‘Communists’ garner the votes of poor but policies are increasingly pro-business
The much awaited results of five state elections in India – in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry – have gone more or less along predicted lines. Except for the fact that the competing shower of promises of goodies and freebies in Tamil Nadu swayed the voters until the last minute, the rest of the poll exercise and the ensuing results went as expected. The ‘communists’ of the CPI(M) and CPI won 235 of a total 293 seats in West Bengal. They also won 98 of a total 140 seats in Kerala. The Communists, who have their biggest following in West Bengal and Kerala, are rivals to the Congress party in these two states, in spite of supporting the ruling Congress-led UPA government at national level.
Amulya Ganguly, a right wing commentator observed in ‘indiaenews.com’: “The reason for Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya’s massive victory in West Bengal is an endorsement of his pro-capitalist policies, which he has been pursuing quite openly. In doing so, he has achieved the miraculous feat for an avowed communist of winning the support of both the ’bourgeoisie’ in the towns and among the industrialists, and the ’proletariat’ in the countryside. Only the unlikely combination of these two groups, which are opposed to each other according to classical Marxism, could have given him such an enormous victory”.
Spectre of communism hailed!
The newspaper headlines and the TV bites on the just concluded elections have gone berserk on the success of the left parties in India. Never in the history of modern times has the victory of ‘communist’ parties in any country’s elections been given so much attention and been so hailed by the capitalist media. Industrial firms have queued up to congratulate the leaders of the ‘communist’ parties on their success in the elections.
The seventh consecutive win of the ‘Left Front’ headed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal and the return of the Left and Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala were a foregone conclusion, given the arithmetic and the balance of forces in these two states where traditionally left parties have a strong base. While in West Bengal the left has been in power since 1977, in Kerala the LDF is in a hide-and-seek game with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), alternating the seat of power between them.
Many eyebrows went up, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed the results of the elections as a victory of secular forces. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the avowed communalists and former governing force – actually had no stake whatsoever in these elections. It is not without reason that Manmohan Singh made this well thought-out statement, indicating that whoever has won in these five states, as far as the neo-liberal course of the economy is concerned, all the parties are for “reforms”. His reference to the term ‘secular’ was to remind everyone that, “If we fail, the BJP will take advantage”.
When the prime minister called the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, to congratulate him on his spectacular victory, Bhattacharjee is believed to have told Manmohan Singh that he planned to push forward with the economic reform process in West Bengal. Now that the CPI (M) has notched up its victory in the eastern state, attracting the middle class and the neo rich in Kolkata and urban centres of West Bengal thanks to the Buddhadev line of doing capitalism better than capitalists, Prime Minister Singh and the Congress do not have to worry about these self professed “watch dogs” of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime at the centre.
Many political analysts indicate that the impressive victory of the Communists in these elections will see an aggressive anti-neo-liberal left and consequently a crisis large enough to see the end of the UPA national government. They are just dreaming such a scenario. What new factors would you add to presume such a situation? If the left had gone to the polls totally arguing against the reform process, maybe there would have been a distant possibility of such a setting. Instead the CPI (M) and the rest of the left have campaigned very much in favour of the reforms albeit with a “humane face”. Politburo member of the CPI(M), Sitaram Yechury, answered a question after the victory in the West Bengal elections: “We are pro-reform as long as the reforms are pro-people’’! Buddhadev’s infamous “reform or perish” strategy has endeared him and the CPI(M) much closer to the Congress and the captains of industry.
Much like Tony Blair, the CPI(M) is not averse to professing realism; they even would not mind their brand of politics being termed ‘new communism’, whatever it means. "Without capitalism, you cannot bring about socialism in a feudal society," Bhattacharjee the chief minister of West Bengal told Reuters recently during the hectic election campaign. Slightly stretching this statement further, he also blurted out: "In a capitalist set-up like India you cannot build socialism in one part of the country and you have to accept this".
