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But Prabhat Patnaik is an Honourable Man

December 13, 2007

[This is my response to the article by Prabhat Patnaik circulating over on the Net. His original article can be read at the end of this response. We have reproduced it in full. - AN]

This piece could be read as a letter addressed to one of my former, esteemed, ideologue-theoreticians. As young students in the 1970s and 1980s, we often went to listen, starry-eyed, to this soft-spoken theorist expound on what we thought were complex issues of our times and come back mesmerized. Yes, Prof Prabhat Patnaik (PP) was one of our idols. Today he fell and smashed himself. And then something strange happened: the broken pieces rearranged themselves to reveal a frightful other face – the face of comrade stalin.

Since Patnaik has referred to all critics of the CPM as “anti-Left intellectuals”, and has also specifically referred to the letter signed by some of us (including me), I think it would not be wrong to assume that the entire article is also addressed, among thousands of others, to me (though I may be pardoned for assuming that a nacheez like me should even exist on his radar!). Since all those who had signed the statement may have their own responses to PP – and some might not legitimately wish to stoop to the level this once-saintly figure has – I must speak for myself here.

Sometime ago, former West Bengal finance minister and marxist economist Ashok Mitra had written a piece on the happenings in Nandigram. It appeared in Ananda Bazar Patrika and was subsequently translated into English and widely circulated. In that piece, Mitra had suggested “prominent economist and party comrade of the stature of Prabhat Patnaik is hounded” by the party leadership in Alimuddin Street. In a way, we sort of knew it; rather, we hoped it would be true. An intellectual like Prof Patnaik cannot possibly be a cog in the stalinist machine, even though he may have stepped in to sign dubious statements not so long ago. We had assumed that given the political history of stalinist Marxism with intellectuals who were maligned, denigrated, humiliated and finally put before the firing squad, Patnaik had made his ‘existential choice’ a la Georg Lukacs. Lukacs, one of the most brilliant philosophical minds, decided to remain in the ranks (the ‘camp of the people’, in Patnaik’s words) and become the voice of stalinism for decades thereafter. Need we recall the whole list of such people – intellectuals – who were thus repeatedly destroyed? And do we need to tell you that so far only fascism or Nazism has been able to compete with the communist record.

We naively expected this even after we knew that years ago, Comrade Patnaik and his CESP comrades had celebrated the infamous August 1991 coup d’ `etat in the then USSR that briefly deposed Mikhail Gorbachev. Patnaik’s recent article, doing the rounds on email and list-serves is of a piece with that forgotten Patnaik. For, he describes all critics of the CPM, including the signatories of the letter as “in any case strongly anti-organized Left, especially anti-Communist (and in particular anti-CPM), belonging as the do to the erstwhile ‘socialist’ groups, to NGOs, to the ranks of Naxalite sympathizers, to the community of ‘Free Thinkers’, and to various shades of ‘populism’”.

Despite his sympathies for Patnaik (‘who is being hounded’), Ashok Mitra too has forfeited his friendship and respect. For has not Mitra too committed blasphemy by doing what PP has accused all of us of? Listen to Mitra before we proceed. He says: “Till death I would remain guilty to my conscience if I keep mum about the happenings of the last two weeks in West Bengal over Nandigram. One gets torn by pain too. Those against whom I am speaking have been my comrades at some time. The party whose leadership they are adorning has been the centre of my dreams and works for last sixty years.”

My purpose here is not to contest the factual claims made by Prof Patnaik. Rather, I would like to examine some of his more revealing statements and theoretical propositions.

PP starts his article with a certain touching innocence: “why have these people turned against us?”, he asks. After all, he tells his party readers, “they may have been anticommunist, anti-CPM, Naxalites, NGO-ites,” “but they did make common cause with us till recently.” “Why is it suddenly so different now?” This is truly touching because it shows the make-believe world that Communists live in, where they cannot understand the elementary fact of change. It suddenly reminded me of another ‘sad’ incident narrated by Slavoj Zizek. It goes like this: In Romania, the magical spell of ‘communism’ was broken quite dramatically, says Zizek. After the demonstrations in Timisoara against the government, in order to prove that he still enjoyed popular support Ceausescu convened a mass rally in Bucharest. “The crowd started to shout at Ceausescu, who then raised his hands in a tragicomic and bewildered display of impotent paternal love, as if wanting to embrace them all.” Little did he believe that this was the beginning of his end.

To this day, there are people who believe that the collapse of socialism was an imperialist conspiracy and look back longingly at the 1991 coup as a last ray of hope that vanished thanks to the CIA!

Interestingly, one of the characteristics of the stalinist method is deployed by Patnaik to brilliant effect. It should be underlined here: After asking why is it that ‘even’ somewhat sensible people (if they made common cause with you at some point, they must be at least partly sensible) have turned against us, you do not ask what ordinary mortals might. You do not ask, “did we do something wrong?” After all what have we done to lose the trust of our own supporters? There are communist, indeed former CPM supporters also among those who are today criticizing us. That is foreign to the stalinist mind. On the contrary, you ask: what is it with them that they have turned against us? Something must be cooking? Have they been bribed by Satan? Has Imperialism been upto some tricks? Surely some Conspiracy must be underway….

But just to set the record straight for PP and his comrades. Yes, we did make common cause with your party. We made every attempt in every possible way to stay together and work on issues of common concern. At every stage people had to deal with the antics of your comrades who believed that they had the contract or better, the Divine Right of being the Vanguard of History, who therefore believed that for this reason nothing should happen except under their leadership.

There was this huge joint demonstration in Bangalore a couple of years ago, where participants discovered to their horror, on reaching the maidan, that the stage had been set up and captured by the CPM. The venue was decorated with CPM flags and the entire control was in their hands. We have innumerable such instances from every part of the country. Or take the antiwar demonstrations in Delhi. Some of the largest joint rallies were held after the US attack on Afghanistan. But then, the CPM suddenly woke up and by the time of the attack on Iraq, your party decided to ‘take over’. It did. The fledgling joint movement was split. Finally there were rallies ‘under your leadership’ where your comrades treated us, hapless participants, to the outpourings of a Joginder Sharma (don’t ask us who he is!) and such others. The result was that in subsequent years, when there were coordinated global demonstrations against the War on Iraq, people gradually dropped out and there were only small CPM demos in Indian cities – the party machinery could never mobilize more than a few hundreds except in Kerala and West Bengal.

