Monday, 18 May 2015

To be Marxist or to be communist, that is the question - Revisted

Recently, Times of India Columnist and retired professor of JNU Dipankar Gupta wrote an article following the alleviation of Sitaram Yechuri as the General Secretary of CPI(M), see:

Letter to the Editor – Times of India 2015-04-26, “To be Marxist or to be communist, that is the question”.
Dear Editor:

I enjoyed reading Dipanker Gupta’s article in which he very eloquently puts top CPM leadership in the dock. However, his analysis appears as abstract and disconnected as the CPM’s tactic with common man since it supported Congress led UPA I government in 2004.  As a keen student of Marxism and having taught for 35 years across 4 continents even I had some difficulty in fully grasping the point the author has advanced in his article. Perhaps he could have made it a bit more understandable to a wider readership.  Keeping in view above limitation, I wish to address the main thrust of his article. 

While making a distinction between Marxist and Communist he attacks CPM’s top leadership who had adopted an orthodox rather than dynamic scientific approach in interpreting and applying Marxism to socio-economic reality in India.

Marxism is an economic and political philosophy driven by materialist view of history and social reality. A Marxist is he who not only shares that view but also advances it.  As Marx wrote in the Poverty of Philosophy- in response to Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty as follows:

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways—the point however is to change it" (Karl Marx).  

Marx famously puts Hegel "on his head" by arguing that man has the capacity to determine history by his actions. In this way, Marx thinks that it is possible for philosophy to change the world if it is oriented towards the possibility of action, rather than simply interpretation or theory.  Hence, simply understanding the world is not enough because you shouldn't perceive the world and everything in it as a static and transcending time, but as a constantly changing set of relationships and the nexus between them that are governed by proclivities but also are capable to stray through "random" events or conscious interventions of the masses. The History drives itself in a deterministic way, but also conscious intervention is possible and sometimes required. The whole point of the above phrase is that we need to understand which way history CAN go and consciously chose the most positive scenario as your political strategy.
On the other hand, a Communist is an actor of the Communist Party which represents the tangible consciousness of a class (mainly the working class) to realise desired objectives: (i) at first stage establishment of a socialist states which eventually wither away to reach the (ii) ultimate goal of communism. A casual reading of the Communist Manifesto makes it unequivocally clear that class struggle is the backbone of that path, but other tactics are not completely ruled out. However, since Marx was a product of industrial revolution, at the relevant time, classes like Bourgeois and Proletariat were by and large clearly crystallised and the antagonistic contradiction was the main focus of organising the working class against the bourgeois, but non-antagonistic contradictions issues such as education and health which were of concern for a vast majority of people as the author pointed out in the Communist Manifesto part 2) were not completely ruled out. In fact, a well known Marxist (some called her a feminist) Kollantai said that the women question cannot be resolved even under  socialism, a transitional stage to communism. Following the passing of equality bill in the Parliament in 2010 the ideological enemies Sushma Swaraj of BJB and Brinda Karat of CPM embraced the victory publicly with a huge HUG. No one knew except this writer who wrote, “I wonder what are they celebrating, an introduction to love or death”.  Even after 150 years the orthodox communists continued to beat the same drums, “Punjiwad to Aag Laga Do”, i.e., Death to Capitalism.  However, capitalism has changed its face (form) much faster than its worst enemies the communists, but no doubt it has not changed its nature (essence).     

The above rhetoric is incompatible with the new theory of industrial organisation propounded under the umbrella of Neo-classical economics. The structure of ownership has drastically changed since 1960s from sole ownership & partnerships to loosely held corporations owned by millions regardless of size of their stakes. The new theory separates the owners (shareholders) from the control (managers). In all, but small organizations social choice takes place by way of delegation of power from many to a few called the agents (managers) who may or may not have stake in the corporations.  20th Congress of the CPM revealed that even many leaders of the Party held shares in the corporations and also spend more time play in speculative activities rather than in party work. Hence, actors of the communist party labour more to preserve the status-quo than engaging in the party activities to overthrow the bourgeois as pledged in their Manifestos.  So one wonders how traditional slogan of “Death to Capitalism” helps here as many of the common owners would turn against the working class! This is a real dilemma CPM faces today. 

The author correctly identifies lack of revolutionary fervour in SitaramYechuri’s speech which had no reference to either the “Class Struggle” or even “Operation Barga”, a very important achievement of Joyti Basu’s LDF government although it was too much to expect given his petty bourgeois socio-economic background. Guy has no mass base and has risen to the highest office in supposedly a proletarian party without shading a drop of sweat, a scratch in scuffle with police and spending a night in a prison cell in any fight for Peoples’ Democratic Revolution.  How could anyone expect from him otherwise?      
As to Sitaram’s reference to US President Roosevelt’s New Deal Policy there is no harm in highlighting the issue raised by him in his 1936 speech in support of General Motors’ workers. One could get a flavour from an American movie Capitalism A Love Story by Moore made in 2010 following the worldwide crises of capitalism in 2008,

The film then shows the events leading up to the 2008 U.S. election, where branding of capitalism as socialism occurs as part of the scare campaign. Moore expressing hope that the election of Barack Obama might turn things into the right track. The film then contrasts the present economic reality in America with the policy of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who supported the Flint Sit-Down Strike in 1936. Moore also includes a long-lost archival footage of FDR calling for a Second Bill of Rights that would guarantee all Americans "a useful job, a decent home, adequate health care, and a good education."[

Although the idea is novel to deal with the non-antagonistic issues which sound better than many social programs CPM has taken in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, how far it would be possible to provide all the above to all citizens in a capitalist society?

I agree with the author that a real Marxist is he who is willing to adopt new tactics in changing environment. However, to say that the Class Struggle is dysfunctional in a democracy is contrary to example of Latin American experience and the spirit of the Communist Manifesto on which the author relies.  In fact,  abandonment of the class struggle and CPM’s failure to capitalize on its achievements on land reforms, delivery on social indicators, and support to Congress led hotchpotch government in 2004 gave an  impression to common man that the CPM was no longer a party that once stood on the principle  of class struggle and socialism. After the split of CPI in 1964 I wonder how the author could characterize Ajay Bhawan as a symbol of class struggle or revolution!!   

Author appears to be correct about Yechuri who opposed not only withdrawal of support to UPA I, but he also opposed expulsion of Somnath Chatterjee. In fact, his love is not yet lost for Congress when he appeared trigger happy to march behind Sonia Gandhi to hand in a petition on Land Acquisition Bill. Needles to mention it also became evident when he told Burkha Dutt of NDTV in a Town Hall meeting with the students of Stephen College  just a couple of weeks before the Parliament elections, “I wanted Mrs Sonia Gandhi to be Prime Minister in 2004”.    

“To be Marxist or to be communist, that is the question”?  I believe these terms are complimentary rather than mutually exclusive and intrinsic to Marxism, but Yechuri does not seem to fit in with either!!   Given the conduct of JNUine Marxists young generation realise, “Thanks God we are not Marxists”!!

Prof Suresh Deman

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