The bundh in West Bengal on December 14 personified the perennial paradox of communism. The CPM faces a conflict, between governance and ideology, which is not very different from the one faced by Vladimir Lenin on the morrow of the Russian revolution of 1917. The contradiction between the interests of the country and the cohesion of the cadres has plagued the Marxists continually ever since.
Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya must think that it is his duty to take Bengal forward with the help of such reforms that would bring economic development. His party apparatchiks must be more concerned with ensuring that the cadres do not scatter. At the other end, the ideologues must be agonised by the lowering of the commanding heights of the economy that result from the privatising of banks or from the welcoming of monopoly industrialists. The CPM separated from the CPI in 1964 because its members felt that China was justified in its claim on India'sborders. Yet, today the party is not prepared to toe the Deng Xiaoping line that it does not matter whether the cat is black or white so long it kills mice. It does not matter whether an industry is public or private so long as it manufactures goods efficiently.
The contradiction has its ultimate root in the philosophy of Karl Marx. The red prophet theorised in reaction to the capitalist exploitation of labour in the 18th and early 19th centuries. He, therefore, wanted the peasants and workers to dislodge the landlords and the bourgeoisie. He was suspicious of the state as an instrument of exploitation of the poor by the rich and wanted it to be relegated. In fact, his wish was that the state should eventually disappear or wither away. Marxian prescriptions were essentially revolutionary, fundamentally to dislodge those in power and not for governance or the exercise of power. Only such a philosophy can justify the paradox between a party running the government from Kolkata and at the same time paralysing West Bengal with a bundh. Only Marxist reasoning would permit an Indian to live off Mother India and at the same time applaud her molestation by China as in 1962.
Leon Trotsky, Lenin'sDefence Minister and the vanquisher of Czarism, had formulated the theory of permanent revolution. Whereby, his plea was that the Soviet Union should concentrate on taking the proletariat revolution to every nook and corner of the world. The welfare of Mother Russia was secondary. This theory was consistent with the Communist Manifesto, which exhorted the workers of the world to unite. It did not ask citizens to protect or nurture their own country. Josef Stalin tried to correct the imbalance by innovating the slogan of ?socialism in one country?. Yet instead of bringing prosperity to his people, he was tempted to capture and dominate eastern and central Europe in a style reminiscent of an imperialist.
His successors Nikita Krushchev and Leonid Brezhnev vied with bourgeois USA for global domination until the Soviet economy could afford the luxury no more. Comrade Mikhail Gorbachev reacted with perestroika or restructuring and glasnost or openness. The former contravened the Marxist principle that the means of production must be owned by the society or state only. The latter violated the Leninist priority for a dictatorship of the proletariat. The outcome was the disaster of 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and fell apart. The Chinese Communist Party learnt several lessons from the Russians. The CPC resorted to perestroika without any glasnost; all out restructuring but no openness at all. The economic rewards have been, on the whole, enormous for China but for how long the CPC can put off glasnost is to be seen. For, the class profile of the people is changing rapidly. As more and more Chinese get elevated from the proletariat as well as petit bourgeoisie to full fledged, rich industrialists would they not insist on a say in the affairs of the country? In other words, the contradictions have been kept in abeyance by the rulers of Beijing.
What about the CPM, the fawning admirers of the CPC? Its ready excuse for anything that goes wrong with the Indian communists is that they have had to function within a capitalist federation. The states, whether Kerala, Tripura or West Bengal, have no opportunity for bringing about revolutionary changes. The red leaders never admit their contradictions nor explain why their ideology has been rejected by all countries except Cuba and North Korea. What is the communist future in India? The fundamental paradox they face is Marxian orthodoxy versus reformist liberalisation. They are trying to resolve this dilemma as Chief Minister Bhattacharya is trying to do by following the example of the erstwhile most communist economies. But these countries were totally Marxist and not partly or mostly capitalist as India is. If therefore the CPM resorts to reform, what is the difference between itself and the Congress? The Soviet countries of Europe as well as China and Vietnam were entirely communist before they resorted to reform. Prime facie, the parties of these countries did not face any ready capitalistic competition. The CPM is caught on the horns of this dilemma which was highlighted by the bundh which paralysed West Bengal on December 14.
What is surprising is the communist escapism from an ideological revision, reinterpretation or ijtehad as Muslims say. The Islamic ulema clearly opted against any canonical amendment a thousand years ago and have stuck to their decision since. The Marxists, on the other hand, vacillate. Way back in 1921 Lenin had talked about two steps forward and one step back and introduced a new economic policy properly called N.E.P. The swings since then between change, some change and no change we have described above. Even the no-changers like the C I T U, who organised the recent bundh, swear orthodoxy but surrender to change as they have done over their policy vis-?-vis worker restructuring with golden handshakes. Wither the revolution when the revolutionaries neither know their mind nor do they debate how and when Marxism needs to be amended. There is a communist confusion worse confounded.