The Soviet Union was swaying. Deng Ziaoping was taking China along a path different from Mao’s. The Communist regimes of East Europe were falling like a house of cards. At that time I spent several weeks in these countries as a newsman to study the situation.
When I met my friend K. Gopalakrishnan, who was translating the complete works of Marx into Malayalam in Moscow, he was hoping to complete the work in a year’s time and return home. He could not hide his anxiety over Soviet interest in Marx would last until then. I assured him that even if the Soviets lost interest in Marx would have a market in Kerala.
Later, when I was in Thiruvananthapuram, M. K. Kumaran, former Communist MP, plied me with searching questions about developments in those countries. The doubts my answers raised in his mind found expression in the form of a question: “Have we squandered away my life chasing it?” I pointed out that it was not right to examine the validity of a decision taken a long time ago by giving retrospective effect to information that became available subsequently. If one was convinced of the rightness of the decision when it was taken, there was no need to repent over it.
I was invited to give a talk on the changes in East Europe at the C. K. Govindan Nair commemoration meeting that year. The Marxist ideologue P. Govindan was also a speaker at that function. He did not question my observations about East European events. He merely said to complete the picture one should take note of the fact that even as the East European regimes were collapsing Communist parties had won elections in Nepal and one or two other places.
The responses of Kumaran and Govinda Pillai show that the Left in Kerala followed the developments in East Europe closely and objectively. But in public debates the leaders of the Left did not display the sincerity and truthfulness that were reflected in their remarks. They sought to assure the people that all was hunky-dory by keeping them in the dark about the problems raised by the crisis in the international Communist movement.
Jyoti Basu’s statement that capitalism is today’s reality and that communism is a distant goal can be seen as marking the beginning of the process of putting an end to the hide-and-seek game the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been playing for a long time. What Basu and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya are now saying are things that could have been said 20 years back, perhaps even earlier than that. It was delayed so long probably because the cerebral activity is rather slow in the Left camp.
Those who see signs of a change in the party’s policy and influence of globalization in the West Bengal leaders’ argument that they have to rely on capitalism for the investment needed for economic development have poor memory. It was the same policy that prompted E.M.S. Namboodiripad to call on G. D. Birla and V. S. Achuthanandan to invite the Dubai Internet City authorities. The first happened long before globalization.
In explaining Basu’s statement, Prakash Karat indicated that his words had caused confusion in the media and in some Left leaders. The general secretary’s annotation, Achuthanandan’s warning to 'capitalist roaders' and the silence of other leaders all suggest that there is confusion in the party too. But there is no reason to believe that there are differences of opinion on policies and programmes. It appears the differences are over how much truthfulness to maintain with regard to the deviations from ideology that occur while working as part of the system of parliamentary democracy (may read also as bourgeois democracy or capitalist system).
Karat’s claim that in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, the C.P.I. (M), working within the capitalist system, is endeavouring to ensure social justice by pursuing policies different from those of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party stands apart from reality. In social development, West Bengal, which has been continuously under CPI (M) rule for more than 30 years, is leagues behind Kerala, which has not had that good fortune. In Kerala, the CPI (M) and the Congress have been alternating in power for a quarter-century. From experience, the people of the State know that the days when switch from the front led by one to the front led by the other meant a change in policies and programmes are over. Now a change of government does not result in much more than the capture of cooperative societies and transfer of some officials.
The limitation that so long as a party is engaged in parliamentary activities it can only undertake welfare measures that can be taken up within the capitalist framework needs to be recognized. If the CPI (M) has the courage to tell the truth it will have to acknowledge that at this stage it is functioning as a social democratic party. Since the ideologues have made it a dirty name it is not able to say so.
It is not necessary to attach much importance to the name. But it is necessary to ask the party, which is talking of its limitations, one question. Is it doing the most that it can do within these limitations? Hounding the people of Nandigram who refused to part with their land and collapse of the temple administration that was captured show that the CPI (M) governments’ agenda is different from what the general secretary says it is.
Based on column "Nerkkaazhcha" appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated January 10, 2008