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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 16, April 6, 2013

Only Option for the Left to Survive in Today’s Environment

Friday 12 April 2013


by Bishwajit Sen

Marxism and the Indian Left: From “Interpreting” India to “Changing” it by Sumanta Banerjee; Purbalok Publication, Kolkata; Price: Rs 400; First Published 2012.

History sometimes poses seemingly insoluble riddles to the observer. Decimation of the Marxist ideals is one such riddle. It seems to be just the other day when the glory of the Red Flag was all-pervasive. The Soviet Union was glowing and so was China to their own faithful. On the native turf, West Bengal and Kerala were out of bounds for the home-bred fascists. There was enough scope for debate though, but nobody had any doubt about the final outcome. Then suddenly, everything started going awry ….

Did the socialist system overreach itself? Was it guilty of paying scant attention to the demands that the theory of Marxism-Leninism made on it or was the theory itself backdated as its detractors claimed? The problem was that imperialism was not only alive but aquiring a new robustness, as far as taking on the Third World was concerned, while the ideology which made it stand on the dock seemed to be in it’s death-throes. On the other hand, theoretical hair-splitting amongst the Left notwithstanding, people’s movements on various issues were erupting all the time and the Left was being forced to take part in some of them, though this was not exactly to their liking. Where it suited them, the CPI-M [the major component of the Left Front] stood against such movements (like they did in Singur and Nandigram).

These movements could not be fitted into a rigid framework of “Ideology” but at the same time they confronted the powers that be in such a manner as no movement had done in the recent past. The Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Anti-Posco Movement, Anti-Acquisition Movements in Singur, Nandigram and other such protest movements fall within this ambit. True, they are not movements of a particular “class”, in the Marxist sense of the term, but that does not prevent them from acquiring a broad anti-globalisation character. Today’s Marxists have to recognise this fact and come out of their stifling cages of dogma.

It goes to the credit of Sumanta Banerjee that he advocates this new course for Indian Marxists with such a force that hardly any ground remains for differing from him. The sincere and longstanding friend of the Left movement as well as an erudite social scientist that he is, this was exactly what was expected from him. His book Marxism and the Indian Left has two parts—“Marxism and Socialism” and “The Indian Left”. Both the parts are replete with rich materials for study and contemplation. Sumanta Bannerjee has tackled both the international and national events with equal skill.

Following the author, we are able to comprehend as to what a devastating role authoritarianism played in the international communist movement. The initial grit, reflected in the slogan “To win at all costs”, later on became the password for the Russian Mafioso as well as the Chinese neo-liberal, even if it meant brutal suppression of the working class and nationalities. Post-Marxian social structures, which developed in the erstwhile USSR and present-day PRC, came to possess an uncanny resemblance with each other. At the national level, we had the CPI-M-led regimes—ruling West Bengal and Kerala in a not-so-remote past—hankering for this resemblance. But they were given a thorough drubbing by the electorate at the polling stations and the hankering ceased. Campaigns aimed at “Rectification” were launched. We are not aware as to how far they have been “Rectified”. What is needed is not a patchwork in the name of “Rectification”, but a complete break from anthoritarianism and a return to democratic norms backed by humane rationality which had been the hallmark of the early communist movements in India and abroad. Foisting dictatorship on the party and people in the name of fighting “Imperialist Conspiracies” would no longer do.

Imperialist conspiracies would be there, but that does not mean that Marxists should isolate themselves from their natural allies, that is, the people. They should rather involve broad masses of people in the anti-imperialist struggle. But that would be possible only when the Communists democratise themselves sufficiently, so that they are not regarded as aliens by the people. It is not something which cannot be done, while remaining loyal to Marxism at the same time. In recent European upheavals against the bourgeoisie, the reformed Communists and Left played a major role. They demonstrated how effective reformed Communists can be.

