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The Commissar in his Labyrinth

May 16, 2009
Prakash Karat, Gen Sec, CPI(M), photo courtesy The Hindu

Prakash Karat, Gen Sec, CPI(M), photo courtesy The Hindu

Look carefully at this grey, arrogant and humourless face: The face of the Commissar, who on 22 July went into Lenin-in-October 1917 mode, predicting an uprising in the country if the Indo-US Nuclear Deal was pushed through. However much one might have sympathized with the man and his party on this issue, there was something strange and inexplicable in the game he started playing at that point. At least publicly, that seemed to have been the beginning. For those who have known him and his ways from closer quarters, know him to be an utterly vindictive man with a blood-curdinlingly cold and calculating mind. Ruthless inside the party, he was now playing out this same game outside. His stance on Somnath Chatterjee (and let there be no mistake, it was entirely his), leading to the latter’s expulsion, was just an instance of his style. This time he made a serious error.

Here is where he went wrong. Hopelessly wrong. Inside the party he was the boss and had become used to manipulating it the way he wanted. Silencing and expelling those who appeared to be a challenge. This was the first time he was facing public life – without the sagacious figures like Harkishan Singh Surjeet or Jyoti Basu to guide him. The only other public he has faced is as a student leader in JNU – he and his deputy Sitaram Yechury. From there the duo were catapulted to the leadership of a party in the thick of power battles. India, alas, is not JNU. The inevitable had to happen.

As we observed in our earlier post (see link above), Karat understands nothing of India and and even less (if that is possible) of politics. He actually believed that the mythical ‘Third Front’ would form a government and he would have the pleasure of telling the Congress to support from outside or f—off! Just as he had really believed that there would be a mass uprising if the Nuclear Deal were pushed through!

The severe drubbing received by the LF in West Bengal and the LDF in Kerala notwithstanding, it was worth watching him address the press conference at midday today. Didactic and arrogant still – as they say in Hindi, rassi jal gayee par ainthan na gayee. ‘The Congress has won and we have suffered a major setback’ he said in a stony and monotonous robotic voice. The ‘modulations’ (or ‘non-modulations’) of his voice, his body language and everything else was unlike so many others including BJP leaders when they spoke of their defeat. Even BJP leaders gracefully accepted the verdict, but the subtext of the Commissar’s stastement was “we’ll find out for sure who the saboteurs are.” Well, let us gently remind him and his comprador intellectuals that it was they who were out to shoot the messengers who first brought them this news a few years ago – for being ‘Anti-Left’ and ‘Anti-Political’! Intellectuals on the Left, in their hundreds and thousands were trying to tell them precisely this. But they were maligned, targetted and called agents of imperialism, and so forth. And you can rest assured that when the analysis of the ‘setback’ comes out, it will once again repeat the same old story – conspiracy by anti-Left forces, sell out by Anti-Left intellectuals and indeed, some US hand (for they want the Nuclear Deal to be pushed through, no? By the way, Mohd Salim had already begun his US imperialism rant early in the morning)

64 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2009 7:44 PM

    I was once told by a Left academic (who was on the wrong side of the student activist Karat in JNU) that he “is a CIA agent planted to destroy the CPM”. I don’t know about the CIA part, but was certainly right on the destruction one!

  2. relief permalink
    May 16, 2009 11:29 PM

    We should also thank the electorate that it has taught a lesson to the arrogant Mayawati. It is disturbing that Varun Gandhi won by such a huge margin but there is hope becuase Cong has shown signs of revival in UP and others states. People have shown that anti-Americanism, Islamophobia and caste politics does not pay in the long run.

  3. May 17, 2009 1:09 PM

    Also the BJP should have learned that promises which are equivalent of Rs. 2/Kg of rice do not sway the educated classes to swing the vote. I am happiest for the anti-freedom and anti-freemarket, big government loving self-serving communists though. Long live Mamata Di ;-)
    Whatever happened to lok paritran, jaago party and sundry other corporate do-gooders sigh! Educated classes do not have the bulk of numbers to elect on their own but can only swing the vote and elect the least evil candidate.

  4. jaibhim permalink
    May 17, 2009 4:09 PM

    i think BSP has not lost that much. but neither gained much as expectd. this will make them change their strategoies, esp. of the sarvajan kinda….
    and how come varun won if there s no islamophobia?
    and one cannot play politics in india without addressing caste. Cong, CPIM, BJP all played it well..

    good part of the election is that the people voted against the communal “upper” caste hindu terror politcs…
    worst is that it should not lead to the revival of congress dynasty.. one should not let that happen again


  5. Ishwar dost permalink
    May 17, 2009 8:38 PM

    Bahut Khoob!! Rassi jal gayee par ainthan na gayee.
    Yaa kahen… Rassi jal gayee par BAL nahi gaye.
    here ‘bal’ (Hindi) is both power and kink or twist.

    aithen of power aasaanee se nahee jaate…
    Khaskar jab aithan ko hee power maan liyaa gayaa ho!

    You’re an old article ‘Marxism and Power’ can be read as ‘marxism and Aithan’. Sirf power kee hee theory kee kamee nahee hai, balki aithan kee bhee theory nahee hai….

    Thoery kee aithan jaroor hai!

  6. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 17, 2009 9:02 PM

    ‘Theory ki ainthan’ – bhai vaah! Thanks Ishwar:)

  7. May 18, 2009 8:49 AM

    Comrade Karat,

    The days of antics and tantrums are over. Get rid of your hang ups before your party hangs you.

  8. ravi permalink
    May 18, 2009 12:44 PM

    CPI(M) joined hands with Navin Patnaik.Till the other day he was with BJP. Orissa has witnessed struggles against mega projects.Big business houses like Mittals and Tatas are the favorities
    of the Patnaik’s government. He is implementing
    neo-liberal agenda there.Yet left has no problems in having an alliance with him. Left politics has shrunk into sterile anti-BJP and anti-USA politics.
    It hardly represents the politics that meets the
    demands of working class. Working class is more worried about jobs, inflation, housing than about Obama, middle-east and Modi. Left spends more time and energy in anti-BJP and anti-USA politics than in the politics that working class needs today.
    Its traditonal bastions like trade unions are losing strength. Left is yet to come to terms with that.

  9. May 18, 2009 6:18 PM

    Much commentary has stressed the virtues of ‘good governance’ as opposed to ‘castism’ on the one side and the behaviour of the cp(m), in accounting for the election result.

    The decline of identity politics is everywhere celebrated. On the left I think there are reasons to be cautious about such interpretations. In the first place the doctrine of ‘good governance’ presumes that the only difficulties in the system have to do with the systems faulty operation. The actual ends of such governance and closely related ideas about ‘development’ remain unscrutinised.

    The speedier redistribution of wealth away from, rather then towards the poor is one possible outcome of such ‘clean’ politics.

    In the second place the close connection of this doctrine with the shifts which led the leadership of the CP(M) to launch the programs which led to the atrocities in Nandigram remain unscrutinised in such celebratory accounts.

    The most shameful and disorientating thing was the way in which a left party had so internalised what is actually a wider and more common language of politics, and neglect of this dimension was the real distortion of much of the media coverage. In that sense the CP(M) leadership was quite right to complain. But people prefer butter to margerine and so they got trounced.

    But its unclear that there is much to celebrate in terms of the wider consequences of these elections. Perhaps the terrain of battle is now clearer, and there may be a wider space for a new left politics. Optimism of the Will etc.

  10. miao permalink
    May 18, 2009 7:17 PM

    I too think that a rootless party beaureucracy is responsible for what CPI(M) is today. And Mr. Karat is one of the main culprits. However, this article gives an impression that Mr. Nigam has a few personal scores to settle. Else he simply hates Mr. Karat. None of these help any serious political analysis. Or probably, serious political analysis was not the objective at all.

  11. May 18, 2009 8:51 PM

    Karat as an individual is the epitome of the arrogant and scheming sickness that defines his party. But there’s no need to go hard on the poor fellah, please forgive his individual arrogance.

    As for the severe electoral drubbing received by the LF in West Bengal, it has little to do with the commissar’s ideological (ha, ha, ‘ideological’! :P) dream of a third front, or the nuclear issue.

    “We’ve failed to make the people understand,” they’re now carping.

    Do they, do they understand themselves? The confidence is of a severe religious type, one that makes the RSS Chief, Karat, and their cronies too similar in the closeted arrogance of their beliefs.

    Why, even before the suavely intelligent TV snots had their morning coffee on Saturday, a six thousand-strong mob of CPI(M) supporters had come out in the streets at Dum Dum, Kolkata, played gulal, and marched in celebratory glee, so sure they were of the “people’s mandate” for the erstwhile CPI(M) MP, Amitava Nandy. But once the results were out, and it was clear by the afternoon that the electorate had dumped ex-MPs from both the CPI(M) and the BJP, the same Nandy went on and on about “imperialist forces” upsetting the polling process, and the usual shit. Some of his comrades however chose to sulk away, as did the CM (his arrogance be blessed!) of West Bengal.

    You see it’s a collective sickness, highly contagious within the party. Why blame poor Karat when he only plays the clown?

    After what happened in Singur and Nandigram, I believe the people here would’ve voted a lamp post or a dog if it had contested against the CPI(M). And that they did. Whether that leads to change or not is another question…

  12. May 18, 2009 10:45 PM

    I have no problems of discussions about scheming sicknesses. It would just be useful to point out the connections between one kind of scheming sickness and the other. I heard about an argument between trade unionists and some ML types in Mumbai. The ML types wanted a march on the CP(M) headquarters in Bombay. The Trade unionists were aghast. They said they wanted a demonstration against what the CP(M) had done in Nandigram, but wanted it in the usual place (ie Flora Fountain) and including protests about what other governments had done, and, importantly, inviting local CP(M) activists to attend. No way where they going to march on the CP(M) headquarters in Bombay of all places. I think its very important to remember that whilst its perfectly justified to attack the CP(M) it isn’t as if their crime was somehow unique within the Indian political establishment. Its the norm. Their Stalinism led them to accomodate with neo-liberalism. As a result the left will be contending with lampposts and dogs…

  13. May 20, 2009 3:19 AM

    @ johng: :) Yes, there’re connections, but there’re also important differences (I’ve read some of them being cogently addressed here at Kafila and brought out by people far more capable than me of the ways of expression. You might find some answers in the year-old-posts made during the Nandigram killings).

