The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has to date blame everybody and everything-from the Naxalites to the CIA-for Nandigram. Given its intolerant and self-righteous disposition, it cannot brook any dissent, even if it is expressed by the fellow-traveling intellectuals. So, unsurprisingly, when a group of 50 intellectuals visited Nandigram recently, the CPM cadre attacked them.
What, however, may appear surprising is the almost total silence of the intellectual class over not only this particular attack but the entire Nandigram episode-the CPM goons murdering innocent villagers. Of course, there were a few rumblings, like some Marxist academics returning awards they were given by the Left Front Government of West Bengal, but on the whole their response was muted. One has to know the mindset of intellectuals to understand their unfussy reaction on Nandigram.
I would like to add that overlooking the depredations of communism by intellectuals is not a purely Indian trait; great authors, journalists, and thinkers have done it in the West as well. Lenin coined an interesting term, ?useful idiots,? for the intellectuals who unquestioningly accepted Marxian lies. They are useful, because their praise for Marxism bestows legitimacy and a verisimilitude of veracity on the ideology; and they are idiots, because they are able to see its rotten core.
There is the example of Walter Duranty. A star reporter with New York Times who went on to win Pulitzer, he reported from the Soviet Union when the murderous regimes of Lenin and Stalin were killing people in millions. Duranty, however, wrote rosy accounts from the Soviet Union when collectivisation and purges eliminated millions. Even when 25,000 Ukrainian peasants were dying every day, Duranty refused to expose the barbarity of communism. Having accepted the ends-justify-the-means argument, he even condoned communist butchery by saying, ?You can'tmake an omelet without breaking a few eggs.? On this a commentator, Mark Y Herring, remarked, ?Those ?eggs? were the heads of men, women and children and those ?few? were tens of millions.?
But Duranty was not alone. In his Modern Times, the historian Paul Johnson wrote about reaction of Western intellectuals to Stalinist brutalities:
In the outside world, the magnitude of the Stalin tyranny-or indeed its very existence-was scarcely grasped at all. Most of those who traveled to Russia were either businessmen, anxious to trade and with no desire to probe or criticise what did not concern them, or intellectuals who came to admire and, still more, to believe. If the decline of Christianity created the modern political zealot-and his crimes-so the evaporation of religious faith among the educated left a vacuum in the minds of Western intellectuals easily filled by secular superstitions. There is not other explanation for the credulity with which scientists, accustomed to evaluating evidence, and writers, whose whole function was to study and criticise society, accepted the crudest Stalinist propaganda at its face value. They needed to believe; they wanted to be duped. [emphasis added]
For such intellectuals, the Soviet Union was their pilgrimage-you don'tgo on pilgrimage with a questioning mind. So, Sidney and Beatrice Webb lauded a project built with slave labor. Harold Laski praised Soviet prisons for enabling convicts to lead ?a full and self-respecting life.? George Bernard Shaw compared British jails, where a human being is transformed into a criminal, with Russian prisons where a man entered ?as a criminal type and would come out an ordinary man but for the difficulty of inducing him to come out at all. As far as I could make out they could stay as long as they liked it.? This about the most horrendous slave camps mankind has ever witnessed!
The mendacity of Leftist intellectuals and liberals was unbounded. According to Johnson:
The famine of 1932, the worst in Russian history, was virtually unreported. At the height of it, the visiting biologist Julian Huxley found ?a level of physique and general health rather above that to be seen in England.? Shaw threw his food supplies out of the train window just before crossing the Russian frontier ?convinced that there were no shortages in Russia??
Estimates of Stalin written in the years 1929-34 make curious reading. HG wells said he had ?never met a man more candid, fair and honest? no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him.? The Webbs argued that he had less power than an American president and was merely acting on the orders of the Central Committee and the Presidium? He [Stalin] was, said the Chilean writer Pablo Neruda, ?a good-natured man of principle??
?Self-delusion was obviously the biggest single factor in the presentation of an unsuccessful despotism as a Utopia in the making. But there was also conscious deception by men and women who thought of themselves as idealists and who, at the time, honestly believed they were serving a higher human purpose by systematic misrepresentation and lying. If the Great War with its unprecedented violence brutalised the world, the Great Depression corrupted it by appearing to limit the options before humanity and presenting them in garishly contrasting terms. Political activists felt they had to make terrible choices and, having made them, stick to them with desperate resolution. The Thirties was the age of the heroic lie. Saintly mendacity became its more prized virtue. Stalin'stortured Russia was the prime beneficiary of this sanctified falsification. The competition to deceive became more fierce when Stalinism acquired a moral rival in Hitler'sGermany.
The Western intellectual has lived his ?heroic? lies with aplomb, but his Indian counterpart is not far behind; he can give the Western intellectual a run for his money when it comes to ?heroic? lies and ?saintly mendacity.? Even a thrashing by the Red goons is unlikely to wake them up and make them see the reality. And the reality is that communism is the most violent ideology mankind has ever witnessed; it is an ideology that was responsible for the killing of more than 100 million people in the world.
Would our intellectuals ever dare to see the reality of communism? Or would they continue to blindfold themselves so that they could continue to loiter in their dwell dreamscapes?
(The author works with The Political and Business Daily.)