Though they now accept that you cannot build socialism in one country, let alone one state in India, that is what the followers of the Communist parties thought the leaders of the CPs were trying to do. Barring their CPI(M) and CPI strongholds in the three states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, they have no credible organisation in the rest of India. In recent years, left parties have maintained a fine balance between capital and labour. The old policy of ‘agitate and grow’ remains effective only in states other than Kerala, West Bengal or Tripura. As with China, in West Bengal and Kerala (not so much in Tripura where there is a strident Maoist, nationalist movement opposing the regime) the character of the two ruling Communist parties has undergone fundamental changes in the last few decades, as reflected in their membership pattern.
In West Bengal, the CPI(M) leader, Subhash Chakraborty, said some time ago that, "Middle class people now outnumber the working class". In part, this can be ascribed to the decline in traditional industries in Bengal, such as jute production, manufacturing and engineering. Conversely, there has occurred a major expansion of services, information industry, and the retail economic sector, but to draw the conclusion that the middle class outnumbers the working class is frivolous. Moreover to bracket the workers in the Service and IT industry etc. as middle class goes to show what apathy the so-called Marxists have towards different sections of the working class.
But Chakraborty has also called for the formation of a “new bourgeoisie”. The bourgeois democratic reforms in relation to land tenancy rights (it is not ownership, as misconstrued by many) carried out by the CPs in West Bengal over three decades has created an upper middle class with a higher disposable surplus. These layers do form a sizeable chunk of the membership of the CPI(M) in particular.
Speaking to rediff.com, Chief Minister Buddhadev said: “The social and political correlation of forces in rural areas, where more than 65 per cent of the population live, has undergone a sea-change because of land reforms. But even then, one cannot deny the benefits of land reforms and their long-term impact on farmers. Last year, total production of food grains stood at 16 million metric tons; this year it is 117 million metric tons, generating a huge surplus.
Rediff.com, commenting on the reason for the seventh successive victory of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, said: “Another reason for the mass base of the party is that in urban and rural Bengal, joining the CPI(M) is the best career move you can make. The party takes care of its cadres. And it is omnipresent. Be it a property dispute or a school service commission job, you have to approach the CPI(M) if you want your way, or the posting of your choice.”
Change is static!
No doubt this round of elections has strengthened the CPI(M) and the CPI to an enormous extent as far as the bargaining that they will be doing with the UPA in the coming period. But the Congress is not unduly worried, even though they may have to put up with some high-decibel sloganeering to which they are very well accustomed. The real worry for the Congress strategists should be that the left (Communists) is slowly building up to replacing them as the main social democratic force.
The victory of the “communists” in the two states again in no way challenges the system of capitalism and the vestiges of landlordism. In fact they offer a possible safety valve mechanism for the failing system. The communists are grooming themselves to take on the mantle of managing capitalism more efficiently than the parties that fundamentally represent capitalism.
The Indian social and political situation is fervent with a lot of revolutionary possibilities; in fact it is at a cross-road. While visible growth in the economy has only touched a few thousands of people, the rest of the teeming millions, both in urban and rural India, are languishing in the same old way, suffering poverty, displacement, unemployment, low wages, caste and class discrimination. In fact since the advent of the UPA government, supported by the Communists at the centre, it has been a period of unbridled neo-liberal offensive. Be it the privatisation spree or down-sizing of workers in public sector services and manufacturing or the building of dams that displace huge numbers of people to make a few industrialists happy and rich, all these anti-people measures are being carried out in the name of a “secular democratic regime” supported by the “communists”.
There is seething anger building up among the dispossessed of India which has been manifested in many spontaneous, sometimes inherently anarchic ways. The absence of a subjective factor – a mass workers’ party based on the ideas of genuine socialism – is felt time and again by many activists scattered in various social and political movements. It will be a challenge to wade through the enormous confusion and disappointments created by the so-called communist parties and establish a new socialist alternative.