    I stand by what I’ve said, the CPI(M) is unique in its sense of hypocrisy and its scheming sickness.

    Perhaps you’ve heard about the CD circulated by the CITU in West Bengal right before the polls. It portrayed the death of Tapashi Malik- the peasant protestor from Singur who was raped by CPI(M) cadres, doused in kerosene, and her half-charred corpse left as a warning for all- as a bawdy tale of illicit love and revenge killing. And Mr Karat- he had been campaigning in Kolkata you know- as well as his comrades, still go on insisting that nothing had happened in Nandigram when their cadres had butchered men, women, and children.

    Yes, others too have not spared the dead their dignity. But not like the CPI(M) in recent times.
    (And before you ask, I’m not a Zizekian, an ML-type, a trade unionist, a Maoist, a CIA agent, a closet frog, a running dog, or a static lamp post. Though I’m not sure about the last one. Does being really pissed off and not voting for anyone qualify?)

  14. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 20, 2009 8:56 AM

    Dear johng: I do not disagree with you that the ‘CPI(M)’s crime is unique within the Indian political establishment’. At one level, this is true. But there is another level – less visible to the outside – to which D refers, which makes it really so different and terrifying. What D says about the CD circulated by the CITU in West Bengal shows one aspect of its deviousness. But you really have to have a sense of what it is to live under CPI(M) rule. People outside find it difficult to believe it but really, W Bengal may be the only state where the party machinery has a total control, arising out of the fact that it has the detailed political and voting profile of every household in practically every locality and village.
    The case that D has referred to, that of Tapasi Mallik, is but one of the more recent ones about which we came to know, once the bonds of fear broke down. Once LF is out of power you might find many many more skeletons coming out of their cupboards (literally). People have simply disappeared or have been killed about whom we know little at this stage. And this is not about some criminal here and there who is patronised by the CPM. It is the party machinery itself that is involved in all this.

  15. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    May 20, 2009 2:59 PM

    Am not a CPM supporter – am critical of their negative activities – ample of which have been demonstarted during last 32 years.
    Yet, I get a strange feeling, as someone else also mentioned, that you do the same more to settle personal scores rather than provide expression to genuine grievances. Your passages are replete with generic motherhood statements. Can your statement “People have simply disappeared or have been killed about whom we know little at this stage. And this is not about some criminal here and there who is patronised by the CPM. It is the party machinery itself that is involved in all this.” stand scrutiny in a court of law? What is the source of your information ? In that sense, it bears strange resemblance to Right-Wing Hindutvaites.
    We believe in Leftism because of our commitment to a just and equitable society free of disparities and feel only an objective and open discussion can show us the mistakes and illumine the path ahead. In this process, will not hesitate to criticze Maoist, M-L types, Karat or Trotskyites. That however does not seem to be your intention – at leats from the tone of your writings.

  16. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 20, 2009 4:58 PM

    Upal babu,
    The two instances that have come out after the wall of fear was torn down by the rising anger, are only the tip of the iceberg. I am talking of the Tapasi Mallik – on which the court has already given its opinion, and the Rizwanur case, where things seems to get murkier as the days go by. There have been cases of killings, murder and disappearances of which the Kolkata press has occasionally written about but we do not know how far they have been followed up. What happens in the case of political battles for supremacy – starting from Keshpur to Nandigram – is of course, another story. One could in fact go back to the days when the LF was not even in power, to the notorious Sai bari case in Burdwan…The political culture of killings has been in the making since that time. It may also be useful to remember that in 2003, in two months alone, about 40 people were said to have been killed in Chopra in North Dinajpur – and the CPM’s LF partners are on record accusing the ruling party cadres of ‘taking law into their own hands.’ By 2002 itself, the APDR had documented 7000 cases of political killings in West Bengal since the LF came to power. These are all recorded by the media and democratic rights organizations – both the instance of killings as well as of bodies that have simply disappeared. I am not saying anything that is not already there in public knowledge. Only a public investigation will reveal the extent to which things have gone.
    If this appears to you like personal grouse, what can I say?

  17. May 20, 2009 6:48 PM

    Well my experiances are limited but having spent some time in Bombay I’m pretty sure that Calcutta is not unique in having a dark political underbelly. I’m not at all saying that harsh criticism is not in order but I am very wary indeed of any suggestion that the CP(M) regime in Bengal is uniquely oppressive: I mean first of all it really doesn’t have to be to deserve censure (or indeed to commit appalling crimes) and secondly such a perspective ignores the larger picture of a local organisation coming to terms with the national shift towards neo-liberal policy: something activists right across the country are concerned and faced with. You are not going to build a new left on the basis of fears about a CP(M) regime. Part of building a new left will however involve a serious critique of the kind of strategy and practice associated with the CP(M) in power, which scandalous behaviour has landed everyone in a mess. The two things are different. I can’t honestly imagine a successful left which did not involve many of those who are currently CP(M) members. Hence my concerns.

  18. Upal Chakraborty permalink
    May 20, 2009 7:16 PM

    Aditya ji,

    Still somehow am unable to agree with you.
    Actually, you have given yourself away by agreeing to the statement “‘CPI(M)’s crime is unique within the Indian political establishment’. Bravo! A lot of hard work is required to establish this statement which – let me assure you – you will not be able to complete in your lifetime.
    You seem to be going back more and more into history – Sain Bari took place in ’60s. Though a kid then, all i remember is that the United Front swept teh elections immediatly following the incident and noone accused them of rigging. Sain brothers were a lot of riff-raff who were hated by the general population of Burdwan – not that I support the killings .
    However – to state that CPM is unique in this respect is an insult to the intelligence of people like us who grew up in Kolkata and witnessed White Terror from 1970 till ’77. What has happened to you ? Are you suffering from amnesia?
    Rizwanur was a case of suicide as established by CBI – if you are privy to some other information please share it. Even if a case of killing, it was engineered by an industrialist and do not understand how the CPM enters the picture. Yes – lets be fair in our criticism. The CM displayed total insensitivity to the feelings of a lower-middel class Muslim family by delaying action (though it was ultimately taken) and had to pay a price in teh recently concluded elections.
    Tapasi Malik’s case is still sub judice . You may be aware that a film was exhibited recently by a Liberal like you with no CPM connections which had a different story o tell. The truth will unfold in the next few months.
    As far as APDR’s reports are concerned, cannot comment at this stage because am not privy to the same. However, what I definitely feel is that to state that in spite of such limitless cruelties for 32 years, a Party can emerge victorious year after year is a colossal insult to the intelligence of ordinary people of the State. Rigging? I thought that myth was exploded in 2006 though whether incorrigible cynics like you have accepted the same is difficult for me to fathom.
    Let me clarify – am a bitter critic of the CPM though might have definitely voted for them if I had been a resident of that State due to he TINA factor.
    However, will like to stick to the real grounds for criticism – limitless arrogance, Sachar Committee , nepotism (to some extent) , inability to rally round popular issues ,sectarian outlook ,and of course the hare-brained Third Front.

  19. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 20, 2009 7:48 PM

    johng: I entirely agree with you that no new left formation can take shape without many of those who are currently CPM members. Let me assure you that I not only think that, I am also in personal dialogue with many of them. I believe however, that it is not simply possible for people to simply leave the CPM and start building another left formation without unlearning what has become second nature by now. And my experience is that there are many still in the CPM – and in other formations – who continuously attempt retain their critical faculties and are prepared to unlearn – unlike many fellow travellers who are more uncritical and gullible.

  20. May 20, 2009 8:16 PM

    Well obviously these things are contextual (ie who you are speaking with, where you are based, etc). I was just aware of a tendency for completely legitimate anger about the behaviour of the CP(M) to lead to lines of argument which failed to cut with the very real disquiet which exists amongst whole layers of activists inside the organisation, but which is held back by TINA formulations on the one hand, and siege mentality on the other. Generally speaking people break some time after the worst rather then during or before. Partly thats an index of their political seriousness.

    arguments suggesting that the CP(M) were ‘worst then fascists’ etc (I’ve heard this from friends of mine, not here) would not be taken seriously or have much effect. Oddly some of this rhetoric resembled both the CP(M) at its worst and some of their right wing opponents. This actually lets people off the hook, because for those trapped in TINA arguments they’re completely irrelevent. In terms of reforming people I’d leave that to people better qualified then me. I would say that if large numbers of people were doing that I’d be very happy.

    I would suggest though that this would be an unlikely approach at the mass level. Its more likely that the demoralisation created by the failure of the CP(M) strategy to address basic issues confronting activists (as well as demoralising and confusing them) opens up a space for different forms of politics in other regions.

    In Bengal I suspect that the entanglement of the Party with rule creates larger issues. But I don’t think these issues are unique. On the one side there is the legacy of building up a kind of state within a state which is related to the periods of radicalisation referred to above, on the other hand there is the complete political degeneration that resulted from treating local rule as an end in itself and therefore in the end could justify almost anything. Getting the balence between these lines of argument is important. These problems reflect much larger and challenging issues and difficulties then simply the CP(M)’s misbehaviour.

    I think its important to have a general analyses of this process that avoids demonology.The awful reality of what this has meant is probably only now becoming clear to many, and the search for some kind of alternative will be a practical reality for large numbers.

    Again, this is not really about the argument here, but many of my friends who absolutely share the *kind* of view put foward here, seem to lurch perilously close to what macintyre described as ‘moral quixotry’ in his piece ‘notes from the moral wilderness’ which I posted on another thread. This is a problem only because it actually lets people off the hook, not because it is ‘offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ etc.

  21. May 20, 2009 8:41 PM

    John: at a basic level I agree, Nandigram itself was not simply an index of the West Bengal CPM”s ‘unique’ evil, but something embedded within the logic of neo-liberal governance – as Navin Patnaik’s equally brutal land-grabs in Orissa, and so many across the country, demonstrate. And the CPM’s accommodation to deeply anti-poor social and economic policies goes back at least a decade and a half, with the New Industrial Policy – in this sense, the point about the CPM ‘joining the mainstream’ is quite correct.
    I also agree, completely, that it makes little sense to focus all of our anger on a crumbling, frankly at the moment quite pathetic, Stalinist party. And that there are individual CPM activists who are people of principle, that any alternative Left (a pipe-dream at present) would be ill-advised to dismiss with the kind of scorn and hatred that many of us – myself included – have been prone to after Singur and Nandigram. Certainly, attacking a CPM office in Bombay sounds like a pretty obscene and brain-dead political tactic to me.

