AS INDIA strives to find its place under the sun in the era of globalization, the media in Kerala is discussing the continued relevance of socialism. Strange as it may seem, leaders of the Communist Party of India-Marxist are not active in the debate.
The debate was touched off by CPI-M veteran Jyoti Basu's statement that the State governments led by the party are working within the capitalist system. Without mincing words, he said capitalism was the reality and socialism a distant goal.
Basu's statement came in the context of the difficulties encountered by his successor, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, in pursuing plans to set up industrial complexes with the help of domestic and foreign capital. Both national and State media suggested that the statement represented a shift in the CPI-M stand. Party general secretary Prakash Karat clarified that what Basu said had been the party's position since 2000.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the East European regimes had led to introspection by Communist parties the world over two decades ago.
At that time, the CPIM, under the guidance of EMS Namboodiripad, who was its chief ideologue, evaded the issue.
In 2000, two years after Namboodirpad's death, a party conclave at Thiruvananthapuram agreed upon changes in the party programme in the light of new realities. The party congress, held at Hyderabad in 2002, approved the changes. The shift in the party's position did not attract much attention as there was no effort to educate the rank and file on the changes.
The significance of the changes lay in that the party acknowledged that a socialist revolution was not imminent. It set the immediate goal as people's democracy, which was an intermediate stage in the march towards socialism.
The people's democracy concept is not a new one. The East European countries, which had come under Moscow's control at the end of World War II, were all designated as people's democracies. In a sense, it is thus a doomed concept.
The Basu bombshell came as the State party was holding its district conferences in a highly charged atmosphere with the two factions seeking to extend their influence.
But it did not figure in the deliberations.
The only leader of standing in the State to comment on Basu's statement was Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, who warned that advocates of the capitalist path would have to flee. His reaction surprised observers as it appeared to pit him against Basu, who has been a source of support to him at the national level. He dropped the subject quickly.
In his long perorations at the district conferences, State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan invariably covered the whole gamut of regional, national and international issues. However, he did not dwell much on ideology.
Pinarayi Vijayan fully shares the West Bengal leadership's position, which Basu outlined.
In fact, since the party regained power in 2006, his faction has been pushing schemes in keeping with that line. Yet he chose to soft-pedal the issue in his speeches.
There are two explanations for Vijayan's silence on ideology. One is that he realises that open repudiation of the idea of imminent revolution may not go down well with the cadres, who had been fed for long on revolutionary slogans. The other is that as a practical politician he knows that factional loyalties are determined by mundane factors, not by ideology.
P. Govinda Pillai, once billed as the chief ideologue after Namboodiripad, has been silent on the role of socialism in today's context. KEN Kunhahammad, who has lately been projected as the authoritative spokesman on ideology, has also not made any worthwhile contribution to the debate.
The participants in the debate generally fall in two categories: one consists of persons who were associated with the Naxalite movement in its heyday and the other of persons whose sympathies lie with its successors. Both groups regard the CPI-M as essentially a social democratic party with a Marxist label.
Civic Chandran, Naxalite turned social critic, probably voiced the feelings of both groups when he recently wrote: "What right do our Communist parties and party comrades now have on the red flag? Let them kindly put it down."
Away from public gaze, intellectuals with Left leanings are known to be exploring the possibility of an alternative to predatory capitalism and authoritarian socialism. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 21, 2008