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MY PARTY AND I - Prakash Karat has invented a new tradition for communist parties

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By Rudrangshu Mukherjee
  • Published 29.07.10

The truth, whatever postmodernists might say, has a tendency to sneak through. Who would have expected that of all persons the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Mr Prakash Karat, trained as he is in the Stalinist school of falsification and dissembling, would blurt it out, albeit inadvertently? Or maybe it wasn’t that inadvertent.

Last Sunday morning was not a very comfortable time for Mr Karat. A Delhi newspaper carried extracts from the memoirs of Somnath Chatterjee, the former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who had been expelled from the CPI(M) in 2008 at the behest of Mr Karat. The memoirs contain many allegations against the general secretary of the CPI(M) and the way the party is run. The former speaker has gone to the extent of saying that the decision to expel him was taken with only five members of the politburo present at the meeting. Mr Karat, who was in Calcutta on Sunday, was naturally asked by journalists for his reaction. He said, “I am not reacting, my party will respond.”

I have deliberately italicized two words in Mr Karat’s statement because the truth lies in those two simple words, “my party”. How significant those two words are!

Mr Karat could have said, “Our party will respond.” Or better still, he could have said, “The party will respond.” But he chose — and Mr Karat is a man of few words which are always well-chosen and well-thought-out — to say “my party”. What could he have meant by this use of the possessive pronoun in the first person and by placing it before ‘party’?

Mr Karat was a student in Edinburgh where he was under the influence of the redoubtable Marxist scholar, Victor Kiernan. So he must be aware of what the word ‘my’ denotes. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of ‘my’ as “of or belonging to me”. I appreciate that in the hallowed precincts of the headquarters of “my party”, Mr Karat may not have immediate access to the OED, but if he locates a Concise Oxford Dictionary tucked away somewhere on the shelves among the Collected Works of Joseph Stalin, he will discover that the COD says much the same thing.

Thus, there can be no dispute about what ‘my’ means. It signifies possession. Mr Karat thus said that the CPI(M) belongs to him. This is Mr Karat’s moment of truth.

It might surprise Mr Karat to learn that to some lesser mortals he has, by his remarkable admission, inverted one of the most important tenets that govern the lives of members of communist parties. Members of communist parties are taught to believe that the individual is nothing, the collective of the party everything. The individual belongs to the party. And now we have the general secretary of one of the biggest communist parties in the world saying that the party is his — “my party”. Mr Karat has invented a new tradition of the communist party as a personal possession. Where and how — after having spent so many hours in party classes, after having learnt his Marxism at the feet of Victor Kiernan — did he learn the language of possessive individualism?

I cannot readily recall any important communist leader speaking in terms of “my party”. It is well known that in that strange system called democratic centralism, the general secretary of a communist party wields enormous power within the party hierarchy and in the running of the party machinery. Yet no general secretary has ever expressed a desire to possess a communist party. Even Stalin, who, for all practical purposes, ran the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as his private institution, did not refer to the CPSU as “my party”. He held the life and death of comrades, including old Bolsheviks, in his cruel hands, but despite his authoritarian and tyrannical ways, he took care in his public pronouncements to differentiate the institution of the party from himself. It was almost always “the Party” — the ‘p’ capitalized as if to suggest the party’s power and omnipresence before which the individual lost his own identity. The Party was the individual’s identity. Mr Karat cannot be unaware of all this. Yet he said “my party”.

It is ironic that Mr Karat should strike a claim to own and possess the CPI(M) precisely at a time when voices within the party — muted of course — and opinion without are remarking on his arrogant ways. Many believe that he forces his own views on the party and often transgresses the party’s injunction to lead a simple life. These are the perceptions, and without access to the secret archives of the CPI(M), I am not even suggesting that they are necessarily true. But Mr Karat’s description of the CPI(M) as “my party” only confirms, in a bizarre way, the general impression about his arrogance and the suspicion that he runs the party according to his own whims and fancies.

Whatever be the perceptions, the fact remains that Mr Karat claims to be a leader of the people but he has never contested a popular election. He is a leader of the people once removed: the CPI(M) claims to be a people’s party, Mr Karat is head of the CPI(M) and therefore he is a leader of the people. It doesn’t need a logician to locate the fallacy in the syllogism.

Mr Karat knows he inhabits an illusory world. Without the mobilization of the CPI(M) in West Bengal and Kerala, he would not be able to fill a small classroom. His leadership is an illusion, and hence the desire to assert his authority in the closed-door meetings of the politburo and the central committee. The sudden and unexpected expression of ownership of the party is also perhaps derived from that desire.

There is no need, however, for any psychological analysis. Mr Karat has admitted to his own arrogance by two words, “my party”. He stands condemned on his own undeniable testimony. And this being India, and not the imperialist United States of America, he cannot even plead the fifth amendment.

Mr Karat is free, of course, to issue a clarification or a denial. Comrades are rather good at such things and at self-justification. One could alter just one word of a famous epigram of Lord Acton’s, and say, “Every communist is followed by a sophist with a sponge.”

While talking of justification, one cannot help being amused at the CPI(M)’s condemnation of what Somnath Chatterjee said as “post facto justification”. A justification is by definition always post facto. Again one doesn’t need a logician to see this. There was a time, even in the shoddy annals of Indian communism, when none of the communist leaders would have ever written such a ridiculous phrase. Neither would they have said “my party”. Alas poor Yorick.