The list is really long and begins right at the time of the most vicious manifestation of the Hindutva threat: the day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Hundreds of people had assembled at the Vithalbhai Patel House lawns. Ask your comrades what happened that day – that shameful day. Even on that day, the CPM refused to hold a joint programme on an equal basis. Senior citizens like Rajni Kothari were not allowed to speak. In full public view, the then state secretary of the CPM told the police, pointing to another small group of CPI(ML) Liberation activists, that “they are not part of our demonstration.” The police proceeded to cordon them off. A few hundred of us came back and were forced to hold another meeting. That was when the People’s Movement for Secularism (PMS) was born.

Some day, all this history will have to be written and it will stink, professor Patnaik. And just to set the record further straight, all this (except for the PMS story) was WHILE THE BJP-NDA WAS STILL IN POWER. Some day, the history of organizations and coalitions like the CNDP will be written and the sordid story of how the World Social Forum process came to be captured by the CPM to the point of making it meaningless, will be uncovered.

Dear Prof Patnaik, you are quite fond of claiming a radical and ‘political’ mantle for yourself, but if you had spent just one day trying to organize the joint struggles that you nostalgically look back at, you would realize how out of tune you sound to everybody but your vanguard comrades.

So, let us take the theoretical propositions and charges, one by one.

PP explains his – and his comrades’ bewilderment – by making an assertion: The coming out of these “anti-Left” intellectuals “openly against the Left” can only be explained with reference to the process of destruction of politics that the phenomenon of globalization has unleashed. There is no argument. Only further assertions to the effect that: “The anti-Left intellectuals say: politics is filthy; rise above politics; detach the struggle against ‘development’ from politics.” Who precisely said this, Professor Patnaik? And where? Any references? The constant refrain here is ‘Politics’ that is repeated like a mantra along with “Left” and counterposed to “anti-politics” and “anti-Left”. So what is this politics? If you try to sift through the definitional web of assertions, you will be able to isolate two ideas:

(1) The Left is something given; some people are born with into it. Else, they have to be certified by the Church or some favoured appointees. THEY do not have to prove anything. Others are by definition, anti-Left. (2) This idea is related to the idea that POLITICS is about two camps: ‘the camp of the people’ and the camp of the ‘enemies of the people’ (those hostile etc). Now since the Left is, by definition, in the camp of the people (remember the contract?), anybody else can only be against the ‘people’, and the Left and therefore, antipolitical.

Quite apart from the fact that Prof Patnaik, that mesmerizing ideologue-theoretician of yore, does not seem to have read anything about any movement since the Cuban revolution, his views on politics actually make one squirm. Did he remember, by the way, that the Cuban revolution was made against the hated Batista regime that was supported by the Communist Party? Is he aware that the new left wing formations that have arisen all across the South American continent, movements that his party does not cease to invoke in its support, are all movements that arisen on the debris of old-style communist politics? From the Zapatistas to the Movement for Socialism of Evo Morales, the Workers’ Party of Brazill, or the Bolivarian revolution of Chavez – all of them, despite their limitations, have managed to make any kind of headway by breaking with that old politics.

We could actually go on, both from the history of Marxism and from the more recent history of anti-globalization struggles to show how the idea of ‘politics’ being enunciated by Prof Patnaik is at least three decades old. This is not the place for a discussion of those movements but we invite Prof Patnaik – or any of his other comrades to an open debate on this in any neutral ground of his choosing.

In any case, apropos of this idea of a world divided into two camps, my point, for the time being, is simply this: By your definition, esteemed professor, neither feminism, nor the Dalit movement nor the sexuality and ecological struggles qualify for either the category ‘political’ or ‘radical’. (By the way, what is their ‘principal contradiction’, and why should they care about yours?).

Now, I can almost hear shocked marxists exclaim, “of course! Class is the Real Thing, the Principal Contradiction”. So for these marxist comrades, let me just remind them that in the meantime, your own class is rapidly rejecting you – if there was any doubt, in the first place, that is. The CITU has come down even below the AITUC in terms of working class membership – a steady decline over the years. On the other hand, the Left has lost the first ever secret ballot in the railway unions. The people, indeed the ‘working class’ too, rejects ‘Politics’! They need your political catechism Prof Patnaik, sorely. Or else, it is time you should think whose vanguard you want to be.

One more word about the ‘two camps’ notion of politics: Was NATO right in bombarding Serbia and Milosevic? Especially considering that a veritable process of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Muslims had been going on under his leadership? We all participated in antiwar demonstrations against the NATO but would your two-camp notion of politics say that all those Leftists who saw Milosevic as the most immediate danger, were anti-political, anti-Left? And what about those who were being eliminated? They were being silly in welcoming the NATO bombs? Anti-political “messianic moralism”? They should have written “friendly petitions” to Milosevic, or “open letters”? Why were they becoming accomplices of imperialism? And what about the Kurdish people killed in a virtual genocide by the anti-imperialist Saddam Hussain? Does an opposition to the US attack on Iraq mean that all criticism and even strident criticism of such ‘anti-imperialism’ be suppressed?
Finally, Prof PP says, “this attack inspired by messianic moralism has been launched when the latter [the Left] is in the forefront of an extremely crucial but difficult struggle against the attempt of imperialism to make India its strategic ally.” Well, if you really wish to break the possibility, take a leaf out of the book of Brazil or South Africa and take a unilateral position in favour of abandoning the nuclear programme, which is indefensible in every possible way. Everything else is hot air.

————————————

THE LEFT AND ITS “INTELLECTUAL” DETRACTORS

PRABHAT PATNAIK

With normalcy returning to Nandigram, and with the heat generated over it in intellectual circles somewhat subsiding, it is time for us to ask the question: why did so many intellectuals suddenly turn against the Party with such amazing fury on this issue?

