The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Opinion | Dial M for modernity - What is right with the CPI(M)? Prabhat Patnaik Front Page > Opinion Thursday , September 16 , 2010 [...] CPI(M) still continues to attract some of the finest young minds of the country? The answer is three-fold, and everything I say about the CPI(M) holds generally for the organized Left as a whole.
- First, it is the only modern force in Indian politics;
- second, it is the only consistently democratic force in Indian politics; and
- third, it is the only consistently anti-imperialist force in Indian politics.
Of the two main non-Left political formations in the country, one appeals to Hindutva, and the other appeals to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Both thrive on the essentially feudal features of our society. The CPI(M), in contrast, does not owe its being to the identity of Prakash Karat’s grandfather, or of Sitaram Yechury’s father-in-law. It represents, in that sense, the only residual link to the modernity of the anti-colonial struggle. The Congress, which retained the leadership of the anti-colonial struggle throughout its decisive phase, was largely a modern force during that struggle and, for a while, even after
. The leaders were more or less equal, debate was free, and sycophancy, let alone dynastic politics, conspicuous by its absence. Dynastic politics entered the Congress at a later date. Independence
The Hindutva group, in contrast, never had anything to do with the anti-colonial struggle; its political formation always was, and still remains, a front for an organization that is fundamentally pre-modern in its orientation and appeal. But while modernity was absent from the one and abandoned by the other, it still characterizes the CPI(M) as a political force.
Both the non-Left formations have also, at different times, sought to abrogate the democratic nature of our polity. The Congress imposed upon this country the infamous Emergency, which ended only because of a miscalculation on its part and not because of any change of heart — indeed, to this day, it has not expressed any contrition on this score. And the Hindutva formation toyed for long with the idea of altering the Constitution of the country and even set up a commission to suggest recommendations for doing so, until K.R. Narayanan, then the president, stepped in to end that effort. The CPI(M) was in the forefront of opposition on both these occasions. Although the CPI transgressed on the earlier occasion, for which it was later critical of itself.
The CPI(M)’s systematic defence of the democratic rights of the people has paradoxically been somewhat belied by its own reticence in theorizing the nature of democracy in societies like ours, and by the pervasive association — derived from historical experience but lacking any theoretical justification — of communism with one-party rule. But this defence has been as steadfast as it has been forceful. In contrast, on the issue of secularism, where the party, free of any historical baggage, has been more forthright in theorizing its praxis, its role in defending secularism has been more widely acknowledged.
Critics often point to this or that misdemeanour on the part of the CPI(M) cadre, this or that action on the part of the CPI(M) ‘hoodlums’ to contest the CPI(M)’s commitment to democracy. But even if each of the alleged misdemeanours happens to be true, it would be crass empiricism — or, what comes to the same thing, crass moralism — to deny the CPI(M)’s historical commitment to democracy from a set of individual incidents of the sort that all political formations at the ground level can be accused of.
But even more significant than the two features mentioned above is the CPI(M)’s consistent commitment to anti-imperialism, which indeed constitutes its real differentia specifica. […]
The central question of the last hundred years has been the nature of the modernity brought by imperialism to the periphery. The national movement was fought on this issue. The progressive elements of the national movement, who split off to form the Communist Party, believed that authentic modernity could come only by an alternative route, socialism. While the promise of socialism has been belied for the moment, and many (perhaps including even Amartya Sen) have seen in neo- liberalism the promise of a progressive modernity, the CPI(M) has never given up its perspective on imperialism. It has seen in neo- liberalism the form that imperialism takes in the current epoch, and has continued to hold up a vision of an alternative anti-imperialist modernity. (This, notwithstanding a passing phase of naïve ‘developmentalism’ in
West Bengal, for which it has been self-critical.) Anti-imperialism, it believes, is not a ‘fundamentalist’ but a modernist position. And that, in my view, is what is right about the CPI(M). The author is professor, Centre for Economic Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi