I went for the Puja (pdf), and we were sitting there. The police came and kicked the idol. We appealed to them not to get violent and leave us alone. However they on the contrary started abusing verbally and simultaneously started lathi charge, throwing tear gases and firing bullets. 20 -25 women were beaten and thrown in the trenches and soil filled and road made over it. They killed children- they shot, hacked and even tore them apart with their two legs. 5-6 women were raped and they cant be traced anymore.
-testimony of Lata Mondal, local resident, in English version of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights report on Nandigram
When the police open fire in the name of a Left-wing government, it should always give us pause. There is no question that it is a symptom of a political problem, which requires a political solution. But, it is in this juncture that cooler heads need to prevail. One expects nothing more from the TMC, who not only egged on the situation, but has also, unsuccessfully attempted to collect political capital on it. Nor can one expect much from the Naxalites, the unreconstructed Maoists, who have largely lost control of their political strategy in favor of what was once called the “propaganda of the deed.” Acts of violence against their major political enemy, the Left Front, is their raison d’etre. One does, however, expect more from the reformed Maoists, the anarcho-syndicalists and the non-Party Left. They, after all, could play a good, critical role in West Bengal, pushing from the Left, criticizing and learning. Instead, they have joined with the Trojan Horse of the far right, by an elementary error: to care only for short-term tactics and be blind to long-term strategy. If the TMC had succeeded in breaking the back of the Left, where would this leave the non-Left Front Left? What is their revolutionary strategy in that case?
-Sudhanva Deshpande and Vijay Prashad in Counterpunch, May 23, 2007
After the CPI(M) first gained a share of post-independence power in West Bengal in 1967, the Naxalite movement quickly emerged and there was generally land appropriation, urban labor strife, and student protest. There are different perspectives on the role of CPI(M) in this. Some sources say the CPI(M) was engaged in sectarian warfare with the Naxalites through the early 1970s. These sources also say that they assisted Indira Gandhi’s centre government in “cleaning up” over the next decade and thousands were killed in a combination of sectarian violence and state repression, with the convenience of army troops that were involved in the war to the east in 1971.
On the other hand, author Atul Kohli says that they pursued a policy of deliberate non-interference with the land reform movement at first and were largely successful in governance through the late 80s because of their discipline, willingness, and ability to implement a reform agenda. There were accomplishments like Operation Barga, according to both Kohli and those who disagree with him about whether CPI(M) helped kill the Naxals. This program raised incomes substantially for rural sharecroppers, among the poorest people in the state.
What distinguishes the late 60s, the 70s, the 80s from post-Nandigram, however, is that we are at the end of an impasse: the contradictions of a party of capital disguised as a social democratic party disguised as a communist party have been unleashed. As Brownfrown pointed out here, in recent years, CPI(M) in West Bengal is now a party that espouses communism rhetorically while promoting neoliberalism in practice.
Why is a government calling itself communist killing peasants on behalf of a corporation’s agenda? Some say that Nandigram is really a sectarian fight between Trinamool Congress and CPI(M). But even if that’s the case, why does this allegedly disciplined party allow its cadres to attack people like Medha Patkar, which happened a few weeks ago? Why is Chief Minister Bhuddadeb Bhattacharya so callous about what his administration has wrought? And more broadly, why has the party spent so much time and energy allowing for more and more malls and hotels rather than more Operation Bargas?
This is not your father’s CPI(M).
Perhaps worst of all, with all these flaws, as aigre-doux pointed out to me, CPI(M) has failed even on the grounds of electoral pragmatism on a national level. And this truth is borne out by state and national election results over the past 40 years–they haven’t expanded nationally as the BJP has done, leaving Indian politics dominated by Congress and BJP, with no populist social democratic alternative. I think there’s space for such an alternative on a national level, or perhaps even something better.
In short, it seems that on almost every test a progressive or radical or liberal might want to apply, except the ability to stay in power, the prospect of continued CPI(M) rule in West Bengal is not much to be enthused about. They are neoliberal, they are fascistic in some ways (though perhaps no more so than Congress and definitely not more than BJP), and they are nationally marginalized. At this point, what is the point?
The prospect of change, though, is frightening. From inside my head:
“I don’t really care what the ‘revolutionary strategy’ is of the non-Left Front Left. But perhaps the question is really about what happens if the state gets taken over by Congress or a minor party allied to BJP. What if the state’s politics are Hinduized in the long run. But will the social basis and historical trajectory of the state permit that? And in any case, that’s a defensive posture, and perhaps not something to base political support on. But what if it happens? And what about the nuclear deal?”
And so it goes, in circles.
Of course this is all moot if nothing really changes. Naatok and political posturing are the national sport, but the trajectory for a crack-up of the Left Front seems to be there. There is, I suppose, a meaning to language like “communism”, “left”, and “capitalism” even in electoral politics; CPI(M) in West Bengal might have pushed those boundaries–and those of decency–too far to sustain itself.