(PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The ilk of Karat, Yechury et al must read up on the socio-economic literature of the last 50 years to learn what terms like “bourgeoisie” and “capitalism” mean today.

The world has moved on. The communists of India haven’t.

Reading Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s former general secretary and present politburo member Prakash Karat’s article in The Indian Express (8 Sept.), one would get the drift of reading an NCERT textbook of contemporary history prescribed for high school students. Every premise in that piece is based on an obsolete definition — be it of the bourgeoisie or of capitalism.

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There is also the issue of why a newspaper formerly upholding values of the free market under its previous chief editor should turn left after his resignation. However, since we desist from commenting on fellow journalists, let that be.

In ‘Know your enemy: BJP is an authoritarian, not fascist, force’, Karat says,

The BJP is not an ordinary bourgeois party. Its uniqueness lies in its organic links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The BJP is a right-wing party with respect to its economic and social agenda, and can be characterised as a right-wing party of majoritarian communalism.

The terms that are contentious have been highlighted. “Communalism” is now such a discredited rant, it’s better left unaddressed.

Over centuries, Europe has come to define the bourgeoisie as the upper middle class in a post-feudal setup that can afford to lead a relaxed life on an inherited property, even as the rest of the population slogs to make a decent living.

What is its equivalent in Indian society? The affluent who inherited remnants of the princely states are few and far between. It is doubtful how much influence can be exerted on policy making by a Jyotiraditya Scindia or a Digvijaya Singh even inside the Congress, let alone in a government run by the oldest political party.

In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vasundhara Raje is the chief minister of a state, heading a ruling party voted to power through a democratic process. Nobody has argued so far that Raje’s policies smack of feudalism.

A feudal chieftain of another kind, former union minister Jaswant Singh and his son Manavendra Singh stand marginalised. Nobody has heard of them since 2014 — after the father sulked for being denied a nomination to his favourite seat and the son threw tantrums even after the party considered accommodating him without his father.

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What kind of bourgeoisie are we left with in the Indian polity in general and the BJP in particular? If the stereotype that the BJP is a party of the middle class holds good, is Karat referring to middle-level businessmen, fashion designers, boutique owners, vice presidents and CEOs from the corporate world, owners of flourishing startups? Mind you, it is not our case that these people do not work hard to justify their incomes. The attempt here is to decipher the communist pet peeve. Neither former tea vendor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, BJP office bearer and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi nor former Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activist and intellectual property rights and trademarks lawyer, Arun Jaitley — the No. 1 and No. 2 in this government — would then be bourgeois people. In all likelihood, communists in general and Karat, in particular, use the term casually.

Next, “right wing” is supposed to be reactionary, with no agenda of its own. For the past two-and-a-half years of this government, anything “right wing” that one has observed is in the realm of social media. A howling brigade of known and unknown faces on Twitter and Facebook seem to have nothing constructive to do all day long except chase a bunch of high-profile journalists who appear uncomfortable with the regime change. What is ironical, they have raised the following of these journalists exponentially by obsessing about them.

On the part of the Modi government, where is the social or economic reaction? On the social front, there is no effort to rewrite school textbooks that still peddle Marxist theories in history and outdated British models in science. At the least, there is no attempt to challenge the Right to Education Act that makes formal education impossible to reach every corner of the country.

If a Surya Prakash was made the head of Prasar Bharati, Yellapragada Sudershan Rao the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and Rambahadur Rai the head of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), what paradigm has any of them changed to merit a protest from the communists?

At the most, Rao issued some funny statements after assuming office, which made headlines besides making the urbane right wing run for cover out of sheer embarrassment.

On the economic front, MGNREGA continues, as does the Food Security Act. And every new scheme launched by Modi — like the Mudra Bank or Stand-Up India — is so bureaucracy-driven that status quoists would be delighted today.

If at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit held some months ago Modi complained that reformists don’t tell him how to handle trade unions, in the interview with Network 18 last week he made it clear that this government’s idea of reforms does not match ours. Can there be a greater example of a travesty than the fact that, under Modi, a Sarkari babu decides who is fit to launch a business? That is the crux of the Prime Minister’s Startup India scheme.

Under Mudra, even RSS swayamsevaks who have been sanctioned by the BJP’s state governments to monitor the progress, contacted this columnist to say it’s just not happening. The loan-sanctioning authorities are so scared of their post-retirement benefits getting affected in case the loan applicants turn defaulters that no entrepreneur genuinely in need of support is getting the money, and those who have got it could well have arranged for the capital from other sources.

While staying on the subject of economics, we get back to the issue with Karat’s article and there we see the time warp. He writes,

When the capitalist system was engulfed in deep crisis and faced with the threat from a revolutionary movement of the working class, the ruling classes in Germany opted for an extreme form of rule that abolished bourgeois democracy. Mussolini’s Italy and Japan were also fascist regimes.  

He is not wrong. The above is history indeed. The problem with Karat’s contention is that the theory no longer applies. Things worse than fascism have happened after the two World Wars. The communist-dictated curriculum in schools and universities and the socialist mindset even of journalists of Jawaharlal Nehru’s decades did not let Indians learn of the scourge of Stalinist despotism. The fact is that the world has not known a government more antithetical to the idea of liberty than the one headed by Joseph Stalin and those led by Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.

