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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 48 November 25, 2023

Why has communism failed to permanently change the world? | Apratim Mukarji

Saturday 25 November 2023, by Apratim Mukarji



Yuddhakalin Sahitya Samgraha 1942
Editor: Utpal Sengupta

Publisher Parul Prakashani Pvt. Ltd.,
8/3, Chintamani Das Lane,
Kolkata 700009
Price Rs. 500.00

Eminent economist John G. Gurley thought that India was one country where communist and Marxist tenets should take root, along with Italy, France, and Japan. “Marxism and Capitalism are now engaged in an intense, worldwide struggle. When Americans look beyond their borders, many are dismayed, even frightened by what they see. Societies organized according to Marxian principles seem to be cropping up everywhere; in fact, in the last 65 years, they have spread from zero to a third of the globe, and there is every indication that the expansion is still going on.”

Many years before Gurley penned his observations on the supposedly irresistible forward march of Marxism and communism in a large tract of the world, several practicing Marxists in India thought otherwise. Buffeted by uncontrollable huge social and political churnings---especially in the vast colonial world---1942 was a turbulent year for each and every part of the world, and as a British colony fighting for independence, the Second World War first appeared to be the result of a compromise between European powers which had subsequently given way to an all- destructive continental war, and still thereafter, after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, finally turned into the Great Patriotic War for leftists and communists in India.

It was around this time, in 1942 to be precise, a batch of young Marxists brought out a journal in Bengali in then muffasil Dhaka to reflect their points of view on the war with an ardent urge to educate the people about the myriad implications of the world-wide conflict upon colonial India.

Thanks to an enterprising editor, we now have the opportunity to delve into what this band of intellectual revolutionaries were thinking and writing about the multifarious movements rushing through the cataclysmic world. The richness of this collection of essays, short stories, and poems---most of them by some of the most illustrious writers in Bengali---I reflected in the fact that virtually all aspects of life in then Bengal are well-reflected in this anthology. For example, the reader learns that “I had the opportunity to attend in Narayanganj workers’ assembly, and joint meetings of farmers and students in Munshiganj,. Their monthly incomes could not have been more than Rs. 13 0r 14; and it was these people who took the responsibility of collecting Rs, 200 for celebrating the Lenin Day. Journals such as “Ekata” (Unity), “People’s War” (in Bengali) and ‘People’s War” (in English) used to be sold (in such gatherings). A publication called “Call of Unity” was sold as many as 1,286 copies among such poor workers and cultivators. Another publication called “Janyuddha” (People’s War) was sold as many as 300 copies and “People’s War” (in English) 32 copies. These events brought to my mind that the people in Bengal were too eager to forge unity among themselves. They had felt this urgency in their destitute lives which should bring about the ultimate victory. The Unity Week has ended but the unity movement is still continuing today.” (Eyewitness, The First Seven Days of November).

This collection of articles, poems, short stories, book reviews, and other literary activities, which were published in then muffasil town of Decca (now Dhaka) in East Bengal, all written by young left intellectuals fighting with limited means of communication carries several flavours, those of an intense desire for freedom from the colonial rule, support for the Great Patriotic War since the forced entry of the Soviet Union into the Second World War, reactions to what was happening around the country and the world, and above all, creeping self-doubts and resultant confusion in their minds which were faithfully reflected in their writings.

It is fascinating to see one of them, Sanjay Bhattacharya wondering if Marxism would be able to survive “on the soil of India.” As far back as 1942, he wrote, “Karl Marx was not as confused by Hitler’s marauding forces as by the soil (atmosphere) of India. Will he be able to retain his real identity, or India’s air and water (cultural and religious predilections) will dilute his teachings and even his thoughts. Even at this stage, such questions might agitate our minds.” (Since the book is in Bengli and all its contents are in Bengali, it took me considerable time to translate everything in reasonably competent English.) A minuscule reflection of the reality of Marxism getting diluted in India was perceived by this writer when he was visiting the home of a Marxist leader then campaigning in the state assembly elections. It was late afternoon, and I was escorted to the leader’s bedroom, somewhere in the South 24-Parganas of West Bengal. The leader welcomed me with a friendly smile and invited me to sit down on his sprawling bed. After doing so, I happened to look up and saw a large picture of Goddess Kali. I must have been visibly astonished because he himself offered an explanation---which was clearly the right explanation---that his wife was a devotee of the goddess and that he had nothing to do with it. Since that time, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has lost its sway over the eastern state, and its fall in popular support is so deep that the party is not even represented by a single member in the West Bengal state assembly. The party is also not expected to make any significant contribution to the combined Opposition strength in the next General election in 2024.

The book under review helps not only in recapturing the eventful days of the Second World War but also in comprehending the reasons for the failure of the communist movement in India, which should have proved to be a fertile ground for this ideology to take roots. This failure is all the more striking when one notes the wide intellectual support and sympathy it received from the best Indian brains at that age. Besides, the trade union movement allied to the left parties was a very strong contributor to the post-WW II period coinciding with the post-Partition and independence India, a very wide canvas of enormous distraught, mass disaffection, an ever-ready rebellious mood, in fact, all the right ingredients, and yet the ideal dish could not be prepared by the chefs. First, state socialism and then outright capitalism have been bringing India under their captainship.

(Author: Apratim Mukarji is a political commentator and an analyst of South-East and Central Asia and of conflict zones)

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