CPI-M's Formula: Market Marx
Notwithstanding Prakash Karat's labored explanation that the endorsement of capitalism by his two Bengali comrades - Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya - is only a temporary tactical line, the last word may not have been said on this heresy of Marxists conceding the market's superiority.
The general secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) has asserted that the party's goal of establishing a people's democracy in India remains unchanged even if it has had to turn to the private sector for investment in West Bengal. But there is an obvious acknowledgment in this position of the avowed opponents of capitalism that the market has won the latest round against "socialism".
Karat's response followed the comments by Bhattacharya, the West Bengal chief minister, that capitalism offered the only solution to the state's industrial woes because the government did not have any funds to invest.
Bhattacharya was followed by his predecessor in the office, Basu, who also articulated the same line because socialism could not be ushered in immediately. "Socialism is a far cry," Basu said and added that "private capital has to be used for industrialization".
During his current visit to China, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can point to this acceptance of the pragmatic pro-market Chinese attitude by someone like Bhattacharya whom Singh regards as a "model" chief minister. But other communists in India have already voiced their reservations.
Among them is the seemingly neo-liberal Bhattacharya's dogmatic counterpart in Kerala, V.S. Achuthanandan, who has said that the working class will sound the "death knell" of capitalism that brings "more exploitation than progress".
Had these differences of opinion been only within the CPI-M, the party need not have worried too much because its tradition of rigid discipline ensures that only what the general secretary says is the party line.
But what must be of some concern to the Marxists is the vocal opposition of at least two of the smaller partners in the West Bengal Left Front - the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). Both have taken exception to Bhattacharya's and Basu's remarks and have even tried to set up a front within the Left Front by trying to rope in another small partner, the Communist Party of India (CPI).
It is obvious that chafing under Big Brother's domineering rule, these small parties have finally decided to take a stand on the grounds of defending their cherished ideology. But considering that Bhattacharya has been pursuing a market-friendly line for a year, why have these parties hardened their positions only now?
The reason perhaps lies in the CPI-M's loss of face over the Nandigram episode, where it sent in armed cadres to evict its opponents while the police remained inactive, a virtual replay of what happened during the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Since the CPI-M has been at the receiving end of criticism from even a section of the leftist intelligentsia over issues like Nandigram, the eviction of Taslima Nasreen from Kolkata following violent protests by Muslim fundamentalists, the "suicide" of a young Muslim graphics designer who had married a Hindu business man's daughter and the disturbances over the diversion of subsidized food grains from ration shops to the open market. The Forward Bloc and the RSP apparently consider that the time is ripe to bring the Big Brother down a notch or two.
The significance of their "revolt" lies in the fact that this is the first time since 1977 that visible cracks have appeared in the seemingly impregnable fortress of the Left in West Bengal. Already, the Forward Bloc has announced that it will go it alone in the forthcoming panchayat elections and has also threatened that it will not allow the Singur automobile plant of the Tatas to function.
Although individually these parties have limited influence, their joint action in opposing the Left Front can hurt the alliance in an election, especially if the other opposition parties, namely, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, succeed in working together. The CPI-M, therefore, is in danger of experiencing a setback in West Bengal if it is unable to pacify its allies.
Its problems arise from the fact that there is a razor-thin margin between the Left Front and its opponents in terms of the percentages of votes secured by them. In the last assembly elections, for instance, the Left won 50.2 percent of the votes while the Trinamool Congress and the Congress together received 41.2 percent.
But, if the 8.5 percent votes of the other minuscule opposition parties, including the leftist Socialist Unity Centre, are taken into account, then the vote share of the non-Left Front parties rises to 49.7 percent, only marginally short of the ruling alliance's percentage. It may take no more than the switching of sides, or proclaimed neutrality, by only one party in the Left Front to bring it down.
The difficulty for the Bhattacharya government is that the CPI-M and its partners have fallen out on an issue over which a compromise is virtually impossible since the question of their ideology is involved. Although most observers may believe that their professed commitment to Marxism is only formal apart from being outdated, it will not be easy for many of these outfits to disown what they have professed as the gospel truth for decades.
The responsibility of running the government as the first party in an alliance may have persuaded the CPI-M to desist from chasing the utopian dream of "socialism". But the others can conveniently and cynically use the stick of heresy to beat the Big Brother.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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