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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 39, September 12, 2009

Political Struggle within the CPI-M

Saturday 12 September 2009, by Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri


The takeover of the CPI-M party by the neo-liberals was so bloodless, with seasoned social-democrats rooted in the trade unions (like Pandhe saab) and the peasant masses (like Rezzak saab) and voluble intellectuals capitulating with only a whimper or two,* that commentators like the present columnist concluded that the party had become a party of big capital. While this remains the principal aspect, it seems that there is still life in the creature, and the debacle in the West Bengal Lok Sabha elections has emboldened the large number of social democratic representatives of the traditional class basis of the CPI-M** to raise their voices against the surrender to big capital.

Asim Dasgupta, West Bengal’s Finance Minister, suddenly set the ball rolling by declaring in the Vidhansabha on July 12 that the West Bengal Government would no longer acquire land for industry. This raised a furore in the circles of big capital and inside the party. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had to say that this was not the Cabinet decision. Now the new Land and Land Reforms Minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, after the second meeting of the Land Use Board since he took charge, announced that he would not clear proposals for setting up industries and townships on multi-crop, irrigated land, to ensure food security. Almost repeating the Opposition’s arguments at Singur, labelled as physiocratic by Amartya Sen, he said that the population is increasing but the total amount of agricultural land has declined. Out of 1.38 crores of cultivable land there has been a decrease of 1 lakh acres. “Extremely essential” rail and road projects only would be spared, provided an equal amount of single-crop land is converted to multi-crop schedules and adequate compen-sation is made to the land losers. It is to be noted that Salim’s proposed Barasat-Raichak expressway runs through much land which is multi-cropped, some of it in Rezzak saab’s own constituency of Bhangar.

Rezzak saab is quite in tune with the current temper of the general people, and has remarked that unless prices are controlled, the people “might inflict Dum Dum dawai on us.” This remark has also brought forth shrill protests from inside the party.

Prabhat Patnaik has now taken up a position squarely opposed to that of the neo-liberal lobby led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Nirupam Sen. In Reflections on the Left, he writes: “…. It (the Left) did not have an alternative policy on development from what the neo-liberal paradigm dictated. In West Bengal, the government led by it pursued policies of ‘development’ similar to what other States were following and in competition with them, which, being part of the neo-liberal paradigm, necessarily brought with them are threat of ‘primitive accumulation of capital’ (in the form specifically of expropriation of peasants’ land).” Patnaik has called opposition writers many names in the recent past, the most bizarre one being ‘messianic moralists’. All we now say is, Better Late than Never.


On behalf of the neo-liberal lobby we find an apologist from Durham, UK, who, in his Some Left Critiques of the Left (EPW, July 2009), repeats the same old untruth of 70,000 jobs in and downstream of Haldia Petrochemicals (it has been established that the figure is certainly less than 25,000). He declares “that new industries have not created additional jobs in the country as a whole over the last 15 years or so is by no means an empirically incontestable proposition”, but fails to provide a single statistic to contest the proposition. He refers to a media calculation on the basis of which he tries to show that the Singur compensation package was satisfactory, and finally winds up lamely conceding: “It is certainly possible that compensation packages can be improved, or supplementary policies formulated to ease the transition”. But his argument that migration of rural folk to urban centres proves the existence of job creation in industry must take the cake: the migrant enters the city with his bundle and walks into a job in a factory—it is almost wish fulfilment Bollywood material. We seem to recall hearing of the reserve army of the unemployed and the swelling ranks of the lumpen-proletariat or has neo-liberalism banned the use of these terms?

What is ominous is that the neo-liberals have concluded that what had been missing in the past was the use of more force (not less) : “the answer would lie in sustained, determined and intelligent politico-administrative measures to mobilise the beneficiaries and neutralise the losers.” Let us hope “neutralise” does not mean what the Americans use it to mean on the battlefield.

The struggle is on with a vengeance. However, the problem with political struggle inside any large party with parliamentary ambitions is that principle is always subservient to the need for winning elections and to carry the party the social-democrats will have to convince the thoroughly self-seeking post-1977 rank and file that not only will the neo-liberals fail in steering them to electoral victory but they, the social-democrats, will succeed in doing this—a tall order, hardly believable. There will be a fight to determine which line is electorally better, and principles will hardly come in, and this is not wholly bad for the social democrats because the neo-liberal line has lost the party three elections, and, after all, the social democrats, too, do not really have an alternative policy of “development”.

So, it is very unlikely that the political struggle within the CPI-M in West Bengal will be fought to a finish with final victory for one side or a split. What is much more likely is that there will be a truce with muting down of the more anti-people measures like land acquisition and the introduction of some populist sops, especially for the minorities. Organisationally, the neo-liberals will have to concede more power to the social democrats. As we saw, both processes have started.


* We remind Prabhat Patnaik of his apology for the West Bengal Government’s atrocities in Nandigram in The Left and its Intellectual Detractors: supporting Buddhadeb’s caveat to start with, “There is no gainsaying that the Left Front government made serious mistakes in handling the Nandigram issue; and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said so in as many words”, going on to justify the carnage, “… is not enough to point out that the so-called ‘re-occupation’ of Nandigram in November was an act of desperation which followed the failure of every other effort at restoring normalcy and bringing the refugees back to their homes”, and, finally, reiterating the eternal CPI-M position that violence perpetrated by it is justified and violence directed against it is an outrage, “An attitude that does not distinguish between types of violence, between the different episodes of violence, that condemns all violence with equal abhorrence, that places on a footing of equality all presumed perpetrators of violence, amounts in fact to a condemnation of nothing.”

** The white collar employees and the upper strata of the workers, the landed peasants and tenants, small to medium business people and professionals.


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