Marxists at crossroads

Marxists at crossroads

Time for introspection

The Left is facing the gravest existential crisis in the last five decades. After some soul-searching, CPI’s general secretary A B Bardhan has admitted without mincing words that there is a need for the Left to connect to the middle class though the CPM is yet to come out with a concrete reply for its drubbing at the polls. The sympathisers of the Left have cautioned the comrades to change or perish. But Prakash Karat is not ready to take the blame saying that in West Bengal the CPM got 43 per cent of votes while in Kerala it emerged as the largest single party and the LDF got only 0.89 per cent votes less than the UDF. He also argues that the Left is not playing an important role in the politics of India only because of elections.

 In fact, communists did not believe in elections from the beginning. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) dismissed the path of elections to bring about the revolutionary changes as ‘parliamentary cretinism’. In fact, Lenin captured power in Russia in 1917 after the October Revolution with the help of the army, a section of which had rebelled against the Czar, despite being in the minority. So, Lenin’s aversion for the electoral process is understandable.

However, in February 1956, Nikita Krushchev, in the 20th congress of the Soviet Union, famously denounced Joseph Stalin and approbated the path of election to secure fundamental social changes. Within a year, in India the communists came to power in 1957 in Kerala which was the first democratically-elected government anywhere in the world. Almost 13 years later in 1970, Salvador Allende was elected the president of Chile and acquired the distinction of being the first democratically-elected communist president of any country in the world. In 1967, the communists joined the West Bengal government headed by Ajay Mukherjee and from 1977 to 2011, the Left Front headed by the CMM ruled the state without any interregnum, and was in power in Tripura several times. The programme of the CPM envisaged that the parliamentary forum would provide a path to total revolution. After several decades, the communists are not in power in any other state and have a reduced presence at the Centre.

 Somnath Chatterjee has demanded expulsion of those responsible for the debacle saying that the party was cut off from the public. Chatterjee is right. In West Bengal, its cadres ruled the roost and in the process amassed huge wealth. Perhaps, it was as per Leninist formulation that the party became more important than the government. Ergo, in the Soviet Union, general secretary of the communist party wielded more power than the premier of the government. Thus, Nikita Krushchev or Leonid Brezhnev was more powerful than Bulganin or Kosygin. But Lenin also talked about building up a revolutionary cadre of the party which was conveniently forgotten.

Communist programme

Actually, the Indian communists held a position diametrically opposed to the basic formulations of Karl Marx on the issues of labourers, secularism and secessionism. Marx talked of labourers, not peasants, and opined that the whole capitalist system would wipe out villages and consequently peasants. In fact, when the manifesto for the Communist Party of France, set up in 1880, was being written, the issue of farmers was raised by many participants at the meeting that was held at the home of Frederick Engels. The issue of peasants was not included in the communist programme till Engels was alive. It was taken up only after his death in 1895. On the issue of secularism, they adopted the same bourgeois approach.

Marx was emphatic that the policy of the government and that of political parties cannot be influenced by religion. The state has neither any religion nor can it be associated with any religion. The concept of minority or majority is an anathema to any revolutionary society as every one is an equal citizen. India is a secular state but the education is divided between majority and minority. Besides, religious bodies are governed by religious trust boards set up by the government. Thus, the state’s association with religion is quite pronounced.

In the European countries, there is no separate fund for minority educational institutions. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi had this model in mind. In 1946, when Christian missionaries and Muslims, led by Zakir Hussain, met him and wanted assurance from him for the minority-run educational institutions, he flatly said that there would be no majority or minority educational institutions. However, the Indian communists supported this concept of majority and minority. On the issue of secessionism, their stand has been inconsistent.

Since they believed in internationalism they supported India’s partition on the ground that Muslims were a separate nationality and that they were justifiably demanding a separate nation on the basis of Islam and social justice. But they did not support the demand of Telangana or plebiscite in Kashmir. If the people’s wish is the ultimate, how can they oppose it?

The Left can still play a significant role in the national politics but the hubris of some leaders has debilitated it beyond measure. Will its leaders do an honest introspection?