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SEARCH FOR WAYS TO KEEP MARX ALIVE

During a television interview the other day, the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, was once again visibly excited over information technology. Referring to the young men and women who have joined the industry, he said, 'These people are the 21st century. We are the ruins of the 20th century.' On the face of it, there was nothing new in these words. Bhattacharjee believes that IT is his trump card and it must be admitted that so far, the state has not done too badly in this regard. But when in the same breath Bhattacharjee chose to speak about 'ruins', it did appear that there was more in the expression than the obvious. Was he suggesting a new birth in the realm of ideas for his party, a new agenda'

Both organizationally and politically, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) does need a rethink. Election results may not indicate this but that is because in all the three states of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala it has only a ramshackle opposition to deal with. Yes, even in Kerala, where a badly divided Congress helped the Left Democratic Front pick up 19 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats. But the left leadership is aware of the problems within.

The organizational problems first. In West Bengal, the party itself admits in its political-organizational report that its number of full-timers is on the decline and that it currently stands at a little over 2,700. In North Dinajpur district, the number is only nine. Of the districts about which concern has been expressed is Nadia, from where the state party secretary, Anil Biswas, hails. Obviously, the younger generation is not coming forward to serve the party. If that in itself is ominous, more dangerous is the reason, one of the many, which the leadership itself furnishes for this ' inadequate salary. A communist party full-timer is considered a professional revolutionary and in West Bengal, it appears, younger elements do not want to become revolutionaries because the wages are too little. If the likes of Promode Das Gupta, Harekrishna Konar, Benoy Chowdhury, A. Rasool and, of course, Muzaffar Ahmed and Abdul Halim, are turning in their graves at this, there is more news for them.

The party has admitted in black and white that there is a growing tendency among members engaged in other professions to apply for 'full-timer' jobs once they retire, obviously to supplement their incomes. The party has warned district units against encouraging such tendencies but the message is clear ' in West Bengal today the ruling party is seen by members, or by many of them, as a means of just augmenting earnings and not one which their ideology compels them to serve, irrespective of what they get in return.

Younger party members, of course, have a counter argument. That is, in these days of rising prices they also need fair wages. This is the same argument that this writer had heard during the Salkia plenum in the late Seventies. Nothing seems to have changed in the quarter of a century that has gone by. Here one is tempted to recall that great cynic, Samar Sen, who always maintained that there could be no revolution in this country because, at the crucial moment, workers would ask for 'overtime' payment. The temptation to do so is all the more as the younger Marxists also speak of 'ill treatment' at the hands of seniors. Replace the word 'seniors' with 'bosses', and a fair idea can be had of their mental make up. As also that of the 'seniors'.

Yet the party would love to, and is eager to, have in its ranks those faces of the 21st century of whom Bhattacharjee spoke so lovingly. Hence today there is talk of formulating a 'cadre policy'. This essentially means reviewing the existing wages and medical and other allowance so as to attract better elements.

Nothing wrong with that save one little thing. The party will then have to, for all practical purposes, see itself officially as a 'benign employer' who expects his happy 'employees' to deliver the goods. Thereby the party will cease to see itself as a family, as it still wants itself to be seen. And it must finally reconcile itself to the reality that for it, 'revolution' can no longer be on the cards. No amount of wages can usher in a revolution, even if there is the unlikely possibility of 1917 or 1949 being repeated. A Lula or a Chavez is aware of this reality, so is the CPI(M) leadership but, understandably, it is difficult to give up the ghost.

Meanwhile, there is another immediate and pressing problem. If there is a feeling among full-timers that they are being ill-treated, the party workers in the entire south Bengal tribal belt, Purulia, Bankura and Jhargram sub-division of Midnapore, are feeling neglected. There is a growing feeling that they do not count much with the bosses who either belong to the upper castes or the scheduled castes, and whose social standing in the countryside can never be ignored. Because of their econo- mic backwardness and because they occupy only the fringes of society, the tribal Marxists do feel estranged and Alimuddin Street is aware of this. There is also the fact that in their turn these party leaders have distanced themselves from their own brethren because of their status.

The seriousness of the problem can be assessed from the fact that the party has decided to take a closer look at Purulia district and the organizational issues involved there. In this situation, is it surprising that the Maoists have been able to get a foothold among these tribals' For the Marxists the issue here is of assimilation, an issue that concerns the mind more than anything else.

The organizational problems seen in West Bengal, and also perhaps in Tripura and Kerala, may not be there in the weaker states where the party is still seeking to gain a toehold. Will there be then two kinds of cadre policy; one for the 'forward' and the other for the 'backward' states' This will mean that the cadre working more will get less than those fortunate enough to reap the fruits of the hard toil put in by their predecessors.

In that case, what happens to solidarity' Even now party wages do differ from state to state, but once this difference is made clear on paper as a matter of policy, it will appear like the same company paying different salaries to employees in different cities. The only outcome of this can be unrest.

Idealism can be a binding factor but then, as the West Bengal report implies, it has, for the most part, ceased to exist. Also if West Bengal, the bastion of the communists and leftists, is finding it difficult to attract the youth, can there be much future elsewhere' Particularly in the Hindi speaking belt, where so far the communists have never had an answer to the caste question.

What is needed perhaps is a thoroughly new look. The communists view Marxism not as a dogma but as a guide to action and it is perhaps time to think whether the objective conditions do not require a new kind of action, if the youth are not turning to the red flag because the slogans do not attract them anymore, particularly after the Soviet experience. If Marxism is a science it should have within it the means to refurbish itself.

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