The Return of the Repressed: Explanation of the Left Front defeat in West Bengal

Anjan Chakrabarti

The scale of defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal can hardly be underestimated. We are not merely talking about quantity here; this after all is its first election defeat in 32 years. Left Front’s aura of invincibility and the authority that flows from it has collapsed. For me this election is historic for producing this momentous break in the psychic relation between the people and the Left Front. The Law of the Father is gone and so are the respect, fear and anxiety that went with it; the mass, including even the opposition, is taking time to come to terms with this realisation. Whether the Left Front can recover or not from this debacle is a long-term question, but no matter what happens, from now on, its existence and electoral fortunes will be vulnerable in the same way as those of the other parties.

Explanation of the CPI (M) for the Defeat

Once upon a time, by virtue of being associated with a Communist Party, I met many communists with courage, courage to accept things (no matter how uncomfortable) as they are, rather than live in denial. I realise nowadays this is no easy human attribute and nowhere do I find this better demonstrated than in the current leadership of the Left Front in West Bengal. Biman Bose, the state general secretary, has said this defeat reflects a UPA ‘wave’ and that it has nothing to do with the West Bengal situation. If the Left had stayed with UPA by ignoring the nuclear deal, then the alliance of the Congress with TMC would not have materialised and this defeat could have been avoided. Nirupam Sen, the chief architect of the capitalist development model in West Bengal, has argued that this result has nothing to do with local issues; it is instead an endorsement of the UPA. Let me spend some time with this hypothesis.

First, the ‘wave’ thing. Such is the scale of the psychic disconnection between the people and this leadership that it seems to have confused the meaning of a wave; and coming as it does from a senior communist, politburo member and a state general this is tragic and comical at the same time. We saw a wave once after the death of Indira Gandhi; while the consequent scale of Rajiv Gandhi’s victory is well known it needs reminding that even then the Left Front bucked the trend and emerged victorious in West Bengal. Moreover, the UPA has not even secured a simple majority; to call this a wave is indeed a very ‘thoughtful’ explanation. Finally, a cursory look at the surrounding states of West Bengal reveals the UPA lost heavily in Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa. This ‘wave’-based explanation is a reflection of a culture of denial that has gripped the leadership of the party and has percolated down to the lowest rung in the party hierarchy. Evidently, it will only help reiterate and reinforce the psychic dissonance I referred to earlier. And there is an underlying tragedy here that says a lot about the current state of the CPI(M). It is this:  it is not that these ‘communists’ do not know; the tragedy is that ‘they do not know that they do not know’. They do not even know that a psychic dissonance has appeared. Rabindranath Tagore called this human state of avidya or ignorance troubling and painful while Jonathan Lear called it comical. I leave it to the readers to make a pick of what it is.

Second, this hypothesis may have a loop of its own, which has the following effect: it helps everybody to avoid taking responsibilities. Nobody needs to take blame and everybody is happy. My point is simple: the culture of critical self-reflection has virtually disappeared from the CPI(M). Instead, a sharp division between the inside and outside has appeared; the tendency is always to find an external entity to solve the problems (such as through the state) and to put the blame on (such as the US, intellectuals, media, Karat, etc.). Some part of the latter may be true but the point is that such a blame game has its contradictory effect. The light never turns on oneself; it is always turning to the others; the Self remains, literally, in a shadow of darkness. The CPI(M) in West Bengal, as it stands now, has cast itself in the armor of darkness; that there is a psychic dissonance between it and the people should come as no surprise.

