Comrade, whither goest thou?
Aug 27th, 2010 - Kancha Ilaiah
The extended central committee meeting of the Communist Party of India
(Marxist) in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, has not thrown up any radical
formula to revitalise the party. This is disappointing since the
battered and bruised Communists of India are in the worst shape
possible in their entire history.
The Communists occupy a political space that is totally opposite to
the one occupied by the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its
mother organisations, such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh. The CPI(M) apparently works on the scientific
theory of Marxism. In accordance with this, it should have played a
sterling role in modernising the country. But in the last 80 years of
its existence, it has not done anything of the sort. In fact, the
Communist leadership now looks as if they are a feudal lot. The
fragmentation within its ranks, and the irrational and unnecessary
breaking up of the movement into three streams — CPI(M), Communist
Party of India, and the Maoists — could be because of its leadership's
feudal and casteist mindset.
Caste as an institution is basically divisive and the Communists too
seem to be victims of such a divisive mindset. That they neither
programmatically nor practically recognise caste does not mean that
they have not become victims of the caste system itself.
Right-wing forces in India are united while the Left-wing is divided.
The Right-wing forces at least respond to criticism, while the
Left-wing does not even bother to respond. For instance, Left leaders
are not able to explain properly the "big differences" between the
CPI(M), the CPI and the Forward Bloc that prevents them from merging.
They got divided in the context of Soviet power and the Indo-China
war. These issues are now passé but they still do not bother to review
In fact, one CPI(M) leader of Kerala said two years ago that a merger
with the CPI was impossible since there was no agreement on the
attitude towards other parties after the revolution! Speak about
people living in ivory towers.
The cultural conditioning of the Left leaders is such that they do not
want to criticise their own understanding and actions.
Ideally, the Left should have worked as one party in a parliamentary
democracy to demonstrate their strength and influence politics. But
the Left leaders do not want to do so for no valid reason that the
people of India can understand. The lack of corruption in their
leadership does not make the Left democratic or responsive to the day
to day sufferings of masses that need solutions.
The Communist leaders have proved that they can be Marxist, feudal and
casteist simultaneously. They also impose a discourse that the social
masses of India do not understand. Their Oxford-educated leaders such
as the late Jyoti Basu came back to live in the "dhoti culture" with
one agenda of agrarian reform. But this agenda has reached its
saturation in West Bengal and to some extent in Kerala also.
For the last 80 years, Communist leaders have been saying that India
is a class society. But there are now enough studies to prove that in
India caste is more important than class. Neither the Communist
leaders nor the intellectuals around them want to face this question
Recently, there was a fierce debate in Kerala on whether the CPI(M)
should accept caste/religious identities as legitimate. Though some
fellow travellers felt that the party should do so, the leadership did
not agree. According to them, though such identities do have their
place, they are divisive in the long run and the need is to transcend
them and evolve a humanist ethic.
But the Left has consistently refused to explain why they have no
existence in big states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya
Pradesh where there are toiling masses. The Communists should have
repositioned their agenda and mobilised the masses around caste and
other cultural questions in these places. So far they have no clue how
to do that.
Likewise, industrialisation did not take root in West Bengal, Kerala
and Tripura which the Left has been ruling for years. Their
single-point programme of land reform did not take the West Bengal
society out of semi-feudal living modes. While Left leaders lived
wearing dhoti and kurta, they kept the peasants semi-naked.
While the world has surged to a post-capitalist globalisation phase,
Left leaders have remained stuck in their feudalism-capitalism
discourses. And to add to their troubles, their present JNU-educated
leadership has no idea of the rural masses and their changing
aspirations. They messed up their programmatic agenda during their
UPA-I days and now the masses seem to think that they are incapable of
The truth is that nowadays classical socialism does not inspire even
the working class masses who are enchained in their own caste-cultural
The situation certainly demands fresh thinking on the part of the
Communists. So far they have not produced a moral leader of the
stature of Mahatma Gandhi or B.R. Ambedkar, one who is revered outside
their party fold, though the idea of Communism still inspires many
artistes and writers.
Whether one agrees or not, the Right-wing has a Swami Vivekananda to
claim as a moral philosopher because he looked at many things,
including caste, in his own way. But the Left has nothing to offer on
Having come from Telangana, where the Left led a massive armed
struggle, I feel that if the Communists had come to power in Andhra
Pradesh it would have remained a feudal dhoti-clad state like Bengal.
I can say with some confidence that an average agrarian labourer —
dalit, tribal and OBC — of this region is certainly in a better
position than his/her counterpart in West Bengal.
It is not enough to criticise existing systems. One should offer an
alternative that can keep improving the lives of vast masses on a
daily basis. So far the Indian Communists have failed in engineering
such a process of democratic change.
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