With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the skies of all communist states in the world were covered by dark clouds. Before long, most of these states lost their governments. Over the last three decades, the era of Karl Marx has passed, although red political parties in some counties are still flickering, for example in India. In China the entire party has not only survived, it also monopolises the political life of the huge country, although the Marxist ideology has been consigned to history. The Communist Party of China lives on in all its glory; its only missing feature being the ideology of Marx and Mao. North Korea is similar, although the leadership of the party is a family dynasty.
Let us assume that sooner or later, communism could revive in Europe or come up us say, in South America, or anywhere else due to widespread unemployment. There is not even a remote possibility of it reviving, not to talk of succeeding in India. The irremovable obstacle in the path of any movement that promises equality is Hinduism. Its core belief in karma enables the poor person to reconcile to the fact that unless one’s karma improves, there is little chance of his or her bhagya or fate improving. Any other promise would be like a balm that may relieve the pain without curing the disease.
Let us go back to the early years of Indian independence. There were too many poor people in most parts of the country. Much of the poverty was unbearable to see. Yet, none of the Marxist parties could impact the many elections held throughout the country, except in Kerala and Bengal. The people of these two states were well endowed with brains and thinking which spared comparatively less energy for physical work.
The Marxist promise of “from each according his to ability, to each according to need” militates against the Hindu belief in “no bhagya (fate) without karma”. In other words, the Indian electorate was never an attractive playing field for the communist politician. With Marxism itself having been now discounted, obviously the red politician must search for an alternative path. Which one can it be?
A party grows in order to either serve a collective cause or redress a chronic grievance. In India, there should not be a shortage of grievances. The biggest segment of people who have the most grievances would be the womenfolk. The petition before the Supreme Court, which transferred it to Parliament, was over instant triple talaq; which legislated appropriately. The real triple divorce, namely, talaq-e-biddat, which takes over three months to complete is still alive, but it is still entirely discretionary in the hands of the woman’s husband. Another Damocles’ Sword hanging over the womenfolk in India is polygamy. Yet another, as well as a cause, would be family planning, which can attract the female vote. Yet it is virtually a neglected cause since 1977, when Indira Gandhi lost the general election because of nasbandi being in its manifesto.
A greater national issue can be a Sino-Indian settlement over territory and borders. With their communist credentials, India’s communists should be the best placed to negotiate with the Communist Party of China. The CPI-M would be ideally placed as they sympathized with China in 1962 and split from the main Communist Party in 1964 on the issue. The CPI at the time was in sympathy with the Soviet Union, which nevertheless had called the Chinese brothers vis-à-vis the Indians being just friends. Additionally, there is the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), the devotees of Leon Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, plus the Socialist Unity Centre which owes its origins to the Communist Party of East Germany.
A particular strength of the communists has been that many party members are educated. Could they not promote their electoral prospects by running schools and colleges? They could also do other forms of social service such as running hospitals, dispensaries and nursing homes.
The late chief minister of Tamil Nadu MG Ramachandran, was the first major mover in this regard, introducing the mid-day meal in schools. His successor J. Jayalalitha arranged for idlis to be made available at Rs 5 a plate to the public. The Shiv Sena in Bombay years ago, won acclaim for opening jhunka-bhakar stalls that provided both livelihood to many youngsters as well as affordable meals to a large section of the state’s working population. The communist parties have cadres, including permanent ones that could help in organizing these welfare schemes. On the other hand, they could take a leaf out of the book of their erstwhile communist associates or comrades from East Europe, who did not hesitate to jettison communism and become social democrats. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of both communism and their overlord the Soviet Union in 1991, the communists of Eastern Europe undertook a variety of reform processes.
The collapse of communism posed a fundamental challenge to the ruling communist parties of East Central Europe. After 1989-1990, they were removed from their international imperial hierarchy with Moscow at its centre. The Warsaw Pact, the military alliance that was the opposite number of the West’s NATO, too ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
East Europe’s communists now stood rejected as the roguish elements of an ideology and worldview that was delegitimized. Worse, they were no longer in power, as they were dislodged from the pinnacle of authoritarian regimes. Without regimes to rule or states to govern, the leadership of the former ruling communist parties had to find a new purpose, or what one might call a new strategic vision, to survive in the new world of post-communism.
The reform process of former East European communists and their parties was done in accordance with both changed political realities as well as the nature of the transition that their societies had undergone. They therefore took up different agendas in their respective national situations. Subsequently, former east European communists adopted different attitudes towards issues of European integration. The Polish, Czech, Slovak and East German successor parties all underwent different experiences in their respective polities and societies. But they all changed.
As communist parties they voted themselves out of existence and declared themselves to be social democrats or by any other name, in keeping with the changed circumstance. By the time the early 1990s arrived, former communist political parties were already active and playing leading roles in social, economic and political developments of East and Central Europe. However, India’s communist parties, leaders and their ideological supporters paid scant attention to these developments.
In India, words like welfare and kalyan would be appropriate to rename the parties if necessary. Since health, education and other welfare are insufficient in India, this approach of a political party could succeed. “Workers of the world unite” is a slogan that has been out of date for over a century.
There would be many other ideas. One thing is certain ~ there is no future as communists in India unless they change. The communist parties with their structure, organization and their entire cadre would go waste.
The writer is an author, thinker and former Member of Parliament