    But I’m afraid we might also fall into the opposite trap – ascribe the ‘real’ authorship of the West Bengal Stalinists’ crimes to the ‘neoliberal turn’, and here I think Aditya’s right – it’s absolutely essential to recognize that what happened in Nandigram in 2007 was also deeply anchored in the CPM”s own modes of governance – and it’s absolutely true that West Bengal IS unique in one sense – no other ruling party in the country is able to take its subjects as much for granted, and yes, the Party machinery, degenerate, lumpen, and violent to its core for many, many years now, DID take over the state more or less completely, DID effectively rig elections – not necessarily through capturing booths, but through massive campaigns of pre-electoral intimidation, which have been written about widely. This was not, of course, confined to the CPM – the Trinamul has enthusiastically practised the same violence – but the power the two parties wield is not comparable, and the CPM’s crimes are at a different level. So, much as I subliminally want to see the CPM in Bengal as essentially a victim of neo-liberalism, as a party that had neither the imagination nor the intelligence to assemble a viable resistance to contemporary capitalism, that would be missing the point. The rot went much deeper – it didn’t begin with the shift in economic policy – the West Bengal party was sick and hollow, not only hypocritical in its ‘socialism’ but essentially incompatible with any form of democratic practice – a long time before Nandigram. And I’m not being hyperbolic here, this is how it was. There certainly was something unique about the exercise of state power in West Bengal.

    What was unique, of course, was the 32 unbroken years of electoral power. And here I’d like to mildly take issue with Aditya, while agreeing with the essential insights – I think you tend to factor out the bedrock of genuine support – as opposed to plain terror and intimidation, which were certainly there in good measure since the 80s at least – that kept the CPM in power. There WAS an effective hegemony at work, whereby the association of the Party with the poor, and with the peasantry, was effected. Operation Barga did sustain a large, dominant bloc of active CPM support. Electoral rigging, in all its forms, does not explain the persistence of the CPM’s rule – this too would be too easy, and we all hate the West Bengal government so intensely now (and I mean hate, because that’s what I feel when I think of monsters like Lakshman Seth and Benoy Konar) that it’s tempting to ascribe their fall to a pervasive, transcendental evil inscribed in their political DNA. I don’t think that works. I do think that we need to consider more carefully the real relationships between peasants in West Bengal and the Party. In both Singur and Nandigram (and I saw this in action at Singur myself), the kinds of conversation in the air, the slogans of the resistance, the language of rights – none of this would have been conceivable without the prior history of the Left in West Bengal. I’m perfectly willing to concede that the venality, corruption, brutality, and arrogance displayed by the cadres on 14 March 2007 have roots that go back for decades – but I don’t accept that this is ALL there was to the history of the Communists in West Bengal. There was a historical irony to the fact that areas that had been crucially involved in the Tebhaga movement now confronted the Left Front as their greatest enemy.
    It’s absolutely essential to distinguish the kind of euphoria that many of us feel – that I certainly feel – at seeing the Left humiliated in West Bengal, from the kind of shrill celebrations one saw on NDTV and similar channels last week. Of course, when Prannoy, Barkha, etc ask Congressmen fawningly: ‘will you be able to pursue your reforms without hindrance now that the Left is gone?’, one must recognize this is a false question from the outset – the Left only offered effective resistance in Parliament on very limited set of issues. All the same, it points to a certain symbolic space occupied by the Left, almost despite itself, that has now been vacated. Perhaps that space never mattered very much, and the real struggles are elsewhere – quite possibly. But I do think it’s important not to be purely triumphalist about the results, and to perhaps hold on to two contradictory positions – that the Left’s disintegration in West Bengal is welcome and overdue, but also that if this compromised, neo-liberal, not-even-right-wing-social-democratic, despotic Left were to disappear completely from our political battlegrounds, something will also be lost.

    There’s much more I have to say but the length of this already embarrasses me! :)

  22. May 20, 2009 9:03 PM

    reading over that, i sound insufferably pompouse. never mind. thats blogging.

  23. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 20, 2009 9:32 PM

    johng: Thanks again for the very considered response which I agree with broadly – minor bits of emphasis apart. I would never say that the CPM ‘is worse than fascists’ but I would like to say something with respect to the following observation of yours:

    Generally speaking people break some time after the worst rather then during or before. Partly thats an index of their political seriousness.

    As it happens, when people broke ‘during or before’ – that is when the going seemed to be good and the prestige of the CPM was high, it was/is assumed that they have some personal problem of adjustment. After all, for years the CPM seemed so reasonable. On the other hand, for most people, the only option is to break when the party’s hegemony is breaking. This is what happened in Bengal this time. Even people who have been critics – even friendly critics – have decided this time (and I personally know scores of them) to vote against the CPM, even if that meant voting for the Trinamool Congress. I am also told that many who still belong to the CPM in the rural areas, are also keeping in close touch with the movement because who knows whose land will go next. In Nandigram or Singur they weren’t spared because they were CPM members. These are difficult existential choices that people who live in these conditions have to make and are not a matter of their political non-seriousness.
    And here just one response to Bhochka: It seems to me Bhochka that this moment in West Bengal, when the people have crossed the Rubicon, the point of no return, is like the final days of the Soviet Union. Much as I may celebrate the October revolution, it does not make sense to me to tell the people who lived through Soviet times what a great thing the revolution was. This desire to return to that originary moment seems to me to deflect from the enormity of what is going on. I have elsewhere written about the significant achievement of the initial years of the LF government (including one in the forthcoming Tehelka) but I do not feel compelled to prove my credentials each time I open my mouth to criticize the CPM. I know instances of the reverse of what i was telling john: friends who have left the CPM – or have been forced to leave about 7-8 years ago – still find themselves unable to vote against the party, even when they know that it is taking the state towards disaster. I am happy that I was never captive to that kind of theological desire to remain within the fold even after excommunication! I am not suggesting that you are saying or implying so, but I do not think that simply because some other despicable characters are gleeful at the CPM’s performance, I should make any extra effort to distinguish my stance from them. If that is how people are going to understand my criticism – as of a piece with Barkha Dutt’s – then what can I say? Let people think what they want to…

  24. May 20, 2009 10:13 PM

    Aditya: I certainly didn’t mean to club your response along with those of the various ‘despicable characters’ who run the corporate media. Nor was I trying to evoke nostalgic memories of ‘when it was all good’ (the CPM orchestrated the massacre in Marichjhapi in 1979, very much at the peak of its achievement and popularity, after all!).
    I’m trying to raise, rather, the question of the solidarities of those of us who would probably be happiest with the label ‘independent leftists’, now that we’re faced with a dwindling, crumbling official ‘Left’, which hasn’t been worthy of the name for decades but which nonetheless may contain people, and energies, who might be important for revitalizing dissenting politics in India. This doesn’t for a moment detract from the enormity and importance of what’s happening in West Bengal, nor does it excuse the criminal callousness of the central leadership, which sat and fiddled while its major regional branch degenerated into a bunch of petty warlords propping a savagely repressive administration.

    Two small stories about responses to the Left Front’s drubbing in West Bengal might provide a perspective on its meaning, and on the social implications of the Left’s rule in recent years. The first is the story of a builder and housing agent, who broke down in a conversation with a friend, sobbing ‘Amader shornojug shesh hoye elo’ (Our golden age is drawing to a close). I wish he were right – I doubt it.
    The second is the story of a domestic servant working in a middle-class home in Calcutta, who asked, ‘Does this mean I won’t have to pay 50 rupees to the Mahila Samiti every month?’ This sort of petty taxation, battening upon, mostly, working-class and lower middle-class people, sustains the CPM’s grassroots network.

  25. May 20, 2009 10:31 PM

    I should make clear that what I said about political seriousness was in no sense meant as a reflection on those who did break earlier as individuals. I was simply referring to the larger processes at work now inside the organisation, and people who I have come into contact with in this context. Thanks very much for the info on some of what is actually going on in Bengal (I know far less about Bengal then I should). Some of that sounds very positive. For me the point about differentiation is important though (although again it depends on context and audience). Obviously one should not have patience with the kind of bottomless cynicism of bureacrats who are exploiting the fears of some of the membership (and of course there are members and members), but as a general rule, I think its important to register that some of the fears of those (particularly outside Bengal) being played on by those bureacrats are real, even if those playing them are not. Even inside Bengal I would not be too sure that some of the biggest critics of the CP(M) might have to defend them against attacks from a resurgent right in the near future (without for that reason dropping criticism of crimes and betrayels etc).

    Obviously all this pre-supposes a cohesive new left (for want of a better term) capable of acting as an alternative pole of attraction for large numbers of disillusioned cadre, but as Bhochka reminds us, this is something of an aspiration rather then a reality. It might be a kind of regulative ideal though. I think the tendency to treat leaders and led as the same thing is always a mistake.

    On Bhochka’s point, I take as read some of the appalling atrocities and crimes etc. But it IS still important in my view to have some kind of explanatory account of what the CP(M) became, not simply because as he notes, the tradition is wider then what it has become, but because I’m entirely unconvinced that at present there is a lot at the level of formal political analyses which provides tools for those breaking from this tradition to move beyond it. One reason why I posted the macintyre piece was that it was written at a time when the new left faced the problem of being confined to a layer of intellectuals with most workers still cleaving to the Communist Party. This was not a situation which lasted indefinately I should emphasis, but moving beyond it is not easy.

    None of this implies in the slightest a line suggesting that the CP(M) is simply the VICTIM of neo-liberalism. The question is how did an organisation like this turn into an AGENT of this process. The question is not that unique if one looks at global parrallels. I would suggest that the kind of apparatus in West Bengal reflects three things. Firstly the genuine legacy of radicalism, which meant the organisation had much greater support, secondly the consequences of ‘socialism in one state’ which means the CP(M) played the game of political power at local level on the back of social reforms, and thirdly the increasing accomodation with neo-liberal policies once the decision was made to focus everything on building up electoral bases (decisions which one ex-member told me went back to the 1970s). Of course all this is mediated by a Stalinist tradition which manages to combine an opportunist political practice with a disciplined political formation, requiring levels of commitment and ideological cohesion unimaginable in, for example, European social democracy, whose membership simply withered.