Sumanta Bannerjee proposes a broad united front of Communists, human rights groups, environ-mentalists, ecologists, women’s rights groups, forest rights groups and even the Maoists. How far the Maoists or even Left Front Communists [CPI-M, CPI etc.] would respond to his call is not certain. Maoists are wedded to a violence of counter-productive sort and Left Front Communists are trying to find their solution in an opportunist alliance called the “Third Front”. Ideological fog still blurs the political lanscape for them. But Sumanta Banerjee’s suggestion offers the only option open for the Left, if it wants to survive in today’s surroundings which are challenging as well as potent with possibilities. Times have changed. The grammar of struggle too has to change accordingly. Not to allow for such a change, is to help the forces of Right reaction. We are sure the Left would not like to be defined as such.

Another merit of this book is that going through its pages is like travelling backwards in time. Articles contained in the book were published in EPW (Economic and Political Weekly) and Seminar over the years. The CPI-M’s degeneration from a party of hope to a party of despair is all too clear to the reader as he goes through this book. How an authoritarian party also becomes a corrupt one is easily discernible. The reason is quite simple—the absence of a dissenting voice, and if there is one, not paying any heed to it. An example—Abdur Rezzak Mollah, the Land and Land Revenue Minister in the Left Front Government of West Bengal, knew that land acquisitions would immensely harm the Left in general and the CPI-M in particular. He did not need any tuition in Marxism to arrive at this conclusion, since he was a “Chashar Beta”, son of a peasant that is. He articulated his disagreement too, but nobody paid any attention to him. This is a classic example of the “apparatchik” triumphing over, what Gramsci called, the organic intellectual. This too was “corruption”, though not currency, but values were involved.

Where there was involvement of currency, a much more scandalous triumph was witnessed. The Vijayan-Achuthanandan clash is an example. In spite of serious corruption charges aginst Vijayan, the central leadership of the CPI-M simply refused to take any action against him and was about to deny ticket for the last Assembly elections to Achuthanandan. Achuthanandan’s only fault was that he stood up boldly against the corrupt practices of Vijayan. Here too we observe a clash between the “apparatchik” and the organic intellectual. Fortunately for us, Achuthanandan remains in the CPI-M, much to the discomfort of the “apparatchik”.

These examples underline the necessity of democratisation of the Left. It may be possible that by pitting the Congress and Trinamul against each other, the CPI-M would stage a feeble comeback in West Bengal, but that would not help matters in the long run. The limbs infected by gangrene must be amputed mercilessly.

Though he is vehemently critical of the CPI-M, Sumanta Banerjee is not sympathic to the CPI (Maoist) either (his suggestion for their inclusion in the proposed united front notwithstanding). Two of his articles “The Maoists, Election Boycotts and Violence” and “Critiquing the programme of action of the Maoists” expose the hollowness of Maoist thought and its incurable addiction to violence. It was this addiction which led them into overlooking the urgent tasks, which awaited to be carried out in Lalgarh (such as land reforms). On the contrary, they (the Maoists) gleefully went on killing poor landless tribals belonging to the CPI-M. For them, the internecine feud was “class struggle”. Such a poverty of thought can hardly be imagined.

I should call it the most valuable book on the Indian Left to have come out in recent years. In the article “End of a phase”, he says and rightly so: “In India in particular the Communists had betrayed in their thinking, a Manichean simplicity that reduces the complex contradictions in an uneven socio-economic and cultural trajectory into a clear cosmic struggle between the ‘reactionary’ and the ‘progressive’. The desire for such a rapid simplification makes them leap over the different levels of political consciousness that stratify our masses—whether by a Buddha-deb Bhattacharjee in his desire for industrialisation or by the Maoists in their urge for agrarian revolution.” (page 285, Marxism and the Indian Left) There can hardly be a better diagnosis of the cause of the debacle which overtook the CPI-M and CPI (Maoist) in West Bengal.

This collection must be read by all those who wish to see the society change meaningfully.

The reviewer, who is close to the communist movement, is a literary figure based in Patna.

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