This question is important because joining issue with them on the basis of facts on the specificities of Nandigram, which is what we have been doing till now, is not enough. It is not enough for instance to underscore the fact, implicitly or explicitly denied by virtually all of them, that thousands of poor people were driven out of their homes into refugee camps for the only “crime” of being CPI(M) supporters; it is not enough to argue against them that there was no semblance of an excuse for keeping Nandigram out of bounds for these refugees and for the civil administration even after
the Left Front government had categorically declared that no chemical hub would be built there; it is not enough to point out that the so-called “re-occupation” of Nandigram in November was an act of desperation which followed the failure of every other effort at restoring normalcy and
bringing the refugees back to their homes. All these facts and arguments have been advanced at length, and are by now passé. But the phenomenon of several intellectuals who till yesterday were with the Left in fighting communal fascism but have now turned against it requires serious analysis.

There is no gainsaying that the Left Front government made serious mistakes in handling the Nandigram issue; and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has said so in as many words. But disagreement with the LF over this could have taken the
form of friendly criticism, articles, and open letters, and not of such outright hostility that even put the LF on a par with communal fascism. Likewise disagreements over the LF’s industrialization policy could have been aired in a manner that had none of the ferocity which has been recently displayed. Differences with the LF, even basic differences, therefore cannot suffice as an explanation of what we have just witnessed.

Likewise, the fact that most of these intellectuals are in any case strongly anti-organized Left, especially anti-Communist (and in particular anti-CPI(M)), belonging as they do to the erstwhile “socialist” groups, to NGOs, to the ranks of Naxalite sympathizers, to the community of “Free Thinkers”, and to various shades of “populism”, would not suffice as an
explanation. After all, despite this basic hostility to the organized Left, they did make common cause with it on several issues till recently. Why is it suddenly so different now?

The context clearly has changed. With the perceived decline in the strength of the communal fascist forces, a certain fracturing of the anti-communal coalition was inevitable and has happened, and this no doubt provides the setting in which it becomes possible for these intellectuals to express in
the open the hostility which they might have felt all along against the Left. Indeed, this perceived weakening of the BJP may even encourage attempts, on the part of intellectuals hostile to the Left but aligned to it earlier owing to the pressure of circumstances, at establishing a sort of
intellectual hegemony over society at large at the expense of the Left. But while the recession of the communal fascist threat certainly creates the condition for these intellectuals to come out openly against the Left, the manner of their coming out cannot be explained only by this fact. It indicates something more serious, namely the process of destruction of
politics that the phenomenon of globalization has unleashed.

The crux of political praxis consists at any time in distinguishing between two camps: the camp of the “people” and camp hostile to the interests of “the people”. This distinction in turn is based on an analysis of the
prevailing contradictions, and the identification of the principal contradiction, on the basis of which the composition of the class alliance that constitutes the camp of “the people” is determined. And corresponding to this constellation of classes, there is a certain constellation of political forces among whom relations have to be forged. It is obvious that
the relationship between the political forces representing the classes that constitute the camp of the people at any time, and the nature of criticism among these forces, must be different from the relationship and criticism across camps. Not to distinguish between the camps, not to distinguish
between alternative constellations of political forces, but to club them together on the basis of the identical nature of their presumed moral trespasses, is to withdraw from politics. What is striking about the attitude of the intellectuals arrayed against the organized Left at present is their complete withdrawal from the realm of political praxis to a realm
of messianic moralism.

Such messianic moralism is not just politically counter-productive. The withdrawal from the realm of politics that it signifies, strengthens politically the camp of the “enemies of the people”. (In India for instance the attack inspired by messianic moralism that has been launched on the
organized Left at a time when the latter is in the forefront of an extremely crucial but difficult struggle against the attempt of imperialism to make India its strategic ally, weakens that struggle, and thereby plays into the hands of imperialism). But messianic moralism, quite apart from its palpable
political consequences, is smug, self-righteous, self-adulatory, and, above all, empty. An attitude that does not distinguish between types of violence, between the different episodes of violence, that condemns all violence with equal abhorrence, that places on a footing of equality all presumed perpetrators of violence, amounts in fact to a condemnation of nothing. To
say that all are equally bad is not even morally meaningful.

This messianic moralism, this withdrawal from politics, is based fundamentally on a disdain of politics, of the messy world of politics, which is far from being peopled by angels. It constitutes therefore a mirror image of the very phenomenon that it seeks to resist, namely the “cult of development” spawned by neo-liberalism. Manmohan Singh says: politics is
filthy; rise above politics; detach “development” from politics. The anti-Left intellectuals say: politics is filthy; rise above politics; detach the struggle against “development” from politics.

This disdain for politics, this contempt for the political process, is what characterizes substantial sections of the middle class in India today. It is visible in the absolute opposition of the students of elite institutions to the legislation on reservations passed unanimously by parliament. It is
visible in the persistent resort to the judicial process to overturn decisions of legislatures, and the exhortations to the judiciary to act as a body superior to the elected representatives of the people. This middle class contempt for politics and politicians is apparent in the rise of movements like “Youth For Equality” that make no secret of it and whose
avowed aim is to combat “affirmative action” which they consider to be the handiwork of “opportunist” politicians.

The rise of messianic moralism is a part of the same trend, which is nothing else but a process of “destruction of politics”. Middle class moralism upholds causes, not programmes. It flits from cause to cause. And it apotheosizes the absence of systematic political alliances. Some may call it “post-modern politics”, but it amounts to a negation of politics.

Messianic moralism always has a seductive appeal for intellectuals. To avoid systematic partisanship, to stand above the messy world of politics, to pronounce judgements on issues from Olympian moral heights, and to be applauded for one’s presumed “non-partisanship”, gives one a sense of both
comfort and fulfillment. This seductive appeal is heightened by the contemporary ambience of middle class disdain for politics which the phenomenon of globalization, subtly but assiduously, nurtures and promotes.

The answer to the question with which we started, namely why have so many intellectuals turned against the Left with such fury, lies to a significant extent in the fact that this fury against the Left is also fed by a revolt against politics. The revolt against the CPI(M) is simultaneously a revolt against politics. The combination of anti-communism with a rejection of politics in general gives this revolt that added edge, that special anger. It is the anger of the morality of the “anti-political” against the morality of the “political”, for Communism, notwithstanding its substitution of the
“political” for the “moral”, has nonetheless a moral appeal. The venom in the anti-Left intellectuals’ attack on the Left comes from the fact that this struggle, of the “morality of the anti-political” against the “morality of the political”, takes on the character of a desperate last struggle, a final push to destroy the latter, since “our day has come at last!”.

