Delhi Rhetoric

What is the future of Socialism?

Pradosh Nath

About ten years at the Sraratov station in Russia there were a group of young university girls waiting to receive us to be escorted to the Hotel. On the way to the hotel, from the bus window we could see a park adorned with a statue of Lenin in the middle in his famous posture—a hand raised pointing towards the sky, giving a call for revolution. Wanting to be a bit chatty with beautiful young girls around, I asked the one sharing the seat with me—whose statue was it? The girl looked a bit perplexed, consulted her other friends. After some time they arrived at an agreement to communicate back to me—Lenin (actually told me the full Russian name). I sensed the—discomfort among the university students, and wanted to explore further—who was he? Came the reply—this time, time taken was much less—he was a great social reformer.

This was about 11 years back. I had the opportunities to visit Vietnam a number of times before my visits to Russia. These were official trips, so people I had to interact with were mostly government officials, who quite candidly educated me about the level of corruption in government offices. I found the only difference with our country is that we are hypocritical, not open about it. The experience was a bit disappointing. Over romanticised stories of Russian revolution shaped our dreams. Mao and his China convinced us about the possibilities of the changes in our country. We were out in the street shouting, 'Amar Naam Tomar Naam; Vietnam Vietnam' (My name, your name—Vietnam—name is 'naam' in Bengali). I remember a lesser-known Bengali poet expressed his frustration with shame that he was watching like a bystander (like the role of Pitamaha Bhishma during the battle of Kurukshetra) when Mekong Duhita (the daughter of the river Mekong) was being disrobed.

A few trips to China before my trips to Vietnam prepared me for the realities in Russia and Vietnam. In India I did not have the luck to share social gatherings with ministers. But I had seen communist Zila Shabhapatis, behaving like local satraps, and in competition with the district magistrates for appropriating largesse using government exchequer. It was no different in China—local party leaders appearing like kings. The worst was still waiting in Mao's mausoleum at Tiananmen Square. We were in a queue to visit the mausoleum. There were different rates of entry fee; depending up on how close a look you wanted to have. I bought the cheapest one that allowed me to lay the plastic flower bouquet (came along with the entry fee) a long distance away from our beloved Mao. These are three most talked about nations in the history of socialist revolution. These are the three communist countries—the neo rightist, totalitarian regimes.

So when I read Santosh Rana's autobiographical account of Naxalite movement, I could easily relate to his concern about the autocracy / bureaucracy in the party. We have experienced the arrogance of the CPI(M) cadres and leaders during their ruling days in West Bengal. We now don't have to split hair for finding the reasons behind decimation of left in India. In the above-mentioned three countries, left was decimated by the respective communist parties. In India we did not have to wait that long. Till the other day, the party that used to boast of strong cadre base, strong organisation etc. and strongest communist party in India, their leaders are now jostling around all political parties (irrespective of colours) seeking visibility in public domain. They are not choosy any more, except TMC in Bengal, and BJP in general, at least for the time being. They are seen everywhere jostling for space in front of TV camera; in Kumaraswami's swearing in, Chandra Babu Naidu's melodrama, Rahul Gandhi's angry outburst, upset Akhilesh, or even TMC's tirades (if it is outside Bengal). All of them are lefts, except the left themselves. They have their own agenda; left parties do not have theirs. Leftists are generally gracious enough to share platform with the others. Tripura ex-chief minister Manik Sarkar once rued that the status of the left is like a goat's third kid that dances around when the other two suckle the mother's milk.

What is the future of socialism? This question pretends as if there was a past for socialism. Was there? Was Soviet Union a socialist country, or China, Vietnam? I had the opportunity to visit Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The Mongols consider themselves emancipated from the clutches of socialist Soviet (as were the cases for most of the East European countries), which was out to demolish anything Mongolian (for example language) to be replaced with everything Russian. They hate both China and Russia; feel friendly to Germany, instead. Were these self-proclaimed socialist countries really socialist? How were they different from a capitalist system? Private property has been abolished, means of production are owned by the state (?), or by party (?), or by party satraps? One of the learned friends suggested a better expression—'partyarchy'. Party is the new mechanism of surplus appropriation; blessings of party satraps make equals and more than equals in the Orwellian world of socialism.

We were taught and tutored by our socialist parents and their socialist friends that any negatives about 'socialist countries' are anti progress, anti revolution and anti change, and for exploitation and its edifice the capitalist system. Even 'Frontier' would not have published this essay a decade back. Those, who are alive among them, I am sure, will feel cheated by the massive ideological fraud the mayhem which would shame the votaries of crony capitalism. One such person, now in his late 80's. a firebrand communist in his younger days, raised an uncanny question referring to state perpetrated repression and violence on Uighur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province of China,—what is the difference between majoritarian parties in India and Chinese Communist Party? Or for that matter between Nazi concentration camp and the detention camps, covered up as vocational training centres, in Xinjiang?

An unabashed autocratic capitalism—such volte-face of the socialist countries—dialectics of which begs extension/revision of Marx. Capitalism, as opposed to what Marx tried to make all of us believe, has reinvented itself as eternal. Socialism, as its supposed to be anti-thesis, appears to be a process of making ways for worst form of capitalism in its autocratic avatar. Party as omnipotent and omniscient agency subsumes the social and economic conflicts to lend credence and stability of Orwellian world. A world the classical capitalism would have never arrived at sans so called socialism.

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Vol. 52, No. 28, Jan 12 - 18, 2020