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Marxist blunderbuss - The Hindustan Times

Amulya Ganguli ()
24 January 1997

Title : Marxist blunderbuss
Author : Amulya Ganguli
Publication : The Hindustan Times
Date : January 24, 1997

Since communism itself is a historical blunder, whose dreadful
mistakes are only now being slowly corrected in the unhappy
countries where the doctrine was first tried out, it is not
surprising that its practitioners occasionally find the iron
discipline too much to bear and blurt out the truth about its many
gaffes. The most shattering disclosure in this respect -to
communists, not the rest who knew the truth all along - was
Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin. Since it was made in a "secret
speech", however, by the "revisionist" Mr K, the CPI-M still does
not take any notice of it and Stalin's pictures continue to adorn
its offices.

However, since the truth is irretrievably out, the Marxists have
started applying what can be called the curate's egg solution to
this problem - declaring that Stalin was partly good and partly
bad, the former part being seven out of 10 and the latter three.
Indeed, a similar solution has been worked out for communism as a
whole, with the formulation that its architects overdid the
centralism bit of democratic centralism, thereby giving a bad name
to the theory. If only this little defect is corrected, the
proletarian revolution will sweep the world as it was once expected
to do.

These are, however, only half retractions and that, too, done by
the party as a whole, with the iron discipline ensuring that if
anyone thought that the 7:3 ratio in favour of Stalin's goodness
should be reversed, he would not say a word outside. So Stalin can
be said to have had the last laugh.

True, there have also been full retractions - or admissions of
historic blunders. Among the most notable has been the
acknowledgement that Tagore was not just a "bourgeois" poet or
Subhas Bose a Quisling. Since the Naxalites have also stopped
decapitating the statues of Vidyasagar and other stalwarts of the
19th century Bengal renaissance, it can be safely assumed that
their politburo, too, has come to regard such acts as blunders. In
any event, it is known that the Chinese had castigated the
Naxalites for describing Mao Zedong as their chairman - clearly a
blunder of the first magnitude.

Of the other blunders, which again have only been half
acknowledged, the switching of sides after the collapse of the
Ribbentrop-Molotov pact which led to the release of communists from
the British Indian jails has been seen as a major cause why the
communists have never been able to emerge as a force to reckon with
in large parts of the country. It is noteworthy in this context
that at the time of the Communist party's formation, there was a
prolonged debate in its ranks about whether the organisation should
be called the Indian Communist Party or the Communist Party of
India. Finally, the last name was chosen because, after all, the
party is a unit of the international proletariat in India.

But even as these blunders were committed and acknowledged, it has
to be admitted that the party acted as a whole. ]lose did not agree
had to leave the party, and the fact that India harbours so many
Communist parties - apart from the several versions of the CPI,
there is also the RSP, the SUC, etc - suggests deep differences
about the right path to the revolutionary utopia.

What is significant about Mr Jyoti Basu's recent controversial
observation about the CPI-M central committee's historical blunder
in not joining the UF Government is that it is not the admission of
the party as a whole, but of an individual. As such, it is a
breach of discipline. This is so in any party, but even more so in
one professing to abide by communism, in no matter how diluted or
distorted a form.

The CPI-M leadership should be the first to acknowledge that if
such a transgression had taken place in Stalin's time and country -
the hero whom the CPI-M worships - the offender's head would have
been chopped off. True, these are more relaxed times, but there
have nevertheless been more than one example of comrades being
punished for violating party norms. Mr Basu himself shed no tears
when two senior colleagues - Mr Nripen Chakraborty and Mr Benoy
Chaudhuri - blurted out the truth about the party's degeneration
("a party of, by and for contractors" - Mr Chaudhuri) and paid the
penalty for it.

The fact that Mr Basu has suffered no such consequence is a pointer
to many things - all to the detriment of communism and the CPI-M.
However, this may not be bad in itself, but of that more later.
Ale first and most obvious implication of Mr Basu's escape from the
gallows is that, for the first time in the Indian communist
movement, an individual has become bigger than the party. ]be signs
that a heresy of this nature were in the offing and it took an
issue close to Mr Basu's heart to bring it to the fore, but the
impact of this development on the CPI-M and even other Communist
parties will be momentous. In short, it means a breakdown of
discipline and it will not be long before dissenters in other
Communist parties assert themselves.