In a bid to make the USSR surpass the rest of Europe in industrial productivity, Stalin forced workers into 14 man-hours a day in factories in Gulags (Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh LAGerei — Russian for “Chief Directorate of Camps”) located in inhospitable terrains of the Soviet territory like the Arctic, Siberian and remote central Asian regions, which were no more humanitarian than Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps. He officiated over a severe clampdown on church-goers, delegating the job of persecution to Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Tuchkov, the head of the anti-religious arm of the Soviet OGPU (Obyedinyonnoye gosudarstvennoye politicheskoye upravleniye — Russian for “Joint State Political Directorate”). While he turned soft on the Russian Orthodox Church following Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 — in order to rope in the patriots among believers — Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev revived the mutual antagonism between the Communist Party and the ROC.

Under Stalin, there was also the Great Purge against dissenters in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The communist dictator arbitrarily attacked members of his party whom he suspected to belong to rival factions, officers in the Soviet government, farmers and top-ranking soldiers of the Red Army by removing some, prosecuting others and executing the rest. An estimated 6-12 lakh people were butchered under the supervision of Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the Soviet Secret Police NKVD, in the period 1937-38 in what is referred to as Yezhovshchina in books of history.

This despot’s portrait adorns every CPM office! In private conversations where the gullible young are brainwashed, Stalin acquires a cult status where his life history begins with the narrator shedding copious tears on the early life of the Georgian where he is born to an alcoholic cobbler and a housemaid.

But while mentioning Gulags or the Great Purge is taboo in CPM’s workshops — if you raise the issue, they will call you a “bourgeois” or “capitalist” propagandist — the Indian progenies of the Soviets did practise purge in West Bengal. They dubiously endeared to the poor by playing Robin Hood — a brutal one at that — when in March 1970 they attacked a defenceless Sain family, and maimed and slaughtered its male members at will. Throughout the reign of Jyoti Basu, the front page of Anandabazar Patrika would report recovery of corpses of Congress workers from ponds, dump yards, outskirts of Kolkata and even on thoroughfares of suburban Bengal. Such political murders were motivated by a dual strategy of the CPM: to instil fear in the minds of perceived supporters of the establishment and to distribute the land usurped from the affluent class among sharecroppers and tillers who would pledge allegiance to the party.

Today, a Sitaram Yechury may make common cause with Mayawati in Parliament, but in 1979, the police under his ruling party massacred Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, most of whom were Dalits, in Marichjhapi.

Now we come to what Karat and his ilk understand of capitalism. Post-Industrial Revolution, the bunch of industrialists was motley indeed. Being the early birds, they could monopolise the markets of the respective products they made. It is common knowledge that things came to such a pass that the imperialists finally were competing for the same set of customers to sell their produce. That was one of the reasons for the First World War, and the humiliating Treaty of Versailles signed after that turned into the main factor for the rise of nationalism among affronted Germans which, in turn, led to the Second World War.

In all probability, India’s communists do not date socialism back to the Greek epoch of Plato and Aristotle. The farthest they may go in history beyond the Industrial Revolution is the post-French Revolution theories formulated by the likes of François-Noël Babeuf, Philippe Buonarroti, Étienne-Gabriel Morelly and Auguste Blanqui. The France of those times did not have a multiplicity of vendors for the consumers to choose from either.

The group of producers has long ceased to be minuscule, and there is no political power or country that can now capture territories like the British, Germans, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, etc., did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Be it Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan, the strongest military power, the United States, intervenes, messes up the internal politics of the invaded country and then beats a hasty retreat. Imperialism is no longer possible in the changed world order, but our communists continue to suffer from the hangover of the reactionary ideology it got drunk with in the early twentieth century.

The capitalist world today works more on former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Raghuram Rajan’s model propounded in Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists. Here, capitalism and an individual capitalist are mutually at war with each other. Given a choice to influence the government, a capitalist would urge the state to not open the market of a mixed economy up, lest there should be competition to his products. It is precisely that kind of a setup that Karat is comfortable with. If his doctrinaire faction in the CPM despised Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who wished to open Bengal’s economy using the services of the notorious Salem group, the faction was certainly comfortable with Jyoti Basu who was no less a cronyist. Some journalists of the 1980s witnessed Basu’s dining with Rama Prasad Goenka and wining with Russi Mody; arguably, the only flourishing industries of Bengal during Basu’s reign belonged to the Goenkas and the Tatas.

So, if a socialist loves socialism, why wouldn’t a capitalist love capitalism? This paradox can be understood by reading the history of books on political science and economy. Having a monopoly in academia when the rest of society was busy earning two square meals a day, the socialists reserved a lofty name for themselves: socialism meant “for society”. Duplicitous that they are, the socialists, however, did not define capitalism as “for capital”; they made it “with capital”. Which means that, to a communist or socialist, only the privileged few who have the capital are capitalist while the rest of the population — the poor in particular — that is dying for capital isn’t. But if a poor, first-generation entrepreneur wants capital, or if a professor of economics or minister of finance who realises the virtue of capital, is identified as a capitalist, the dichotomy ends. The privileged few will certainly not like a market where everybody can float a shop.

That is precisely where Karat’s real problem lies. It is not with what Modi has done so far. It is with what the Prime Minister could do: make entrepreneurship free rather than guided by bureaucrats and restricted by bank managers. The communists cannot exist in a socio-economic situation where hitherto poor Indians are better off. No communist can afford to recall EMS Namboodiripad’s (in)famous statement made decades ago: “Are you mad? If the poor turn rich, who will vote for us?”

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