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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 34, August 13, 2011 - INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL

Chaturanan Mishra: A Constructive Communist

Saturday 20 August 2011, by Anil Rajimwale


It may sound strange that there are, by implication, ‘non-constructive’ Communists, but it is a fact there have not been many constructive Communists. In fact, the very concept of a ‘Communist’ has been distorted by a long period of practice of Stalinism and Maoism, emphasising destruction. Communist and Communism have been reduced to ‘destructive’ actitvities only: destroy this and that, ‘overthrow’ capitalism, ‘smash’ imperialism, and this, that and the other, and then only you will begin to ‘construct’ socialism. So, the general impression is that the word Communist is equal to destruction. It is a myth that has been propagated both by the enemies and friends. The existing socialist countries have been facing the brunt of this negative interpretation of Marxism which has thrown the communist movement in many countries to the margins of political life.

Well, all that is a matter of a detailed and fruitful debate and discussion (which is sadly lacking).

Chaturanan Mishra was undoubtedly one of those Communists who could think and act constructively within the existing system, and not just for and in a remote future. It is a great quality, showing his optimism about the future. He was one of those few in the Indian communist movement, who were ready to think differently, off the beaten track. And it is this that distin-guished him. And it is this that troubled him. He wanted the communist movement to use the potentials of the capitalist system to the full to build a really viable socialist and communist movement, and not just leave the initiative to the Rightwing reactionary forces or even to the bourgeois liberals.

After the collapse of the USSR and East European regimes, he began to rethink seriously and to question many established notions and concepts of revolution, of socialism, ‘democratic centralism’ or its interpretations, mass party, use of the constitutional system and so on. He was particularly keen on democratising the communist movement and its thought. He began to discuss new concepts of socialism. Jagannath Sarkar, who died just before him, was another towering personality and a well-known Communist, also trying to question the status quo in Marxism. To question is a basic quality of a really scientific Marxist. And there have been quite a few of them in the communist movement in India. Unfortunately, their views have not been sufficiently discussed, thus stunting the growth of the movement.

First Communist Ministers at the Centre

NOW here is fact, a practice, that should have seriously and positively affected the Marxist theory. Chaturanan Mishra and Indrajit Gupta were the first ever Communist Ministers at the centre. This is a great achievement by any standard. These two CPI Ministers did wonders in their brief tenure. But has the communist movement and the broader political circle drawn any practical and theoretical conclusion? Is it not the responsibility of political theorists to draw necessary conclusions, enriching Marxism and political theory in general? The event has just been allowed to pass into the oblivion of history. It only shows an attitude of indifference of political forces.

The event showed that it is not only possible for Communists to enter the very centre of the democratic system but also to carry out many positive reforms in favour of the people. That would only shift the balance of power to the working masses and against the conservative, reactionary forces. Chaturanan Mishra had a whole series of plans as the Agriculture Minister, which, if implemented, would have changed the face of rural India in many senses. He had a concrete grip over several problems, and had some very exciting plans for the agrarian scene and structure of Bihar. These two Central Ministers from the CPI were responsible for several reforms and developments, a fact sought to covered up. Mishraji would have liked to channelise the peasant masses to some kind of small initial reform efforts, including small cooperatives, which would roll back big vested interests. There could be no better concrete example of struggle against big business. He wanted to democratise the political life of India, particularly of rural India. It is struggle in concrete terms, and not some general sloganising against liberalisation and globalisation.

It was Chaturanan Mishra who opposed an absolute and negative isolation from the global economy and was in favour of concrete and selective use of its positive features in favour of the people and general economy.

Marxist in a Different Mould

CHATURANAN MISHRA suggested a democratisation of the structure, thought and practice of the communist movement. He was the one who saw many real potentials in the Indian constitutional system, wherein the Communist and Left formations could occupy their due place and shift the balance of forces to the people. Something similar is happening in the countries of Latin America. An intervention by Marxist/Communist practice enriches the democratic content of the existing system, which cannot simply be ignored by terming it ‘capitalist’. There are ‘capitalists’ and ‘capitalists’: a peasant or a workshop owner or a shopkeeper is also a capitalist of sorts. The same attitude does not work towards all the capitalists.

Communists today not only can positively contribute to the democratic process/structure; they can contribute seriously to its further democratisation. To this end, the Marxist theory needs upgradation. This is something that Antonio Gramsci foresaw much earlier, as also several other Marxist theoreticians. Today, their theoretical and practical insistence is coming true. The polity works considerably on the politico-social tendencies of mass consciousness. It is a complicated terrain where political forces contend for spaces. It is a tension that drives forward the political as well as civil society, a word that has recently become fashionable.

Political theories generate constructive debates and create discourses for healthy discussions. These help to take the society forward in a democratic system and resolve the debates at a higher level in a healthy manner. Political liberalism expresses the vastness and creativity of the united front of historical forces, which come together time to time to propel the society forward. It is the healthiest sign of the political system. The involvement of the masses and modern media renders this vast field positively charged for democratic transformations.

Chaturanan Mishra was placed at a point which indicated the new possibilities for the vast arena of the progressive forces. He represented the boldness of certain new political projects. Much theoretical and practical potentials lie underneath these developments.

We could enrich and democratise Marxism in a Gramscian way. After all, a Marxist is a cons-tructive being rather than a destructive one.

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