After the death of Promode Dasgupta and because of the declining
health of Mr E. M. S. Namboodiripad, Mr Basu had long acquired a
pre-eminent position in the CPI-M with none quite daring to stand
up to him. His hauteur and sharp tongue had helped, not to mention
the long tenure at the helm in West Bengal. But he had never
formally violated the party discipline, always allowing the general
secretary (a post created by Stalin) to sit at the head of the
table, even if it is Mr Harkishan Singh Surjeet.

Communism is, of course, not a stranger to the phenomenon of a
person becoming larger than the party. Trotsky expressed this fear
when he said, "the party is replaced by the organisation of the
party, the organisation by the central committee and finally the
central committee by the dictator", and Stalin justified this
apprehension. Stalin weeded out his illustrious opponents before
becoming the lord and master of all he surveyed. Mr Basu has
simply outlived them. But where Stalin used his general secretary's
position to bring the organisation under his control, Mr Basu has
apparently decided to outflank the party. Besides, Stalin's
purpose was to consolidate his hold and impose his own fearsome
brand of communism on Russia, Mr Basu's objective suggests not only
contempt for discipline but disillusionment with the very doctrine
of communism.

An apocryphal story has been doing the rounds of Calcutta's coffee
houses that a senior communist (not Mr Basu) had privately admitted
his late realisation that communism was a hoax but had said at the
same time that he could not say this openly for it would amount to
confessing that he had been a fool all his life. Mr Basu, of
course, was never a theoretician. He never quoted obscure passages
from Lenin and Stalin, let alone Plekhanov. Because of his
personal popularity, he had always been the CPI-M's mass leader in
West Bengal, not an organisation man like Promode Dasgupta. As a
result, he was an automatic choice for Chief Minister when the
party attained power in 1977.

At that time, and even earlier when he was Deputy Chief Minister in
Ajoy Mukherji's United Front Cabinet, he was in the habit of saying
that nothing substantial could be done under the limited powers
given to the party within the "bourgeois system". In course of
time, the remark became a joke. When the CPI-M offices were
renovated and acquired extra floors, the wags started saying that
no more than two or three storeys could be built with the "limited

As the CPI-M's years in office became decades, and the lifestyle of
its members began to rival that of the bourgeoisie, it became clear
that the party was running out of excuses for West Bengal's
continuing industrial stagnation and dwindling clout in national
politics. The collapse of communism worldwide also made it
difficult to sing the praises of socialism. As the apocryphal
story suggests, nagging doubts must have begun to assail the more
intelligent among the comrades.

Factors such as these, plus the ambition to adorn the post of Prime
Minister which many Bengalis think legitimately belonged to Subhas
Bose rather than Nehru, may have played a part in persuading Mr
Basu to commit the cardinal sin in Communist theology of
criticising a central committee decision in an interview with the
"bourgeois" Press.

It is unlikely that his objective is to reshape the CPI-M on the
lines of the transformation which the Communist parties have
undergone in Italy and elsewhere. Mr Basu does not have that kind
of temperament. What he would probably like, instead, is to have a
completely free hand in West Bengal so that he can fulfil his dream
of initiating an industrial revival, mainly through the influx of
foreign investment.

So far, his yearly sojourns in Europe and the US have led nowhere.
Many of the MoUs have been no more than paper deals. His plan to
hand over the state-owned, loss-making Great Eastern Hotel to a
French company was frustrated by the traditionally obtuse trade
unions. He is clearly unwilling to allow any more such blunders and
go down in history as the most ineffectual of Chief Ministers whose
contribution to West Bengal's development was zilch.

It is ironical that the only Chief Minister whose name is still
remembered as someone who had a vision for the State is B. C. Roy
who died in 1962. He conceived the Durgapur and Haldia industrial
complexes, the second city of Kalyani to ease the pressure on
Calcutta, a modem milk plant for Calcutta which was previously
infested with cattle sheds, a transport undertaking to provide
employment to East Bengal refugees, even a metro railway which
would have cost much less if built then. Mr Basu probably wants
his name similarly implanted in history. After all, the Communists
always speak of being on the right side of history. So they must
know that history is unforgiving to those who just blunder along.

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