Ironically it was a group of US-based academics led by Noam Chomsky who sought to introduce a political perspective to the anti-Left agitation of the intellectuals on Nandigram. It is they who pointed out that in the anti-imperialist struggle, which is the defining struggle of our times (the struggle around the principal contradiction), the organized Left was an
essential component of the camp of the “people”, and that nothing should be done to disrupt the unity of the camp of the “people”. But the response of the anti-Left intellectuals to the injection of this political perspective was a barrage of attacks on Chomsky et al for taking a “pro-CPI(M)” position. A political position ipso facto was identified as a “pro-CPI(M)”
position. There could be no clearer proof of the proposition that the revolt of the intellectuals against the Left was simultaneously a revolt against politics, a disdain for politics that has become so prevalent a phenomenon in the era of globalization that it affects as much the proponents of
globalization as its avowed critics. In fact these critics and the votaries of imperialist globalization share in this respect the same terrain of discourse.

The hallmark of the organized Left lies precisely in the fact it rejects this terrain of discourse, that it accords centrality to politics, that it does not substitute an abstract Olympian moralism for concrete political mobilization. It is for this reason therefore that the Left’s attitude to these intellectuals must be informed by politics; it cannot be a mirror image of their attitude to the Left.

Prabhat Patnaik
Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru

University, New Delhi
Vice Chair, Planning Board, Government of Kerala.
_________________________________________

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Ajit permalink
    December 13, 2007 10:25 AM

    This is a very good article.I agree with you on everything except this.

    One more word about the ‘two camps’ notion of politics: Was NATO right in bombarding Serbia and Milosevic? Especially considering, that a veritable process of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Muslims had been going on under his leadership? We all participated in antiwar demonstrations against the NATO but would your two-camp notion of politics say that all those Leftists who saw Milosevic as the most immediate danger, were anti-political, anti-Left?

    This is NATO Propaganda. Milosevic was not carrying out any ethnic cleansing in Kosovo much less a Genocide. Mistreatment Yes, Ethnic Cleansing No.
    If you read Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman you would realise the expulsion of Kosovar Albanians happened AFTER the NATO bombing.
    Even the most hawkish member of NATO Coalition , the British, conceded privately that of the 2000 deaths occured in Kosovo the year before NATO Bombing (only Chomsky noted this) , only 500 were killed by Serbians. The rest by KLA, the CIA’s army. KLA killed the rest of 1500. They did it to lure the NATO. They knew NATO would come if they kept up the conflict.
    What is more interesting the Kosovar Albanians returned to Kosovo after the War. But the Serbs who fled didn’t return. The remaining serbs were themselves targets of mini ethnic cleansing done by KLA in 2004. And now there are hardly any Serbs in that province. The remaining will quite possibly expelled in the coming months or years. And I bet we won’t hear anything about their trauma.

    You can read this article by Diana Johnstone.

    http://counterpunch.org/johnstone12122007.html

    The mythology about Demon Milosevic has penetrated even the Anti Imperialist Left. This is quite tragic. The claim that Milosevic is responsible for all or even the most of the Yugoslav Tragedy is pure Mythology. He was definitely a crooked politico in many respects, just like many third world Politicos. But not the Genocidal Monster he is accused of.
    The Balkan wars became a matter of religious fanaticism among Western intellectuals, across the spectrum. Any questioning of the Party Line elicits utter hysteria.

  2. Jayaraman permalink
    December 13, 2007 5:43 PM

    I am curious. Who is the author of this critical response to
    Prabhat Patnaik’s article? Or is it circulating anonymously?

  3. Aditya Nigam permalink
    December 13, 2007 8:25 PM

    The name of the author of the post (myself) is written directly below the title, as you will find if you scroll back up. Why on earth did you think it might be anonymous?

  4. December 14, 2007 1:49 AM

    Kudos Aditya!
    The way CPM uses past-intellectual capital to buy off fleeing intellectual audience at present is something that needs to be exposed.
    There are many at work feverishly to prove that the CPM is essentially a divided house – the Democratic Party of USA does this regularly by launching “left” caucuses like Porgressive Democrats, etc only to stop parts of its membership to lose the faith.
    It is very important to understand that CPM is united in action in whatever it did in Nandigram, Singur, Rizwanur issue.Parties like the BJP, CPM, Congress, etc have their Marichjhhapis, Nandigrams, Dang massacres,Kashpur Baranagars, etc well known.Its is imperative that they do a soft cop- hard cop thing between them.Also is important that they do a soft-cop / hard -cop thing within each party – BJP does it, CPM does it- so that the disenchanted that linger around for a change.It is also funny to see how limited Patnaik’s view of the left is- so limited that he also talks slantingly of Free Thinkers – now JNU is important, but even they have booted out Free Thinkers as well as the SFI…the earlier one long ago and the SFI only of late.
    One has to remain vigilant about these straw men CPM sets up and then flex muscles to demolish them.
    Speaking of JNU, SFI unabashingly was putting up a militant posters and stance on Bhopal Gas issue.May be they “marched” too.
    And it is a joke since
    1. Chingari Trust, Bhopal Gas pirit sangharsh samiti are in solidairity of the resitance at Nandigram and against the butchers of Nandigram.Ask Satthu any time.
    2.The company on whose back Dow Chemicals / Union Carbide wants to piggyback to come to India is the same company who are bringing the Great Leap Forward by making a car plant in Singur.
    3.Nandigram and Dow have a nasty connection that CPM doesnt want us to know.
    Go here to read:

    http://www.bhopal.net/blog_act/archives/2007/06/bhopal_survivor_2.html

    http://www.rediff.com/money/2007/jun/05gas.htm

  5. Indranil Chowdhury permalink
    December 14, 2007 6:06 AM

    Prabhat Patnaik (PP) is indeed an honourable man. As a former student of his at JNU I am convinced about that. When “intellectuals” like Aditya Nigam have conveniently changed his colours and joined the anti-CPI (M) bandwagon, Prabhat Patnaik continues to stand by his convictions.

