Why Political Wilderness

50 Years of Frontier and West Bengal Today

Subrata Basu

That frontier completes its fifty years is an event of great significance and joy to all who value and care this English weekly since its very inception. It was a different time with a different socio-political scenario. There was socialism in the air and most of the young generation of the turbulent '60s shared it with all sincerity and seriousness.

It was courage and never-say die spirit of Samar Sen—the poet turned editor gifted with an incisive pen of journalism that made possible the seemingly impossible task of bringing out his news weekly frontier within 3 months from the day he mooted the idea—notwithstanding constrains and limitations associated with this venture. This was time immediate after Naxalbari.

Samar Sen, with his Marxist instinct could understand the political realities of the time and its crying need for a non-conformist forum for free expression of critical views and ideas of all hues but mostly radical ones consequent upon his forced resignation from the weekly 'NOW'—that emerged under his nearly 4-year stint of editorship as an acclaimed forum of free debate in the country as well as abroad. This realisation prompted him to go all out for publication of frontier—the non- conformist English weekly like his earlier one 'NOW'. In its very first issue frontier made its policy matter clear—to be always 'irreverent and contemptuous of the Establishment' (Calcutta  Diary). From then on there has never been any change in its character and spirit till now. Even during emergency when press censorship was in vogue and there was the great risk for the editor and others associated with the running of the weekly to be landed in the jail of the then West Bengal under the regime of Siddhartha Sankar Ray—the henchman of authoritarian Indira Gandhi, frontier remained the same.

Samar Sen passed away in August 1987. But post Samar Sen editorial board and management of the weekly imbibing the spirit of its founder-editor and firmly remaining committed to the cause of the paper, have kept things going on despite ever increasing magnitude of diverse problems and hindrances involved in running a weekly like frontier. And this year it has been able to reach 50th year of its existence. It is an outstanding feat by any count. It touches a milestone in the history of running an English news weekly in this country. This is a very proud moment for all who sincerely wish that frontier should continue. Here mention is needed that 'frontier-50' has belied the apprehension expressed by no less a personality than Nirod C Chowdhury (who had considerable experience of journalism to his credit) to Samar Sen (in a letter from England dated 3rd June 1963) in the context of 'NOW'—it was that no one in India till then had been able to run an English weekly (successfully). And as a well-wisher he suggested Samar Sen that he should better opt for the job-offer he got from Moscow rather than continuing with the editorship of the 'NOW'. That Samar Sen did not opt for Moscow job is a different question. But as frontier has reached 50-year milestone, one may be inquisitive to know what could have been his possible reaction to this development as well as Samar Sen's response to it. The answer however is now slipped into the realm of conjecture as both of them passed away long back.

Frontier came into being in April 1968—nearly a year after Naxalbari. Twenty years after the great Telengana revolutionary armed struggle, there occurred the historic Naxalbari Uprising (24th May 1967) that shook the very foundation of social fabric of Indian state. Naxalbari triggered political upheavals on an unprecedented scale across the country particularly in West Bengal with Calcutta as the storm centre. Incidentally it was the time when radical left was emerging across the world. In the USA it was against Vietnam War policy, in France and Italy against anti-worker and anti-student measures. All this had an electrifying effect on young radicals of the time across the country. With dream of revolution in their eyes they took to the roads and streets of Kolkata. They came from all strata of the society. Their full throated slogans 'Telegana Naxalbari Lal Selam', 'Naya Ganatantrik Biplob Zindabad' (Red salute to Telengana and Naxalbari, long live new democratic revolution), 'Samrajyabad-Samantabad Nipaat Zaak' (Down with imperialism & Feudalism), 'Tomar Naam Amar Naam—Vietnam, Vietnam' (Vietnam is the concern to us all) reverberated throughout Bengal—urban and rural alike and stirred the mass of the people with revolutionary fervour. It was indeed a great time. The very political mood of the hour was—'To rebel is justified'. Frontier identified itself with the very spirit of this rebellious mood of the radical youth of the time who had staked their everything on earth, family—carrier—life, for a better world as envisaged by Marx-Engels in their Communist Manifesto (1848),—a humane world free from exploitation of man by man.

Frontier courageously reflected the time on its pages. The weekly was the only ray of light in the cruelly harsh dark hours of hounding—combing—arrest—torture and wanton killings of youths be it in the darkness of night or in the broad day light, having slightest leanings (as per information of the notorious intelligence agencies) to Naxalbari Politics, inside the jail and outside by the administration and police. It was a reign of white terror to a scale ever seen in post 1947 West Bengal. Frontier true to its commitment showed 'no dearth of forthrightness and courage' in publishing these incidents. In the context, an experience of this writer may be cited. The news of arrest and murder of Saroj Dutta was sent to the Frontier office in a letter posted from New Delhi a couple of days after the incident by this contributor. The news was published with a changed identity of the sender. This writer wrote—'a citizen of New Delhi'. Samar Sen changed it to 'a citizen of India'. It was for safety of the sender as he told this contributor later.

