Last week, the Indian Left received notice that it better reconstruct its political vocabulary and, perhaps, its positions too, when the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), the largest in the world, opened its doors to capitalists who can now become members of the party. Where does that leave orthodox Marxism? Is it goodbye to the eternal contradiction between capital and labour? Is socialism—reeling after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union—now in terminal decline?
The Indian Left is split sharply down the middle. While there are those who feel that the fundamental Marxist principles can't be diluted, there are others for whom the changes announced by the CPC is a reality to be accepted in the liberalised world.
Says CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechuri, who is among those who feel that contrary to what the western media has projected nothing has significantly changed: "I refer to page two of the Chinese constitution. There's a clear declaration that the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism will remain the sovereign philosophy of the state." According to him, there's been a change in membership rules, little else. "Earlier, the CPC's membership was open to anybody over 18 from the urban or rural proletariat and who believed in Marxism-Leninism and accepted the party's programmes and policies. This time, the party says it'll rectify this anomaly of restricting membership."
He hastens to qualify this: "Communists in the past have accepted people from an affluent background into the leadership. Zhou En Lai came from an affluent background. In India we had our Saklatvalas and S. Acharyas."
CPI(M) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet reiterates that nothing drastic has happened in China. But he's quick to add that changes, if any, have little impact on the CPI(M). Says he: "The Communist party in India is not affected by decisions taken in China. We have our own priorities."
But not everyone is agreed that the changes are not of import. Says CPI(M) central committee member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan: "China has already passed through the first phase of revolution and is on the fast track to socialism. The party can ill-afford to ignore the contribution of the entrepreneurial class in the post-revolution development of China, especially in the new world order of liberalisation and globalisation."
CPI's Bengal secretary Manju Majumdar does not hide her displeasure: "The notion of admitting capitalists as fellow Communists is intriguing, especially in the Indian context, where we have been always fighting them. Our party's national executive has discussed the situation arising out of the CPC's decision. But clearly, more exercise is needed and with other fraternal parties too." For instance, Left leaders ask, what will happen in case a 'capitalist' communist, who owns a factory, is confronted by agitating workers who share the CPI's or the CPI(M)'s membership with him?
In Kerala, the "Chinese betrayal of the working class" has occasioned a renewed bout of criticism of the CPI(M)'s practice. rsp state secretary Prof T.J. Chandrachoodan believes the CPI(M) too has betrayed the Indian working class by aligning with pro-rich and pro-multinational parties. According to K. Vijayachandran of the EMS Study Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, the ideological dividing line between the Congress-led udf and the CPI(M)-led LDF in Kerala has blurred of late.
Some Left think-tanks privately admit the CPC has, as a ruling party in an era of economic competition, resorted to means not usually encountered by Marxists elsewhere. They say Indian Marxists can only be enriched by the Chinese example. Some like Buddhadeb Bhattacharya will agree. But there are those who find it tough to reconcile with this reality.
Ashis K. Biswas with John Mary in Thiruvananthapuram
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