ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Logic of Failed Revolution

The CPI(M) today has to come to terms with the fact of its rapidly growing irrelevance and its increasingly diminishing purchase over the developments in Indian politics and elsewhere. Like other parties, the CPI(M) too is increasingly undergoing a process of federalisation. In the future any renewal of socialist/communist politics is likely to happen only through a democratic alliance of state level or even smaller formations rather than through a top-down party.

The CPI(M) in Bengal is clearly heading in the direction of an unprece  dented electoral defeat – if the recent elections to the Lok Sabha and four assembly by-elections are any indication. The trends have, of course, been visible for some time now but as I realised in a conversation with one district committee member from one of the rural districts in early 1998, the change will only become visible when the critical mass of opposition has been reached. Till then, willy-nilly, “people must pose as if they voted for us”. Alikhito bhoy je ki jineesh, ta taara bhalo korey jaane (they know very well what this unwritten fear they live with, is), he added, alluding to the nexus of the party, panchayats and the administration. They are waiting for a realignment: that was the burden of his story. This time round the results have shown that the Left Front is not invincible even in the villages, known so far as fortresses of the CPI(M). And as the history of political ideas and movements all over the world shows, it is precisely in the moments of defeat that possibilities open up of internal critiques against what constitutes the dominant, hegemonic discourse, its common sense. It is characteristically in these moments that the voices that have been suppressed take new birth , new voices come up. The weapon of critique that was hitherto wielded externally, towards the movement’s adversaries, is now turned inwards. It is through such a process that parties then either reinvent themselves or, in the event they fail, simply perish. The ongoing crisis in the West Bengal CPI(M) is partly born out of this anticipated defeat.

But why should a mere electoral defeat be seen as a symptom of final doom? After all, which other party, in recent decades, has run a state or any other government for close to a quarter century? Psephologists talk of anti-incumbency factors when parties have barely been in power for two years, but here we have the unique experience of a left-wing combination being returned to power for almost 25 years. Why then, this fear of defeat – as if it were the beginning of the end? As a matter of fact, the fate of the party in Kerala, the other state where it is strong, has always been akin to that of the others – now in and now out of office. I suppose the current sense of doom has to do with a kind of overpowering sense, unacknowledged in public, of the rapidly growing irrelevance of the party and its increasingly diminishing purchase over the developments in Indian politics – not to speak of the big changes in the world. But more precisely, as a CPI(M) MP told me recently, it has to do with a particular kind of ‘revolutionary’ mindset that refuses to accept the idea of functioning in a multi-party democracy. This Jacobin-Leninist mindset is used to imagining majorities as permanent revolutionary majorities – at least as majorities that last for specific historical stages, witness for instance the idea of the ‘peoples democratic front’ or the ‘anti-imperialist front’, etc. The lagged effect of a revolutionary dream of a self-styled vanguard sticks on even in its social-democratic incarnation. It therefore continues to see majorities as such permanent revolutionary ones – even as it must adapt itself to function within an extremely volatile context of a democracy such as India’s.

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