    But I’ve had my own experiances with a bizarre code which seems on the face of it to resemble traditional marxist rhetoric (with all its strengths and weaknesses) but ends up being little more then a justification for setting up Special Economic Zones with disengenuous textual references.

    At bottom though I’ve always been struck in discussions with different sections of the left how little in formal programatic terms they differ from each other. I once upset a good friend by suggesting that the main difference between the CP(M) and some of the saner ML currents was that the CP(M) won elections. If you don’t believe (as I don’t) that armed struggle is an alternative to the political process, as I said, this poses larger questions, which I don’t pretend to have all the answers to.

  26. suresh permalink
    May 20, 2009 11:05 PM

    Nandigram itself was not simply an index of the West Bengal CPM”s ‘unique’ evil, but something embedded within the logic of neo-liberal governance – as Navin Patnaik’s equally brutal land-grabs in Orissa, and so many across the country, demonstrate.

    I have no idea what neo-liberal governance means but the idea that the state indulging in land grabbing is of recent origin is ludicrous. Madhu Kishwar noted in an article in Manushi that many of the “posh” areas of New Delhi (now housing our “elite”) were actually villages whose land was, to say the least, acquired forcibly from the villagers at very low prices. This was in the glory days of our licence-permit raj but continued even in the less glorious days of “neo-liberalism.” If you care to trawl through past issues of newspapers, you might come across references to villagers protesting against forcible acquisition of their land to house our national monument to machisimo – the missile site at Chandipur-on-sea. To add to all this, I can give an anecdote due to my wife’s uncle who used to work for the ONGC – what is it, a “navaratna”? – as a geologist. He observed to me that in many cases, villagers would resort to stoning if they found that a team from ONGC was approaching their village. The reason being that ONGC had the right to prospect on farmers’ land with little or no compensation. Even if no gas/oil was found, the land used by ONGC was virtually unusable because of all the chemicals. Didn’t hear that, did you?

    I don’t want this to get into an argument about neo-liberalism. Perhaps one of you guys would write a post sometime on what exactly this term means because I simply have no idea other than it’s very very very bad. The point I am making is simply this: Industrialization, whether in the public or private sector, whether under socialism or “neo-liberalism” needs land. Our governments, typically, have never given people whose lands they have acquired for industrialization (in many cases, the poor) full or even adequate compensation. There are many such stories spread over our 62 years post-independence history, both before and after 1991.

    The policies for land acquisition followed since independence are simply a continuation of policies followed by the colonial state. According to Wikipedia, the Land Acquisitions Act dates back to 1894 and while there have been some amendments to the act, the administrative procedures remain about the same. I know that Wikipedia is not too reliable but a reading of that article makes for enlightening reading. The failure to modify the policies of the colonial state with regard to land acquisition is a collective failure, but a substantial share must, of course, fall on us, the elite. However, this failure has nothing to do with socialism, neo-liberalism or whatever.

    To conclude, as others have noted, if we want industrialization (under whatever economic regime) then land will have to be acquired. It is in our interest that we evolve fair procedures to deal with such acquisition rather than continue with the colonial era Land Acquisitions Act. In the aftermath of Nandigram and Singur, some proposals were made and which appeared in newspapers. I haven’t heard anything since then, though.

  27. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 20, 2009 11:24 PM

    Sorry Bhochka, I did not mean to insinuate that you implied any such thing. And thanks for the two lovely anecdotes. They do indeed speak more eloquently than the words we often try to use.
    Suresh, I think you are right that it is industrialization per se that is responsible for this kind of land grab, but I think Bhochka referred to neo-liberalism because it has certainly intensified the process manifold. On the historical necessity of industrialization, I remain a skeptic. Maybe not of all kinds of industrialization but the dominant type. Maybe a longer discussion on that is due at some later date.

  28. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    May 20, 2009 11:31 PM

    Suresh, this is exhausting – you “have no idea what neo-liberalism means”; you casually say “if we want industrialization then…”, as if that is something beyond debate; you tell us that anecdote about ONGC as if that should blow us away – why why why, dont you spend a little time reading the complex debates just here on kafila, even if reading generally is not something you like to do, on all these issues, particularly on land acquisition policies, SEZ’s (esp Singur/Nandigram) the NBA and so on… If you’re interested in serious engagement the least you can do for yourself and for us, is to be on the same page before you start mouthing off.
    At least be clear what exactly it is we might disagree on! Why do you think for example that we “dont want to hear” that the ONGC is unpopular with the villagers??! The undemocratic land acquisition policies of the government and its cavalier attitude towards farmers’ lands in the greater National Interest are in fact a favourite target of our rants here.
    And we dont need go to Wikipedia to learn about the Land Acquisition Act! If that’s where you go for information before pompously telling us off, a little more humility might be in order.

  29. May 20, 2009 11:57 PM

    The point about neoliberalism has to do with the kinds of investments being made on the land that’s acquired, and the kind of patterns this describes. A number of large historical generalizations are pretty much correct but don’t go far enough: elites have always forcibly acquired land from the poor, industry has generally had to displace agriculture, the state has always used its coercive force to displace people, and so on…and of course it’s true that at a broad level of generality this is true. At this particular moment, however, we can see this taking some very precise forms: massive land acquisitions for a combination of real estate speculation and expensive housing (New Rajarhat is the starkest example); Special Economic Zones with the very special logic of extra-territorial capitalist sovereignty that they embody; local deindustrializations that disperse vast numbers of agglomerated working-class people to different destinations (Bombay, Kanpur)….the list goes on. The scale of expropriation that’s planned is colossal: what is colossal, too, is the way this process has run into roadblocks from the very beginning – only a fraction of planned SEZ projects, for instance, have actually come to fruition. Now whether we use the term ‘neoliberalism’ to understand this pattern is a matter of choice.

    On the question of the forcible acquisition of land being a constant, I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘full or even adequate compensation’, Suresh. What does ‘compensation for land’ mean at the point of absolute refusal, as we saw in Singur and Nandigram, where people simply said: we will not part with our land, for any price. Many people also spelled out their refusal in pretty concrete terms: there’s nothing for us there, they said – and they were right, they’d have become slumdwellers in congested monster cities. And it’s necessary to acknowledge this: if the projects planned over the next few years (just the SEZ projects alone, for instance) were to be completed, you would have to have thousands of people expropriated in precisely the manner that Buddhadeb and Co. attempted – this is the sense in which the CPM’s land-grab was entirely ‘within the logic of neoliberalism’, for it tried to execute in practice what the ruling economic orthodoxy laid down in principle.

  30. atreyee permalink
    May 21, 2009 12:43 AM

    @ Bhochka and Suresh,

    The exercise of eminent domain powers (by which the sovereign coercively acquires what is his territory anyway, showing that property rights are fragile and subject to engulfment by the umbrella of sovereign power) are not specific to neoliberal state strategies at all. Colonial histories of Acts such as the LAA date centuries back not just in India, in many African and South East Asian and Latin American countries. Provisions spelling out the powers of eminent domain in Indian LAA find equivalent or similar clauses in legislations relating to forest conservation, municipality and panchayat governance and many state-level legislations that set up Development Authorities and such like. Usha Ramanathan has written extensively on the LAA, though I dont seem to find links to her writing on the web right away. Also, works of Ramaswamy Iyer, Chhattrapati Singh show the colonial continuity of usage of eminent domain in public works relating to irrigation projects as well. So just to point out that eminent domain and land acquisition have been the tool of sovereign power in bringing about efficiency in agriculture and fortressing of ‘pristine environment’ as well, and it is the focus of an agriculture-industry battle increasingly only in the past two decades. Use of eminent domain has more to do exercise of sovereign power (whatever its priority might be at a particular time) rather than about neoliberal state energies.

  31. upal chakraborty permalink
    May 21, 2009 1:13 AM

    Returned back after a couple of hours to find a deluge of posts – mostly stimulating to the intellect but skirting what I feel is the main issue.
    A bit negativistic in nature – somewhat like the so-called intellectuals of Bengal who had to ultimately dive into the laps of the Trinamool Congress. (the prodigal sons deciding to return to the fold of the Left Front).
    Firstly, Aditya, in a clever move, avoided replying to my post. Possibly it was too inconvenient for him or a case of oversight.
    Let me apologize for raising some basic observations/questions which might attract a bit of sarcasm from Nivedita similar to what was witnessed above . Not that I am bothered.
    1. While everyone seems to be against neo-liberalism, noone seeems to have a faintest idea of who is most qualified to wage the battle against the same .
    From the general tone , the CPM belongs to a class of Fascist untouchables – worse than Hitler . ( Sorry – going by the debates I have witnessed here, Stalin can win hands down as the most evil person to have ever existed on this planet .)
    A group of intellectuals pontificating in cyber-media? Trinamool Congress ? Maoists? CPI(M-L) ?
    Or NBA and Arundhati? I thought the natural thing to do was to identify the most progressive force and then critically analyze using a technique commonly used in Management Theory – SWOT Analysis.
    2. The space is replete with motherhood statements about the CPM , though when confronted with hard facts , the tendency is to avoid the topic.
    3. The participants seem to live in a world of their own . Firstly, no land was taken away in Nandigram, there was a threat but sensing the popular mood , hurriedly withdrawn . Evidently, there were other forces at work which sustained the movement . As far as Singur, majority of the peasants had voluntarily given away their land. The compensation offered was one of the best of the country and invested in a nationalized bank, able to provide the same amount if not more than what they were earning currently. In which part of the world has industrialization taken place on land which was not originally agricultural ?
    4. Aditya has exposed himself as an unreformed Luddite when he admits his scepticism on whether industrialization is at all necessary. Intrigued to see a Luddite in flesh and blood right here in the 21st century.
    5. Not a word against the Right-wing forces brutally putting down struggling workers and peasants (it seems CPM is the only one doing so). Police forces and Salwa Judum harassing peasants fighting for a basic existnce, the NBA, tribals in Orissa , hungry farmers protesting against price rise in Khammam – not worthy of discussion.!!!!!
    My earnest request to all of you is that instead of Quixotic rantings against neo-liberalism, let us put our heads together to devise ways and means and ways of fighting the same by putting it in perspective ,defining the Alternative Ideology, the Vision, the Organization, and most importantly identify which political force is best qualified to lead the same (other than of course CSDS and DU intellectuals) .
    To quote Bhochka, “if this compromised, neo-liberal, not-even-right-wing-social-democratic, despotic Left were to disappear completely from our political battlegrounds, something will also be lost.” Are we willing to lose that “something” ?