My Explanation of the Left Front Defeat

All evidences direct us to the fact that the election was fought in West Bengal fundamentally on a local plank: on the TMC side the issue was Ma (capturing the issue of women’s predicament in Left Front rule), Mati (the Land question capturing the right of people principally peasants over land) and Manush (the human rights question that is said to have been violated time and again under the Left Front) and on the side of the CPI(M) it was capitalist-sponsored industrial development. The verdict is resoundingly clear: the former has triumphed over the latter. That is not to say the central leadership’s position on the nuclear deal leading to the withdrawal of support to the government and its effort of putting together an unconvincing third front was not a contributing factor, but it was only a contributing factor to the ‘wave of discontent’ that has already started forming in West Bengal over the past few years.  It is to the credit of Mamata Banerjee (credit has to be given where it is due) that she harnessed the discontents from multiple sides into a tidal wave of opposition that swept away the Left Front. The questions are: why did MaMati and Manush win over capitalist-induced industrial development? More particularly, what happened in the intermittent period of the sweeping victory of the Left Front in the 2006 West Bengal assembly polls and its collapse in vote bank in 2009? Some major local factors that seem to have worked are the following:

(i) Land Grab: The first factor is clearly Singur and Nandigram.  The kind of cataclysmic collapse of Left Front vote (its vote percentage dropping by an astonishing 8 %) can only be explained by an eruption of some magnitude that altered the symbolic meaning attached to the CPI(M) in a fundamental way, from its positive connotation to a negative one. Despite accusations of rights violation, abuse of power, nepotism, and so on, the people of West Bengal deposited faith in the Left Front for over 30 years because they connected with it on one axis: it was considered the gatekeeper of the poor and marginalised. The effect of Singur and Nandigram was this: the symbolic relation of the Left Front to the poor disappeared in one shot. The CPI(M)’s authority that flowed from this symbolic relation was not just physical but also an ethical one. With the collapse of this ethical authority, its physical authority took on a different proportion in the minds of the people. The physical authority – reflected not only in the working of the government but also that of the local committees – became a matter of bullying and sheer violence rather than necessary or defensive; for right or wrong reasons, the violence from the TMC side started appearing as defensive and necessary. The sight of the CPI(M) working in tandem with the police to evict farmers from land, shooting its constituents (including women) and abusing its citizens, and that too for a bunch of abrasive capitalists, helped snap the psychic relation of the people with the Left Front. It was as if a case of the father turning his gun on his mother and children (it is after all a self-proclaimed party of the peasants and workers); it constituted in the eyes of many an adharma of monumental proportions. For many who had traditionally supported the Left, especially in the rural heartland, it turned the relation with the CPI(M) from one of respect and fear to that of anxiety and hatred; Mati started appearing as a societal question; the movement for land and against the government-sponsored policy of land grab-based industrial development soon acquired a momentum of its own across Bengal. The strong defence of the Left Front government for capitalist industrialisation that often took a rhetorical turn against agriculture per se further alienated the agrarian populace who saw this relentless campaign of slight towards agrarian forms of life as further proof of the Left Front’s pro-rich shift.

(ii) Working Class Shift: It was expected by the CPI(M) that the development model of capitalist industrialisation would gain the support of the workers and urbanites. It did not happen. The workers, who had traditionally supported the Left, moved in droves to vote against the Left Front. Multiple factors contributed to this. First, the rhetoric of new jobs via industrialisation sounded hollow in many industrial areas, especially on both sides of the Ganges, where factories have been closing down leaving tens of thousands unemployed. Second, in many places, the Left Front trade unions came to be seen as cronies of capitalists and working against the interest of the workers; in some cases, they were even seen as contributing to the closure of the factories. Third, the government’s effort to push through the industrialisation effort called for a peaceful trade union. With the workers already under attack from the capitalists, this passive role of Left Front trade unions was increasingly seen suspiciously by the workers. All such factors and perhaps many more moved the workers to push the voting button in favor of the TMC.

Moreover, while it could very well be the case that some rich urbanites may have responded positively to the industrialisation campaign, the fact remains that it did not cut much ice with the middle-income group and in all respects backfired with the urban poor who increasingly came to identify the CPI(M) as pro-rich.

