Saturday, 12 March 2016

A Communist Party in Power in a Capitalist State -- Misdirected Critique

(A letter to the editor)

Reg. CPI(M)'s Congress Crutch;
in: Frontier, Vol. 48, No.30, Jan.31–Feb 6 2016

Dear sir,

The anonymous author of the article (for short, AA) criticizes the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
in two respects: (1) in respect of the state of moral fiber of the party's cadre and (2) in respect of the party's political and economic policies during its long rule in that province. Seen superficially, the critique may appear to be justified in both respects, but it should not have been directed at a particular unit of a particular communist party that happened to rule in a province of a federally constituted capitalist state. It should have been directed at, if a little generalization is allowed, all or nearly all communist parties of the world that sometime or other ruled over a country.

(1) Anybody having some knowledge of world history of the last hundred years knows of the moral degeneration of various kinds that set in, sooner or later, after a revolutionary communist party became a ruling party. That was the case in the Soviet Union, and that is the case in China and Vietnam.* The case of Cuba still remains to be investigated.
    The erstwhile "socialist" republics of Eastern Europe were ruled by communist parties that did not have to make their own revolution. They had power handed to them by the Soviet Red Army on a platter. So their moral degeneration, if that had taken place during their tenure of power, does not contain any lesson of great significance. For their mentor, the all-powerful Stalinist Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was already a morally degenerated party.
    It must be said to the credit of the CPI(M) that it did not get, but won power, albeit very limited, by organizing, leading, and taking part in movements of the masses for a better life. Many of its cadre, although they could not be called revolutionaries, were inspired by a high ideal (I know that) and accepted a life of many sacrifices before they came to power. But power corrupted them too, from the provincial capital level to the village level – not all of them, to be sure, but the majority.
    In view of the apparently universal experience mentioned above, it is pointless to criticize the CPI(M) cadre and functionaries for failing to have become the kind of new men that Mayakovsky, inter alia, had expected of the Soviet communists who were in complete control of everything in their country.
    Today, what is needed is a deeper and analytical study of this ubiquitous negative phenomenon, with, I suggest, help of psychology, ethology, anthropology, and some other social sciences.

(2) As to economic development of West Bengal, nobody in his senses could have in those days demanded from the CPI(M)-led government that it should pursue a really socialist policy. Even if it had wanted to try to do something in a really socialist sense within the limited power that a provincial government enjoys in India, it could have done so, I guess, only at the risk of being dismissed by the central government. That was the fate of the communist government of Kerala in 1957.
    AA writes that in the early years of the CPI(M) rule "there were large scopes of organizing the benefited peasants into various kinds of cooperatives". Maybe that is true. But peasants organized in cooperatives could only have initiated some rural development and created some rural jobs in rural small industries. However, in any development theory including socialist ones – except those of Gandhi and his followers – the goal was, and still is, transition from a poor underdeveloped agricultural economy to a prosperous industrial economy. In such theories, also small-scale farming was to be developed to large-scale mechanized farming entailing reduction in the number of people working in the agriculture sector. This was/is deemed to be necessary not only to bring prosperity in the rural areas but also to make more and more labor available to the expanding industries sector.
    Another point that has been ignored by AA is that during the 34 years long rule of the CPI(M), both the total population of West Bengal and the number of unemployed and precariously employed people in the province had been continuously rising. For instance, in the decade between 2001 and 2011 the population increased by 11.17 million.
    Against the background of these facts, the CPI(M) had no other choice but to pursue the economic policy that it did, to industrialize. It has after all never been a Gandhian party! And the people of India had rejected Gandhian economic theories long ago. AA criticizes the CPI(M) for having pursued a "pro-corporate policy of industrialization and development". But both China and Vietnam did the same.1 They had to. For the CPI(M), a Nehruvian policy of "socialistic pattern" of planned industrialization for West Bengal was out of question, for no government of West Bengal could have raised the necessary capital itself.
    Any industrial project needs land, water, and the necessary infrastructure. With 90 million people living in a small and densely populated area, these things had to be taken away from the peasants. The only thing that was open to negotiation in Singur and Nandigram2 was the kind and size of compensation. The only justified criticism against the CPI(M) has been that a communist government did the unthinkable: it ordered the police to kill poor peasants and their supporters in the interest of development.


1. The case of China is well-known. For the case of Vietnam, I recommend my article Victorious in War But Defeated in Peace – How Development-Socialism Ended in Capitalism.

2. In Singur, the Tata Group was to build a huge car factory for producing their cheap cars christened Nano. The project failed to materialize due to strong resistance from the peasants and their anti-CPI(M) supporters. In Nandigram, where the shooting and killing of 15 people took place, a South Korean corporation was to build a large chemicals factory.