  32. suresh permalink
    May 21, 2009 1:52 AM


    I will not bother with your ill-tempered response. If what I’ve written irritates you that much, then ignore it. Or delete it – you’re a moderator. Whatever.


    First, I am not a sociologist; I can only respond as an economist and I am deeply aware that economists and sociologists have different perspectives on the same issue and I think that is certainly the case here.

    Having said that, the economist would say that “full compensation” or the “fair value” for a piece of land is the price it would fetch in a “competitive market.” The problem, from an economist’s point of view is that the land market is very often not not what s/he would regard as “competitive.” There are various ways of trying to deal with this issue, none perfect.

    Regarding someone who doesn’t want to sell at all, well, that issue has to be decided by the political system. It cannot be decided by the economist. With regard to land acquisition, the economist can only help answer the questions: What is fair compensation for a piece of land that the government decides to acquire? How should it be determined?

    Whether we should acquire the land or not and how to go about it is for all of us to decide through our political institutions. If we, as a society, decide that no one should be dispossessed of his/her land through compulsion, then the matter ends there: the land cannot be acquired. Usually, all societies seem to have provisions for the government to acquire a piece of land if it deems that necessary even if the owner doesn’t want to sell it. But, I suppose, good governments try to keep the whole process as transparent as possible. One cannot say the same for the Indian government or the various state governments and that might partly be responsible for the problems we’ve seen in Singur and Nandigram. I remember an article (by Subhashis Gangopadhyay or Laveesh Bhandari) discussing this issue at the height of the Nandigram/Singur agitation.

    I will conclude by saying that *if* we as a society deem industrialization necessary, then, as others have noted, land acquisition becomes inevitable and we will have to find a way for doing it which is fair and acceptable to all. Needless to say, if we, as a society, decide (through our political institutions) that we can do without industrialization, then we will not have to deal with such problems.

  33. May 21, 2009 1:56 AM

    Atreyee: agreed, we need to distinguish eminent domain and neo-liberalism. Neoliberalism articulates many different things, and eminent domain may be, and in the Indian context is, one of them.

    Upal Chakraborty: I don’t think anyone on these threads seriously equates fascism and the left – and while I can only agree that we need to find forces to identify ourselves with, what if these forces don’t yet exist? And if the Left is being singled out for particular condemnation, much of it has to do with the fact that it claims the name ‘Left’, and therefore, unlike any other force on the Indian political spectrum, it lays itself open to criticism on the basis of the very principles it espouses in public. I do believe there’s something lost as well as something gained in the Left’s current decline – but I guess the point is that we can’t credibly answer, here in this forum, the question of whether there will be reform, course correction, rethinking, the emergence of a real Left, one that means something.

    I do have to come in, also, on the question of consensual takeover of land in Singur. Along with a few other people, I visited Singur at the end of 2006. We walked through four villages, and in that time found one solitary person who had agreed to sell his land. He was facing a social boycott – and a pretty brutal one, there’s no need to romanticize resistance – from the rest of his village. We asked him what he wanted to do with the money, and he answered ‘I’ll play the markets.’ It was an honest and very revealing answer – it tells us a lot about the kinds of aspirations the CPM has come to embody in West Bengal.

  34. May 21, 2009 2:19 AM

    And as to the point about Luddism: we view Luddism from a historical distance of two centuries. The only relevant question concerning Luddism that can be asked is: had we been living back then, which side would we have been on, the state and the employers, or the Luddites? Our personal answers to that question, I suspect, will show us where we stand on the questions of Singur, Nandigram, Rajarhat, Kalinganagar, Jagatsinghpur….etc.

  35. Aftab permalink
    May 21, 2009 9:13 AM

    Upal, you seem to think that calling names is argument. What can be an adequate reply to calling names? Calling more names and louder. More hysterically, perhaps. A stimulating debate has been going on here and you are not obliged to attend to it. You find it ‘skirting’ what in your opinion is ‘the main issue.’ As you put it:

    “A bit negativistic in nature – somewhat like the so-called intellectuals of Bengal who had to ultimately dive into the laps of the Trinamool Congress. (the prodigal sons deciding to return to the fold of the Left Front).”

    However, those involved in the debate happen to be debating something else. Join it or don’t that is your prerogative but you can’t demand that people address what you decide should be the ‘main issue’.
    You find the people here to be:

    “A group of intellectuals pontificating in cyber-media? Trinamool Congress ? Maoists? CPI(M-L) ?”

    And yet you want them to respond? Strange, to say the least.
    By the way, after reading through your vituperative comment, I went back to earlier comments and responses and find that while you claim that your ‘facts’ have rendered Aditya speechless, you yourself have neither responded to the Chopra (North Dinajpur) issue, nor to Keshpur and have denied any knowledge of the APDR report. Is that what you mean by ‘main issue’, i.e. an issue that is most convenient to you?

  36. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 21, 2009 5:12 PM

    Since the question of industrialization keeps coming up, let me state a few things here briefly. A longer post is of course in order but we can let that wait. The argument usually made – as though everything here were self-evident, runs like this:
    1. that industry and industrialization is historically inevitable. (e.g. Buddhadeb’s famous ‘end of history’ if we do not industrialize.)
    2. that industry requires land and that land can only come from agriculture. Where else?
    3. Therefore, peasants have to be dispossessed.

    I have always maintained that in the first place, all those who think the peasants should pay the price for industrialization, should come forward themselves and offer their property to the peasants to adequately compensate them. This way historical necessity will be adequately taken care of and its burden shared equitably.

    On another note, is there really no other way to ‘industrialize’ than the neo-liberal way (Suresh, may you pardon me; you could check wikipedia for what it means)? This mode involves the following:
    1. We need capital investment desperately in order to industrialize.
    2. For that we need to prepare a proper ‘investment climate’, i.e. lure capital into our state by giving them real incentives like cheap but really productive agricultural land, acquired by the state from the peasants. It also means reining in the working class and present them bound hand and foot to the Tatas and Salems. We should also overlook environmental regulations and let them knock down mangrove forests and other ecological ‘resources’ etc etc.
    3. Only then will capital come and deliver us to Progress.

    In such a scenario, investment decisions are left to the corporations concerned – what they want to produce, with what technological choices etc.

    The peasant correctly says, as Bhochka pointed out in his impressions of Singur, that he does not want compensation. Would any of our worthies who are dying for industrialization, want to trade their property (land, house or anything else) for a pathetic job from where she can be kicked out at the whims of the employer? At present they at least have fertile land and that is their life-long guarantee of livelihood.
    Now, this does not mean that industrialization is not at all possible. The peasant increasingly understands that the future does not lie in agriculture and is willing to be persuaded provided there is an attempt to persuade in the first place, and there is a worthwhile exchange. Now, what if, instead of the paltry compensation, you were to say to him/her that you will be made shareholder in the industry (not a pathetic wage labourer) and that you shall get a percentage of its profits life-long. This is a proposal that was put forward by some of the much-derided intellectuals but nothing came of it. There will despite this persuasion etc, always be peasants who will not want to sell their land for any exchange. That is their right. In that case you will have to look for land where peasants are willing for such an exchange. You cannot give the Tatas the land they want, exactly where they want it, if the peasants concerned are not prepared to part with it.
    Finally, is it really the case that we must invite just any investment – else will be extinct? Irrespective of what we produce – be they ecologically disastrous like automobiles? And with whatever technology? Can we, at the beginning of the twenty first century think of other kinds of industry – those that are based on alternative fuels like solar energy? Can we think of industries that are less ecologically destructive? This is not the place to elaborate on the possibilities that are already being experimented with worldwide. This is just to indicate that the picture is not as simple as one that involves a choice between a ‘pro-industry’ position and a ‘Luddite’ position – though I do not mind a Luddite one also, personally speaking. But that is another matter.

  37. Anil permalink
    May 21, 2009 5:55 PM

    CPI(M) lost in West Bengal because of the Nandigram and Singur movement by Trinamool, SUCI and others.

    In Kerala many people were irritated by the Lavalin, internal fight and the naked communalism displayed by CPM.

  38. suresh permalink
    May 21, 2009 6:34 PM

    Land conflicts can arise even when there is no industrialization. As Atreyee noted, eminent domain was used to acquire land in relation to irrigation projects in India and its increasing use with regard to industry is a relatively recent development. It’s just that industrialization is the most likely source for such conflicts in India.

    One can even have such conflicts in places where a priori one would not suspect them, say the USA with its large land mass. I found the following interesting excerpt from a transcript of an Australian radio program during a web trawl:

    Damien Carrick: As you say, it’s been a big issue in the United States. There was a few years ago a very big case, the Kelo Case; tell me about that?

    Sean Brennan: Yes, the Kelo Case concerns a property owner, Suzanne Kelo who had a waterfront property in a city called New London in Connecticut, and there’d been a bit of an economic downturn in New London, and the local city authorities decided that they wanted to renew the waterfront. This coincided with the siting of a new research facility by the drug company Pfizer, and so there was a perception a lot of new employees would be coming into the area, and the city decided to try and ride the mini-boom by redeveloping the waterfront. As a result, it gave a private-related entity of the city itself the power to compulsorily acquire riverfront properties, including Suzanne Kelo’s, and essentially the plan involved getting rid of a lot of existing housing and bulldozing it, and to do that they exercised their power of compulsory acquisition or as it’s called in the United States, ’eminent domain’, and they offered payouts to people to move out.

    Most people did. But a few refused to budge, led by Suzanne Kelo, who fought the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, but lost there by a narrow margin in 2005, five judges to four.

    Damien Carrick: It’s interesting because these issues around land appropriation, they lead to some interesting left-right divides, don’t they?