(iii) Shift of Intellectuals: The sight of land acquisition and abuse of people (especially women) had a tremendous negative effect on the intellectuals of Bengal, who traditionally were on the side of the Left. They not only went en masse against the Left Front but also joined the movement of MaMati and Manushthat Mamata Banerjee had now made her agenda to fashion a return to her low political fortune; it is my belief that the Left Front grossly underestimated the effect of this campaign by the intellectuals on the people, urban and rural; cultural interventions, and that too with political messages, after all do shape minds.

(iv) Minority Trouble: One must talk about the ‘Muslim’ factor, which it seems has shifted decisively towards Mamata Banerjee. The fact that many of the affected peasants in Singur, Nandigram and elsewhere were Muslims had a profound effect on that community. Moreover, the Rizwanur Rahman case and the Sachar committee report on the minorities were major contributing factors in the shaping of this community’s vote, which has till now been steadfastly with the Left Front, against the CPI(M).

(v) Incompetent Governance: After Singur and Nandigram, the Left Front government came to be increasingly seen as incapable to govern. In the eyes of many, this was a case of weak and incompetent government with such a strong majority. Moreover, it was seen as acting in a biased manner. It was seen as siding with the CPI(M), the rich, capitalists and promoters, and unable to maintain law and order. Eruption of various other movements such as in Lalgarh over police atrocities, in Kolkata over the Rizwanur Rahman case as also by the autoworkers and hawkers, in various districts over the failure of the public distribution system and the sustained statehood movement in Darjeeling reinforced the belief that this government is inept; in all these cases, the state was seen as backtracking, vacillating and surrendering.

Finally, charges of utter failure in the sectors of education, health and elementary infrastructure (roads, drinking water, etc.) at the village and town level found resonance with the people. A debate has started to emerge in West Bengal as to the overall meaning of development: should it be reduced to capitalist-sponsored industrial development or should its meaning be seen in a wider extension where industry is one among many nodes of progress. Mamata Banerjee’s TMC has started to craft a meaning of development along the second line and that is what they campaigned for. In doing so, they could criticise on one hand what they claimed to be the failure of the Left Front to provide the mass with basic development amenities and the other hand fend off charges of being anti-developmentalist. Turning away from the industry-versus-agriculture debate, Mamata had taken the position of the co-existence of industry and agriculture: in her words, they are brother and sister existing side by side. Against this, the CPI(M)’s position hit the public as a proposal for industrial development through a breakdown of agriculture; evidently, it was more dramatic but one that alarmed the rural populace in ways yet to be fully comprehended.

(vi) When Love became Repression: The control over social life that the CPI(M) party exercised through its local committees appeared, for a large segment of the population, increasingly as a control over their life by an external entity; it simply became intolerable over time. Local issues, sometimes even family issues, at the ground level in which the local committees would invariably intervene with its unrecorded punitive justice system began to be seen as undue encroachment; their proclaimed ‘help’ became in the eyes of many as the ‘power of the muscle’. More and more, its machinery came to seen as an instrument of abuse that function on modalities of threats, punishment, prohibition and segregation of whoever was considered an opponent; a system of ‘witch-hunting’ had enveloped the party structure in the way it dealt with the people; ‘either you are with me’ or else…. It came to be seen more and more as procreating a culture of moral policing. Its technology of control that was once celebrated as efficient machinery by the pundits has now become a liability. For many, the feeling of repression enacted through the daily control with its cloud of the ‘power of the muscle’ found their determined release in the form of Mamata Bannerjee, who presented herself as the new messiah of the poor and the abused; her strident anti-CPI(M) stand was enough reason for many to vote for the TMC. The stage was set for the vanguards (the party of educators) to be taught a lesson and vanquished.

(vii) The Rise of the Sahaj: This argument may not appear direct or could even be seen as tangential, but I think it points to a fundamental shift in the body politic of West Bengal. The Left Front’s industrial development model is supposed to usher in change in the future, which though demanded sacrifice in the present. The problem is that often the burden of this sacrifice falls unequally on the ‘poor’ and at least the current generation cannot see what would happen in the future; as for that matter, nobody knows what would happen in the future. For the poor, this is too much of a risk. Not only that. There is more.

For me, Singur and Nandigram was a great learning point. I have since wondered: why did the peasants say no to development? When peasants could be heard as saying that he would not give up his land for all the wealth of the world, I realised that this flowed from a totally different worldview, something that cannot be fathomed either in the mainstream economics or the historical materialist approach. I have seen many friends jump into a conclusive description of Singur and Nandigram as a case of primitive accumulation. I have no issue with them; these were indeed that; they also correctly pointed out that Marx did not describe let alone defend primitive accumulation; he critiqued primitive accumulation. But I wondered about something else which I thought is a deeper issue, something that would perhaps go on to capture the uniqueness of the unfolding primitive accumulation in India. It came with this realisation that the subjects here, at least in Bengal, are espousing a totally different worldview as compared to that on which the policies of the Left Front government were being based upon: there was serious disconnect between the language of the policymakers/party apparatchik and that of the people. In the former, not only was time considered as split (past and future), but the reality seen as fragmented and segmented. In this somewhat modernist/westernised worldview, it was easy to see the land, water, forest, and so on as the objects that are detached from the subject. This objectified worldview made it possible to administer over ‘things,’ perform cost-benefit and decide on the price of giving up land (compensation, resettlement and so on).

But, what if subjects do not see the world in this way; what if their forms of life conform to a worldview that is fundamentally different. What if they see the world as espoused by Tagore (he called this the philosophy of the Indian way of life, the life of sahaj or simple):

…the mere process of addition did not create fulfillment; that mere size of acquisition did not produce happiness; that greater velocity of movement did not necessarily constitute progress, and that change could only have meaning in relation to some clear ideal of completeness.

Pardon me for being somewhat forceful, but this is no mere philosophical speculation, but something that had been imbibed in the Indian way of life since the inception of its civilisation. Water, land and forest, to name some, are not external objects as perhaps in a westernised outlook, but are seen in unity with the self; this is part of the experience of the sahaj. To use Tagore again, the man with a ‘scientific’ outlook

…will never understand what it is that the man with the spiritual vision finds in these natural phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse his limbs, but it purifies his heart; for it touches his soul. The earth does not merely hold his body, but it gladdens his mind; for its contact is more than a physical contact – it is a living presence. When a man does not realise his kinship with the world, he lives in a prison-house whose walls are alien to him…. In India men are enjoined to be fully awake to the fact that they are in the closest relations to things around them, body and soul, and that they are to hail the morning sun, the flowing water, the fruitful earth, as the manifestation of the same living truth which holds them in its embrace.

This is not a wisdom that is simply applicable to rural areas, but also urban areas, especially the urban poor and the lower-middle income group. One can neither ignore the dissonance in the cultural understanding of time. The meaning of time in industrial development is artificial and limited (past and future); we know where it came from: Western Europe. This, on the other hand, is a land which resonates with the following theses of the Baul singers:

I would not go, my heart, to Mecca or Medina,
For behold, I ever abide by the side of my Friend.
Mad would I become, had I dwelt afar, not knowing Him.
There is no worship in Mosque or Temple or special holy day.
At every step I have my Mecca and Kashi; sacred is every moment.

The concept of time here is that of the sahaj where it is neither limited nor artificial but timeless, where culture does not conceive forms of life in terms of some future, but as something procreating in all times. In the worldview of the sahaj, space is not split into a temporal verticality (backward and forward) that introduces the idea, a quite artificial idea, of progress as a movement from the backward to the forward. Instead, life is seen as moving horizontally at each moment of time; life is to be lived and connected to at each moment; space, time and life is connected in relationality rather than seen as fragmented. Life is about rhythm, harmony and balance, and only in such completeness does life acquire any meaning where the theme of life is unity and not fragmentation. It is not that no kind of segmentation exists in such societies, but this sense of unity is also present, and strongly presently, side by side. Far from being uniform, the social space, at least in West Bengal, is a battle ground for two different and tension-ridden worldviews; what though, at the minimum, cannot be ignored is that the worldview of the sahaj is also a living presence.

What I am trying to say is that the worldview in terms of which the idea of capitalist-induced industrial development was conceived came to be seen as a total disconnect from the worldview of the sahaj. On the issue of land (and things like resettlement, compensation, etc.,) the Left Front was talking in language of the former, which was not only alien to the latter but also threatening and humiliating. In the language of the ‘Left Front’/modernist, the world of the sahaj was projected time and again as traditional, devalued and worthless; their labour is no labour, only industrial high-tech labor is labour; their experience of time, space and connection was rendered meaningless in this outlook. A party that once stood and fought for the sahajappeared more and more foreign in its language, exposition and practice. The appearance and later (after Singur and Nandigram) specter of primitive accumulation translated as a form of resistance not just into a defence of the land, but also a way of life in its entirety. It is not that monetary compensation or resettlement was not to be discussed in any situation (one can very well imagine people wanting to shift their forms of life), but such relocations would now have to be accounted for in a different register – a political one. It was not longer to be a case of top down approach of the policy makers and bureaucracy who tell the peasants (and hawkers, autoworkers and so on) what should happen, but is now more a face to face encounter with the affected. The ‘terms’ of dealing and negotiation has fundamentally changed in the last two years in West Bengal; it is the reiteration again of the supremacy of the ‘poor’ over the body politic.

In contrast, Mamata connected directly with the rhythm of this language; she spoke not only in the language of the sahaj, but also defended that experience.  For the elite in the cities steeped in modernist thinking, Mamata often appears as ‘irrational,’ some call her as symbolising ‘unreason’ reflecting the fact that they cannot understand her language and her concerns, that she tends to go against what are seen as ‘normal’ facets of modern life. Her ‘irrationality’ or her ‘unreason’ is a broader issue for me reflecting the total disconnect of modernist India (within which CPI(M) is now embedded) from the experience of the sahaj. The relation of the politics to language relates to the exposition of politics, and that becomes a decisive factor at times as it did in this case. Politics is simply not about facts, measurement and voting games; when it takes the shape of the return of the ‘unreason’ it becomes a different ball game. As I understand, this election captured such a shift in West Bengal. It is not merely a defeat of Left Front, but a defeat that has seriously dented the hegemony of the modernist worldview; in its immediate future, whoever comes to power now in West Bengal would find himself confronted by a strong and living presence of the sahaj that will find its release in the power of the ‘poor’. The battle line between the TMC and the CPI(M) has given way to a parallel battle between the ‘poor’.

Leftism and Mamata

It is at times astonishingly for me to imagine how the party leadership could miss the possible psychic effect of the adharma of Singur and Nandigram in their political imagination. But then this is the point: perhaps they do not even know this is adharma. This avidya – which shows off in arrogance and disdain – made the psychic dissonance grow deeper; the disbelief that a Left Front government could shoot its constituency – the peasants – started acquiring the momentum of anger; this anger was in no way circumscribed within the boundary of the peasants. If the US bombing in far away Vietnam could cause tumult in the minds of the Bengali people, to imagine that something of this proportion happening so close to home would not have any effect is truly astonishing; to think of Singur and Nandigram as a local issue as some CPI(M) leaders suggested points to the kind of bankruptcy in thought that had set in the party. Actually, this also points to a different problem for the Left generally: they are so much enmeshed in a  structuralist way of looking at the world that they cannot fathom the role played by subjectivity formation in politics. Anyway, it is important to realise that, in its multiple dimensional effects, Singur and Nandigram transformed the psychic relation of the people with the CPI(M), something that not only affected the poor but also the other segments of the population that had supported the Left Front. It reinforced those who were opposed to the Left (thereby closing any possibility of their being won over) and alienated many steadfast supporters of the Left. In fact, a large segment of the Left intellectuals have critiqued, through newspapers, little magazines, TV, CDs and even books,  the Left Front as the new right which I believe had an enormous effect on many traditional Left supporters. Additionally, what was made easier for the latter to make the shift was the complete makeover of Mamata Banerjee and her self-proclaimed image now as more of a Leftist than the Left Front. This is the final point I want to make.

I have a thesis: no party can win elections in West Bengal if it is not seen as Leftist in orientation. This explains the peculiarity of West Bengal as compared to the rest of the country. First through social reforms and then through long decades of movements in which the Left itself played an instrumental role, the ‘poor’ has come to acquire a voice, an assertive political voice. It is though not just that. What has also come to fruition is the alignment of a certain segment of the middle class with the mindset that the voice of the ‘poor’ (this is a catchall term standing for small farmers, industrial and agrarian workers and other ‘marginalised’ groups)will be the final arbiter in any dispute. For right or wrong reason, the Left Front had come to occupy this moral authority of being the party of the ‘poor’ (its own movements earlier were responsible for its rise) and its uninterrupted rule was firmed up by this belief among a section of the populace. Mamata Banerjee, whose one-point programme had long been singularly an anti CPI(M) position, tried various permutations and combinations to dislodge the Left Front, flirting with both the BJP and the Congress. She failed every time. She failed because the mentioned symbolic authority of the Left Front remained intact. It is to her credit that Mamata realised this, and in this she was probably helped by many previously Naxalite leaders who joined her since the Singur and Nandigram movement. Step by step, as part of a carefully chalked out strategy (those who think of Mamata as just eccentric are simply living in a fools’ paradise), Mamata hammered at the symbols that defined the psychic relation of the people with Left Front. She even called herself the rightful heir of the Tebhaga movement and the Food movement that were some of the symbols, which helped establish the pro-poor symbolic attachment of the people with the CPI(M) and the Left Front. Separating Marx and Leftism from the Left Front, she turned her criticism of the CPI(M) into the following: the Left Front and the CPI(M) have forsaken the traditional constituencies of the Left and they have no relation with Leftism. It is she who now is a Leftist fighting for the cause of the poor and marginalised against the Left Front, which wants to usher in industrial development for the capitalists at their expense. If politics is also about symbols as I do believe it is, Mamata turned the hitherto accepted division between Left and Right upside down thereby making it easier for many traditional Left thinkers, activists and voters to cross over to her camp. She has virtually usurped the issues which previously were considered as the domain of the Left Front and left the Left Front fighting the elections on one plank: industrial development to be sponsored by capitalists. The contrast and the turn of the table in the contrast could not be any starker in the position taken with respect to the SEZ debate where Mamata turned totally against the idea of SEZ while the CPI(M) supported it. Take another example. The elections saw Mamata start her campaign from Nandigram and she took its soil to her election meetings: a powerful symbolic connection that related to the hearts of the people. In contrast, to the astonishment of many, the CPI(M)’s campaign revolved around the symbol of ‘Nano’ that not only captured the strange relation of communists with capitalists but also appealed to the minds and not the hearts of people. WhereMati is not just an economic component (as in the West) but an integral segment of people’s forms of life, in the land of social movements, revolutionaries and poets, this battle between the soul and the material was no contest.

Mamata presented herself as the champion of the poor, of peasants and workers and anybody who claimed themselves as vulnerable and hard done by the government policies or the CPI(M). In the eyes of many, she has emerged as the Leftist par excellence and the Left Front as keeper of capitalists, promoters and power brokers. It was after having made this image makeover that Mamata went for an alliance with the Congress; qualitatively, the meaning of this alliance took on a different dimension than previous such unsuccessful alliances, an aspect that the CPI(M) did not quite understand. Due to this qualitative alteration, it is my firm belief that had there being no alliance the results still would not have changed fundamentally.

I do not know whether the Left Front and the CPI(M) will reflect on the clear psychic dissonance that has appeared between it and the people. But to do that they have to be awake first and to be awake they have to accept the reality: the act of adharma in various axes. Mistakes can be made and even sins are committed. But our sages have taught that the Lights shine on those who accept the responsibility for their actions; the sin is washed away, the shame turned into an act of courage. But on those who do not even recognise their sins and mistakes, it is said that a pall of darkness awaits their future; there is no stopping their downfall and ultimately demise. What I find alarming is a complete ignorance of this wisdom on the part of the Left Front as of now.

Some Reflections for Marxists in India

I believe that this election result is a watershed in the history of Leftist movement in India. It has shown a few things: (i) no self-proclaimed Marxist party can forward a path of capitalist development and get away with it in a democratic set up like India, (ii) there is a serious need to rethink the idea of vanguardism in a scenario where repressive apparatuses are coupled with strong and deep ideological apparatuses and (iii) state-oriented and not movement-oriented politics has severe limitation for Marxian parties. The tragedy is, and this I have and am resolutely ready to defend, these do not have any necessary connection with Marx. Regarding the first point, it is my contention that Marx did not describe let alone defend primitive accumulation (as the West Bengal CPI(M) leadership was apparently doing in order to defend its policy of land grab in bringing about capitalism as a necessary moment of historical evolution of society); instead, Marx critiqued primitive accumulation; that was the purpose of producing that concept in the first place; Marx was no historicist, but rather a critique of the ‘science’ of history as the debate on Russian Road showed so clearly.  Secondly, Lenin’s vanguardism was construed by keeping the repressive apparatus in mind and hence is inadequate in this situation; it has its own series of problems and some of its showed in the kind of party bureaucracy that had become not all of which need be discussed here. One among these though I should point out: the organisational structure based on the division between party exclusivity and the rest of the population that is the defining moment of vanguardism is the source of many problems encountered later in the name of Marxism. It is neither necessary nor inevitable to think of organisation along the Leninist line. Lenin had the courage to ask: what is to be done? Can we show a similar courage at the dawn of 21st century? Third, the state-dependent approach of the Left (whether through a parliamentary or extra parliamentary route) is a joke on Marx who based his entire political philosophy of freedom on an anti-state plank; otherwise, his search for commune makes no sense. Marx, who was looking for creative union, found the state as external to the people: how can communion be created with something that is ‘external’ to people and has been conceptualised to govern from top down. The point is not that the state is to be ignored; it cannot be ignored and that is not what I am suggesting here. Instead, the issue is whether the idea of politics will be state-dependent or focused on enacting social transformation; the difference will produce two different kinds of politics. One of the most remarkable phases of Marxism in the 20th century has been the occulting of Marx produced through the displacements of its idea of politics from initiating ground-level social change to a state-dependent, policy-oriented approach; the effect of this bureaucratisation of the idea of Left politics can hardly be underestimated as the Left Front experience has shown.

These western Marxian ideas adopted uncritically by the Indian communist movement had produced a sad situation: a country that provides fertile ground and potential for Left movement has seen stagnation and in fact a decline (in many parts) of the Left imagination. At least, those who are unshackled by the avidyashown by the Left Front till now can start this introspection at a serious level; it is not a matter of changing this here or there but of rethinking the entire milieu of what it means to be a Marxist in the Indian context. The question is: are there courageous Marxists available in the Left circle and that includes the Left Front.

Anjan Chakrabarti is Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Calcutta. His publications include Transition and Development in India (Routledge, 2003, co-authored with Stephen Cullenberg) and Dislocation and Resettlement in Development (Routledge, forthcoming, co-authored with Anup Kumar Dhar).

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