The never ending saga of Nandigram : communist chickens coming home to roost

Posted on August 7, 2008. Filed under: Bengal, Communist, economics, India, Politics |

The communist program of an agrarian revolution both in economic as well as political sense, started after the apparent success of Mao and Chu Teh’s peasant army in China. In contrast to the Bolshevik revolution which was almost entirely launched and brought to completion by non-communist Cronstadt sailors and army units won over by Bolshevik agitators, with help from armed workers in the key cities of Petrograd and Moscow, the Chinese revolution was a long drawn process. Starting with the then classic communist model of “proletariat” led revolutions, the pragmatists of the nascent Chinese communist movement soon realized, that the numbers needed to capture power could only come from the underclass of China – the peasants. The changeover in policy took decades, with the Comintern under Stalin creating considerable damages in its ideological diktats from afar. Only after the Shanghai massacre, and unsuccessful “city uprisings”, did Mao and Chu Teh defied “party line” and retreated to the central highlands. There they regrouped, rethought strategy, and created the concept of “fluid base areas” and “fluid warfare”. However this policy ultimately faced its greatest difficulty in the encirclement campaigns of Chiang Kai Shek, and is a critical point in understanding dealing with “Naxal” violence in India. To avoid complete annihilation, the 8th Route Army of CCP broke out of this encirclement and declared to go to the north to fight “invading Japanese” – the romantic and arduous Long March. It was a brilliant strategic move to use the remoteness of western China from penetration of Kuo Min Tang forces, rally nationalist sentiments while preserving the core of Red Army strength, and most importantly recruit the peasantry and agricultural labourers into the communist cause by carrying out land reforms.

In south Asia, and especially in India, this programme of land reforms with land redistribution in favour of the landless, became an attractive strategy for the Communist parties, and a strong component of their official polemical battles were aligned along the degree and nature of this “land reforms”. The CPI(M)’s strongest support base after its electoral success (which probably started as a city based electoral revolution with the powerful influential sections of Indian society’s opinion mobilizers deciding to switchover from the Congress which had helped decimate this class’s younger next generation in the “Naxal” annihilation campaigns) was from the grateful rural poor benefiting from the CPI(M) led Left Front’s land reforms and local self government (Panchayat) activation strategies.

This overwhelming reliance on agrarian reforms in the short while ushered in economic growth. But the long term fallouts of their policies, as usual, were not thought out by the communists (probably also inevitable, with the annihilation or export of a generation of brains in the Naxal movement, and as discussed before in this blog, the peculiar organization structure of the Communist parties itself a gradual “thinner” of vision and intellect). Burdened, just like the Old Labour in UK, with an intransigent and semi-independent militant labour union movement which behaved as if it operated already in an imagined dictatorship of the proletariat (in reality all known successful Communist dictatorships ruthlessly liquidated all rebellious labour movements) and therefore need not understand anything about capitalist economics, the CPI(M) long neglected industrialization. The Centre at Delhi carried out its old policy of extracting maximum capital transfer from Bengal to benefit its own upper Indian support base (nothing new, it had been going on from Delhi Sultanate times and quite well recorded in Mughal times), as well as penalizing the Bengalis for supporting a “Communist” regime. To the Communists the “Tatas and Birlas” were replacements of the old devils in religions, since their adherence to prescribed theories from their European, Russian and Chinese “Gurus” had to be forced on to Indian reality. So no private capital, no state capital, no foreign direct investment which meant “licking Imperialist boots”.

Sooner or later, this would have inevitably alienated the urban populations, as unemployment would grow. Many of them had some supplementary income from lands held in the countryside, but now even these had been taken over by the “party” in the localities. [ During a visit to observe the “agrarian reforms process” this author had seen how a Local Committee secretary had absorbed 18 bighas of land to create a private orchard, and established an “unprotected” stone chipping machine which sent stone dust all over adjoining paddy fields and gradually destroyed them for agriculture. The lands were then “bought” by the Secretary at a pittance. Similar acquisitions of property were quite common in many areas this author visited. Many of these Communist leaders were second or third generations of erstwhile “class enemies” and many of the genuine Communist cadre had been gradually eased out of the Party hierarchy].

Now as land and economics gets concentrated again in the hands of a dominant rural elite using and being supported by the party, increasing population pressure [West Bengal has a miraculous population growth rate compared to the rest of the country, which cannot be analyzed as it may anger Muslims and especially Bangladeshi Muslims], means increasing migration to the cities and towns in search of livelihood. This huge unemployed urban poor or marginal populations can swing the votes against CPI(M) just as it did in Congress times against the Congress. This finally forced the state party to wake up and try a volte-face – pretend to “industrialize”.

Reality implies collaborating with the hated enemies – the private capital from “big bourgeoisie”, the state capital from an alliance with the Congress at the Centre, and FDI from “capitalist imperialists”. But here it comes into conflict with the rural economy it has created and its abominably short sighted experiments with education and higher education which did not promote or encourage excellence, originality, awareness of technology driven modern industrialization and the economy. Whoever in the rural economy has survived on a share of the land redistribution, would now hold on to it for dear life. Combining this with a very likely inherently arrogant and dictatorial as well as ruthless “local party hierarchy”, things can very easily reach boiling point. This is what has happened in Nandigram. All forces opposed to the CPI(M) have now concentrated their efforts into this “bridgehead”, and it will be nearly impossible for the CPI(M) to turn this around – the people involved have tasted “blood” in the recent local government elections by winning against the “party”.

Mamata Bannerjee and her friends are probably trying to send a message to the TATAs, that the latter should negotiate directly with them. It is doubtful that the TATAs will listen – even with a small loss, it will be better for them in the long run to move their facilities elsewhere in more “reliable” areas, such as in Uttarakhand. On the other hand simple economic short term calculation may make them appear to give in a bit to Mamata Bannerjee. Some of the CPI(M) leaders have asked the unemployed youth of Bengal to think about what action they need to take about those who are opposing industrialization. But these unemployed youth have no clear direct manifestation before them as to how exactly they will benefit in terms of employment from these few capital intensive modern industries employing few and the skilled. Moreover, there will be the nagging suspicion that only “catches” and references from influential “Party” leadership can see them through to actual employment in the few positions available. There will not be much direct and obvious “mass action” against the opposition at Nandigram.

It is the credibility of the Party as a whole which is at stake. It is hard to see what the Party can do in the short term to really reinvent itself as trustworthy by the urban majority and sections of rural middle. The Left may not immediately lose majority in the Assembly but its lead can get substantially diminished. And over the nexet decade, it may lose its grip .

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