    Sean Brennan: It does. It’s not easy to stereotype I think the positions taken by people on these cases. The dissenting judges in Kelo for example, were essentially the conservative core of the court, whereas the more progressive wing, as it’s perceived on the Supreme Court, were the majority who favoured the city using its powers to effect the economic revitalisation plan that it had, increasing tax revenues, trying to create jobs, and so this was the right-left split there in Kelo, but the reaction I think has transcended those political boundaries since and of course when you come back to the Australian context this issue has cropped up in the Native Title context last week in the High Court, and coincidentally also in Queensland, relating again to Aboriginal land. And once the idea that the very limited amounts of land left available for Aboriginal ownership in Australia become vulnerable to developers getting their hands on it via the use of compulsory acquisition powers, it does put a rather different political complexion on the issue.

    Apologies for the long excerpt. I personally think that some form of industrialization is necessary to support our 1 billion plus population. (Whether industrialization is historically inevitable, I have no idea. I am not a historian nor a sociologist and economists in general have a bad reputation for prediction.) It would be nice if we could do our industrialization without any land acquisition under compulsion. But industrialization or not, I think land conflicts will happen in India as they have happened elsewhere. To reiterate, I think it best that we evolve transparent and fair procedures for dealing with such conflicts.

    That’s all I have to say. Thanks for indulging me.

  39. May 21, 2009 8:09 PM

    I’m disturbed by the combination of management analyses and hostility to the luddites. also the generalised contempt for the new social movements. the counterposing of development to struggle embodied in these comments is very revealing…

  40. May 21, 2009 10:17 PM

    sorry the above was a fit of pique and something of a performative contradiction on my part!!

  41. May 22, 2009 7:48 AM

    A couple of Luddite interventions:

    First of all, Suresh: thanks for your clarifications – they identified many of the key points of disagreement well. I’m not a sociologist, but following the way you draw up the lines of division, I think I’d be pretty much on the side of the sociologists on this one!

    As a first comment, I’d like to make a very old Marxist point: a commodity is made, not born, and land has to become a commodity before it enters the kinds of economic calculations you describe. This is – as I think you acknowledge – a political process, and that’s the level at which we need to analyze what happened in Singur, Nandigram, New Rajarhat, Jagatsinghpur, and so on. The point at which you begin your argument – the definition of a ‘fair price’ – is something I believe most of us are familiar with, but which in a strict sense doesn’t apply to the struggles around land in many parts of India, where the conflict is not over the price of land – however generous – but over the transformation of the rights of landholders, sharecroppers and landless labourers into commodities. Thanks for your excerpt from the Kelo case: it dramatized the kinds of conflicts that characterize contemporary claims to land, but if anything it reinforces the points that many on this thread have been making – the destructive consequences of what is called ‘progress’ in today’s dominant idiom. I’d simply like to ask: where does the great fear of actually listening to people’s voices, and carrying out ‘developmental’ projects that are compatible with popular practices and rights, come from? As Aditya rightly pointed out, the work of imagining alternative kinds of industrialization is crucial. As I see it, the only ethically and ecologically acceptable long-term alternative lies in predominantly small-scale industries, characterized increasingly by worker control, that work with clean power – this, if you like, is the ‘regulative Idea’ by which we could measure contemporary ‘developmental’ measures. But that’s a personal opinion. What matters is the recognition that there’s something inherently, inevitably destructive, in the short as well as the long run, in the developmental policy that the Indian state, like most others, tries to put into practice. If Kalinganagar, Singur, Nandigram and Haripur don’t demonstrate this, I don’t know what does.

    All this only reinforces my suspicion that, politically speaking, ‘industrialization’ is a vacant and meaningless term, a red herring, which obscures the real stakes, which involve, from the very outset, the kind of industrial projects imagined and implemented. It’s all too easy to freeze this debate within an industry v. agriculture optic. This is where, I’d persist in arguing, considerations of contemporary capitalism or ‘neoliberalism’ are not only relevant, but crucial. We’re not talking about a monolithic, unthinking refusal of ‘industry’ here – only of one of its possible modulations.
    Another important feature of these land grabs that gets obscured by the obsession with industrialization is that, very often, land acquisition has absolutely nothing at all to do with industry, and real estate speculation actually often has much more to do with it. New Rajarhat exemplifies this – several thousand acres of prime and fertile agricultural land grabbed, with the usual combination of persuasion, threat and violence, not to establish new industries, but expensive residential complexes, malls and, most importantly, property that can be bought and sold with the sole motive of making a profit when the market’s booming. Bombay, Delhi and so many other places have similar stories to tell. The CPM (or, for that matter, the Congress, BJP or any of the others) does not only need to convince us that we need its own skewed vision of ‘industrialization’ in order to survive, it also needs to convince us that we need an economy driven by speculative greed to survive. A journey along New Rajarhat, a few months ago, was instructive: the buildings I’d seen last year, apparently barely weeks from completion a year ago, seemed frozen in time: nothing had changed, they were still half-built, because the bubble had burst and the companies that had acquired the land were reeling. The whole scene had odd resonances with science-fiction renderings of post-industrial landscapes – not that there had been any industry here to begin with.

  42. suresh permalink
    May 22, 2009 3:34 PM


    Thanks. This is taking too much of my time, interesting as it is, so I’ll have a final say and leave it at that.

    1. Economists, in general, do not ask where commodities come from. That is not myopia as such — all subjects have self-imposed boundaries within which they function. For the questions that economists are interested in, asking where commodities come from is not fruitful. This is not to say that this quesition is uninteresting as such: Sociologists are interested, I understand, in precisely this question.

    2. It is, however, not true that economists think that everything is a commodity. Not even the most ardent of “free marketeers” would suggest that the justice system should operate on “market principles.” Or that driving licences should be sold freely by the government to whoever is willing to pay the (monetary) price. The focus of economists is on (the allocation of) commodities but to reiterate, this does not mean that they think that everything is a commodity.

    3. I might note here that in the mid-90’s, the economist Kaushik Basu observed that India operated a parody of a “free market” system where things which ought to be allocated through a market system were not but things like justice (in many states), driving licences, kidneys etc. were, in fact, allocated via a market system.

    The fact that justice at lower levels operates in many instances on “market principles” is known, but comes to our attention only when something spectacular happens — like when some Gujarat lawywers managed to obtain a warrant for the then President Abdul Kalam’s arrest.

    3. In recent years, economists have become even more aware of situations where market principles do not apply. The Harvard economist, Alvin Roth, who specializes in designing what are called “matching markets” in fact has a paper titled “Repugnance” where he notes that in many cases, market designs are constrained because people find certain type of transactions repugnant. The variety of things that (certain) people find repugnant can be surprising. For instance, Californians apparently find the idea of humans eating horses so repugnant that enacted a law banning the sale of horsemeat for human consumption (via a referendum in 1998). See the opening paragraphs of Roth’s very interesting article:

    4. Coming back to Singur/Nandigram: Your point, if I understand it, is that the conflict in Singur, Nandigram and other places arose precisely because the peasants refuse to see “land” as a commodity to be brought/sold. Or perhaps, to use Roth’s terminology, the peasants find the idea of buying and selling land “repugnant.” I have no way of knowing whether that is true. Was land never brought and sold in rural areas in India historically?

    I would be willing to buy this argument in what – for lack of a better word – are called “tribal” areas. I am less persuaded of the argument in peasant areas — but that’s not to say that it might not be true. I simply don’t know.

    5. Even if peasants do regard land as a commodity, it does not follow that they will always agree to sell if offered money. There are any number of reasons why they might not want to sell their land. I would, therefore, say that the fact that the peasants did not want to sell their land in Singur and other places is no indication — one way or the other — of their views on land being a commodity.

    6. Your point that industrialization is a red herring with regard to compulsory land acquisition is true. I think I mentioned that even in my previous comment. The issue is the exercise of eminent domain which can be done even with regard to agricultural projects — as Atreyee noted. Should we have the law of eminent domain? That is a complex question in its own right.

    7. I don’t know what you think of economists but we — even those of us who are “neo-classical” — are concerned about the environment. Neither are all of us enamored of malls — most that I know don’t particularly care for them. Most that I know do care about development. But in no way do we equate that to more malls, etc. For an example of things that we do care about, here’s an article by two outstanding economists of Indian origin (I don’t know whether they are still Indian citizens):

    Thanks again, Bhochka. Best regards.

  43. rakshit permalink
    May 22, 2009 4:50 PM

    I haven’t had the timeto read all the 41 commments. Just wanted to say that I liked your piece, and its about time that the left and bsp and all these “peoples party” gone astray (deliberately or not) learnt their lesson. That said, your description of Karat as a unique demon in Indian politics is bit much and it seems that you have a personal problem with the man rather than the party’s self righteous and unthinking policies.
    I’d also like to add, that in India, for many of us, the larger issue at stake is to keep the BJP out…not that it pardons left faults in turn. While it was incredibly foolish of Karat to predict a civil war on the event of a US-Indo Nuclear Deal, the left for all its stupidity, is needed in the Indian Parliament to keep a check on Manmohan Singh’s US ass kissing policies. Nandigram and Singur has shown the left its place and the consequences of seizing peasant lands for big industrial goons, yet the left had the balls to quit from the coalition at the time of the Nuclear Deal.

  44. May 23, 2009 1:01 AM

    I have a few questions/observations directed at Aditya .
    1. “. Would any of our worthies who are dying for industrialization, want to trade their property (land, house or anything else) for a pathetic job from where she can be kicked out at the whims of the employer? At present they at least have fertile land and that is their life-long guarantee of livelihood.”
    The compensation the peasants got at least in Singur , if invested in a nationalized bank , would have fetched them an amount equal to and in some cases more than what they were otherwise
    earning after a days’ hard toil. The calculations were repeatedly publicized by WB Govt. So they were not dependent on jobs – if they wished to work , that would have been a bonus.
    2. “There will despite this persuasion etc, always be peasants who will not want to sell their land for any exchange. That is their right.” Can this logic be extended to Land Reforms ? Do you consider the right to property of a zamindar or a landowner also a “Fundamental right” because he has inherited the same ? Just curious to know your views.
    3. “Now, what if, instead of the paltry compensation, you were to say to him/her that you will be made shareholder in the industry (not a pathetic wage labourer) and that you shall get a percentage of its profits life-long. This is a proposal that was put forward by some of the much-derided intellectuals but nothing came of it”.
    Industries have a long gestation period and returns come in after 2-3 years. It is difficult for peasants to sustain themselves in the interim.

