Harold Laski (1893-1950), Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, made a big contribution to popularization of socialist ideas in the last century. He was associated with the British Labour Party for many years and served as its Chairman for a term. Once, while addressing a meeting in London, he was repeatedly heckled by a Communist. In exasperation, Laski told him, “My dear friend, why are you interrupting me? We are both Marxists. You in your own way, and I -- in Marx’s.” This anecdote, which I had read somewhere years ago, came to mind when I saw C. Bhaskaran’s response to an article I recently wrote.
Bhaskaran, who was the first President of the Students federation of India, is now a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It is not my intention to suggest that he and I are both Marxists, he in his own way and I in Marx’s. To be a Marxist in Kerala, one has to be member of a particular political party. If Marx has the good fortune to live in the State today, I doubt if he would care to claim the honour of being a Marxist by taking out membership in that party.
Communist parties have come to power in many countries during the past 100 years. They still wield power in some. Marx may find it difficult to believe that what these parties implemented were his ideas. Lenin took over the Tsar’s empire and maintained it under the cloak of Communism. Stalin enlarged the empire. After seven decades of existence it came under the weight of internal contradictions. As Gorbachev initiated political reforms in a bid to solve its problems, the Soviet Union disappeared.
Mao conquered the whole of the old Chinese empire and brought it under the red flag. Deng tried economic reforms, instead of political reforms, to solve its internal problems. Today, the country is making big strides in the global economy. Under the Communist Party’s leadership, China is growing into the world’s largest capitalist country --- yes, capitalist, not communist country. Thrilled by this sight, Bhaskaran proclaims that China’s strength and influence are growing. Those who wonder how under Communist-rule a country can turn capitalist may note the finding of the US magazine Forbes, which keeps track of the world’s richest persons, that China now has 15 billionaires. Mao’s China did not have even millionaires.
The likes of Wal-Mart, which Bhaskaran’s party has vowed to keep out of India, have free run in China. Wal-Mart’s imports from and exports to China are so large that if it were a separate country it would rank sixth among China’s trading partners. Marx will find this incomprehensible. For it does not accord with his concept of Communism.
Bhaskaran and his party want the right to determine not only who is a Marxist but also who is a leftist. He has detected the anti-leftist whom I have been hiding deep inside me! Just as you have to be a member of the Marxist party to be a Marxist, you presumably have to be a member or at least fellow-traveller of a constituent of the Left Democratic Front to gain recognition as a leftist.
In the first parliament convened after the French Revolution, the conservatives were seated on the Speaker’s right and those seeking radical measures were on his left. So the progressive elements came to be identified as the Left. In democratic countries like India and Britain, ruling party members sit on the right side and opposition members on the left side. In Kerala, where the Left Democratic Front alternates in power with the Congress-led United Democratic Front, if the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is on the left in one Assembly it will be on the right in the next. If we are to decide Right and Left in keeping with the French tradition, who is it that wants radical changes in Kerala? It is difficult to view running a hospital with kickbacks from an electricity deal, starting a new edition of the party newspaper with loans from a lottery racketeer and holding football tournaments with gifts from a land racketeer as radical measures.
Adapted from column “Nerkkazhcha” which appeared in Kerala Kaumudi edition dated September 13, 2007