Today's youngsters can hardly perceive the significance of the turbulent time and the great urge for self sacrifice of the youths of that time for the cause of revolution—the urge that propelled them to play the roles of professional revolutionaries in that tumultuous hour of the communist movement of the country. It needs a mention, in the context, that the youth of 1960s and 1970s inherited the spirit of sacrifice of their earlier generations who belonged to 1930s-1940s and imbibed their spirit of love for the country and people. These earlier generations belonged to different streams of freedom movements against the British Raj—ranging from main stream politics of Gandhiji to the militant nationalist movement of Anushilan Samity-Jugantar Dal and Masterda Surya Sen and others of the like. Many others were from the growing left movements in the country. There emerged afterwards a number of leaders and cadres of the communist party from these nationalist movements. These earlier generations developed a sense of belongings to this country and set their goals in life to give their all for the freedom of the country and for a better society. Generation that followed drew inspiration from their life.

But that cannot be said with regard to today's youth. The spirit of sacrifice of earlier generation hardly inspires them. Theirs is a different world and they have different mind sets. Their way of looking at things is completely different. They see things from today's perspective. To them socialism is a utopian idea—it has no relevance in today's world. They don't feel any belonging-ness to the society they live in. The concept of collective good is an alien term to them. And socialist idea does not have any say in their life. To them everything is for individual good,—for self good only. Exceptions are there of course but their number is small—in truth very small.

Such a changed social and political environment provided opportunity for the religious fundamentalist forces like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its other partners of Sangh Parivar to propagate their Hindutva idea across the country with aggressive thrust and speed—their political wing—the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its orientation of religious fascism like its mentor RSS providing them open and active support. In fact the RSS-BJP combine has been able in generating a hype of Hindi-Hindu-Hindutva. It is yielding them results as young minds who thrive on what is fed to them are getting influenced by RSS propaganda and are coming under their fold in increasing number. Thus West Bengal particularly Kolkata that once witnessed many an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal barricade fights and also many a spirited march of death defying youths thousands in number, renting the sky with the revolutionary cry—"Zelke—Tala—Tutega,—Kanu—Jangla—Chute-ga", (lock of the-jail would be broken, Kanu Sanyal & Jangal Santhal would be freed) had to witness much to the shame of sane and progressive elements of the state, the RSS-BJP sponsored saffron-march on the Ram-Navami day amidst the frenzied shoutings—Hara-Hara-Mahadev with swords and other sharp weapons in the hands of the participants. It needs to be mentioned in the context that the Trinamul Congress also did not lag behind. Minus weapons they too were on the streets—on that day, raising religious slogans giving a go-bye even to their semblance of secularism. A scenario of dismal degeneration of social environment!

The question that comes up is how and why this has happened—this overwhelming change.

There is no ready answer to this most relevant question of the time. Its answer apart from of academic interest is related more importantly to entire practice and policy-related vexed issues facing the communists and the communist movements. The issues require 'careful perceptive research' from Marxist standpoint and viewpoint for a comprehensive as well as correct understanding of problems—a task that needs time and determined hard work.

However, one thing may be pointed out in the present juncture—that the change, in the context, is the inevitable outcome of the present day 'New World Order' (To use the term coined by the imperialist camp) that has come up on the dotted lines of IMF-World Bank and WTO with a new blue print of exploitation and plunder based on the policy of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation as formulated by the US and other imperialist powers, in an atmosphere of bitter ideological attack from their (imperialist) end on Marxism, that 'communism is dead—socialism is obsolete and capitalism is the only alternative', in the aftermath of a sea change in balance of power in global political scenario following disintegration of the Soviet social-imperialism and collapse of pro-Soviet left regimes of the East European countries (1990s). It has resulted in Economic globalisation with forced introduction of Market Economy with its driving force liberal economic reforms smashing all domestic economic barriers of the independent and sovereign countries for a free play of international finance capital that has made way for imperialism and big corporate to fulfil their insatiable greed for earning more and more profit without involving at all with the production process.

Market economy true to its character is intensifying consumerism with all its ugliness luring people particularly the youth to lead a life of ever increasing comfort and luxury with its mantra 'Khao—Peo—Zeo' (Eat, Drink and be Merry) pouring into actually existing social life day in and day out through the corporate controlled paid-media. The boys and girls are fast falling victims to it. The advocates of 'consumer society all' preach to them to remain aloof from the problems of the society and not to get concerned about the plight of the common people—the vast majority of whom are underfed—under clad and denied other basic needs of life.