  45. May 23, 2009 1:09 AM

    Thanks, Suresh. I didn’t for a moment mean to disparage the efforts of economists to understand the present crisis – an economist, Amit Bhaduri, has written some of the most significant critiques of the West Bengal government’s policy. Nor did I mean to polemicize against economics, even neo-classical economics, as a discipline – that would have been presumptuous, and beyond my competence. And thanks, also, for the very interesting and illuminating articles.

    I do think there’s some confusion over the question of land-as-commodity, perhaps exacerbated by my reference to Marx on the commodity-form (and, in this case implicitly, on ‘primitive accumulation’). I seem to have given the impression that land in Singur, Nandigram and elsewhere is governed by a pre-market, pre-commodity logic, and that clearly isn’t true. The point, however, is that whatever the earlier histories of accumulation, transfer, and sale of land (of course land in India has been bought and sold for a very long time), in the flashpoints of conflict over the last few years, the question of land-as-commodity has come up quite explicitly. When peasants in Singur and Nandigram said ‘Our lives but not our land’, they meant it – there was clearly a bundle of economic and affective attachments at work that challenged the naming of THEIR land as commodity. Now that might have changed had the price been higher – though in these cases I doubt it (land in Singur, it was easy to see on the strength of a single visit, was fertile, multi-cropped, and pretty remunerative). Or it might have changed had the peasants and agricultural workers been offered the shareholder status that Aditya suggested as a hypothetical alternative, or perhaps if they’d been guaranteed a lifelong income equivalent to their current benefits (however you compute those). The point is that these are hypothetical questions – in these cases Buddhadeb and Co. Ltd. genuinely had no idea that there was anything in the least problematic in simply grabbing the land. I’m not denying that there are probably many parts of the country where people might be happy to part with land that binds them down, at an appropriate price. However much I dislike the kinds of ‘developmental’ strategies based on consensual land alienation that the state and private companies envisage, I can’t argue with the right of people to give up their land if they really, actively want to.

    But these are purely hypothetical questions, entirely irrelevant to what actually happened in West Bengal, Orissa, etc. Whereas the claim that land was not a commodity came directly, and explicitly, from hundreds of peasants, who expressed themselves vocally and articulately whenever asked about their reasons for not surrendering their land. Perhaps this was rhetoric generated by the heat of political struggle, perhaps it was strategic. But even if this was the case, what of it? The question of land sale in the first place was thrust upon them brutally, by state and party fiat, and their own concerns and views only entered public and official discourse at the point when they resisted, violently and successfully. But if we take those views – expressed in both individual words and collective action – seriously, then we need to acknowledge that at the very least, unlike the question of a suitable selling price, the question of the status of land as commodity was not a purely hypothetical one. In their own lives and experiences, this mattered.

  46. rohit negi permalink
    May 23, 2009 3:15 AM

    these elections, i believe, allow those on the left some room to rethink our politics.

    first of all, and I agree entirely that the CPM had to go. one cannot speak of communism–unless one means by the term its soviet or chinese variants–when also engaging in theoretical gymnastics to justify dispossession. nor can one speak of being a people’s party when the model of change is entirely top-down.

    what i cannot understand, and here i hope folks can enlighten me, is why has caste not been a central political issue for the left in india? Not as an opportunistic means for electoral victories, but as a central problem of our times.
    why isn’t the leadership of and issues taken up by our communist parties not reflective of the fact that caste remains a deeply oppressive structure, and one that the left must prioritize?

  47. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 24, 2009 10:12 AM

    Dear R,
    Let me respond to your queries to the best of my ability. I say this because often comments here (not yours) assume that one must (and can) criticize only when one has a full-fledged, tried and tested alternative. We (and I mean humanity as a whole) are out of answers today and old answers don’t work. One therefore needs to think afresh.
    1. In the first place, we know today what financial markets today are and how years of hard-earned savings, put in fixed deposits, can be simply wiped off in hours. But even assuming that the ‘compensation’ was substantial and financial markets would be ceased to be the creatures of whims that they are, nobody else can decide for the peasants whether they should continue to do hard labour and earn less or enjoy a good bourgeois life. That is entirely their prerogative. I am also further making another point. The peasants do not see the historical necessity of perishing for the ‘larger good of humanity’. Those who do and think that the world will come to an end without industrialization, malls and high-class haute bourgeois apartments, should come forward and donate their properties so that peasants can be adequately compensated and the burden of historical progress equitably shared. So please do not bring the compensation question over and over again. It is irrelevant beyond a point.
    3. Now your point 3, responds to my suggestion of giving the workers a stake in the industry by an evasion: by suggesting that this is not viable as industries have a long gestation period of 2-3 years. Well, for that period you could give monetary compensation – fixed deposits can work in the short run when the markets are in good shape. The point is that the peasant’s land needs to be seen as an important part of the industry’s investment. It should be treated as such.
    2. All these then bring me to the second question you have raised: is property to be considered a fundamental right? Am I against land reforms? My present response to this is uncertain. I think that we need, first of all, to distinguish between different kinds of property. Corporate property, which is actually not owned by the capitalist but is raised from the market from public savings cannot and must not be seen as private property and must be regulated, made accountable and in specific cases, as in Evo Morales’ Bolivia, even be nationalized. Not as a blanket general rule though. Middle-range or small property that is by and large, run by the entrepreneurs own investments but employs hired labour is another level of social property and has to be publicly accountable but should normally not be taken over by the state. We could add further distinctions here: ancestral property that is used to exploit and oppress the poorer peasants and farm labour – the kind that you have in mind when you talk of ‘land reforms’. At this level, yes, land might need to be taken over and redistributed as it is built on generations of exploitation and forced labour. As you can see, there are layers and layers of issues involved here and I would not like to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to your question. In Left-wing circles this has become something of a cliche – an unthought that is mouthed rhetorically as though all property can be reduced to one kind.
    Rohit, your question is a large one and I am not sure I can respond adequately to it here. BUt we can certainly say one thing: ‘Class’ was such an overwhelming category for the communists that they thought everything including caste could be subsumed within it. But no less important, it seems to me, was the deep modernist discomfort and embarrassment at recognizing a non-secular and shameful practice as ‘untouchability’ as part of our legacy and heritage. We somehow wanted to just quickly affirm that it was a bad thing and move on to a secular resolution of the problem – modern education, scientific temper etc

  48. May 24, 2009 2:01 PM

    1. I do not agree with you that one can simply adopt a nihilistic attitude, criticize from the comfortable environs of cyber-space those who are trying to do their best to struggle and ameliorate people’s conditions and without any ‘viable ‘ alternative in sight. The world has always opted for the ‘best’ alternative under the prevalent conditions and has worked towards mitigating the negative aspects of the said force since the others are worse. Apparently, you and your friends have no clue of the same.
    2. Glad to know that you do accept that taking over land can be a viable alternative under certain conditions. Of course, Singur will never fall under that catgeory – I guess because the CPM was involved.
    3. Was reading some of your past posts. Even putting down the Kronstad uprising was wrong because violence was involved !!! I guess endless debates over cyber-chat will ‘liberate’ the exploited of the world . They can just forget about Revolution or any form of violent uprisings in future !!

  49. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 24, 2009 3:11 PM

    R, I do not as a rule like to respond to cowards who do not even want to appear in their own names and brandish all kinds of certificates that they distribute (who sits in the comfortable environs of cyber-space and who is authentically a ‘people’s rep’ etc). At any rate, it is clear that the challenge now to you and your party is from its dear masses who live in the heat and dust of rural Bangla (as opposed to the comfortable environs of Writers Building)… It does not come from cyberspace.
    I did respond to some of your questions because I thought, on the off-chance that you might seriously want to engage in a debate. Clearly you do not. Nor do you want to respond to the concrete issues that have been raised. Your style is by now characteristic: most CPM people have lately been sneaking into spaces like Kafila, posing as neutral people but can’t obviously sustain it. Very soon the posture of debate gives way to foul mouthing and invectives. I know that in your party criticism can only be made anonymously and rhetoric is supposed to masquerade as argument but please forgive us for not playing along. Neither People’s Democracy nor Ganashakti allow even a semblance of debate anyway. Right now, face the people of Bengal and excuse us. Good luck.
    By the way, as for the Kronstadt revolt, read something more than the History of the CPSU(B) Short Course and do not display your utter ignorance of historical developments in ‘Fatherland’. You of course have the right to display it as you have, but this is just a well wisher’s advice. For the last twenty years, the Moscow archives have now been open to researchers and all the evidence you want is available for free – you just have to look for it. Good Luck, once again.

  50. rakshit permalink
    May 24, 2009 9:16 PM


    I LOVED your reponse toa certain Mr. “R” … good job.

  51. rakshit permalink
    May 24, 2009 9:18 PM

    well said and not as irritably said as oftensome authors of Kafila often do i must confess.

  52. rohit negi permalink
    May 25, 2009 7:57 AM

    Thanks, Aditya.
    It might be worth going to historical documents re. what Indian communists, in the formative years of the movement, thought of caste oppression and politics. I just think that at the gut level it makes sense to politically take it up..if nothing else, in the spirit of Lenin to make the party the ‘tribune of the oppressed’.

    On another note, and related to the land issue, i’ve been thinking a lot these days about the whole matter of the so-called ‘primitive accumulation'(PA)…there still remains on the left a somewhat teleological notion of that concept as a necessary stage of a future developed society via capitalism. At some level the matter of WB points to this problematic notion.

    Now this is not the case with either of the two well-publicized cases in Bengal, but certainly something i found in my own research in Southern Africa–not all politics around PA is a politics of opposition: because they’re emerging from two decades of economic stagnation, one finds new mining enclaves attracting thousands of people looking for employment, and people happily giving away land. Of course, if and when the crisis gets worse, capital will ‘prune’ workers and/or leave, but it throws up some difficult questions for the left. How does one speak of anti-capitalism when those caught in its wake are willing to jump at it?

    This point may be incorporated in that stageist theory by some, but i’m thinking about a more earnest analysis.

  53. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    May 25, 2009 11:04 AM

    Rohit, your point about Southern Africa is very interesting and certainly food for thought. I would like to think about it more. Of course, why should we assume that instead of the earlier universalist proposition on PA, there will be another, equally universalist one (of opposition a la India)? Maybe we need to understand the context in a more in-depth manner. Each context might yield something unexpected – as your own research shows. But that said, I want to think about it more.

