Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said socialism was not possible at present because private capital was required to build first an industrial base. Shortly afterwards Jyoti Basu echoed him. Comrade Basu, unquestionably the elder statesman among Indian Marxists today, said: 'Socialism is a far cry and we have not achieved it yet. We have to remember that we are working within the capitalist system and private capital has to be used for industrialization. Since 1977 we have taken up the responsibility of workers. But, at the same time, we are also telling them to be responsible.' Shortly afterwards General Secretary of CPI-M Prakash Karat reassured us that Jyoti Basu had not abandoned the party line.
But does the party have a line? Does it in fact have any genuine ideology? It mouths parrot-like only a few hackneyed slogans. It continues to describe China's fascist mix of corporate capitalism with warlord totalitarianism as China's brand of socialism. It has yet not offered a credible explanation for the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is in fact oblivious of world trends. It therefore cannot update ideology. This goes against the very grain of Marxism. If one cannot recognize thesis, how can one formulate the antithesis to create a new synthesis?
History has falsified Marx. The collapse of the Soviet model exposed dictatorship of the proletariat as a flawed path to socialism. Milovan Djilas in his book, The New Class, laid bare the hypocrisy of Soviet oligarchs masquerading as representatives of the proletariat. State ownership of industry need not imply public welfare. India's state owned five star hotels and liquor units presented a grotesque version of socialism while rural India was denied even potable water. Clearly, Marx should have propagated democracy of the proletariat instead of a dictatorship. The tragedy is that Leftists continue clinging to Marxist postulates which Marx himself would have readily abandoned had he been alive.
The bigger tragedy is that Leftists have failed to recognize how history has also spectacularly vindicated Marx. And how that vindication can help usher in genuine socialism. The real nature of the heartless, dehumanized greed arising from the profit motive divorced from any ethic which Marx perceived in capitalism is being exposed today as never before. This exposure has been laid bare by exponential growth in the scale of corporate capitalism. Its global reach makes imperative a global response that can lead only to a world order.
Where Marx erred was in underestimating the corrective power of democracy. As long as democracy worked the survival instinct of capitalism compelled it to retreat and allow upward mobility of the working class. That upward mobility aborted a class struggle which could have led to a violent revolution.
Arguably, the benefits of Marxist influence in western democracies that led to legitimizing the trade union movement exceeded the benefits it bestowed to totalitarian states like the Soviet Union and China. Socialist arrangement based on property relations was a transient model inevitably to be overtaken by time. But democracy based on free expression and majority opinion is not a model ' it is a principle. And while the models of democracy may change with time its basic principles remain intact. They ensure governance that represents the majority view in a free society. Marx erred in thinking that the road to socialism lay through stifling democracy and imposing an economic model that quickly degenerated from avowed socialism to exploitative state capitalism. He would have succeeded had he extended, instead, democratic rights in the economy as they existed in the political arrangement.
Today the huge scale of corporate capitalism has not only made negative effects global. The expanded scale of its operations has impinged on all aspects of civil life to subvert the democratic process beyond recognition. The subversive power of corporate capitalism is exerted through its most powerful instrument over which it has acquired a vice-like grip: mainstream media. The reach and power of mainstream print and electronic media needs no elaboration. It conditions public attitude and conduct.
However a powerful antidote to mainstream media is emerging, thanks to the impact that technology exerts on the social arrangement, as was reiterated by Marx himself. The antidote of course is the Internet. It is yet formless and unstructured. But it has already put mainstream media on the defensive. It has shattered the power of money to dictate public discourse. With passage of time its impact will grow. It will undoubtedly redress the weaknesses of prevalent democracy. It could enable in real sense a global revolution.
In this given situation what can those who respect the basic impulse of Marx but reject his dogma do to reclaim socialism? For a start they can introduce democracy in industrial relations. This can be accomplished through policies which allow the creation of worker owned industrial units which might confront corporate capitalism in free competition.
In the early 1980s I had suggested this concept to the major political parties. TheEkatrit Kamgar Tabdeeli Andolan, EKTA, was formed. While I acted as Convener, Vajpayee, Chandrashekhar, Advani, George Fernandes, Madhu Dandavate, Karpuri Thakur, Devraj Urs and Bhai Mahavir became its members. I approached the CPI-M and CPI. But both EMS Namboodaripad and Bhupesh Gupta respectively, with whom I interacted, remained suspicious of the move, although they did not offer any basic objection to the proposal.
I prepared a brief and simple approach paper for the project. It was approved by the members, signed by them, and printed for public distribution. But the political leaders viewed the exercise merely as a means of forging a possible political alliance, not as a potential revolutionary step of far-reaching effect. The idea was never pursued. The members of the committee soon dispersed, much to the satisfaction of certain elements within the newly formed BJP which nursed hopes of replacing on its own the erstwhile Janata Party.
Projects may die. Ideas live on. Amul and Mother Dairy are two worker-owned ventures that prove the efficacy of the idea. Both units have performed against foreign competitors more successfully than have most Indian corporate capitalist units. There are other examples of successful worker-owned units. Among them isRUBCO, a rubber factory owned by CPI-M workers in Kerala. Micro-socialism in a macro-market economy might just transform capitalism to make it socialistically humane. A large body of workers owning a unit is more likely to share society's concerns than a few tycoon billionaires. Also, worker-owned industry would be less vulnerable to the vagaries of finance capital.
If Comrade Basu could summon a vision beyond the stunted ambitions of Third Front politics, he could fruitfully attempt formulating innovative policies instead of mouthing stale clich's to satisfy party colleagues.