Friday, 11 March 2016

General Theory of Decline of the Old Left

(This discussion-contribution is written in the form of a letter to the author of the review-article Reinventing the Indian Left published in the online journal Alternatives – International Journal on Wednesday 2 March 2016 by Satya Sagar).


Dear Mr. Satya Sagar,

You may or may not know me from reading. If interested, you may go to Google and Amazon. There you will find enough info about me.

First, many thanks for your detailed review of Praful Bidwai's book. I do not think I shall come to reading the 600 page book. So your review of the same was very useful. But I already knew a lot about the history of the Left in India.
    Currently, my main interest in reading articles on the Indian Left is to find out whether they have come (or are slowly coming) to any new conclusion after their decline. You have now given me the motivation and a chance to add and discuss some crucial points about left politics made in the book as well as in your review.
    I had met Praful once, but that was long ago and without having enough time to really discuss anything seriously. About a year or two before his passing away, at the suggestion of Sumanta Bannerjee (whom you might know), I wrote to him with the request that he consider the points I have made in my writings. (I did not get any real response.) I am making the same request to you.

You write: Praful's book "is also impressively broad in scope, analyzing the Left from not just the usual parameters of redistribution of wealth, public welfare and workers’ rights but also ecology, gender and caste." In your review, however, I do not find anything that substantiates the claim that Praful had analyzed left politics (and its ultimate failure) in India also from the standpoint of one concerned about the ecology problematique. (It may also be an omission on your part.) Actually, at the latest after 1972, when the book Limits to Growth appeared, all political activists of the whole world should have changed their politics, indeed their whole thinking, radically. But they did not do that, because, I suppose, they were caught in inertia of the thought process. Herman Daly, I, and a few other writers, have accepted the required paradigm shift – the one that I call shift from the growth paradigm to the limits to growth paradigm. All my speeches and writings since about the mid 1970s have been informed by it.
    If one accepts this
compelling paradigm shift, one comes to very different conclusions in regard to analysis of the current world situation (including that in India) as well as in regard to the question of the future of human (and Indian) society. One then also comes to very different answers to the question: what is to be done at the present juncture? 1

The sorry plight of the Left is a global phenomenon. It began with the decline of the Soviet model of socialism and the subsequent implosion and break-up of the USSR. It was followed by the collapse of socialist societies in Eastern Europe. The communist parties of
China and Vietnam, of course, maintained their hold on power, but they had to transform their countries into capitalist ones.2 And the latest experiment, the "Bolivarian Revolution" of Venezuela, which Hugo Chavez called "socialism of the 21st century" is also rapidly unraveling. Against this general background, is it any surprise that the Indian Left also failed in West Bengal and Kerala and is rapidly declining? Any author who wants to write something analytical about the decline of the Indian Left or, for that matter, about any left movement anywhere in the world should keep this general background in mind.
That means, all failures of all left regimes, parties or movements must have had (and still has) a
general root cause (in addition to specific and local ones): It is the impossibility of fulfilling the continuously growing demands, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population, while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing – in short, the lunatic idea that on a finite earth infinite growth of production, prosperity and population is possible.1
    It sounds like an
impossibility theorem that old leftists, socialists, communists, humanists, development-NGOs, and technology fans are loath to hear. Especially the last-mentioned ones seem never to have heard of the second law of thermodynamics, AKA the entropy law. But they must accept this impossibility as a fact, otherwise they would continue to sell only illusions, and never succeed in creating a better world, as opposed to a prosperous world. No amount of hard and sincere work, in power or out of power, no amount of mass mobilization for "redistribution of wealth, public welfare and workers’ rights" would help us realize the old vision of socialism.1

That means we must ditch
old socialism, especially cornucopian socialism and reinvent socialism which would be the scientific socialim of the 21st century. I, Bruno Kern, and many others call it eco-socialism. But what are the prospects for eco-socialism? I think it has good prospects, but only if ....3 At least it is worth working for.

Let me stop here. I would be very glad if you read this letter. I would be especially glad if I hear from you.

In solidarity and with best wishes

Saral Sarkar


1. I have elaborated all these points in my two theoretical books: Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism? – A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices (Zed Books, London, 1999) and The Crises of Capitalism – A Different Study of Political Economy (Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2012). See also my various shorter writings published in my two blogs:; and

2. See my article on the transformations in Vietnam and China: Victorious in War But Defeated in Peace – How Development-Socialism Ended in Capitalism;postID=6972656501647922776;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=6;src=postname

3. See my article on this question: Prospects for Eco-Socialism