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Hysterical materialism

Letter to Prakash Karat from a party worker:

india Updated: May 15, 2011 16:48 IST
Manas Chakravarty

Comrade General Secretary, After the ignominious collapse of 34 years of communism in West Bengal, I am taking the liberty of writing this open letter. Since you are a Marxist theoretician, I am writing it dialectically. Who knows when I will get the chance to strut my expertise in hysterical materialism again.

A spectre is haunting Bengal — the spectre of capitalism. The running dogs of imperialism have won. We have become paper tigers. We have proved once again that communism is the longest route from capitalism to capitalism. All that we had held solid for over three decades has melted into air, all that is holy is profaned. By the way, this stuff is from the Communist Manifesto.

For seven five-year terms, history repeated itself, as Karl Marx said, first as tragedy, but increasingly as farce. I first had an inkling of the change when I was out campaigning. I was telling people of the work we had done for them and how West Bengal had become a land flowing with milk and honey. They were listening to me quietly enough, until a child, who had been hanging on to every word of mine as I described the goodies we had given the people of the state, suddenly started to bawl and said she wanted to go to this wonderful place called West Bengal.

Another signal came when a chap I had met recently asked me what I did. When I mentioned I worked at the party office, he clucked in sympathy and said he too was unemployed.

Despite these setbacks, I did not lose heart and told everybody that the workers of the world must unite — they had nothing to lose but their jobs. I gave them Marx’s famous line, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them... well, I have others,” before someone told me the words were Groucho’s, not Karl’s. I told them of the vast difference between capitalism and socialism, that while under capitalism it was a case of man exploiting man, under socialism it was vice versa.

That was why I was so surprised when we lost the elections. I was under the impression we communists believed in the dictatorship of the secretariat. I was wrong though, because Chairman Mao said that power flows from an electronic voting machine. Elections, after all, are the opium of the masses. The problem, Comrade Karat, is that while you have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.

Anyway, I must thank the party for the lucrative contracts, for the jobs for my relatives, for the protection rackets. From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, and I have big needs.

As Deng Xiaoping said, to be rich is glorious. But the time has come to talk of many things. No, that was the Walrus. The time has come to ask, like Lenin, “What is to be done?”

I have decided to follow Deng, who said it doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice. I am, accordingly, joining the Trinamool Congress. I will be tending to the little matter of transforming Kolkata into London, as Didi has promised, which will mean lots of contracts.

Letter to Karat from a Trinamool Congress worker:

Dear Mr Karat,

I take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the masses of Bengal. All this would have been impossible without you.


Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint

The views expressed by the author are personal