The extended central committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, has not thrown up any radical formula to revitalise the party. This is disappointing since the battered and bruised Communists of India are in the worst shape possible in their entire history.
The Communists occupy a political space that is totally opposite to the one occupied by the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its mother organisations, such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The CPI(M) apparently works on the scientific theory of Marxism. In accordance with this, it should have played a sterling role in modernising the country. But in the last 80 years of its existence, it has not done anything of the sort. In fact, the Communist leadership now looks as if they are a feudal lot. The fragmentation within its ranks, and the irrational and unnecessary breaking up of the movement into three streams — CPI(M), Communist Party of India, and the Maoists — could be because of its leadership’s feudal and casteist mindset.
Caste as an institution is basically divisive and the Communists too seem to be victims of such a divisive mindset. That they neither programmatically nor practically recognise caste does not mean that they have not become victims of the caste system itself.
Right-wing forces in India are united while the Left-wing is divided. The Right-wing forces at least respond to criticism, while the Left-wing does not even bother to respond. For instance, Left leaders are not able to explain properly the “big differences” between the CPI(M), the CPI and the Forward Bloc that prevents them from merging. They got divided in the context of Soviet power and the Indo-China war. These issues are now passé but they still do not bother to review their decision.
In fact, one CPI(M) leader of Kerala said two years ago that a merger with the CPI was impossible since there was no agreement on the attitude towards other parties after the revolution! Speak about people living in ivory towers.
The cultural conditioning of the Left leaders is such that they do not want to criticise their own understanding and actions.
Ideally, the Left should have worked as one party in a parliamentary democracy to demonstrate their strength and influence politics. But the Left leaders do not want to do so for no valid reason that the people of India can understand. The lack of corruption in their leadership does not make the Left democratic or responsive to the day to day sufferings of masses that need solutions.
The Communist leaders have proved that they can be Marxist, feudal and casteist simultaneously. They also impose a discourse that the social masses of India do not understand. Their Oxford-educated leaders such as the late Jyoti Basu came back to live in the “dhoti culture” with one agenda of agrarian reform. But this agenda has reached its saturation in West Bengal and to some extent in Kerala also.
For the last 80 years, Communist leaders have been saying that India is a class society. But there are now enough studies to prove that in India caste is more important than class. Neither the Communist leaders nor the intellectuals around them want to face this question squarely.
Recently, there was a fierce debate in Kerala on whether the CPI(M) should accept caste/religious identities as legitimate. Though some fellow travellers felt that the party should do so, the leadership did not agree. According to them, though such identities do have their place, they are divisive in the long run and the need is to transcend them and evolve a humanist ethic.
But the Left has consistently refused to explain why they have no existence in big states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh where there are toiling masses. The Communists should have repositioned their agenda and mobilised the masses around caste and other cultural questions in these places. So far they have no clue how to do that.
Likewise, industrialisation did not take root in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura which the Left has been ruling for years. Their single-point programme of land reform did not take the West Bengal society out of semi-feudal living modes. While Left leaders lived wearing dhoti and kurta, they kept the peasants semi-naked.
While the world has surged to a post-capitalist globalisation phase, Left leaders have remained stuck in their feudalism-capitalism discourses. And to add to their troubles, their present JNU-educated leadership has no idea of the rural masses and their changing aspirations. They messed up their programmatic agenda during their UPA-I days and now the masses seem to think that they are incapable of creative renewal.
The truth is that nowadays classical socialism does not inspire even the working class masses who are enchained in their own caste-cultural relationships.
The situation certainly demands fresh thinking on the part of the Communists. So far they have not produced a moral leader of the stature of Mahatma Gandhi or B.R. Ambedkar, one who is revered outside their party fold, though the idea of Communism still inspires many artistes and writers.
Whether one agrees or not, the Right-wing has a Swami Vivekananda to claim as a moral philosopher because he looked at many things, including caste, in his own way. But the Left has nothing to offer on that count.
Having come from Telangana, where the Left led a massive armed struggle, I feel that if the Communists had come to power in Andhra Pradesh it would have remained a feudal dhoti-clad state like Bengal. I can say with some confidence that an average agrarian labourer — dalit, tribal and OBC — of this region is certainly in a better position than his/her counterpart in West Bengal.
It is not enough to criticise existing systems. One should offer an alternative that can keep improving the lives of vast masses on a daily basis. So far the Indian Communists have failed in engineering such a process of democratic change.