A crisis of theory can be a serious setback for any party, not just the Marxists. But for the Marxists, it is nothing new. They owe their political existence to a certain history and a certain book and, when thrown against the welter of events, facts have often not fitted into their theory.
The Indian Marxists have tried to tailor Marxism to the Indian conditions and were fortunate in that Marxism is essentially European Marxism. After having been in power in several states and after having exercised ‘disproportionate power’ at the Centre during the terms of several central governments, they are now in a crisis that they have never been faced with before. And their crisis is both of theory and practice.
Former West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s call for an alliance with the Congress to defeat the Trinamool Congress in the state this year is testimony to this.
Bhattacharjee has done many things at the same time. The most serious is that his statement has called into question the Marxist theoretical construct that the Congress is a party of ‘big capitalists and landlords’ and hence, for the CPI(M), the party Bhattacharjee belongs to, it could not be a fellow-traveller.
Maybe in the Left perception, the Congress still has the same class character but that does not matter to them anymore. Next, Bhattacharjee’s call does not make it clear why he is seeking the support of the Congress to dislodge the Trinamool from power.
In what ways is the class character of the Congress different from that of the Trinamool? This is important because in Marxist formulation, political alliances are essentially social alliances.
If the Left is not able to explain it in class terms, it is easily for the cynic to say that for the Left, power alone matters and is not just a means to achieving the greater goal of an egalitarian or a classless society. Also, the Left cannot say that this alliance with the Congress is an expedient measure aimed at countering the more destructive ideology of communalism. The charge of being communal does not stick on the Trinamool.
Coming down from the theoretical plane, what Bhattacharjee has asked for is difficult from the point of view of simple political execution. If the Left were to ally with the Congress in West Bengal, what would happen in Kerala or Tripura?
In both the states, the two formations are in direct opposition. In states where the Left parties are bit players, they have entered into alliances with some parties in one state and opposed the very same ones in others. But a direct alliance with the Congress is something the Left has never done at the level of the states. And if at all they want such an alliance to come through now, they would be hard put to explain why there was no such coming together in the days when it was necessary to counter communalist forces.
Bhattacharjee’s statement can be dissected further. Changing allies from election to election is something the Indian polity has learnt to live with. It is no longer seen as a contradiction in terms.
On the one hand, this means that power is no longer the exclusive preserve of any party. To this extent, this is democratic. But on the other hand this could also mean a tacit understanding among the country’s political elites that for the sake of power, they can have a meeting ground, no matter which party they belong to. This is indicative of a clear hiatus between the leaderships of parties and their rank and file and goes against the basic tenet of democracy that not only do leaders arise out of the masses, they remain rooted to the ground. This is a principle of social democracy, which, in Marxist theory, is a stage in the evolution of history. In saying what he did, Bhattacharjee somewhat belittled his democratic stature, what to speak of being a Marxist!
Chances are that such an alliance will not come through. But where does this leave the CPI(M) and the Left movement, whatever little of it is left? It’s unlikely it will have a rural agenda in the way it had. It is also unlikely that the party would be able to bring into focus the sharp divisions and class conflicts of rural India. Has the CPI(M) abandoned that core constituency? Bhattacharjee’s statement is a straw in the wind.
The views expressed by the author are personal.