  54. May 25, 2009 5:09 PM

    Do the CP(M) pretend to have connections with the Chavista’s? Honest question. What strikes me is that here you have a genuine radical reformism, full of contradictions to be sure, but clearly a movement which involves real challenges to the status quo both globally and nationally. A movement like this would, in the Indian context, be denounced by those who argue like R about ‘nihilism’. The TINA formulation used implies that there is no alternative to the path of accomodation with the global forces which Chavez contests. On Kronstadt I would make a different kind of point. I tend to think Victor Serge (an anarchist turned bolshevik whose ‘memoirs of a revolutionary’ makes an excellent read, reminding us that at one time the Bolsheviks were activists like the rest of us rather then icons) makes a qualified defence of the kronstadt revolt given conditions of blockade and civil war. But it is a deeply anguished defence, demonstrating that many who had been centrally involved in the Bolshevik movement since the early days, felt this anguish keenly (and ominously). There is no hint of celebration. In Bengal it is not the case that a revolution is being defended. Whats being defended is electoral representation and an accomodation with the logic of capital in order to preserve that representation. This seems an elementry distinction to me, and those who can’t make it sound strange when they mouth Marxist rhetoric to cover over this distinction. Lenin once described anarchism as the price paid by Marxists for the sins of opportunism. I find it amazing that an organisation which celebrates campaigns against neo-liberalism everywhere else in the world, has nothing but invective for those who, whatever there politics or possible confusions, have the temerity to do the same in their own country. I get the impression that the debased pseudo-marxist rhetoric on display here is the price paid for bad faith, and possibly, a guilty consience.

  55. May 25, 2009 5:14 PM

    sorry that should be a ‘qualified defence of the suppression of the kronstadt revolt’. Its worth adding that he does not attempt to argue that those involved in this revolt were consiously counter-revolutionaries. His is a consequentialist argument about what would have happened had soviet power fallen in this region (cf Trotsky’s contemporary remarks about ‘fascism’ being a Russian rather then an Italian word). Now its quite possible to argue with consequentialist arguments of this sort (both in terms of disputing consequences, and also arguments suggesting that there are other, possibly worse, consequences to adopting the narrow realism implied by such consequentialism), but note the difference between the kinds of arguments made by those who defended the suppression then, and the kind of tone adopted towards people who do no more then point out that what the CP(M) did was wrong.

  56. Subroto Das permalink
    May 26, 2009 12:49 PM

    “R”‘s retort to Aditya smacked of impatience emanating from a general lack of direction, I suspect. At the same time, Aditya’s comment on CPM types sneaking in is also indefensible. “CPM types” also need to be heard.
    What has come about brilliantly in the last few posts is the eternal dilemna Marxists have faced in power whether acquired through Revolution or Parliamentary means. It seems rational that the Kronstadt Revolt had to be surpressed as a newly Revolutionary State had just acquired power and passed through a bloody Civil war where everyone had ganged up to deal a fatal blow to the nascent forces of the Working Class though it is also true that their demands were essentially “democratic” and “revolutionary” in character which would have paved the way for “true” and “genuine” Socialism which somehow never fructified subsequently . However, what has to be debated does not fall within the realm of “ethics” or “Normative philosophy” but hard and practical realism. Succumbing to them would have opened the doors to St. Petersburg and ultimately Moscow. Archival Documents have also exposed the fact that Global forces headquartered in Finland were behind them though that was not the intention of the Sailors. A genuine ground of criticism is that the Government should have at least talked to them whcih as far as reports suggest they refused to do.
    Fast forward to Nandigram. Noone can accuse the LF of refusing to talk . Innumerable All-Party Meetings were boycotted by Trinamool. The Government even massively climbed down with the CM unequivocally declaring that the Chemical Hub would not take place.
    On whatever grounds you may criticize the CPM, the essentially Fascist character of Trinamool Congress is as clear as daylight to those who have grown up in Kolkata in the 60’s and 70’s and even those born in 80’s or 90’s.
    What was the alternative then ? Let Fascists gain the upper hand, (though a section of the Progressive masses were aligned with them)though in hindsight its apparent that the action cost the Party much more than it gained, just like the suppression of Kronstad sowed the seeds of destruction , culminating in its decimation 70 years later.
    This can turn out to be the topic of an interesting debate.

  57. johng permalink
    May 26, 2009 2:19 PM

    I agree that CP(M) ‘types’ should be welcome to debate. However please. Calcutta is not Petrograd, and the CP(M) leadership are not Bolsheviks. Nor were those who suffered repression because they did not want to relinquish their land Kronstadt sailors. Nor were the plans to set up SEZ’s part of a desperate attempt to defend the revolution. Its also pretty clear that the term ‘fascism’ undergoes fascinating revisions in these kinds of discussion. I think, as a whole, one should resist the term unless one is talking about forces in which such terms are analytically appropriate/on which some concensus exists. Western imperialist countries love to describe their enemies as fascists. It can be used to justify almost anything. If you start arguing that Muslim peasent farmers in Bengal are kronstadt sailors with fascists standing behind them well…it rather leaves out of account other dangerous tendencies. I think what we need is a sensible discussion without hyperbole. I think there is understandable horror about what the almost inevitable electoral defeat of the CP(M) in Bengal will mean. No it won’t mean a land of milk and honey. But it doesn’t mean ‘fascism’ either.

    On ethics, well, I would simply say that realism is an ethical position. For if its true that it was ‘realism’ to lay the basis for the destruction of the regime seventy years later (as it happens I’m not convinced about these connections) its hardly realism at all. The CP(M)’s “realism” needs critiquing. It wasn’t realism. It was simply adaptation.

  58. Subrato Das permalink
    May 27, 2009 12:38 AM


    Maybe the comparison between Kronstadt sailors and peasants of Nandigram were a bit far-fetched. However, the essential dilemna remains the same.
    There is no revision in the definition of “Fascism” by categorizing Trinamool under the same . I can argue till the “cows come home” though this may not be an appropriate forum . We could take it up separately if you are willling.
    The phenomenon, recently observed, of progressive liberals lending respectability to such lumpen forces is, to put it mildly, “unfortunate”.
    Let us fight the CPM by creating a genuine Ledt, Liberal, secular and democratic 3rd force instead of selecting the path of least resistance which people ranging from Sujat Bhadro of APDR to a faction of CPI(M-L (with a total membership of 500), SUCI and Mahasweta Devi have conveniently done.

  59. Yabasta permalink
    May 27, 2009 10:52 AM

    If only wishes were horses, we would all be kings, Subrato. When a rule becomes oppressive, people simply want to throw it off, irrespective of whether the alternative exists or not. That time, it seems from the results, has come in W Bengal. The task of building a ‘genuine Left, Liberal, Secular 3rd force’ should have been done long ago. Now, despite our laments, the game is no longer in the hands of Leftists. People can only either go with the LF or the TMC. I agree with Johng that ‘fascism’ is a completely inappropriate term for the TMC. But if one assumes it sticks, how many times was fascism not the price paid for the failures of the Left? That price will unfortunately have to be paid yet again.

  60. johng permalink
    May 27, 2009 4:04 PM

    I’m quite happy to carry the debate off blog. Not sure how to transmit email etc. Perhaps Aditya would help. The trouble of talk of lumpen forces etc, is that this is somewhat imprecise sociologically, and like the term ‘fascism’, in my experiance is an epithet which can be flung around (often appropriately) between contending parties. Did the peasents in Nandigram have the right to resist? Was the CP(M) for all its talk of secularism correct to label their resistance ‘communal’ given the composition of the population? (this was a little alluded to feature of the surreal propaganda war that unfolded that I found deeply shocking). Given the reality of what is going on, the left cannot define the terrain of struggle. If you do not support struggles for basic rights you are not in any position to comment on the ideologies and politics of those fighting for them. Thats the problem. To suggest that the left should not support struggles when they are led by politically dubious forces, when politically dubious forces dominate the whole of mass politics is a recipe for ensuring that the kind of genuine left you want to see will never ever emerge. Of course this cuts both ways. Its why I’m against treating the leadership and membership of the CP(M) as a block. One thing to hope for is a shift to the left both inside and outside the CP(M) which enables some kind of space to be created for the kind of left you want to see. But simply sloganising about secularism, liberalism etc, etc is unlikely to achieve the goal. You have to start with where people actually are.

  61. Dr.Partha Hazari permalink
    May 31, 2009 11:20 AM

    Marxism is an obsolate word and no more acceptable to any sensible man or country. Primary condition of Marxism was “Armed revolution of proletariets” and not to capture power through election, that too by rigging like so called Marxists of India.
    These Indian Marxists call USA imperialist. Today its not USA, its China who should be called imperialist. These Indian Marxists are acting as agent of China. So they protested Nuclear treatywith USA.
    Every one is blaming Karat, Biman, Buddha for CPMs defeat without considering the fact that there were Hitlars & Stalins created by CPM in every locality of W.B who are directly responsible for CPMs defeat.

  62. June 1, 2009 1:39 PM

    Hi Dear A, what a moving post. This April, I was in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra to participate in a seminar. I desired to visit few villages. My hosts took me to a village inhabited by Kolam Tribe- described a PRIMITIVE TRIBE. I saw a nine year old girl betraying Karat- she held an English book in her tiny hand, and read the first page-poem for me. Upon asked, she revealed that she uses shampoo pouches to wash hair. A classic case of Market invasion!

    In my own village, many Dait families are betraying Karat- many have bought Pressure Cookers, and some have started eating biscuits. Worse still, the market economy is betraying Karat even more- many Dalits are now hiring upper caste men to till their land.


  63. June 1, 2009 2:15 PM

    Ok, other than devising quixotic electoral equations and trying to push those down the throat of cadres by publishing and telecasting it through the official media, what has karat and his co done?

    Due to the recession lakhs have lost their jobs in sectors like textile and others, have these people tried organizing and support these hapless “class” of people?

    What kind of communism is he trying to show us? What is the difference b/w him and Amar Singh who try to play these mindless number games while lying the slumber of an Air-conditioned AKG Bhavan?

    While in Kerala Comrades seems to have gone a step ahead in terms of arrogance. They ve joined up the filthiest of the filthiest in the society after floating their party-entertainment channel-kairali.

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