Maitra And Mitra

In Search of a ‘True’ Communist

Partha Sarathi

Two stalwarts of commu nist politics in both parts of Bengal recently died of their old age: Satya Maitra in Dhaka with whom I have many fond memories and Ashok Mitra in Kolkata, with whom I had little acquaintance in person, but had long been acquainted with his political career and writings. They had diverse characters in many respects, but both stood for their own way of believing in communism. Satya Maitra is little known in this part of Bengal as all through his life he devoted himself in practising communist politics in the eastern part of Bengal, now known as Bangladesh. The word 'devotion' I choose meticulously for Satya Maitra, as I have found in him the kind of integrity to communist ideology, which is becoming more and more rare with passing time, and for which I held him in deep esteem. Although I often differed with his political understanding on different issues, I had not come across a single leader of his quality during my nearly three decades of association with ML movement when I had the opportunity to closely know and interact with the leadership of different shades of ML parties, including the most militant Maoist party.

In sharp contrast, Ashok Mitra belonged to the elitist genre of 'communist' legacy, having achieved the highest possible educational qualifications, serving the highest authority of this country, the most powerful Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as her economic adviser and then becoming the Finance Minister in the first Left Front ministry in West Bengal. Ironically, Indira Gandhi was hated during his lifetime by the CPI (M) party, to which Ashok Mitra owed allegiance to, as the worst oppressor terming her as semi-fascist and what not. So undoubtedly, Satya Maitra and Ashok Mitra belonged to completely different genres of communist politics, one practising down-to-earth politics throughout his life while the other acted from the ivory tower neck-deep in parliamentarism, like two parallel lines that can never meet.

What struck me after the demise of two of the last stalwarts of communist politics in this sub-continent is what are the qualities that signify a 'true' communist? Once upon a time a Chinese communist leader wrote a book namely, 'How to be a Good Communist'. Soon he himself was denounced as the worst 'communist', the capitalist roader inside the communist citadel. Although the whole communist world finally chose the path of capitalist development, thereby endangering all shades of communist politics/practices world over, communist ideology seems to possess the greatest potential still to ideologically draw people into action to bring down this extremely inequitable, exploitative and ecologically devastating world order. Hence the relevance remains for the question: can there be a 'true' communist and more obviously a 'true' communist party. Since my college days, like many others, I began searching a 'true' communist party and shifted allegiance from one to the other until completely disillusioned about the whole set of communist leadership and practices in this country.

So one may wonder what makes a highly disillusioned and critical person like me fond of Satya Maitra, whose stature as a communist leader is never celebrated in any quarter of the communists in spite of the fact that he spent his whole life since the colonial days engaging in struggles with the aim to liberate the mankind and had been incarcerated for more than two decades by different regimes on the other side of the border. It was nothing but my search for 'true' communist that attracted me to his personality. Of course, I never indulged in searching an ideal leader, as my modest study of Marxism helped me in getting rid of idealism or perfectionism at an early stage. But it would seem rather strange that I had been attracted by a person whose political understanding I differed strongly as I traversed the militant line of People's War party (presently Maoist party) since early 1990s. Generally, Maoist cadres are known for their distaste of the leaders of so-called revisionist parties, parties that function openly and take part in elections etc. But my association with Satya Maitra was never vitiated by our individual way of thinking and interpreting politics. We discussed and debated a lot of things whenever we met during his visit to Kolkata and tried to learn from each other.

That was the most important quality I had rarely fond among the leadership of ML parties, i.e. to respect differing opinions and humbly learn from others, from juniors, from cadres and even from the people. Satya Maitra in spite of his vast experience in communist movement never pretended to know everything or possessing a higher level of knowledge, and never boasted about his long tumultuous journey since early 1940s. Marxism teaches that the basic quality one must have to change the world is to continuously learn from others, analyse each and every change in the society, and revolutionise one's thought process by constantly updating the same. I found this basic quality lacking in the best of revolutionary leaderships in India, i.e. among the Maoist leaders. It may not be irrelevant here to discuss my experience with the Maoist leaders in short.

In early 1990s being frustrated by the prevalent economic movements of the ML parties of West Bengal and attracted by huge mass mobilisation along with militant fights against the state in Andhra Pradesh, we decided to contact the then People's War leadership who readily responded with a view to expand their activities to this part of the country. During our merger discussions, the PW leaders agreed with us that Bengal's socio-economic-political perspective was different and that needed to be studied concretely to draw concrete plans for revolutionary activities in this state. But precisely that exercise was never undertaken and the leadership rather tried to replicate their experiences in AP and Dandakaranya on the soil of West Bengal, of course with disastrous results. Although the Maoists found success in building a revolutionary movement in parts of India, their failure to study the fast-changing reality in their own operational areas has brought tremendous setback for the entire movement.

Similarly, the CPI (M) party, to which Ashok Mitra mentally although critically belonged till his last breath, had been known for their success in winning elections and retaining state power in West Bengal for a record tenure, but is now facing the worst crisis threatening its very existence. Ashok Mitra in spite of his vast erudition never questioned the basic politics of CPI (M) or engaged in searching basic theoretical debate with the party leadership. Remarkably, never ever the leaderships of CPI (M) or CPI (Maoist) (or any left party per se) embark on the path of serious introspection of their basic approach towards the Indian reality and learn from the masses even when they are facing worst crisis. While the former shunned the revolutionary practice altogether being immersed in the parliamentary path, the latter remained obstinate to follow the Chinese path of revolution.
In this background, Satya Maitra would remain as an example of humbleness and modesty, never indulging in self-glorification, never mentioning a word about his immense sacrifice and most importantly, never imposing his line of thinking as the last word. The worst weakness of a communist seems to be the pretension to have the monopoly of knowledge. Like the religious gurus, they also assume the role of political gurus, while at the same time ignoring the study of the fast-changing reality. If the new generation leftists want to come out of the quagmire of self-deceiving complacency that have deeply infected the whole genre of communist politics, they can get some lessons from the life of Satya Maitra.

Vol. 50, No.47, May 27 - June 2, 2018