Predictions about the decline and fall of a regime or a political party often go hopelessly wrong. Twelve years ago, Gordon G. Chang, a Chinese American author, told the world of “the coming collapse of China” in a book with that title. One may argue that communism, as the world knew it, has indeed collapsed in China. But few today doubt that the book got it all wrong. Many other predictions about the end of communism in other parts of the world, though, have come true. The time may have come to start talking of the decline and possible fall of the Left in West Bengal. The sharp decline of the Left vote in the recent by-elections to the state legislature provides the trigger for the inquiry. The decline is actually sharper than the one that saw the end of the 34-year rule of the Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It thus continues a process that began with the Left’s first big losses in the panchayat polls of 2008 and then in the parliamentary polls of 2009 until the collapse in 2011. The by-elections may have been a smaller stage, but their results confirm the big trend. All this may not be enough to suggest that the Left in Bengal is in terminal decline. But there is no denying the symptoms.
It is always interesting to try and see why and how an institution declines and falls. In the case of a political party, many factors, spread over generations, may lead to the slow demise. But a vibrant political organization would detect the symptoms and change its ways in order to avert the end. The Left’s decline, especially in Bengal, is ultimately due to its inability to change with the times. And, that inability has everything to do with the ways a Leninist party functions. The static organizational structure of the CPI(M), for example, is utterly unsuitable to cope with the dynamics of a fast-changing political or social context. The party bureaucracy that runs such an organization must necessarily be an old-fashioned and rigid one incapable of changing with the times. The Left in Bengal is thus caught in a time warp — with the same leaders mouthing the same ideas almost in the same language decade after decade. The absurdity of it all was not so apparent while the Left Front was in power. But, with every popular contest now, the fault lines are running deeper.
The CPI(M) would do well to look to the bourgeois parties for inspiration and for some new ideas. They could look at the Congress and see how the party reinvented itself under Sonia Gandhi at a time when many commentators were busy writing its obituary. They could even take a leaf out of Mamata Banerjee’s book, especially on how she spawned a host of minor leaders apparently out of nowhere. The CPI(M), by contrast, cannot anoint young comrades as leaders until they attain a certain age and pass obsolete party tests. But then, some organisms would rather die than change.