Although CPM abandoned the industrial development program in Nandigram, its opponents would not let it off the hook. November 2007 witnessed a renewed crisis of which the likely victim would not be CPM alone but rather the Indian communist movement as a whole.
There are two main trends in the Indian communist movement - one represented by CPM and CPI and the other by the Maoists. In between, there are other Marxist-Leninist parties, which talk like the Maoists but act like CPM-CPI.
The Maoists and Marxist-Leninist parties do not constitute now and are unlikely to constitute in the future the main trend of the Indian communist movement. Therefore the crisis facing CPM is a crisis of the mainstream Indian communist movement and hence ought to be a matter of grave concern to secular, democratic and progressive forces in India.
At one level, it seems that the crisis has been caused by the economic policies of the CPM, which have not garnered the full support of its other left partners such as CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party, RSP, and Forward Bloc, FB (the RSP and FB, which exist at a state level only in West Bengal, do not represent distinct policies, however). The CPM’s economic policy is born out of necessity and is essentially based on the cumulative experience of the communist governments that failed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and also of those that did not fail such as in China and Viet Nam.
While CPM’s economic program and the manner in which it has been implemented could have contributed to the crisis, it is not really the cause of the crisis.
More importantly, the crisis has occurred because the reactionary forces have been waiting for a long time to bring the communist movement to its knees and for them the time was running out. So the very fact that West Bengal, a state where the Left Front led by CPM won a huge electoral victory last year, is in a crisis itself denotes a significant victory for Advani of the BJP and Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. A large number of genuine democratic forces as well as long-standing communists like Ashok Mitra have also been drawn in because the manner in which the CPM has tried to solve the Nandigram issue is extremely shabby and full of violence. The CPM leadership utterly failed to take into consideration the full implications of getting its cadre to forcibly confront the cadre of the Trinamool Congress and Maoist-led BUPC (Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee, or Land Eviction Resistance Committee) who had occupied Nandigram. It is clear that the CPM leadership failed to use a correct approach to defuse the crisis.
Political violence, in which ordinary citizens are brutalized, unfortunately happens all the time, particularly in India, and should always be a matter of grave concern. However, the reaction against CPM has been much more intense compared to that faced by other political parties at other times. Among those enraged by CPM’s actions are enthusiastic Maoists, other Marxist-Leninists, genuine democratic elements and of course diehard reactionaries. The anger of genuine democrats is understandable because they have always opposed violence against people and made no exception in the case of Nandigram. The anger of the Marxist-Leninists and other independent leftists is opportunistic; it is not based on any principle but rather on their long-standing antipathy to CPM.
Communist governments in the past have committed violence against common people. The most important of such unfortunate episodes and the first, happened soon after the birth of Soviet Union. It was the Kronstadt rebellion of March 1921, which some have characterized as the Third Revolution. Workers and soldiers, many of who had participated in the October Revolution, rebelled against the harsh living conditions caused by the War Economy and Bolshevik discipline. The rebellion was brutally crushed on the orders of Lenin and Trotsky. Nearly 1000 workers died during the rebellion and twice as many were executed. The entire Central Committee of the CPSU(B), supported the suppression of the rebellion and the executions.
Lenin’s New Economic Policy, which removed some of the centralized state controls on economic activity, was one outcome of the Kronstadt rebellion. But no one on the left went so far as to call the Bolshevik Party a fascist reactionary party. Even Isaac Deutscher was not that unkind to the Soviet Union or even to Stalin, who executed many, many more communists and others during his tenure.
The problem of CPM is that it is the ruling party in West Bengal and therefore obliged, even if belatedly, to take steps to advance the economy and improve the economic status of the population. Although CPM flaunts the banners of the old communist leaders (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, etc.) neither its General Secretary Karat nor the West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee is a Stalinist. Openly or otherwise they all recognize the constraints of Indian democracy and have learnt lessons from economic policies that failed as well as those that succeeded. It is thus a welcome development that CPM paid attention to industrialization and took steps to implement it in Bengal. What it seems to have ignored, unfortunately, is that it would face more determined opposition than identical (and, perhaps, worse from the standpoint of peasants whose lands were acquired) economic policies carried out by non-communist governments in Western UP, Andhra, Maharashtra and elsewhere in India. So while a fight between supporters of two rival parties is a norm in India and elsewhere (e.g. Chavez’s Venezuela), CPM ought to have used other means than its cadre to violently overturn the illegal occupation of Nandigram by BUPC and others, as argued by All India Muslim-Majlis-e-Mushawarat on Nandigram in their November 16 statement.
No one can blame the opponents of CPM who are exercising their right of free expression guaranteed by the Constitution. They are responsible to no one and their only agenda is anti-CPM. But CPM has a bigger responsibility, the most important of which is to not let the people of India develop hostility towards the communist left. For, when it happens, the beneficiaries would be Advani’s BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and not the Maoists.
* Varma is a supporter and correspondant of left organizations based in Montreal.