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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 41, October 1, 2011

CPI-M: A Victim of ’Unreconstructed Stalinism’

Wednesday 5 October 2011, by Sankar Ray


An in-depth post-mortem of the disastrous performance of the CPI-M and Left Front under its leadership in West Bengal is to be left to historians and sociologists. Political ideologues cannot reveal the whole truth. But Kheya Bag in a nearly-12,000 word essay, ‘Red Bengal’s Rise and Fall’, in the latest issue of in the pro-Trotskyite New Left Review, edited by Tariq Ali, inferred that “unreconstructed Stalinism, rein-forced by native customs of veneration and paternalism; adherence to rigid party norms (that) effectively quashed all internal debate”, caused a typical cronyism that affected the intellectual traditions of the undivided CPI.

The rudimentary attempt to theoretically understand the downgrading of India’s largest Left political party in the parliamentary arena gets a semblance of relevance with the Wikileaks exposé that the erstwhile West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI-M Polit-Bureau member, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said his party had no option other than forsaking official Marxism. A cable, sent by the former the US Consul-General in Kolkata (Timothy Roemer, whose tenure ended a couple of months back—S.R.) on October 27, 2009, read: “Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that his Communist Party of India-Marxist must ‘either change or perish’ and he lamented the lack of technocratic expertise within party leadership in a meeting with the Ambassador in Kolkata.” Maybe, the US diplomat interpreted Bhattacharjee’s views but the CPI-M leader has deep chagrin towards Stalin and the Stalin period unlike his mentor, the late Promode Dasgupta, the first West Bengal State Committee Secretary of the CPI-M and the last State Council Secretary of the undivided CPI.

“We understand Marxism-Leninism as did Comrade Stalin”

THERE is no denying that West Bengal continues to be a problem-ridden State where socio-economic development with elements of limited egalitarianism is almost wishful thinking. Little wonder capital flight, even before the LF regime began, dwarfed the normal potentials of develop-ment of the problem-ridden state but no explanation can justify the dilution of labour militancy—wrongly interpreted as labour violence and arrogance—and decline in real wages in the manufacturing sector. The former CPI-M MP and President of the Bengal unit of the CITU, the late Niren Ghosh, used to lament often pooh-poohing the red eyes of party bosses: “Nowadays, ahead of central trade unions submiting their charter of demands for tripartite wage agreement, employers would write to the LF Government about their limitations as an alibi for depriving the workmen.” “Under the Left Front, more work-days were lost due to lockouts than to strikes,” Bag factually stated. But the murkier aspect was the steep fall in the quality of the Left.

Yet arguably, this arrested development had its counterpart in the internal culture of the CPM itself. “Insiders were given priority for promotion in the civil service, universities, government hospitals etc.—a reflex of cronyism that existed in the Congress regime but mildly.” This led to demoralisation in the LF adminis-tration along with “depleted standards. A secta-rian attitude towards the non-party intelligentsia was part of this ‘politicisation’ or tribalism: you were either for or against the CPM (this had homologues in the informal sector and in protection rackets on the street).”

A member of the editorial team, New Socialist and based in London, the author has no grudge against the raw Stalinists except for ideological differentiation. Neither does the London-based civil rights activist have any chagrin towards the CPI which still sticks to the Stalinist way of political management. “Despite having some of India’s brightest thinkers and artists among their sympathisers, the CPM had left behind the CPI’s rich intellectual heritage. Calcutta is not the cultural hub it once was: political ossification, and the lure of better funding, has channelled a gradual brain drain of Bengali scholars and publishers to Delhi,” she observed poignantly.

But what were the CPI leaders doing when there was a deliberate cultural and literary abnegation? Didn’t Lenin ask the Communists of the colonial countries to uphold the ‘independent class role’ without breaking the alliance against colonial rule? Stalwarts like Indrajit Gupta and Biswanath Mukherjee seemed to have looked up at the CPI-M biggies mendicantly. Unattached intellectuals and the cognoscenti would still admit that the CPI had around itself a solid group of party members and fellow-travellers with high level of cultural and literary achieve-ments both at the national and State levels. Gopal Halder, Bishnu De, Bijon Bhattacharya, Subhas Mukho-padhyay, Jyotirindra Maitra, Dipendranath Bandyopadhyay and the like in Bengal and Kaifi Azmi, Nemi Chand Jain, Habib Tanvir, Tara Singh Chan, Toppil Vasi, Dina Pathak, M.S. Sathyu and others in the national arena were gems in or around the CPI which never imposed anything on them. Had the CPI followed the advice of Lenin, things might not have gone astray in the cultural, literary and educational fields. The CPI-M too had talents around such figures as Irfan Habib, Utpal Dutt and Safdar Hashmi but their talents were suppressed by Stalinist—if not Beriaite—diktat, particularly in West Bengal. The late Promode Dasgupta, a founder Polit-Bureau member and the first Secretary of WB State Committee of the CPI-M and mentor of the present leaders of the Bengal CPI-M—Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose—used to say, “We understand Masrxism-Leninism as did Comrade Stalin.” In other words, Dasgupta and his colleagues in the party brass—not Jyoti Basu—wanted cadres to parrot Stalin in their confirmatory test as revolutionaries.

Bag is right in having pointed out that the CPI-M was cocooned by “an anti-intellectualism and increasing parochialism” for an in-built “ecumenical attitude to the various dogmas of its Left Front allies, on the one hand, and stony silence towards critical analyses of its development policies from outside its ranks, on the other”.

Achin Vanaik in the same issue of NLR suggests in an essay, ‘Subcontinental Strategies’, the CPI-M and CPI like some other CPs experimented with ‘parliamentary Stalinism’. So “the centre of gravity of Indian politics has shifted significantly to the Right. The mainstream Left has not been left untouched by this drift. Its trajectory could be seen as broadly parallel to that of Europe’s former mass Communist Parties, which went from Stalinism to Euro-communism to ultimate subordination to their Euro-socialist competitors; except that it is the CPM and CPI which have themselves become the main social-democratic force in Indian politics.”

Bag sticks to the tradition of optimism. “If nothing can be salvaged from the rest of the Left Front, then a new generation will have to forge its own alliances amongst independent Left parties, the non-party radicals in social move-ments and the far Left in the Tribal belt.” History will give its final verdict on whether this is her own wishful thinking.

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