism and Marxists although he never considered Marxists as those on the other side of the barricade in the worldwide struggle for social, economic and human transformation. Like some of us – perhaps not many - he was for the cultivation of Marxian temper. We have been immensely benefited by two rarely outstanding Marx scholars, Paresh Chattopadhyay – both refusing to be called as Marxists. We are, along with Nityananda Ghosh (a k a Nitu), ex-lecturer of Botany at Bankim Sardar College in South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, Sarajit Majumdar, formerly fellow in economics, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Arvind Ghosh, a labour forum activist, based in Nagpur, Prasenjit Chowdhury, a teacher in English at a higher secondary school at Burdwan, West Bengal and a few others, members of Kolkata Marx Circle, christened by Chattopadhyay.

Tapan alike me was groomed primarily by eminent Marxist historian Narahari Kaviraj and Marxist scholar Satyendra Narayan Mazumdar ( a polymath), editors of Bengali bi-monthly, Mulyayan, which created waves in the end-1960s and thereafter in the Marxist circles. We were enlightened by other members of its editorial board like Professor Nirmalya Bagchi and Ranadhir Dasgupta, a prominent participant of Chittagong Armoury Raid and Chittagong Youth Revolt, Mazumdar and Dasgupta were imprisoned at the Cellular Jail, Port Blair where they joined the Communist Consolidation en route to card-holding membership of the Communist Party of India in the last decade of colonial rule in India.. Mazumdar whom Ananta Bhattacharyya, also imprisoned at the Cellular Jail and joined CPI (later joined CPI-M and then CPI-ML) described as the chief theoretician of Anushilan group of armed freedom fighters, overwhelming majority of whom did not join the CPI. Mazumdar who had been jailed there for the longest period, was deputy leader of CPI Rajya Sabha group (1952-56) while Dasgupta was the first of Chittagong revolutionaries to have joined CPI.

All this shows the inner strength of Mulyayan group where Tapan appropriately could fit in to. He was then in his early twenties but already a very well-read person, thanks to his sharp intellect. True, I roped in Tapan to Mulyayan, but he was the comrade who put it on to its turning point. The periodical rose to an enviable height, the joint architects of which were Naraharida and Tapan.

No pro-CPI periodical was more popular than Mulyayan that displeased factional leaders and their sidekicks who embarked on a campaign that the periodical was anti-CPI. In this connection, let me state frankly that the Mulyayan group had differences with CPI on some crucial theoretical questions pertaining to strategies of National Democratic Revolution and Non-Capitalist Path in the Party Programme. Mulyayan ‘comrades’, led by Naraharida and Satyenda, openly questioned the CPI leadership’s concept of joint leadership of working class, peasantry and patriotic sections of petty bourgeoisie and non-monopoly bourgeoisie. Our stand was that the concept of joint leadership in NDR was never put forward and we argued, pointing out the crucial amendment to the Party Programme at the CPI’s Eighth Congress (Patna, 1968) that the leadership of NDR would be with ‘firm’ anti-imperialist sections did mean that no section of non-monopoly bourgeoisie can be a participant of leadership of NDR as its anti-imperialism is ‘dual’ (not firm), as clearly stated in the Party Programme. Be it noted, when the leading ideologues of Mulyayan group that refused to join either CPI or CPI(M) for almost two years after the Tenali Convention( July 1964) agreed to join (rather rejoin) the CPI, they put forward two conditions: continuing publication of Mulyayan and commitment to international understanding of National Democratic Revolution and Non-Capitalist Path. Apart from Naraharida, Satyenda and Ranadhirda, Tapan, Bhanudebbabu and I too were participants in that inner-party struggle. Tapan’s polemic with Bibhuti Guha (written under a pen name as he was with the Novosti Press Agency), a top peasant leader during the Tebhaga years, reached a commendable height as very interestingly both were against joint leadership concept.

Tapan was instrumental to bringing out a special issue commemorating the 125th anniversary of Communist Manifesto which was an unsurpassed fear that no similar anniversary issues could achieve. Tapan touched upon the effort he made with support of Naraharida and Nirmalyada in one of the Autumnal specials of Janaswartha Barta, a Bengali weekly.

Tapan was solidly by my side along with Nityananda a k a Nitu in our new struggle for associating ourselves with the radiant Marxian renaissance which has emerged with new optimism on a global scale. “Wherever the critique of capitalism re-emerges, there is an intellectual and political demand for new, critical engagements with Marxism”, stated Marcello Musto, a top Marx scholar.. This has been growing after the grand international project, publication of the complete works of Marx & Engels — The Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or Mega — in 114 volumes from the Amsterdam-headquartered Internationale Marx-Engels-Stiftung (International Marx-Engels Foundation or IMES). Pareshda and Pradip have been associated with it. It is a historical-critical edition which includes their correspondences, notes and manuscripts.

