The Left, Nuke Deal and Patriotism

Amulya Ganguli has cited from Mohit Sen’s memoirs and used his assertion that the  (undivided) CPI preferred class over nation to conclude that the Left continues to do the same today as well and hence is “betraying the nation”.

Yet, their servility earned little appreciation in Moscow as the following passage from Mohit Sen’s autobiography, A Traveller and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist makes clear. “As for the Soviet Union needing the CPI’s support”, wrote Sen, “Stalin is reported to have told a CPI delegation in 1950 that his country could have done without it and the CPI should have looked after itself. There is no doubt, however, that the CPI did what it did because of its belief that priority had to be given to support to the Soviet Union for the sake of communism and Indian freedom (from bourgeois rule) even if it meant swimming against the national current. This instinctive loyalty, first to the class and only then to the nation, the CPI shared with most other communist parties, except the Chinese and the Yugoslavs”.

On the earlier occasions, the Left could only harm itself with its revolutionary frolics. But if it succeeds in derailing the N-deal because of its “instinctive loyalty, first to the class and only then to the nation”, the damage to India’s reputation will be enormous. It will not be possible in that eventuality to gloss over the unpatriotic tag, which the commissars have worn as their badge of dishonour since 1942, because the setback suffered by India will be incalculable.

This is certainly a misreading of Sen’s views. He was indeed a critic of the Left’s inability to understand nation as a category, but neither his, nor the Left’s views placed the nation as something opposed to class as Ganguli suggests. The distinction, or rather the conflicting pulls of class and the nation  became crucial only in certain cases- and Ganguli’s illustration of the 1942 volte face by the CPI is only partial. Mohit maintained that the decision to support the Allies was correct- only that as the reversal of the Axis forces began, the CPI should have reverted to throwing its lot with the nationalist forces.  The CPI was perceived as a strongly anti- colonial force whose vision went far beyond the achievement of freedom from colonial rule. As an example of its appeal among the nationalists, it needs to be recalled that it was the heroine of 1942- Aruna Asif Ali, who joined the CPI in the 1950s, among others at various times both before and after 1942.

On a side note, it is laughable that Ganguli invokes patriotism in support for a treaty with the United States, whose own record with its ‘allies’ is not exactly something to write home about (the list is long, ‘luminaries’ include Saddam Hussain) !

There is certainly much that is wrong with the Left, particularly the CPI(M)’s views- not only are they dogmatic but they sound much more so. See, for example, the otherwise intelligent economist Prabhat Patnaik’s article in People’s Democracy- even someone like this blogger who is well conversant with ‘Marxist shorthand’ finds it a difficult read. Cryptically written, obtuse language as in this paragraph is certainly not the best way to popularise even otherwise unpopular (though not necessarily incorrect) ideas:

Non-alignment, autonomy vis-à-vis imperialism, breaking loose from the shackles of globalisation that leads to the dispossession and expropriation of petty producers, and having an autonomous State that can intervene in favour of the marginalised, and will do so because of the pressure of having to face the electorate, are what the “nation of the poor” needs. But this is precisely what the “nation of the rich” abhors.

It would be too much to expect the CPI(M), one of the few parties in the world that still proudly displays Stalin’s pictures during its conventions, to give up its dogmatism, but it certainly needs to package its goods better- especially because some of its views are not wrong either. The Left, in India and elsewhere, still has a strong (too strong, perhaps) theoretical understanding of colonialism and imperialism, as was its understanding of unfashionable things like land reforms at one time- all said and done with a huge agricultural economy comparable to Punjab and Maharashtra, there are no farmers’ suicides in West Bengal (see also this edit in People’s Democracy).

It is unfortunate that the success of its land reform program and hence the CPM’s major electoral success in West Bengal also sustains its dogmatism at the national level.


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