Thursday, April 5, 2007

Dictatorship of the Partytariat

Sankarshan Thakur on the deep ideological and organisational rot that besets the Left today.


In Lenin’s Tomb, his classic reportage on the slow Soviet meltdown, David Remnick recounts a bunch of Gorbachev-era Young Leninists watching Wall Street at a Communist Party School. Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Slick Money had the auditorium rapt. And when Douglas whirled round at the climax to deliver his killer line for capitalism — “Greed is good” — the class of Leninists went wild. Wall Street wasn’t on the Party School screens as a lesson in what to eschew; it was there as a savvy sermon on what to embrace. Mikhail Gorbachev had injected the system with booster doses of perestroika to shake a dying economy to life. But the side-effects of such doctoring had begun to fast overrun intended results. Everybody sensed the future was closing in on the world’s biggest ideological empire. “Models are out. Dogma is out. Now we can only speak about goals,” a top Communist Party ideologue told Remnick. Almost the first stop on the road to those goals was the unmarked graveside of both the Communist Party and the Soviet Union.

Sankarshan Thakur on the deep ideological and organisational rot that besets the Left today
In Lenin’s Tomb, his classic reportage on the slow Soviet meltdown, David Remnick recounts a bunch of Gorbachev-era Young Leninists watching Wall Street at a Communist Party School. Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Slick Money had the auditorium rapt. And when Douglas whirled round at the climax to deliver his killer line for capitalism — “Greed is good” — the class of Leninists went wild. Wall Street wasn’t on the Party School screens as a lesson in what to eschew; it was there as a savvy sermon on what to embrace. Mikhail Gorbachev had injected the system with booster doses of perestroika to shake a dying economy to life. But the side-effects of such doctoring had begun to fast overrun intended results. Everybody sensed the future was closing in on the world’s biggest ideological empire. “Models are out. Dogma is out. Now we can only speak about goals,” a top Communist Party ideologue told Remnick. Almost the first stop on the road to those goals was the unmarked graveside of both the Communist Party and the Soviet Union.
Imaging: Neelakash Kshetrimayum/K. Satheesh

Bhattacharya can’t be Deng because this isn’t a totalitarian country; his comrades’ fear is he might yet become Gorbachev, liquidator of an unprecedented 30-year run in power in West Bengal
In the hushed but rasping internal debate over whether Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s corporate blitz in West Bengal is tearing the CPM away from its essential moorings, many colleagues have been tempted to liken him to Gorbachev — the endgame helmsman, the one who will sink the party in the name of keeping the state afloat. Others think, a little hopefully, he might actually be closer to Deng Xiaoping — he will make the transition to capitalism but keep the party’s hegemony intact. Singur and Nandigram have effectively disabled that comparison. Deng and his heirs are unabashed totalitarians; Bhattacharya’s band, despite their theoretical the-party-is-always-right authoritarianism, must live by the rules of democracy. He can’t put a lid on Nandigram as the Chinese communists might have repeatedly done in inner China. He can’t hope to avert consequences. As CPM general secretary Prakash Karat stuttered in admission post the nerves of Nandigram, “Let the people vote us out.”
Bhattacharya can’t be Deng; the danger his comrades’ fear is he might yet become Gorbachev, liquidator of an unprecedented 30-year run in power in West Bengal. He’s begun to sound too much like Remnick’s collapse-eve Soviet ideologue, he’s terribly bullish on the goals, terribly unconcerned about the route there, and, as Dipankar Bhattacharya of the CPI(ML) puts it, terribly arrogant about his piety. “The CPM represents the deranged Left,” he says. “It is busy throttling peoples’ movements, defrauding trade unions, robbing and killing peasants at the behest of private capitalists.” Further Left, the judgement gets harsher. “The CPM has become a mafia, first it served its own power interests but now it has employed itself for monopoly capital, it is as ruthless and arrogant as Narendra Modi,” says Maoist intellectual Varavara Rao.
The CPM’s long-spanked allies are less harsh, but they too have begun to speak out, as if liberated by the upsurge in Bengal’s heartland. They have long chafed under the CPM monopoly, hectored, stunted, kept to mean corners in the Red Fort. But now, quite suddenly, the outcry has given them tongue. A senior Front member confided: “For decades the CPM has ruled the alliance with an iron fist, smothering dissent, disregarding our demands, but if this alliance means that the people will turn against us, it is too much of a price to pay. We too have a constituency, and if they are irate, we will be forced to listen, the CPM will have to listen. Why should we pay for their mistakes?” The CPI, the Forward Bloc, the rsp, they are gathering in concentric circles upon their core; if that’s to implode, they’ll sink too.
At the core itself exists a confounding deadlock. The CPM is loath to admit the party is riven on the issue. It finds it even tougher to accept that it cannot divine a way out of the spot it has got itself into. It has blood on its hands, it can do little to wash it off. Organisationally and politically, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya looms too large for them to touch, the West Bengal unit too strong and too critical to annoy. Perhaps there was a time the party could have managed this crisis better. It had giants like EMS Namboodiripad, M. Basavapunnaiah, BT Ranadive and P. Sundarayya in the politburo to counsel and curb even the likes of Jyoti Basu; there was the street-smart astuteness of Harkishen Singh Surjeet. In 1978, the powerful Jyoti Basu wanted to align with Morarji Desai; he was overruled by the pantheon. He was overruled again when he had a chance to become prime minister in the political confusions of 1996; he called it a “historic blunder” but lived by the line. Today’s politburo pales in stature and sagacity. Many in the party believe the West Bengal CPM itself is worse managed since Anil Biswas passed away on the eve of the last elections. Biman Basu, his successor, is an old and respected hand but as one party hand put it, “Bimanda doesn’t have the dexterity and patience at crisis management Anilda had, he would have handled this much better”.
But is this merely a management issue for the CPM? Is this merely a case of a rash statement here, a police excess there? Is it merely a lapse in speed and sequencing? Would there be no crisis if Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had prepared the ground with greater patience and consensus? Few, after all, can quarrel with the fundamentals of his position — West Bengal needs industry and investment, that’s what will bring jobs and prosperity, that’s what will stem the economic decay. But that’s not where the quarrel ever was; the quarrel is probably located where the CPM is refusing to look — deep within. Is it right to oppose SEZs in Andhra Pradesh and push them in West Bengal? Is it right to rant against new labour laws in parliament and sneak them in on home turf? Is it right to remain ostrich-like about its ideological schizophrenia? Historian Sumit Sarkar, who has turned lead leftwing critic of the CPM, perhaps has the most apt perspective on the gnaw. “The Left is at a serious turning point, more so because the crisis has erupted in West Bengal, which is its strongest base. For many years, the Left has been in the forefront of opposing the neo-liberalisation project but that whole axis now seems to have broken down with what is happening in Bengal. There is little difference between the economic policies of the bjp, the Congress and the Left today. Communists have committed excesses but they have always been in the defence of a larger socialist ideal, the current excesses are entirely in the defence of private monopoly capital. As a result, there is massive revulsion towards it in its own constituency.”
The central of the many ironies that the CPM has tied itself up in is just that —- a party that proudly wears the badge of Operation Barga, arguably modern India’s most comprehensive land resettlement programme today finds itself the focus of peasant ire. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya might have become a bhadralok posterboy by putting the shine on Kolkata but that’s not where the CPM gets its shine from. Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t care what he’d unleashed could undo him; Prakash Karat does. Gorbachev was never ever his idol.
Source: Tehelka
Mar 31 , 2007

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