Tapan was a voracious reader. When he was 24, he read complete works of William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, most of the works of P G Wodehouse, Jean Paul Sartre’s Trilogy, T S Eliot’s Wasteland and Murder in the Cathedral etc, let alone scores of Bengali classics. He was too engrossed to write frequently although he used to write well in both English and Bengali. He had articles published in Statesman, Amrita Bazar Patrika, Economic Times, Mainstream, Frontier etc. Relatively, he wrote more in Mulyayan and of course, Kalantar, CPI morninger and weekly, often under a pen name, Bibhabosu Rudra. Mainstream editor Sumit Chakravarty may remember those as he was for several months editorial in-charge of Kalantar weekly. Two of Tapan’s outstanding pieces in Mulyayan were Baruder Ujjwal Pakhi ( Radiant petrel of gunpowder ) on Angela Davis and Se Path Diye Firlo Nako Tara (They couldn’t pass again) on Dolores Ibaruri, ‘La Pasionaria’, of Spanish Republican struggle of 1930s.

Two of his interviews – one with Jolly Mohan Kaul in Statesman on the eve of Jollyda’s historic memoirs, In Search of a Better World, in 2010 and the other with Paresh Chattopadhyay in Frontier in 2012, jusr after Pareshda’s last visit to India. Pareshda, India’s best-known Marx scholar, stayed for over two months bur no pundit on Left politics – either in academia and media – met with him, Tapan’s interview with him was a significant work.

I can’t resist a quote therefrom, albeit a bit lengthy.

“ ‘You said that Revolution did not require a Marx to take place. Revolution would happen ’Marx or no Marx’. If that be your proposition then how and where the question of leadership enters the picture? Moreover, does not your proposition smack of the theory of Historical Inevitability and no action required by the proletariat?’

Confronted with such a question, the eightyish Marx scholar smiled his serene smile and said : ‘‘on the contrary, leadership of the revolution evolves from the labouring people themselves, not from a group (basically intellectuals), unelected and unrecallable by the workers, and far removed from the real process of production, the locus of capitalist exploitation. Marx thought that the consciousness of revolution arises from the workers themselves through their own experience of struggle for life. For example, when the great 1917 uprising of Russia occurred resulting in the founding of the labouring peoples’ self-governing organs the Soviets -there was almost nobody who knew even the name of Marx. The tragedy occurred precisely, when a revolutionary party, claiming to be Marxist, and substituting for the labouring people, put a complete brake on the whole soviet movement by seizing political power in the workers’ name, independently of and at the back and over the head of the congress of ’Soviets’, precisely the workers’ organs of self-rule.’’….

Coming back to the tete-a-tete, this writer’s next query was ’rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling that your overemphasis on Marx relegated the other important questions like the actual happening of the revolution in the background. Do you agree?’

I had little knowledge of what was going on in that land in reality. On further studies and reflections I found what Dr Zivago in Pasternak’s great novel had said about the 1936 constitution: ‘was not meant to be applied’.

However, I remained a firm Leninist and Maoist. Then I read Bettelheim’s 4 volume book ‘‘Class Struggles in the USSR’’ which was theoretically and factually very rich. Then I began to rethink Lenin and Mao. At the same time, I started to read very carefully the works of Marx and Engels. Further on, with my Marx study, I gradually discovered a whole different world which had little to do with the 20th century socialism. In this rediscovery, I must acknowledge the help that I received from the writings of great ‘Marx’ scholar, Maximilien Rubel—arguably the greatest since David Riazanov. In particular, I discovered an unknown Marx simply soaked in humanism, for whom the working class revolution against capital is a profoundly human and revolutionary self-emancipating act of the oppressed. The victorious outcome of this revolution is what Marx called socialism (identically, communism) which is, in Marx’s alternative formulation, an association of free individuals or the republic of labour, in which, the instrument of oppression and repression such as state, commodity production and wage and salary system should be completely absent.’’

After passing out with honours in economics from the University of Calcutta, he had a short stint as a teacher at a higher secondary school in south Kolkata. Thereafter, he joined one of the biggest general insurance company and qualified for fellow member of Indian Institute of Insurance in a record time.

For those of us who were enlightened in politics and history in the 1960s and 1970s and waged a friendly battle within the communist movement in India, particularly Bengal, the world will never be same again without Tapan Bandyopadhyay. Adieu, Tapan.

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