It is never too late to learn — or to admit mistakes. But communists have a history of taking too long to admit their mistakes. It was not unusual that West Bengal’s Marxists made many mistakes during their long reign in the state. Rulers everywhere turn blind to their own blunders. But Bengal’s comrades thought they could do no wrong. It is thus impossible to miss the irony in the Marxists’ season of self-criticism. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the former chief minister, now admits that some leaders of his party made the mistake of considering themselves ‘masters’, rather than friends, of the people. Ashok Mitra, a former finance minister of the Left Front government, who is also a columnist for this newspaper, points to another major mistake. The entire procedure for the so-called democratization of education, according to him, was a ‘mistake’. This prompted the government and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to ‘discard the best’ and ‘worship the worst’. ‘Loyalty’ to the party, not merit or ability, mattered in appointments in educational institutions. The result, Mr Mitra remarks, was that the entire system had collapsed. What he does not admit plainly enough is the fact that the CPI(M)’s political ideology was at the heart of it all.
However, such admissions of mistakes raise more questions than they answer. How was it that men like Mr Bhattacharjee and Mr Mitra did not recognize the mistakes when they occurred? If they did recognize them, what stopped them from speaking out or forcing a course correction? In fact, there were some voices of protest against the CPI(M)’s politicization of education. The Telegraph had consistently argued that the CPI(M)’s policies on education were solely aimed at establishing the party’s control over educational institutions, teachers and students. While he now admits the ‘mistake’, Mr Mitra may also realize how costly it has been for several generations of students in Bengal. But the CPI(M) had the same approach not just to education but to all aspects of public life. Party loyalists replaced efficient, suitable people in all spheres of administration. The difference was that the damage was far deeper in education than in other fields. Leaders and other people who had been associated with the CPI(M) must, therefore, take the blame for the ‘mistakes’. The crucial question, though, is whether the Marxists can learn enough to change themselves.