Besides, it aims at vitiating social environment in a calculated way by projecting and promoting decadent culture to blunt the edge of the faculty of reasoning and radical instinct of young minds of the country. In the process obscurantism and religious fundamentalism along with cheap entertainment that incite basic instincts of human beings are being dished out in the form of Serials and Films through electronic media to almost every home, urban and rural alike. Along with it communal and caste, provincial and ethnic divides are being stoked systematically. All these attempts are to blur the vision of globalisation-affected people, particularly of the youth, so that they cannot see the going-ons in its true colour. To be precise apart from ruining the economy, globalisation has vulgarised social environment—and is always on vigil lest there be any people's upsurge against the system organised by the radical left.

The impact of technology is also a factor for young minds to remain aloof from social problems and remain confined in the small but charmed world of Hash tags and posts, Facebook & Twitter and Instagram.

It is a demoralising and dampening situation that worsened further with the absence of any effective presence of communist movements both on international and national planes. And degeneration of mighty Soviet Union—(the first socialist state in the world and the victor of Hitler and his fascist forces) to a social imperialist country and then went into disintegration coupled with the post Mao-tse-Tung Communist party of China embracing pro-capitalist path of development in the name of 'Market socialism' with Chinese characteristics has disastrous consequences for the communist movements all the world over.

On the national plane revisionism and anarchism—the twin danger of communist movement through their aberrations have caused great damage to the communist movement. The CPI(M) and CPI pursuing their line of class collaboration accepted changed world order as fait accompli. While mouthing opposition they actually helped the minority Congress govt. of Narashima Rao to pass the bill on new economic policy (1991) by staging walk out from Lokesabha on the day the bill was put on vote in the House. Thereafter they started implementing the policy in states where they were in power disastrously affecting life and livelihood of the mass of the people. LF govt. under Jyoti Basu adopted New Industrial Act(1994), and the LF policy of distribution of vest lands to the landless poor peasants was put to a stop and lands were earmarked for big Corporate Houses, followed by brutal eviction of thousands of hawkers from Kolkata pavements (Operation Sunshine) without any alternative arrangement for their livelihood and thereafter occurred forcible eviction of peasants at Singur for acquiring their multi crop yielding agricultural land by unleashing brutal police oppression killing two teen aged protesters,—followed by Nandigram where attempt to evict villagers from their home and hearth led to wanton police firing resulting mass killings. All this in the name of Shilpayan (industrialisation) and Unnayan (economic development) to be performed by big Corporate (domestic and foreign) houses. A clear shift even from their reformist policy of providing temporary relief to the people—to nakedly pro-imperialist and pro corporate policy. It came as a rude shock to the mass of the people who constituted the support base of the CPI(M). They viewed it as a betrayal to their cause. Even SEZs (Special Economic Zones) ware allowed coming up in Bengal.

By this time maladies in party organisation became starkly evident. The long stay in power brought with it all accompanying ills of the system. There was a steady decline of communist values and ideals among most of the party members. It had its manifestations in the form of widespread corruption—nepotism—arrogance—flouting of democratic norms in the dealings of most of the party members. The end result is—people started rejecting the party that once earned their trust and confidence through years of hard work—courage and sacrifice of thousands of dedicated leaders and cadres. They outpoured their anger and hatred against the party in ballot boxes in successive elections from Panchayet to Parliament. The CPI(M) and their left partners are yet to recover from the trauma.

The harm caused is not to the CPM led LF only. It is wider in nature. People's distrust for the CPI(M) led parliamentary left has been turned to distrust and disinterest for Marxism itself. To them the politics of CPI(M) and ideals of Marxism are same and identical. A confused and critical situation for the Communists.

As things stand now restoration of people's faith in socialism is the primary task. It is the faith that socialism alone is capable of building a better society and certainly not capitalism. But it needs to be preceded by restoration of trust and confidence of the people on the Communists. A hard task—but not impossible provided there is no gap between their precept and practice, radical Marxists who are wedded to the word socialism should carry forward this task. The communists of earlier generations achieved it through their practice. The point to emphasise, in the context is that there is no 'end of history' and as Mao-tse-Tung observed—"A very long period of time is needed to decide 'who will win?' in the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Several decades won't do it, success requires anywhere from one to several centuries..." (Fifteen Thesis on Socialist Construction)—Let us stand by it.

Vol. 51, No.18, Nov 4 - 10, 2018