    Aditya Nigam has invoked Ashok Mitra’s (AM) article to criticize PP. I have read both versions of AM’s article. It is indeed striking that when AM is talking about PP being humiliated by the CPI (M) led Government in Bengal, PP has actually come out in their defence. AM has talked about Jyoti Basu today resembling the incarcerated Shah Jahan. However, he has not realized that he is looking a bit like Mir Zafar himself. He has held the LF Government responsible for the violence not only on BUPC supporters but also for the forced eviction of the CPI (M) supporters! He did not spare a single word of criticism against those who carried out atrocities against poor CPI (M) supporters. AM has also said that the main reason why the CPI (M) has degenerated in West Bengal is because most Party members there now belong to the post-1977 era. Does he expect the CPI (M) to comprise of old people only? This meaningless argument itself shows AM’s disturbed state of mind which makes it impossible for him to take a rational position. Perhaps he has become too cynical.

    Prabhat Patnaik on the other hand had the courage to stand by the CPI (M), despite the West Bengal Chief Minister publicly disagreeing with him (in a television interview). This not only shows his high personal integrity but also the fact that neither he nor the CPI (M) are so-called stalinist parties. Differences are respected and yet debates do not degenerate into personal squabbles. Aditya Nigam’s of the world though continue to conjure the ghost of stalinism within CPI (M).

    I think there are several problems with Stalin. But after all Stalin was a great leader of the Communist international. The USSR defeated the german fascists in WWII under his leadership. If the CPI (M) continues to uphold that legacy of Stalin, what is the harm. Just because Mao committed the blunder of cultural revolution does not mean he had no contribution – afterall he led the revolution in China. We have to take a balanced view about these Communist leaders and not use words like stalinism or maoism as abuses. But a communist party of the 21st century cannot be like the old ones – there has to be greater democratic space for debate, discussion and dissent. I think that the CPI (M) has moved in that direction and continues to do so.

    The Cuban Communists or Chavez (or all those who Aditya Nigam refers to as non-stalinist left) also recognize the CPI (M) as the biggest and most consequential contingent of the Left in India. If Mr. Aditya Nigam is drawing his inspiration from them, then he should explain why they consider CPI (M) to be their ally. The fact remains that the Left in India cannot be strengthened by weakening the CPI (M). It is this truth which Prabhat Patnaik has upheld and which Aditya Nigam, who neither have any serious contribution nor any stakes in the Left movement in the country, refuses to understand.

  6. December 14, 2007 6:56 AM

    Replying to renegade Nigam:

    http://www.pragoti.org/pragoti/news_detail.php?news_id=436&sessionid=

    Comments Abhay Kumar

    Dec 14th, 2007 at 5:22 am

    Dear Adityaji,

    I have some observations regarding your response to Prabhat Patnaik’s article.

    Firstly, your assertions rather than refuting Prof. Patnaik’s reinforces them. You are using the same old cliche of “stalinism” against him and the CPM which was used by anti-Communist forces in former USSR and Eastern Europe to subvert the socialist regimes there. The point today is not whether those socialist regimes were democratic – they were obviously not. however, can what has replaced those regimes be called “Left” or more democratic? are people better off in those countries today? Hasn’t the collapse of USSR and the Socialist bloc helped imperialism? but one finds your anger only against those socialist regimes; neither against the neoliberal regimes that supplanted them nor against imperialism. This shows the problem with your politics. In fact Prof. Patnaik takes a more charitable view when he says you lack politics. I think you have a politics which ultimately serve the cause of the Right and Imperialism, just like the confused post-modern intellectuals of the West.

    Secondly, Prof. Patnaik has explicitly stated that the CPM-led government in bengal has committed mistakes. One does not find any recognition on your part, let alone any critique of the wrong-doings of the anti-CPM opposition in Bengal, which includes the far-Right too. Are you saying that there was no violence against the CPM in Nandigram. Then please say so explicitly and provide evidence for your assertion. Or else please explain why you are silent on the violence by the opposition and criticizing the CPM of being “stalinist”? Or else you would not even qualify for being the “messianic moralist” that Prof.Patnaik has alleged.

    Finally, you seem to have several personal reasons to oppose the CPM – it seems they have never given you and your friends sufficient importance while conducting joint programs. It is surely their mistake to have ignored an intellectual of your stature. However, if you represent a more enlightened “Left” than the CPM or Prof. Patnaik, why don’t you come up with a better Left alternative so that we can all join you. If you can’t form a party yourself, why don’t you suggest the name of one which we can join. If you can’t suggest any alternative to the CPM, then you are being totally irresponsible. I may have one hundred and one problems with the CPM but i trust them on fighting imperialism and the nuclear deal. However much i may fall in love with your ideas, what is its worth if it does not make any difference to the fight against imperialism?

    The difference between you and Prof. Patnaik are many. The most imporant one, however, is that Prof. Patnaik is a Party intellectual – like George Lukacs (as you have yourself noted) – according to Gramsci they are the best of intellectuals. They have the courage to swim against the tide and stand for truth, reason and justice. Therefore, people like me will continue to listen to him with starry eyes. As far as you are concerned, your voices would at best be appropriated by the Right to attack the Left. Worse, you will continue to remain a misnomer. Regard,

    Abhay

    ________________________________________________________________________

    Comment by Indranil Chowdhury Dec 14th, 2007 at 6:06 am

    Prabhat Patnaik (PP) is indeed an honourable man. As a former student of his at JNU I am convinced about that. When “intellectuals” like Aditya Nigam have conveniently changed their colours and joined the anti-CPI (M) bandwagon, Prabhat Patnaik continues to stand by his convictions.

    Aditya Nigam has invoked Ashok Mitra’s (AM) article to criticize PP. I have read both versions of AM’s article. It is indeed striking that when AM is talking about PP being humiliated by the CPI (M) led Government in Bengal, PP has actually come out in their defence. AM has talked about Jyoti Basu today resembling the incarcerated Shah Jahan. However, he has not realized that he is looking a bit like Mir Zafar himself. He has held the LF Government responsible for the violence not only on BUPC supporters but also for the forced eviction of the CPI (M) supporters! He did not spare a single word of criticism against those who carried out atrocities against poor CPI (M) supporters. AM has also said that the main reason why the CPI (M) has degenerated in West Bengal is because most Party members there now belong to the post-1977 era. Does he expect the CPI (M) to comprise of old people only? This meaningless argument itself shows AM’s disturbed state of mind which makes it impossible for him to take a rational position. Perhaps he has become too cynical.

    Prabhat Patnaik on the other hand had the courage to stand by the CPI (M), despite the West Bengal Chief Minister publicly disagreeing with him (in a television interview). This not only shows his high personal integrity but also the fact that neither he nor the CPI (M) are so-called stalinist parties. Differences are respected and yet debates do not degenerate into personal squabbles. Aditya Nigam’s of the world though continue to conjure the ghost of stalinism within CPI (M). I think there are several problems with Stalin. But after all Stalin was a great leader of the Communist international. The USSR defeated the german fascists in WWII under his leadership. If the CPI (M) continues to uphold that legacy of Stalin, what is the harm. Just because Mao committed the blunder of cultural revolution does not mean he had no contribution – afterall he led the revolution in China. We have to take a balanced view about these Communist leaders and not use words like stalinism or maoism as abuses. But a communist party of the 21st century cannot be like the old ones – there has to be greater democratic space for debate, discussion and dissent. I think that the CPI (M) has moved in that direction and continues to do so.

    The Cuban Communists or Chavez (or all those who Aditya Nigam refers to as non-stalinist left) also recognize the CPI (M) as the biggest and most consequential contingent of the Left in India. If Mr. Aditya Nigam is drawing his inspiration from them, then he should explain why they consider CPI (M) to be their ally. The fact remains that the Left in India cannot be strengthened by weakening the CPI (M). It is this truth which Prabhat Patnaik has upheld and which Aditya Nigam, who neither has any serious contribution nor any stakes in the Left movement in the country, refuses to understand.

  7. December 14, 2007 7:25 AM

    One quick response …

    Yugoslavia is invoked in the context of Nandigram to berate Prof Patnaik.

    http://www.monthlyreview.org/1007herman-peterson1.htm is a comprehensive review of the lies perpetrated in Yugoslavia to malign the Milosevic regime and to eliminate every trace of the multi-ethnic/federal republic of Yugoslavia.

    http://www.cpa.org.au/garchive/958euro.htm is from the People’s Democracy of 1998.

    The similarities in both is uncanny.

    Maybe someone would say the same 10 years later about Nandigram too.. as to how the likes of Aditya Nigam found it cosy to associate with the lies perpetrated by Smt. Mamta Bannerjee to berate the Left.

  8. Santanu permalink
    December 14, 2007 7:50 AM

    Aditya Nigam’s article is an astonishingly capable rejoinder to Prabhat Patnaik’s pathetic piece(I am pained in having to use such a strong expression). Aditya has done many of us a service in writing this, for few have either the time and/or ability to produce such a rebuff. One only wishes that he could have also examined some of Patnaik’s ‘facts’. But perhaps he desisted from doing that for it would have resulted in joining issue at another level. And after all Mr. Patnaik himself mentioned the ‘facts’ only in passing, before elevating himself to the ‘superior’ plane of politico-cognitive critique. One can only hope that Mr. Patnaik will have the opportunity/patience/inclination of reading this rejoinder. Or is that too much to ask?

  9. radical hypocrite permalink
    December 14, 2007 11:59 AM

    I must admit this is not one of the best of AN’s posts. But I think too much irrelevance is being read out of this.

    This is not about George Lukacs, the Star Wars, Nietzche,Palmiro Toggliatti, or the exact minutiae of the axe that killed Trotsky.

    This is not about Yugoslavia, the MIT campus, JNU, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Rome, even if AN’s metaphors are a bit acerbic. :|

    The issue at hand is the massacres at Nandigram(I would have preferred using the word ‘genocide’ but then I’m rather afraid of the types of Mamata Banerjee or those who exhibit their historical knowledges in lengthy dialectical footnotes) and PP’s reaction to the massacres.

    What AN tries to emphasize here— and I don’t think there’s any need for his justification of purpose— is the role of PP in choosing the prescribed version put up by the CPIM, instead of ‘questioning everything’in the way Marxists are expected to do, and let’s say, for the sake of the example and without indulging in comparisons, like Praful Bidwai did or Jayati Ghosh didn’t.

    The best lessons that come out of official Indian Marxist practice is historical quotations drawn by quickgun Murugans faster than speeding bullets— the worst is blindness to see expressions as they stand.

    Do read in context.

    And whether you like it not, ‘Stalin’ is a true metaphor for the evil that lurks in the grand word ‘democratic centralism’. A historical footnote, for I used to be in your schools, bro, :mrgreen: and can’t help showing off, even if it’s totally irrelevant to the context: Did you know that the 17th Congress of the CPSU(Bolshevik) was substantially opposed to Stalin? Between 1934 and 1939, four to five million party members and officials were arrested on political grounds, four to five hundred thousand of them were executed without trial, and the next party Congress (the 18th) which met in 1939, contained a bare 37 survivors of the 1827 delegates who had been present at the 17th in 1934.

    But then, this is not about the history of communism, either.’Stalinism’ here is simply a metaphor for ineffective but brutal thought control.

    In context, this post reads as a partial rebuttal of PP’s statement. But sometimes events speak stronger than a thousand words, and PP’s rebuttal is in the corpses of the farmers he refused to see.

    AN’s metaphors may be stretched, perhaps even wrong (who knows what is right after all?), but do read those metaphors in context. Normal people usually do that. There are only two exceptions: geniuses and idiots.

  10. Ajit permalink
    December 14, 2007 2:37 PM

    Radical Hypocrite says,

    (I would have preferred using the word ‘genocide’

    Are you sure Nandigram was a genocide? People have a habit of calling every massacre perpetrated by their opponents as “genocide”. Nandigram was not a genocide.
    I wish people stopped indulging in Hyperbole. Genocide has a specific meaning.Not every mass murder and theft of resources like the one in Nandigram or singur can be called genocide.If Nandigram is a genocide then genocides happen every single day in this planet in some part of world.I am sure even you don’t go so far as to say Genocides happen every single day.
    The Truth about Nandigram is shocking enough. People don’t need to add any masala and hype it.

  11. radical hypocrite permalink
    December 14, 2007 9:42 PM

    @Ajit: I’m sorry, I shoudn’t have used that word leaving scope for misrepresentations. Enough has been said of its etymology and the masala aspect. Forgive me if I’ve added to that.

    But I think I said I would have ‘preferred’. Yes, the word is hyperbolic, but I didn’t use it. In the dictionary-sense of the word(the OED uses the term as ‘the deliberate killing of a very large number of people from a particular ethnic group or nation,’ so) you’re right about the usage: Nandigram was not a genocide. Genocides don’t abound in the everyday world. But the Nandigram killings were deliberate. The number of dead is yet to be ascertained. It has shocked us beyond our senses. Viewing it close at hand somewhat amplifies the reactions, forgive me for that. I will also stop using the word ‘fascist’ as an adjective from now on, unless speaking specifically about European WW2 history. Forgive me again, I’m too wary of definitions. Shouldn’t have said that, honest.

  12. December 15, 2007 8:58 PM

    If one goes through the judgment of the High Court of Calcutta on Nandigram (available on the net, circilated via net by the Nagarik Mancha too), and listen to the spot visit of team of doctors who ran the Sahid Smriti Hospital at Nandigram (revived, after destruction by the CPM goons that had striking similarity with the stormtroopers in Germany in the late 1920s and 1930s), startling details therefrom strongly suggest a phenomenon worse than just genocide. Let me cite some of those findigs: (a)27 people missing (b) 162 injured, (c) at least three women were raped as they stated this openly [on 14 March],-AFTER 6 November (d) 80-plus women were raped -including those that disappeared or are without trace and (e) deadbodies dug by the CRPF, despite stubborn recalcitrance by the police.
    This is just a fragmentary note, not comprehensive/exhaustive.

  13. December 16, 2007 7:36 AM

    This is sopecially regarding Saibal’s reference to Stalin -“same old cliche of ‘Stalinism’ against him and the CPM which was used by anti-Communist forces in former USSR and Eastern Europe to subvert the socialist regimes there” etc etc.
    Our netizen friend seems blissfully unaware of the new revelations after the Comintern Archives were declassified and made open by the CP of USSR in its twilight hours. I am not sure whether he has read COMINTERN AND THE DESTINY OF COMMUNISM IN INDIA : 1919-1943 :Dialectics of real and a possible History by Sobhanlal Datta Gupta. Stalin’s role is much more negative than the contents of secret speech by Nikita Khruschev on the last day of the 20th Congress of CPSU in February 1956. Stalin sabotaged Lenin’s colonial thesis. Prof Paresh Chattopadhyay’s review in EPW is full of praise of Dutta Gupta. In fact, I too reviewed it for Himal South Asian before him.

    CPI(M) leadership sent the late Subodh Roy, a Chittagong Armoury Raid participant and author of documents of Indian communist movement. He brought several hundred files (photocopy) but AKG Bhavan, typically in a Stalinist Beriate way shelved them and saw to it that none of them had a mention in the so-called documents of Indian communist movement (only one volume published so far; interestingly the Sixth Congress thesis (1929) of Comintern – one of the basis of formation of CPI(M) – that the Indian bourgeoisie went over to imperialism, although the same class gave a call for Quit India).

    About Khruschev’s secret speech. Can anyone show that there was distortion of facts, especially after the opening of Comintern Archives for researchers? I am giving here the link for the readers -http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1956khrushchev-secret1.html

    Lastly, Paul Sweezy, the MR group of Marxists who are genuinely trying to defend Msrx and Marxism by adhering to original texts were all opposed to Stalin and were drawn to Marxism after reading Leon Trotsky’s treatise on October Revolution.

    How many times was Stalin referred to in Ten Days That Shook the World? Twice or thrice in contrast to Trotsky, Chicherin, Lunacharsky etc numerously? Small wonder, the book was banned after Stalin consolidated his power.

    Stalin was undoubtedly a great revolutionary but a killer of Leninism, leave alone Marxism.

  14. sandeep permalink
    December 18, 2007 5:06 AM

    CPI M and its “Intellectual” Apologists

    Today when there exists indisputable evidence about the state government’s open connivance with the armed cadres of CPI M going on the spree of loot, arson, murder and rape (including the use of people as ‘prisoners” and human shield, hostage taking) against those villagers opposing the proposed SEZ in Nandigram, the camp followers of CPI M are going on an overdrive aggressively pushing the party line that justifies the indefensible. They have taken the battle in the right earnest from Nandigram (where its armed cadres enacted the dance of death and destruction) to blogosphere, internet, and newspaper, magazines in order to provide a rationale and justification for the acts of the omission and commission by the state (see for example, The Left and its “Intellectual” Detractors by Prabhat Patnaik). Displaying a cynical indifference to the evidence and a marked hostility towards any sceptics who does not buy the CPI M official line dubbing them not only as anti-organized
    left/ anti-left/ anti-CPIM but also as those who are “strengthening politically the camp of the enemies of the people” (we all know what treatment was meted out to the “enemies” of the people in Nandigram) and thus playing into the “hand of imperialism” these intellectuals have shown to be the “producers of ideas, who find a livelihood in the culture of the self-deceptions of the dominant classes”( Karl Marx, The German Ideology). Who else but the CPIM that is strengthening the “hands of imperialism” by slavishly implementing pro-rich neo-liberal policy in its most aggressive form in West Bengal . Is not the same “Left” that did not oppose the SEZ Act when it was passed in Parliament? And it is the “CPI(M) that pioneered the implementation of the WB SEZ Act in 2003, way before the Centre adopted this policy” (Kavita Krishnan, Sanhati). It has not announced the shelving of plans to create Special Economic Zones. What does CPIM declared policy that there is “no alternative
    to Singur” means. In real and concrete terms it means there is no alternative to Manmohan-Montek model of development.

    Prabhat Patnaik, the Marxist Pundit concentrates too much of his intellectual energy by firing salvos against individuals/ social activists belonging to various NGOs and non-party formation who in their own disparate ways strengthened the politics of the anti-SEZ struggle by providing moral/intellectual support. The tectonic shift that Nandigram has brought in its wake forced the civil society members to speak up and point out the fact that the king has no clothes. It is quite natural for CPIM and its apologists to become quite unnerved at the avalanche of criticism that has battered the “pro-people” image of CPIM in the eyes of many. Thus the high-pitched tone of the wholesale rabid attack by Prabhat Patnaik’s on all such critics that essentially serve to provide a rhetorical and ideological figleaf to the atrocities committed by CPIM. He goes on to tar all the critics with the same brush and accuses them for their complete withdrawal from the realm of political praxis.
    Perhaps his memory should be refreshed that Medha Patkar, one of the leading CPIM detractors over the issue of Nandigram has been in the forefront of the various social movements taking place in the country and have impeccable democratic credentials. It is Prabhat Patnaik and his ilk who sits in elite universities and issue theoretical sermons on privatization, liberalization, Fascism, imperialism and what not. He cleverly skirts the real issue about the direction in which corporate globalisation taking place in West Bengal that is primarily responsible for the Nandigram type situation. He comes with a fantastic masterpiece that “revolt against CPI M is a revolt against politics” the attempt here is to deny any political legitimacy to its critics and also the moral/political support for the struggle against the monstrous SEZ project by the left intellectuals not aligned with the party. Do intellectuals like Sumit Sarkar, Prafull Bidwai, Tanika Sarkar, Ashok Mitra,
    Arundhati Roy and others have no“political perspective”when they speak against the unspeakable atrocities committed by the state?

    What is the most interesting part of the debate over the issue of Nandigram was that most of the criticism came essentially from wide variety of leftists ranging from independent Marxist, radical Gandhians to the socialists (of various hues) and the Maoists. This is perhaps the single most important reason for the consternation and bafflement for CPI M and its intellectuals. Why have so many intellectuals turned against the left with such fury, asks Prabhat Patnaik? The question itself should have led to a serious introspection and rethinking among these intellectuals but Prabhat Patnaik chose to abandon dialectical enquiry and instead of looking inwards he finds fault with the “middle class intellectuals” who not too long ago, according to Prabhat Patnaik himself, made a common cause with CPIM. Then why this sudden turnabout. Has CPIM taken such a revolutionary step in Nandigram that has unnerved the middle class intellectuals so much so that they are now betraying their
    own fundamental class character and blatantly attacking a truly working class party, the CPIM. The answer to the question is self-evident.

    The radical inability of these “left” intellectuals to understand the reason why so many intellectuals and supporters turn against CPI M is not surprising at all. They have failed the people of Nandigram and failed to read the writing on the wall. The Marxist Pundit Prabhat Patnaik notwithstanding his mastery over Marxist classics wonders in amazement why the disagreement with CPI M that could have taken the form of friendly criticism, articles and open letters took such a ferocious form. What he actually means here that the criticism proffered by these intellectuals could only be considered as legitimate if it stay within the parameters set by CPIM. The likes of Prabhat Patnaik know very well the ground reality was quite different in Nandigram where there was no place to observe such niceties that he hopes for. It was a war zone with battle lines clearly drawn; one side, armed CPI M’s cadres in collusion with the state while on the other hand the struggling peasantry
    making all out efforts to defend their lives and livelihood. Clearly Prabhat Patnaik chose to be on the side of the predatory state when he blurs the distinction between the attackers (armed militia of CPI M) and attacked (BUPC members) and inverts the reality by making the perpetrators appears as victims and the victims as perpetrators to justify the right to retaliate (“as an act of desperation dubbed by Prabhat Patnaik”) by the CPIM cadres to recover their homes. One would like to ask him a question who has got the state power and who is the principal agency of violence? Who forced the rural poor (including the supporter’s of CPI and CPI M) into organizing the landmark anti-SEZ movement? Whose responsibility lies in dividing the rural poor into antagonistic camps anti-SEZ/Salim Group and pro-SEZ/Salim Group bogging them down into confrontational politics, all at the service of international capital? Who crossed all constitutional limits, violated rule of law and human
    rights?

    Today CPI M is doing a shrill campaign playing the Maoist “infiltration” card to the hilt to justify the murderous assault on the villagers of Nandigram. Since a killing a naxal (who is a naxal is another debate) is not a crime at all (it is a sacred national obligation). So CPI M cadres are quite justified in annihilating these criminals and naxal type (Sudhanwa Deshpande triumphantly claimed “faced with the Maoist, CPI M fought back” to justify state violence). CPI M MP Mohd. Salim in Lok Sabha called on all the political parties to rise above partisan consideration and face the Maoist challenge. Similar pleas were made by Sitaram Yechuri in Rajya Sabha, he bemoaned the fact that it is the CPIM cadres who are fighting the “greatest threat to national security”, the Maoist without getting the due support of the opposition parties.

    Why it is so that CPI M is echoing the right reactionary propaganda against the Maoist? Why the CPI M is so eager to be identified as the most trusted ally of the Indian State. Why the concerns of the ruling elite becomes a central concerns of the CPI M. Why the barbarism and the scale of violence that anti-SEZ movement witnessed in Nandigram nowhere occurred in the country and why it holds such a great lesson for the state implementing anti-people policies? The answer is not too far to seek. CPIM is stuck in the deep mire of Social Democracy that objectively played a classic role in striking a compromise between the capital and labour but today it has lost its relevance. In order to maintain is credibility in the neo-liberal era it has to completely obey the diktats of capital or perish (remember Buddhadeb proclamation: “reform or perish”). It is therefore the reason why it has to reassure the big corporates and TNCs time and again that its neo-liberal turn will not be
    forsaken (Prakash Karat forceful assertion that “industrialization cannot be achieved without the help of capitalist like Tata’s”)

    If Nandigram revealed the brutal face of Social Democrats as best represented by CPI M, it also raised pertinent question in whose benefit should industrialization occur what is meant by just, equitable and inclusive development. It has also shown that CPI M’s development agenda is not something above class interest it is infact directly in the interest of capital.

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